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 Home > News & Policies > June 2001
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 26, 2001

Background Briefing
By a Senior Administration Official
on President's Meeting With
Prime Minister Sharon of Israel
the James S. Brady Briefing Room

5:30 P.M. EDT

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  As you know, the President and the Prime Minister met this afternoon.  This is the Prime Minister's second visit to the White House.  They met with their top aides for a little bit over an hour.  This was a very open, serious discussion. The atmosphere in the room, though, I would say was warm and friendly. These are two men who have, I think, a great deal of admiration for each other.

     The President listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister had to say about the current situation on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians.  He listened to the Prime Minister's ideas on how to proceed with the implementation of the Mitchell Committee Report in all of its elements, including the sequencing and how we will get from one stage to the next.

     The President expressed his personal appreciation and admiration for Prime Minister Sharon's courageous demonstration of strength through restraint.  He said he understood the enormous pressures that the Prime Minister is under.  The Prime Minister's policy has helped to create an opportunity to make progress towards ending the violence, which in the end can save the lives of innocents on both sides.

     The President reaffirmed his judgment, which you heard in the pool spray, that the cease-fire has gained some momentum, but still remains extremely fragile.  The President made clear his view that much more work needs to be done; there needs to be a 100-percent effort to fight terror, to stop incitement and to end violence.  The President stressed his view that it's up to the parties to make the judgments about how the effort is to proceed.

     The Prime Minister and the President also covered a great many other issues, including the threats of weapons of mass destruction in the region, broader threats of terrorism, the situation in Iran and Iraq.  The President gave the Prime Minister a readout on his discussions with President Putin in Slovenia, because of the high interest Israel has in those issues.

     The President is dispatching Secretary Powell tonight to the region, in his second visit to the area.  Secretary Powell will work to help the parties consolidate the cease-fire, and hopefully, to prepare the ground to move forward with implementation of the Mitchell Committee Report.

     Q    Did the President tell the Prime Minister or urge the Prime Minister to move into the second phase of the Mitchell Report, and that is the cooling period?  Does he consider this now a cooling off period?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The President did not make any decisions unilaterally about whether we are in a cooling-off period, or not.  As the Secretary of State has said before, ultimately it is up to the parties when the level of violence is sufficient that they can move from one stage to the next.

     Q    Did he give his impression on where we are now, or --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The President reiterated what he said to you in the pool spray, which is that we have made some progress, but much more work needs to be done.  There is a great deal that still needs to be done in order to bring violence under control.

     Q    What is the President's reaction to Prime Minister Sharon's 10-day statement outside?  He said that he wanted a 10-day period of total calm before the cooling-off period.  Does the President endorse that 10-day idea?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The Prime Minister's position has been stated before.  I don't think this was new.  What we are looking for now is a way to move forward.  Clearly, we agree that there needs to be a period of calm.  The timing of that, the sequencing, the time lines are things yet to be worked out, and that's what the Secretary is going to the region, to see if we can't help move forward.

     Q    If I can just follow up on that.  In the pool spray, the President said that he would urge a realistic assessment of what's possible on the ground.  And Prime Minister Sharon is talking about 10 days of complete quiet.  Is that a difference of opinion?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't think it's a difference of opinion, but I think it is a reflection of the very fragile situation.  The hold of the cease-fire remains tenuous.  And we need to see efforts by both parties to try to consolidate it and make it go forward.

     Q    But would we prefer Israel not to be so adamant on --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  This administration's position from day one has been clear, that we are here to facilitate progress between the parties, not to impose our views on them.

     Q    Did the President ask the Prime Minister to commit for a settlement freeze at this time?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The President and the Prime Minister spent a great deal of time talking about the entire Mitchell Committee Report which, as you know, calls for a settlement freeze.  How we will get to that stage of implementing confidence-building is what still needs to be worked out and what the Secretary will be going out to the region to work on.  Our view is clear, that the Mitchell Committee Report should be implemented in all of its elements.

     Q    What does the Prime Minister think on that?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think the Prime Minister has made clear his position before.  We find encouraging the fact that both parties have accepted the Mitchell Committee Report and we are going to hold to Mitchell as is, no changes.

