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Middle East Digest - November 18, 2010


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Washington, DC
November 18, 2010

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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 November 18, 2010

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MR. TONER: Just a few things at the top and then we’ll get into your questions.

As you know, Secretary Clinton is wheels up en route to Lisbon, Portugal. There, the Secretary will join President Obama in participating in the NATO summit, the NATO-Russia Council summit, and the summit of the ISAF troop-contributing nations and other major economic development donors, as well as the U.S.-European Union summit.

QUESTION: Mark, can you tell us how things are going in the drafting of these written assurances to the Israelis to get them to extend the – or to renew the settlement freeze?

MR. TONER: Well, appreciate your question, Matt. As you know, we are not going to get into details. We do remain in close touch with the both the Israelis and the Palestinians on this. We’re working intensively, as the Secretary said yesterday, to create the conditions that lead to the resumption of direct negotiations.

QUESTION: You don’t want – is the status quo acceptable? I’m sorry, I don’t think that I’ve heard whether that’s the case or not over the last couple days.

MR. TONER: Matt, the status quo is unacceptable.

QUESTION: Yeah. So, in other words, you haven’t gotten any new guidance in the past week. You’re saying exactly the same thing, word for word, you and the Secretary, P.J, everyone else out of this. You don’t --

MR. TONER: And a coherent message from all parties involved, is that --

QUESTION: Yeah. Has there been any progress at all?

MR. TONER: Is that alarming to you?

QUESTION: Well, it is because you’ve gone for a week, you seem to be unable to discuss even the minutest of specificity when asked questions which are not asking for details, they’re just asking --

MR. TONER: We’ve said all along that we’re not going to get into the substance of our talks.

QUESTION: What is substantive about writing a written assurance?

MR. TONER: Well, it does speak to the substance of the negotiations.

QUESTION: Exactly how?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into it. But what I am going to say is that we’re obviously engaged, we’re working intensively with both parties --

QUESTION: I have to say, Mark, it’s not obvious that you’re engaged, because no one will say anything about what’s going on.

MR. TONER: Well, David Hale was in the region yesterday and he met with Abbas. I believe the Secretary --

QUESTION: And afterwards, the Palestinians said that he didn’t have anything to tell them.

MR. TONER: The Secretary spoke with Defense Minister Barak, I believe, yesterday.

QUESTION: All right. So that’s something.

MR. TONER: It’s something. I’m just saying that we do remain engaged on this issue.

QUESTION: So Clinton spoke to Barak yesterday?

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Has there been any other contact that you’re aware of?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. Obviously, she’s on the plane right now. But no, I think that’s it.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: And she hasn’t spoken to Abbas, for example?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Any travel planned?

MR. TONER: Any travel plans for Mitchell?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: No. Nothing to announce, at least.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: What is Senator Mitchell doing these days? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Having lunch.

MR. TONER: I believe he is back in New York.

QUESTION: Can you confirm what the Palestinians are saying publicly, that they want a freeze on settlements also in East Jerusalem, not just in the West Bank? I mean, David Hale has spoken to them. Are they saying the same thing to you?

MR. TONER: Well, look, again, we’re all aware of what’s out in the press and out in the public. We’re trying to create the conditions that get them back into direct negotiations. We are keeping our eyes firmly on that ball. We’re trying to get them back in because we know that that’s the only way that all these issues can be eventually resolved.

QUESTION: This is just about Iran and the P-5+1 talks --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- or whatever talks they’re going to be. Has there been any movement on that at all that you’re aware of?

MR. TONER: No. I mean, as far as I know, High Representative Ashton went back to the Iranians with a venue and a date, but we’ve not heard back from the Iranians.

QUESTION: And what was the venue?

MR. TONER: I believe somewhere in Europe is what she suggested. Somewhere in the Germany, Switzerland area.

QUESTION: Germany, Austria –

MR. TONER: Austria. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Somewhere in German-speaking Europe. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Sorry. Yes.

QUESTION: Have the – in her letter or --

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- maybe not even in her letter, but in terms of what the U.S. is expecting out of this, the Iranians have talked about wanting to speak about global issues. Have they been told that you expect them to discuss the nuclear program?

MR. TONER: Have they been told that we expect a –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: I think we’ve been clear –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Yeah, I think we’ve been clear in our – at least our public statements that we’re going to talk about the nuclear program.

QUESTION: Well, what if they just sit there and decide that they want to talk about the price of tea or something and refuse to discuss it? Is that acceptable to you, or will you walk away?

MR. TONER: What we’re trying to do – it’s been a year since we’ve met with the Iranians. We’re trying to get them back to a negotiating table. But we’re going to talk – we’re going to raise the nuclear issue, and I think they’re well aware of that.

QUESTION: And you expect them to respond?

MR. TONER: We want to engage in a dialogue. That’s part of the two-track approach.

QUESTION: Right. But do you have any reason to believe that they will – when you raise the nuclear issue, that they will respond to that or whether – what – will they just –

MR. TONER: I can’t predict the future, Matt, but we’re going to raise it and we would hope that they want to – would want to engage in a good-faith dialogue about it, and be aware and be willing to address the international community’s very real concerns about their nuclear program.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, they have – the Iranians have not said that they will talk about it, right? I mean, at this point, they still have not said that’s on the table for them.

MR. TONER: There’s a lot of Iranian comments out in the public spectrum, but I’m not aware that – I’ve seen both sides of it.

In the back.



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