Press Briefing 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
11:20 A.M. EDT
Mr. Boucher: I'm happy to be back here. I'm glad to give you an update of where we stand on the discussions at Camp David and elsewhere.
Yesterday, the Secretary had lunch with Chairman Arafat at her farm in Virginia. They left in the late morning, spent about three hours together including travel time, lunch and a walk. They discussed a variety of issues, including the peace process and benefits of peace for the region.
The Secretary this morning took Prime Minister Barak to Gettysburg. They toured the battlefield, spent a bit more than two hours together, including travel time.
At Camp David itself, negotiators held informal discussions throughout the day on Saturday in keeping with the religious obligations of the parties. Today, informal discussions and small groups continue to meet to discuss the issues and focus intensely on the issues that are at stake here.
We expect the President to return in the early evening and expect that the first thing he'll do is to meet with his team to assess the status of the talks and to decide on the next steps.
With that update, I'd be glad to take your questions.
Question: Is there any sense, Richard, up there of the - we're entering the thirteenth day, which is the day on which the first Camp David summit ended. Do you get the feeling that they have a sense of this kind of moment that they're hitting now?
Mr. Boucher: I think people are aware that the previous Camp David summit went for thirteen days, but that doesn't mean that suddenly becomes a time table for this one.
Question: I know that, but is there a way--
Mr. Boucher: Let me just try to answer. People are aware of it, but we're not running on a 22-year-old schedule; we're running on whatever schedule we can make out of the talks now and how we can progress on the issues. So, I think the immediate schedule is to anticipate the President's return, to continue the intensive discussions in small groups, and then to be ready to report to the President on the status when he gets back. I don't think even in the original Camp David talks, the number thirteen was special in any way; it just happened to finish on the thirteenth day.
Question: Prime Minister Barak's spokesman has said that he thinks it will be evident in the very near hours after the President's arrival whether things are going to go forward or whether there is going to be a breakdown. Does the US side have the same feeling, that it's now or never?
Mr. Boucher: I think especially after the experience last--when was it, Thursday night or Wednesday night, one hesitates to make any kind of predictions. I think the initial assessment by the President will be very important in deciding how we move forward and then whatever discussions are necessary after that with the parties to see how we can take the process forward from where we brought it in his absence.
Question: Richard, there is no time limit at this point at all, as far as the United States?
Mr. Boucher: There is no specific time limit I can give you. Clearly, the President's schedule has events on it next week. We are not here for an unlimited period of time. But at the same time, until the President gets back and we start looking at the situation, the status of the issues, it will be hard to decide on next steps and how long those will take to play out.
Question: Richard, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem has issued a fatwa prohibiting Palestinian refugees from accepting any compensation in exchange for giving up their right of return. Do you have any comment on that?
Mr. Boucher: No, I don't. I hadn't seen the particular statement and we haven't tried to comment on all the different views that are out there; we know there are a variety of views.
Question: You said that the Secretary took both Arafat and Barak separately out of Camp David. Is that actually the first and only time that the two leaders went out of the camp since the beginning of the talks? This is the first time that you are telling us something like that. And what was the reason? A change in atmosphere? Were they only with them--did they have aides with them or only Albright/Barak, Albright/Arafat?
Mr. Boucher: It was the first time that either leader had left since the beginning of the talks. They brought one or two aides with them each time, but the main reason was to spend some time with them talking, and to use the opportunity of an extended discussion to get out of Camp David and go see that there's a world out here.
Question: Richard, can you at all characterize these informal talks that have gone on since the President's departure?
Mr. Boucher: Well, I think I've tried to explain that there are fairly intense and focused discussions going on on the issues involved in permanent status on the core issues, that the negotiators and the teams have been working very hard on these issues and have tried to move forward in the President's absence, so that we can report to him the status this evening.
Question: May I just ask you about Madeleine Albright's schedule? Is it true she's scheduled to travel to Bangkok to meet with the North Koreans on Wednesday?
Mr. Boucher: We haven't announced anything and I don't have anything to announce for you now.
Question: There is nothing--
Mr. Boucher: We haven't announced anything and I don't have anything to announce for you now.
Question: There were reports that Arab leaders have been putting pressure on or they have made public statements about how Mr. Arafat could not make any concessions on East Jerusalem. Is that helpful?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not--again, you know, with the other statements that have been quoted - I'm not going to try to respond to every statement out there. There are a lot of different views. There are a variety of views out there that I'm sure the leaders are quite aware of. But the importance of reaching an agreement, I think, is quite clear to all. And in the discussions that we've had over the past several months, I think there was quite a lot of support for the idea of trying to reach agreement on these core issues and solve this problem.
Question: Can you say any more about when the President will arrive and what exactly will be his program then? You say he is going to meet with his team. Does he expect to go meet with the principals this evening as well?
Mr. Boucher: I wouldn't be surprised to see that, but there is no laid out schedule yet. The only expectation is he will be back here in the early evening and he will begin by meeting with his team.
Question: Are the North Koreans getting somewhat ahead of themselves then in announcing this meeting already as the deadline?
