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Russia cancels surface-to-air missile delivery to Iran

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

MOSCOW (WJC) — Russia has canceled plans to supply Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles due to UN sanctions imposed against Tehran, a senior Russian military official has said. “A decision has been taken not to supply the S-300 to Iran, they undoubtedly fall under sanctions,” the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov as saying. “There has been an instruction from the country’s leadership to stop the deliveries, and we are obeying it,” Makarov added, according to the RIA-‘Novosti’ news agency.

Russia had previously issued mixed messages regarding the future of the deal sgreed in 2005, first saying that the new round of sanctions on Iran passed at the United Nations in June would not impede the deal, and later saying that it would. Israel had been concerned at the possibility that Russia may follow through with the delivery of the S-300 surface-to-air defense system to Iran.

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Despite sanctions, Iran continues to stockpile nuclear materials

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

VIENNA (WJC)–Iran is steadily stockpiling enriched uranium, even in the face of toughened international sanctions, according to a report by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (IAEA).

The report raises new concerns about the ability to monitor parts of Tehran’s nuclear program that could be used to make a bomb. Citing a broad pattern of obstruction, the IAEA said that it could not confirm quantities of certain nuclear materials, has a growing list of unanswered questions about enrichment sites.

Overall, the UN agency “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military organizations.” The report states that for the past two years the Iranian regime refused to answer questions about possible undisclosed nuclear activities, including those related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile. The IAEA also said Iran had failed to comply with longstanding requests from its inspectors and that Tehran’s “repeated” objections to personnel appointments were disrupting its work.

Iran’s nuclear chief said Tehran had the right to bar the inspectors from monitoring its nuclear program. In June, the regime barred two experienced UN nuclear inspectors from entering the country because of what the regime said were their “false and wrong statements.” The IAEA has rejected the criticism.

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Conference of Presidents calls upon U.N. delegations to walk out on Ahmadinejad

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release) The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sent an appeal to the ambassadors from member states of the United Nations, including members of the European Union, as well as South American, African and Arab states, urging them to walk out of the UN General Assembly should Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be given the opportunity to address the international body.

“We have appealed to democratic nations that cherish the values of freedom and mutual respect to stand against President Ahmadinejad and either absent themselves from the UN General Assembly or walk out of the hall when he speaks, particularly if he should once again resort to threats, incitement or appeals to bigotry and anti-Semitism. President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly violated fundamental codes of conduct with his outrageous statements, most recently this past weekend when he again threatened to destroy Israel and one of his regime’s highest authorities dismissed the Holocaust as ‘superstition.’

“We would hope that his extremist rhetoric, calls for elimination of another UN member state, violation of human rights against his own people and support for international terrorism would bar him from this international platform. Moreover, his threats to destroy another member state violate the UN charter and should subject him to charges of incitement to genocide. Should he be allowed to speak in this forum, however, we call upon all member states that uphold democracy and human rights to manifest their rejection and disapproval of President Ahmadinejad’s incitement, bigotry, and Holocaust denial by walking out of the General Assembly during his speech.

“We hope that the decision and walkout by these member states will influence other nations to do the same,” said Conference of Presidents Chairman Alan Solow and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.

“As we stated in our appeal to these member states, we believe President Ahmadinejad’s threats must be taken seriously. While we hope our concerns will not be fulfilled, we strongly believe that to uphold the principles of the UN charter, both in letter and in spirit, it is imperative to show that such behavior will not be tolerated,” said Solow and Hoenlein.

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Iran offers to sell Lebanon arms in wake of U.S. freeze

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

TEHERAN (WJC)–Iran has said it was prepared to sell weapons to the Lebanon should the government in Beirut seek help to equip its military. On Tuesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had proposed to the unity government of Prime Minister Hariri to formally seek military assistance from Tehran, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

In Teheran, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Lebanon “is our friend, and its army is also our friend” and if there was a demand [for arms], “we are ready to help that country and conduct weapons transactions with it.” Nasrallah, whose movement is backed by Iran and Syria, vowed in a televised speech Hezbollah could help secure the aid for the Lebanon’s army, which is still seen as under-equipped compared to the Shiite paramilitary group.

