U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman (Thurmont, Maryland)
PRESS BRIEFING BY SPOKESMAN RICHARD BOUCHER ON THE CAMP DAVID PEACE TALKS Thurmont Elementary School
5:05 P.M. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me give you the five o'clock update. Camp David discussions continue between the parties on core issues of permanent status. The Secretary met during the course of the afternoon separately with senior negotiators from both sides. Shortly after noon, she met with Chairman Arafat. Later after that, she met with Prime Minister Barak.
Contacts between the parties continue on all the issues. As I left, the Secretary was meeting with her US negotiating team, looking at the next set of activities, and we continue our efforts to move forward on the issues.
So with that brief update, I'd be glad to take your questions.
Q Richard, would it be productive in, what is it, the tenth day now or the eleventh, for Barak and Arafat to sort of meet face to face, measure the gap?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, that's happened. When we think it would be productive, when they think it would be productive, I'm sure we'll do that as well. But at this stage, we've conducted the negotiations at each stage in a way that we felt was the best way to move forward.
Q Have they set a schedule, a certain set of goals that they hope to have accomplished before the President gets back?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we keep going towards the same goal, which is to reach an agreement that deals with all the core issues.
Q Have they set a certain set of mileposts that they'd like to get to?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think there's only one milepost that really matters, and that's the one that we're still shooting for.
Q But certainly there's got to be some on the way to your final milepost?
MR. BOUCHER: I think not three miles down this issue and four miles down that issue. But obviously we need to solve the issues and they need to focus from time to time on what's the best way to move forward. So, to that extent, yes, they try to move forward on different issues at different moments. But the overall effort is to move forward on all the issues and to reach an agreement.
Q All along, you and the White House have had a very steady accounting of the meetings of the President. Can you tell us last night,roughly, what time of night Clinton had his last meetings, bilateral, with Barak and Arafat? What time of night? And do the same for Albright, around the sort of post-9:00 p.m. period. It gets very fuzzy looking at the transcript as to what was going on with the leaders meeting around that time.
MR. BOUCHER: And anything I say can and will be used against me, right? (Laughter.) Last night was a very hectic and involved process, first of reaching the conclusion that we?d reached a conclusion to the discussions, and then second of all seeing that in fact there was the opportunity to move forward and that it was worth staying.
I don't think I can go into any more detail than we have so far. Joe went through it with you last night in the middle of the night. I went through it again this morning with you as much as I can. Suffice it to say that the President was going back and forth and having discussions with the different leaders. The Secretary was having meetings with negotiators,largely, on the side, sat down at times with one or the other team. I know she sat down with the Palestinian team at one point. Negotiators were talking to each other, negotiators were talking to us.
So there were a great deal of conversations going on. Once the decision to conclude had been made, you might describe sort of the second idea of continuing and possibly finding the value of continuing emerged more starkly as an option that they wanted to take and the parties-- the leaders together in their meetings, in their discussions, the President with Chairman Arafat and the President with Prime Minister Barak -- agreed that they wanted to stay. And they wanted to stay.
Q There were bilaterals after the announcement that the talks were ending? There were -- Clinton was meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, the President was having meetings with the leaders until a few minutes before we got in the motorcade to come down here.
Q I thought the way Joe described it was that the face-to-face meetings weren't going on at that point; that it evolved into phone calls. Was it face-to-face meetings?
MR. BOUCHER: I would look back at Joe's transcripts. I think there were both.
Q Does the Secretary have any plans tonight to meet Chairman Arafat? And, second question, when was the last time Arafat and Barak met face to face over a meal or for talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't remember. You would have to go back to the transcripts, the last sort of formal sit-down meal we had together where they were together at the meal. You know, that may happen again, it may not. I am not sure that it will happen at this evening's meal; they were still thinking about it, about what kind of meal to have.
But people do get together at these meals, especially the negotiators,and people talk. And so there are a variety of conversations going on all the time, so I wouldn't read too much into a particular kind of meeting.
Q Have the parties given any indication of how long they are willing or able to remain here after the President returns?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we're gaming that out at this point. I'm not sure we've asked them.
At this stage, we are committed to unflagging efforts to use the opportunity before us. We are going to see where we are. The President will assess where we are when he comes back, and at that point he will make the determination as far as where we go next.
Q Mr. Lockhart said it makes no sense for this process to carry on indefinitely. When the President returns, you'll set another hard date to say we have to have an agreement by this point?
MR. BOUCHER: I think when he comes back, the President will assess where we are with the issues and determine where we should go next on the issues and for how long. But, obviously, we don't think that unlimited time should be spent on this. It is a matter of making decisions and working on the issues so that the decisions can be made. And so that's the key component.
