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Background Biefing by Senior Administration Official on Camp David Summit
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
Thursday, July 6, 2000
Background Biefing by Senior Administration Official on Camp David Summit
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:35 A.M. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Just to repeat, this is a BACKGROUND BRIEFING,
attributable to a senior administration official. As you will note, he has
been integral to this process all along, and will kind of give his
assessment of where they are and what we hope to accomplish at Camp David.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, actually, the President
did a pretty good job, so rather than offering a larger statement on
context to begin with, I'll just take questions.
Q If this summit does not succeed, is that, in fact, the end
of this peace process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think we're obviously
operating on the premise of trying to make things work, not trying to focus
on how they won't work.
I think the important thing here is we have reached a juncture
where the negotiators, I think, worked very hard for a long time, but
they've hit a wall. We have tried lots of different processes involving
myself, the Secretary; we've tried lots of different kinds of techniques.
And one of the things that became very clear was it wasn't going to go
further unless you brought the leaders together with the negotiators. So
that's really the logic of this at this point. And our focus, as I said,
is how we try to make it work, not how we worry about it if it doesn't
Q You said you hit a wall. I mean, at what point in this
ages-old process did you finally decide you'd hit a wall?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've got to put this in a
certain perspective, which is the following. Permanent status negotiations
were originally to have begun two years after -- in 1996, two years after
the original agreement -- Gaza- Jericho. And, in fact, they didn't begin.
And they really only began, I would say, going back to the beginning of
this year, and they got, I think, quite serious during the course of the
From the late spring, I would say, into the early part of this
month, they were working in a very serious way. They were beginning, I
think, to distill more clearly the differences between them, and also
trying to build some bases of convergence. What became pretty clear about
a month ago is that the negotiators couldn't really take it farther than
they could, working the way they were.
And that's when they went off to some different places; we went
with them; we brought them here; we had the Secretary also make trips
there. So, over the course of the last -- I would say, the last four
to six weeks, we have been wrestling with what was a process in which they
had made some headway, but in which it was becoming increasingly difficult
to get them to cross the next threshold to see if you could really forge a
breakthrough on the permanent status issues.
And I think over the last couple of weeks, after the Secretary's
trip, when she came back and reported to the President she laid out very
clearly where things stood and that we had not been able to move things
beyond, or working with them, beyond where the stage at which they were at.
So that's the context in which the President was asked to make a decision,
and the President also did talk to both leaders before he made the
Q What is going to be the mechanics of how this is going to
work? You soften them up, to begin with; you do prenegotiation when they
arrive, and then the President is there the whole time? Separate buildings
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, some of the details of how
we'll actually work, even in a structural way, we still have to work out
ourselves, because the decision has only recently been made. But I think
what will happen at least is the following. We will have the negotiators
not all the negotiators, but a small group of negotiators arrive on the
weekend before this convenes. It will convene on the morning of the 11th.
Q The formal summit will at that point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, it will convene on the
morning of the 11th. And so we will have a couple of days with the
negotiators in advance. Once it convenes, I expect, as the President said,
that he will be spending a lot of time up there. I don't believe it means
he will be spending all of his time up there, but I do believe he will
spend as much time up there as he feels is necessary. And I do think, once
the leaders have arrived, the President will work, I think from the
beginning, pretty intensely with them.
Now, there's a -- these kinds of negotiations obviously have an
acquiring kind of rhythm and a logic of their own. I don't believe that
all the time will be spent with the leaders. What's going to happen is
you'll have discussions with the leaders and you'll have discussions with
the key negotiators. Negotiators will be talking with each other. We will
be working with both sides. We'll be in the negotiations that they have;
then we'll sit separately with each of them.
I would also expect that they will meet at different levels with
each other. So this is a process that will operate even within the setting
of this kind of a -- even in the setting of a summit, you're going to have
them working together at several different kinds of levels. But I think
you'll have the President wanting to take advantage of his presence to work
not only with the leaders, but from time to time with the negotiators
What this involves is, obviously, a very active involvement by
the President. It helps to change the dynamic of what is going on, but it
also means the President can work with the leaders and the negotiators, and
go back and forth to some extent between them. And we will -- the
President's team, starting with the Secretary and then with us -- we will
be working, I think, at every level throughout this. And each day we'll
have to reflect a kind of judgment of where we think we are and what is the
best way to approach where we are.
