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White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart Holds News Briefing on Mideast Peace Talks at Camp David

Aired July 12, 2000 - 11:44 a.m. ET


KAGAN: And we take you live now to Camp David, where White House spokesman Joe Lockhart is giving us an update on the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.


JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: After that, the president, the two leaders and their delegations, roughly somewhere around 40 people, had dinner together in the Laurel Cabin. The president, Prime Minister Barak, Chairman Arafat sat at one table with about 15 or so of their aides. Secretary of State Albright hosted another table. National Security Advisor Berger hosted the third table, filling out the room.

They dined on tenderloin of beef with sun dried tomatoes, filet of salmon with Thai curry sauce, roasted baby Yukon potatoes, steamed green beans with almonds, a mixed garden salad, fresh fruit and assorted desserts.

After that meeting -- excuse me, after the dinner the president had a brief bilateral session with Chairman Arafat in his office at Laurel, and they retired for the evening. The president, for his part, went back and watched the end of the all-star game with his daughter Chelsea.

This morning the president got up and was out by about, I think, 8:45, 9:00, for a walk with his dog Buddy and stopped by the Laurel Cabin and then started his day in earnest just before 10:00 with a meeting with his team. As I left, he was beginning a bilateral with Prime Minister Barak.

What I expect for the rest of the day is a series of meetings between the parties in a number of different formats and at a number of different levels.

I expect the president will possibly meet later today with the negotiators from each side. I expect that members of our team will meet with the negotiators. I also expect the negotiators to meet with each other. I have no firm sense right now of exactly how that will all transpire. And when we come back later today, I'll give you as much as I can no that.

Let me just point out one thing that struck me as I walked around this morning. There's a certain informality on the Camp David site that I think is adding some value to these discussions. There's meetings going on both formal and informal all over the place. At breakfast, the delegations are sitting together in small groups and having discussions. You see people walking around, you see members of the delegations driving around together in golf carts, which is the mode of transportation out there. So there's a certain informality out there that's adding to the contact.

Now having said that, and to not try to underplay the seriousness and the problems that they face here, as an overall statement about the discussions that they are having, as we've said all along, as the president has said, these are very difficult issues -- can someone turn that down back there, it's kind of annoying to hear myself five seconds later. Thank you.

These are very serious issues, so I don't want to create the impression -- although it is what I still believe is a good atmosphere there -- we have known all along that this was going to be a struggle and it is. The discussions are serious, but the positions that both parties bring here represent what they see as vital interests to their people, and have been difficult issues that we've worked on now for many, many years.

So to the extent that we went into this knowing it would be a struggle, we have not been disappointed by that. This is a very difficult process in a short timeframe with very difficult issues, and they are working in a very serious way, but we certainly know that this effort, from the beginning, will be a struggle.


QUESTION: There were some reports that Chairman Arafat is convening a meeting tomorrow of his senior leadership. Would the United States be amenable to such a meeting on the Camp David summit site? Is that all part of the game plan?

LOCKHART: I have not seen that report. As I understand the situation, the delegations are remaining on Camp David and only those -- there are only some members, you know, like myself, who come back and forth, who will be leaving Camp David.

QUESTION: Have they entered into the substance of their previous negotiations in Israel, the (inaudible) agreement. Have they gotten into any substance that you could talk about?

LOCKHART: They certainly entered into discussions on the substance. We all know what the core issues are. All of them have been discussed at the highest level. And this is -- let me say that, you know, we have a difficult task ahead, and I think yesterday was a day where they got right to it.

QUESTION: Joe, what is the White House reaction to the Israeli announcement, the confirmation that they have canceled the AWACS sale to China?

LOCKHART: Well, obviously, given our previous statements, we welcome the decision. This has been an important issue to us and a subject of continuing discussion at a variety of levels of the government, including between the president and the prime minister. And we are pleased to see that they have taken our security concerns into account in making this decision.

QUESTION: May I follow up?


QUESTION: But hadn't the -- two questions. One is a existentialist, as the secretary often refers to the issues. Let's do existentialism first.

One of your rationales for promoting and sort of prodding Israel into making concessions or coming to terms with the Palestinians and with the other Arabs is that it will enhance Israel's status in the world, that it will enhance its diplomatic contacts, its business contacts. It will be accepted by the international community. And here you have the cancellation of a $250,000 sale that would do a lot for Israel's economy, its relationship with a country that you're locked in an embraced with -- China.

