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U.S. is ready to help keep the peace process going


26 July 2000

Transcript: Albright Lehrer Interview on Middle East Peace Talks

U.S. is ready to help keep the peace process going

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright July 25 discussed the Middle East peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians that took place July 11-24 at Camp David, Maryland, in an interview on the News Hour With Jim Lehrer.

Secretary Albright said the negotiations ended without an agreement when it became evident that they would not be able to move any further. "It was basically a mutual decision that it was time to look at what we had accomplished and take a break. I think that it was just general agreement among the leaders," she said.

The final status issues that were being negotiated -- Jerusalem, security, borders and refugees -- are "truly complicated," she said. "And this is a debate and a dispute that has lasted hundreds of years, and it is literally of biblical proportions."

The ultimate solutions to these permanent status issues "have to come about comprehensively, and should have international recognition, and cannot be and should not be unilateral actions," she said.

"I think that we hope very much that both sides will really see the value of continuing a comprehensive negotiation, so that this is not a unilateral statement one way or another, not just on the state, but on other aspects of these problems."

"Both parties learned a great deal more about each other's needs, about their difficulties, and so I think there was a lot of value in talking about these things," she said. And, as I understand it, the press and the public opinion, especially in Israel, is now talking about Jerusalem in a way that they hadn't, and it has created a vast public debate. I don't think things are going to be the same after this summit because, finally, they are really talking about these crucial and essential existential issues for both of them," Albright said.

The next step, the Secretary said, is for both Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat "to go back and take stock, first of all of what they heard from each other, and then what they're going to be hearing from their publics. ... Prime Minister Barak has explained that he has a political situation that he has to deal with. Chairman Arafat has to deal with his people. ... And we're ready to help whenever we can, because we do think it's essential that the process keep going."

Following is the transcript:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman July 25, 2000

INTERVIEW OF SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT ON THE NEWS HOUR WITH JIM LEHRER Washington, D.C.

July 25, 2000

MS. WARNER: Welcome, Madame Secretary. Thanks for being with us.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Margaret.

MS. WARNER: Was it the President who pulled the plug on this summit?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that what happened was early this morning it was evident that we were not going to be able to move it any further, and it was basically a mutual decision that it was time to look at what we had accomplished and take a break. I think that it was just general agreement among the leaders. But the President, I think, really, he worked so hard, Margaret, on trying to pull this together and give it his all. But I think at a certain stage, it was evident that we couldn't move further.

MS. WARNER: How critical -- much has been made in some of the accounts that are coming out today about a 3:00 a.m. letter that Chairman Arafat sent to the President saying essentially, no point continuing because the Israelis -- their position on Jerusalem was just unacceptable. How crucial was that letter?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it was kind of codifying a lot of the things that we had heard in the previous six or seven hours. I'm not sure I would agree with the characterization of how he put it, but it was evident and through that night that they had incompatible positions as far as trying to resolve the Jerusalem issue.

MS. WARNER: Last Wednesday, when things also seemed on the verge of breakdown -- in fact, they did break down -- they were revived. The President felt, and both sides felt, that it was worth continuing while he went to the summit. What made last night different from last Wednesday night?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we'd had an opportunity in the intervening time, when the President left me there to deal with the delegations. We had spent a lot of time, in a variety of informal meetings and settings, fleshing out some of the issues that had not been fleshed out in the previous week. I think it was a very useful period. I think that having done that much, we knew where we -- or the parties -- when I say we, everybody that was up there -- understood better about where they could move and where they couldn't. So that intervening period, I think, was very helpful in fleshing things out and made it clearer where there was progress and where we couldn't move at this time.

MS. WARNER: Now, Prime Minister Barak held a press conference today, and he said that -- he essentially blamed it on Arafat, and he said that Arafat was unwilling or not able or afraid to take the necessary steps on Jerusalem. Is he right to essentially blame the breakdown on Arafat?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that the way the President put it is that he praised Prime Minister Barak for his boldness and his creativity. Chairman Arafat is dedicated to peace, but I think he comes at it from a different angle. I don't think it's really useful to place blame. I think it's important to understand how truly complicated the issues are. And this is a debate and a dispute that has lasted hundreds of years, and it is literally of biblical proportions. I think that it doesn't serve a purpose to blame.

MS. WARNER: Were the Palestinians willing to move at all on the Jerusalem -- their original negotiating position? The President did say -- and we are running that tape -- that Prime Minister Barak moved more. But did the Palestinians move at all?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that the Palestinians had certain ideas, but I think that one has to honestly say that Prime Minister Barak was the one that had the interesting perceptions and ideas.

But, again, I think going into the details of this at this time is not useful. We had all kind of felt that it was better to talk about the value that have come out of the summit, and a lot of very valuable things came out, Margaret, because everybody has talked about the permanent status issues at length over the last seven years as a result of the Oslo process, but you usually could kind of say things in three sentences. And what we did during these 14 days is really unpack those points -- what should happen on borders and territory and refugees and Jerusalem.

Both parties learned a great deal more about each other's needs, about their difficulties, and so I think there was a lot of value in talking about these things. As you know, the issues had kind of been taboo before. And, as I understand it, the press and the public opinion, especially in Israel, is now talking about Jerusalem in a way that they hadn't, and it has created a vast public debate. I don't think things are going to be the same after this summit because, finally, they are really talking about these crucial and essential existential issues for both of them.

