15 November 2012

Egypt: U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: Egypt


Excerpt from the United States Department of States daily press briefing:

MR. TONER: Anyway, let's go to your questions, Matt.

QUESTION: Let's start with the situation in Gaza and Israel. The Secretary made a call yesterday or took a call from the Egyptian Foreign Minister; is that correct?

MR. TONER: That's correct.

QUESTION: What was the content? What was the message?

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, obviously, as I said, she did speak, as you noted, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr yesterday. I'm not sure what time, frankly. In the convoluted time zones that she's in versus us, I'm not sure what time of day it was. But her core message was that we need - the necessity of a de-escalation of the ongoing situation and an end to the violence. That's what's most important here. And for --

QUESTION: And based --

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MR. TONER: No, no. You go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, based on that conversation and also on what you know, what you may know, about the President's conversation with President Morsi --

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- do you think that Egypt is going to do the right thing here, or do you have the sense that they're going to? What was the response from the Egyptians? It's --

MR. TONER: Well, I --

QUESTION: Because publicly, their response doesn't seem to be very consistent with what you're asking of them.

MR. TONER: I think - and in fact, the White House has issued in a readout of the President's calls yesterday - both we and the Egyptians agree there needs to be a de-escalation, and we urged the Government of Egypt to take steps to support that kind of de-escalation.

QUESTION: Such as?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, using their influence in the region. But we want to see, obviously, a de-escalation of the violence. We need to see the violence to -stop. We need to see Hamas stop its rocket attacks on Israel so we can end the violence.

QUESTION: Okay. And the other day, I asked you whether or not the United States spoke to - or not spoke to, but had messages delivered to Hamas to knock it off, if you've used Egypt or Qatar, particularly since their Emir just visited Gaza, to send a message to Hamas that these rocket attacks have to stop whether or not they are actually firing them or not. I was told and - or I was led to believe that the answer is no, that you don't pass any messages on to Hamas through third parties; you don't talk to them yourselves. And I'm curious; is that correct? And if it is, why? Why not?

MR. TONER: I'm not sure - again, I'm not sure - you're talking about what I told you in terms --


MR. TONER: -- of my response? Okay. I think what I said was that - at the time was we certainly do convey our concerns, certainly to Egypt as a regional leader, as someone who has influence in the region. We convey our concerns and we consult closely on them whenever there's this kind of outbreak of violence.

QUESTION: Yeah, but do you tell the Egyptians or the Qataris or other people or other countries --

MR. TONER: And I'm not going to get into the substance of our phone calls --

QUESTION: No, no, no, no.

MR. TONER: -- or our conversations with them, other than to say that we're obviously consulting closely with them. We value their input on the security in the region.

QUESTION: Well, but the question is do you tell them to tell Hamas - do you tell people who have contacts with Hamas, since you don't have any contacts with them, to cut it out?

MR. TONER: And I think I --

QUESTION: I mean, you go on the record all the time --

MR. TONER: I think I answered your question to say that, certainly, we ask Egypt to use its influence in the region to help de-escalate the situation. I'll leave it there.

QUESTION: All right. Well, why is it that you're willing to say, "use influence in the region" but you're not willing to say "with Hamas?"

MR. TONER: Because I - because that's what I decided to say.

Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Mark, the Egyptian Prime Minister just announced that he's going to Gaza tomorrow.

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Has he informed you of that? Have you discussed the content or the purpose of his visit?

MR. TONER: We haven't. I don't believe - I know the Secretary hasn't had any conversations with her counterpart today. I can't speak for the White House, obviously.

QUESTION: So do you expect this visit to actually mitigate the - sort of the tension that is ongoing, or delay (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: I think there's one clear way to mitigate the tensions, and that is for Hamas to stop its rocket attacks on Israel so we can de-escalate the situation and end the violence. That's the clearest path.

QUESTION: Okay. We understand. But are you dissuading or are you telling Israel not to conduct a major land invasion of Gaza, a la Cast Lead back in 2008, 2009?

MR. TONER: We're obviously in close consultation with Israel, as you well know. The President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. Let me finish. Let me be very clear that Israel has a right to self-defense. As of yesterday, I believe the Israeli Government noted that since the beginning of 2012, more than 768 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, and over 12,000 in the past 12 years, and I believe over a hundred today alone. They have a right to self-defense.


MR. TONER: The onus - let me be very clear - the onus here is on Hamas. And as Jay Carney just said from the White House, it claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, but through its actions it's showing a far different agenda.

QUESTION: Are you counting the number of rockets and air raids that Israel has conducted on Gaza into (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: Again, we need to see Hamas stop its rocket attacks and then we can see a de-escalation of the violence.

QUESTION: Do the Palestinians in Gaza have the same right to self-defense?

MR. TONER: This is violence instigated by Hamas. We have - as we've said very clearly in our statement yesterday, that we extend our sympathies to the victims, innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians that have been affected by this violence. But let's be very clear where the onus likes.

Go ahead, Said - Samir.

QUESTION: No, no I just - I was going to say you quoted Mr. Carney, but he said the same thing you said yesterday yourself in your statement.

