Below is the transcript of the amazing interchange yesterday between State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland and AP’s Matt Lee, among other reporters at the daily briefing. The reporters have had it with the emperor’s new clothes.
Matt Lee points out repeatedly how the United States has isolated itself from world opinion on the UNESCO vote, damaging our standing. The claim that the vote upsets the peace process is bull, Lee says; all the UNESCO vote does is “it upsets Israel.” And a nettled Nuland accuses him of engaging in “a polemic.”
Also note the back-and-forth about intellectual property conventions. The Palestinians are now certain to gain membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, another UN body.
When the U.S. deals itself out of UNESCO, the interests of American multinational corps are hurt. As Lee comments, “I used to think that this government, my government, had some intellect itself, but this just seems ridiculous.”
Finally, note the exchange over the Madrid process, which began 20 years ago and has only resulted, a questioner says, in Palestinian land being gobbled up. What does the U.S. have to show for the peace process? At the end Nuland says fretfully, “Moving on, please!”
Matt Lee: All right. So, this was not particularly a banner day for U.S. diplomacy. If you count the abstentions, you had — 159 countries did not vote the way you did. Only 13 did. That would seem to suggest that these countries don’t agree with you that this is such a big problem. Those countries included the French – France. They included numerous members of the Security Council. What happens to them now that you’re punishing UNESCO? What happens to these countries that voted to, in this regrettable way that is going to undermine the peace process?
MS. NULAND: Well, those countries obviously made their own national decisions on this vote. We disagree with them. We made clear that we disagreed with them before the vote. We make clear that we disagree with them after the vote. We also make clear here today that we want to continue our relationship with UNESCO. But as we said before this vote, and as we have had to say today, legislative restrictions compel us to withhold our funding now. And that will have an impact on UNESCO.
QUESTION: But going back to – you said in your opening you said that this was regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal. Who’s shared goal? Who shares this goal, other than the 13 other countries that voted with you, now?
MS. NULAND: Countries all over the international system share the goal of a Palestinian state and secure borders —
QUESTION: Why would the possibly do something – how could they possibly do something that you say is so horrible and detrimental to that process? How can they – how can you still count them – count on them as sharing this goal?
MS. NULAND: You’ll have to speak to them about why they made the decision that they made. We considered that this was, as I said, regrettable, premature, and undermines the prospect of getting where we want to go. And that’s what we’re concerned about.
QUESTION: Okay and then how does it undermine, exactly? How does it undermine the prospect of where you want to go?
MS. NULAND: The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table.
QUESTION: The only tensions that it creates – the only thing it does is it upsets Israel and it triggers this law that will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground is there?
MS. NULAND: Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment which we’re trying to work through so that the parties will get back to the table.
QUESTION: How exactly does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground, unlike say, construction of settlements? It changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO, which is a body that the U.S. didn’t — was so unconcerned about for many years that it just wasn’t even a member.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that this Administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward —
QUESTION: Well, actually, it was the last Administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But the – I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process other than the fact that it upsets Israel.
MS. NULAND: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. That was the basis for the President’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the Quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the Quartet came out with in September. So, in that context, we have been trying to improve the relationship between these parties, improve the environment between them, and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together with all your effort?
MS. NULAND: How many times have the parties met?
MS. NULAND: I think you know the answer to that question.
MS. NULAND: It doesn’t change the fact that we all are committed to trying —
QUESTION: So how can things get worse than they already are?
MS. NULAND: Matt, I think you’re engaged in a polemic here rather than questions.
QUESTION: You think you’re going to get better from the next person?
MS. NULAND: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. On the shared values, does that mean that hundred and seven countries, you do not share values with?
MS. NULAND: A hundred and seven countries made their own decision on this vote.
QUESTION: And then in terms of the impact on related organizations, several high-tech and pharmaceutical firms are said to be meeting here at State this afternoon to discuss how the lack of financial support from the U.S. might have an impact on their ability to work in the countries where UNESCO and the WIPO have their work being conducted. What more can you tell us about this meeting? How does this affect the Apples, the Googles, the pharmas of the world, when they’re looking at potentially being shut out of potentially lucrative markets?
MS. NULAND: Well, Ros, I think you’re referring to the meeting that Assistant Secretary for International Organizations Esther Brimmer is having today with representatives from some of the U.S. majors around the world to explain what the implications of this vote might be for U.S. business abroad. But my understanding is Assistant Secretary Brimmer is particularly going to call their attention to the potential that the Palestinians may now gain admission to the World Intellectual Property Organization. So – and that might have some implications for our ability to work in that organization. And of course, that’s a very important organization for companies, like the high-tech list that you cited.
QUESTION: And then —
QUESTION: — quick follow-up?
