DoS Spokesperson discusses US Middle East Envoy Indyk’s resignation, the pause in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the US commitment to making progress – USDoS press briefing/Non-UN document (excerpts)

Marie Harf

Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

June 27, 2014


  • Ambassador Indyk Resignation / Pause in Negotiations / Commitment to Making Progress



1:35 p.m. EDT


QUESTION: Ambassador Indyk resignation.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: We saw the Secretary’s statement. We didn’t see the word “resignation” or “resign.” Why?

MS. HARF: Right, because you all like to use words that aren’t always accurate.

QUESTION: Why? He didn’t resign today?

MS. HARF: Well, he will technically, I think, probably – no, yeah. Yeah. The AP had a line particularly – the term “quit” I think is a little negative in tone. But yes —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Huh?

QUESTION: Well one, I don’t write headlines. (Laughter.) But two —

MS. HARF: I know you don’t, I know you don’t.

Wait, just going back to that, he will be —

QUESTION: “Quit” also means “to leave.”

MS. HARF: Well, it has a negative connotation.

QUESTION: Well, it isn’t intended to be negative.

MS. HARF: Okay.

He will be leaving his post here. I’m not sure bureaucratically, technically what he has to do, whether that’s submit a letter of resignation. It probably is. But he will be returning to the Brookings Institute. Frank Lowenstein, who many of you know, who has worked for the Secretary for a decade now – was his chief of staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been very involved in these negotiations – will be serving as the acting special envoy. Ambassador Indyk will continue to work closely with the Secretary on these issues from his position at Brookings.

QUESTION: But as a paid —

QUESTION: So what was the reason why?

QUESTION: As a paid advisor, or just —

MS. HARF: No, not to my knowledge is he – I don’t believe he’s going to be paid.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So then he did – I mean —

MS. HARF: I think he probably will technically have to, yes.

QUESTION: He didn’t —

QUESTION: Why are you using —

MS. HARF: He’s not taking a leave of absence. Let me check on the bureaucratic paperwork here.


MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Why do you think he stayed long time after the failure of the peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re in a pause right now.

QUESTION: No. It took him more than two months to resign or to leave this position.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: Why is that?

MS. HARF: But that’s why I said we’re in a pause in the negotiations right now. And I think he’s been working intensively with the parties to see if they could come back to the table in a meaningful way, and we haven’t been able to get there yet. So he will continue advising the Secretary on this, but will be going back to Brookings for the time being.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can we assume that this was his decision?

MS. HARF: Yes.


MS. HARF: That yes, it was his decision.

QUESTION: Okay, so —

QUESTION: I just want to clarify —

QUESTION: — what was the justification?

MS. HARF: Wait, wait, wait, Said. Let me do Roz first.

QUESTION: So what was his justification when he told the Secretary that he would be returning to Brookings? Did he say —

MS. HARF: Well, it was a decision they made together.

QUESTION: Well, did he say, for example, I keep talking to both sides and neither side is willing to even come back into the same room —

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: — to acknowledge each other’s existence?

MS. HARF: In general, I’m not going to get into the specific language he used, but it, since the negotiations have been suspended, seemed to be an appropriate time for him to return to his job at Brookings. At this point, there are no current plans to find a permanent replacement for him. As I said, Frank Lowenstein will continue as acting special envoy.

QUESTION: Well, if there’s no plan —

QUESTION: But is he —

QUESTION: If there’s no plan to find a permanent representative, does that mean that for all intents and purposes the talks are dead, and not in a pause?

MS. HARF: No. No, I wouldn’t say that. Look, the Secretary and the President, certainly, are still committed to trying to make progress here. We’re still deeply engaged with both of the parties to see if they can get back to the table. That process is ongoing, it will continue. But again, this seemed like an appropriate time for him to return to Brookings.

QUESTION: So is that – well, so why would Frank Lowenstein, if he – how can he be acting if there are no plans to find a permanent – you’re going to just have a permanent acting person? Why not just give Frank Lowenstein the job or just not have a special envoy?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything to preview in terms of what might happen down the road. But obviously, if folks remember, Frank was also a senior advisor to the Secretary last summer when the talks got restarted. So he’s been very involved in the process.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: So I don’t understand what the point of having an acting is. Why not either give him the job or not have a job?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ll make decisions about what that job will look like in the coming days and weeks, I think.


