THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DAVID JOHNSON
2:24 P.M. EDT
MR. JOHNSON: This outing will be mercifully short. The President -- Q I'm sorry. Q Please continue. MR. JOHNSON: The attack of the killer dictaphone. Q Mercifully short. MR. JOHNSON: Mercifully short. The President has had eight telephone calls of
significance that I want to tell you about since he made his statement on the lawn this morning. Shortly after he made his statement in the Rose Garden, he made four phone calls to the House and Senate leadership. He spoke to Senators Lott and Daschle, and to Congressman Gephardt and the Speaker.
The purpose of all four calls was to tell them personally of his effort that he announced this morning to bring Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu together here in Washington this week. They were all very supportive of the effort that the President had undertaken and thought that that was a very appropriate way for the United States to be helpful in trying to end the violence in the region and to get the parties back to the negotiating table as rapidly as possible.
He also -- just a moment. The only other subject covered in those calls was his thanking them, all four of them, for the end of session work that they had done. He told all four of them that he thought the Congress had done a terrific job working together and made a lot of headway toward the end and the progress that they made was something that they all should feel very good about.
The Speaker made a few observations concerning the peace process, and the President asked me to say that he appreciated those. As in other aspects of this, we're not going to get into what those observations were, but just suffice it to say that the President appreciated the intense attention that the Speaker had shown.
This afternoon, beginning a little after 1:00, the President made a series of four phone calls to Chairman Arafat, to President Mubarak, to King Hussein, and to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Each of the calls was about 10 minutes in duration, more or less. They were a discussion of the effort that the United States has undertaken to invite all of them to come to the White House this week and to try to work toward getting the negotiations restarted in a productive way. And the President told them that he looked forward to seeing all of them.
The question of whether President Mubarak will be able to attend or not is still unresolved. As many of you know, there is an October holiday in Egypt that may make it difficult for him to attend. So that's something that's still under discussion.
Q What holiday? It's not Ramadan, is it?
MR. JOHNSON: I'm not sure.
Q The Egyptian foreign minister was on CBS and he explicitly said that the issue was not so much the holiday rescheduling but rather that Mubarak wanted explicit assurances from the Israelis that they would respect previous agreements with Palestinians. Is your understanding that the problem is scheduling? Or are there also substantive problems in his attending?
MR. JOHNSON: I'll leave it to the Egyptians to speak for themselves on what they feel the difficulties are. We continue to hope that we can have President Mubarak present. We believe that he is a very strong proponent of peace and would be a very helpful addition to the talks that will take place here.
Q We had a Palestinian official in Gaza telling us less than 40 minutes ago that in Arafat's conversation with the President Arafat had said that his coming was conditional on Mubarak's coming.
Q He said he hasn't accepted officially yet? And he had told the President that in the phone call?
MR. JOHNSON: It's our every expectation that Chairman Arafat will be here.
Q But can you talk about that conversation, because that's quite important for us to know. Did Arafat say that he was not formally accepting?
MR. JOHNSON: I'll stay with what -- we fully expect Chairman Arafat to be here.
Q So you're not denying that he has said --
MR. JOHNSON: I'm not getting into a discussion of what was exchanged during the phone call, because I'm not going to get into a discussion of that phone call and the other three -- the substance of them. But I'm telling you that it's our every expectation that Chairman Arafat will be here.
I don't know how many --
Q Are you basing those expectations on what he said to the President?
MR. JOHNSON: Yes.
Q I'm sorry. Did he not formally accept the invitation?
MR. JOHNSON: It's our every expectation that Chairman Arafat will be here. We expect Chairman Arafat, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and King Hussein, and we're hopeful that any problems can be resolved so that President Mubarak can be here as well.
Q Did Netanyahu formally accept the invitation?
MR. JOHNSON: This notion of formal acceptance, formal --
Q Did he accept?
MR. JOHNSON: We're expecting him to be here. There is no -- we don't have any questions about him --
Q Did he say he'd come?
MR. JOHNSON: We have no questions about him coming.
Q And no questions about Arafat coming either?
MR. JOHNSON: I thought that was what the question was about. I'm sorry, I missed --
Q I was trying to see if there was any difference between what Netanyahu said. We're not trying to play games.
