Below is a long excerpt from yesterday's press briefing at the State Department. Victoria Nuland of State takes on a bunch of rowdy questions on Palestinian aspirations and why the U.S. has opposed Palestine's bid to join UNESCO.
The exchange is noteworthy for Nuland's laughable claim that the U.S. is "absolutely" opposed to Israeli settlement expansion, despite its continual collapse on the issue; for the reporters' lack of interest in the unending Quartet negotiation drama -- they seem to sense another sham in the making--; and for a reporter's statement that the U.S. will do nothing that "gets Israel upset" (Nuland: "I didn't say that.").
The cat is out of the bag; will American public opinion begin to reflect the reporters' awareness?
The interchange begins with the matter of the Security Council resolution calling for an end to the Syrian crackdown, which was vetoed by Russia and China. Several other nations, including India, abstained.
QUESTION: Ambassador Rice said last night that the people of Syria now see clearly who – which countries support their yearning for liberty and human rights and who do not and which – who supports it and who doesn’t. Is that – that is your view, yes?
MS. NULAND: I can’t improve on what Ambassador Rice said.
QUESTION: Okay. So if that is what it means for a veto – can I just slightly shift it a little bit – why is it that when you vetoed in February the UN Security Council Resolution that would condemn Israel for settlement building that you call illegitimate yourself, why is that not the U.S. taking a stance against the Palestinians? Why is that not –
MS. NULAND: That question was so convoluted and involves --
QUESTION: Why does that not mean that you do not support – you’re accusing two countries of using their veto to – the vote was 14-1 back in February where you guys vetoed. Why shouldn’t the Palestinians see that as a rejection of their cause by the United States, or their yearning for liberty and human rights, just as the Syrians are yearning?
MS. NULAND: The Palestinians should have no doubt about where the United States stands on settlements or on construction in Jerusalem. We’ve made that absolutely clear.
QUESTION: Well –
MS. NULAND: We thought the vehicle of the United – of the Security Council was the wrong one in that case.
QUESTION: Well, why – okay, so why was it the right one in this case if it didn’t include any sanctions?
MS. NULAND: You have a bloody massacre of peaceful civilians that’s been going on for months and months and months. And the UN Security Council’s responsibility is to maintain peace and maintain security, and it has not done so in this case.
QUESTION: Isn’t it also the UN Security Council’s responsibility to enforce its own earlier decisions or decisions of the UN?
MS. NULAND: Matt, I don’t know where you’re going on this but I think I’ve spoken to your point.
QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue, a year ago, President Barack Obama promised from the UN the soon-coming state of Palestine. As a matter of fact, he mentioned September of this year as to be the time to announce it. Wasn’t that – can we consider that to be a good and strong incentive to the Palestinian, to Mahmoud Abbas and company, to go ahead and fight for what they are doing or for what they did?
MS. NULAND: Mohamed, when the President made that proposal, it was based on a whole lot of assumptions and a whole lot of other elements that were supposed to come into play with regard to the negotiations, which did not come about for a whole bunch of reasons. So we’re trying again. We’re trying again with the May speech; we’re trying again with the Quartet proposal. Again, the Quartet has said that with good will and with a commitment to negotiations and with a commitment to the timetable we’ve laid forward we do believe that this could be solved within a year from when the Quartet statement was issued. Now we have to see if the parties will come to the table.
QUESTION: So if I can – so just to go back to my – where I was before --
QUESTION: Can you – can we – I want to get one thing clear here. I mean, the Quartet statement said by the end of 2012.
MS. NULAND: That’s right. You’re right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. So we don’t have people (inaudible) --
MS. NULAND: Thank you. You were right. I can’t improve on what the Quartet said.
QUESTION: The Russians and the Chinese said that – have said that they want to see a peaceful resolution, that they don’t agree with the violence that’s being – that’s going on in Syria right now. And I’m just – you don’t take them at their word?
MS. NULAND: We believe that the United Nations Security Council should have sent that message strongly and clearly.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well, then --
MS. NULAND: And that that was one thing that Russia and China could have done with us yesterday.
QUESTION: Then I get – then you’ll see – maybe you’ll see where I was going with the – or the reference to the Palestinians. In that case, it was 14 countries, and you were the only one that didn’t see that the UN Security Council was the way to do it.