Mr. Boucher: We don't have anything to announce on the Secretary's meetings at this stage and I think the experience the other night leads us not to announce things until after they happen.
Question: Does the US Government believe that the issue, the fate of Jerusalem is an exclusively Israeli-Palestinian issue?
Mr. Boucher: That sounds like a loaded question. The negotiations here on the permanent status issues involve the Israelis and Palestinians with us as a facilitator. Certainly, we are quite aware of Jerusalem's importance to many others, especially its special status as an important holy place for three great faiths. Those concerns are very much in mind as we go forward and try to facilitate an agreement.
Question: The Secretary of State, did she make any phone calls over the weekend to any Arab leaders? Do you know?
Mr. Boucher: I'm just trying to deal with the weekend. Not in the last 24 hours or so. Not Saturday or Sunday that I know of.
Question: Do you plan to brief again after the President's arrival tonight? And, if you are, can you give the hours maybe for it? Do you have anything--
Mr. Boucher: I think what we'll try to do today is do another briefing here as normal about five o'clock* and then let Joe Lockhart do either a pool report or call in or some way of updating you in the evening.
Question: Two of the negotiators, one Israeli and one Palestinian, have commented on the status of Jerusalem. And the other one accused the Palestinians of losing a golden opportunity. Do you think those comments go along with those negotiations and also go along with the news blackout?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not aware that any of the negotiators had commented. I guess the only thing I saw was Abu Mazin had some fairly general comments when he was out in the region. I'm not aware of anything else. So, I'm not aware if the negotiators have been briefing on the events at Camp David.
Question: Richard, the President spoke of some headway being made--
Mr. Boucher: I don't want to try to characterize our report to the President until the President gets back and we have a chance to report to him. I would say that we've been working very hard, the negotiators and the delegations have been working very, very hard on these issues and we will report to the President when he gets back.
Question: Has some drafting begun between negotiators on issues where progress and headway have been made?
Mr. Boucher: I'm sorry, that's the kind of detail of what's going on at Camp David that we haven't discussed. I'm sorry.
Question: Richard, Abu Mazin also said that either a full agreement--no partial agreement, full agreement only. Abu Mazin said that.
Mr. Boucher: I'm not going to characterize the views of others. But as we've always said, we're trying to reach an agreement that deals with the core issues of permanent status.
Question: Can you characterize or can you give us some description of yesterday? Last week at the Sabbath dinner, the Prime Minister invited everyone and I believe everyone attended, or at least people from both delegations. What was yesterday like? Was it tenser? Were people more relaxed? Have they caught up on their sleep a bit? Are they ready to go 24 hours a day again?
Mr. Boucher: I suppose, in view of the fact the schedule has shifted a little back to the daytime after the events of--I can't even remember if it was Thursday night or Wednesday night--late Thursday night, the schedule has shifted back to the day. Most of the discussions and meetings have been held during the daytime, the afternoon and into the evening. So it hasn't gone quite so late at night, although I know several delegations have held discussions among their own delegation until quite late at night.
So, I think people probably are caught up on their sleep a little bit. But I would characterize the discussion as serious, as determined, as intense and focused and people have been working very hard.
Question: What about the Sabbath dinner?
Mr. Boucher: The Sabbath dinner Friday night was hosted by the Israelis. I think it was open to all. I don't think--I think the Secretary was the only leader of delegation that was there, so it was delegation members from different parts. The ceremonial part, the prayers conducted by the Israeli side and some people, I think most of the Palestinians, drifted in after the dinner actually began.
Question: What about Arafat?
Mr. Boucher: No. But the delegations' members and negotiators have been together for many--on many occasions over the weekend and spending a lot of time together both in discussions and at meals.
Question: Richard, was there any significance to the fact that the Secretary took Arafat to her farm and Barak to Gettysburg, or is it simply that Barak has already been to her farm during the Shepardstown--
Mr. Boucher: I think it was a bit of variety for the Secretary and for the leaders involved.
Question: Richard, since President Clinton left, Barak and Arafat have been together how many times? Once?
Mr. Boucher: They were together at dinner on Thursday. I'm getting my days wrong. The Secretary hosted a dinner where all three of them were together and I'm not aware they've had any other meeting since then. But obviously they're both very engaged with their negotiators and over the past few days the focus has been on the negotiators.
Question: Is it correct to say that the negotiators are in the process of constructing a document which they will use to present to the President to say where you're up to and how far are you in that process?
Mr. Boucher: That's not the kind of question, the details of what's going on up there, that I can answer because you try out all the different possibilities and be left with the facts.
Question: Will there be any photo releases from Camp David today?
Mr. Boucher: I expect there will be. We have photos of Chairman Arafat's visit to the farm. We have photos of this morning's excursion to Gettysburg and we'll try to get those out to you as soon as possible.
Question: What about photos of the basketball--
Mr. Boucher: No, we didn't get any photos of basketball. The basketball game was kind of a bust. It was a very low turnout, but for a very good reason, that the delegations and negotiators were still meeting and having discussions at the time of the basketball game. So, it turned into a very small thing between negotiators and Marines.
