@StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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On September 11, the State Department had to distance itself from a comment made by its top representative in Israel (see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”.  On September 28, State Department spox Heather Nauert, once more from the podium, said that it’s ambassador’s two percent comment “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy.” One reporter asked “if the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the U.S.?” The spox had an interesting response that includes North Korea, and oh, maps.

Via the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: Ambassador David Friedman in Israel gave an interview in which he said that only two percent of the West Bank is occupied. Does that reflect the U.S. position?

MS NAUERT: So I’ve also heard about this report, and when you mention that figure of two percent, I don’t know where that came from. That came from some report. I have no idea which report that came from. 14 9/28/2017

QUESTION: It was in the interview. It came from his —

QUESTION: It came from his own mouth.

QUESTION: It was from David Friedman’s mouth.

MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay, okay. I thought he was citing a report or something. Okay, okay. So I’m aware of what he said. His comments – and I want to be crystal clear about this – should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the U.S. would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians. It should also not indicate a shift in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Well, do they reflect – oh. So it does – so his comments by the U.S. ambassador to Israel do not reflect U.S. policy?

MS NAUERT: I just want to say it should not be read as a change in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Did he go rogue?

QUESTION: This is —

QUESTION: So is this —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. That’s —

QUESTION: This is at least the second time that from this podium you’ve had to sort of clean up Ambassador Friedman’s remarks when he had upped the alleged occupation. Is this becoming an issue? I mean, even if it’s not a change of position, is the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: I guess what I would say to that is we have some very effective leaders and representatives for the U.S. Government, including Jason Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, who are spending an awful lot of time in the region trying to get both sides together to have talks about a lasting existence side by side. The President has made that one of his top priorities. And when we talk about top priorities here, we talk about the nuclear threat of North Korea, but also – the nuclear and ballistic missile threat of North Korea, but we also talk about this. And I think it indicates just how important this is to the President that he has put those two in charge of negotiating that.

In terms of the ambassador, I can’t comment any more for you on that other than to say our policy here has not changed.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds —

QUESTION: But when you say that – Heather, when you say — 15 9/28/2017

QUESTION: It sounds to me like you’re saying – that you’re telling – you’re telling the Palestinians and the Israelis don’t bother listening to the ambassador, listen to Greenblatt and Kushner.

MS NAUERT: I have not had the chance to speak to the ambassador, so I will hesitate at commenting too much —

QUESTION: I mean, the ambassador spoke —

MS NAUERT: Hold on – too much on what he said. I was not there. I have not heard it. I have not heard the context in which that conversation was had. But I just want to be clear that our policy has not changed.

QUESTION: Right. But the – but I mean, all that is fair enough, but the problem arises because he is the Senate-confirmed ambassador. Mr. – neither Greenblatt nor Kushner are. They’re just informal-type envoys. And ambassadors to every country are supposed to speak for and with the authority of the President of the United States. Do you not see that this is causing confusion?

And then as a purely factual matter, how much of – what percent of the West Bank does the United – does the administration believe is occupied?

MS NAUERT: I don’t know that we have a map of that or that we have —

QUESTION: You’ve got a lot of maps on that.

MS NAUERT: Do we have a lot of maps?

QUESTION: Oh, yeah.

MS NAUERT: Do we?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, see, you all pre-date me here. I’ll go pull out some —

QUESTION: Heather, do you —

MS NAUERT: — the dusty shelves.

QUESTION: You have many, many, many, many maps.

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Said, go right ahead.

QUESTION: I want to follow up on something else that he said.

MS NAUERT: Yes. 16 9/28/2017

QUESTION: He said that the two-state solution has lost its meaning. Is that your position? I mean, this is – it’s been the case of past U.S. presidents – I mean U.S. ambassadors in Israel to speak for the State Department and to report directly to the Secretary of State. Has he cleared that with the Secretary of State?

MS NAUERT: I under – I understand. The Secretary is on a plane right now. I saw him earlier this morning at the China dialogue. I have not had a chance to talk with him about this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Ambassador Friedman’s current comments —

MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not going to have anything more for you on the ambassador.

QUESTION: Okay, but will you – I understand. But you just said that Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner are working on this issue.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then you – or before that, you said that Ambassador Friedman’s comments don’t reflect a change in policy. So aren’t you a bit concerned that the ambassador’s comments are detracting or going to harm the efforts by the President’s appointed envoys on this issue?

MS NAUERT: I think I would go back to the meetings that the President held where the Secretary was last week at the UN, in meeting with Mr. Abbas and meeting with Mr. Netanyahu. And I think they know – I know they know – just how strongly we feel about trying to bring peace, peace to that region.

QUESTION: Well, they – the President told him —

MS NAUERT: And —

QUESTION: — that last week and that yes, they came across – they came out of those meetings last week. And now this week —

MS NAUERT: And we both came out of those meetings very, very hopeful.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS NAUERT: And they both had said something along the lines of “We have” – something along the lines of “We’ve never felt like we’re in a better position to reach this goal.” So I’m not going to tarnish that in any kind of way. I think we’re still going forward with that goal.

QUESTION: But that was last week. And this week, the ambassador is coming out and saying something completely different. Has he been — 17 9/28/2017

MS NAUERT: Well, let me just say, to my knowledge, we have not received any phone calls about this just yet. Okay?

Said, go ahead. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up very quickly. I’m sorry. I just want to follow up, because today, the prime minister of Israel told the official news channel that he discussed with Mr. Greenblatt and with Mr. Friedman and, in fact, with Mr. Dermer, the ambassador, the Israeli ambassador here, that they – they want to close – he raised with them closing the PLO embassy here in Washington. You have anything on that? Do you know anything about that? Because I told the Palestinian ambassador. He says we have not heard anything; this is something that the Israelis are just saying they’re doing.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about that?

MS NAUERT: You know what? I’m not familiar with that report. If I have anything for you on it, I will certainly get it to you, but I can refer you back to the government. Okay?

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One response

  1. On the one hand the Trump administration has left 80% of ambassadorships unfilled as well as dozens of senior posts inside the DOS, leaving the department weak, but when they do name somebody they are lunatics. A difficult conundrum.