Matt Lee, the Associated Press reporter, continues to make political performance art of the State Department’s briefings. Yesterday during questions about the peace process, he took on spokesperson Jen Psaki over Martin Indyk’s record of failure, about the whole team’s record of failure. He used these questions to undermine Secretary Kerry’s claim that the situation is not sustainable. If it’s so unsustainable, why aren’t they looking for “new blood,” as Lee put it. The video is here, over the first 10 or 12 minutes. Excerpts:
Matt Lee: Now, beyond logistics, when he announced or appointed Ambassador Indyk to this post, the Secretary said that the Ambassador knows what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past. I’m wondering if you could elaborate a little bit. What has worked in the past?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I don’t – I’m not going to elaborate on that for you. I’m not a historian here.
Lee: Well, what did he mean, that the Ambassador knows what has worked and what hasn’t worked? Because I think any – if you look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past, everything hasn’t worked.
MS. PSAKI: So are you asking me why this is different?
Lee: I’m asking you, one, why it’s different, but I’m also asking you, what does he mean when he says that Ambassador Indyk knows what has worked?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he knows that Ambassador Indyk has been involved and engaged in this process in the past. He has respect from both parties. That was a key priority for the Secretary in making this appointment – somebody who could run the process on a day-to-day basis. The Secretary knows he can’t do this on his own. So certainly – I’m certain there are many lessons that have been learned from the past, but I don’t want to speak for how he will use those moving forward.
Lee: Okay. But you can’t specify then what has worked, what Ambassador Indyk knows has worked in the past?
MS. PSAKI: I think there’s lots of things, Matt, that —
Lee: Can you point to a single – just, I’m just curious; I’m really not trying to be a jerk about this. I just want to know what example can you point to as being something that has worked in the past?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to read out for you their discussions of what lessons they’ve learned from the past and how they’ll apply them moving forward.
Lee: All right. The lessons learned from past failures– is that what you mean?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, if it had worked in the past we wouldn’t be pursuing this process right now.
Lee: All right. And then just my last one on this is: Does the Secretary still believe, as he said up on the Hill a couple months ago, that time is running out for a peace agreement.
MS. PSAKI: He certainly does. He believes that time is not our ally, which is why we’re working so hard on this issue now. As time passes, the situation on the ground becomes more complicated, mistrust deepens and hardens and the conflict becomes even harder to resolve. It allows for vacuums to be filled by bad actors who want to undermine our efforts. That’s one of the reasons why they have all agreed to focus on having talks not just for the sake of talks, but this is the beginning of direct, final status negotiations on a nine month – at least a nine-month timetable. They’ve agreed to work together through the course of that time, and the Secretary absolutely feels that time is of the essence…
Lee: So each time in the past that new talks have been announced, people from this podium and the White House and secretaries of state, presidents, have spoken about a new urgency and spoken about how the status quo is not sustainable. What exactly is it that’s different this time?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think we see both parties agreeing that time is of the essence and they want to move things forward.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see —
Lee: Yeah, but that’s exactly what has been said previous – in previous iterations of this.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have to give time for the process to continue and to work its way through. But I think the Secretary and others involved feel that this is moving in a positive direction.
Lee: This is the Administration’s third try at getting talks going. Was there any thought at all given to putting someone in the – at the helm whose past history is not that of failure?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the reason that he has the relationships and I believe the confidence of both sides is because he has been through this before, and again, has – is eager to apply lessons learned from the past. And having somebody with that experience and the confidence of the President and the Secretary is vital in such an important role.
Lee: I’m not taking issue with the fact that he has experience. He clearly does, and I don’t think you can argue that experience is not of value here. But I just want to know, was there any thought given to getting some new blood into this process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, he will be working with a team of people. You heard the Secretary announce that Frank Lowenstein will be involved in – heavily involved in this. We’re also working, of course, with Phil Gordon over at the White House, who’ll be in a lot of these discussions. So he is the person who the Secretary and the President felt was right to lead this effort given his experience, and he’ll be working with a broad team of senior officials….
QUESTION: Sorry, can I just make sure I understood the answer to my last question about new blood? So the answer was no, there wasn’t any consideration of bringing people in, new people who haven’t been involved —
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I’m not going to get into the sausage making. But obviously, the decision was made by the Secretary, by the President, by the national security team that he was the right person for this job. He has the right experience for this job and he has the respect and confidence of both sides. Obviously, there’ll be a number of officials working on this process moving forward…
Lee: So quite apart from Ambassador Indyk, the other two parties to this, the negotiating teams, Tzipi Livni and [Yitzhak] Molho, Ms. Livni was involved in the Annapolis peace process which resulted in no agreement, Mr. Molho was involved in both of the previous George Mitchell attempts which were not good, and on the Palestinian side Mr. [Saeb] Erekat and Mr. [Nabil] Shaath have been involved in unsuccessful negotiations with the Israelis since Madrid. Can you explain to me how exactly you see this time that this cast of characters, all of whom have been at this for decades and not achieved anything, is going to make – is going to be any different?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it sounds like we’re lucky to have decades of experience ready to come back to the table and make an effort to push forward.