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Special Event

White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart Holds News Briefing on Middle East Summit at Camp David

Aired July 18, 2000 - 12:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Now a live Camp David summit briefing by White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry I'm a little bit late.

Let me bring you up to date on what's happened since Mr. Crowley briefed you late last night.

The talks continued at a variety of levels very late into the evening last night. The president, for his part, had two separate sessions with Prime Minister Barak, met with the team several times. Mr. Berger and Secretary of State Albright met with Chairman Arafat. The president's night or, more accurately, morning ended at about 5.

This morning the president began with a meeting with his team at about 10, and about 10:30 or so began a bilateral meeting with Chairman Arafat.

On a scheduling note, let me just for the White House people here, let you know that as these discussions are continuing, and I expect them to continue into the evening tonight, rather than send the press plane out this evening at 8, which was a much more convenient and hospitable way to do it, we'll wait until tomorrow morning, just so you guys aren't -- the White House people aren't over the -- in the air, you know, 10 hours from someplace when and if we come out and say something about what's going on.

And I think, for those who cover the State Department, the secretary of state will stay here tonight, through the evening, and will not be traveling to London.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LOCKHART: To London.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when the president wound up with the prime minister? In fact, do you know how long he spent, how much time he spent in those two meetings?

LOCKHART: I don't know cumulatively how much time, but I think the last meeting, the second bilateral, ended somewhere between 4 and 4:30. And the president spent some time with his team after that. QUESTION: Joe, what you're in effect saying is that the schedule has slipped a bit...

LOCKHART: No, I haven't...

QUESTION: He's going to leave later than expected for Tokyo.

LOCKHART: No, I'd say -- in fact, we generally at the White House try to send the press plane out with enough time so people can get in and get checked in and even sometimes get a night's sleep.

I think given the fact that we're going to be here this evening, it makes sense to put them on the same schedule as the president, so I expect them to leave roughly about the same time. We might send them out a little earlier or a little later, depending on how the airport wants to treat the two planes.

QUESTION: Is the president still scheduled to leave tomorrow morning at what is it, 9:15?

LOCKHART: Yes.

QUESTION: Back in '78, President Carter instructed one of his aides to begin drafting a speech that he would deliver. He instructed him to begin drafting at the beginning of the summit the speech that he could deliver in the event that it failed. Did President Clinton give any such instructions to any of his aides at the beginning or any time during the summit?

LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Joe, while we're on contingency, if I could slip in a quick one, are there any contingency -- if that's the word -- arrangements being made for a signing ceremony? It being a possibility, are you preparing the appropriate room at the White House for that contingency?

LOCKHART: I think given the fact that we've been through this a number of times on a number of different issues, that there doesn't need to be much preparing. I'm confident that the team at the White House can on a moment's notice put something together.

SHAW: Joe Lockhart, the White House press secretary, holding a late Camp David summit briefing.

At the White House, our senior correspondent John King and the revelation that the president of the United States was up until 5:00 this morning having met twice with the prime minister of Israel indicates this president is trying to put on a full court press.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure does, Bernie.

All three of these leaders, President Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel, and the Palestinian Yasser Arafat all known for doing most of their most important business after midnight. So no surprise, but also a reflection of the sense of urgency. It is now three nights in a row these talks have gone past midnight. You have Joe Lockhart say until 5:00 a.m. this morning. And you heard him say the president is already back at it today, having met with his Middle East peace team, and now meeting again with Mr. Arafat.

The president planning to take this as long as he can today, and perhaps through the night, we're told by aides. He is scheduled to leave in the morning for an economic summit in Japan. The question is: Can he forge a breakthrough on the major issues, Jewish settlements, the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem to name three. Can he forge a breakthrough on those issues? or at least a framework of a breakthrough? or will he have to step back and go to plan B?

Aides say the president is determined that if there is no big agreement to at least try to consolidate the progress made at this summit into some kind of a statement that all three governments would sign so that they could resume in the near future and not backslide. That the big thing the White House is worried about because these talks for eight days have been held in secrecy, they are worried that is there is no agreement, the Israelis and the Palestinians will begin finger-pointing and posturing once the talks break up, and that any progress made here at Camp David could quickly be lost -- Bernie.

SHAW: And John, if there were an agreement, these leaders still who have to go back to their respective peoples, to have their vote, their voice, their say on it, before they could finally wrap up a successful agreement. Do they not?

KING: That a very critical dynamic. First the prime minister, Ehud Barak, promised to do that. Mr. Arafat later promised to do that as well, promising not only to take the agreement to their governments and their councils and their leaders, but also directly to their people. So even if they forge a breakthrough, and that is still a big if, we are told, they would sign an agreement but they would still have to take it home, and get it ratified by their people.

Obviously, we have seen demonstrations, both from Palestinians and Israelis in recent days, some for peace, some against peace. These leaders, if they can bridge their differences, very, very big if, they still would have to go home with a very tough sales job.

SHAW: So, apparently, this will be a very exhausted President Bill Clinton by the time he boards Air Force One for the G-8 summit in Japan.

KING: The president said he would take every possible minute before he left for Japan to keep these talks, and he appears determined to keep that promise, staying up late into the night, the past three nights, promising another full day today.

The president, we are told, instructed aides yesterday not to discuss in public any so-called "exit strategies" of getting anything out of this summit other than a big agreement. The president was worried, we are told, that once either side heard talk of an exit strategy, the serious negotiating would halt. The president, as well as his security adviser Sandy Berger, relaying word here to aides at the White House and those up at Camp David, that they will try to use every last possible minute to secure a deal. And then if they can't get a big deal, at least try to come out with some statement of principles, again, trying to lock in what they say has been rather significant progress made these past eight days at Camp David -- Bernie.

SHAW: And apparently, the key word, John King, in all this, as you've indicated, is momentum.

KING: Certainly momentum. One of the problems, if they don't get a breakthrough, we are told, is trying to draft a statement that outlines the progress they did make because we hear repeatedly, from both the Israeli and the Palestinians that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.

Say perhaps Yasser Arafat, opening his mind to the possibility that Israel would have to keep some of the settlements in the West Bank, that no Israeli leader could ever sell a peace deal that didn't protect some of those settlements. Well, what would Mr. Arafat want in return? If that is not negotiated yet, he certainly would not want a statement to come out of this summit saying he has agreed to give up some of the settlements.

Just on the flip side, there is talk about slicing a small piece of East Jerusalem out to make that the capital of a Palestinian state. Mr. Arafat desperately needs that to make the case to the Palestinian people that he has come away from this with a secure and lasting peace, and a Palestinian state.

But, again, if Mr. Barak did not get reciprocal compromises, he would not want that yet on paper. So if they can't get all the way there, the big question will be: How much is each side willing to put on paper to confirm what they have discussed in secrecy these past eight days at Camp David.

SHAW: John King at the White House.

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