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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 19, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART

Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland

5:42 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. Welcome back.

As is my custom, let me give you a brief rundown of what's gone on since I was last standing up here a few hours ago. As I think I indicated earlier today, I expected the President to begin a bilateral with Chairman Arafat. That did happen. He then proceeded to have a meeting with Prime Minister Barak, which was followed by a meeting within the team that lasted for some time. He had a discussion on the telephone with Prime Minister Barak and about 15 minutes ago he walked over to Chairman Arafat's cabin and began a one-on-one meeting with the Chairman.

In addition to the meetings, the President has made a series of phone calls this afternoon to leaders in the Middle East, in the region, to give them some sense of where we are in this process. And that is as it stands as I speak right now.

Let me say, as a general point, the last 24 hours have involved very intensive discussions at the leader level, at the negotiator level between the teams, discussions within the teams. We have worked very hard to find a path to an agreement. At this point in time, we have not reached that. But priority for the President right now is to continue to work as hard as he can to make sure that every possible avenue toward an agreement is explored. That is the work that is going on now and will continue until he makes the judgment that there is no way to get there. And when we reach that point, we will let you know about our plans on leaving to go to Japan.

Q Joe, will he offer to cancel the trip to Japan if he thinks that either side believed that would help?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has made clear that he has a commitment to go to participate in the G-8 meetings and that involves leaving sometime before early morning tomorrow and I haven't heard any real discussion of trying to postpone that.

Q -- how the differences can be bridged before the clock runs out?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that is the reason the President is still there, that is the reason the President is going the extra mile with the parties. The parties are still there going the extra mile. I can't predict that that will happen, but that's why all three sides are still there working on it.

Q There were reports that Barak was already ready to leave Camp David and in fact had practically left Camp David. Are you saying that's not true?

MR. LOCKHART: Those reports are erroneous.

Q Who did he call in the Middle East?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to get into who the leaders are but I can tell you that he made four or five calls to leaders in the Middle East.

Q Back to your comment, to the letter that Mr. Barak sent to President Clinton, talking about the failure of these talks -

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -

Q -- Palestinians saying that they are not willing to discuss the issues in good faith. That was their exact quote.

MR. LOCKHART: I am not going to stand here and make any judgments while the negotiations are continuing. So I will not offer any further analysis.

Q Your judgments aside, what about the letter from Barak and his judgments in there? Can you -

MR. LOCKHART: He is free to communicate with the President, but I will tell you a much more important piece of information that I think moots that at this point, which is they are all still there, they are all still talking.

Q Joe, during Wye the President called on King Hussein to come in at a moment precisely like this. Did he ask these Mid East leaders to inveigh upon Barak and Arafat here in any way?

MR. LOCKHART: I am not going to really - I don't want to get into the substance of those discussions, only to say that he gave them some sense of where we are in this process and discussed the need for support among leaders like them in order for the parties to make the tough decisions that face them.

Q Do you know, Joe, whether there were any conversations between Barak and Arafat and these leaders that Clinton spoke with?

MR. LOCKHART: I am not certain of that.

Q Joe, it sounds fairly pessimistic when you say, "trying to explore every possible avenue" before giving up on the talks. Would you describe it right now as an atmosphere of pessimism within Camp David or of optimism? How would you describe it?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the best way to describe it is, very difficult. And I think they understand the time pressures that face them, they understand how difficult these issues are, they have been going at this now nonstop for nine days in this session, much longer in other sessions. So I think we've obviously reached a pivotal moment in these talks and I can't predict how they'll come out and I don't know that people are sitting around, you know, spending too much time worrying about whether they're optimistic or pessimistic.

Q -- trying to right now reach a joint statement - to have a joint statement or an agreement?

MR. LOCKHART: Say again?

Q Are they working now to have a joint statement or to reach an agreement?

MR. LOCKHART: They are working right now to try to reach an agreement.

Q Joe, did the President receive a letter from President Arafat today?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President late last night or early this morning received a written communication from Chairman Arafat.

Q How late are they prepared to carry on talking tonight, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think - let me just say this. I don't think that anyone sees any value in staying on forever. But I don't think there is anyone, any one of the leaders, whether it be Chairman Arafat, Prime Minister Barak or President Clinton, who want to leave here without an agreement. And they want to make sure - and that's what the President's focus is right now - make sure that they've done everything that they could in order to reach that agreement.

