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Middle East Digest - October 16, 2009

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Washington, DC
October 16, 2009


The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.

From the Daily Press Briefing of October 16, 2009

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QUESTION: Goldstone. What’s your reaction to what happened in Geneva today, considering you didn’t – you didn’t like it and you didn’t want it to go to the Security Council, and that’s where it’s going?

MR. KELLY: Well, not necessarily. Let me just say, first of all, we did vote against the resolution. We thought that the resolution had an unbalanced focus, and we’re concerned that it will exacerbate polarization and divisiveness. We believe that it went beyond even the scope of the Goldstone report itself. This – it went into a discussion of elements that have to be resolved in the permanent status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Having said that, our voting no against this in no way diminishes the deep concern that we have about the tragic events of last January and the suffering caused by the violence in Gaza and southern Israel. We believe very firmly that Israeli and Palestinian children deserve the right to grow up without the threat of violence and without the kind of conflict that we saw last January.

We think that a better approach would have been to give the parties adequate time to study the report and establish accountability measures through credible domestic processes. And again, we feel that we have to keep our focus on the main thing here, which is removing the root causes of the violence of last January, and that’s a lack of a lasting and comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So we are focused mainly on the efforts of Special Envoy Mitchell to bring the two sides together. The resolution endorsed the report, but it does not specifically refer it --

QUESTION: Sorry. The resolution --

MR. KELLY: The resolution --

QUESTION: -- endorsed the report?

MR. KELLY: -- endorsed the report. But it doesn’t specifically refer the matter to the Security Council. Only the members of the Security Council can decide what goes on the agenda. That’s not to say it won’t go on the agenda, but the resolution does not automatically mean that it will go to the Security Council.

QUESTION: Well, are you prepared to use your veto to stop it?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, there are a number of steps that have to take place before we decide what we’re going to do, so let’s --

QUESTION: Well, you voted against the resolution.

MR. KELLY: We did vote against the resolution.

QUESTION: Doesn’t it stand to reason that if there was an attempt to bring it before the Security Council that you would stop that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I mean, clearly, we – as I said, we have concerns that this will polarize the situation even further, and we’ll see what steps we take once we see where this goes from here.

QUESTION: What does – I take it that this came up on the – the whole idea of the Council considering this came up on the Secretary’s trip that she just came back from?

MR. KELLY: I’m not quite sure I understand why it would have come up on the trip.

QUESTION: Well, did it come up in her meetings with Foreign Secretary Miliband, in her meeting with --

MR. KELLY: I am – actually, I am not sure if it came up during the --

QUESTION: What – you’ll note from the vote that the British and the French did not vote at all. What does it say about the British and the French not voting at all, putting themselves in the rarified company of Kyrgyzstan, Angola, and Madagascar --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, well --

QUESTION: -- who also did not vote? At least – is that --

MR. KELLY: That’s up --

QUESTION: -- something that is distressing to you at all?

MR. KELLY: I think what’s distressing to us is that we’re losing focus on this ultimate goal, which is a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and that’s one of the main reasons why we voted against this, because we were afraid that it would further polarize the two sides or it would inflame the situation. But regarding the decisions of sovereign countries on how they were going to vote or not vote or be absent, I’d just refer you to those governments.

QUESTION: Well, sovereign countries make decisions all the time that you have opinions about. What do you think of their decision not to vote at all?

MR. KELLY: Well, the – our allies have been very supportive of the whole process. They’re --

QUESTION: They have?

MR. KELLY: They have been supportive --

QUESTION: They ran away.

MR. KELLY: No, I mean supportive of the process of bringing the Israelis and the Palestinians together. But I’m not going to comment on what the decision process was behind it.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not disappointing to you that two of your strongest allies in Europe, Britain and France --

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it’s disappointing to us that the resolution was considered and then passed, but I’m not going to comment on the decisions of our allies.

QUESTION: Ian, I thought that this topic was going to come before the Security Council, but as part of a broader discussion of Middle East --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- matters; correct?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, that was on Wednesday.

QUESTION: Okay. So that’s over?

MR. KELLY: That happened on Wednesday, yeah.

QUESTION: Forgive me, forgive me, okay. Can we move to something else?


