Background Briefing Previewing Secretary Kerry's Visit to Paris

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
June 2, 2016

MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Thanks, everybody, for joining us this morning. We don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get rolling here. So to talk to us a little bit about tomorrow’s visit to Paris and primarily the French-hosted Middle East peace meeting that Secretary Kerry will attend, we have with us [name and title withheld], who for the purposes of this call will be known as a senior State Department official. This is a call on background, just to remind you of the ground rules. So without further ado and mindful of the time constraints, I will hand it over to Senior State Department Official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi, everybody. It’s [Senior State Department Official] here. I am in Paris. I have a senior officials meeting at 4 o’clock that I have to attend. We’re looking to talk a little bit about preparations for the ministerial meeting tomorrow. I really want to answer any questions you all might have. I’ll just make a few quick comments at the top.

We are here – the Secretary is coming here tomorrow and we’re obviously here now because we’re open-minded about this French ministerial. We’re open-minded about this initiative that they have put together, but at the same time, we haven’t made any commitments about what, if any, our role would be in this going forward. We want to hear more from the French about exactly what they have in mind. But we’re obviously open to any suggestions that would be constructive in terms of advancing the goal we all share of a negotiated two-state solution, but we haven’t made any decisions about what form that might take and what role, if any, we might play in it.

Obviously, we continue to look to the parties to demonstrate with concrete actions and policies a real commitment to the two-state solution. I’m sure that will be one of the things we’ll be talking about here at the meeting tomorrow.

And with that, I’m happy to take any questions.

MODERATOR: Great. Let’s go to the first question, please.

OPERATOR: And again, if you’d like to ask a question, that’s *1. And our first question comes from Felicia Schwartz. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks for doing this. Can you be a little more specific about what kinds of, I guess, ideas or proposals the Secretary might bring with him? And then also can you shed a little light on what you’re hearing about your participation from both the Palestinians and the Israelis?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. We’re not bringing any specific proposals to this meeting tomorrow. We’ve been engaging – obviously, the Secretary’s been engaged over the course of the last few years very intensively with the parties, with key regional stakeholders, with the French and the British and others, about ways we can try to advance a two-state solution. But we’re not here to propose any kind of specific agenda. We’re really here to listen to the ideas that the French and others may have and talk through with them what might make sense going forward. As I said, we haven’t made any decisions about what, if any, our role would be in that initiative going forward.

Obviously, this is something that the Palestinians – this French initiative is something the Palestinians very strongly support. I think we’ve all seen the Israeli comments on this. They’re not supportive of this effort. And obviously we are in regular contact with both sides, and we’ll certainly be keeping their views in mind as we figure out the way forward.

MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: We have no further questions in the queue at this time.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll wait a few seconds here.

OPERATOR: Here we go, here’s some. And our next question comes from Brad Klapper – please go ahead – from AP.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I wanted to ask about the parameters that the French have been discussing for several months about possibly laying down. Is that something the United States could conceivably join in endorsing as some sort of strategy to push the two parties back into some sort of constructive and confined talks that have kind of a clear outer point on each edge?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We haven’t had any conversations with the French about their putting out parameters as part of this process. If that’s something that they want to propose tomorrow, that will be a new thing for us. The papers they’ve sent around, they – we haven’t seen anything about their desire to use this initiative to put out parameters. So that’s – if they have something to propose along those lines, I’ll be interested to hear it, but that’s not something that we’ve discussed with them up until now.

QUESTION: And then --

MODERATOR: Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: I don’t really understand what this conference actually is doing – exploring new ideas. How many dozens and scores of conferences have done that? I’m interested that you’re open-minded, which I think is diplomatic speak for you expect nothing out of this, but what would be a good result out of tomorrow?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, remember, the point of tomorrow is to bring the key parties together to talk about how we can all advance prospects for peace. I don’t know that anybody has any real firm ideas about what the outcome of that’s going to be. Obviously, the French have proposed the idea of having an international conference in the fall. I think we would have to – we’d have some questions about how that’s going to work, what the objective would be of that kind of conference and how realistic it is that we would – that we would be able to achieve that. Again, something that we’re happy to talk more with them about and hear more from them about what they have in mind in that regard.