Q Should we expect a statement from President Clinton later in the evening, once he's reached a decision about when to go? And has Prime Minister Barak agreed formally to stay until he makes that decision, until Clinton makes a decision?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the leaders will all be here until the talks are over. And I expect the President will have something to say before he goes to Japan.

Q When do you expect that will be?

MR. LOCKHART: What time do I expect that will be? It will be sometime early in the morning tomorrow.

Q You said until now there is no agreement. Does that cover all issues or just -

MR. LOCKHART: Any agreement would encompass, you know, the issues we're talking about. I am not going to go in - if the purpose of the question is to try to cull out certain issues that they've agreed on and certain issues that they haven't agreed on, I'm going to take a pass on that.

Q Joe, since they clearly haven't resolved - since they clearly won't end up with a completed, totally resolved situation tonight, has there been any talk of another summit, another gathering sometime before September 15?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know between the parties if they've had any discussions. I think, for our part, we've certainly made it clear that this is the summit.

Q Is there any chance of having a partial agreement? I'm sure they agree on some points?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, there is no way for me to speculate on that at this point.

Q At what point does the President say, it's over, it's done?

MR. LOCKHART: I think when the President is satisfied that he has done everything he could, he's explored every possible avenue and he makes the judgment that further talk is not valuable or constructive.

Q Do you expect that the President will make his statement alone or with the other leaders before he leaves?

MR. LOCKHART: I have no expectation at this point. I'll let you know when it's decided.

Q Has there been any contact between Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak directly?

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

Q Is their deadline for the talks tonight like for midnight? If they don't reach an agreement, the President will go?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there is a deadline only in the sense that it does take some time to get from here to Okinawa.

Q Joe - listening to reports that the talks are on the verge of collapsing. Do you have anything just to change that or say something, that it's not true, deny it?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I said earlier that we've reached a pivotal moment here in these talks and that everyone is working very hard to see if there's some way to get from where we are now to an agreement. Whether that happens or not, we'll find out when they're done.

Q Joe, why does the President think that the G-8 meeting in Okinawa is more important than achieving peace in the Middle East? Why -

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the President makes judgments like that, nor do other world leaders. There comes a time when you have to put some time limit on your discussions. You can't continue to discuss things in a completely open-ended way.

I think it was clear to the parties when we got here that the President had important commitments at the G-8 talks in Okinawa. The President made the decision last night to extend by one day and cancel his schedule in Tokyo which he regrets and has passed that on to the Prime Minister of Japan. But to get back to your question, it's not a question of trying to put one over the other. There comes a point in time when you have to get on with the other business that's before you.

Q Joe, is the President's statement likely to come here or at the White House?

MR. LOCKHART: My best guess at this point is the White House. If that changes, we'll let you know.

Q How did Chairman Arafat respond to Barak's letter, Joe? He must have heard about it.

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he communicated anything to the American delegation on that subject.

Q Can we assume that you'll let us know in fairly close to real time if any of the delegations leave Camp David when the thing's all over, when you reach the point it's over?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes.

Q Joe, is there a sense from the leaders that if they had more time, they might be able to break the impasse? I mean, is the pivotal moment because the President has to leave or do they feel that if they had more time, they might -

MR. LOCKHART: That involves a judgment I'm not sure I can make. But I'm not certain, given the familiarity they have with the issues, the amount of time they've had, that more time is the answer here.

Q Is the President planning on spending the night at Camp David or at the White House?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we're really going to spend the night on a 747. It's just a question of what time we get to it.

Q Joe, if giving them more time is not the answer, what is the solution?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's what they're working very hard right now trying to find out.

Q Joe, without delving into the substance of these written communications that the President received from Arafat and Barak - also if you could tell us which came in first - would you characterize them as similar in nature, these written communications, and purpose? Why is there a need for Arafat to send a letter at all?

MR. LOCKHART: I think they were different in nature, purpose and substance. But I'm not going to describe that difference.

Q How about did they have any effect on the proceedings up there? Did they make things more tense?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure that they had a real impact on the discussions.

Q Which one came first?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there was a communication from Chairman Arafat first. But they are very different communications. There is no way to compare them except they both put pen to paper.

Q Joe, would you describe the parties as most of the way there with just a small number of critical disagreements or are the disagreements really across the board?

MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't venture a guess there.

Q Why did he send him a letter? It seems like everything is, you know, very much on the phone, very much in person, at each other's cabins. Why would he send him a written communication?

MR. LOCKHART: That's a question you can ask the parties when they're done.

Q Is he going to write them letters back to tell them an answer -

MR. LOCKHART: I'll ask.