MS. NULAND: Matt --
QUESTION: Now let me – just let me – today there was a vote in UNESCO general – in the executive board of UNESCO, where you, along with Latvia, Romania, and the Germans, were the only ones to oppose or vote against a resolution – vote against recommending a resolution that would admit Palestine as a state. Forty countries voted in favor and 14 abstained. What’s the problem here?
MS. NULAND: The problem here is that a move in UNESCO is not going to create a Palestinian state that is secure, that is living next to Israel in security, in self determination, and in mutual recognition. The only way to get there is through negotiations between the parties.
So yes, we strongly opposed today’s vote in the UNESCO executive committee. This is not the end of the road on UNESCO. There still has to be about a month from now a vote of the full membership, and we will use the time between now and then to make our case to the countries that will be making that decision that this is not the way to go, not to mention the fact that we do have Security Council process that is ongoing, that the U.S. is participating in, so it’s incoherent to be making decisions about constituent agencies of the UN before the UN Security Council has even had a chance to deliberate.
So first and foremost, the root to a secure, stable Palestinian state is through negotiations. Secondly, it is just strange to be moving in UNESCO or any other constituent agency before the UN Security Council process has run its course.
QUESTION: Well, 40 countries seem to not think it’s that strange, right?
MS. NULAND: Well, that is their --
QUESTION: And you’re going to lose when it goes to the full vote anyway, because it’s obvious that your weeks and months of lobbying against was only able to convince Latvia, Romania, and Germany, and then you didn’t even get – you had 14 abstentions that could have been no votes, I think, but they might have been yes votes, so they might have persuaded some of them. But I’m wondering – your response to my question is that this is not the way to create a Palestinian state, that you’re not going to --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: But that – no one’s arguing that it is the way to create a Palestinian state. No one’s arguing that – I mean, with all due respect to UNESCO, it’s UNESCO. It’s not the Security Council. It is not an organization that had – that does things that have huge geopolitical security – it doesn’t have – it doesn’t do anything that is going to affect the security balance, Israel’s security or anyone else’s security for that matter. I mean, just looking at the list, are you prepared to vote against the Palestinians at every single constituent agency? I mean, what is wrong with the Palestinians having a seat on the International Institute of Aging or the World Telecommunications Union --
MS. NULAND: Matt, we --
QUESTION: -- or the World Meteorological Organization? I don’t understand how this hurts the effort to bring the two sides back to negotiations, other than the fact that the Israelis seem to think it’s a threat and they don’t like it.
MS. NULAND: First of all, to say we firmly support the work of UNESCO. There shouldn’t be any question about that. They do very important things, promoting tolerance, respect for all, Holocaust remembrance, education, coordinating tsunami warning, all that kind of stuff. It is – the second point I made was that it is incoherent to be making one-off decisions in constituent agencies of the UN when there is a UN Security Council deliberation ongoing, the larger governing board of the United Nations system.
But the major point is that if you care about the fate of Palestinians, if you want them to get a state, this is a diversion. The energy ought to be going into – and every country ought to be pushing – for these parties to get back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this? I mean, I don’t – I also do not understand why – I mean, this is a diversion only if you sort of let it be a diversion. I don’t see why inherently their joining or potentially joining UNESCO necessarily vitiates or erodes your effort to get the parties back into talks. I mean, we have talks of – can you explain to me how or why it vitiates that effort?
MS. NULAND: You’re using words that I didn’t use. We’re simply saying --
QUESTION: That’s my prerogative. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: We’re simply saying that this is not the way to establish a Palestinian state. Once we’ve had a negotiated solution, once we have two states living in peace, mutually agreed borders, then the Palestinian state will be in all of these organizations. That is the right sequence, in our view.
QUESTION: Are you concerned --
MS. NULAND: Please. Steve in the back. Hold on, Said. Steve.
QUESTION: On the UNESCO thing --
MS. NULAND: Steve.
