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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 17, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART

Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland

11:45 A.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: -- a brief update of the schedule of events, since we last spoke. Since last night's briefing, the President in the evening, had dinner at the Laurel. The parties dined separately last night. The President met with his team and then before retiring for the evening, the President had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Barak.

For the second night in a row, the negotiating teams, though, worked very late in the night and I think are probably back at it now, as we speak.

The President, this morning, met with his team beginning at about 10:15 a.m. And as I was leaving, he was preparing to go over for a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Barak.

On other issues, in Emmitsburg, the teams there met late into the night; a variety of different formats, as we discussed yesterday. They started again early this morning, just after breakfast. Those meetings have been described to me as serious and intensive.

Questions.

Q Joe, we've got an alumnus with us from the '78 Camp David, especially for the second week -- Jim Anderson --

MR. LOCKHART: Does that indicate to me that, Barry, you're not an alumnus?

Q I am. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: So we have alumni. Is it second alumnus or second alumni?

Q Second alumnus.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay. How would we get to alumni?

Q Well, I don't know if he's going to ask a question --

Q No.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay.

Q He can't think of anything, it's been years. (Laughter.) How's Carter doing? (Laughter.) Go ahead.

Q Is the President also meeting with Arafat today?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect throughout the day the President will have a variety of meetings in a variety of different formats. I'll have more for you at our second session today.

Q At Emmitsburg, are all of the committees or the subgroups meeting again this morning?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes.

Q Do you know what time they began?

MR. LOCKHART: I was told it was just after breakfast, so I think within the last couple of hours.

Q -- the reports -- the time the committees actually had to breakdown last night and send issues back to their leaders because they reached some impasses?

MR. LOCKHART: That would go to the substance of the negotiations, so I won't have any comment on that.

Q I thought that the Emmitsburg talks were not covered --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, I thought you meant on --

Q -- on the three technical committees, that it's being reported that --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I have not heard that. And I would have no hesitation to tell you if that was the case, because these are outside, on the non-core issues. But that has not been reported to me.

Q Joe, are you displeased that President Clinton broke his own ground rules and discussed Camp David?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think this was an extraordinary circumstance. You know, we live in a world where the National Enquirer mentality has hijacked journalism and that has become an issue in New York. And these are scurrilous and untrue charges and the President wanted to set that straight.

Q Joe, what can you tell us about the two most recent photographs that were released, that shows a very somber Israeli Prime Minister eating with President Clinton. I mean -- the earlier photograph.

MR. LOCKHART: I would not try to read too much into the photographs; as a matter of course, the photographer comes in at the top of the meeting and is quickly shooed out. So I wouldn't read too much.

But I will tell you, as the President indicated in his remarks yesterday, this is hard going. I think he indicated that he's never experienced something that's this tough -- both on the issues and the process that they're going through, this is very difficult. So I don't think you would all believe them as authentic if I brought down a bunch of pictures of everybody smiling, giving a thumbs-up.

Q Joe, I need to ask, I'm afraid, the President -- to New York --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes.

Q Can you tell me if the President has given his wife words of encouragement in this --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, obviously, the President probably has more experience than any living human being about how deep in the gutter some people can go. So I think they both understand that when you're out in public life, these sort of things happen. It doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it right that a bunch of people are out there trying to push this; but I think the important thing that he has always stuck to is the public always gets it right, and if you stick to the issues, and stick to the issues that they're concerned about, you'll come out okay.

Q Joe -- aside, did the President break his own ground rules by describing himself as optimistic and then saying --

MR. LOCKHART: I think given the way that we have described these, those were outside the rules that we've set down, but I think the circumstances warranted that.

