Jerusalem, December 13, 1995

Distinguished Ambassadors, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a rare opportunity for me to host and address the entire diplomatic corps, representing such an overwhelming diversity of countries, languages and diplomatic experience.

According to my rough calculation, in this room there are almost 2,000 years of accumulated diplomatic experience. Unfortunately, we have elections coming up next October, so I will not be able to catch up on all these 2,000 years of experience. But I do promise that at least I will try to pick your brains, individually and collectively, and benefit from your enormously rich background.

Our foreign policy in the upcoming year will, naturally, continue to focus on our efforts to reach a comprehensive peace in the region. We are currently completing the redeployment of the IDF outside the major Palestinian cities and in the periphery of large rural areas. By the end of the month, the redeployment will be completed, with the exception of Hebron where redeployment will go on until March 1996.

In January, the Palestinians will hold elections for the Palestinian Authority Council. These elections are vital to the Palestinians, but are of equal significance to us. Free and democratic elections are an essential key to a free and democratic society. A free and democratic society, history has shown us, is less inclined to resort to violence, and we therefore see a democratically managed Palestinian society as a good neighbor.

We perceive the Palestinians as partners, and expect them to act decisively against terror and to live up to all other commitments agreed upon in our agreements, including the cancellation of the Palestinian Covenant.

As for our talks with Syria, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Shimon Peres presented U.S. President Bill Clinton with new ideas on the format of the talks and how we believe they might be conducted. We view a stable and durable peace with Syria as a strategic cornerstone of a new era in the Middle East. I believe and hope that the Syrians share this view. We will see what is the case in just a few weeks.

We have already made it abundantly clear to Syria that we are not intent on dictating any preconditions. We want full peace, openness, and normalization. We are ready to listen very carefully to the Syrian perspective, to the Syrian interests, and to the Syrian needs and sensitivities.

Our emphasis on security arrangements focuses on three elements:

1) To render a surprise attack practically impossible.

2) To create the mechanisms necessary to prevent an overall military conflict.

3) To avoid daily skirmishes, and deterioration into full-scale collision.

This is why we say that the depth of our withdrawal will be commensurate with the quality of peace and the strength of security arrangements. We are now awaiting the Syrian response to Prime Minister Peres’ proposals, with the hope that the visit of Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the region will in effect reignite the dialogue. But it "takes two to tango", and we don’t know of as now whether it is going to be reignited.

Prime Minister Peres said to the U.S. Congress yesterday, and I told the Barcelona Conference two weeks ago, that we call on Syria to look together with us at a promising future. Otherwise, we will be condemned to repeat our past.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

Our foreign policy objectives are not confined to the peace process alone. We shall continue to pursue diplomatic relations with other Arab countries; to strengthen our ties with the European Union; to enhance our relation with Asia; to strive for expanded cooperation with Africa; and to further our friendly ties with Latin America.

But these far-reaching objectives will not be achieved by us alone. We need the cooperation of partners all around the world, and I very seriously hope and expect that you yourselves, distinguished ambassadors, and your nations will help us to carry out these objectives.

Thank you very much.

I am ready to take questions from whoever of your Excellencies would like to ask something.

Q: I would like to comment about the Syrian issue, since it seems to be today one of the biggest and very important for the next step of the peace process. Mr. Minister, for those of us who have been here for a few years, we know you like a soldier, General Chief of Staff and your position concerning the strategic importance of the Golan Heights. We know you today as Minister of Foreign Affairs. To what extent can the position of the soldier influence the Israeli attitude regarding Syrian requests on the Golan Heights?

FM Barak: In our system, ultimately, the political leadership decides such matters, after listening very carefully to the reasoning and to the arguments made by the generals. Two years ago, still as a man in uniform, commander of our forces, I said that the Golan Heights is strategically important, and from a pure military point of view we should be somewhere on the Golan Heights even when peace comes. But, in the continuation of the same sentence, still in uniform, I told our generals that the decision will be made by the politician echelon, after taking into account the wider perspective and the wider set of considerations including, of course, the fact that what peace can bring to our strategic landscape is in a way a kind of promise for all and limitations on any potential rival.

So, I made it clear, and I think that it is still correct, that generals should express their views; the political leadership will make its decision. Once we make a decision upon the depth of withdrawal, it is the duty of the armed forces to come with the suggestions about what are the appropriate security arrangements and early warning arrangements that are needed in regard to these politically agreed lines. I am confident that our generals are highly capable and they will be able to do it for the line that we agreed, once we reach it, by the government of Israel.

