"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me give you a couple of updates. Our teams on the ground, the negotiating – our negotiating team and both parties remain in intensive negotiations. They had another meeting today. The gaps are narrowing, but any speculation about an agreement are premature at this time.
A couple of other just quick updates on this particular topic. Ambassador Indyk will be returning to Washington in the coming days for consultations. He plans to return to the region again next week. As all of you know, there are a range of holidays, whether it’s Passover or upcoming Easter, so this is a natural time for him to return. And those are the updates I have for all of you.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you what you mean by speculation would be premature? Can you just say that these reports are wrong?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, the reports are inaccurate, so speculation that’s been out there and reports that there is a deal is inaccurate.
QUESTION: All right. So – but that is what you’re trying to do, right?
MS. PSAKI: Of course it is. And our teams remain in intensive negotiation --
QUESTION: So that’s the goal --
MS. PSAKI: -- and the gaps are narrowing.
QUESTION: That’s the goal, but you’re not there yet. Is that it?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. That’s right.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: That’s right.
QUESTION: Just a quick – go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: What is it you’re actually trying to do? I mean, Matt said that is what you’re trying to do, but what is it you’re trying to do? When you say you’re narrowing the gaps, what gaps? What are you actually physically trying to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re working, Jo, as you know, to determine what the path forward is for these negotiations. And that is up to the parties. It’s always been up to the parties. It remains up to the parties to make that determination. There are issues that were, of course, raised last week, and we want to determine what the path forward is.
QUESTION: So do these include the prisoners, the prisoner issue?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of issues that are being discussed. Certainly, that’s one of them. There are other topics I’m not going to go into greater detail on that have been out there.
QUESTION: And is the release of Jonathan Pollard among those other topics?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of topics. I’m not going to detail it further.
QUESTION: Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Said.
QUESTION: -- their sources or their reports insist that the deal includes the swap of prisoners, the 30 prisoners that were supposed to be released on the 23rd of – on the 29th of March, another 400 prisoners, but also they insist that Jonathan Pollard is part of the deal. Could you say or could you tell us or could you deny flatly that he is not part of the deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, nothing has changed. No decision has been made about Jonathan Pollard. That’s the same as it was last week. And I just made very clear that these reports are premature.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, would the Palestinians have to, let’s say, resend their applications or cancel their applications or call them back with the UN agencies for the talks to continue, or no?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into that level of detail, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. But would you say that the Israelis now are either reconciled to this fact that this is done and there is no backtracking by the Palestinians or backpedaling in this case?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Israelis of what they would or wouldn’t feel comfortable with. Obviously, there are a range of issues being discussed, including the Palestinians’ recent steps, including their desire for prisoners to be released, including a range of issues. But I’m not going to go into further detail.
QUESTION: Only if you would indulge me for a second. Now, what does that do to the framework agreement or the 29th of April deadline? I mean, if they decide to go on beyond, so we continue doing the same thing, or is there going to be some sort of an announcement on the 29th that we have covered this period now, the nine-month period and we’re going to another six months or another nine months?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict for you, Said. Obviously, if there’s a decision made because of steps by the parties that these talks will continue, then it would take longer than the next couple of weeks to come to a final status agreement. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it. We’re taking it one day at a time here.
QUESTION: Now, would any agreement that is brokered or – by the Americans, in this case by the American side, include also sort of the cessation of settlement activities, as we have seen the announcement? Just, in fact, yesterday they announced 300 dunams, which is about 100 acres of land is being confiscated from an agricultural --
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re familiar with our view on settlements. I’m not going to address that question further.
Do we have more on Middle East peace, or should we move on?
QUESTION: I’ve got one very briefly.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the status of the Palestinians’ decisions to go ahead and move toward joining these UN conventions? I understand the Swiss have said that they received --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So to be clear, this is simply a technical step that Matt is referring to, I would caution you against reading too much into the significance of what is essentially a ministerial step in the processing of the Palestinians’ letter. So the role – let me --
QUESTION: Yeah, but I just want to make sure – administerial?
MS. PSAKI: Administerial, administerial. The role of the depository, the UN or the Swiss, is simply to notify parties to the treaty what – which has – what has happened. And the depository does not determine the legal validity or effect of the communications. It actually remains in the hands of the treaty parties, states that are a party to each treaty, to decide for themselves questions of who they recognize and with whom they consider themselves in treaty relations. So this is a technical step in their process.