Q How were they delivered.

Q Without naming the leaders that he's talked with -

MR. LOCKHART: FedEx. (Laughter.)

Q Without naming them, how many leaders has he talked to, the President, in the region?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe four. I believe four.

Q Joe, on the question of phone calls, not only are there leaders in the Middle East interested in these talks, but there are leaders here and you've talked about members of Congress. Given all the events of today, has the President called anyone or the White House staff or the State Department staff called anyone in the United States who may have influence with either Arafat or Barak and asked them to bring some of that influence to bear?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I know there are a lot of interested parties in this country who have contacts at a variety of levels in our government. But I'm not aware - if they have been talking to people in the delegation, I just don't know about it.

Q Quickly, was there any trilateral meeting today?

MR. LOCKHART: No.

Q Right. Next question: Did any leader phone in to Clinton rather than Clinton phoning out, and could you name those leaders?

MR. LOCKHART: No. No leaders, so therefore I can't name them.

Q Can you confirm that there has been a US proposal on the table for the last 24 hours?

MR. LOCKHART: That goes to the substance of the discussion, so I can't confirm that.

Q Do you think the President will be able to bring them together tonight?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't - I can't speculate or offer prediction on that. It's certainly the President's hope that he can.

Q Joe, are they going to be continuing negotiating right through tomorrow morning?

MR. LOCKHART: They are going to continue negotiating until they are not negotiating anymore.

Q And what can we expect here from you or whoever else?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, we'll keep the office here staffed. To the extent that I have some news that I can transmit, you know, on the telephone to them, we'll get it out as far as any change in the status of the talks. And then I expect that there will be a variety of things to cover.

Q I mean, does that mean the pool will stay on all night?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I mean, at least until we go and get on the plane.

Q Are the two leaders refusing to meet with each other?

MR. LOCKHART: No.

Q Joe, since the White House has been discouraging the two leaders from saying anything that might damage the chance for an agreement, should the talks break up and they may try and regroup at some later date, is the White House copacetic with Barak having a press conference before he leaves this area and Arafat maybe doing the same thing?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm certain that the leaders, to the extent that there is something to say tonight one way or the other, the leaders including the President will want to say something.

Q Joe, outside the negotiations themselves, no substance of the negotiations, has the President been - has the President received any threat, implied or explicit from either party to leave the negotiations at any time in the nine, ten days we've been here? Has anyone ever threatened to leave?

MR. LOCKHART: Not what I would describe as something that was taken - that was real, no. (Laughter.) Did any leader or negotiator at some point in nine days of discussion say, if I don't get this point we're going to leave, I would be crazy to say that that didn't possibly happen and wasn't reported to me. But I think they've been at this, they've been working hard and we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Q Would President Clinton's legacy be hurt if no agreement is reached?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me say that there is probably no subject that is further from his mind right now than that, the one that gets speculated a lot by analysts and pundits. The President has spent the last nine days here because he's committed to finding a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israel and he will continue to work at that. That is why he's spending this extra time when he was supposed to be in Tokyo. That is why he is going and taking it every step imaginable to try to bring the parties together. And I think there will be time for others to speculate on that issue. It's not something -

Q Are you worried that you might have raised expectations too high and that any failure might be extremely counterproductive?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think if you look at the comments that were made in advance of this summit, you'll find that that's a charge that we will be completely acquitted of.

Q As you know, the reports today, all day, from both sides have been universally grim. Not surprising at this juncture.

Would you say it's fair to say the President is now trying to rescue these talks or is he trying to consolidate progress that has been made?

MR. LOCKHART: I am going to resist providing any more catchy adjectives or descriptions and just say that the President is working very hard to try to reach an agreement.

Q Joe, obviously, if the President gets on a plane tonight and there's no agreement, he's not going to wash his hands of the whole Mid East Peace Process. So what are his plans in terms of continuing building on the progress that was made here and trying to bring them together?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that is a question, along with many of the analysis questions, that will be better put off for another time. I'll take one more.

Q Was there a point today when the two leaders said, this is it, we're going home, and the President appealed to them and that's why we're into extra time?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think that's the dynamic. I think the leaders would like both to go home with an agreement. The problem is the substance and the structure of that agreement. So it is not a circumstance where the President is exercising undue influence to keep them there. I think they want to get this done but I think everyone understands that we don't have an unlimited time clock here.

Thanks.

Q Are we after a framework agreement or a comprehensive agreement?

MR. LOCKHART: An agreement.

END 6:04 P.M. EDT


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