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Press Briefing by White House’s Joe Lockhart

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary (Camp David, Maryland)

For Immediate Release July 16, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART

Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland

5:30 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. Welcome to what I hope will be a very short briefing. Let me answer a couple of questions that got asked of me this morning which I didn't know the answer to, but there has been, as asked, one addition to the Israeli delegation -- Mr. Hassoun --

Q How many total now?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's one short -- 11 to 12.

Q How do you spell his name, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: Last name is Hassoun. Deputy Director of the General Security Services.

There was a second question that I didn't know the answer to which I now do, which is the U.S. team is involved at Emmitsburg. The three teams that have been formed have been meeting in a variety of formats, including directly one-on-one, and also in three-way sessions. That continues.

As far as the President's schedule, he had two meetings today with his team here. He had a meeting with senior negotiators from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. That was one meeting, so that it was the two negotiating teams and the President and the U.S. team together. As I was leaving he was about to begin a bilateral meeting with Chairman Arafat. So I expect there to be more activity this evening. We'll let you know before we send you home for tonight.

Questions.

Q The activity is quite different from the conflicting reports coming out of surrogates for each side here, the Israelis saying -- some progress is being made. Os it fair to say that the U.S. take on this situation is somewhere in the middle?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the U.S. view is, given there's a news blackout, we're not going to comment on any progress or lack of progress. Having looked through some of the stories of the last few days, though, I can say I think without breaking the ground rules that a majority of the stories citing sources not at the talks have been wrong. So I would take them as flyers that some of you have to take in order to try to report this story, but not having a lot to do with what's going on up there.

Q So it's your view then that both of those extremes are incorrect --

MR. LOCKHART: It is my view that I have taken the position, the U.S. has taken the position that we're not going to provide analysis of the talks. Both of those imply analysis, which I'm not going to either lend credence to or knock down.

Q If there is significant progress this week, but not an agreement by the time the President has to leave for Japan, any chance the President might delay that trip?

MR. LOCKHART: That's a speculative question. The President's schedule is the President's schedule.

Q When is the President scheduled to leave? When does his meeting start in Japan?

MR. LOCKHART: The President -- have we put the schedule out for Japan? The detailed schedule will go out tomorrow, but he plans to spend the day before the G-8 begins in Tokyo for a variety of events. And then he'll be at the G-8 for the weekend.

Q -- what the summit will --

MR. LOCKHART: An agreement.

Q -- still offering the view that the delegation here and any other people in the Middle East, ministers and officials of the Middle East --

MR. LOCKHART: I assume from what I read that there are contacts back to the region. But I don't know to what extent since I haven't queried them on it.

Q -- photo op having this statement from -- about the negotiations here, happened, reportedly, after his contact with Prime Minister Barak. So do they have any credibility in your opinion?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's something that I think you'll have to assess.

Q Has the President called any foreign leaders in the last -- over the weekend?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Joe, do you see enough progress being made to wrap up by Tuesday, before the President leaves?

MR. LOCKHART: Ask me Tuesday.

Q Joe, the Majority Leader said today that the Senate would not afford money for a Palestinian settlement. Is it constructive to be talking about that sort of thing while negotiations are in play, or is that something that is not a surprise to all of you?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we've done extensive consultations with the leaders on both sides of Congress, on both sides of the political aisle. We have kept them informed where the process is all along. I think at this point speculating about what may be done or may not be done is not the most useful pastime for a Sunday morning.

Q Joe, you mentioned that a lot of these reports are erroneous. There was a very specific AFP report that stated that Barak had phoned home and talked with ministers and said there were wide gaps. Can you comment at all on the veracity of that report?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know anything about it.

Q The BBC asked Mr. Boucher a question and he referred it back to you --

MR. LOCKHART: What was the question, Richard? Should I take it or should I bounce it back to you? (Laughter.)

MR. BOUCHER: If it's the one I'm thinking of --

MR. LOCKHART: Okay.

Q What activities are between Buddy and the members of the delegation? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: Well, as a rule, Buddy generally keeps to himself. (Laughter.) But let's just say, without getting into the substance of what's happened at the talks, this has been a bonanza for Buddy because the amenities from a canine point of view at Camp David are far superior to what is offered at the more urban center of the White House. (Laughter.)

