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White House Press Secretary Holds News Conference on Middle East Peace Talks

Aired July 11, 2000 - 4:24 p.m. ET


JAN HOPKINS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Atlanta and Kyra Phillips. We have a news conference from Camp David -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Jan. Actually, we're going to go to an area close to Camp David where Joe Lockhart, press house white secretary (sic), is going to give us an update on the Middle East peace summit.

We're going to listen in.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Welcome to our first session here in Thurmont. Let me just walk you through some of the logistics of what's already happened and then I'll give you what little I know about what's going to happen the rest of the day and I'll take your questions.

I think as most of you know, Chairman Arafat arrived about 1 a.m. to Camp David. He was greeted by the secretary of state. Mr. Barak arrived about 6, again was greeted by the secretary of state.

The president came in about 11:25, 11:30; had about I'd say a 20, 25 minute meeting with his -- with his team to get ready for today's events. And then at about noon, the president and Chairman Arafat began their first bilateral of these discussions. The bilateral took place on the back porch of the president's cabin up here at Camp David and it lasted a little bit more than a half an hour.

After about a 10- or 15-minute session again with the president's team, Prime Minister Barak came to the same location. They sat in the same place on the back balcony porch area of the president's cabin. That meeting lasted somewhere between let's say 45 and 50 minutes.

Again, after another break, the president went out to the front area of the Aspen Cottage, his cottage; was joined there by Chairman Arafat. About 30 seconds later Prime Minister Barak came from his cabin.

They stood, talked for a few moments, and then started the walk over to the Laurel Cottage, where I think the pool saw and I'm sure the pictures have been transmitted around the world at this point.

On the way over, the president gave them a short history of Camp David, including its naming and how it started, talked a little bit about the great weather up here, and how it's anywhere between eight and 10 degrees cooler than in Washington, D.C., and extolled the great virtues of the sports facility, including the bowling ally.

The delegations went into the Laurel cabin. After a brief tour that the president gave to Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak, the plenary session opened at about 2:30. It lasted about 30 minutes.

Let me stop there and give you a little bit on that session. I think, as the pictures we release will indicate, they sat at a long rectangular table with 21 delegates sitting at the table, another 13 in chairs behind. That was the president plus eight, Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak plus five.

As far as where we are now, the meeting began -- the meetings began today in a good atmosphere.

The discussions have been serious. I think both sides, in their discussions with the president and in the plenary session, indicated they fully understand the difficulties that face them over the next days, but also the opportunity that's before them.

They all, in their discussions and in their statements in the session, indicated the importance of getting to work and getting to work quickly, because there are very difficult issues at hand.

The plenary session also discussed and reached an agreement that, from the beginning of the session, the two sides and the United States side would impose a news blackout on the substance of the discussions from this point forward.

I think both sides agreed that any substantive announcements would be made by a representative of the United States government, and the United States government would, unless explicitly agreed by all sides, keep the discussions and substance of the discussions in the Camp David meeting areas, and not air them out in the public.

I think both sides agreed this was in the best interest of reaching an agreement and in the best interest of avoiding spending and wasting a lot of time discussing various newspaper accounts each day of what's going on in the session.

We will make available to you, I think shortly after this briefing, the delegation list. We'll also be making copies of a Camp David history, which gives you some background on Camp David. The one piece that I will point out is that the president obviously staying at his cottage, the Prime Minister is staying in the Dogwood Cottage, and Chairman Arafat is staying in Birch -- the Birch Cottage. And my understanding is that is a reverse of 1978 when Sadat stayed in Dogwood and Begin stayed in Birch.





LOCKHART: Everything is (inaudible)

QUESTION: Joe, you began by saying -- you in the course of your description of what happened today, you talked about they understood this, they understood this, they understood -- you listed about three or four things. You didn't make any mention as to whether they indicated they understood his appeal for compromise.

Did they indicate that they understood that as well?

LOCKHART: Well, I think the president has made that quite clear. The president has made that quite clear in his public and his private statements and they're both here, so it's certainly our view that both sides will need to compromise to reach an agreement.

QUESTION: No, I know your view. That's not the question. The president especially today in a lengthy statement, and in several ways and with considerable eloquence, talked about the need for the two sides to compromise.

And you said they understood how important the issues are, they understood this, they understood the weather is good, they understood everything.

Did they express any response? Did they say, "We understand we should and we'll try to compromise our differences"?

LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into making judgments of what they think or believe or get into any more detail that I did in what they said in the discussions.

QUESTION: Any progress at all to report this early?

