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Briefing on the Camp David Peace Talks (1)

U.S. Department of State Richard Boucher, Department of State Spokesman Press Briefing, The Camp David Peace Talks Thurmont Elementary School, Thurmont, Maryland July 13, 2000

12:03 p.m.

Mr. Boucher: I was going to say good morning, but I think the answer is good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the daily press blackout.

If I can, I would like to run over events from yesterday evening into today and give you some idea of what's going on up the hill at Camp David. As I think we mentioned to you yesterday evening, the President spoke with Chairman Arafat last night. They walked together for a while and then met back at the President's cabin for some time after that. And then the President spent some additional time with some members of the Palestinian negotiating team.

There was another group dinner last night involving all three delegations. There were about 36 people at dinner and it went on until 10:00, 10:30 in the evening.

This morning, the President departed at 9:35. He will come back in the late afternoon or early evening today and resume his meetings at Camp David. In the absence of the President, the Secretary is leading the United States delegation. There is a very full day planned. The Secretary will continue the pattern of meetings that have been occurring over the last two days and continue to work on moving the ball forward.

Informal discussions have continued in a variety of configurations and settings. The Secretary during the course of the day expects to meet with leaders and with the negotiating teams. In addition, the Israeli and Palestinian sides have continued their meetings with each other. Negotiators have met and yesterday evening there was a meeting between Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat at Chairman Arafat's cabin before dinner.

The parties, the delegations, are grappling with the core issues of permanent status. These are tough issues for all of them. They involve their vital interests and, as Joe Lockhart mentioned yesterday, that's no surprise.

So with that review of events--oh, I forgot to mention, dinner was called a Mediterranean barbecue and I can go through the menu and get recipes for anybody that wants it.

Okay, with that recounting of events that have occurred, let me go to questions.

Question: Apropos not hearing about the Arafat-Barak meeting until now, even though it occurred, you said, before dinner, there was some sort of readout, I believe, last night, a brief one, can we count from now on, for the American host spokesman to keep us as up-to-date on meetings that don't involve the President or the Secretary of State or Mr. Berger, as you keep us up-to-date on U.S.-involved meetings?

Mr. Boucher: There was a piece there that I need to add to what you said, and that is as up to date as possible. At the point at which we briefed you yesterday evening, we didn't have this information for you and so we give it to you at the next first opportunity.

Question: But, by the way, just as part of the story, they did tell--the U.S. was aware--was, indeed, the President aware that the two leaders would meet? Did he have a hand in getting them together?

Mr. Boucher: They met with each other on their own initiative. But we were aware of the meeting, certainly.

Question: Was that with delegations or without delegations?

Mr. Boucher: There were some delegations there.

Question: Richard, were you aware before or after the meeting happened?

Mr. Boucher: I don't know precisely. We were aware that they were meeting.

I have to say that this is the kind of thing that we expect to go on. We expect meetings, as I said, in different configurations and settings, meetings at leaders' level, meetings at negotiator level, and you've seen some meetings of leaders with negotiators. So there were a variety of conversations going on and this is the kind of thing to happen.

Question: But it all sounds very informal. Today will you have specific times for these meetings and then maybe something will happen in between or after?

Mr. Boucher: There are specific meetings that get set at specific times. When people want to see each other, they make arrangements for specific meetings and then there are a variety of other conversations that occur more informally.

I have to say, as Joe Lockhart said yesterday, I don't want the informality of some of the arrangements and somewhat fluid nature of some of the meetings to distract you from the fact that these are serious discussions. They are grappling with some very tough issues that involve vital interests and I wouldn't draw any conclusions from the informality.

Question: Can you confirm, since the beginning of the summit, if there have been any one-on-one meeting between Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak?

Question: We just did that.

Mr. Boucher: You mean one-on-one with nobody else present?

Question: Yes.

Mr. Boucher: I don't know if any of the meeting yesterday involved one-on- one. I do know that by and large there were other people there, members of their negotiating teams present.

Question: Richard, three ranking Palestinians arrived today and we know--we understand that Chairman Arafat is keen to meet with them. Have you received a request for these three to join the delegation? Are you allowing such a meeting to take place?

Mr. Boucher: No, we haven't received a request.

Question: Would you entertain the idea of letting these three people join Arafat if Arafat wants to join them, wants to speak to them?