Q: There have been some circulations in the press about a military alliance between Israel and the United States. I understand perhaps it is not imminent, but it would be interesting to hear your view about the military strategic relationship between Israel and the United States.

Also, recently, the Russian Minister of Defense paid a visit to Israel and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. This also gives rise to the question of the role of Russia now, under these new circumstances in this region, and the relationship with Israel and the whole situation as it is developing in this region.

FM BARAK: Our relations with the United States have been highly intimate for many years. In a way, they have been improved along the last few years. If I would accumulate the whole set of Memorandums of Understanding that we already have with the United States, the overall rate will be the equivalent of quite a deep commitment on both sides to cooperate, and a kind of commitment of America to basically support the military capability of Israel. We have made the principle of self-reliance a cornerstone of our policies. We never asked anyone to come to fight for us, and we intend never to ask anyone to come to fight for us. Now we are going to try to change the whole landscape in a way that will make a war almost impossible.

The essence of the initiative that our Prime Minister presented to the President is trying to go ahead with the process in a comprehensive way that will include not only Syria, but Lebanon as well, with a opening or provision for the rest of the countries of the Arab world in Maghreb and the Arab Peninsula to establish open relations with Israel. If this effort is successful, in a way we won’t need more than we have now with the United States. But if it will be raised in the future, once the process will go much deeper than it is now, we will have to consider what is proposed against what is already on the table, and see whether there is a need to formalize the very intimate relations that we already have in a somewhat more rigid way.

I don’t think that it is needed for the dialogue with the Syrians per se, or for the continuation of the peace process as it stands by itself. I am a strong believer in a bilateral dialogue with each Arab partner. The future of relations between Israel and the United States is something that we tend to deal with within frameworks of generation to come. It might be considered at a certain point in the future. I don’t think that it is very important in regard to the actual present discussions vis-a-vis decisions.

Regarding your second question, as you know, the Soviet Union is not in existence anymore. Russia is still a child a very important neighbor, may I say. We are here in the room representatives from all over the globe. When you take into account the overall dimensions, they are quite close to us, and whatever happens in and around Russia has certain importance to the Middle East and to all neighboring countries.

We thought for many years that there is something abnormal with the fact that we did not for many years have relations with Russia and with the Soviet Union. We are happy that with the present Russia we have relations, and that, for the first time, even the Minister of Defense came here. I do not think that the nature of understanding that we achieved with him should be a source of any kind of worry to any of our neighbors. I see it as a kind of way a little bit to correct a distortion, which was a kind of residual of the past, which now comes to a more normal pattern.

Q: Mr. Minister, you mentioned on the Palestinian track the redeployment culminating in March with Hebron. Can you elaborate a little on how you see the next stage of negotiations with the Palestinians, the final status negotiations that are supposed to start in May 1996? Could you give us your view on that perspective, on that important part within the peace process?

FM BARAK: If everything goes well with the implementation of the interim agreement and I hope that this will be the case, and it depends upon both sides we will face the opening of the permanent status negotiations, as you mention, in May 1996. I don’t think that it would be clever to detail in advance our positions in these negotiations. I can only tell you these are not going to be the easiest part, but maybe the tougher part of the whole process. The gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions about the nature of permanent status, might be found to be quite a wide gap.

In a way, my hope is that the success of the Gaza and Jericho Agreement and hopefully the success of the implementation of the Interim Agreement will contribute to the mutual respect and confidence to the record between us and the Palestinian of living up to agreed commitments, and certain contribution to the proof, I hope, that some kind of co-existence and good neighboring is possible among us.

If we will be successful in these achievements or accomplishments, we will have a better chance to run through the obstacles and there are many of them awaiting us in the permanent status negotiations we might face them with a better chance to overcome them. I believe that at the present we should invest all our energies, as should the Palestinians, in order to make these agreements that have already been accomplished to be successful. We have three years for the permanent status negotiations. It’s quite a long time until the implementation. I hope that we will be able to accomplish it even before that, but I do not think that it would be wise to go into a more detailed description right now.

Thank you very much. I really hope to meet all of you on different occasions during the next eleven months, and maybe even afterwards. I wish you a happy stay and fruitful work here in Israel, in cooperation with all of us here, from myself and through all the echelons of our Foreign Ministry. May I add our wishes for a happy New Year. Let us hope that it will bring to our region both peace and security.