EXCERPTS: STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN ON MIDEAST PEACE PROSPECTS
(Both sides accept Clinton's parameters with reservations)
January 3, 2001
Both Israelis and Palestinians have accepted with reservations President Clinton's "parameters" for final status peace negotiations, said Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman, at a January 3 press briefing.
The next step is for the U.S. government "to be in touch with both sides separately to work with them to try to reconcile those reservations," Boucher said.
He added that a reduction of violence between Israelis and Palestinians is essential for the peace talks to have any chance of success.
Clinton met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for four and a half hours January 2 in Washington. On January 3, Clinton spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat, said Boucher.
Following is the excerpted transcript of the Boucher briefing:
Q: Can we move to the Middle East? With the White House blabbing on what a great time the President and Arafat had until midnight last night, I am just wondering if there are any plans for anyone to travel to the region or if there is any plans being made for high-level talks with either Dennis or the Secretary.
MR. BOUCHER: I think within the last hour or so the White House gave an updated briefing based on the President's phone calls this morning. The President has talked to Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. As the White House said, both sides have accepted the President's parameters, the President's ideas, but both sides have reservations.
It's now -- the next step is for us to be in touch with both sides separately to work with them to try to reconcile those reservations. But predicting exactly how those contacts will happen, I can't do at this point. We don't have any announcements of exactly how we'll go about that part of the process.
Q: If there are going to be 12 days of talks, where would the talks take place?
MR. BOUCHER: That's about five steps beyond, you know. We're not announcing any sort of framework, any sort of modalities, any sort of how the next step in discussions would be. We need to first talk separately with the two sides to try to reconcile the reservations that they had. That will tell us -- that will lay the basis for negotiation. And you're speculating about conducting a negotiation in a certain manner. That's premature at this point, to say the least.
Q: When Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh says that he is going to escalate the war against terrorism, including possible further political assassinations, does that help or hinder the peace process?
MR. BOUCHER: We've made quite clear, and I think we made quite clear again today in our conversations with both sides -- the President certainly has talked about this in his conversations with the leaders -- that ending the cycle of violence remains a very, very important task and that creating the climate that the negotiations could proceed in is an important task right now.
And so we are looking to the sides to take steps. We heard steps -- commitments from Chairman Arafat in that regard, and we look to both sides to take steps to end the cycle of violence.
Q: Have you asked for any kind of similar commitments from the Israelis at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: The President has talked to both sides about how to take steps and things that they can do to end the violence. Many of those steps are quite well known.
Q: Richard, perhaps you could throw some light on this. At one stage, I think US officials were saying that basically the leaders had to accept the parameters, and they couldn't do that initially. Now they accept with reservations.
Has there been any real progress beyond their original positions? Are we not just playing with words when we say that accepting the parameters with reservations is enough to take the process forward?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we're not playing with words. On the other hand, we're not trying to lay claim to more than what has happened. This is a step forward. We have a step forward in that we have presented some ideas and parameters to both sides. Both sides have said that they can work with those ideas and parameters, but that they have reservations. And now we need to work to reconcile the reservations to make sure that we do have a foundation for serious negotiation. It's a process that proceeds perhaps incrementally, but this is definitely a step forward.
Q: Because what we're talking about is a point because, I mean, aren't you just substituting the word "reservation" for "objections"?
MR. BOUCHER: Can I say no, and just leave it at that? I think I've answered that question about 14 times.
Q: No, actually, you haven't answered it once.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the answer is no.
Q: And now you haven't answered it again.
MR. BOUCHER: A third time, no.
Q: What are you doing, then?
MR. BOUCHER: What are we doing? We're telling you --
Q: What is it that makes you be able to say that there are no -- that these are no longer objections, particularly from the Palestinian side, and the fact that -- what makes you say that the Palestinians' reservations are not the objections that they had two days ago, last week?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, once again, we're not here playing with words. I'm telling you what's happened. I'm not laying claim to something that hasn't happened. We're telling you exactly what's happened, that both sides have accepted the ideas and parameters with reservations. That's a fairly clear statement that we've made many times.
That is not the same as saying that they reject it or object to it, or whatever. We've said they've had questions when they've had questions. We've said we've answered the questions. We've said we have reservations that need to be reconciled. But, you know, how can I say it? The goal is to get them in the ball park, on the same field, and then we're sort of --
Q: But the parameters have not changed from what Clinton originally suggested in December?
MR. BOUCHER: The ideas and suggestions that the President made, questions have been answered about those.
Q: But they have not changed?
Q: Can the parameters change?
