THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 6, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Sheraton Towers New York, New York
8:20 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Sorry to keep you waiting and I'm sorry that you have to look at me instead of Ambassador Ross. But because the President's schedule got backed-up, he had to stay behind to help prepare for the meetings that are going on now. We thought there was going to be some time between, but -- so you have me.
I think we have briefed up until the two meetings that the President has just had with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. So let me just start from that point and give you a little bit on those meetings.
The President met first with Prime Minister Barak. The meeting lasted just about an hour. He had met with his team beforehand -- the team met briefly afterwards. I think the team members are all familiar to you. The President then met with Chairman Arafat for about an hour and a half, an hour and 40 minutes. That meeting broke up -- there was a brief session with his team before getting ready for the meeting with King Abdullah, which was starting as I was walking out of the Waldorf, which was about a quarter to 8:00 p.m. So we are a little bit behind schedule for the day. That's noteworthy, newsworthy -- man bites dog, that sort of thing.
Let me give you the very little I can on the meetings. I think as we suggested beforehand, we did not expect today to be a day where we had a breakthrough in the process. That is true. I have no breakthrough to report. On the other hand, the process has not broken down, it is ongoing. Both parties came here to focus their attention on the overall goal of reaching an agreement. The President looked forward to and appreciated the opportunity to catch up with both leaders for the first time since they departed Camp David some time ago, and get a sense of where they were in this process.
As far as the discussions, they obviously focused on the issues that you know well, that continue to divide the parties -- including all things that we've talked about in the past, Jerusalem, refugees and the other issues.
I don't have any specific information or news on next steps in this process, only to report that the parties continue to be focused on getting an agreement, getting an agreement in a relatively short time frame and working with the United States and the other parties toward that goal.
Q Well, the President, as you've described him, would seem to have had a passive role. Did he try out any new variations?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President and the two leaders went through a number of ideas for trying to bridge differences. I'm not going to get into what those ideas were, nor am I going to try to forecast how successful or unsuccessful these approaches might be.
Q Well, did he air any American permutations or combinations --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to get into trying to detail different ideas or put --
Q No, I didn't ask for details.
MR. LOCKHART: -- any label or ownership on them, only to say that there was discussion of a variety of ideas on issues well-known to you. But I'm not going to give any commentary on the ideas or how they were received or how the discussion went.
Q -- further meetings now?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on further meetings except that we will remain in the process as they move forward.
Q What did Chairman Arafat have to say about if and when he would declare a Palestinian state?
MR. LOCKHART: As was reported to me, there was no discussion of the September 13th deadline or -- in the context of the declaration of an independent sate.
Q Do you think that threat is easing, then, Joe --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that both sides, and the United States included, are focused on getting an agreement and finding a way to bridge the differences and are not particularly focused on a calendar date in next week.
Q Joe, in the President's photo opportunity with President Putin he said the two sides have to focus on what the real deadline is, suggesting he thought it was not in any way September 13th, but referring directly to political realities on the ground later in the month of October -- specifically the Knesset. Is that a fair interpretation of what the President meant?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that's what I was alluding to in my last answer -- I was less forthcoming than the President was.
Q The President stressed in his public remarks a sense of urgency in getting an agreement. You said he made the same point to the participants --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think, as the President said today -- I don't remember his exact words -- but he talked about opportunities present themselves, but they are fleeting and they will pass if not seized. I think the message that comes out of these meetings is that both parties are still engaged in trying to reach an agreement and we stand ready to help them in that effort. But I really, at this point, can't detail any specific plans going forward to how that will happen or how that will work.
Q Joe, how would you characterize the President's reaction to Chairman Arafat's speech at the U.N. today? Do you think it set a proper tone for future compromises or any sort of negotiating position? It sounded rather --
MR. LOCKHART: I actually didn't get a chance to talk to the President about that, so I really don't know what his reaction is. I think whatever the speeches were, he focused on the meetings that he had, the direct sessions he had, and he thought that those were useful and constructive.
Q Not to belabor the point, but if we could just go back to September 13th. Is it fair for us to now say that the White House no longer views September 13th as a realistic deadline for getting an agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as we have indicated, the parties, we believe, are focused on getting an agreement and not on any artificial calendar date, and that we're going to continue to work with them this week, next week and in the weeks going forward.
Q Joe, the Israelis are saying that it's time for Arafat to start making a decision, particularly on Jerusalem. Did the President deliver that kind of a message to Arafat? Was it a stronger nudged to him that maybe to Barak, to start making --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't want to get into specifically what the President's message was or how he delivered it, but he has made the point we know what the issues are and that no one can get 100 percent of what they want, that there had to be a spirit of compromise here. And that's a point he has made to both parties in every session he's had with them. And I think he -- as he said publicly at the U.N. speech, he talked about how time is short and we need to get on to finding out whether we can bridge these differences in the near future.
Q While he's here any prospect for a meeting tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I've had no indications from the team that they are working toward setting that up. So at this point I have no information on any further meetings here.
Q Related to that question, Sandy Berger said the other day I believe that it would be apparent this week -- or it would be difficult to imagine this effort getting anywhere in this administration if there weren't some signs of progress this week. And I'm wondering, at what point do you make that judgment -- today, tomorrow or the next day --
MR. LOCKHART: At the end of the week. I think we've got four days left.
