THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland
5:08 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Before I get started, there are some people that I need to thank for their fine hospitality over the last few days here. So let me go through some people. (Laughter.)
I wouldn't go anyplace if I were you. Listen, as this may be the last time I come up here, let me just thank some people here -- the Mayor of Thurmont, Eileen Waeschee; the Clerk Treasurer for Thurmont, Rick May; Chief of Police Neil Bechtol; the Lieutenant Frushour from the police department. The Frederick County Sheriff's Department, the Maryland State Police, the Principal of the school, Suzanne O'Toole, the entire staff of the Thurmont Elementary School; the Catoctin Cluster Maintenance Staff, the volunteers here at Thurmont. And I want to principally thank the very nice teacher out here who made the bold statement that she thought I was better-looking than John Roberts. (Laughter.) Whatever.
Let me go through --
MR. LOCKHART: No, they're not. I always wait until the last minute. Let me go through a couple of logistical points, because I'm sure that's what you're interested in. As I've been saying all along, the President's schedule remains the same; he's scheduled to leave tomorrow morning for Japan.
For your purposes, any adjustment to the President's schedule later tonight or into the morning we'll deal with in the following way: We will all-call it through the White House all-call system, which will get to a number of people in a number of news organizations. We'll keep somebody here overnight in the press office here in Thurmont, and we will keep the pool on overnight so that if there's anything that we need to get out, any news or information or any change, we can let them know.
The press plane will depart now, instead of at 8:00 p.m. tonight, at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. Those of you who are traveling to Japan with us on the press plane need to be there by 6:30 a.m. And one scheduling note: If for some reason we do overnight announce any kind of change or alteration to the schedule, I'll come down here sometime around 7:00 a.m. to give you guys a sense of any news or developments overnight -- a.m., a.m. We will also do tonight's wrap-up like we've been doing each night, with PJ, probably around 9:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m.
Q How would you characterize the -- of the negotiations today?
MR. LOCKHART: Obviously, as I said earlier today, the pace has picked up over the last few days. There are intense discussions and negotiations going on now between the two parties. I think they understand what they're up against, as far as the issues and the timing, and we'll just have to wait and see.
Q But it's inaccurate to call the talks in crisis right now?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I wouldn't use that phrase. I would say there are obviously very difficult issues in front of them, but the parties are continuing to work at it.
Q Is Jerusalem the main sticking point?
MR. LOCKHART: They are continuing their discussions on the four core issues that we've identified for you before the talks began.
Q Are they still working toward reaching an agreement tomorrow morning?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Are they still working on reaching an agreement by tomorrow morning?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're working on reaching an agreement; if we could do it in the next hour, we would, we wouldn't wait until the morning.
Q Did Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat meet again? Have they met again?
MR. LOCKHART: No, there have been, as I described a few moments ago, intense discussions between negotiators throughout the afternoon and the leaders have been meeting, internally, with their own delegations.
Q Does the White House consider it in any way helpful if Chairman Arafat were to be able to consult with other leaders, such as President Mubarak, on some of these issues that remain, somewhat intractable, in your words?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think if Chairman Arafat wanted to consult with other world leaders, we would provide him with the facilities to do that, and certainly if that would help build an atmosphere and a construct for a peace agreement, that would be welcome.
Q What if he wanted to go there to meet with the other leaders?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's been no suggestion of any travel, so I don't want to speculate on that.
MR. LOCKHART: The President met with his team for, I don't know, it was probably about an hour, an hour and a half, since I talked to you last. And there's been periodic reporting back from some of the discussions from people on our side. He stands ready to talk to either leaders separately, together, the negotiators -- whatever we think is peaceful and constructive. Yes.
Q You said that the talks have been intensified, but would you say that there has been any progress?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I've managed to avoid trying to characterize on that particular question for eight days now, and I won't start now.
Q Joe, back to logistics just for a second, if there is an announcement, or ceremony, or whatever you want to call it -- if it takes place in the morning, will it take place back at the White House or here?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure I know the answer to that question, but we'll certainly give everyone ample time to be able to cover it -- ample notice to cover whatever happens, one way or the other.
