Senior State Department Officials on the Secretary’s Upcoming Bilateral and Trilateral Meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan

13 Oct

Senior State Department Officials

Via Teleconference

MODERATOR:  Hey, good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for joining the call.  We’re happy to have an opportunity to preview for you the Secretary’s engagements tomorrow with his Israeli and Emirati counterparts.  As you know, the Secretary will take part in bilateral engagements with both counterparts, followed by a trilateral meeting with the three of them.

We will conduct today’s call on background.  You can use the material and attribute it to senior State Department officials.  For your knowledge only, we have with us today two senior State Department officials.  We have and as well.  Our two speakers will preview tomorrow’s events.  As a reminder this call is embargoed until its conclusion.

And so with that, I will turn it over to our first speaker to detail the Israeli bilateral component.  Please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: , that’s me, right?

MODERATOR:  That is you.  I hope it is.

PARTICIPANT:  Right.  I just want to make sure.  Good day, everybody.  This is .  Tomorrow, Deputy Assistant Secretary – sorry.  Tomorrow, Secretary Blinken will meet with Foreign Minister Lapid.  This will follow several conversations with the foreign minister since the new Israeli Government formed earlier this year.  It’ll, of course, reaffirm the rock-solid relationship between our two countries.  And Secretary Blinken will underline the U.S. enduring support for Israeli security, including the Biden administration’s commitment to Iron Dome replenishment.

They’ll also touch on our concerns about the region, from Iran to Syria to economic development.  And on China, as the Secretary has noted, with allies and partners worldwide, we’ll be candid with our Israeli friends over risks to our shared national security interests that come with close cooperation with China.

With regard to the Palestinian people, the Secretary will reaffirm our belief that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state.  And the Secretary will be expressing appreciation for Foreign Minister Lapid’s recent strong statement condemning settler violence in the West Bank.

As we’ve consistently said, we believe it’s critical for all parties to refrain from unilateral steps, such as demolitions, evictions, settlement, growth, incitement of violence, and payments to those incarcerated for acts of violence, all of which exacerbate tensions.  Similarly, it will be important for the parties to work to advance equal measure of freedom, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

And finally, I expect the two sides to discuss the ongoing economic and security crisis in Gaza.  With that, I turn it over to

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Hi, everyone.  Tomorrow the Secretary will also meet with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and take the opportunity to affirm our deepening cooperation, especially where it reduces the risk of conflict and helps our partners enhance their security and economic development.  The Secretary will thank the UAE for hosting Americans, Afghans, and other individuals in transit from Afghanistan over the past several months.  Simply put the UAE support for this effort is critical to our operations and we remain deeply grateful for their humanitarian efforts and compassion.

I expect the two will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues as well.  On Yemen, they’ll both discuss perspectives on achieving a sustainable ceasefire and ensuring unity among the various Yemeni forces defending against the Houthis.  On Lebanon, they’ll confer about our shared desire to see urgent implementation of reforms to rescue the country’s deteriorating economy.  Specifically, the Secretary will also reaffirm in Syria that our focus remains on reducing suffering of the Syrian people and working with our allies to advance a broader political solution to the conflict, in which accountability for the atrocities committed by the Assad regime will be a necessary component.

Turning to the remarkable event of the day, the Secretary will also meet the foreign ministers in a trilateral format.  This meeting highlights our continued celebration of the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements, and we will see the announcement.  We’ll launch two trilateral working groups featuring the U.S., Israel, and the UAE, one on religious coexistence, the other on water and energy issues.  This reflects our belief that the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements writ large can help to achieve a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.  These working groups will seek to realize that promise, to link up two important U.S. partners in the region, and find new ways to solve old problems together in Israel and the UAE, but also across the region and beyond, to the benefit of U.S., Israeli, and Emirati interests. Thanks.

MODERATOR:   Great.  Operator, do you want to repeat the institutions for asking a question?

OPERATOR:  Certainly.  Once again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0.  And as a reminder, please wait until I say I’ve opened your line to ask your question.

