Richard Boucher, Department of State Spokesman|
Press Briefing, The Camp David Peace Talks
Thurmont Elementary School, Thurmont, Maryland
July 20, 2000
12:05 P.M. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me start out by trying to give you a sense of the day that we face today and then I'll be glad to take your questions.
As you all know, the Secretary is now leading the U.S. delegation in the absence of the President. The two leaders and their delegations have remained at Camp David. Discussions will continue, in the President's absence, of the issues here. We expect today a number of informal discussions throughout the day and meetings by the Secretary with leaders and with negotiators.
She will continue to try to close the gaps and move forward on the issues so that when the President returns, he can assess the status of our efforts. As I left this morning, she was meeting with the U.S. team and we expect meetings with delegations and leaders to start fairly soon.
With that update, I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Does she expect to have a three-way meeting with Arafat and Barak at all?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll see how things evolve. At this point, there is not one planned. She was going to begin with individual meetings with the two leaders. But that remains a possibility.
QUESTION: There have been reports that they are going to be working primarily on non-core issues now, moving perhaps to some of the issues that have been discussed in Emmitsburg, like water and economic issues. Is that true?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I mentioned that discussions will continue of the issues. I'd say discussions will continue of the core issues involved in permanent status.
QUESTION: Richard, last night both the President and Joe Lockhart acknowledged that the talks continued not because there was any real progress on any of the core issues but because all sides just agreed the price of walking away was too great. So now we've been here, this is day 10, and the success is that they're still talking, not that there's any agreement on any of the core issues.
Is there any hope that when the President returns, there will actually be some agreements in place, or is the hope merely that when the President returns, everyone will still be here?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think it's clear that we want to use this period productively. The Secretary shares the President's determination to move forward on the issues. She is looking to put together as much as we can the positions of the parties and see how we can move all the issues forward. So the determination is there, the effort has certainly not slackened in any way, and I think the parties wouldn't be here, we wouldn't be here if we didn't think there was some potential. But, on the other hand, we are not laying claim to anything more than what the President said last night, that we've made some progress.
QUESTION: Would you expect the talks to continue in the same way as they have done and with the same intensity that they have done in the past 10 days, even in the President's absence?
MR. BOUCHER: Allowing for day-to-day variations, in that some days have been extremely intense, like yesterday evening, including the period after Joe issued his statement and before the President came down -- allowing for the day-to-day variations, yes. The same patterns and intensity will be maintained. We continue to do things in a variety of formats and settings, meetings among different people, you know, other kinds of meetings are possible. So as she works to move this forward, she will use all the tools at her disposal and continue with the same kind of intensity.
QUESTION: Richard, do you know if Chairman Arafat especially, but any of the leaders, either one, has made any calls back to the region or to other leaders?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I couldn't give you a list, but I think they have either made or taken some calls. But I would leave it to them -- well, I wouldn't leave it to them. I forgot to say at the beginning, the press blackout continues.
We'll check on that and see if we have anything we can report on that to you.
QUESTION: Richard, can you talk with any more specificity than Joe did last night about what actually transpired? I mean, he was very vague on the sequence of events and who actually made this suggestion and how that was communicated to the American team.
MR. BOUCHER: I can't really go into it in any more detail than Joe did last night or than the President did last night. The President had a very intensive series of meetings with the leaders. The idea had been kicking around for some time that they might want to say if there was productive work that could continue to be done. And during the series of meetings and discussions that the President had with the leaders, the sense emerged that that was indeed useful, and so that was what they decided to do at a point very late in the evening.
QUESTION: Why did they announce they were closing if there was this idea?
MR. BOUCHER: Because at that point, it looked like they weren't going to do this and, in fact, they were going to close. At the point where they decided to close, there were indeed still some discussions going on, delegations and other ways, and still some final meetings to be held. And during those final meetings, it emerged as a useful and productive idea to try to continue to stay here and move the ball forward and see where we could get to even in the absence of the President.
QUESTION: Richard, I have three questions. The first one is, the talks that are going to take place today, are they going to be talks with the Americans going back and forth between Israelis and the Palestinians or do you expect those groups to meet together today?
MR. BOUCHER: As we've seen in the past, there are a whole variety of discussions. I certainly expect informal discussions between the parties. The only scheduled meetings that I know of now would be meetings with the Secretary and the two leaders but things continue to evolve in different ways.
