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Special Event

White House Spokesman Joe Lockart Holds Press Conference on Camp David Peace Summit

Aired July 19, 2000 - 5:40 p.m. ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We go live now to the -- near Camp David -- White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I think I indicated earlier today, I expected the president to begin a bilateral with Chairman Arafat. That did happen. He then proceeded to have a meeting with Prime Minister Barak, which was followed by a meeting within the team that lasted for some time. He had a discussion on the telephone with Prime Minister Barak. And about 15 minutes ago, he walked over to Chairman Arafat's cabin and began a one-on-one meeting with the chairman.

In addition to the meetings, the president has made a series of phone calls this afternoon to leaders in the Middle East, in the region, to give them some sense of where we are in the process, and that's -- that is as it stands as I speak right now.

Let me say as a general point, the last 24 hours have involved very intensive discussions at the leader level, at the negotiator level, between the teams, discussions within the teams. We have worked very hard to find a path to an agreement. At this point in time we have not reached that. But the priority for the president right now is to continue to work as hard as he can to make sure that every possible avenue toward an agreement is explored.

That is the work that's going on now and will continue until he makes the judgment that there -- that there is no way to get there. And when we reach that point, we'll let you know about our plans on leaving to go to Japan.

QUESTION: Joe, will he offer to cancel the trip to Japan, if he thinks that -- or if either side believed that that would help?

LOCKHART: I think the president has made clear that he has a commitment to go, to participate in the G-8 meetings and that involves leaving, you know, sometime before early morning tomorrow. And I haven't heard any real discussion of trying to postpone that.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... that the differences can be bridged before the clock runs out?

(AUDIO GAP)

QUESTION: ... ready to leave Camp David and in fact have practically left Camp David. Are you saying that's not true?

LOCKHART: Those reports are erroneous.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LOCKHART: I don't want to get into who the leaders are, but I can tell you that he made four or five calls to leaders in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Joe, what's your comment that of Prime Minister Barak, saying that President Clinton, talking about the failure of these talks?

LOCKHART: Well, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... saying that they're not willing to discuss the issues in good faith, that was the second part.

LOCKHART: Well, I am not going to stand here and make any judgments while the negotiations are continuing. So I will not offer any further analysis.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... what about the letter from Barak and his judgments in that meeting?

LOCKHART: He is free to communicate with the president. But I will tell you a much more important piece of information that I think mutes that at this point, which is, they are all still there, they are all still talking.

QUESTION: Joe, during Wye, the president called on King Hussein to come in in a moment precisely like this. Did he ask these Mideast leaders to avail upon these -- Barak and Arafat here in any way?

LOCKHART: I'm not going to really -- I don't want to get into the substance of those discussions, only to say that he gave them some sense of where we are in this process, and discussed the need for support among leaders like them in order to -- in order for the parties to make the tough decisions that face them.

QUESTION: Do you know, Joe, whether there are any conversations between Barak and Arafat and these leaders that Clinton spoke with?

LOCKHART: I am not certain of that.

QUESTION: Joe, it sounds fairly pessimistic when you say trying to explore every possible avenue before giving up on the talks. Would you describe it right now as an atmosphere of pessimism within Camp David or an -- optimism? How would you describe it? LOCKHART: Well, I think the best way to describe it is very difficult. And I think they understand the time pressures that face them, they understand how difficult these issues are. They've been going at this now nonstop for nine days in this session, much longer in other sessions. So I think we've obviously reached a pivotal moment in these talks, and I can't predict how they'll come out. And I don't know that people are sitting around, you know, spending too much time worrying about whether they're optimistic or pessimistic.

WOODRUFF: White House spokesman Joe Lockhart describing the state of the Camp David peace summit. As of this moment, 5:45 Eastern Time, in esence, saying the meetings are going on, refusing to characterize whether anyone is optimistic or pessimistic, as you heard him say just there at the end.

Joining us now from the White House, our senior corrspondent there, John King.

John, this comes on the heels of what was reported to be a letter from Prime Minister Barak. President Clinton blaming the Palestinians for much of this impasse right?

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is correct, Judy. Of course Palestinian sources equally arguing that it is the Israelis to blame. white House officials saying those back and forth, the letters from Mr. Barak, comments from Palestinian officials. They view that as both leaders positioning themselves should these talks fail, for when they go home and have to explain how things went at Camp David to their domestic political audiences.

As you just heard Mr. Lockhart say, he said the most important thing in his view and in the president's view is that all of the leaders are still there, both delegations still talking.

One noteworhty thing for the first time in this 10-day summit the president reached outside of Camp David. We're told he worked the phones today, calling other Arab leaders, the Egypitan president, Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, another call we're told the president made today. Mr. Lockhart not confirming who the president spoke to or why he called them, but other senior U.S. officials telling CNN the president hoping that they would prevail upon the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and convince him of the president's argument, that this is the best chance for Mr. Arafat to make peace.

U.S. officials saying that they're looking for key concessions from both sides, but especially the Palestinins, according to at least one U.S. official, in the final hours of these talks. Mr. Lockhart saying of course the deadline was extended from yesterday, another full day of negotiations, but the president's plans are to leave for Japan sometime tomorrow -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King at White House. And of course as soon as there is any development, CNN will bring it to you.

We'll be right back with "INSIDE POLITICS."

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