Senior State Department Official On Secretary Kerry's Trip To Amman, Jordan

Special Briefing
Senior Department Official
Washington, DC
July 15, 2013

MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. I feel like I just saw most of you. But this call is to, of course, provide an overview of the Secretary’s trip he’ll be taking to Jordan over the next two days. I have with me here [Senior State Department Official] who, moving forward, will be Senior State Department Official One. We don’t have any updates to what we shared at the briefing about additional meetings, but we can go through some more specifics about the meetings on Wednesday, so we will do that.

With that, I will turn it over to [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi, everybody. Let me just start by saying the – giving the facts. The Secretary will travel to Amman, Jordan, departing Washington this afternoon, July 15th. In Jordan he will be meeting with Jordanian officials and with Arab League officials. He will be meeting with them to give an update on the Middle East peace process, as he said he would when he met with the same Arab League committee in Washington on April 29th.

Because the Syrian Opposition Coalition elections just took place and there’s new Syrian opposition leadership, there is likely to be a discussion on Syria as well, to take advantage of the fact that that these – a variety of Arab foreign ministers will be with him in Amman.

MODERATOR: Great. So that’s just an overview of the meeting on Wednesday. Why don’t we turn it over, while we have everyone on, to questions.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you’d like to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue. You may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, please press * followed by 1 at this time.

Our first question comes from Anne Gearan with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, and thanks for doing the call. Could you just give a little bit more of a look at what Secretary Kerry’s goal is for the Mideast peace part of this meeting with Arab League officials? And to what extent do you think their conversation is going to be dominated by events in Egypt? Does he have anything new to tell these officials?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On Middle East peace, he’s going to be providing them an update, as he undertook to do when he met with them in April.

In terms of Egypt, as they have questions about Egypt, he will give them an update – or a readout, really – of Deputy Secretary Burns’s conversations that are underway right now in Cairo.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up on that, I mean, in both cases you used the word “update.” I mean, that’s possible to do in many other venues than a whole bunch of people meeting in Jordan. What’s different about this? Why – what – I mean, clearly there’s a whole lot going on in addition to the Mideast peace deal that they talked about back in April. I mean, it – can you talk a little bit about what his goal is here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: One of the things that we find, and he finds in his individual engagements with various of the Arab – his Arab colleagues is that they would like to have this update as part of the Arab League Arab Peace Initiative Committee. He undertook to meet with them on a fairly regular basis, and he wants to make good on that undertaking, and this seemed to be a good opportunity for him to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: We’ll take the next question.

OPERATOR: We have a question from Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing the call. Can you specify for us what Jordanian officials he will meet – I would guess he would normally include the King and the Foreign Minister – and also what Arab League officials you expect him to meet on Wednesday, whether you think it will include all of the members of the so-called Arab League Peace Initiative Follow-on Committee?

And lastly, can you address the speculation that he wouldn’t be making this trip if he didn’t think he could get – he could make some kind of an announcement. We’re now – he himself had said that – not on his last trip, but on the trip before – that in June that we were close to the point at which decisions, hard decisions, had to be made. This is his second trip since that comment. Is it fair to regard this trip as the point at which you either make a decision to proceed with some kind of peace talks or this peace effort, or where the Administration decides that the timing is just not right and it will not put as much emphasis on this as it has in the first six months of his time at the State Department?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me answer the questions in sequence. The Jordanian officials with whom he’s planning to meet, organized so far, are with King Abdullah of Jordan and with Foreign Minister Judeh. So those will be his meetings with Jordanian officials.

The Arab League committee, the Arab Peace Initiative Committee, is – that meeting is being organized by Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby. Our expectation is that the participation would be roughly the same as participated in April in Washington. But I don’t have details yet on who’s accepted and who exactly is coming, et cetera. That’s still being organized by Secretary General Nabil Elaraby.