QUESTION: On – can we go to Britain? The High Court decision to release U.S. intelligence documents detailing allegations of torture of Mr. Binyam Mohamed, what is your reaction to that court decision? Does it prejudice U.S. intelligence to – for such documents to be released?

MR. KELLY: Well, I – first of all, I would point out that the British Government reacted immediately with a very strong statement and said that they would appeal this decision. And the reason they’re going to appeal it is they feel the same way that we do about the confidentiality of intelligence-sharing and how important this is to both our countries, and that we both have a stake in ensuring that this kind of intelligence-sharing continues to the fullest extent possible. And so we are – we’re pleased that Foreign Secretary Miliband has stated in very strong terms that they plan to pursue a vigorous appeal.

QUESTION: I’m sure that you can’t be pleased that the court ruled to release the information.

MR. KELLY: No, we are not pleased. And this has nothing to do with due process here. This has everything to do with the importance of protecting sensitive national security information and protecting this confidential channel that we have with our allies. And this – we keep this information confidential because this information is important in our efforts to protect our own citizens.

QUESTION: Well, why doesn’t it have to do with due process? I mean, if the court finds that the evidence in question should be made public and considered, it seems to me it is exactly about due process. You can argue that the national security concerns are a higher value than due process.

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not saying that. I’m – what I’m saying is that we object to, and the British Government objects to this information being put into the public domain. I’m not an expert on British legal procedures, but I believe that there are ways that this can be considered in a court of law without it being released into the public domain.

QUESTION: Well, you said that you want to continue – intelligence-sharing to continue to the fullest extent possible. Does that mean that a decision to release this would affect your intelligence-sharing with the British?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’ll just say that this principle of the confidentiality of intelligence, sensitive information, is central to our intelligence relationships.

QUESTION: And a decision to release would be – would affect your intelligence relationship with the British?

MR. KELLY: Well, nothing has been released, and the British Government has stated again in --

QUESTION: Would – if this stuff comes out, will it affect --

MR. KELLY: Well, you’re asking me a hypothetical.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, that’s what I was trying not to ask, was a hypothetical. I’m saying a decision to release, would it or would it not affect the intelligence-sharing relationship between the United States and Britain?

MR. KELLY: I would say that --

QUESTION: There’s no “if” in the question.

MR. KELLY: I would say that the British Government recognizes the importance of this principle that this kind of sensitive information not be put in the public domain.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but it’s not up to the British Government. It’s up to the British courts.

MR. KELLY: Well, let’s let the British courts work it out. I mean --

QUESTION: They just did.

MR. KELLY: No, there’s an appeal.

QUESTION: And did this come up within the conversation that the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Miller – Foreign Secretary Miliband on Sunday?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure that it came up in that meeting.

QUESTION: If I may go back to Goldstone – Senator Goldstone report? I wonder how are you going to deal with the discrepancy that has been caused now by your decision to vote against his report, when the rest of the world, most of the countries around the world, are considering this report as a report that deals with the human rights violation and crimes against humanity that the Israelis have committed in Gaza? Why you believe – you stated that the best way to pursue forward is to deal with the final issues of the Palestinian problem?

Now the stocks of President Obama’s speeches in the Islamic world and the efforts, the U.S. efforts for several years with – at public diplomacy in order to gain more – or regain – to regain credibility around the world, this has been drastically now affected in the Arab streets after – especially after the U.S. stance that has changed concerning the Israeli building of settlements. Now how are you going to bridge these differences between the way you look at these problems and how the rest of the world does, especially the Islamic and Arab world?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think we just have to reemphasize that our voting no against this in no way diminishes the seriousness of the allegations in the report. We simply think that we need to focus on the most important issue here, and that’s getting the two sides to sit down and getting to the goal that all of us share here in the U.S. and in the Middle East, and that’s a lasting peace that would include two states living side by side in peace and security.

We had a problem, as I said before, with the timing of this. For one thing, we’ve got Special Envoy Mitchell, who’s very intensively involved in talking to both sides and getting them to agree to talk directly. And we’re just concerned that this is a – this is going to distract from this important focus. We also think that, as I said before, we needed to give the respective parties time to study the report and allow their own institutions to investigate the allegations.

