Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
ERT Washington, DC
January 6, 2014


MODERATOR:  Hello.  All right.  So what we wanted to do here, upon popular request – all right, there’s movement.  Okay, so on popular request, what we wanted to do here is just take a few minutes to talk to all of you, see if we can address some of your questions.  It’s not that we have – just to preface from the beginning – more information that we’re ready to share than we did yesterday, but we can walk through some of the important questions that you have about the last couple of days.  And also I know you may have some questions about the Geneva-Iran issues, so we can talk about that too. 

So why don’t we start by just giving a quick overview, if that’s okay, of the last couple of days, some of which you heard yesterday.  This is, of course, all on background, Senior State Department Officials.  Do you want to do it?  Okay. 

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So just a couple of forward-looking pieces I think many of you are aware of, but just to confirm here for you, Ambassador Indyk is staying on the ground.  He will work with both sides to continue to narrow the differences.  He’s been there, obviously, prior to the Secretary’s trip.  As you know, we were in Jordan and Saudi Arabia yesterday to brief them.  That will be a continuing part of what the Secretary will be focused on.  He’s making calls during this flight and will make calls also in the coming days where he’ll talk about the last couple of days and the discussion over the framework. 

As you also may know, next week there’s going to be a meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-on Committee, where he will brief all of the ministers on the discussions as well.  So obviously the engagement with the international community is a key part of what – the role he’ll be playing while officials remain on the ground, and you can also assume as he has been throughout the process that he’ll be in very close touch with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas over the coming days as well.

Some of you have asked about Geneva.  Let me just go to this other topic and then we’ll go to your questions. 

So some of you have asked about the Secretary’s comments on Iran and Geneva II.  So just to be clear – and I looked at the transcript again this morning, as I know many of you did as you were writing your stories – he said not once, not twice, but three times he reiterated our position that Iran would have to support – accept, I should say – the Geneva communique in order to participate.  Obviously, the discussion was also about whether there was a secondary role or some other role that was undefined that Iran could play.  That’s a decision, as he said yesterday, that the UN would be undertaking.  Of course, that would be in cooperation and coordination with the international community.  This we expect to be a topic of discussion next week when he goes to the London 11 as well.

But there are also steps that Iran could take to show the international community that they are serious about playing a positive role.  Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people; it includes calling for and encouraging humanitarian access so that humanitarian groups and NGOs can make it to help the millions of men, women, and children who are suffering in Syria.  This is – there’s not a decision that has been made.  At this point we would say less likely than likely there will be any role, but – and again, it will be a decision made by the UN.  But there are obviously steps that they could take. 

Do you want to add to that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah.  I would just say what we mean – unless [Senior State Department Official One] disagrees, by calling for in this context is not necessarily that we expect Iran to speak out publicly against those things, although we would more than welcome them doing so, but that they will work with the Syrian regime, who they support, to get the Syrian regime to help set a better climate for the negotiations by stopping the aerial bombardment in Aleppo and improving humanitarian access.  Public or private, we’d take it either way at this point.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Do you want to say anything else about the process over the last couple days?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Here?  No, I’m not (inaudible). 

QUESTION:  Can I follow on that, please?  So, the – I mean, the discussion so far about what Iran might or might not do has largely focused on whether they would have some kind of a sideline role at the conference itself.  Can you talk a little bit about, even though as Official One just said, that may be less likely than likely, what specifically – what kind of interaction you would expect that – what would it look like?  I mean, how would they interact with the conference itself?  And would the Secretary, as the – officially the U.S. representative, have any interaction with them?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, I mean, I just don’t think we want to get ahead of the planning for that event.  I mean, I don’t have anything specific to suggest other than the fact that I think various countries will be playing a sort of consultative role as these talks go on – various countries with an interest in what happens inside Syria.  But in terms of sort of what that would look like in any sort of specific way, it would be pure speculation to say that now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Sorry, just one more thing.  Obviously, it’s not just the United States that has expressed concerns about Iran having any role.  There are a number of other countries, as you all know – regionally in the Arab world, France.  Many European countries have expressed concerns.  That’s why this will be one of the topics next week.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  And not to mention the Syrian opposition would have a view about this as well. 

