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

Aired July 17, 2000 - 11:43 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Lockhart, press secretary, now speaking reporters near Camp David, where those Middle East peace talks now in their seventh day. Checking the audio through my ear right now. I believe we have it, do we?

That's not what we want to hear. Joe Lockhart at the podium there. We will try and get those audio difficulties worked out there and let you know exactly what is happening there at Camp David.

Try it one more time. There we go.


JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I think they're probably back at it now as we speak. The president this morning met with his team beginning at about 10:15, and as I was leaving, he was preparing to go over for a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Barak.

On other issues: In Emmitsburg, the teams there met late into the night. A variety of different formats, as we discussed yesterday.

They started again early this morning just after breakfast. Those meetings have been described to me as serious and intensive.


QUESTION: Joe, we have an alumnus of the '78 Camp David, especially for the second week, Jim Anderson. He has a question.

LOCKHART: Does that indicate to me that, Barry, you're not an alumnus?


LOCKHART: So we have alumni.

QUESTION: Second alumnus.


QUESTION: Is it second alumnus or second alumni?

QUESTION: Second alumnus.

LOCKHART: OK. How would we get to...


LOCKHART: How would we get to alumni?

QUESTION: I want to know if he's going to ask a question, I was just going...


QUESTION: He can't think of any. It's been years.


QUESTION: How's Carter doing?


Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the president also going to meet Arafat today?

LOCKHART: I expect throughout the day the president will have a variety of meetings in a variety of different formats. I'll have more for you at our second session today. Yes?

QUESTION: Are all the -- at Emmitsburg, are all of the committees or the subgroups meeting against this morning?


QUESTION: And they began -- you don't know what time they began?

LOCKHART: I was told it was just after breakfast, so I think within the last couple of hours.

QUESTION: So, Joe, what do you think the reports that the technical committees actually had to break down last night and send the issues back to their leaders because they reached some impasses?

LOCKHART: That would go to the substance of the negotiations, so I won't have any comment on that.

QUESTION: I thought that the Emmitsburg talks were not covered...

LOCKHART: On -- I'm sorry, I thought you meant on...

QUESTION: No, these would be Emmitsburg, on the three technical committees that's being reported to...

LOCKHART: No, that has -- I have not heard that. And I would have no hesitation to tell you if that was the case, because these are outside, on the non-core issues, but that has not been reported to me. QUESTION: Joe, are you displeased that President Clinton broke his own ground rules and discussed Camp David?

LOCKHART: No, I think that this was an extraordinary circumstance. You know, we live in a world where the National Enquirer mentality has hijacked journalism. And that has become an issue in New York. And these are scurrilous and untrue charges and the president wanted to set that straight.

QUESTION: Joe, what can you tell us about the two most recent photographs that were released? It shows a very somber Israeli prime minister meeting with President Clinton, I mean, much more so than the other photographs.

LOCKHART: Well, I would not try to read too much into the photographs. As a matter of course, the photographer comes in at the top of the meeting and is quickly shooed out. So I wouldn't read too much.

But I will tell you that, you know, that as the president indicated in his remarks yesterday, this is hard going. I think he indicated that he's never experienced something that's this tough, and both -- both on the issues and the process that they're going through, this is very difficult. So I don't think you would all believe them as authentic if I brought down a bunch of pictures with everybody smiling, giving a thumbs-up.


QUESTION: Joe, on the question related to the New York incident with Mrs. Clinton, can you tell me if the president has given his wife words of encouragement in this flap?

LOCKHART: Well, I think obviously the president probably has more experience than any living human being about how deep in the gutter some people can go. So I think they both understand that when you're out in public life, these sort of things happen. It doesn't make it right. Doesn't make it right that a bunch of people are out there trying to push this, but, you know, I think the important thing that he has stuck to is that the public always get it right, and if you stick to the issues and stick to the issues that they're concerned about, you'll come out OK.

QUESTION: Joe, just and sufficient cause aside, did the president break his own ground rules by describing himself as optimistic and then saying of course how tough it all is to get it done?

LOCKHART: No, I think given the way that we have described these, those were outside the rules as we set down, but I think the circumstances warranted that.

QUESTION: Did Michael Kramer's request for an interview come through Mrs. Clinton's campaign?

LOCKHART: I don't know how the request came through. QUESTION: Joe, the foreign minister said that after speaking to Prime Minister Barak that he was not hopeful that a negotiating team can reach an agreement in the next few days.

Another speaker has asked you about this statement. The day before yesterday, we had Redimiker (ph) after speaking with Barak. Today, we have the Abrahm Grovnes (ph). Is this consistent with the spirit of the blackout, or what do you call it -- the linkage, seepage, what do you call it?

LOCKHART: I think it's consistent with the chatter that has continued outside the talks. I have cautioned you from the beginning to be careful not to read too much into the discussions that will go on beyond the gates of Camp David.

We were just talking before we came out here about the fact that there is now a report that one side is ready to leave at the end of the day. And yesterday, there was a report that that same side was ready to stay two weeks. So I think I'll stay somewhere in the middle.

QUESTION: Joe, what does the -- what was the -- what's the New York political crisis that have to do with the comments on peace talks? You said that the situation was extraordinary...

LOCKHART: I think that if...

QUESTION: Could he not have simply made his comment on setting the record straight...

LOCKHART: Sure. Sure he could have. And I think if you look at -- I think if you look -- but, if you look at the answer, you'll find that the answer didn't give very much away.

Let me go over here. Yes?

QUESTION: Is the president still definitely planning to leave for Japan Wednesday?

And, secondly, does the White House still believe there's an opportunity to get an agreement before he departs for Japan?

LOCKHART: Well, I don't think we'd be here if we didn't think there was some chance of trying to get this done. And as far as the schedule, it hasn't changed.

QUESTION: Might the talks be extended beyond Wednesday? And will Mr. Clinton take Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak with him to the G-8?


LOCKHART: You know, I thought I had thought through all of the possibilities.


Thirteen and a half hours on a plane, I don't think so.

QUESTION: But might the talks be extended beyond...

LOCKHART: All right, I'm not going to get into speculative questions. The president has a schedule to keep concerning the G-8, which is a very important meeting, and that schedule hasn't changed.


QUESTION: ... talk to the president or the first lady to assure both of them that she is not perceived as an anti-Semitic.

LOCKHART: I'm sorry, would you say the beginning again?

QUESTION: Has Prime Minister Barak commented on the charges against president...

LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. Listen, the issues that they are dealing with up there are so central to their own national interests, that I can't imagine either leader being distracted by anything, especially something as unimportant as the sort of new politics of the U.S.

HEMMER: A few moments of levity there as Joe Lockhart continues to take questions from the press corps there gathered at Camp David in the state of Maryland there. Again, Joe Lockhart classifying these very difficult talks much like the president did over the weekend, describing them as "serious" and "intensive" and a "difficult project."

President Clinton, in comments over the weekend with the "New York Daily News," said he was optimistic but gave no indication that a peace deal would be met here or reached here between Palestinian leaders and Israeli leaders meeting there at Camp David. Again, the president scheduled to go to Japan on Wednesday of this week. So far, according to Joe Lockhart, that schedule has not been altered or changed. Those talks continue now today in their seventh day.



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