Photo Credit: US State Department
Matt Lee (AP) asking tough questions of John Kirby of the US State Department. June 20, 2016.

In US State Department’s spokesperson Matthew Miller’s first State Department briefing on May 22, about a quarter of the question-and-answer period—11 minutes—was devoted to Israel.

The first question centered on a statement that Miller released on May 21, which Matt Lee, of the Associated Press, characterized as “highly critical” of Israel’s decision to walk back legislation barring Israeli citizens from entering Homesh in northern Samaria.


Had Washington heard back from Jerusalem? Lee wanted to know. And, he added, the statement referred to letters that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former U.S. President George W. Bush exchanged.

“You seem to be complaining, and this is the second time this has happened—not, the first time under your name but the second time it has happened—that you guys have complained about this. And yet it was in fact the Obama administration that said when it was in office that it no longer recognized or no longer felt bound by the assurances that were given by both sides in these,” Lee said.

[Editor: During the Obama administration, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in June 2009 in response to questions on the assurances that President George Bush previously gave to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on territorial exchanges to keep existing settlements in any future peace deal, that “There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements. If they did occur, which of course people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”

Exchange of letters between PM Sharon and President Bush | Ministry of Foreign Affairs (

Letter From President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon ( ]

“So, why do you expect the Israelis to uphold this when you guys haven’t for 12 years?” he asked.

Miller reiterated that Foggy Bottom is “deeply troubled” by the Israeli government’s order. He added that the order is both inconsistent with Sharon’s “written commitment to the Bush administration in 2004 and, significantly, the current Israeli government’s commitments to the Biden administration.” (Miller added that Washington and Jerusalem communicate “on a number of levels, all the time,” without speaking more specifically.)

Lee persisted.

“I don’t care who the letters were exchanged between. They could have been between Golda Meir and Lyndon Johnson, but the fact of the matter is—is that you guys were the ones who first said you’re no longer bound by them, so why do you keep bringing—why—if you think that what the Israelis are doing now is inconsistent with what they’ve told you—I mean ‘you’ meaning this administration—that’s one thing,” he said. “But why keep bringing up the Sharon-Bush letters?”

Miller disagreed that the U.S. position has changed over time. “Our position has been clear and consistent across administrations, and it is our view that that letter was not withdrawn,” the State Department spokesman said.

“Really? The last administration, really?” Lee asked. “That was a clear and consistent view in the—during the last administration?” News Desk contributed to this report.


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