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Washington, DC
June 21, 2011

The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.

From the Daily Press Briefing of June 21, 2011

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12:37 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: With that, let me go to your questions. Please.

QUESTION: Syria. I was wondering if you had any updates on Ambassador Ford’s trip. Was he able to make it out of Damascus? What’s the situation there?

MS. NULAND: Ambassador Ford did travel to the north of Syria yesterday. He went to Jisr al-Shughour with a large group of other ambassadors. He was briefed there by Syrian military intelligence, and the ambassador had a chance along with his diplomatic colleagues to see for himself the results of the Syrian Government’s brutality. What they saw was an empty town.

QUESTION: And is there any further follow-up? Is he making a report then back – I mean, presumably he does to the Secretary, but how does that experience feed into U.S. policy (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: He will be making a report, he will be analyzing what he heard from Syrian officials, and he will be continuing to make our views known not only to the Government of Syria but to the opposition that this brutality has got to end and that we need not words but action.

QUESTION: Yes. On my point, words – action but not words. So have you seen anything valuable in President Asad calling for a new amnesty? Is that the kind of step you’re wanting?

MS. NULAND: He is letting out of prison people that he’s locked up during this period of repression, and not all of them, so what we are looking for is action that puts Syria on a diplomatic path, on a reform path.

QUESTION: How did the – I’m presuming that Ambassador Ford did – or that the Syrian military intelligence people who briefed Ambassador Ford did not point to this town and say, “Look, here’s evidence of our brutality.” Am I correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, I wasn’t on the trip with Ambassador Ford, but it was a preset government trip to take folks up to Jisr al-Shughour. I’m not sure what the Syrian Government’s intention was in taking them there. I can simply say that his major conclusion was to see this desperate, sad situation of a completely deserted town.

QUESTION: Well, then surely the Syrians have some explanation as to why this town was deserted. What did they say? And was this rejected by Ambassador Ford?

MS. NULAND: He certainly rejected any efforts by the Syrian Government to portray this as the work of foreign instigators or any such. But again, it gives – the fact that we have an ambassador there, the fact that we have somebody of such seniority, gives us a chance to make the point again and again and again both to Syrian Government interlocutors and to Syrian opposition that we stand with the side of those who want change in Syria.

QUESTION: Well, okay. I am not suggesting, although I’m sure others will, that this was some kind of dog and pony show that he shouldn’t have gone on in the first place. But I can guarantee you that there will be people who say that, but I’m not. I’m just trying to figure out if he was just given the sanitized tour, what was the point of going? What was the explanation? I mean, the Syrians obviously had to say – tell them something, explain why this was an empty town. And if he did not see – if the only evidence of brutality was an empty town, what’s the evidence of brutality in just an empty town?

MS. NULAND: Well, you see an empty town with significant damage. To your point about why one would go, just to recall that this is a government that has not allowed any of you, any of the domestic press, any of the foreign press, into its country. This is a government that has closed off the internet and tried to keep its own people from speaking out, so to go north to bear witness to see with our own eyes what the results of this awful encounter were has been valuable for us. We will wait for his report. I can’t speak from here today about how the Syrian Government justified its decision to take ambassadors there, but we thought it was valuable for him to bear witness.

Please.

QUESTION: Was the ambassador allowed, to say, the courtesy to meet with anyone if he wished so? Or if he wasn’t, was it strictly a government-organized tour where he could not talk to people or engage civilians?

MS. NULAND: My understanding was that there was nobody left in the town to talk to, but we’ll get you any more information that he has. My understanding is he was on his way back down to Damascus as we were coming here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the initial reaction from Ambassador Ford as – what does that suggest, the empty town?

MS. NULAND: Again, we will see if he has further information to share as he analyzes what he saw. But again, we thought it was valuable for him to go.

Please.

QUESTION: Has he seen the mass graves in Jisr al-Shughour, and what was his impression?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any further information other than that they were shown the town. I don’t know whether they asked to see the graves or any of that, but he certainly was able to see for himself a town that is deserted.

Jill.

QUESTION: So far at the briefings, we’ve been told that he has not been allowed to speak with officials, but now we’re hearing from our people that has changed. Is it correct that he now can speak with Syrian officials?