Q When you say the President is ready to talk to the leaders, does that mean you have no plan, the talks between him and either of the leaders, or the two of them together for the rest of the day?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd say that right now, the discussions are ongoing, and I would anticipate further meetings involving the President and the other leaders, but I can't tell you who, when or at what time.
Q Did they meet in small groups today?
MR. LOCKHART: They're meeting in a variety of settings, at different places in Camp David.
Q Joe, can you confirm that Rubin Merhab has joined the Israeli delegation?
MR. LOCKHART: I cannot. I have no information that he's joined the delegation.
Q Just three quick ones. One, how long was the meeting the President had with Arafat this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it was just over an hour.
Q How much of the President's schedule, how much of the discussions today have revolved around the President's schedule?
MR. LOCKHART: How much of the discussions? Very little.
Q And third, how much can these guys get done without meeting face to face, without a face-to-face with Arafat and Barak in the same room?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's many ways to get to an agreement, and I wouldn't try to put a minimum quantitative value on face-to-face discussions or of the President with the two leaders together. I think both sides are working in good faith to try to reach an agreement in a short time frame, and they're proceeding now in a way that all sides think is most constructive.
Q So the fact that they're not meeting doesn't imply a stalemate?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't make a judgment based on that alone.
Q There were some reports that the President requested a second meeting with Arafat. Is that so? Has he met with him just once today?
MR. LOCKHART: He's met with him once.
Q How are you defining "an agreement"? Is that any agreement on the spectrum from --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not defining it.
Q At this point in these negotiations, it is traditional for one side or the other to threaten to walk out. Has anybody threatened to walk yet?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it would be a long walk. You've got to go all the way down the mountain. (Laughter.) Not that I know of.
Q If the President is not meeting with the leaders and not with his team at the moment, is he perhaps taking a nap to gather forces for tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think he's taking a nap.
Q Joe, any of the principal leaders placed any calls to anybody in the Middle East?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q You said that they had discussions -- does it mean that they're considering proposals that they got from the --
MR. LOCKHART: They're considering ways to deal with the core issues in order to reach an agreement.
Q What are their dinner plans tonight, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: None that I know of at this point.
Q -- still continuing?
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't check on that. We'll check on that for you.
Q When was the last meeting between the President and Arafat, the last time the President directly got involved in negotiations with the two sides?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's the last bilateral meeting the President had, but I think it's safe to say that there are a number of people who are speaking to the President on the U.S. team who are speaking to the negotiators. So his involvement continues.
Q But not direct involvement from the President or with the two delegations?
MR. LOCKHART: That would be correct.
Q What are the chances, Joe, that Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat stay behind while the President is gone and that negotiations, in some shape or form, continue?
MR. LOCKHART: Trying to figure out chances of that would involve me speculating and I'm trying not to do that.
Q -- Americans -- proposal that the parties -- you said earlier that this might be one of the ways the Americans would try to get --
MR. LOCKHART: I said that it might be; I also said that any sort of proposals that we put down or discussions of such proposals would get to the substance of the talks, and I wouldn't discuss that.
Q Would you confirm, will there be an agreement of some sort before President Clinton leaves for Japan?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a question I can't answer. If I could see that into the future, I wouldn't be standing here, I'd be on Wall Street. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, do you have some idea of the atmosphere -- appear to be a constructive environment, is it a rancorous environment? How would you characterize it?
MR. LOCKHART: I've tried to give you a sense over the last three or four days. I think both sides came here with a real sense that they wanted to reach an agreement. These are very difficult issues. They've spent a lot of time together; they've spent very little time sleeping; there are 52 years of debate behind them. So the atmosphere at times has been tense, but they are still working at it.
Q Is the President planning to leave to the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Is the President planning to leave to the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the only thing I know on the schedule is he's planning to leave a little bit after 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, to Tokyo, for the G-8 meeting. I think at this point, we haven't made up -- it depends on how long the discussions go, if we get back to the White House or we go from here directly to the airport.
Q Any possibility of a delay in departure, if it helps with --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think I'll stick with the schedule as published.
