07 May 2002
Transcript: White House Briefing on Bush-Sharon Talks
(Leaders discuss how to advance Mideast peace in May 7 meeting) (3680)
President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met in the
White House in Washington May 7 for discussions on how to move toward
establishing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, a senior U.S.
official said in a background briefing after the Bush-Sharon meeting.
The official said Bush repeated his condemnation of terrorism and said
he planned to send Central Intelligence Director George Tenet back to
the region to help the Palestinian Authority reconstruct its security
apparatus in a way that makes it accountable and transparent and puts
it under a unified command structure.
The official said the U.S. and Israeli leaders spoke about plans to
convene a conference on Middle East peace, which, the official said,
would provide "an opportunity to bring parties who are interested to
the table and have them share views about how to move forward."
The official said the two leaders spoke at length about the need to
reform Palestinian institutions so that they can provide a foundation
for a Palestinian state.
"...as we begin to contemplate the creation of a Palestinian state,
it's very obvious that there needs to be institutional reform in the
Palestinian Authority which is pretty wide ranging, which would bring
about transparent economic conditions, which would bring about -- and
financial conditions, which would bring about constitutional reform,
which would change the nature of the security forces to ones that are
accountable," the official said.
Bush spoke to Sharon of Israel's need to deal with the economic and
humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian people and eventually with
the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the official said.
Following is the transcript of the briefing by the senior official:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
May 7, 2002
PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
DR. RICE: Good evening. Let me update you on what has happened since
you left the Oval, in the pool.
During the meeting, Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush were
informed that there had been an incident near Tel Aviv, south of Tel
Aviv. They did not know at that time -- there was a report that there
had been some injuries, they did not know the extent of those
injuries, nor was there a report as to whether or not it was a
After you left the Oval, shortly after that, Prime Minister Sharon
received the word that it was, indeed, a suicide bombing. He also
received the word that there had been large-scale casualties. The
President was able, therefore, to personally convey his condolences to
the Prime Minister and his party, and to register his disgust at this
wanton taking of innocent life.
The Prime Minister received those condolences not just from the
President, but also on behalf of the American people.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Now I'll take your questions. We are
now on background.
Q: Wait a minute. Hold it. Could we follow up with an on-the-record --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: About this incident?
Q: We had administrations in the recent past who, when such incidents
occurred, said that's evermore reason to accelerate negotiations,
calling those people who bomb people enemies of peace, and saying,
there's an example of why we have to move ahead even faster. How does
this administration feel? Is terrorism a reason to go forward, or is
it a reason to be careful about what you're doing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is on background. I gave you a
statement on the record; I'll give you this on background.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President is committed to peace
and, obviously, there are a number of people in the Middle East who
want to do everything that they can to destroy peace. Clearly, the
people who committed this act, the people who sponsored them, those
who helped them, are people who are not committed to peace.
But the President feels very strongly that terrorism has to be fought,
it has to be condemned, it has to be condemned by all responsible
parties, and also that there has to be a recommitment to peace in the
face of those who would do everything that they could to scuttle it.
Q: When you say "terrorism has to be fought," are the Israelis wanting
to buy more Apache and Blackhawk helicopters or unmanned combat
vehicles, or satellite technology from us? Have they raised any of
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The issue has not come up during this
Q: More aid to Israel, did that come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The issue did not come up during this
Q: Does this bombing make you reconsider the atmosphere in which
you're sending CIA Director Tenet into -- to work on a security force?
Is the Palestinian Authority in the right position now to work on it,
when clearly the infrastructure for setting off these explosions has
not been eliminated?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, obviously, we have to sort out
what has happened on the ground. This is just an hour old. But I think
that the President will still want, in reasonable time, to send
Director Tenet to the region. Both Prime Minister Sharon and the
President, as well as a number of Arab leaders with whom the President
has spoken, believe that the security apparatus of the Palestinian
Authority needs to be assessed, in light of what has happened over the
last month or so, and that there needs to be a reconstruction of it on
a new basis.
