Jerusalem, August 7, 1994
FM PERES: We welcome the Secretary of State Warren Christopher upon his visit now to our country and to the Middle East. May I say that we salute the energies of the Secretary, not to allow the momentum for peace to subside, and whenever he comes he forces us to put on dates and events and actually pave the way to further the peace process. I think that in our own feelings, whatever happened over the last year exceeds the expectations of everybody in the Middle East. For that reason, those visits, in my judgment, are extremely positive and contributing greatly to the maintenance and continuation of the peace momentum.
We also understand perfectly well that peace is not just an opening occasion it requires a great deal of maintenance. We are aware of the fact that we have to maintain very carefully and very respectfully our agreement with the Palestinian people I am referring to the Gaza-Jericho Agreement. While there are a great deal of achievements there, there are also some problems, and we are not going to turn our backs on them. Whatever is dependent upon us, we shall try to settle it and meet it in the most responseful and positive manner. We think that the Palestinian authority is trying to build a new situation that we support and that we are willing to support and will continue to support in the future.
Then, again, we would like to fill the Jordanian-Israeli agreement, with the American participation, with economic content, so people will see not just the very wonderful appearances of the promise of peace but also the hard evidence of the economic improvement in the relations and in the situations of our two peoples as soon and as much as we can do in the future.
We also support the attempt which is today being conducted by the Secretary to have a breakthrough in our relations with the Syrians, though we know it still requires a great deal of work and effort and understanding. I wouldn’t like to describe it as though it has happened yesterday or it is going to happen tomorrow. But I would like to describe it as something that will and should happen, and the sooner the better.
We have had a look again over the Middle East as a region, and the next important occasion will be October 31, when an economic conference will take place in Casablanca, in Morocco, chaired by the King of Morocco Hassan II, supported by President Clinton and President Yeltsin, with the expected participation of many of the political leaders, maybe over 100, and of many commercial enterprises. We believe there will be quite an extensive amount of groups and associations that will come. This will be the first time in the history of the Middle East that an organized economic effort, supported both by governments and private enterprise, market economy and political thinking, will be matched together to open a new situation in the Middle East.
Again, the Secretary of State, the American President and administration are very supportive, as the Europeans are, as the Japanese are, and many other countries, and we do hope that this will add a new dimension, an additional dimension, to our diplomatic efforts to build a new Middle East for the benefit of all people.
While not ignoring the problems, may I say that we can permit ourselves to have an optimistic look at what was achieved until now, and for that reason to continue optimistically to go further and build an entirely new situation in this region. It is because of that, that I would like to thank the Secretary and the peace team for taking all the troubles and voyaging here and there uninterruptedly. It’s not simple, considering the differences in time and the distance, and we are very glad that we have the opportunity to go further ahead.
SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: Thank you very much, Mr. Foreign Minister. My visits here to Israel have become a rather regular stop for me, and one of the high points of it always is my meetings with the Foreign Minister. He has contributed so much to the progress that’s been made in the course of the last year and he was vitally involved, of course, in the Declaration of Principles, the Gaza-Jericho Accord, and once again in the progress with respect to Jordan, he has brought his vision and good judgment to that. So, when I’m here, I find it very inspiring to be with him and to hear him talk about the future of the Middle East.
He’s given you a good account of the subjects we discussed in our meeting this morning which went for a little bit more than an hour. I won’t try to repeat them, except to say that he and I resolved that we would make certain to try to keep into our minds the economic aspect of these various relationships; that the political steps forward are of course crucial, but the agreements will only be cemented, they will only be finally most effective when they have an economic aspect as well. The Foreign Minister’s vision in terms of what can be done on that front, of course, is a key factor.
Thank you much, Mr. Foreign Minister. I have enjoyed our conversation and look forward to seeing you again during the course of this visit.
Q: Mr. Minister, you pretty much covered the map all the way into an October meeting, but more immediately, Israel seems to be under cross-border attack again. I wondered if you could tell us if the U.S. has asked you to curb your response to Hizbullah, and if you have decided not to retaliate I know you don’t like to call it ‘relatliate’, but have you decided not to be as aggressive in responding to your enemy?
