Briefing on the United Nations Security Council Vote

Special Briefing
Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
February 18, 2011

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. During the question-and-answer session, please press *1 on your touch-tone phone. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. And now, I’d like to turn the meeting over to Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley. Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Hey, good evening, everyone. Sorry for the delay. And I’m just going to just simply welcome and introduce our Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. She’s joined by National Security – Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. I think Susan’s going to make some very quick opening remarks, and I know she’s got a flight to catch so we’ll have a handful of questions, but at this point, I’ll turn it over to Susan.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Thank you, P.J. Good evening, everyone. As I said today on behalf of the United States in the Security Council, and as the United States has said on many, many occasions for many years, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We view Israeli settlement activity in territories that were occupied in 1967 as undermining Israel’s security, its democracy, and hopes for peace and stability in the region.

The U.S. and other Council members are in full agreement on that, but also in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, more urgent than ever, given recent developments in the region. And that resolution needs to be based on a two-state solution and an agreement between the two parties that establishes the viable, independent, and contiguous state of Palestine, once and for all.

No outside country has invested more effort and energy and resources in pursuit of that peace than the United States has, and we will continue to do so. But the only way that that goal can be reached, the common goal of a two-state solution, is, as a practical matter, through direct negotiations between the parties. There’s no short cut to that end. And every potential action, including action in the Security Council, has to be measured against one test, and that’s whether it will move the parties closer to negotiations and agreement or take them further apart. And our judgment was that this resolution would not have advanced the goal of getting the parties closer to negotiations and agreement. On the contrary, it would have hardened the positions of one or both sides.

Instead of the outcome we had today, the United States has been working very hard, and we put forward with the support of other members of the Security Council a constructive path that would have garnered the unanimous support of the Council and advanced the goal of peace. And we regret very much that this effort was not accepted and is no longer viable. The great impetus for democracy and reform in the region makes it more urgent to settle this. And we’re going to continue to do our utmost, along with all who share the crucial goal of a peace between a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine.

And I’m happy to now take your questions.

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we’ll go to questions now and Ben Rhodes can chime in during the Q&A session.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you’d like to ask a question, please press *1. Please un-mute your phone and record your name clearly when prompted. Your name is required to introduce your question. To withdraw your request, you may press *2. It’ll be one moment for the first question, please.

Our first question comes from Matt Lee with the Associated Press. Sir, your line is open.

QUESTION: Sure, thanks a lot. Ambassador Rice, I wanted to ask you whether – there were some countries that dropped off sponsoring the resolution, among them Honduras, Panama, Trinidad, Kyrgyzstan. What was the U.S.’s diplomacy on working on sponsors? And what’s your position now on this trip to the Middle East that was proposed by Russia? Are you still – are you back to opposing it or do you think that there’s some possibility it could have a positive outcome?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, Matt, we were not in the business of lobbying for or against co-sponsors for this resolution. Our aim was to not be with the outcome that we had today of the Council not being able to speak with one voice. Our aim was to advance this process through a three-part constructive proposal that had the support of many members of the Security Council and we think would have been unanimously embraced. And that included the proposal that the Russians had put forward for a trip to the region, which would be the first such trip in 30 years – over 30 years by the Security Council, not only to Israel and the Palestinian territories but other states in the region; a very strong presidential statement from the Security Council, which would have gone further than we have gone of late on the issue of settlements and other important issues that would have been agreed by the Council; and we had also been willing to use the upcoming Quartet statement as a vehicle for making some new and important statements on core issues, including territory, as well as settlements.

That’s – it is – in our view, very unfortunate that this proposal, which would have gotten the unanimous support of the Council, was not accepted because it would have taken the process forward rather than lead to the outcome that we had today.

But the proposal of the trip to the region seems even more complicated today than it was yesterday. And I think its viability is quite questionable at this point.

QUESTION: But you mean – what has changed in terms of the trip being a good idea?

