THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Camp David, Maryland) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release July 24, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Thurmont Elementary School Thurmont, Maryland
11:53 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me give you a recap of the President's activities since we returned here to Camp David last evening.
Around 7:00 p.m. last night the President had a meeting with his team, who brought him up to date on the weekend's activities, since he was Okinawa at the G-8 summit. Following that meeting, the President had a bilateral with Prime Minister Barak. Following that was a bilateral with Chairman Arafat.
After that meeting, the delegations and the leaders had dinner together. It was probably about 30 or so people in one room at the cabin where they've been eating for the last two weeks. The President sat between the two leaders and engaged in discussion over the dinner.
The dinner broke; by agreement that he had worked through during his bilaterals, the President then proceeded to begin a meeting with a small group of negotiators from each side to work through the issues that are before them. That meeting lasted, with the President hosting it, until just after 5:00 a.m. this morning. Those meetings were intensive and substantive and, as the time indicates, went quite long into the night.
The President got up this morning just after 10:00 a.m., met with his team. And I think it was about 10:30 a.m. or so began another meeting along the same lines with a small group of negotiators, and I expect that to go for some time.
Q Are the principals in that meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: No, this is the President -- he has negotiators from each side, and then someone from the U.S. team trying to work through the issues.
That's the schedule for the day. I don't have an absolute sense of how long this will go on, but I expect the meeting to go on for several hours.
Q Joe, when the President came back, we were told that he was going to make an assessment of where the talks were. What was that -- what is that assessment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think in the most general sense, the President, in his mind, is working on what I'll call a rolling assessment of whether the substance and atmosphere at these talks are one that potentially could lead to an agreement. While that is the case, and while the President believes that discussions are substantive and have the potential of leading to an agreement, he will remain here, and he will keep the parties here, to keep working.
Should he come to the conclusion that the substance of the discussions and the atmosphere of the discussions do not have the potential to lead to an agreement, then he will act accordingly and bring these discussions to an end. I think the fact that he was up until 5:00 a.m., working through the issues in a very personal, hands on way, and that he was back at it again early this morning should lead you to believe that he thinks staying here for the time being is worthwhile.
Q Joe -- that was the same group of negotiators that he met with until 5:00 a.m.?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there may be some variation, but certainly -- obviously, the President will continue to host it, but I think there's some changes on our side, and within the teams.
Q -- tell us one of the specific working groups?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there have been various permutations of who is working on what and how. So I wouldn't -- it has moved around over the last six or seven days, so I wouldn't try to tie it to the groups that were established, what, seven or eight days ago.
Q Is there a specific topic?
MR. LOCKHART: They are discussing specific topics, yes.
Q Where, Joe. Where?
MR. LOCKHART: In the President's cabin.
Q Is it fair to say that they are now in the process of putting down understandings that have been reached on various issues on paper?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that would get to the substance of what they're discussing so I will refrain from commenting on that.
Q Joe, have the groups divided up into committees, like they did at Sheppardstown? And, also, what was the sense of urgency that caused the President to be working until 5:00 a.m.? Is there a deadline now or some --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the deadline is as I described it. Based on the President's assessment of the realistic chance that we can reach an agreement here. It is not a calendar-driven deadline. But, having said that, I think that all the parties know that there is a balance here between taking the time to work through the issues and taking too much time that will never lead to an agreement. So I cannot give you a precise formula, except to say that the President has got this very issue foremost in his mind and he will remain here as long as he believes we have some prospect of success.
Q Has the President cleared his schedule for this week, to stay up here?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're taking this day by day. Today we have nothing else on the schedule. I think those of you who cover the White House know that the President has a personal event tomorrow that he would like to attend in Arkansas; but we're taking this day by day.
Q Joe, when the President left on Wednesday, as you know better than most, he literally went from one hour to the next where you thought the summit was ending in failure. You got both leaders to agree to stay. They've been talking now for the last several days. Do you feel any more hopeful that perhaps they did make some progress over the weekend? Are you able to kind of characterize what happened over the weekend and where you think things stand for the next day or so?
