Transcription for Telephonic Press Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary David Satterfield

December 10, 2017

Transcription for Telephonic Press Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield

Moderator:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by.  Welcome to the Jerusalem briefing with Assistant Secretary Satterfield.  At this time, all participants are in a listen only mode.  Should you require any assistance during today’s call, please press star then zero, and an operator will assist you off-line.  I would now like to turn the conference over to Nathan. Please, go ahead.

Nathan Tek:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State Dubai Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our callers, who have dialled in from across the Arab world.

Today, we are joined by Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield.  On December 5, 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to move the U.S. Embassy from its – to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield will discuss more details about this policy.  Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield is the State Department’s most senior official for the Middle East and North Africa.

During his long career at the State Department, he has served as the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Director of the Multinational Force and Observers, among many other positions.  Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield is speaking to us from Washington, D.C.  We will begin with remarks from Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield.  We will then open it up to your questions.

For those of you listening to the call in English, please press star one on your phone to join the question queue.  If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering star one.  For those of you listening to the call in Arabic, we have received your questions submitted in advance by email, and you may continue to submit your questions via email to DubaiMediahub@state.gov or via web app at 00971506456512.  If you want to follow the discussion on Twitter, you may follow us at @USABilAraby.  Today’s call is on the record, and with that I will turn it over to Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield.

Ambassador Satterfield:  Thank you, Nathan.  I just want to elaborate once again both on what the President of the United States said and what he did not say.  The President announced two steps.  The U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel and instructed the Department of State to initiate preparations to move the embassy to Jerusalem.  The President also said that these measures in no way prejudice the outcome of final status negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.  He made clear that this step did not touch upon, did not deal with, did not resolve or prejudice any of the specific aspects or boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.  And I think it is an extremely important as we begin your questions and my responses that those points be understood.  This step was recognition of simple reality.  Jerusalem without a specific definition of boundaries or geographic borders is the capital of the State of Israel.  There must be final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, direct negotiations to resolve all of those specific aspects, all of the questions which have been raised over the course of the last years, and with that, I’m happy to take your questions.

Nathan Tek: Thank you, Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topics of today’s briefing.  I will now turn it over to the English line for our first question.  Operator, you can – you can take the first question on the — on the English line.

Operator: All right.  And our first question will come from the line of Omar Sharif.  Please go ahead.

Mr. Sharif:  Yes.  Good afternoon.  My name is Omar Sharif.  I’m the Deputy Middle East Head for Gulf News in Dubai.  My question for Ambassador Satterfield is this.  As a [inaudible] diplomat, you are surely aware of the uproar in the U.S. Foreign Service regarding this move. How can Foreign Service staffers be expected to promulgate an agenda that they don’t believe in and one that is widely seen as being counterproductive to peace efforts?

Ambassador Satterfield: Your question is an editorial comment, not a question.  Do you have an inquiry in that or is it simple commentary?

Mr. Sharif:  My — my question, sir, is that when the staffers of — of a – of your Departement…

Ambassador Satterfield: I’m sorry, you are making an editorial judgment, not a statement of fact.  The United States is committed.  Our foreign policy established is committed to execute the policy of the President of United States, full stop.  Thank you.

Nathan Tek:  Okay, the operator — the operator will take the next question on the queue.

Operator:  Okay, and our next question comes from the line of Kelly Clark.  Please go ahead.

Ms. Clark: Hi, I’m Kelly Clark from Khaleej Times Newspaper in Dubai.  Mr. Satterfield, I just want to say at the time when the world is fighting this menace of terrorism and the U.S.’s decision on Jerusalem is — has many people simply throwing a lifeline to terrorism and armed groups. Now, is this an opportunity — many people are saying it’s an opportunity for radicals to fan this language of hate and step up their actions.  So, what precautions steps will the U.S. take to avoid any violence and hostility at this time?

Ambassador Satterfield: Right.  Kelly, two — two comments on — on your question.  First, with respect to the step that was taken, we have tried – the President has tried to clarify that this is a recognition of a simple reality.  It is not a resolution of a negotiating process, nor is it a resolution of any issue involving geographic boundaries or specific aspects, specific boundaries with sovereignty in Israel in Jerusalem.

We very much hope that the leaders of the Arab world, indeed world leaders in general, not just in the Middle East, understand what was said.  The words were very carefully chosen.  We would hope that the rhetoric used by those leaders is rhetoric that is designed to recognize, we with them, are committed to moving forward, to moving forward in the new year, on a peace process, which we hope offers the region a chance to move from the decades, the years of conflict in the past, to a better future, to realize the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace.  That’s what our hope is with respect to the positions, the words used by leaders.

Now, with respect to security, of course, the United States is always aware around the world of issues that can affect the security of American citizens.  We take appropriate measures to address those concerns.  We tried to be as proactive as possible in taking those steps, but I’ll go back to my first point.  This is a question of choice.  Do leaders choose to speak to their peoples, to their regions, in terms that reflect reality or in terms that insight and inflame?  And we hope it’s the former.

