The President’s News Conference With Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel in Jerusalem

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William J. Clinton

Prime Minister Peres. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, under the administration of President Clinton, this is the fourth important move that took place in the Middle East. The first was the agreement, the first agreement with the PLO; then the agreement with Jordan; then the second agreement with the PLO; now the fourth agreement in the Middle East to confront terrorism.

Those are events that exceeds any normal political achievement. The Palestinian conflict looked like insolvable. The Jordanians were not quick at the beginning to make peace, and then it became a great success. Then we have encountered the danger to all these three achievements by the acts of terror. In my eyes, President Clinton is the first world leader that put on the agenda peace in our time as the major goal.

If you look back at history, most of the time was spent on wars, on cold wars, on confrontations. It was a chance for the first time to escape all the bitter histories of blood and terror. And then we have encountered again another uninvited and unprecedented problem, how to go ahead with peace when you have acts of terror. I think yesterday a foundation was laid down to do both, namely to go ahead with peace and reject terror. I tell you, Mr. President, that in our eyes, you, your administration, the American Congress, have changed the whole destiny of the Middle East.

The importance of the Middle East is not just because it has produced religions and Bible, the importance of the Middle East that, in our times, it is the first testing ground to take many conflicts that were so difficult to solve and try to solve them. If we shall succeed, I think it may serve as the model to other places.

For us, President Clinton is really a great leader, but not less than that, a moving friend. He has a tear in his eyes when we go through a difficult period of time, and we have a tear in our eyes when we are listening to his reaction and involvement. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you. First, I would like to express my appreciation to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet for the meeting that we had this morning just before coming over here to discuss the situation with regard to terrorism and the recent bombings. We have decided that the United States and Israel will immediately begin negotiations to conclude a bilateral agreement on combating terrorism. I told the Prime Minister that the United States will commit more than $100 million to this effort.

I am taking this step because I am determined that we must have every tool at our disposal to fight against extremist violence. Last night I sent to the Congress an urgent request for the first installment of this counterterrorism effort. I expect Congress to act quickly on this important measure.

The agreement will strengthen our attack on terror in three important areas. First, the United States will immediately begin to provide Israel with additional equipment and training. Second, our nations will join together to develop new antiterror methods and technologies. Third, we will work to enhance communications and coordination between our nations, as well as other governments who have joined with us in the war against terror.

In addition to what we propose to do under this agreement, the United States will also increase its intelligence sharing and coordination. At my direction, our Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and the Director of Central Intelligence, John Deutch, will remain in Israel to speed the progress of this agreement. We must do everything we can to track down those responsible for the recent violence, and we must work to prevent them from shedding more innocent blood.

The forces supporting peace and security are stronger than those that pursue destruction. We must prove that. Whatever effort it takes, whatever time it takes, we must say to them: You will be tracked down; you will be rooted out. The message of the pact to the people of Israel should also be quite clear: Just as America walks with you every step of the way as you work toward peace, we stand with you now in defending all that you are and all that has been accomplished. Without security, there is no peace. And ultimately, without peace, there can be no permanent security. Therefore, we are resolved to work with you until the day that Israel achieves peace with security. To give up hope for peace now or to fail to stand up for security after all that has been done would be to give the terrorists their victory.

To speak of Israel is to speak of courage and character, to speak of strength in the face of decades of hardship and bloodshed. David Ben-Gurion once said, “I have seen what a people is capable of achieving in their hour of supreme trial. I have seen their spirit touched by nobility.”

For those of us in the rest of the world, after the ordeal of these bombings we have seen once again the nobility that is Israel. As a result of the meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh yesterday, I have seen for the first time a broad-based commitment to making sure the noble people of Israel and the peace-loving peoples throughout this region may be able to live and work together against terrorism and for a peaceful future.

Thank you.

Israel-U.S. Security Relationship

Q. Mr. President, you just announced the signing of an agreement between Israel and the United States about combating terrorism. I would like to ask you, will you consider positively the idea of signing a defense pact between Israel and the United States, and will you discuss this idea with Mr. Peres when he will come to the United States toward the end of April?

