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

Aired July 19, 2000 - 11:10 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live to Camp David. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, ready to give us an update on what appears to be some very tense negotiations.

Let's listen.


JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president last night had -- and I think this was sometime after about 10:00 -- had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Barak and then a -- which was over at the prime minister's cabin. And then the president hosted Chairman Arafat back at his cabin, the president's cabin.

The president came back, met with the team for a while and finished up, I think it was a little bit after 1 a.m. I know that the -- there were various negotiators who stayed up and continued work. Work continued within, I think, all three of the delegations until very early this morning.

The president started this morning at 9 with a meeting with his team, and a short time ago he began a bilateral meeting with Chairman Arafat.


QUESTION: Joe, before the summit began, the president, Secretary Albright, Sandy Berger, were all saying that what both sides had to understand in this process was that neither of them were going to get 100 percent of all their demands. At this late hour now, do they understand that? Or are still trying to convince them that they have to understand it?

LOCKHART: It's certainly a point that we have made over and over again in public and in private. And I think ultimately only time will tell the full comprehension of both sides on that concept.

QUESTION: So does that mean the answer is no, they don't understand?

LOCKHART: I think the answer to that is, only time will tell and it's an opened question.

QUESTION: As it's turned out so far today, was the president's decision to extend a productive bid? Was it worth it?

LOCKHART: Well, I think that the fact that he's sitting in at a bilateral with Chairman Arafat as we speak indicates that we think it's worth it.

QUESTION: Joe, could you tell us a little bit about how he made the decision? Did he tell Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak in those final bilats last night that he was doing it or did he make the decision afterwards? And did they agree to some specific agenda as prerequisite for extending the deadline?

LOCKHART: The formal communication happened through the negotiators rather than in the leaders' meeting. I can't be certain of that because I didn't query the president about whether he raised it. The final decision to go ahead and put this off and stay another day wasn't made formally until after the two bilaterals were done. And then shortly thereafter, we put out some paper here.

QUESTION: Was there an understanding that there were some sort of an agenda that could be worked on today as a prerequisite for extending the talks?

LOCKHART: Well, I think certainly we wouldn't stay if we didn't think there was some chance of having a productive day. Whether the day turns out to be productive, again, we'll know at the end of the day.

QUESTION: Joe, wasn't...


QUESTION: ... whether there was a set list of things that were going to be...

LOCKHART: I wouldn't point to a set list of things. I think the parties know what they need to do. And we felt that staying an extra day gave us a greater chance to get where we need to go.

QUESTION: Joe, can you confirm that the president has received a letter from the Orthodox and the Armenian community leaders in Jerusalem to take part in any future -- in any talks concerning the future of...

LOCKHART: I'm not aware that a letter has been received. I'll check that.

QUESTION: Joe, we have seen the departure of one member of the Palestinian delegation for his son's wedding. He needs to go back to Jerusalem. But is there further deterioration of the delegations? Are other people departing and the ongoing stories about Barak...

LOCKHART: Well, let me deal with that in two parts. One is, I think we've been providing running commentary on the fact that Abu Mazin's son is getting married tomorrow. I think he delayed returning as long as he could, but he did need to return this morning. The good news in all of this is, because I've made an international event out of his son's wedding, I did receive an invitation.


The bad news is, I'll be in Japan during the time of -- or, on the way to Japan during the time of the wedding.

On all the other reports, you know, it's -- for those of you who have been through this kind of event before, you know there is a lot of stuff that flies around the air that's not worth a whole lot, but fills some column inches and makes some people happy and gives, you know, bumps you up wherever you are in the news report, but, you know, just has no reflection of what's going on. What is going on is these discussions are continuing.

LOCKHART: That's why we're here. And the president will work hard to do the best he can this day and will travel to Japan tomorrow.


QUESTION: Let me just follow up on that then, because there has been some talk that if the leaders return to the region, they're going to be subject to just too much political pressure back home, there'll be too many leaks and it will make it very difficult to resume the negotiations or schedule another round of talks.

Do you feel confident that enough progress has been made that if either leader were to return to the Middle East that you think the progress that has been made thus far could be continued.

LOCKHART: Well, I think without getting -- I'm not -- I'm not going to discuss the substance of the talks, which handicaps my ability to answer that question, but let me take that and a lot of questions off the table right now by saying that the discussions continue. There'll be plenty of time for analysis of those discussions when they're complete. And I'll leave it until then.

QUESTION: Joe, has there been a paper statement released by Barak's office? There have been reports to that effect. Is the White House aware of any genuine document coming out of Barak's office today regarding his leaving or any other subject?

LOCKHART: The White House has not been informed of anyone planning to leave.

QUESTION: That's not...

LOCKHART: Let me finish my answer, if you don't mind.

The White House has not been informed of anyone willing to leave. We have because a number of...


LOCKHART: Planning, planning to leave, sorry. But because there were a number of calls based on some interesting reporting out of the region, we checked with the spokesman for Prime Minister Barak, who assured us there was neither a written nor an oral official statement issued from Jerusalem this morning.


QUESTION: ... just announced that you are leaving this afternoon.

QUESTION: Yes, they told us to pack...