LOCKHART: Let me use that as a way of saying that I have no intention, over the next few days, to provide progress reports. The issues -- the delegations know each other well. They know the issues well.

I think it's very clear the difficulty of these issues as they move forward, and I think the best thing to do is to allow the parties to try to work through these differences, narrow those differences, and not provide an update, you know, each and overtime I come up here on where they are.


QUESTION: You first know -- you first, going in the doorway. Are these guys just bending over backward to help each other or are they can't quite cross the threshold?

LOCKHART: You know, I think that they obviously greeted each other a few moments before in a very friendly way.

They had a very pleasant discussion as they walked through the woods down to the cabin, and those who have watched Chairman Arafat in particular will note that he always tries to allow his -- those that he's -- with him to enter a building before him and that's what happened.

QUESTION: Was the conversation in English, this pleasant conversation?


QUESTION: On that point, on the entrance issue, how long did this little Laurel and Hardy routine go on? Did it end pretty quickly? Did they get down to the serious meat of it, or was there more, kind of, joking...

LOCKHART: At the front door?


LOCKHART: What happened, I think, the cinema allusion there lasted probably five to 10 seconds.


QUESTION: What extent did they discuss the public reaction to the calling of the summit in general, particularly the no-confidence vote in Israel, plus the situation back home for Barak?

LOCKHART: The plenary session was mostly an opportunity for the president to lay out what he -- what was at stake, and how we would move forward. As far as the discussions in the bilateral, I'm not aware to what extent that was discussed.

QUESTION: Joe, has Israel indicated to the U.S. that it intends to suspend the Phalcon deal?

LOCKHART: I know that that has been an issue that's been of concern to the United States government. It's been raised at a number of levels, including between the president and the prime minister. They have discussed it often, but I'm not aware that the government of Israel has made a final decision.

QUESTION: What is the significant of reversing where each president is staying, in each room, from Camp David in 1978, because you pointed this one out and there must be some reason for doing it?

LOCKHART: I think they're both good cabins and they wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to appreciate all of the fine elements of each cabin.


QUESTION: ... bilateral with Barak and Arafat?

LOCKHART: I can't tell you looking into the future what the -- how this will unfold. As far as the rest of this evening, my understanding is that about at 5 this evening the president will have another bilateral with Prime Minister Barak, which will be followed by a bilateral with Chairman Arafat.

From that point on, I'm not sure. And I think I've given you a fairly lengthy rundown with times of events. I don't expect that that service will be continued, because I think how they meet, when they meet, who they meet with gets very much to the substance and that's something that we won't be talking about.

QUESTION: Will they be visiting anywhere locally?

LOCKHART: If they decide that they want to go out and visit any of the local areas, we'll let you know.


QUESTION: Have the two sides been asked to turn off their cell phones?

LOCKHART: I don't know that anyone's been asked to turn off their cell phone. I can tell you from my own experience they don't work in the areas where we are working.


So it's kind of a moot point.


QUESTION: ... negotiator. You know, you had said before the summit, that the talks will take very categorically (ph).

LOCKHART: Yes, there may be some discussion on non-core issues. I'll let you know when and if that gets put together.

QUESTION: Joe, is there any way that the president will consider not going on July 19 to Okinawa, Japan?

LOCKHART: I think even in a news blackout, hypotheticals are best left alone.

QUESTION: Excuse me, did some of the politicians recognize the protests of Jewish settlers here before the press? And did they comment on it?

LOCKHART: I'm not sure that they were aware of those. I only became aware of them when I drove in the parking lot.


QUESTION: Is the president staying tonight? Is he planning to stay tonight?

LOCKHART: You know, the president will stay. Wow -- that's good, I like that.

The president has indicated -- has indicated to the parties that he will stay and devote as much as time as is constructive to this process. He will be staying tonight.

The only events that I know of that are fixed in his calendar that he needs to attend are on Thursday. He's got a longstanding speech at the NAACP in Baltimore and then a Congressional Medal of Honor, I believe, event in the Capitol.

But other than that, I expect that we'll be spending...

PHILLIPS: You've been watching a press conference held by White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, giving an update just outside of Camp David there on the first day of the Mideast peace summit. The president has met separately with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. However, they have not all met together. They just took a tour together of Camp David, the president giving them a little bit of history.

Lockhart announced a news blackout, that anything substantial that is talked about in the next couple of days, the U.S. government will come out and make an announcement. Other than that, there will not be any other news coverage or press conferences.

You can stay with CNN with continuing coverage of the Mideast peace conference that will be going on all throughout the evening. Now you can join Jim Moret and "SHOWBIZ TODAY."



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