[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1994, Book I)]
[January 16, 1994]
[Pages 81-85]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

The President's News Conference With President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria 
in Geneva 
January 16, 1994

    President Asad. At the conclusion of the important and constructive 
talks which were conducted today between President Clinton and myself, I 
wish to express my deep satisfaction for what these talks have effected 
in terms of the United States determination to do all it can in order to 
bring the peace process to its desired objective, the objective of 
establishing the just and comprehensive peace in the region through the 
implementation of the U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 
425, as well as the principle of land for peace. In this respect, I 
appreciate the fact that, notwithstanding the great importance that 
President Clinton attaches to the internal affairs of his country, he 
has attached a special importance as a full partner and honest 
intermediary to helping the parties reach a comprehensive peace that is 
in the interest not only of the peoples of the region but also the 
peoples of the world at large.
    Today's meeting between President Clinton and myself came to crown a 
number of exchanges and telephone communications between us over the 
last year. I hope that our meeting today will contribute to the 
realization of the aspirations of the peoples in the region, mainly that 
this new year will be the year of achieving the just and comprehensive 
peace which puts an end to the tragedies of violence and wars endured by 
them for several decades.
    During our meeting, I had the opportunity to stress to President 
Clinton Syria's firm commitment to the principles and bases of the peace 
process and our strong conviction that peace cannot be genuine and 
lasting unless it was comprehensive and based on the principles of 
international legitimacy and justice. This means endeavoring to reach a 
just solution on all tracks.
    Historical evidence, both past and present, have proved that 
separate peace and partial solutions were not conducive to the 
establishment of real peace in the region. In this regard, I would like 
to express my satisfaction that President Clinton himself is committed 
to the objective of comprehensive peace.
    On this basis, we have agreed to work together for the successive 
efforts aimed at putting an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and at 
reaching a genuine and comprehensive peace that enables the peoples of 
the region to focus on the development, progress, and prosperity.
    This meeting has also provided us with the opportunity to exchange 
views over a number of issues including those related to bilateral 
relations between our countries. We have agreed that the noble objective 
toward which we are working requires a qualitative move in these 
relations. We have also discussed questions related to the regional 
situation, as well as all matters that might constructively contribute 
to the achievements of security and stability in the Middle East.
    Syria seeks a just and comprehensive peace with Israel as a 
strategic choice that secures

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Arab rights, ends the Israeli occupation, and enables all peoples in the 
region to live in peace, security, and dignity. In honor we fought, in 
honor we negotiate, and in honor we shall make peace. We want an 
honorable peace for our people and for the hundreds of thousands who 
paid their lives in defense of the countries and the rights.
    There is hardly a home in Syria in which there is no martyr who had 
fallen in defense of his country, nation, and of Arab rights. For the 
sake of all those, for the sons, daughters, and families, we want the 
peace of the brave, a genuine peace which can survive and last, a peace 
which secures the interests of each side and renders to all the rights. 
If the leaders of Israel have sufficient courage to respond to this kind 
of peace, a new era of security and stability in which normal peaceful 
relations among all shall dawn anew.
    President Clinton. I believe you could tell from that statement that 
I have just completed a constructive and encouraging meeting with 
President Asad.
    From the first days of my administration, the achievement of a 
comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, based on 
Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of territory 
for peace, has been one of my highest foreign policy objectives.
    In pursuit of that priority, I have always viewed Syria's 
involvement as critical. That is why, from the outset of our 
administration, I have engaged President Asad in a regular 
correspondence by telephone and letter, and why I'm now pleased to have 
had this opportunity to hear personally President Asad's views about how 
best to make this a year of breakthroughs on all fronts.
    During our meeting, I told President Asad that I was personally 
committed to the objective of a comprehensive and secure peace that 
would produce genuine reconciliation among the peoples of the Middle 
East. I told him of my view that the agreement between Israel and the 
PLO constituted an important first step by establishing an agreed basis 
for resolving the Palestinian problem. I also told him that I believe 
Syria is the key to the achievement of an enduring and comprehensive 
peace that finally will put an end to the conflict between Israel and 
her Arab neighbors.
    President Asad, as you have just heard, shares this objective, not 
just an end to war but the establishment of real and comprehensive peace 
with Israel that will ensure normal, peaceful relations among good 
    Crucial decisions will have to be made by Syria and Israel if this 
common objective is to be achieved. That is why President Asad has 
called for a ``peace of the brave.'' And it is why I join him now in 
endorsing that appeal. Accordingly, we pledged today to work together in 
order to bring the negotiations that started in Madrid over 2 years ago 
to a prompt and successful conclusion.
    Critical issues remain to be resolved, especially the questions 
relating to withdrawal to peace and security--excuse me--the question of 
relating withdrawal to peace and security. But as a result of our 
conversation today, I am confident that we laid the foundations for real 
progress in the negotiations between heads of delegation that will begin 
again next week in Washington.
    President Asad and I also discussed the state of relations between 
the United States and Syria and agreed on the desirability of improving 
them. This requires honestly addressing the problems in our 
relationship. Accordingly, we've instructed the Secretary of State and 
the Syrian Foreign Minister to establish a mechanism to address these 
issues in detail and openly.
    For too long, the Middle East has been denied the benefits of peace. 
And yet, it is within our power to create the conditions that will 
enable Israeli and Arab, Muslim, Christian, and Jew to live together in 
peace. Today's meeting was an important step toward fulfilling that 
vision. We have a lot of work to do, but we are closer to our goal.
    Thank you.

