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White House Press Secretary Holds News Briefing From Camp David

Aired July 12, 2000 - 5:56 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're interrupting INSIDE POLITICS to take you to just outside Camp David, Maryland, a briefing on the summit there by White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And as I was leaving he was beginning a bilateral discussion with Chairman Arafat. They were planning to do this while taking a walk around the Camp David grounds.

As far as the rest of the evening, I think all sides agree that the dinner last night was useful to bring the delegations together and all dined together, so I expect them to do the same again this evening.

I think from the pictures we've released, you will deduce that the secretary of state and Ambassador Ross met with the delegations this afternoon. Other than that, there have been a series of both informal and formal sessions among different people that I'm not going to get into the details of, but suffice it to say that it's been a busy day between all of the parties and that there's been real engagement today dealing with the substantive issues that define what the parties need to agree on in order to reach an overall agreement.

As far as the president's plans this evening, I talked to him just as I was walking out. He indicated that he wanted to wait until a little later tonight to see how the evening went before he made a decision about returning tonight or going tomorrow -- going early tomorrow morning. So we'll let you know when you know.

QUESTION: Joe, you said today earlier that on the (inaudible) decision, that Israel had taken into consideration U.S. security concerns in its decision.

I'm just curious. Is the White House satisfied that the sale has been suspended indefinitely, or had you hoped that it would be canceled altogether?

LOCKHART: I think we're satisfied with the clear statement that Israel takes into account our security concerns, both for U.S. security and the security in the region. And as I said earlier today, I don't expect those security concerns to change.

QUESTION; Is there any disappointment though that it wasn't canceled altogether?

LOCKHART: I think the White House, as I said earlier today, is quite pleased with the decision.

QUESTION: Is there any parallel talks going on in Emmitsburg?

LOCKHART: No. There are no discussions going on. There may be talks at some point during the week on non-core issues in Emmitsburg. We'll let you know if those begin.

QUESTION: Did you hear about any plans for (inaudible) President -- Chairman Arafat's meeting with other Palestinians from the (inaudible)? Did he ask for permission?

QUESTION: Do you know anything about that now?

LOCKHART: I have checked that because I have heard from a variety of reporters that question. No request has been made. I haven't heard anything nor has anyone on our delegation heard a request.


LOCKHART: For a meeting between Chairman Arafat and some of his leaders who are not here at Camp David.

QUESTION: Is it still the U.S. position, though, that no one other than the negotiators that are there now should be coming and going, with the exception of people like you?

LOCKHART: That is still our position.


QUESTION: ... receive such a request that would require people -- additional people from any side to come in and then leave, you would be opposed to it?

LOCKHART: That's a hypothetical question since there has been no questions except for questions from people like you.

QUESTION: Is there a numerical limit (inaudible)

LOCKHART: I don't know what the limit is. But we agreed in advance on the size of the parties and those people are at Camp David now, and I expect those people to stay there through the talks.

QUESTION: Well, because there's some notion that, for instance, Dan (inaudible) would be joining the Israeli delegation. Is there some -- can he replace someone?

LOCKHART: Any -- from a logistical point of view, anyone who would want to come and join the talks would have to get on the list of people coming and going through the security and no request has been made, and you know, we can speculate. QUESTION: Would you oppose it?

LOCKHART: I am not going to stand here and speculate on things that haven't happened. QUESTION: How would you respond if Mr. Arafat would like to go out and meet with Palestinians outside of Camp David?

LOCKHART: Again, we can run around on something that hasn't happened, and decide the deeper meaning of what-ifs all night long, but I don't find that a useful time or yours.



QUESTION: But when you, you know, are asked about progress and you don't claim progress, do you consider such a statement a matter of substance? In other words, are you free what is progress or not, or does that go on the blackout on substantive discussion?

LOCKHART: I believe that any qualitative statement about how the talks are going goes to the substance. And we have made the judgment, which I'm sure that you will all debate, that that is something we will not engage in.

QUESTION: So when you don't -- when you don't say there is progress, you would prefer it not be read -- when you don't make such a statement, it isn't that there's a lack of progress, is there?


QUESTION: Everybody looks for that key word, and if it doesn't...

