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Camp David Press Briefing by Joe Lockhart

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary (Camp David, Maryland)

For Immediate Release July 14, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART

Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland

12:05 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me say to start that it's obvious and I'm gratified to see that the upstanding performances over the last few days have dwindled the crowd to a hardened, but committed, few. Let me go into last night, a little bit on today and then I'll take your questions.

Just before the dinner last night the President had a brief meeting with Shlomo Ben Ami, one of the Israeli negotiators. They had a session on the back porch of the President's cabin, and then walked down to dinner.

The dinner started at about 8:30 p.m. last night, went for about an hour and a half. After the dinner, the President spent a little bit of time, about an hour or so, with his team, and then proceeded to have bilateral discussions first with Prime Minister Barak and then with Chairman Arafat. His evening ended sometime after 1:00 a.m.

This morning, as far as the President's schedule, I'd say about 10:30 a.m. or so he had a meeting with his team. I left that meeting while it was still going on. I expect that during the day he'll continue his previous efforts of meeting both with delegations and with the other leaders. We'll let you know later in the day, to the extent we have more information.

As far as other things, I think the negotiators today will be primarily meeting with each other. They have divided up into smaller groups and will be dealing directly on the core issues that we have talked about.

Finally, as I think some of you know already, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is meeting now, as we speak, with a Palestinian delegation that's here in Emmitsburg. She will meet with them. This comes out of a discussion that we'd been having over the last day or so. This group had come here; there was some discussion about meeting with Chairman Arafat. Given the spirit of the ground rules we put down, we indicated that we would prefer that that meeting not happen up at Camp David. Secretary of State Albright offered to meet with the group in Emmitsburg. The Palestinian Delegation accepted that offer. The meeting is happening.

One piece of logistics: I will brief again later on this afternoon. But I do not expect to brief tomorrow. So after the briefing at 5:00 or so today, you will not see me up here until probably early Sunday morning.

Q Joe, minor clarifications. The dinner -- were Arafat and Barak there?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. The dinner was similar to dinner the previous evening. It is in the Laurel Cabin. Last night's dinner probably had 30 or so attendees. Chairman Arafat, Prime Minister Barak and President Clinton sat at a table together, but each -- separated by two or three people at least, so their conversations were primarily with others in the Delegation.

On the way in to dinner, as a measure of how things are working here, the President arrived first, spent a moment or two with Chairman Arafat when he arrived. And as the President walked away, Prime Minister Barak walked in, they spent a few moments talking and then proceeded into what's being used as a dining room.

Q And you described the seating. Was there still an opportunity for the President to talk to the two leaders, both, in this dinner?

MR. LOCKHART: Once they sat down for the formal eating part of it, the President was engaged in conversation with others, as were the other leaders. Their conversations directly happened in the session in the sort of mingling outside the room before they walked in.

Q The groups meeting -- that's the word you used -- are they grouped by issue or by expertise, or is it looser than that?

MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is, they're grouped by issue, but that -- I think that's the extent to which I want to describe them.

Q Joe, can you tell us more about the Albright meeting with the Palestinians? Is that instead of any Arafat meeting with the Palestinian -- or a prelude to perhaps an Arafat --

MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is -- at this point, I would use the "instead of" formulation, but I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility that at some point he might want to go see them. I think at this point, we want to keep the focus on the negotiating that's going on at Camp David, but I think we also recognize, the President recognizes the importance of both being able to articulate the importance of this, to keep a positive atmosphere around this for those who are interested, so I think it's a positive use of the Secretary of State's time to go down and talk to these people.

Q Regarding, again, the seating arrangement, you described how Arafat and Barak are separated from President Clinton by three seats. What about the seating arrangement as far as Arafat and the rest of the delegation? I think he's seated next to some Israeli delegation?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Generally, each of the leaders will have someone from one delegation to their left, someone from the other delegation to their right. And as is the case in many of these dinners, the conversation will vary between turning to your left and talking to someone, turning to your right and talking to someone and having a conversation between the three of them.

