Jeff Rathke

Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

December 30, 2014

INDEX FOR TODAY'S BRIEFING

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:25 p.m. EDT

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QUESTION: I don’t really have anything huge to start with, so let’s just start with the question you were asked yesterday about the visit to Turkey of the Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Do you – have you looked into this? Do you – have you expressed any concern to the Turks about this – his meeting with Prime Minister Davutoglu?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, we have looked into it. And first, let me say our position on Hamas has not changed. Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization. Hamas continues to engage in terrorist activity and demonstrated its intentions, among other times, during this summer’s conflict with Israel. And we continue to raise our concerns about the relationship between Hamas and Turkey with senior Turkish officials, including after learning of Khaled Mashaal’s recent visit there.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, is that the extent of it? You just say we’re concerned? I mean, this is a NATO ally hosting an avowed enemy of one of your biggest allies.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we have urged the Government of Turkey to press Hamas to reduce tensions and prevent violence. We raise this at senior levels with our Turkish counterparts and —

QUESTION: Well, do you think that an invitation to him and the prime minister of that – of Turkey receiving him and welcoming him is an indication that your concerns are being addressed?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think you can draw your own conclusions from that. But certainly, we take Hamas as a terrorist organization very seriously. That’s why they’re a designated FTO.

QUESTION: Well —

MR. RATHKE: And that’s why we express our concerns to Turkey when things such as this happen.

QUESTION: Well, did you ask for them not to allow him to visit?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the – we’ve raised this most recently after learning of his visit, so it was after the visit had occurred. We remain in – continue in contact though about Hamas with Turkey.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: And I think they’re not in any – that they understand our views.

QUESTION: You said that I should draw my own conclusion about whether your concern – whether the Turks are addressing your concerns. Can I ask you to draw a conclusion based on the fact that you expressed concerns to them —

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we have concerns about Turkey’s relationship with Hamas. We make those clear. We’ve raised them at senior levels, including just recently.

QUESTION: Do you know if it was raised with the prime minister?

MR. RATHKE: I don't have the —

QUESTION: Or the foreign minister?

MR. RATHKE: — exact, but we’ve raised it at senior levels with Turkey.

QUESTION: All right. And then on the resolution at the UN Security Council —

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: — what’s your understanding of the situation with that right now?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it’s a fluid situation with regard to the resolution and whether a vote will take place. I can give you an update though on the Secretary’s engagement in this regard. In the last 24 to 48 hours the Secretary has made a number of calls to counterparts. Let me give you a list of them. He has spoken with President Kagame of Rwanda; he has spoken on a few occasions with Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh; he has spoken with the Saudi foreign minister, the Egyptian foreign minister, with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, with the UK foreign secretary, with the EU high representative, Chilean Foreign Minister Munoz, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linkevicius. The – he has spoken, as I mentioned yesterday, with PA President Abbas. He has spoken with the Luxembourg foreign minister, with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, and with French Foreign Minister Fabius.

So by my count, that’s 13 different individuals. Some of them he’s spoken with more than once, so more than 13 calls over the last day or two. And our position on the resolution has not changed, and I would also add that there are a number of countries that have indicated they cannot support this resolution. And even among countries that are longstanding supporters of the Palestinians and that have indicated they would vote in favor of the resolution, many of them have also acknowledged that it is an unconstructive and poorly timed resolution.

Now, everyone that the Secretary talks to on every side of this issue is deeply concerned about the situation on the ground, and in the last months the Secretary has traveled to the region multiple times to help restore calm. Everyone’s concerns about the situation also make clear why the Secretary spent nine months promoting talks between the parties. And it’s because we support peace and a two-state solution that we believe this is the wrong resolution at the wrong time. We would also add that every month that goes by without constructive engagement between the parties just increases polarization and allows more space for destabilizing efforts.

So that’s the way that the Secretary and the Department view the resolution and a rundown on some of his engagement in the last day or so.

QUESTION: If —

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, Brad.

QUESTION: If you feel that a lot of countries are also concerned and don’t support this, what’s the problem with letting it go to a vote? Surely if there’s so much —

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to —

QUESTION: If there’s so much – so little support for it, wouldn’t it surely be overwhelmingly knocked down?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we don’t have an indication of when a vote might happen at this stage, so I would refer you to the Jordanians or to the Palestinians on that. But our view on the resolution is clear.

QUESTION: But you don’t want a vote; is that correct? You don’t want a vote on this?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m – we don’t support the resolution. As far as the – all of the negotiations and tactics surrounding the resolution text itself and the procedure at the UN, I would refer you to our colleagues up there. But our position on the resolution is clear. And as I said, the Secretary’s sense from talking to his counterparts is that there is a lot of recognition that this particular resolution is unconstructive and ill-timed.

QUESTION: But there’s recognition that it’s unconstructive. Does that mean these people will vote against it? That doesn’t mean much unless – if you still vote for it, then it doesn’t matter.

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I said, there are a number of countries that have indicated they will not support the resolution, and that among countries that have said they will even some of those acknowledge that they don’t consider the resolution to be constructive.

