US Department of State daily press briefing – Middle East peace process – Non-UN document (excerpts)

Marie Harf

Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

March 26, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing

  • Secretary Kerry's Travel Update 


  • Release of Palestinian Prisoners / Negotiations / Jonathan Pollard
  • Arab Summit Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State


  • Release of Palestinian Prisoners / Negotiations / Jonathan Pollard



2:13 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello.


MS. HARF: A little thin crowd today. (Laughter.) Welcome. I won’t take it personally. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have two things at the top, and then we will open it up for questions.

The first is a travel update. Today, Secretary Kerry arrived in Amman, Jordan where he had a courtesy meeting with King Abdullah II. He is currently meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. We also, I believe last night, or today, this morning, put out the next travel announcement for the Secretary’s travel. I’ll just go over that very briefly.

Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Brussels, Algiers, and Rabat from April 1st through 5th. While in Brussels, Secretary Kerry will attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Foreign Ministerial. He will meet with fellow foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Council to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and preparations for the upcoming NATO summit in September. He’ll have a whole host of meetings while in Brussels as well. We’ll also hold bilateral meetings with foreign counterparts, as well as a trilateral meeting with EU High Representative Cathy Ashton and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, where they will discuss Ukraine, developments in the Middle East, and other issues.


QUESTION: I’d like to start with Mideast, please.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Did you ever get an answer yesterday on the question of what the U.S. understanding is of, if Israel releases prisoners, who those prisoners will be?

MS. HARF: So at the beginning of these negotiations, the Palestinians agreed not to undertake action at international organizations, and the Israelis agreed to release a number of pre-Oslo prisoners. Obviously, this is a complicated issue that is being worked through with the parties even as we speak. I’m not going to have more details to share about specifics on those agreements and what they looked like and who those prisoners might be. As I said, these are complicated issues; they’re being worked through, and just won’t have a lot more to share.

QUESTION: Okay. As you’re aware, I’m sure, the Palestinian viewpoint on this is that some of the prisoners that were up for release at the end of the week are Israeli Arabs. Is that not the understanding that the U.S. has?

MS. HARF: I just, unfortunately, am not going to have a lot more about our understanding or what the discussions look like on these issues today.

QUESTION: Okay. Were you able to find out whether or not any of these things were ever documented?

MS. HARF: Again, I know this is going to sound like a broken record: don’t have more details for you to share about how these discussions or agreements were reached.

QUESTION: And I understand Secretary Kerry talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier. Do you have a readout of that?

MS. HARF: Let me see if I have the call list. He did. I don’t have a readout of that yet. Let me see if I can get you one. As we said yesterday, he’ll have phone or video conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the same time that there are discussions with President Abbas. So let me see if we can get you – the traveling team might have more of a readout at the end of the day.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one last question. I’m sure you saw the reports out of Israel that potentially that Jonathan Pollard could be released as part of these negotiations. I saw that – the statement that said that that was not under consideration, and I understand that he comes up periodically in terms of whenever we’re talking to Israel and the Palestinians. But I’m just wondering if there’s anything that would suggest in any part of this negotiation that Jonathan Pollard’s release would be in play. I just find it curious that he keeps being brought up.

MS. HARF: Well, as you said, the topic has come up for years, not just this part of these negotiations, obviously.


MS. HARF: As the statement says, there are no plans to release Jonathan Pollard. He was convicted of espionage against the United States, which is a very serious crime. He was sentenced to life and is currently serving his sentence. I’m not going to say – get into any specifics one way or the other about what may have come up during discussions one way or the other, not confirming or denying what may be a part of the discussions. But again, on this he’s serving his sentence. It comes up from time to time, but nothing more on that.

QUESTION: I mean, I understand it gets brought up by the Israelis, but my question more is: Is this brought as kind of a carrot by the U.S. to get the Israelis to —

MS. HARF: I’m not going to go into anything that’s being discussed on this or any other topic privately.


QUESTION: Can we go back to the release of the prisoners? Did you mean that the release of prisoners was part of the agreement between the Israeli and – the Israelis and Palestinians to relaunch negotiations, or not?

MS. HARF: What I said was at the beginning of these negotiations the Palestinians agreed to not undertake actions at international organizations, and the Israelis agreed to release a number of pre-Oslo prisoners. These are obviously very complicated issues, even within those issues, right? They’re being worked through right now, and just don’t have more details about any of those discussions to share.