Middle East Peace Process

    Q. Mr. President, do you feel that you have a firm commitment from 
President Asad to normalize relations with Israel? And by that I mean 
open borders, free trade, and diplomatic relations.
    President Clinton. The short answer is yes. I believe that President 
Asad has made a clear, forthright, and very important statement on 
normal, peaceful relations.
    Now, in order to achieve those relations, a peace agreement has to 
be negotiated in good faith and carried out. But this is an important 
statement, the first time that there has been

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a clear expression that there will be a possibility of that sort of 
    Q. Mr. President, it has proven that separate agreements were 
unsuccessful, and the proof is the Lebanese accords and the Jericho 
accords. Don't you think that we need a very clear commitment on a 
comprehensive peace? Then regarding the implementation of U.N. 
resolutions, regarding Iraq, U.N. resolutions were implemented. But as 
far as Lebanon and Resolution 425, until now the Security Council 
Resolution was not implemented despite the American approval. So how can 
this situation be improved? How can we get the commitment to implement 
these resolutions?
    Thank you, sir.
    President Clinton. First of all, as to the specifics of 
implementation, that will be part of the process of negotiation. But let 
me answer the first and more important question, I think.
    I think all the parties in this process recognize that it cannot 
succeed unless all the tracks are brought to a successful conclusion. 
That is, I think even--President Asad was very eloquent in our meeting 
today about the question of Lebanon, and Jordan for that matter, in 
saying that even Syria, if it were fully satisfied with its differences 
with Israel, that they could be worked out, that there still would have 
to be a comprehensive peace in which the issues affecting Lebanon, 
issues affecting Jordan, and the issues relating to the PLO would, in 
addition to the Syrian issues, would all be resolved. We are all 
committed to that.
    Q. This is a question for President Asad. Mr. President, President 
Clinton is the fourth President that you're now meeting. Do you think 
you can afford to wait for a fifth one, or have you decided to sign 
peace now?
    President Clinton. I'm glad you got that question.
    Could you repeat the question in Arabic, please?
    Q. No, I cannot repeat the question in--[laughter]--in English. Mr. 
Asad, President Clinton is the fourth American President you're meeting 
now. Do you think you can afford to wait for a fifth one, or have you 
decided to sign peace now?
    President Asad. Yes, we are ready to sign peace now.
    Q. President Clinton, beyond the broad assurances that you and 
President Asad have spoken of here about the willingness to seek peace 
and to negotiate it, do you have, sir, as a result of these meetings, 
any of the kinds of specific, detailed concessions or a sense of 
willingness to make concessions that might make a successful negotiation 
possible? And if so, can you tell us in what areas they are?
    President Clinton. Well, as you know, I have a very strong 
conviction that the specifics of this agreement will have to be 
negotiated by the parties themselves. And even though I have in my mind 
several things, I think that it is very important that those of us who 
are trying to facilitate these discussions not discuss the details of 
them. The parties are going to have to work that out.
    Let me say that an indication has been given here by the very 
important statement that President Asad has already made, stating 
clearly that it is time to end the conflict with Israel, make peace with 
Israel, that the peace should lead to normal and peaceful relations. I 
would hope that this would provoke a positive response in Israel and 
that then the parties would get together and work these details out. 
That is not for the United States to dictate.
    Q. Mr. Clinton, despite the peace negotiations, ever since the 