     Q    Where all will the Secretary be visiting on his trip and exactly how long will he be gone?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think that that is still a work in progress.  I understand that we leave imminently to go to Egypt and then we go from there to Jerusalem.  The Secretary, I believe, hopes to be back by the weekend.

     Q    Who and how will you make a determination that there has been a 100-percent effort on both sides?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think that's a determination which, as the President said, has to be based on a reality check.  We have to see what's going on, we have to make that call.  We have extensive contacts with both sides.

     As you know, under Director Tenet's work plan, there are very precise things that each side is supposed to do, and we feel confident that we'll be able to measure their effort.  But at this stage, we feel that effort is not 100 percent.

     Q    The Prime Minister said outside he feels pretty clearly that we need -- he wants 10 days of total peace and quiet before moving on.  The President in the pool spray made clear that he would be open to moving into a cooling-off period sooner than that.  Can you get into a little bit how the two of them discussed that and whether the President yielded to the Prime Minister or --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The two of them discussed the situation and how to move forward.  I don't think that in this case there is any difference on the fundamental, which is there needs to be a reduction in the level of violence; we have not gotten to that point yet. In the end, it will be the parties that have to make the decisions about whether they're prepared to move to the next stage.  The United States cannot do that for them.

     Q    How is it possible to lay down these parameters of a 10-day complete cessation of hostilities, followed by a six-to-eight week period, without, in effect, handing a veto to the peace process to anybody who can stuff a can with nails and cordite?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That's why our view is there has to be a 100-percent effort.  The Palestinian Authority must make 100-percent effort to prevent terrorism, to fight terrorists, to stop incitement, and do what it can to stop violence.

     Q    With all due respect, what will 10 days or two months really show us?  The last group of violence that happened three years ago was similar and it stopped for almost three years, and we're back to the same situation.  What will any particular period of time really show us?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The Mitchell Committee Report lays out a sequence of steps to try to avoid a return to a pattern of violence. There is no, in the end, perfect solution here.  There is only what the two parties have prepared to make political risks to do.  Our position has been that we will help them in facilitating, trying to make those hard decisions.

     You're absolutely right; we do not want a reversion to the past. That's why we have supported the Mitchell Committee Report in its sequenced approach to try to find a better way forward.

     Q    How will the Secretary's mission succeed with the Prime Minister so determined that there be 10 days, and only after then, the cooling-off period?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think the Secretary's mission is designed to see if we can't build on the fragile momentum we have now, consolidate the situation more.  In the end, this is not an American conflict; it is a conflict between the parties.  And they will have to make those hard decisions.  We can push them forward; we can encourage them; we can facilitate it.  But the decisions on whether we're going to get there will be Israeli and Palestinian decisions.

     Q    So we would expect the Prime Minister to change his mind?  It seems to me that he's very determined.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think that what we have seen over time here is that the Prime Minister is a man who said he is committed to the Mitchell Committee Report, which he reiterated to the President.  He is committed to the Tenet work plan and he repeated that to the President.  He wants to make those work.

     The President and the Prime Minister agreed that at this stage, there has not been sufficient reduction in violence, but we should be looking for ways to move the situation forward and to build on the fragile momentum that we had since Director Tenet was in the region.

     Q    It seems as if the President, at least at this point, has not made tremendous gains in changing Prime Minister Sharon's mind about how to get started.  What is the Secretary intending on saying to Chairman Arafat to move him off --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think the Secretary will be very clear with Chairman Arafat.  There has to be 100 percent effort to fight violence, stop incitement and to try to restore a measure of calm and trust here.

     Q    Is 100-percent effort tantamount to some period of complete quiet, like Sharon said?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think in the end, that will be something we will have to see when we get to something where we have 100-percent effort.

     Q    Are there plans to involve Arafat more, bring him to Washington to talk to the President?  I mean, so far it seems like this is more of a --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No plans at this stage for the Chairman to come here.  The Secretary will be seeing him in less than 48 hours.

                             END         5:40 P.M. EDT

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