By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will push Camp David into the international spotlight on Friday when he hosts the leaders of Japan and South Korea there, a return to glory for a mountain retreat that has become indelible in diplomatic history.
Biden chose the rustic redoubt in the Maryland hills for the first U.S.-Japan-South Korea summit because Camp David has often been used to symbolize newfound or hard-won friendship, a senior administration official said.
“Certainly in the case of this summit, we envision Camp David kind of marking a new beginning for all of us as trilateral partners among the U.S., ROK (South Korea) and Japan. So we think the symbolism is heavy here and really can’t be overstated,” the official said.
Biden, Japan’s Fumio Kishida and South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol are expected to meet in the historic Laurel Lodge. Their working lunch is expected to take place in the President’s Cabin, Aspen Lodge, and if the weather is good an afternoon press conference will take place outdoors in the woodsy setting.
Built by the Works Progress Administration, the infrastructure program created by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression, the camp has hosted its share of international detentes. Most famously, President Jimmy Carter brokered the Camp David accords in 1978 between Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
The first foreign leader to visit Camp David, then known as “Shangri-La,” was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was there for World War Two talks with Roosevelt. U.S. archive photos show them near a stream, Roosevelt holding a fly rod and Churchill a cigar.
Since then, a parade of foreign leaders have been invited to the 180-acre compound in the Catoctin Mountains of western Maryland. Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev visited President Dwight Eisenhower there in 1959, a few years before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis brought Cold War tensions to a boil.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton used Camp David to try to corral Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat into a peace deal, but ended in failure.
When Arafat, who was blamed for the impasse, later called Clinton a “great man,” Clinton wrote in his memoir of his terse reply.
“I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one,” he told Arafat.
WHERE PRESIDENTS REST
Camp David is also a place where presidents rest up from the rigors of the office and escape the confines of the White House, the antique-filled executive mansion that Harry Truman used to call “the Great White Prison.”
President Ronald Reagan visited Camp David 189 times over eight years. President Donald Trump, by contrast, preferred his own golf resorts and only went to Camp David 15 times over his four years in office. He had to abandon plans for a G7 summit there in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.Eisenhower, who named Camp David for his father and grandson, would grill steaks for family and friends. President George W. Bush would go mountain bike riding. Carter liked to fish in the mountain streams.
One time George W. Bush hosted Russian leader Vladimir Putin at Camp David and introduced Putin to his Scottish terrier, Barney. On a subsequent visit to Russia, Putin showed Bush his big black Labrador and said it was “bigger, stronger, faster than Barney,” Bush said.
The seemingly mundane at Camp David can sometimes erupt into major headlines, like the time President George H.W. Bush was out for a jog and experienced an abnormal heartbeat, prompting the White House to go into crisis mode.
“Marlin, see if you can get me a two-week vacation out of this, will you?” a recovering Bush told his press secretary Marlin Fitzwater later.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)