MR. LOCKHART: I hesitate to use a phrase like "hopeful," because these issues are so difficult and I don't know that I'd be able to back that up with any substance. I think the fact -- obviously, the last time I stood here it was an hour or so removed from the collapse of these discussions. The fact that these discussions are continuing is a positive thing. The fact that the President is using his time to sit down and work through each and every issue is a decision that he and his team do not take lightly, as far as devoting the time to this.
And as long as we're here and discussing things, there is a prospect for reaching agreement, but it's impossible to predict the likelihood of that.
Q What do you think -- he had his fingers crossed and is now --
MR. LOCKHART: I think he was -- you know, it was a long flight back, he had a lot of time to mull over the issues. He was anxious once we got on the plane to get back here and get back to work. And that's exactly what he did. This morning he only got a few hours of sleep, but he was anxious to go. In fact, we were sitting around the table in his cabin in the briefing and he cut us off and said, you know, let's get going. Let's get the groups in here. Let's get back to work. So I think that's some indication of where he is.
Q Two questions. Can you give us a sense of what Prime Minster Barak and Chairman Arafat are doing today? Will they be meeting with the President? And can you give us maybe a little clearer sense when the President -- do you expect him to make this decision about whether or not to go forward?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that decision is -- the best word I can use for it is, it's kind of a rolling decision. There is no time frame on it. It's just a judgment that the President will have to make.
As far as the leaders -- I will let you know if they schedule a meeting today. There is nothing at this point. But they are working very intensively within their teams and with their negotiators, as far as working through the issues. I mean, obviously, the negotiators are working with the President, but also have a good deal of contact with their leaders on the specific issues that are on the table.
Q Is it several hours until the President decides, or is it going to take days or even weeks?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it is impossible to speculate at this point on a judgment that hasn't been made.
Q Can you tell me if Arafat was on the phone with either President Mubarak or -- in the last few hours?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that.
Q Can you tell us, Joe, about the input of the rest of the world? How is it that -- I mean, does Arafat have to check things out at periodic junctures with the Saudis, who control the money and with the Egyptians, who control the prestige?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know to what extent the consultations are going on, between the leaders of either delegations, with the rest of the Arab world. As far as -- I mean, we had a good sense of the international community's focus on this, with the President's meetings in G-8. They were all very interested in the process, in any progress we made.
It was a brief discussion, which never got into the numbers or how it would all work, but on the international community's responsibility to help, at the Friday night session, among the G-8 leaders. And I think, you know, it's not just the Arab world, it's the rest of the international community that's watching this very closely.
Q Joe, we understand the President made several phone calls to regional leaders last week. Can you tell us the purpose of those phone calls? Is he trying to rally support?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, in the most general sense, the President has said all along that it's important for everyone involved here, whether they're here at the talks, whether they're outside the talks, whether they are regional leaders, whether they are international leaders, to try to work toward creating an atmosphere that's conducive to reaching an agreement here.
For his part, he has done some work on that, with both calls to the regions, with his discussions in Okinawa with the G-8 leaders, and that will continue.
Q European diplomatic sources say that --
MR. LOCKHART: I think I know what your question is. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q -- the European Union proposed to the United States a solution regarding Jerusalem that could be close in substance, or close to the Pope's statement yesterday. How do you comment on this?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I know that there -- a lot of people have made a lot of statements, but as far as what's being discussed within the confines of Camp David, on this and some other difficult issues, I'm not going to comment on that.
Q Joe, can you -- now I think you already know what my question is -- comment on the fact that CIA officials have confirmed that George Tenet has been here and visited the talks a few times? Can you explain what role the American intelligence agency may play in both these talks and any --
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I think those of you followed the previous talks understand the role that Mr. Tenet has played. I would describe it as similar to the last talks. He was here for a day or two. He is now gone. And beyond that, I'm going to leave it to the CIA to say, no comment.