QUESTION:  Can I just quickly clarify this one point?  When you say that – when you’re calling on Iran to – well, when you’re suggesting Iran could take certain steps by calling for an end to bombardment by the Syrian Government or humanitarian access, these would be prerequisites for what: for having this sideline access or for being a formal participant?  Because what Secretary Kerry was saying was to be a formal participant, you have to embrace unequivocally the Geneva I formula.  So you want them to do these steps toward what end: to qualify for sideline access?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  The only formal prerequisite we put on any country participating in Geneva II is acceptance of the Geneva I communique. 

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  What we’ve also said is that if Iran were to accept the Geneva I communique, that would allow us to consider their attendance at the conference.  We have not said it would be automatic because it’s not our decision to make.  It’s a decision to be made by the UN and the other countries that will be in attendance.

But what I would – so while it is – so these other factors that we mentioned are not formal criteria for participation either in the main event or in some sort of consultative or side role.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Because I think what we are saying is it would more favorably predispose people to Iran’s participation were they to take constructive steps like that.  And more to the point, we are calling on Iran to do this regardless of Geneva.  We are calling on the Syrian regime to stop the bombardment of Aleppo and to improve humanitarian access.  The Iranian regime is a, if not the, primary backer of the Syrian regime with a high degree of influence, and we believe it’s incumbent upon them if they want to play a constructive role in what’s going on in Syria to encourage the Syrian regime, urge them to stop those things.

QUESTION:  Could you just explain a little bit how you see a consultative role by any of the countries operating?  What exactly will that look like?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I mean, this is all stuff we’re figuring out.  I guess all I mean by that is not every country is going to be in the room for these negotiations at every moment in which they’re going on, but there may be situations in which countries would be called upon to express their views.  But again, this is all being worked out in real time, and any detail or concrete understanding I’d be conveying would be speculative.  So --

QUESTION:  Okay.  So sorry, I still don’t understand.  If they do do these two things, like increase humanitarian – call on the Syrians to increase humanitarian access and stop – okay – so if they get Assad to stop the bombardment and increase the access for humanitarian, I’m still unclear as to what then they get from that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I mean, all I would say is it would be a demonstration of – it would – I would imagine it would make countries more favorably – whoa, apologies – favorably predisposed to the idea that they could play a constructive role.  That said, the only formal criteria is the one that we mentioned.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  And it would be inaccurate to say it guarantees anything if they take those steps.  It’s just would --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Okay – it just would show the international community that they’re serious about wanting to have a positive outcome.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  And finally, this is something we’re asking Iran and the Syrian regime to do regardless of any upcoming Geneva discussions.

QUESTION:  So just so we’re perfectly clear, acceptance of Geneva I – neither acceptance of Geneva I nor working with or calling for the Syrians to stop bombarding Aleppo nor working with or calling on the Syrians to improve humanitarian access is any guarantee of any participation by Iran, it just improves the chances?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  First of all, it’s not our place to guarantee Iran’s participation in anything.  I would say the only formal criterion that’s been put on the table for participation in the Geneva II talks is acceptance of Geneva I.  And I would go back to what I said previously, which is these other two steps, I think, would more favorably dispose countries toward their participation, but are certainly --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Other capacities.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  -- in some other capacity, but are certainly no guarantee of anything, so, I hope that --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)  On the Secretary’s Mideast meetings here, in Ramallah he seemed to be suggesting that some pretty specific things needed to happen at the negotiator level before, as he put it, he would come back and take the next step.  Can you, without going into details I know you don’t want to go into, give a sort of general picture of what you guys would count as sufficient progress before he returns?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I guess all I’d say is we try to time every trip that we make out here, and we’ve made more than a few of them, to what we perceive as an opportunity to move the ball forward.  That goes for this trip.  That goes for probably every previous trip we’ve made.  In the meantime, in the interim periods between our trips, our negotiators are sort of constantly at work trying to sort of tee up an opportunity for the next visit to then push things forward. 

So I’m not going to get into it because the Secretary hasn’t and neither have any of the parties, at least they’re not supposed to be, any of the actual substance of what would have to happen, but we want to give the negotiators time to lay the groundwork for a trip that would be productive.  I guess I’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION:  I just – just a clarification on the – back on this Iran issue.  Just a technical point, first.  You keep saying it’s not your decision.  Obviously, the United States is one country among many.  Just as a technical matter, how is the decision – how would the decision be made to either invite Iran to be a formal participant or a sideline participant?  Which – I know the United Nations, which is disposed to including Iran is involved, but just technically as – how is that decision made?

