THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland
4:25 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Welcome to our first session here in Thurmont. Let me just walk you through some of the logistics of what's already happened. And then I'll give you what little I know about what's going to happen the rest of the day, and I'll take your questions.
I think as most of you know, Chairman Arafat arrived about 1:00 a.m. to Camp David. He was greeted by the Secretary of State. Prime Minister Barak arrived about 6:00 a.m., again was greeted by Secretary of State. The President came in about 11:25-11:30 a.m., had about, I'd say, a 20-25 minute meeting with his team to get ready for today's events.
And then about noon the President and Chairman Arafat began their first bilateral of these discussions. The bilateral took place on the back porch of the President's cabin up here at Camp David, and it lasted a little bit more than a half an hour. After about a 10 or 15-minute session again with the President's team, Prime Minister Barak came to the same location. They sat in the same place, on the back balcony porch area of the President's cabin. That meeting lasted somewhere between, I'd say, 45 and 50 minutes.
Again, after another break, the President went out to the front area of the Aspen Cottage, his cottage, was joined there by Chairman Arafat. About 30 seconds later, Prime Minister Barak came from his cabin. They stood, talked for a few moments, and then started the walk over to the Laurel Cottage, where I think the pool saw -- I think the pictures have been transmitted around the world at this point.
On the way over, the President gave them a short history of Camp David, including its naming and how it started, talked a little bit about the great weather up here, how it's anywhere from 8 to 10 degrees cooler than in Washington, D.C., and extolled the great virtues of the sports facility, including the bowling alley.
The delegations went into the Laurel Cabin. After a brief tour that the President gave to Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak, the plenary session opened at about 2:30 p.m. It lasted about 30 minutes.
Let me stop there and give you a little bit on that session. I think as the pictures we will release will indicate, they sat at a long, rectangular table, with 21 delegates sitting at the table, another 13 in chairs behind -- that was the President plus eight; Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak plus five.
As far as where we are now, the meetings began today in a good atmosphere. The discussions have been serious. I think both sides, in their discussions with the President and in the plenary session, indicated that they fully understand the difficulties that face them over the next days, but also the opportunity that's before them. They all, in their discussions and in their statements in the session, indicated the importance of getting to work and getting to work quickly, because there are very difficult issues at hand.
The plenary session also discussed and reached an agreement that from the beginning of the session, the two sides and the United States side would impose a news blackout on the substance of the discussions from this point forward. I think both sides agreed that any substantive announcements would be made by a representative of the United States government and the United States government would, unless explicitly agreed by all sides, keep the discussions and the substance of the discussions in the Camp David meeting areas and not air them out in the public.
I think both sides agreed that this was in the best interest of reaching an agreement and in the best interest of avoiding spending and wasting a lot of time discussing various newspaper accounts each day of what's going on in the session.
We will make available to you, I think shortly after this briefing, the delegation list. We will also be making copies of a Camp David history, which gives you some background on Camp David. The one piece that I will point out is that the President obviously is staying in his cottage. The Prime Minister is staying in the Dogwood Cottage. And Chairman Arafat is staying in Birch, the Birch Cottage. And my understanding is that is a reverse of 1978, when Sadat stayed in Dogwood, Begin stayed in Birch.
Q Joe, you began by saying that -- in the course of the description of what happened today, you talked about, they understood this, they understood this -- you listed about three or four things. You didn't make any mention as to whether they indicated they understood his appeal for compromise. Did they indicate that they understood that as well?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President has made that quite clear. The President has made that quite clear in his public and his private statements, and they're both here. So it's certainly our view that both sides will need to compromise to reach an agreement.
Q I know your view; that's not the question. The President, especially today in a lengthy statement, in several ways and considerable eloquence, talked about the need for the two sides to compromise. And you said they understood how important the issues are, they understood this, they understood the weather is good, and everything. Did they express any response? Did they say, we understand; we should and will try to compromise our differences?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into making judgments of what they think or believe, or get into any more detail than I did in what they said in the discussions.
Q Any progress at all to report this early?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me use that as a way of saying that I have no intention over the next few days to provide progress reports. The issues -- the delegations know each other well; they know the issues well. I think it's very clear the difficulty of these issues as they move forward. And I think the best thing to do is to allow the parties to try to work through these differences, narrow those differences, and not provide an update each and every time I come up here on where they are.
Q There was a little "you first; no, you first," going in the doorway. Are these guys just bending over backwards to help each other, or they can't quite cross the threshold --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that they obviously greeted each other a few moments before in a very friendly way. They had a very pleasant discussion as they walked through the woods down to the cabin. And those who have watched Chairman Arafat in particular will note that he always tries to allow those that he's with to enter a building before him, and that's what happened.
Q Was the conversation in English, this pleasant conversation?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q On that point, on the entrance, how long did this little Laurel and Hardy routine go on? Did it end pretty quickly and did they get down to the serious meat of it, or was there more kind of joking --
MR. LOCKHART: Without attempting the cinema allusion there, it lasted probably five to 10 seconds.
