Background Biefing by Senior Administration Official on Camp David Summit

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 work. 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 spring. 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 decision. 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

12:05 P.M. EDT

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