Director Tenet would go out for an assessment of the situation, and
also, since he is really -- was very deeply involved out of the Wye
agreements, in the construction of the Palestinian Authority, he is an
obvious person to go out and do that assessment, and then to work with
the Palestinian Authority and with others to reconstruct the security
But I think the forces this time need to be reconstructed in a way
that is -- where there is clear accountability, where the command
structure is clear. And when the President referred to a unified
command, he was in fact saying something that has been said by a
number of people, including a couple of the Palestinian security
chiefs. I think there are a lot of people who want to look now at the
structure of the Palestinian security apparatus, not just the
rebuilding on its own structure -- old structure.
Q: How much of the meeting was taken up by the Prime Minister trying
to press his case that he shouldn't have to deal with Yasser Arafat
and that the Saudis may not be an honest broker in their peace
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Most of this meeting was the Prime
Minister laying out some of his ideas for moving forward. Some of --
many of those ideas, he's laid out publicly. He was able to go into
more detail, of course. But, for instance, he talked about his idea of
a regional conference, which he's talked about before.
He talked about the need for reform of the institutions. He talked
quite effectively about the importance of humanitarian assistance to
the Palestinian people and Israel's desire to do something about the
humanitarian conditions there.
Very little of this focused on reports or the like, because the
President has not seen those reports. The reports have been left with
American officials, but we haven't had a chance to review them. So, in
fact, very little of the meeting was taken up with those questions.
Q: What ideas did the President advance for moving the process
forward, specifically, to the Prime Minister?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the President laid out again how
he saw the responsibilities that Israel has, as well as the
responsibility that the Arabs and the Palestinians have. And so the
President talked about, again, the importance of 242 and 338 as a
basis. He talked about the -- his own desire to see Israel really in
accordance with Israel's own values, to do something about the
humanitarian and economic situation that the Palestinian people face.
He again urged the Prime Minister to as quickly as possible open
closures, so that the Palestinian people can go back to work and an
economic life. The President also talked a good deal about the promise
that he believes comes with the deeper involvement of the Arab states.
He reported to the Prime Minister that he talked this morning with
President Mubarak of Egypt, that he will talk tomorrow with King
Abdullah, that he talked this morning on the phone with the Crown
Prince of Saudi Arabia. And they talked about this and the Prime
Minister, himself, said that he admired the vision that the Saudis had
put forward. And they agreed that that was a new factor in trying to
bring peace to the region. Those are some of the ideas that the
President laid out.
Q: Did the President ask that the taxes collected, you know, under the
Oslo Accord is supposed to go to the Palestinian Authority, did he ask
Sharon to release -- you know, the sales, the taxes that have been
taken on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That has been raised with the Israelis
in other quarters; it was not raised today by the President.
Q: Can I ask you something with more depth? Before Sharon came here,
there was talk, there were reports that he would tell the President
about some separation techniques or strategies that he had in mind.
We're talking about ditches, we're talking about a separate -- did
that ever come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q: Did Sharon bring the dossier of evidence into the Oval Office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, he did not. Did not.
Q: Can you tell us -- bring us up to date on the idea of the
conference, who would attend, when would it be, what would it discuss?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as Secretary Powell has been
saying, this meeting we see as -- in a series of steps that we have
been taking since the President's April 4th speech, that gives us an
opportunity to share views with interested parties in the region.
