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White House Press Secretary Holds News Briefing on the Middle East Peace Summit

Aired July 18, 2000 - 5:07 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, Right now, we are keeping a close eye on a briefing room near Camp David, Maryland, where reporters are waiting any moment now for a briefing from White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

As we've been reporting, this summit at Camp David -- among President Clinton, the leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak -- that's a meeting that's been going on since the first part of last week. Now, these leaders, Bernie, are facing a deadline: President Clinton heading off to Asia tomorrow. And he's made it clear that he would like some sort of a resolution of this -- of these talks before that time.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting indications that Jerusalem is the stumbling block in these talks going on. And one of the Palestinian leaders, Faisel Husseini, has told CNN there will be no partial agreement. The Israelis said to be insisting on undivided sovereignty over Jerusalem.

WOODRUFF: The dispute -- clearly a number of areas of potential dispute, but what -- what we are being told is that some of the toughest language to work out and the toughest issue is indeed who rules Jerusalem, who has control over that city that both groups, both the Israelis and the Palestinians, consider to be the center of their political and religious life.

Here's Joe Lockhart.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... that I need to thank for their fine hospitality over the last few days here. So let me go through some people. I wouldn't go any place if I were you. Listen I wanted to -- as this may be the last time I come up here, let me just thank some people here, the mayor of Thurmont, Eileen Washy; the clerk treasurer for Thurmont, Rick May; Chief of Police Neil Bectal; the -- Lieutenant Freshower (ph) from the Police Department; the Frederick County Sheriff's Department; Maryland State Police; the principal of the school, Suzanne O'Toole (ph); the entire staff of the Thurmont Elementary School; the Catoctin cluster maintenance staff; the volunteers here at Thurmont.

And I want to principally thank the very nice teacher out here who made the bold statement that she thought I was better looking than John Roberts.


Let me go through...

QUESTION: Any bagpipes (ph)?

LOCKHART: No, they're not. I always wait until the last minute.

Let me go through a couple logistical points, because I'm sure that's what you are interested in. As I've been saying all along, the president's schedule remains the same. He is scheduled to leave tomorrow morning for Japan. For your purposes, any adjustment to the president's schedule later tonight or into the morning we'll deal with in the following way.

We will all call it through the White House all-call system, which will get to a number of people and a number of news organizations. We'll keep somebody here overnight in the press office, here in Thurmont, and we will keep the pool on overnight, so that if there's anything that we need to get out, any news or information, or any change, we can let them know.

LOCKHART: The press plane will depart now, instead of at 8:00 tonight, at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Those of you who are traveling to Japan with us on the press plane need to be there by 6:30.

And one scheduling note: If for some reason we do, overnight, announce any kind or alteration in the schedule I'll come down here sometime around 7 to give you guys a sense of any news or developments overnight.

QUESTION: Is that p.m.?

LOCKHART: A.m., a.m.

We will do tonight -- we will also do tonight's wrap-up, like we've been doing each night with P.J., probably around 9, 9:30.

QUESTION: So how would you characterize the point that the negotiations are at today?

LOCKHART: Obviously, as I said earlier today, the pace has picked up over the last few days. There are intense discussions and negotiations going on now between the two parties. I think they understand what they're up against as far as the issues and the timing, and we'll just have to wait and see.

QUESTION: Would it be inaccurate to call the talks in crisis right now?

LOCKHART: No, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't use that phrase. I would say there are obviously very difficult issues in front of them, but the parties are continuing to work at it.

QUESTION: Is Jerusalem the main sticking point?

LOCKHART: They are continuing their discussions on the four core issues that we've identified for you before these -- the talks began.

QUESTION: Are they still working on reaching an agreement tomorrow morning?


QUESTION: Are they still working on reaching an agreement by tomorrow morning?

LOCKHART: Well, we're working on reaching an agreement. If we could do it in the next hour, we would; we wouldn't wait until tomorrow morning.

QUESTION: Did the prime minister and Chairman Arafat meet again -- have they met again?

LOCKHART: No, there have been -- as I described a few moments ago, intense discussion between negotiators throughout the afternoon. And the leaders have been meeting internally with their own delegations.

QUESTION: Joe, does the White House consider it in any way helpful...


QUESTION: Does the White House consider it in any way helpful if Chairman Arafat were to be able to consult with other leaders, such as President Mubarak, on some of these issues that remain somewhat intractable in your words?

LOCKHART: Oh, I think if Chairman Arafat wanted to consult with other world leaders, we would -- we would provide him with the facilities to do that. And certainly, if that would help build an atmosphere and a construct for a peace agreement, that would be welcome.

QUESTION: What if a bunch of other people wanted to go there to meet with the other leaders?

LOCKHART: Well, I don't -- there's been no suggestion of any travel, so I don't want to speculate on that.

The president met with his -- his team for, I don't know, it was probably about an hour or an hour and a half, since I talked to you last, and there's been periodic reporting back from some of the discussions from people on our side.

LOCKHART: He stands ready to talk to either leader separately, together with the negotiators, whatever we think is useful and constructive.


QUESTION: You said that the talks has been intensified, but would you say that there has been any progress before the president's departure?

LOCKHART: I think I've managed to avoid trying to characterize on that particular question for eight days now, and I won't start now.


QUESTION: If there is an announcement or ceremony, whatever you want to call it, if it takes place in the morning, will it take place back at the White House or here?

LOCKHART: I'm not sure I know the answer to that question, but we'll certainly give everyone ample time to be able to cover it -- ample notice to cover -- whatever happens, one way or the other.

QUESTION: When you say the president stands ready to talk to the leaders, does that mean have you no planned talk between him and either of the leaders or the two of them together for the rest of the day?

LOCKHART: I'd say right now, discussions are ongoing, and I would anticipate further meetings involving the president and the other leaders, but I can't tell you who, when or at what time.

QUESTION: Did they meet in small groups today?

LOCKHART: They're meeting in a variety of settings at different places in Camp David.


QUESTION: Joe, can you confirm that Ruven Merhav (ph) has joined the Israeli delegation?

LOCKHART: I cannot. I have no information that he's joined the delegation.

QUESTION: Can I sneak in three quick ones? One, how long was the meeting the president had with Arafat this morning?

LOCKHART: I think it was just over an hour.

QUESTION: And second, how much of the president's schedule -- how much of the discussions today have revolved around the president's schedule?

LOCKHART: How much of the discussions? Very little.

QUESTION: And third, how much can these guys get done without meeting face to face, without a face to face with Arafat and Barak in the same room?

LOCKHART: Listen, I think there's many ways to get to an agreement, and I wouldn't try to put a minimum quantitative value on face-to-face discussions or the president with the two leaders together. I think both sides are working in good faith to try to reach an agreement in a short timeframe and they're doing -- they're proceeding now in the way that all sides think is most constructive.

QUESTION: So the fact that they're not meeting doesn't imply a stalemate?

LOCKHART: I wouldn't make a judgment based on that alone.

QUESTION: There were some reports that the president requested a second meeting with Arafat, is that so?

WOODRUFF: White House spokesman Joe Lockhart saying President Clinton is prepared to leave tomorrow morning as scheduled for the industrialized nations' summit in Japan. But as for this Middle East peace summit, Joe Lockhart saying there is really nothing more he can say other than that there are intense negotiations, intense discussions under way. And he said there -- you heard him say -- President Clinton stands ready to meet again with either Prime Minister Barak or President Arafat at any time. But clearly, at this point, no progress that he can report.

We are going to take a break; when we come back: INSIDE POLITICS:




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