THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART AND JAMIE RUBIN
Chesapeake College Wye Mills, Maryland
9:30 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: (In progress) -- take your questions, but I can tell you in advance I don't think we'll be able to provide much information.
The President arrived, as you know, at about 4:15 p.m., arrived at the Conference Center about twenty past 4:00 p.m. He had a short meeting with some of his advisors before going to the plenary session. You saw the opening of that plenary session.
Before the pool was brought in, the President, when he arrived, walked around the room and shook the hands of each of the members of the delegation, both the Israeli and the Palestinians. When he sat down, Prime Minister Netanyahu walked over to and shook the hands of the American delegation and the Palestinian delegation, and that was reciprocated by Chairman Arafat. So it was about 5:15 p.m. before the President did his formal welcome.
Each of the leaders spoke for about five minutes, basically welcomed -- did a welcome to the meeting and talked about what they hoped to get accomplished over the next few days.
After that meeting broke there was two bilaterals with the President and the two leaders. The reason we're late is those two meetings both ran long, in total. They broke at about 9:00 p.m. -- excuse me -- at about 8:40 p.m. The President sat and had another meeting -- in between each of these meetings the President sat with his advisors for some time. They left at about 9:10 p.m. to go to dinner.
The President and the leaders were going to change. Dinner is casual tonight. I have the dinner menu if anyone is interested.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the dinner menu. The dinner is at the Carmichael Farm. It will just be the three leaders and the host, Mr. Houghton. They will dine on pan-seared yellow tail snapper, with lemon parsley preserve; herb roasted pusan; baby pumpkin and corn pudding; red and yellow beet vinaigrette; early fall baby greens; apples, cherries and mango in a golden crust, with lemon sauce and fresh fig ice cream.
That's all I have. Jamie has got some other stuff and then we'll take your questions.
MR. RUBIN: In order to continue your grumpy mood, let me add a few more points and explain the purpose of being at Wye and why we're here and a little bit how the process will work. Again, we're both constrained under pain of death to keep our discussions to process.
The idea was and is being at Wye to develop a secluded atmosphere away from the pressures of Washington, D.C.; to create an informal setting that would lend itself to informal discussion. Conceptually, each of the delegations were put in separate accommodations. The Israelis are in River House; the Palestinians in Houghton House. The idea is for them to have an interaction between them, because those two locations are very near each other.
Meals are going to be offered at each of the houses, with the expectation of interaction at those meals by the delegations -- and that's demonstrated by the meal with that delicious menu that Joe described to you while the President was here at a third location. Meetings are going to be held at the residences so that negotiations can go on simultaneously. The residences are about a third of a mile apart. Negotiators can walk or take golf carts between the residences.
Joe has described the plenary meeting and what followed. Let me just add that while the President was meeting with one of the leaders, Secretary Albright was meeting with the other leader in a sort of a tag team approach, and then they switched, and consulted in between and afterwards.
I think the only additional point that I would make is that the atmospherics that were created -- I think the general feeling by all concerned was that they were creating a constructive and pragmatic relationship -- atmosphere. The members of the delegations, as I've best been able to determine -- there are about 20 on the Palestinian side, 20 on the Israeli side, plus people who may not have been in that plenary room. All the experts are here in all the technical issues -- the legal experts, the substantive experts, and obviously other more technical experts.
With those preliminary comments, Joe and I can try to deflect your questions.
Q This morning I asked you in your office how you would characterize the President's role in all of this. You said he would speak and make it all clear. I don't think he did. What's the President's role in all of this.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as I said yesterday, the U.S. plays a unique role in this process. The President tries to use his position to help each side understand each other's position. But as I further said yesterday, it's up to the two parties to bridge the remaining differences and come to a an agreement.
Q Does that make him a coach, a referee, an arbitrator?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you can put your own word to it. I think it's pretty clear.
Q Joe, the President said he's -- at the photo op, I suppose there is always a risk for anyone in an enterprise like this. What risk is there for the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he was speaking to his personal risk.
Q He said anyone.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't -- from what I heard I don't think he was speaking to himself.
Q What does he think is the risk to the Palestinians?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I'm not going to get into what they're discussing here.
Q I'm not asking what they're discussing. What does the President mean when he says it's a risk --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think --
Q Is that hyperbole or did he have something in his head?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think what he has in his head he's discussing with the parties here and I'm going to leave that to them.
Q -- the U.S. position on the risk being taken by the U.S. and the parties?
MR. LOCKHART: As I said, those are the things that are under discussion and I'm not going to get into that.
MR. RUBIN: Let me try to take a broader brush at that question. There are two risks here. One risk is the risk that we've spoken about many times over the last several days, which is the risks that we faced if the peace process is not put back on track. That's certainly a risk that the parties and the people who live in the region face.
The other risks are obviously, in Israel, in the Palestinian community there are those who don't want an agreement. The two leaders have developed a constructive and pragmatic approach that I think was characterized by the discussions so far. And so without being able to divine the President's thoughts any further than Joe did, I think that has been a factor in all the discussions in the Middle East peace process in the region and throughout.
Q When Arafat went around shaking hands, did he and Sharon shake hands?
MR. RUBIN: Sharon is not here now.
Q Do you know why Mordechai is not here?
MR. RUBIN: We expect Mordechai tomorrow or Saturday, and Sharon soon thereafter. The ministers are not coming until the weekend.
Q Is the President going home tonight.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I expect dinner to take several hours, and then we'll return home tonight.
