The Camp David Peace Talks
U.S. Department of State Richard Boucher, Department of State Spokesman Press Briefing, The Camp David Peace Talks Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland, July 23, 2000
7:30 P.M. EDT
Mr. Boucher: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Let's try to do a brief update and then I think we'll put the operation to bed for the night.
This afternoon, groups of negotiators met at Camp David to continue discussing the core issues. Shortly before the President's return, the Secretary went over and met with Prime Minister Barak. The President returned, I think, about 6:30 p.m. As I was leaving there right after that, very shortly after his return, he went into a meeting with his senior advisors and they're having discussions and then he's expected to meet individually with the two leaders. Dinner plans are not set for this evening. And we expect meetings into the night.
So, with that brief update, I'll take your questions.
Question: This may be the most naive question of all, but are things at a crossroads now? It sounds like another late night after flying all day. It sounds like heavy duty activity by the President?
Mr. Boucher: Certainly, we expect heavy duty activity by the President. He will be brought up to date by his team, have a chance to assess where we are, have his initial meetings with the two leaders, and then decide how to take it from there. But we thought about using "critical juncture" and "pivotal," and we've used all those phrases before.
So I think we'll just say that the President's back, we've been working very hard in his absence and we look forward to his determination, his energy and his seriousness in carrying the ball, moving forward from here.
Question: How long will it take, in your estimation, until the future will be clearer and if we will know if there's a breakthrough or if it's a dead issue?
Mr. Boucher: We gave up predicting things last Wednesday night, so I'm not going to do a prediction here.
Question: I know you don't want to give a specific limit, but at the same time you are saying it is not an open-ended meeting as far as time is concerned. Is there something of an assessment you can give between an exact limit and specify a little bit more about what "not open-ended" means after thirteen days?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not quite sure I can. Certainly, as we go forward from here on in, the President will be assessing where we are and whether there remains potential or whether we have a deal. As time is not unlimited, none of the leaders' time is unlimited, the President does have some activities scheduled this week that he probably can't move. But as we go forward into the coming days, I expect there will be an ongoing assessment of how much longer we should devote to this or whether we are close enough to have a deal.
Question: What kind of shape is the President in as he arrived today?
Mr. Boucher: Ready to go. I didn't see him personally, but I understand from all reports that he is back, he's ready to go. As you know from various comments he made in Japan and elsewhere, he is looking forward to returning and working on this.
Question: Is he worn out from the trip or is he energized by the break?
Mr. Boucher: I don't know that I would call it either one. He's back, he's ready to go, he's meeting with his team and he's going to have his first meetings and take the assessment forward.
Question: Has the U.S. presented new ideas on Jerusalem in the last 24 hours?
Mr. Boucher: That's not the kind of thing we get into, I'm sorry.
Question: Richard, could you give a little better idea of what he has ahead in his schedule that might impinge on this situation?
Mr. Boucher: I think he has an activity Tuesday afternoon. There is a visit of President Estrada of the Philippines on Thursday, so there are a few things like that on his schedule. I am not sure the schedule has been fully worked out for him.
Question: Have there been any contacts made with General Secretary Kofi Anan?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not aware of any in the last twenty-four or forty-eight hours. I think the Secretary talked to him last week.
Question: Can you confirm that Arafat has been taking calls from other Arab leaders?
Mr. Boucher: I haven't heard of any new calls. I tried to check but didn't get a precise response.
Question: When you say "new calls," that's since Friday?
Mr. Boucher: Again, in the last day or two, I'm not aware of any.
Question: Richard, what if the two leaders want to keep talking and the President and Secretary Albright don't have the time to stay on?
Mr. Boucher: That's very much a what-if. We've always said that we will devote the time and energy necessary towards getting an agreement and I'm sure they'll be willing to do that.
Question: Richard, what is the latest the Secretary could leave and still manage to fulfil her obligations in Bangkok?
Mr. Boucher: I don't have a precise time on that. You would have to figure that one out. Sorry.
Question: When does the meeting end?
Mr. Boucher: I think the meeting in Bangkok is Thursday and Friday. Obviously, she would like to be there, but we haven't announced anything and I'm not going to announce any travel now.
Question: Richard, the Pope today is renewing his call for Jerusalem to be treated as some kind of international city. Is that something that the President would talk to with the two leaders about as an option?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not going to get into commenting on all the comments out there. I think I said at noon today a remark that still applies, that's the special status of Jerusalem, its status as a location of holy sites for three of the great faiths of the world is something that we're quite aware of and that we do keep in mind as we move forward in our role as facilitating these talks.
Question: Is there a U.S. position on international--
Mr. Boucher: I'm not going to go into U.S. positions on this or that issue.
Question: No, but I mean is there a U.S. position on whether Jerusalem should have some international status?
Mr. Boucher: You're asking me for a U.S. position on one of the issues under discussion. I'm not going to give it for you now.
Question: Is "special status" a term that is widely used?
Mr. Boucher: That's not a particular term, that's a description. We know that Jerusalem is special and that the great faiths of the world have holy sites there and will take a lot of interest in it. But that doesn't--that's not a legalistic term of any kind.
Question: Richard, a Middle East question. Who is--
Question: Can we stay on Jerusalem? Let's stay on Jerusalem a minute.
Without commenting on the talks, you should be able to say whether, under Israel's '67 to current control over Jerusalem, has there been any evidence that the great faiths, and the other great faiths that haven't been mentioned, have had any problem getting access to holy sites?
Mr. Boucher: Barry, I'm not going to try to make comments one way or the other on issues that are under discussion. Everything I take will be used against me. I'm just not--it's not the point at which we could start comparing this and that period of history with regard to the issues that are involved.