Q Exactly when is the President scheduled to arrive back in the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't have that for you yet. With the changes that resulted from his delay in departing, the White House is still reworking the schedule.
Q Will it be Sunday night?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, it's only a guess, Sunday, Monday was. But we don't have a new schedule yet from the White House. We talked to them a couple hours ago.
Q Richard, is the President expected to ask the G-7 nations to help finance a possible peace deal?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure they'll be interested in a general way in the events here. Obviously, we and others have stood up in support of peace deals in the past and we would expect any support that was needed to be an international effort. I wouldn't conclude from that, however, that there would be a sign of specific planning going on. But I would assume the topic will arise in his discussions.
Q Following after that thought, the idea has been floated that what happened last night may, in fact, work to the President's advantage at the G-8 summit to say, this is the price of failure, so it's time for you all to pony up to make this deal a reality.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to game it that way. I think in the end we and our G-7 partners and others in the world have been quite forthcoming when it comes to supporting peace in the Middle East. We have certainly done our part. We think others have done a lot as well. So to think that we are somehow playing with them or shaming them into it I don't think is necessary at this point. But certainly the President is going to want to talk to them about it.
Q There have been members of Congress who have said that actually the United States is going--is planning to shame them into making a financial commitment by promising the Israelis and the Palestinians a certain level of US support and then coming to Congress and saying, well, if you don?t pony this up, you don't support peace.
Has the President been in touch with Congress on a specific level of what he sees as a level of US support that will be necessary?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, as we said in the past, we're not at that stage yet and that what I?ve seen from various statements from leaders in Congress is general support for the idea of supporting peace in the Middle East. People understand it?s important to our nation, as they have in the past. But we're not at the stage yet, either here or in our previous discussions, of asking them to support some specific proposal.
Q Can I just follow up, Richard? There have been members of Congress that say that the Administration is not taking into consideration their concerns and they should be involved more in the process as the US tries to negotiate this, not in terms of a diplomatic level between the two parties but in terms of how the United States is prepared to help out.
Do you think that's warranted?
MR. BOUCHER: We consulted with members of congress along the way. And, certainly, as you know, the President had a number of discussions before we left. The Secretary has discussed this issue in a general sense in many of her contacts with congresspeople on the Hill in the last few weeks leading up to this. But we are not at the stage yet to get that specific with them.
Q Can you say something about the mood of today's session in light of last night?s interesting events? Was it a wakeup call or how are they reacting today?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the wakeup call was a little later in the morning. I think people first wanted to get some sleep. The delegations have been meeting among themselves, you know, each leader with his own delegation in some ways, preparing for the next few days-- work, looking at the events of last night and deciding how to move forward. We wanted to stay, they wanted to stay and now I think everybody is committed and determined to making it worthwhile and producing some productive movement during this period.
Q Richard, what contact does the Secretary have with the President since he went?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any specific discussions but I know staffs have been in touch with each other.
Q Richard, one of the ways that appears to keep the blackout in effect, for example the Vice President's office is saying that while Leon's been in touch with people and getting updates, that they're not getting a lot of information and they're getting more information sometimes from the press than they are from White House officials.
Not just for Vice President Gore, but is the White House trying to limit the information given to Gore, Talbott, Pickering, Steinberg? Are you really trying to enforce the blackout by not only not consulting with Congress but limiting the number of?
MR. BOUCHER: Are you trying to find out how well informed your sources are? (Laughter.) I would say that the people who deal most specifically with this issue, with the exception of those who had to leave on the President's airplane yesterday, are all here. Certainly the information on exactly what's going on up there is not widespread because,frankly, there are not that many other people that need to deal with these issues on a day-to-day basis. That's not to say-- you know, we're certainly not telling stories or lies or misinforming or somehow keeping in the dark people who are not here. But there is no particular reason to keep them informed and therefore they're not.
Q To follow up on that and what Elise was saying, not about the aid package but about just calls to members of Congress, did the Secretary or did the President call any congressional leaders, either late last night or early this morning or today to give them an update since things have changed quite a bit?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
Q Have the negotiations today been restricted to bilateral American-Palestinian on one side or American-Israeli, without encounters between the negotiators, Israelis and Palestinians? And if it's true, is it consistent with reports that Prime Minister Barak instructed his negotiators not to talk to the Palestinians until they answer their proposals?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to deal with any specific reports but I did mention to you earlier the discussions and contacts between the parties directly on the various issues have continued.
Q What time did everything come to a halt last night and what time did it start this morning?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'd have to look back. The President's departure was 20 minutes before he arrived here. So I don't know exactly the time of the President's departure. He made his statement at 12:30, so shortly after midnight he departed and then we got back up the hill. I think there were probably people still having conversations after the President departed. But the Secretary didn't have any particular meetings when she went back up.