“I vow that Hezbollah will work fervently and capitalize on its friendship with Iran to ensure it helps arm the Lebanese military in any way it can,” Nasrallah said. His call came following a US freeze in military aid to Lebanon in the wake of deadly border clashes between Lebanese and Israeli troops four weeks ago.

A US$ 100 million aid package for the Lebanon’s military was put on hold earlier this month by two leading members of the House of Representatives over concerns the weapons could be used to attack Israel, and that Hezbollah might have influence over the Lebanese army. Nasrallah’s movement is part of Hariri’s governing coalition.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the possibility of Iran selling arms to the Lebanon underscored “the importance both to our national security and the security of the region to continue with our security assistance to the Lebanese army”. He added that a review of the aid program to the Lebanon was under way and that “we hope to conclude that soon, and renew assistance.”

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There’s a pro-Israel ‘BIG RIG’ coming down the highway of public opinion

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid

LOS ANGELES — Anti-Israel activists are now putting all their energy into their Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS). Their goal is to portray Israel and Israelis as pariahs that should be excluded from all international spheres—diplomatic, political, economic, social, and cultural.
 
Jews have been victims of such policies before.  In the millennia of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East, they have been singled out, demonized, and excluded, as they were, for example, in 13th century England and 1930’s Europe. The Jewish State, too, has experienced such policies since its founding when Arab nations implemented strict exclusion and boycotts against Israel, most of which are still in place. The current global BDS campaign began in 2001 and grew after 2005, when Israel effectively defeated the terrorist campaign known as the Second Intifada. Today, hard core anti-Israel activists around the world are feverishly lobbying artists, universities, churches, retailers, unions, municipalities, and other institutions to adopt BDS.
 
Any public figures, retailers, institutions or organizations that adopt or defer to BDS policies should themselves be boycotted.

They should be boycotted because they advocate destructive rather than constructive, measures. BDS is anti-coexistence, undermines peace efforts, and does nothing to help Palestinians begin state building, improve their lives, or move toward reconciliation.
 
They should be boycotted because BDS policies are fundamentally anti-Semitic even though some of the movement’s advocates are Jews. The campaign uses the propaganda techniques and imagery of classical anti-Semitism now applied not to individual Jews, but to the world’s largest Jewish community and its only Jewish State. Boycott activists strip away all context for Israel’s actions, such as ongoing terrorism and the virulent ideology that propels it, in order to depict Israel as motivated by sheer malice in what are often simply modern blood libels. They obsessively put a microscope on Israel to detect its flaws, and expect it to live up to standards they do not expect of any other nation.  They never call for BDS against nations that do systematically commit war crimes and human rights abuses, such as Ahmadinejad’s Iran, Bashir’s Sudan, Lebanon’s apartheid practices against Palestinians, or Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and violent repression of its Kurdish minority.
 
They should be boycotted because of their hypocrisy.  Where was the outrage of the boycotters, who claim to be champions of social justice and human rights, when the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign targeted innocent Jewish men, women, and children, and Hamas fired thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israeli communities, murdering toddlers and turning daily life into a lethal game of Russian roulette?  Where were they when Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust even as he called for genocide against Jews?  Where is their protest against the Judeophobic incitement that dominates the Middle East?  Their callous indifference and implicit support of murdering Jews is both morally perverse and anti-Semitic.
 
Above all, they should be boycotted because they endorse the agendas of the dictatorial regimes and radical Islamist groups who share their hatred of the Jewish State and who are also enemies of human rights, social justice values, tolerance, and modernity. These states and groups like Hamas oppress women, persecute religious and other minorities, and oppress their own citizens. Those who adopt BDS should be exposed and pay the price for supporting and enabling the intransigent enemies of humanitarian and liberal values.
 