MS. NULAND: Well, he obviously saw this Syrian military officer who led this tour. With regard to his access to officials in Damascus, let me take that question and see whether things are changing. But again, to the question of whether you go, whether you don’t go, presumably he had every opportunity with this Syrian interlocutor who was assigned to take them north to make it clear how the United States feels about what’s going on.

Please.

QUESTION: A follow-question. Just for context, could you describe for us what sort of limitations there are on Ambassador Ford and other Embassy staff in Damascus? Have they requested to see other sites and those requests have been denied? Are they not allowed to go out without accompaniment? How does that work?

MS. NULAND: As we understand it, there have not been travel restrictions put on Ambassador Ford or his staff by Syrian Government officials. His trips are determined, his travel is determined, both by the need but also by security considerations. So that’s the number one thing, as I understand it.

Please.

QUESTION: Are you planning to call him for consultations in Washington?

MS. NULAND: At the moment, we think he’s doing extremely valuable work in Damascus. Our folks here and Assistant Secretary Feltman is in regular contact with him, so that channel is very valuable for us and it’s very valuable to have him on the ground.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Please, Kirit.

QUESTION: You just said it was due to – the reason that he has not had any restrictions but hasn’t gone out is due to need and security concerns. Can you say that there is need but there is maybe a security concern? What’s the reason on why he hasn’t gone on his own?

MS. NULAND: Well, for all ambassadors around the world, one always evaluates security. But as you know, it’s been violent in lots of parts of Syria, so one needs to make sure that he – if he’s going to move he can actually do his work and he can do it in a way that is safe and secure. I’m happy to ask him if he wants to comment further on the kinds of travel that he’s been interested in having, but again, we think it’s extremely valuable for him to be there. He has been able to go north. And we don’t have information that the Syrian Government is restricting him. And the main game, as you know, is in Damascus, as these protestors and other groups talk to each other, and to be part of those conversations.

QUESTION: To put a fine point on it, basically – you sort of talked around it a little bit, but basically it’s due to the security concerns. Is that what you’re saying, the reason that he hasn’t gone out? I mean, you gave two reasons, one was the need and one was the security concern. And I just want to make sure – you either think that there is no need or you think there’s a security concern. I just want to make sure you (inaudible) which one.

MS. NULAND: Again, my – our understanding is that when he feels the need to travel, assuming that the security concerns can be assured, he is able to travel. I think his focus has been on the situation in the capital. He did make this trip north. He thought it was an important trip to make.

QUESTION: If you would, could you clarify for us the mode of transportation that Ambassador Ford took on this tour? And security – who provides security on transportation? Was it the Syrians?

MS. NULAND: We’ll have to get that for you. I’ll take that question.

Goyal, in the back, please.

QUESTION: As far as the wave of freedom and human rights throughout the Middle East and another --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syria specifically for just a second? Did you say that he has or has not been outside of Damascus before this – since the uprising began?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that he’s not restricted with regard to other --

QUESTION: No, no. But has he --

MS. NULAND: -- trips he’s made. I’ll have to get it for you.

QUESTION: It’s – and following on that point.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Has he had – has he met or asked to meet with family members of those who’ve been killed in the protests or detained in the protests?

MS. NULAND: In Jisr al-Shughour? My --

QUESTION: Or in – there and anywhere else.

MS. NULAND: I think he is meeting with a broad cross section of Syrians. Whether he’s met with victims’ families, I can’t speak to, but we can see what the Embassy has to say.

Please.

QUESTION: How far is the Syrian Government trying to prove to Ambassador Ford from this trip?

MS. NULAND: You’ll have to ask the Syrian Government that question. Whatever their intentions were, showing us an empty town just proved what you all have been unable to fully report but what we have been concerned about.

QUESTION: Question now from Middle East.

MS. NULAND: Anything else on Syria, before we leave Syria?

Please, here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one more question. According to the reports, news reports that Syrian army have been tightening the borders with the Turkish border. Can Ambassador Ford’s visit confirm that? Has he seen any Syrian army by the borders?