Q What about the Jonathan Pollard issue, which has been raised by several media -- George Tenet -- Jonathan Pollard the last time around. Did that come up again, and has he changed his view?
MR. LOCKHART: There is no change in the President's view, or the U.S. government's position. It has not come up that I know of, but I know that it frequently comes up when the President talks to the Prime Minister of Israel, and the Prime Minister of Israel raises it on a regular basis. We're certainly aware of what the government of Israel's view on this subject is.
Q Joe, could we just stay on this for just a minute and get some clarification in terms of, were the two leaders looking for some assurances, in terms of what American intelligence agency could offer in the event of a settlement? Is he meeting with both sides? Tell us a little bit more, because the CIA is going to refer it back to you.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, then -- let me make a joint White House/State Department, with Richard's blessing and CIA's, statement, which is: I'm not going there. (Laughter.)
Q Let me follow up with a different question which is: The Palestinians made it clear over the weekend that there can be no final agreement without an agreement on Jerusalem. But have there been agreements reached on the other core issues so that they can get closer to that once they resolve Jerusalem?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I'm not going to get into the substance of the discussions. I think that goes to the core. There are -- I think the issues are well known. And I think, obviously, to reach an agreement they've got to work through each of these issues.
Q Would you at least say that they're making progress?
MR. LOCKHART: I would say that the conversations continue in a substantive and constructive way.
Q The Israelis are saying that they did discuss Jerusalem over the weekend -- the Palestinians are saying that they did and the Israelis are saying that did. Was Jerusalem discussed over the weekend? And in 1991 the United States sent a letter to the Palestinians saying they do not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem. Has there been anything in this summit that will cause the United States to change that position?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the substance of your question goes directly to the substance of the talks. And we've managed to get through 13 days, or 14 days now without discussing that. And we're going to continue that.
Q Jerusalem is obviously coming up in these talks. We're not asking as to whether or not there has been progress. We're just asking as to whether or not when President Clinton left it came up in conversation?
MR. LOCKHART: No, you're asking was there a specific discussion of a specific issue. And I'm not going to answer the question.
Q Joe, the 5:00 am.m. meeting, when did it start? Can you give us any sense of who was there, who was the U.S. aide to the President who was participating?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to go into who represented each side. The conversation began, I think, just around midnight, went through about 5:00 a.m., and included a break of 45 minutes to an hour.
Q And no substance was -- can you tell us anything about the moods of both Barak and Arafat?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, they're both still here and they're both still working and the delegation is working. And I think that dwarfs any questions about how they're feeling. I mean, I know that it's -- in the 21st century how you feel is often more important than what you do, but not here.
Q When was the last time the President or anyone from the U.S. team talked to the Vatican concerning Jerusalem?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that.
Q -- to keep Middle Eastern leaders updated on what is taking place here? There have been calls both by American leadership and by Palestinian leadership for the leaders in that region. And a lot of them have voiced their support for the Palestinian stand on Jerusalem. Do you think their opinions should be considered when reaching an agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think there is a lot of people in the international community that have a view. Those views are weighed as appropriate by the delegations and by the U.S.. But, ultimately, it's going to be up to the parties, with the assistance of the United States, to reach an agreement that both parties believe is in their best interests.
Q A question about the position of the United States, the official position of the United States on East Jerusalem. Has that changed?
MR. LOCKHART: The United States believes that Jerusalem is a final status issue, to be worked through by the parties -- and guess what, it's happening right now, and that's why we're here, and that's why we've spent 14 days together in very close quarters.
Q Joe, I'm not going to ask about Barak or Arafat, but I would like to ask, what is President Clinton's reaction to that spiritual quote, to the spiritual leader of all Christian world, about Jerusalem becoming an international city. Can you tell me what his reaction -- and it's not the talk, really.