I think the one thing, just as something that I noticed from last night is, just because the President had come back and had done the event on Vietnam, there was a lot of discussion around the table about the thawing of relations and the moving forward in a commercial way between the U.S. and Vietnam. There were several times that were small groups of conversations going on that included the leaders and the delegates around the table.

Q -- I was under the impression, from your words as well as Richard's words over the past few days, that there had never been a request for the Palestinians to come to see Arafat or for him to go see them. And now you're telling us that there have, in fact, been discussions over the past couple of days about this which have resulted in Albright going to Emmitsburg. What gives, what's the deal?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would listen very carefully to the words I use. I said over the last day. And the last time I was up here and I asked, there was no request for a meeting. I'm not sure that a formal request ever came in. There was some discussions that I'm aware of yesterday that --

Q -- using the wrong words --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm using the words I'm using, so you can parse them any way you like.

Q You said you preferred for this meeting not to happen between Arafat and this delegation. Now what we understand, that Chairman Arafat has phoned these people; he even asked them, why are you late. He apparently has the wish to -- with these people. You have already let -- expert to join the team. Why do you say you prefer for this meeting, can you explain to us why you --

MR. LOCKHART: Because I don't think we view this -- and I'm not sure the delegation views this as a team of experts coming in. This is a group of political leaders and I think Chairman Arafat certainly can meet with them, if he wants, but the ground rules and the spirit that we set up here is that we'd be bringing people in -- we would not be bringing people in that weren't involved in the formal negotiations.

Q Can you say what the Secretary's purpose is in the meeting? Is she attempting to appease these people? Is there a concern that they --

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think what I expect the message she'll bring is, she will talk in general terms about the peace process. But I don't expect her to get into any of the substantive points that are going on at Camp David now. But I think she'll also take a message of how important it is to keep a positive atmosphere surrounding these discussions. Because as we all know, I think one of the reasons we are going through this process that we're going through -- where I stand up here every day, or Richard stands up here every day and give you very little information is the atmosphere is important. The people who are involved here pick up the paper every day, they read it and we're trying to create an environment where they can concentrate solely on how they can positively and constructively move forward.

Q What do you think about consensus? Is it really important for Chairman Arafat to have consensus within his own faction?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's important that there is public support for what Chairman Arafat is doing. I think it's just as important for Prime Minister Barak to have public support.

Q -- last night that the American side had submitted some bridging ideas to the two sides. Could you comment on that?

MR. LOCKHART: I would repeat what I've said before, which is I view that as getting to the substance of the discussions in the negotiations, and I'd be very careful about who knows what they know and who doesn't know what they know.

Q -- the summit is going to end when the President leaves next week. Is there any news on that?

MR. LOCKHART: I have no further news. The President's schedule is unchanged.

Q Joe, is the atmosphere still positive in Camp David?

MR. LOCKHART: I think these -- I would certainly continue to describe it as informal, because of the setting. It is a beautiful place that people -- that you can't describe any other way, beside that, and informal. But these are intractable issues. These are issues that go to the vital interests of both of the parties, so this is very serious. At times, discussions are tense, but that should be no surprise to anyone.

Q Why President Arafat was not given the same equal chance that Prime Minister Barak got when he talked to his supporters in a demonstration in Tel Aviv over the phone, why he wasn't been able to talk to -- leader in the same general -- that Secretary Albright is going to talk to them?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, no one is being denied anything here, except for living up to what we see as the ground rules on Camp. If anyone from the delegation would like to go and meet with this group or another group, they are free to do so.

Q How hard is the President willing to push for an aid package that would be significant enough to really address the needs that would come out of any kind of agreement? Is he willing to go to Congress and really fight for a sizeable aid package?

MR. LOCKHART: I think as in the past, America can play a positive role. I think the leaders can be assured that we will do what it takes to go to Congress to play our role. I don't think, however, that Congress is predisposed to not work with the President; quite the opposite. I think Congress will work with the President to do what we can.

Q When you spoke about -- this is also a follow up -- on what you said about Vietnam, you said -- the conversation, quite a bit of it -- because he made a pitch there, he used that as an example. Did he get the impression, does the U.S. have the impression that that notion is taking hold -- I mean, do you think he was making headway on it?