MR. TONER: We're in lockstep, I guess.

Yeah. Anything else on Hamas? Or in Israel, Gaza?

QUESTION: Yeah. Which is the reason that you think that Hamas was attacking Israel? Do you think it has any connection with the Syria situation?

MR. TONER: I have no idea. You'll have to ask them.


QUESTION: Egypt recalls its ambassador in Tel Aviv. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. TONER: No. I mean, look, you'll have to ask the Egyptian Government to explain its actions, but we've been in close contact, as Matt pointed out, with Morsi and the Secretary with her counterpart. We're consulting with them closely. We both agree on the fundamental point that there needs to be a de-escalation here so that the violence can stop.

Yeah, go ahead, Margaret.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to Abbas or anyone in the PA?

MR. TONER: The Secretary has not. I can confirm that David Hale did meet with President Abbas yesterday in Bern, as we had talked about. Obviously, they did discuss the importance of deescalating the current situation in Gaza and they also obviously talked about overall Middle East peace efforts, but clearly, that came up.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the ongoing conflict shifts the balance from Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to Hamas as the major Palestinian interlocutor?

MR. TONER: I'm not going to get into an analysis on the ground of the political situation. I can only tell you that Hamas's efforts are only serving to destabilize the situation, and it's putting peace efforts farther away rather than closer.

QUESTION: With Israeli reservists being put on standby --

MR. TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Rosalind. Go.

QUESTION: Okay. With the reservists being put on standby, with the 25-mile civilian protection zone being implemented, with other steps being taken, does the U.S. believe that there is a realistic chance of an Israeli ground invasion? And what steps is the U.S. taking to try to avert that?

MR. TONER: Again, we're obviously in close consultation with Israel, both at the Secretary's level, at the President's level. We're going to remain in close consultation going forward. I'm not going to speculate on where this might go beyond saying that we all want to see a de-escalation of the violence and that the onus rests squarely on Hamas. It needs to stop its rocket attacks.

Yeah, (inaudible). I'm sorry.

QUESTION: On that - who has the onus to stop and de-escalation, so if for some reason Hamas actually does stop, as you suggest they need to, what gives you confidence that Israel would also - would de-escalate as well as opposed to seizing an opportunity and striking harder?

MR. TONER: Well, again, let's wait till we get to that point. That's a good point. We want to see the violence stop that Hamas is carrying out, the rocket attacks. The President said very clearly in his conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I think we said as much yesterday in the readout, that we want to see Israel make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. But clearly, they do have a right to self-defense.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry, Mark. Egypt claims that there was actually a de-escalation, and in fact, they had arrived at some sort of an understanding with the - or brought the positions closer between Hamas and Israel and then Israel basically surprised everybody by the attack. Do you concur?

MR. TONER: I don't. I am frankly unaware of those remarks. Again, I would just point to the fact that over a hundred rockets have been fired on Israel today as a sign that there's no imminent cessation of violence.


QUESTION: Yeah. When you say contacts and then you describe the word as a conveying message or consulting, what's exactly this type of contacts? I mean, how would you describe it?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, obviously, these are private diplomatic conversations. We convey our position and there's agreement, frankly, among us and the - among and - well, in Israel and as well as Egypt that we need to see the violence end, there needs to be a de-escalation. Our strong position is that Hamas needs to stop its rocket attacks, that Israel is only defending itself.

QUESTION: Beside those two sides, any other contacts or consultation with other people in the European Union or France or anybody else?

MR. TONER: Obviously, I think all friends of Israel and other regional players are concerned by what's taking place and there's ongoing consultations. I can't speak, frankly, to whether the Secretary's had additional calls. She has not.

QUESTION: Mark, would you expect the Egyptian Prime Minister tomorrow in Gaza to work on this de-escalation? I mean --

MR. TONER: We would certainly hope so.

QUESTION: Because the declared reason is to show support to the Palestinians in Gaza.

MR. TONER: Again, there's a very clear path here to ending the violence, and that's for the rocket attacks to stop. So we would hope that's a message that's delivered.


MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Oh, you hope that that is a message that will be delivered, after you --

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) I thought you'd seize on that, Matt.

QUESTION: -- just spent five minutes trying to not answer my question before about whether you deliver messages to Hamas. And now you just said that - so there is a message. So, thank you, there. Thank you for that.

MR. TONER: It's more - it was because it was a more artfully posed question.

QUESTION: Oh, I see.

MR. TONER: I think that's what it was. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: So I'll just plant my questions with other people (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: -- I can get an answer for? Just on the - what the Egyptian response has been --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you said numerous times now that you both - the U.S. and Egypt - agree based on these conversations that there needs to be a de-escalation. But do you - does that agreement extend to how the de-escalation should come about? The Egyptian officials who have spoken publicly about this talk about the Palestinians' right to defense. They talk about how this is Israeli aggression. Clearly, you don't agree on that, or are they giving you some other message behind the scenes?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I don't want to get into the substance of our conversations. We both are in agreement that the violence needs to end. We need to de-escalate the situation.


