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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa

Press conference, Ras El Tin Palace
Alexandria, Egypt, September 2, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

FOREIGN MINISTER AMRE MOUSSA: Well, ladies and gentlemen of the press, let me first of all welcome the Secretary of State, my friend, Madeleine Albright. We are happy to have her here, especially at this very serious juncture, where efforts are being undertaken in order to revive the peace process. The Secretary, in her meeting with the President, has discussed several issues of common concern, first of which, of course, is the peace process, the current contacts and a follow up on the issues discussed between President Clinton and President Mubarak during President Mubarak's visit to Washington. The other issues of a bilateral nature and also problems in this region and some international issues.

As you know, we value very much the partnership between the United States and Egypt. We are on the same side, we are working together to achieve peace and also to support the economic reform in Egypt which takes hold and continues towards success. The partnership between the United States and Egypt is something that will help reshape the work and the region and the conditions of peace and progress. After a brief statement by the Secretary, a few questions will be welcomed from the American press and the Egyptian press, as well as the international press, to satisfy your appetite for questions and answers.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. I am indeed delighted to be here in Alexandria for meetings with President Mubarak and my very good friend the Foreign Minister, and he and I have had regular contact throughout my time in office and it's always a pleasure to see him. The frequency of our discussions really reflects the closeness of our strategic partnership. For on bilateral issues, in the region, and beyond, our two countries do work together in support of a common vision of peace, prosperity and social progress.

Egypt is an ancient civilization, but its government and people are squarely focused on the future. The United States recognizes this and is pleased to have a chance through the Gore-Mubarak Commission, the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue, and other bilateral forums to exchange views candidly and often.

Today, our discussions centered on the Middle East peace process, where we see an historic opportunity for achievement of a comprehensive peace.

Like Egypt, the United States is dedicated to this vital objective. The hard decisions about the timing and terms of agreements can only be made by the parties involved. But we are determined to do all we can to help those who have the courage to take risks for peace, and to minimize those risks.

This is true with respect to reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, whose negotiators continue working on a plan to implement past commitments and launch permanent status talks. And it is true concerning our goal of a broader settlement that includes Syria and Lebanon.

We know that the road to true peace remains hard and uphill. But I am convinced that the vast majority of Arabs and Israelis alike have come to understand that negotiations are the only route to the better future that they both seek.

The opportunity now to reach important new agreements has been a long time in coming. But it has arrived, and we must seize it. I know that is President Mubarak's intention, and I know President Clinton fully agrees. But to succeed, everyone with a stake in peace must do their part. Encouraging them to do so is why I have come to the Middle East.

Today's visit to Egypt gives me the opportunity to reaffirm the strength of our bilateral relationship, our friendship, and our shared commitment to peace. I am very pleased to be here and look forward to working even more closely with President Mubarak and the Foreign Minister in the weeks and months to come.

QUESTION: I'm sorry sir, I just want to ask a question that everybody's thinking of. What about the signing ceremony of the Wye River deal? When are we going to see it? And I also have a question for Mrs. Albright. The Wye River agreement was signed in Washington with your presence and with President Clinton's presence. Until when are we going to renegotiate agreements which the United States personally has been involved in negotiating and mediating? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me from my part say that we obviously have been involved in the Wye River Memorandum and did sign it. The two parties are now discussing the possibilities of a somewhat different approach, but as has been made very clear by Prime Minister Barak, he is ready to fulfill Wye as it was signed, but I think what is very import is the willingness of the parties to negotiate with each other in a way which they had not been doing before. The United States and Egypt have wanted very much that the parties talk with each other. This is something that was not evident for several years and I think that their discussions and their negotiations are a testament now to the fact that they are dealing with each other. The negotiations are still going on. We are hopeful that they will be concluded. And, we think that, as I said in my statement, while the United States and Egypt can be helpful, it is up to the parties themselves to make the hard decisions and we are there to help when we can and we are hopeful that these negotiations will conclude.

MINISTER MOUSSA: I just wanted to add that the contacts still going on between both of us -- the United States and Egypt -- and the Palestinians and Israelis are still a few points subject to agreement but contacts are still on. I wish to say that there is no failure in contacts, but we want to be sure that everything is agreed between the parties and that both of them are satisfied with the text that will be put before both of them to be signed.