QUESTION: Last night when you thought the talks were going to end and the two leaders were going to go back to the region, in the few hours before it was announced, when it was understood that the talks were going to end, were any preparations made in terms of how these people would go back to the region and avoid some conflict from erupting in order to keep somewhat the momentum going, even though the talks weren't going here, some alternative plan?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's a question we would have answered if we had gone that route. But at this point, I think that gets into the kind of substance of what's been discussed up there, so I can't.
QUESTION: Is there a new deadline set for the end of the negotiations?
MR. BOUCHER: We've made quite clear we don't think it's useful to go on for an unlimited amount of time. We certainly look forward to moving forward, to doing the work we can when the President returns. It will maintain the same intensity, the same effort to reach conclusion, to reach an agreement. We have never specified a precise deadline, but I think certainly the effort to bring things together and reach an agreement will remain at the same level.
QUESTION: Richard, when does the President return? When is the earliest point he could return? When do you expect him to return? And also, last night. You talk about how it emerged, you know, that they should stay. Did somebody decisively make the call, okay, we're staying, and give that order? You know, when did that happen? Was it the President, was it the Secretary of State or was it the other principals?
MR. BOUCHER: I really can't go into that kind of detail. I just have to say it emerged from his discussions with leaders.
QUESTION: How about the President's return?
MR. BOUCHER: The President's return, again, we don't have precisely yet.
QUESTION: The day?
MR. BOUCHER: It's expected Sunday or Monday but we'll have to see. They're working on the schedule. I don't have an updated schedule yet from the White House.
QUESTION: Was part of the purpose of this shuttling back and forth in the last three hours to persuade the leaders to stay?
MR. BOUCHER: Part of the purpose was to discuss the status of where we were as we were concluding. And in that process, after we had determined we were concluding, in that process the leaders got a sense with each other that it was in fact not the best thing to do to conclude, but rather it was better to stay and to keep working on this. And that's why we're still here.
QUESTION: Richard, the Israeli media are reporting about the American bridging proposal being held to the parties, that the Israelis accepted and the Palestinians didn't accept the second bridging proposal. Do you anticipate any changes to this proposal?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't expect any changes to our policy of not commenting on any number of issues that you raise in your question.
QUESTION: Israeli media also is reporting from Israeli sources insisting that there are not going to be any direct negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis, formal direct negotiation, only Americans coming back and forth between them, and they are saying that basically they are waiting for Arafat's reply; they have nothing more to say right now and they are staying only because Clinton has asked.
What about this, this describing no direct negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Is that accurate?
MR. BOUCHER: We will describe to you what happens up there. I wouldn't draw any particular conclusions from the kinds of discussions, the kinds of contacts and communications that people are having. First of all, I don't think you can draw substantive conclusions from that. And, second of all, as far as various press reports go, particularly media in the region that are so far away, I wouldn't draw any conclusions that some might be right and some might be wrong.
QUESTION: It's coming from here.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, in that case, maybe it's not so far away. But the same rule applies. They are no more right because they're closer. We'll just have to see how things evolve.
QUESTION: Richard, I just wanted to clarify something. When the President gets back, he will be coming directly back up here or he may be in Washington --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the updated schedule for the President yet. I can't make a statement like that.
QUESTION: Why do you expect or why would the two leaders give the Secretary the concession that they didn't give to the President? In other words, is she just here to protect the news blackout until the President comes back?
MR. BOUCHER: No, she is here to move forward on the issues, to continue working with the parties. She is here with the mandate of the President. She is here with the U.S. negotiating team. And she is here to carry the ball forward so that the President can assess our progress when we get back.
QUESTION: Could you tell us how many times did President Clinton speak to President Mubarak? That's the first question. And the second one is, you said you would discuss, you know, when the decision was made. The State Department ordered rooms for the Israelis at around 8:45 yesterday evening. So you must have known they were going to stay.
MR. BOUCHER: Ordered rooms for the Israelis?
QUESTION: Yes, hotel rooms here.
MR. BOUCHER: We do a lot of contingency planning, okay? We probably have booked rooms all over the world at various times that we haven't taken up. So I can't tell you to draw any particular conclusion from that.
QUESTION: And Mubarak, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Joe didn't give the rundown of the exact phone calls the President made, so I don't think I can give you a number of times. I don't think I can give you that. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Richard, can I follow up on that, though? Can I follow up on the issue of both sides -- both Arafat and Barak have been accused at various times of threatening to leave, just as a way to keep the talks going. Perhaps President Clinton was using the same ploy. How real was it? How serious were you? Give us an idea. Were you in the car ready to go out of the compound?
MR. BOUCHER: All the cars were lined up, the bags were packed, people were ready to go. At any moment, we could have gotten in the motorcade and departed. This was real.
