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 December 7, 2010
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Israel? Ehud Barak today quoted as saying that the talks between the U.S. and Israel on getting the Israel-Palestinian talks resumed have been put on hold, and that the reasons include distractions like WikiLeaks. Is it true that the talks are suspended and are in some way on hold, and does WikiLeaks have anything to do with that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our talk – our efforts are not suspended. We are having conversations, even as we speak today, with both Israeli officials, with Palestinian officials. I mean, the Israeli Government itself has been fully occupied, understandably, in recent days with the challenge of the fires. We remain determined to work with the parties on a path forward and try to determine how best to advance the process back to direct negotiations and to, ultimately, a framework agreement.
I would just say that we’ll be meeting today with both sides. We may have more to say later in the day.
QUESTION: Why would he – do you have any idea why he would say flat out that the matter has been stopped entirely? That’s his words?
MR. CROWLEY: I will say that the process has not stopped. We obviously recognize that we face a difficult obstacle, and we will continue to engage the parties on the way forward.
QUESTION: Who’s speaking today? Who’s meeting today? You mentioned a meeting today.
MR. CROWLEY: I think Daniel Rubenstein will be meeting sometime today with President Abbas. We – a number of officials have been on the phone throughout the morning with the Israelis as well.
QUESTION: So, P.J., what is your assessment of, let’s say, Argentina and Brazil saying that they’re willing to recognize a Palestinian state?
MR. CROWLEY: We don’t think that we should be distracted from the fact that the only way to resolve the core issues within the process is through direct negotiations. That remains our focus. And we do not favor that course of action. As we’ve said many, many times, any unilateral action, we believe, is counterproductive.
QUESTION: Would you have addressed this issue with both governments? Would you have talked to both governments about, let’s say, the foolhardiness of such a --
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t point to any direct conversation we’ve had in recent days, but I think our position on this is pretty clear.
QUESTION: Okay. Both Mr. Barak and Mr. Fayyad will be in town and they will also participate in the same event with Secretary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton on Friday. What will they discuss before that, prior to that? Will there be any kind of discussion?
MR. CROWLEY: I – let me take the question. Obviously, there is the Saban event coming up on Friday. The Secretary will have a speech Friday evening. I’m just not able to forecast at this point whether there’ll be any meetings prior to that.
QUESTION: And one last question on this issue. Have you spoken to Palestinian Authority President Abbas on his threat to resign (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: As I said, in the next couple of hours we’ll actually have a meeting with President Abbas and we’ll have more to say after that meeting.
QUESTION: On Iran, the meetings today in Geneva, do you have any kind of readout of what specifically and substantively was discussed during the meeting? The meetings were described as substantive in Ashton’s statement, but you didn’t go into actually whether this offer was put forth, how it was received.
MR. CROWLEY: Which offer is that, Kirit?
QUESTION: This is the nuclear fuel swap-off for the TRR, updated TRR offer.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Iranians afterwards did say that in this next round of talks they do not plan to discuss the nuclear – their nuclear – halting their nuclear emission program. Is that your understanding of what they agreed to for the next round of talks, and what is your reaction?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, about 75 percent of the meetings yesterday and today were on the nuclear issue. It is something that remains forefront among our concerns. We look forward to another meeting in January, and we will continue our discussion on this and other topics. The TRR issue was discussed during the course of the meeting, and we’ll continue to explore this as we go forward.
QUESTION: Was there any other offer, since you asked me which offer? I mean, you asked me which offer I was referring to – I had assumed there was one. Is there another one? (Laughter.) Is there another one?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Also on the meetings, did Ambassador Burns have a chance to pull aside his Iranian counterpart for any discussion?
MR. CROWLEY: My understanding is that we had a couple of opportunities for brief, informal discussions with the Iranian delegation.
QUESTION: Can you say what was discussed during those?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.
QUESTION: Can you say if the hiker case was brought up in –
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean --
QUESTION: I mean, (inaudible) last year --
MR. CROWLEY: Put it this way: All I can tell you is that there were brief, informal discussions. Beyond that, I’m just not in a position to say what specifically came up.
QUESTION: Can you characterize those discussions in terms of their tenor and if you feel any more heartened on any issues?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.
QUESTION: It was Bill Burns? It was Bill Burns who had the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: I think it was both Bill Burns and others.
QUESTION: Back to – back on Iran. The meeting in January is going to take place in Turkey. Is that a goodwill gesture towards Iran, since that was the other choice?
MR. CROWLEY: We had indicated a willingness to – well, let’s back up. First of all, we hope that this will be the start of a serious process for a discussion between Iran and representatives of the P-5+1. We’re encouraged that there will be a follow-on meeting. As we signaled before this first meeting, we were open to have multiple meetings in multiple locations, and certainly the decision to meet next month in Istanbul is a reflection of that.