QUESTION: ... leaving tonight at 8:00.

LOCKHART: Let me -- let me -- I've been -- I've been doing this a long time, and I understand -- and I've done it in a variety of roles. And when the president says he's leaving at the end of the day and you're at a meeting with the president and you have to check out of your hotel, it's probably a good piece of advice that you make sure that your bags are packed. But I wouldn't read what has been read into this by many of you.

QUESTION: What do you make out of this, that the president could delay his departure to attend the meeting in Okinawa and Abu Mazin could not delay the wedding of his son?

LOCKHART: I think both people made the right decision.

QUESTION: Do you rule out any possibility of canceling the trip?


QUESTION: Do you rule out any possibility of canceling the trip?

LOCKHART: I think sometime in the late hours of -- or the early hours of tomorrow we will be on a plane to Japan.

QUESTION: Joe, do you know if Chairman Arafat has made any phone calls to President Mubarak, the Saudi leadership or anyone else?

LOCKHART: None that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Joe, has the president entertained the idea that while he will be going to Japan, the parties will continue with Ms. Albright and wait until he gets back?

LOCKHART: I don't know that that issue has been formally discussed. It's been widely speculated in the papers, so anyone who reads the newspaper, knows that people on the outside have raised it as a possibility, but nobody said to me that we've made any kind of request or discussed the ability of that to happen.

QUESTION: Joe, what did the president sense at the bilats last night that lead him to believe that another 24 hours might be able to get him what he didn't think he could get by 9 this morning?

LOCKHART: I think the president made a judgment that the issues here are important enough, and the stakes are high enough, that spending an extra day -- and it was a difficult decision, because he had an important day planned in Tokyo for tomorrow, and he regrets having to cancel that. But he made the judgment that's, you know, he would take the extra day to see what additional work could be done.

QUESTION: But did he get a sense that they were willing to compromise, did he get a sense that there was something that could be -- was he reading any kind of signals from the leaders that led him to believe that he was close enough that delaying by a day may...


LOCKHART: I think it'd be impossible for me to give a full answer to that without getting into the substance of the discussions.

QUESTION: Joe, as you know, the president has scheduled Friday morning to address some commemorative services for Japanese and Americans who were killed in World War II in Okinawa. Can you tell us how important that ceremony is to the president?

LOCKHART: I think it's a very important part of the trip. In addition to the G-8 responsibilities, it's a chance to speak to the people of Okinawa, and the president is very much looking forward to doing that event.

QUESTION: Joe, the Israelis claiming right now that the Geneva scenario is repeating, and that Arafat, he isn't willing to do any compromise at all.

LOCKHART: Well, I think that those who are in the talks aren't talking. Those who are outside the talks may or may not know what they're talking about.

QUESTION: The Japanese made their displeasure at -- on the president's decision not to send Secretary Albright to Japan for the foreign ministers meeting of the G-8. What has been the reaction from the Japanese on his postponing the trip and not going to...

LOCKHART: Well, I'll let the Japanese foreign ministry and the prime minister speak for themselves. But I think those who are involved in international affairs in a way, like the Japanese are, as a leader in the world, understand the responsibilities that international leaders take upon themselves and the difficult decisions that sometimes have to be made.

QUESTION: Joe, when were the Japanese informed of this decision?

LOCKHART: I think a couple of hours before we formally decided what we were doing, they were given a heads up, the foreign ministry, that we were heading in this direction.

QUESTION: Joe, you took a question from me a few days ago, if the United Nations' resolutions such as 242 or 338 or 194 constitute the cornerstone of the foreign policy in the Mideast. Can you answer me now?

LOCKHART: The answer is that what we said is the basis of reaching a peace agreement hasn't changed over the times of these talks.

QUESTION: Joe, most of these reports that, you know, you object to seem to be in one category, suggesting a brinkmanship, even a suggestion of game playing. I think you used good faith to describe the talks a few days ago.


QUESTION: Would you still say that in these last hours the parties are operating in good faith and not -- well, not engaging in a little game playing?

LOCKHART: Oh, listen, if you look at -- if you stack up the news clips as we've gone through this process, I think with each and every day there's probably more reporting on people who are trying to provide some insight analysis of what's going on.

But I think ultimately, the test that I'd put to this thing are, you know, are the talks going on on the basis of the issues in front of them or are they spending a lot of time arguing over what's in the paper in the morning. And these last nine or 10 days have been remarkably free of the latter.

QUESTION: Joe, you don't consider this latest flurry of statements in the region to violate the news blackout?

LOCKHART: Well, I have yet to see somebody who's involved in the talks quoted in any of these stories. So, unless -- I heard that, Barry. I heard that.

KAGAN: We've been listening to White House press secretary Joe Lockhart talk about the latest that's happening at Camp David right now. Mr. Lockhart saying that President Clinton met separately with both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat well into the night last night. Currently, he is having a one- on-one meeting with Yasser Arafat.

The president has put off an important trip for a day to concentrate on these peace talks. The president was supposed to be on his way to Japan for the G-8 summit. Joe Lockhart saying it is still too early to say if that will end up being a productive day and a good call for the president to have delayed that trip.



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