The President. Well, first of all, the United States is committed to the security of Israel. We have long been committed to the security of Israel, and it is not a new event with my administration; it has been a bipartisan American commitment for a long time. And we are always looking for ways to improve the nature of our security relationship and the strength of Israel’s security. We have, in fact, in addition to the announcement that I made today, a small group of people working on the question of what we should do next and where we should go with this relationship. The Prime Minister and I discussed it a little bit today, and I expect we will discuss it further when he comes to the United States in April.

President’s Visit

Q. Mr. President, the opposition in Israel is quite skeptical, I may say even cynical about your visit here. They say you came mainly to rescue the Prime Minister before the coming elections. They say the conference in Sharm al-Sheikh will do nothing in order to prevent terrorism. What can you tell them?

The President. Well, I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but I came here because you have over 60 people dead in the last few days as a result of terrorism; because the United States is your ally and friend; and because we believe without an effort to reestablish security and a feeling of security, it will be difficult for the progress of peace to go forward. In addition to the Israelis who were killed, there were Americans killed, there were Palestinians killed, there were Moroccans killed. So that’s why I came here at this moment.

We put together the meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh along with President Mubarak because I felt that the time was right for other countries in the region and around the world to demonstrate to the nations here most affected, especially Israel, and to the Palestinians who have rejected terror, that they are not alone, that it’s about time that other countries stood up and said, this is wrong, we’re going to stand against it, and we’re going to work against it.

I do not interfere in the internal politics of other nations, and I believe that, at least if the American experience is any indication, it would be more of a hindrance than a help. This is a democracy; I respect the results of democracy here and at home. I came here because of what happened to you and because of our relationship with you.

America stands with Israel in times like this and because we have to act to go forward. Now, nobody—let me just say this—nobody can guarantee to the people of Israel or the people of the United States or the people of any open, free nation in the world absolute protection against any terrorist act. We have been victimized by terrorism; the Japanese have been victimized by terrorism—essentially a very peaceful society. But we can do more to identify the sources of support, to try to dry up money, to develop better technical and other means to prevent things from happening.

So there is no guarantee here. There are no guarantees in life against this, but we can do a lot better. And I’ve thought that the shock of the impact here was so great—not only in Israel, but in the other areas—it was high time we showed up and did more about it, and that’s why I came.

Antiterrorism Efforts

Q. Mr. President, the type of terror attacks that have been going on in Israel have been going on for quite a while. Why hasn’t something like what you announced today been done quite a while ago, and to what degree was the delay, if you can call it that, a result of opposition from within the Israeli Government?

The President. Oh, I would say not at all, on the latter question. I think, frankly, we all thought that the effort—first of all, we have been making a lot of extra efforts since, at least—I can speak for since I’ve been President. We have constantly tried to upgrade our capacity to deal with the problems of terrorism. And we have met with some considerable amount of success both in dealing with terrorism within the United States and in cooperating with our friends around the world.

But what I think has happened is, I think that the impact of these incidents coming so close together and being so clearly directed at derailing the peace process and undermining those who want peace—primarily in Israel, but also among the Palestinians and in the region— has had such a shocking impact on other Arab nations and others around the world that we were able to put together this meeting at Sharm al-Sheikh in a hurry as a result of their changed sense of urgency. And if you listened to those— I know it was difficult for those of you who were there, particularly those of you who came from the United States with little sleep—but if you listened to those 29 separate statements yesterday and you compare that to anything that Arab leaders especially had said before about Israel or about terrorism, there was a remarkable shift there.

And so I wouldn’t say that we’re just trying to do more now, and I think we have the capacity to do more. I also think it’s obvious that we have to do more to support and insist on greater effectiveness in the Palestinian Authority. I think that’s the other thing that hit home to everyone as a result of these events.

Is there another question from an American journalist?

Q. Mr. President, I’d like to ask you about Congress’ handling of your antiterrorist legislation. Yesterday the House voted to delete a provision to ban foreign fundraising in the United States. Do you think this bill is on the right track?

The President. Excuse me, would you—they voted to delete what?

Q. Foreign fundraising in the United States. Do you think this weakens the bill? Is it on the right track? How do you think they’re handling it?

The President. Well, of course I think it should have passed months ago, and I don’t know why it wasn’t. We have a lot of resources to combat terrorism now; we would like some more. The bill had been transformed and things have been added to it that weren’t necessarily urgent, but I’m very concerned that because of the hearings we had earlier in the year about some of the developments in the United States, I’m afraid there’s a little too much domestic political considerations maybe in the debate of the antiterrorism bill and not enough focus on the global aspects of terrorism and how we need these tools to combat terrorists from abroad and what terrorists from abroad might do within the United States. That’s the reason I put forward the legislation, and I would hope that Congress would focus on that and keep those two elements in mind in moving through this bill and passing a good one.

