An Interview with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
CNN TV, January 12, 2000

JERROLD KESSLER: Thank you very much, and thank you, Prime Minister, for joining us on CNN.

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: Thank you.

Q: I imagine that since you say you still haven’t told the Syrians what they can expect to get back on the Golan Heights that you won’t tell us either. But really isn’t that the question. Why hasn’t Israel set out plainly its position on this? Isn’t this the key to the success of these negotiations?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: It is a highly complicated negotiation. We set our position quite clear. We said that we do not pass any political commitment of my government to the Syrians, but at the same time we did not erase the past, the negotiation in Madrid, the negotiation with Rabin, Perez and even Netanyahu, and we do not intend to erase the past.

Based on these two elements, I think it’s quite clear where we are heading, and we are determined to find a solution both to security arrangements, to normalization, to water issues, and to the border.

Q: Yet today, Syrian media, Syrian officials are blaming you for lack of progress in the Shepherdstown talks. They say Israel needs to show goodwill. What’s your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I don’t want to go into an exchange of blows through the media. It’s the responsibility of both sides to make sure that we will have the peace of the brave that our children and future generations of this region deserve. It’s a heavy responsibility. Tough decisions will be needed on both sides. We are determined. I think that the Syrians are serious, and that there is an opportunity that we are determined not to lose.

Q: You say the Syrians are serious. What indications do they give you that lead you to that conclusion?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: First of all, I followed their approach along the last two rounds, and I should admit that in the last round we even felt certain cracks, may I say, in the Syrian typical rigidity that somehow hinted to us that once we entered into fully fledged work, according to the American working paper, there is a chance of advancement. It is clearly my feeling that the peace process with the Syrians is approaching its moment of truth.

Q: Moment of truth? Precisely when? Next round perhaps?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I don’t know. It cannot be fully predicted. It will begin in next round, maybe to continue to another round or two. But basically we don’t have years, we don’t have a year, we don’t have even many months. It’s a matter of the next, let’s say, two or three months that we will know whether we have an agreement with Syria. Then I believe also, if it’s successful with Syria, with Lebanon, and maybe even an opening to some other countries in the Arabian peninsula, or in the North Africa.

Q: A lot of people in Israel are worried by what they call the absence of public diplomacy by the Syrians, the failure of Mr. Sharaa to shake your hand. They say this is an obstacle. Do you see it that way, too?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I would prefer of course that we would shake hands and really be in a more kind of normal personal relationship, but I don’t think that this is the issue. If we are successful in striking a deal, there will be also handshakes and President Assad will have to come, or to meet with us and with President Clinton in order to solve some of the toughest issues that might remain.

Q: Is that on the cards soon, that President Assad will be get involved?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I don’t know. I cannot predict when it happens, but I cannot conceive an agreement or a deal struck before we practically meet with President Assad and Clinton. I don’t know when it will happen. I don’t put it as a precondition, but that’s my expectation, may I say.

But let me tell you, if we are successful, it doesn’t matter what kind of manners or a pattern of the relationship characterized the first round. If we will fail, it wouldn’t help us even if we would get into a tub together.

Q: You say you’re absolutely —

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: There are tubs in Shepherdstown, the reason why I mention it.

Q: You weren’t in it together this time.

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: No, I went alone.

Q: There are a lot — you say you’re confident that there will be a sweeping majority of Israelis for any deal, which you conclude. Yet the atmosphere on Israel’s streets at the moment, even in the political community is rather different.

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: Oh, I’m confident that once we come with a peace agreement, that contains an opening of borders, normalization with Syria, security arrangements, early warning, water issues solved, Lebanon, the boys coming back home from Lebanon, opening to the Maghreb and to the Arabian Peninsula, upgrading of weapon systems and early warning systems, with the support of American administration and Congress, and an economic boom that I predict will be the result of peace in the Middle East; when we come with this package deal, it is clear to me that a landslide majority of Israelis will vote for such an agreement that make a better future for Israel.

Q: You talk about American support. There’s a delegation from the Senate here assessing Israel’s needs, military, economic. Can you enlighten us on what Israel needs? Are you confident the United States will come through on this? And if it doesn’t, can you afford to give up the Golan Heights?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I feel that there will be sole discussion of these issues in the next few months. I believe that before an agreement is concluded we will have a better feeling of the readiness of both the administration and the Congress. In the past quite typically America, the American people, and we are thankful for it, and the American Congress was ready as a bipartisan kind of issue to support the peace process in the Middle East. I hope it will be the case.

Q: Can you put a number on it?

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I don’t think that it is appropriate to put numbers at this stage, but may I say that I believe that it really serves America’s profound interest in this region, strengthening the pragmatic regimes vis-a-vis the rogue regimes, like Iran, Iraq or Libya at the present, making a better deployment vis-a-vis a terror, like Ossama Bin Laden, or other sources of international terror, and even against fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism. And let me add to it that a stable Middle East provides a stream, a kind of smooth flow of oil from the Gulf to Europe and Japan, which helps these highly important economies to stable grow.

Q: Thank you very much, Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Thank you very much for talking to CNN today.

PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK: Thank you very much. I hope to meet with you when we really have a deal, not just expectations.

[END OF INTERVIEW.]