Briefing on the Middle East Summit at Camp David
U.S. Department of State Richard Boucher, Department of State Spokesman Press Briefing, The Middle East Summit at Camp David Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland, July 13, 2000
Mr. Boucher: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I will offer you now I think a brief update of what's happened in the last few hours, we can do a few questions and I'll stay as long as you want.
This afternoon, the Secretary has been meeting with various people. She had a meeting with Prime Minister Barak in the early afternoon. She then had meetings with senior members of the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, various configurations.
There has been discussion between the parties that's continued this afternoon, but I'm not aware of any other meeting between the leaders. And the characterization remains the same. They're grappling with some very tough issues, the core issues of permanent status in the region.
The President has returned. When I left Camp David a little after 5 o'clock, he was going into a meeting with his senior advisors and, as far as additional meetings, we don't have anything new on that, nothing said at this point. But we will try to provide you a readout of what does happen in a few hours.
That's it for the moment. That's the update. I'd be glad to take questions.
Mr. Boucher: Not determined yet. What happens the next few hours.
Question: Palestinian officials arrived in Washington today saying they expect to meet tomorrow morning with President Arafat and they also expect to meet with President Clinton. Is there any plan for such a meeting?
Mr. Boucher: We haven't had any such requests and I think I described today at midday what the circumstances would be.
Question: On the PHALCON deal there are reports out of the Israeli Defense Ministry today that Israel will expect compensation from the United States for scrapping the deal and it would indeed been brought up at the summit. Do you know if there has been any discussion of that yet?
Mr. Boucher: Not that I'm aware of. I think the question was asked of Joe the other day and we didn't have anything on that.
Question: Richard, did you happen to note any palpable infusion of optimism on Clinton's return, given the fact that his comments on the White House, announcing the Vietnam deal?
Mr. Boucher: There is always excitement when the President returns. But a palpable infusion of optimism might be going too far. No, we've described the discussions up there. The President is back for serious work. We're not trying to characterize optimism or pessimism at any given moment. We say they are grappling with tough issues and that's what's going on up there. That's been what's going on with the Secretary this afternoon and that will continue with the President now that he's back.
Question: Richard, do you know if the President is planning to spend the night?
Mr. Boucher: Yes.
Question: Richard, I'm not trying to get ahead of where we are, I'm just trying to explain to the audience back home, wondering all the different components of this that are going to be important. Can you explain the importance of the aid package that will be necessary if we reach an agreement?
Mr. Boucher: I don't think I can flesh it out very much for you. I would say that the United States has always supported peace in the region in the past, including with substantial aid and assistance. And if we get to the point where that starts to be defined, we will obviously consult very closely with our Congress as we go forward.
Question: Can you comment at all on what would be the need for an aid package and what it would be used for and how sizeable it might need to be?
Mr. Boucher: I don't think I can give any kind of estimates on it at this point. There are certainly a lot of development needs in the region, a lot of security needs in the region. And obviously, we have very strong support for our ally, Israel.
Question: Richard, are we closer to an agreement today than we were three days ago on any of the issues?
Mr. Boucher: That is the kind of characterization I am just not in a position to do. I'm sorry.
Question: Richard, one member of the three Palestinians who arrived today said in camera that President Arafat had spoken to President Clinton and requested that he join the delegation. Do you know--I know you are not the White House spokesman, but could you elaborate on this?
Mr. Boucher: I am not in a position, and I don't think Mr. Lockhart is either, to describe specific issues or things that might have come up or might not have come up in the conversations that they've had in that way. We're not trying to go into that level of detail on any issue or item that might come up. All I can tell you at this point is we have not had a request for people to come up.
Question: Can you confirm that an Israeli has joined the delegation?
Mr. Boucher: I think one has, yes.
Question: You said that experts have come in. Why would they be needed?
Mr. Boucher: These are very--in addition to being very involved issues or tough issues that involve the vital interests of the parties, there are a lot of complicated issues that are attached to them, and so there are various experts that might be required by the delegations to talk about specifics and to look at--to help them work on specific issues as they go forward.