So, let me put the two questions together. Did it turn out you didn't believe Israel when it said that you would -- it would do nothing that would hurt American security concerns? And doesn't this run counter to your objective of opening the window on the world for Israel?

LOCKHART: I don't believe so on either a philosophical or a practical sense. Israel has made a decision here. They took into account our security concerns. We appreciate that and welcome their decision. As far as what the government of Israel, what Chairman Arafat gets out of this, we believe -- and it's the reason we're here -- that it's in the best interest for both parties and for the region as a whole to engineer a peace.


QUESTION: Did the United States promise Israel to compensate over the cancellation of the deal?

LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any such promise.

QUESTION: Do you see -- do you guys see this as having any effect at all on the summit? Was it completely unrelated?

LOCKHART: I view the issues that face the summit as complicated enough and difficult enough to not have to bring other issues into it.

QUESTION: Joe, why did the prime minister tell the president...

LOCKHART: I know that they've been talking about this for a few days. I know this was part of their discussion yesterday, so I have to assume that this was done yesterday.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Joe, you know that Barak talked to Senator Lott yesterday. How important was canceling this deal to ultimately getting congressional approval for any, you know, aid package?

LOCKHART: I mean, that's a question you'd have to ask Congress.

QUESTION: Knowing that the president will be leaving for Japan, I think at the end of the week, do you think that the next few days until he leaves for that trip, do you think it will be enough to come up with some positive progress from this conference?

LOCKHART: Well, I don't think we'd be here if we didn't think we could achieve a positive outcome. There's a lot of work to be done, but I think all sides have come here in a serious mode in order to try to get that work done.

QUESTION: Joe, is there any extracurricular outings that are planned while the summit's going on? When you were in Shepherdstown, I recall that the president -- somebody took the principals to some...

LOCKHART: I would expect -- there's nothing planned at this point, and I actually would not anticipate there being too much of that. I think...

QUESTION: What was the question?

LOCKHART: Whether there'd be any outside trips, outside of Camp David. I think, given the fact that we have an enormous task in front of us and that time is not unlimited, that they'll stay concentrated on the issues at hand.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) substantial issue of the talks between Clinton and Barak during the first day of the talks?

LOCKHART: That would be an incorrect assumption if you assume that. The main focus, both in effort and time, were the issues, the core issues, that are in front of us in order to reach a final agreement.

QUESTION: Could I follow on that, Joe?


QUESTION: Had Israel made the decision when Mr. Barak talked to the president last night or did their conversation help produce the decision? In other words, did the president encourage him further or was it a decision already taken?

LOCKHART: That answer -- that -- I do not know the precise answer to that question. I think it would be best put to their people.

QUESTION: We understand 70 days, but is there a sense in the camp that progress is being made to (inaudible)?

LOCKHART: I think, as I indicated yesterday, I'm not going to try to get into a -- go down the slippery slope of progress or no progress. I think at the beginning here I tried to indicate how difficult this is, and I think I'll leave it there.

QUESTION: Joe, we've been told that the president is going to be leaving tonight after the last meeting about 6:00, and he's got the NAACP speech tomorrow and then we've got the sabbath. That doesn't leave a lot of time for him to be here. And one of the things that people have said about the 1978 Camp David Accords was that Carter's ever-presence was very helpful in getting that agreement.

LOCKHART: Well, listen, let me make a couple of points here: A is I would warn against trying to make -- draw to many comparisons to 1978. This is not 1978. Secondly, I'd warn against what you've been told by people who are not at Camp David because that information you just -- you were told is inaccurate.

QUESTION: He is not leaving tonight?

LOCKHART: We don't know whether he's leaving tonight. He's certainly not going anyplace at 6:00 tonight. He would either leave very late this evening or very early in the morning. We have sufficient time to get this done. The issues are well-known to the parties. They've been working at this for seven-and-a-half years now. The question is, you know, will there be a -- can we create something that will allow the leaders to take the courageous steps to peace.

KAGAN: We have been listening to White House spokesman Joe Lockhart as he gives a brief update as to what has been happening at Camp David as the Israeli and Palestinians get together, trying to work on some very tough issues. Not an incredible newsworthy news conference there. He did say that there is a casual atmosphere at Camp David, which is helping these tense talks. He described the dinner menu of what the officials ate last night. It sounded quite tasty. But also said there are some very serious issues that remain on the table, and have yet to be tackled.



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