"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
1:04 p.m. EST
QUESTION: Let’s start with the Middle East.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: As you probably have noticed, there seems to be some confusion, particularly in Israel, over where the United States and perhaps the Secretary himself personally stand on this whole BDS issue. So can you – and we went through this kind of a bit last week with Marie, but my line of questioning today is different than it was. Does – can you spell out as clearly as possible what the United States – what the Administration’s position is on BDS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to the specific events around the Super Bowl issue that we talked about last week.
QUESTION: No, no. Just in general about whether the United States supports or opposes the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions initiative, movement – whatever you want to call it – against Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me be absolutely clear here. And I know, to your point, there was some confusion and mixed reporting – not reporting but confusion over the weekend. We are absolutely opposed, we have been opposed to any attempts at boycotts – boycotting Israel. Secretary Kerry himself personally, who, of course, is the world’s – or the United States chief diplomat at this point – has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts. And just last year – and many of you were on this trip – you may remember that we were in Vilnius for a meeting of the EU foreign ministers – he made the case in that private meeting that they should refrain from implementing these types of measures. So as we often say, actions speak --
QUESTION: Sorry. Who – okay, sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Actions speak louder than words. But go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: He made the case that who should refrain?
MS. PSAKI: The EU.
QUESTION: The European Union. Okay. And outside of the private meeting – that private meeting, has he said this publicly?
MS. PSAKI: His opposition to boycotts?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. That has consistently been his position for three decades in public service.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: There should be no doubt or question about it.
QUESTION: Okay. Notwithstanding the fact – or I think some would argue with the facts --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So notwithstanding your stated position against BDS --
QUESTION: -- and the Secretary’s stated opposition, does the Administration or the Secretary believe that, while objectionable and while not a good idea, that BDS is potentially a useful or helpful thing to get Israel to make concessions as part of the negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: No, that is not our view, that’s not our strategy, that’s not what we’re pushing for in any capacity.
MS. PSAKI: So there should be no confusion about that.
QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge when the Secretary was a senator, did he ever disagree with previous administrations’ decisions to veto UN Security Council resolutions that the U.S. regarded as one-sided or biased against Israel?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look at his lengthy 30-year record in the Senate, Matt. But his own view, and whether it’s for or against, what was proposed by various administrations, has consistently been opposed to any form of boycott.
QUESTION: And do you know if while he was a senator, and especially as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if he ever supported a reduction in the substantial U.S. assistance that is provided to Israel every year?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t imagine he did, Matt, but I’d have to check his Senate record.
QUESTION: So you would describe people’s suggestions that the Secretary is anti-Israel, or in fact to the extreme, anti-Semitic, as incorrect?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely incorrect; not based on any fact. He has had a 100 percent voting record throughout his career in the Senate. There is no greater advocate – or opponent, I should say, to boycotts – or proponent of Israel’s security and their future.
QUESTION: So given all that, and this will be my last question --
QUESTION: Given all that, is he dismayed or frustrated at all that some have taken – chosen to interpret his comments as being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, or giving encouragement to people who are in favor of boycotts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, he always expects anyone, even those who are against the efforts underway moving towards a peace process, not to distort his words or his record. And so I think that’s frustrating for not just him but for any of us.
QUESTION: Jen, just to follow up on the boycott issue, but that did not preclude the Secretary from saying or suggesting that a boycott is maybe the future for Israel, a warning in a friendly manner, despite his objection. Does it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we should be very clear about the context of this weekend. At the Munich Security Conference, which the Secretary was at this weekend and he gave remarks and Secretary Hagel gave remarks, he was asked a question about – let me finish – the ongoing peace process. He spoke forcefully – and anyone can look at the context of his comments – in defense of Israel’s interests as he consistently has for 30 years in public life. He also described some well-known and previously stated facts about what is at stake for both sides if this process fails, including the consequences for the Palestinians. His only reference to a boycott in his remarks was a description of actions undertaken by others that he has been a vocal opponent of, he has taken actions to oppose. So there should be no confusion or question about his record or his view on this issue.
QUESTION: Okay. Understood. But seeing – if this process fails and the world becomes more and more frustrated with the continuation of an endless occupation and the expansion of settlements and so on, that actually you may feel that this would be in the offing in the future – more boycotts, more restrictions, more isolation of Israeli – you do feel that way, don’t you?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make any further predictions, Said. What I would say is that clearly there are stakes for both sides. There are reasons why the Secretary is so committed to this process, not just the Secretary but many international leaders around the world. And certainly, his opposition to boycotts and his desire to lead the charge against them will not change.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up --
MS. PSAKI: But let’s just do one at a time.