QUESTION: Does the UNESCO vote today trigger an automatic cut in U.S. contributions to UNESCO?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are currently looking at existing U.S. legislation on this point to determine how and whether it might apply to various U.S. entities. So I’m not in a position to answer the question, but it is something that we are looking at.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the UNESCO effort by the Palestinians is an underhanded effort to sort of go about the Palestinian statehood through the backdoor? Is that what it is?
MS. NULAND: We’re just concerned it’s not going to lead to the result that we all want, which is a Palestinian state living next to Israel in peace and security.
QUESTION: On one other thing, how much harder does this make your case on the Hill, where UNESCO is not the most highly regarded UN constituent agency in terms of maintaining funding for the Palestinians?
MS. NULAND: I think that remains to be seen, but we have made the point here that we believe that Palestinian funding should go forward. I would also make the point with regard to the question that Steve asked, the U.S. currently pays 22 percent of UNESCO’s dues.
QUESTION: Victoria, after a time of freeze settlement misunderstanding, let’s call it, between Netanyahu and Mr. Barack Obama, can we – can you be more optimistic and tell us that now the U.S. – you have more cause to pressure Netanyahu to come back to the table and resolve the issue of the settlements?
MS. NULAND: Mohamed, we are talking to both parties. We just had Secretary of Defense Panetta speaking to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. The week before, the President met with both of them, the Secretary of State met with both of them, David Hale is continuing his activities. So we are working very hard on this issue and making the case to both sides that getting back to the table without preconditions is in their interest.
QUESTION: So wouldn’t your vote upset the Palestinian party? I mean, when you say working, your vote in various organizations would upset the Palestinian party, and that won’t help Fatah among the Palestinian unity and (inaudible) the opposition; let’s call it Hamas, clearly.
MS. NULAND: That’s a question you should put to them, how they feel about it. But they certainly shouldn’t have been surprised, because we’ve been absolutely clear.
Jill, did you have something? Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s not this same issue.
MS. NULAND: Still on this? Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Just one last on this very topic while we’re at it.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israeli press is saying that Mr. Netanyahu, if he accepts the Quartet thing, is planning to submit a number of reservations, including his objection to the timetable that was suggested. Are you aware of that?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. I think you’re three steps ahead of where we are, Said.
QUESTION: I need to go back to this again. You say that it is incoherent. Who is being incoherent? The Palestinians by pushing this while it’s still going on at the Security Council? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. NULAND: I’m simply saying that as a procedural matter, you have the Security Council looking into this issue. So to have a separate track in the constituent entities doesn’t make a lot of sense.
QUESTION: Okay. Well if – you guys have – correct me if I’m wrong; I thought you guys said you were going to veto it in the Security Council. So no matter how long the Security Council takes to look at it, whether it’s in the Security Council or not, it ain’t going anywhere. You guys are going to kill it, correct?
MS. NULAND: Was there a question there, Matt?
QUESTION: Yes. Is that right? You’re going to veto it in the Security Council. Why should the Palestinians wait when you’ve already said you’re going to veto it in the Security Council? Why is it incoherent for them to go to someplace else to try and get the – something minor that they would like, that they think is important to them.
MS. NULAND: Again, our view has not changed. This is not going to create a state for them.
QUESTION: But Toria, they don’t even say it’s going to create a state for them.
MS. NULAND: It is going to make things harder.
MS. NULAND: It creates tensions that add to the environment and makes it harder –
QUESTION: In other words, it gets Israel upset.
MS. NULAND: I didn’t say that. I simply said that it further exacerbates the environment of tension. We’re trying to create an environment of trust. We’re trying to create constituencies for peace.
QUESTION: And you think that Palestinian membership in UNESCO creates tensions? Palestinian membership in the Office for Outer Space Affairs creates tensions?
MS. NULAND: Matt, I think I’ve said what I can on this subject.
QUESTION: Well, the problem with what you’ve said on the subject is it doesn’t make any sense, and most of the world, almost all of it, disagrees with you. A, they don’t believe it’s incoherent because they’re voting for it, and B, I don’t think you can get away from the fact that you have said you were going to veto it at the Security Council. So saying the Palestinians should wait for the Security Council to act when they know – because you’ve told them and the rest of the world – that you’re going to kill it, doesn’t make any sense.
MS. NULAND: Doesn’t change the fact that we oppose this at UNESCO.