August 2, 2010

US’s Non-Denial Denial

From the State Department's Monday briefing:

QUESTION: Palestinian officials have said that the U.S. Administration has threatened the Palestinian Authority that the relations between the U.S. and the authority will be affected if they don’t start immediately the direct negotiations with Israel. Can you confirm that?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – I wouldn’t characterize it that way. We have had intensive conversations with the parties in recent weeks. We have – we strongly believe that this is the time where the parties need to move from proximity talks into direct negotiations. We think there are clear benefits to doing – taking that step at this time. We’re encouraged by the fact that neighboring countries have given a green light to proceed with direct negotiations. We’re trying to move the parties in that direction. George Mitchell will be traveling to the region soon. We’ll have more to say about that. His schedule’s not yet locked in.

But we think that at this particular time, the best way to address the core issues is to – by moving to direct negotiations. That’s not a threat. I think that it’s an opportunity here, that we think after weeks and months of working with the parties, gaining a better understanding of where they are and what they want to do, we think the time is right.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up?


QUESTION: So there was – at no time or at no point was there any warning to the PA that if they refused and they continue to refuse to go to the direct negotiations, that U.S.-Palestinian relations will be adversely affected? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we --

QUESTION: Because that’s what they’re claiming.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we would characterize this as a significant opportunity for the Palestinians in terms of what they feel that they need to resolve the core issues. We have made a strong argument to them that you gain leverage inside a direct negotiation, not by setting – trying to set conditions prior to the start of that negotiation. But we think this is the right time to move in the step. We’re encouraged by the fact that leaders assembled in Cairo late last week agreed. We’re having follow-up conversations even today with U.S. officials and Palestinian officials. And our message is this is the right time and it’s an opportunity that both sides should not forsake.

QUESTION: So just --

QUESTION: But that doesn’t answer the question, though. I mean, have you – and this isn’t the first time that the Palestinians have claimed that you kind of said, well, if you don’t sit down for proximity talks or if you don’t sit down for direct talks, we’re going to pick a fight with you like we picked a fight with Benjamin Netanyahu, or this is going to negatively affect our relationship. I mean, these are the claims that the Palestinians are making.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re not picking a fight with anybody. We’re trying to reach an end to the conflict, which benefits everyone in the region.

QUESTION: But when you made your strong arguments to the Palestinians, was there any warning or advice attached about their relationship with the (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: We are always giving the parties our best view of what needs to be done now --


MR. CROWLEY: -- based on these conversations. We have given our best advice to President Abbas and his team. We have given our best advice to --

QUESTION: Did it come with a warning (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: -- Prime Minister Netanyahu --

QUESTION: Did you link their relationship --

MR. CROWLEY: -- and his team.

QUESTION: Did you link their relationship between the U.S. and the Palestinians to President Abbas’ willingness to sit down for talks?

MR. CROWLEY: If – let me rephrase the question. Have we strongly encouraged the Palestinians to move into direct negotiations? The answer is yes.

QUESTION: No, I don’t want to rephrase the question.

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: That isn’t the question.

MR. CROWLEY: And have we strongly encouraged the Israelis to move into direct negotiations? The answer is yes.

QUESTION: But that’s not the question. The question is: Have you linked --


QUESTION: -- your future relations with the Palestinians to whether he’s willing to sit down and talk? So it’s a yes-or-no answer.

QUESTION: Have you threatened them that the relations will be affected if they don’t start negotiations?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t consider that statement to be a threat.

QUESTION: So in the President’s letter – P.J., just bear with me for a second.

QUESTION: So, you’re not saying no?

QUESTION: Bear with me for a minute. The quality of the relationship between the American Administration and the Palestinian Authority was not brought in any way in the letter that the President sent to Abbas in mid-July?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m simply going to say that we believe and are strongly encouraging the Palestinians and the Israelis to move into direct negotiations..."

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