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 25, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing


  • Arab League / Negotiations / Ambassador Indyk



QUESTION: New topic?

MS. HARF: New topic, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. You announced that the Secretary will visit Jordan to meet —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — with President Abbas today.

MS. HARF: Tomorrow.

QUESTION: Tomorrow.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, sorry. And this timing is coming immediately after the end of the Arab League summit in Kuwait.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. That’s true.

QUESTION: What’s your expectations from the summit, the Arab summit. Are you expecting the Arab summit to ask President Abbas to continue in the negotiations after the end of next month?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t heard from our team any specific expectations they have from the Arab League summit. Obviously, we’ve been in close touch with the Arab League throughout this process; they’re an important part of the process. I don’t know of any specific expectations. I think what the Secretary is doing is continuing to work to narrow the gaps – obviously, some still exist – and working on a framework.

So I think every meeting he has is probably – you can say is – comes after an Arab League meeting or another meeting or somebody being in Washington, because he meets with them so frequently, but I think it’s just the latest in the discussions. We’ll see what comes out of the Arab League meeting though if we have more on that.

QUESTION: Marie, did you —

QUESTION: Do you think that if you don’t get this present – that the Israelis don’t make this prisoner release on Friday, that efforts at peacemaking will be all but stymied for the foreseeable future? Because President Abbas has said that if this benchmark goes through without the prisoner release, that he’ll end the negotiations and go to the United Nations.

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. The first is that both parties agreed to negotiate for nine months, so I think we’re still certainly operating under that basis, and they’re still negotiating in good faith under that basis. Obviously, we’ve said both parties have had to make courageous decisions throughout this process to keep the negotiations going, and we certainly hope that will continue. And again, the Secretary is just about to have some more meetings, and we’ll see how those go.


QUESTION: What’s your understanding of which prisoners are going to be set for release or up for being released at the end of this week?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I don’t have a breakdown of that.


MS. HARF: Let me check.


QUESTION: Marie, have you heard the ambassador speak at the summit?

MS. HARF: I haven’t.

QUESTION: Because he said that Israel did not waste any opportunity to scuttle Secretary Kerry’s efforts. Do you agree —

MS. HARF: Well, both parties are still at the table.

QUESTION: — with Abbas?

MS. HARF: Both parties are still at the table having discussions with each other and with the Secretary and with Ambassador Indyk. So I think the proof is in what’s happening.

QUESTION: Do you consider these allegations to be inflammatory or provocative or anything like this, or not —

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen them, so I —

QUESTION: Or not in tandem with what’s going on?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen them, so I don’t want to put a value judgment on them. But I will say that President Abbas has been very committed to this process throughout the whole process.

QUESTION: Okay, and to follow up on Lisa’s question on the issue of the prisoners that are scheduled to be released on the 29th. Now, Abbas, time and again, insisted that if this does not take place, no negotiation in the future will take place. Are you talking to him on that perhaps they need more time to release the prisoners and so on?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into any of the specifics of what we’re talking about.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you just a quick follow-up —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: — on the Israeli behavior. I mean, we have seen increased incessant violations of Palestinian camps and cities and so on. Today, this morning, as a matter of fact, the Israeli forces went into the Polytechnic University and beat up a guy, arrested him. They beat up a number of professors and so on, unprovoked. We have seen this pattern in the last few days. Are you talking with the Israelis about – as far as scaling back this very aggressive behavior in the last week or so?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into any of the specifics of discussions we’re having with either party. I’m just not going to.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, just to quickly follow up on the discussion that Mr. Abbas had with Martin Indyk, the American envoy Martin Indyk in Amman. Did he discuss with him, just to follow up on what Lisa – an extension of the talks?

MS. HARF: I’m going to say it for a third time. I’m not going to discuss what we discuss specifically with either party.


MS. HARF: Yes, on peace process?

QUESTION: Yeah. Why the U.S. is focused on talking to the Palestinian side only, not to the Israeli side?

MS. HARF: That’s not what I —

QUESTION: We know that President Abbas was in Washington last week. He met with the President and with the Secretary Kerry —

MS. HARF: And Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Washington not too long before.

QUESTION: Yeah, three weeks ago. And this is the second meeting in two weeks with Abbas after (inaudible) the Israelis.