MS. NULAND: Again, he was in this town, which is clearly under the control of the Syrian military now with regard – I don't believe that they toured the entire border, but we are extremely concerned about these reports that the Syrian Government is sealing the border, is not allowing refugees to go across, is denying humanitarian aid. It’s just further to the brutality that we’ve been seeing.

QUESTION: And you communicated this concern with the Syrian Government? Because it’s basically kind of a huge lesson to other countries in the region that if you put your troops by the border and stop the flow of people, then you’ll be okay.

MS. NULAND: I wouldn’t say that the Syrian Government is okay or that the situation is okay. We’ve had more than 10,000 people crossing into Syria[1]. We have, by reports, quite a desperate humanitarian situation developing at the border. We have, of course, conveyed through all of our channels, including this podium, our deep concern.

QUESTION: Has Ambassador Moustapha been called in for an explanation of what is going on in his country?

MS. NULAND: I’m not convinced that we think that would be particularly valuable. I think we are more interested in having Ambassador Ford speak for us in Damascus.

QUESTION: But he’s another avenue of reaching out to the government.

QUESTION: We’re talking about the Syrian ambassador here.

MS. NULAND: The Syrian ambassador here.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: I think it has been some time since we’ve called him in. But I can check.

QUESTION: But you think it’s more valuable for Ambassador Ford to go on a pre-planned sanitized trip up north than to call in a representative of the Syrian Government here?

MS. NULAND: We certainly think it’s more valuable for Ambassador Ford to speak to the U.S. position directly to Syrians of all kinds, whether they are members of the government, as he clearly had an opportunity to do on this trip, or whether they are members of the emerging and growing opposition. When you call in an ambassador, you can make your points. It’s always a question of what that person conveys and whether the message goes through straight, so --

QUESTION: Can we – is it possible – and I’m sorry, I missed the very top of this, but –

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: -- if you didn’t, can you synopsize or can someone tell us what Ambassador Ford – his message to the Syrians was on this trip? Presumably, he was talking to the military intelligence people. What exactly did he tell them? Did he say this is unacceptable and must stop?

MS. NULAND: I’m confident that he made all the points that the Secretary’s been making and that we’ve been making here. I am delighted to get more precise information from him about how this trip went.

Please.

QUESTION: A senior advisor to Turkish President Abdullah Gul told the United Arab Emirates, al-Arabiya, that there is a week – less than a week for Syria to respond, calls for change. U.S. Administration is ready to put any kind of timetable for Syrian regime to show action instead of words, as you described yesterday?

MS. NULAND: We believe the time for action is well overdue. We need action now. We share the concerns of the Turkish Government. I think you see that their concern is mounting, particularly as they’ve had to handle all of these refugees and have done so with such a big heart. But clearly, Turkish patience appears to be wearing thin, and we share all of their humanitarian and political concerns.

Please. Andy.

QUESTION: Is there any plan in the making to create kind of a refugee (inaudible) safe place in Syria right now, with Turkish military or –

MS. NULAND: You’d have to talk to the Turkish authorities about that.

Andy.

QUESTION: Back on Ambassador Ford’s trip, I’m wondering if you had any information of which other ambassadors were also part of that. Specifically Russian, Chinese, were they also there?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a list. I do know that it was a large group that was invited, and as I understand it, a large group did go.

QUESTION: On the issue of the ambassador here in Washington –

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: There is no diplomatic engagement whatsoever with Syrian diplomats in Washington?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t say that. I – we can certainly check whether there is anybody here talking to the Syrian Embassy. I’d certainly – I’d only make the point again that in diplomatic engagement, when you talk to an embassy, then that embassy transmits, whether the message goes through clearly. Getting our own message through directly to Syrians is the most effective means of speaking, as we feel.

Jill, please.

QUESTION: Although isn’t it also the case that the people that Ambassador Ford spoke to might not convey the message? Do you have high confidence that President Asad is hearing from his people what Ambassador Ford has told them?

MS. NULAND: Based on his actions, President Asad doesn’t seem to be hearing much of anything.

Jill.

QUESTION: A change of subject?

MS. NULAND: Please. Anybody else on Syria before we move off?

