Background Briefing on the Secretary's Bilateral Meetings With Jordanian King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
MODERATOR: All right, everybody. Thank you for hanging with us for the late hour. We have with us [Senior State Department Official], hereafter Senior State Department Official, to talk to you both about the working lunch that the Secretary had with Jordanian King Abdullah, and also about the meeting that she just had with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Abbas. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thank you very much, and good evening. We might start with the working lunch that the Secretary had. It lasted about an hour. It was preceded by, oh, I don’t know, about 15-20 minutes of one-on-one time as well. It was over at the King’s Hotel at the Mandarin Oriental. And the participants in the lunch were, on our side, in addition to the Secretary, Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones, Special Envoy David Hale, (inaudible) the Policy Planning Chief, Jake Sullivan, on our side. And on their side it was the Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, the King’s Chief of Staff Imad Fakhoury, and their Ambassador to Washington Alia Bouran.
As you know, the relationship between Jordan and the United States is one of – it’s very, very close, and between the King and the Secretary and our leadership similarly one very close. So this was a good opportunity to compare notes about developments across the region that we and the King are both focused on.
I’d say that it really boiled down to three topics. One was Middle East peace and the Israeli-Palestinian set of issues. The second related to Syria, which of course is a major challenge for Jordan. And third, the internal reform agenda of the King and the people of Jordan.
On Middle East peace, the King has been a leader on this from the beginning. Most recently in January, he devoted a lot of time and energy and effort and showed great leadership and skill in bringing the parties together at a level below that of the leaders for a set of talks. He has been someone, along with the Foreign Minister, who has been in very close coordination with us on the way forward. We talked a bit about that, and certainly we understood that we can count on Jordan and his leadership when we need to, and we often do, to try to overcome the obstacles that are blocking the parties right now.
On Syria, I think that there was very lengthy discussion about the terrible situation there and the options to try to reverse that and change it. The humanitarian situation, which weighs very heavily on Jordan, was also a major theme – the refugee flows and the danger that there will be more to come into Jordan and the challenges and burdens that that poses on that country with its limited resources. The Secretary talked about what we could do to help the Jordanians bear that burden and to work with the international community and the UN and others to make sure that the resources were available for them to do that.
There was also a discussion, obviously, of the political situation there and how we would work together and work – and try to encourage the Syrian opposition to work together on a unity plan. And there was an agreement that we would be working and talking more about this on Friday when there is a Friends of the Syrian Opposition Ad Hoc meeting. So this is something that we’re both very much focused on. And of course, the Secretary made very clear our position on President Assad and the fact that he must go.
On the set of reform issues, the King was very upbeat and very optimistic about the direction things are going in and the pace at which they’re going in. Secretary Clinton welcomed the progress that has been made so far to broaden and deepen participation in the political process for all Jordanians, by all Jordanians, and expressed our support for pursuing that in the way that he described. That, in a nutshell, was the discussion with the Jordanians, so I move onto the Palestinians.
We had a meeting there with – at his hotel at the Grand Hyatt – that lasted for about half an hour, and then they had another 10 minutes or so one-on-one. In the larger meeting, participation on our side was Ambassador Susan Rice, Under Secretary of State Sherman, Michael Ratney, our Consul General in Jerusalem who came here for the meeting, Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones from the Near East Bureau, Special Envoy David Hale, and Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan. On the Palestinian side the participants were their lead negotiator Saeb Erekat and key advisors to the President, Akram Haniyeh, Nabil Aburudainah, and their representative – the PLO representative in Washington, Maen Areikat.
The discussion also, as always I think with Abu Mazen, covered a whole range of issues. He is watching the region very closely and he has been a leader of the Palestinian people for a very long time, and his insights and observations are of great interest to us, and he shared them. They compared notes on really everything you could think of – Syria certainly, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, and all the changes going on around the Palestinians. And certainly, we recognize that these events reflect on the Palestinians and the choices that they have as they look at the future.
The Secretary also asked him about the situation in the West Bank and expressed her concern for what we’ve seen in terms of the financial and economic pressures and challenges that the Palestinian people are enduring and the Palestinian Authority trying to address. He went on at some length about that and about the difficulties.
We indicated that we are looking at every means we can to help the Palestinian Authority meet these financial challenges. There was a major event that we hold twice a year earlier this week. The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee met, chaired by the Norwegians and co-chaired by the United States and the EU, in which all the donors involved with the Palestinians came together and talked about ways in which they could help make a difference.
The Secretary also talked about our own assistance and the status of that as we work with our Congress to – the assistance package is now with the Hill, and her efforts to work with Congress so we could get that money to the Palestinian Authority, including a crucial $200 million in budget – direct budget support. And we also talked about what could be done on the ground, in the here and now, as Prime Minister Fayyad often calls it, to help overcome the difficulties.
We also, of course, turned to the Middle East peace process and the efforts that we’ve been working on to try to overcome the differences separating the parties, exchanged ideas on how to do that. And we certainly plan to continue our intensive work in that direction.
I think I’ll stop there, unless, [Moderator], you want me to cover any other topics.
MODERATOR: No, I think that’s good.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But those are the main themes that we discussed this evening.
MODERATOR: Questions? Michel.
QUESTION: Will there be a meeting between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, since both of them are in the (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. They are both going to be here tomorrow, but I don’t know of any plans. You, of course, would have to ask them, but I’m not aware of any between them.
QUESTION: But are you trying to (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. We’re not anticipating a meeting like that now. We do want to – of course, have a long-term objective of resuming direct talks, but at this stage, I don’t anticipate any encounter like that.
QUESTION: Is there a Quartet (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Quartet envoys met earlier this week on Monday. Tony Blair joined us. The Quartet principals, as we call them, will not be meeting this week. They’ve met twice this year already. I have every expectation there’ll be another meeting at some stage down the road. We’re in complete coordination. The envoys are – talk all the time. We’ve had, by last count, eight meetings or conference calls since the beginning of the summer. So we have a work plan, we’re working on it, and there’s really no urgent need to meet right now.
MODERATOR: Anybody else? Michel.
QUESTION: President Abbas will have a speech tomorrow, and he will ask the General Assembly to recognize the state of Palestine. Have you discussed this issue with him, and do you encourage him to ask the General Assembly recognizing the state of Palestine?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we have had conversations with President Abbas on this topic, including this evening. I think that obviously we’ll have to wait and see what the President does tomorrow. I think that he’s been talking about this initiative for quite some time, so it’s not news that he has this ambition.
We’ve made clear all along our position on this to him publicly, privately, in every way, so there are no surprises on our part. And I don’t know that there’ll be – certainly, we have made very clear that our goal is to resume direct talks and that the idea of going to the UN is not the road that takes us there. So, as I said though, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Anything else? All right. Thank you very much.