So we are just very concerned that this report will set us back from reaching our goal, which is coming up with a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

QUESTION: You just said again that – you repeated that phrase that the time – you would give the parties time to study the report and to allow them to investigate, or their own institutions to investigate. One, don’t you think they’ve had enough time to study it? It’s not as if this thing came out yesterday.

MR. KELLY: Oh, I – well, it was – it just came out --

QUESTION: It’s been out for weeks now.

MR. KELLY: Well, weeks is not – that’s not a whole lot of time to set up mechanisms to try and investigate these --

QUESTION: No, no, I’m not saying that.

MR. KELLY: -- allegations.

QUESTION: But to study it, surely they know what’s in it by now.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I know. But you --

QUESTION: I mean, you’re talking like they --

MR. KELLY: -- can’t set up these kind of structures in a matter of weeks.

QUESTION: Right, okay. If the – fair enough, but they’ve had enough time to study it. So you’re talking about allowing them time to set up something to investigate --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- and set up their own institutions to investigate?

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: So both sides, really, Hamas?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: The U.S. thinks that Hamas has the --

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, we recognize --

QUESTION: -- an interest, the will and ability to set up a credible investigation?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We recognize President Abbas as the – as – and his government as the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: So you think the PA in Ramallah is capable of setting up an institution --

MR. KELLY: I think we should give them a chance.

QUESTION: -- to investigate what happened in Gaza --

MR. KELLY: I mean, we didn’t even --

QUESTION: -- when they don’t know what’s going on?

MR. KELLY: We didn’t even give them a chance. This was done precipitously, I think, passing this resolution.

QUESTION: This does – this report does not concern the PA at all.

MR. KELLY: Well, yes, it does. It does make allegations against the Palestinians.

QUESTION: It makes allegations against Hamas, which is not the same as –

MR. KELLY: But – yeah, but what I’m saying is, is that if we recognize the Palestinian Authority, we should have given them a chance to develop the kind of (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Okay, so you’re not hoping or wishing or somehow otherwise pushing for Hamas to set up --


QUESTION: -- some investigation --

MR. KELLY: No, we’re not.

QUESTION: -- on its own?


QUESTION: Do you think that they’re capable of doing that?

MR. KELLY: Well, I – we don’t recognize Hamas as the representative of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Well, would an investigation by Hamas into this be okay with you, or would you accept the results of an investigation that Hamas would conduct?

MR. KELLY: You’re again asking me a hypothetical. I don’t think Hamas is setting up any kind of investigation into this.

QUESTION: Well, then, so why are you saying to allow the – when you talk about the parties, you’re talking about the PA on the Palestinian side.

MR. KELLY: The Palestinians and the Israelis.

QUESTION: But you’re talking about Abbas and the --

MR. KELLY: And the Palestinians and their legitimate representatives, and the Israelis and their legitimate representatives.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. KELLY: Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Okay, so it seems more and more Palestinian officials are voicing their frustration with the absence of any progress on the – Senator Mitchell’s efforts and – between Palestinians and the Israelis. Is Senator Mitchell going to pursue the same strategy after Secretary Clinton submits her report to the President? And for that matter, is he going to continue as the special envoy? And do you have update on when Secretary Clinton is going to submit her report?

MR. KELLY: As I understand it, Special Envoy Mitchell is continuing his discussions today with the Israeli experts that are here. And then next week, I believe on Tuesday, he’s going to meet with Palestinian experts. And Secretary Clinton will submit the update that the President asked her for after that. So sometime after October 20th, Secretary Clinton will be giving her report to the President.

QUESTION: Are you absolutely sure that the --

QUESTION: But as --

QUESTION: -- talks with the Israelis are continuing today? I thought the Israelis were meeting yesterday.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. I want to follow up on that.

MR. KELLY: I believe they’re – yeah, he’s meeting with Mr. Herzog and Mr. Molho today at the Department.

QUESTION: Yeah, but is Senator Mitchell going to pursue the same strategy after Secretary Clinton submits her report?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: Is he going to follow up with this strategy after nine months of nothing? More – probably more settlements, actually?

MR. KELLY: Well, again, you’re asking me to prejudge what we’re going to report to the President and what our strategy will be going forward. So I’ll reserve comment until we see what’s in that report.


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