Madrid Conference, Israel continues with its policy of settlements in 
the occupied Arab countries. Although Syria has signed the Non-
Proliferation Treaty and has been asking for years for the 
denuclearization of the Middle East as a region, Israel refuses, in 
fact, to sign and ratify this Non-Proliferation Treaty and is still 
accumulating and amassing weapons. Don't you think, sir, that such 
practices go counter to the concept of peace for which you are striving? 
Thank you.
    President Clinton. First, sir, I believe the question of settlements 
in disputed areas is one of the things that clearly will have to be 
resolved in connection with this peace process, consistent with United 
Nations resolutions and the concept of territory for peace. I said that 
in my opening statement. I expect that to be worked through.
    Secondly, on the question of weapons, I believe the best chance we 
have to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, that include not 
only nuclear but also biological and chemical weapons, and indeed, to 
slow the sophisticated conventional arms race in the Middle East, is to 
finish this peace process successfully. I think that is, as a practical 
matter, the only way to do it, and the United States will work as hard 
as we can toward that objective.

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    Q. President Asad, are you clearly stating unequivocally today that 
in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, Syria 
would be prepared to establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel, 
including open borders, including tourism, the same kind of peace treaty 
that Israel established with Egypt?
    President Asad. As we all know, especially the United States of 
America and President Clinton, we are endeavoring for a comprehensive 
peace in order for it to be lasting, in order for it to be just. In this 
context, we are striving for the achievement of true peace which 
guarantees the rights of all, a stable life for all. Here lies the 
interests of the peoples in the region and the peoples of the world.
    Myself and President Clinton completely agreed on these issues, the 
requirements for peace. We will respond to these requirements. And you 
know, of course, this will hinge on the discussions and the peace 
negotiations and not to be solved in a press conference.

Syria-U.S. Relations

    Q. The U.S.A. is a partner and an honest intermediary. Syria 
responded favorably in order to achieve this peace process in the 
interest of the world. Yet, the U.S.A. is still treating Syria in a 
different manner, different from the manner in which it treats Israel, 
especially in terms of financial and military aid. How would you explain 
this, sir?
    President Clinton. Well, as we have made clear, we have had 
differences over the years with Syria over a number of issues, including 
our differences over questions relating to certain groups, the PKK, the 
Hezbollah, the Jibril group, and others--other issues. We talked about 
these differences for about an hour today without any view toward trying 
to resolve them.
    We agreed on two things, and I think this is very important. One is 
that if we can maintain one another's confidence working toward a 
peaceful solution in the Middle East, that that will do a great deal for 
our bilateral relations and for a better future. And the second is that 
we needed to have a process that had integrity, established by the 
Secretary of State and the Syrian Foreign Minister, that would go beyond 
public exchanges to a very specific delineation of the differences 
between us and an honest effort to resolve them or to make progress on 
    So, sir, I think the best answer to your question is that, that we 
think that progress perhaps can be made. We've set up a mechanism to 
deal honestly with the differences between us, and we believe 
maintaining each other's confidence by a good faith effort in the Middle 
East peace process is the most important thing we can do at this moment 
in our history.
    Press Secretary Myers. We'll take one more from each side.