Q: Have they changed in --
MR. BOUCHER: We're trying to avoid trying to get into the substance of this, that and the other, but basically the ideas and suggestions are the ones the President made earlier. And the parties have asked questions and still have some reservations, but that's where we are.
Q: Can they change them?
MR. BOUCHER: That's not the intention, that both sides have to accept the basic framework for negotiation. That's what we're shooting for; that's what we're working towards.
Q: Can I read you something that Raman told us earlier and have you put it into context? "President Clinton made it clear that the Palestinian reservations and clarifications are legitimate."
In what sense did the President -- and he was referring to the meetings last night. Does the President consider their reservations to be legitimate in that he thinks that that's how the final agreement -- which the final agreement should include, or does he think they're legitimate in that they have a right to their opinion?
MR. BOUCHER: I was not in the meeting, nor in that briefing, so I find it hard to do the exigencies on specific words. But I think the point is that, if you look at this in a logical sense, okay, the goal is to have a foundation for negotiations. You want to get them in the ball park together to negotiate. The people heading into the ball park, to keep the metaphor going, have questions about how to get in there and what it's going to be and what they're going to find inside. What does this part mean, what does that goal post mean, what does this element mean?
And the answer to those questions is you go in. The point is, that's where we're heading towards. We've had a step forward in that direction with the discussions that have been useful here. And they have raised questions. They've raised questions about the framework for negotiation that we've been discussing. And to that sense, I think that's what the word "legitimate" means.
Q: Okay. And then also, too, can you give any guidance to President Clinton possibly asking Arafat to go ahead and agree to come back for a summit meeting and Arafat tentatively agreeing to return sometimes in the next couple of weeks, depending on the response from Barak?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have anything on that. We don't have anything on next steps one way or the other at this point.
Q: Could you explain maybe sort of the time line? Last night after the talks, the briefing was that they were productive and useful. But they certainly didn't say what has been said this morning. What changed between last night and this morning that the White House could only come out by briefing time and say that something did change and that we are - that Arafat has accepted, even with reservations? It wasn't said last night. It even wasn't said by this building until the President's briefing.
MR. BOUCHER: Last night, we said they were productive and useful. This morning, the President talked to Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat again. That's what changed. We had further discussions with both parties. We felt that we could say we were at a new stage.
Q: So it was something that happened between the end of talks with Arafat last night and the White House briefing time today?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the President talked to both leaders.
Q: I understand. But -
MR. BOUCHER: That's what happened. You asked me what happened. That's what happened.
Q: But you can't tell us anything about the substance of what happened?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not going to go into specific issues and how they evolved.
Q: Richard, I know you don't want to go into substance, but you keep saying they have to accept the parameters. Can you give us some idea of how much flexibility there is within the parameters? I mean, does it talk about sort of specific percentages, for example, or are those kind of areas subject to further negotiation?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's not the kind of description of parameters that I can get into. That gets me into describing the substance of the proposal.
Q: I just wanted an idea of how much possibility for negotiation there is within the parameters set by the President.
MR. BOUCHER: I really -- I find it hard to - yeah, 43, you know? I would find it hard to characterize it other than to say that the suggestions and the parameters are the parameters for a negotiation. So once you accept those parameters and reconcile the reservations so we know that both sides have accepted the parameters, you have a groundwork there for negotiation for serious discussions.
So there is still a lot of work to do, there is still a lot of work in terms of the actual negotiation within those parameters. What we are trying to do now is to get the parameters accepted in a way that's -- where the reservations are reconcilable and therefore we know that both sides are in a position to negotiate seriously.
Q: Would there still be a lot of work to do if both sides accepted the parameters without reservations?
MR. BOUCHER: There would still -- there are parameters for negotiation. If they accept the parameters one way or the other with reservations, observations, or without, there still needs to be a negotiation. And we all know how tough these issues are. There is tough decisions ahead. Whatever the status is right now, if we get into the negotiations based on these parameters, there is still tough decisions and hard issues that have to be dealt with.
Q: Richard, both sides have made statements in the past few days about the unlikelihood of a deal being reachable before January 20th. Is there any kind of systematic step being taken to have an individual or group of people in the incoming administration essentially up to speed on that date with wherever things stand with these talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I guess what I would say is steps have been taken. Obviously we are bringing the Secretary-Designate and his people fully up to speed, as you say, and keeping them informed of where we stand and what we're doing. But clearly the stage we're at now with President Clinton and the involvement we have now is unique, and the new team will have to organize itself as it desires to pursue these issues.
