As released by the Office of the Spokesman U.S. Department of State
Secretary Albright: Well, good afternoon everybody. Before departing for the Gulf, I want to set my meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat in perspective. Two challenges define my current mission to the region: Our determination to prevent Saddam from threatening the security and stability of the region with weapons of mass destruction, and our commitment to get the Arab-Israeli Peace Process back on track. The threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s continued defiance of the Security Council and obstruction of UN’s weapons inspections is greatest to the peoples of this region. Saddam has used his arsenal against three of the countries I am visiting on this trip: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Israel. Indeed, he has used chemical weapons against his own people. We must stop Saddam from ever again jeopardizing the stability and security of his neighbors with weapons of mass destruction. The chemical weapons Saddam has used and the biological weapons we know he has tested pay no attention to borders and nationalities. They are a threat to Israelis and to Palestinians. They are a threat to Saudis and Kuwaitis. They are a threat to Iranians and a threat even to Iraqis themselves. Weapons of mass destruction kill without discrimination.
Let me say to the people of Israel in no uncertain terms, as I will say to the people of Saudi Arabia and the people of Kuwait: The United States stood with you when Saddam Hussein attacked you six years ago. The United States stands with you in the face of Saddam’s latest threat today. Of course, there may be differences between us about how to pursue Middle East peace, but let me say directly to the Israeli people: Nothing will ever shake the iron- clad commitment of the United States when it comes to the security of Israel. Although Saddam is bent on keeping this region mired in conflict, and stuck in the past, the United States is determined to keep the Middle East focused on the future and moving towards peace. And that is the second purpose of my mission. A week and a half ago, the President — President Clinton met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat to lay out his ideas to get Israeli-Palestinian negotiations back on track. He sent me here to elaborate on those ideas, to solicit the reactions of both leaders and to impress upon them the importance of making hard decisions so we can move ahead. At my request, and in an effort to report quickly, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman have both agreed to send emissaries to Washington late next week to follow up on our discussions this weekend. I understand that the issues involved in the four-point agenda are difficult and complex, and I have no illusions about how challenging these negotiations are. But both parties must remember that the four-point agenda is not an end in itself. Israelis and Palestinians must move to permanent status negotiations in order to ultimately secure a lasting peace.
We have been stalled at this point in the peace process, negotiating the same issues for a long time — frankly, far too long. There is far too much at stake for this to go on. Over the last several years, Arabs and Israelis have concluded extraordinary agreements and established unprecedented ties. The current stalemate which has lasted for more than a year now is eroding those gains and threatening the entire process. There is only one way to avoid further deterioration: both parties must work to restore the lost sense of partnership by taking the hard steps to put the process back on track. It is no longer enough to simply talk about wanting peace; it is time to make the difficult decisions and exercise the leadership necessary to achieve it.
Question: Six years ago the Bush Administration pressured Israel not to respond when thirty-nine scuds fell on Tel Aviv and eleven Israelis were killed. Considering the dicey situation in Iraq is this the time really to be asking Israel to give up territory, territory a small country considers very vital in a very dangerous neighborhood?
Secretary Albright: First of all as I have said in these remarks we believe that one of the major reasons to push back on Saddam is so that he would not be a threat to the countries in the neighborhood, and as I stated, we are committed to helping them in any way that we can if they in some way should be attacked. It is obviously always up to each country to determine its own way of defending itself, but as I’ve said, our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. I think it’s also very important to understand that we have two highly important problems going on at the same time. The peace process is one in which we have all invested a great deal of time and energy. We believe that it has to go on, that every determination has to be made to move it along, and at the same time it is very important to make clear our determination to thwart Saddam Hussein’s ability to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction and to threaten his neighbors. So while these problems are both going on simultaneously, we have to deal with them independently and we have to make our views on both known very clearly.
Question: Madam Secretary, given the fact that there’s a belief that lack of progress in the Middle East peace process spills over into our relations in the rest of the region, are you concerned that an apparent lack of progress here at this point will erode support, or will have a negative effect on support in the Gulf for the main part of your mission there, which is to–
Secretary Albright: My purpose on this mission is to explain where we are in terms of our determination to thwart Saddam Hussein in his ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction and threaten his neighbors, and I think that the important part here is for me to explain why in itself that is an important mission, and I am not making any connection between the two.