Boycotting those who comply with BDS means that any university that does not unequivocally denounce campus divestment campaigns should not receive another nickel from donors who care about fairness, the survival of Israel, and modern liberal values.  Recording artists who refuse to perform in Israel should be labeled as extremists for the regressive, anti-Semitic values they endorse. Fair-minded people should stop buying their records and attending their concerts.  Consumers should boycott any retailers who refuse to stock Israeli products, and support the new StandWithUs campaign, “BIG” and “RIG,” acronyms for “Buy Israeli Goods” and “Request Israeli Goods.”
 
It is time to expose the distorted values that drive the BDS movement, and its alliance with the most repressive and dangerous forces in the world today.  It is time to unequivocally say no to this BDS movement and to all who would consider complying with it.

Roz Rothstein is CEO of StandWithUs.  Roberta Seid, PhD is Education Director, StandWithUs.  This article also appeared in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

Ahmadinejad calls Iran’s new drone ‘a messenger of death’

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

TEHERAN (WJC)–President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has unveiled Iran’s first bomber drone and said it would serve as a “messenger of death” to Iran’s enemies.

The ‘Karrar’ unmanned fighter plane can carry two 115-kilo bombs, or one precision bomb twice that weight. The drone reportedly has a range of 1,000 km, not enough to reach Israel.

On Monday, state television reported that the Iranian military had opened production lines for two new types of assault boats. Iran frequently announces advances in military technology, boasting of self-sufficiency in the face of international sanctions and efforts by the West to isolate the country. However, US State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley warned the new weapons could reduce Iran’s security as Washington partners with allies in the region to counter a potential Iranian threat.

“This is one of the reasons why we believe that if Iran continues on the path that it’s on, that it actually might find itself less secure,” he told reporters in Washington.

The Iranian announcements came amid growing international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. On Saturday, Russian experts began loading fuel rods into the reactor at the Bushehr nuclear power station. Iran has maintained all along that the site will produce energy, but the United States and some other international observers remain unconvinced.

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Mubarak, King Abdullah invited to help launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

August 20, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Following is a transcript of the news conference at which Secretary of STate Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell outlined the agreement between Palestinians and Israelis to directly negotiate for peace.  The news conference was moderated by Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley:

MR. CROWLEY: Good morning and welcome to the Department of State. We have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here along with our Special Envoy George Mitchell to tell you about the most recent developments in our pursuit of Middle East peace. The Secretary will begin with a brief statement. George Mitchell will stay behind to answer your questions. And we are joined today by your colleagues in the White House Press Corps up in Martha’s Vineyard and we’ll be sharing the – they’ll be sharing the Q&A duties with you.

But we’ll start with Secretary Clinton.

QUESTION: I don’t like that idea. They’re in Martha’s Vineyard. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I will appoint a negotiator to deal with that. (Laughter.)

Since the beginning of this Administration, we have worked with the Israelis and Palestinians and our international partners to advance the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. The President and I are encouraged by the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and fully share their commitment to the goal of two states – Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

After proximity talks and consultations with both sides, on behalf of the United States Government, I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2nd in Washington, D.C. to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year.

President Obama has invited President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to attend in view of their critical role in this effort. Their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to our success. The President will hold bilateral meetings with the four leaders followed by a dinner with them on September 1st. The Quartet Representative Tony Blair has also been invited to the dinner in view of his important work to help Palestinians build the institutions of their future state, an effort which must continue during the negotiations. I’ve invited Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to join me here at the State Department on the following day for a trilateral meeting to re-launch direct negotiations.

As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.

As we have said before, these negotiations should take place without preconditions and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success, which will bring a better future to all of the people of the region.

George. Thank you all.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you traveling to Pakistan (inaudible) concern, Madam? Thank you, Madam.

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll be pleased to respond to any of your questions.

QUESTION: As tempted as I am to ask you about Roger Clemens, I’d rather – or P.J. perhaps. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: I predicted that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what was the turning point here? What was it that got the – that overcame the final snags to get them to come back to direct talks?

MR. MITCHELL: We believe it’s the recognition by the parties themselves, by their leaders – Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas – that the best outcome is an agreement which results in two states living side by side in peace and security, and that the only way that can be achieved is through direct negotiations between the parties in which the United States will be an active and sustained participant, and with the full support of our many friends and allies around the world, including, of course, specifically, the Quartet.