As I said, we have a moment now to do these things. We have a commitment from the President and the Secretary and involvement by them over a long period of time and an opportunity that expires. And then what comes after that, the new team will have to organize for. But, yes, they are being kept informed.
Q: Is there some effort, short of a comprehensive peace in the next two weeks which, as I say, both sides say seems highly unlikely, given the complexity, is there some effort to leave the situation in some kind of packaged form with some sort of benchmark having been cleared, short of a comprehensive deal, to essentially hand this off in a way that they can keep moving forward without having umpteen months of getting up to speed for the new administration?
MR. BOUCHER: In some ways, that's a description of what we're trying to do at any moment in any transition, that the effort is to do everything we can while this Administration is still in place to move forward on these issues, to lay the foundations for negotiations for peace. And let's not forget the important task, to end the violence and to try to take steps now to end the violence, to create an environment where eventual discussions can be fruitful.
Q: You say that this is an important step forward. I think you said an important --
MR. BOUCHER: I think I just said, "a step forward."
Q: A step forward. But, really, is an agreement any closer now than it was back in July?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
Q: It is? Could you explain that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have many times along the way.
Q: When you say no violence -- that began after July -- and you still think now that because of what has happened today, or last night, that you are closer now than you were before Camp David started?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've talked about this at various iterations as we've gone along. We've had continuing discussions, we've had useful discussions, we've clarified issues. We've gotten to the point where the President has presented some parameters. We've had a step forward in terms of accepting these parameters with reservations that need to be worked on. We'll keep working on it.
You know, yes, we've made some progress. We've had enormous tragedy and difficulty on the ground that's made it much more difficult in many ways. But as I said, there are still some tough decisions, tough choices and hard decisions ahead. And so to say that we've made some progress since Camp David, that things have evolved, that people have been working, that others in the region have been working hard on the issues, it is not to say that peace is at hand or that somehow something magic has happened. But we've steadily worked on this and made incremental progress, had steps forward, and now we'll continue to do everything we can to continue moving forward if we can.
Q: I know you don't want to play with words, but you've said that there is now both sides accepting the parameters with reservations, and in another point you have said that we still have to get the two sides to accept the parameters. What can you tell us has changed in the last 24 hours other than perhaps being able to say that Arafat has said yes, but I still have these reservations? Has anything specifically changed in the last --
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's all I'm laying claim to is to say that Chairman Arafat has accepted the parameters and expressed some reservations, that the Israelis similarly have expressed some reservations, that these need to be reconciled. And that's how we get to a next step of the United States working with the parties to try to reconcile those.
Q: But the reservations were already apparent 24 hours ago when the Chairman arrived, were they not?
MR. BOUCHER: A great deal of numbers of things have been said. I can't go through specific reservations and say this one's here, this one's there, without getting into the level of detail that we're not prepared to do.
Q: Would you say fewer reservations in number, or the same reservations with lower intensity on each one?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't characterize it. I'm sorry, I'm just not in a position to try to do that.
Q: I'm not trying to be cute, but could you describe the difference between framework and parameters? I'm a little confused. What is the difference between a framework and a parameter for the purposes of the peace deal?
MR. BOUCHER: Gee, I think -- you know, I don't want to be cute, either. I guess the word of the day is "parameters." The word of yesterday was "parameters." Today it will be "parameters." And tomorrow, if we come up with something else, we'll tell you that word, too. But that's what we're dealing with here is working with the parameters of a negotiation, parameters of a deal.
Q: Are those the conditions which two sides would agree to negotiate, or are these --because the framework dealt in some ways with what an agreement would, may, or eventually look like?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, you know, through the entire history of this negotiations, we've had various ways of describing things. "Framework" has usually been in terms of an actual framework agreement, and I think this is more the parameters to negotiate the agreement, so it's a little bit different. It's a different word, and we hope it describes accurately where we are because that's what we're here for.
Q: You said that these reservations need to be reconciled. What are the next steps that the Administration is taking to reconcile these?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll be in touch with the parties. We maintain our contact with the parties and we'll continue to have contacts with the parties separately to try to work with each side on these reservations, see if we can reconcile them.
Q: Former Secretary Eagleburger was on television yesterday saying that the Administration was pushing too hard and it was time to back off and essentially give up. What would you say to this? And is this something you're hearing at all from the transition people? Are they giving any inkling that they share this view?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see the former Secretary's statement yesterday. I did see the statement by President-Elect Bush saying I hope they succeed, or words to that effect, wish them well.
