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Special Event

President Clinton Addresses Elian Gonzalez Custody Dispute

Aired April 20, 2000 - 5:54 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We interrupt the story to take you to the White House, where President Clinton is meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And they -- he and Prime Minister Barak have set for themselves an ambitious timetable to reach a framework agreement as soon as they can and then a final agreement by the middle of September. So we're working hard on it and I think we'll get some things done today.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a short time ago Juan Miguel Gonzales came out and called on the American people to help him urge you and your attorney general to reunite him with his son. Do you have a message to Juan Miguel Gonzales?

Also, what steps have been (OFF-MIKE).

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think he should be reunited with his son. That is the law. And the main argument of the family in Miami for not doing so has now been removed. And their main argument was, If we let him go back to his father before the court rules, he might go back to Cuba.

The court has now said he shouldn't go back to Cuba. The Justice Department agrees with that and he has agreed to that. So there is now no conceivable argument for his not being able to be reunited with his son and that is what the lawful process has said. The immigration law is clear and the determination of the INS and the federal court are clear.

So, I think he should be reunited and as prompt and an orderly way as possible.

QUESTION: But what about the appeals court suggestion that a 6- year-old maybe has some rights to say where he wants to live and apply for asylum?

CLINTON: Well, even if the Supreme -- if the appeals court were to say that, which would be a rather dramatic departure from the law, then there would have to be some setup at a trial level for determining that. And in the meanwhile, while all this legal process plays out, as a matter of law, the INS determined and a federal court affirmed that the father should have custody, so clearly he should be reunited.

And the argument that he might go back to Cuba before this thing can be finally resolved in the courts is no longer there; that's not an argument any more. The court of appeals cleared that up...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you write a letter to prime minister -- former Prime Minister Netanyahu promising him that Israel would keep its nuclear or mass destruction weapons in case they reach an agreement with the Palestinians?

CLINTON: I don't believe that issue ever came up in connection with an agreement with the Palestinians, with Mr. Netanyahu or any other Israeli prime minister. To the best of my memory, it did not.

And I think you all know what the issues are between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They are difficult, but I think they can be bridged. And if the parties want to do this, we will do everything we can to help them and to minimize the difficulties and the risks involved. There are risks and difficulties involved for Chairman Arafat, there are risks and difficulties involved for Prime Minister Barak, for the Palestinian people and for the Israeli people.

I believe they are not nearly as great as the risks and difficulties of not making a peace agreement, so I hope they will do it. And if they want to do it, I'll do whatever I can to help them.

Thank you.

WOODRUFF: President Clinton about to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, among other things saying that we will get some things done today.

On the Elian Gonzalez matter, the president said he should be reunited with his father. It is the law. In effect, the president said, all barriers, legal barriers, have been done away with. There is nothing standing in the way of a reunion with these two. He said should be in as prompt and as orderly a manner possible.

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