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

Marie Harf

Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

April 2, 2014

    • Update on Talks / Focus on Progress
    • Secretary Kerry's Engagement with Parties
    • Secretary Kerry's Travel in the Region


QUESTION: — non-talks, talks. Could you update us on what has transpired since last night’s – since the Secretary announced he was not going to Ramallah?

MS. HARF: I can. Well, our team remains on the ground. Ambassador Indyk and the team remains on the ground, in touch with both parties. As I said, the Secretary spoke today with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

What we’ve said is this is one of those points in the negotiations where each side has to make tough choices. We’ve been clear that they’ve made courageous decisions throughout this process, but we can’t make the hard choices for them. And throughout this process, we have been engaged with both sides because it has been, it continues to be, and it will in the future be the right thing for the United States to do. I think it’s an easy story to write – to say that making Middle East peace is hard. That’s not a tough story to write. But what we’re focused on right now is working with the two sides, again, because it’s the right thing to do, to see if they can make some more tough choices and to see if we can make some progress here going forward.

And again, the team remains on the ground. The Secretary is in touch with the team.

QUESTION: So the talks are not at a dead end at this point?

MS. HARF: Not at all.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of any meetings between Palestinian negotiator Erekat and Israeli negotiator Livni today, this evening?

MS. HARF: I can check on that. I can get the latest update from our team on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. And as far as you’re concerned, you’re not assigning – since you are not calling the talks to be over, you are not assigning any blame to any one particular party?

MS. HARF: Absolutely not. Look, to be clear, over the last 24 hours, there have been unhelpful actions taken on both sides here. And we didn’t think it was a productive time for the Secretary to return to the region. That’s why he didn’t go today.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MS. HARF: But we’re not playing the blame game.


MS. HARF: Again, what we’re focused on is seeing if we can make progress. There is a chance to move this process forward. There is still a chance for this. That will require tough decisions by both of the parties. They’ve made tough decisions up until this point, but we can’t make them for them. They need to make them now.

QUESTION: Now, the agencies, the type of agencies that Abbas announced and so on were, in fact, as articulated by the Secretary himself, they are not really that important in terms of shifting or doing any —

MS. HARF: I don’t think he said they were unimportant.

QUESTION: Well, they’re important, but they’re not the kind of agencies that would threaten or would actually go contrary to Palestinian promises. He said that the Palestinians adhered to their promises, didn’t he?

MS. HARF: Well, what I just said, without going into more details, is that we’ve seen both sides take some unhelpful actions over the past 24 hours and didn’t think it was a conducive environment in which the Secretary should travel there right now. But again, what we’re focused on is how to move this process forward. It’s up to the two parties to determine what the path forward looks like. As we go forward, obviously, our team will continue working with them. I don’t have anything to add to what the Secretary said yesterday in terms of the specific announcements yesterday.

QUESTION: Would the path forward include, let’s say, Israeli pullback from Area C, so to speak, and allow more movement for the Palestinian Authority? And would it include also the release of more prisoners?

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to get into specifics about what that path forward might look like. I will reiterate again that both parties have to make tough decisions. We can’t make them for them. It’s up to them. We will play a role, as we have. The Secretary has worked, I think, as hard as humanly possible on this issue because it’s the right thing to do. Everywhere he goes around the world, people want to ask him about Middle East peace. People talk a lot about U.S. leadership in the world, whether we’ve disengaged. The fact that we are heavily engaged in trying to solve one of the toughest challenges in the world right now, I think, flies in the face of that false notion that some people have put out there. So again, it’s not a hard story to write that it’s hard, that it’s tough, but that’s exactly why we think it’s so important to make progress here.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the Jewish Republican Coalition meeting that took place in Las Vegas and was attended by prominent Republicans, including former Vice President Cheney, who basically called Secretary – the Administration’s and Secretary of State in particular – policies in the Middle East a total failure, from one failure to another? Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I’m aware of the meeting. I haven’t seen, quite frankly, or had time to look at any of those specific comments. What I’ve been focused on, what our team has been focused on, is the work at hand —


MS. HARF: — and making progress, working with the parties, and figuring out where this all goes from here if they’re willing to make tough choices. I, quite frankly, don’t have time to read what former officials say at some meeting in Las Vegas.

QUESTION: But you certainly disagree with Mr. Cheney that your policies in the Middle East peace process has failed, and Iran – and with Iran has failed, and Syria has failed, all over.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Again, I didn’t see his specific comments, but when you look at Middle East peace, we’ve made a lot of progress here, quite frankly. There’s much more work to be done, and there’s still room to make more progress, but certainly, we’ve made progress with the two parties.

On Iran, we have them at the negotiating table today with our P5+1 partners. Their nuclear program is, for the first time in almost a decade, halted. I don’t think that ever occurred when the former official you were referring to was in office. So I think that right now what we’re seeing is a diplomatic opportunity we’ve never had before.

On Syria, it’s a tough challenge. Nobody is naive about that. We are continuing to try to move the ball forward on that as well.