Q: Can you address the concerns expressed today by Israeli officials who want a peace agreement and by even some White House officials that Arafat is trying to appear positive simply so that he doesn't appear to be the guy scuttling any kind of agreement but that there really isn't room for optimism that there can be an agreement reached before President Clinton leaves office? One Israeli official said that there in no chance that it can be -- that these reservations can be fully negotiated before then.
MR. BOUCHER: I've seen a lot of predictions from a lot of officials, and some of them may be right and some of them may prove wrong. We'll know soon enough.
Q: But what's your take in terms of -- for example, one Israeli official said that if Arafat really wanted a peace agreement before Clinton left office, he wouldn't have waited almost a full two weeks since the parameters were laid out to respond to them. Can you give any --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to get into this sort of back and forth of criticizing one or the other. The point is that we all know that these are the most serious issues that these leaders have to deal with. We all know that these are difficult decisions. The President put forward some ideas and suggestions that are based on his understandings of the position of the sides, his quite extensive discussions that he's had with the sides, and also based on things like Resolutions 242 and 338.
If we are going to get to the point of some kind of an agreement or a negotiation to produce some kind of an agreement, we feel that these basic parameters need to be accepted. That's what we are working on right now.
The President has made quite clear that he intends to do everything he can. The Secretary has made quite clear she intends to do everything she can. Ambassador Ross is fully engaged. So our team continues to work on these issues because we think that peace in the Middle East is important. It is important to the United States.
Similarly, we think it is important that people continue to work to end the violence, and we've asked the parties to take steps. We've talked to the parties about taking steps to end the violence. And those are both - how can I say - those are both endeavors that, as long as there is a possibility, they deserve our effort.
Q: The Secretary -- you laid out the plethora of phone calls that she made to world leaders. Did she get any commitments from any of them, those that will be in Cairo for the Arab summit, to lean on Arafat to respond favorably?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I described yesterday in general terms the Secretary's phone calls looking for support, hearing support for our efforts, for the process that we were engaged in. We have heard from a lot of leaders of their support for the United States making this effort and to try to bring the parties together, and I would expect that that is something they expressed not only to us but to others as well.
Q: But you made the point so well yesterday that she made so many phone calls on vacation that I'm just wondering if you could narrow it down to those specifically who are participating in the Arab summit. Did any of those leaders express support for the US position to her?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have a full list of who is at the Arab summit, but I think we described her conversations with a whole series of foreign ministers from Arab governments, who I would expect to be represented at summits. But how that particular event plays out, I really don't know.
Q: Richard, to follow up on what you were saying before, not necessarily that Arafat might be running out the clock or that he doesn't want a peace deal, but are these reservations so qualified that their significance -- that they box you in and that there's no room to maneuver? Do you see even with these reservations that there might be room to maneuver against these parameters?
MR. BOUCHER: It sort of goes back to the discussion we had earlier. I think the answer to that has to be that we still see grounds to work on this. We see a step forward here, we see the possibility of further progress, we see the need to be serious about this discussion and make sure that we have -- that we can get to acceptance of the basic parameters of a negotiation from both sides, that that is what would constitute a groundwork for the real negotiation, the tough negotiation that has to take place. And we see the work to be done next is to reconcile those reservations and get that groundwork for serious negotiation.
So is there something to do? Yes, there is something to do. We're not at this for fun; we're at this to try to get peace in the Middle East. And if we can keep working with the parties to end the violence and to lay the basis for a serious negotiation, we will keep doing that. And we think that's something that needs to be done now, and that's what we are doing.
Q: Richard, Rob Satloff of The Washington Institute has raised a question. He said that the plan calls for some international force to separate the two sides and to supervise the religious sites in Jerusalem. And he claims that this is not the sort of thing that George Bush would approve - George W. Bush would approve, that would be involvement overseas. And that it would also internationalize the issue, it would take it out of - sort of, the United States would no longer be the sole mediator. Could you respond to any of that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Number one, it's the substance. Number two, it's somebody speculating on what's in the parameters. And number three, it's somebody speculating on the reaction of the future president to what he's speculating on about what might be in the parameters. And for me to add a level of speculation to that would be foolhardy.
Q: Can you say anything else though about the idea of an international force as part of this agreement?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not - whatever reports there are out there about what the President suggested, I am not going to confirm.
Q: Has Secretary Albright made any calls today and does she plan to be calling anybody regarding the peace talks?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, she has been involved in some of the meetings. She was at other events this morning. But, no, I don't think she has made any separate calls at this point. I am sure she will continue to be in touch with her regular interlocutors on this subject, though.
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