Q Did Mike Kramer's request for an interview come through the --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how the request came through. Q Joe, -- after speaking with Prime Minister Barak, that he was hopeful that -- reach an agreement in the next few days. And -- ask about the statement. The day before yesterday, we had -- making a statement after speaking with Barak. Today, we have the --. Is this consistent with the spirit of the blackout, or what you call the --

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's consistent with the chatter that has continued outside the talks. I have cautioned you from the beginning to be careful not to read too much into the discussions that go on beyond the gates of Camp David. We were just talking before we came out here about the fact that there's now a report that one side is ready to leave at the end of the day, and yesterday there was a report that that same side was ready to stay two weeks. So I think I'll stay somewhere in the middle.

Q Joe, what does the New York political crisis have to do with comments on the peace talks? You said that the situation was extraordinary -- could he not have simply made his comments on setting the record straight and then stuck to his --

MR. LOCKHART: Sure, he could have. And I think if you look at -- but if you look at the answer, you'll find that the answer didn't give very much away.

Q Is the President still definitely planning to leave for Japan Wednesday? And the second question, does the White House still believe there's an opportunity to get an agreement before he departs?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think we'd be here if we didn't think there was some chance of trying to get this done. And as far as the schedule, it hasn't changed.

Q Might the talks be extended beyond Wednesday? And will Mr. Clinton take Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak with him to the G-8? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: You know, I thought I had thought through all of the possibilities. (Laughter.) Thirteen and a half hours on a plane. (Laughter.) I don't think so.

Q But might the talks be extended beyond --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into speculative questions. The President has a schedule to keep concerning the G-8, which is a very important meeting. And that schedule hasn't changed.

Q -- talk to the President or the First Lady to assure both of them that she is not perceived as an --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, say the beginning again?

Q Has Prime Minister Barak commented on the charges against --

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. Listen, the issues that they are dealing with up there are so central to their own national interests that I can't imagine either leader being distracted by anything, especially something as unimportant as the sort of new politics of the U.S.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. LOCKHART: Well, if you define being distracted by taking 15 minutes to do an interview, then he's distracted. I wouldn't define it that way.

Q Joe, would you say the delegates are putting in longer hours now than there were at the beginning of --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think the pace of the discussions has intensified. As I think I indicated at the beginning, there have been two straight, very long nights between the sides, working through the difficult issues here. So I think the simple answer to that is, yes.

Q Is there a plan to take a break when the President goes to Japan -- in the talks?

MR. LOCKHART: The plan is to complete this process before the President goes.

Q Joe, you mentioned that the President intends to keep his commitment to go to the G-8 summit. It's conceivable, isn't it, that he could still leave Thursday -- Wednesday night or Thursday to make the summit. Isn't that possible, that the talks could extend Wednesday, he could still attend the summit? MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't have the schedule here in front of me. It's my understanding that we'll leave for Japan Wednesday morning.

Q The President has a schedule. Have the other leaders made any point about their own schedule, their own, maybe, obligations? Or are they at the service of the host and --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think both leaders and the delegations understand the time constraints we're under and are working toward -- working through these issues in a way that this can get done before the President has to leave.

Q Do you think the President wants to complete the process -- to complete the process -- is this going to be -- I know it's substance, -- to complete the process, will this complete the process toward the framework agreement or for the signing agreement? And before the President goes, at what time will he be going?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that schedule will be released later today. I think there will be a briefing at the White House to look forward to the trip. I think it's some time Wednesday morning.

Q -- question -- complete the process. Will this be the completed state of the process or a final accord or an interest and framework? What do you mean, to complete the process?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I'll stand by the answer I've used throughout this, which is to complete a process where they reach an agreement.

Q What about the --

MR. LOCKHART: Only among reporters.

Q Joe, I know the moods are changing more than mood rings, and they're not very reliable, but --

MR. LOCKHART: If I were a tree -- (laughter.)

Q The Palestinians' mood has been described over the weekend as more optimistic. The Palestinians are now telling us that the talks are in major crisis, that things look very pessimistic. They must be at least trying to send some kind of a signal about where things stand, for them to be saying that publicly. So what do you read into that?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I haven't seen any of them stand up and say it, so I'm going to try not to read anything into it. These all, as far as I can tell, seem to be face-less and nameless people.