MODERATOR: And on your second question, Arshad, we would not – it would not be accurate to assume that this trip is going to define whether the United States or whether Secretary Kerry will continue to press for both sides to move back to the table. We’re still finalizing the entirety of the schedule, but part of updating representatives from the Arab League is part of that process. But again, to the degree he has other meetings, it’s to continue to move the process forward. As you know, we’ve had officials on the ground since the last time he was there having technical discussions and conversations. That wouldn’t be the case if he didn’t still see there was a path forward. So we’re not going to make an evaluation now about where things will stand at the end of the week.

OPERATOR: We have a question from Jo Biddle with AFP. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, guys. Good afternoon. Can I just follow on from what you just said there, [Moderator], and perhaps try and press a little bit more on the path forward? Could you tell us exactly what the officials who’ve been left behind have been doing for the last 10 days, and could you give us your assessment of what progress they have made in their talks? Can you confirm that they’ve actually been talking with both sides, with the Israelis and the Palestinians, and what they’ve managed to achieve so far? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Sure. Well, it’s Frank Lowenstein and Jonathan Schwartz from our Legal Office have been on the ground for the past couple of weeks. They have been meeting with representatives from both sides. I don’t want to outline for them how they evaluate their progress, but of course they’ve been in close touch with the Secretary, they’ve been in close touch with other officials in the Administration, and they wouldn’t be there continuing those conversations if the Secretary and others didn’t feel there was a path forward. So that’s why they’ve been on the ground. And they’ll be briefing the Secretary, I’m sure, as part of this visit as well.

OPERATOR: We have a question from Matthew Lee with Associated Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yeah, we can hear you, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Sorry, I didn’t think, actually, I had gotten my question in on time. But anyway, thank you.

MODERATOR: Actually --

QUESTION: This is – your – this background briefing is stunningly devoid of anything that one might consider sensitive enough to be put on background. I’m wondering, one, if we could just put it on the record since, [Senior State Department Official], what you said is essentially what Jen said from the podium.

And I’m – other than that, I’m wondering why is it still – I mean, we’re leaving in two and a half hours or so. Why do we still not know – why can’t you confirm a meeting with President Abbas in Amman?

MODERATOR: Well, Matt, we’re still waiting to get final confirmation of any other meetings. And as soon as we have more details, we will provide them to all of you. So I can promise you that. Beyond that, we’re happy to take your request under consideration and get back to everyone. As you know, we typically provide these briefings on background, so we just don’t want to change the process. It’s not a long trip, so there’s not a lot to preview for you, so that may be part of it. But as soon as we have more details on the trip, we’ll provide them to you. We just don’t have more at this point.

OPERATOR: We have a question from Jay Solomon with Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for the call. Yes, I had a question on Egypt. Is the Secretary – or do you get a sense about the Secretary and Mr. Burns have been pressing for some sort of unity with the Arabs on the path forward in Egypt? What’s been sort of stunning in the last week is that the U.S. is considering withholding aid or it’s part of the dialogue, while many of the Arab countries have been pumping billions of dollars into the new government in a sign of real support. So it seems like any U.S. efforts to pressure the military to transition quickly is being undercut by a lot of the countries that are actually our allies, and I’m trying to get a sense if what part of both Burns and Secretary Kerry are going to be doing is to try to build some unity or message on the transition in Egypt.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: In our discussions with the leadership in Egypt, the interim leadership in Egypt, and with Egyptians with whom we’re in touch, we’ve been very clear that we stand for a set of principles that we – that we articulate a set of principles, but we aren’t going to tell the Egyptian people or the Egyptian leadership what to do. Those kinds of conversations and that sort of set of – that framework for our policy is what we’ve discussed with a variety of our friends and allies. We haven’t tried to tell anybody what to do about Egypt, but we have said that it is in the U.S. – that one of the main principles for the United States is that there be a rapid transition to civilian government, that it be – that it be transparent, that it be focused on civilian rule, that it be focused on rule of law, the kinds of things that we normally articulate as a set of U.S. policies and principles. So I can’t say that we’ve been advocating that we all have a unified approach to Egypt, but we have been very clear as to what our approach is.

OPERATOR: If there are any further questions, please press *1. We have a question from Michael Gordon with New York Times. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, just one point of order. If when we ask the questions you can also give us a chance to follow up, that would be good. But also, [Moderator] and [Senior State Department Official], what would be – the possibility of additional meetings was mentioned. What will – what are the factors that will determine if these additional meetings occur or not?