QUESTION: Joe had said several times in the last few days that you didn't think any extra time would be necessary. So why at the eleventh hour did they think the extra -- he didn't think that extra time was an issue, that any amount of time probably wouldn't reach an agreement. And so what makes you think that this extra time will help and are the negotiations going to go around the clock? You said the same intensity, but are they going to go around the clock as they did the last few days?
MR. BOUCHER: The schedule may vary from day to day, as it has varied from day to day. But I would expect meetings during the daytime into the night, as much as is useful, as much as is appropriate. Again, with the same determination, the same intensity to move forward on the issues.
Now, what was the first part of your question again?
QUESTION: Joe had said the last several days that he didn't think it was an issue of time. The positions were already held and they knew the positions and time wasn't an issue. Why now is the extra time going to make a difference?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, time is not particularly the issue but time can be useful, and to have the decision made that rather than leave it was better to stay means we think it's useful to stay, that there is still the potential there, and we can continue to move things forward usefully in the next few days based on where we stand at the moment, and we were about to conclude.
QUESTION: Richard, is there anything you can tell us about the Secretary's role last night as the decision was being made to stick around? At what point was there an exchange between the Secretary and the President at the point they realized people were going to stay? What was her reaction?
MR. BOUCHER: She was working very closely with the President throughout this period. The President was meeting frequently with his advisors and team between the individual meetings, to come back and meet with the Secretary and Mr. Berger, Ambassador Ross, the other members of the team, have another meeting, go back, have another meeting and go back. So she was very deeply involved in this whole process, attended some of the meetings with the President, had some of the contacts herself. So this was a process they evolved into together.
QUESTION: So you mean there was sort of a tag team, in other words; if the President was with Barak, the Secretary might have been with Arafat at some point?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that that occurred last night. But there were -- she was having contacts with other delegation members. And obviously in working this through with the U.S. team, the Secretary plays a very important role.
QUESTION: Was there any exchange between the Secretary and the President at this pivotal moment?
MR. BOUCHER: Constantly and frequently throughout the evening.
QUESTION: Anything you can tell us about that?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Richard, last night, you had a summit that had collapsed, there had already been at least the beginnings of recriminations. How much of the job that the Secretary has to do this weekend is going to be picking up the pieces? Is she really going to be able to push the ball forward or is she just picking up pieces at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I would describe it as continuing to move forward on the issue, continuing to focus intensely on the issues, continuing to try to close the gaps, rather than any other different way. I think the President said some progress was made. We've obviously focused very intensely on the issues. And the Secretary's intention is to keep the same determination as we try to move forward.
QUESTION: So there is no damage here that needs to be repaired?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't describe it that way. Obviously, having been prepared to conclude and then deciding not to, it's useful for the parties to keep that experience in mind and to use this time very productively. So we would think that everybody would be even more focused on the need to make progress and even more focused on the potential that we have.
QUESTION: Richard, how did the parties learn that the President was giving up? Did he go to them individually and say, look, this is it, I'm leaving?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think what we're doing is describing to you a process of conversations, conversations between the President and the leaders. At one stage in those conversations, they had concluded in their conversations with the President that it was time to finish up and at the next stage, after we issued the statement or about the time, they started to look at that and say, no, that's not right, let's stay here and try to move things forward.
QUESTION: You said they had concluded it was time to give up, but we understood that the President said it was going to be his decision.
MR. BOUCHER: They, the leaders, together and in their conversations with the President, it emerged that it was better to stay than to leave.
QUESTION: Richard, two questions. You say the Secretary is going to spend the day trying to close the gaps. Do the gaps still exist not only with Jerusalem but also the other two core issues, the borders and refugees? And the second question, considering the round-the-clock negotiations that have gone on for the last three days, is there any down time being planned today, relaxation time, excursions, anything else for the two leaders?
MR. BOUCHER: There are no excursions planned at this point. I guess we're all kind of getting a little late start today, so people have had some time and I think, as I left the Secretary's meeting with the U.S. delegation, others were meeting with their delegations. So I think there will be time for leaders to work with their delegations as we move forward and then start the series of meetings.
QUESTION: On the first question, the gaps are not only with Jerusalem but also with borders and refugees?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I avoided that one in order not to tell you that that's the kind of question I can't answer.
QUESTION: Richard, is Berger still at Camp David? And also, is the President going to be in contact daily, or twice daily, with the Secretary? And is the President going to be in contact directly with the leaders by phone during his trip?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to see if the President has any direct contact with the leaders. Certainly the President will have contact with the Secretary. I'm not aware of any further conversations that had occurred by the time I came down here. But certainly she will stay in contact.
