U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak today in Washington, and here is what journalists were told afterwards by State Department Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley [NOTE – NO JOURNALIST TOOK ADVANTAGE OF A BIG OPENING TO ASK WHAT WOULD HAPPEN WITH THE FORTHCOMING FLOTILLAS]:
“[T]he meeting with the Secretary and Defense Minister Barak ran a little bit long. Let me start there. Minister Barak arrived and had a one-on-one with the Secretary for roughly 30 minutes and then broadened into a full bilateral with the respective teams. They reviewed the status of the ongoing proximity talks. There is a shared interest to try to move from proximity talks to direct negotiations as quickly as possible and discuss some of the ways in which we can build momentum to move towards those direct negotiations. The defense minister reviewed with the Secretary the decision that Israel made regarding its new policy towards Gaza. He reflected on the fact that even in the last couple of days we’ve already seen a significant expansion in the number of trucks moving into Gaza with more material for the people of Gaza, and he pledged that Israel will continue to expand that flow in the coming days and weeks. And then they talked about a wide range of other issues, other regional issues as well.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Secretary’s meeting with Defense Minister Barak?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that he reviewed with her the new Israeli policy toward Gaza.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, he did.
State Department Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley briefing journalists about the meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ––
QUESTION: The other day you told us – I think Monday you told us that you didn’t have a list or you didn’t have a list of goods that would now be banned or barred from – has the Israeli Government yet shown you such a list?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the Israeli Government is still developing its list.
QUESTION: So how detailed an understanding then does she have on what will be permitted in and what will not be permitted in?
MR. CROWLEY: I think what we heard from Defense Minister Barak today is a very earnest commitment. They have made a fundamental decision at the Cabinet level to change their approach to Gaza. We certainly welcome that and have made it clear that this is a significant and positive development. He indicated to the Secretary directly that Israel is developing a list but he made very clear that it anticipates a dramatic expansion in the flow of materials into Gaza. He indicated that working with the UN and others, he anticipated that there would be a significant in the projects that will go forward in Gaza. He did not lay out a specific list, but as he stressed in the bilateral, even in the last few days you’ve seen a very dramatic increase in the flow of goods and he anticipated that that would continue to increase. He made a commitment in terms of trying to improve the infrastructure around the opening so that it would clearly could sustain a much higher level of commerce.
We will continue to as part of our efforts, we expect that George Mitchell will be back in the region next week, and we will continue to talk through with the Israeli Government its full implementation of this. We’ll continue to discuss in our discussions with the Palestinians as well how we can link commercially businesses on the West Bank and have them be a part of this flow. Obviously, the Palestinian Authority has a role to play in this so we would – this will be part of the ongoing dialogue that we have with this Israel and the Palestinians in the coming days and weeks.
QUESTION: As you know, the devil is in the details.
MR. CROWLEY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Well, and therefore, I continue to not understand why you have been so fulsomely praiseworthy of the Israeli change in policy if you do not yet have a precise and detailed understanding of what they’re going to allow in and what they’re not.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Arshad, we’ve been very clear. We do welcome this step; it is a dramatic change in how Israel has approached Gaza from the last couple of years. Implementation will be important. The particulars will be important. Obviously a critical aspect of here is in helping the people of Gaza not just sustain their daily lives but to recreate a viable economy within Gaza. There are things that will have to be done. There is infrastructure that will have to be built. This will in essence require a fundamental change that the existing of the Israeli policy that existed days ago had a very limited number of goods that were cleared for entry into Gaza. Israel is now going to reverse this and allow — and only limit certain things that it believes have military value. We’ll be watching very carefully. We’ll be consulting directly with Israel as it goes through this implementation. But listening to Defense Minister Barak today, I think we were encouraged by the commitment that Israel makes to enhance the flow of goods to the people of Gaza.
QUESTION: And the other day – sorry, last word for me on this.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s also on this.
QUESTION: Yeah. Building materials – the other day you said that you would like to see, that the U.S. Government would like to see building materials flowing into Gaza. Did Defense Minister Barak give any assurances about the flow of building materials to allow for a reconstruction post the Israeli offense in Gaza?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, what the minister told the Secretary was that they are developing their list. It will be centered on things that were excluded which then infers that things that are not on their list are, in fact, open to — for transportation into Gaza through the land check points.
We’ll – so –
QUESTION: So you still –
MR. CROWLEY: This is important and obviously what the minister talked to the Secretary about today was expanding the number of projects that help with that rebuilding effort, that obviously infers that things will be built, rebuilt, and that will require construction materials to be able to accomplish that. So this will be something that Israel will be developing in the coming days and we will be a part of that conversation.
QUESTION: You also said they discussed ways to build momentum for a return to the direct talks. What were these ways?
MR. CROWLEY: On the particulars, what we heard was that Israel is committed to do what it can to move from the existing proximity talks to direct negotiations. There’s a need for action by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to create the trust that allows them to take that step. And we will be – as I said, we’ll be talking to both of them. George Mitchell will be back in the region next week, and we’ll just leave it there.
QUESTION: I’m assuming they discussed the 22 homes in the King’s Garden – the al-Bustan as the Palestinians call it.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we – there are steps that both sides need to take.
QUESTION: Did they discuss them? I’m so sorry, did they discuss that or not?
MR. CROWLEY: It did not come up in the portion of the meeting I was in. I will check to see if it came up in the one-on-one.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Was there a discussion at all on the flotilla incident and the possibility of an independent commission to investigate it?
MR. CROWLEY: The defense minister did discuss the Israeli investigation that is underway with the Secretary. I think the – and he also talked about Israeli’s ongoing efforts to understanding that there may be other ships on the way in the coming days. [n.b. – PLEASE NOTE HERE THAT NO JOURNALIST ASKED ANY FOLLOW-UP ON THIS]
QUESTION: The defense minister in his statement – and I’m a bit surprised about this, I can’t understand – that he said that the peace process – about the peace process, and then he said put aside all the difficulties that arose in the recent weeks. What difficulties he is referring to? Were there a lot of difficulties between U.S. and Israel in recent weeks?
MR. CROWLEY: Say that again.
QUESTION: He said that put aside all the difficulties that arose in the recent weeks and put them behind us in a cooperative manner in order to – it says – I’m quoting what he said.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll defer – it’s not my role to parse words by the defense minister. I mean, given the tragedy of the flotilla, those are clearly difficulties that have arisen in the last few weeks and —
QUESTION: There was one difficulty —
MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right. Again, I’m not here to interpret the defense minister’s words.
QUESTION: P.J., you said yesterday that the Secretary will discuss with Minister Barak as far as legitimate security concerns, including Syria, Iran, and from Hamas and Hezbollah. Can you elaborate on that, please?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as defense minister, his portfolio is broader than just the peace process and Gaza. So during the course of their meeting, we had the opportunity to review Israel’s security concerns with respect to specific countries in the region, including those that you mentioned”…