Mr. Boucher: There are expectations from the beginning that provisions can be made to bring a limited number of people for a limited period of time as necessary, as we decide is necessary. So they would have to make the request to us and then, in conjunction with them, if we felt such a thing was necessary. So I am not trying to open the door very wide but at this point we don't have a request for that specific group.

Question: Are we at the stage now where there is any kind of document that is being discussed?

Mr. Boucher: That's not something we can talk about.

Question: If Arafat wants to see those people, you would allow him to see them?

Mr. Boucher: I'm sorry, we don't do questions that start with "if." That's a hypothetical question. If we get a request, we will deal with that appropriately.

Question: You don't mention any names of the Palestinian negotiators who met with the President or people that are members who did not meet with the President yesterday?

Mr. Boucher: No, that's the kind of detail of the conversations that we're not prepared to--

Question: Even the people who--

Mr. Boucher: I don't want to start saying who was at what meeting and the exact lineup because you will start drawing conclusions that are probably not justified.

Question: Has the President offered to meet with Chairman Arafat and this delegation that has traveled in from the region?

Mr. Boucher: We don't have a request for the delegation that traveled, so that's a moot question as well.

Question: By my count, you've had one three-way meeting with the three leaders since this conference began. Did I miss one or two and do you expect more and when do you expect them?

Mr. Boucher: Frankly, I would have to go back and count myself. Obviously at dinner, all three leaders have been present both nights. They sit at a large table with the President on one side and Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak at either end. They are close to each other. Everybody is talking to each other. So they have had a number of conversations between the three of them, in groups and in other settings.

And in terms of the second part of your question, yes, we would expect to have continued meetings of different varieties, bilateral meetings, three-way meetings, meetings between us and the parties at various level.

Question: What is going on at the generic talks at Emmitsburg? I understand that the Palestinians refused to talk, sitting there and doing nothing.

Mr. Boucher: We are still where we were yesterday when Mr. Lockhart addressed that and said meetings on noncore issues, on other issues are possible during the course of these events. But at this point, we have nothing to report.

Question: Was President Clinton's meeting with the Palestinian delegation last night linked in any way with the arrival of the three Palestinian position leaders in Washington?

Mr. Boucher: I have to say once again we're not going to discuss the substance or the topics that are discussed in any particular meeting, so I can't answer your question. But I have to repeat at this point that we have no request for that.

Question: Because of schedule, can you confirm that the Palestinian delegation will not work tomorrow because of Israeli Saturday and the American Sunday? So will the next possible date of agreement breakthrough will be Monday?

Mr. Boucher: I am not sure if that is a substantive question or a personal question. What I would say on this subject, we are aware of the religious days that are coming up. We are aware of the religious obligations of the parties as they make them known to us and we will make sure that the plan of activities takes those into account.

Question: Richard, you mentioned the provisions prior to the summit. Is one of the provisions also entails that if a leader wants to meet a group of people outside Camp David for a few hours, for a limited time, is this possibility also included among the provisions?

Mr. Boucher: Again, we don't have a request like that either, so it's another question beginning with "if." But I think I have to say that--go back to what we said right from the beginning. The intention was to get the parties up there, to have them stay and concentrate on the negotiations and on the difficult issues that they have to resolve.

Question: Richard, is it a fact that by the time you came out here, Albright hadn't met with either Barak or Arafat? That she plans--and, by the way, there are only 5 more hours before the President is due. So has she had any of these meetings and will she have any of these meetings? I'm talking about the top two people, the two leaders.

Mr. Boucher: Barry, I said, I think, at the beginning, we expect her during the course of the day to meet with leaders and negotiators during the course of the day. I left Camp David at about 11 o'clock. At that point, she was meeting with the American delegation.

Question: Richard, I won't start my question with "if. " I will start it with a statement made by Mr. Tibi, who is a member of the Knesset, an Arab member of the Knesset. He made a statement that he was also the spokesman for the Palestinians at Wye Plantation, so he is very informed. He said that there is an agreement that Israel will withdraw all the settlers from Gaza Strip. Now, can you comment on any of this?

Mr. Boucher: If we have to knock down every story that appears, I think we would be here all day long. The point I would make, I think, is the one Mr. Lockhart made to you in previous briefings. We're going to hear a lot of stories. Some of them could turn out to be true, some of them may not be true. But statements that are made half way around the world, we can't spend all our time dealing with it. The people on Camp David are dealing with the substance of the issue. We are not going to deal it down here or at any other location in the world.

