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Jake Siewert Briefing on Middle East (1/2/01)

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                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                        Office the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                         January 2, 2001

                              PRESS BRIEFING
                               JAKE SIEWERT

                     The James S. Brady Briefing Room

11:15 P.M. EST

     MR. SIEWERT:  I recognize it's late, so we'll try to give you a quick
sense of what we did today and where we're headed tomorrow.  Obviously, we
spent a great deal of time today -- the President dedicated a lot of his
day to his work on this, his meetings with Chairman Arafat.  They met for
two and a half hours this afternoon, and then met for another hour this
evening in the library on the ground floor of the Residence.

     The discussion focused primarily on two areas on how best to end the
violence.  As we've said for sometime now, it's very difficult to conclude
any sort of agreement in an atmosphere of violence, and so a good deal of
discussion was focused on how best to bring and end to that violence and to
lessen the violence that we've seen in the region.  And secondly, a
discussion of the parameters and whether we can achieve a common
understanding on the parameters that would guide an ultimate discussion of
the final status issues.

     On violence, productive meeting and a productive discussion about how
best to end the violence.  Chairman Arafat specifically agreed to intensify
efforts to end or stop -- reduce what they can, acts of violence in the
area, particularly shootings, to arrest those responsible for the acts of
violence and to resume immediately security cooperation on -- to combat

     And on the parameters, the President answered questions that they had
-- I think questions that you have all heard about the parameters and our
understanding of them.  He offered explanations of those parameters in a
way that's consistent with the parameters -- that we understand them.  I'm
not going to characterize Chairman Arafat's discussion; I'll refer you to
them for that.

     But the President told his team as he left this evening that he
thought it was a useful meeting and that he was going to get right back and
work tomorrow morning, and that he would probably have a chance in the
morning to speak to Prime Minister Barak.  We'll let you know -- to speak
with him on the phone.  We'll let you know when that happens.  And he will
also take some time in the morning, and his team will take some time to
consult with other leaders in the region and maybe have a chance to speak
with Chairman Arafat again, probably on the phone, though, tomorrow.

     I understand that's probably a little more limited than you would like
in terms of a discussion of the meetings, but we're still working on this
and the President is going to get right back at it tomorrow.  But we felt
that the meetings today were useful, particularly productive in the area of
intensifying some cooperation on efforts to end the violence.  And we will
let you know -- the President will make a judgment after some of his
discussions on how we proceed from here, and we'll have more for you on
that tomorrow.

     Q    Who was in the meeting?

     Q    -- as specifically as you can -- because it isn't the first time,
nor is it the fifth time, nor maybe the 20th time that the Chairman
promised to do what he could to end the violence -- wait a minute -- as
specifically as you can, if he was specific, what did he say he's prepared
to do?  For example, make a public statement?

     MR. SIEWERT:  He said that he is prepared to immediately resume
cooperation on terrorism, to intensify efforts to stop the shootings, and
to arrest those responsible for the violence.  Obviously, as we have said
before, that in the end words don't matter here, deeds do.  And it will be
very important that the commitments that were made get translated into
action on the ground that will bear some fruit.

     It will be very difficult to conclude agreement on more sensitive
political issues, while there is an atmosphere of violence.  And I think
everyone understands that.

     Q    Did he go home yet?  Is he on his way back?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I don't know that he's on his way back.  I think he's
spending the night in Washington.  But he has left the White House.  He
left the White House about 9:45 p.m.

     Q    Does Arafat --

     Q    Will he be back tomorrow?

     Q    -- know the President's parameters for a final --

     MR. SIEWERT:  I'm not going to characterize his discussion.  As I
said, I think that the President was able to offer him a clear
understanding of what those parameters are.  We answered the questions that
were asked in a way that is consistent with the parameters that we've laid
out.  And I'll refer you to the Chairman and his staff for their -- to
characterize their own part of the conversation.

