printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Background Briefing on the Humanitarian Cease-fire in Gaza


Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Senior State Department Officials
New Delhi, India
August 1, 2014

Share

QUESTION: Let’s talk about defensive operations will continue behind Israeli lines. Can you explain that a little bit and how that’ll work out?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I mean, I don’t --

QUESTION: Talk into the microphone. Is it – is that it, or --

QUESTION: No, that doesn’t actually do anything, no.

QUESTION: No? Okay. I’m sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s just to look pretty.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Oh, this is not even – okay.

I don’t want to go into too much detail beyond what the Secretary said on that. Our understanding is that the Israelis will make clear to the UN where their lines are, roughly, and that they will continue to do operations to destroy tunnels that pose a threat to Israeli territory that lead from the Gaza Strip into Israel proper as long as those tunnels exist on the Israel side of their lines.

QUESTION: Do you have a time frame for the Egypt discussions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They could start as early as tomorrow. It’s based on when delegations can get to Cairo. And Frank Lowenstein will be going tomorrow. It’s possible there could be a handful of others who go, but he’ll be one of the first.

QUESTION: Do you mean tomorrow as in Friday, or tomorrow --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Tomorrow as in today.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes, sorry, tomorrow as in today.

QUESTION: Talks could start Friday in Cairo?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: As early as, but obviously, people have to have the time to get to Cairo.

QUESTION: And to get --

QUESTION: Sorry, as early as today?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: As early as Friday.

QUESTION: And do the Qataris and the Turks – are they going to be participating in these talks as well?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Our understanding is that Egypt will be playing a sort of a mediating role, and we’re not sure what other countries are going to be directly involved. The U.S., as [Senior State Department Official One] said, will be sending a delegation to participate, and I think we’ll leave it to the Egyptians to talk about what other countries might be involved as well.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And to remain in the – do you want to talk about the Qataris and the Turks?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, I guess I would say that one of the key developments over the last week or two, as the Secretary became deeply and directly engaged in the negotiations around this effort, was his relationships and contacts with the Qataris and the Turks. We identified early on in this process that getting a cease-fire would require coordinating with countries that had relations and influence – relations with and influence over Hamas, and would be able to both convey a message quickly and receive a response in short order. And dozens of times over the last week to ten days, we were conveying messages through the Qataris and the Turks, and that proved a very important part of getting this humanitarian cease-fire established.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And it’s safe to say that the cease-fire discussion that the Secretary was having with his counterparts last weekend has continued to be the basis for where we landed today.

QUESTION: When did you actually know that you had this? Obviously, before you told us.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: About 2:00 or 2:15 in the morning here, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes. Yeah, around 2:00 a.m., I think.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Around 2:00 a.m. in Egypt – I mean, where are we? In India. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And how did you confirm that? With each party, or when was – how did you just – how did you come to know that each side had accepted?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So it – every incremental change would require a series of phone calls. So when we thought we would – had an understanding and then one party or another would say, “Actually, we’d like to adjust one thing,” that then would require, again, for us to go through the sort of litany of calls required to nail all that down --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And there was a – oh, go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And there was a great deal of back-and-forth also with Robert Serry, obviously, from the UN, who the Secretary was speaking with in between a lot of his other calls with other interlocutors who were engaged in the negotiations.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Right. So this evening, there was very close coordination with the United Nations through Robert Serry, with the Palestinian Authority, with the Egyptians, with the Turks and the Qataris, and, of course, with the Israelis as well.

And just to build a little bit on what [Senior State Department Official One] was saying, the idea of a humanitarian cease-fire was something that we – that was put on the table, I think, more than a week ago, probably slightly less than two weeks ago, and it’s an idea that we have been working towards throughout that time. We’ve all seen coverage of how these negotiations seem to have proceeded in fits and starts, with talks sort of ended and then resumed. But for our purposes, this really was the objective that we were working towards all along. And there were variables involved in that, including the length of time and the exact sort of starting point. But the idea of an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire very much was sort of the target for all of this.

QUESTION: And could you just say – I’m just – why was the logic of 72 hours? And I assume there are no border crossings or anything opened, since that wasn’t mentioned in this deal.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So there’s no magic to the 72 hours, Michael. I mean, we tested pretty much any formula that you could come up with yourself that might sort of take hold. I guess the theory behind 72 hours is that it’s long enough to get negotiations started. I mean, 24 hours, which is an idea that had been tossed around at one point, is a challenge, both to coordinate the timing of the cease-fire for both sides, but also to get parties to another country, start negotiations before you then have to decide whether the cease-fire is going to be renewed. So we thought it was sort of the minimum amount of time to allow us some space to begin and get into serious negotiations, but not such a long time that it became politically untenable for the parties to agree.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: One other tick-tock piece: We don’t have an exact number, but we were estimating earlier that he’s probably done around or over 100 phone calls in the last week on this issue alone, I think it’s safe to say.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I would say easily in the last week to 10 days, 100 phone calls. And I can’t tell you how many today, but it would be in the dozens, certainly. And there are other days like that as well.

QUESTION: Did you – he interrupt some of his talks today to take phone calls? He alluded to that at his press conference. Was this --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: He did. He did. He – let’s see. Earlier today in between – before the strategic dialogue started he made a few calls, and then prior to the press conference and then prior to the dinner. So at each kind of interlude, he did a round of calls with kind of the same group of interlocutors about the issues.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, there was not a 10-minute space in the day today that was not filled with one or two phone calls.

