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Comedy Hour at State Dept. on Iran and Israel

The US says there are two diplomacies – public and private. Israel is “private” when it comes to red lines apparently. But Iran is public.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 9/12/2012, 8:33 PM

The US says there are two diplomacies – public and private. Israel is “private” when it comes to red lines apparently. But Iran is public.

The Obama administration’s refusal to publicly state “red lines” for Iran has made journalists at the State Dept. daily briefing blue in the face as they try to understand why a spokeswoman explains diplomacy and then refuses to explain it.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland and Associated Press journalist Matt Lee dueled to find out “who’s on first” and the question and answer session revealed nobody, but they didn’t get much past home plate.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in English on Monday that the world – meaning the United States – cannot put a red light before Israel while refusing to place red lines on Iran. The White House again rejected the idea of red lines for Iran and on the same day announced that for the first time ever, President Barack Obama would not have time later this month to meet with a visiting Israeli prime minister.

A journalist at the daily briefing asked Nuland, “How do you alleviate those Israeli concerns without some sort of markers in the sand that you won’t allow Iran to cross?”

She replied with the usual answer of “I’m not going to comment today on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements.”  

She added, “We don’t think it’s particularly useful to have those conversations in public. It doesn’t help the process and it doesn’t help the integrity of the diplomacy.”

Journalists began to pepper her with questions on “why is this issue something that needs to be handled privately [while] other issues, I mean U.S.-Israeli issues such as settlements, you’ll make a comment from the podium that’s sometimes critical of the Israeli government’s behavior.”

Nuland held firm, and then Lee, known for his incisive and acerbic questioning, started up with her.

“You don’t think it’s helpful to do diplomacy with Israel or anyone else in public” he asked. “What are you doing up here every day, then?"

Nuland: “I’m explaining our diplomacy.”

Lee: “What is public diplomacy, then, if it is not – I mean, I don’t understand. If you are explaining every day what the position –“

Nuland: “There is public diplomacy and there is private diplomacy.”

Lee: “And all – everything that has to do with Israel, or anyone else, is all private –“

He then pointed out that diplomacy with Iran has been public, to which Nuland said that “we have private contacts in the P-5+1.”

Lee: "If the P-5+1 is in fact private diplomacy, what results have you gotten out of it? What exactly have the Iranians done to show you that you’ve been successful in getting them to come clean on their nuclear intentions?... In other words, your private diplomacy hasn’t worked, so – correct? So I’m just wondering, I guess the deal is – I mean, unless you’re telling me or unless you’re willing to tell us that you’ve told the Iranians in private that there are red lines, I mean, what – how do they know what to do?”

Nuland finally drew a red line and told the journalists to move on to the next subject.