QUESTION: Yeah, a little bit just --
MS. PSAKI: Said, you have one more and then we’ll move to the next person.
QUESTION: I want to move away --
QUESTION: -- from the boycott issue and go to what Palestinian Authority President Abbas said about having the --
MS. PSAKI: Can we finish this issue in case others have --
QUESTION: Sure, sure. Yes.
MS. PSAKI: -- questions, and then we’ll go back to you?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask – this is not the first time that the Secretary’s made this point. Back in June, he spoke to the American Jewish Committee --
QUESTION: -- when he said that if there were no peace deal that there would be a continuing de-legitim – de-litig – I can’t say the word.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a tough one. I can’t do it either.
QUESTION: -- of Israel. I mean, is there – going back to what Matt –he also made the same comments in a press conference in Tel Aviv at the airport that I attended. These are not new comments that he’s made.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So is – going back to what Matt’s question was, is there not a frustration on the part of the Administration, and particularly within the State Department and Secretary Kerry, that suddenly these comments have been seized upon and have become a big issue now in Israel in the middle of this peace process which you guys are trying to --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Jo, I would say contextually we’re at a different point in the process than we were in June, and there’s no question that there is more pressure on the parties. That manifests itself in many different ways. What’s important is that the people of Israel understand no, that you cannot find a greater opponent of boycotts than Secretary Kerry, and his record speaks to that. And all we can do here is to continue to convey what is accurate and what the facts are.
And so yes, he does expect that the parties – and whether they’re for or against his efforts or any efforts at all – will not distort his facts or his record. And that’s why we’re speaking forcefully on this issue.
QUESTION: Jen, one of the larger contexts of this – you have these comments from the economy minister and from a member of the Knesset. You’ve had in the past couple of weeks comments from Minister Rabbo of the PA. Is there a concern within the State Department that neither side is doing the groundwork to prepare their people for what could come out of a peace deal, given how inflammatory these comments have been from both sides?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not how we view it, Roz. I would say we’re not surprised because this is now – we’re at a point in the process where we are discussing a framework for negotiations moving forward. There are decades – and to satisfy Matt, longer than decades of history on these issues. There is sensitivity about these issues. The leaders are making tough choices. And I know we’ll get to Said’s question in a second, but one of the things that President Abbas said in his interview was that he reiterated his commitment to it and his willingness to commit to it over the long term.
So the parties are committed to – the parties who are negotiating over this are committed to sitting down at the table, addressing the tough choices. We can’t make a prediction of what the outcome will be, but it is not a surprise that at this challenging time in the process, given that we are talking about the core issues, that things have become more challenging politically.
QUESTION: What is the Administration doing then to make certain that the people who are actually in this negotiating room are not succumbing to the pressures, which seems to be the word of the day --
QUESTION: -- coming from both sides? Clearly, there are domestic considerations for a member of the Knesset to say what he said about Mr. Kerry, for Mr. Rabbo to say what he has said about the validity of a Jewish state – what’s being done to inoculate the negotiators, as it were?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the negotiators – I think the fact that they remain engaged in the process tells you what you need to know. Yesterday, the Secretary met with Molho and Livni when he was in – where were we yesterday – Germany. (Laughter.) In Germany. They had a meeting. I think it lasted about 90 minutes. They discussed the core issues.
The Secretary, of course, as needed, as do we, convey what is accurate and what is inaccurate when things are mischaracterized, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: That’s what I wanted to ask you. Is there any indication as of – since these comments and still the actual over them, is there any indication that anybody’s pulling out or that it’s compromised the discussions at all in any way?
MS. PSAKI: The fact that he met with the Israeli negotiators yesterday, that those – that meeting went on despite – even while these comments were being made tells you what you need to know about that.
QUESTION: Do you know, Jen, though, in that meeting, did he – did the Secretary raise this issue, or did this issue come up? Was it discussed at all?
MS. PSAKI: He discussed it with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he also --
QUESTION: On the phone.
MS. PSAKI: On the phone. He also discussed it with Justice Minister Livni, but it was a very brief part of the conversation, and she made public comments about it, too --
MS. PSAKI: -- that I would point you to.
QUESTION: So as far as you’re concerned, you believe that the Israeli – that the two top Israeli negotiators, Livni and Molho, as well as the prime minister, are clear on the Secretary’s position?
MS. PSAKI: I think they should be clear, and many of them have known the Secretary for decades, so there shouldn’t be any confusion about his position.
QUESTION: The argument from the critics is that the – even the mere mention of a potential boycott threat is not a statement of reality but, as the ADL has – Mr. Foxman put it in his letter – excuse me – that just came out, that it creates a reality of its own and it offers encouragement for the Palestinians to reject a peace deal. Do you agree with the characterization, or the suggestion that the Secretary’s comments, which you say were merely stating a – the – a reality – do you agree that those, in fact, create a new reality that would make it easier for the Palestinians to walk away?
