By Munir K. Nasser
In their second day of negotiations at the Camp David peace summit, Palestinian and Israeli leaders were “really engaged” dealing with substantive issues,” according to White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.
Lockhart said the parties were dealing with the substantive issues that define what they need to agree on in order to reach an overall agreement. But he refused to give any qualitative statement about how the talks were going on late Wednesday, saying that would go "to the substance" of the discussions "and that is something I will not have any comment on."
He indicated that the fact that they spent two days working at the hard issues “means something to us, but I am not going to get into a description of what that means," he said.
Lockhart told reporters at the Camp David press center in nearby Thurmont, Maryland, that Clinton had met in the morning separately with Barak, and was meeting separately with Arafat in the afternoon.
Asked if Barak and Arafat had met together by themselves, he said "Not that I'm aware of -- unless it was an informal, chance meeting."
Lockhart indicated that Clinton might leave Camp David either late July 12, or early July 13, to return to Washington to take part in previously scheduled engagements there. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would fill in for him if that were to happen, he said, but he told reporters not to read anything into this.
He added that President Clinton serves a very important role in bringing the leaders together, and when he talks beyond the leaders to the negotiators. He said the US team, including Dennis Ross,
Sandy Berger, and Secretary of State Albright, while involved with the President on meetings, "spend most of their days engaged in diplomatic discussions with other members of the Israeli and Palestinian delegations," Lockhart said.
He pointed out that there is “certain informality on the Camp David site that is adding some value” to these discussions. "There are meetings going on, both formal and informal, all over the place. At breakfast, the delegations are sitting together in small groups and having discussions. You see people walking around, you see members of the delegations driving around together in golf carts, which is the mode of transportation out there. So there's a certain informality out there that's adding to the contact."
Lockhart said Clinton has a very good relationship with both President Arafat and Prime Minister Barak. "Just watching the interaction, you can see that they believe that they can engage in discussions and that there is a certain level of trust. And I think that is something that's essential to this process here and essential to the US role, that both parties come here in a position where they trust the president and understand the role he's trying to play," Lockhart said.
Asked if there is time to get something concrete done before Clinton leaves for Japan early next week to attend the G-8 Summit in Okinawa, Lockhart responded "Well, I don't think we'd be here if we didn't think we could achieve a positive outcome. There's a lot of work to be done, but I think all sides have come here in a serious mode in order to try to get that work done."
Lockhart said he did not expect the leaders to leave Camp David. "I think, given the fact that we have an enormous task in front of us, and that time is not unlimited, that they'll stay concentrated on the issues at hand," he said.
Asked if any progress is being made, Lockhart said he was not going to go down "the slippery slope of progress or no progress. I think at the beginning here I've tried to indicate how difficult this is, and I think I'll leave it there."
Asked to give a reaction to Israel's announcement that it was canceling its planned sale of Phalcon radar planes to China, Lockhart said, "Well obviously, given our previous statements, we welcome the decision. This has been an important issue to us and a subject of continuing discussion at a variety of levels of the government, including between the President and the Prime Minister. And we are pleased to see that they have taken our security concerns into account in making this decision." – Albawaba.com
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