QUESTION: The title of “acting” is —

MS. HARF: Hold on, Roz. Let me go to Said.


QUESTION: Could you clarify for us if the team’s still – is here?

MS. HARF: It is.

QUESTION: I mean, David Makovsky, Phil Gordon. I mean, all the others that are members of the team.

MS. HARF: Phil Gordon works at the White House.

QUESTION: I understand, but he was sort of —

MS. HARF: Yeah. He certainly works on this issue.

QUESTION: — loaned out to work. Right.

MS. HARF: Yeah. A lot of the folks you all are familiar with are still part of the team. They’re all still working. This is just Ambassador Indyk going back to Brookings.

QUESTION: Okay. So although the talks are suspended, the team is still in place.

MS. HARF: The team is still in place.


MS. HARF: They’re still engaged with both parties. That’s why, look, this is a pause. It is a tough time. We’ve said that since the talks did go on a pause, but they’re still very deeply engaged.

QUESTION: Are there – is there any engagement ongoing now by the team —

MS. HARF: There is.

QUESTION: — and the Palestinians and the Israelis?

MS. HARF: There absolutely is. We’re not going to outline all of it, but there is.

Yes, Roz. Sorry.

QUESTION: Is there – how much credibility can Mr. Lowenstein have if he is an acting person? How much authority can he convey as the interlocutor during this period?

MS. HARF: As I just, he was a senior advisor to the Secretary when we got talks restarted last summer before Ambassador Indyk came on. So Frank has been deeply engaged with both parties, has very good relationships with the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I don’t think our interlocutors always look at the title. I think they look at the person and the relationship they’ve built with them, and they’ve certainly built a very strong one with Frank.

QUESTION: But certainly, wouldn’t that – having the formal job as Elise was suggesting – make it easier for one negotiator to return to his or her government, as the case may be, and say the Americans are suggesting that we take a look at the issue this way? Doesn’t it come with more weight?

MS. HARF: I don’t think the presence of that word in his title affects his credibility or his influence in any way, shape, or form. He’s been deeply engaged with both sides, has a lot of credibility with both sides. Again, he was playing the key role with the Secretary when the talks got restarted, so I think he absolutely – people know that when he speaks on this issue, he has the full confidence and backing and is speaking for the Secretary.

QUESTION: This is the second run at trying to broker some sort of peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Is the Administration going to try for a third time?

MS. HARF: Well, the second effort at this is still ongoing. While the direct negotiations have taken a pause, our efforts behind the scenes to work with both parties to get them back to the table are ongoing. It’s challenging, certainly, but we’re still in discussions and we’re still in negotiations talking to them about how they could do that.

QUESTION: And one more. The Secretary’s statement alluded to the progress that was made while Ambassador Indyk was in the position. What are they?

MS. HARF: Well, in general, we were able to define the gaps between the two parties on all the core issues in a fairly detailed and significant way. That’s something that we broadly knew before that, but I think was one of the things we would say was important. You can’t bridge gaps until you’ve defined them.

Also, American bridging ideas were developed in negotiations with the different parties to try and make progress on some of those gaps. Now again, we are in a pause. We haven’t been able to move forward with that. But these are key parts and components of the process that need to happen in order to eventually get to a deal.

QUESTION: That’s a pretty low bar for saying “progress.”

MS. HARF: Well, you’re happy to do your own analysis on this, Matt.

QUESTION: Really? Defining the gaps? You didn’t know them before?

MS. HARF: I don’t think for the two – specifically defining them. Specific areas, really drilling down on what those might look like. I do think that for those two parties, sitting down and talking about that directly is significant progress.

QUESTION: Really? Okay. So you didn’t realize before —

MS. HARF: Again, you can do your own analysis on it, but I would say that that is progress.

QUESTION: Well, let’s just take one of the issues: right of return, right?

MS. HARF: We’re not going to get into specifics on any of the issues.

