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Source: United States of America
27 December 2016

Background Briefing Previewing Secretary Kerry's Remarks on MIddle East Peace

Notice to the Press
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
December 27, 2016

MODERATOR: Let’s get started, guys. Appreciate you hanging on hold and appreciate [Senior State Department Official], you doing this.


MODERATOR: So, [Moderator] here. Look, we’re just – this is an attempt to kind of give you some background, some context for Secretary Kerry’s speech tomorrow. We’re all on a big conference call, so [Senior State Department Official], who is a senior State Department official for the matters of this call, is going to give a brief overview of the speech – why and what it is and what it aims to do and what it doesn’t aim to do. And then we can do – [Senior State Department Official], you got about 10 minutes for questions? Or --





SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And I just want to say at the top, I mean, I know the temptation is going to be to essentially get me to deliver the entire speech now so we can write about it and not have to worry about it tomorrow, but I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary on much of the substance. I’m going to give you some sense of the themes and the sort of hows and the whys, but not much more than that. So here goes. So first, just to --

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], is this – what are the terms of the call and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, [Moderator], I don’t know. How do you want to do that?

MODERATOR: I just said it is on background as a senior State Department official.


QUESTION: I know, but is it embargoed?

MODERATOR: Oh. [Senior State Department Official], you tell me, but I would say no. If you’re writing for tomorrow, you can write --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t see any reason to embargo.

MODERATOR: Yeah, yeah, me neither. Have at it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So just a few things at the top and then I’ll take some questions, but try to do the questions in an orderly way so everybody can obviously speak.

So over almost eight years now, the Obama Administration has made two intensive efforts to facilitate peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, including the nine months that Secretary Kerry spent guiding negotiations between the parties in 2013 and 2014. Throughout his tenure as Secretary and consistent with his decades-long commitment to Israel’s security and to making peace, Secretary Kerry has remained deeply engaged with the Israelis and Palestinians, with the countries of the region, and with others in the international community who are focused on these issues, including the Quartet and other key European partners.

Drawing on those experiences and in light of both the vote that took place at the UN last week and disturbing trends on the ground that, as we have said many times now, are rapidly eroding prospects for a two-state solution, the Secretary will give a speech tomorrow that provides context for where things stand in the effort to make peace, reflects directly and candidly on some of the most significant challenges to those efforts, and lays out a path forward that shows that making peace remains possible if the parties are willing to make difficult choices.

His remarks will directly address some of the most misleading critiques that have emerged in recent days including that our vote at the UN was somehow unprecedented, or that we drove or drafted the resolution or that it reflected any shift in U.S. policy including towards Jerusalem, or that it blindsided or abandoned Israel, or that there is anything other than a complete international consensus on the issue of settlements, and I guess that international consensus would be other than Israel.

We’ve been asked why the Secretary would speak to these issues at this point in the Administration. While we ourselves have been clear about the limited prospects for direct negotiations in the near term, we believe that with a two-state solution in peril, it is important to share the deeper understanding that we have developed and the Secretary personally has developed of both sides’ bottom lines during intensive consultations in recent years.

The Secretary’s remarks will therefore also include a discussion of final status principles around which we believe an international consensus is emerging, while making clear that we reject any efforts to prejudge or impose on the parties any particular outcome, which must only be determined through negotiations. But rather, we are trying to provide a potential basis for when the parties are ready to return to direct talks.

So with that, I will turn it over to questions.

QUESTION: Hey, [Senior State Department Official]. This is Andrea. Will he categorically respond to the prime minister’s claim of it being a shameful intervention by the U.S. in drafting the resolution and saying that there’s proof from the Arab countries?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I mean, whether he takes on any particular charge or rhetoric like that, I mean, the subtext of much of the speech is going to be laying out exactly why we believe that we did the right thing in our vote last week. And in terms of the charge you mentioned at the end that we somehow were the driving force behind this, that he will take on directly.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], it’s Elise. Can you speak to – I mean, there seems to be – one of the things the Israelis are saying is there is a concern that this is a kind of precursor to the Paris conference coming up and that this could be the kind of pretext for Kerry’s speech maybe being put into a resolution that then could be voted on. Can you say unequivocally that this is where the Administration stands in terms of kind of leaving the Mideast peace process, that this is how you want to go out? Or do you anticipate further UN action or anything like that, or is this your kind of mark that you’re leaving?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So since we’re speaking on background, I’ll just say we do not anticipate any further UN action on this topic.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official] --

QUESTION: Would you – can I just follow up very quickly? If other countries decide that they would want to bring it before the council, would you veto that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not going to, obviously, get into the hypothetical veto of a hypothetical resolution that hypothetical countries might be interested in bringing about, so I’ll just --

QUESTION: Well, are you making clear to the countries that you think that there shouldn’t be any more action?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ll just leave it at what I said before, that I do not --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- anticipate any further --




QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], it’s David. So if the UN doesn’t act on it in the next three weeks, obviously, chances of a U.S. veto would rise quite considerably. So are you doing – is the Secretary doing this so that he feels like he’s gotten it off his chest, or is the Secretary doing this because he really wants to see these memorialized in some concrete way that will be the true basis of negotiation?


