Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Pollard at the State Department Press Conference (Transcript)

Here, from yesterday's State Department press conference (thanks to Lori):

QUESTION: Do you want to give us some kind of readout on how it was that the Pollard release was put back up on the table? I know there’s been a lot of conflicting information over the last week, when these reports first surfaced in the Israeli press. We’d like a little clarification on exactly when and why and how, and whether or not Pollard’s release is still on the table, given that Abbas looks like he – that is what’s making him negative on the process right now.
MS. HARF: Well, a few points on that. First, the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. I want to be very clear about that. Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence. I don’t have any further update on his status to provide today.
In terms of this being a topic, it should be northern Syria in Kasab and in – around the region?
MS. HARF: I donRet into any of the details of the discussions that they’ve had with Secretary Kerry.
QUESTION: There’s a fundamental difference here. I mean, as we’ve talked before, the Israelis have raised the issue of Jonathan Pollard’s release annually, perennially, quite frequently.
MS. HARF: Consistently. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Right. The difference here is that it is now not being pushed off the table by the Americans. I think previous presidents have said thanks for bringing it up, we’re not going to consider it, or whatever. Even two – I think a couple of months ago or some time ago President Obama made a similar statement, saying we’re looking at his case and thanks for your – thanks for playing, basically. This seems to be a different situation.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to characterize what the discussions consist of on this or any other topic that are going on right now or sort of further characterize them in any way than I just said. Obviously, the team on the ground is talking to both sides about a variety of issues, and on this I just think we’re not going to have much more today.
QUESTION: Would you agree that this seems to be a different situation than it has been in the past when the Israelis have raised it?
MS. HARF: I – in terms of Pollard?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to characterize it that way. Obviously, in any peace process – this is a peace process that’s going on – been going on for decades now. Broadly speaking, not specific to Pollard, it’s different every time you take a look at it. The issues – the issues don’t change, but how you get to final agreement is obviously a topic that there’s still some work to be done on, because we clearly haven’t gotten there yet. So I don’t want to compare it to any previous situation, don’t want to further characterize the conversation in any other way.
QUESTION: Okay. Would you care to respond to experts and former U.S. officials who have been involved in these types of negotiations who question the wisdom of bringing this up at this point in the negotiations, just to even continue the talks as opposed to a final agreement or a final settlement, which is, I think in the past with Wye River, is what was the concern then?
MS. HARF: Well, again, as I said, the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard, and I would caution anyone not involved in the talks from presuming to know what’s going on in them, even if people have been involved in them in the past. So I guess there’s a lot of analysis out there. Quite frankly, that’s not what we’re focused on. What we’re focused on right now is the teams on the ground. They are talking to both sides. They are trying to make progress. And we are looking forward to the Secretary going back tomorrow.
QUESTION: Marie, is --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- you said the President has not made his decision. But is the Administration actively discussing and thinking about springing Pollard?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details for you on what discussions on any issue look like on the ground.
QUESTION: And one follow-up to your question, Lara, was in terms of this being unprecedented. Why is the United States as a mediator in this discussion actively taking such an active role? And shouldn’t this – shouldn’t it be between the Palestinians and the Israelis? Why is the United States having to put something like a prisoner release on the table?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t confirmed one way or the other what is or isn’t on the table as part of these negotiations. You’re right in that we do play a facilitation role, but it’s a very active facilitation role between the two parties. You’ve seen that throughout the now eight months we’ve been at the negotiating table. In fact, it’s because of Secretary Kerry, I think in large part his efforts and the courage we saw on both sides, both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, that we actually even got back to the table. So I’m just not going to confirm one way or the other any issue that’s being discussed, or quite frankly, what our internal discussions look like.
QUESTION: During negotiations – and I’m not an expert – but does the facilitator normally put something into the deal?
MS. HARF: Well, again, that would be getting into a discussion about issues that I’m just not going to discuss in detail from here. Discussions are ongoing.
Yes, Nicolas. And then we’ll go to --
QUESTION: Can I try again on Pollard?
MS. HARF: You guys can keep trying.
QUESTION: So you said you don’t want to compare with previous situations --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I don’t want to compare this negotiation writ large to any previous negotiation. It’s different times. We’re just --
QUESTION: Okay. But is it --
MS. HARF: -- it’s different people involved. I just don’t think it’s useful to compare it.
QUESTION: Okay. So would you say that it’s – the topic, the issue ,is more on the table this time that it used to be?
MS. HARF: I’m not characterizing the issue one – in any way, whether it’s on the table, how it’s on the table. I’m just not characterizing it. It was a good try though.
QUESTION: Aside from the negotiations that are currently happening and have happened, I’m curious also to see if you care to respond to those in the intelligence community who are also concerned about the merits of releasing Pollard and the message that would send to folks like him that you can do this kind of thing and be released. But obviously, there have been a lot of warnings from past CIA directors and various folks in the intelligence community who weren’t against the wisdom of releasing him.
MS. HARF: Well, again, the President has not made a decision to release him, so I don’t want to get ahead of things. I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions on the ground. Obviously, I’m aware of the history but don’t have any further comment on it...

