Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Israeli Prime Minister Barak following Meeting at the Home of Secretary Albright

July 16, 1999, Washington, DC
As released by the Office of the Spokesman U.S. Department of State

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning. Let me just say that Prime Minister Barak and I have just had a very friendly and useful meeting, and I’m very, very pleased, Mr. Prime Minister, that you were able to come to my house. It’s a great honor for me. I think it really is symbolic of the fact that we have been able to reestablish a really important working relationship that is based on trust, and confidence, and the ability to work together.

I think that what is important is that the Prime Minister is prepared to work broadly on all the tracks involved, and the United States will be taking an active role. I am looking forward to going to the region sometime in August. I, most of all, look forward to working with the Prime Minister who is dedicated to the Middle East peace process. We are dedicated to the preserving and making sure of the security of Israel and of really making so evident what has been evident for 50 years – the very special relationship that we have with the State of Israel, and obviously with its new Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER BARAK: Thank you. I’m thankful to Secretary Albright for the invitation to come here into this beautiful home and to have this really friendly, warm atmosphere — a breakfast with the sole discussion of the challenges that lie ahead. We talked about the Middle East, about bilateral issues. I reaffirmed to the Secretary our commitment to abide by international agreements signed by our government, including why our determination to move forward on all tracks, and our looking forward to see the Secretary coming to the Middle East during the month of August to help in shaping the overall strategy and the details of how to move forward in our determined road toward peace in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, I assume that you were already able to be updated about the details of the failings — (inaudible) — connected to the flotilla fighters. Do you already have conclusions?

PRIME MINISTER BARAK: The event itself is very serious, hurtful, and embarrassing, and requires conclusions that will bring about that such a thing will not be able to repeat itself. Immediately upon my return to Israel, I will take care of the things that stem from it, and I will examine whether the steps that are taken by the IDF are indeed the right steps to handle the matter.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, are you prepared to devote the level of effort of shuttling that your predecessor, Mr. Christopher, did between Israel and Damascus as this unfolds?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say — I have said, and the Prime Minister has reiterated, that the US will have an active role. What I will do is what will be needed and what I am asked to do, because I think that – I think it must be very clear to everybody that the Middle East peace process is something that has been important to President Clinton and is obviously important to me. It’s important to the Prime Minister, and the people of Israel. It is important that we take the time that is necessary and calibrate our role according to what is really called for. And I will do what I believe is important in making the peace process work.

QUESTION: Mr. Barak, [you met for three hours with the] President, did you reach new agreements as a result of this meeting that are beyond what was in the White House; for example, in regard to the changes in the Wye agreement, and the renewal of the talks with the Syrians?

PRIME MINISTER BARAK: We continued the talks we conducted at the White House, and we expanded all the topics. The conversation was very open, very intimate, and profound. And I think that it will contribute to me and I hope also to the President in shaping the correct strategy for the continued activity in order to put an end to the conflict between us and our neighbors.

QUESTION: Secretary Albright, I wonder if I could ask you about an issue that’s important to both nations, which is trans-national terrorism. CNN reported last night that Secretary of Defense Cohen changed his travel plans to Albania because of some activity by Usama bin Laden. As we get close to the one-year anniversary of those embassy bombings, what can you tell us about how concerned the US is about the bin Laden’s current activities?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that, obviously, we have all been waging a struggle against terrorism; that is certainly something that the Prime Minister and I have talked about and is obviously a very important part of dealing with the peace process. Generally, we have obviously been concerned about the increase in terrorism and the security of our various facilities, embassies, and others, and we do consider Usama bin Laden a worldwide threat. We are taking, and have been taking the necessary measures to deal with it. But it is of concern to us, and we have made no bones about that.

QUESTION: Mr. Barak, you spoke yesterday about moves that might soon take place for the renewal of the negotiations with Syria. What moves are you talking about? And can you say something today to the citizens of Israel about the price that they will be required to pay if indeed there will be progress with the Syrians?

PRIME MINISTER BARAK: When there will be moves, I will be interviewed on television and I will announce to the public about them. At this stage, it makes no sense to deal with it. It will not contribute to the advancement of these moves themselves. There is no doubt that we are facing very important decisions that will impact the fate of the State of Israel. I will only bring those arrangements according to the best of my understanding that will strengthen the security of the State of Israel by putting an end to the conflict between us and our neighbors, while solving all the problems on the agenda that are between us.

QUESTION: The newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, has reported that you reached an understanding with David Levy that if within a year no agreement is reached with the Syrians, you will return the boys home by a unilateral withdrawal. Is there a basis to that news? Are you considering a unilateral withdrawal?

PRIME MINISTER BARAK: There is no change in my position. I’m acting to take our boys out of Lebanon and their deployment on the border, while securing the safety of the Northern Settlements in an agreement.

QUESTION: Is a unilateral withdrawal an option?

PRIME MINISTER BARAK: There is no change in my position.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We certainly gave you a warm welcome.

PRIME MINISTER BARAK: Thank you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good to see you. Thank you. Thank you very much.