Special Briefing
Jeffrey D. Feltman
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
New York City
September 24, 2010

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: It’s good to see everybody. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I know that last year I said something about how last year was my first time up here for the UN General Assembly, which I said felt like diplomatic speed-dating. This year, one of my colleagues noted that every profession needs a trade fair, and this is a diplomatic trade fair equivalent.

Let me just do a couple things and try to put some things in context here. When the Secretary has been working on the Middle East issues up here, she’s been concentrating in large part – not exclusively but in large part – on comprehensive peace, the President’s commitment to get to comprehensive peace.

Obviously, there have been discussions with the Israeli (inaudible) Barak (inaudible) minister and (inaudible) President Abbas tonight about the negotiations – negotiating track. But there’s also been discussion on the need for the institution-building, capacity-building, bottom-up approach of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. For example, she had breakfast with various Arab ministers and Salam Fayyad on Monday, where we talked about progress made towards the state-building exercise from the ground up, where Prime Minister Fayyad was able to highlight for Secretary Clinton and for the assembled Arab ministers some of the accomplishments that they have done on that essential part of getting to a Palestinian state.

She also, of course, met with the Libyan Foreign Minister Mousa Kousa, and among other topics there she talked about the upcoming Arab summit. There’s an extraordinary Arab summit on October 9th, and we believe it’s important for the Arab League, the Arab leaders, to continue to support the negotiating process, as they have so far and within the Arab Peace Initiative.

Of course, part of our efforts on peace is aimed at a comprehensive peace, not simply the two-state solution, so she met today with the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. She reaffirmed U.S. support for Lebanon and its state institutions, Lebanon’s unity, Lebanon’s stability, as well as to the special tribunal for Lebanon. But she also assured President Suleiman that we are committed to coming up with a peace that will include peace between Lebanon and Syria that’s to the benefit of both peoples.

On Monday --

QUESTION: And Syria?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Lebanon and Israel. I’m sorry. Lebanon and Israel. I was already ahead, thinking ahead to the fact that on Monday she’ll be meeting with the Syrian foreign minister, again with the purpose of reaffirming our commitment to finding a comprehensive peace in the Middle East that will include peace between Syria and Israel.

There have been, of course, a number of consultations at other levels as well, both bilateral and multilateral. We’ve had various small groupings such as the Friends of Yemen that took place today to reaffirm international support for Yemen. There was a Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which is a donor coordination committee, meeting to help coordinate aid to the Palestinian Authority. There’s been a number of meetings that we’ve had at a number of levels, not only with the Secretary of State, on a pretty heavy Middle East/North Africa agenda.

So with that, let’s take some questions.

QUESTION: What’s the status of the – getting the Israelis to extend the moratorium or at least getting the Palestinians not to walk out on Sunday?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: There’s a pretty intensive negotiation going on right now with the Israelis and Palestinians. And as you know, Secretary Clinton will be meeting with President Abbas later tonight. And I really – I’m sorry, I’m just not able to get into details of how these discussions are. We know that time is short, this is an important issue, but I’m just not able to share much right now.

QUESTION: Well, is it fair to say that that’s going to be the main topic of conversation, her main topic of conversation with President Abbas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: I mean, you heard the President’s statement at the United Nations that we believe that the settlement moratorium should be extended, and we also believe that the parties need to stay in the negotiations and see the negotiations through to their conclusions. So yes, these will be among the topics discussed tonight with President Abbas, I’m sure.

QUESTION: In the meeting with Suleiman, did you discuss the idea that the Saudis – this new alliance between Saudi Arabia and Syria and the idea that the Saudis are putting pressure on the Lebanese to kind of absolve Syria of any involvement in the Hariri murder, and also just the fact that the Saudis are allowing the Syrians to get a hold once again in Lebanon?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Well, (inaudible) Lebanon I mentioned (inaudible) when I talked about (inaudible), but let me just make it clear that the United States supports the special tribunal for Lebanon along with a number of countries that (inaudible) Lebanon created at the request of the Lebanese Government. The special tribunal for Lebanon should not be politicized. We do not know what the special tribunal for Lebanon is investigating. We do not know when it will come up with any sorts of announcements. That’s (inaudible) the special tribunal for Lebanon is. It’s a professional tribunal that has the support of two recent cabinets in Lebanon, the current cabinet and previous cabinet, as well as the international body. We’re not part of the court.

QUESTION: I understand about the tribunal, but what about the idea that the Saudis are giving Syria more of a hand, once again, in Lebanon in an effort to kind of bring Syria along to pull it (inaudible), that basically Lebanon is the price?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Yeah, you can talk to the – you can ask the Saudis for their views on Lebanon, but certainly in our conversations with Saudi Arabia and others in the region, we emphasized the point that the Lebanese need to be in charge of Lebanon, that Lebanon’s sovereignty, Lebanon’s independence need to be respected. And we believe that Saudi Arabia understands the need to be creating the right regional context in which the Lebanese themselves can make decisions for Lebanon.

