Press Conference with
US Vice President Richard Cheney and
Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Jerusalem, March 19, 2002

Vice President Cheney: Good morning. I want to begin by thanking you, Prime Minister, for the tremendous hospitality that you have shown to me and to my wife and to our entire delegation. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to reaffirm the strength of America’s commitment to the security and well-being of our friends in Israel.

The Prime Minister and I have discussed the wide range of issues, including our cooperation in the war against global terror and our shared concern about the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We reviewed ways of further strengthening our bilateral relationship and how the United States can continue to support the expansion of economic opportunities for Israelis. We also discussed ways of ending the terror and the violence that have brought so much suffering to the people of this region.

The Prime Minister and I have also had an excellent opportunity to advance the prospects for reaching a cease-fire and implementing the Tenet and Mitchell plans. I expressed my appreciation to the Prime Minister for his commitment to implementing Tenet and Mitchell, and for his efforts to facilitate the work of General Zinni, including the IDF withdrawal last night from Bethlehem and Gaza.

The Prime Minister made clear to me that his highest priority is assuring the security of the Israeli people and he believes that can best be accomplished through a cease-fire and the implementation of Tenet by both sides.

I also want to emphasize the commitment of the United States to do whatever we can to help the parties achieve a durable cease-fire and fulfill their obligations under Tenet and Mitchell. General Zinni has had very useful discussions with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He has laid out what is required to move forward, and he has made clear that failure to fulfill the requirements of Tenet and Mitchell will torpedo this process.

We will remain very actively engaged in this extremely important effort in the days and weeks ahead. In order to help General Zinni’s mission, as the Tenet work plan is being implemented, I told the Prime Minister I would be ready to meet with Chairman Arafat in the period ahead at a site and region to be determined.

The Tenet work plan requires 100 percent effort from Chairman Arafat to stop the violence and the terror. I would expect a 100 percent effort to begin immediately. I asked General Zinni to meet Chairman Arafat this morning to convey this same message which I shared with Prime Minister.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it will be this week for Chairman Arafat to take the steps to get the cease-fire started and start implementation of the Tenet work plan, namely to speak to his own people personally about the importance of ending violence and terrorism, issue clear instructions to his security services to enforce the cease-fire, and to follow-up closely these efforts to ensure implementation of the Tenet work plan. These steps, if taken by the Chairman, would create the environment that would make the meeting beneficial to the Zinni mission.

I am pleased that both the Prime Minister and that Chairman Arafat have agreed with this approach. President Bush has laid out a vision of peace for this region, with two states, Israel and Palestine, would live alongside each other with secure and recognized boundaries. That vision can be achieved. It is our hope that the current violence and terrorism will be replaced by reconciliation and the rebuilding of mutual trust.

Prime Minister Sharon (Hebrew): Shalom. I am glad to welcome the Vice President of the United States, my friend Richard Cheney, and the very distinguished group that came with him. The friendship between Israel and the United States is a true one, and there is a deep mutual commitment between the two states is founded on basic shared values: the aspiration for liberty, freedom, the security of our citizens, and democracy.

Your visit today, Mr. Vice President, has also been characterized by full coordination in all matters of common interest, whether local or regional. Israel will continue to stand by the United States and its leader, President George Bush, who is bravely and with determination fighting international terrorism.

Israel is a peace-seeking state, and I shall do everything to assure that Israel will achieve peace and security. My aim and the aim of the government that I head is to achieve a cease-fire and to begin immediately carrying out the Tenet plan. We shall make every effort to do so. We wish to implement the Mitchell plan and ultimately to enter into political negotiations, which I hope, with God’s help, will lead to peace. This is our decision, and this is the task before us, and this I will implement.

I have said several times in the past that for true peace, Israel will be ready to make very painful concessions, but not when it comes to security and the well-being of its citizens. Our goal is to achieve a cease-fire and peace. But as I have said in the past, the implementation of the Tenet agreement, including and end to terrorism and violence and a cease-fire, as well as the fulfillment of all commitments on the part of the Palestinians, is a pre-condition.

Mr. Vice President, if there will be a cease-fire, if terrorism will cease, if the Palestinian Authority will wage a real war against the terrorist infrastructure, we will be able to move forward to a better future for the entire region. Mr. Vice President, I would like to thank you again for the effort you are making to help us achieve peace in our region. Thank you.

