Jerusalem, 21 April 1996, 12:30

PRIME MINISTER PERES: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome full-heartedly the Secretary of State of the United States, who came over here at the very crucial moment, and is again trying to bring things together, so we shall be able to proceed with the peace process and avoid dangerous exchanges of fire.

May I say on the Israeli part, just one or two remarks. People are asking what is the purpose of the Israeli operation? We didn’t go to any operation because we had a purpose, but because we didn’t have a choice but to do it. We were forced in it, in our eyes. It is an act of self-defense. The Hizbullah has opened fire without any provocation at our forces and our civilian life. And I believe that their purpose was to break the peace process and to prevent the continuation of the peace negotiations. For that reason, what we are trying to make real is that, a: the peace process will be continued on all fronts in order to reach a comprehensive peace. And then again, we would like until we should reach a peace agreement, to bring tranquility to civilian life on both sides of the frontier and avoid the exchange of fire on the front or the security zone.

May I also say that all the agreements that were reached until now beginning with Camp David, going through Oslo, bridging the agreement with Jordan, continuing with the negotiations with Syria and Lebanon, were done through the good offices of the United States of America. We have full trust in the nature and capacity of the United States diplomacy to bring a real peace to all parties in the Middle East. And we think that the attempt to negotiate must be organized: it cannot be chaotic; it cannot be done through channels. And I am noticing, with satisfaction, that both the other sides, Syria, the Lebanese, and ourselves, are having full trust and confidence in the American attempt to bring tranquility for the time being and peace in the future to the Middle East.

We have heard from the Secretary a report about his meeting yesterday in Damascus. We have provided him with our position. We are trying to reach a common ground and understanding. We are in the middle of the doing and making of such an understanding, and I think all of us will continue to work very hard and very seriously to prevent bloodshed and bring peace to this region. For this reason again, Mr. Secretary, I welcome you full-heartedly here to the region.

SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: Good afternoon. President Clinton has sent me back to the region to try to seek a ceasefire and achieve an enduring set of understandings that will prevent an escalation of fighting, and most of all to protect and preserve the lives of civilians on both sides of the border.

I just had an excellent meeting with the Prime Minister. We have some difficult questions to work through, but I feel confident that with his help and the assistance of other people in the region, we will ultimately achieve our goals. I emphasize that the resolution of the crisis must be followed by a resumption of the negotiations, because these events only make it even more clear that a comprehensive peace in the region is the only form of resolution to the problems.

I will returning early this evening to meet with President Assad of Syria, part of an intensive effort to achieve, as I say, a ceasefire and an enduring set of understandings to restore calm and protect the civilians on both sides of the border.

Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. As always, it’s really an inspiration to work with you and your colleagues in addressing problems of this difficulty in character, but we shall persist.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I would like to know, do you see any chance that the ceasefire will be including the security zone in South Lebanon? And the other question is, do you intend to have an international mechanism that will help both sides prevent an escalation?

SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: I am just at my second stop in this most recent effort. I think it would not be useful for me to try to get into the precise details. Negotiations are now proceeding for a ceasefire and for an enduring set of understandings. At the right moment we will certainly let you know how those negotiations are going, but I think it’s too early for me to define or try to give you any precise indication as to the nature of the understandings we’re working on.

(translated from Hebrew)

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to know whether you have decided on a ceasefire in some format with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and when it will enter into effect, and what will its scope be?

PM PERES: We are in the middle of our work. When we finish, we will clarify its lines.

Q: Can you state a date when the ceasefire will enter into force?

PM PERES: No, I can’t. I think that it would be wrong to cite a date. We have to deal with these matters with patience, not haste. It may take a little longer. I my opinion, it is more important to reach a good agreement than, in the name of haste, to reach a bad agreement.

Q: The criteria which you set in the past, that we want a ceasefire but that firing will continue in Lebanon if Katyushas continue to be fired do they remain valid? Namely, is Operation "Grapes of Wrath" continuing?

PM PERES: Just as we cannot applaud with one hand, it is impossible to achieve a ceasefire without two hands. Firing must cease on both sides.

Q: There have been confirmed reports in the past week that arms have been shipped through Syria to Lebanon. Is one of the conditions for a ceasefire that Syria will guarantee that future supplies of weapons will not be sent through its territory to Hibullah?

PM PERES: I would rather not go into details about the negotiations ahead of time. I think we have to be patient yet for another period of time hopefully some days and then we shall make clear what are the necessary conditions of the two parties to reach a cease-fire.

Q: In the framework of a ceasefire, will Israel be prepared to accept certain restrictions on its ability to act and react against Hizbullah activity?

PM PERES: Israel will defend its security. The right to self-defense is not open to question or to compromise.

Q: Namely the security zone will not be included in the general ceasefire?

PM PERES: I see no need to add to what I said. What I said is clear.

(end of translation)

Q: Mr. Secretary and Mr. Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Primakov, is apparently in Beirut and is then coming here. Do you think it is a good idea to have diplomacy working on at least two fronts this way three if you include the French; or is this getting in the way, is it giving too many parties the options to make too many arrangements to get a cease-fire and a following of understanding?

PM PERES: I made it clear. We can have many fronts, but one channel. If there will be more than one channel, there will be total confusion. The responsible channel that has both the experience and the mechanism to do so is the United States of America, and we think all parties will continue to work through this channel. We shall not reject to see anybody, whoever wants to come in is welcome. But we cannot have three agreements on the same issue, because this will mean no agreement at all. Many agreements will mean no agreement at all.

SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: One comment I’ve made is, I have either met with or talked with the other foreign ministers who are in the region French, Italian and Russian. It is common ground between us that we believe that there should be an early ceasefire and an enduring set of understandings. We’re all urging the parties to move in that direction, but I also would add that the United States feels a special responsibility in view of our history and in view of our responsibilities to lead in this situation, and we will continue to do so, and I very much appreciate the confidence expressed in the United States by the Prime Minister.

Q: Mr. Christopher, as we saw in this crisis, President Assad supports the Hizbullah terror organization. Don’t you think that Israel and maybe the United States should draw the conclusion that Assad plays a double meaning?

SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: I think we should try to not only get a cease-fire but an enduring set of understandings which permits the parties in the region to prevent the recurrence of this kind of event. That’s what we’re working for not just for a cease-fire but an enduring set of understandings that prevents a recurrence of this. In doing so we have to work with the parties in the region and we’ll continue to do so.

Q: Can you possibly define what are the biggest gaps between the Israeli position and the Syrian position on reaching some kind of agreement? Second, has President Assad accepted Israel’s position that he has some form of responsibility in all of this?

SEC’Y CHRISTOPHER: I’m sorry that I don’t believe I should try to define the gaps. I’m just launching on this process. I’m headed to some difficult problems and difficult terrain all over. As I go through it I think the gaps will diminish and then disappear. I do think that all the parties need to be involved in this situation and to accept responsibility, and I hope that they will do so. My meeting with President Assad last night is a reflection of the fact that Syria is a very important, vital, crucial player in this particular dialogue, and I will be focusing my attention there, and I’m sure he wouldn’t be taking the time if he didn’t agree with that.