MS. PSAKI: I do not. We do not. The Secretary is an opponent. He has taken steps and been a vocal critic of boycott attempts over the course of years. And I’m sure that that is something that has been appreciated by the parties over the course of that time as well.
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: I was about to read from the letter, but Matt took the words out of my mouth.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
QUESTION: That’s alright. What the ADL is saying is that, as you said, this is the chief diplomat for the United States. This is the key player in this negotiation. And while he – just as his words have weighed when he chides the BDS movement, they also have weight when he effectively says that should negotiations fail, Israel will come under a renewed – emboldened BDS movement. So that’s what the ADL is saying. Is that something that Kerry regrets or worries about?
MS. PSAKI: I think Kerry doesn’t regret for a moment every time he has stated his opposition to boycott attempts, and that’s exactly what he did this weekend.
QUESTION: Well, Jen, can --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that sometimes when the Secretary says, as you were saying in the beginning, things that he sees as happening or warning Israelis about what could happen --
QUESTION: -- that the Israelis misconstrue that as being negative towards the Israelis when he might argue that he’s speaking kind of – just trying to give Israelis a little tough love in the sense that this is – these are the consequences of what could happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he was – I spoke about this a little bit at the beginning.
QUESTION: Yeah, I understand.
MS. PSAKI: But his only reference – as I’m sure you know, because I know you all have seen this transcript – was a description of actions undertaking – undertaken by other groups which he opposes and he has always opposed. So I’m not sure – can you – what is your question specifically?
QUESTION: Well, it just seems as if – it seems as if every time the Secretary says something that might be perceived as negative in the Israeli's’ favor, that they portray the Secretary as against Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I would say to that is that his record is clearly the opposite. I mean, he has been a proponent of Israel, of Israel’s security, against efforts to boycott Israel for decades.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s just his style of speaking kind of plainly and what’s going on that’s rubbing the Israelis the wrong way?
MS. PSAKI: I think this is a difficult time with a lot of pressure on the parties, and what’s important to us is that moving forward, his comments are not misconstrued and his record is not misconstrued.
QUESTION: But that does not prevent him from also being objectionable to the occupation, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, this is the American position historically that the occupation should end and that the Palestinians should have their own state.
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with our position.
MS. PSAKI: That hasn’t changed over the course of the weekend.
QUESTION: I mean, he objects boycott, but he also object to the continuation of the occupation, correct?
MS. PSAKI: He believes the Palestinians should have a state, yes. That hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
QUESTION: Hold on.
QUESTION: No, no, it’s the – Abbas --
QUESTION: Just one more on this. So he vehemently opposes the BDS movement, as you’ve said multiple times.
QUESTION: That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think that, again, should negotiations fail, the BDS movement will emboldened. He also thinks that? Is that true? Because that’s what he stated over the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what he was stating, Michael, is the statement of fact and a statement that has been made by many, many, many others about the consequences. So he wasn’t trying to make a prediction. Obviously, his goal is to have an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and to have – move forward in this process, and that’s what his focus is on.
QUESTION: Could you comment on Mr. Abbas’s interview regarding NATO presence and so on?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. What specifically about it?
QUESTION: Well, specifically, I mean, he said that we could have NATO forces present for a number of years and so on. He’s trying to sort of mitigate Israel’s fears on security, and he’s also acknowledging that a Palestinian state would be a disarmed state and so on. So I wanted your comment on that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as you know, there are many ideas being put forward by both the Israelis and the Palestinians at this stage. The discussions are ongoing about a framework for negotiations. I’m not going to predict what would or wouldn’t be included in that because that’s not a known entity yet, so we’ll let that move forward on the ground.
QUESTION: Can you again – I mean, I asked you this last week on the framework agreement. Are we likely to hear this framework agreement without any --
MS. PSAKI: Do you want to know what our rollout plan is? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, are we likely to hear something anytime soon – two weeks, three weeks, four weeks?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of the timing. Obviously, this is something we’re working hard on, but again, I don’t think we expect this to be soon.
QUESTION: When is the next meeting?
MS. PSAKI: The next --
QUESTION: When is the next – when – that Martin Indyk or the Secretary – when are they going back to the region, or when is the next discussion?
MS. PSAKI: Ambassador Indyk is back in the region now. So the Secretary spoke with – as you know, he met with the negotiators just yesterday --
MS. PSAKI: -- so I don’t have a prediction of the next meeting or discussion. But it’s fair to say they’re very closely engaged with both parties.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on the --
QUESTION: By the way, but they did have – oh, I’m sorry. I was going to say that --
MS. PSAKI: Why don’t you let Jo go and then we’ll go to you next.