MODERATOR:   We will start with the line of Nick Wadhams.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  For both of you, a broader question on the Abraham Accords.  Can you talk about the prospect that other countries will join?  Is there any notion that the Abraham Accords could at some point include Saudi Arabia, for example?

And then for State Department Official Number Two, on the bilateral talks with UAE, can you give us an update on where things stand on discussions with UAE over the F-35 and the administration’s concerns about UAE’s partnership with China, and specifically its use of Huawei in its next gen telecommunications networks and whether that’s complicating the potential sale of the F-35?  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Official Number Two?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Sure.  When it comes to the Abraham Accords, the Biden administration strongly supports states normalizing relations with Israel.  We welcome efforts by think tanks, civil society, and others to advance normalization efforts.  We believe that these agreements have shown that there are real benefits to breaking down old barriers, increasing cooperation, especially in ways that promote economic development and people-to-people ties.

This is something that we are actively working to expand.  I’m not going to get into any one specific country, but we think there are real benefits, economic and strategic and people-to-people, for all the parties that have already normalized and all that we hope will take that step in the future.

MODERATOR:   We’ll go to the line – sorry.  Go ahead, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Official Number One, anything to add?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I think we’re good.

MODERATOR:   We’ll go to Missy Ryan.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Yeah, just two quick questions just to follow up.  Could you again – you got at some of this, but can you again sort of say what the Biden administration perspective is on the meaning and the effect of the Abraham Accords at this moment in time?

And then on – you mentioned the – in regards to the UAE, Yemen.  Can you talk a little bit more about what the United States is hoping specifically that the UAE’s role in advancing the peace processes in Yemen will be?  And like, we all understand pretty clearly what the Saudi role will be.  But at this stage, given the abolition of the Emirati military role in Yemen, can you just talk a little bit about what the United States envisions for the Emiratis or is asking of them?  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Sure.  So I mean, I guess on the Abraham Accords, the only – well, actually, what we said earlier is that it’s not a substitute for the two-state solution, and we continue to kind of welcome the economic cooperation between Israel and all countries in the region, and we hope that normalization can be leveraged to advance progress on the Israeli-Palestine track.  So that’s what I would add onto what was said earlier.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Sure.  And on the second point, the UAE is an important partner and an important player inside Yemen and has important influence on the various elements of the anti-Houthi coalition.  And we will continue to work with them both to provide support inside Yemen and also to ensure the unity of the various actors on the ground.

MODERATOR:   We’ll go to the line of Lara Jakes.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks so much.  SDDO1, I’m wondering – or actually either one of you.  I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the extent that Iran is going to be part of these discussions, I would imagine more specifically with Israel’s role.  I’m sure you saw Prime Minister Bennett recently said something, and I’m paraphrasing here, to the extent that he may not speak as loudly as Bibi did, but he’s vowing to be even tougher on Iran than Bibi.  And I just wonder to the extent that this is helpful or harmful in trying to get Iran back to negotiations during this pause.  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Why don’t I jump in on this one, for the UAE side.  We’ve had many discussions with a variety of U.S. partners about the U.S. approach to Iran, including our partners in Israel and among Arab Gulf States.  We continue consulting closely with our key partners as this process proceeds.

The United States has stated an objective alongside Iran of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA and are – continue to work to achieve that goal.  We believe in the importance of consulting with our partners in the region, as they also have a critical role to play in advancing greater security and prosperity in the region.  Special Envoy Malley has met with GCC officials to discuss the importance of elevating diplomacy to confront regional challenges, which underscores how seriously we take these consultations.

When it comes to the trilateral meeting, I think we’re – we’ll discuss a range – the leaders involved will discuss a range of regional issues and may well touch on this and will also be heavily focused on the affirmative agenda of working to realize the full benefits of normalization.  And the unity of America’s partners in this region in new ways I think will send a powerful message as well.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to Matt Lee.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Yeah, hi.  Two real quick ones.  One, on the Jerusalem consulate issue, what is taking so long?  It’s now October and the Israeli Government is going to have a budget together soon, so if that’s the holdup, how much longer until this consulate gets reopened?  And have you guys just basically dismissed the arguments in Israel against it?

