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Press briefing on Camp David Peace Talks (2)

Press briefing on Camp David Peace Talks (2)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman (Thurmont, Maryland)

For Immediate Release July 21, 2000


11:05 A.M. EDT

MR. BOUCHER: Good morning, everyone. I would like to bring you up to date from where we were yesterday afternoon when we briefed. I think when I briefed here yesterday afternoon, the Secretary was meeting with her team.

Before dinner, she had additional meetings with Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak. Dinner was an open buffet. All the delegations were invited. I think almost everybody showed up. There were thirty or more people at dinner. People sat together. Both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak came to dinner and they sat at a table with the Secretary, one on one side of the Secretary and the other on the other side of the Secretary. After dinner, negotiators began meeting to discuss the issues involved in the settlement, in a permanent status, and they met well into the night.

Negotiators are resuming their discussions this morning and will continue throughout the day. The Secretary expects to meet with some of the negotiators to start off and I expect she'll see the leaders during the course of the day as well.

As far as briefings here go, I'll just take this opportunity to announce that this evening and tomorrow, we'll treat Shabbat the way we did last weekend, so we'll do a briefing here this afternoon, in the late afternoon. We'll give you the final update before sundown tonight and then we won't brief here again until Sunday morning.

With those updates, I will be glad to take any questions you have.

QUESTION: The President, there are reports, which seem to be credible, that he's going to come back a few -- maybe several -- hours early. So as we look ahead to Sunday, without a briefing for a while, what's your best advice?

MR. BOUCHER: My best advice is to wait and see.

QUESTION: Will he come back early? He's already canceled one meeting out in Japan.

MR. BOUCHER: I think most of those reports, Barry, are based on the statement that Mr. Lockhart made, traveling with the President. I checked with Okinawa about an hour or so ago. They do not have a new schedule yet but, as they said, they are looking to compress the schedule in Japan and see when the President can return here. So we'll look forward to seeing them back.

QUESTION: How are we going to work that out, Richard, if the President -- because there is even -- you know, based on the guidance Joe is giving, there is some indication the President may be back before a Sunday morning briefing. So how will we work that?

MR. BOUCHER: If there is such news, obviously we'll give it to you and then we'll plan on doing the Sunday morning briefing to tell you what happens when he gets back. I expect the traveling party with the President will put out the word on his exact travel plans.

QUESTION: Richard, how would you -- the only meeting yesterday between the three people who are now leaders of the delegations was at dinner; is that right?

MR. BOUCHER: That was dinner, yes.

QUESTION: And you expect that the Secretary will see them again today. But separately? Is that the --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. There's always the possibility of a three- way meeting but I'm not aware of anything scheduled like that at this point, so I would expect to follow the pattern we followed in recent days.

QUESTION: Can you describe the mood at the top table there?

MR. BOUCHER: The mood at the top table? It wasn't a working dinner, it wasn't a dinner to delve deeply into the issues. They discussed a variety of things, some involving Camp David talks but also, you might say, the outside world. They talked about other things going on outside the confines as well.

QUESTION: There is something to life more than Camp David?


QUESTION: Richard, without going into substance, is Madame Secretary dealing with the negotiators, negotiating with the negotiators on every subject? Or are one or two subjects being put back until the President comes?

MR. BOUCHER: There are discussions of all the core issues going on.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the dinner? Were the two leaders engaging with each other? Were they talking? What was the dynamic?

MR. BOUCHER: It was a dinner conversation. Sometimes people were talking, you know, the three of them, sometimes to others, sometimes individually to the Secretary, sometimes to each other. So it was a normal discussion involving issues of the world as well as some of the Camp David things as well as everything else. Not a working dinner. I don't want to try to claim --

QUESTION: Would you agree with Joe's old appraisal that the batting average of reports from outside here is about four out of ten; four hundred good enough for the Hall of Fame but not good enough for journalists?

MR. BOUCHER: I think you're probably still in the Hall of Fame but I don't think all those reports out there are accurate and I wouldn't want to lead you in one direction or the other.

QUESTION: -- this morning as reported by AP came out of Jerusalem that Barak is ready and willing to allow some kind of self governance in East Jerusalem?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to get into any particular position of any particular leader on the issues. I know there are a lot of reports out there and all I can tell you is some of them may be right and some of them are wrong.

QUESTION: Richard, can we just stay on the dinner atmosphere too? Because it is significant they haven't had dinner or even been together since the Shabbat dinner the week before, I think. And given the contents of the Barak letter to President Clinton that was somewhat critical or in fact was quite critical of Chairman Arafat, was it cordial, was it friendly? How was their relationship with one another at dinner?