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yemen?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: President Saleh apparently is supposed to be returning, I believe it’s Friday. What does the State Department think about that?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen that report. I think on President Saleh, whether he stays in Saudi Arabia or whether he goes back, our request is the same. He needs to sign the GCC agreement and we need to move on with the transfer to a more democratic, progressive Yemen.

Please.

QUESTION: On – in Yemen, Assistant Secretary Feltman’s trip there tomorrow, I guess, is he – I mean, is he going to be urging the interim president – is it possible that he would ask the interim president to sign the deal in Saleh’s absence? I know you’ve been asked, and you said the time for change is now, and this guy’s in the seat, so couldn’t he presumably do it?

MS. NULAND: He will meet with Acting President Hadi, as I understand, and he will, I’m sure, talk to Acting President Hadi and all of those who are beginning to talk to each other now about how to move the process forward. With regard to signing, not signing, I can’t speak to that.

Kirit.

QUESTION: If President Saleh does, in fact, return on Friday, is there any chance that Assistant Secretary Feltman extends his stay to try to meet with him in Sanaa?

MS. NULAND: I think we need to let that trip start and see where events go. But clearly, Assistant Secretary Feltman’s goal is to facilitate this process, which is starting under Acting President Hadi’s leadership.

Please.

QUESTION: Is there any kind of direct contact between the United States and President Saleh while he’s in Saudi Arabia?

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: And second, Interpol, the UN body, has issued a report and not an arrest warrant that Ibrahim Dauda, most wanted terrorist or fugitive by the Indian Government, is in Pakistan. And the Indian Government now is saying before the talk with Pakistanis end of the month, as far as mutual understanding, they must bring those terrorists to justice, if U.S. is playing any role, to bring those wanted by the Indian Government inside Pakistan.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to our intelligence conversations with either India or with Pakistan. I think we are encouraged by the dialogue that is – has been ongoing between India and Pakistan and the upcoming visit, and we urge them to talk about these issues directly, as I hope they will.

MS. NULAND: Please, Afghanistan.

QUESTION: We’ve all known since December 2009 that the U.S. would start pulling troops out of Afghanistan July 2011. Without getting into what President Obama may or may not say tomorrow evening, what is the State Department’s primary concern as this transition period for U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan gets underway? You may not have the same levels of security for your PRTs that you might have had today, for example. Can you walk us through some of those concerns?

MS. NULAND: Jill asked a question similar to this this morning. Secretary Clinton, as you probably saw, was careful to say that we will have the President speaking on Afghanistan, and then she will elaborate broadly on our State Department issues with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan when she testifies on Thursday. So I think we will – we’ll wait for the presidential speech and then we will have Secretary Clinton speak to these very issues on Thursday.

QUESTION: But there aren’t any general issues that you can elaborate today? I mean, obviously, the planning has had to be going on for the better part of a year now to prepare for whatever the change is, even if there is no change. What should the people of Afghanistan be expecting from the civilian side of the equation?

MS. NULAND: I would simply say today that this Department has been a full partner in the interagency process, has been a full partner in providing advice as the President gets ready to make his decision. As you know, the Secretary’s been in all of the senior meetings that we’ve been having, so she will speak to how our own posture adapts as we move forward. As you know, this building has had – the State Department has had its own surge in civilian capacity, and Ambassador Grossman spoke to this about a week ago. So let’s let the President speak first, and then the Secretary will follow up on Thursday and then we will elaborate as necessary.

Please.

QUESTION: But the question is a valid one, though. I mean, the State Department does have equities that do not really have anything to do with – I mean, they are related to, but they’re not directly involved in – directly related to what the President’s decision may or may not be about troops.

And I think the question is simply: Is the State Department concerned that a precipitous drawdown might hurt the gains that have been made on the civilian side and might put – and could possibly put people, its own people – civilians – in jeopardy? And I’m not – I don’t think it’s – I don’t think it should be that difficult to answer that even before the President speaks. I mean, aren’t there security concerns in Afghanistan?

MS. NULAND: I think it’s important to put the President’s policy statement, which we’re expecting, in a broader context. Obviously, he’s going to speak about where we’re going on troop levels. But I think you will see this speech cast in a much broader frame in terms of the strategy and policy, military, civilian, political, economic that he set forth in June 2009, the progress that we have seen, the need to stay the course as necessary. So I think he’s not just going to speak about the military aspect; he’s going to speak about our entire effort. So I think we should let the President speak first, and then we’ll go from there.

