Solo Press Availability in Tel Aviv, Israel

Press Conference

By:  John Kerry
Date: April 9, 2013
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. It's always a great pleasure for me to be able to be here in Israel. And before I leave for our next stop at the ministerial in London, I wanted to take a moment to update everybody on what I consider to be very constructive talks over the course of the last 24 hours here. A very good series of discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, as well as with Prime Minister Fayyad and President Peres. Each of them made very serious and well-considered, constructive suggestions with respect to what the road forward might look like. And they all embraced the goal that we all share here. So this effort is not just about getting the parties back into direct negotiations, it's about getting everybody in the best position to succeed.

This effort has been dogged by good intentions and failed efforts at one time or another for a lot of different reasons. I think we've all had enough time to analyze those reasons and understand some of the lessons we need to learn in trying to go forward now. It's our intention, and we all committed to this, every party, to continue our intensive discussions with the belief that they are constructive and they are in good faith, and that we intend to try to create the conditions for peace so that we can resume negotiations between the parties in a clear and precise, predetermined manner.

We also spoke about other steps that could be taken in order to facilitate this process and to make it more conducive to success. Specifically, we agreed among us -- President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and ourselves -- that we are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts, to promote economic development and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers that exist with respect to commerce in the West Bank, to move very rapidly towards increased business expansion and private sector investment in the West Bank, all of which, we are convinced, will help improve the economic security of the people living there as well as improve the security of the people of Israel. Economic growth will help us be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have greater confidence about moving forward.

But I want to emphasize -- I emphasize this very strongly: This is not in lieu of, or an alternative to, the political track. It is not a substitute. The political track remains the primary focus. But this is in addition to, in a way that could help to facilitate that track, and I believe will begin to take hold immediately.

I held discussions regarding these efforts with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as with the Quartet representative Tony Blair, and other private sector business people. And this will be a focus of our work over the course of the next months in a very intensive way, and I will have more to say about this in the very near future. I will answer your questions about specifically who, what, where, when, and how.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and I spoke about this in some detail this morning, about the specific steps that we could take to break through red tape, to help expedite the goal of economic growth on the West Bank, and I let him know that I have already been in touch with our partners in the United States. The White House is committed to this -- the President is committed to this process -- and we will put all of the energy of our own government -- OPIC, Ex-Im Bank, USAID, the international financial institutions, the Trade Partnership Agency -- all of these efforts will be put into this initiative to try to make a significant dent with respect to employment and economic security of the West Bank.

As I've said before, and I want to emphasize it here again today, the President has not sent me here to propose or impose an American plan or to dictate to anybody the way forward. Ultimately, this negotiation is between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Now we are not naive about the challenges before us, but we believe very deeply that it is our duty to give every effort we can to this effort, and each of the leaders that I met with assured me that they will put their best effort into trying to help us move forward. And everybody understands that if we work together, knowing that doing it right is more important than doing it quickly, I think we increase the possibilities of success.

So that's the framework within which I wanted to leave here today. As I think many of you know, I'll be somewhere in the region in a short period of time with respect to the Syrian issue, and we will continue to have our discussions. The most important thing is we have homework to do; we're going to go home and get our homework done while others do theirs, and we will continue to move in a deliberate and thoughtful way.

On that note, happy to throw it open to questions.

MODERATOR: The Secretary will take four questions today. The first is Brad Klapper from the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Real quick, what -- you said you made progress in your talks with Mr. Netanyahu. What concretely was that progress? Is there anything more you can say about the economic development plans for the West Bank, and if you could be more specific at all about when you're expecting to come back to the region?

SECRETARY KERRY: Brad, I'm going to come back when we get our homework done, and that's as specific as I'm going to be right now. We're going to stay in close touch. We're never out of touch. And with respect to the economic plans, as I said, I will be very specific next week. We will have the Washington meeting, and you all will have a chance to see this fleshed out in full. And I think that's the most important thing is to make sure we have all the details pulled together.

But we've talked about it a lot. We have it in full concept. I just want to have the meetings I need to have next week, and we will announce some of the corporate entities that may be involved and some of the specific plans that we have with respect to it.