Q Joe, why didn't they have dinner together last night?

MR. LOCKHART: I think they just decided to work amongst themselves at the dinner hour last night. I wouldn't read anything into --

Q -- broken into committees, groups --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, there's a variety of different -- I mean, the leaders are meeting. The President, as I indicated yesterday, is meeting with negotiators. Then there are separate groups that are dealing with particular issues. So there's a lot going on at a lot of different levels.

Q Joe, for the most part, the meeting for the leaders seems to be on a bilateral basis with the President. Is there any plan over the next two days for them to start increasing their --

MR. LOCKHART: If that happens, I'll let you know about that.

Q -- lawyers drafting be part of the many ways that things are progressing?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's certainly amongst the people, a number of lawyers. But what they're doing, I don't know.

Q No one -- (laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: Charging per hour, probably. (Laughter.)

Q Given the time frame, I wonder, is it a fair assessment the talks are now in a critical phase?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think you can micro-analyze this at any different level. I would prefer to take a broader view, which is that the peace process is at a critical phase that started last week when these talks began.

Q -- Arafat in good health and he was seen yesterday as the holding hands with Secretary Albright. Was she helping him walk -- (laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: You know what, if I answer no, I open up a whole new area that I'm not going to venture in, so I'll take a pass. (Laughter.) Anybody got any questions on Buddy? (Laughter.)

Q The President did -- skip Tokyo and go directly to Okinawa?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any news on the schedule.

Q -- Assad was sworn in and made a statement about peace, wanting the President to continue his role, but also saying that Syria is not prepared to give up one inch of territory. Any reaction to that and anything that would go to when the U.S. might see a resumption of the Syria --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think obviously the primary focus right now is on the Israeli-Palestinian talks, as the President has been up there. I know certainly the U.S. is taking note of the swearing in today. The Secretary of State has sent a message to that extent. I don't have any new information or news on the Syrian track, except to repeat that we think it's important that we reach an overall and comprehensive agreement, because it's in the interest of all the parties in the region.

Q Joe, maybe I missed it, but could you name the three committees that are at Emmitsburg, and is one of them the interim issues, that they're --

MR. LOCKHART: No, it is water, civil affairs, and economics.

Q -- interim issues, like third redeployment being discussed?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, let me check with these guys afterwards.

Q What's your impression about the big demonstration of the -- in Israel?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's best that I not comment on the internal politics or demonstrations on either side.

Q Joe, among his phone calls, has the President talked to any foreign leaders in the last couple days?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President has been concentrating solely on this, with the exception of a few domestic issues that have come up, and he hasn't made any calls that I know of.

Q Joe, on one of those domestic issues, perhaps, does the President still plan to veto the marriage penalty tax plan, which might pass today and, if so, isn't it true that he was recently willing to make a deal to accept that in exchange for a prescription drug --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President put forward a proposal that targets marriage penalty relief to those who actually pay the marriage penalty. However, the President has said that in return for cooperation on moving a prescription drug benefit within Medicare, he'd be willing to go along with a more expansive program that the Republicans have put forward.

So this is a question that's very much in the Republican leadership's hands. They can make political points, pass bills so they can talk about them at their convention. Or we can get marriage penalty relief and prescription drugs for seniors, as the President has offered. It's up to them, politics or substance.

Q Joe, how do you -- the people in Emmitsburg to -- about water, culture, civil affairs, economy, when the core issue hasn't been settled and the land hasn't been defined yet?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, obviously, as evidenced by the fact that they're talking, they've got things to talk about. There are obviously some issues that I think are somewhat dependent on the other discussions, but they certainly have found areas in which they have disagreements where they hope they can make progress.

Q Did the President speak with King Abdullah or --

MR. LOCKHART: Not in the last two days, no.

Q Thanks.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.

END 12:02 P.M. EDT


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