THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Camp David, Maryland) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release July 20, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland
12:48 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me give you a sense of what unfolded since the last time I was here, which I think was about 5:30 this afternoon. Starting just before I was here, we set off a round of intensive consultations between the President and the two leaders. I think he went and spoke to Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, I think at least three times each, talked to them on the telephone. There were a series of discussions between the delegations, a series of meetings that went on within the delegations.
But I would say roughly 10 or 15 minutes before I called down to the filing center to make the announcement that the President was going back to Washington, the President made the judgement that it was time to leave, that we would be leaving, as the statement said, without an agreement and he would travel to Japan. That sentiment was passed to the two parties and we prepared to leave.
Now, while this was going on, the discussions that had been taking place among the negotiators had never stopped, and this was going on in a variety of places around Camp David, both involving the negotiators and their leaders. And as we were getting ready to leave, as I think the President indicated, it became clear that there was a willingness of the parties to stay in the President's absence and an unwillingness to let this break down.
So I can't give you a precise dissection of how this came about except for there was discussions going on at a variety of levels and a variety of places, and just before we left there was a sense that this could be put together in this sense and the way that will move forward over the next few days. And another round of discussions that involved the parties, the leaders, ensued, and we are here now announcing that they have agreed to stay.
Q You put that almost in a passive sense. I mean, somebody had to say first let's stay or why don't we keep going. If it wasn't the President's idea -- I realize you're saying it was a general feeling they ought to keep going, but someone had to speak up first. Without saying he initiated it, who began the discussion of a notion of staying?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the discussion or the notion of staying had been kicked around throughout the evening, but when we made the judgement that it was time to leave and there was no point in staying on, that had never come together as a real idea. I don't know that this is one person's idea. I think there just was a sense -- and I think what made this happen, it was a willingness on all sides. Once this started floating around in a real sense among the teams and then with the leaders -- and this was something that I think as the President indicated he thought was a good idea -- if the parties were serious and they were serious about staying to do this.
Q Just a logistical follow-up. As we move into this next phase, can you tell us for instance what tomorrow looks like? In other words, will you be at this pace with the Secretary simply standing in for the President, or will it be a chance for maybe a half a day, a day, of rest and then jump in?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the one thing they will look at is there are a number of people up there who have had very little sleep over the last three days. They are going to let some people get a little bit of sleep. And then the Secretary will sit down in the morning and try to work out a schedule with the leaders of both how she and the leaders will work over the next two or three days and how the delegations will work.
Q When do you think the President will return? Will he fulfill his full schedule in Okinawa, and what will he say to the leaders there to try and engender further support for what's going on here?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's fairly obvious given the President's statements over the last two weeks how important he believes this is, and I think he'll remind the leaders of the G-8 both what's at stake and discuss in some format how countries within the G-8 can help this process eventually.
As far as his schedule, I know we've been doing some juggling based on the fact that we stayed here at Camp David longer than we expected, so I don't know precisely the decisions that have been made.
Q Did you get the sense that the President's decision to leave and to -- the final decision to leave jolted the two delegations into -- the two parties in realizing that this was kind of a now-or-never deal?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it certainly was as concrete of an indication as possible to everyone, and made front and center what the costs of shutting down at this point are. I can't speak for everyone in the delegation or all the leaders to how we worked exactly to this point, but I can say that the President worked very intensively from around 4 o'clock till over the next three or four hours, maybe even five hours, to try to do anything he could to try to bring some life to this process and find a way to reach an agreement.
And it was only then that he began the process of coming to the conclusion that we would have to shut down, that we would have to leave for Japan. And I think on a different level this process sort of took on its own life and only became firm probably -- it was probably an hour and a half after I had called down to the press center saying we were leaving. I said, all of you know from your watches that we didn't move. That was because a series of conversations in different places around Camp David which had occurred in a -- I don't want to say less than serious, but certainly not in a concrete way earlier in the day became very real and very concrete.
Q (Inaudible) -- together to discuss this before he finally decided to resume?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the President -- no, the President has been going back and forth.
Q I'm sure you're -- you sound as though you're not sure of the schedule, obviously. But when the President said he will assess the progress of the talks on his return, does that mean or suggest he'll come right here? What do you assume the format will be?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that we'll come right here, but I think the President is committed to playing a personal role upon returning from the G-8 meeting as he has played over the last nine days.
Q You just said that both leaders are willing to come up with something but, really, what made them stay? Is it because he said that there might be some concessions somewhere?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a good question, and it gives me an opportunity to say that there is nothing that's happened this evening, I think in a concrete way, that would make us believe that they are closer to resolving their differences. The differences are still real. This is still very, very hard; very, very tough.
What they have done is looked at the prospect of this breaking down and saying, let's take a different look, let's continue doing this while the President is gone in the hope that we can find a way to get to an agreement.
Q (Inaudible) articulated to each other? Did they say, let's take a look at what lies ahead if we don't do this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the negotiating teams had a lot of interaction with each other this evening but, as far as the leaders, the President was the conduit.
Q Did they approach -- or representatives of the two delegations approach the President or the President's delegation together or separately to say that they weren't leaving?
MR. LOCKHART: There was no -- the delegations didn't come together. They didn't march in a room and say, here, we've got an idea, let's try this. I think there's more of a sense -- and, again, I don't know exactly the genesis of this beyond there was a sense in discussions. You know, it's one of those things where we made our decision that it was time to get in the cars to go get on a plane but, having made that decision, there were a series of conversations going on that didn't magically stop. People didn't say, okay, they're leaving; let's go, get in the car, we're leaving too. Conversations continued.
