Secretary of State Christopher - Remarks in Damascus April 20, 1996

SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Good evening. As you know President Clinton directed me to come here to urge the parties to enter into a cease-fire, and also to try to take steps to calm the situation in the region once again. I have just come from meeting, a little over two and a half hours, with President Assad; it was a good and productive meeting. We covered a wide range of subjects but this time we concentrated on the great importance of an early cease-fire, and on a re-statement of the 1993 Understanding. I will be going tomorrow morning to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Peres, and then I will be returning here at some point to continue this process.

I want to say that the United States feels a very special responsibility to try to bring calm back to the region and enable the parties to resume the peace process. I think today's meeting was a first step from our stand-point, and I will continue to work this just as actively and aggressively as I can.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I think you said a "re-statement of the 1993 Understanding." Does President Assad agree that the 1993 Agreement should be strengthened and broadened, and pretty more of a guarantee?

SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think he feels that there should be a reaffirmation of it, but I think he is in agreement that it should be in writing this time, and when you write something down, you tend to give precision to it. I think there is a real value to that because you answer questions that might come up. So I think this written agreement will tend to be fuller than the informal understanding of 1993 and it will gain strength simply from being written down, codified in effect.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, going into this meeting, as I understood, President Assad was interested in a cease-fire. Could you tell us what his interest is in that cease-fire, or what sort of parameters he has in mind for that agreement?

SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: He indicated that he has a strong interest in the cease-fire, and that they were working to achieve it. He did not give me a time-frame, but he indicated that they would press forward to achieve a cease-fire in order to permit the discussions, the negotiations to take place for a reaffirmation of the 1993 Understanding.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Israel says it is ready for a cease-fire, and Hezbollah obviously wants something in return for a cease-fire. What is it that Hezbollah wants?

SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I cannot answer that. Hezbollah is clearly an important actor in this situation. I am working with the parties; with Israel, with Syria, and with Lebanon. I hope that will produce a cease-fire that will enable us to pursue negotiations actively, and have a good opportunity to restore calm in the region, which is the fundamental basis for our getting back to the peace process.

Thanks very much.

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