Q -- this summit for some time, and yet the sense we were
getting was the President didn't think it would be productive. Is it that
you made some progress, that the Secretary made some progress in her talks,
or was it simply a last hope for the process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's more a case that we
came to the conclusion by the end of the last set of trips that were taken
I was out there for about eight days, and then the Secretary came, and I
think after those discussions our conclusion was we really had taken it as
far as we could take it without involving the leaders with the negotiators,
and that also meant with the President.
This is -- it is a process that has gone on for a long time, but
the process of working on the permanent status, as I said, has really been
a function of this year. But we really did come to the conclusion we had
taken it about as far as we could take it.
And frankly, one of the things that began to worry us, we began
to see that the logic of stalemate was beginning to reflect the way the
negotiators were dealing with each other. They became -- on their own,
they were beginning to produce more bitterness than results. And if you
began to slide from stalemate into deterioration, you move inevitably
towards what might end up being a kind of competition in unilateralism by
each side, which at a minimum would make it far more difficult, and a
maximum could really create a lot of turmoil.
Q To follow up on that point, based on your extensive dealings
with both parties, do you think if this does not produce dramatic progress
or a solution, does either side at this point have the appetite to continue
working, or will everything be put aside for a time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think again, there's a
duality here. On the one hand, we've reached a point where we can see we
can't take it further. On the other hand, based on all the discussions
we've had, we also see a potential. If we didn't see a potential, then we
wouldn't be making this effort.
Part of the logic of this is not to miss the opportunity that
exists because we didn't take it to this next step. I think there
continues to be a very strong desire on the part of the two to find a way
to an agreement. But these are excruciatingly difficult decisions to make,
and I don't know anybody who rushed to make excruciatingly difficult
Q Have you gotten some sort of commitment from the two leaders
that this is the time, that they're ready to make and face some of those
historic concessions that the President was talking about earlier?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What we have heard from both
sides is they have known there needed to be a summit. And I wouldn't say
that they -- they both came to a conclusion some time ago there needed to
be a summit. I think on the Israeli side, there was a view that a summit
made it easier -- not that it was going to be easy -- but easier to
overcome the difficulties and it would be almost impossible to do so
without it. So, from their standpoint, they saw the logic of the summit
sooner rather than later.
On the Palestinian side, there was also recognition you couldn't
get this done, you didn't have a chance to get an agreement to deal with
these issues unless you brought it to a summit. But their attitude was
they saw greater value in some greater preparation. But they also, both
sides in the end, came to the conclusion that they would leave it to the
judgment of the President as to when the time would be right.
Q But they've accepted this timing now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q -- by accepting the invitation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, yes.
Q The President mentioned a need for regional support, and I
was wondering, could you elaborate on that a little, and if there will be
any specific roping in of countries or leaders of other countries in the
region to this summit process.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Secretary has already begun
speaking to a number of different leaders in the region, more to explain
the logic of what we're doing and to call on them to provide support for
the effort. What the President is getting at is, at the end of the day
those in the region who are committed to peace also need to be prepared to
be supportive of it, in word and in deed.
We don't anticipate that others would be coming to the summit.
The summit is focused on the Israelis and the Palestinians. But clearly,
we want both leaders, who have to make hard decisions, to be operating in a
context where others in the region are supportive of making tough
decisions, understanding that this is a moment to take such tough
decisions. And from that standpoint, basically being behind the logic of
your question, which is this is the time to do it.
Q Only a month or two ago, someone like you, if it wasn't you,
indeed, said the two sides hadn't even begun to negotiate the key issues.
Now your description today is that in the spring, thereabouts, things began
to quicken. Can you say specifically whether the two sides -- you don't
have to recite the key issues, we all know what they are -- are they
actually in negotiations on those issues? And what happened to the third
stage Israeli withdrawal? What is the U.S. position now, that it can be
wrapped into the summit, or do they still have an obligation -- summit
success and failure, whatever -- to pull back one more time at least?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me parse your questions.