QUESTION: But what was it that got them to – I mean, you’ve been trying to do this for months now.

MR. MITCHELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: And why – so why – how is it that today, you’ve gotten to this point, whereas three days ago, you weren’t at this point?

MR. MITCHELL: Yeah. I think it’s the cumulative result of the efforts made over that time and the recognition by the parties that this is the right time. We will be active participants and there is broad support, as you know, by members of the Quartet and others around the world. But in the end, these decisions will be made by the parties themselves.

MR. CROWLEY: And (inaudible) Senator Mitchell —

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, could you —

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll let – why don’t I let P.J. —

QUESTION: Could you talk about the sequencing of the talks? Will they discuss territory, refugees, or Jerusalem first, or will this all be in parallel?

MR. MITCHELL: All permanent status issues will be on the table. It will be for the parties themselves to decide the manner by which they should be addressed.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell —

QUESTION: Yes. Madam Secretary mentioned without doubt there will be more – without doubt, there will be more obstacles. What will these obstacles be? What are the main sticking points that are going to be going forward?

MR. MITCHELL: We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded, all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders. In addition, we all know that, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, and as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don’t expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately.

But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including, but not limited to, an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it’s in the national security interests of the United States, and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance, and determination. We know that will be difficult. We know, as the Secretary said, there will be obstacles. But we’re going to proceed, as I said, with patience, perseverance, and determination.

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, sir, the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the United States have been down that road many times before. Now, what is in your opinion, sir, this time around that engenders – or should engender hope and optimism to get these talks into its intended end? And what kind of incentive did you offer President Abbas to entice him into the direct talks?

MR. MITCHELL: I don’t want to repeat everything I said in response to prior questions, but I will say that I believe that it is very much in the interest of people in both societies that there be an end to this conflict enabling both to live in peace and security. And I believe that their leaders believe and understand that, and therefore, notwithstanding the many difficulties that they face – and we recognize those difficulties – this is the best course for them.

On the question of past efforts in failing and succeeding, I’ll return, if I might, to my experience in Northern Ireland. I chaired three separate sets of discussions in Northern Ireland, spanning a period overall of five years. The main negotiation lasted for 22 months. During that time, the effort was repeatedly branded a failure. I was asked at least dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times when I was leaving because the effort had failed.

And of course, if the objective is to achieve a peace agreement, until you do achieve one, you have failed to do so. In a sense, in Northern Ireland, we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success. And we approach this task with the same determination to succeed notwithstanding the difficulties and notwithstanding the inability to get a final result so far, including past efforts. But past efforts at peace that did not succeed cannot deter us from trying again, because the cause is noble and just and right for all concerned.

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s take Michele and then Kirit and then we’ll go up to Martha’s Vineyard and come back.

Michele.

QUESTION: I wanted to get a sense of this timeline, this 12 months that the Secretary talked about. Do you see that as a deadline or is that – or is it looser than that? And also, just following up on this other question. I mean, what makes this peace process any different from all other peace processes?

MR. MITCHELL: We will only know the answer to your second question when it is completed. But I believe that, as I said in response to the previous question, that the cause is so important, so right, so just, that our continued effort is the right thing to do, and we are going to pursue it with determination. I believe that the two leaders themselves, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, are sincere and serious and believe that it can be done, and we will do everything humanly possible to help them see that it is done.

With respect to your first question, Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a public appearance in this country on his most recent visit to Washington that he believed it could be done within a year. President Abbas has expressed similar sentiments to me, and I hold strongly to that belief, having now been involved for some time in the region. So, we believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective.

QUESTION: But it’s not a deadline then?

MR. CROWLEY: Kirit, one more and then we’ll go up to Martha’s Vineyard.

QUESTION: It took you about nine months to get to the point where these guys were willing to sit down and talk to each other. What makes you think that you can get them to agree to peace in one year? At what point during this process is the U.S. willing to put its own ideas on the table to help move this forward? And after the initial set of talks here in D.C., where do you expect the talks to take place?