AMBASSADOR RICE: The Council is not in agreement. This came to a vote, which was unfortunate. The proposal we made would have had three elements that, taken together, would have moved the process forward. The parties didn’t choose to accept that, which indicates that they perhaps didn’t place sufficient value on the utility of a trip and the other elements.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll go to the next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Saie Arikat with Al Quds daily newspaper. Your line is open, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador Rice, you say that you reject the continued building of settlements on the West Bank as being illegitimate. Yet you vote that no on a resolution that calls it illegal. Why is that, considering that the State Department, as far back as 1978, considered settlement activities illegal?

AMBASSADOR RICE: The United States has not characterized settlement activity as illegal since, I believe, 1980. And – but what we do believe firmly and have reiterated forcefully, including today, is that continued settlement activity is not legitimate. It’s corrosive to the peace process. It poses obstacles to achieving the goal that we think is vitally important of a two-state solution. And we were very clear that we have – we are in unity with the rest of the Security Council on the issue of the illegitimacy of settlements. The difficulty from our point of view is that a resolution on that issue at this time, which was unbalanced and one-sided, was most likely to harden positions and leave the two parties more entrenched and less willing to return promptly and constructively to the only vehicle that can achieve the goal of a two-state solution, and that’s direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Ambassador, why does that conflict? Why both of them are mutually exclusive, one another, in the peace process and voting for a settlement – declaring settlement activities as illegal?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Because any time you have a one-sided resolution that is aimed at trying to adjudicate core issues that need to be resolved and can only be resolved between the two parties, you are, at worst, setting back and complicating the efforts to achieve peace. And it is counterproductive to do so. Our aim had been, rather than end up with something that would have set the process back, was to put forward something that would have been a win-win and move the process forward in very concrete ways, increasing the effort and the attention of the Security Council, speaking with one voice on core issues in the manner that we hadn’t before. And unfortunately, that was not possible.

But the reality is that the goal of a two-state solution can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties, and we will continue our efforts to achieve that goal with great intensity.

Ben, is there anything you want to add?

MR. RHODES: Yeah. Yeah, I’d just add to that that with regard to settlements, I think from the very beginning of this Administration, the Presidents made it very clear and the Administrations made it very clear that we don’t accept the legitimacy of settlements. It’s a statement he’s made in Cairo, it’s a statement he’s made twice before the UN General Assembly, and it informs our approach to these issues. It takes place within the broader context of our efforts, and our dogged efforts, on behalf of a two-state solution and a comprehensive and lasting peace between a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine. And right now, what we’re focused on is not simply one particular issue but the broader context that is necessary to move the parties toward peace. And our judgment is that we are going to use our efforts and our influence, again, to service that final goal.

And so that in that context, we put forward this package and we’ll go back again to roll up our sleeves and continue our persistent pursuit of peace going forward, because again, to us the issue is not, again, fixating on one particular issue, but rather looking at what we can do as the United States and as an international community to support a process that leads to two states living side by side in peace and security. So that’s the focus of U.S. policy, and within that context, we continue to see settlements as illegitimate and as corrosive to the process. And what we want to do is be creative and be dogged in working with the international community and working with Israelis and Palestinians to move in pursuit of what is our shared goal and a vision that the parties have mutually agreed to, which is a common pursuit through direct negotiations of two states living side by side in peace and security.

MR. CROWLEY: Next question, operator.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Elise Labott with CNN. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two quick ones. And maybe, Ben, you can chime in as well.

Ambassador, are you worried that this vote, given everything that’s going on in the region right now, and your – and the desire of the Administration to be kind of on the right side of history and the right side of the Arab street, are you worried that the demonstrations that haven’t really had an anti-American sentiment to them might anger the street and turn those demonstrations a little bit more against America?

And then, just on some of these incentives you said you were willing to offer the Palestinians, such as a trip and an affirmation of American positions on borders, if you think that’s the right thing to do, why don’t you just do those things? And why do you need to hold that out as a carrot to the Palestinians? If you think that those two items could advance the process further, why does it have to be – I mean, certainly, Israel is not held to the same standards in terms of the kind of incentives you’re willing to offer them. I mean, Israel seems to get some of those guarantees that you were offering during the whole discussions in September. They’re getting those things anyway, whether they had a settlement freeze or not. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, let me begin with your first question. We fully understand the sensitive and even emotional nature of the conflict for people in the region as well as the issue of settlements. But we are going to remain focused on the goal that is shared throughout the region and is a core objective of the United States, which is achieving an independent sovereign state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

And the actions that we will continue to take and have taken to achieve that goal are significant, and we’re going to remain very much focused on what is necessary to get there. And we think that will ultimately be the most powerful determinant of sentiment toward the goal of an independent Palestinian state and U.S. policy.