Q To what extent did they discuss the public reactions to calling the summit, in general, particularly the no confidence vote in Israel? Did they discuss the situation back home for Barak?
MR. LOCKHART: The plenary session was mostly an opportunity for the President to lay out what was at stake and how we would move forward. As far as the discussions in the bilateral, I'm not aware to what extent that was discussed.
Q Has Israel indicated to the U.S. an intention to suspend the Falcon deal?
MR. LOCKHART: I know that that has been an issue that's been of concern to the United States government. It's been raised at a number of levels, including between the President and the Prime Minister. They have discussed it often, but I'm not aware that the government of Israel has made a final decision.
Q What is the significance of reversing where each President is staying in each room from Camp David in 1978? Because you pointed this out, and there must be reason for doing that.
MR. LOCKHART: I think they're both good cabins and they wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to appreciate all of the fine elements of each cabin.
Q -- bilateral meetings with Barak and Arafat?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you, looking into the future, how this will unfold. As far as the rest of this evening, my understanding is that about 5:00 p.m. this evening, the President will have another bilateral with Prime Minister Barak, which will be followed by a bilateral with Chairman Arafat. From that point on, I'm not sure, and I think I've given you a fairly lengthy rundown with times, events.
I don't expect that that service will be continued, because I think how they meet, when they meet, who they meet with gets very much to the substance, and that's something that we won't be talking about.
Q Will they be visiting anywhere locally?
MR. LOCKHART: If they decide that they want to go out and visit any of the local areas, we'll let you know.
Q Have the two sides been asked to turn over their cell phones?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that anyone's been asked to turn over his cell phone. I can tell you from my own experience they don't work in the areas where we are working. (Laughter.) So it's kind of a moot point.
Q -- negotiator?
MR. LOCKHART: There may be some discussions on non-core issues. I'll let you know when and if that gets put together.
Q Joe, if there's a breakthrough, is there any way that the President would consider not going on July 19th to Okinawa, Japan?
MR. LOCKHART: I think even in a news blackout, hypotheticals are best left alone.
Q -- recognize the protests of Jewish settlers here before the President, and did they comment on them?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure that they were aware of those. I only became aware of them when I drove in the parking lot.
Q Is he planning to stay tonight up here?
MR. LOCKHART: The President will stay -- the President has indicated and indicated to the parties that he will stay, and devote as much time as is constructive to this process. He will be staying tonight. The only events that I know of that are fixed on his calendar that he needs to attend are on Thursday. He's got a longstanding speech at the NAACP in Baltimore, and then a Congressional Medal of Honor, I believe, event in the Capitol. But other than that, I expect that we'll be spending the majority of our time here.
Q In what way has Mrs. Albright been engaged?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, she obviously participated in the meetings with the President before he went into his bilaterals. During his bilaterals, she met with various members of each delegation in an informal way, and she'll continue it. I think the Secretary of State will be here from now until these discussions are finished; she's committed to staying here to see that through. As far as anything beyond that, I don't have anything at this point.
Q Will Arafat and Barak meet alone with each other, or will the President always be with them when they are together?
MR. LOCKHART: There are many possibilities for meetings. I'm not going to try to predict.
Q In those meetings, are there any proposals, papers -- are there any proposals from the American side?
MR. LOCKHART: If there were any proposals or papers or ideas, that would go to substance, and I wouldn't comment on it.
Q Do you think President Clinton will be able to apply pressure on both sides, knowing that the difficulties that Prime Minister Barak has been facing with the coalition of his government --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has made very clear in his public statements he understands the difficulties that face the two parties. As he said this morning, if this was easy, it would have been done a long time ago. But I think he also understands the unique opportunity that's before us, and we'll do whatever we can to make sure that we can reach an agreement.
Q Did you think that the two leaders are under pressure -- Barak with his Cabinet crisis, and Arafat with refugees, hundreds have taken to the streets on the West Bank -- do you feel that there is a sense of pressure on the two leaders?
MR. LOCKHART: I felt that they were both here in a serious attempt to make peace, and beyond that, I'm not going to comment.
Q -- below the presidential level, you said the Secretary has met, what, with the two principals, with members of the two delegations?
MR. LOCKHART: There were a lot of, I'd say, in the time that the President held his two bilaterals -- it's like an area in the woods that there are a number of cabins nearby, and there were a lot of, I guess in diplomatic circles you'd call pull-asides, conversations with people who were talking about how we're going to move forward this week. I don't know that any of them can be described as really formal. But certainly there were a number of discussions, both from Ambassador Ross, the National Security Advisor Berger, Secretary of State Albright, and others.
Q -- reports that Israel has decided to cancel the sale of the advanced warning system to China. Has there been any indication of that?
MR. LOCKHART: I got a question about that earlier, and I'll stick with that answer.
Q Will the President be here at all on Thursday, or is he going to spend the entire day doing other things?
