ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR NEAR EASTERN AND SOUTH ASIAN AFFAIRS EDWARD DJEREJIAN BRIEFING ON THE EIGHTH ROUND OF THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS
Time: 1 p.m.
Location: State Department, 2201 C St. NW
December 18, 1992
EDWARD DJEREJIAN (assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs): Before I take your questions, I want to underscore several points flowing from the president’s meetings with the delegations to the Arab-Israeli peace talks, and from the round of negotiations which have just ended.
First, the statement we issued yesterday addressed fully our views about the violence directed against Israel and Israel’s response to that violence.
Second, at the White House meetings President Bush reiterated to all his Arab and Israeli interlocutors, a key point, which was made also by the delegations themselves, and by the Palestinians he met with this morning, that the only real way out of the violence and conflict that both the Arabs and Israelis suffer under is the peace process.
It was acknowledged that it is the only chance the parties have to reach a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace under United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. The president urged that the parties remain seriously engaged in the negotiations to narrow the gaps between them in future rounds, and to maintain the momentum of the talks. The president expressed his deep concern over those groups that are opposed to the peace process, and which resort to acts of violence to disrupt it. They should not be given the opportunity to succeed. He made clear that all efforts to frustrate the peace process must be dealt with and all parties must publicly condemn the resort to violence. No one should play into the hands of the extremists.
The president underscored the strong United States’ position both in opposition to acts of violence in Israel and the occupied territories and in opposition to deportations. All the parties expressed their continuing commitment to the peace process, and to the central role of the United States as a co- sponsor, honest broker, catalyst, and driving force of the peace process. And I want to stress that all the parties made this clear.
On Lebanon, the president underscored the United States’s strong support of Lebanon’s independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty.
Now third, with regard to the negotiations themselves, I’d like to make a few comments. The issue, quite frankly, is not whether the glass is half full or half empty. Each party attaches its own interpretation at any given moment. The real issue is whether the glass is filling. The United States believes it is, and let me explain why.
In each negotiation the parties have identified and formalized in their discussions the three core elements which need to be addressed before real peace can be achievedthat is, peace, security and territory. For example, the Jordanian-Israeli negotiations have included serious talks among experts on economic issues, water, and the environment. The two sides are working hard to conclude work on a substance agenda that will point the way to serious negotiations.
Israelis and Palestinians have debated their respective concepts of self-government as well as key issues related to land, jurisdiction, and human rights. They are working productively on a substantive agenda.
Israel and Syria are hard at work to craft a joint declaration of principles which will guide the negotiations that follow. They have engaged intensively on all elements of U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and have stated their strong commitment to try and narrow the substantive differences between them.
Israel and Lebanon are working on ways to engage in security talks among military experts while elaborating the political context under which the talks can proceed. With serious and constructive work already under way, the challenge now for the parties is how to meet their mutual requirements on these issues.
The negotiations, both the bilaterals and the multilaterals, have demonstrated that they can solve problems. For example, there has been positive evolution on the question of Palestinian participation in the multilaterals and bilaterals. Many of these problems have been procedural in character but this is a first step. The challenge now is to solve the substantive problems. The negotiations have demonstrated great resiliency in the face of extremist threats from many quarters. These negotiations have taken root in the region. Our challenge is to ensure that these roots grow deeper and resist the efforts of the enemies of peace who seek to destroy the chances for peace. In the multilaterals, Arabs and Israelis are discussing a variety of practical projects and activities in such diverse areas as economic development, water, environment and arms control and regional security. In this way they are beginning to see the potential benefits of what peace can bring.
And I can tell you that those discussions in those working groups are indeed very serious and progress is being made. Now, does this mean that we, the United States, is satisfied with what has been produced? Of course not. We need more progress and we need actual agreements. At the same time it is impossible to take a 40 year old conflict and expect to resolve it quickly. What we do have a year after Madrid are viable negotiations and political commitment by all the parties as I stated, which have been reiterated to the president in his meetings yesterday and today.
All the parties are focused on the right issues and are committed to proceed. With enough determination these negotiations can succeed. In deed, we believe that 1993 can be a year of real achievement. I’d be happy to take any questions you have.
Q: Ed, can I just ask youwe’ve now been at this for a year and you say that after a year’s straining the three parties have now come up with the three core elements which are peace, security and territory. Wasn’t that reasonably obvious to a reasonably bright 8th grader about a year ago that these were the three core issues? Why has it taken a year to get to this point and why do we say that this is a harbinger of progress?