Please.

QUESTION: As the President moves towards making this announcement, has there been any consultation with the Afghan Government and the Pakistani Government as well?

MS. NULAND: We are in permanent consultation with the Afghan Government and with the Pakistani Government on all of these issues, and certainly there will be contact. That contact will continue in the context of the statement that he’ll make.

Please.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Grossman involved – engaged directly in the talks with the Taliban?

MS. NULAND: I think we spoke yesterday to the general issue of reconciliation. We are supporting an Afghan-led process. It is Afghans in the lead. There have been some preliminary U.S. contacts, as there have been from many, many other nations. I’m not going to go further than that here. And I’m not going to characterize who’s been involved.

Goyal, in the back.

QUESTION: But I don’t -- do you see any change as far as Afghanistan is concerned, any change in the mission or policy? Because the people of Afghanistan are asking the United States and the NATO – after 10 years, they still live in fear and Talibans are still there, violence is still there. What will change and how – what can they expect as far as this year and next year?

MS. NULAND: I think your question goes to the heart of what the President wants to address when he speaks, so I think we need to let the President and Commander-in-Chief speak first.

Please.

QUESTION: No, but I’m asking any – is there any policy change in Afghanistan? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Again, that’ll be something that the President will speak to.

Please.

QUESTION: On this reconciliation between U.S. and – U.S. contacts with Talibans, Taliban is planning to open an office in Istanbul. What is the role of Turkey in this reconciliation process?

MS. NULAND: I think you need to ask the Turks that question, not us.

Please.

QUESTION: Can we switch to Tunisia?

MS. NULAND: Anybody else on Afghanistan? No? Okay. Tunisia.

QUESTION: Yeah. In Tunisia, ex-president Zine Abidine – well, Abidine Ben Ali was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Do you have anything to say about the conduct of the trial or his sentence? Did it meet international standards?

MS. NULAND: Not going to characterize the trial. We had been calling for due process, accountability, that the Tunisian judicial process be in keeping with their own commitment to strengthen democracy, strengthen rule of law in Tunisia. He did have a trial. He has been sentenced. I can’t from here give you a legal analysis of how that went. But it’s an internal matter for the Tunisians.

QUESTION: You don’t have any concerns about whether it met the standards that the Tunisians have been calling for?

MS. NULAND: I think I would simply say if you look at where we were with justice and accountability issues with Tunisia as recently as six months ago, the fact that there was a trial, the fact that it was an accountable legal process, is a big step forward. But I’m not going to go beyond that in evaluating the process.

QUESTION: Well, but wait a second. You said that you wanted it to – you wanted the trial to be conducted transparently and with due process, and you’re not prepared to say whether it was conducted transparently – it met your expectations or your hopes for it? I mean, the U.S. Government speaks out regularly on trials where it does not believe that due process and transparency and the rights of the accused were fairly met. Does this mean you don’t have any concerns about this trial?

MS. NULAND: Again, the fact that there was a trial, the fact that there was due process, the fact that the Tunisians are making progress from where they were just six months ago in terms of rule of law, is something that we are gratified to see. With regard to the – how precisely the process went forward, I can’t speak to it today. If you’re looking for a grade, we can come back to this. But it was an internal Tunisian matter, and just the fact that there was a legal process is already progress.

QUESTION: Okay. So then are you suggesting that there was no one from the U.S. Embassy there observing, there was nothing? There was no kind of --

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to observers. We can find out a little more for you.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, it’s just – you – I mean, this building speaks out on trials all the time, whether they’re in Belarus – bad, generally – or they’re in somewhere else that are good and you’re surprised that they’re good. So it would be interesting, if there is an assessment, or if your lack of an assessment means that you’re happy with it, that – just an explanation would be good.

MS. NULAND: Let me take the question. Let me take the question.

Please.

