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William J. Clinton: 1993-2001
Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
September 29th, 1996

The Briefing Room

9:05 A.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Why don't I start -- there may be a couple things I can say more usefully on background, but I'll start on the record.

The President's announcement today is the result of intensive diplomacy that began on Wednesday as the violence erupted in Israel and the territories and in the Gaza. We have had -- the United States has had literally dozens of telephone contacts over the last several days with the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Egyptians and the Jordanians.

The principal negotiators, or principal participants for the U.S. have been, as you know, Secretary Christopher, who has talked at least three or four times with Prime Minister Netanyahu; Ambassador Dennis Ross, our Special Middle East Coordinator, who has been on the phone maybe 10 or 15 times with Chairman Arafat and with Abu Mazen -- he's kind of the number two person in the Palestinian Authority command.

And the President has followed all of these conversations very closely, suggesting at several times different approaches to Secretary Christopher. Our initial work, beginning Wednesday, was focused on getting the parties in direct contact so they could address the questions that have arisen in the last week, and also so they could reach some formula that would allow them to resume their direct negotiations on the central questions at play in the Middle East peace process and in the Israeli-Palestinian structure of agreements that are embodied in the Declaration of Principles.

While those conversations were very detailed, it was very clear as went through the day on Friday that they were not likely going to find a way that they could directly meet on their own in the region. Our preference always in this process is to have them make -- have them participate in discussions directly with each other because that invests them in more -- they have more of a stake then in reaching conclusions and then in implementing those conclusions. But in this case it was apparent that it was going to require our facilitation and the facilitation of others to bring them back into a position where they could address their differences. So on Friday we began to explore different ideas of how we might structure a meeting of the Prime Minister and the Chairman that could lead to some acceptable outcome.

There were different discussions about doing it in the region, different discussions about who should participate from the United States, whether Secretary Christopher should go, how we should structure our own diplomatic involvement. And during the evening on Friday and during the day yesterday, what developed was a consensus within our government that this is a moment of genuine crisis for the peace process itself, and the risk associated with a very high profile conference here in Washington was worth it, given the enormous progress that has been made in the peace process and the danger that would exist if we took a step backwards from the progress that we've made.

That being the case, the President agreed with the recommendation of the Secretary of State late last night that we extend invitations to the parties to come here. The President talked about three times with the Secretary of State last night in Boston, including once around midnight, and the invitations were extended to the Prime Minister and to the Chairman. And very early this morning invitations were also extended to King Hussein and President Mubarak.

A ...
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