QUESTION: Where do your key allies stand, like France or —

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to characterize the individual conversations —

QUESTION: Just the number —

MR. RATHKE: — that he’s had. I’m going simply to say that there – that those are the sentiments he’s heard in his conversations.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Jeff, you know because there are six votes, the Palestinians claim that they have six votes – and actually, when this is called upon for a vote it could be done in the consultation round, so to speak. And the head of the council says who’s with this resolution, and then six will raise their hands, sparing the United States a vote. Why would that be objectionable?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into the —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to get into vote counting from the podium, and I’m also not going to get into UN Security Council procedure from the podium either. So our view on the resolution is as I stated it, but as far as questions of that nature, I think those are best directed to my colleagues up in New York.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t it be that better today or tomorrow, because the first minute of January 1 you will have Rwanda, Luxembourg, Lithuania – they’re all – they will leave the council, then other members will come in that are more supportive of the Palestinian. You will, in that case, get nine people, as a matter of fact, and then the United States will be forced to vote no.

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to characterize the views of countries that are not yet members of the Security Council on their behalf.

QUESTION: Okay. If you just indulge me a little bit. Now, you said that this is the wrong time. Why is this the wrong time? Why is it a wrong time to submit anything to have this issue resolved, considering that we spent nine months without having this thing resolved?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there were nine months spent with the parties involved, and again, we see this as something that has to come from the agreement and participation of the parties concerned.

QUESTION: Alternatively and conceivably, in the absence of any UN effort and before the Israeli election, do you expect any kind of negotiations that could take place between now and March, when the Israeli elections are supposed to take —

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to predict anything along those lines. I’m not going to issue a prediction. But as I said, our view is that for days and weeks and months that go by without constructive process, then that opens the field for destabilizing efforts. So we clearly consider it important.

QUESTION: And if you’ll allow me just one last one —

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: — on the Hamas issue. Now, the head of Hamas actually resides in one of your – in – your country’s allies, in Qatar, most of the time. So why is that not objectionable, and it is – could be – conceivably be objectionable for him to go to Turkey?

MR. RATHKE: I think our allies and partners are under no —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: You said one last question, so I’m giving you one last answer.

QUESTION: Well, I wanted to ask you about the construction —

MR. RATHKE: So I think our partners and allies are under no illusions as to our views about Hamas.

On the same topic? Same topic?

QUESTION: Same topic, yes.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Same topic, Palestinian issue. Following the same issue, the Palestinian press just reporting this morning, just a couple of hours ago, that when Secretary Kerry called Abbas – I am quoting the Arabic sources very close to the PLO there – that he threatened – Kerry threatened Abbas with economic and political sanctions, and even an Arab Spring in the Palestinian lands, end of quote. Is this true?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to characterize the details of the Secretary’s conversation with his counterparts, but he did not issue a threat in his conversation with Palestinian President Abbas. So that’s —

QUESTION: Just pressuring him?

MR. RATHKE: Well, he explained the United States view of the resolution, which is as I described it.

QUESTION: The threat of sanctions. So the U.S. support economic sanctions, political sanctions, and what is being quoted as an Arab Spring, which in the local understanding would be —

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’ve said that that’s not an accurate representation.

Same topic, Pam? Ilhan – okay. We’ll switch topics. Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Well, wait. I just have one more.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it the position of the Administration that when you say now is not the right time, or this is the wrong resolution at the wrong time, that short of an actual peace deal being done, it will never be the right time? Is that correct?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to make an open-ended blanket statement about that.

QUESTION: So you’re open to a – you’re open to the possibility of a UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before there is a negotiated settlement?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t have a comment on that as a possibility. That’s a hypothetical possibility I’m not going to speculate about. But certainly —

QUESTION: Well, is there an answer to the question, “When would be the right time?”

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the – our concerns about this are multiple ones. There’s concern about the timing. That is the – this sets arbitrary deadlines. We think this would not help negotiations between the parties concerned. We think – we have concerns about Israel’s legitimate security needs, and so we think this has been rushed, and that’s why we both – we support it – we do not support it, neither on substantive nor on the grounds of timing. So there are multiple considerations.

QUESTION: Right. But the short answer, I think, is what you’re saying, is that there is never going to be a right time unless there’s a negotiated settlement.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we of course support a two-state solution achieved through negotiations between the parties. That’s clear and our longstanding policy.

Yes, Lesley.

QUESTION: Can I just – sorry, Pam. Did you want to do the same subject? I just want to do the same subject. I just want to be clear. So the U.S. would prefer that it didn’t go to a vote. Is that what you’re trying to prevent? Or are you saying, well, if it goes to the vote, we’re going to veto it?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again – this is similar to Said’s question – I’m not going to get into the tactics and whether – and our view on a vote. Our view on the resolution is we do not support it, and the Secretary’s been actively engaged to exchange views with his counterparts and with influential voices in the region.

Yes, Pam. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want one more.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The British said today that they don’t back it. Does – is that at all influential in how the way the UN would look at this?

MR. RATHKE: Well —

QUESTION: I mean, given those two large —

MR. RATHKE: We’re of one view, then, but as far as the situation in New York, I would defer to my colleagues up there, where there are active discussions ongoing.

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