Press Conference by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak
London, July 21, 1999
PM BLAIR: First of all can I say how delighted and honoured we are to have Prime Minister Barak here. He is a good friend and colleague of mine and I just wanted to put on record my admiration for what he has achieved so far as Prime Minister of Israel and my 101% support for all that he is doing, and for Israel and the Middle East peace process.
We are obviously at a very important and critical juncture, but someone of Prime Minister Barak’s leadership and vision is precisely the person that can take this peace process forward. And so far as Britain is concerned, we will play any constructive part we can and any supportive role we can in bringing about lasting peace in the region, a peace of justice and a peace also of security. Because we know how much has been invested by so many people in this process and we want to see it succeed, not just for Israel and for the Middle East but for all the world. So Ehud, welcome, we are delighted to have you here.
PM BARAK: Thank you. I came here to meet a leader and a friend and a future partner to the international support of the highly important Middle East peace process. We shared views about the situation in the Middle East and what could be done in order to promote seizing the opportunity and strengthening and securing the long term position in Israel, so putting an end to a conflict of 100 years in our region.
I believe that Britain can have a leading role within the European Union in supporting this peace process, the same way that Britain under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair played a unique role in deciding the Kosovo crisis. I think that the Kosovo crisis and the way it was led by President Clinton and Tony Blair provide us with an excellent example of how free world leadership should act on the global arena – namely put a clear line beyond which when a regional despot crosses it, the free world can and will be translated into an effective operation that will put any despot at bay. I believe that it is important for the backyard of Europe and the Balkans, but it is maybe more important as a signal for any potential future despot anywhere around the world about what expects him if he will try to defy the will of the leading democracies of the free world.
On behalf of us, the people of Israel and I believe billions of others around the world, I would like to thank you personally for this personal example of personal leadership.
Q: You must have exchanged ideas with Prime Minister Barak, what do you think about his idea to combine the Wye Memorandum with final status talks? And concerning Syria, do you think that it is necessary to have a formula in order to resolve the negotiations which can just begin and just resume like that without any formula?
PM BLAIR: I think these are questions really for the Prime Minister of Israel to take forward. And I regard our part in this is to give full support for it, and I have no doubt at all – indeed I think he has impressed people right around the world, as you have seen earlier in Washington, with his desire to make progress and to make progress as swiftly as is possible, but recognising that this is a man who believes deeply in his country and in the security of Israel and wants to move the process forward in a way consistent with that. And I think we have a tremendous opportunity. There are a whole set of circumstances that have come together, not least with the election of the new government in Israel, that allow us to move it forward. But I think the way that it is done and the details of that I think really are a matter for the Prime Minister.
PM BARAK: May I add to it that I believe that the role of Europe, with Great Britain as a central player in it, could be to create an atmosphere of support that will include our Arab partners and Israel in an environment where any advancement is somehow well accepted by the world community and to help the European Union donors to keep supporting the peace effort politically as well as financially. And it is up to us, together with our neighbours, to sit around the table and try to solve the concrete problems that are out there on the table between us.
SELECTED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS BY PM BARAK:
Q: Re news of possible Syrian moves towards peace.
PM BARAK: I do highly appreciate the positive signals that are reaching us and the external world from Syria. I think that the time is ripe for achieving the ‘peace of the brave’ between Israel and all its neighbors including Syria. It might take another few weeks for us to draw the map to finalize the preliminary assessments of the situation, then nominate teams on any track and begin a simultaneous move on all tracks – Syrian, Lebanon, Palestinian – without preference to any track, in order to make sure that we know whether we can or cannot achieve peace in the Middle East within 15 months.
Q: Re time limits, can you deliver and when?
PM BARAK: Of course I think that I can deliver, and time is of essence for the whole process. We cannot just sit idle and wait for problems to be solved somehow, magically. But let me make it clear, by setting a time frame of 15 months, I do not intend to have any kind of formal legal contract with you or the public. I would not ask for a medal if it will take only nine months, and I am not going to jump from any tower in the Middle East if it takes 24 months. It just means to signal that we mean business, we do not have magic solutions in our pockets that will end the whole thing in three weeks, but we are not ready to drag it along three or five years.
Q: Re speed of the Syrian track as against speed on Palestinian track.
PM BARAK: We will play bona fide with all the players on each track. We are ready to implement the Wye Agreement. I think that we have to discuss with Chairman Arafat the possibility of combining the implementation of the last stages of Wye with the permanent status, but only if it is mutually agreed that it will be run this way, and we have a lot of other confidence-building measures from both sides on the way, while are are moving forward.
Q: Re Britain’s closer relations with Iran, what issues discussed, did it include the fate of 13 Iranian Jews?
PM BARAK: The issue of the 13 arrested Jews in Iran, I believe should be treated out of the public sight in order to maximize the chances that it will be treated appropriately.
I exchanged views with Prime Minister Blair as well as with President Clinton and leading members of his government and the Congress about the worry that we have of leaking of missile technology and nuclear knowhow into Iran. We strongly believe that everything that could be done in order to slow down, contain or put an end to this process will be important for the stability of the whole region, for the prospect of free flow of oil from the Middle East and for the sake of the security of Israel.