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Secretary Kerry's Press Availability in Tel Aviv

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Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas yet again for their great hospitality and for their joint commitment to try to continue very, very doggedly to work on these difficult issues.

We had a very interesting evening last night which unfortunately was a little bit cut short because of the road conditions and the need for us to be able to get back from Ramallah to Jerusalem. So we did not have as long a session as I had hoped. And we had, obviously, an enormous challenge in the weather, and we're very grateful to the police officers and the road crews of both the Palestinian Authority as well as Israel for helping to facilitate travel at night in those very difficult storm conditions. We're very grateful.

I am, as many people know, on my way to Asia, and I thought it would be valuable on the way to stop off here to continue the conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. I appreciate the fact that both of them continue to be very serious, providing both their personnel and their own personal time to the effort to be able to carry on these discussions. And we had some in-depth focus on the issue particularly of security, and also some of the other critical issues with respect to the Palestinian Authority.

I know that the nature of these talks breeds speculation inevitably, and that's because we really don't want to talk about the details of any proposals or what we're discussing. And the reasons for that are obvious. It lends to distortion, they may never be the real things that you wind up focusing on, and the proposal is merely that -- a proposal.

So I want to just make clear what our goal is. Our goal remains as it always has been -- for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final status agreement -- not an interim agreement, a final status agreement. And both parties remain committed to fulfilling their obligations to stay at the table and negotiate hard during the nine-month period that we set for that. The core principles, the core framework, if you want to call it that, which we are discussing with respect to this, centers on the critical issues -- borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition, and an end to conflict and to all claims.

The United States is committed to remaining the principal facilitator in this process. And again, I want to thank both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for the serious way in which they are pursuing these discussions. Security is obviously a key issue. It is a key issue because all of the countries in the region and all of the people in the region understand the threats that exist, and particularly the threat from terrorism, the threat from -- externally to the State of Israel. So we have a major interest in being able to make certain that both Palestinians and Israelis, when they reach final status, have the ability to be able to deal with their mutual security interests and their independent security interests.

The United States is committed to both. Everybody knows that we have had a long-time commitment to the security of Israel. Our willingness and readiness to defend the State of Israel is ironclad, and that is because -- our commitment to security for the region is because we are convinced that the greatest security, in fact, will come from the agreement of the parties for the creation of two states with two peoples living side by side in peace. Last night, General Allen, a former Marine Corps four-star general, one of the best military minds in the American military, continued to lay out to President Abbas in Ramallah ways in which he believes the security of the West Bank and the territories can be secured, and ultimately, a Palestinian state, and how that will interact with Israel so that Israel will be confident of its security.

We are working on an approach that both guarantees Israel's security and fully respects Palestinian sovereignty. We remain hopeful that we can achieve that final status agreement. Why? Because we are absolutely confident -- President Obama, myself, I believe the leaders -- that -- from both sides and from the region at large -- peace can bring enormous benefits. It will make Israelis more secure and Palestinians, too. It will make Palestinians more prosperous and Israelis, too. And with peace, both Israelis and Palestinians will become known globally for what they create and for their capacity to be able to contribute to the peace and stability of the region rather than for the conflicts that have been perpetuated here. And I believe in doing so that both peoples will be able to fulfill common aspirations. That's what drives us, that's what continues to make this a challenge worth trying to succeed at. And we will continue in the days ahead.

On that note, I'd be delighted to answer any questions.

MS. PSAKI: Matt Lee, Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I'm just wondering -- you say you remain hopeful and you're committed to the nine-month -- the target that was set for the -- for final status agreement. But really, it's now past halfway through there, there hasn't been any sign of -- tangible sign of progress, at least to the outside world. I'm just wondering if it is really realistic, and if it's not time now to start focusing more on what you talked about as the framework -- not an interim agreement, but this idea of a framework agreement. Should the focus now be on that rather than on a final status agreement? And also, do you think that an extension of the nine months is going to have to be -- is going to be needed?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. At this point in the talks, Matt, we are comfortable that we're discussing a host of subjects. We're fleshing out a lot of different issues, and we're comfortable with the fact that everything is on the table and everything is being discussed. And I think it's important in that process to be thinking about the framework core principles which guide you, but I think we have a pretty good sense of that. And as I said to you, I just laid out what all those core issues are that are on the table. So we're not talking at this point about any shifts, and the next tranche of the prisoners is due to take place on the 29th of December, and it will take place then.

MS. PSAKI: Indira from Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. A two-part question -- first of all, on Syria: Have you spoken with General Idris and can you comment on the earlier reports that he was run out of Syria? And does the U.S. Government still have confidence in the FSA and the Syrian opposition given the apparent divisions?

And secondly, on Iran: What concerns have caused a halt in the expert talks in Vienna on implementing the November 24th deal? And has there been any progress towards the release of Robert Levinson, whom the AP reported was working on an authorized CIA mission in Iran? And will his case be tied to the larger talks over a final deal with Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, regarding General Idris, we are in touch with General Idris. I have not personally talked to him, but we are touch in with him, and he is, I believe, in Turkey at this moment. We are talking with both him and others in the SMC staff to inventory the equipment that was in the warehouse that was raided by the Islamic front, al-Nusrah. And we are in discussions with our friends and consulting with everybody in the opposition about the next steps in support of the Syrian people. What's happened thus far has no impact on our support for the opposition or anything to do with the material assistance that we're going to continue to provide to the opposition. As a result of the situation, though, we have suspended deliveries of nonlethal assistance into northern Syria simply while we evaluate the situation on the ground. But we continue to have confidence in General Idris and confidence in the opposition, and we will continue to support them.

With respect to the second part of your question on Iran, this is -- we've been hard at it in Vienna, a lot of discussions taking place. I've talked with Cathy Ashton the last days. We're making progress, but I think we're at a point in those talks where folks feel a need to consult, take a moment. There is every expectation that talks are going to continue in the next few days, and that we will proceed to the full implementation of that plan. This is sort of the normal part of the process in developing the implementation plan.

And finally, with respect to Mr. Levinson, I don't have any comment whatsoever on the condition with respect to employment or any other issue except to say to you that we have raised the issue of his whereabouts on a continuous basis. I have personally raised it with the Iranians in the course of our discussions, and we will continue to try to seek his release and return to the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, all. Appreciate it. Thank you very much.


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