QUESTION: Well, then, what do you do – then what is the U.S. Government then telling these companies, which have been extremely concerned about intellectual piracy, dummy drugs, dummy consumer products? Does – is U.S. business being unfairly impacted because of this legislative restriction, and how can the U.S. Government try to resolve it? Or rather, the Executive Branch, how can it resolve it so that the business community isn’t unduly upset by all this?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, she wants to make sure that these companies understand the implications of what has already happened, but also with regard to the intellectual property organization, WIPO, she wants to make sure that companies understand that Palestinian membership in WIPO could trigger – would trigger similar funding restrictions and could diminish U.S. influence in an organization that’s very important to these companies. So we need to make sure that our companies understand the implications of what’s happened and begin that conversation with them.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to suggest that perhaps, with this meeting, the State Department is hoping to induce these companies to lobby for a change, an easing of these restrictions on UNESCO funding?
MS. NULAND: I think the stage that we are at is to make sure that our companies understand what may or may not be happening in this circumstance so that we can open a conversation about how we protect their interests going forward.
..QUESTION: Back on the WIPO, actually, I was just wondering if you’d go a little bit further and explain to us what she’s telling the companies would be the effect of the reduced U.S. funding or an eliminated U.S. funding in WIPO. Does that – what would that – what effect would that practically have on U.S. companies operating overseas? Would it make the whole mechanism less efficient or would it reduce the protection for U.S. companies? What is the threat there to U.S. companies?.
MS. NULAND: Andy, let me see if I can get a little bit more for you on the specifics of the message being given, but certainly to make clear that if there’s an application to WIPO then – and the Palestinians become WIPO members, that it will trigger the same kind of funding cutoff, so already the organization will have less money to work with, but also that it could diminish our influence within WIPO, which has been very important to these companies.
QUESTION: Quite apart from the congressional lot, you’re opposed to the Palestinians having membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization?
MS. NULAND: We are.
QUESTION: You are?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Because the Palestinians don’t have any intellectual property, or because their intellectual property, because they’re not a state, is somehow less protectable or less worthy of protection?
MS. NULAND: Because this is a cascade effect of the decision in the UNESCO which we consider —
QUESTION: What does protecting intellectual property have to do – anything to do with statehood?
MS. NULAND: It has to do with the declaration of state status in UNESCO, which cascades into WIPO, that we are opposed to.
QUESTION: I used to think that this government, my government, had some intellect itself, but this just seems ridiculous. You are going to oppose them in some kind of international weather organization as well? The Civil Aviation Organization?
MS. NULAND: Our position on this with regard to all the UN agencies is the same.
QUESTION: You can – you think that there is somewhere – somewhere in this building that someone can draw a intellectually responsible and acceptable argument that membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization should not be granted to the Palestinians because they are not a state, because their intellectual property, because they’re not a state, is somehow less deserving of protection than anyone else’s, including the Syrians, including whoever else?
MS. NULAND: Matt, the move here is not with regard to the aspiration that we all have for the Palestinians to have access to and full rights of all of these UN organizations. The concern here is trying to shortcut the process of statehood, trying to establish statehood through the back door —
QUESTION: But see, that’s the —
MS. NULAND: Can I finish my point, please?
MS. NULAND: Thank you. Rather than establishing true statehood the way it has to be done, which is in direct negotiations with their neighbor. And from that can flow all of the benefits of these organizations.
QUESTION: But not even the Palestinians themselves say that this is a way to statehood. They —
MS. NULAND: Well, but what has been granted here —
QUESTION: They know that this is not – this does not mean statehood.
MS. NULAND: What has been granted here in UNESCO is Palestinian membership and statehood status. That’s what’s of concern.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, and the Palestinian vote on that?
MS. NULAND: Excuse me?
QUESTION: The Palestinians didn’t vote for this. A hundred and seven other countries, including some of your best friends, voted for this. The Palestinians didn’t vote for it; they just simply put it up for – they put it up for a vote. They didn’t have a vote on this.
MS. NULAND: This began —
QUESTION: You lost.
MS. NULAND: Matt —
QUESTION: Why —
MS. NULAND: Are you asking me a question that you’d like me to answer, or are you just going to have an argument with me today?
QUESTION: No, no. I’m – I want to know why you think, and everyone else – which is a position that everyone else disagrees with, that this is somehow – that this hurts the peace process or hurts the ability of the Palestinians to get a state, short of just upsetting the Israelis?
MS. NULAND: Start with the premise this process in UNESCO began with a Palestinian petition for membership, which we thought was ill-advised and ill-considered, and which we so said to the Palestinians at the time. So the Palestinians made a move here that we didn’t think was conducive to the environment for the talks or conducive to getting us back to the table. That is our concern. We want to get the Palestinians their state. It’s only going to happen if we can get these parties back to the table. We have to create an environment that gets them back to the table, and this is not helpful.
QUESTION: Okay. But you accept that 107 countries disagreed with you.
MS. NULAND: A hundred and seven countries made their own decision. We disagree with them.
QUESTION: Right. Exactly. So, I mean, isn’t it maybe – doesn’t that tell you anything, that if you add in the abstentions, which included the Brits, your special ally, who abstained, then 159 countries disagreed with you?