And then if I just could, and I don’t expect an answer to this, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway – did you guys make anything or notice or have anyone at the Friedman Awards dinner last night that was attended by the former secretary of state, former ambassador, and the former prime minister of Israel?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Thanks, Matt.  On the consulate, as the Secretary said in May, the U.S. is moving forward with the process of reopening our consulate in Jerusalem, and we have nothing more to share at this time.

We’ll have to get back to you on your second question.

MODERATOR:  We will go to Barak Ravid.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you for doing this.  First, I want to follow up on Matt’s question about the consulate.  Do you think this is going to turn into a bilateral problem between Israel and the U.S. as long as Israel resists on reopening the consulate?

And a second question about China:  When you said that you’re going to be open with Israel about the risks with China, what do you mean?  Are there any specific requests about Chinese investments in Israel?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Thanks for that question.  Look, I’ve got nothing more to share on the consulate than what I said earlier.  We’re just going to need to leave it at that.  On China, look, the U.S. views China as a competitor that challenges the existing international rule-based order.  And as we’ve said previously, our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be.

I don’t have anything further to add at that – on that.  I don’t know if my colleague does.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Nothing further.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to Nadia Bilbassy.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you for doing this.  I have two questions on the Palestinian issue.  You said you’re going to discuss the economic crisis in Gaza.  So what tangible steps would you take to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza?  Will this assistance go via the PA, the UN?

And also, you keep saying that you’re committed to the two-state solution, but we have not seen any initiatives from the Biden administration to restart the peace process.  Is this something that you’re considering or is this becoming, like, a statement or kind of lip service that you say it whenever you have a meeting on the Palestinian issue?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Thanks for that question, Nadia.  In terms of Gaza, we are going to be – we have been and will continue to be engaging with the Government of Israel and all parties on how to advance tangible steps to improve the quality of life in the immediate term and stabilize the situation.  I think we’ve started to see some of those steps and will start to see more in the future.

On the two-state solution, the Biden administration started out with a clear commitment to the two-state solution.  We continue on with that commitment and we seek to advance it as we can, when we can, as best we can.  So that’s really all we can say – I’m trying to think – at that time.  Yeah, I’ll leave it there.

MODERATOR:  We will go to Ron Campas.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Yes, can you hear me?  I’m on.

MODERATOR:  We can.

QUESTION:  Hello?  Hello, (inaudible).

MODERATOR:  Yeah, yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  What’s going on with Sudan?  Is that closing up anytime soon?  And you talked about leveraging normalization to advance the two-state solution.  There was a paper out by the Israel Policy Forum the other day that made some specific recommendations, like cleaning up the way money gets into Gaza, for instance, not inside bags of cash, maybe through the – getting the United Arab Emirates to set up a formal route so the money gets to the right people.  Another thing is building up infrastructure in the West Bank.

What’s the – what do you think when you say leveraging normalization to advance a two-state solution?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I’ll let my other colleague come in on this, but we – I don’t think we have anything to share with you on the Sudan today.  I just will note that Sudan is a signer of the Abraham Accords, but we have nothing new to share with you on that today.

In terms of the practical steps that we’re working on both for the West Bank and for Gaza, we’ve been working really diligently since the beginning of the administration and redoubled our efforts after the conflict in May.  Again, I think you’ve seen some of the fruits of those efforts bearing out in recent weeks and months, but we really have nothing more to get into at this time in terms of details.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to Olli Harb, Al Jazerra.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this.  You mentioned that the Secretary will discuss Syria with his Emirati counterpart.  What will the Secretary’s message be in regards to UAE’s normalization with that government, including a recent push to deepen economic ties?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Thanks, Olli.  The Secretary is going to reaffirm that in Syria our focus remains on reducing the suffering of the Syrian people and working with our allies to advance a broader political solution to the conflict in which accountability for the atrocities committed by the Assad regime will be a necessary component.  I think that’s our message, and that’s what I would expect that he will reiterate.