MR. LOCKHART: Obviously, if the President had a reaction, and I were to report it to you, it would give something away about the discussions that are ongoing, and I don't intend to do that.
Q Can you confirm that Mr. Reisner, the legal advisor who helped draft the Wye agreement is coming to be at Camp David?
MR. LOCKHART: Who, please?
Q Daniel Reisner, the military advisor, Daniel Reisner.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that.
Q Joe, is the purpose of today's session to decide if it's worth going on or not?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the purpose of last night and today is to work through the issues, and then having worked through the issues, one by one, make a judgement of whether it makes sense to continue on, or it makes sense to call a break for this.
Q Joe, can you characterize, or just give us a little bit more about the dinner and the conversation last night between the President and the two leaders?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have too much on it.
Q What were they talking about? Were they talking about this, were they talking about the G-8? Did they talk about the weather? What did they --
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I think it was some combination. I didn't talk to the President in particular about the dinner, but what was reported to me was some combination of kind of all of the above. And it was the -- it was sort of an intermittent conversation with -- I think Arafat was on the President's right, and Barak was on his left. And on Barak's left was Chelsea. So there was a sort of rolling conversation, that involved both substance and non-substance.
Q Joe, was it the first group dinner in how many days now, because --
MR. LOCKHART: It was the first group dinner involving the President -- with the exception of the one that the Secretary had -- probably in four or five days.
Q Has Chelsea always been going to the dinners?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, she's been at the dinners.
Q Is Albright still here and did she participate in the five day absence?
MR. LOCKHART: She is still here. She's been involved at a number of levels with the leaders, with the negotiators and within our team. But as far as the overnight discussion, she was not in the room for the actual discussions, but talked to the President, I believe, during the break and then afterwards.
Q -- those talks?
MR. LOCKHART: I will leave it as a very small group.
Q Joe, on Sunday the Pope weighed in reviewing his suggestion that Jerusalem be --
Q They did it yesterday.
MR. LOCKHART: We did it today, that's right.
Q Do you know if the President placed any telephone calls to leaders in the region the last day or two?
MR. LOCKHART: No, not that I know of.
Q Joe, -- question. Senator Hollings -- in a conversation of the spending bill, which would effectively prohibit the FTC from considering proposed acquisitions like Georgia Telecom's $50 billion bid for Voicestream Wireless in the next fiscal year. Does the administration see this as one that would force the President to veto the bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that we've actually seen the bill yet. I think our position on these sort of acquisitions is pretty clear. We favor acquisitions that provide consumers with more choice and more products, and oppose those mergers or acquisitions that stifle competition.
There's obviously a regulatory process here, which we need to honor, but I don't even know that we've seen the actual legislation, so I don't know if we've made up our mind on what we will do when we see it, if we ever see it.
Q -- concessions, and no bilateral meeting yet? I want to confirm this.
MR. LOCKHART: Except for the dinner last night, that is correct.
Q My second questions is, has the President made any comments or reactions to that plan -- statement issued at the weekend by -- calling for -- in East Jerusalem was part of the package? Was he enthusiastic --
MR. LOCKHART: Not in my presence, no.
Q Does the President have anything to say about the rumors that Dick Cheney is the Vice-Presidential choice for George Bush? Does he think that will make it a more difficult race for Vice President Gore?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has been focused on other things, but he thought Mr. Podesta's wisdom on a Sunday morning talk show had a lot of merit to it.
Q Does the President think he could be Al Gore's Vice President? (Laughter.) Come on Joe, it's late. Come on Joe. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'm still on Tokyo time, Bill. I'm afraid of what will happen if I answer that. (Laughter.)
Q Joe -- and you said, not in your presence. But the fact that the truce was actually mentioned, did the President say that even if you weren't in there -- react to it, in any way?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if I wasn't there, no one reported it to me. Like the tree falling in the proverbial forest, I don't know. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Joe.
END 12:15 P.M. EDT