Today reporter Matthew Lee asked questions beyond the official script during a press session with U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, following the Obama administration’s announcement that it would be cutting funding for the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, after its member countries overwhelmingly approved a Palestinian bid for full membership. Nuland said UNESCO’s decision was “regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, adding that the U.S. would not be making it’s scheduled $60 million payment in November as a result. Over 100 countries voted for the bid or abstained and only 14 voted against it.
Following is an excerpt and here is Lee’s report in the Associated Press.
Victoria Nuland: …This was, as I said, regrettable, premature and undermines the prospect of getting where we want to go and that’s what we’re concerned about.
Matthew Lee: Exactly how does it undermine the process of getting where you want to go?
Victoria Nuland: The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table–
Matthew Lee: The only thing that it does is upset Israel and it triggers this law that you said will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground, is there?
Victoria Nuland: Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment which we’re trying to work through so that the parties can get back to the table–
Matthew Lee: How does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground, unlike, say, the construction of settlements. That changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO which is a body that the U.S. was so unconcerned about for many years that it wasn’t even a member.
Victoria Nuland: Well, I think you know that this administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward–
Matthew Lee: Well, actually the last administration joined UNESCO, not this one, but I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process other than the fact that it upsets Israel.
Victoria Nuland: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table, that’s what we’ve been doing all along, that was the basis for the president’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the quartet came out with in September, so in that context we’ve been trying to improve the relationship between these two parties and improve the environment between them and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.
Matthew Lee: Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together, with all your effort?
Victoria Nuland: How many times have the parties met? I think you know the answer to that question, that doesn’t change the fact that we all are committed to trying–
Matthew Lee: Correct, so how can things get worse than they already are?
Victoria Nuland: Matt, I think you’re engaged in a polemic here rather than questions, Saeed please?