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll take your questions in reverse order. One of the subjects to be discussed in the meeting on September 1st and 2nd, and also in preparatory meetings that have been occurring on a regular basis and will continue between now and then, will be the timing and location of subsequent meetings, and we certainly expect some of those meetings to occur in the region.

With respect to the timing and nature, how long it took to get here and how long will it take to get in, I don’t think one is a necessary determinant of the other. It’s – I liken it to the first time I owned a house and had it painted. It took the painters seemingly forever to prime the building and the walls. I kept asking myself, “When are they going to start painting? We’re paying by the hour and we want some progress.” (Laughter.) And after this seemingly endless priming, they painted it very quickly.

Now, I don’t want to suggest one year is quickly, but I don’t think that events leading up to the negotiations are themselves decisive in terms of the negotiations themselves. We believe that the statements by the prime minister regarding within one year are credible and appropriate. We believe that President Abbas shares a similar view, as do we. And that’s what we’re going to pursue.

QUESTION: And at what point does the U.S. put its own ideas on the table in this process?

MR. MITCHELL: We will be active and sustained partners, although we recognize that this is a bilateral negotiation and we have indicated to both parties that, as necessary and appropriate, we will offer bridging proposals. But I repeat: This is a direct bilateral negotiation between the parties with our assistance and with the assistance of our friends and allies. And although nobody has asked it, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge and recognize the enormous support and assistance we have received from many of our friends and allies: Egypt, under President Mubarak; Jordan, under King Abdullah; many of the other Arab states; the other members of the Quartet; the United Nations under Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has been extremely helpful in this process; the European Union, with Lady Ashton as the foreign minister; and the – Russia, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, have all been active and very helpful along with other European states.

So it’s important to understand that while the United States is playing an important and active and sustained role, we do so with full participation, full input, full consultation, full discussion, and we hope full support, from a wide variety of allies whose efforts have been extremely important getting us to this phase and will be extremely important in reaching a conclusion. 

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we’ll go to take two or three questions from White House press corps.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our first question comes from Philip Hartley with Washington Today. Please ask one question.

QUESTION: Good morning. Actually, it’s two; I apologize. Have all the invited parties accepted the United States’ invitation to weigh in next month? And the Secretary had mentioned references to peace in the world, and as an envoy of peace, I wanted to know what your thoughts are on whether the proposed mosque be built at the Ground Zero site.

MR. MITCHELL: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.

MR. CROWLEY: We’re not here to talk about that latter subject. We’ll take the next question. What was the question?

QUESTION: Wait —

QUESTION: The first part was —

MR. CROWLEY: Have they accepted.

MR. MITCHELL: What was the first question?

MR. CROWLEY: Have they accepted the invitation?

MR. MITCHELL: We have been in consultation with both. We expect to hear from them shortly, but it will be their decisions on whether to accept.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take the next question, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Jonathan Broder with Congressional Quarterly.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do both parties have to ask for the U.S. to step in with its bridging proposals, or is it enough for one party to ask for that bridging proposal?

MR. MITCHELL: We’re getting a little bit ahead of the game now to be speculating on what may or may not occur well into the process. As I stated earlier, this is a direct bilateral negotiation with the active and sustained support of the United States. And we will make bridging proposals at such time as we deem necessary and appropriate. But I don’t want anyone to have the impression that we are somehow going to supplant or displace the roles of the parties themselves, nor do we have any view other than that this must, in the end, be an agreement by the parties themselves.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more, Operator, then we’ll come back here to this.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ron Kampeas with JTA.

QUESTION: Thank you. One technical question and then a real question. On September the 2nd – is that – are they actually – are you actually launching direct talks on September the 2nd, or are the leaders getting together with the Secretary to discuss the re-launching of direct talks? And the other thing: What role, if any, does Hamas have in this process?

MR. MITCHELL: The first question is yes, we are launching direct negotiations beginning on September 2nd. And the second question is: None.