QUESTION: Marie, what’s the progress that you’ve made on the peace process?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve seen eight months of very intense negotiations where both parties have made courageous decisions. Not only through the decisions of both parties but through the Secretary’s direct involvement did we get the talks restarted, which was a very important milestone. We’ve had eight months of negotiations where we’ve narrowed gaps, they’ve made tough decisions, and where we still – we know we still have more work to do, but that’s certainly been moving the ball forward. The question now is whether the two parties can make the tough decisions to keep moving the ball down the field.

QUESTION: You’re running out of time, and you still have around 28 days to achieve an agreement. Do you still consider that you are able to achieve an agreement in this upcoming weeks?

MS. HARF: Look, we know this process is going to be very difficult. What we’re focused on now isn’t a timeframe. It’s not a date on a calendar. It’s whether – again, I know I sound a little bit like a broken record today – but whether the two parties can take this moment, which is a tough moment – we’ve seen tough moments before – but take this tough moment, make tough decisions, and move the process forward.

But as I said very clearly, we still do believe there is a path forward here. Our team remains on the ground. The Secretary just today has had conversations with both leaders and is trying to move the ball forward, so that’s what we’re focused on right now.

QUESTION: In his conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, did the Secretary discuss the issue of Israel moving forward on another 700 homes in East Jerusalem?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any details to read out from their conversations.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Middle East peace?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Because you mentioned that we don’t want to play the blame game —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. But it seems that the two sides are blaming you, that you are not coming to conclusion. I mean, how you cannot blame them, at least explain to them what’s going on?

MS. HARF: Well, I said that both sides did take some unhelpful actions over the past 24 hours, so I did say that there were some things done on both sides that we didn’t think were particularly conducive to moving the process forward. But again, this is not about the United States.


MS. HARF: We engage in this because it’s the right thing to do, for the Palestinians and for the Israelis. We’ve been very clear about that, even though it’s tough. But again, this is up to them to make these tough decisions. We believe they can, but it is up to them.

QUESTION: There is another question, probably Said asked – you mentioned in the different times the issue of the cancellation – or maybe you don’t like that term, which was used yesterday of the trip of the Secretary —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — trip to Israel. Still it’s not clear why. The reason I’m asking, because always when there was any problem, you said engagement is necessity —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — to make it. But this time, there’s – it was disengagement, not engagement.

MS. HARF: No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a different kind of engagement. So first, we didn’t think that in this environment, after some of the actions we’ve seen over the past 24 hours, not in response to any one thing but the totality of the actions on both sides, that it was conducive for the Secretary to travel back to the region right now. But that doesn’t mean we disengaged. The team remains on the ground deeply engaged with both sides, and again, as I just said, the Secretary’s had phone conversations with both parties today.

So again, in Brussels, he had five bilats about really important issues today, including Ukraine. So it’s not that he just decided not to go and just took a 24-hour vacation. He has other things he’s focused on. He’s had important phone calls with both parties today. We will remain engaged, we will remain in contact with both parties, and our team will remain on the ground to see if we can get the two parties to move this process forward.

QUESTION: But whose side (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to play the blame game. I’m really not. I know it’s a tempting question to ask.

QUESTION: Picking favorites.

MS. HARF: We’ve seen unhelpful actions on both sides, but I would also reiterate that both sides have made courageous decisions throughout this process, and we believe there’s still room and time for the two parties to keep doing so.


MS. HARF: Anything else on Middle East peace?

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about when you became aware of the unhelpful actions. Because it seemed with some of the conflicting statements, as the news was coming out of the Middle East, that it would have come as a surprise or that the U.S. side was caught off guard. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to further outline what those unhelpful actions were on each side, so unfortunately, I can’t get into more of a tick-tock. But I think the sense that emerged over the last 24 hours – certainly now probably more like 36 – that both sides had taken some unhelpful actions. And the Secretary – I mean, I stood up here in the briefing room yesterday and said he was still going – there was a decision made shortly after that he would not be.

So it’s a very fluid situation and I don’t think anyone can accuse him of not being willing to go or engage, but this just wasn’t the right time for him to do so.

QUESTION: So were you caught off guard?

QUESTION: Will he come home this weekend?

MS. HARF: He is scheduled to come home this weekend after Morocco, yes.


QUESTION: Were you caught off guard, then —

MS. HARF: I’m not going to —

QUESTION: — by the Palestinian actions?

MS. HARF: It’s – I’m not going to characterize it any further, Said. It’s a fluid situation. It’s moving very quickly. I’m not going to characterize privately what our discussions looked like leading up to or during or after any of these actions.

QUESTION: So do you feel that Abbas maybe committed an underhanded thing by going right before the Secretary of State —

MS. HARF: I am not at all going to play this blame game.

QUESTION: — was about to leave?

MS. HARF: We saw unhelpful actions on both sides. I am not going to further characterize the actions of either party in any way.

QUESTION: But he did catch you by surprise, right?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to further characterize it, Said. Anything else on Middle East peace?

QUESTION: Were you fully briefed on his decision in advance?

MS. HARF: I was not, no. I was out here briefing you all. I’m not going to get into what the discussions with the team were like before, during, or after these conversations.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)

DPB # 58

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