So tomorrow is really a planning session for everybody to have a chance to talk through and what this initiative is going to look like going forward, for each individual country to make a decision about what, if any, role they may want to play in that going forward, and then have a conversation about what the endgame is in all of this, whether it’s a conference or something – some other idea that others may have.

So again, we’re really here to listen. We’re here to talk through ideas. We’re here to ask questions and see if there’s a way we can all – something we can all agree on that might help to advance this goal that we all share. But yeah, the French have some very specific ideas about working groups related to various incentives that could be provided for the parties. I think that’s one thing that we think is sort of an interesting idea and we’re prone to exploring that further.

QUESTION: And then I have one more if I may.

MODERATOR: Sure, go ahead, Brad. Finish up.

QUESTION: Do you know when the Quartet report will now be released? And has there been any effort in the last couple of weeks or so to water it down at all?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’ve just been here in Paris working on the Quartet report. I was in Geneva before that working on it. Before that we were in Vienna, we were in Brussels. We’ve been working together as envoys on drafting this thing. It’s obviously a report that we take very seriously and so it takes a lot of time to make sure that we’re getting it right. We don’t have a timetable for the release of it yet. It’s something that we’ll have to talk through with our bosses when they get here tomorrow. But no decisions have been made on that yet.

And I don’t know where the concept would come in that we’ve watered anything down. We’ve been working on a draft of this thing for quite some time now. We obviously have to meet together in order to be able to make real progress on that, and so that’s why we’ve been finding different venues around the world (inaudible) in Europe to where we can all come together and sit down and work together on this. But it’s not as if there was a draft of this previously that is now – that wherein the concept of watering it down even applies. It’s been an ongoing process of trying to think through different ways to address these issues and different formulations that we think can be fair and balanced to both sides, and that can make a constructive contribution to the dialogue about how to advance a two-state solution going forward.

MODERATOR: Great, all right. Any more questions?

OPERATOR: We have one other question from Nicolas Revise, AFP. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. Just following on Brad’s question, I just would like to understand what is the mood of the Secretary going to Paris. Does he go to Paris really because he strongly believes that a diplomatic breakthrough could be achieved before the end of this Administration, or does he go to Paris only to please the French? And what do you respond to Palestinian officials who accused basically the U.S. of dragging its feet for this conference and for this French initiative? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, as I said before, we come here with an open mind. We’re interested in hearing thoughts and proposals of the French and other stakeholders who are here, and we hope that we’ll be able to come to some kind of a common understanding about the way forward. We’re not – we haven’t been dragging our feet on this. I don’t know where that came – I had not heard that from the Palestinians. Obviously, the Secretary told President Abbas a few weeks ago that we were happy to come to this ministerial and we hope it is productive and constructive as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But as I said, we haven’t made any kind of commitments or made any decisions about what, if any, our role will be going forward. That’s one of the things we look forward to discussing at the meeting tomorrow.

OPERATOR: And we have one other question from Nike Chang.

MODERATOR: We’ll make this our last question, thanks.

OPERATOR: Voice of America. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. I apologize if I missed some of the beginning that has been said. I would like to get more details about the French proposed initiative. And then is there a timetable for the full international conference? And if nothing, you just mentioned the planning session for tomorrow. Is that for sure we’re going to see an international conference in the fall? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as I said before, there is no timetable for any kind of a conference. That’s one of the things that we’ll be discussing tomorrow. Again, I think that there’s ideas that the French have that they have floated. I think they have some views about how this whole initiative will unfold going forward, and that’s something that we look forward to discussing with them and with the others who are gathered at the meeting tomorrow.

MODERATOR: Okay, great. Thanks so much, Senior State Department Official, for joining us from Paris, taking time out of your day. And that’s all our questions, and we’ll end this call here and let you guys all get back to work. All right. Thanks so much for joining.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Thank you very much. Take care, everybody.