QUESTION: In Libya?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: You took the question yesterday if there is any ally country that did not freeze the Libyan regime assets. Do you have anything on that today?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think we put out a statement earlier today. We are not aware of any allied country that has not complied with UN Resolution 1970. So from that point of view, we’ve been very gratified, in fact, that it’s not only allied countries, it’s countries around the world, including Russia and China, that have taken steps to comply.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on your --

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: -- TQ that you put out last night, I mean, you did answer the question about whether or not you were aware if anybody wasn’t able to provide it. You said that you – wouldn’t be able to speak for other governments. But can you say – can you characterize your satisfaction with the level of international support that has actually come through at this point? I mean, not just the pledges. Given the fact that the TNC has said that they’ve run out of money, are you satisfied with – that countries have made good on those pledges?

MS. NULAND: I think we were very gratified, as we said when we were in Abu Dhabi a week or a week and a half ago, by the number of countries that came forward, by their generosity. Our understanding is that we are working through some of the issues in actually getting the money delivered. We did ask the question about the state of the TNC, and we are – we’re comfortable today that money is on the way.

QUESTION: And do you have any sort of sense of when that might actually arrive in their coffers?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don't have – we’re not their bankers, but we’re quite comfortable that the money is on its way.

Please.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Turkey?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: How do you view the Turkish military buildup on the border with Syria? Do you view any incursion, any Turkish incursion, on the Syrian territories?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that the Turkish military is assisting in support for the refugees and the building of the camps and the providing of services and in ensuring that that border is open and that the border is nonviolent. In general, we have been very impressed and gratified by Turkish willingness to take these refugees in, their preparedness for it. We have said that we are open to assisting the Government of Turkey through UNHCR as necessary. But as you know, like many governments, the Turks use their military for logistics and for security in refugee situations.

Please.

QUESTION: Still in Turkey?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: There is a limited access to refugees in the border Turkey by Turkish Government. Are you comfortable with this limited access?

MS. NULAND: On the Syrian side of the border?

QUESTION: On Turkish side. The refugees that are in Turkey right now, inside of Turkey, there’s a limited access to those people by the media. Are you aware of that, or do you have any kind of --

MS. NULAND: Well, we had a lot of media there yesterday when Angelina Jolie went in with the UN. So, yeah, I think --

QUESTION: It’s a very widespread known fact that there is restriction on these refugees. I’m just asking your opinion, if – do you have any kind of issues with that?

MS. NULAND: I think the whole world has seen the pictures of the very pristine camps that Turkey has set up and has seen the interviews with these poor people who have had to flee their homes. So from that perspective, and the fact that Angelina Jolie got in and really spread the word as a UN ambassador, I think, speaks volumes about Turkish willingness to open their country and to do all they can for these Syrian refugees.

QUESTION: There was a phone call between the President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan just yesterday. And interestingly enough, there is a reference to Middle East peace process and Turkey’s contribution to that, which we usually don’t hear anything about Turkey in relation with the Middle East peace process. Could you please elaborate on that, if there is anything – Turkey’s role is being discussed here?

MS. NULAND: I think we usually talk to Turkey about Middle East peace as part of our regular bilateral exchange. Certainly, the Secretary talked to her counterpart when we saw him in Abu Dhabi about Middle East peace, so I don't think it’s particularly surprising. But for a further characterization of the President’s conversation, I’d send you to the White House.

QUESTION: Can we stay on that, on Middle East peace --

QUESTION: On – as --

MS. NULAND: Yes. Can --

QUESTION: Follow up on that?

MS. NULAND: Middle East peace here, and then Middle East peace there. Please.

QUESTION: Yeah. As a follow-up on that --

MS. NULAND: Can I just --

QUESTION: Let him go.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Please.

QUESTION: Do you have a mediation role between Israel and Turkey after the tension last year because of the flotilla?

MS. NULAND: You’re asking a question about our messages to Turkey?

QUESTION: Actually, today there are some reports that U.S. Administration is playing a role, as a mediation role, between Israel and Turkey to repair the relationship between the two countries. Do you know if --

MS. NULAND: Certainly, the United States, at all levels, has encouraged the Government of Turkey and the Government of Israel to work closely together. With regard to the flotilla, our policy hasn’t changed. We’ve made clear to groups, to individuals that are thinking about breaking the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza, that that would be irresponsible, that it would be provocative, that if they want to help the people of Gaza, there are other ways to get the assistance in. We’ve – the Secretary has talked to her counterpart in Turkey about these issues. They talk about it every time they meet.