Question: Following up on the question of the draft, are you going to use the same team who is at Camp David?
Mr. Boucher: To follow up on my answer to the draft, I have nothing to add to what I haven't said in the past on the subject.
Question: Do you have any comment on what Hillary Clinton said in Roosevelt's Jewish synagogue on Long Island about accusing the Palestinians that they are preventing negotiating a peace agreement?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not aware of anything. I just don't know what the quote is and I'm not commenting on quotes.
Question: And, Richard, the level of how you're communicating and updating the Europeans, how does the President or the Secretary of State update--what sort of update has been made to the European Union on the peace talks, since they're going to be the biggest donors and are the biggest donors to the Palestinians?
Mr. Boucher: Well, I would refer you to the G-8 communiqué in Okinawa. The President obviously had some discussion with leaders in Okinawa. The Europeans were there. And I think they expressed their general support, in terms of future international assistance as necessary for any agreement that's reached.
Question: But the--(inaudible)--is here. Does the Secretary of State phone him and say, look, you know, hang in here, we may need you for this or for that--(inaudible).
Mr. Boucher: I'm not aware of any phone calls like that. I don't think she's made any phone calls like that.
Question: Any movement on the Syrian-Israeli track now that the news the president of Syria is in office?
Mr. Boucher: Well, there is fairly intense focus right now on the Israeli-Palestinian track, so that's not a major topic of discussion or movement at this point. As you know, we've said the door is open. We want to take up the commitment to peace that has been made by Bashar Al-Asad at the appropriate time. But right now, we're really very much focused on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
Question: Can the issue of Jerusalem be set aside and there still be an agreement? Or does it have to be part of it?
Mr. Boucher: That's a hypothetical question that gets into the substance. I'm sorry, I can't answer it.
Question: There were some reports yesterday that said that Israel has suggested a proposal of releasing Jonathan Pollard and Azzem Azzem, you know, as a part of the peace deal. Can you, like, say anything about it?
Mr. Boucher: That is another question about what might or might not be discussed up there and I really can't get into it.
Question: Without asking you to go into any details--(inaudible)--is saying today that the two leaders are on the verge of an agreement on Jerusalem. Is that a fair way of describing it?
Mr. Boucher: I didn't use that phrase. It's very hard, it continues to be very hard. We all know how difficult the issues are. We continue to try to move forward with very intense focus on these issues, but I'm not here to lay claim to any such progress.
Question: Two questions please. Do you know if there is no--(inaudible)--in the area and every time--(inaudible)--we heard about very extreme speech from them against Arafat and against Barak. Did you notice--(inaudible)--
Mr. Boucher: I think the views of many in the region are well known and quite clear. We've seen a lot of expression of those views as the talks have gone on. But the focus here is using the Israeli--working with the Israeli and Palestinian representatives to try to reach agreement. Ultimately, we all know those agreements will be tested in public opinion in the Arab world and in Israel.
Question: There is no limiting? No limiting?
Mr. Boucher: It's not unlimited for the amount of time we'll spend here and it will be up to the President to decide what his next efforts, what his next steps will be and how long he wants to carry this forward.
Question: My second question. My second question. Does Mrs. Hillary Clinton know what is happening in Camp David?
Mr. Boucher: I don't know for sure. I'm not aware that she's getting any formal updates. But obviously she talks to people, to someone that I haven't been able to ask about this, what he's told her.
Question: Would you elaborate on what you said, agreements will be tested in the Arab world? Could you elaborate on that?
Mr. Boucher: Not a whole lot. I mean, I think people are quite aware that there are different views in the region on what needs to be done and people are aware that public opinion, opinion of leaderships, support of other governments is needed in order to carry forward on an agreement. I think they are all looking to get a good agreement, one that can stand the test of time.
Question: This peace process started sponsored by the US and Russia and now we're finding that the Russian role is diminishing. Is that a request from the negotiators or upon US?
Mr. Boucher: I think if you look at the briefings that have been done in Okinawa, you'll see that the President did discuss the Middle East Peace Process with President Putin when he met him the other day. So, certainly we're in touch with the Russians, we do remember that they were co-sponsors of Madrid. But we're here now in a specific setting with a specific idea in mind, to try to reach an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians with the United States facilitating that process. That seemed to us the best way to move forward at this moment.
Question: What can happen now that didn't happen last Wednesday?
Mr. Boucher: Well, I think there are a whole variety of things that could happen now that didn't happen last Wednesday, one of which is we might reach a deal and the other of which is we might not, definitively.
Question: Did the Palestinians give their response? The Israelis are waiting for the response about the government in Jerusalem. Or have you accepted any kind of a response from the Palestinians?
Mr. Boucher: Okay, maybe after we ask more or less the same question three times and I give more or less the same answer, that I'm not going to get into the substance, we ought to call it quits and say goodbye.
(The briefing concluded at 11:39 a.m.)
*Note: There will not be a briefing by Richard Boucher this evening.