MS. NULAND: It tells us that we are not any closer to a Palestinian state by virtue of this vote today. We are trying to get to that end state that we want, that the Palestinians want, and we don’t think this is helpful.
QUESTION: I’m just curious. Did the Secretary have any personal diplomacy on this subject? Did she make any calls to Brits, French, whoever, in recent days specifically regarding this UNESCO vote?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary has been making the case personally against this move in the UN agencies for weeks and weeks and weeks, and she had many, many conversations about this, particularly when we were in New York.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on your efforts to bring both parties to the table? And what about the meetings that – or the meeting that Under Secretary – Deputy Secretary Nides had today with Tony Blair?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on the Tony Blair meeting. If we have anything to report, we’ll get it to you tomorrow.
I think you know where we are, that we had – Quartet had separate meetings with the parties last week. We have encouraged both parties now to go back and start working on concrete proposals for each other on land and on security. We will be working in Quartet format with each of the parties, and our aspiration still is to have them present real, meaty proposals to each other within the 90-day time clock from when this meeting happened last week.
QUESTION: Has the UNESCO vote changed or quickened the pace of lobbying at the UN mission in New York to prevent a vote for statehood in the GA?
MS. NULAND: I think the UNSC process is moving apace. They are still at the stage of analyzing the request, gathering information, et cetera.
QUESTION: Toria, today marks a milestone: It’s the 20th anniversary of the Madrid process, the Madrid peace conference, begun exactly 20 years ago. And during that time, there was a great deal of intense negotiations and some stoppages and so on and other processes and many agreements, yet the settlements have gone on throughout all this time, although the United States position was expressed very clearly at the time that settlements must stop, yet they go on. Do you have a position today reflecting on all the settlement processes over the past 20 years?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me first say that we’ve also been working for peace for 20 years, and it remains a challenge. But our position on settlements hasn’t changed, and we continue to make it.
Anything else on this subject, or can we move on?
QUESTION: So what – if we just take it just a bit further, what incentive should the Palestinians have today when they see that a great deal of the land initially allocated for their state has been gobbled up by settlement? What incentive should they have to go back to negotiations?
MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary has said this best when she said that only when borders are settled is it going to be absolutely clear where they are. So if you want all of this to be settled, you have to go back to the negotiating table and you have to, before that, present your own proposals on land and security. So that’s what we’re asking the Palestinians to do. If they are concerned, as we are, by what is going on, then come back to the table and let’s get firm borders.
QUESTION: Okay. So why wouldn’t the United States then take the initiative and call for a peace conference to actually discuss the borders of the Palestinian state, period?
MS. NULAND: Because we don’t think, and our Quartet partners don’t think, and frankly, the parties don’t think, that having a big conference is going to get us any closer. We think that the next step ought to be concrete proposals by each side on borders and on security. This will give the Palestinians an opportunity to present to the Israelis and for the Israelis to present to the Palestinians what they think the right answer are that will allow us to see how close we are, allow us to see how we can move the process forward. That’s the right way to get closer to a state and secure borders.
QUESTION: Sticking to this 90-day process that was worked out last week for both sides to come up with proposals?
MS. NULAND: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: Just on the cascade effect, if it does happen, presumably the votes will be similar to the one in UNESCO, because you are in a distinct minority in pretty much every UN group in which you don’t have a veto – although you’re in a minority there as well – you seem to be admitting that the Palestinians have you over a barrel here. They can, if they continue to go to these various agencies, force the United States to withdraw into almost a shell by – maybe not immediately, but if you get kicked out of UNESCO for having not paid your dues in two years. I expect that the other organizations have similar rules, and so you will have shrunk your international outreach, correct?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get too far down the tracks here. We are trying to make clear what the implications for us, what the implications for these organizations, are of the move that the Palestinians started here. And we are hoping that this will end here and we can get back to the peace talks, because that is the place where we’re going to be able to achieve the aspirations of the Palestinian people. I mean, one of the things that’s most distressing about all of this is that not a single thing changes on the ground for a single Palestinian; life does not get better, as a result of what’s happened in UNESCO. And that’s been our concern from the beginning. If you care about quality of life for Palestinians and their having their own state, this is not the way to go.
QUESTION: Well, I didn’t want to get back into this, but the whole fact that nothing changes on the ground is exactly the argument that people make for saying this is not such a big deal and bad deal. But I want to get back to this. The Palestinians seem to have acted shrewdly here, no?
MS. NULAND: We disagree. We disagree.
QUESTION: Why? You’re going to —
MS. NULAND: For the reasons that I —
QUESTION: You’re going to lose your influence in UNESCO because of this, which you —
MS. NULAND: Because it doesn’t get them any closer to the state that they want, that they need, that they deserve. And it does exacerbate tensions in the region, which makes it harder to get back to the table. And it certainly doesn’t help our ability to help them through UNESCO, which does support cultural heritage sites in the Palestinian territories and throughout the Middle East. So we think it’s a mistake.
Other – can we move on? Moving on, please.