Mr. Berger is not at Camp David any more.
QUESTION: Just one more quickly. There were two trilateral meetings, if I understand it correctly, over the past nine days. Two trilaterals. Was there any trilateral meeting of any sort of the shortest time yesterday right up to the last minute?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: So only two trilateral meetings?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't gone back and done the count. I don't remember if it was one or two. But there was not a trilateral yesterday evening, otherwise Joe would have reported it to you.
QUESTION: Do you see the possibility of the trilateral meeting happening within the next few days or maybe just like a formal dinner, just like the ones they used to have earlier?
MR. BOUCHER: Everything remains possible. We'll report to you what actually occurs. We said that we would expect there would be meetings in a variety of formations. I think I described to you what we expect today and that's continuing informal contacts and discussions between the parties, between the negotiators as well as some set meetings with the Secretary and the leaders and then possibly with negotiators. So we will see how those things evolve and if we have trilateral meetings, we will certainly report those to you as well.
QUESTION: In regards to the communication last night on the fact that both leaders were willing to stay behind and meet with the Secretary, did that happen simultaneously? Who notified you first they were willing to stay?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can really describe it to you in that much detail. I'm sorry. It just was an idea that they had been kicking around. As they made their decision to leave, sort of one product of that was then reconsideration of this idea of staying, whether it would be useful. Then through a series of discussions with the President the idea gained momentum and it was the sense of the parties, after several of these meetings with the President, that it was indeed more useful to stay here and to try to move the ball forward and to continue to try to reach a conclusion.
QUESTION: Can you give us any kind of perspective --
MR. BOUCHER: I think she had a second that was pending.
QUESTION: The composition of the delegations and some of the -- well, at least we know one of the Palestinians. Is Martin Indyk still at these negotiations? Has any of the Israelis left? And what has happened to Emmitsburg?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. The composition. The composition of the delegations with the exception of one Palestinian leader who left and, obviously, the departure of the President and Mr. Berger on our side, the compositions remain the same. Martin Indyk remains up there. I think he was on our delegation list and he still is.
As far as Emmitsburg, the negotiations that have been up there did as much as they could. They had focused on the issues, they had taken their issues forward and now the focus is back again on the core issues, so I don't think the negotiators are there. The experts remain in Emmitsburg and remain available to the parties should they need them and should we decide they're necessary.
QUESTION: Emmitsburg, I do want to clarify this, you mentioned -- you switched quickly to the core issues. I do want to confirm, was the Emmitsburg negotiations, were they interim issues? You know, the economic -- what exactly were the, as you call them, generic issues? What are we talking about in Emmitsburg? Was it political prisoners, was it safe passage, was it --
MR. BOUCHER: These are the issues. We described them to you, I think, as much as we can. It was civil affairs, it was economics and it was water. These are issues that are indeed part of the permanent status, that need to be resolved between the parties to have a permanent status settlement, but which we wouldn't describe as the core issues under discussion. So you had the core issues being focused on very intensely at Camp David and you had some of what we would call the non-core issues being discussed, the more generic issues of permanent status being discussed at Emmitsburg.
QUESTION: Does that include the outstanding interim issues which haven't --
MR. BOUCHER: I think I've described those three areas to you and that's where it is.
QUESTION: There is nothing on safe passages?
MR. BOUCHER: Economics, water and civil affairs.
QUESTION: I just want to know what the Secretary might have said to you about the extraordinary turn of events in the last 24 hours. You really had kind of a Harry Truman, "Dewey wins" kind of moment when you woke up today.
MR. BOUCHER: We're trying to get the headlines here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: "Mid East peace talks fail." Do you have any perspective on that and did Secretary Albright say anything to you about waking up to headlines "Mid East peace talks fail" and indeed having them continue?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, there were a few comments on the headlines in the press clips. But obviously we can hold up our own statement as much as your headlines to show that we all thought at a certain point yesterday evening that we had indeed reached a conclusion without getting an agreement and therefore it was time to go. As I said, bags were packed, we were ready to go.
The point is that in reaching that conclusion, it then emerged that, no, in fact, that wasn't the best course to take, it was better to stay. We still had prospects, we still had potential, we still had the ability to move the ball forward. We all wanted to do that, both ourselves and the other delegations. And therefore, it was better to say to try to move the ball forwards in the absence of the President, so that he can assess where we are when he gets back.