Q -- (inaudible) --

MR. LOCKHART: Nothing gets past this guy.

Q Has anyone of the Palestinian delegation joined the President at the church today for the Sunday --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure who went. The only people I know who went to church, because I heard the President talking in a small group, were the President, the Secretary of State and Chelsea. They were having a discussion. I don't know who else went.

Q Is there going to be any announcement before the President leaves --

MR. LOCKHART: I mean, I expect that when the President goes to Japan, you all will have an opportunity to get an assessment of what happened at the talks.

Q Joe, can you verbalize why the President must meet with the senior negotiators? To weigh into this -- everybody knows the issues, the President knows the issues, everybody knows the issues. Why is he meeting with the negotiators? I mean, he's seeing the top, the two leaders.

MR. LOCKHART: I think we believe that what needs to be done to get to an agreement has to be done at a variety of levels. Ultimately, difficult decisions need to be done with the leaders, but there's also work that needs to be done with the negotiators. And I think we have found over the last few days that a useful mechanism for trying to move things forward is for the President to talk both in a bilateral way with the leaders, to talk in trilateral sessions with the negotiators. There's a number of different ways to do this, and we'll employ whichever ones we think are effective.

Q It sounds like he's pitching -- as a matter of persuasion instead of a matter of learning what the issues are. Because he knows the issues, right?

MR. LOCKHART: I am stretching now for a baseball metaphor answer and I'm stuck. So we'll do that later.

Q -- he's not acquiring information, he's trying to push the agreement along.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, without getting into details, both sides are negotiating, and the President is trying to do what he can to help both sides reach an agreement.

Q Before the President called for the summit he said that the negotiators had reached an impasse -- and right now we are witnessing the President talking to the negotiators.

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you go back over your notes for the last few days, you'll find the President has spent an enormous amount of time with the two leaders. This is a process that is not done on one level, it takes a number of different ways to get it done. But I do think that if you go back and look at your notes you'll find that your question does not reflect accurately what you know.

Q -- discussions to be one of the important -- (inaudible) -- can you tell us which important --

MR. LOCKHART: Do I look that simple? (Laughter.) I mean, really, tell me. I think I'll take a pass on that.

Q Joe, is it true that President Clinton promised Chairman Arafat to agree and to recognize a Palestinian state if an agreement is reached in the coming weeks?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going to get into any discussion of what's being discussed up there beyond what I've told you.

Q Joe, are delegations allowed to trade in a member of their negotiation if they feel that someone on the outside might be more useful --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President made clear that should delegations need experts on specific issues, those requests would be honored. I'm not aware that any request like that has come.

Q -- aiming at an agreement at the summit. Does that also include a partial agreement or is there one specific kind of agreement --

MR. LOCKHART: I think I'll stick with an agreement for now, and we'll parse that later.

Q Joe, you talked about tension -- is that tension only between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or is some of that tension between the President and either of the two leaders, the President pressing one side or the other to move --

MR. LOCKHART: I think it is the issues and the intractability and difficulty of the issues that provides the impetus for the atmosphere to be tense at time, and I don't think that's solely something that's held by the parties. It's certainly our view, though, that it's our role to try to help the parties work through these things and see areas where we can find agreement.

Q -- information that -- (inaudible) -- is supposed to leave back to the West Bank to attend his son's wedding. Would he be able to go?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of that, I hadn't heard that report.

Q -- some conversations going on back at the White House about the possibility of Gore going instead of the President to Japan -- there are those conversations taking place -- cause some consternation on the part of the Japanese. Is there any concern --

MR. LOCKHART: Let me stop your question because it is speculation and I don't deal in speculation. But let me say secondly, if you have it from solid sources and those people are having conversations with each other, these are people who don't have enough to do because they're not here and things are quiet at the White House, and you should take it with a grain of salt.

Q Can I just ask you is there any concern should the President decide for whatever reason, to be at Camp David or whatever, that he needs to stay in the U.S. and send Vice President Gore to the summit, there may be consternation on the part of the allies?

MR. LOCKHART: That's sort of three levels into hypotheticals and speculation. I, unlike some of the people who don't have enough to do, do have some things to do, so I'll leave you now. Thank you.

END 5:48 P.M. EDT


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