THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Shepherdstown, West Virginia) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release January 6, 2000
READOUT TO THE PRESS BY JOE LOCKHART AND JAMIE RUBIN Shepherd College Shepherdstown, West Virginia
7:53 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Hello. Jamie and I just thought we'd come over because I know some of you are reaching some deadlines. We have not much to report to you, but let me just say that -- you all saw the President come in, he had probably a 45-minute to an hour-long meeting with the team -- Secretary Albright, Mr. Berger, Ambassador Ross -- and brought the President up to date on the discussions that have gone on since he's been here.
The President then started a bilat about 5:40 p.m. with Prime Minister Barak, and I think a group of five on both sides. That meeting broke up about 40 minutes later, and the President and the Prime Minister had a one-on-one for about 20 minutes.
I think overall for the day there have been a series of good and constructive meetings, starting with the Secretary of State's meetings throughout the day, continuing with the President's first meeting, which he described to me as a good meeting. He is about to start another bilateral with the Syrian Foreign Minister. We will give you an idea when that starts and when that finishes. And then from that point on, we'll take it from there. We'll let you know if there is any more activity this evening.
I'll turn it over to Jamie because I have referenced the meetings that the Secretary of State has had, so I'm not sure he has brought you all up to date on that.
MR. RUBIN: I think I largely have. The Secretary met with both al-Shara and Barak today, and then -- I think Joe has brought you up to speed -- and then briefed the President on what transpired in those discussions on both substantive and procedural matters. The feeling right now is, I think there have been some good and constructive meetings today, and we're trying to move the process forward.
Q Have the other committees met yet, Jamie?
MR. RUBIN: I think the feeling of the leaders at this point, of the Secretary and the President, having had these sessions that they -- the meetings the Secretary had with Foreign Minister al-Shara and then Prime Minister Barak and then the meeting the President had, I think the feeling is that those meetings have been sufficiently good and constructive that they have, in effect, superseded committee meetings. So the short answer to your question is, there hasn't been committee activity today, but people feel that the sessions with the leaders were sufficiently good and constructive to supersede any need for them at this particular phase.
Q Joe, can you tell us, can you describe the meeting between President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak? Can you give us some details about that meeting, and whether he succeeded in solving the problems existing now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to get into detail of the substance of the meeting, beyond saying that the President was satisfied when he came out of it that it was a good meeting, it was constructive. They had a wide-ranging discussion, covered a number of issues, and the President now is preparing to go forward with his second bilateral of the evening.
Q Jamie, are we to assume from your answer -- that the meetings are good and they superseded the need for committee meetings -- that the Syrians are so happy with the way things are going, they don't want a meeting on borders and withdrawal anymore? A working group?
MR. RUBIN: No, I wouldn't draw that assumption, Walt, but I can understand why you might have thought that. There has been an agreement that all the committees will meet this week, but the timing of those meetings has been adjusted accordingly. I did not indicate to you earlier today that the borders or the water committee were expected to meet today. I did say that I thought there would be committee meetings.
And what I've now indicated is that in the interim, since the briefing at 1:00 p.m., that as a result of the discussions the Secretary had with both leaders of the delegations, and the meeting the President had with Prime Minister Barak, the feeling is that they are sufficiently constructive and good sessions so that there's not a lot of energy being put into "let's get the committees together" because some of the issues that the committees would address have been addressed substantively in these bilateral meetings between the United States and Foreign Minister al-Shara -- sorry, Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister al-Shara and then the President's meeting with Prime Minister Barak and her meeting with Prime Minister Barak.
So on substantive terms, we're not feeling like we're losing a day by not having committee meetings because those issues are getting addressed in the higher-level meetings.
Q Yes, but are the Syrians going to get their meeting on borders and withdrawal?
MR. RUBIN: I indicated to you, Walt, in response to your question, that we do still expect, pursuant to the initial plan of action, that not only were the committees constituted several days ago, but that they all will have a chance to meet.
Q Excuse me, Jamie -- or Joe, is there any chance that there might be a trilat tonight between Clinton and the other two?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President is prepared to stay here for some time as long as he can work in a constructive way. The only thing we have scheduled at this point is the bilateral. We'll make a judgment at the end of that. He'll talk to the team to see if there is another meeting that would be useful and appropriate. But it will be probably an hour or so before we can make some sort of judgment on that.
Q Hey Joe, can you tell us anything about the President's role? Can you characterize it? Is he bringing new ideas, new suggestions? Is it hand-holding? Is it temperaments or -- how would you describe it?
