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President Clinton Holds News Briefing on Conclusion of Middle East Peace Talks

Aired July 25, 2000 - 12:04 p.m. ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Have to interrupt you. Peter, I apologize. We will get back to that shortly.

Live to the White House now: President Clinton.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, let me say, like all of you, I just heard the news of the crash of the Concorde outside Paris, and I wanted to extend the deepest condolences of the American people to the families of those who were lost.

After 14 days of intensive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, I have concluded with regret that they will not be able to reach an agreement at this time.

As I explained on the eve of the summit, success was far from guaranteed, given the historical, religious, political and emotional dimensions of the conflict. Still, because the parties were not making progress on their own and the September deadline they set for themselves was fast approaching, I thought we had no choice. We can't afford to leave a single stone unturned in the search for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

Now, at Camp David both sides engaged in comprehensive discussions that were really unprecedented because they dealt with the most sensitive issues dividing them, profound and complex questions that long had been considered off limits.

Under the operating rules that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, they are of course not bound by any proposal discussed at the summit. However, while we did not get an agreement here, significant progress was made on the core issues.

I want to express my appreciation to Prime Minister Barak, Chairman Arafat and their delegations for the efforts they undertook to reach an agreement.

Prime Minister Barak showed particular courage, vision and an understanding of the historical importance of this moment. Chairman Arafat made it clear that he, too, remains committed to the path of peace.

The trilateral statement we issued affirms both leaders' commitment to avoid violence or unilateral actions which will make peace more difficult and to keep the peace going until it reaches a successful conclusion.

At the end of this summit, I am fully aware of the deep disappointment that will be felt on both sides. But it was essential for Israelis and Palestinians finally to begin to deal with the toughest decisions in the peace process. Only they can make those decisions, and they both pledged to make them, I say again, by mid- September.

Now it's essential that they not lose hope, that they keep working for peace, they avoid any unilateral actions that would only make the hard task ahead more difficult. The statement the leaders have made today is encouraging in that regard.

Israelis and Palestinians are destined to live side by side, destined to have a common future. They have to decide what kind of future it will be. Though the differences that remain are deep, they have come a long way in the last seven years, and notwithstanding the failure to reach an agreement, they made real headway in the last two weeks.

Now the two parties must go home and reflect both on what happened at Camp David and on what did not happen. For the sake of their children, they must rededicate themselves to the path of peace and find a way to resume their negotiations in the next few weeks.

They've asked us to continue to help, and, as always, we'll do our best. But the parties themselves, both of them, must be prepared to resolve profound questions of history, identity and national faith, as well as the future of sites that are holy to religious people all over the world who are part of the Islamic, Christian and Judaic traditions.

The children of Abraham, the descendants of Isaac and Ismael, can only be reconciled through courageous compromise and the spirit of those who already have given their lives for peace and all Israelis, Palestinians, friends of peace in the Middle East and across the world who long for peace and deserve a holy land that lives by the values of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. President, was Jerusalem the main stumbling block? And where do you go from here?

CLINTON: It was the most difficult problem. And I must tell you that we tried a lot of different approaches to it and we have not yet found a solution. But the good news is that there is not a great deal of disagreement. And I want to emphasize this. It seemed to me, anyway, there was not a great deal of disagreement in many of these areas about what the facts on the ground would be after an agreement were made; that is, how people would live.

You know, for example, every one conceded that Jerusalem is a place that required everyone to have access to the holy sites. Jerusalem is a place that required everyone to have access to the holy sites, and the kinds of things you're heard, and lots of other things. In terms of how operationally the Israeli and the Palestinians would work together, there was actually more agreement than I had thought there would be.

But, obviously, the questions that surround Jerusalem go to the core identity of both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

There were some very -- as I said, and has been reported, Prime Minister Barak took some very bold decisions, but we were, in the end, unable to bridge the gaps.

I think they will be bridged because I think the alternative is unthinkable.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: There is a striking contrast between the way you described Prime Minister Barak's courageous and visionary approach to this and Mr. Arafat simply being still committed to the path of peace. It sounds like that, at the end of the day, Prime Minister Barak was ready to really step up to something that President Arafat wasn't yet ready to step up to.

CLINTON: Well, let me be more explicit. I will say again: We made progress on all the core issues. We made really significant progress on many of them. The Palestinian teams worked hard on a lot of these areas. But I think it is fair to say that, at this moment in time, maybe because they had been preparing for it longer, maybe because they had thought through it more, that the prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat, particularly surrounding questions of Jerusalem.

Now, these are hard questions. And, as I said to both of them, none of us -- no outsider can judge for another person what is at the core of his being, at the core of his sense of national essence. But we cannot make an agreement here without a continuing effort of both sides to compromise.

I do believe there -- let me say this, and you will appreciate this, Tom, because you've been covering us a long time. But I want to give credit to both sides in the sense that they were really coming to grips with things they had never seriously come to grips with before. Oh, yes, there were also side papers, even going back to 1993, about how these final issues would be solved. There were always speculations, there were always the odd conversation between Palestinians and Israelis, who were friends and part of the various -- the different government operations. But these folks really never had to come together before and, in an official setting, put themselves on the line, and it is profoundly difficult.

HEMMER: President Clinton speaking with reporters live in the Briefing Room at the White House. Saying significant progress was made on the core issues. However, he is aware of the deep disappointment on both sides. In addition to that, saying Jerusalem -- as we have talked about for the past 15 days now -- was the most difficult problem. The president saying both sides, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, have to go home, according to president, think about what they want toward peace and then without that cooperation nothing is possible there. President Clinton live from the White House. These Mideast peace talks have concluded on day 15 at Camp David.

KAGAN: Without an agreement.

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