MODERATOR:  Take a couple final questions.  Will Mauldin.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thanks so much.  I just wanted to follow up on Lara’s question about the Iran negotiations and their connection to these two countries tomorrow.  I see that the foreign ministry of Israel says in the statement that the foreign minister discussed with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan today the need for an alternative plan to the nuclear agreement.  And we certainly haven’t seen any movement of Iran back to the negotiating table, so wondering if Secretary Blinken will also be discussing an alternative to the nuclear agreement, and if so, what leverage that the U.S. has with Tehran.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Just a reminder, we want to keep it focused on tomorrow’s engagements and discussions there.  I don’t know if either of our senior officials want to weigh in on that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Very good question for the Iran team.

MODERATOR:  We will – Will, we can also talk offline.

We’ll go to Bryant Harris.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

MODERATOR:  Bryant, are you there?

QUESTION:  I apologize.  Can you hear me now?

MODERATOR:  We can.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  So on the aid to the Palestinians that the Biden administration is hoping to restart, especially on the issue of Gaza reconstruction, there’s still – is there still a hold from Ranking Members Risch and McCaul on the aid?  And if they do not lift the hold, what do you intend to do about it to ensure delivery?

And two, on the Iron Dome, I know the bill for the one billion is still on its way through the Senate.  The line here has kind of been that this is to replenish the Iron Dome batteries depleted during the war last May. But just looking at the amount it would spend, the U.S. was giving 1.7 billion to the Iron Dome over the past decade, so this is a huge increase over what it receives every year.  So is all of this money going to replenish the depleted missile batteries, and if not, where is the rest of this funding going to?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Look, thanks for your questions.  On – and they’re good questions – on Iron Dome, I’ll just say that we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security and will work to strengthen all aspects of the partnership.  The – we – look, we remain committed to the Iron Dome funding.  We remain committed to Israel’s qualitative military edge, consistent with U.S. law.  And the – and I’ll just leave it there.

On our funding, on the funding that you mentioned that was on hold, that hold was released some weeks ago and that funding has proceeded.

MODERATOR:  We will go to Jacob Magid.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi.  I was just wondering – I feel like we’ve been hearing these two statements about opposition to unilateral steps and support for improving the lives – for equality for both Israelis and Palestinians – for quite a few months now.  I get that’s the talking point, but I’m curious if there’s anything specific that Israel or the Palestinians can do that would have an add-on to that statement, or if that’s going to continue to be the line.

And in addition, if there’s any comments on these approvals of Palestinian IDs that Israelis gave for about 442.  I know Gantz had talked about thousands afterwards – after meeting with Abbas a couple – a month ago or so, and now the – it’s less than 500, so I don’t know if – is this sufficient in your eyes?  I think there’s tens of thousands of Palestinians in this scenario looking – that are undocumented.  Any comments on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Look, thank you very much.  And we’ve been – we’ve been clear that both parties need to refrain from unilateral steps.  And when we say that, right, we are talking about the annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, evictions, incitement of violence, as well as providing compensation to individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism and the like.  So that’s what we mean when we talk about asking the parties to refrain from unilateral steps that can inflame the situation.

When it comes to positive steps, we are pleased that Israel is issuing those IDs, and we expect that we’ll see more positive steps moving forward.

MR PRICE:  And we’ll conclude with the line of Marc Ross.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

MR PRICE:  Marc, are you there?

QUESTION:  Oh sorry, I had myself on mute.  I apologize.  It’s Marc Rod actually, not Marc Ross, but thanks for taking my question.

So to sort of comment on something that one of my colleagues asked a little bit earlier from a bit of different angle, have U.S. officials outlined to their Israeli counterparts what exactly the alternate solutions or alternate steps with regard to Iran look like in the event that Iran does not come back to talks?

MODERATOR:  Marc, I – go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  No, go ahead, .

MODERATOR:  No, I was just going to say, Marc, I think that is a question that’s beyond the scope of this, and I don’t think we have anything to say beyond what we’ve already spoken to in the context of Iran on this call.  But for everyone on the phone, I do expect you’ll have an opportunity to hear from Secretary Blinken and the ministers tomorrow in the context of their meetings, and these are, of course, questions that we’re happy to take as a department in other fora.

So thank you very much, everyone.  Again, this call was on background.  You can attribute all of this to senior State Department officials, and the embargo is now lifted.  We’ll see many of you tomorrow.