Does Buddy Have Diplomatic Immunity?

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"Welcome to the daily press blackout." That's how State Department spokesman Richard Boucher began one of his non-briefings to the dwindling press corps in Thurmont, Md., trying to "cover" the Middle East peace talks. Although there were a fair amount of doings outside the summit — some speechifying by President Clinton, some high drama involving the arrival of semi-official Palestinians and Israelis seeking entrance to Camp David — info security remained remarkably tight.

"A lot of us are scraping the bottom of the barrel," one Jerusalem-based reporter admitted. And what's at the bottom? Momentous questions to Boucher like this one: "Is Buddy still at Camp David, and how's the chemistry between Buddy and the delegates?" Boucher, showing he's a true diplomat, responded, "That's out of my jurisdiction. You'll have to ask the White House." Bow wow.

Herewith a few more scraps:

Where Is Emily Post When You Need Her?
Seating arrangements replaced menus as the main journalist focus. When White House spokesman Joe Lockhart disclosed that Barak, Arafat and Clinton all sat at the same table for dinner, the world had to know who was talking to whom. Lockhart carefully recounted, "Each was separated by two or three people at least."

A fender bender on the road to peace?
There was a minor collision involving two of the golf carts that many participants use to travel around the camp's spacious grounds. Two delegates were involved, but it was not, officially, a diplomatic incident.

...and those that don't know, talk.
Realizing they've got a captive audience of news-starved news hounds, a number of Israeli and Palestinian officials not part of the official delegation have been holding forth on the acceptablity of compromises that may or may not have been offered. Call them roving freelance international pundits who can't get on "Charlie Rose." Earlier in the week, an Israeli cabinet member, Michael Melchior, was giving interviews in Thurmont, and Hanan Ashrawi, a well-known Palestinian figure, was giving press conferences back in Washington. But the White House drew the line when Limor Livnat, a member of the Likud party, which opposes Barak, showed up to lobby reporters in the press center and complain about what she thought Barak was doing. She was firmly ushered out of the building. Lockhart said she and others could talk to reporters. "We just prefer they not do it here."

Let us eat cake.
Local residents have set up an informal canteen in the Thurmont Elementary School filing center where they sell muffins, donuts, sodas, snacks, sandwiches and pieces of pizza from Dominos. Best bet: little cups of fresh-picked local blueberries, just 25 cents.

There goes the neighborhood.
Although the Thurmont residents have been friendly and welcoming to the press corps, they know their visitors. Upon arrival, everyone is given a sheet with elaborate instructions on where not to park, and details of the towing policies and fines in effect. Inside, the school is plastered with warnings not to smoke, with signs pointing to the designated smokers' area outside in the back. But relations took a turn for the worse when some Arab and Israeli reporters allegedly took down the American flags from some of the classrooms.