MR. LOCKHART: I would say that I think the President has a unique position as someone that the parties trust, and can provide, from time to time, energy to the process. I think he comes here to build on the work that the Secretary of State and the team that she leads here over the last four days. And he will continue to come out as appropriate when the team believes and that he makes the judgment that his presence here is useful to move this process along.
Q Tomorrow? Tomorrow will he come back?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't even make a judgment of later on this evening, whether there will be further meetings and when we're leaving. I think, obviously, at the end of the day, as has happened every day, the team gets together and makes a recommendation. The Secretary of State recommends what the best way to proceed, what the best schedule is. And I think you've seen over the last four days that some days we've found it useful to have the President here, engaged and dealing face to face with the leaders; some days it's better for him to be back at the White House and have the Secretary of State and her team here.
Q Joe, is there any possibility that the President will spend the night here? Are you all making any sort of plans for --
MR. LOCKHART: I hate to rule anything out completely, but I think it's really unlikely that he'll stay here. I mean, it's not that far a trip back to Washington. It's one of the beauties of this place here. We can be back in half an hour to 40 minutes, so I would expect him back. He's got something to do fairly early tomorrow morning at the White House.
Q Does the fact that some of these issues are being discussed at higher levels -- the borders and so forth -- is that an indication that they're not comfortable yet having that carried out at the lower level, at the committee level? Does it still need that leader input to resolve problems?
MR. RUBIN: I think during the course of the briefing we had earlier today I described to you different ways to get the job done. And sometimes that involves these kind of bilateral discussions between the leaders, whether it's Secretary Albright or now the President, and sometimes it involves committee meetings, sometimes it involves the Secretary and her team putting together a working document as a result of those discussions.
And right now I think the feeling is that we're at a point where some committees have met, work has been done there, and that given the President's presence, the best way to nudge the process forward is to have these higher-level meetings that supersede the need for committee meetings. So the short answer to your question is yes, it's our judgment that the best way to nudge the process forward is through this process.
Q Jamie, since tomorrow now in Syria officially is not Eid, is not the end of Ramadan, is still a working day, do you expect more of the same tomorrow? And do you expect then that the four committees will have met by the end of the day?
MR. RUBIN: Well, as far as the end of the week is concerned, I'm going to stick with the end of the week. That may or may not be Friday, depending on how things work out and depending on when the various meetings take place. I do expect the Israelis to observe the Sabbath. We do expect the Syrian delegation to observe the Eid and, as we discussed, it's not quite when we thought it was going to be a few hours ago.
So I think that makes tomorrow a more full working day, and we do expect, and have had as our plan, that the committees, all the committees, would have met by the end of the week.
Q I would just like to follow up on Bob's question. Joe, when you say that the President, because he is trusted by both leaders, was able to bring new energy, are we to read into that the President is also bringing new ideas? Earlier in the day, Jamie had said that new ideas were needed. So what is it that the President is actually doing in these meetings that's different from what Secretary Albright had been doing earlier in the day?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you go back to my answer to Bob, I said the President has the ability to bring energy or an urgency to the process in his position as President. I don't want to get into the details of the discussions that are going, but I think you can assume that he comes out here for more than the scenery and the lovely fresh air that you've all enjoyed over the last couple days. He comes with a purpose. The purpose is to move this process along. The President has said from the outset, as had the Secretary of State, that this is extraordinarily difficult, that it's tough going. But we believe that the President is uniquely positioned to come and play a positive role. And that's what we hope he will accomplish with each and every time he comes out here.
Q Joe, did the question -- the borders question keeps coming back. The Syrians are insisting that it's this June 4th, '67 line. The Israelis are saying no, or, we're not going to agree to it; it was never agreed to. How is the President able to bridge that seemingly unbridgeable gap?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to get drawn into that discussion, only to repeat what the President said. There's a very large agenda to be discussed here, and they're spending a lot of time discussing all the issues.
Q Jamie, how would you characterize the pace since the last briefing, in the chugging along-to-fast track spectrum? And has any progress been made on the working document that you told us about a few hours ago?
MR. RUBIN: No, let's start with a trot.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
MR. RUBIN: Maybe we've moved from chugging to trotting. And as far as the working document is concerned, work on that document has taken place today. And the Secretary and her team have presented this document, as it has developed, to the President, and explained what the purpose of it is, and what it contains. And as far as what the next steps are with that, I'm not prepared to say at this time.
Q Is a trot faster than a chug? I mean, I'm just --
MR. RUBIN: Well, I believe that a trot is one calibration faster than a chug.
MR. LOCKHART: It is sometimes useful to mix your metaphors so you can have deniability afterwards. (Laughter.)
I think we're done. Thank you.
MR. RUBIN: Thank you.
END 8:08 P.M. EST