Question: When you say "specific issues," it suggests that you're getting down to specifics at this stage.
Mr. Boucher: Well, all along we have said that there have been meetings that discuss all the issues together, the connections between the issues, the general purposes and goals of the talks as well as meetings that involve some of the specific issues that are involved. So it is a continuation of that and, as some of those issues come up, the delegations have a need to meet with their experts on those things. And as they have raised those with them, as we've decided that that is necessary, we've facilitated it and made it happen.
Question: Since you released a delegation list at the beginning, will you now update that delegation list and tell us who the new Israeli delegate is?
Mr. Boucher: I'll see if we can do that, yes.
Question: The Palestinians who arrived this morning in Washington, D.C., are they included among the experts?
Mr. Boucher: I was asked a question about those people now and all I can tell you is I am not aware that there has been a request at this point to bring in political leaders, is what I understand. Now, if there are other people added to the Palestinian side, I will try to see if we can get you a list of delegations as they stand.
Question: I notice that this morning you characterized the issues as being tough. Now, you have described them as being very tough.
Mr. Boucher: I am afraid that that's a nuance I didn't intend. So, no, I wouldn't read too much into that. These--I think "very tough" probably applies all along.
We know how important these issues are to both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side.
Question: What is the toughest one?
Mr. Boucher: No, can't do that. We're not going to get into specific issues and rank them.
Question: You keep saying you do not know of any request being submitted. Is it possible that a request has been submitted by President Arafat to Clinton without you knowing about it?
Mr. Boucher: I can't claim perfect knowledge of everything. But if they're--the way this operates is if the delegations think they need to have somebody join them, to have experts come up for some limited time or whatever, they tell us, we talk to them about it and we decide as necessary how to bring those people in.
So if there are further changes to the delegation list, I will see if we can get you an updated delegation list.
Question: Has Chairman Arafat asked to leave Camp David for any specific period of time to meet with this delegation?
Mr. Boucher: There is no request like that, either.
Question: And is there a feeling after today, the President not being there, that having this kind of format change is quite a helpful development?
Mr. Boucher: No, I certainly wouldn't characterize it that way. As you know, the President has already committed substantial time. He has already indicated that he will commit a substantial amount of his time and energy and intellect to this process. The Secretary is committing herself full time, as are many senior members of the US delegation that are up there. So this will work in different ways.
But when the President has obligations that he felt he couldn't or shouldn't cancel, then he does that and the Secretary leads the delegation. So I wouldn't characterize either one day or another as being better, worse or different.
Question: Does the President have any plans to leave Camp David again before next Wednesday?
Mr. Boucher: Not that I'm aware of, but we'll check with the White House on that.
Question: Richard, the President has had other matters of business that he has had to attend to. Have there been any foreign policy issues that the Secretary has had to attend to while she's here and what would those be?
Mr. Boucher: The answer is, yes. And I'll talk about it afterwards.
Question: Are there any more details of the activities that the parties might be engaged in during the religious Sabbath or--
Mr. Boucher: No, not at this stage. We will try to do that one tomorrow, too.
Question: Just a point of clarification. Did you say that there were Palestinian and Israeli experts in addition to American experts that have been admitted for a temporary time?
Mr. Boucher: Yes, I think I said that at noon today.
Question: I'm sorry, I thought you just meant American earlier.
Question: I would like to ask about Friday prayers tomorrow and Sabbath on Saturday. Are there any delays or arrangements--
Mr. Boucher: I said, I think, earlier today that we are aware of the religious obligations of members of the delegation and we will take those into account as we plan the activities over the next few days. But at this point, as of right now, I can't describe to you how things will operate a day or two down the road and, obviously, that might affect our briefing schedule as well.
Question: The meeting of the Secretary of State, actually, with the delegation, was it with the full delegation or with some members of the delegation, was the head of the delegation present at the meetings?