QUESTION: But after the cancellation of the second flotilla, there are some new developments between the two countries. And according to the reports, there are some talks between the officials of the two countries, and U.S. Administration officials are playing role in these talks.

MS. NULAND: It would be a good thing if Israeli-Turkish relations improved, and certainly we’ve encouraged both sides to work to that goal.

QUESTION: But if you could confirm that you are participating in these talks?

MS. NULAND: I can only say that we talk to Turkey, we talk to Israel about improving their relationship, and it will be a very good thing if they’re talking to each other.

QUESTION: You are familiar with what was said on the conference call with a senior official this morning about Envoy Hale and Dennis Ross’s meetings and trips?

MS. NULAND: I am.

QUESTION: There was a lot of focus in that call by the official on the President’s speech --

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and how that will lay the – hope they – how you hope that will lay the foundation for resumption of talks. When this official and the Administration more broadly speaks about this, about the President’s speech, is it referring simply only to the speech that he delivered here at the State Department or does it also include the speech that he gave several days later to the AIPAC Conference --

MS. NULAND: I --

QUESTION: -- which had more – went into a little bit more detail on some of the issues that the Israelis were most concerned about?

MS. NULAND: I understood that the official who spoke in the background call was referring to the May 19th speech. Obviously, whenever the President speaks on these issues the totality of his position is our position. I hope that what you heard in the background call was a real, live representation of diplomacy in action. We had the President’s speech, and then there’s a real requirement to go out and talk to not only each of the parties to help them to understand the words, to hear from each of them about their issues, to try to bring them closer together, but to also talk to the countries in the region so that everybody’s getting the same message, so that everybody, we hope, begins to pull in the same direction, and then the Quartet, so --

QUESTION: Well, in that light of diplomacy in action and officials going out to explain what the words meant in the speech and how that – can you explain to me what is – what was so revolutionary about the President’s speech that it was, in the official’s terms, groundbreaking and historic – a groundbreaking and historic development? Because as much as people made out the reference to the ’67 borders with swaps, there didn’t – there was nothing in that speech that was particularly different than any other president who has been involved in this – in Middle East peace processes or in attempts to get negotiations going. There wasn’t much different in it, and I’d just like to know what – why does the Administration think that this President’s speech on May 19th is going to be the magic bullet to get things started? Can you explain why it was so special?

MS. NULAND: The President set forward what he believes, what we believe, should serve as the right foundation for moving forward, for getting the parties back to the table. I don’t think that anybody thought that this was going to be easy, which is why you see Ambassador Ross, Ambassador Hale working so hard now with the parties, with the regional states, with the Quartet to come to a common understanding of how to move forward.

The President felt, as you know, that it was time to lay out a set of principles that could get these parties back to the table because the status quo was not sustainable; because unilateral declarations, one side or another, were not going to lead to a lasting peace. So this was his effort to set a foundation. It’s an opportunity for the parties, and we’re now working hard to follow up and to bring them closer together, but it’s not going to be easy.

QUESTION: No, no. I understand that, obviously. But I don’t understand what was so special about this speech and how it was different in any way than any speech before delivered by a president involved in this. And the lukewarmed, to be blunt, response to this speech from all sides – all sides are angry, no one’s particularly happy – doesn’t seem to give much hope. So what is it, or what was it about this speech in particular that you think – that the Administration thinks is going to be the catalyst that brings the parties back to the table?

MS. NULAND: The goal of the diplomacy that’s going on now is to explain to the parties that this is an opportunity, we believe, for them to come back together, to take the principles, to take the foundation that the President laid, see it as an opportunity, come back to the table, start working towards a durable peace through negotiations, two states living side by side in peace, in security.

The President laid out his view of how to get started. We’re talking now to the parties about how they can take advantage of that foundation, those principles. We hope they seize this opportunity, and we’re working very hard to try to get them to seize this opportunity, but it’s obviously their choice to make.