MR. LOCKHART: What I do know about Thursday, he will give the speech, he will be on the Hill. I certainly wouldn't rule out the probability of the President spending some time on Thursday here.
Q Did the President call any congressional leaders before he came up here this morning, any sort of last touching base with --
MR. LOCKHART: The President had a series of telephone discussions with congressional leaders. I think this and some other issues were on the table this morning before he left.
Q Joe, has he spoken to President Carter in terms of getting any wisdom from him in terms of how --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he's spoken to him in the last few days. Let me make a couple of points on that. He's certainly had the opportunity and the privilege to talk to President Carter over the last seven or eight years both about the Camp David experience and the overall Middle East peace, as well as a number of other subjects around the world. The second is, the President has been well immersed in this process now for seven and a half years. I think he's spent a lot of time getting ready on the particular issues here that are unique to these discussions. And I wouldn't rule out that at some point in time he might want to touch base not only with people who have expertise here in the United States, but leaders around the world.
Q -- how he prepared -- was there anything in particular he read, or anyone that he spoke to that --
MR. LOCKHART: He had two long meetings with his team, one on Friday for about three hours, one on Sunday evening for about two hours. He had a large reading list that, based on some discussions we've had, he got all the way through. I know that there was one book in particular, I think by Bill Quandt, about the Camp David peace process. I'm not sure if he got through the whole thing, I think someone may have pulled some sections of that. But there were a number of articles, a number of academic pieces that he had a chance to get to, as well as having a chance to spend many hours with his team.
Q In Shepherdstown, there was an American working document. Is there any plan that there will be such a thing also at this summit?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I'll try to make clear -- clearer -- that anything that has to do with the substance of the discussion I'm not going to comment on.
Q Do you anticipate any more Middle East leaders showing up at Camp David, too, during the duration?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any plans for that, but I certainly don't want to rule out the possibility. I think anything is possible.
Q You said that the President -- told both parties what was going to happen, he set the agenda. Would it be fair to say that the United States in general set the agenda for this meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't want to overplay the significance of that. I think both parties and the United States understands what the issues are. The President talked --
Q But how to proceed, which one comes first --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that these are discussions that will take place as the days move on, starting later on this afternoon. But I certainly view the sequencing of issues to the extent that they deal with one first or one next, or whatever, is part of the substance. So I'm just not going to get into that.
Q Have you received any bill from either side with any price tag for reaching a deal?
MR. LOCKHART: Do I have to stand up here after Barry's left? (Laughter.)
Q Have you received any bill from either side with a price for reaching a deal? I mean, support, financial support.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that that sort of discussion is appropriate at this point. I certainly know that the U.S. in the past has sought to help in a number of ways. That is one of the ways, but I think we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Q During Shepherdstown, when the President was meeting with either of the two parties, the Secretary of State was meeting with either Barak or -- this time you mentioned that she was meeting members of the delegations.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't know her exact schedule. I certainly know that she will have the opportunity in this day and the next day to meet both with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. I wouldn't read much significant into the logistics there.
Q -- the bilats this afternoon, are there any plans for a group dinner at all tonight perhaps?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're going to take this one step at a time. There are no firm plans beyond what I've told you. And I think, for all of your planning purposes, what I'll try to do is give you late tonight some idea that they've broken for the night. There may be more details; there may not. And I may hold until tomorrow morning, some sort of more formal readout of what happened this evening. For those of you who are going to hang around for nothing, that's fine. But those who have better things to do, you should go do them.
Q Joe, when will we see you again?
MR. LOCKHART: You will see me again here, hopefully, sometime tomorrow morning. I'll try to come by mid-morning. We'll get you a time, though.
Q Joe, do you have a list of the people who were in the plenary session?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll get you a delegation list, and I think almost everybody in the delegations were in the meeting. There were, I think, 34 or 35 people in the room.
Q -- Palestinian team?
MR. LOCKHART: The which one?
Q The second person. I mean, under Arafat, who is the second man --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll give you the delegation list. I'm not going to rank members. I certainly hope no one would rank who is most important in our delegation.
Q Is he at all flexible on Okinawa, or is that a deadline for this process?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President intends to travel to Okinawa to do the G-8. It's something he's done for the last seven years, and that's what the schedule is.
Q How are the three men getting along? Have there been any harsh words? Has it all been cordial?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they have spent now probably 30 or 40 minutes together. I think I described for you faithfully that they greeted each other in a very friendly way. They walked down through the woods, had a very pleasant conversation led by the President, mostly about the history of Camp David. And then they had the plenary and have now gone their separate ways. So I think the atmosphere is good and the mood is serious.
Q No harsh or -- words?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me take one more and then we'll go.
Q Does the President plan to propose his own ideas on how the two sides should proceed?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what the President does in the context of these discussions is something that will be done within the discussions, and I won't be commenting on them. Thank you.
END 4:45 P.M. EDT