Rocket attacks, diplomatic engagement, US Sec of State Kerry’s efforts, humanitarian issues, peace process, calls for restraint, path forward, regional concerns and Iran’s involvement topics at USDoS press briefing/Non-UN document (excerpts);

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

July 9, 2014


  • Rocket Attacks / Diplomatic Engagement / Secretary Kerry's Efforts / Humanitarian Issues / Continuing Peace Process / Call for Restraint / Path Forward / Regional Concern
  • Iran Involvement



12:59 p.m. EDT


QUESTION: Jen, thank you. So can we start with the Palestinian Israeli —

MS. PSAKI: We certainly can.

QUESTION: — fight over Gaza? Yesterday you took issue with my number. Today the Israelis acknowledged that they have waged, as of one o’clock this morning our time, they have waged 160 bombing runs over Gaza. Thirty-nine Palestinians have been killed, including a whole family, children and so on. Are you doing anything beyond just calling for restraint to actually bring about some sort of a de-escalation or a quiet?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first – I’ll give you a brief update on the Secretary’s diplomatic engagement, as well as the Administration, I should say. Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning and he plans to speak with President Abbas over the next 24 hours. There’s a bit of a time change challenge, as you all know, given he’s in China. White House coordinator Phil Gordon is in Jerusalem and the West Bank today and has been meeting with key decision makers on both sides. He met today with President Abbas. And the Secretary, as I noted yesterday, has been making calls over the past 24 hours to world leaders as we continue to evaluate the situation and look for ways to stop the rocket attacks.

As I mentioned yesterday, and I want to reiterate, certainly no country should be expected to stand by while rocket attacks from a terrorist organization are launching into their country and impacting innocent civilians. At the same time, in the Secretary’s conversations, in the conversations of all of our senior Administration officials, they’ve been encouraging all sides to de-escalate the situation and certainly we don’t want to see any civilian casualties. That is one of the prominent reasons why it’s so important to move forward and de-escalate the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. He also made very clear time and time again Israel’s right to self-defense. And I asked you about the Palestinians’ right to self-defense. Let me ask you this: The population in Gaza, is it largely Hamas operatives or largely innocent civilians? And if there are larger Hamas operatives, then an argument can be made that they could be targets. But if they are largely civilians, then they should have, certainly, the right to self-defense —

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would simply say there’s a —

QUESTION: — or to protection.

MS. PSAKI: — strong difference between attacks —

QUESTION: Right, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: — rocket attacks launched by a terrorist organization that is based in Gaza and the right of Israel to defend itself. At the same time, as you know, we work closely with the Palestinians. We work closely with the Israelis. And it’s important at this point in time to see if all sides can take steps to de-escalate.

QUESTION: How could you follow or do you have any means of following what is going on on the ground in Gaza in terms of the humanitarian suffering, people that lack water, lack the – of medical care, lack of food, things of that nature. Do you have anyone —

MS. PSAKI: How do we —

QUESTION: Do you have anyone on the ground in Gaza that can monitor the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I think we are concerned about any humanitarian suffering around the world. As you know, that isn’t about sides. That’s about what’s right morally. But I think – do you have any more questions on this issue?

QUESTION: But – yes, I do. Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: You also mentioned that Mr. Gordon – Phil Gordon said yesterday in a speech at the peace conference, he said that the current Israeli Government is not committed to peace. Those were his words. Do you agree?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s been clear that both sides haven’t taken the – made the difficult choices needed to continue the peace process. And when there’s an absence of peace or a peace process, there’s a vacuum left that, at times, is filled by violence. So that’s the circumstance we’re looking at right now.

QUESTION: But he didn’t say both sides. He said the current Israeli Government is not committed to peace, and he went on to say —

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to parse his words —

QUESTION: — and he went on to say —

MS. PSAKI: — but we’ve – let me finish. We’ve consistently said that both sides didn’t make the necessary choices needed to continue the process.


MS. PSAKI: I think we have one more for you and then we’ve got to move on.

QUESTION: Okay. One more, I promise, yeah. And he also said that Israel continues to deny the Palestinians sovereignty, security, and dignity. Do you agree with that assessment?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to parse his words. As you know, there are difficult issues with —

QUESTION: But he —

MS. PSAKI: — let me finish, Said – with strong emotional feelings when it relates to these tough choices that need to be made around the peace process. Certainly, the Secretary, the President still believe, as is – as the President wrote in his op-ed, that that is the right path towards a stable and secure long-term Middle East. And that’s why we’re keeping the door open to a peace process in the future.

QUESTION: But you agree Mr. Gordon —

MS. PSAKI: I think we need to move on to other questions.

QUESTION: — Mr. Gordon speaks on behalf of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: Samir, go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq – Iraq?

QUESTION: No, let’s stay with Palestinian – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s do this process.

QUESTION: No, this – the Palestinian.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lucas.

QUESTION: Do you know who’s supplying Hamas with these rockets?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information to share on that, Lucas.

