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Clinton Comments on the Crisis in the Middle East

Aired October 11, 2000 - 9:53 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Live to the Rose Garden, President Clinton, and Mideast peace.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: ... I think what we talked about at Camp David and what we talked about since has been fairly well- publicized. But I do not believe that any of us should be saying or doing anything now except focusing on putting an end to the violence, keeping people alive, calming things down and getting back to the negotiating table.

And I do believe, by the way, that a plan to get back to the negotiating table is an important part of ending the violence in a substantial way. For me, that's what we're doing. That's what I've been working on for several days now, almost a week.

QUESTION: Do you think you'll be traveling to the Mideast or elsewhere to meet with the leaders, the Israelis and the Palestinians?

CLINTON: First of all, as always, I'm prepared to do whatever I can to help. But I think the most important thing is that we all keep working to calm things down, keep them calm, and then find a way to get the peace process going again.

I think Secretary Albright or I might go. Maybe in time we'll both go.

I had a long talk this morning with Secretary General Kofi Annan, and we've been working together in an attempt to make sure we've got a substantial calm there.

You know, I can do a lot here on the phone. I've been spending a lot of days and nights on the phone, and I hope that the United States is having a positive impact. But the first thing we've got to do is to get this situation calmed down and figure out where to go from here.

But I do believe where to go from here must include a resumption of the peace talks, because that's one of the reasons that we've had things so calm for so long, that we've basically had these talks going along, moving in the right direction.

And we have to reach an agreement on, you know, this fact-finding effort to determine what happened and how to keep it from happening again, and I think we can do that. So we've just got to keep working on it.


QUESTION: Mr. President, if I could follow up on that for one second -- or follow up on that for one second. This is sort of a pointed question about the Middle East.

At this point, if you're frustrated about possibly setting up a summit over there, do not the Israelis and the Palestinians at least owe you the courtesy of participating in such a summit, considering what you have tried to do to bring peace to the region?

CLINTON: I'm not worried about that. That's not what's at issue there. I think we can do that.

But the main thing we have to do is -- we don't need just another meeting, we need to know what the -- we need to know what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. I think the -- I wouldn't over- read, excuse me, the fact that there won't be a big meeting imminently in Egypt. I don't think you should over-read that as a reflection that either the Israelis or the Palestinians do not want to continue the peace process.

I think everybody is shocked at how quickly and how deeply it got out of hand. And I think the most important thing now is to restore calm.

We've had a couple of pretty good days. People are really trying. And we're trying to put together a way forward which will increase the chances that things will stay calm and more peaceful.

So that's what we're working on. And I just have to tell you, it's very important to us to keep all of our options open. It's important that you know that I'm willing to do whatever I can to help, but these things have to take place in a certain way in order for them to make sense. And I'm doing the very best I can with it.

QUESTION: Critics of the administration's policies blames some of the...


QUESTION: ... an agreement to return to negotiations. Do you need to see those before you agree to go to the Middle East or send a representative?

CLINTON: Well, no, first of all, I don't need to see anything before I send representatives. We've been involved with them too long and we have been already -- keep in mind, we've had people already in the region and Secretary Albright met with them in Paris, and now lots of others are, you know, coming in.

I have been talking to them all for extended periods of time, really since the beginning of the difficulties. So that's not it. The point is, everything that the United States does should be designed toward, number one, trying to preserve the calm; and number two, trying to restore the peace process. And so I will do whatever I think is likely to advance those objectives.

So, you know, that's the only thing I was saying. We're in this for the long haul. We have been from the beginning and we'll stay.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed in Arafat, Mr. President? Are you disappointed in Arafat's attitude?


QUESTION: Are you disappointed in Arafat's attitude?


QUESTION: ... critics blame some of the violence on the failed Camp David talks and charge that that summit was called too soon. Do you think that's unfair? What's your response to that?

CLINTON: I think that -- I think if there had been no talks at Camp David, it would be worse now, because the pressure on the Palestinians to unilaterally declare a state would have been far worse, because their level of misunderstanding would have been even greater because they had never -- in all these seven years, they had never talked about these big, deep underlying issues, not in a serious, formal way.

So I think that -- I think there was -- I think, certainly the Israelis, I think, were disappointed that they were as forthcoming as they were and they thought more progress should have made, but I think that everybody had a sense; I announced that at the time. But then after that, they continued to talk and everybody had the sense that they were moving forward. So I don't think that the evidence will support that conclusion.

