A State Department spokesperson refused to signal U.S. support for Israeli participation in an upcoming NATO summit in Chicago next month.
Turkey raised eyebrows this week when it rejected Israeli participation in the summit.
Israel is a partner country working with NATO on an ad hoc basis, but is not a full member of the treaty organization. Turkey, however, is a full member of NATO, and President Obama has formed a close relationship with Turkish Leader Tayyip Erdogan, whose critics accuse him of imposing an Islamist agenda.
Given repeated opportunities to support Israeli participation in the summit, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland demurred.
The reporter questioning Nuland even went so far as to warn her that her unclear response would be seized upon and "slammed" by the pro-Israel community, which has had a tense relationship with the administration.
Q: Can I—(inaudible)—press reports that arguing Turkey is blocking Israel's participation to next NATO summit? And the U.S. side is not happy with that. It's not going to the—trying to convince Turks not to block Israel to NATO. Do you have any comment on that, on these reports?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know for quite some time now we have been continuing to talk to both our ally Turkey and our ally Israel about the relationship that they have with each other to encourage them to continue to get back to a place where they can have conversation with each other, where they can work well together. We think it's important to both of them, and it's certainly important to the region.
With regard to arrangements for the NATO summit and partnership events, as you know, Israel is one of NATO's partners in the Mediterranean dialogue. I don't have anything particular to announce on partnership planning at the moment. That—those discussions are continuing as we head towards the May summit in Chicago.
Q: Israel may participate in the summit?
MS. NULAND: Again, we're still working on what the partnership arrangements are going to look like for the summit. So I'm not going to comment on them from here as those conversations continue. There are many aspects of how the partners may or may not participate in the—in the NATO summit that are still being worked on.
Q: Well, are you comfortable with the Turkish position?
MS. NULAND: Again, I'm not going to comment on internal deliberations going on at NATO about arrangements for the summit from this—
Q: NATO operates by consensus, is not—correct—as you well know.
MS. NULAND: Correct.
Q: So if one NATO member objected to Israel or any other country's participation in a partnership dialogue, you wouldn't be allowed to—that country wouldn't be allowed to participate, correct?
MS. NULAND: We need consensus at NATO. And again, Israel is one of NATO's partners, has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera. So we're going to keep working on the arrangements for partnership at Chicago, but I don't have anything particular to announce today.
Q: Well, would you be—would the United—would the administration be comfortable if Israel did not participate?
MS. NULAND: Again, we—there are many, many ways that these partnership activities may go forward. They've been done in different ways at different summits. So I'm not going to get into what we're talking about, how it might work, who's going to come. We're still working on all of that.
Q: You—the administration won't come out and say that it wants Israel to be at the—to participate at the—at the—at the summit in Chicago?
MS. NULAND: We haven't made any announcements about who—
Q: I know.
MS. NULAND: —among NATO's 25, 30 partners around the world we expect to invite to Chicago. So I'm not going to comment on individual partners and whether they're coming to Chicago.
Q: Well, you're being asked about one specifically.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
Q: Is it important to the United States for the—for Israel to participate?
MS. NULAND: It's important that we come to a consensus agreement at NATO about a strong partnership aspect of this summit.
Q: (Off mic.)
MS. NULAND: So we're still working on that.
Q: So you're—so you're saying that that could happen without Israel's participation?
MS. NULAND: I'm saying that there are 25, 30 global partners of NATO. It is still under discussion at NATO what events there will be in the context of the summit that will highlight the partnership and which partners will be invited. No decisions have been made.
Q: So you're saying that some partners may not be invited?
MS. NULAND: I'm saying that there have been NATO summits where no partners were invited—
Q: Tori, I'm trying to help you out here, because you're going to get—
MS. NULAND: I understand.
Q: —absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: Matt, there is no—
Q: You are. If you can't come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East, and you won't come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that's—that is going to be seized on.
MS. NULAND: Matt, at the last summit in Lisbon, there was zero partnership participation, with the exception I think of ISAF partners. At Lisbon, there were some partnership events, and I don't know whether all partners were included; I think they were not.
MS. NULAND: So every summit is done on a case-by-case basis, and we haven't made a decision about who's going to be invited yet.
Q: Well, if—yeah. But isn't the planning for at least most of the partnership—these partnerships to have—to have some kind meeting revolving around Chicago?
MS. NULAND: NATO has, I think, five—
Q: Wasn't there a meeting at the heads-of-state level between the NATO and the Russians in Lisbon?
MS. NULAND: I think there was a NATO-Russia Council at Lisbon. There will not be a NATO-Russia Council meeting at Chicago. So again, the point is that for each summit, NATO makes decisions by consensus what the partnership geometry will be. And that has not been decided.
Q: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn't be objecting to Israel's participation, if someone hadn't proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate—
MS. NULAND: Again—
Q: —and you're not willing to stick up for it, I don't understand why —
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to get into, here, what we have proposed and where we are in the internal dialogue at NATO until the issues are settled by consensus. That's not the way NATO works, OK?
Let's move on.