MS. HARF: And I also said, if you heard my third line at the top, that Secretary Kerry will also be in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the phone or video conference tomorrow as well.

QUESTION: Why he —

MS. HARF: He just —

QUESTION: Why he will be —

MS. HARF: Why isn’t he coming to Rome – or to Amman, excuse me?

QUESTION: He will be meeting with Abbas, not with the prime minister.

MS. HARF: Well, he’s having conversations with the prime minister. They’re not in person, but they’re certainly detailed conversations. So he’s talking to both sides tomorrow. One happens to be in person. I wouldn’t read anything into that.



QUESTION: Let me ask one on the – to go back to the peace process.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I want to clarify. I just want to make sure I’m right in this. Am I right in remembering that the – it’s the U.S.’s understanding that the prisoner release and agreement was a part of the negotiating process? It was an agreed-upon part of the negotiating process at the beginning, same as the Palestinians not going to the UN while the negotiations were ongoing.

MS. HARF: What do you mean by “a part of the negotiating”? I’m sorry, what do you —

QUESTION: Well, that the —

MS. HARF: I just want to make sure I’m —

QUESTION: Yeah. No, that the U.S. understood or believed that there would be some prisoner release as a part of the negotiations.

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding. Obviously, we’ve seen a few prisoners —


MS. HARF: — prisoner releases during this time.


MS. HARF: But I want to be very careful and specific here, so let me check with them to see what – whether this is part of at the beginning or whether this has been talked about throughout again. Let me check with our —

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. And then to – going back to that, because I think maybe one of the questions or the confusions is that I don’t think that some of these agreements – and maybe I’m wrong – were ever documented. Right?

MS. HARF: I have similar questions. So let me check with our folks and see sort of exactly what we were all sort of working on throughout this process and what that action means.


QUESTION: Marie, on Lara’s point, Saeb Erekat last week claimed that on July 19th last year he reached an agreement with Secretary Kerry on the release of the prisoners. So it is not tied in any way to, let’s say, the nine-month period that was announced a little later.

MS. HARF: Let me check on the details.


MS. HARF: I agree they’re important questions —

QUESTION: That’s what he said.

MS. HARF: — and I just want to make sure I have all the facts there.

QUESTION: He said that in public last Tuesday, as a matter of fact.

MS. HARF: Well, there’s lots of things said in public. Let me check on that.


QUESTION: Yeah. What I’d like to know —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — is what the U.S. understanding is.

MS. HARF: I – yeah. Understood.

QUESTION: Because I think Israel and Palestinian are – both have certain understandings of what the agreement was. I’d like to know —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — what the U.S. understanding is.

MS. HARF: And it’s a totally fair question, and I want to make sure I have it totally right, as I always do. So let me check.

QUESTION: And also —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — which prisoners. If it is —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — the U.S. understanding, which prisoners —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Let me see what I can get.

QUESTION: — were part of this first tranche.

MS. HARF: Let me see if I can get some more for tomorrow on this.


MS. HARF: Tolga.

QUESTION: Is this —

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. Do you have something on this? Yeah. And then —

QUESTION: Israel. Is the Secretary not going to Israel because the minister of defense didn’t apologize to him?

MS. HARF: No. I have not heard that was part of a decision at all here. Obviously, we think he should have. But no, I think there’s just travel schedules. And he’s going to Amman; he’s going to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu over the phone. I think it’s a logistical —

QUESTION: But Amman is too close to Israel.

MS. HARF: You guys are reading too much in here, where I don’t think there’s any tea leaves to be read here. I think – he’s on this massive trip with the President, right, which has a lot of moving parts, too – wants to go to Rome, wanted to be part of the trip to Saudi Arabia, so obviously, I think it’s a logistical question.

QUESTION: And he has to cross Israel to go to Jordan —

MS. HARF: I don’t know where – the flight route for our plane.

QUESTION: Sorry, Marie. A (inaudible) the prisoners.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: The Israelis are saying that the prisoners that are Israeli citizens will not be released. There was a demand that the Palestinians made that those Palestinians with Israeli citizenships that are in prison also be released. Do you have a position on this?

MS. HARF: Let me take all of the questions on the prisoner release and see what I can get you for tomorrow.



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