QUESTION: Senator, is re-launching the direct negotiations without preconditions means that we are re-launching the direct negotiations without terms and references?

MR. MITCHELL: Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters. As you know, both we and the Quartet have previously said that the negotiations should be without preconditions.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you tell us whether they’re going to start from scratch, or will they build on what talks that – during the Olmert period? And the second question is whether Israel is expected to continue the freeze. Do you think that they’ll continue the freeze? Do you think the Palestinians will continue their boycott of settler goods?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties themselves will determine the basis on which they will proceed in the discussions, in response to your first question. In response to the second, our position on settlements is well-known and remains unchanged. We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations. And as the Secretary said in her statement a few moments ago, it’s important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.

MR. CROWLEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: Senator, just to follow up on that and a previous question, your position is well-known on settlements, but the Israelis, when they’ve chosen to, have ignored it and gone ahead with settlement construction as they’ve seen fit to do. Do you have any understanding from them that they will not do that this time?

And referring to the earlier question on Hamas and your quick answer that they will have no role, how do you get around the fact, even in the best of all circumstances that you negotiate an agreement, how do you get around the fact that Hamas is playing a huge role in Gaza?

MR. MITCHELL: With respect to the first question, let’s be clear that the declaration of the moratorium itself last November was a significant action, which has had a significant effect on new housing construction starts in the West Bank. And as I said, our position on settlements is well-known, remains unchanged, and we expect both parties to promote an environment conducive to negotiations.

With respect to Hamas, let’s be clear. Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn’t end President Bush’s tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government. And that is the situation here.

QUESTION: So you expect Hamas to accept any decision made by President Abbas at these negotiations?

MR. MITCHELL: It is not for me to make decisions for others.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more here, then we’ll go back up to the phones.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, is it your understanding that this would be a shelf agreement, something to take effect at a later date when political conditions in the Palestinian territories allow, or is it your understanding that this is something that would take effect in a very short period after it was agreed?

MR. MITCHELL: That’s obviously subject to the results of the negotiations. We are not creating limitations or restraints upon what the parties may agree to. Our hope is that there will be an agreement that will end the conflict for all time and will result in the establishment of a viable, democratic, and independent state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we’ll take one or two more from the phones.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question on the phone is Margaret Talev with McClatchy newspapers.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking our questions. The Palestinian press has reported that the U.S. put the harshest pressure to date on the Palestinians to get them into the talks. What I want to know is why did the U.S. feel that this was the time, in the Palestinians’ view, to bully the Palestinians into talking, considering the politics of the Israeli administration right now?

MR. MITCHELL: The United States position has been well-known from the time that this administration entered office. We have and we do favor direct negotiation between the parties to resolve the conflict and to produce an agreement that results in two states living side by side in peace and security. We have encouraged the two parties to enter into such negotiations and they have now agreed. And we are – we believe it’s the right thing to do, we think that both of the leaders believe it’s the right thing to do, and we believe it’s in the best interests of the people they represent.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more, Operator, from the phone.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Susan Garraty with News Talk Radio.

QUESTION: Hello, Senator Mitchell. You harkened back to the Northern Ireland peace process, and as you certainly recall, the President then played a very intimate role in that. Considering that many Americans themselves are even confused about President Obama’s religious affiliation, do you feel like the people of the Middle East on both sides of this issue will see President Obama as an honest broker and someone that they can actually reach out to in that same intimate fashion?

MR. MITCHELL: Yes, I do believe that they do and will continue to regard President Obama in that fashion. I will say that from the outset, both he and the Secretary of State have played an important, indeed critical, role in this effort. Both are deeply involved on a regular basis and deeply, personally committed to the cause of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. I think that is not only widely recognized throughout the region and the world, but very much appreciated, and in particular, throughout the region.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take a couple of wrap-ups. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Senator Mitchell.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: The total settlement freeze never happened, so I was wondering, how can these talks be considered authentic in the region when that demand was never met?