Q And this morning?
MR. BOUCHER: This morning, we started to get together in our individual team about 10 o?clock, and the first meetings occurred after noon.
Q And how does that compare to other days this week?
MR. BOUCHER: Depending on the night, it might have closed off a little bit earlier than some other nights and started a little bit later than some other mornings.
Q With Barak and Arafat not meeting for days and with the US meeting separately again and again with both sides, it seems inescapable that we get the impression the US is pitching a plan or a set of compromises to the two sides. We've never established that, indeed, the US is in the bridging game now. I know there is little likelihood that we'll get answers to any of these questions. But there was a little break yesterday and a little burst of honesty when I guess it was Joe said that the fact they decided to go on doesn't mean that there was any -- you know, the gap was closed in any way, it's just they decided to keep at it.
It's the US that's doing the pitching, isn't it? So I wonder if that's true. I wonder if the US still would not try-- and this goes to motive-- that the US would not try to sell either party a deal that they don't think is in their best interest. And I wondered if anybody would get so punchy that he might agree to something he wouldn't have agreed to on the first or the second day.
You can discard all those questions if you like. But that's the impression--
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't found the question yet.
Q All right. Is the US offering bridging proposals? Is that the point of their not meeting face to face, with the US doing all the shuttling? Secondly, is the US still given to the notion that it wouldn't want an agreement unless the two sides saw it in their own self-interest, best interest? And, three, is there a chance that just weariness will convince them to take something they wouldn't have taken in the bright light of day?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's go back to this. On the issue of US bridging proposals, I'm afraid I have nothing more to say than what I haven't said on the subject in the past. On the question of whether one of these people would agree to something out of weariness, I would say that's not our plan. Certainly, we don't think that any of these leaders is going to compromise on an issue of vital importance to his people just because he's tired. We have to get these issues and these decisions to the point where they do serve the fundamental interests of the parties and where the parties feel they can agree with them in order to get peace. So I wouldn't count on anybody agreeing to anything just because he's tired.
And there was something in the middle there. Oh, I know, bilateral contacts. We do report to you on what the President and the Secretary have been doing in their meetings, kind of in more detail. But remember, every day we describe groups, discussions, contacts, meetings on the issues between the parties themselves at different levels and in different configurations -- sometimes larger groups, sometimes a couple people talking somewhere. There are a great deal of contacts and discussions directly between the parties, sometimes with us, very frequently without us, to deal in great seriousness and sometimes in great detail with these issues. So the issues are being discussed directly between the parties, even if at the leadership level you might see more activity that's going between us and the parties themselves.
Q Is anybody being intractable on any particular issue?
MR. BOUCHER: That's not something we get into.
Q The word "intractable"was used here before.
MR. BOUCHER: I know, but not in that context.
Q Can I follow up on the weariness question? I mean, certainly you've said over the last few days that they're exhausted, they're frustrated and now they're deciding to continue. And it seems as if an extra few hours of sleep this morning isn't enough to give them renewed vigor to go on. So how does the Secretary regroup them and retool them to go forward and make progress?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, those of you who travel with the Secretary know that unflagging vigor has not been a problem for her. And I would say that these are all people who know how to deal very well with protracted and difficult issues and negotiations; and we have found it more frenzied or hectic at different moments but there is a very serious effort being made, there is a pace that continues. The ability to deal with the issues and create momentum on the substance is what's really important and that's what we're trying to do.
Q Yesterday, last night, when Joe was asked about the real reason that made them stay here, he said one of the reasons was that they are going to start looking at things from a different view. So doesn't this lead us to believe that there are some bridging proposals from the United States which, you know, made them stay? You know, they thought about it from a different view and that's why they stayed?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to lead you to any particular conclusion on that.
Q Any outings planned, given that the weekend is coming up and everybody is waiting for the President coming back?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, no, I'm not aware of any outings planned at this point. If something happens, we?ll tell you. And, second of all, I don't think you'll find anywhere in my description everybody waiting for the President to come back. Everybody working hard in the President's absence is the way I've described it and that's truly what's going on.
Q Richard, is the State Department aware of any place in the world where shared sovereignty has been a successful and constructive formula?
MR. BOUCHER: That?s a loaded question and I will refer you to academics with it.
Q Were you informed from the leaders of any deadline for them to leave?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't really asked the question but I haven't heard of any.
Q Are we going to get a late night sort of --
MR. BOUCHER: We can do an evening wrap-up for you, hopefully not too late.
Q The talks between -- direct talks, are they happening between the two parties without your presence?
MR. BOUCHER: I said --
Q Yeah, today.
MR. BOUCHER: The parties have continued to have contacts and discussions on the issues, yes, without us.
(The briefing concluded at 5:23 p.m.)