Q Arafat, in his speech, did not demand full Palestinian sovereignty over the holy sites, only -- he talked about national rights and the need for access. Do you see any sign of maybe conciliation in those remarks?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think again, the President has said that there has to be a principled compromise made by both sides that recognizes the needs of the others. This is obviously a very important issue, and at this point, I think it's best that we leave those discussions inside the room.
Q Do you have the rest of the week, really? I thought Arafat was supposed to be leaving to be in Gaza by Saturday for a Council meeting.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's right.
Q Well, then, you don't have a lot of time. This is Wednesday evening and he would leave Friday. So the rest of the week --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that that was a less than serious answer to a question about knowing something by the end of the week. I think what we know tonight in the wake of these two meetings is that the parties remain committed to finding an agreement and working through this process, and while that is the case and while there is the chance to reach an agreement, we will remain engaged.
Q Did the President broach at all the idea of another summit with either of the leaders?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that question. It didn't come up in my conversations with those who were in the two meetings afterwards.
Q To your knowledge, did the President hear anything new in this meeting with either Barak or Arafat?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to get into the discussions. There were certainly discussions about a number of ways to bridge the gap on the difficult issues, but I don't want to get into what those approaches might be or might not be.
Q Is there any sign that the President's getting any help from the Arab world in putting some heat on --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President is meeting with two important leaders in the Arab world as we speak, so I think I'll hold off on answering that question. You know about the discussions he had with President Mubarak last week -- last week -- it seems like it was a month ago, but last Tuesday at the end of the Africa trip. But I think I'll withhold further commentary on that until we have a chance to hear about those meetings.
Q Is there any sign that that is bearing fruit with Arafat?
MR. LOCKHART: That's, I think, a better question to put to Chairman Arafat.
Q Without dealing with the issues, would you say there's been any progress since the end of Camp David on the underlying issues -- without detailing what they are?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that what's important for us is both sides remain committed to this process and reaching an agreement.
Q Was there progress today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that answer fits for that question, too, as a non-answer.
Q Yes, he said since Camp David, and I'm asking about the back-to-back meetings today and -- no report of progress by the spokesman?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll stick with my answer.
Q If I can just change the subject for a minute. I understand there was some kind of urgent conversation between the President and Tony Blair today about a trade dispute involving Kashmir and bananas.
MR. LOCKHART: I mean, there's an ongoing trade dispute that the EU has ruled on, on bananas and beef, I believe. And I expect there will be a decision shortly on what's called the carousel list of retaliation items. The President's had a series of conversations, including discussions with Prime Minister Blair, but I have no announcement to make on that this evening.
Q -- today?
MR. LOCKHART: Not today, that I know of, although we may see him this evening.
MR. CROWLEY: They talked yesterday.
MR. LOCKHART: Yesterday, yes. I know they talked on the phone yesterday. But I actually think there's a pretty good chance they'll see each other this evening at the dinner.
Q Joe, you said that you know of no plans for a further meeting right now, but the week is not over yet, in response to John's question.
MR. LOCKHART: That's right, yes.
Q Does that mean that there are discussions going --
MR. LOCKHART: I literally came out and left the building five minutes after the meeting with Chairman Arafat ended. So to the extent that they're trying to figure out next steps, that process is ongoing right now. So I don't mean to indicate that there is no hope for developing the next process, it's just I don't know what it is yet.
Q It's not that you won't comment on it, it's that you don't know.
MR. LOCKHART: Correct. And I think it's not knowable now because it's a work in progress.
Q Joe, you said the meeting with Arafat lasted about an hour and a half. Without getting into the specifics, given the amount of time the meetings lasted while they were at Camp David, were they able to get beyond the discussion of whether both sides are still committed to an agreement? Were they able to get back into the issues that were, in the end, beyond doing?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q The same question about the meeting with Barak. Were they able to get back into those issues that they left in Camp David?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think that there was no problem in either meeting identifying and discussing --
Q -- that they wouldn't get into any substantive issues unless the Palestinians showed flexibility.
MR. LOCKHART: I think all I can say is that the President believes it was useful to talk to these leaders face to face, judge where we are in the process, and make some decisions on next steps.
Q What's the nature of the event the President is holding tomorrow night at the Metropolitan Museum?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe that is the reception for all of those who have been invited to participate in the Millennium Summit. Beyond that, I don't have too much more than that.
q That includes Fidel Castro?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. We can check.
Q Could you set up a -- meeting and the South Korean meeting tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think as far as tomorrow's schedule, the President has got -- he starts the day with a bilateral with President Kim of South Korea. There are a number of important bilateral and regional issues that will be on the agenda, including North Korea and the discussions that we have had with them on both missiles and security.
From there he'll have a bilateral with President Sezer of Turkey. The President will then proceed to a P5 meeting. I think the President's remarks there will be focused on the U.N.'s role and the initiatives in Africa, particularly concerning our development agenda and our fight against both poverty and infectious diseases -- I'm sorry, that will be the Security Council.
In the P5 meeting, I expect him to talk more about internal reforms within the U.N. That will be more of an internal, housekeeping session. And then the evening will be the Metropolitan Museum reception.
Q Could you back a minute. Who's not invited? Castro is not invited?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the list of who's invited. We'll try to get that. I think that he's not invited.
Q If he's invited, can you tell us --
MR. LOCKHART: Good, we're done. Thanks.
END 8:33 P.M. EDT