And in the period in which we were preparing to leave I think there, in the President's mind, was an opportunity and an opportunity to be seized.
Q It doesn't sound like there was any progress in the last 24 hours since President Clinton decided to stay. Did they narrow any gaps, or is the only progress really that they're going to --
MR. LOCKHART: I think I'll stick with where the President was; that we have made some progress, but not get into the specifics of that.
Q Would you characterize the reaction when you heard that they were going to stay as relief, as satisfaction, as delight?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we look at this and there is obviously hope as they stay here to work through these issues as a demonstration of their commitment. But as I said, there is nothing about what's gone on this evening that makes it any easier to resolve these differences. So I think we view this with mixed feelings.
Q I have two things that I wanted to ask you. First, you know, it's extraordinary to get this close and many of us already started reporting that the talks had failed, and then to be able to come back and say actually it looks like they're going to continue. Just how close did it get? How many -- was luggage loaded into the car?
MR. LOCKHART: Luggage was loaded. The motorcade was assembled in front of the President's cabin. People changed into more formal clothing, except for me, to go back to the White House. We were ready to go.
And you know I didn't put out the information that I put out lightly. This was a decision we had taken and it was a decision that took four or five hours to make based on the one last push, which we thought was the last push, to try to keep this going and keep it going in a positive way.
I think it's something probably that is not that unusual in difficult negotiations and not that unusual when you have these sorts of difficult issues in the Middle East peace process at stake. But it certainly was somewhat surprising to get to the point of almost walking out of the cabin to get into the cars and realize that there was a reason to stay and a reason to stay at it.
Q I just wanted to follow up on that, and you started to get to that, saying the one last push. How would you characterize what forces the President brought to bear? Would you call it pressure? Would you call it cajoling? How would you describe it?
MR. LOCKHART: I would say the President used every ounce of his power of persuasion that he had available to him, and then some that he didn't know he had. But having done all that, we were at the point where we thought and had made a decision to leave. So I think, again, this is a potentially positive step that they will stay here and discuss but, again, there is nothing in the fact that they're staying here that magically makes this easier. It's not easy and there is nothing that can make it easy.
Q Would it make any difference -- I mean, after nine days of working hard, why if you expect some few days would make a difference in issues like Jerusalem, first? And, second, has President Clinton made any more calls to Arab leaders that helped in that persuasion?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he's made any more calls I know of. I think I've reported all of them.
Secondly, I don't know that a few more days will help this process, but I certainly know that we did have a sense of what the prospects were for forging a peace should these talks break down and should the parties return home. So, again, I can't quantify the upside for you as far as its potential, but I think it shouldn't be hard for you all to have some sense of the downside of the talks breaking down.
Q Can we go back to powers of persuasion? Did the President ever get angry?
MR. LOCKHART: A few times.
MR. LOCKHART: Almost everybody who was at the camp over the last nine days.
Q What about including the principals?
MR. LOCKHART: I think these are difficult issues and it's frustrating to work around the clock in close quarters, and it would be inhuman to think that from the leaders down to all the negotiators that there haven't been moments where your frustration shows through. And I think that's the same for the President, the Prime Minister, the Chairman, and all a lot of other people.
Q You and the President keep talking about the costs of failure or the cost of shutting the operation down. Can you be more specific about what you were afraid those costs were? And also talk about -- was the President explaining these costs and what the US view of them was?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, when I talked about it, what I specifically meant was the -- you come to a negotiation, you get into a discussion, and leaving -- just by nature of leaving, you negate anything that you've done and, in fact, in some respects even take the process a step backwards. And I think that's typical of any intense negotiation.
I mean, as far as the potential downside or costs of not being to reach an agreement, I think the President laid that out at the beginning of this process and that hasn't changed.
Q When do you think the President will be back at Camp David?
MR. LOCKHART: The earliest would be upon return from Japan.
Q What is the schedule for next week? Is there any sense of a deadline for next week or some plan the President might have for these negotiations?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, given the fact that this is news, that this development is news to us as well as it is to you, we're working through those issues now.
Q So what do you expect will happen when the President will return?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I don't know that we have an expectation, but I know that the President will be keenly interested in the reports from the Secretary of State over what progress is made when he's not here.
Q Do you anticipate any progress in these efforts?
MR. LOCKHART: I certainly think that the fact that they want to stay here demonstrates a commitment to work through these issues, and it's certainly our hope that they can make progress.
Q Are all of the members of both delegations staying except for the member of the Palestinian delegation who already had to leave for his son's wedding? Can we expect everybody else to stay?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that anybody left. I know that Abu Mazen left and I don't know what the schedule is, whether he'll return or not. We just haven't gotten to that point. But I'm not aware that anybody from the delegation left.
Q Does Secretary Albright staying means that she's going to cancel her travel plans next week to Asia?
MR. LOCKHART: I know that she does have travel plans and, at this point, I think that her schedule remains the same and as we get closer to the day I'm sure Richard can give you some help on that.
Q Are you staying here, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to the airport right now.
Q (Inaudible) together?
MR. LOCKHART: I think so. I'm not really sure.
Q Is this going to be the press center (inaudible)?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. We will stay here. I have to talk to Richard at some point about what we want to do as far as a briefing schedule, but this will remain up and all of the nice people who have been helping us who thought we were out of their hair have another thing coming to them.
Let me take one more, then I've got to go.
Q When is the earliest the President can be back here?
MR. LOCKHART: The earliest he could be back here is when he finishes in Okinawa.
Q Did the three leaders meet today together -- Chairman Arafat, President Clinton and the Prime Minister?
MR. LOCKHART: No, they did not. Thank you.
END 1:15 A.M. EDT