Press Availability in Tel Aviv

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Tel Aviv, Israel
June 30, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: I apologize for keeping everybody waiting, but I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip, and I believe that with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach. We started out with very wide gaps and we have narrowed those considerably. We have some specific details and work to pursue, but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track and that all of the parties are working in very good faith in order to get to the right place. The most important thing is that I believe the parties – it’s not my perception, but I think what the parties themselves believe is possible here, in the end, the choices here are really up to them.

And as I have talked the last few days intensively with leaders in Jordan, in the West Bank, in Palestine, as well as in Israel with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas particularly, I’ve really been impressed with their serious commitment to this task. They have spent hours working through language, working through ideas, and the effort that they and their teams have put into this convinces me of their interest in being successful.

They understand that in the pursuit of this new partnership, one ally none of us have is time. Time threatens the situations on the ground, it allows them to worsen, it provides time for misinterpretations, mistrust to harden. It allows time for vacuums to be filled by bad actors. It also allows time for people who want to undermine efforts to make peace to undertake their activities. Finally, of course, it lets patience wear thin and cynicism to solidify, and for unforeseen events to even enter into a closing window.

So our immediate goal is, of course, to resume permanent status negotiations. It is not to negotiate for the sake of negotiating. What we want, and most important, what the people who live here want, all of the people who live here, is an enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that is a solution that will lead to two states for two peoples which the majority of Israelis and Palestinians clearly want. It is a solution that will strengthen Israel’s security and it will strengthen its future as a Jewish state, and that will give the Palestinian people the chance to fulfill their legitimate aspirations in a country of their own.

In our talks, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas both engaged constructively, carefully, seriously. We considered different approaches, and I am very hopeful that we are close to an approach that will work. But it will take a little bit more time to work through some of the details and modalities. Both leaders have asked me to continue my efforts to help bring them together, and I am leaving several staff people here to work on these details in the next week or so. And I believe their request to me to return to the area soon is a sign that they share my cautious optimism, and that is why they’ve asked me to come back here as we complete the work on these details.

Now, obviously, we’re all working very, very hard, and I know that it is a worthwhile endeavor; that I am convinced of. I also know progress when I see it, and we are making progress. That’s what’s important and that’s what will bring me back here.

Thank you. I’d be happy to answer any questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’re going to take a few questions now. The first is from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

QUESTION: Sir, for three days you’ve been meeting day and night, traveling back and forth between Jordan and Israel. If it’s been this difficult to get the parties to agree even to sit down together and negotiate, why is there reason to think that negotiations would actually succeed?

And a related question: The Israelis say Prime Minister Netanyahu offered a package by the end of your marathon session and Mr. Erekat says there was no breakthrough. You’ve talked of progress. What is this progress that you say you’ve made here? What are the main elements of the package that you’re trying to put together?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to go into any of the elements of the package, Michael, because we have all agreed that the best way to serve this effort is not to be floating ideas or possibilities out there for everybody to tear apart and evaluate and analyze. The leaders will make those decisions. And that’s why this is difficult. Tony Blair is fond of saying that the hardest part is the launch, and the reason is both sides want to understand what the parameters are, what sort of the understanding is about how and what will – how will you negotiate and what will be negotiated about. Once you get to that, then you can begin to really dig in and get to the hard work.

So as I said, the gaps were very broad when we began. They are now, I think, very narrow. And we have, as I said, some work to do. I’m leaving staff here. I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t believe we had something serious to work on. And I’m going to come back because both leaders have asked me to, and I think I wouldn’t be asked to and I wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t some hope and possibility in that.

So I think this is worth it, folks. This has been years and years and years. If it takes another week or two weeks or some more time, that’s minimal, miniscule compared to the stakes and compared to what we’re trying to do. And the fact that both parties have insisted that they want to continue and work on where we are and insist that it’s important for me to come back at the appropriate time, I will do so. That’s what President Obama committed to and that’s the work that he’s asked me to do.

MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question is from Atilla Somfalvi with Ynet.

QUESTION: Yes. Secretary, is there a timeframe? I mean, September is coming up and we are waiting for the presidents to go back to the UN, till September to the end of August. What is the deadline?

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re not going to get stuck with artificial deadlines. That’s a big mistake. As I just said to you, I’m leaving people here who will continue to work on some of this, and they have asked me to return in the near term. So my hope is that the details and the work that I talked about can be completed. If it can’t, I won’t come back at that time, but I believe it will be.

I’m feeling very hopeful, as I said earlier, that we have a concept that is being now fleshed out and that people have a sense of how this might be able to go forward. And that is why I said that I believe the start of negotiations could be within reach. Obviously, the work has to be completed. People have to make a few choices still. But the gap has been narrowed very significantly.

I’m pleased and proud of the work that everybody has done. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team were up until – I think we were there till 4:00 in the morning this morning, working for hours, and we did that the day before, and again with President Abbas. Frankly, we need to take a little more time to work with both sides on a couple of issues that I think are worth working on.

So I’m not going to get into them. It’s a mistake. We are committed through this process. When and if we get to those negotiations, which I hope we will get to, we are committed not to talk about what we’re doing, because that’s the way we’re going to be able to really work seriously. I know it’s going to be frustrating for you and for other people, and there will be speculation and conjecture and rumors and inaccuracies out there. That is not going to disturb us. We are committed to work on what we know we’re working on, and that’s the way we’re going to maintain the integrity of this effort.

MODERATOR: Great. The next question is from Leslie Wroughton of Reuters.