QUESTION: So you do not believe that that step which was taken --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- violates the terms of the agreement that they reached back last year?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Is that correct? Because it’s just an administrative thing and it --
MS. PSAKI: We strongly – continue to strongly oppose unilateral steps, which of course we consider this one, that seek to circumvent or prejudge outcomes that still need to be negotiated. So there’s no question this process of steps has been unhelpful. But again, we’re at a stage here --
QUESTION: Right. But nothing --
MS. PSAKI: -- where we’re determining what the path forward is. We’re not going to dwell on what was or was agreed to in previous months.
QUESTION: But in terms of the way the United States looks, this doesn’t change anything in terms of the Palestinians and their --
MS. PSAKI: Our funding or --
QUESTION: No, in terms of – not in terms of your funding. But you don’t think that this changes anything – this one step changes anything on the ground or something that needs to be negotiated, or does it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a technical step that follows on the unhelpful step taken last week. So in that degree it’s a continuation, but again, it’s not a different step. So I don’t think it changes necessarily what we’re negotiating now, no.
QUESTION: And have you made that point to the Israelis, or do you know?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I mean, the focus we have that’s happening between the parties now is about what the path is forward. Yes, this is a technical step, but we’re determining what the path is forward.
QUESTION: But just because the Palestinians have – their whatever-it-is has been accepted by the Swiss does not mean that they are suddenly members of the Geneva Convention.
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. That’s right. It’s a technical step. It’s still – again, unilateral steps are still unhelpful, and we’ve made that clear to both parties.
QUESTION: Jen, just to clarify, when you say that gaps are narrowing, are we now at the point where we’re just talking about the length of time for an extension, or are we still on the substance of the ins and outs of negotiation?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of detail, but it’s fair to say that there need to be more negotiations. Those will continue. And Ambassador Indyk will be returning to the region next week for that.
QUESTION: One thing on that.
QUESTION: I mean, the Secretary said the other day in his congressional testimony that the bitter irony – the irony, the bitter irony was that you were really just talking about process and how to keep the process going, not about the fundamental issues of a final settlement. Has that changed? Has anything changed since Tuesday?
MS. PSAKI: No. But again, without going into too much detail, there are also discussion of conditions that would create the best environment for a peace process, and that’s part of the discussions as well.
QUESTION: Got it. But the fundamental point which hasn’t changed then since his testimony is what you’re really just trying to do is keep the talks going now, rather than actually working on – though I get that the two are not entirely divorced from one another, but that the focus is just keeping them going, not on negotiating the final status issues.
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re talking about, of course, the important difficult issues. I’m not going to go into further detail than I have.
QUESTION: Can I just have a follow-up very quickly? Does this narrowing of the gap --
QUESTION: -- was it influenced by what the Secretary said on Capitol Hill, by the meeting in Cairo of the Arab ministerial meeting in Cairo, and by the meeting yesterday between the Israeli foreign minister and Secretary Kerry?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I would encourage you to pose those questions to the Israelis and the Palestinians. It’s their decisions and their choices that are being made, so I’m not going to do an analysis on that.
QUESTION: I promise, my last question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you hopeful that the talks will continue on past the 29th? Do you see that it is happening?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I don’t want to make a prediction, but certainly, our goal has always been to work with the parties in a role as a facilitator to achieve a final status agreement.
QUESTION: Just on Indyk’s travel, do you expect him to come back – are there any more meetings that you’re aware of that are going to happen before he returns? Do you know when exactly he’s going to return?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I’ll check and see if there’s more specificity. As I understand it, it’s in the coming day or so.
QUESTION: Could you give dates for his return here and --
MS. PSAKI: Next week. He’ll be returning back to the region next week, and he’ll be returning in the next day or so to Washington.
QUESTION: Okay. But you said about dates that, naturally, holidays that are coming up, but those holidays aren’t until next week.
MS. PSAKI: Oh well, some of them start next week, as you know. So maybe – I don’t have anything specific. When we have anything specific to let you know, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Is this for him to – and I’m sorry, I may have missed a word or two at the start. I this for him to consult with the Secretary and give briefings, or is it at the White House or elsewhere, or is he just getting a break?
MS. PSAKI: Well, hopefully he’ll have a little bit of a break too. But certainly, it’s to have discussions and consult with the Secretary and the national security team here.
QUESTION: Jen, the holiday begins on the 14th and ends on the 22nd. Is it safe to assume that Ambassador Indyk will be here during that time?
MS. PSAKI: No. We’ll let you know as soon as we know when he’ll be returning, but it’s at some point next week.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)