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

Jen Psaki

Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

April 9, 2014


  • MEPP 
    • Secretary Kerry's Meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman
    • Cancellation of Ministerial-Level Meetings between Israelis and Palestinians
    • Reports of Additional Meeting with Ambassador Indyk
    • Comments made during the Secretary's SFRC Testimony/ Unhelpful Steps by both Parties
    • Next Steps in the Process / U.S. Goal Remains Final Status Agreement
    • Secretary's Meeting with the President / Update on Peace Process
    • Arab League Support, Role in Peace Process
    • Status of Ambassador Indyk


QUESTION: All right. I’m sure there are other questions on Ukraine, but I’ve got to start with the Middle East —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — because of the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman, which I assume is going ahead later this afternoon, yes?

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to curtail ministerial level meetings with the Palestinians, with I guess the exception of Livni —

MS. PSAKI: The negotiators?

QUESTION: Right. And then also about some comments the Secretary made yesterday on the Hill.

So starting, one, with the first – the meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman, the foreign minister has said that he – said in the past that he would vote against – had there ever been a cabinet meeting, vote against the prisoner release. What’s the purpose of this meeting this afternoon? Is the Secretary hoping to get him on board with the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I am certain they will discuss the ongoing negotiations between the parties. But he is his counterpart in the Israeli Government. They have met many times before, as you know. And we’ll do a readout after the meeting. But it’s been a scheduled meeting, and I think he’s in town for other meetings as well.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, do you have any reaction to the prime minister’s decision to suspend or to cancel ministerial level meetings with the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We are certainly aware of the announcement. We regard it as unfortunate. We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides. We continue to urge both sides to take steps that contribute to a conducive environment for peace. We note that the contact in meetings between the negotiators are continuing, and note that they are engaging in serious and intensive efforts to find a way out of the current impasse. We do consider it very important that security-related cooperation is not affected.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you said that the meetings are continuing. There’s reports in Israel today that Ambassador Indyk will be having another meeting – the third since Sunday, I guess – tomorrow. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to confirm for you at this point. Let me talk to him and the negotiators after the briefing and see what we may have for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one on this is the Secretary on the Hill yesterday managed to get the Israelis, in particular, upset about him when he described, what he called a “poof” moment when things went, for lack of a better word, to hell. Given the fact that you guys have made clear for some time now, for at least two weeks now, that both sides have taken negative steps: one, would it have been perhaps more appropriate for the Secretary not to use his “poof” moment comment; or, if it was appropriate, do you think that it was – that he put it in the context of the timeline at the wrong place?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke with the Secretary about this this morning, and he was, frankly, surprised by the coverage of his comments because he doesn’t believe, as you noted and has said repeatedly, that one side deserves blame over another media note because they’ve both taken unhelpful steps – that’s something you’ve heard him say frequently. And at no point, including yesterday, has he intended to engage in a blame game.

The truth is even yesterday, if you look at the full context of his comments, he went out of his way to credit Prime Minister Netanyahu for making tough choices. And you’ll remember, as you also noted, that he began his comments by very matter-of-factly referring to the unhelpful and provocative steps the Palestinians took by going on television and, of course, announcing their intention to join UN treaties.

So what he followed yesterday or what he did yesterday was simply restate the chronology of events of last week that took place, which ended, of course, with the step by the Palestinians to announce plans to join international conventions. So that was the intention of his comments, and he certainly stands by them and was surprised that there was there a view that he was one-sided.

QUESTION: Well, he was surprised by the fact that people took him at his word, because that’s what he said? If we look at the chronology going back this week – and I don’t want to belabor this, but on Saturday – Saturday was when the prisoners were supposed to be released.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They weren’t. Saturday, Sunday – after they weren’t released, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, nothing really major happened. The Palestinians didn’t take any action.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Tuesday, the new Gilo announcement – settlement – or construction announcement was made.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That is when the Secretary said the “poof” moment was. It wasn’t until the next day, Wednesday, when we were in Brussels, that President Abbas came out and said that he was going to sign onto these UN conventions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it wasn’t until the next day after that, Thursday, that Justice Minister Livni came out and said that the prisoner release was now officially canceled. So in retrospect, wouldn’t it have been more accurate, given the fact that you blame both sides, for the Secretary to have identified the “poof” moment not as the housing announcement but rather either the Palestinian announcement or Justice Minister Livni’s announcement that the prisoner release had been canceled entirely?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would caution you against over-emphasizing the meaning of “poof,” which we’ve now talked about a lot here. But he was – his view is that there were unhelpful steps by both sides. That’s what he was conveying yesterday. Again – again, as we look forward to the coming days, it’s clearly counterproductive when either side takes steps that aren’t conducive to an environment moving forward. So we’re not going to spend our time recounting every single step as it relates to the events of last week. We’re going to see if there’s the will and the desire to move things forward.

