|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Briefing aboard plane en route Washington, D.C. from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
October 18, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (in progress)…happening in the Middle East, which we're still flying over. What has happened is that both sides have issued statements as a result of Sharm and the Israelis have in fact begun to redeploy. They have opened up Rafah and Allenby, that is the international closure that has been changed, as well as beginning to do some on the internal closure. So I think we're beginning to see some of the results of Sharm. As I said yesterday basically we provided the vehicle for movement and now we have to watch very carefully what are these beginning steps. Again, I think that we have to look at it a step at a time and be relatively encouraged by what has just happened. Again, given the violence that was taking place over night, I think we just have to keep watching it very carefully.
QUESTION: The initial steps taken after Paris by the two sides too to pull back some forces and of course it unraveled again, is there anything different about the steps that you've seen today that …
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: …and I don't want to overstate this, but I think partially the fact that these statements were made, as I understand it mutually accepted, and the fact that the Israelis have begun these steps I think is important. But again for me you're going to hear over the next few days basically a very sober assessment of what is happening and not in anyway trying to underestimate or overestimate. So we're just going to keep you informed. Dennis may have a few more details that he can give you but that's generally where we are.
QUESTION: What about the Palestinians? Have they done anything yet?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: They have issued their statement.
QUESTION: Have you seen anything on the ground yet?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: They’ve had security meetings together. I think that what you're probably seeing is a reflection of the kind of parallel movement.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Now in order to just switch subjects here and give you another topper -- we're leaving for North Korea on Sunday. We'll have meetings in Pyongyang Monday and Tuesday. I've had confirmation of my meeting with Kim Jong Il. On Wednesday we will go to Seoul, meet there and then have a trilateral there with the Japanese.
QUESTION: Will you go to Tokyo?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Not as we're currently configured because I think part of it was to try to do the trilateral coordination.
QUESTION: You'll miss the Arab League Summit that way.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Oh my.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary can you tell us what your reaction was to your conversation with President Bashar Assad?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all I'm very glad that I had this chance to meet with him in Riyadh because as you know my only previous meeting had been 10 or 15 minutes at his father's funeral. I think it was a very interesting meeting. We covered a lot of different subjects that somehow fall under the purview of what's going on in the region. I expressed my concern about how what was happening between the Israelis and Palestinians would affect the region and he also was concerned about the region itself as well as the events that we've been talking about at Sharm. I gave him a briefing of what had happened at Sharm. We talked about the Hezbollah and what their activities were and his descriptions of them as a social force that was growing. I found him very interesting. He talked about the importance of the street generally now in the Arab world. He understands English so that we were only translating one way and he wanted to speak in Arabic but made a point always of making sure that exactly the right word was used. He's a modern person. It's quite interesting. As we were talking about something to do with the whole regional issue and he said you've got to make sure that you are not using -- that you have to think about things in new ways -- you have to make sure you're not using IBM software in an Apple computer. I think that in terms of talking to him as a new generation I felt that he was in fact looking at things in a different way. But again we'll have to see.
QUESTION: Do you get the impression that Bashar could be in some ways a facilitator of the peace process in a way that Mubarak and King Abdullah have been? Do you think he's ready for that kind of role?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that's hard to assess and I don't think it's fair on the basis of this one conversation. But I do think that he has interesting views and seems to be looking at things in a relatively open way. But I think it's hard to say. I did enjoy my conversation with him and it was fairly wide-ranging, not rhetorical and structured.
QUESTION: Did you ask for his help on the kidnappings? What did he say?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We did talk about that and the importance of getting that resolved. He took it on board. I can't say that there was more than that.
QUESTION: on board?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, he understood that it was important.
QUESTION: Did he say that he could do anything to help?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That was not the impression I got.
QUESTION: It's kind of out of his hands.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that he was talking more about that we have to have -- I can't say that I got a firm yes in terms of what he would do.
QUESTION: …using his influence on Hezbollah…
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: All I can say is he took it on board. He understood what I was saying without really responding.
QUESTION: How about calming the waters in general and stopping the radio broadcasts that might be inciting?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say it was a different kind of a conversation than one would normally have where I had a set of talking points that you've got to do "x" and this and this and this. I certainly did my share of that. I was more interested in kind of drawing him out. I did talk about what I felt -- and it goes to your question some time ago, Barry, when you asked me whether Arafat had done enough to condition his people. Your question I think sparked a lot in my own thinking -- and I said to him that I thought that the problem had been that Barak had really done a lot. He had been elected on a peace plank, and that he had done a lot to condition his people. But I had a sense that there had not been enough conditioning done and that there was a disconnect in terms of what was necessary. That's when we started talking about the street and the fact that there is huge discontent in terms of what the people feel about the benefits of peace to them and why they are out there complaining. To that extent we did talk about incitement.
QUESTION: Did he use the word the street?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea for a second. There's been some criticism about the fact you're going with the intention of trying to set up a trip for the President. You don't accept that criticism I take it. What else are you trying to do besides do that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all I think that we definitely are probing to see whether the openings that Kim Dae Jung, for which he got a much deserved Nobel Prize, the extent to which it allows for us looking at a different set of relationships with North Korea, but based on our own national interests. To follow-up the discussions that I had with Vice Marshall Joe and that Chuck Kartman has been having and Ambassador Sherman has been having on missile moratorium and the Agreed Framework and generally to make sure that those interests are met along with having a chance to see the extent to which they want to break out of their isolation.
