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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mitchell going to Syria?

The video below is today's State Department briefing. Between the 20:00 and 22:00 marks, a reporter asks about Mideast envoy George Mitchell having applied for a visa to Syria, although he claims it doesn't necessarily mean that Mitchell is going now. He also implies that Mitchell will be in the Middle East later this week when Obama is here.

From the 29:00 mark to the 34:15 mark, spokesman Wood gets asked about the Bush letter from 2004 again. He keeps saying that they're trying to help the two sides implement their 'road map obligations,' but he refuses to address the letter directly. By the way, Congress endorsed the Bush letter in 2004. Wood refuses to give a yes or no answer. The part from 31:30 on is particularly entertaining.

Let's go to the videotape.


Here are transcripts of the two parts I highlighted (I skipped the part about whether American embassies should serve halal hot dogs to Iranian guests on July 4 - yes, really).
QUESTION: Do you have detail on the whereabouts of Senator Mitchell next week? Does he go to the Middle East, and where exactly?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, Sylvie, the only thing I can tell you at this point is that Senator Mitchell does plan to travel to the region, you know, in the coming days – next week or so. But I don’t have a specific itinerary. Once we have that, we’ll be very happy to share that with you. But I don’t have anything beyond that at this point.

QUESTION: But we know from other sources that the U.S. delegation has requested a visa to Syria. Can you confirm at least that it’s his intention to go to Syria at some point?

MR. WOOD: Well, clearly, at some point. And I think at the time the Syrian Ambassador to Washington Mustafa had done an interview saying that, you know, some officials from the State Department were over at the Embassy trying to get visas, I mean, he said that publicly. And we obviously, you know, concurred that that was indeed the case.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s planning to travel right away. You get those visas, you know, in advance because he does a lot of travel, and you know, you want to make sure that you have those visas when – you know, when you decide that you’re going to travel, so –

QUESTION: Trying to get visas for Senator Mitchell?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: And can you confirm that at least that he will go – he will attend the meeting of the (inaudible) committee for Palestinians in Oslo June 8 and 9?

MR. WOOD: Yeah – Sylvie, I don’t have itinerary. As I said, once we get some itinerary --

QUESTION: This is not Middle East even, this is Oslo.

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?


MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t have information on it. You know, I will try and see what I can get you in terms of an itinerary. And as I said, we’d be happy to share it with you once I’m able to get it.



QUESTION: I would like to go back to Middle East. Yesterday, you spoke about the Israeli settlements.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I didn’t understand very well what is the Obama position on – the Obama Administration’s position on the letter from the previous administration, from the previous President Bush to Israel on the settlements. Do you consider this Administration is bound by this letter?

MR. WOOD: What I tried to say yesterday, and I’ll try and say it again today, is that we are working with the two parties to implement their Roadmap obligations. And I think we’ve been very clear in terms of what our position is with regard to settlements. We’ve been extremely clear about that.

QUESTION: So it means you are not bound by this letter?

MR. WOOD: What I said, Sylvie, was we are working with the two sides to help them implement their Roadmap obligations.

QUESTION: Why don’t you want to say if you are bound are not? I don’t understand.

MR. WOOD: I’m saying what I’m saying.

QUESTION: Well, you are not answering. (Laughter.) I don’t understand why you don’t want to say it.

MR. WOOD: What I’m saying to you is, is that this Administration wants to see both sides implement their Roadmap obligations. There are a series of things that the Palestinians are required to do under the Roadmap, as well as the Israelis. Settlements – it’s one of those issues we have made very clear what our position is with regard to settlements. Why won’t you take that as the Administration position?

QUESTION: Because it’s not enough, because there is --

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry, Sylvie.

QUESTION: -- an additional letter and – I mean, it’s the big topic between Israel and U.S. right now. You will have a lot of questions about that. It’s only the beginning, so, I mean, you should prepare something a bit more clear for us to understand.

MR. WOOD: I don’t know how much clearer I can be on the subject. We are --

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Have you seen the letter? Do you know which letter we’re referring to?

MR. WOOD: I know what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Have the Israelis brought it up in their conversations?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t been privy to those conversations with regard to this issue. But look, I’ve been very clear – we’ve been very clear about our position with regard to.

QUESTION: What? Well, we must be stupid because – (laughter) --

MR. WOOD: No, I’m not saying you’re stupid.

QUESTION: -- we don’t understand.

QUESTION: It’s a yes-or-no question, Robert. Is the Obama Administration bound by the contents of that letter or not? A yes or a no will suffice.

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m giving you the answer that I’ve given you yesterday and today.

QUESTION: What’s problematic about your answer is that we are continually calling, for example, on the Palestinians – all factions of the Palestinians – to abide by the commitments that previous Palestinian governments have made. And yet you stand at that podium unwilling to declare whether or not the United States feels obligated to abide by the commitment that a previous United States Government made, the previous United States Government.

So why are you in a position to demand such things of Palestinians, and not to abide by those kind of rules yourself?

MR. WOOD: We’re demanding things from both sides. This is not an issue of what the United States needs to do. This is an issue about what the two sides need to do.

QUESTION: It’s American policy --

QUESTION: But there is a letter, there is a document which is public, which has been published extensively, and which was signed by the President of the United States.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So is it a commitment or is it not a commitment?

MR. WOOD: I will say it one more time. We – the Obama Administration is helping the two parties implement their Roadmap obligations. That’s where we are. That’s the policy.

QUESTION: Is the --

QUESTION: And elucidating what is your position on the letter would not help that?

MR. WOOD: I’m giving you what I’ve got. That’s all I can give you at this point.

QUESTION: This letter diminishes Israel’s Roadmap obligations and puts – it gives them a loophole in their Roadmap obligations. So if you’re demanding that they abide --

MR. WOOD: I don’t see it – I don’t see the situation in that way. What I see here is --

QUESTION: So they’re not bound, so you’re not bound?

MR. WOOD: What I’m saying is the two sides committed to undertake some obligations. And the U.S., of course, is helping the two sides implement these obligations, as we agreed to do. That’s what we’re focused on – the Roadmap obligations. And I can’t say it more explicitly. That’s our policy and that’s where we are.

QUESTION: I asked you at a previous briefing if the United States relationship with Israel was under review as a number of other foreign policy matters were under review at the time.

MR. WOOD: The relationship – the United States relationship with Israel is not under review. We have a very strong, solid relationship with the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Well, one element in that relationship was this letter signed by an American president and received by the Israeli prime minister. So if that’s not under review, presumably you still feel bound by that – by the contents of that letter.

MR. WOOD: James, I’ve already – I don’t know how many times – has anybody counted how many times I’ve tried to respond to this? I don’t have anything more to say on it.

QUESTION: I’ve – we’ve counted the number of times you’ve not responded. We have not counted a single time you’ve tried to respond.

MR. WOOD: I have responded, in my view.
Mr. Wood seems to have a problem discussing the letter, doesn't he?


At 5:04 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

A non-denial denial. The State Department is quite adept at not discussing subjects it doesn't want on the record.



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