YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Clinton Hails Mideast Accord, Pledges Support


WASHINGTON — President Clinton, heralding a "shining moment of hope" for the people of the Middle East and the world, formally announced Friday that the United States will resume relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and said that this country will take a leading role in carrying out the landmark accord between Israel and the Palestinians.

In a sun-splashed Rose Garden ceremony, Clinton hailed the declarations of mutual recognition from Israel and the PLO as a "historic and honorable compromise between two peoples who have been locked in a bloody struggle for almost a century."

He pledged that the United States will be a "full and active partner" in the effort to transform the promising developments of the last few days into a true and lasting peace.

The White House and State Department immediately began a frenzy of preparations for an extravagant Monday morning ceremony to mark the signing of the Israeli and PLO declarations. Expected to attend, amid tight security and nonstop press coverage, are dignitaries from around the world, most of the U.S. Congress, several former Presidents and prominent Jewish- and Arab-Americans.

En route to an appearance in Sunnyvale, Calif., for an event to tout the Administration's "reinventing government" plans, Clinton called four of his five predecessors to invite them. Clinton told former President George Bush that "you really should be proud of everything you did on this," according to White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers. Clinton invited former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, to stay overnight at the White House as his guests.

Both Carter and Bush plan to attend Monday's event, as well as Tuesday's signing of two side agreements to the North American Free Trade Agreement that the Bush Administration negotiated with Canada and Mexico.

Former President Ronald Reagan, however, does not expect to attend, White House aides said. And former President Gerald R. Ford told Clinton that he could not attend the ceremony because of a commitment to give a speech to "a large group of Japanese businessmen" but will attend a White House dinner Monday night, Myers said.

Clinton was not able to reach former President Richard Nixon, White House aides said, but Nixon informed White House officials that he will not be able to attend.

For others, invitations to the ceremony and the dinner almost immediately became the most eagerly sought ticket in town. Everyone from former diplomats to campaign contributors to world leaders placed calls to Administration officials seeking a way in.

"Everyone, plus," said one senior White House official when asked who was inquiring about invitations. "We're getting calls from everyone we know and a lot of people who only think they know us."

As a result, the size of the audience for the ceremony, initially pegged at 1,000, had grown to about 3,000 by late Friday, Administration officials said. The White House was trying to limit the dinner to "about 150" people, an aide said.

The television networks are building anchor booths on the South Lawn and plan to televise the entire ceremony live.

"We're trying to err on the side of inclusivity," another senior official said. "Obviously, there's going to be tight security, but if people want to stand for three hours, we're going to try to get them in."

Officials said that particular emphasis will be placed on inviting prominent Jewish- and Arab-Americans. "American Jews and Arabs sitting together, that symbolizes what this means," said an official involved in planning the ceremony. "That's what makes America unique."

Plans were being laid for a full day and evening of activities to memorialize a historical milestone. The 11 a.m. ceremony Monday will have deliberate echoes of the last Middle East breakthrough, the signing of the Camp David accords in 1978 by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, White House officials said.

The ceremony will take place behind the same desk used to sign the Camp David pact, officials said.

Clinton said Israel and the PLO will choose whom to send as emissaries. For a while Friday, officials were discounting the possibility that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat would travel to Washington for the ceremony. But by Friday evening, they appeared to leave open the possibility.

A senior U.S. official said late Friday that the PLO was pushing hard for a role for Arafat in the ceremony and that Clinton was taking the position that it is up to the PLO to choose its delegation.

"I would like to be there," Arafat said in an interview with French state television. "It will depend on the invitations we will receive from the White House."

If Rabin and Arafat do not come, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO official who supervised the negotiations, are expected to represent their respective sides.

Abbas, more commonly known as Abu Maazen, is the PLO's director of international affairs.

Los Angeles Times Articles