MR. JOHNSON: It's getting pretty close. We expect all three of them to be here. We're hoping we can resolve the question of President Mubarak. I don't know how I can be any more explicit, but I'm not going to get into any back and forth during the phone calls.
Q It's a one-day thing? A two-day thing? What's the current plan?
MR. JOHNSON: The current plans are under discussion and development, and so I don't want to -- it's probably going to be a couple of days, but I think that we're not there yet in terms of exactly what the beginning and end points are going to be.
Q That would begin on Tuesday?
MR. JOHNSON: We hope it will begin very soon. Tuesday is probably not a bad bet, but we don't have anything to announce on the exact beginning point.
Q David, do you have anything beyond what Mike said in terms of the way this is going to play out?
MR. JOHNSON: No. I'll leave you with his conversation on how we got here.
Q David, were Mubarak and Hussein invited afterwards -- got the question -- did Netanyahu or Arafat want the other two to play? I mean, they were invited after the first two were?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, I think you would agree that the essential participants in this are Netanyahu and Arafat. And we very much wanted President Mubarak and King Hussein to be here. And those invitations, as Mike told you earlier today, were extended by the Secretary very early this morning.
Q So it wasn't at their -- it wasn't at Arafat's request?
MR. JOHNSON: I believe that we wanted them to be here.
Q Do you think there is any chance that you would be able to tell us a little bit more on background because it's going to leave us in the position of having to report that Arafat might not be coming based on the Palestinians and not --
MR. JOHNSON: I think -- Claire, I don't know how I can be more explicit than I have been. We expect him to be here. I mean, if I invited you to dinner, I would say I expected you to be there if you had said you were coming. We expect him to be here.
Q He did say he was coming?
Q We have to say --
Q We've got Claire telling us that her coming is contingent on his being there, that she's not sure. (Laughter.)
Q I've got a scheduling conflict.
Q I might have other plans. (Laughter.)
Q But I guess what we're looking for is that it's not -- that this report from the Palestinians is not true, then. Are you saying that he is not making it contingent upon Mubarak's presence?
MR. JOHNSON: We're expecting Mr. Arafat to be here. I don't know how clear I can be about that. When this meeting takes place --
Q Is he going to Cairo?
MR. JOHNSON: Yes, he's going to Cairo tomorrow morning, I believe.
Q And then Cairo to here?
MR. JOHNSON: I would presume so, yes. I don't know if he has different routing plans or not.
Q But you expect him here tomorrow night along with the others?
MR. JOHNSON: We do.
Q And did he say he is going to Cairo to try to convince Mubarak to come?
MR. JOHNSON: He is going to Cairo to meet with Mr. Mubarak.
Q What is the actual day that is the problem, the holiday?
MR. JOHNSON: I'm sorry. I don't know what the name of it is.
Q Are you expecting an answer, do you think, tonight from Mubarak? Or do you think that would likely come tomorrow?
MR. JOHNSON: I would not -- I would expect it more tomorrow than tonight.
Q Are U.S. negotiators still working with Arab leaders and Israeli leaders to --
MR. JOHNSON: I think the conversations that we've had will continue until the conversations actually begin here and will continue on during that period as well. This is a process that we've worked very intensively all the time.
Q And you seem to be kind of indicating that Tuesday is a little slidy? It's not as --
MR. JOHNSON: No, I'm just saying that we're not ready to make a formal announcement.
Q But there is no reason to go back or to question what Mike said earlier about --
MR. JOHNSON: There is not, no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to open a door there. I just don't have any change to make in what he said.
Q Is this technically a summit? Isn't a summit technically a meeting of heads of state?
MR. JOHNSON: Sure. If you wish to call it that, it's fine with me.
Q Are the meetings likely to be here, in this building?
MR. JOHNSON: I think we're still working out exactly where the -- I would anticipate some of them being here and some of them being at other locations, probably the State Department as well.
Q And Clinton still plans to attend at least some of the meetings, right?
MR. JOHNSON: The President will be a participant in this get-together.
I have one more announcement for you. There is a full lid.
Q Saving the best for last.
END 2:35 P.M. EDT