DJEREJIAN: Well, it hasn’t taken a year to get to the point where they’re discussing these three issues. They’ve been discussing these three issues for several of the last rounds. What we’re seeing is, as this process has evolved that in the beginning we were faced with enumerable procedural issues, which as you know, took a little time to resolve from the beginning and let’s not forget the beginning where we couldn’t get one of the delegations off the couch in the lobby of the State Department to go into the negotiating room. But that’s way past and in the interim what we have is that each track and each track is different, has been seriously engaged on these core issues and they havethey are joining these issues and progress is being made.
In fact, in the detailed negotiations that are taking place, this last round we have seen incremental progress in some of the tracks. I can’t get into all the details of exactly what is being done because we do have to maintain a bit of confidentiality on exactly what is being discussed and how the parties are dealing with it. But what it seems to me is that from our vantage point as a co-sponsor who is directly involved in nurturing these talks and seeing them proceed that we know that a basis has been built upon now for sustained progress in the near future.
Q: Ed, you know that the heads of the Arab delegations held a news conference about two hours ago at the National Press Club and that essentially they are saying the opposite of what you just said here which is what they’re saying is that essentially there has been no progress, particularly in the last two rounds, and they go further, saying that the United States has been in effect deceived by the Rabin government, which is not doing what it said to the Israeli voters and to the American administration what it would do. Are they just wrong or are you too rosy in your scenario?
DJEREJIAN: Well, we certainly have no intent to come out and paint any rosy scenarios. We think we’re being very objective in our assessment of the peace process. It would serve absolutely no interest on the part of the co-sponsor to come out here and paint a picture that is not a realistic one. We think indeed we’re in the best vantage point to objectively assess what is being done and what is not being done. I in no way am diminishing the fact that there are very important substantive gaps that have to be narrowed in each one of these negotiations. But what we see and what we know is happening is that these serious issues are not only being engaged but that we’ve seen incremental progress in this last round and in the previous one on some of the most important ones.
Now, I know that there is a tendency in some of these press statements that others are giving to accentuate the negative. I’m not here to accentuate either the negative or the positive. I’m here to give you the co-sponsors’ best reading of where these negotiations are, and I believe that what I have described is where these negotiations realistically are.
Q: Well, could I, if I could just follow the core of
DJEREJIAN: What you’re probably seeing and hearing are voices of frustration that more progress has not been made. And we understand that. I think we all would like to see more progress. There’s no question about that. But I would not confound voices of frustration over more progress not being made with what is actually being done at the table.
And the other factor, which I think is very important, is thatand as you all very well knowthis process has been severely tested by events in the region and by pressures emanating from a host of political and other factors. And yet we have heard, as recently as yesterday and today, the sustained commitment of the parties to see this process through. In fact it was told to the president in various dramatic ways, by all the delegations, that really, this process is the only chance.
Q: If I could just follow up, the corollary of what the Arabs were saying is that they think the United States should play a more active direct mediation role, and they say that it’s not necessary to go into the negotiating room and get the permission of both parties. You could sit down in the cafeteria and talk to them face to face, using an informal negotiation, mediation process. But anyway, have you considered such an informal intervention?
DJEREJIAN: Let me put it this way. We have been very active in each one of the tracks with the negotiating parties, in promoting forward movement, in expressing our ideas on how to narrow gaps, and in trying to facilitate contact and communication in various ways. We have been, quite frankly, active in every way other than being at the negotiating table itself. But I’m going to leave it at that.
Q: Do you agree with the assessment voiced by the PLO, that unless the deportations are reserved the talks cannot continue? And then flowing from that is a question: is it not time for the United States to resume its dialogue with the PLO in order to strengthen its hand vis-a-vis these extremist forces who are trying to disrupt the process?
DJEREJIAN: Well, in response to your first question we think that the focal point should be following through on a sustained commitment to these negotiations that we heard from all the delegations. The response is not to walk away from the table. The response to the violence, and to all the grievances of the parties, is to totally commit themselves to this peace process which is really the only viable way out. That’s my response to the first question. The response to the second question is that there’s absolutely no consideration in the United States government being given to a resumption of the dialogue with the PLO.
Q: Can I follow up on that question about the PLO. Specifically in the meeting today with Bush, did the Palestinian delegation tell you that they would be prepared for a next round, or did they say that unless the deportations were reversed, they could not come and sit down with the Israelis again?
DJEREJIAN: I do not recall any categoric statements of that nature being made. There was certainly a great deal of the deep concern expressed by the Palestinians on the deportation orders, and they stated that this was a very serious blow to the peace process in their analysis. But at the same time they made clear their serious commitment to the peace process, and to the absolute necessity of making progress in that process, and also alleviating the conditions of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. Those were the major points they made.