QUESTION: Do you really think they’re doing that, though?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: We’re in consultation with the Saudis as well as others about developments in Lebanon, and there has been a rise in tensions over the past few weeks in Lebanon, without question. And we think it’s in the – that it's in the interest of all of the many friends of Lebanon in the region and internationally to do what they can do to help reduce the tensions, to help create an atmosphere for the Lebanese to be able to make (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Well, right now, you’re right; the Lebanese, I think, is (inaudible) about 50 percent of (inaudible). But if you go back and look at the original documents that were written, there was a number of means that the international community can use to raise funds (inaudible). We’re convinced that for any society it’s important not to have impunity for murder, that the tribunal is not a political body; the tribunal is about justice and truth. And I think that’s why the Lebanese supported it when they asked the international community to help create it. The need for justice and truth. And we believe that there’s still support for that.

QUESTION: On Syria, and it seems like there’s a lot of activities going down – Mitchell was there. I think Ahmadinejad was supposed to go to Algeria (inaudible) and at the last minute went to Damascus instead. And there was talk in the Israeli press that Mitchell was carrying a message to (inaudible). Can you give us any more sense that there’s more going on here than just a simple meeting on Monday?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Well, I mean it – you mentioned Ahmadinejad. It is interesting that every time you have a U.S. official who goes to Damascus, we seem to have an Iranian official who feels obliged to go afterwards, which I think is interesting. But we want to get to a comprehensive peace. A comprehensive peace has to include the Syria-Israel track. It’s absolutely essential that Syria be part of this process. And so we are talking to the Israelis and the Syrians about how best to get a credible peace process going between those two countries. So it’s natural that Senator Mitchell went there. It’s consistent with our policy. And Secretary Clinton will be seeing Foreign Minister Muallem on Monday in that spirit. Because we have a lot of differences with Syria. Those differences aren’t going to disappear overnight. But we also recognize that it is certainly in our interest to do what we can to engage the Syrians and Israelis in a peace process that can lead to a comprehensive peace.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the U.S. will resume providing Lebanon with military arms (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: We’re in consultation with Congress. We ourselves have reviewed what we have done over the past five years in terms of our assistance to Lebanon. But the Secretary of State assured the president that we remain committed to supporting Lebanon’s state institutions.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) This is coming after Senator Mitchell went to the region (inaudible). Are you seeing progress in terms of – is the Syrian track still (inaudible) on the move forward? And (inaudible) the Secretary’s meeting with Ehud Barak. I mean, what is the Israeli position on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: The fact that the Secretary is seeing Foreign Minister Muallem on Monday, I think speaks for itself in terms of our commitment and our hope that now is the right time to move forward in trying to restart the Syria-Israel track.

QUESTION: And just to follow up from that, do you think that the timing is opportune? Is this something that also is being discussed at the top (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Our view is that these tracks can reinforce each other. If we can get momentum going on all the tracks, it becomes mutually reinforcing. And the Palestinians have told us that they would be very supportive of having a Syria track as well. This idea that you had back in the ‘90s of one track competing with the other no longer seems to prevail. Everyone recognizes the fact that going forward together is actually – has positive benefits on – for the various tracks.

QUESTION: And I just wanted to ask you about – that the U.S. would like to see Arab countries (inaudible) Israel, trying to explain what normalization (inaudible). Are you expecting something out of the Arab League (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Well, we hope – I mean, we would hope that the Arab summit on October 9th would show that the Arabs remain committed to the Arab Peace Initiative and show that the Arabs continue to support President Abbas and the PLO in the negotiating track. It was essential, in our view, that Arab support of President Abbas was essential to starting the direct talks that we have now. We would hope that that would continue. We also hope that the Arabs would continue and expand what’s essential support for the Palestinian Authority, because the institution-building pillar of Middle East Peace is absolutely essential. You need to have institutions that are credible, that function, that the Palestinian state will have upon its creation. So part of what we hope the Arabs will do is continue and expand their financial support for the Palestinian Authority. It’s one of the reasons why Secretary Clinton wanted to go to this meeting between Prime Minister Fayyad and the Arab ministers.

But the President’s words in the General Assembly, I think, were pretty clear that we also would hope that the Arabs, in the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative – it’s their own initiative – would find ways to signal what are the benefits to Israel of the type of comprehensive peace envisioned in that document.