Question: Richard, do you expect the pace to intensify tonight and tomorrow, given that there is this break coming up? Do you expect the President might sort of pick up the pace with the number and duration of meetings and how late they go into the evening and so forth?

Mr. Boucher: I would have to say two things about your question. There are many false premises involved. The first is, I haven't said anything about a break coming up. I said we are aware of the religious obligations of the parties and we take those into account, as we plan the activities over the next few days. Second of all, that the pace continues the way it has, meetings continue to take place in a variety of settings, in a variety of times during the course of the day. And that has been the pattern for the last two days and remains the pattern today.

Question: Richard, are people keeping pretty reasonable hours or are these sessions going late into the night?

Mr. Boucher: The--I can't speak for each of the particular leaders. The dinners have gone until 10:00, 10:30, 11:00. I assume that the leaders are having meetings with their delegations later in the evening and then some of the delegations are having meetings after that. So things go fairly late out there.

Question: How does it work? Discussing the five issues, did they meet in committees and do Arafat and Barak join in and out of those committees? How many people per committee?

Mr. Boucher: I don't have a formalized structure like that. The way this operates is a bit more informally with a variety of meetings in different configurations to make sure that the people who need to be there are there. And they have, as I think Mr. Lockhart mentioned yesterday, some of the meetings involved the whole scope of all the issues; some of the meetings are more focused on individual issues.

Question: Any discussion on the time table? Do you think that the deadline of-is going to be met? Is this going to go on after he comes back?

Mr. Boucher: Nothing at all has changed in that regard. The schedule remains the same, as the President's schedule remains the same.

Question: How long was the Arafat-Barak meeting last night and do they have any plans, that you're aware of, to meet again today?

Mr. Boucher: Our understanding is it lasted about one hour, maybe a little bit more. And as far as plans to meet during the day, I would just go back to what we've said before. We would expect different meetings to occur at different levels. This may occur again. If it does, we will try to report it to you.

Question: Richard, I know you all are tired of the question of the President's trip to Japan. But the Israelis have said that they would very much like to continue the talks when he leaves under Albright if there is progress being made and so far the United States has not signaled any similar willingness. Is there a willingness on the side of the U.S. to continue the talks?

Mr. Boucher: I know you all are tired of hearing me say that the President's schedule has not changed. And you're probably tired of hearing me say that there are going to be a lot of different reports out there. Some of them may turn out to be true and some of them may not.

We have made quite clear that the intention was to bring the parties to Camp David to deal with all the core issues of permanent status and to try to do that seriously, intensively and quickly. And as we've noted to you over the past few days, the parties are struggling with those issues, they're grappling with the issues and we're dealing with them. And we remain on the same schedule that we started with.

Question: Can I ask about the Secretary's schedule for next week? Does she have anything scheduled next week beyond these talks after Tuesday?

Mr. Boucher: At this point, she does have things on her schedule, yes.

Question: Actually, I have four questions. First of all, is there any more on the senior delegations to join today? And the second, the State Department has reminded Mr. Nabil Amr, the Palestinian cabinet minister, that only State Department and White House are to be making statements about talks. Have the State Department done the same thing with Mr. Nabil Amr?

Mr. Boucher: I don't quite know exactly what you're referring to and some of the specific discussions that you're referring to. We have made clear to both the parties all along and at various occasions during the past few days the expectation, what Mr. Lockhart said right at the beginning, that the United States would report on what was going on at Camp David and we expected that there would be no other people discussing it.

Question: And the other delegation members?

Mr. Boucher: And in terms of additional delegation members--I'm not aware that we've had any requests like that.

Question: But that applies to off the premises as well? You expect what? Do you expect that the delegations be silent here--

Mr. Boucher: Wel --

Question: and then they get on, you know, talk shows and babble on endlessly? Is that within the rules of the game?

Mr. Boucher: At this stage--

Question: I mean, there is spinning going on outside Camp David and presumably they get their instructions from inside Camp David. Is that playing by the rules?

Mr. Boucher: Let me quite clear what I said before. We have made quite clear from the outset of these talks and we have made clear to the delegations that the expectation is that the United States will report on the talks at Camp David, on the discussions there to the extent we decide it's appropriate and that no other party will discuss the events taking place at Camp David.