QUESTION: But we didn’t get if the release was a part of the agreement or not, because the Palestinians are —

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to have any more details for you on these issues to share. Those are private discussions that I’m not going to be able to read out from the podium.

QUESTION: The Palestinians and Saeb Erekat, when he was in Washington, said that there are two different agreements – one on the negotiations and one on the release of prisoners.

MS. HARF: Again, as I just said, I don’t have any more details that I can share with you on the discussion around these topics or on anything related to the negotiations.

QUESTION: Can’t you say if it was a bilateral agreement between the Palestinians and the U.S.?

MS. HARF: I can’t share any more details for you on any of these issues.

QUESTION: Why? Do you think it will affect the negotiations now?

MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said from the beginning, we are not going to get into the details of any of the conversations we’re having on any issues in the negotiations. We’ve said that from the beginning. That hasn’t changed. You’ve been frustrated every time I’ve had to say it again, but this isn’t new. We’ve been very quiet about the conversations we’re having here.

QUESTION: But it’s important at this time, since Israel decided not to release prisoners on Friday.

MS. HARF: Well, I would defer to Israel, but I haven’t seen them make that announcement. Have they?

QUESTION: News reports said that they won’t release them.

MS. HARF: There are lots of news reports out there. What I would say is we think the best way to give these talks a chance to succeed is to keep them private. That’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

QUESTION: So two things related to same issue. I’m expecting you to say that you don’t have more details, but I have to ask.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: First, there were four batches of – the three of them were done and the last one is the obstacle. Why? You have any idea?

MS. HARF: Nothing on the specifics of the discussions going on right now.

QUESTION: Is Secretary Kerry still in Jordan?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Still in Jordan.

QUESTION: And what’s the next stop?

MS. HARF: I just at the beginning read out a long travel advisory —


MS. HARF: Right now he’s in Jordan.


MS. HARF: Or – yes, he’s in Jordan, Amman – excuse me – meeting with President Abbas, having phone conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We announced a trip from the 1st through the 5th to Brussels, Algiers, and Rabat. And when we have more details about his travel, we’re happy to share them.

QUESTION: Is he going to stay in Jordan tomorrow?

QUESTION: But we still —

MS. HARF: I don’t have any details for further scheduling from here.

QUESTION: So the same question – the same issue, not the same question. You mentioned that the two sides are involved in discussion and you don’t want to be, as from the beginning, there was a principle not to talk about it. But I assume U.S. is involved in these negotiations, right?

MS. HARF: Between the two parties?


MS. HARF: Yes, of course.

QUESTION: To come to an agreement about these prisoners. Or you don’t —

MS. HARF: Oh, on the prisoner issue. Well, we are talking to both parties about all of the issues related to the negotiation, all of them.

QUESTION: Including the prisoners.

MS. HARF: All of them.

QUESTION: Do you expect the release of the prisoners on Friday?

MS. HARF: I have no predictions to make for you.

QUESTION: So Secretary Kerry’s not going back to Rome to meet with the President and the Pope?

MS. HARF: I think that’s my understanding. I just – the travel team obviously has the most up-to-date schedule. That’s my understanding, but who knows if it will change. I don’t think it will.


MS. HARF: But I know that was something he was very much looking forward to doing.


MS. HARF: So I don’t think that’s changed. I just want to make – and I want to talk to them and make sure that the schedule is still the same.

QUESTION: Well, one more on this. The Arab Summit strongly refused today to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. How do you view this to affect the negotiations and President Abbas’ statement on this regard?

MS. HARF: Well, I did see the statement from the Arab League. Just give me one second here.

Look, obviously, these are private discussions going on directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so I don’t want to guess what an Arab League statement – how that might affect it. You know that the United States’ position on this has been clear. President Obama and Secretary Kerry have both spoken to it in the last several months and for many months. But I’m not going to sort of do analysis on how it might impact the direct negotiations.

QUESTION: But how do you view the statement?

MS. HARF: I don’t have personal views on the statement. You know what the United States’ view is, and we’ve been clear about that, that Israel is a Jewish state. The President said it. The Secretary said it. That’s what our view is.

QUESTION: Were you expecting them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state to support President Abbas in these negotiations?

MS. HARF: I don’t have, I think, more analysis for you on the Arab League or what we were or were not expecting. What we’re focused on isn’t what the Arab League says on this at this point. It’s what the two parties are saying to each other and seeing if we can move the process forward.

QUESTION: So related to Arab summit —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — or Arab League Summit or Arab Summit, you were expecting – not – I mean, U.S. was expecting that during it, it (inaudible) to be solved a little bit or lessen the tension between the Gulf states.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that? As a matter of fact, nothing came out of it related to this issue. Or you think that there is something happened?