MODERATOR: The next question will come from Bow Shapira from Channel 1.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is me. Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, yes, I would like to ask about future possible withdrawal of Israel from West Bank. Israel is a bad lesson from the withdrawal from Gaza. A few months after Israel left, they found Hamas took over. And this is one point that Israel is hesitate to do some steps regarding going out of West Bank. And second thing is a guarantee coming from Bush Administration, April 9th, 2004, telling that blocs of settlements can stay, cannot removed from the territory, as Israel can leave but peace territories -- well, does it exist?

I have the two questions today, withdraw and a guarantee from the past.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as everybody here knows very well, I don't now and never have spoken for the Bush Administration. (Laughter.) That said, I remember that commitment very well because I was running for president then, and I personally have supported the notion that the situation on the ground has changed, and obviously, we're talking about blocs that are in a very different status.

I'm not going to get into telling you what ought to happen with respect to any particular piece of geography today because that's for the parties to decide in their negotiation. But I have certainly supported the notion publicly myself that we need to deal with the '67 lines, plus the swaps that reflect some of the changes that have taken place since then. And that has been my prior public position. It's up to the parties to negotiate this, and what the United States wants is for Israel's security to be guaranteed and Palestinian aspirations to be reflected in that dialogue.

We clearly care deeply about the security of Israel. We have provided Iron Dome. We have an unprecedented cooperative level with Israel at this point in time. I think your military and intelligence personnel will tell you that never has the cooperation with the United States been as good as it is today. And I can guarantee you that President Obama, in whatever role we play to try to help the parties come to an agreement, knows that that agreement must address Israel's security concerns.

Now, Gaza reflected a unilateral withdrawal, not a peace agreement, and so there is a difference there. Secondly, the reality is that the President made it very clear when he was here that he puts the security of Israel way up on top as a paramount issue that has to be resolved. And obviously, that issue will have to be addressed because no leader of Israel is going to sign an agreement that doesn't adequately meet the needs of Israel's security. So you can rest assured that's on the agenda, as are the other issues of concern to the other parties.

Both parties have a set of needs here, and the art of any negotiation is to find a way to satisfy the parties' needs. We know that Israel lives in a very narrow piece of land with a different kind of threat today from rockets and missiles, and Israel deserves peace, real peace. And it doesn't make sense to have some kind of an agreement that doesn't allow you to know you can provide for the security of your people. So this is an issue that is front and center, and I can guarantee you that's part of the homework and part of the work that all of us have to do. But nobody is entering this with any sense of naiveté. These are complicated issues. They need to be part of the negotiation.

And most importantly, to answer Brad's question a little more from earlier, it's not going to be done and shouldn't be done in piecemeal public releases. That would do everybody a disservice. You cannot take one component of this and say this is what's being worked on, and then pretend you're going to adequately meet the needs of anybody. So it's best done quietly, by your leaders, by their leaders, in a process that is thoughtful, responsible, and at the right time, when it is appropriate, then when the parties decide to, something should and could be made public. But it shouldn't be done in some daily, weekly tick-tock, and I caution any of you to try to draw conclusions from any leaks or anybody's partisan statement that reflects some point of view that they're really pushing for.

This is going to be contained, it's going to be tightly held, and it's going to be managed as effectively as possible so that we can try to guarantee a result.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Anne Gearan, Washington Post.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Looking ahead to your meetings in London, will you be meeting with members of the Syrian opposition who are expected to be there? And what is your message for them about any possible movement on new battlefield support, either from you or from any of the other allies you'll be talking to there?

Also, on Iran, do you expect to be consulting in London about any further sanctions? And lastly, have you seen the report from Iran today that they are reopening two yellowcake mines? Is that a setback? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the answer is yes, I will be meeting with the Syrian opposition in London, and, yes, we will be discussing various means of having an impact on President Assad's calculations about where the battlefield is going.

I reiterate: President Obama's preference -- my preference also -- is to have a diplomatic solution along the Geneva communiqué's lines, where you have a legitimate transfer of governing responsibility to an independent entity, and that you try to stop the killing. Now, that's the first priority. It sounds good. The problem is you can't get there if President Assad is unwilling to decide that he should transfer that authority, and that's the current situation. So we are left with no choice but to try to find ways to get him to think differently about what lies in the future. That will be part of the discussion in London and in the ensuing weeks.