With respect to the items you describe in the package, one, as I said earlier, first of all, we view these as a very important proposal and offer that would have taken the process forward. It had the unanimous support of the Security Council. And the fact that they were not accepted is unfortunate and was a choice that was not made by the United States. So the viability of the package and its individual components needs to be reassessed not only by us, but by members of the Council and the parties themselves in light of its lack of traction to date.

MR. RHODES: I’d just add to what Susan said, particularly on the first point. I think that what’s very clear is that the vision that the United States has for the region is very much in line with the aspirations of the people of the region. The United States has continually spoken out for and supported a set of principles with regard to the recent political unrest in the region – that is that we oppose violent, that we support the universal rights of the people of the region, and that we’d like to see a process of political change that leads to greater democracy, a greater respect for universal rights and governments that reflect the aspirations of the people of the region. Similarly, the United States is strongly in support of a peace process that results in an independent and sovereign and viable Palestinian state as well.

So when you speak about the currents of history that are currently at work in the region, I think what the United States can say very clearly is that we share a common vision and we share common aspirations for a region in which you’re moving to democratic governance, in which people’s rights are respected, and which you have a secure Israel living side by side with a sovereign Palestine. And that provides a foundation for us to move forward. That again, the goal that we are seeking is very much in line with the aspirations of the peoples of the region. These are complicated issues. There’s not a straight line for the realization of all of this promise.

But what the United States is going to do consistently throughout this period of time is work toward that shared vision. And so we are very confident that because of our interest and because of our values, we are going to be able to be a partner with the people of the region and the governments of the region in pursuit of the future that we believe will lead to a more peaceful, democratic and secure Middle East.

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we probably have time for one more question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our last question comes from Natasha Mozgovaya with Haaretz. Thank you, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. I want to talk – following this lonely vote at the Security Council, are you concerned that it will have some negative impact on the U.S. planning at the United Nations? And secondly, do you expect Israel – Israeli Government to follow with some offers of some concrete steps after basically U.S. vouched for it?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, with respect to the United Nations, I think all of our colleagues on the Security Council with whom we worked closely over the last days and weeks, and indeed many of our partners with a stake in the peace process in the region beyond the Security Council, understand that the United States made an unprecedented and energetic good-faith effort to put forward an approach that would have advanced the process, taken us closer to the goal of a two-state solution, and would not have been the outcome that we saw today. And I think many of our colleagues have expressed appreciation and admiration for the efforts that we made toward that end and they, in fact, were very active in supporting that proposal.

MR. RHODES: I’d just say on the other point that I think that throughout this process the United States has made it clear that we are going again to be persistent in our pursuit of a two-state solution that we believe is very much in the interest of the United States, but also in the interest of Israelis and Palestinians. What we’ve also said is that no solution can be imposed from the outside. Similarly, those who support peace, again, are not going to be able to want it more than the parties. And that, therefore, going forward, that there is a responsibility on behalf of Israelis and Palestinians to take the steps that are necessary to build confidence, to build trust, and to advance a process of direct negotiations to a two-state solution.

We have made it clear today, again, that we believe that direct negotiations between the parties is the venue to resolve this conflict, not a UN Security Council resolution. But along with that support for direct negotiations comes a responsibility of the parties involved to take steps that builds that trust, that builds confidence and that gets this process moving in the direction that the leaders embraced last September, which was the pursuit of two states living side by side in peace and security. So that’s, again, what we’re going to be – again, returning our efforts to in the days and weeks to come, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about in our conversations with the Israelis and Palestinians and other members of the international community who very much support the same goal that we all share.

MR. CROWLEY: Everybody, thanks very much for joining us and have a good, long weekend.


PRN: 2011/242