Question: I'm not trying to compare. The Pope has raised an issue that smacks of some notion that something has been inadequate until now, and I wondered if the State Department agreed with it.
Mr. Boucher: Again, I am not going to comment on the issues that are involved in the talks.
Question: Can I just go to the Middle East question? Do you know, Richard, in the last 24 hours, has either the Secretary of State or President Clinton spoken to King Abdullah or King Saud of Saudi Arabia?
Mr. Boucher: The Secretary has not and, P.J.--I haven't heard of any. Do you know if the Secretary has talked to King Abdullah or Fahd?
MR. CROWLEY: Not since last week.
Mr. Boucher: Not since last week.
Question: Not since last week? Oh, so he spoke to him last week?
Mr. Boucher: Leaders of that kind. (Laughter.) Among the leaders he may have talked to, he may have talked to them last week.
Question: Did he make any calls on the long plane ride if you can tell us?
Mr. Boucher: Not that I know of, Barry.
Question: So you're not going to say anything more tonight? Or Lockhart will come out--
Mr. Boucher: No, we won't do anything more tonight. The President's meeting with his team is over. He's about to meet with Prime Minister Barak and I'm sure there will be other meetings with Chairman Arafat and others during the evening.
Question: Is this a lid that we're going--
Mr. Boucher: This is a lid.
Question: So P.J. will not--
Mr. Boucher: No, he won't. This will be it.
Question: Is it true that the Secretary has spoken with Barak and she--about transferring the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? And if there is, if they would be in agreement?
Mr. Boucher: We're not going to talk about specifics involved in discussion or not involved in discussion, as the case may be. I don't want to take that long.
Question: Why aren't there dinner plans for tonight? Is it that they already had dinner or--
Mr. Boucher: No, it's because the President just returned and a lot depends on his meetings and how he wants to move forward. So, there will be dinner tonight but what kind of dinner, we're not sure yet.
Question: How is the United States responding to the Pope's proposal in the past? This is--
Mr. Boucher: No, I'm not going to respond to that now. You can look up the record if you want to.
Question: Can I just ask you about Emmitsburg? What has happened to Emmitsburg?
Mr. Boucher: Emmitsburg is still there. (Laughter.) It's a very nice city in Northern Maryland on the Pennsylvania border. Any other questions about it?
The discussion of generic issues? The discussions last week at Emmitsburg on the generic issues finished or concluded or ended at the end of last week. Generic issues have been discussed a little bit up at Camp David by some of the people who are up there. But the focus is on the core issues and moving those forward.
Question: Are they wrapped up now?
Mr. Boucher: I wouldn't say wrapped up. I would say they went as far as people thought they could take them in the absence of an agreement on core issues.
Question: So it is dependent on the outcome of the core issues?
Mr. Boucher: I think they think that in order to move forward on those we need to have a better idea of where the settlement will be.
Question: So are the teams still in place in Emmitsburg?
Mr. Boucher: The experts are still in place at Emmitsburg and there are still experts living at Emmitsburg who do come in and aid the delegations.
Question: Are the delegations still there?
Mr. Boucher: The water, economics and civil affairs negotiations at Emmitsburg, I think--
Question: Can you confirm that the delegations--
Mr. Boucher: I'll finish the sentence first. The people who were discussing water, economics and civil affairs at Emmitsburg have left or almost all left. Some of the experts who were lodging at Emmitsburg and coming on as necessary are still there.
Question: Richard, just sort of a nuts and bolts question. The President said, as you've stressed today, you will assess where the talks are. How is he going to do that? Is he going to be given an options list or how is he going to frame this--
Mr. Boucher: I don't think I can say much more than say the first thing he did is he sat down with his team. His team was prepared to report to him on the work that had been done in his absence and to frame for him some of the issues and decisions as we go forward.
Question: I would like to take you back to what you said, and please correct me if I'm wrong. My notes say that you had said you were aware of the special status of Jerusalem. Would you kindly care to elaborate on that?
Mr. Boucher: I am not trying to take a legalistic position on that. I realize that phrase is sometimes used in a legal context. We are aware of the fact that Jerusalem is the location of holy sites for three of the great faiths of the world and we keep that in mind as we try to facilitate the talks.
Question: Has the U.S. changed its position about Jerusalem or about the two-for-two?
Mr. Boucher: If I have to come out here and repeat every day all our positions, I'm not going to do it, because I think basically our positions are unchanged until we change them and I haven't changed them.
Question: Richard, would you describe the situation as being sort of assess where we are, it's either go or no-go? Or is there a potential for sort of a lot more slogging days, more of work here? Can you give any kind of assessment--
Mr. Boucher: I think I didn't describe it as decide whether it's go or no-go. Assess our position and decide how to go forward is the way--
Question: Richard, last week we had the President's trip to Japan as our deadline, something to wait for. What is it this week? What should we wait for?
Mr. Boucher: Again, we've been sort of dealing with that question for the last couple days. I can't give you a precise event or deadline. But I will repeat what we said before: This is not unlimited. All the leaders have obligations. All the leaders have a desire to work hard for a peace agreement, for a settlement, if we can get one. But I don't think anybody is here just to pass the time, so they will assess as they go forward how much time to devote to this and whether we're close enough to keep working.
Question: Do you have any specific schedule of the President for tomorrow?
Mr. Boucher: No.
Question: And it's going to be maybe a--you said he is going to meet them separately, the leaders?
Mr. Boucher: This evening, yes, right.
Question: There is not any trilateral meeting?
Mr. Boucher: As we left, the only plan was for that initial phase when the President came back to meet with his team, which he has done, and to begin two separate meetings, one with each leader. The one with Prime Minister Barak is about to start, I'm told, and I expect he will meet after that with Chairman Arafat and then we'll see what happens after that.
(The briefing concluded at 7:45 p.m.)