Question: Madam Secretary, you met with King Hussein on Friday. There have been reports now that his health is not good. Could you give us some idea of how he seemed and whether you detected any change in him, or whether he referred to his health at all.
Secretary Albright: Well, I’m a doctor, but not that kind, and I found him in very good spirits, looking terrific, very relaxed, and we had a very good discussion. I think also that he is a keen and astute observer of what is going on in the region. I appreciated his insight and his views and also his understanding for the approach that we were taking as far as Saddam Hussein was concerned, and very much appreciate a letter that was published today in which he makes clear that he holds Saddam Hussein responsible for the consequences of his actions, and for the failure to abide by Security Council resolutions. So I was just very, very pleased to have the opportunity to meet him and Queen Nur, and they both looked great to me.
Question: Madam Secretary, is the military option which the United States has realistic in terms of (inaudible)? Can it achieve goal of eliminating weapons of mass destruction or..?
Secretary Albright: Well, let me say that we believe that the kind of military action we would take, and let me parenthetically say here, that we continue to prefer the diplomatic route and believe that that is the best solution to it but, if diplomacy runs out we have reserved the right to use force and, if we do so, it will be substantial and it will be directed at what President Clinton stated were the objectives of it, which is to thwart their ability to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction and to threaten their neighbors. And I must say, in that regard, that if they do, in fact, in some way, threaten their neighbors or do damage to them, our response to that will be swift and forceful and so they should have no doubt about that aspect.
Question: Did Israel request U.S. protective equipment for use in case of chemical or biological attack? And may I ask also, did you receive any good answers from both Israelis and Palestinians today?
Secretary Albright: Well, first of all, we will obviously be in very close consultations with the Israelis in terms of their security needs. I don’t think it is appropriate for me to go into any detail on that but, just to repeat again that our support for Israel, security is unshakable and that we will continue to consult very closely on the whole question here. On did I receive any good answers, I received some answers. I think, I must say that I had hoped that we would get further on this trip than we have but there has been some minimal progress and I appreciate, as I said in my statement, that both leaders have agreed to send envoys to Washington and my sense is that they are doing what President Clinton asked them to do which is to absorb and think about the ideas that he presented and that they are increasingly realizing the fact that they are the ones that have to make the hard decisions, that the United States will be there with ideas and support but they are the ones that have to make the tough decisions and so I am not as satisfied as I wish I could be in terms of the level of answers that I got but we did get some answers and I am glad that the process is continuing in the way that it is.
Question: Madam Secretary, do you think that this visit, your visit now to the region, did you get good answers from your visit or would it remind us of the visit you have done before some months? And something else, do you think this try, this American try, is a try as a peace mediator or it’s a try to have more Arab supporters if the military option will be taken by the United States?
Secretary Albright: Well, first of all, I think I answered the question about what answers I have gotten on the peace process and again, I would just say that I consider my trip here worthwhile for that purpose because it follows up on some very intensive diplomacy that took place this fall in other places and also the meetings that we had in Washington. But, I would have wished that more could have come out of it and we will continue to press and, I wish frankly that, as I said, that there had been more.
In terms of the other subject, let me say that I have been very satisfied with my overall trip in terms of the Iraqi situation. I have now met with Foreign Minister Vedrine, Foreign Minister Primakov, Foreign Minister Cook, and what I have found, is that there is unity in all of those leaders in their belief that Saddam Hussein has to carry out his obligations that the Security Council has laid on him, and that there should be unfettered and unconditional access for the inspectors. I was very pleased with – – obviously Foreign Secretary Cook has been supportive from the very beginning, and is one of the people upon whom — with whom we have a great partnership and work with very closely. I was very pleased of the support that came from Foreign Minister Vedrine who made clear that all options were open. We had some disagreements with Foreign Minsiter Primakov who believes that the chances for diplomacy are better than I do, frankly. But as I’ve already talked about King Hussein’s support, and certainly the support here. What is very hearteneing, is that as I said initially, that every one of those people understand the need for delivering a strong message to Saddam Huseein about unconditional, unfettered access. and, as I also said earlier, the purpose of my trip was to explain the U.S. position, welcome the support of those who would support us, and to make clear what President Clinton said so eloquently in the State of the union message: that we are going to do all we could to thwart Saddam Hussein in his ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction and threaten his neighbors.