     Q    Does the White House believe that any progress was made?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We thought these were useful meetings and a productive
session today.  The President spent quite a bit of time on them.  We will
have more discussions with the players in the region.  Particularly, the
President will probably talk to the Prime Minister, when we can do that in
the morning.  And we will let you know how we will proceed -- how best to
proceed after that.

     Q    Is Arafat going to be coming back to the White House?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I wouldn't expect that, but I expect that we'll be in
touch with his staff and with him over the next day or so.

     Q    Is he staying in town?

     Q    There was some indication from the Palestinian side that he would
have a response to a possible meeting by Thursday, after this Arab League
Meeting.  Did he make any pledge to the President to get back to him on
further meetings?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, I expect that we'll be continuing to consult with
him and with others over the next day or so.  But I don't want to
characterize whether -- what the exact state of his pledge or not pledge
was.  I'll leave that for him to do.

     Q    Who was in the meeting tonight?

     MR. SIEWERT:  The President, Chairman Arafat, and they each had one
note taker.  On our side, it was Rob Malley.

     Q    Did Mr. Arafat repeat his request for protection from Israeli
shelling and closures of the West Bank and Gaza?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, we have never been willing at this podium to
discuss the actual substance of these discussions.  The President obviously
has shared some ideas with both sides about how we think it's best to
proceed.  But I'm not going to discuss that substance here publicly.

     Q    What was the role of Mr. Tenet, if anything?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Unfortunately, I'll probably have to leave that to the
agency to describe.  But obviously, he has been central throughout this
process in helping foster more cooperation on security.

     Q    Was he in on --

     Q    What steps is Arafat going to take to stop the shootings?

     Q    If I could just finish on this -- was he in on the meeting with
the President and Mr. Arafat?

     MR. SIEWERT:  No.

     Q    No.

     Q    Did the President speak to Mr. Barak after the afternoon meeting?

     MR. SIEWERT:  No, he did not, but I expect that we'll have a chance to
talk to him tomorrow morning.  We'll arrange that and let you know after we

     Q    Is there a chance that Mr. Arafat will stay in town, or do you
think -- are you convinced he's leaving?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I wouldn't expect that.  I think that it's more likely
that we'll have a chance to consult with him and his staff on the phone.

     MR. CROWLEY:  I think he's staying overnight, and then will leave
sometime tomorrow.

     MR. SIEWERT:  But he's leaving fairly early in the morning.

     Q    So he'll leave before you're back in touch, do you think?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, we may have a chance to talk to him -- someone on
the staff may have a chance to talk to him and his staff on the phone
before he leaves.  But I wouldn't --

     Q    "We'll try," you say?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We'll try.

     Q    But tonight was one-on-one with note takers.  Earlier --

     MR. SIEWERT:  Earlier in the day, just to recap, they spent about 10
minutes in the Oval Office in an expanded meeting with Secretary Albright,
Sandy Berger, Dennis Ross on our side, and a full complement on his side.
After that, they spent about 90 minutes in a smaller meeting with Dennis
and Rob Malley on our side, Saeb Erekat and --

     MR. CROWLEY:  Nabil Abu-Rudineh --

     MR. SIEWERT:  -- on their side.  And then there was just a one-on-one
meeting with an interpreter for the following.

     Q    Tenet was at none of the meetings at any point?

     MR. SIEWERT:  That is correct.

     Q    Do you have any sense of a timetable for a decision by Mr. Arafat
whether or not to proceed with talks?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I think everyone understands, as I said earlier today,
everyone understands that we have a very narrow window of opportunity here
and I think he fully appreciates that the time for this process is running
short and that we need to hear back relatively quickly.  But we are going
to continue our work and will be consulting with Prime Minister Barak, and
we'll let you know if they have more tomorrow.

     Q    Is Arafat now waiting for an answer from Barak through the

     MR. SIEWERT:  I'm not going to characterize who is waiting for an
answer from whom.  We're going to keep working on this tomorrow.  When we
have a little bit more, we'll let you know.

     Thank you.

                       END                 11:25 P.M. EST

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