Ariel Sharon, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Israel
Press availability following their breakfast meeting
Washington, DC, December 7, 1998
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, good morning everybody. Foreign Minister Sharon and I have just spent more than an hour together in, I think, a very good meeting, where we covered many, many subjects and wished that we had much more time to talk. I think this is the first time that we have actually met in the State Department. We certainly spent a lot of time together at Wye, but we have not had a meeting here. We have been on the phone a lot with each other in the interim, but it is a great pleasure to have the Foreign Minister here because there are so many subjects to talk about. Clearly, the Foreign Minister’s role in the implementation of Wye is absolutely crucial. And so we have been talking about various parts of implementing that agreement. And I’m looking forward to being in Israel — in Gaza — later in the week and where we will be able to continue our discussions. And so, welcome, very glad to have you here.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHARON: Thank you. Thank you, Ms. Secretary. I would like to address my deep appreciation to Secretary Albright for her warm and kind words in our important and fruitful meeting. We discussed together issues relating to the peace process in the Middle East and other strategic issues. Israel appreciates and thanks the United States for the critical role it has taken upon itself in moving the peace process forward. The government of Israel is committed to achieving peace on the understanding that the participants fully live up to their commitments.
I accepted the position as Minister of Foreign Affairs for Israel with the genuine intention of moving the peace process forward. The decision of the Israeli Cabinet taken on the 2nd of December, 1998, was meant to underscore the danger inherent in the failure to fulfill the Palestinian commitment in accordance with the Wye River agreement — with your permission, to say a few words in Hebrew.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHARON: Only the translation.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What he said. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, when there’s violence — Palestinian violence — the State Department consistently condemns it and then says with the next breath, but Israel is obligated under the Wye agreement to continue to pull back. We’re sorry there’s violence, it’s awful, but Israel has a duty to fulfill the agreement. The Israeli government seems to take another view, which is if there’s violence, you cannot implement the agreement. Is there a disagreement here, and is it a serious disagreement?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHARON: I think the position of the Israeli government is very clear. We were willing to implement — as a matter of fact, we have done so — and we implemented the first phase of the withdrawal. But the Israeli Cabinet took a decision that before every phase of withdrawal, the issue will be brought again to the government, and it will be examined.
If the Palestinian side will stick to its obligations, we will be moving forward. If not, that will be negative. And I’m really sorry to say that there is or there are violations almost of every paragraph of the Wye agreement. And the reason that the Israeli Cabinet took the decision of the 2nd of December is in order to give an early warning that if the Palestinians will not comply with the Wye agreement, with every part of it, the known publicly, the secret, the side letters, and those things were decided verbally there, Israel will not be able to continue. And though we would like to do that, and we have shown that we wanted to do it, we believe that every step should be taken and everything should be done in mutual on mutual reciprocity basis.
QUESTION: I understand — and indeed thank you — but the main point of my question was do the United States and Israel have a different perception of the peace process?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHARON: No, I think that, Ms. Secretary, that both sides are looking forward to make every effort to reach peace in the Middle East. That is the American position expressed, I think so clearly, by President Clinton, that the Israeli position expressed clearly by Prime Minster Netanyahu. But it should be based upon mutual reciprocity like every agreement, like every contact.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just add to that, that we do agree on the aspect of mutual reciprocity. That is the basis of how the Wye agreement was put together. It’s very important. We have made very clear that both sides need to fulfill their obligations. And I think that it’s very important to create an environment that will allow the Wye agreement to go forward.
QUESTION: I would like to ask both the Secretary and the Minister, members of the Israeli Cabinet have called upon the President not to come to the region. What do you think about this?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say I think as I just said in the previous response is that we all want to fulfill the Wye agreement, and the President’s trip is a part of it. It’s very important for this process to go forward and for us to make sure that we all give it our greatest effort. The President is very committed to Wye. He spent, obviously, a great deal of time there. He has admiration for the steps that were taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu in agreeing to Wye and Chairman Arafat. And the President believes that it is important for the United States to continue its role, and his trip is a part of the agreement.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHARON: (Through Interpreter) We welcome and greet the upcoming visit of the President of the United States, Secretary of State Madame Albright to Israel and the whole entourage that will follow. We have a deep appreciation to the contribution and the friendship — the long lasting friendship — between the United States and the state of Israel.
Our position is that all the conditions and all the arrangements must be based on mutual reciprocity. While we talk about reciprocity, we would like to be — also to show some reciprocity on your coming — and I enjoyed this wonderful breakfast here — American breakfast. I’ll be very glad to have you on our farm there. Maybe you’ll be able to see how we live there.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It will be great.
QUESTION: Secretary Albright, to follow up on the first part of this, do you think that the current suspension of the withdrawals is justified? You spoke of mutual reciprocity, but do you think that there is anything to justify that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we want to see the process moving forward. I think that there is a timetable that was established. When Chairman Arafat was here, I spoke to him about the necessity of living up to the part about the security obligations. And I have now spoken to the Foreign Minister about the importance of the Israeli side fulfilling its obligations. We think that, as I said, Wye is very carefully written, and we want to see both sides carry out what they need to do.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the Israeli government and many ministers are concerned that this visit of President Clinton in Gaza, it will be only another way of Americans to recognize a Palestinian state.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That is not the purpose of it. The President’s visit, as I said, was a part of the Wye agreement, and it is part of getting the process moving forward. There is no effort to move the situation on that subject further. And as we have said many times, the issue of the Palestinian state is a permanent status issue and will be decided there.
QUESTION: (Through Interpreter) Isn’t Israel afraid or fear that with the upcoming visit of the President of the United States to Gaza, this will denote or be interpreted as some form of recognition of a Palestinian state?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHARON: (Through Interpreter) We greet and welcome the upcoming visit of the President. Israel’s position on the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state is that it is a flagrant violation of the Wye agreement and the Oslo agreement. Everything has to be decided in negotiations. And there’s no doubt that the renewed intifada uprising activated and encouraged by the Palestinian Authority is in itself (inaudible) a very difficult and critical obstacle to the continuation of the peace process, which we all wish to achieve.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Could I just make one additional point? I think, clearly, there are differences on various aspects of the Wye Accord, and there are channels for handling those, and all those differences need to be brought to the table. That is the whole purpose of what we have been trying to do. That is how the United States will continue to push and play a useful role. Violence is not the answer, differences need to be brought to the table, and solutions can only come from negotiations. And that is, again, something that the Foreign Minister and I have talked about. It is clearly the message that the President will be delivering when he is in the region.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary on Libya, I’m wondering if you’re any more optimistic this morning that the suspects will be handed over following Secretary General Annan’s visit?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I had a talk with the Secretary General yesterday, who said that he was still waiting for an answer. I believe that it is time for the Libyans to understand the UK/US offer — not a negotiation. There is no negotiating this at all. We have said that there should be a Scottish court in the Hague, according to Scottish law, with the suspects serving their terms if they are proven guilty in Scotland.
And the Secretary General knows that. We’ve talked about it many times. And I have no way to characterize at the moment where the process is. It’s just taken much too long — much too long — for the Libyans to make up their minds as to whether they will accept an offer that they, themselves, wanted and so did a number of other countries to have a third country venue. And that is why we decided with the British to go ahead. It’s now time for them to understand the issue.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHARON: Thank you again for a most wonderful discussion and most inspiring discussion and looking forward having (inaudible).
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I look forward to it too. Thank you very much. Thank you.