I don't think there's any doubt that there would be -- the regional
parties would be there -- clearly, Israelis and Palestinians. It's
also the case, as you know, that the Quartet has been involved in this
entire period of time. But the details of participation, agenda, all
of that remain to be worked out. We see it not as a big peace
conference, not as Madrid, not as something in which we expect to have
breakthroughs, but rather an opportunity to bring parties who are
interested to the table, and have them share views about how to move
Q: -- Arafat attend it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is anticipated to be at
Q: Dr. Rice, you mentioned before that very little of this meeting was
taken up with discussion of reports and the like concerning Arafat's
propriety as a -- the propriety of negotiating with Arafat. What was
said by both sides in regard to the concept that we've seen widely
published and disseminated, that the Israelis don't view him as an
appropriate negotiating partner because of his dossier they've
compiled. What was said in that -- in those terms by each side,
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President restated what has been
his position all along, which is that he believes that -- he has been
disappointed that Chairman Arafat has not led in a way that the
Palestinian people need to deal with their needs, that reform is
important to getting in place good governance, which the Palestinian
people deserve; that he believes that now that Chairman Arafat has
been released, he has an opportunity to lead. He has a chance to show
the world that he wants to lead toward peace, not toward violence.
But they really did not spend very much time at all on this subject.
It simply didn't -- was not a big part of this meeting.
Q: Previously, from this very podium, Ari Fleischer was asked, does
the President believe that the road to peace goes through Chairman
Arafat, and he answered, yes. Does the administration still believe
that the road to peace goes through Chairman Arafat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, we are not going to try to
choose leadership for the Palestinian people. What we will do is to
speak out about the responsibilities of any leader or anyone who
purports to be the leader of a people to do certain things to bring
The other element of this, which is gaining a lot of favor and a lot
of steam around the world -- Javier Solana spoke out about it, a
number of people are speaking out about it -- is that as one begins to
contemplate or as we begin to contemplate the creation of a
Palestinian state, it's very obvious that there needs to be
institutional reform in the Palestinian Authority which is pretty wide
ranging, which would bring about transparent economic conditions,
which would bring about -- and financial conditions, which would bring
about constitutional reform, which would change the nature of the
security forces to ones that are accountable.
We believe that the Palestinian people deserve good governance, they
deserve a leadership that can care about their health and their
education and their economic well being, and not just stoke their
grievances. And just like the President did in his speech about the
Millennium Challenge Account in which he talked about the importance
of good governance, this is an issue with the Palestinian Authority --
because the President has already said that he believes there ought to
be a Palestinian state, he's on record as saying that. But
institutions that are now representing the Palestinian people have got
to be reformed.
Q: -- talk about the responsibilities of the Israeli side. Can you
elaborate a little more about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President has laid those out in
his April 4th speech. He talked about the need to end the occupation
in conditions in which Israel could live in security with its
neighbors, based on 242 and 338. He's mentioned the importance of
Israel dealing with the economic and humanitarian conditions of the
Palestinian people. He has talked about the importance of -- as the
Mitchell plan envisions, dealing with settlements. The list is there
in the April 4th speech; it hasn't changed.
Q: Did he mention -- today, with the Prime Minister --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He did mention them, yes.
Q: I'm sorry, what was the answer from the Prime Minister regarding
the settlement issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Prime Minister knows what the U.S.
position has been on this for some time. We talked about the
importance of the broad context in which all of this would be done. No
answer was needed. This was talking about the responsibilities that
Israel will have to face at some point in time.
Q: There was one point in the question and answer with the pool where
the Prime Minister was asked -- the President was asked, do you
believe that a Palestinian state had to be the end point of these
negotiations. He said, yes, his view hadn't changed. The Prime
Minister said it was premature.
Did they discuss that difference during the course of the meeting? And
does the fact that they do not seem to have the same vision of the end
point pose a fundamental problem?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think that the end point is
clearly going to have to be two states living in peace and security.
How we get there is what we've been discussing, not just with the
Israelis but with a number of interested parties.
What they did talk a good deal about is how to think about this period
in which institutions of the Palestinian Authority are being rebuilt
and how to think about the reform of them. But the Prime Minister
fully understands, I think, and said to the President that these are
reforms that are going to have to be undertaken by the Palestinian
people. And he was willing to talk about and I think is interested in
what Israel can do, particularly on the humanitarian and economic side
to make that more possible.