QUESTION: The Israelis say no way, no right of return; the Palestinians say we have to have it. There’s the gap right there.

MS. HARF: Well, they say something —

QUESTION: And you learned more?

MS. HARF: They say certain things publicly, Matt. But privately, when you drill down on specifics on all the issues and where the gaps actually lie – those are broad gaps. We’re talking about specifics. It’s very different. We think there was progress made, but clearly much more work to do.

QUESTION: So you think that you define – so you think that there was some – you got more information that you were able to —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — about every single one of the points of contention.

MS. HARF: About all of the gaps, yes. We do.

QUESTION: And – but – and you call that progress? Isn’t progress —

MS. HARF: I think more information on gaps is progress, yes.

QUESTION: Well isn’t – no, isn’t progress actually narrowing the gaps?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s part of what progress will look like. But in any negotiation, you have to define the problem specifically before you can go about narrowing those gaps, and that’s certainly what we did here.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know, but it just seems to me that – and I think to most of the world that the problem is obvious.

MS. HARF: Well, but within each of those issues, Matt, it’s – it may be obvious to you, but what those gaps actually look like is quite complicated. If it were as obvious to you as you seem to make it seem, we would’ve done this a long time ago. So while I appreciate your analysis of how simple the situation is, when you get in that room and you say, “Let’s look at these issues; let’s look at all of them in detail,” those specific gaps in where we cannot come to agreement are what will define the negotiation progress going forward.


MS. HARF: And we hadn’t done that in the current situation until this last round.

QUESTION: But that’s not – I mean, I’m not the one who’s saying that progress was made. You guys are.

MS. HARF: No, I am. Exactly.

QUESTION: Exactly. So —

MS. HARF: You’re disagreeing with my analysis here.

QUESTION: I’m saying – I’m not. I’m just saying that I don’t see how you can call defining the gaps that you already knew progress.

MS. HARF: We didn’t know them at this level at —

QUESTION: The bar is very low, Matt.

MS. HARF: We didn’t —

QUESTION: Apparently so. Or non-existent.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I mean, just —

MS. HARF: We didn’t —

QUESTION: I’ll drop it. I just —

MS. HARF: We didn’t know the specificities —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Wait. Wait. We didn’t know the specificities at this level in all of the issues. No, we had not had those specific-level conversations with the two parties in the same room for a long time.

QUESTION: Since Camp David?

QUESTION: Let me ask you a question on this.

MS. HARF: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Not to belabor the issue, but if the talks – should the talks restart —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — any time soon, will you have to start all over again, or will you begin from where you ended?

MS. HARF: Well, the goal certainly is always to build on the progress you’ve already made.

QUESTION: I – no, I mean, what is the perception? That you will begin from where the talks ended, or will you begin anew?

MS. HARF: That’s – well, again, those discussions are going on right now, what it might look like if the parties come back to the table.

QUESTION: Because every time there seems to be a round of talks, they start all over again. I mean, are you closer, let’s say, on Jerusalem? Are you closer on the issue of asylum?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to go into any of the specifics on the issues. I think we’ve exhausted this topic.


MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: In his statement, Secretary Kerry has said that the United States remain – or remains committed not just to the case of peace, but to resuming the process when the parties find a path back to serious negotiations.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Does this mean that Mr. Lowenstein will be waiting for the two parties to find a path forward —

MS. HARF: Well, we’re working with him to find that region.

QUESTION: — to call him back to the region? Or he will initiate a plan or —

MS. HARF: Well – oh, in terms of his travel. Well, we’re engaged with the parties, whether it’s from here or on the ground, to try and get them back to the table. Beyond that, I don’t have any more specifics.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Just on Frank’s position, you said that he’s acting. Is he going to be dealing with other issues as well? Is he going to be given —

MS. HARF: Than Middle East peace?

QUESTION: Than Middle East peace.

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Just full time on —

MS. HARF: No, not to my knowledge.


MS. HARF: I think that’s enough for one person.


Document symbol: DPB#114
Document Type: Briefing, Press briefing, Transcript
Country: Israel, United States of America
Subject: Negotiations and agreements, Peace process, Peace proposals and efforts
Publication Date: 27/06/2014
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