MR. LOCKHART: I think answering that question directly would get to drawing some conclusion or assessment about where we are on the talks. I certainly think it was an interesting talking point for many of the people there, to look at a former adversary and the process of reconciliation that's been going on. But beyond that, I don't --

Q -- you spoke of the conversation. Were they speaking of it in sort of a detached way, or did they see some relevance?

MR. LOCKHART: I think some of it was in a detached, historical way, but some of it was certainly done in the context of the discussions they are having.

Q On the financial issues, has the U.S. already committed itself to taking the majority of the burden of whatever financial needs would come out of a peace package? And is this something that the U.S. will bring up to other international leaders at Okinawa, perhaps also appealing to them --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we certainly would look at this as an international effort. I think the U.S. appropriately would look to take the lead on this. But the E.U. has been very involved as an important player here, and we would look to other nations to provide assistance as appropriate.

Q But no idea yet what any kind of general numbers, any --

MR. LOCKHART: No.

Q Should we assume the President will be here through the weekend?

MR. LOCKHART: I think you can assume he'll be here indefinitely. I think everyone knows the outer parameters of his schedule. If, for some reason, that changes, we'll let you know.

Q I would like to ask, too, would you suppose that there will come a breakthrough on Monday before the President will leave to Okinawa, or do you suppose that it will come a breakthrough only after that?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm certain that I don't know the answer to that; but if I did, I wouldn't say.

Q Joe, you said that the negotiators were meeting with themselves today; how are the leaders spending the day?

MR. LOCKHART: As I told you, the President was still with the team when I left in order to come over here. I believe the other leaders were with their own teams, and they were going off a little bit later to have these smaller groups that I discussed. I'll try to get some sense when I come back, but I don't know at this moment.

Q Joe, other than the informal conversations at dinner, we've been told there's been one three-way leaders meeting and one Arafat-Barak two-way meeting. Has that been the extent of the formal contact between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders?

MR. LOCKHART: That's the extent as far as I know. The others, as described, have been mostly bilateral.

Q Joe, is there going to be any scaling down of the talks during the Sabbath?

MR. LOCKHART: I would expect over that 24-hour period, there could be some informal discussions. But nothing really beyond that.

Q -- any of the -- you know, we've got a lot of news here, but still -- little color, and there's less of that, generally is the case. Do you want to tell us about golf parks or bowling alleys or anything you can -- you know, they've been here, what, this is the fourth day?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes.

Q Any use of the facilities?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, unfortunately, the bowling alleys have been used, but at this point, only by the staff. And I think at this point -- only by the American staff. As you walk around, there is a constant stream of negotiators whizzing by in golf carts. Suffice it to say that not everyone has equal capability in negotiating a golf cart as they do diplomatic efforts. There's been at least one fender bender that's been reported to me, but -- (laughter.)

Q Are they grappling with the go carts? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: Grappling with the go carts. (Laughter.) And also, there are people who prefer to walk, there are people who prefer bicycling. But other than that, I think the main focus has been either meeting between the teams, within the teams, and preparing for the leaders' meetings.

Q Who was the accident with?

MR. LOCKHART: That might go to substance. (Laughter.) This was reported to me and I did not see it with my own eyes, so I think I'll just say "two negotiators." (Laughter.)

Q Two on the same side?

MR. LOCKHART: Two on the same side. That's all I'm going to say. Otherwise, I would have had probably more to report.

Q What kind of plans are being made for prayers and services and things like that? What will be done at Camp David throughout --

MR. LOCKHART: As I understand it, there will be a shabbat dinner this evening. I'll try to get some more details about that when I come back. As far as religious service, I'll try --

Q Joe, to follow on that, will that shabbat dinner be attended by all three delegations, or only by the Israelis?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll let you know. I don't know the answer to that.

Q The fact that tomorrow you are not going to brief us, does this mean that during the shabbat you are not going to have any discussion with Palestine at the same time?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think as I indicated, tomorrow will be a day of informal discussions, and I will basically report what I can on Sunday. But I think, given the fact that we've all been at this for four or five days with very little information, all of us taking a day off would be a positive thing.