...QUESTION: Okay. Now, Palestinian sources say that Abbas has agreed to continuing the talks beyond the 29th of April. Could you share with us something on that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to announce for you, any further details about what the discussions look like. The Secretary will be speaking to – in general to these topics in his avail, which should be shortly.
QUESTION: Are you expecting that when the Secretary returns tomorrow that such an announcement would be made?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions for you on when anything might be announced or not announced.
QUESTION: And finally, are we looking at a larger number of prisoners to be released, Palestinians prisoners to be released, like 420 maybe?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details on the discussions that are underway right now.
QUESTION: And I’m sure that you didn’t really add anything to the Pollard situation, have you?
MS. HARF: What I said was – and I’ll repeat it again – the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. He was convicted of espionage, is serving his sentence. Also it should come as no surprise to anyone that these – the Israelis – excuse me – have frequently raised this issue. But in terms of discussions that are going on on the ground right now, nothing to share.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
QUESTION: Can I actually follow up on that?
QUESTION: Because Carney said something, I think, probably word-for-word similar to what you just said about --
MS. HARF: We’re linked up like that.
QUESTION: -- no decision has been made. It just kind of occurs to me: Why would the U.S. even allow Pollard, the issue of Pollard’s release to be put on the table if no firm decision had been made on whether or not to release him?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not confirming what issues are on the table or what aren’t. But obviously, in terms of that issue, we know the Israelis have raised it throughout many years. That’s not a surprise to anyone.
QUESTION: Is it the Israeli Government balking at the number of prisoners released that brings up Pollard?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details on the discussions.
QUESTION: Yeah, you said --
MS. HARF: Wait. Let me go here, and then to you – back to you, Said.
QUESTION: You said the President hasn’t made his mind yet.
MS. HARF: No, he said – no, no, I said the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard.
QUESTION: To. So that’s mean the issue is under consideration.
MS. HARF: I did not say that. I said the President hasn’t – there are reports out there that are all over the place, so I want to be very clear in saying the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. He was --
QUESTION: But in other word, he’s going to look at it?
MS. HARF: I didn’t say that. I said I’m not going to get into any of the discussions that are happening on the ground or any internal discussions that are going on here. You can try and read the tea leaves all you want, but I’m just not going to confirm anything.
QUESTION: But – okay. So what you all are saying now is that there’s – the President has not made a decision to release Pollard.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: That’s different from last week’s statement, which are, “There are no plans to release him.”
MS. HARF: He also hadn’t made a decision to release him last week either. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So are we likely to --
MS. HARF: No --
QUESTION: You are discussing his release.
MS. HARF: -- that’s true.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MS. HARF: I am not confirming that in any – I’m not confirming what’s under discussion.
QUESTION: So all these Israeli reports about the fact that Mr. Pollard is ailing, he’s up for a parole hearing next year, 2015, and so on, and all these things are being factored into an early release are not just founded, right?
MS. HARF: I’m not commenting in any way on the internal discussions going on right now, either within our government or with the parties on the ground.
QUESTION: Let me ask you something. If Mr. Pollard is released, is that a – what kind of precedent will that set? I mean, what is likely to happen to someone like another convicted spy, like Walker and others, and so on?
MS. HARF: Said, the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. I am not going to speculate on any hypothetical situation at all.
QUESTION: So just because you use a lot of times the words, “I don’t want to characterize,” so how do you characterize the reports that are quoting and the quotes by some U.S. Administration official about this case, that it’s on the table now? How do you characterize the reports and officials?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any characterization of the reports. What I’ve said is I’m not going to read out details of the discussions one way or the other. We’ve done – this should be no surprise to you guys. For eight months I have refused to speak about any specific items under discussion in any way....

...QUESTION: Pollard – just one last one?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you aware that he waived his parole hearing today?
MS. HARF: I saw those reports.
QUESTION: Okay. Did the State Department have any involvement in that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything else for you on that.
MS. HARF: Thanks, guys. I think the Secretary is about to come on, so we managed to get a briefing in first.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)


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