Palestinian Territories

Q. I would like to ask the President and the Prime Minister about the closure that could jeopardize the whole peace process according to the Palestinians’ claim.

Prime Minister Peres. Well, the closure is not aimed against the Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank. There are really, to answer, some security needs. The minute we shall overcome it, the closure will reach its end. We are trying very hard not to create any starvation or any suffering in the territories. This is clearly a security measure and nothing else.

The President. To be fair, I mean, I think that’s a legitimate concern. But that’s one of the—that’s clearly one of the objectives of the terrorists. And I think that’s the point we were trying to make at Sharm al-Sheikh yesterday, that the Israelis and the people who are not only—the people who died, their families, their friends, this country, your attitudes, that’s primarily the target of the terrorists. But they’re also trying to get to the people in the—the Palestinians who would like to have a peaceful future. And so they know that if they can put Israel in a position of closing the territories as a security measure, they then have a chance to change the attitude of the Palestinians.

So it’s a deliberate attempt by them to make the Palestinians as miserable as possible. And in that sense the Palestinians are the targets of the terror as well; that was the point we were hammering home yesterday in Sharm al-Sheikh and why it’s so important that Mr. Arafat and his administration do everything possible to cooperate with us in rooting this out so that we can keep the free flow of transportation open and so that they can enjoy their jobs and have access to food and do all the things that they need to do, because if it becomes—look, countries are like individuals and families. If you have to choose anything over your continued existence, you will always choose your continued existence. Security will take preference. So these people are not stupid. They’re doing this to provoke the reaction that they got. And we have to stand against them together.

Terrorism

Q. Mr. President, in an editorial this morning highly critical of Mr. Arafat, the Jerusalem Post makes the point that the bloodshed here would be the equivalent of killing 10,000 Americans over 31 months, and they further say that American people would not “be pacified by the mindless platitudes” that went on yesterday in Egypt. Your reaction?

The President. Well, I think the—I do believe if you think about the American people losing 10,000 over 30 months, or several thousand in a matter of just 3 weeks, and if you compound that by saying that every American felt that that had happened within about 50 miles of where he or she lived—that’s another thing you can’t overlook, the density, the geographical dimension of this, so that every Israeli feels that this happened next door—that our people would be off the wall. They would be angry, they would be furious, they would want action, they would want what the Israeli people want.

But I think if you look at the extent to which the terrorists’ networks which are active in this area have mobility and have ties beyond Israel proper, beyond the Palestinian areas proper, it is wrong to say that the rather specific commitments that we got from those countries to work together to try to dry up their sources of support and move as one against them was an empty commitment. I showed up here today to say I will be the first, the United States will stand up first, here’s our $100 million, here’s what we’re going to do with it, here’s how we’re going to work together. These are not empty commitments.

It is not easy for democratic societies to defeat organized forces of destruction. The end of the cold war means that there will in all probability, and we hope, be less conflict among nation-states. There will be more conflict in the future by people who organize themselves for illegitimate means through terrorism and who try to access the dangerous weapons—traditional, biological, and chemical weapons—who try to use the forces of organized crime and the money they can get from drug trafficking to build a network of destruction, if you will, that can cross the boundaries of nation-states. I believe this is a problem—the Prime Minister alluded to this earlier—this is today Israel’s problem, it’s the Middle Eastern problem, but it will be the principal security problem of the future, and I think we had better get after it. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

Israel-U.S. Security Relationship

Q. Mr. President, would a defense pact between Israel and the United States limit Israel’s ability to strike at Hezbollah for example?

The President. Well, first of all, the decision has not been made, either in Israel or in the United States, to go beyond the agreement that we announced today and our clear, unambiguous, longstanding commitment to Israel’s security, to maintaining its qualitative advantage in defense capacity. But the discussions that we have under way about what we can do from here on out obviously would have to encompass every conceivable contingency. And that’s why I urge you not to jump ahead. We’re going to really have serious discussions about what we should do to strengthen Israel’s security and our relationship. But let’s not undermine the impact of what we’re announcing today, which will do just that. It’s very important.