QUESTION: That very much goes to what I was going to ask, but I still would like the Secretary to supplement because the position you just gave us sort of suggests minimum involvement of the US. Is the United States minimally involved now or have you stepped up your intervention? Could you enlighten us a bit about that other party? Yasser Arafat's in town and what is the United States interaction with the Palestinians?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that while we have stressed and will continue to stress that we want the parties to deal with each other. We have been for the past weeks obviously a part of what has been going on and as helpful as we can and we will continue to do that. I did speak with Prime Minister Barak a short while ago and I am going to see Chairman Arafat shortly. And so while I'm here I think it is completely natural that I try as much as I can to be of assistance. And, I think that is where we have been and what we think is an appropriate role for the United States and for Egypt, as a friend of the process, to try to do everything we can to try to bring the parties together. Just let me repeat: we can say and do all kinds of things but it is the parties themselves that have the hard decisions to make and we can be there to assist them.

MINISTER MOUSSA: Let me add just a few words that we in Egypt believe that the involvement of the United States diplomacy in the peace process is very important and that is out of our own experience on negotiations. We have seen how the peace process is very sensitive that it could stop or get frozen suddenly. That's why we need and emphasize the role of the United States as the main co-sponsor of the peace process. We do welcome the United States' role, but we don't think the United States would stay on the sidelines while the peace process is at the current stage.

QUESTION: Does the fact that there is no Israeli-Palestinian accord to be signed here make your task in Syria more difficult for you to persuade President Assad that there is a new regime in Israel and that they are seriously interested in peace? Mr. Moussa, Foreign Minister, I'd like to ask you essentially the same question: How do the Arab states read the fact that Secretary Albright's here, President Mubarak's here, Chairman Arafat is here, and Prime Minister Barak is not here? What construction do the Arab states put on that, please?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say you are making an assumption that I have not made, which is that we have not signed. We have not as of this moment-- but clearly, as I indicated and the Foreign Minister has indicated, negotiations are going on and we expect them to continue and we hope very much that they will come to a conclusion as soon as possible. Clearly there is a dynamic relationship between the two tracks. We want to be as helpful in terms also of making sure the Israeli-Syrian track is reactivated and I will be having those discussions. I think it is very hard at this stage to predict the effect of one on the other, positive or negative, but clearly we are all dedicated to having a comprehensive peace. We are all working on that. We spoke about the importance of the Syrian track with President Mubarak and FM Moussa and I will be working assiduously to make sure that we can move both the tracks forward with Lebanon during the coming months.

MINISTER MOUSSA: For me, let me answer the second part of your question. As you know-- you have been here in the region for quite some time now-- that the atmosphere and the political climate because of the peace process was very much poisoned during the past few years. It is our task to revive the peace process and also introduce an element of optimism in the general atmosphere in the region. This will be very much enhanced by the signing of the implementation agreement of Wye. That is why it is important and we are all involved. We are doing whatever we can in order to make this a success. This will help the climate.

QUESTION: Clearly now, Israel is putting forward a no-win situation before the Palestinians or a take it or leave it situation and the U.S. has been reluctant to interfere so far in the current crisis between the Palestinians and the Israelis. At one point a US official said that the United States does not want to be forced to baby-sit the squabbling parties. So, I don't understand at what level exactly the United States interferes between the Palestinians and the Israelis as a mediator and a supervisor of the peace process.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I wouldn't have used any of the vocabulary that you used. I don't think that it's appropriate at this stage to talk about a take it or leave it. They are in the middle of negotiations. I think that it cannot be characterized that way and I would not. Nor would I say that there is a crisis. Nor I would not agree with the premise of your question, beyond saying that I think that it is very important for the parties to talk with each other and the United States will play the appropriate pragmatic role. We are dedicated to the peace process: we have been from its very inception. It is important to us for our national interest reasons as well as to the countries that are parties to it. We are very much a part of it and we will do what needs to be done. I think that what pleases us is that previously the parties were not talking to each others and the bonds of confidence that had existed after Oslo were systematically eroded. We see those bonds of confidence being rebuilt as a result of the negotiations, where they are talking face to face. I would hope that would continue and obviously the United States will play the role that we think is necessary and we are asked to perform. I think that Foreign Minister Moussa has made it clear that the role of the United States is important and we understand that.

QUESTION: Question to Mr. Moussa please. Since the negotiation is still going, so when do we expect the end of this negotiation and signing an agreement? Tomorrow or within hours, within days? What is exactly the points of disagreement between the two parties?

MINISTER MOUSSA: Well, it is possible that such an agreement be signed within hours or within days. That's number one. There are certain points of disagreement. I do not want to enter into details when it comes to points under serious negotiation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But there is a chance that they will agree, and if so, then the signing will be within hours. If some more contacts are needed, then within days. So, just get ready.

QUESTION: The signing in Egypt?

MINISTER MOUSSA: It will be in Egypt-- I believe.

Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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