MS. WARNER: Let me just -- before we jump ahead, let me just ask you one more question about the atmospherics because, as you say, especially Jerusalem has been sort of the third rail of Mideast politics. I mean, no one wanted to talk about it. Could you see that in the talks, when they finally came to grips with it, I mean, was the atmosphere different when they were dealing with, say, that issue, than on so many of the other issues they've dealt with?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, they're all very difficult, and each one has a particular significance to someone, and they have been kind of the backbone of the whole process and the problems. But Jerusalem is a unique place, and it's a unique place for all religions, and it's unique in its geographical placement. I think there is an intensity about that discussion that doesn't exist about anything.

And I tell you, I, as you well know, have been involved in a lot of diplomatic discussions, but the intensity of this is huge, and I must say I'm humbled by the issues involved here. They are stunning. They were dealt with, I think, truly in a sensitive way, and a way of understanding the complexities of it, not only in terms of the holy places, but how living in a city like Jerusalem affects daily life of ordinary people, how if affects diplomatic and political relations. So it's a very intense debate.

MS. WARNER: All right. Now what happens next?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the President has said, as you know from running his tape now, is that it's very important for them to go back and take stock, first of all of what they heard from each other, and then what they're going to be hearing from their publics. Obviously, each of the leaders will have a different set of issues that they have to deal with.

Prime Minister Barak has explained that he has a political situation that he has to deal with. Chairman Arafat has to deal with his people. We are always ready to help. The President asked, in his trilateral statement that was released, it was clear that they were to come back to the President, to me, and to report really on how they are assessing things. And we're ready to help whenever we can, because we do think it's essential that the process keep going.

MS. WARNER: If the reports are correct, Prime Minister Barak was ready to make, as you said, significant concessions on the Jerusalem issue. How fearful are you that he's going to come under unbelievable political pressure when he gets home to, in fact, backslide from those commitments, which in fact he said today weren't really -- weren't final commitments at all?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think it's very important not to characterize what he did or did not do. What is very evident is that -- and the President said this -- is that ideas were explored, but none of the commitments are binding, or the ideas are not binding, and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. That is true of various suggestions and ideas that we made, or that both the parties made, and I think that Prime Minister Barak is the best judge of how he's going to handle discussions of what was on the table.

MS. WARNER: I guess what I'm asking is how confident are you that he won't come under the kind of political pressure that will make him less able to be flexible in the future?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that he is the best judge of that, and he's a very tough, brave and imaginative man. He knew, I think, what he was getting into. He wanted to go -- he was the one who really wanted to have a summit. We talked about this a long time. The President believed that it was good timing for a summit because we were all looking at this date of September 13, which is like seven weeks away, and I think Prime Minister Barak is a truly courageous man.

He is not only a great military man, but a great leader of his people. And he's the one that made these -- made the decisions to move forward, to go to the summit, to try to resolve these issues. I think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit, and we obviously will work with him as we will with Chairman Arafat.

MS. WARNER: Is it fair to say that you believe that it is particularly incumbent now on Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians to find a way of moving on this issue and, if so, what could induce him to do so?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well I think the important point here -- we have said all along that the ultimate solutions to the issues, these permanent status issues, have to come about comprehensively, and should have international recognition, and cannot be and should not be unilateral actions. I think that we hope very much that both sides will really see the value of continuing a comprehensive negotiation, so that this is not a unilateral statement one way or another, not just on the state, but on other aspects of these problems.

I think the inducement here is that unilateral action is not the solution, and comprehensive internationally recognized actions are the ones that will ultimately bring the best situation for the people, the Palestinian people who, as they think about forming a state want to have it internationally recognized and have the support of the international community.

When President Clinton went to the G-8, he already kind of spoke about the importance of having those industrialized nations support what was going to -- what he hoped would happen in Israel and in a future Palestinian state, and they need that. They need the international support. That's the inducement.

MS. WARNER: All right. So you mean that's the inducement for him not going ahead with the threat to unilaterally declare the Palestinian state on September 13th?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that he is much better off -- and this is what we've said -- is to have an internationally recognized Palestinian state in partnership with Israel. The thing, Margaret, that was so evident in these last 14 days is how intertwined the interests and the people of the region are. They live with each other; they are dependent upon each other; and for them to go separate ways is practically impossible. So that's the inducement, is to try to sort out how they do things together, with the support of the international community.

MS. WARNER: All right. And do you think that now that these talks are in hiatus, that the political climate will change enough on the Palestinian side to enable him to have this flexibility? And that's what I'm truly trying to figure out here. Your assessment, just as you gave an assessment about Barak, about Arafat.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that one would hope that his public would understand as much as possible that there is no future in violence or in unilateral action. I would also hope that other Arab leaders would understand that supporting Arafat as he moves to having a peaceful relationship with Israel is in everybody's interest. So I would hope his people assess the possibilities out of the summit.

That's the part that's so amazing, Margaret. We touched every subject, and we worked day and night, and they worked together and saw each other and spoke in the most informal terms. There weren't a lot of formal meetings. I think that when that story gets out, and the possibilities are evident to the Palestinian people, I hope they understand the value of moving forward, as I hope also do the Israeli people.

MS. WARNER: All right. Well, thank you very much, Madame Secretary, for being with us.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

(end transcript)


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