LOCKHART: Where is Mr. Boucher? Does he get this in the State Department everyday?

QUESTION: And if it doesn't fall from your lips, I wonder what's to be concluded.

LOCKHART: First of all, let me say that, no, nothing should be read one way and the other, but I'm not sure I have a lot of confidence that nothing will be read one way or the other.


QUESTION: The cabinet minister -- Israeli cabinet minister (inaudible) was quoted as saying that there is a land swap on the table. Would you elaborate?

LOCKHART: Yes, there -- I am certain that there will be a lot of reports over the next few days, without respect to that one, some of them may turn out to be true. Many of them will turn out to be false. But that goes to the substance of the discussions that are going on, and I won't have any comment on that.

QUESTION: Can I also ask -- I just want to clarify. You're saying that there has been engagement today on the serious issues that define where we are. Do you mean that -- we've been talking about, sort of, definitional terms of the outlines of our positions and haven't yet gotten to negotiating actual back and forth and do you agree to this or do I agree to that, or do you mean...

LOCKHART: I think what I meant to say was that the work that we expected to get done up here, the actual negotiating to try to reach a peace agreement, has certainly begun. It's been a very busy day on that front.

QUESTION: Joe, this may be the wrong impression, but it seems like the amount of actual time Clinton is spending with these leaders outside of dinner is relatively short given the entire length of the day. So I wonder if you could comment on that. And is this -- is Clinton's role that of, you know, carrying to Barak something that Arafat has said, or is not that sort of thing at all?

LOCKHART: The president's role is trying to serve as an honest broker here and to do whatever he believes is constructive towards reaching an agreement.

As far as the amount of time he's spent with them, if you look at the last two days, I think he's spent a large amount of time with the two leaders. Yesterday he shuttled back and forth quite a bit. In addition to having two sessions where both leaders were there, I expect that by the end of today, while it may not measure up in minute-to-minute, they will certainly have spent a good bit of time together.

QUESTION: You said dinner last night was useful. What led them to believe that that's a useful thing? Is that a progress? What does useful mean?

LOCKHART: You know, it's like if you go to a restaurant and you like it and you think you want to go back again and you go back. It serves some function.

QUESTION: I thought the food was the point.

LOCKHART: No, that was more of a -- what did you call it before -- an existential statement?


QUESTION: That's Albright's phrase. I just borrowed the -- I just said it...

LOCKHART: I think -- I think the atmosphere was -- and as I was getting at this morning, the informal atmosphere, people being able to meet both informal and formal settings, the sides believe is a useful thing. The dinner was something that I believe the delegations wanted to repeat tonight for that reason. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that anything has been accomplished this far?

LOCKHART: I think that the fact that we've spent two days working at the hard issues means something to us, but I'm not going to get into a description of what that means.

QUESTION: Is there any chance that Vice President Gore'd come up and join the talks?


QUESTION: Other than at the meal times, has President Arafat and the prime minister met with each other?

LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of, unless it was, you know, an informal, you know, chance meeting.


QUESTION: Are the discussions concentrated on the whole issues together, or one by one, Jerusalem, the refugees, et cetera?

LOCKHART: I'd say it's a combination.


QUESTION: Assuming reaching a progress and having promises made from both sides, how do you know -- how does the U.S. know that both sides are going to work on their promises back in their own lands?

LOCKHART: Well, I think both sides have come here in good faith. And if they reach a agreement that is in the best interest of both sides, which is the only basis on which an agreement can be reached, it is certainly our view that they will work to implement it.

QUESTION: Joe, but commitments were not enough before. They were not enough to go on with achieving the deal.

LOCKHART: Well, we certainly believe that both sides are here in good faith. And that's the -- that's how we're operating.


QUESTION: Joe, what is the mechanism of tomorrow's discussions in the absence of President Clinton when he goes to Washington?

LOCKHART: Well, the discussions -- the U.S. team will be led by the secretary of state. And I think it's worth noting that there have been a number of discussions that have gone on today that do not involve the president. LOCKHART: I think the president serves a very important role in bringing the leaders together, and to -- when he talks beyond the leaders to the negotiators.