Mr. Boucher: When she's met with Prime Minister Barak or Chairman Arafat, I think we've said that. Same with the President. She's had this afternoon a couple meetings, two, three meetings, I think, in various configurations with different members of the Israeli and Palestinian delegations. Not together--
Question: Yes, but you haven't answered my question. With the head of the delegation, the head? Mr. Arafat or Mr. Barak was there?
Mr. Boucher: If Chairman Arafat or Prime Minister Barak had been in those meetings, we would have described them as meetings with Chairman Arafat or with Mr. Barak. Those were senior negotiators, shall we say.
Question: Let me ask I hope what is not included in the black news out - the news blackout. Had the President left Buddy behind during his absence from Camp David? And if you would care to talk about the chemistry between Buddy and the leaders, Arafat and Barak?
Mr. Boucher: I'm afraid that's a White House question. I'm just not trained to deal with questions like that.
Question: I hate to follow up that question. But without asking you to get into the substance of the negotiations, have you been generally satisfied with the logistics of how things have been going so far in terms of the briefing schedule has been working, the way the operations facility are working? Have there been any kind of difficulties coming to logistics?
Mr. Boucher: I think it's worked quite well. As we've described, the atmosphere is informal, comfortable, but very serious in dealing with these issues. The facility at Camp David is very conducive to having not only the kind of formal meetings - or informal meetings, but scheduled meetings we've described but also to a whole variety of conversations and discussions and meetings between different members of the delegations, so if something comes up and you need to check with somebody or get a view from somebody, you can do that very rapidly and very easily.
So in terms of location and the kind of atmosphere, it's one that works very well. Having said that, the issues are still difficult ones that have to be addressed.
Question: What are the leaders doing when the delegations are meeting without the leaders? Are they holed up in their cabins, are they taking walks along the site, are they using any of the facilities?
Mr. Boucher: I don't know. I don't think I can speak for everyone every time. Generally, I think they've been doing other work, perhaps having meetings with members of their delegation. Because many of these meetings are with, you know, a couple or some sub-group of the whole delegation that might be meeting. So the leader might be meeting with others there.
Question: How long do you intend to continue with this news blackout, daily news blackout? I mean, we come here and we get nothing really. It's getting frustrating, to be honest.
Mr. Boucher: Well, I know. And it's frustrating on both sides, that we're not able to tell you everything.
Question: Or something. Something.
Mr. Boucher: I quote the President this afternoon. In general, the less we say, the better it works. And the goal here, the concentration here, the intention here is to try to make these talks successful, to try to bring the parties to agreement on some very difficult issues. And in order to do that, we think it's best done by leaving the negotiators to do their work without the distractions of too much outside information.
Question: --will forgive me, but if it doesn't work, how will you compensate us for this frustration? (Laughter.)
Mr. Boucher: I don't know. I don't know. I can't make that kind of promise to you.
Question: I'm channeling a question for Barry Schweid who couldn't be here this afternoon. Why did not Albright meet with Arafat as planned?
Mr. Boucher: I don't think we can entertain questions of why didn't she do something. What they're doing is what they think best to pursue the process, to move forward in the process, to talk to people on different delegations that can help move it forward. Sometimes that will be Chairman Arafat, sometimes that will be members of his delegation. Sometimes that will be Prime Minister Barak, sometimes that will be members of his delegation.
Question: Core issues, are you including in those some of the interim issues that have not been implemented? And, a secondary question, is there an affirmation or a guarantee from the United States that this time it will be implemented if you do get to an agreement?
Mr. Boucher: I think to parse the issues to that extent is not something I can do. Clearly, the concentration on the core issues here is paramount. Other issues may arise, may be discussed. But there is a concentration on the core issues. That doesn't mean that other issues are excluded or gone away or aren't important. But the concentration here is on the core issues.
Question: Specifically, the third withdrawal.
Mr. Boucher: That's what the specific might be and I can say, I'm sorry, we don't. We're not going to do specific issues one by one.
Question: What about any guarantee that any agreement will be implemented?
Mr. Boucher: Clearly, implementation is the chief concern of parties and that's something that I am sure will be discussed as we discuss the issues.
(The briefing concluded at 6:37 p.m.)