Q What will he do tomorrow? Is he going to go to -- have any other visits, or will he be back?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the President travels to Chicago tomorrow for an event with Senator Moseley-Braun. I believe he'll be in touch through Secretary Albright and his National Security Advisor, from the telephone as necessary. Then we'll be back in Washington tomorrow evening.
Q Do you know the plans for the travel, the accommodations, et cetera, for the two delegations?
MR. RUBIN: I don't know. We'll try to get you an answer to that. We don't normally pay for their travel, with respect to the accommodations and those -- I'll find out who is paying for the rooms.
Q Jamie, is CIA Director Tenet here?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say that I indicated that each side had brought the experts necessary to do their business. There has been a lot of cooperation at the expert level on security matters for some time, and we believe we have the experts necessary to continue work on that and other issues.
Q Is that a yes?
MR. RUBIN: We have the experts here.
Q -- is the identity of people on delegations as part of the secrecy?
MR. RUBIN: I think you -- one plus one plus one equals three, Barry, yes.
Q -- were asking about other people and you -- with that. What is so sacred about the CIA Director that if he's on the grounds you can't say so?
MR. RUBIN: I think I've tried to be as helpful as I can.
Q Is this still as open-ended a meeting? Because the number of people here is quite surprising and the expertise that you have here gets into the final status issues. Is there any thought --
MR. RUBIN: The purpose of this set of discussions over the next three to four days is to be able to complete and make as much progress to that effect on the interim issues. It is not designed to solve permanent status issues. The objective would be, if agreements were reached on the interim issues, to move directly to the final status issues. I can't rule out that in all the side conversations issues aren't going to arise. But if you're suggesting that the purpose of these talks at Wye are the permanent status, that's not correct.
Q Do you think there would be any session after Sunday for the talks? There is a chance for more talks by the committees, and then maybe the Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat would come back later on?
MR. RUBIN: After Sunday? I think most everybody I know in all the discussions we are in are focused on this next three-day period and not what comes after that. Our objective, as Secretary Albright said this morning, is to try to focus on solving these problems and not speculate on what will happen if we don't.
Q Are the talks, in fact, limited to three or four days? Is there going to be a cut-off of some kind?
MR. RUBIN: As I understand it, the schedules have been cleared through Sunday. Each of them have other business to attend to, so the objective is to do what we can by Sunday. We don't want to speculate on what would happen if that doesn't happen on Sunday at this point.
Q The Israelis apparently broke ground in the West Bank for expansion of a settlement in -- excuse my pronunciation -- for 1,200 new homes. Is that the kind of confidence-building measures --
MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen that report. I'd have to check into it.
Q You mentioned interim issues being the focus here, but what were interim issues, some of them have been postponed, like the opening of Gaza, the seaport, safe passage. Those were -- what previously interim issues have now been pushed back to final status -- or perhaps it would be easier to tell us what the interim issues are now, because they do change.
MR. RUBIN: I think the idea is that the interim committee was designed to deal with -- I believe there were four primary issues: the Gaza industrial state, the airport, the seaport and the question of safe passage. Those are issues that, had the peace process been working successfully over the last 19 months, one would have hoped that they could have been completed and the fruits of the economic benefit that would have come from their completion would have been felt.
We are in -- as we told all of you when the Secretary was in Jerusalem, that we had made progress on some of them and reached some understandings on some of them. We do expect the interim committee issues to be part of what's discussed in the next three days. How many of them will be completed and whether some might be continued to be discussed up through the end of the interim period on May 4th is an open question. But clearly we've made, as we indicated in Jerusalem, substantial and significant progress on interim committee issues.
Q -- a final status issue?
MR. RUBIN: I think we've said about all we can say constructively about that question prior to today.
Q Can you tell us about tomorrow's schedule?
MR. RUBIN: I don't have that schedule. My intention is to try to brief you in late morning and mid-afternoon. As far as the schedule is concerned, Secretary Albright will be here, the delegations will be here. There will be myriad meetings focused in different forums on all the issues that you're aware of.
Q Is the security memorandum linked now to the interim discussions to such an extent that if there isn't agreement on the security memorandum there will not be agreement on the outstanding interim issues?
MR. RUBIN: Well, without getting into any piece of paper, which I can't do, certainly security is part of the -- an important part of what we're trying to do here in order to get the American initiative, which is designed to combine security with the withdrawal from additional territory in a parallel process. That's what our initiative has been designed to do. And so things that are necessary to accomplish the security piece of that puzzle will obviously be discussed and will be necessary. What exactly we need to accomplish in the security category is the kind of substantive issue that we don't think it would be helpful to discuss right now.
Q You mentioned the bilaterals with the President. I don't think you mentioned any one-on-one between Netanyahu and Arafat. Do you expect those to occur tomorrow?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say the answer to the question is there were none, to our knowledge. When Secretary Albright has brought them together in a trilateral, twice that I've seen, both in New York and in Erez, that has included time where they've been alone together.
Considering the locations and considering the constructive atmosphere we're trying to create by having the two delegations near each other, we are trying to promote interaction between the experts and the delegations and interaction between the leaders. So I would expect at some point there to be direct interaction without necessarily the Secretary or when the President is here, the President there. And that's happened before in the last two times they were together and I would expect it to happen here.
Q Did all three leaders, including the President, have dinner together --
MR. LOCKHART: When we left with them, the President was headed back over to the Carmichael Farm, where the three leaders will have dinner together.
Q Is the Carmichael Farm not part of the plantation itself or --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it was approximately three or four minutes from the Conference Center, on the road that leads back out to the main road.
END 9:43 P.M. EDT