QUESTION: I was just following up actually on Said’s question --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- about the timing of the framework agreement. I mean, this jostling and tensions that are surfacing would suggest that there’s an agreement ready. And there have been some reports that it could come around the time of the next prisoner release, which is the end of February. Could you address that?
MS. PSAKI: End of March.
QUESTION: End of March.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction for you on the timing, Jo, because it’s not – there isn’t a framework for negotiations that is in a final form. So obviously, you’re working through the tough issues with both parties. We’re continuing to work to bridge the gap with both parties, but any reports that they’re – this is done and tied in a bow are not accurate.
QUESTION: So the next prisoner release is the end of March, not the end of February?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: No. No, no, no. I got one more.
QUESTION: And I don’t want to have this – I don’t want to get drawn out on this like we did last week --
QUESTION: -- but now that we’ve established yours and the Secretary’s position on the boycotts, I think it is now – that raises the question of whether that position follows logically from your position that the settlements are – that settlement activity is illegitimate. And Marie kind of addressed this last week. Is it still – I’m just wondering if anyone has drawn a finer bead on it in terms of language. Her comment on Friday was that A – or that B doesn’t necessarily follow A.
QUESTION: Is that – do you know if that’s --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new and we discussed it on Thursday, too. So I don’t have anything new to tell you.
QUESTION: Okay. So what do you think of suggestions by people or the argument by some people that merely calling settlement – Israeli settlement activity illegitimate, in fact, contributes to de-legitimization of Israel.
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that; I think it’s making apples into oranges. And obviously, this is an incredibly complex issue. No question; that’s why we’re all talking about it. But we don’t believe, for the reasons you all know, that settlements are legitimate. That’s been our consistent position. Obviously, we’re working to address these issues with the parties, and hopefully we won’t have to have these debates anymore.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. And then just on this whole anti-Semitism, real or imagined, there is great concern among Jewish groups and Israelis about rising – real rising anti-Semitism in Europe. Do you believe that the BDS movement contributes to that at all?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of that for you, Matt. I of course am aware of what you’re referring to, but --
QUESTION: Do you have any general comment on the rise – what people are saying – seeing as a rise in actual anti-Semitism in Europe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we’d be concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism anywhere, but beyond that, I don’t have any other comments or analysis for you.
QUESTION: Just on to the framework --
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up, okay? A quick clarification on the meeting yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You said that Secretary Kerry met with Livni and Molho for 90 minutes. Did he meet with the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: No, he did not. As you know, he met with them just last week.
QUESTION: Yes, right. So what do you make of this public sort of disagreement between the Palestinian and the Israeli negotiators yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s a time where we’re working through core issues that are difficult with a lot of history, and that’s what that speaks to.
QUESTION: So is there – are we likely to see any kind of direct, face-to-face Palestinian-Israeli negotiation? Or are you continuing to sort of go between --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to read out for you every component of our negotiations, Said. I know you’re interested in that particular question.
QUESTION: It’s a different subject.
QUESTION: No, wait, I got one more on Israel but it has nothing to do with this.
QUESTION: Have you seen or do you know anything about reports that the Israelis have offered the Turks $20 million in compensation for the flotilla incident?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have any independent confirmation of that, though.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, would you be encouraged if this was true – if, in fact, the rapprochement that the President and the Secretary tried very hard at the beginning of last year --
QUESTION: -- to get underway was going – is that a – I mean, is this a good sign?
MS. PSAKI: We’d be encouraged by any steps forward, and this is an issue that the Secretary raises with both parties on a regular basis.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Both parties – sorry – meaning the Israelis and the Turks?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes, exactly.
QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?
QUESTION: I have just one more (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: One more, one more, okay.
QUESTION: Sorry, Elise. And the nine-month timeframe means what at this point? Is the goal to have a framework for further negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: The nine-month timeframe remains. Nothing has changed about that. The next step is a framework, but we haven’t changed anything about our timeline.
QUESTION: Okay. Because when you were talking about a timeline for rolling out the framework, you said there is no such timeline, but can we safely assume --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s only February 4th now, so we have a bit of time between now and the end of April.
QUESTION: Okay. So – but we can safely assume that we’re going to have a framework between now and the end of April?
MS. PSAKI: That is certainly our hope, but that is the next step and something we’re working on more quickly than that.
QUESTION: But we’re not going to have a peace deal by the end of April and full (inaudible) peace?
MS. PSAKI: That still remains our goal, but the next step is a framework, and so that’s what we’re working toward.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:18 p.m.)
DPB # 21