Question: Madame Secretary, I wonder if you could tell us how you elvaluate the reports and signs that you’re getting that Iran may be re-thinking its position on the Middle East Peace Process. We understand the Administration may have gotten word through Arafat that Khatemi is a little less hostile to the process than his — some other officials is Iran. And a senior Iranian official in Davos over the last two days apparently has made some statement suggesting that Iran would be more interested in some kind of a dialogue between Iranians and Israelis, and that there may be division on the Middle East Peace Process within the government.
Secretary Albright: Let me say this: I was very interested initially when reports came through about some of the resolutions taken at the OIC meeting in tehran, where Iran was obviously the Chair of the OIC for three years. And I think some important steps were taken there to indicate some support for the Middle East Peace Process, a minimal. And we are following very closely, obviously whatever statements they are making, because as you know, one of the three major problems that we have with Iran, is the we have felt that they have not been helpful with the Middle East Peace Process. So we will follow that. As you also know, President Clinton as part of his Eid message, directed a section to the Iranian people, explaining our respect for their history and culture, and speaking about the importance of having — of excamining the possibility of exchanges and having a cultural dialogue between the peoples. We will have to see again what these various signals mean, and clearly what we have — are witnessing is a discussion of ideas in the Iranian Government. And as we have all said it is intriguing, some of it is encouraging. But again, I think we are going to have to watch this closely and be open in a way as the President was to what we are hearing.
Question: Madam Secretary, did you find Arafat supportive of U.S. goals?… dealing with the stand-off on weapons inspections with Iraq?
Secretary Albright: Well, what Chairman Arafat did was repeat what he said to me in Bern that he believes that Security Council resolutions should be abided by, and he made that very clear again that the resolutions needed to be carried out. I felt that he understood the difficulties posed by what Saddam Hussein was doing and the general problems that it posed for us specifically, but you will have to ask him more directly.
Question: Madam Secretary, I’d like to ask you about oil-for-food. Kobi Anan is presenting today proposals to expand oil-for-food from 2 to 5 billion dollars per semester. I was wondering if you would support an expansion on that scale?
Secretary Albright: First of all let me reiterate that it was the United States who actually initiated the whole concept of oil-for- food, because we have no fight with the Iraqi people and understand their suffering. I think we understand their suffering better than Saddam Hussein does. First of all we wanted the oil-for-food program to be carried out swiftly, and it took Saddam Hussein a year or so to even get the mechanism into place so that the oil- for-food could in fact be carried out. We will be examining Kobi Anan’s suggestions specifically, but in a general way, but I can say that we do support an expansion of the oil-for-food program.
Question: Mrs. Secretary, I’d like to ask how you evaluate the step taken yesterday by the Central Committee of the PLO regarding the Covenant, the Palestinian Covenant?
Secretary Albright: Well, it is my understanding that they have put the issue of the Covenant on an agenda item to be discussed. They have written letters to Prime Minister Blair and President Clinton making clear which articles of the Covenant they consider invalid, and we consider that an important step forward, and I understand this question is going to be on the agenda as an important step in terms of what is being asked of them.
Question: Madam Secretary, as the technical team, evaluation team, arrived to Iraq yesterday and another team for biological team. Why don’t you wait the technical team, evaluation team, of twenty- two members and the second thing as most of the Arab countries do not support a military strike — Egypt, Syria and some Gulf countries — are you worried of more radicalization in the Arab world and more fundamentalism after a U.S. strike against Iraq. Thank you.
Secretary Albright: First of all, I think we are watching to see what the results of the technical evaluation teams are going to be, but the main thing that we are pressing for because that is the structure that has been established is for the UNSCOM inspectors to be able to carry out their work unfettered and in an unconditional way. That is what this is about. I think that we are assessing the situation from the perspective of what we believe needs to be done in order to make sure that countries in the region are not threatened by Saddam Hussein who has had and could have and probably has weapons of mass destruction. As I have mentioned, there are Arab countries that are asthreatened by his weapons as anybody, and therefore we believe that the action that we take if we in fact have to use force would be done to the end of trying to help those countries, and I have said in my initial remarks, weapons of mass destruction know no borders or nationalities, and I think that we believe that if we have to use force, we will be doing it for the correct reasons. But again, let me say, that we are trying to sort this out diplomatically. We all prefer a diplomatic solution, but the window for carrying out that diplomatic solution and the time for it seems to be narrowing.