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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: United States of America
14 January 2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
January 14, 2014

Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the Vice President's Trip to Israel

Aboard Air Force Two

1:48 A.M. IST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Good evening, guys. By my count, it’s 1:48 in the morning. We’ve been up for 36 hours straight, so I reserve the right to revise and extend any remarks I make and to demure on any questions that are too complicated for me to answer. But let me take a minute to just walk through the day and then come on to the main event of the evening, which was a four-plus-hour session between the Vice President and the Prime Minister, both in a one-on-one session and with broader teams.

So the day began with the service at the Knesset, which all of you guys attended, where the Vice President had the opportunity to speak to the respects he was seeking to pay for Prime Minister Sharon personally and the tribute that he was seeking to pay to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

And it was important to both President Obama and to the Vice President that a very senior American official come to Israel at this time to underscore the importance of that relationship, and also to have a chance to reflect on the life of Ariel Sharon, especially as it was intertwined with the life of Israel over the last 50 years.

He then had an opportunity to sit with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Peres, the speaker of the Knesset, and assorted staff members for an informal discussion about Sharon, the founding generation, the dynamics in the region, current events and the like. It was very informal, over lunch.

We then went out to the ranch, where Prime Minister Sharon was buried. And as you guys saw, he participated in the burial service, including laying a wreath on behalf of the United States at the service. He had a chance to say hello along the way and speak briefly with Israeli leaders and politicians, as well as some of the Americans who were there – Malcolm Hoenlein, Abe Foxman (ph), and others who made the trip to see the service.

We then came back to Jerusalem and he had a meeting with President Peres, which focused on two subjects: the Israel-Palestinian peace process and the larger events in the region as they’ve been unfolding in the past few months, but also since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011. And so they spoke in a larger group format and then they spoke one on one, and in the one-on-one session they also touched on Iran.

Then we went to the Prime Minister’s residence for a dinner, which began with a one-on-one meal between the Vice President and the Prime Minister, and that lasted for about two hours. And then we spent about two hours with three members of each side’s team present. Correction, it was four members on the Israeli side and three members on our side. The subjects that were covered in the Vice President’s session with the Prime Minister were the peace process, Iran, the threat of jihadism across the region, the threat of terrorism to Israel from Hamas, Hezbollah, and other sources, specific regional events and their impact and import, including the situations in Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

And because the dinner was so wide-ranging and because the Prime Minister and the Vice President have such a longstanding relationship, it was intertwined with personal anecdotes, conversation about family, conversation about recent trips that each of them have taken, including the President’s trip to Asia, where the Prime Minister was genuinely interested in hearing about his impressions on China, North Korea, other subjects.

Q On what trip to Asia?

MS. BARKOFF: The Vice President’s trip.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the peace process, the Vice President wasn’t there to negotiate. Obviously Secretary Kerry is at a critical juncture in these negotiations, and there are important specific issues being worked between the parties with Secretary Kerry, with Martin Indyk, and the Vice President certainly didn’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of the negotiations. He and the Prime Minister had much more of a strategic conversation about how the Prime Minister saw the future, both long-term future with a two-state solution and the immediate future in terms of how to get from here to a deal.

The Vice President conveyed the President’s and his very strong support for what Secretary Kerry is doing, and made clear that the United States places extremely high value on reaching an agreement that produces two states living side by side in peace and security, but also underscoring just how important Israel’s security requirements are to us and that we would be looking out for those in any final agreement.


Q Did Iran take up more of the time or did the peace process take up more time?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s really hard to judge. They both were covered in depth and the bulk of the four hours was devoted to those two subjects.


Q When President Obama was here a year ago, or not quite a year ago, with the Prime Minister, they famously went to a trailer on the tarmac and called Erdogan. Were there any Biden-Netanyahu calls to foreign leaders, to Abu Mazen? Did they call the President together today?


Q So it was just the two of them, no other foreign leaders involved?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Shakes head no.) One more. Three more.

Q Sorry, can you, on the Israeli-Palestinian side of things --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was one. I’m just kidding.

Q Comma. (Laughter.) Comma. We’re coming off of a period in which in which -- several days after the Israelis did announce some settlement expansion plans. Did the Vice President speak to him about the U.S. opposition to this kind of activity, make clear in any way, receive any kind of response from the Prime Minister on the subject of settlements?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Vice President has reiterated, as Secretary Kerry does every time he sees the Prime Minister, the U.S.’s position on settlements. We don't think their announcements of new settlements, continuing settlement activity is constructive to bringing about a positive result in this negotiation.

It’s not a central focus of the discussion, though, in that the substantive issues with respect to a final status agreement are really where the rubber is going to hit the road in terms of getting this resolved.

Q -- the fact that the U.S. position is that it’s not constructive? Is that what you said? I couldn’t quite hear it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. When I put it in those terms, it sounds like some formal diplomatic demarche. That's not the way that the Vice President and the Prime Minister speak to one another. But the Vice President made clear that from our perspective the best way to bring about a comprehensive solution to this is to get the focus squarely on these final status issues and find a way to resolve them as quickly as possible.

Q Just to follow up on that, and the response of Netanyahu to that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The issue of prisoner exchanges and settlements as they relate to the negotiations is very well trod ground at this point, six months into this period. So there wasn’t anything new tonight in terms of either side’s views on that subject. I think I’ll leave it at that.



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