FM PERES: I don’t think that we were aggressive. I think we have had a mishap, unfortunately, we have apologized publicly. We didn’t intend that any person, innocent person, will be killed or suffer in Lebanon. Unfortunately, when you have a tense situation, mistakes may occur. It’s not a policy, it’s a mistake. The reactions of the Lebanese were planned in a most unfortunate way. I think we have revealed to the Secretary our own feelings and judgment, expressing our expectations that the Syrians, who have a great deal to say in the Lebanese developments, will do so fully and completely.
Q: I wasn’t suggesting any criticism of Israel, I was asking you if you have decided to muffle your response to attack at U.S. request? There seems to be a feeling that the back and forth attacks are getting out of hand, they are described as enemies of peace instead of enemies of Israel, and have you been asked to curb your fire, and did you agree to hold your fire?
FM PERES: As I have explained, we don’t have such a policy, so we weren’t asked to change it. We do not have any policy to accelerate fire or to increase the tension or to escalate the situation in Lebanon. So we weren’t asked to stop it or change it, because such a policy does not exist at all.
Q: Mr. Secretary, and Foreign Minister Peres: In an interview with the German magazine ‘Der Spiegel’, President Assad was asked would he be willing to shake hands now with Prime Minister Rabin, and he replied that first he’d cut off his hand. What’s your reaction, gentlemen, to that kind of a statement from Assad?
SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: What I can say about President Assad is, in my many meetings with him, and I’ll have another one today, he expresses great seriousness about pursuing the peace process. I sense from him a respect for Prime Minister Rabin based upon their having kept mutual promises over many years period. So what I can say about him is that certainly his attitude toward the peace process is a serious one. It’s one in which he is engaging and spending a great deal of time, and I am going to devote my time to it as well.
FM PERES: Every ‘Spiegel’ reflects an existing situation. I don’t know a mirror that can reflect the future.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you accept the Israeli assessment that Syria could prevent attacks by Hizbullah guerillas against Israeli targets, and are you going to discuss this today with President Assad?
SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: Frequently when attacks like this occur, I have been asked or I have prompted myself to contact any of the parties who might be effective in bringing those attacks under control. I have done that again in this situation. I think probably saying more about it would not be helpful here. My main aim is to prevent this round of violence from cycling and causing difficulty for the peace process, and I think it’s best for me just to say that when I can, I am in touch with all the parties to urge them to show restraint in this situation and to get back to the bargaining table. After all, this problem needs to be solved at the bargaining table. Incidents like those that have happened the last few days only underscore the need for a peaceful resolution of these problems. They dramatize the importance of the endeavor that we are engaged in here and make us redouble our efforts to try to achieve a peaceful result on all fronts. A truly comprehensive peace is the answer to the kind of incidents that we have had in the last 48 or 72 hours.
Q: (Hebrew) The Jordanian Information Minister stated today that Israel recently provided water to Jordan because of the draught there, and he sees this as one of the first signs of progress towards peace. Can you give us details on this?
FM PERES: (Hebrew) No, I will content myself with his statement.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we see a kind of de facto normalization beginning between Israel and Jordan, and I’m wondering if you see that as a model with Syria, or maybe diplomatic relations will come towards the end of the process instead of at the beginning?
SEC’Y CHIRISTOPHER: On the first point, we’re seeing some positive things in the area of public diplomacy, which I think are a good sign. They are compatible with the negotiations that are going on. I refer, for example, in Syria to the fact that Syrian television showed the events in Washington last Monday between the Jordanians and the Israelis; the fact that in his Army Day speech, President Assad endorsed the peace process and the need for peace in a way that hasn’t been done before. So there are some good signs in the public diplomacy field. Of course, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have been very forthcoming in the emphasis on their side of the need to develop a peaceful relationship with Syria and the need to take risks, indeed, if it’s necessary, for that kind of a peace.
Q: (Hebrew) Mr. Peres, do you share the view that President Assad intends to delay the peace process on the Syrian track because he doesn’t want to be seen as trailing behind King Hussein?
FM PERES: No, I am not prepared to engage in guesswork. I believe that the peace process is not only a psychological process, but something more serious.
Q: Mr. Secretary, will you be taking up the problem of international terrorism and the bomb attacks in Buenos Aires and London in your talks with President Assad?
SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: Yes, I will be discussing the problem of international terrorism when I meet Mr. Assad in Syria on this trip.