MR. TONER: Let me finish. Let me finish. As I just said, our position is clear that there's no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against Israel, and the onus is on them to cease their rocket attacks so that this de-escalation can take place.

QUESTION: Yeah, but is that the Egyptian position as well, that there's no justification for these attacks?

MR. TONER: You'll have to ask the Egyptians.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I don't think that's the Egyptian position at all, and so it's kind of disingenuous to say that you agreed on the endgame, which is that there shouldn't be any violence, that all violence should stop. But if Egypt is saying, okay, the easiest way to do that is to just get rid of Israel, then you have fundamental disagreements with - if that's the case or something like it, you have fundamental disagreements on how one arrives at a de-escalation.

MR. TONER: Look, just - we --

QUESTION: So I think it's pretty --

MR. TONER: We believe the Government of Egypt --

QUESTION: I think it's --

MR. TONER: -- remains committed to --

QUESTION: Oh, yeah?

MR. TONER: -- its peace treaty with Israel. We are in close consultation with them as we go forward on this, we're in close consultation with Israel, and we're looking for a de-escalation.

QUESTION: Do you know - have the Egyptians been told about what abrogation of the peace treaty would mean for them, particularly in terms of money from the U.S.?

MR. TONER: Again, that's - you can ask them that question.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: When you put the onus on Hamas, is it because Hamas is doing the rocket launching or because --

MR. TONER: Right. I mean, it's - this is --

QUESTION: -- Hamas is ruling Gaza?

MR. TONER: Well, again, this is a situation that they've created by firing rockets on innocent Israeli civilians. We obviously mourn civilian deaths on both sides, but the onus is on Hamas to stop its rocket attacks.


QUESTION: I'm surprised that when I ask you the question why Hamas is throwing all these rockets, you said that you don't know that it's related to the situation going on in the Middle East. How do you think Iran has any participation with the --

MR. TONER: Well, they're clearly --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: I mean, it's pure conjecture. I haven't spoken with them, clearly, today or any day. But they continue to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause, so you'll have to ask them to explain it.


QUESTION: So does the U.S. hold Hamas responsible for rockets launched by other militant groups in Gaza such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

MR. TONER: I think I said - I think I noted Hamas and other terrorist groups.

QUESTION: I just want to go one --

QUESTION: So - sorry.

MR. TONER: I'm sorry, go ahead. Go ahead and finish up.

QUESTION: So you're saying Hamas is responsible for rockets that other groups have launched from Gaza?

MR. TONER: What I am trying to say is that Hamas and these other terrorist groups need to cease, but primarily Hamas.

QUESTION: Just on the - on your assertion or your belief that the Government of Israel remains fundamentally committed to the peace treaty, is that --

MR. TONER: I'm sorry, would you repeat that again?

QUESTION: Well, you just told me that you --

MR. TONER: The Government of Egypt? I thought you said --

QUESTION: Well, yeah, the Government of Egypt remains committed to the peace treaty --

MR. TONER: I just didn't hear it all.

QUESTION: -- sorry, with Israel.

MR. TONER: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: That is based on these phone calls? Because - or something else? And the reason I ask the question is that this - at least this building's assessment or analysis of Egypt - I think back to the Secretary talking about how Mubarak's government was stable amid the Tahrir Square protests - your assessment and analysis of the situation in Egypt hasn't always been right. So are you absolutely sure and have you gotten reassurances in the last two days from Egyptian officials that they are, in fact, committed to the peace treaty?

MR. TONER: Matt, I'm just going to say that we are consulting closely at very high levels but also through our Embassy in Cairo that we're in regular contact with President Morsi's office. We're conveying the same message that we want to see a de-escalation of violence, that the onus for de-escalating the violence is on Hamas, and I'm going to leave it there.

QUESTION: Well, okay, but that --

MR. TONER: I mean, I'm not going to - I just said that we believe that they remain committed to their peace treaty.

QUESTION: But is that - what is that based on? Is that based on recent conversations?

MR. TONER: It's based on our continuing close consultation with the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. TONER: Yeah, in the back. Are we done with --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: -- Gaza? Okay, go ahead. You have the floor, my friend.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions. One, what sort of messages are you receiving from the leaders from around the globe from the news or reports or even from the White House that Secretary of State is going to leave? And I mean --

MR. TONER: I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself. But obviously, Toria and others, including the Secretary, have said that she'll finish out this term. But we still have several months ahead of us, so we haven't received that whole portion or that whole part of - hasn't begun yet. We don't have - we still have hard work to do in front of us.


QUESTION: Sorry to take you back to Gaza --

MR. TONER: It's okay.

QUESTION: And if --

MR. TONER: It's okay, it's okay.

QUESTION: -- if this was asked before I entered the room. But has the Secretary spoken to any Turkish leaders about the situation, and is there anything you can tell us about those contacts if they've taken place?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Just before coming down here, I did confirm - I do believe she's spoken with Davutoglu, but I don't know - I didn't obviously get time to have a readout and I don't know when the call was. I know it was recent, so I'll try to give you one.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I want to ask you a question --

MR. TONER: What are we on now?

(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)

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