QUESTION: Otherwise --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can say what I said before in maybe slightly different but basically the same words, which is that the Secretary has obviously invested a lot of time and effort in these issues, in building relationships with the parties and developing an understanding of how he sees their bottom lines in terms of these final status principles, and our sense is that there will be a time when the parties return to direct talks. Whether that is in the near term I think we have a lot of skepticism, as I’m sure many of you do. But there will be a time when the parties return to direct talks, and we believe that the understanding that he will be laying out could provide a basis on which those talks could proceed. And that’s why he feels like it’s important to lay out these principles now.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], this is Carol speaking. Say the Israeli case for there being some sort of collusion seems to rest on meetings that the Secretary held with diplomats from New Zealand, Egypt, and Palestinians in recent weeks. Is there anything that you can say that can discuss whether the resolution was even talked about, or is there anything you can tell us about these meetings that might dispel that notion?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, we’ve seen some of the specific charges about the Secretary’s meetings in New Zealand. We’ve seen some charges related to the Secretary’s and to the National Security Advisor’s meetings with Palestinian officials more recently in Washington. And I think we have directly rebutted these, including Mark from the podium earlier today and subsequently when people followed up on them. There is just no truth to the notion that we discussed a text of any resolutions, that we previewed any position that we might take on a hypothetical resolution in those meetings. So this – these notions of collusion based on those accounts are just not – not correct.

QUESTION: Do you think that the – it’s Elise. Do you think the Israelis are trying to use this as a kind of diversion to discussion about the actual settlement issue?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I’ll leave their motives aside. But I do think – I do think that discussions of the politics of this and of the process of this, which has really to a large extent taken up a lot of the airtime on these issues since the vote, are a distraction from what we would like to be focusing on, which is the – what I mentioned in my opening comments: the very direct challenges that are being posed to the future prospects of a two-state solution, including by settlements, including by violence against Israeli civilians and others. And we believe that it will be much more profitable for the press but also for the parties and for the international community to be focusing on those challenges as opposed to the politics of this and whatever process took place at the UN before the vote.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], this is Lesley Wroughton. Do you believe or do you buy into what Netanyahu and them are saying now that the resolution actually makes any kind of future peace talks impossible or difficult?


QUESTION: And do you in any way believe that or think that it’s possible that these principles that Kerry could outline tomorrow could be taken in by the new administration? Is there any signal from them that they would be interested in taking up anything on possible peace talks?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The new administration has expressed an interest in these issues broadly. What they decide to do on these issues will be up to them, and I have no special insight into that.

All right?

QUESTION: So can I have one more question? How in-depth is he – is Kerry going to go? I mean, is he going to talk about stuff that he hasn’t revealed in the past of discussions, details of discussions he’s had with both sides?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, again, without getting ahead of my boss, I mean, I think this will be certainly his most comprehensive and detailed statement on how he sees these issues, so there will certainly be material that he’s not discussed in such depth in public before.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], it’s fair to say that he’s wanted to give this speech before – in fact, if I remember right, but it was so long ago, correct me if I’m wrong. He wanted to basically do this one in 2014 after things fell apart in April and May, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, David, as I said, I mean, this speech is going to draw on almost four years of work. And the question of when is the right time or when would have been the right time to make a public statement about kind of the understandings that have been developed, you could debate that quite a lot. But it ended up where it ended up for a whole range of reasons, and I think he’s very comfortable with the notion that he will have the opportunity before this Administration ends, while he is still Secretary of State, to lay out how he sees this issue.

And again, the purpose of this is not because we expect anybody to pick this up and run with it in the immediate term. The purpose of this is because we do expect, because there’s no other way to make peace, for the parties to engage in direct negotiations again at some point in the future, and that we believe that this can provide a sound basis for those conversations if the parties are willing to make the difficult choices that would be required. So I’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Just one logistical issue: I mean, I know it’ll – he’ll probably deviate slightly, but [Moderator], can we try and get an embargoed text just before so we can follow along? It’ll probably be very technical.

MODERATOR: Yes, yeah. Just – yeah, (inaudible) to get --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: [Moderator], we probably (inaudible) --

MODERATOR: Sorry, I don’t want to – sorry, go ahead, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I think we could – we should probably be able to do that sometime in the morning tomorrow.

MODERATOR: Yeah, yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Never as far in advance as you guys want, but we’ll do the best --

QUESTION: That would be helpful.

QUESTION: I should know this, but I missed Toner’s briefing today. What time is the speech?


All right. Thanks, guys. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Thanks for all – thanks, all, for joining us, and thanks [Senior State Department Official] or Senior State Department Official for doing this. Really appreciate it. Good night, everybody.

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