Daily Press Briefing – December 23, 2016
Daily Press Briefing
December 23, 2016
INDEX FOR TODAY'S BRIEFING
2:14 p.m. EST
QUESTION: I wanted to start on the resolution at the United Nations.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israeli settlements resolution. There was a lot of things that happened today. Do you have a full – can you give us a full accounting of where the United States sees the process at this point?
MR KIRBY: Well, as we understand, the language that was introduced by Egypt is still out there, but that Egypt has asked for a postponement of a vote that was supposed to happen today on that language. We are also given to understand that they are consulting with their Arab League partners about the text. And even as coming down here when I checked in, as I understand it, those discussions are still ongoing. So we’ll just have to wait and see what the results of those consultations are to see if the text moves forward. I honestly don’t know if or when a vote will be rescheduled.
QUESTION: Was the United States hoping for the vote to proceed?
MR KIRBY: Well, it wasn’t – it wasn’t about hope. I mean, this was —
QUESTION: In favor of the vote – yeah.
MR KIRBY: What I think – first of all, obviously, I’m not going to preview, nor would we preview, our views or our votes in advance of Security Council resolutions being voted on. So what we have continued to try to do is work towards seeing a viable two-state solution realized. But it wasn’t – so in that regard, I think we were interested to see how the debate and the discussion would unfold, and I think I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: Did – if you don’t want to say what you – you don’t want to say what your position was, whether you were going to veto, abstain, or vote yes. Is that my understanding?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we never preview our votes.
QUESTION: Okay. Did the United States know what it was going to vote before the vote was pulled? Did you internally have a decision?
MR KIRBY: I think there – as you might expect, there were obviously discussions inside the interagency about this draft text and views put forward and discussed about how we would approach the text. But again, I don’t think I’ll – I want to go any further than that.
QUESTION: Yeah. Without saying – I’m not – without saying what you would have voted, had – it was only hours away. Had you decided what you were going to vote? Yes or no?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into any more detail about interagency discussions on this.
QUESTION: And I just have one or two more.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: What in the document, the draft resolution – I mean, it was pretty – it was basically a mirror of U.S. policy on settlements. What was in there that was potentially objectionable?
MR KIRBY: To whom?
QUESTION: To you.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to stake out positions here on draft text. And – and look, the text – I’m not predicting anything, but the text could change now in the wake of discussions with the Arab League. So I think we all need to just – the Egyptians have pulled it back. They’ve asked for a postponement. They’re having discussions with their Arab League partners. We need to let that process work its way through. If there’s changes to the text, obviously we’ll take a look at that. But I really don’t want to get ahead of any votes one way or the other, and that’s – if, in fact, this comes back for a vote.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Did the U.S. have anything to do with the postponement of this vote?
MR KIRBY: This was an Egyptian decision to postpone, and I’d refer you to Egyptian authorities to speak to that further.
QUESTION: Had the U.S. advised the Israelis what it was going to vote beforehand?
MR KIRBY: We don’t preview our votes.
QUESTION: Did President-elect Trump’s tweet have anything or any impact on what – on – or do you believe that President-elect Trump’s tweet on – that he would veto this vote, that have any effect or bearing on the decision today?
MR KIRBY: You really need to talk to Egyptian authorities about their request for a postponement after the language was introduced. That’s really for them to speak to.
QUESTION: We understand that the president-elect’s team did – or did speak to U.S. officials before they actually put out their statement, so they had to have had discussions with the Administration on – that they were going to – what – that they were going to put out the statement. You’re not aware of anything like that?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any discussions here at the State Department.
QUESTION: The U.S. – this is my last question. The U.S. has certainly, since I’ve been covering the last four years, condoned the settlement expansion by the Israelis. It’s been a thorny point in the peace discussions that Kerry was – was leading. What would your stand be if the – given that the vote or that the draft text did condone the settlement expansion as illegal?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, you’re asking me to take a position or to speak to a position on the text, the draft text, and I – I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to get ahead of votes that haven’t happened yet. We just don’t preview our view in advance of votes inside the UN Security Council.
Now look, that said, I think you know, Lesley – and we’ve been very clear about our position on settlements and the degree to which we don’t find them to be constructive to the overall cause of peace.
QUESTION: But you said that the settlements were illegal. Are you backtracking on that?
MR KIRBY: I had – I – in an interview the other day I misspoke. I referred to them as illegal and I put out a tweet clarifying it shortly after; our position is that they’re illegitimate.
QUESTION: So why are they – why are they not illegal? Why are they not illegal? If it’s, in fact, this territory was acquired by the use of force, military force, why isn’t it illegal according to the Geneva Conventions?
MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t think this is the forum for a policy debate on this. Our policy has been consistent that they’re illegitimate and that they are not constructive to getting us closer to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, I just want – I have a couple more questions. Now, the draft, the text of the draft, is really not that much different than what you said the other day. I mean, it basically talks about the same issues and the need for a two-state solution, that you can – these are illegitimate or illegal, whatever you want to call them, and so on. So why would you not, let’s say, push for such a resolution independent of, let’s say, Egypt or another group and so on? Because that does go along with your stated policy, and your stated policy over a period of, like, forty years or fifty years.
MR KIRBY: Again, you’re wanting me to get into a conversation here about our thinking about this text before there was a vote, and I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: No, I’m not saying about Egypt’s submitting or withdrawing. I’m saying that would the United States —
MR KIRBY: No, you’re asking about the text.
QUESTION: I understand. I want to ask you directly and pointedly: Would the United States take a draft like this and take the initiative itself and call for a Security Council meeting to talk about this thing to advocate for such a resolution?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, do you see that this thing could come up for a vote in the next 20 days and so on?
MR KIRBY: I have no idea. Egypt has asked for a postponement. I don’t know what the timeframe on that postponement is. I think we’re just going to have to let – we’re going to have to watch and see how this process plays out.
QUESTION: Could you share with us what the Secretary would have said today?
MR KIRBY: So, I mean, the Secretary was preparing to deliver some remarks today about a vision for the Middle East and certainly the Middle East peace process itself. And he decided that, in light of the postponement of the vote, that it would be prudent for him to postpone his remarks as well. I’m not going to preview the remarks with any specificity, beyond just saying that it certainly was going to be about the Middle East and the process.
QUESTION: So this speech, this vision, is contingent upon the resolution being brought up to a vote?
MR KIRBY: No. No, I didn’t —
QUESTION: Or that – or could it happen independent of it?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that.
MR KIRBY: I said he was expecting to do it today, and certainly the timing was in concert with what we expected to be a vote today. In fact – and in light of the fact that the vote has been postponed, he’s decided to postpone his remarks. It doesn’t mean that it has to be done on the same particular day, but that’s the timing that we chose to pursue. And if and when the Secretary delivers those remarks, we’ll certainly keep you apprised and let you know.
QUESTION: Do you believe that you have been out-maneuvered by the Israelis? They went directly to the Egyptian president and they pressured him.
MR KIRBY: This is about a vote that the Egyptian Government has asked for a postponement. And you’d have to talk to Egyptian authorities about their reasons for doing that. For our part – and we’ve been very clear and consistent about this, Said – we continue to want to see a viable two-state solution. And we believe that with strong cohesive leadership on all sides there in the region that that solution can be found. And we’re going to – for the remainder of time that the Secretary has in office, I can assure you he’s going to continue to try to work towards getting us closer to creating the conditions for a two-state solution to happen and to succeed.
QUESTION: If we can go off Syria, I forgot one question I wanted to ask you about the Israel resolution that was just very logistically – did the Secretary make any calls to foreign leaders in the last several days or couple weeks about this matter?
MR KIRBY: He has routinely had conversations with foreign leaders about the Middle East peace process and I think certainly you – that since the Egyptians submitted the text that yes, he has had conversations with foreign leaders —
QUESTION: Did he speak —
MR KIRBY: — about this resolution.
QUESTION: So did he – do you know when the last time he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or anyone else in Israel about this?
MR KIRBY: He spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning.
QUESTION: Did he – do you know and did he speak to Foreign Minister Shoukry or someone else from Japan?
MR KIRBY: He did speak with —
QUESTION: From Egypt, sorry. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: He did speak with foreign —
QUESTION: Five letters at least. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: He did speak with Foreign Minister Shoukry last night, yes.
QUESTION: Okay, last night. And then any others in the last pivotal day or so?
MR KIRBY: Today he has also spoken with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh and the Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir.
QUESTION: But during his call this morning with Netanyahu, they obviously discussed the vote.
MR KIRBY: There wasn’t a vote.
QUESTION: I mean the possibility of a vote. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Clearly they talked about this resolution – this draft resolution. Obviously they did, but I’m not going to detail the conversation that they had.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that this was not brought to a vote?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that the resolution was not brought to a vote?
MR KIRBY: This isn’t about disappointment —
QUESTION: I understand, but are you disappointed? I mean, you can say yes or no. Are you disappointed that it was —
MR KIRBY: Said, we’re —
QUESTION: — not brought to a vote?
MR KIRBY: Let’s see what the process bears out before we start characterizing things one way or the other. And again, I’m not going to preview or speculate about where this is going to go.