QUESTION: On the Sharm event, how do you feel about the somewhat crabby view that is found in some of our leading newspapers that because they didn't have a news conference, because it wasn't written down, that somehow this is a shaky, not very significant accord that the President worked out?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that everybody needs to know that this is a very difficult time and that the point of doing Sharm was to try to break the cycle of violence and to get some positive steps on the ground to make it happen. I think that the President did a remarkable job given the atmosphere and the difficulties of it. I have to tell you after four years of this that it's not the signed agreements or the handshakes that make the difference. What makes the difference is what happens on the ground. Sometimes you can put too much stock in something signed and sometimes you don't put enough stock in something agreed to. We'll have to see. In all cases it's really a matter of seeing what's happening on the ground. These first steps, I don't want to go over the top here, but basically they're positive. We just have to see how they are carried out further, what the reaction is and how you break this very raw atmosphere, which I clearly felt even in a room in a resort in Sharm el-Sheikh, is very much evident between these two parties. I think we have to take it a step at a time. The proof will be on a day-to-day basis and whether something signed or what the President did, the bridging, in a very intensive way, in his own special method, and I think that we'll see.
QUESTION: Were you working at one point on a formal agreement, a cease fire and at what point did it become something of a statement?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. You all have written and others have written that this was hastily arranged, and it was. I mean you do what you can with what you've got. And something had to be done. There was not a lot of time for diplomatic preparations because we might still be doing that. As much as I love formal diplomacy sometimes it's not what is called for. What happened was that there was some original discussion about the agenda. We had these three objectives which were to elaborate on the structures that I had set up in Paris and work out the various security aspects of that, and obviously George Tenet had a leading role in that, and then to try to get the fact finding business worked out and then to get a road back to the peace talks. And I think we accomplished all three. Now when we talked about that as an agenda, the agenda itself began to kind of grow not so much in the numbers of things but in the way they were stated. And the UN was trying to be helpful in trying to consolidate the various agenda ideas. When we had the foreign ministers meeting we began to talk about that. I am the first one to say there are certain issues that certain foreign ministers -- we have a limited ability to do things at certain times and when the leaders decide that they're going to put their shoulder to the wheel and the leader is Bill Clinton, I think it's important for foreign ministers to step back and let the leaders.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can I ask you about your meeting last night or this morning with Crown Prince Abdullah. We were told that he talked about people-to-people contacts between Jews and Muslims which seemed to me to be a rather remarkable thing for a government that used to be handing out the protocols of the elders of Zion. How did you take this and what do you think he had in mind?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: He's really quite a remarkable leader who is operating within the context of a new Middle East and he does believe very much in people-to-people contacts and in trying to move the process forward in his own way. I found my discussions with him also always very productive and I thought he was in a productive mood. What he talked about was how the anger of the people over what was happening in Israel and the Palestinian regions had been channeled in Saudi by charitable works which he had encouraged. Apparently people came forward with all kinds of donations, their jewelry, various family items and he talked about the fact that certain people had even given the deeds to their houses as part of this to channel the frustration into the useful contribution of charity.
QUESTION: Part of your purpose I gather with this visit has been to try and ensure as moderate an outcome as possible at the Arab Summit. Is it your feeling after the discussions that you've had that that is the likely outcome of the Summit or are you worried that the Summit could actually contribute to a sharpening of tensions.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that all those with whom I spoke are aware of the importance of the Summit in terms of trying to segue from what happened at Sharm I don't know whether that will happen. There are a lot of different elements involved. I think that there is a sense among some of the Arab leaders with whom I spoke that it’s important to have it be a productive useful Summit from the perspective of not making the situation in the region more complicated. I have to tell you I think it's very hard to tell and I hope very much that it's not a Summit that makes the situation even more complicated. It can in fact be helpful. It can.
QUESTION: What do you mean by making it more complicated in terms of what the Summit could produce?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: One of the things that we were trying to do is to change the atmosphere to support more of a measured approach so as not to have statements that create additional problems which is one reason frankly that we don't want the resolution in New York that's being talked about. I just spoke with Ambassador Holbrooke who gave me an update of what is happening there. I don't think it's productive. The bottom line here is we're past rhetorical statements. What everybody has to look for is facts on the ground that move the process forward and not kind of a way to please themselves by making statements that are not helpful. This is truly, I think at the various times that we've spent together, this is a very serious time, very serious and none of us are trying to paint anything rosy or have illusions. This is very serious and I think that people have to be very careful about what they say, very careful.
QUESTION: Do you hope for a resumption of negotiations?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't know. What's going to happen is they will come to Washington within the next couple of weeks, the negotiators, not to negotiate but to talk about how to get the process back.
QUESTION: Can you get into the long-term issue about the Oslo process and that there might be some defects in its construction and how you might want to repair those?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have to tell you I think that were it not for the Oslo process we would have been at a much more dangerous stage much earlier. It continues to provide the right approach. I think for people to be saying, "it was a mistake," or that Camp David was a mistake is not, I think, being fully aware of what we have done here and how the important part is to get them talking and there has been progress. To answer your question, I think the Oslo process is the best process that exists in a very difficult situation.
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