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Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Fitzwater on the President's Meeting With Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel

May 17, 1988

Today President Reagan met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The President and the Foreign Minister discussed bilateral issues, the upcoming U.S.-Soviet summit, and the urgent need to make progress toward peace in the Middle East. The President emphasized the value of deepening U.S.-Israeli bilateral relations and the emergence of meaningful strategic cooperation between our two countries. He remarked that the progress we've made together, embodied in the recently signed MOA [memorandum of agreement, April 21, 1988], owed much to Shimon Peres' efforts, both as Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister.

In discussing the summit, the President spoke of our four-part agenda -- bilateral relations, human rights, arms reduction, regional conflicts -- and emphasized that we will, as always, press for the unimpeded right of Soviet Jewry to emigrate. The President also spoke of our determination to make progress toward Middle East peace. He thanked Foreign Minister Peres for his efforts in behalf of peace and his continuing commitment to negotiate it.

While being steadfast in his commitment to Israeli strength and security, the Foreign Minister has a vision for the future, recognizes the increasing danger of the status quo, and understands the negative consequences of passivity and delay in the search for a settlement. The Foreign Minister is creative and has the courage and wisdom to say yes when real opportunities arise.

Such a positive attitude toward peace is essential for both Israeli and Arab leaders if there is to be a comprehensive settlement in the region. A settlement must be grounded on the realistic basis of UNSC [United Nations Security Council] Resolution 242 and its call for an exchange of territory for peace. Those leaders who are negative, consistently reject new ideas, and fail to exploit realistic opportunities to bring about negotiations make progress impossible. In the end, they will have to answer to their own people for the suffering that will inevitably result.

The President also told the Foreign Minister that Secretary of State Shultz would be going to the Middle East after the summit to pursue our initiative, an initiative that we continue to believe offers the only realistic basis on which to make progress toward peace. The alternative is a drift toward a much graver future in the region. Extremist forces will gain strength at the expense of moderates at the very moment that proliferating ballistic missiles and chemical weapons are creating a far more ominous military environment.

Foreign Minister Peres agreed that regional trends should add to our collective sense of urgency in pursuing Middle East peace. He also thanked the President for his efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry and world peace.