Syria

Q. Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, I have a question about Syria for both of you. First of all, Mr. President, you have on two occasions met with President Asad. You went to Damascus once, you met with him in Geneva once, even though the State Department continues to include Syria on the official list of countries that support terrorism. Syria’s decision not even to send a representative to Sharm al-Sheikh must have been a severe blow to you personally given your courting, if you will, of President Asad over the past few years to engage in the peace process. How much of a setback will that be in terms of Israeli-Syrian negotiations?

And to you, Mr. Prime Minister, you mentioned that Iran was a capital of terror yesterday, but you didn’t mention anything about Syria and its absence from this conference yesterday. Can you continue negotiations with Syria at this point after President Asad decided not even to send a representative to Sharm al-Sheikh?

Prime Minister Peres. Well, both to the first question of the previous question and this one, let’s take things seriously as they are.

About the Palestinians—I’m referring to the editorial in the Jerusalem Post—yes, we can mobilize the whole of the Palestinians against us. It is very easy. We can take measures and steps and return to the time of intifada, push back the PLO to become a terroristic organization, or work gradually with all the pains from a majority of the Palestinians who support today peace to a complete support of peace by the Palestinians. We shouldn’t submit to minorities.

Now, frankly about Syria and Iran, there is a similarity because there are headquarters of terroristic organizations in Damascus. But there is also a difference. Syria does not call today, like Iran does, for the destruction of Israel. Syria is negotiating with Israel to look for a peace, which Iran refuses completely. So we didn’t reach yet the necessary agreement, but we don’t want to close all the doors. And to be fair I think what we have to do is to impress the Syrians with the need to depart from any support or shelter to terror and terrorism, but not to kill the future.

And I agree that the peacemakers do have a much more complicated road to go. It’s not black and white. It’s like climbing a mountain; it is difficult, it takes time, you don’t reach the peak in one jump. So what is necessary to retract we shall retract in clear terms, and I think we shall clearly make it known that we cannot support terroristic headquarters in Damascus or elsewhere. But at the same time and by the same token, we shall continue the peace effort. Our purpose is not to submit to terror, but to overcome it when it is necessary by force and otherwise by hope.

The President. My answer to your question is I was disappointed that no Syrian representative came and I think it was a mistake, but I was not surprised because if you look at the pattern of all these developments since I have been President and indeed, before, President Asad tends to deal with these matters with people one-on-one. And to have Syria steer a different course, I think it was a missed opportunity for the Syrians and I wish that they had been there. But I do not believe that undermines the fundamental fact that the United States is committed to support Israel if Israel is involved in negotiations and is taking risks for peace.

And as long as there are fruitful negotiations going on—we know there will never be a comprehensive peace in the Middle East until there is a resolution of the differences between Israel and Syria. We also know if those differences were resolved the capacity of the Syrians to help to live up to any agreement they might make and to create a more secure region is very considerable. So my position is that the negotiations should absolutely continue as long as Israel is prepared to be a part of that, and we should support that.

Antiterrorism Efforts

Q. With your permission, I would like to relate to a question I heard several times yesterday from different people. The question was, how can a conference like yesterday’s persuade a person who’s got a bomb strapped around his middle to turn it off or take it off or not set it off? I think they’re asking, do you have any short-term answers for terrorism or are your solutions only long term?

Prime Minister Peres. We have a collection of answers, not one—short terms and long terms. But you know, it’s again a very simplistic way of putting the question. For example, if we can dry out the sources of finance to this man that goes finally with the bomb, will it help or not? My answer is yes. If we can stop the traffic of arms, will it help or not? It will, yes.

I mean people are confusing; we are fighting on three different fronts in order to create one system and do it systematically. One is domestically, to increase our forces, to fortify our borders, to control the passages, and when necessary, to put a closure—instead of the conference in Sharm al-Sheikh. As a matter of fact, what is so interesting is that in spite of the closure and in spite of this measure, the conference in Sharm al-Sheikh took place. So even the Arabs understand that those were necessary measures.