First, they have been since the spring, they have been in serious
discussions on the permanent status issues. It is true that on one of the
issues, the Israeli side preferred to delay -- meaning Jerusalem -- they
preferred to delay negotiations on that. But they have had serious
discussions on the permanent status issues since the spring. And as I
said, they basically -- I think they reached a point, I would say at least
four weeks ago, where it became difficult to move them beyond where they
There was an initial period of, I think, very hard work where
both sides really were making an effort to not only to explain their own
needs, but to try to take account of the other's. But they got to a point
where they found it very difficult to overcome the gaps that remained on
That's number one. On number two, the third phase of further
redeployment is something that is required by the Interim Agreement. It
was reaffirmed in the Sharm Agreement. It is something that is a part of
the process and that the Palestinians, as part of the agreement, are
Our focus at this point is clearly on doing a permanent status,
trying to address the issues of permanent status and trying to work with
the parties to reach an agreement that deals with those permanent status
Q All right, but just a quick follow. June 23 was the day,
and with U.S. support, it was postponed. Now, is there an indefinite
postponement now, pending the outcome of the summit? Or does it stand on
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The issue has not gone away. It
is still a source of concern. But our particular focus is to try to see if
we can work with the parties to reach an agreement that deals with the
permanent status, the core issues of permanent status.
Q Is the decision of the Palestinian National Council a couple
of days ago to set a September 13th deadline for declaring a state if no
agreement had been reached -- did that influence the President's decision
to call this summit in the sense of raising the stakes and sort of
heightening the tension?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the reality is September
has been out there for some time. It as part of the Sharm Agreement;
it's been talked about for some time. Both sides have understood it was
looming there. And the fact is when you look at where we are, when you
look at the difficulties they were facing, when you look at the time
remaining, I think the basic decision the President made was, if we didn't
act now to change the dynamic in a way that gives us a chance to produce an
agreement on the core issues, that you would have an inevitable slide into
a deterioration that, as I said, would at best produce turmoil, and at
worse would make the situation much more difficult in which to negotiate.
Q If I could follow up, the Council had been expected to delay
any kind of final statehood declaration until later in the year, possibly
December. They didn't; they said September 13, that's it. Did that become
a factor in the President's thinking?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't say that what they
decided changed our expectation. I think our expectation has been pretty
much driven by a recognition that September 13th was a very important date.
Q We in the press like to put odds on these sorts of things.
Could you indulge us and tell us what your working assumption is, what you
think the odds of success are coming out of the summit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've been doing this process for
a long time and I never engaged in odds before; I don't think I'll start
Q You know, the President sounds terribly optimistic that
something is going to come out of this. And unless I'm missing something,
the justification for having the summit is that you can't move forward
without the two sides meeting. Is there any other reason for optimism?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I said, look, this is going to
be a tough go. That's the reality. But we also have to look at the
alternative. The alternative is, if there is -- if we don't go to a
summit, the process will stay where it is, meaning they will not move
forward. A friend of mine who is in this process once described this as
like riding a bicycle -- once you stop the bike, you fall off. You have to
keep peddling and keep going forward.
We're at a point where basically they're going to stop the
bicycle, and knowing that we have dates looming ahead of us, knowing that
there's a potential in light of that for a real deterioration, this is --
we're looking at this from a standpoint of there is not an alternative to
it because an alternative means there will be no agreement and you'll see
that deterioration, on the one hand; and there is, based on everything we
know from the two sides, there is a potential. Yes, it's hard to overcome
the differences. But there is a potential to give us a chance to succeed
Q Isn't a failed summit a bigger risk than not negotiating,
successfully? Look, you've termed the tactics of summitry upside down, but
no one is saying it today. I mean, summits were called when the two sides
were relatively close, and the intervention of the President would close
the gap and give them a cover for making hard decisions. Now you're
calling a summit because you're at an impasse, the President says. The
President's word was impasse.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, fine. Barry, Barry
Q Okay, what if this --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know about Camp David. You
go back to the original Camp David, at the original Camp David they were
also at a point where they were stuck. They did not call that summit
because they thought they had everything lined up. They did not do that.
Q No, in fact, they had to go to the Middle East to keep it
from getting unstuck again. Or putting -- no one will acknowledge that
you're doing a high-wire act here, that this isn't the way summits
generally are staged. They're staged with a greater likelihood of success.
If you won't acknowledge that, at least tell us whether there isn't,
indeed, a graver risk of hostility and violence if this summit fails,
because having brought the President into it, if he doesn't succeed, you
know you've played your final card? Doesn't that make the situation just
desperate if that should happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, right now we can see what
the trend line is if we do not have a summit. Is there a risk associated
with this? Yes, there's a risk associated with this. But the President
used the following words -- he said there's a risk of action and there's a
risk of inaction. And this is a case where we judge the risk of action to
be less than the risk of inaction.