MR. BOUCHER: I think everybody's in a serious mood in some ways, that we know we're hitting the hardest issues involved in permanent status. Everybody is aware, in fact, that we almost came to an end without an agreement the other night. So it's a serious mood; it's not jovial, I would say. And there --

QUESTION: It's not acrimonious?

MR. BOUCHER: It's not acrimonious. There are discussions between them, discussions are continuing, people are talking to each other. Certainly all the delegations are talking all the time. I think, you know, a serious mood is probably the best way to describe it.

QUESTION: Is there any impatience on the side of the delegations for the President to return?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we are certainly all looking forward to the President's return, but I don't think that translates necessarily into impatience. I think people are seriously working on the issues. As we said, the Secretary continues the discussions, continues to try to move the ball forward in the President's absence and we are, I think, focused on the issues and really working hard.

QUESTION: Do you think the President is going to limit the negotiations? I mean, if there is going to be a new deadline? Because maybe if they won't reach an agreement during this week, it can go over and over?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't look for unlimited negotiations; we look to try to bring this to a close and bring an agreement about. The President will assess where we are when he comes back. We will try to move the ball forward and try to move closer together on the issues and come up with solutions during the President's absence. And then when the President gets back, he will assess where we are and decide how we have to take it from here.

QUESTION: Do the Israelis plan to continue negotiating through Shabbat, as I understand they did last week?

MR. BOUCHER: I would expect the same thing to happen as happened last week. And that is, there would be informal discussions and that the activities would take into account the religious obligations of the parties.

QUESTION: Richard, was Rebecca right that last night's dinner the first time the two have met since last Friday?

MR. BOUCHER: I would go back to the record. We have reported to you on the times that they have met at dinner or other events and I would just go back to the record and look at that. My memory is not clear enough to tell you which day of the week it was.

QUESTION: Richard, the White House released -- you know, obviously we all know the White House is in charge of pictures. So far we write our own stories. But they released a picture that shows great humor. I mean, Albright and Arafat and everybody seems to be having -- he's pointing, someone's pointing. I suppose there were light moments.

Do you happen to know what that occasion was? Did somebody swallow a hot pepper?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm trying to think. I forgot to look at the picture before I came up. Was it at the dinner table or was it when they greeted each other? I mean, they greeted each other in a friendly manner. You know, they got their meals, they sat down, they talked during dinner. There was conversation, sort of normal conversation, sometimes light, sometimes a bit serious on the issues and on other events. And then afterwards, they got up together and I think said goodbye when people had to leave. So friendly at times, but I would say, by and large, to characterize it, I would say serious.

QUESTION: Richard, why is the President feeling the need to hasten his return? Are the two leaders indicating an unwillingness to move forward without him? Or are they indicating that they have things they've got to do back home and they want to get out of here? Or what's the reason?

MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't draw any conclusions from that. The President is deeply engaged in this summit, has worked very, very hard at this summit, has had a very personal role in what's going on. And I am sure he wants to get back to that role as soon as he can after carrying out his schedule and doing what he can, the important business of the G-8.

QUESTION: I have a Negotiations 101 question. What's the benefit of not having the leaders meeting directly more often?

MR. BOUCHER: I guess what I would have to say, if you look at the way this negotiation, these discussions have proceeded, there is a lot of back and forth with negotiators, there is a lot of back and forth with the leaders. The leaders obviously have a role in supervising the positions and activities of their delegations. I wouldn't say any of the leaders are disengaged. They are all actively involved in the process; they're just not meeting together. So there are going to be meetings in a variety of formats, whatever we think is best to move the process along.

QUESTION: Richard, are they focused on one particular issue or group of issues?

MR. BOUCHER: They are dealing with all the issues.

QUESTION: How do you see the Arab leaders' activity? Some of them had spoken with Mr. Arafat and some of them with Mr. Barak. How do you see this? Has it affected the --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think what I would say is we have had some phone calls. I think we've said to you that the President has talked to Arab leaders on the phone. The Secretary has talked to a couple of the Arab leaders on the phone and we know that some of those leaders have talked to the parties as well. So there have been discussions with leaders in the outside world.

Generally what I would say is the peace process and peace in the region is very, very important to leaders in many countries and in our discussions we have heard a lot of support for the process of reaching an agreement and trying to settle these issues. So I would say that people in the region are generally supportive of the idea of reaching an agreement.