But the team, Mister -- Ambassador Ross, Mr. Berger, Secretary of State Albright, are very involved both with the president in some meetings, but spend most of their days engaged in diplomatic discussions with other members of the Palestinian and Israeli delegation.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that, will Secretary Albright play the same role as the president in terms of being an honest broker, or will her role be markedly different?

LOCKHART: I think you can expect that whether it's the president there or the secretary of state, she -- they will play the same...


QUESTION: ... meetings with the leaders, will she have the same intimate role that the president will?

LOCKHART: I think I don't want to predict -- being unable to predict what's going to happen for the rest of today, I don't want to really try to do tomorrow.

QUESTION: Joe, has the president presented any, sort of, bridging proposal, and said, here's what we think should be done, or is he just trying to facilitate an epiphany of sorts?

LOCKHART: Well, I think any discussion of anything that's going on in the talks would go to substance, so I'll leave that alone.

WOODRUFF: We're listening to a briefing by White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. He is talking to reporters at Thurmont, Maryland, just outside Camp David, where the Middle East negotiations are under way, a summit between president -- the president of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, and the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak.

Just quickly to recap, Joe Lockhart not saying that there has been progress, but saying there have been serious meetings under way, "real engagement," in his words, on substantive issues that the parties will need to reach agreement on.

Let's go now back to Thurmont to CNN's White House correspondent Kelly Wallace -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, you probably sense a little frustration from reporters who are grasping for any little bit of information, any details of what's going on behind closed doors. We are operating here in a virtual news blackout. All sides have agreed on a news blackout, trying to keep all the options being discussed behind closed reporters, and so not for reporters.

But a couple of Developments today that Joe Lockhart did comment on. One, Palestinian sources are telling CNN that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is calling for a meeting of the Palestinian leadership to be held Thursday at the presidential retreat at Camp David. Joe Lockhart was asked about that. He said that there has been no request from the Palestinians for such a meeting to take place. He said that no one in the administration has been informed about such a meeting, but there's restricted access to Camp David, so that they would have to get a request for any additional personnel to go into the retreat: again saying no request so far from the Palestinians for that meeting.

Another development today, Israel announcing that it has decided to hold off on its controversial sale of an advanced airborne warning system to China. Joe Lockhart was commenting that the administration was satisfied with Israel's decision, even though it's not clear if that decision is just a suspension or if Israel has said it will never go forward with such a sale. Israel sources telling CNN that Israel believed that such a deal, which is very controversial in the U.S. Congress, that this deal would basically jeopardize any U.S. assistance for any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

As you mentioned, Joe Lockhart did say there's real engagement on the substantive issues, but he did mention that he's not aware of any meeting today between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. We do know that Mr. Clinton had a separate meeting with Prime Minister Barak earlier, and that Joe Lockhart said as he left the retreat, the president was meeting with Mr. Arafat now.

So clearly, no real signs of definite progress. But again, they are trying to keep all those details close to the vest.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, just quickly, is it possible that Chairman Arafat could be looking to meet with some of his Palestinian colleagues outside Camp David?

WALLACE: Well, that was a question, as you heard, that was asked of Joe Lockhart, and he said he was not going to speculate on the hypothetical. But again, one Palestinian high-ranking official told CNN that if there is no meeting that is allowed to be held at the presidential retreat at Camp David, they will find a way to have this meeting. So a possibility that Chairman Arafat could leave the premises and meet with Palestinian leaders somewhere else in this area -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And one other thing, Kelly: We're told that President Clinton may be departing Camp David either tonight or tomorrow. Does that signal an end or a pause to these meetings?

WALLACE: Joe Lockhart has said all along that there should really -- we shouldn't read anything in to any changes in the president's schedule. As we heard, he did say that the president wanted to see how the meetings were going tonight, how this dinner was going with all the leaders and their negotiating teams, and then make a decision.

We do know that the president does have a couple of things on his schedule for Thursday. He will be giving a speech to the NAACP convention. He also has another event on Capitol Hill. So we did know that he would be leaving: again the White House saying we shouldn't read too much into any decision by the president to leave, because he most likely will definitely return -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Kelly Wallace at Thurmont, Maryland, outside Camp David. Thanks very much.

That's all for this coverage of that meeting with reporters at Thurmont.



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