QUESTION: Regarding the moratorium, an Israeli officials has said today that it’s ready for a compromise. P.J. had said yesterday that (inaudible) put on the table some ideas regarding this issue. Can you elaborate on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: As I said earlier, these discussions are pretty intense right now and I really can’t go into much detail. But our position is that the settlement moratorium needs to be extended.

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of compromise (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: What I would say is that if the Palestinians and the Israelis worked out something between them (inaudible), we would support it. Our position as Americans is the settlement moratorium should be extended and the talks should continue. We don’t like the idea of seeing either side try to walk out of the talks when negotiations are going to lead to – negotiations should lead to a solution that works for all.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about (inaudible)? I understand you don’t want to get into specifics, but could you say how confident you are that something – some agreement will be able to be reached before the expiration on Sunday, on or before?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: All I can say is that (inaudible) because we’re having them internally, but we’re having a lot of discussions with the Israelis and the Palestinians inside about how best to proceed. We’re very aware of the deadline, but we’re also committed to the negotiation track.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) think about it or (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: I’m not going to characterize how I feel about it at this point. The talks are pretty intense.

QUESTION: But do you see that the two sides want to come up with a compromise, or do you see, like, an obstinance on both sides, or do you – when she asked if you’re optimistic, it’s not like if you’re happy about what’s happening, where things are. Do you sense a kind of decision on both sides to try and find a compromise?


QUESTION: A seriousness of purpose?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: What I sense is that the Israeli and Palestinian delegations are looking for ways to make sure the talks continue beyond Sunday. That’s how I feel (inaudible) based on the meetings we’ve had here. And I also get the sense from the meetings that I have had bilaterally with various Arab as well as international officials that the region and the international community are also looking to find ways to make sure that the talks continue.

QUESTION: When you say pretty intense, you mean that (inaudible) and yelling, pounding the tables, or something else?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: I would – I’m just going to leave it pretty intense.

QUESTION: Would you expect the Secretary to continue the intense involvement in the weekend leading up to Sunday? I mean, are there (inaudible)? I realize the Sabbath (inaudible) difficulty, but how are we going to keep the pressure on (inaudible) moratorium?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: I mean, the Secretary is certainly (inaudible). The Secretary is constantly talking to us about what should and could we be doing in order to promote our policy of the settlement moratorium being extended and that the talks continue.

QUESTION: So you’re putting – I mean, you’re clearly putting pressure on Israel to extend the moratorium.


QUESTION: You just said it without saying those words. I mean, you keep saying we believe that the moratorium should be extended, so you’re urging – it sounds –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Yes, we are urging Israel to extend the moratorium. Yes. And we also are making clear to the Palestinians that we do not believe that it is in their interest to walk out of the talks. We do not believe that it helps them achieve their national goals if they would walk out of the talks. But we – but at this point, we are urging both sides to create the atmosphere that is most conducive to reaching a successful conclusion for negotiation and for both sides to take the negotiation process seriously.

MR. CROWLEY: We have time for about one or two more questions.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Okay, I just wanted to ask (inaudible) the Secretary, in her meetings here last week, has she been asking Arab ministers to support President Abbas if he does decide to go ahead (inaudible)? Because part of it, like (inaudible) said, (inaudible) is Arab support of Abbas (inaudible) has that pressure also.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: We have talked to the Arab ministers to express appreciation for the support that they have given to President Abbas and basically to urge that support continues. But (inaudible) the door, when we talk to the Arab ministers who are here, the Arab leaders who are here, it’s clear that they do support a process, that they have expressed appreciation to President Obama for his leadership on this issue. And I saw a number of Arab officials yesterday after President Obama’s speech at the General Assembly, and they all expressed appreciation for the vision that he outlined. So when I say that we’re urging them to continue the support for President Abbas in the negotiations, it really is a question of (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) by the pressure you’re putting on (inaudible). Do you have any (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Well, as we’ve said before, we want to see a two-state solution that’s an anchor for comprehensive peace. The best way to get to a two-state solution is through negotiations. The Palestinians and the Israelis have started a serious process. It is a process that is not going to be without difficulties. The gaps on some issues are quite wide. But it’s nevertheless the – a promising way for the Palestinians to achieve their goal of statehood, for the Palestinians to have a state that they can call their own. And I think that’s consistent with what the Arab League itself has endorsed through the Arab Peace Initiative, and I think it’s also consistent with what Arab leaders across the region have said should be the goal.

QUESTION: And you think it’s – but you think it’s counter – it sounds like you’re saying that it’s counterproductive for every time Abbas sees something that he doesn't like to walk out of the talks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: We don’t think either side should be using the threat to walk out to interrupt a process that has the promise of bringing Israel security and bringing the Palestinians a state.

MR. CROWLEY: We gotta go.

PRN: 2010/1346