JERUSALEM, FRIDAY, APRIL 26, 1996
PRIME MINISTER PERES: Ladies and gentlemen, as they say, it’s a boy. I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State of the United States, Warren Christopher, for an outstanding job that he and his delegation have performed and concluded over the last few days. From an almost impossible situation, with three parties far away from each other, the secretary was able to bring, for the first time, in my judgment, an agreement between Syria or an understanding, actually, is this word between Syria and us and the Lebanese. The nature of the agreement will be announced by the secretary itself.
I want simply to say to the secretary on behalf of our people and of our government, thank you from the depth of our hearts. I think you served peace, you did it with great dignity and wisdom and friendship, and I know what a difficult time you have had to go through. It’s an achievement for you and for all of us. I’d also like to use this opportunity to thank the president of the United States, President Clinton, for asking the secretary and the peace team to come over here at a very trying time and a difficult time. Thank you, sir.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Mr. Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen. After seven days of shuttling in the region, I’m very pleased to announced that we’ve reached an agreement on a new set of understandings to end the current crisis. The carrying out of these understandings will end the Katyusha attacks and protect citizens, civilians, in both Israel and Lebanon, allowing them finally to return to their homes, to leave the air raid shelters. These understandings will take effect at 4:00 A.M. tomorrow. We have achieved the goal of our mission, which was to achieve an agreement that will save lives and end the suffering of people on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border. These understandings take us well beyond the oral understanding that I negotiated in July of 1993. They represent a significant improvement for several reasons.
First, today’s understandings are written out, and they’ve been worked out through detailed discussions with Israel and Lebanon and in direct consultation with Syria. As such, they should prove more enduring and less susceptible to misinterpretation. Second, these new understandings explicitly rule out attacks of Israel by Katyusha rockets or any other kind of weapon. Similarly, Israel undertakes not to fire weapons at civilians or civilian targets in Lebanon. Third, use of civilian populated areas as launching grounds for attacks is explicitly prohibited by the new understandings. Fourth, the understandings provide for the establishment of a monitoring group that will monitor application of the understandings and handle complaints. This group will consist of the United States, France, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.
We are also creating a consultative group, to include the European Union, Russia, and other interested parties, for the specific purpose of assisting in the reconstruction needs of Lebanon. I want to make it clear that these understandings are not a substitute for a complete and permanent solution. They are not a substitute for a peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon. That is why the United States believes that the resolution of this crisis should be the basis for returning to negotiations seeking a comprehensive peace. Toward that end, and as part of today’s understandings, we’ve proposed that peace talks between Lebanon and Israel, and Syria and Israel, be resumed very promptly. The United States has emphasized and does so in this agreement that such negotiations should and must be conducted in a climate of stability and tranquility in this region.
During the intensive negotiations that we’ve had over the last seven days, the leaders of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria indicated their commitment to end the crisis and to ensure that it does not reoccur. Of course, the test of any agreement, this agreement included, is how it’s carried out. And therefore, the United States will look to each of the parties to fulfill the obligations they’ve undertaken. For the past two weeks, the attention of the world has been riveted on Lebanon. I want to express my appreciation to a number of my fellow foreign ministers who traveled to the region and demonstrated the international community’s commitment to bring the crisis to an end. I know that each of the countries from which these foreign ministers came will continue to play an important role to ensure the success of the understandings and to support a resumption of the peace process.
As President Clinton and I have both often stated, negotiations to achieve a comprehensive peace are the only way that the people of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria can achieve peace. That is the only way they can finally obtain the security that they so richly deserve. The United States remains unwavering in its determination to assist the parties to achieve what they deserve. We hope and expect that today’s understandings will allow us to move beyond the current crisis and to return once again to the historic effort to achieve an Arab-Israeli peace, an effort to which the prime minister has devoted so much of his attention and with such splendid results. And so I’m very glad that the United States has been able to take a step today, working with the parties, to put the peace process back on track. Thank you, Shimon, for the opportunity to do this.
Q: (Hebrew) Will this latest crisis affect the Israeli and Syrian-Lebanese negotiations? And do you expect the talks to resume before the May (29th ?) elections?
PM PERES: (Hebrew) The U.S. will look into the date. I think when you’re discussing these matters, you should judge according to what happens and the behavior. The fact is, today the secretary of state was able to reach an agreement with President Assad of Syria. The agreement of 1993, which talks about self-defense for Israel Israel is strengthened by this agreement and is strengthened its security is also strengthened.
Q: (Hebrew) Mr. Prime Minister, don’t you fear that through these understandings there will be limitations on the Israeli army’s ability to act in Lebanon? Also, when do you expect the peace talks to resume, maybe in Wye Plantation or any other place?
PM PERES: (Hebrew) I don’t see any limitations. There have been clarifications, and we’ll have freedom of movement. And I want to add, Lebanon is now recognized as a partner. This is very important. We are not interested in the destruction of Lebanon; we’re not interested in the division of Lebanon. We are interested in a Lebanon that is strong, a neighbor of Israel. And I want to make it clear to the leaders of Lebanon, we have no territorial desires in Lebanon and we do not want to harm Lebanon. But we all know the situation in Lebanon is not simple, and therefore, we are starting a good beginning and a better beginning than we had before.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: On your question, the opportunity that I had to spend so much time with the leaders of both Syria and Lebanon gave me an opportunity to press for the renewal of the peace process, and that was particularly true of Lebanon. I don’t often get together with Prime Minister Hariri, and in our discussions I think we both emphasized the importance of the Lebanese-Israeli track moving forward, and I would hope there would be early meetings along those lines.
Q: (Hebrew) I’m trying to understand what happens tomorrow morning. Will Hizbullah act in agreement to these understandings? And what will prevent them from sending weapons via Syria into south Lebanon?