QUESTION: All right. Related to that but separate, not on the speech at all, does the U.S. share the concerns of the European Union about the imprisonment of this Palestinian peace demonstrator, Bassem Timimi, who has been arrested and jailed by the Israelis? It’s been part of these ongoing protests that have been videotaped, all over YouTube and things like that. The EU the other day came out with a statement of some kind of concern about his treatment or about his arrest.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that today, but we’ll get you something.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just to follow up on a question that I had asked about an American citizen who was injured in a protest in southern Lebanon by Israeli troops, he was injured, was in a hospital in Beirut. We got kind of an answer, which told that he hadn’t signed a Privacy Act waiver, then it turned out that he had never been given a chance to sign a Privacy Act waiver. Now he has signed a Privacy Act waiver, and I’m wondering if you can tell us anything more about his case.

MS. NULAND: This is not Mr. Grapel in Egypt? This is somebody --

QUESTION: No. This is – I can get his name for you afterwards, but --

MS. NULAND: Why don’t you pass --

QUESTION: -- it’s come up in the past, and I believe that you have something on --

MS. NULAND: Why don’t you pass us his name and we will take the question and get back to you.

QUESTION: Can I talk about Mr. Grapel --

QUESTION: Can you (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: (Laughter.)

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Actually, generally, how do the militaries – Egyptian militaries handling the --

QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East peace process, a very quick (inaudible) what you were addressing, please? Is there –

MS. NULAND: Why don’t we go to this question --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: -- since I opened the door? Go ahead.

QUESTION: So in general, how do you – how the U.S. Administration view the Egyptian military handling the situation in Egypt so far? Especially there are widespread news reports about attacks on press. There are – people are getting arrested by the military because of the criticism on the military. Do you have any view on that?

MS. NULAND: With regard to Mr. Grapel, we have been provided full consular access to him. Our understanding is that Egypt allows 15 days to determine whether there’ll be a charge, and we are still within that period.

We visited him on June 13th. We’ve been in touch with his family. And our dialogue on human rights issues continues with the Egyptian Government.

Did you want to go to – stay on the Middle East, please?

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: The current talks that Mr. Hale is conducting, do they have a shelf life? What will happen next? How long will he be there, and is he conducting any kind of shuttle diplomacy?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know that you would describe it as a shuttle diplomacy. I would consider it more sort of concentric circles of diplomacy, starting with the parties moving out to the regional powers, and then he’ll be with the Quartet later in the week, and then our understanding is he goes back and continues working with the parties.

His goal, the United States goal, is to build on the speech to get the parties back to the table. So he will continue these efforts over the next week, then presumably he will come home and report, and we’ll see where we go from there.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Egypt and repeat my question, please? My question was, again, if the U.S. Administration has any assessment on what’s going on in Egypt in terms of Egyptian military’s handling with the freedom of press, especially people are getting arrested. That was my question in general.

MS. NULAND: We are continuing our dialogue with Egypt as it moves through this transition period about the importance of democratic principles: freedom of the press; open, transparent, accountable judicial systems. So that discussion goes on. I believe Assistant Secretary Feltman is also going to be in Egypt. I’m not sure, but I think on this next trip he’s planning to go to Egypt as well, and I’m sure that these issues will be on his agenda.

Please, Andy.

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a couple little ones. Pakistan – the Pakistani arrest of this brigadier charged with ties to a banned Islamist group. I was just wondering if they had let you know about that. Do you read anything into this? Is this a good sign?

MS. NULAND: It sounds like an intelligence matter that I can’t comment on.

QUESTION: And the second one being the lawyer for the hikers in Iran is now saying that their trial has been rescheduled for the 31st of July, I believe. I was just wondering if you had any information on that and any more to say about their fate.

MS. NULAND: You know our view, I think, that Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer have been unjustly detained in Iran for two years, and we call on Iran to do the right thing and allow them to come home. We are concerned about the reports. We want to have more access to them. We want them to have more access to their families. I believe the last visit by our Swiss protecting power was in October of 2010. They were allowed to phone home on May 22nd, but that’s only the third call they’ve had in the two years that they have been locked up.

With regard to their trial, I don’t have those reports that you’ve seen, but it’s time for them to come home.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Anything else? Thank you very much.



[1] Turkey

[This is a mobile copy of Middle East Digest - June 21, 2011]