I will leave it to the White House. They ought to make any announcements with respect to any stepped-up efforts, but I will say that those efforts have been very much front and center in our discussions in the last week in Washington. And I'm not sure what the schedule is, but I do believe that it's important for us to try to continue to put the pressure on President Assad and to try to change his calculation. And we'll see what is forthcoming on that in the days ahead.

QUESTION: On Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: On Iran, I think it's fair to say that we were hoping that there would be a more fulsome presentation in Almaty that would have laid out with greater specificity and greater breadth what could have been done to try to reduce the tensions over Iran's nuclear program. And clearly, any effort -- not unlike the DPRK, where Kim Jong-un has decided to reopen his enrichment procedures by rebuilding a facility that had been part of an agreement to destroy -- in the same way as that is provocative, to open up yellowcake production and to make any step that increases the rapidity with which you move towards enriched fissile material raises the potential of questions, if not even threat. And I think that is not constructive.

So we will have discussions in London about this, yes. And there will be further discussions in Washington, and we'll take stock of precisely where we are. But I'll repeat what I said, and have said in several stops: The clock that is ticking on Iran's program has a stop moment, and it does not tick interminably. We have said again and again that negotiations are not for the sake of negotiations, they are to make progress. And negotiations cannot be allowed to become a process of delay which in and of itself creates greater danger.

So it is important for the Iranians to make the fundamental choice here: Which direction do they want to move in? If it is a peaceful program, it is very easy to prove it is peaceful. If they want to make the choice to confound that possibility of proving it is peaceful, that is their choice. And President Obama has made it clear he takes no option off the table with respect to what may follow.

Thank you all.

MODERATOR: Oh, sorry, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, sorry.

MODERATOR: One more question.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, one more.

MODERATOR: The final question is from Abdelraouf Arnaout from al Ayyam.

SECRETARY KERRY: Abdel, thank you.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. I want to ask: We've heard from several sources that in your meetings with the parties you proposed two changes to the Arab Peace Initiative, so that this initiative would serve afterwards as a basis for negotiations on borders and security.

Second issue: Just a follow-up for things that you spoke in the beginning; you spoke about economic steps to be taken on the ground. Now the pertinent issue for the Palestinians on the ground is the issue of prisoners. Have you heard anything from the Israelis in this regard?

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. President Abbas raised the issue of prisoners with me, and he's very passionate about it, and I understand that passion. And obviously, the issue of prisoners is very, very important to the Palestinians, very, very important to President Abbas. And I am not going to discuss here what I discussed privately with the Prime Minister; I think that's inappropriate. But suffice it to say that President Abbas made a passionate argument to me about the prisoners, and I think the government in Israel has a full understanding of the potency of that issue.

With respect to --

QUESTION: The Arab Peace Initiative.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- the question of the Arab Peace Initiative, let me make this very clear. I actually am happy to have the question because I've wanted to have a chance to clarify a couple of things that I've been reading. Number one, no, I have not made any proposals to change it. It's not my initiative to change; it belongs to King Abdullah and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that made the initial proposal, and to the Arabs, the Arab League, and the Arab community that has -- Arab and Muslim community that has adopted it. It is a very important initiative, free-standing on its own. And what is important about it is that it suggests in its own language a way forward for the Arab world to make peace with Israel. And as such, it remains a very important statement.

Now, it may not be that in its current format it is a basis for a negotiation or for -- it is a -- the foundation of the way in which negotiations can take place, but any statement, any document where you have a proposal for peace and where you have dozens of Arab countries, Muslim countries, willing to make peace, needs to be taken at its value and should be respected. And it is an important contribution to the overall dialogue. And that's the way I think it ought to be reflected.

Now, I will be meeting in a matter of weeks with a delegation from the Arab League that will come to Washington. I'm confident they will want to discuss components of it. But in the end, the parties themselves, Israel and the Palestinians, need to come to the table, and this is a negotiation between them, and they need to work out the details of which agreement they want to work off of, or what language they want to work off of, and where they want to proceed.

Clearly, this is one of the things that I am working on in the context of laying the groundwork so that we can bring people to the table with a clear understanding of what we're beginning on, of what we're trying to do, and of where we want to wind up. And those are the things that require time and thought and care. And we will continue, as I said, to do our homework. Others will do their homework, and when we've done our homework, I'm confident we're going to be in a position to be make some progress and move forward.

Thank you all very, very much. Appreciate it.