A journalist with the Associated Press exchanged heated words with State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland during a press conference on Monday over her refusal to be more specific or forceful regarding the U.S. role in the Gaza crisis.
Reporter Matthew Lee bombarded Nuland with a series of questions, often cutting her off mid-sentence, suggesting that the State Department's approach to diplomacy in Gaza -- specifically, that it takes place out of the press's sightline -- had not achieved satisfactory results. He began:
MATTHEW LEE, AP: You say that it would not be helpful for you to discuss any of your conversations, that quiet diplomacy is the way to deescalate that problem. You've been doing your quiet diplomacy for almost a week. How's that going so far?
VICTORIA NULAND: Uh, we are working hard with the parties--
LEE: Hasn't it occurred to anybody that being less quiet would get more results. The squeaky wheel gets grease. That kind of thing?
NULAND: I'll let the--
LEE: You're being silent while people are dying, left and right.
NULAND: Matt, we are being far from silent. The president--
LEE: You're not telling us anything about... When the turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism, and you refuse to say you don't agree with that -- or, maybe, yo do agree with it -- that's being silent.
Lee continued to hammer away at Nuland and the State Department, in particular maligning their oft-stated policy of not "practic[ing] diplomacy from the podium." Nuland, meanwhile, insisted that the administration was working hard behind the scenes to resolve the crisis.
The altercation reached its climax when Lee brought up the subject of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's condemnation of Israel as a "terrorist state" on Monday. Lee appeared to suggest that the administration's refusal to take a public stance on that and other matter related to the crisis was responsible for" hundreds of people dying every day."
LEE: [Y]ou won't stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they're engaged in terrorism in Gaza.
NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel's security, about the fact that Israel has a right to self-defense, but I am not going to go further than that today.
LEE: Why can't you say that you don't agree with the Turks.
NULAND: Because I'm not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We're just not going to do that.
LEE: And you think that's worse? A public spitting match is worse than hundreds of people dying every day?
NULAND: I don't understand the question here. There's not a question here. You're just looking for a fight.
After Lee continued to pushback, Nuland finally stated that, "We of course agree that rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment," bringing the standoff to a close.
The situation in Gaza -- which escalated into an international crisis last week after Israel launched a series of attacks on Hamas targets in the region -- has proved diplomatically challenging for the United States. President Barack Obama has asserted the U.S.'s support for Israel throughout, potentially to the detriment of the country's relationships with key Middle East allies Turkey and Egypt.