QUESTION: And nothing on border crossings, what --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. I mean, this was as unconditional as we identified. Anything that was not stated in there is not part of the next 72 hours. But, that said, border crossings is very much one of the issues that we expect to be fully discussed when the parties arrive in Cairo.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. At the top about the tunnels, could you repeat that again, about where – how that’s working?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The way we expect it to work and the way we understand and the United Nations understands a humanitarian cease-fire to work is that the parties freeze in place. They don’t advance any further, and they are able to continue conducting defensive operations against these tunnels behind their lines.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s the way we’re --

QUESTION: So as long as they don’t interact beyond.

QUESTION: A bit of a side issue, but how much did this take away from his talks in India? Was he being drawn around – drawn out quite a bit to take the phones?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It really didn’t – he – I think most people who have had a Secretary of State attend a strategic dialogue are used to them being pulled out for other issues in the world. Obviously, the Indians were remarkably understanding about what he was trying to balance today. And before the press conference, he pulled in the foreign minister and had a moment with her just to thank her for her patience and explain what he’d been doing most of the day.

But he also was in the strategic dialogue for the vast majority of the couple of hours that was in there. He hopped out a couple of times for just a quick call, but he really tried to stay there and chair it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, I guess I’d just say the bare minimum necessary to get done what we thought we needed to get done on Gaza. I mean, this is a very important relationship. We thought this event, coming so early in Prime Minister Modi’s term, was very important. And he had a very constructive and, we think, productive series of meetings today – both bilateral meetings and then the broader sort of strategic dialogue that included very senior people from across our executive branch. And he looks forward very much to seeing the Prime Minister tomorrow.

QUESTION: Who all is going to Cairo from the U.S.? Are we?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You are not.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Though you may. You’re welcome to. (Laughter.) Michael’s eager to go.

Frank Lowenstein is going tomorrow. It’s possible – I mean, not --

QUESTION: Meaning today.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m sorry, today, going on Friday. It is possible that others – it would be a small delegation, as the Secretary said, and we would be supporting the efforts of the Egyptians and others who are – have the lead in the process.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I guess technically speaking, [Senior State Department Official One] was right, because it’s still Thursday where Frank is. So --

QUESTION: Do you know who the Israelis and Palestinians are sending to lead their delegations?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t think we have that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’ve talked to them about it and we have some sense, but I think we should let them say who’s going to be part of their delegations.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I’m very confused. The Palestinians are going to be – Palestinians but not Hamas are going to be sitting at the table, correct? So Abbas will be sending a delegation?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: This has all happened before.

QUESTION: Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They have negotiated ends to conflicts in Gaza in 2009, 2012. And the way it tends to work – so to be clear, first of all, the Israelis will not sit across the table from Hamas.

QUESTION: Correct.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So there will be a choreography to this.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And neither will we.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And neither will we. There will be a choreography to this that allows for the Egyptians to sort of move between and among the various parties. But again, I don’t know exactly how they’re going to handle it this time, but the caveats that I said up front, that’s basically how it’s going to work.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, Frank is on his way?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t believe he’s left quite yet, but he’s planning to leave on Friday, as we understand it.

QUESTION: And you say the talks could – the actual talks could start as early as Friday?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That’s right. But again, it’s – the cease-fire starts on Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., but it obviously depends on when the parties are able to reach Cairo.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Palestinian delegation – I just want to make sure I understand. The Palestinian Authority will be leading the delegation, but Hamas will be an element to that delegation?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Exactly.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, but President Abbas will be naming the delegation, presumably.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: This will all be under the auspices of President Abbas. There will be --

QUESTION: Right, but Hamas --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There will be members of the Palestinian Authority who are – part of them will lead the delegation, and there will be members of Hamas who are included in the delegation.

QUESTION: Okay. What was the last issue that was resolved?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And again, that’s our understanding. They should confirm it.

QUESTION: Right. What was the last issue that was resolved?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t know what we can really say here.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, I think I’d want to leave those last – sort of sensitive stuff to --

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- them.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I don’t mean to split this, but so – just so I understand, Abbas will leading the Palestinian delegation --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Not leading. He would be naming.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: He’s not going.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I guess he’s leading in the sense that he will be responsible for the composition of the delegation. We don’t expect he will be attending the talks in Cairo.

QUESTION: Okay. So he’ll be naming, but some of the people he will name are members of Hamas?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Correct.

QUESTION: And there’s precedent for the U.S. and Israel for sitting across the table --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. I said --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Not across the table, and we wouldn’t.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- exactly the opposite of that. They will not sit across the table. Neither the U.S. nor Israel will sit across the table from Hamas. But what there is precedent for is the Egyptians playing a sort of a go-between role.

QUESTION: So I just want to make sure I understand this now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just to – so they will not – the Palestinian side and the Israeli side and the U.S. side will not be sitting in the same room? They’re going to be in – the Egyptians are going to go back and forth between these rooms?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Look, I’d just put it this way: The Egyptians are going to be responsible for the choreography of this, and they should be the ones answering the questions. All I will say is the Israelis are not going to directly negotiate with Hamas, and neither will the United States. But we’re not a party to the negotiations. We will be there in a different capacity.

QUESTION: But Hamas is part of the Palestinian delegation --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They’ll be part of the Palestinian delegation.

QUESTION: -- therefore, the Egyptians will have to play an intermediary role, going back and forth between these guys.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s right.

QUESTION: That’s what I needed to know.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right. Great.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay.

QUESTION: What is the attribution for you two?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Senior State Department official – officials.



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.