Q -- for the first time actually, we hear that now the negotiators are grouped on certain different issues. It's the first time we heard this. Can we read into this that now they are coming more into grappling -- with the real issues, and also separately. I mean, instead of -- from yesterday we had an impression that it was a bit chaotic -- that everyone is discussing every issue.

MR. LOCKHART: You could --

Q And now we are hearing -- they have been grouped on certain issues. What can we read into this?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you could read that into that, but I wouldn't be your source. (Laughter.)

Q Some local residents are upset about the removal of U.S. flags from the classrooms and the house by the Arab and Israeli press corps. Is there any plan to replace them?

MR. LOCKHART: I am not aware of that. I'll look into that.

Q Joe, have the talks in Emmitsburg on the generic issues begun, or are there plans for them to start Saturday night?

MR. LOCKHART: They have not begun, as far as I've been informed. We'll let you know when that happens.

Q An Israeli parliamentarian was tossed off the premises this morning, and at the same time Gadi Baltiansky has been down here a couple of times to speak to the press. Does this mean that you're cracking down a little bit more on both people talking here?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have -- at the outset of these discussions, we set some ground rules. These particular parts of it I understand make your life more difficult, but we think they are constructive, as far as the overall talks. One of them was that the U.S. was designated as the spokesperson here at the Press Center. Now, I know there's a lot of other ways around other people who want to speak, but we set the rules and we're trying to enforce them as equally and fairly as we can.

Q -- breeches, what about these breaches? What are you doing about them?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think we want to bring in a heavy police presence here to thwart it. We're going to deal with it as we can.

Q Yes, but let's break it down. There are people that were in the delegation -- presumably, who -- and there are people who aren't in the delegation.

MR. LOCKHART: That's right.

Q What's wrong with people who aren't in the delegation talking to reporters --

MR. LOCKHART: There's nothing wrong with people in the delegation talking to the reporters; we prefer they just not do it here.

Q Here?

MR. LOCKHART: Here in this building. There are plenty of other places.

Q Why?

MR. LOCKHART: Because those are the rules that I sat down and agreed with, with my counterparts, and I want to at least look like I'm trying to keep my word.

Q -- the Palestinians are talking with Mrs. Albright?

MR. LOCKHART: No, because they're not part of the delegation. I expect they'll probably be very available for comment, and will provide you with an interesting lead for the evening.

Q -- at least yesterday -- granting them interviews without any intervention --

MR. LOCKHART: We are intervening as quickly and as fairly as we can.

Q Do you know that it will be a problem in the Knesset in Israel -- and maybe Mr. Barak or another -- have to return to Israel?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any change in travel plans for the Prime Minister or anyone in his delegation at this point. If they make us aware of that, I'll pass that on to you.

Q -- will go to Okinawa, they will go to vote in Jerusalem and come back.

MR. LOCKHART: Make note of that. (Laughter.)

Q Two brief questions.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes.

Q Is this summit, ongoing conference, is it modeled on -- that's the first question --

MR. LOCKHART: No.

Q And the second -- and I don't think this is seriously getting into substance, so we have to be very careful. If you are discussing the core issues, can we assume that they're discussing the implementation?

MR. LOCKHART: Of the core issues? I think you can assume that everything that both sides came here with a need to discuss is and will be discussed here.

Q Can I talk about the implementation? The timetables, deadlines. -- or if they agree on the core issues, like the -- there's a very strict timetable for implementation. Is this part of the discussions, as well?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me, without violating my substance rules, say that all issues that need to be discussed will be discussed here.

Yes. I'll take one more.

Q How did the White House do the -- for the Vietnam trade bill in Congress?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there's broad, bipartisan support, as evidenced by the attendance at yesterday's event. I think it will pass. I'm not certain that the House and the Senate will have the opportunity to bring this up this year, but I certainly expect, whether it's this year or next year, that this will pass with strong bipartisan support.

Thank you.

END 12:28 P.M. EDT


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