MS. HARF: Well, the Arab League did pledge to work to end rifts between the member states. As we’ve said for a long time, we enjoy strong relationships with all of these countries and think there are good outcomes that can be had for Gulf security and prosperity by them working together. It’s in their interest for them to work together. We also would welcome their pledge to press for an end for violence in Syria and their pledge to support the Geneva diplomatic process. So obviously, we think they need to work to repair some of these rifts, and they’ve said that they would like to do that.

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, but I’m not talking about Syria at all. I’m talking about —

MS. HARF: I know, but I addressed your question in the first half of my answer.

QUESTION: Which is like general statement, right?

MS. HARF: That they pledged to work together to try to bridge these gaps and end some of these rifts that you referenced between the countries. They, I think very clearly, said that was important to them. Obviously, these are – some of them – these are bilateral issues they need to work through together. But we’ve said very clearly there are benefits for the Gulf countries to work together – for their security, their prosperity, for regional issues. So hopefully, they’ll be able to do so.

QUESTION: Are you – beside these words from the podium, what kind of contacts do you have between – with those countries on the ground or —

MS. HARF: Well, the President’s going to Saudi Arabia this weekend, so I think that’s a pretty high-level contact. We have wide range of contacts – very high level and, of course, our folks on the ground as well. And these are issues that really do need to be worked out between the countries themselves, but obviously, we have strong relationships with all of them and talk to them about how important it is for them to try and mend some of these rifts and actually work together.


QUESTION: Apologies for being late. Could I have you (inaudible) the Palestinian-Israeli talks?

MS. HARF: Are you going to make me re-answer all the same questions? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, no. I have a very specific question. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sure you probably addressed it —

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: — but my point is on the release of the prisoners. Do you expect any kind of delay in the release of the prisoners that may scuttle the talks?

MS. HARF: What I said was I don’t have any details for you on any of these issues. Obviously, the Secretary is talking to the parties right now.

QUESTION: Okay. So as he talks with them, what are the plans, let’s say, for the remaining 30 days?

MS. HARF: No details for you on any of those plans.

QUESTION: Okay. Are we likely to see whatever announcement or whatever deal would come out, let’s say, in a press conference, in a statement, in like a summit conference? What format is —

MS. HARF: No predictions at all. No predictions at all for you on what this might look like.

QUESTION: What about predictions if the prisoners are released to the satisfaction of the Palestinian authorities? Do you think that – or does – will the U.S. see that as optimistic or a good step forward to extending negotiations?

MS. HARF: I really just don’t have any predictions to make for you on what’s going to happen.



QUESTION: Did the Israelis submit to you like a quid pro quo, we would release those Israeli citizens that were supposed to be released among the Palestinians, for Pollard?

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I don’t have any predictions to make for you about what’s going to happen. Separately, on Jonathan Pollard, as I did say earlier as well —


MS. HARF: — there are no plans to release Jonathan Pollard at this time. Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage against the United States. He is sentenced – was sentenced to life and is currently serving his sentence.

QUESTION: Can I unpack that a little bit, though?

MS. HARF: We unpacked it a little bit earlier, but —

QUESTION: Well, but when you say – I’m sorry if you did —

MS. HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: When you say “at this time,” that does not – that just says that you’re not planning to release him now. But what you’re not saying, and if you could unequivocally say, that Jonathan Pollard is not part of the current discussions between – on the table as part of any type of negotiations.

MS. HARF: As I said when Lara asked me about this 10 minutes ago —


MS. HARF: (Laughter.) That’s okay. We can just do it – do all the same questions twice today.


QUESTION: You said it’s a thin crowd. I mean —

MS. HARF: I know. There was a thin crowd. I was disappointed. (Laughter.) No, look – I’m not going to get into any specifics confirming or not confirming one way or the other if any topic is on the table in these talks. We’re just not going to get into those discussions or those details. What – we’ve made clear our position on Jonathan Pollard, and beyond that —

QUESTION: You – no, you have not made your position clear on Jonathan Pollard. You continue to say that there’s no current plans to release him.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: But can you envision —

MS. HARF: I can only speak for what’s on the table right now.

QUESTION: I understand. But can you see, envision if he is serving a life sentence for a crime of such proportions, can you envision any scenario where Jonathan Pollard would be released for anything that has nothing to do with this case?

MS. HARF: I have nothing to predict about any of these issues going forward.



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