Q So would you consider this a success if you just keep the
peace process going and keep the bicycle moving along?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think, obviously, when
you create an event like this, your objective is to ensure that you get the
kind of progress that gives you a chance to reach agreement that deals with
the core issues. So we clearly want to change the dynamic in a way that
allows us to move towards the agreement. Both sides have established, as I
said, an agreement on a timeline, so our objective here is obviously to try
to reach an agreement that deals with these core issues and moves us
towards being able to address that timeline.
Q Is it fair to assume, or would you say that some progress
was made in the talks between the spring start and their effective impasse
of four to six weeks ago?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, there was.
Q Can you give us some idea how much?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not going to do that,
but the point is that what we saw, based on those talks, and also based on
the talks we've had with each side -- understand, the way this process has
worked is not only they have direct talks, but then each side talks with us
based on everything that we have seen, we see a potential to reach an
agreement. We obviously see differences, but if we didn't see some
potential to overcome the differences, then the logic of trying this would
be less compelling than it is.
Q Have those differences narrowed in any substantial way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's a case in some
areas, yes; but I think the most important thing, in a negotiation one of
the most important things is to distill and understand how the issues break
down -- to understand where you can see convergence as relatively easy; to
understand where you can see convergence as possible; and to understand
which particular issues are going to be the hardest to be able to bridge or
to overcome. And when you come to that conclusion, then you have a
strategy for dealing with the first two sets, which is how you built
convergence, and then also you can begin to focus on what are the way that
you might overcome what are the hardest differences.
They clearly went through what I would call a distillation
process between themselves that revealed much more to each other on the
nature of each side's position on each issue, what was most important to
them on each issue, and where there might be some room for give. They did
a fair amount of that, themselves, in a way that obviously didn't overcome
the differences, but could begin to paint a picture or direction for you of
how you might move towards that.
So we see a potential, but it's a very difficult one. I mean,
there is no two ways about it. Partly it's very difficult because the
issues, themselves, are so fundamental.
Q Can you elaborate on that? Can you describe where you see
convergence that's easiest?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, because -- the fact of the
matter is all of these issues are hard. It isn't a case that any one of
these issues is particularly easy. But the fact is they, themselves, as
they deal with these, also create a kind of hierarchy of what they think
they can do and what they can't do. Or at least we form that kind of a
judgment. And I don't want to break that down.
Q To follow up on Barry's question, has there ever been a
certain stage in your recollection where a summit has been convened under
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The original Camp David in 1978.
Q It was less complex.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was, but the fact of the
matter is Sadat had gone to Jerusalem, you had this enormous psychological
breakthrough, and 10 months later they were stuck, completely stuck, after
what had been an unbelievable psychological breakthrough. But they were
stuck. They were completely stuck.
Q Is it the President's strategy to keep the leaders up there
until he gets something?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think -- you heard the
President talk about "several days." The fact is he will be going to
Okinawa so you have a kind of window --
Q With them? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q Do you see some of these issues as separable, or is there a
subset group you could be working on and if you spend a week and you break
through a couple -- or do you have to really get the whole enchilada at
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the objective on both
sides is to work on all the issues. But obviously you have to work on all
the issues and also try to make progress where you can.
Q Is there an advantage to having a President who is at the
end of his term do a negotiation like this, or is it just the opposite
because he has lost some of his power and initiative because they know he
won't be there to implement an agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the greatest single
advantage is that you have a President who knows the issues, knows the
leaders. You're dealing with a -- I won't say that personal relationships
aren't an important part of any negotiation, but especially in the Middle
East I think the political culture has emphasized the importance of the
kind of personal connections. So you have a President who is very
well-known to the two sides and you have a President who the two sides know
understands the issues very well. So there's a kind of cache in
credibility that is built up, and I think it's made easier because of the
longevity in office and the long association with the issues. I think
that's the most important point here.
Q But the down side -- can you address that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Having been around this process
for a long time, as you know, I don't see the down side operating in this
case because I see, in a sense, there is a kind of window that is also
created with his presence which each side is quite acutely aware of, and I
don't see them operating on a principle that somehow knowing he's not going
to be here is limiting. On the contrary; knowing that he's not going to be
here I think concentrates the mind in terms of recognizing here's the
potential and you should act on the potential now.