PM PERES (Hebrew) There is a Syrian agreement that they will not, and there is also an agreement by our side that we will not act. I think that in a joint effort by Syria, Lebanon and Israelis, there will be an end to these attacks.
Q: (Hebrew) You expect the Syrians to stop sending in these weapons?
PM PERES: (Hebrew) I don’t divide the work. There is an agreement, and I expect that everyone who is party to this agreement will do what they have to do.
Q: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us what the main sticking points were at the end of this agreement?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, there were a number of difficult points as we moved through the agreement. The composition of the monitoring committee was a complex choice because we wanted it small and also effective. In final discussions, France was added to the monitoring committee. We also had very intensive discussions of a very important provision that prevents civilian populated areas from being used for launching attacks. I think that will turn out to be one of the most important provisions in the agreement, and there was very extensive discussions of that and all the words used in that particular provision. Paragraphs one and two of the agreement are the core of the commitment on behalf of, on the one side, that the groups in Lebanon will not fire into Israel; on the other side, Israelis’ commitment not to fire at civilian targets.
So those were key provisions, but the whole agreement was very heavily discussed. And I would say the length of it or, on the contrary, the shortness of it is a tribute to the amount of time we took. Both the Syrians and the Israelis, I think, were very commendable in wanting an agreement that was succinct, was tight, and that each of the words had been fairly carefully considered. And so, as I say, it’s a relatively short agreement. We’ve shortened it as we’ve moved through, rather than lengthening it, which is really contrary to the usual process.
Q: (Hebrew) Prime Minister, my first question is: Is there any secret part of the agreement? And for you, Mr. Secretary, is there anything is this agreement that prohibited Hizbullah from operating from the populated areas, from the villages in South Lebanon?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: There is a provision in the agreement that prevents the use of the civilian-populated areas or various infrastructures, such as industrial areas, electrical areas, from being used for launching attacks. And that was designed to prevent Hizbullah or other groups there from, in effect, hiding behind civilian areas or using them for launching processes. Ultimately, the agreement will depend upon how effectively it’s implemented, but all three parties, I think, are very determined at the present time to achieve a period of calm in the area. I was struck by the fact that as we worked through the end of this agreement, the parties wanted to achieve a degree of calm in the area that would enable, first, their citizens to go back to their homes, but also for the peace process to be reinstated.
PM PERES: (Hebrew) There are no secret agreements. There are certain understandings and they will be publicized at a certain point later on. Every agreement will be put before the Knesset.
Q: (Hebrew) Mr. Prime Minister, if this situation returns, if there are attacks by the Hizbullah in the future from civilian areas, will Israeli troops be able to act?
PM PERES: (Heberw) The right of self-defense is not limited, and if our forces are attacked, they will return fire. But what I think today I have to express my deep appreciation for the residents of northern Israel, who sat in the shelters for two weeks after we were attacked. And they showed great understanding of the situation, and I hope that the life in the area will return to normal. And we’ll send the finance minister, at the end of the Sabbath, to the Upper Galilee and the western and the northern Galilee in order to provide funds for the restoration of the area.
The Secretary of State’s main understandings that Syria, Lebanon and Israel are interested in a cease-fire and the end of harming of civilians on both sides of the border, this is a very crucial fact. And I think the desire existed before. But in order to reach an agreement between the three sides in seven short days and seven nights that the secretary stayed, with his team worked day and night, an unbelievable amount of work. This was a draft for for future agreements between the three countries.
Q: How will the monitoring committee operate? Will it have observers on the ground? And also, I don’t want to belabor this point about the Hizbollah and the populated areas, but since the problem with the understandings lay on the fringes of the agreement, and the Hizbollah might launch rockets, for example, from just outside a village and then run and hide inside it, does the wording of the agreement which you have gained, which you say is very concise, does it deal with problems like this on the margins of the agreement?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Your questions are interestingly interrelated. The monitoring committee will consist of five countries, as I said in my statement. Its procedures will be developed by the monitoring committee itself. We would anticipate that it will be formed in the very near future, and the United States intends to take the lead in ensuring the monitoring committee is formed very promptly. I would anticipate that the committee will have, if not investigators, they’ll certainly have technical experts who can assess various situations. And one of the reasons we built the monitoring committee into the agreement was so that if there are complaints, alleged violations of the agreement, they can be brought to the attention of the monitoring committee and investigated. And I think if there are grey areas for example, if an attempt is made to abuse civilian populated areas that’s the kind of thing that can be brought to the monitoring committee for review there. That’s the kind of thing that can be brought to the monitoring committee for review there.
Q: Mr. Peres, I’ve been in contact with Lebanese civilians over the last two weeks, and they told me that if Israel would leave the southern Lebanon that Hizbullah’s raison d’etre would dissolve and that this would be the way to solve the problem. And they’re suspicious of an Israeli desire to stay in southern Lebanon before what they consider a legitimate resistance group has left their land. And I want to know how you would respond to that.
PM PERES: First let me say that we do not intend to remain in Lebanon forever. We don’t have any ambitions or any plans of that nature. Secondly, if the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army will disarm the Hizbullah and we shall know that there are not two armies in Lebanon but one and there are not two strategies but one and there are not two authorities, then we do not have reason to remain there. And then we can have a real peace agreement by the way, we are ready to start the negotiations right away a real peace agreement which will provide security and peace for Lebanon and Israel. But you cannot have a government and a government within a government which is called the resistance government. And the division of the authority leads to the division of the territory.
Q: (About the role of France in the negotiations)
PM PERES: (in French) There was also participation of the French, and I think finally it was a great achievement for the US Secretary of State, who came here with his team with a lot of devotion and a very difficult task so that they could change a situation which was extremely dangerous and to open a new relationship between our countries. And this is a great promise for the future.