Q Joe, can I ask you a domestic question?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q You had been asked before about the President holding the honorary post as head of the Boy Scouts, or the President's held, and at the time you said -- after the court ruling, that it didn't appear necessary that he would need to resign that post. Since that discussion, members of Congress led by Lynn Woolsey of California, have sent the President a letter asking that he resign that post. Is he giving his consideration to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I haven't seen the letter, and given where I've been and where the President's been, I'm sure he hasn't had a chance to review it; we'll have to take a look at that.
Q Is he going to take a new look at that, given that the number of Members of Congress aren't happy?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't speculate until he had a chance what the Members of Congress were unhappy with, and had a chance to review his letter.
Q -- coming or going, or have we passed that point?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that there's been any -- I'll check on that for you. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Yesterday, you characterized -- you said that when the President left, that things would just about be wrapped up -- the business would be wrapped up. Is that the same characterization?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon? I said I'd -- it was my expectation on the schedule that was shown to me that when he leaves, we'll have -- we will have done our business here. If that changes, we'll let you know.
Q Is there any chance for the extension of the Summit, or actually a chance that the two leaders will stay behind, until Sunday when President Clinton comes back?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's essentially the same question that was just asked, and has been asked previously. I don't have anything on those matters. To the extent that something is provided to me, I'll provide it to you.
Q You were saying -- can you please tell us what you mean by that?
MR. LOCKHART: No, because I'm not even sure what I meant. (Laughter.) Yes. I think I stopped them with that, are we ready? Yes, in the back. (Laughter.)
Q -- the last day -- (inaudible) --
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- describe the President's mood. You know, he has spent eight days -- with the exception of one day out -- working nearly round the clock on this. So he -- I think the single word I'd use is determined. But I think, like all of them, you go through various emotions, ranging from moments where you see promise, to moments where the only thing you see is frustration. So I think not only the President, the leaders and all the delegations, have run the entire range over the last eight days.
Q And what mood is --
MR. LOCKHART: Determined.
Q It's well-known that these two sides will negotiate the amount of time that's been given to them. How does the President balance off the need to impose the tomorrow deadline with the promise that if you give them a little bit more time you may come closer to reaching an agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: I just think, you know, that is a judgment that has to be made and I'm not sure I could describe the balancing act there.
Q Are you worried at all that if the leaders go back to the Middle East without reaching an agreement there will be a leak out -- which will hurt any possibility for any negotiation in the future?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, there certainly are a number of obvious advantages to getting this thing done before the President travels. One is which, I think we've had an atmosphere in Camp David -- although I've described it as tense, has certainly not been infected or poisoned by press coverage or leaks that went to the substance of what they were talking about. So I think -- we knew this going in that there were advantages to getting this done on this schedule and that still remains.
Q Joe, how has the tight deadline and the looming departure of the President impacted on the mood and -- just the general mood surrounding the two delegations -- has it been helpful at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I think people know that they've got a lot of work to do and they know that there is not an unlimited amount of time and there isn't time to push issues aside or not deal as directly as they can in the negotiations.
Q Joe, is there anything on what Albright, Berger, Ross, et cetera, has been doing today?
MR. LOCKHART: They've been meeting with various negotiators throughout the day. As I left to come up here, Mr. Ross was going down to a meeting with several negotiators -- Ambassador Ross -- with several negotiators. So this is something that's been ongoing throughout the day.
Q Joe, I'd like to take another run at the bridging proposals, realizing that it goes to substance. At this late hour, why can't you tell us whether or not the U.S. has put forward any bridging proposal or not?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that getting to substance is a slippery slope and I'll stay where I am on this.
Q Yes, but he's going to be leaving in a few hours from now -- unless he's going to change his schedule, and that's why you're not telling us -- (laughter.)
Q Joe, should we expect a State Department briefing here tomorrow, after tomorrow? And this is the end -- just for the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Richard was talking on the way down how much he's become attached to the lovely country roads here -- (laughter) -- so if he wants to work out of here from now on, I think I'll be thanking a lot more people than on this list.
Q Also we want to thank you for making our life so easy on -- past several days. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: The good news is that you're not all paid by the word. (Laughter.) Okay, I think we're done. Thank you.
END 5:25 P.M. EDT