Nathan Tek:  Thank you very much.  Operator, can we take one more question from the English line?

Operator:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from the line of Amira Elfakhi of the Daily News Egypt.

Ms. Elfakhi: Hello, I’m Amira Elfakhi from the Daily News Egypt.  And my question is with regard to the international position to President Trump’s announcement of the rejection and of the UN Security Council of the state.  If this continues, how is the United States going to be in an isolated position and public stances of its allies including our country?

Ambassador Satterfield:  We hope very much that the international community regards these measures for what they are.  Recognition of reality, taking off the table an issue, which was never really there to begin with.  Israel is the capital of a state of Israel — Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel, has been, is now, and will remain.  But the specific mentions of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem have to be resolved through the negotiating process.  The President believes that is the right step to take and this is the right moment to do it.

Nathan Tek: Thank you very much.  Now, we will turn to some of the questions asked by our participants listening in Arabic.  This question was submitted by Mr. Khalid Al Khari from Al Ghad TV.  And this question was also asked by a number of other journalists as well. And this question is, what is your comments if President Abbas refuses to meet with Vice President Pence?  What is your reaction to the Pope of the Egyptian Church and Sheikh of Al Azhar also refusing to meet with Vice President Pence?  Is the visit still on?  Thank you.

Ambassador Satterfield:  Well, I would refer all of our questioners to the office of the Vice President for any issues involving his travel, but with respect to the statements, which have been made either directly or on behalf of some of the individuals that you’ve referenced, our hope is always is that dialogue exchange, inclusion, not rejection, not exclusion, not isolation are the paths taken by all in this process.  And I’ll repeat again.  The President is absolutely committed with his peace team to doing everything in his, in our power to move forward at a point in the new year, a peace process, a peace initiative, which can move the region forward. And we hope that the actions and the words used by leaders now and in the days ahead support that process, support that initiative and not make it more complex, more difficult.

Nathan Tek:  Okay, we will take one more question from the journalist listening in in Arabic. This question was submitted by Ahmad Juma, and he is a journalist for the Egyptian News website Al Youam Al Sabah and he asks, is it possible for President Trump to reverse the decision?  What is your comment on the statement of the Arab Foreign Minister that called for such a reversal?

Ambassador Satterfield:  The answer is no.  The President’s decision stands.  It is, as I said, what the President believes was the right step, at the right moment.  It is the U.S. policy, and therefore, I don’t have any comment on calls for reversal, except to say that is obviously not something which we will be doing.

Nathan Tek:  Thank you. We will take one more question from our journalists listening in in Arabic.  This question was submitted by Mohammed Abdullah Ali from Al Hurra Television. And he asked, my question is about what is known by many as the Deal of the Century?  That is the new peace plan presented by the Trump Administration as a final status between Israelis and the Palestinians.  What are the details of this — of this plan and when will it be released?

Ambassador Satterfield:  We hope to move forward with that initiative at a point in the new year.  All underscore that.  At a point in the new year.  As to the details of the plan, that will await its rollout.  We are not prepared to announce those details at this time.  What I can say though is what the intent of the initiative is.  And it is to help to create a process in which the region as a whole, Israelis and Palestinians in specific, can look to a better future, one not marked by conflict, by isolation, by inclusion, and instead one of work on shared hopes, shared objectives against common problems.

Nathan Tek:  Thank you very much.  Operator, can we take a question from the English line, please?

Operator:  Our next question comes from line of the wall Muath Alamri. Your line is open.

Mr. Alamri: Good morning all.  Mr. Satterfield, I have a question that, why Mr. Donald Trump, President Donald Trump, take this position, at this time?

Ambassador Satterfield: There are two parts of my answer.  The President has been studying this issue since he took office.  He had to make a decision on waiver of the Jerusalem Embassy Act on December 4th or by December 4th, and he was required to report to the U.S. Congress on this.  The President made a decision that this was the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, the right decision to make, the specific timing was related to the congressional reporting and waiver requirements.

Nathan Tek: Okay, operator, can we take another question from English line, please?

Operator:  Okay.  Our next question comes from the line of Marwa Al-Sawaf. Your line is open.

Ms. Al Sawaf:  This is Marwa Al Sawaf from Masr AlYouam. My question is, has the U.S. responded to voices in the Middle East claim that the U.S. is no more a fair broker of peace?

Ambassador Satterfield:  I’d like to set aside for the moment the many statements, pieces of rhetoric all too familiar coming from the region and elsewhere and talk about a simple reality.  And the reality is this, I think it is well understood by all parties that the only path forward to peace in the Middle East, to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is through direct negotiations between those two parties under the supervision and with the assistance of the United States. [Inaudible], that remains the reality.

Nathan Tek: Thank you very much.  Operator, can we take another question from the English line, please?

Operator:  Our next question comes from the line of Milad Anton.

Mr. Anton:  Okay, my question is why the United States doesn’t obey the UN resolution to recognize Jerusalem as the capital Palestine?