Now, there is obviously a whole world of commentators and issues and there's a whole world of newspapers, magazines, wire service and television time that's being filled up by other people. But in terms of reporting on the talks at Camp David, that is something that we have agreed with the parties, that the President agreed with the parties at his first meeting with them, would be in the hands of the United States.

Question: Can you give us a sense, without going into the substance, of how you think it's going? Are you pleased? Is it meeting your expectations so far? You know, fill in the blank with the adjectives that you think are most appropriate. Are you satisfied?

Mr. Boucher: I think that's another way of trying to get us to give a progress meter every day and I'm really afraid I can't do that for you. We have tried to describe the discussions objectively and as accurately as we can and I just have to stick with that.

Question: Given the complexity of all the issues, these core issues, how could you have such a discussion, formal discussions of all the issues together? Wouldn't that make it--

Mr. Boucher: I think that in fact the complexity of the issues, the fact that these are difficult issues that have different relationships with each other is one of the reasons why you see this playing itself out in a variety of ways. You have different kinds of meetings. You have meetings between leaders, between negotiators, between leaders and negotiators, two-way meetings, three-way meetings because, as you approach the different issues, sometimes you need to use a different configuration of people to do that and the atmosphere and process that we've set up at Camp David is flexible enough, fluid enough and informal enough that we are able to address each of the issues or the whole basket of issues together as appropriate as we proceed through the meetings.

Question: May I ask, Richard, before the President left this morning, did he by chance leave any sort of pep talk for either Ms. Albright or the other negotiators or any sort of suggestions he would like to see them achieve today?

Mr. Boucher: I am not sure if "pep talk" or "instructions" is quite the way. He has met certainly with Secretary Albright and National Security Advisor Berger and talked to them about how things are proceeding and how we, the U.S. side, intended to proceed and now the Secretary is leading the delegation for the United States.

Question: Can the President stay in contact with them from Washington during this time he's--

Mr. Boucher: The President can stay in contact with anybody in the world any time he wants, so yes.

Question: Has he called in?

Mr. Boucher: I'm not aware that he has.

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about the mood between the two sides? Are they joking at all, are they serious, grim?

Mr. Boucher: I'll come back to I think the kinds of descriptions we've used before. The parties are comfortable with each other, there's an informal atmosphere in Camp David. These are people who have talked with each other before in a variety of settings and they're comfortable with each other. But, at the same time, they are all very, very aware of the seriousness of the issues that face them, the toughness of the issues, the fact that these do involve the vital interests of both sides, and trying to understand the interests and reconcile them is a very difficult process that we are going through now.

Question: Richard, you said that the intention is to bring the parties to Camp David to deal with all the core issues. Is there a reason why you didn't say "to resolve the core issues"? It sounds like--

Mr. Boucher: The only reason is that's the phrase we've been using for about a week and I didn't want to change it today.

Question: Yesterday, Joe had said that every day you make a list of things you want to accomplish. At the end of two days, two-and-a-half, have you accomplished everything on your list so far?

Mr. Boucher: I don't remember Joe saying that yesterday, first of all. And I don't think we can give you a daily scorecard anyway.

Question: I would like to try and clarify something. Is it true that none of the experts who are off site have come to Camp David in order to join in the discussions on any given issue?

Mr. Boucher: No, I wouldn't say that was true. But I'm not going to give you a daily report on when an expert might have appeared.

Question: But if he did, he had U.S. approval?

Mr. Boucher: That's right. As we decide it was necessary.

Question: To follow up on the Emmitsburg question, are there Palestinian negotiators in Emmitsburg right now or have they declined to go there?

Mr. Boucher: That's not an issue that I can fill you in on, the location of people and bodies at Emmitsburg is not something I can go into.

Question: You said earlier that the President's program so far hasn't changed, his schedule for next week. But that doesn't mean that all the leaders have to go home when he's abroad. Can't they hang around for a few days until he gets back?

Mr. Boucher: Again, that's very speculative. The schedule of talks remains the same. Nothing has changed. The intention to bring people here to deal with all the issues remains.

Question: --on Sunday and, if so--

Mr. Boucher: I don't know. That's a question we will have to ask the White House at the appropriate time.

Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 12:25 p.m.)

###

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