Q How much of this is likely to turn on U.S. assistance --
U.S. aid, U.S. security guarantees, things that the President has always
built in as part of previous negotiations and had some trouble sometimes
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, in the history of this
process there hasn't been an agreement that wasn't accompanied by U.S.
assistance. So it's very hard to believe that if, in fact, there's an
agreement on something that is as fundamental as the permanent status
agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that the U.S. would
not, in fact, have to play -- I mean, the U.S. would not have to be in a
position where we would have to provide assistance. Clearly, if we go down
that road we're going to have to consult with the Congress.
Q In Europe, Barak is saying he's hoping for an agreement that
covers most, if not all, of the issues. Is the way you're going to get out
of this hole you're in possibly a partial agreement, wrapping up the things
that are achievable, calling it a success and moving on to the next
Is a partial agreement one possibility?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me put this one in
context. You are dealing with two sides who, number one, want this, who
are looking at, in the case of both sides, they realize we're nearly seven
years into the process that we launched at Oslo. On each side, there's an
expectation that trying to conclude this conflict is in both their
From the standpoint of the Israelis, they want to know that if
they're doing something and they're making certain kinds of tough choices,
that the payoff for making that is that basically the claims are over.
From the standpoint of the Palestinians, they're dealing with the reality
that this is a process that hasn't fulfilled their aspirations and there's
a lot of frustration.
So if you operate on the premise that you shoot for something
less than the whole, I don't think that you're addressing the interests or
needs of either side. So I think we will try to work with them to produce
an agreement that deals with all of the issues. But as I said, the most
important thing is that you really do have to make progress where you can.
We have to operate in a context, and that context, quite frankly, is that
for both sides, ironically, I think it is easier to try to resolve
everything than it is to resolve only part of it. I'm not sure in the end
it becomes something that works for either side.
And the real impetus for this, in no small part, comes from them,
and I think they realize they have very tough decisions to make, but
somehow making those decisions in the presence of the President is more
thinkable than in a situation where he's not there.
Q Is the U.S. anticipating any sort of middle-of-the-way
agreements on where the gaps are on all these issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A, the parties will have to make
the decisions; B, we're going to help them in any way that we can help
them. If you're asking, do I expect that there will be American ideas that
get presented somewhere along the line here, it's pretty hard to believe
that in this kind of a setting that we won't be offering some ideas, as
But we won't make the decisions; only they can make the
decisions. And our role is not to take the place of them as negotiators,
but our role is to do all we can to help them overcome the obstacles to an
Q And yet the Secretary says now is the time to start calling
the audibles. Is this where the audibles are called, at Camp David?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want to use that
as the metaphor --
Q It was her language.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let's put it this way,
there's a question of definition of audible and --
Q Is this a Hail Mary? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. I would stick with what I
said. The reality is it's hard to believe that in a setting like this,
that we won't be called on to offer ideas. We'll have to.
Q Well, let me ask for further explanation. Is the audible
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the audible -- since Oslo of
last year, when the President met the two leaders in Oslo at the Rabin
memorial, which was in November, he made it clear that he was prepared at a
certain point to convene them. And we've obviously come to the judgment
that this is the time to do it.
Q Considering the recent reshuffling in the Barak cabinet --
and I'm referring to the basically loss of power of the dovish party and
the increase of power of the hawkish party --is the Prime Minister somewhat
reticent about coming here, or is he somewhat -- or is there a likelihood
of a lack of support of his cabinet should anything proceed from this Camp
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he has been a believer
that a summit was necessary, if, in fact, you were going to be able to
overcome the differences. From his standpoint, his view was the
negotiations were obviously very difficult, but the most likely
circumstance in which the hard decisions would be made would be in the
presence of the President.
So I don't think -- he doesn't come to this with a view that he
can't deliver. His view is that he can deliver. His view is he won a
strong mandate of the Israeli public, and they voted him in and he has an
approach on peace which he feels he can present to the Israeli public if
there's an agreement, and they will support him.
Chairman Arafat also has understood the logic of a summit, and
his view was, let's go to a summit; his interest was in wanting to take
time to prepare it. We have just come to the conclusion that this is the
point to do it, and both leaders basically made a judgment that if the
President decides the time is the time, they would agree with that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.