Q: Can I follow up on that? How seriously do you take the statement out of Tunis by a PLO spokesman, that in fact they can’t resume negotiations until the deportations are reversed?
DJEREJIAN: Well, I haven’t seen that statement, but the point is that the position of the United States is as I’ve expressed it in my opening remarks, that the peace process is the way to go. It’s the only way to go. And having heard the sustained commitment of all the parties to this process, we will certainly encourage everyone to come to the next round prepared to make progress. Ralph?
Q: Can I follow up on that question for a second? The president had a full-blown photo opportunity today with the two Palestinians with whom other U.S. officials have been meeting for some time. Those two Palestinians came to Washington from Tunis, from a meeting with Yasser Arafat and PLO leaders. They are leaving from Washington to Tunis to meet with Arafat and other PLO leaders. There’s an old saying about if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. In what way is the dialogue President Bush had in a very public way for the first time today with these two officials not a dialogue with the PLO?
DJEREJIAN: The answer is simple, Ralph. It is simply not a dialogue with the PLO. The people with whom the president met does not constitute a U.S. dialogue with the PLO in any way or fashion.
Q: Now you’re the host country. Did you invite the delegations to come back and to resume the talks? And another question about Jerusalem. I understood that the question of Jerusalem was raised by the Palestinians and there was a reaction from the president. Would you tell us about this?
DJEREJIAN: Well, I’m not going to get into everything that was raised in these exchanges with the president. The issue of Jerusalem was raised. In terms of the next round, we have consulted with all the parties. I met with the delegations and we have discussed next steps. No decisions have been taken as to when a next round will be convened, but we will be in very close contact with the parties in making that determination.
Q: There’s talk of a Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the deportations. Is the United States prepared to support such a resolution?
DJEREJIAN: Well, right now our ambassador to the United Nations is under instructions to discuss, as we speak, with the members of the Security Council the text of such a resolution, and we’re in the midst of very intensive discussions and negotiations on this right now. Our position is basically as we stated in the statement that was issued this morning to you.
Q: Can we deal with that piece of paper which was handed out last night? The issue of deportations was handled this time almost word for word in a way that it has been handled before, yet quantitatively this is such a gigantic step for Israel to take this many people and force them out of the country. I’m curious why the level of response from the U.S. government is so measured when quantitatively what has happened over there is quite different than we have seen before.
DJEREJIAN: Well, I think, John, that we basically, when you say the position of the United States is so measured, basically the position of the United States is very consistent, both in our position towards the violence and our position towards deportations, and I think that’s a very clear and a very strong position.
Q: But you’re not acknowledging the magnitude of the step that Israel has taken this time vis-a-vis past steps. There’s no difference in the U.S. response whether one person is thrown out or 418 are thrown out. Is there not a difference in those two situations?
DJEREJIAN: I think our statement not only speaks for itself but is a very consistent reflection of U.S. policy on these issues of violence and deportations.
Q: So you don’t see any difference in throwing one person out
DJEREJIAN: You’re trying to put words in my mouth and I’m saying that our position is very clear, it’s stated in a very declarative way and it’s a very strong statement.
Q: Can you tell us about the contacts? Have there been any high level contacts with Prime Minister Rabin to discuss the level of this action and what steps the U.S. would like the Israeli government to take?
DJEREJIAN: Well, ever since midweek we’ve been in very close contact with the Israeli government at the highest levels.
Q: Has President Bush talked with Prime Minister Rabin?
DJEREJIAN: I’m not going to get into the exact communications, but at the highest levels of both sides of the government. And we have made our views directly known to all the parties, including the Israelis, and there has been very close contact ever since Wednesday.
Q: Is it the highest level?
DJEREJIAN: There was a message that was sent by Secretary Eagleburger.
Q: That’s the highest?
DJEREJIAN: That’s what I’m saying. I think that’s pretty high.
Q: On the basis of what you’ve heard in public and in private from the delegations, how do you characterize the state of the negotiations? Have they been dealt a fatal blow? Are they mortally wounded? Are they going forward at some other time?
DJEREJIAN: The state of the negotiations? Again, given my remarks, I think the conclusion that we are conveying is that indeed real progress has been made in these talks, that these talks arein no way would I characterize these talks as fatally flawed. Indeed, I would say that we have seen through the sustained commitment of the parties, through thick and thin, progress being made, and quite frankly I would not conclude that there’s a real possibility of achieving real peace next year, if we thought these talks were in any way fatally flawed.
Q: (inaudible) real progress next year?
DJEREJIAN: I think it’s, as I stated in my remarks, that these negotiations can succeed, and we believe that 1993 could be a year of real achievement.