QUESTION: Leslie Wroughton from Reuters. Mr. Secretary, what was – I understand you’ve been busy with the Middle East process, but there are other pressing global issues going on. One is Egypt. The White House said this morning it has been in touch with all parts of the Egyptian Government, including President Morsy’s office. Have you participated in those talks? And what is it that the Egyptians --

SECRETARY KERRY: Who had? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

QUESTION: The White House had said.


QUESTION: And have you participated in those talks? Also, in the new security environment, what is the U.S. doing to protect U.S. interests? And is that response informed by what happened in Benghazi? Is that response informed by what happened in Benghazi?




QUESTION: Correct. And then on Syria, you are going to meet Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Brunei. What are you going to tell him? And would you expect to get attention – Mr. Lavrov’s attention following recent rebel gains on the battlefield? Are the rebels doing this with more weapons, better weapons?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to Egypt, I have – believe it or not, even in the middle of this, I’m keeping in very close tabs with what’s happening in Egypt as well as Syria. And I have talked to Mr. ElBaradei, I’ve talked to Amr Moussa, I have talked with leaders of Gulf countries particularly – talked with King Abdullah, talked with – every meeting I’ve had, we have also focused on Egypt, because Egypt is a great concern to all of us. So – and I have talked with the White House regularly with respect to what we’re doing as well as the State Department in order to make sure that we’re taking the right precautions, and that leads me into the question.

The Embassy – we are very confident about the status, we believe, of the Embassy. There are a great many Embassy folks who are on voluntary – who have been offered a voluntary drawdown. It’s up to them whether or not they want to draw down. In addition to that, we have a huge number of people who are actually on leave and away because of vacation and home leave time. So we believe our Embassy is appropriately staffed, and we believe it is appropriately protected. And we’ve been in touch, obviously, with Ambassador Patterson and staying in close touch with people on the ground.

We are also talking about – sort of not just today, but the day after today, what happens in the future as we go forward. We – I want to extend my condolences to the family of Andrew Pochter, who was killed in Alexandria on the 28th. We have issued, always, advisories with respect to travel. On the 28th, we issued a alert which is a more compelling, urgent statement about the potential of violence. We’ve urged everybody for weeks now to have knowledge about demonstrations and not to take part in them, or to try to stay away from them.

And so I think that we’re monitoring very, very closely events in Egypt. I know that there are about 10,000 folks or so in Tahrir Square at this moment and growing. The heat is about 40 degrees Centigrade, so it’s keeping people somewhat away, but I think as the afternoon goes on, the crowds will grow and the evening is obviously what we’re watching very, very closely. So we’re very much alert to and concerned about and in touch on the subject of Egypt.

QUESTION: And Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: Syria, well, I’m going to – I look forward to my conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I’m actually anxious to get there and to engage with him because the situation in Syria is grave. We continue to hope that – and there have been talks in the last days with Lakhdar Brahimi and Under Secretary Sherman, and we are very much hopeful that the concept of the peaceful resolution, no matter what’s happening in Homs, no matter what’s happening, is the only way to try to save Syria.

And there is no, as I have said many times, military solution to the problem of Syria. Now, the Assad regime wants to move to the contrary. Clearly, part of my conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov and with the Russians will be how we can maximize our efforts together to have an impact on this. Now, I’m not going to go into greater detail with respect to that conversation, but I very much look forward to meeting with Sergey Lavrov when I get there.

MODERATOR: And our final question is from Abdul Raouk-Arnout of Al-Ayam newspaper.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, for the last three days, you’ve been shuttling between Amman, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. Now, we know nothing about these meetings. How these meetings were going? What difficult – it’s about, I think, 20 hours of meetings with President Arafat – President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. So can you describe these meetings, how well it going?

And you’ve said that you don’t want to get into the details. Fine, but the issue of settlements, is it the main obstacle that you’ve been facing at these meetings?

SECRETARY KERRY: The answer is no, there are any number of obstacles, but we’re working through them. And we made progress, as I said, in every sector. We still have, as I said, a little bit of work to do, and I look forward to doing it. But we have widened – again, we have taken a very, very wide gap and we’ve narrowed it. And these are very complicated talks because the stakes are very, very high for everybody. This is about a country, two countries and two peoples and peace and the possibilities of avoiding war and how you guarantee things where years and years of conflict have hardened feelings and hardened emotions and hardened realities.

So it’s hard to work through that. I’m impressed by the attitude, I’m impressed by the seriousness, I’m impressed by the commitment. The fact that we sat there for all those hours; worked through difficult issues; worked through hard, long-term, entrenched beliefs; and found facts and found a way to organize some thoughts is very, very important here. And so I’m very positive. I mean, if I didn’t have to go to have these meetings and to take part as I need to, I’d stay here and we’d continue to work. I’m leaving people here to work.

So I hope people feel the strength of possibilities here. I’m a believer in possibilities. I see them now. And I see them more clearly. We have to have the courage to stay at this and to make some tough decisions. Now, they’re not my decisions. They belong to some other people. My job is to try to help clarify and encourage and perhaps even occasionally put ideas on the table that can help move us in the right direction. I believe we are doing that, and I thank Prime Minister Netanyahu and I thank President Abbas. They have both made serious efforts to move.

That doesn’t mean because you have a few more things to work through over the period of whatever amount of time that people should feel, “Oh my gosh, we’re not getting there.” This process has been pretty dead in the water for four or five years. So we’re trying to come back from that, and I’m encouraged by the seriousness of purpose indicated by both teams. They are working hard. We all are. And we’re determined to get there, all of us.

Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.

PRN: 2013/T09-16