MODERATOR: Part of that, Michael, is just lining up the schedules. And we hope to have an update soon. But beyond that, it would be – if we add anything on Tuesday and then Wednesday [Senior State Department Official] outlined what we’re doing, and we’re coming back Thursday morning. I can’t anticipate what would change that, but that’s the plan as of now.

QUESTION: We’re coming back Thursday morning is the plan?


QUESTION: So, I mean, is it a matter of you’re waiting for certain things to happen before deciding if additional meetings are worth having, or is it simply a scheduling issue?

MODERATOR: Oh, right now we’re just trying to determine what, if anything else, will go on the schedule on Tuesday. So we’re finalizing that. I’m waiting for an update. But there’s no plans beyond that to extend beyond Thursday. If that changes, you’ll obviously be with us and you’ll know.

OPERATOR: If there are any further questions, please press *1. We have a question from Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’d like to echo Michael’s request that you not cut us off before we have a chance to ask a follow up. That happened to me, Jo, and Matt all in succession. My follow up is in response to my earlier question, is it then fair to say that one should not regard this trip as a decisive trip in any way with regard to the possibility of resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?

MODERATOR: Well, Arshad, we’ve never defined it that way. This is a trip that is focused on the meeting that [Senior State Department Official] outlined, or Senior Administration Official One outlined, providing an update to representatives from the Arab League. As there are other meetings, we’ll provide that information to all of you.

But the Secretary has said, of course, time is not unlimited here. It is time to make tough choices. But if there wasn’t an opportunity to still be moving the ball forward he wouldn’t be continuing to have all of the discussions with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, as he has had. He wouldn’t have two senior officials on the ground. So beyond that, I think we’ve outlined what the purpose of the trip is. And if there’s more meetings to add or discuss, we’ll make sure that all of you have that as soon as we have it confirmed. And I --

QUESTION: And one other --

MODERATOR: I didn’t mean to cut you off. We haven’t – that’s fine. We don’t need to do that either.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for you that. And then one other question on Egypt: Senior Administration Official Number One did not use two of the words that have been a sort of mainstay of your discourse on Egypt over the last 10 or 11 days, that is inclusive and democratically elected in terms of the transition or the restoration of civilian government. Should I read anything into that? Was that a deliberate omission, that you’re no longer hoping for inclusive and democratically elected, or you still are?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I’m sorry. I – that was an inadvertent omission. I’m just not as good at this as [Moderator] is. So yes, we want very much a democratic, inclusive, tolerant Egypt, an Egypt that respects the rights of all of its citizens, an Egypt that is successful and prosperous, an Egypt that is a pillar of moderation and regional peace, all of the things that we would like to think that Egypt stands for.

QUESTION: And do you think – our stories out of Cairo say that Secretary – Deputy Secretary Burns was, in effect, spurned by both sides. Do you think that the United States, because it is perceived in Egypt as having taken sides in this and as not sticking up for the previous democratically elected government, has eroded its influence on Egypt, notwithstanding the aid that it could cut off if it so deemed necessary? Do you think you’re losing any influence, or what – significant influence here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I don’t think we’re losing significant influence at all. He’s still there. I don’t know which meetings he still has in front of him; I just haven’t kept track of the schedule minute by minute. But he’s seen a huge range of people in Cairo, in the interim government, in civil society, the NGO world, et cetera. So it’s hard to say that he’s been spurned by both sides. I don’t – I just don’t accept that that’s the case.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

OPERATOR: We have a question from Anne Gearan with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Yeah, I just wanted to clarify one thing on Egypt. Is it correct that Secretary Kerry will not meet with any Egyptian officials as a part of this – these sessions Wednesday and possibly Tuesday? And secondly, since we haven’t seen a schedule yet, we’re, I think, all kind of feeling our way in the dark about what Tuesday is. Is there a significant expectation that he has meetings and that we have stuff that we will be doing on Tuesday or not?