Q & A

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, you in the past you suggested that Yasser Arafat was irrelevant. Have you changed your opinion? Do you think he can be counted on to keep promises? And Mr. Vice President, do you see the current process as paving the way to a meeting between Mr. Arafat and the President?

PM Sharon: If Mr. Arafat will be accomplishing what we demanded from him, first of all to stop terror, violence, and incitement, and to take all the necessary actions against terror in order to reach cease-fire, in accordance with the Tenet plan, I think that we will be happy about that.

Vice President Cheney: The question of whether or not a meeting occurs will be determined by General Zinni. He will make the determination based upon whether or not the Tenet plan is being implemented by the Palestinians, whether or not the specific provisions that I have mentioned here today are in fact being implemented. The meeting can take place relatively soon if in fact that process happens, as possibly as early as next week. But, again, there has been no specific time set yet, and no specific locale, although it will be some place in the region. Again, as I say, the key element here is that Tenet must be being implemented in the eyes of General Zinni, the President’s special envoy, in order for the meeting to take place.

Q: How about with President Bush?

Vice President Cheney: That hasn’t been discussed.

Q: Mr. Vice President, can you tell us, as a result of your visit to the region, what is the current American policy towards Iraq and how does Israel fit in this policy? Did you coordinate anything with Prime Minister Sharon concerning a possible American action against Iraq?

Vice President Cheney: In answer to the question on Iraq, the United States has made clear that statements by the President and others in his administration, that we are concerned about the Iraqi pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and in particular the failure of the government of Iraq to comply with the UN Security Council Resolution 687 agreed to at the end of the Gulf War, which committed Iraq to get rid of – eliminate – all of their weapons of mass destruction. We know that that has not happened. They have not complied with 687; we know that they have chemical weapons. Of course, they’ve used them in the past against the Iranians and Kurds. We know they have biological weapons and that they’re pursuing nuclear weapons.

The concern that we have as a government I expressed during the course of my travels. I consulted with the host governments that I visited with about the situation in the region, and in particular, about Iraq’s role and about their failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. I had extensive discussions with Prime Minster Sharon on these issues, we discussed them before, and obviously we would expect to stay in very close consultation and are looking forward with this respect with how we might best deal with this threat. As to the commitment I made to all of the governments in the region and that I have visited with during the course of this trip.

Q (Hebrew): Mr. Prime Minister, you have announced the cabinet decision permitting Yasser Arafat to leave if he implements the Tenet plan. Does this mean that he will also be permitted to return, after traveling abroad? And the second question, terrorist attacks are continuing, despite the presence of General Zinni in the region. Why doesn’t Israel react militarily to these attacks? Is it out of fear that the US will accuse it of causing the failure of Zinni’s mission?

PM Sharon (Hebrew): We are working in full coordination with the American government. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the American administration know and recognize Israel’s right to self-defense. We are not subject to any pressure, either before or during the visit. Relations between us are based on friendship and mutual understanding of needs.

To your first question, it has already been explained that Mr. Arafat will be allowed to leave the territories on the condition that he implements the Tenet plan. If he does travel to Beirut, we expect to hear a speech that will address the importance of peace and stability of the region. We certainly hope so. But if there will be some terror attacks here during his absence, and if his speech there will be one of incitement – and I hope this won’t happen – the government will have to convene and decide. I do not rule out any possibility.

Q: Mr. Vice President, what’s preventing the announcement of a cease-fire here and now today? Secondly, is there a deadline for implementation of the Tenet plan, which if it passes, would actually torpedo the Zinni mission? And Prime Minster Sharon, on the issue of Iraq, are you prepared to say today that you would support a US-led attack on Iraq even if that required restraint from the Israeli government in the face of an Iraqi attack on Israelis?

Vice President Cheney: There has been great press speculation of a possibility of a military action against Iraq. I have said repeatedly throughout the course of my travels in response to those questions: One, no such decision has been made. And second, we never speculate about respective future operations.