And then just one point I’d just like to ask you:  Why are you coming and telling us this today?  Secretary Kerry said nothing yesterday about Iran needing to improve – to X, Y, or Z – to be a sideline participant.  He just threw that out as a concept.  Are you concerned about how Secretary Kerry’s remarks may have been interpreted in other capitals?  Why are you coming forward right now with these additional thoughts?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, let me take the last part first.  I think some of you – maybe not you, Michael – but have asked some questions about what he meant by those remarks and what are steps that can be taken.  And so that’s something we felt we could give a little more clarity on.  It wasn’t meant to – I mean, as I said, he restated what our position is three times yesterday, so we would stand by that.

In terms of the other piece – you want to answer that question?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah.  I mean, our understanding is the decision, as I said, is made by the United Nations, but the United Nations makes that decision in consultation with the other parties that’ll be participating in the Geneva talks.  We would obviously be one of those, but there are many others that would be consulted as part of that decision as well.

I guess the only thing I would add to what [Senior State Department Official One] said at first is:  Are we looking for opportunities to highlight what we consider to be a grave situation with regard to the humanitarian situation and the bombardment of Aleppo?  Yes, we are, and every day that that goes on, those situations get worse.  So I don't think we’re shy about the fact that we’re trying to draw people’s attention and to figure out ways in which we can discourage the regime from continuing those actions.

QUESTION:  One other quick clarification:  The "less likely than likely" comment that the first official made – is that meant to pertain to the possibility of Iran playing a role even on the sidelines?  Or is it meant to apply both to that or to its formally playing a full role as an invited member if it accepts Geneva I?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Both.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I mean, I think what we meant by that is there is strong opposition by many countries around the world to Iran playing any role.  And there are a number of steps they would have to take in order to either meet the prerequisite of embracing and supporting the Geneva communique – that’s one – but of showing even with other steps that they are serious about wanting to have a positive outcome.

So given there are significant and would be serious steps they would have to take, that’s why it’s less likely than likely.  And there are strong feelings by many countries who have spoken out very publicly and made their positions clear about their opposition to Iran having a role.  So that was what was meant by it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah.  I mean, I just – I’d also just say it’s, on some levels, a truism.  They’re not on the list, the conference is January 22nd, something would have to change between now and then.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  There are no signs of any of the things we’ve discussed, either prerequisites or otherwise, changing.  So that’s sort of where things stand.

QUESTION:  I have two quick questions on the Middle East.  One is:  Lieberman has come up with this idea of population swaps, and we just wanted to know if the Administration or either of the two parties are discussing his idea while they’re discussing this whole framework.  And secondly, there are some Palestinian officials who say that he – Kerry’s going to come back next week with a written framework proposal.  And is that true or is that just a myth?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  On the swaps idea that Foreign Minister Lieberman put out – you’re talking about Foreign Minister Lieberman, not --

QUESTION:  Yes.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  -- former Senator Lieberman?

QUESTION:  Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Just kidding.  I’m not going to get into our position on that idea per se, but I would point you to other aspects of the foreign minister’s comments, which were extremely positive in terms of the ideas that Secretary Kerry and Israeli officials have been discussing in terms of – for the benefit of, security of, future of the state of Israel.  And I think those are important comments by an influential Israeli official and should be taken seriously on those terms.  But --

QUESTION:  Is the population swap --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  On the --

QUESTION:  -- his idea (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I mean, put it this way:  The idea, that idea that he put forward, certainly did not come from us.  We have no position on that as of now that we’re talking about publicly. 

And then what was the second?

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So, one, we haven’t determined yet when he’s coming back.  He hasn’t determined yet when he’s coming back.  At this – we can speak to what’s accurate at this point, which is that there are multiple options for language.  There are many pieces of paper.  There – it would be inaccurate to say there’s one piece of paper being shuttled back and forth between the parties.  Obviously, as the Secretary said yesterday, there’s a lot of work that needs to happen, a lot of tough decisions that need to be made.  At some point, there’ll be a document, but – that will be the ideas from both parties – but we’re not going to make a prediction of when that will be.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, I’d just add I think the Secretary has said, others have said we came with ideas.  We are getting feedback on those ideas from both sides.  Anybody who tells you that they know our exact schedule one week from now and what we’ll be doing on that date is not speaking based on knowledge. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Sure.