MR. MITCHELL: We believe that there is a basis for proceeding and achieving a successful result, and we’re going to pursue that. We do not take the position that if you don’t get everything you want the first time you ask for it, you pack up your bags and go home. If that had been the standard applied in South Africa, there would never have been peace there; in Northern Ireland, there would never have been peace there; in Bosnia, there would never have been peace there.

It takes patience, persistence, a willingness to go back again and again, to not take the first no as a final no, to not take the 50th no as the final no or the 100th no. We are patient, we are persevering, and we are determined, and we believe there is a basis for concluding a peace agreement in the region, and that’s what we’re going to pursue.

MR. CROWLEY: Samir.

QUESTION: Senator, do you understand that – you expect Abbas to accept entering these talks without preconditions?

MR. MITCHELL: Both the United States and the Quartet have said that we believe there should be direct talks without preconditions. And we also have said many times that we think that these talks should be conducted in a positive atmosphere in which the parties refrain from taking any steps that are not conducive to making progress in the discussions, that negotiate seriously and in good faith. And in all of these respects, we think that there is a basis for making progress.

QUESTION: So the talks won’t be based on the Quartet statement of March 19?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties are the only ones who can determine what the basis of their discussions are, and that is the case.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Senator, so many Palestinians, as you know, and Arabs believe peace with the actual Israeli Government is practically impossible because of its nature, past statement regarding refugees, Jerusalem, et cetera. Aren’t you concerned that by setting this one-year deadline, you’ll probably be raising expectations just like a la Camp David and all what happened after that?

MR. MITCHELL: The reality is, of course, that there are some in both societies who do not believe that the other side is serious, who do not trust the other side, who do not wish to proceed with the other side. And if we accept the premise that because some in one or both societies hold these views that we cannot proceed, then of course, what we are doing is consigning all of those people to never-ending conflict, never-ending difficulties. We simply don’t believe that’s a proper basis for any country, and certainly not ours, the United States, on which to base its policy.

We believe that the best course of action is the direct negotiations that result in a peace agreement ending this conflict and resulting in two states living side by side in peace and security. We believe the only way to achieve that is through direct negotiations. We believe that if those negotiations are conducted seriously and in good faith, they can produce such an agreement within 12 months. And that is our objective. We acknowledge, we recognize, as you have just stated, that there are many who don’t believe that, many who don’t want that, many who will act to prevent that.

But their lack of belief, their contrary views, their contrary actions cannot serve to prevent us from trying to deal with this conflict, nor can it prevent the leaders of those countries who both recognize that the interests of their people, the future of their societies rests upon resolving this conflict and achieving the kind of peace and stability and security from which they will all benefit.

MR. CROWLEY: Last question, Mark Landler.

QUESTION: Senator, this Administration believed from the early days that its Middle East strategy and its Iran strategy were linked in the sense that if you could make progress in one, you might help make progress in another and vice versa. You now are moving into a period of less engagement and more confrontation with Iran. I’m wondering whether you think that is an added hurdle to a peace agreement or is it something that could actually help in the sense that the Israelis may feel that the U.S. is going to be tough on Iran and it allays their fears somewhat in that regard.

MR. MITCHELL: That extends somewhat beyond the area of my involvement in this process, and so I would defer for a more full and thoughtful answer to those who are directly engaged on the broader issues. I will simply say that if you look at the Middle East and review its history over just the past half century, never mind several millennia, you will conclude that there is no really, quote, “right time” to do this, that there always have been and always will be issues external to the immediate parties that have an effect upon what is occurring.

And in my judgment, what is occurring in the – throughout the region, not just in Iran but in other areas, all add compelling, cumulative evidence to the need to act with respect to this conflict. That is to say, whether or not the circumstance you describe produces the result you describe, it still remains a compelling argument that it is very much in the national security interest of the United States, in terms of dealing with other conflicts, to assist, to do all we can with the help and support of our allies, to bring about a resolution of this conflict. It helps in so many ways, and most importantly, it’s the best thing for the Palestinian people and for the people of Israel. And it is in our national security interest and in that of others.

Thank you all very much. It’s been a pleasure to be with you.

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Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department