Keep in mind, we were running out of time and look -- and the Palestinians, Chairman Arafat, delayed the date that he had previously set for a unilateral declaration.

So the facts on the ground and the behavior of the parties do not support that conclusion.

The truth is we got down to the tough issues where there were no easy answers. And I think that what this tells everybody is that, after all these years of working together, there's still underlying different perceptions that have to be worked on, and we slid off into a sense where both sides felt as if they had been victimized and abused. There is no alternative here but to get back together and to go back to work.

QUESTION: How would you like to be under military occupation for 50 years?

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: What exactly are you recommending on how to calm things down?

CLINTON: Well, they're working on that. They have worked together on that, where they have common security understandings and a very detailed set of things that both sides have been doing, and they're talking about it some more.

So I think first we've got to just -- you have to do that. And then they have to figure out beyond the security operations how they're going to get back together.


QUESTION: ... disappointed by Arafat and puzzled by his attitude? Are those reports true?

CLINTON: I don't think that anything I say that stirs this up is very helpful. Look, there's a lot of people dying over there. We need to stop people dying. And there's been enough people saying enough things that have contributed to that. And my goal is to stop people dying and then get them back together, you know.

We can all have our judgments. You have yours. They are somehow implicit in some of the questions you're asking.

But what I have noticed in these circumstances is, if they do good things, there's enough credit to go around, and if the wheel runs off and people start to die, then there's enough blame to go around. This is not the time to be assessing that.

This is the time to make a primary, first commitment to end violence, to keep calm, to start the peace process again, and then they can establish some mechanism to evaluate what happened and why and how to keep it from ever happening again.

And both of them have agreed to that. They haven't exactly agreed on the modalities, but they've both agreed to that.

So we can't lose sight of the fact that the most important thing right now is to stop people from getting shot and wounded and killed, and to get the peace process back on track, and to give a sense of safety and security back to all the people there.

When things are most explosive in the Middle East: when both sides feel victimized. And we were slipping toward that at a rapid pace over the last several days.

Now both sides are taking responsibility here for moving out of this. And I think the statement that Prime Minister Barak made in the middle of his night-long cabinet meeting a couple of nights ago was very helpful in that regard and a wise thing to do.

And then he and Chairman Arafat have been doing some specific things here on this security front, and we need to support that and not -- look, there will be plenty of time in a calmer atmosphere for people to say whatever it is they've got to say in a political nature.

But we can't bring any of those kids back to life, we can't bring you those young people back to life, we can't bring -- Lord knows how long it will take to reestablish some of the relationships that have been severed there. And none of us need to do anything to make this worse. We need to calm this down.

Thank you.

HEMMER: President Clinton, at the Rose Garden there, talking about the latest with the Middle East. And him outlining his four critical points that he says, number one, focus on ending the violence, number one; keeping people alive throughout the region; calming things down; and then getting back to the negotiating table.

Asked whether he would made a trip, he left open the possibility that he may go to the Middle East. But he said, "We don't need just another meeting indicating that a direction on the peace process is critical at this juncture."

Now here is Daryn for more.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, with more on that, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent John King, who is at the White House and has been listening in along with us.

John, are you picking up a sense of frustration from the president because of his lack of ability to really do anything to help this crisis?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly a lack of -- there is a great sense of frustration here at the White House. They would reject the notion that there is a lack of an ability to do anything. They believe the president's telephone diplomacy as well as the mission of the U.N. Secretary-General has been helpful in calming things down.

The big question now is: What form and shape should a new U.S. diplomatic effort take? You heard the president there say that he discounted the possibility of a summit in the short term in Egypt. The Egyptians have rejected that.

The big problem, right now, U.S. officials tell us, both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak say they would welcome the president to the region, but both have very different agendas for what a three-way summit would look like. Mr. Barak wanting a public declaration, condemnation of the violence from Mr. Arafat first. Mr. Arafat wants this fact-finding commission the president spoke of set up first.

So, the White House says, right now, if the president went, the leading option might be to meet separately with the two leaders, then try to bring them together. But as you heard the president say, sending Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also on the table. White House officials say the president hasn't ruled out a summit. Right now it looks very difficult to arrange one. The telephone diplomacy continues. They hope to answer this question in the next day or so -- Daryn.

KAGAN: More on this ahead on MORNING NEWS. John King on the White House.



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