With respect to the question of cease-fire, the point is Tenet. There is an agreement there has been an agreement to work toward the implementation – to actually begin to implement the Tenet plan, and move ahead to Mitchell. That gets us to a cease-fire. I think the focus here should be on the Tenet plan that General Zinni is working to implement, which we believe is the right process by which we can achieve the ultimate result of a cease-fire. I would not speculate beyond that. General Zinni is the man who is in charge on a day-to-day basis, who is working very closely with both the Israelis and the Palestinians and I wouldn’t want to get into any other level of detail than I already have. We want to move just as quickly as we can.

PM Sharon: We have been supporting the courageous decisions and the great leadership that have been shown by President Bush and Vice President Cheney – by the American leadership – in their struggle against terror, local terror, regional terror, international terror. It may be the most important decision that has been taken. We supported it the recent American action and we will support and back any American decision when it will come to phase B or any other phase in that struggle against terror. We regard terror as the greatest danger to our free society, to our values, and to all our lives. As to the second half of your question, we discussed all those issues, and I think that both sides know exactly if such thing will occur, what we’re going to do.

Q: Mr. Vice President, how can the United States criticize Israeli army activities in the territories against Palestinian terror while in the last few months, the US Army has killed hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan during its war against terror there. Don’t you think that you’re using a double moral standard here?

Vice President Cheney: I don’t believe that I would accept the premise of your question. The notion that we have killed thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan is simply inaccurate. We exercise great care, as I’m sure the Israeli defense forces are doing what they can in conducting their operations. Any loss of innocent life is a tragedy whenever it occurs, but I don’t believe either the United States or Israel can be said to have been oblivious to the importance of doing everything we can in the conduct of military operations to avoid the loss of innocent human life.

Q: Mr. Vice President, at each of our last nine stops, leaders of US allies in the Arab world have urged you to take into consideration the plight of the Palestinians in its ongoing conflict with the Israelis. Yet, you’ll leave the region without holding a single meting with a single Palestinian, even as you have a prospect of a meeting perhaps some time in the future with Chairman Arafat. What concern you have that these US allies in the region will see this as a blatant disregard of their concerns and if this will undercut your effort to nurture relationships in the region and to cement the support for the continuing war on terrorism?

Vice President Cheney: I think that, again, I disagree with your interpretation of events. We believe that it is appropriate, as I’ve laid out this morning, and as Prime Minister Sharon has agreed and Chairman Arafat have agreed, that if there is implementation of Tenet, and if it’s satisfactory to General Zinni, then I have agreed to a trip to a location in the region yet to be determined, with Chairman Arafat. I don’t think that justifies the charge that we are somehow ignoring the Palestinian people. In fact, we are working very hard through the presence of General Zinni, and a lot of the conversations we have had during the course of our sessions here are aimed specifically to trying to achieve an end to the conflict that has plagued Israelis and Palestinians these past many months.

So I am hopeful that effort that we’re making here today will result in giving General Zinni the kind of support he needs in order to move forward to achieve the objective of the implementation of Tenet.

Q: Mr. Vice President, does your statement indicate that you have changed your mind regarding Chairman Arafat, that there is no point to talk with him?

Vice President Cheney: What we’ve said in the past about Chairman Arafat is that we wanted him to make an all-out effort to support an end to violence before we agreed to meet with him. It’s my view that if he does in fact keep the commitments and obligations by the Tenet plan and fulfil those conditions that I have talked about here this morning, that are taken directly out of the Tenet plan, that in fact, he will have done what we said needed to be done prior to meeting with an American official.

Q (Hebrew): Before the most recent Israeli military action, your position and that of the Defense Minister was that the campaign was being launched to exert pressure on Arafat to take action against terrorism and so that the Palestinians would ask for a cease-fire. We see that, at the end of the campaign, it is Israel that is asking for a cease-fire, and Vice President Cheney will perhaps for the first time be meeting with Arafat. Do you see this as a failure?

PM Sharon (Hebrew): The government decision to step up action against centers of Palestinian terrorism was a correct one. The IDF and the security forces faced a difficult task, and made important achievements.

The war against terrorism is a prolonged one, and we shall continue it. We hope that the Tenet plan will bring about an alleviation of the conflict. We want to achieve a cease-fire, but Israel remains strong and will react, if this proves necessary. We hope this will not be the case. This is a long campaign, whose ultimate goal is to resume the peace process. This is the goal before us.