QUESTION: Right. But that’s what he did yesterday. In recounting the chronology, he did exactly what you say you don’t want to do.


QUESTION: And he – and because he used the “poof” comment where he did, some in Israel – many if not all in Israel – took that to be an indication that you regard them as more to blame than the other side. You’re saying that that’s wrong. So if it’s – correct? You’re saying that that is wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I —

QUESTION: He wasn’t meaning to single out Israel for more blame than anyone else?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to his own comments he’s made many times over the past week about the unhelpful steps by both sides, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And you say that he doesn’t want to get into the blame game. But is he – aren’t you, in fact, blaming both sides? Isn’t that the blame game?

MS. PSAKI: Well, often the blame game means blaming one side over the other, and that’s what I’m using it as a reference to.


QUESTION: Jen, can I ask – you’ve mentioned that there’s hopefully going to be or there’s possibly going to be another round of negotiations on the ground involving Ambassador Indyk. What is —

MS. PSAKI: I think Matt mentioned that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, okay. There’s going to be – but there is another round planned, in fact?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I said I’m happy to talk to Ambassador Indyk and our team on the ground to see what the next steps are here. As you know, they’ve had two rounds of discussions, and I’m happy to discuss with them what’s up next.

QUESTION: But you said the idea was to try and get things back on track, yeah?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that’s been our effort that’s been underway for the last several days and the purpose of those meetings, absolutely.

QUESTION: So how do you do that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think it is going to be up to the parties to determine whether they have the will and the intention to take the steps necessary for things to be back on track. So we’re having discussions with them about what’s possible.

QUESTION: But are you all looking at putting the things back on track fully so you have also another planned prisoner release and then another planned step towards – April 29th is the deadline – so another plan for an extension of the talks beyond April 29th or —

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of steps that are being discussed. Obviously, both sides have indicated what’s important to them, so it’s safe to assume that all of those issues you mentioned and more are being discussed. And naturally, our goal here remains a final status agreement, and certainly that will take more than a couple of weeks to accomplish.

QUESTION: And at what point do you determine that it’s not possible to put the talks back on track?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s going to be determined by the conversations the Secretary and our negotiating team has with the parties on the ground and their willingness to engage in a constructive process moving forward. So I can’t put a specific checklist out there for you.

QUESTION: But you don’t actually know at this point that they are willing to go forward?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t know yet. That is the proposition we’re testing now.


MS. PSAKI: More on Middle East peace? Go ahead Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. Did the Secretary discuss the peace process with the President yesterday, and what is the conclusion of that?

MS. PSAKI: He did, but I would remind all of you that he has a weekly meeting with the President whenever he’s in town and that was what this meeting was, and certainly they discussed the peace process and they discussed the peace process when they were on the trip traveling together over the – two weeks ago as well. So the Secretary updated him on his conversations with the negotiating team and with the parties on the ground, and we’re all going to work together to continue to test the proposition of what’s possible.

QUESTION: Will you change the approach now toward the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think it’s just as I’ve laid out to all of you. We remain engaged with the parties. As you know, the parties have met twice over the last several days. Our negotiators remain on the ground and we’re going to see what’s possible.

QUESTION: Did they make the review or not, regarding the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: Did they review the negotiations when they started to —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s an overemphasis on what that means. Just in any policy process you make decisions day by day on what’s productive and what the right steps are, and certainly the Secretary has been working in lockstep with the President and the national security team throughout this process, and so they did discuss, of course, yesterday, and those discussions will continue.

Middle East peace or another topic?


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Palestinians have been asking for the release of Marwan Barghouti quite regularly in this process. Has that become more of a key bargaining factor in this whole process of getting things back on track? Has it taken on extra importance or can you give us an idea of where that is?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any specifics of what each side is pressing for. We certainly understand they’ll make their own public comments about what’s important to them, but I’m not going to get into any more detail on that.

QUESTION: One more. The Arab League decided today to – or refused today to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and asked the United States to continue its efforts in the negotiations. Any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve said all along, support of the Arab League and their support for a final status agreement between the parties is incredibly important and has been an important aspect of this process. It’s up to the parties to determine what their negotiating agreement would be. We know that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is important to the Israelis. We’ve seen the public comments of the Palestinians. You know where the United States stands. It’s up to them to determine that moving forward, not the United States, not the Arab League, not outside parties.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – Ambassador Indyk remains in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are there any plans as yet to pull him back?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we evaluate day by day. Obviously, at some point it may make sense to have discussions with him in person. He’s been there for some time, but I’m not aware of any plans for that at this moment.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)

DPB # 62

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