MODERATOR: We’re still determining Tuesday. I hope to have an update for you before we take off. So – and on the other piece on --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On meeting Egyptian officials, Egypt, of course, is a member of the Arab Peace Initiative committee of the Arab League. There is an expectation that they will participate. But because we don’t know – because the government is still in formation, we don’t know at what level Egypt will be represented in that meeting.

QUESTION: Okay, but they would presumably send somebody, we just don’t know who it is?



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- but I don’t know who it is, and of course, as with many things, this could change dramatically and with no notice. But the expectation is that Egypt will be represented, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

OPERATOR: We have a question from Jay Solomon with The Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. I just wanted to follow up on the dynamics of the Arab League in that a kind of a driving force over the past couple years has been the Qatari Prime Minister, Foreign Minister who’s, I assume now, not taking part in these meetings anymore because of this transition in Qatar. Are you expecting the dynamic to shift much without that diplomat present and sort of taking such an enthusiastic role?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I really don’t expect it to change. Qatar is the chair of the subcommittee and agreed that the meeting could take place under Qatari chairmanship in Amman just for the – to accommodate the Secretary’s travel schedule. So I expect Qatar to be just as active now as it has been in the past, actually.

OPERATOR: There are no further questions. Please continue.

MODERATOR: Let’s just give it a moment. We can take one or two more here if anybody was cut off by accident or has any follow-up questions.

OPERATOR: If there are any further questions, please press * then 1.

We have a question from Nicole Gaouette with Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m sorry, I came late to the call, so I might have missed this in the beginning. I am wondering if you can confirm that Deputy Secretary Burns did not meet with the Muslim Brotherhood, and if that is true, why he didn’t meet with the Muslim Brotherhood on this trip.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, he has not met with the Muslim Brotherhood on this trip. He is meeting with the people who are trying to form the government and they are not in that group.

MODERATOR: And he’s still on the ground, so we don’t have an update on any additional meetings or contacts he’s had in the last couple of hours.

QUESTION: So, I’m sorry, Administration Official Number One, you’re saying that he’s only meeting with groups that you expect to form the new government, and that’s why he’s not meeting with any Brotherhood officials?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He is meeting with a great variety of officials. He’s meeting with a great variety of people who may or may not be in the government. He’s meeting with civil society groups, but he’s not meeting with any Muslim Brotherhood.

QUESTION: And why not? I didn’t quite get the why-not part.

MODERATOR: He hasn’t had – just to clarify here, Nicole, and we’ll just have to get you any update there is – he hasn’t – he’s still on the ground. He has not met with any members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Beyond that, we just don’t have any other update. He had a range of meetings that were productive. He talked about it, he had a press conference.

QUESTION: And can you say that he plans to, or do you know if he plans to? Or do you not know what his schedule –

MODERATOR: We just don’t have a further update beyond the meetings that he’s had so far, and as we have one we’ll provide that to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Thank you for doing this.

MODERATOR: Sure. Do we have one more out there?

OPRATOR: Yes, we do. We have a question from David Rohde with The Atlantic. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for the call. Sort of following up on the earlier question, can you say – are Muslim Brotherhood officials refusing to meet with him?

And then a second question: In his meetings with the interim government officials, is he requesting that President Morsy or deposed President Morsy be released or not?

MODERATOR: I’m sorry, can you repeat the second half of your question?

QUESTION: For – the second one is: Is Burns asking that Morsy be released in the meetings he’s having with other – with government officials?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What Deputy Secretary Burns is doing is he’s talking in terms of reminding the officials with whom he’s meeting of the kinds of things that they’ve said of wanting to have an inclusive, representative government. And he is suggesting that they pursue their own goals in that way. But he’s also saying this is for Egyptians to decide, and Americans aren’t going to come in and be prescriptive about what it is that we think they should do.

QUESTION: And are Brotherhood officials refusing to meet with him?

MODERATOR: We just don’t have anything more on his schedule on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Well, thanks --

OPERATOR: There are no further questions.

MODERATOR: -- everyone for joining. As always, we’ll have a transcript around to you as soon as it’s ready.

PRN: 2013/0892