QUESTION: Because a few weeks ago the United Nations said that Iran had been fingered in delivery of rockets to Gaza and Sudan, and I was wondering if you had a comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: That is true, and has – those reports have been around for some time, I believe, but I don’t have anything specific or any confirmation from here.

QUESTION: Is this being brought up on the side during the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna?

MS. PSAKI: Is the issue of —

QUESTION: Iran supplying Hamas with rockets?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. The focus is on the nuclear issue. There’s plenty to discuss on that particular issue.

QUESTION: And how do you discuss just nuclear issues with Iran when all this is going on, them supplying rockets to Hamas or Syria, and also possible destabilizing efforts in Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve long said, Lucas, obviously resolving the nuclear issue and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is not the only issue we have with Iran. But it’s such an important issue and it’s one that’s vital to our national security interests and to the security of the region that we feel a focus on that at these discussions is absolutely appropriate.

QUESTION: But would cutting off the supply line help with the conflict currently going on in Gaza?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s clear, Lucas, that our concern and our condemnation of the rocket attacks has been consistent. And of course we’d be concerned about the suppliers, but I don’t have any more information to share on that.

Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: What specifically did the Secretary tell Prime Minister Netanyahu in his call?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve been in close touch over the course of the last several days. They’ve been discussing the circumstances on the ground. Certainly, he commended him for his call for restraint this weekend when he was meeting with his cabinet, and they’re discussing a path forward. I think certainly Prime Minister Netanyahu is concerned about the threat that the rockets from Hamas pose to his own people. He’s spoken about that publicly. The Secretary is concerned as well, and so they’ve discussed that and they’ve had ongoing discussions.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary say to the prime minister that while it’s perfectly appropriate to defend against rocket attacks from Gaza, that any effort to launch an offensive is inflammatory?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put words in his mouth. What he’s conveyed is what I just said. And as you know, we’ve – we’re encouraging all sides to de-escalate the situation on the ground. But again, Israel has every right to defend themselves and take steps to defend themselves, as – and as we know, the aggression is currently coming from Hamas in Gaza.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary raise any concerns that the U.S. might have about Israel’s plans to call up 40,000 reservists? You don’t need 40,000 people to operate Iron Dome.

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything more to read out from the call, so I think I’ll leave it at what I just said.

QUESTION: And then besides the time difference in trying to reach President Abbas, what would be the thrust of the Secretary’s message to him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s a similar discussion in terms of discussing the path forward and how to de-escalate the situation on the ground. Obviously, as you know, President Abbas has condemned a range of the attacks as well as the recent tragic events with the three Israeli teenagers. And the Secretary will simply have a discussion about the path forward.

QUESTION: President Abbas also noted today that this wasn’t just a matter of the Israeli Government engaged with Hamas, but that this was – and I’m paraphrasing here – an attack on the entire Palestinian people. Is that kind of language coming from Mr. Abbas appropriate?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t see his specific comments, so I don’t have a comment on them.

Do we have more on this issue?

QUESTION: Yes, please. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Regarding the Secretary Kerry contacts with the regional leaders, you said —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you didn’t give any details. Do you have something to say today?

MS. PSAKI: I can give you a list of the meetings or the engagements, and certainly it’s a discussion about the circumstances on the ground. He spoke with Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah, he spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I mentioned his call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Those are the calls that he’s had today and he’s looking to speak with President Abbas in the next 24 hours.

QUESTION: So you think that regional power or regional countries have a role to play in the escalation of this, or you just asking the two sides?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they – certainly regional countries have a stake in the stability of the region. And so the Secretary’s simply reaching out and having a discussion about the path forward with these regional leaders as well.

QUESTION: So either Prime Minister Netanyahu or Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president, did they ask for other regional or did they ask their – your – what you call it – being in touch with leaders to be involved in this?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to them to answer that question. I think the Secretary feels it’s only natural to have these discussions with countries in the region and their leaders.

QUESTION: So there is another thing. Related to the – just to check with you, it’s like – you said this morning he had a call with Netanyahu —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is the third call in the last four days? I mean, you said before, I think it was Friday and Sunday?

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. I believe at least three calls in the last several days. And during those calls, he certainly reiterated our concern about escalating tensions and our willingness to — expressed our willingness to engage and helping to stop the rocket fire and restore the 2012 ceasefire as soon as possible. I mentioned the calls he’s had with foreign leaders.

Let me reiterate, just in response to Said’s earlier question, we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides and – whether that’s the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes and the civilians in Gaza. And that’s why we’ve called on both sides to do all they can to restore calm and to take steps to protect civilians, even as we’re working to resolve the circumstances here.

QUESTION: Yes, please. My last question: Regarding the rocket attacks, in the last two days, the – in relation to Iron Dome statistics, almost that – just 20 percent of those rockets were intercepted. Did Israel ask U.S. for more help to – regarding the rocket attacks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any additional requests. As you know, we are – we provide a significant amount of security assistance and provisions to the Israelis.


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