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 July 6, 2010
MR. TONER: Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell attended President Obama’s meeting today with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House. They’ll also – in fact – sorry – Secretary Clinton will also meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu later this afternoon at Blair House, where they’ll be joined by Special Envoy Mitchell, Under Secretary William Burns, and Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, as well as Ambassador James Cunningham.
As you know, Secretary Clinton spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Barak this morning prior to her participation in a meeting between the President – between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the two discussed preparations for the meetings – for the meeting and reviewed the current state of affairs, including efforts to ease restrictions on goods to Gaza. Minister Barak mentioned he would try to travel to Washington soon, and the Secretary welcomed his visit.
Secretary Clinton also spoke to Quartet Representative Tony Blair, a phone call in which they reviewed the current state of affairs, including efforts to ease restrictions on goods to Gaza. They also discussed Israel’s announcement today of a controlled items list pertaining to goods entering Gaza and also reconfirmed their commitment to continue working closely with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to implement the new Gaza policy. This new policy is helping to improve the quality of life for the people of Gaza while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns. They also reconfirmed our commitment to moving forward with state building and institutional reform efforts in the West Bank.
QUESTION: The Iranian nuclear negotiator, he made a response to Ashton, saying that perhaps that talks could get underway from September 1st, but there are some conditions involved that Iran has to talk about broader issues as well with the Middle East. Is this a step forward or not?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m always wary of characterizing anything that comes out on this, because what I would just stress is that, as I think the P-5+1 spoke in one voice last Friday, which is the door definitely remains open. So if Iran is serious about talking to the P-5+1, then I think we’re willing to meet.
QUESTION: If there are some conditions attached to what the discussions would be about besides the nuclear issue?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, obviously, we’d have to evaluate that – the Iranian offer. And I assume we are. But again, it’s a two-track approach and that engagement track always remains open.
QUESTION: Hi, on the Mideast. That list of easing goods for Gaza, has the U.S. had an opportunity to really study that? Does it go far enough in terms of providing goods that the people in Gaza need?
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm. Well, first off --
QUESTION: Hold on. Can I --
MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: You’re “mm-hmm,” does that mean yes? You’re answering affirmatively?
MR. TONER: No, it means I’m listening, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well --
MR. TONER: And getting – and preparing to respond. But thank you for clarifying that.
Just when the U.S. – when the Government of Israel announced its new approach, we obviously welcomed it, noticed that – noted, however, that implementation is critical. Obviously, you saw the President welcoming it just a few minutes ago. It’s an important step towards successful implementation of Israel’s new Gaza policy. The list indicates that the flow of goods and material into Gaza and the access that the people of Gaza have to those items should significantly improve. We’ve worked closely with the Israeli Government as it developed the list, and we, along with the Quartet, Quartet Representative, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and other concerned parties, will continue to work with Israel to help ensure implementation of these new policies. We believe that it’ll help improve the quality of life for the people of Gaza, while still addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
So in answer to your question, “Does it go far enough,” it’s a great step forward. We think it’s very positive, constructive. But we’re going to continue to work with Israel as we move forward, and, obviously, with an emphasis on implementation.
QUESTION: Can you speak to why the NASA administrator was doing outreach to the Muslim community? There was an article over the weekend.
MR. TONER: It’s an excellent question. I do not have an answer for you on that. I can try to – or I encourage you to talk to our NASA colleagues. I mean, obviously, the new space policy has a more international approach, and we unveiled that, I believe, from the White House last week or a week ago – yeah, a week ago Monday, today. Today’s Tuesday.
QUESTION: Isn’t that the role of the State Department and not the space agency, obviously?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I think it’s an interagency cooperative effort. And so obviously – but I – as to specific comments today, I think I saw it on TV, I didn’t listen to them closely enough to have any response for you. I can just say that part of the new approach to space – this Administration’s new approach to space is to engage in international partners and that would – obviously, that would include in the Muslim world.
QUESTION: The Israelis today announced that a couple – a small number of soldiers will face some kind of punishment, or the possibility of some kind of punishment, for the things done during the Gaza operation. Do you have any comment on that? Is that enough?
MR. TONER: Well, they’ve said they’re investigating and reviewing all the allegations rising out of the fighting in Gaza last winter. We support, obviously, the need for accountability for any violations that may have occurred in relation to the Gaza conflict. Obviously, this is a domestic process, and we believe that Israel’s democratic institutions and processes should be given the opportunity to play themselves out.
QUESTION: And in terms of – are there any new developments on the idea of an international investigatory panel for the flotilla incident?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, not beyond what we’ve addressed last week.
QUESTION: Some Israeli supporters here in the United States, including members of Congress, feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu was slighted on his last visit. What signal did the White House hope to send with today’s visit?
MR. TONER: I would just refer you to the rather copious remarks that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama just gave over at the White House in which they – I think Netanyahu – Prime Minister Netanyahu paraphrased Mark Twain to say that the relationship has never been on better, stronger footing. So –