Ambassador Satterfield:  I’m glad that you asked that question, because it represents in the asking, I think a misunderstanding of what the President has done.  The President has not prejudiced the outcome of final status negotiations.  Those negotiations are called for in UN resolutions and elsewhere.  We respect that.  We respect it very much. The President has done something else.  He has acknowledged a simple reality.  Jerusalem, without comment on specific boundaries, geographic limits, specific aspects of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, full stop.  His words were very carefully chosen for what he said and what he did not say.

Nathan Tek:  Thank you very much.  Now, we will take one or two more questions from our journalists who were listening in in Arabic.  This question is from Al Furaji Ahlam from the Iraqi News Agency, Mina News Agency.  Al Furaji asks, what is the economic impact on Washington if Arab countries cut off economic relations after such announce — an announcement?  Do you expect this announcement to effect American interest as more generally in the region?

Ambassador Satterfield:  I’m not going to comment on — on hypotheticals of any kind, but specifically a comment as — as hypothetical and based on conjecture as this.

Nathan Tek:  The next question was – was submitted by Mohammed Wadi Ghathbi from Sadd al Balad And Mohammed asks, what is the next step that the United States will undertake with regard to relocating the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem?   Will the move take place within the specified time — timeframe?

Ambassador Satterfield:  The President has instructed the Department of State, the Secretary of State, to begin the planning of for the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.  Those preparations are beginning.  I would note here, that to designing, constructing opening an Embassy anywhere in the world, a diplomatic facility of any kind anywhere in the world today, takes several years to accomplish.  And that will be the case in Jerusalem as it is anywhere else.

With respect to the specific timeframe, that depends very much on the design plans of the choice of location.  All of those issues are now just coming under review.  We’re at the beginning of the process, and as is the case anywhere else in the world as this process moves forward, it will be something that we will be able to brief on and to inform on from the standpoint of the public, but we have just begun this in response to the President’s instruction.

Nathan Tek:  Okay.  We will take one final question from our journalists listing in in Arabic, and this question was submitted by Taha Husain from the Qatari newspaper Al Sharq. And Taha asks, were there any Arab capitals that expressed support for Trump’s decision, and do you believe that the protest in the Arab and Islamic world are a temporary storm that will end or are you concerned that they will continue?

Ambassador Satterfield:  I’m not going to comment, of course, on the specific content of diplomatic exchanges with leaders with capitals anywhere in the world, but I will note this.  In all of the very detailed, very frank discussions that the President, the Secretary of State have had over the course of the last week.  We have had broad recognition that the U.S. role in advancing Middle East peace is absolutely central, and we respect that.  We understand concerns that have been expressed to us as well, but let’s focus, as we look ahead, and we certainly hope our interlocutors in the region and the international community focus in the time ahead on moving forward, not looking backward.

Nathan Tek:  Okay. Thank you very much.  We will take one more question from the English line then conclude.

Operator:  Okay.  Our next final question comes from the line of Zeina Fatah. Your line is open.

Ms. Fatah:  Hi, hello, this is Zeina Fatah from Bloomberg.  I have a couple of questions for Mr. Satterfield. And one of them is, can you describe what sort of diplomatic groundwork was being laid before this move was taken, about who was informed about it beforehand?  Did the U.S. make any changes after discussing it with allies?  And the second thing is, how do you interpret the Arab world’s reaction and — and why was this, you know, was there any overtures being made to the Palestinians to sweeten this deal?

Ambassador Satterfield:  The step that was taken by the President was discussed, presented to key friends and allies to keep parties around the world.  We had a very frank, a very detailed discussion with them.  In the time before the decision was announced, we have continued those discussions afterwards.

Obviously, the decision by the President was, is, will remain firm.  I would not wish to characterize on behalf of the Arab world, the Arab world’s reaction.  I would leave that to the leaders in the region, not to me, but I would repeat again the point that I had been making throughout.  We hope very much, that the leadership of the Middle East, of the international community looks to the future.  We are looking to the future.  We are committed, as I said, to articulating a vision of peace, and an initiative for peace at a point in the new year, and we hope that the steps taken by the region are supportive of that.

Nathan Tek: That concludes —

Ms. Zeina:  This is my question.

Nathan Tek:  No, I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry, we have to wrap up now Zeina.  I’m sorry.  So, that concludes the question and answer portion of this call.  Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield, do you have any final comments?

Ambassador Satterfield:  No, I appreciate very much the questions that were posed.  They were very good.  I hope my responses have helped clarify some of the concerns that have been raised, but particularly with respect to clarification on the President’s decision, what it is, what it is not.  Thank you.

Nathan Tek: That concludes today’s call.  I want to think Acting Assistant Secretary Satterfield for joining us and to thank all of our callers for participating.  If you have questions about today’s call, please contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov.  My name is Nathan Tek.  I am the Arabic Language Spokesperson and Director of Dubai Region Media Hub, and thank you all for joining us today.  Goodbye.