Q: Just following up on what David asked about the political horizon
that Secretary Powell has talked about, and also the very specific
demands of Arab leaders for a calendar, a time line, and what is the
political horizon that Palestinians will see during this period of
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, part of what we are talking with
all parties about, Karen, and consulting about is how different
parties see the way forward. And so questions of time lines and
political horizon and how we get there are what we're consulting
What Secretary Powell said is that there has to be an acceleration of
the political process. And the President has made clear that he --
he's made clear to the Prime Minister that he believes the political
side of this -- that is, Israel's responsibilities on the political
side to eventually lead to a two state solution -- will have to be a
part of any discussion in the near term. How you get there, how
quickly you get there, what steps you have to take to get there,
that's the reason that we're consulting.
Q: In terms of reconstructing the Palestinian Authority's security
apparatus, were the two leaders contemplating Yasser Arafat being in
command of that, number one? In terms of reforms, the President has
said that Yasser Arafat has had time -- has had a chance to grab for
peace, and has not done it. Was there similar sentiment expressed with
respect to reforms?
And in terms of sequencing, the President said the world has made
clear that these reforms are absolutely essential. Was that signifying
that these reforms need to take place before a conference might be
held, or before the peace process, or do you see it on parallel
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that in terms of the reform,
the belief is that we need to start now, worrying about reform. That's
why he wants George Tenet to go to the region, to think about the
security peace now, early, up front.
In terms of who participates in the creation of these reforms, both
the President and the Prime Minister were very clear that the
Palestinian people are -- will be the beneficiaries of these reforms,
and they in effect have to lead them. They can get a lot of help from
the international community, they can get a lot of help from the Arab
states, but the reforms -- it's not as if the Prime Minister came in,
and said, I'm going to reform the Palestinian Authority. That was not
the context here. It was that, if you want to get on the path to
peace, if you want to get to moving forward here, we're going to have
to find good governance, and better governance in the Palestinian
Authority than we've had.
We will see how that transpires, but anybody who purports to lead the
Palestinian people should want to have good governance for them,
should be willing to deal with transparency measures, so that
international donors can be -- can have confidence in how their funds
are being used, should want to have a security apparatus that is
accountable. That's how you lead.
Q: -- about accountability and Yasser Arafat being in control of it?
Is that what you're contemplating?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will see how this reconstruction
goes forward. But, again, you know, nobody is trying to choose the
leadership of the Palestinian people. What we are saying is that there
are certain requirements of leadership and those need to be met and
they haven't been met.
Q: I'm still a little unclear. Would you like to see -- would the Bush
administration like to see the Israelis negotiate with Arafat now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are in a period of time in which we
are having broad consultations about how to move forward. There are --
clearly, there's a Palestinian entity that needs to be represented in
any path to peace. There's Israel. There are also the neighbors that
have to be involved in this. We are not trying to choose the
leadership for the Palestinian people.
But it is very clear that any leadership of the Palestinian people
that is going to be able to chart a path for peace is going to have to
do several things that it's currently not doing. One is, it's going to
have to deal seriously with terrorism. And the reform of a security
apparatus would hopefully give it a better capability to do that, a
more accountable capability to do that. It's also going to have to
deal with the economic plight of its people in a transparent way so
that donors and others who contribute know how their monies are being
used and so that those monies are really being used on behalf of the
And, finally, it's going to have to start to build institutions that
are democratic institutions, that are open and transparent,
institutions that are good governance and not corrupt. That's what a
leadership has to do. We're not trying to choose who should be a part
of that leadership, but the character of that leadership is of the
utmost importance to the United States.
Q: The next concrete step forward? What's the next concrete forward
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the next concrete step is the
President is going to meet with King Abdullah tomorrow and hear
Jordan's views, as he's heard President Mubarak's views this morning,
the Crown Prince Abdallah's.
But George Tenet will -- not -- the date undetermined yet, but will
soon go to the region to assess the security forces. I think everybody
agrees that the security situation has to be dealt with and that that
assessment has to take place.
Thank you very much.
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Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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