Then we have demands from the Palestinian side. We don’t ask them to defend us, but we ask them clearly to have just one armed authority in Gaza to put order at home, that Gaza cannot become a headquarter for terror in other ways. And then, by the leadership of the President, we are organizing practically the whole world to stop the traffic of arms, the supply of money, the shelter to the murderers, the mobilization of the existing systems, police, or intelligence, whatever it is, to cooperate and put an end to it, because terror is becoming an international phenomenon; it is also in a way global.

So I don’t understand all this criticism. I think people simply—those who criticize—didn’t think about the question.

The President. If I might follow up, if you had to answer the question the way you asked it, the answer would be no, no one can do that. But no one could have done that before this meeting, and no one can do that 6 months from now.

I wish I had it in my power to reach into the hearts of those young men who have bought some apocalyptic version of Islam and politics that together causes them to strap their bodies with bombs and blow themselves to smithereens and kill innocent children. I wish I could do that. I don’t pretend to be able to do that. But that’s not the question. The question is, can we improve the capacity of Israel and of the Palestinian Authority to prevent these things from occurring? The answer to that question is yes.

Second question, can we improve our capacity to break up the networks of money and materiel that make these things possible? The answer to that is yes. Can we create a risk-free world here in Israel? No. Can we reduce the risks and do much better? Yes. That is the way we should look at this and that is the focus we should take. You know, I couldn’t do that in the United States. Is it less likely that someone could do what happened in Oklahoma City again in the United States? I think it is because of steps we have taken. Is it absolutely certain that nothing like that will ever happen again? No.

As long as you have free societies where people have some ability to move, some right of privacy, some ability to transfer funds, and some ability to get access to materials that can be made into bombs, you cannot have a totally riskfree world. What we are trying to do is to reduce the risks, to reduce the likelihood of this, to prevent more of these things from happening, to catch more of the wrongdoers. That’s what we’re trying to do. We can absolutely do that, and that should be the focus.

Iran and Saudi Arabia

Q. Mr. President, I’d like to ask you specifics, two specific questions related to yesterday’s conference. You met with all the European leaders privately. Do you feel you have an assurance from them—they last week had asked the Iranians to condemn terrorism; they didn’t get what they asked for. Do you sense from them they’re now willing to go forward and get tougher in their relations with Iran? They haven’t really followed your dual containment program with the Iranians. Do you see this as a turning point in their policy toward the Iranians in your discussions with them yesterday, because people are looking for very specifics?

Second, do you sense in your talks with the Saudis that they’re now willing to turn off the spigot because they’ve allowed funds to go to Hamas? I just would like to know, I think the Israeli public would like to know, do you have a sense of assurance on specifics? Because the principles were set out, and you said in a month there will be this working group, but can you just give us a sense from these European and Gulf leaders what they are willing to do specifically? Thank you.

The President. Well, I would have to give you two separate answers. To the first question, when I announced an even stronger policy against Iran last year, I think it’s fair to say that the leaders, most European leaders thought I was wrong and disagreed with me. I believe now they’re having second thoughts. And I received some indications—I think it’s quite important that I not speak for them and go beyond what they’re prepared to say in public, but based on my private conversations, I did believe that there was a change in attitude and direction in the minds of some of the European leaders with whom I met.

With regard to Saudi Arabia, that specific question was not discussed, nor as you would imagine could the Foreign Minister discuss that on his own. We didn’t have a bilateral meeting yesterday. But the thing I will say about it is that we know that the Middle Eastern leaders, the Arab State leaders are quite careful about what they say. And a lot of times the phrases and words they use carry a lot of historic either meaning or baggage, depending on the perspective you have, about what they say. He said some things yesterday that no Saudi leader had ever said before. So I am hopeful, but I had received no explicit commitments, because we didn’t have a private conversation.

On the European front I can tell you that I had the distinct impression that our view, which I think is the view broadly held in Israel, I know it is, is making some inroads among the Europeans. I mean, you only—how many times does it have to be demonstrated to them what the facts are, and we are perfectly prepared to do everything we can to demonstrate to them what the facts are, and obviously we need their help if we’re going to really keep turning up the heat on this issue.

It is regrettable, but the Iranians are committed to supporting these terrorist activities and glorifying them, totally ignoring the progress of the last several years, totally ignoring the facts, totally ignoring what is happening. Now, that’s just the fact. And every country in the world that deals with them is going to have to just wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and decide whether they’re going to stay with the policy they have or change it, and whether the policy is based on principle or some other basis.

Thank you.