QUESTION: Can you share with us specifically what Secretary Albright may have said to you this morning or late last night? Did she say, "Whew, that was a close one," or what did she say to you?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular quotes I can share with you, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: On that same line, I'm a little curious why you are so reluctant to say or why Joe or the President was reluctant to say whose decision it was to stay? Because without you guys giving that detailed kind of rundown of it, there is going to be lingering speculation that this is another spin job, that in fact it was decided that it would look better for the President if, in fact, the summit had "failed" and then was brought back to life with his magic touch. Why can't it be broken down into who suggested what to whom and when -- and when was it done?
Was the summit in fact -- were you preparing to leave or were you preparing to conclude the summit when Joe put out the statement that it was over, or was this just, you know, a trick to make everything look wonderful and here's another great comeback?
MR. BOUCHER: I was asked a shorter version of that question about 15 minutes ago and I'll stick to the same answer. This was real. People, the leaders together, the discussions, had reached a point where we all felt that we had to conclude without reaching agreement. In the process of reaching that agreement, there were still conversations going on, people who felt maybe we should think differently, and in the subsequent final -- what were to be the final conversations, it was decided -- it emerged in the discussions between the leaders that we should do that.
Now, the kind of tick-tock of he said this, he said that, he proposed this, he proposed that and Mr. X decided, we have not done on any issue from the beginning of this process. And the same kind of lack of detail, I'm afraid, and lack of play-by-play has to apply if we are going to take these negotiations forward from here on in. So it's just not the kind of thing we are going to do on any issue.
QUESTION: How about this: Had the President prepared a different version of his statement than he ended up giving last night?
MR. BOUCHER: That has historical parallels. We were ready to go. We had -- again, we had motorcades, we had bags, we had everything, everything was prepared. A lot of things were loaded, a lot of people were in the proper position. Everything was ready to conclude. That was a real situation, that was a real statement. And there were bags packed for other delegations as well.
QUESTION: Were the Israelis' bags packed?
MR. BOUCHER: I watched some of them be put on a truck, as a matter of fact. So we were ready to go.
QUESTION: Did the atmospherics among the principals, with the Secretary in particular, did the atmospherics parallel the sort of roller coaster ride that we saw from the outside?
MR. BOUCHER: Perhaps it was a little less of a roller coaster. But certainly they knew that there were -- during the evening, there were different options in play. When they reached a conclusion that we had to go without reaching the agreement, then that was sort of definitive until the other path seemed to look a lot better. I suppose it was a little less of a roller coaster with them because they had both ideas a little more in their heads than we did as we approached that moment.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary express any sense of loss, of hopelessness, of "it's over"?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't think I have any particular quotes for you. But they had all reached a conclusion at one point that it was over but I think determined, in the process of going through that, that maybe the other course was better and found that we can and should pursue that.
QUESTION: Richard, last week at this time, you were describing a very informal atmosphere, a very positive atmosphere. Everyone was taking their meals together. And now with the almost collapse of the talks, it seems the atmosphere is more tense.
Is one of the goals of the Secretary over the next few days to try to get them back together in this more informal atmosphere, having meals together, more of a kind of informal and more of an exchange?
MR. BOUCHER: I do think it's useful to clarify that the intensity of discussion of the issues and the intensity of the pace of the meetings at some point really hasn't changed the informal atmosphere between the delegations. I mean, yesterday evening I think at one brief pause people went down to have dinner and the Israeli delegation members were there, Palestinian delegation members were there, people were eating together, meeting together, saying goodbye in some cases.
And it was -- it continues to be friendly. It continues to be comfortable for the parties with each other, for the delegations in terms of their interaction. But this is very, very hard, this is very, very tough. And when you come to addressing these issues, it's very intense, it's very meaningful for both of the parties and it's very serious for the parties.
Let's make this the last one.
QUESTION: A couple of points, Richard. You described or journalists described in the course of the ten days the sort of atmospherics, talked about the President being determined, talked about the talks being tense, being a struggle.
Can you give us a sense of the atmosphere at the point where certainly, as far as the U.S. delegation was concerned, the talks were over without agreement? Can you give us a sense of the atmosphere at that point?
And, secondly, do you know whether the President has cleared his schedule for next week?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if the President has cleared his schedule. I think -- I would assume that he will devote the same time and energy upon his return that he did in the last nine days. And therefore I don't think I've had any questions -- I haven't really asked the question that much because I think it's assumed that he will.
In terms of the mood at the point where the decision was made to conclude, I guess I would say in some way resigned to that course, because at that point that seemed the inevitable conclusion that we had to reach. And as people faced that conclusion, they started realizing that perhaps there was indeed there was a better way and that the alternate path was the better one to choose.
(The briefing concluded at 12:40 p.m.)