QUESTION: Who are these leaders?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid we are not in a position to give you a list.

QUESTION: But are these phone calls affecting the negotiations, especially about Jerusalem?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to get into any particular issue. I am just going to say that people have talked to others in the region and that they have had discussions about the importance of reaching an agreement and peace.

QUESTION: I'm a little confused because of the time difference between here and Okinawa but when was the President supposed to get back and when is the earliest he can get back at this point from everything that we've heard?

MR. BOUCHER: We haven't put out a schedule, but it hasn't changed. We looked forward to the President's return about Sunday or Monday. They're dealing with sort of exactly what time it can be and whether it can be a little earlier than might otherwise have happened, but at this point --

QUESTION: So late Sunday or early Monday?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't want to try to guess because, frankly, it would just be a guess for me. We'll get a schedule when they're ready.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary talked to the President?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't believe she has. I know she's been in touch with Mr. Berger. Obviously, the teams, our people, our staff people have been in touch with people on the President's trip, but I am not aware that she's talked to the President. I'll double check on that for this afternoon.

QUESTION: In terms of Albright's role here, and she's talking to Sandy Berger and perhaps even the President, is she leading things on her own as she sees fit, or is she taking cues from the President on what he wants done while he's gone?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, she is leading the US side in these talks, so she is carrying forward the momentum, making the decisions, directing the team, organizing the talks in the absence of the President. Now, that said, the President invested a lot of time and energy in getting us to the point where we are, and so she is continuing the work that the President was doing and, obviously, they're keeping the President informed, so that when he comes back, he will pick up where she leaves off and take it forward.

QUESTION: Right, but how close is the contact with the White House, whether it be Sandy or someone else? Is she calling continually? "I'm planning on doing this," "I'm planning on doing this"? Or is it just like periodic updates?

MR. BOUCHER: It's periodic, to update where we stand or sometimes discuss decisions. But basically, the Secretary, as we said, is leading the delegation, is making the decisions about how we operate and how to go forward here.

QUESTION: Richard, can we determine from her not phoning the President and the President not being contacted, that nothing new has happened since he has left now, no improvement of --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I've kept you updated on what's going on, I've kept you updated on the kinds of meetings and discussions that we're having. All the issues were in play before the President left. All the issues remain in play. The President, obviously, is out there for a very important G-8 meeting; she is not necessarily going to be calling him in the middle of dinner.

QUESTION: Unless something were to happen?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I wouldn't make any assumptions like that. I would make the assumption that we are moving forward on the issues that were under discussion when the President left, that we're continuing the work that he had been doing and that we'll be in a position to let him assess the progress, let him assess where we are when he gets back.

QUESTION: Richard, we know that King Abdullah has been called and we've asked you this before, but it's a new day so I'll ask you again. Is any consideration being given to bringing any other leaders from the Middle East here? Or have any of them been asked -- we know that Arafat wanted Mubarak to weigh in, or at least we've been told, to weigh in on Jerusalem. Any request from the White House or from the other delegations for leaders to weigh in from there to try and influence the talks?

MR. BOUCHER: I think that would take me into the substance of discussions with leaders so I really can't do that. I am not aware of any plans to bring anybody in, other than negotiators, and we told you the experts might show up. But not in the terms that you're talking about, of leaders. As far as who is talking to whom about the peace process and support for the peace process, I think I just have to leave it general.

QUESTION: Okay, well, let me ask you this: Is the White House open to the idea? Do they welcome input from the other leaders or do they see it as disrupting the flow of keeping it between --

MR. BOUCHER: I think we recognize the importance of other people in the region. We recognize that it is important to some of these leaders to talk to other people in the region as they go forward. And so we recognize that as what you might say a normal and perhaps useful part of the process.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how the respective religious Sabbaths are affecting the talks, Moslem Sabbath and Jewish Sabbath?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think we just did that the other day. There are facilities in Camp David and opportunities for people to carry out their religious devotions, their religious obligations during Shabbat. Last week, we had a Shabbat dinner. There were informal discussions during the day on Saturday. I would expect a similar pattern to be maintained, and that people's religious obligations will be taken into account in any activities.

QUESTION: I was just wondering, as the summit spokesman, could you tell us if Mr. Barak or Arafat have made calls to leaders as well?

MR. BOUCHER: I know they've had calls or made calls to leaders in the region, yes.

QUESTION: Both of them have?


Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 11:27 a.m.)

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