Middle East Peace Process

    Q. Mr. President, the subject is so close to your heart, but you 
evaded answering whether you felt that Israel should sign the Non-
Proliferation Treaty. But my real question is, did you discuss and set a 
timetable for Israeli and Syrian troops to come out of Lebanon?
    President Clinton. We did not have any discussions today about the 
details of any phase of the Middle East peace process because the other 
parties are not here present, and it would not have been an appropriate 
thing to do.
    Q. [Inaudible]----
    President Clinton. Excuse me. I got one of those helpful little 
hints from one of my staff members down here. I apologize to interrupt 
you. I want to be perfectly forthright, because I don't want to leave a 
false impression that might be adversely interpreted against President 
    We did discuss the importance of having the Lebanese peace process 
go on parallel to the Israeli-Syrian process. I reaffirmed my support 
for the Taif accords, and President Asad agreed that there should be a 
successful conclusion of the peace process which left Lebanon free and 
independent as a nation. So there was no difference between us on the 
objective. And I didn't want anything I said to be read unfairly against 
him on that score. We actually, I think, reached complete meeting of the 
    Q. In my view, on the 13th of September at the White House, you 
called for a bigger Syrian role in the peace process and you called 
personally on His Excellency President Asad to play a personal role in 
forging ahead a breakthrough in the peace process. Now that you've met 
President Asad face to face for the first time, what is your impression 
about President Asad, and how do you view his personal role in achieving 
that breakthrough?
    President Clinton. Well, first of all, I had heard a lot about 
President Asad's legendary

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stamina in these meetings. [Laughter] And when we called a break 4 hours 
and 20 minutes into our meeting, I can tell you that his reputation does 
not exceed the reality; he deserves every bit of it.
    Secondly, we had the opportunity--because we did talk for so long, 
we had the opportunity to exchange not only our views about the issues 
in play at present, but also I had the opportunity to learn President 
Asad's perspective over a period exceeding 20 years now on some of these 
issues. And it reinforced my belief as expressed in September that there 
would be no comprehensive peace in the Middle East unless he were 
willing to take a leadership role and that he has decided to take the 
risks that all these leaders, if they really want peace, are going to 
have to take.
    And so I guess I would have to say that that is the most important 
thing to me, the thing that was most impressive. I believe that he is 
committed to trying to work through this as quickly as possible. And I 
think others will see that commitment and will respond in an appropriate 
    Q. President Clinton, peace is an international issue. The U.S. 
administration is striving seriously to achieve peace. It is an 
international need; it's a need for the U.S.A. and Syria and Israel. One 
wonders why the peace process tumbles every now and then. And how will 
the U.S. administration, as the major sponsor of the peace process, 
tackle obstacles bound to face us in the future? Thank you.
    President Clinton. First of all, I think it tumbles every now and 
then because it's difficult to do. If it were easy to do it would have 
been done before. The parties have been at odds with each other for a 
long time. There is a lot of mistrust to overcome. There are a lot of 
details to be worked out. And whenever there is any ambiguity at all or 
uncertainty, then that is likely to lead to other problems down the 
road. So there are lots of reasons why it happens.
    What the United States is trying to do is to take advantage of what 
I think is an appropriate moment in history where you have leaders 
committed to getting this done, leaders who understand that the 
interests of their people will be served over the long run by 
comprehensive peace. And so what we can do, I think, is to try to keep 
the process going, keep the trust level up among the parties, try to be 
an honest broker, and work through the problems. And when these 
difficulties do arise, as they have, as you implied, in the aftermath of 
the PLO-Israel accord, to try to help work through them as quickly as 
possible and get things back on track.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President's 45th news conference began at 4:15 p.m. at the 
Intercontinental Hotel. President Asad spoke in Arabic, and his remarks 
were translated by an interpreter.