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Washington, DC
August 16, 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 August 16, 2011

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We did accredit the chargé last Thursday, August 11th, and so officially the Libyan Embassy is reopened. Our understanding is that they plan to have an official flag-raising ceremony of some kind later next week. As you know, there were some frozen assets belonging to the Embassy, and we are in the process of working through the licensing process so that we can return those embassy assets to the chargé for his use for embassy operations.

So with that, let me take your questions.

QUESTION: Just to eliminate any further confusion, the chargé is not Ambassador Aujali, correct?

MS. NULAND: He is Chargé Aujali, so he comes back with the title of chargé. It is the same individual. He comes back with the title of chargé, representing the TNC as the governing authority and the chargé status reflects the transitional nature of things in Libya, as I understand it.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the – your opening comments or rather lack of opening comment on the Quartet statement that’s come out of New York and why you chose to ignore it or not mention it?

MS. NULAND: Well, it was released in New York, so the Quartet statement speaks for itself. I think the Quartet felt it was an important issue to make a statement on, and the text is open and available for you all to see.

QUESTION: Generally, these kinds of statements are released simultaneously in New York and then – I mean in the UN and then the capital. I’m curious why you didn’t think it was significant enough to mention at the top of the briefing.

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, in process, my understanding is that Quartet statements are generally released in New York. Since it happened more than an hour ago, I assumed that particularly the wire services would have already completed their reports on it. But obviously, it is significant for us that the Quartet --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. NULAND: -- chose to make this statement.

QUESTION: Exactly. And is there a reason why the Quartet does not – mentions only the settlement issue and doesn’t mention anything about Palestinians going to the UN?

MS. NULAND: This is not a replacement for Quartet action on the larger question, which, as you know, has been designed to try to get the parties back to the table. In the past, the Quartet has occasionally chosen to make statements on aspects of the issue, and they felt it was important, we felt it was important, at this stage to make a discreet statement on the settlement issue. But that doesn’t change the overall larger goal of the Quartet, which is to get the parties back to the table.

QUESTION: Right. But the fact of the matter is, it appears that the Quartet is only able to speak and by issuing statements when there is something that is critical of Israel in it. The principals met here not so long ago, didn’t put out a statement, and we were told, oh, that’s no big deal, the Quartet doesn’t always put out statements. And that would have seemed to have been an appropriate time for a statement, at least on the issues that all four members could agree on. This would suggest that the only thing that the four members could agree on today is that the settlement activity is bad.

MS. NULAND: I just reject the premise of the way you frame this. The Quartet issued a strong statement after the President’s speech in May supporting the framework that he put forward. We said when the Quartet met here in July that when the Quartet thought that another full statement on the negotiation situation could help to bring the parties back to the table, that it was prepared to say something, but at the moment the statement that it issued in May expressing support for the President’s vision and framework stands on this particular issue of settlements, the Quartet thought it was an appropriate moment to issue an additional statement.

I think if and when the Quartet comes to the conclusion that some new statement further to its May statement can help in the goal of getting the parties back to the table, then there’ll be something more to say.

Please.

QUESTION: On --

MS. NULAND: On this issue still?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. NULAND: Okay.

QUESTION: In this context, few of senators, members of Congress, and also GOP contenders last week criticized the U.S. Administration for its condemnation on Israel as a close ally. How do you respond to that?

MS. NULAND: The members of Congress know where the Administration stands. We’ve been very clear here. We’ve been here – clear in the Quartet statement. It is their right as elected officials to have a different view, but that doesn’t change the view of the Executive.

Please.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. I mean, I think in the statement they used the word “alarmed” by the Israeli activities in – regarding the decision to build settlements. Is this something that – we haven’t seen – kind of heard this word from this podium or from the Administration. I mean, just to go to the degree to say you are alarmed by the Israelis’ activities, is this something mainly the other Quartet members, or do you really share the same language with them?

MS. NULAND: Well, a contact group – a Quartet group statement represents the views of all members of the Quartet, to obviously we stand by a statement that we put out and that we supported.

QUESTION: Well, are you – wait a minute. Are you accepting that the statement actually uses the word “alarmed”?

MS. NULAND: I actually don’t have the statement in front of me --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) need to be careful.

MS. NULAND: -- so I’m simply making the point that we joined the Quartet statement, so I would represent that we stand by whatever is there. But I don’t have it here in front of me. Thanks.

QUESTION: Are you making any progress? Is the Quartet making any progress on coming up with a consensus statement or document to try to get the parties back into direct negotiations?

MS. NULAND: The focus of the Quartet is working on the parties. I think if and when we come to the point where we think an additional statement will be helpful in that regard, then the Quartet will work in that direction. But you know that we’ve said that it has been difficult to get these parties back to the table, and we continue to work, as do other members of the Quartet, in that direction.

Please.

QUESTION: Different issue?

MS. NULAND: Yes. Thanks.

QUESTION: This morning at the National Defense University conversation, Secretary Panetta said that Pakistan has relationship with Lashkar-e Tayyiba and Haqqani Network. As you know, Lashkar-e Tayyiba is a terrorist organization declared by both United States and the United Nations, so why Pakistan maintains a relationship with the terrorist organization? What level of relations the U.S. has under your own laws against Pakistan and what actions you are taking with it?

MS. NULAND: I think I got lost in the thicket of your questions.

QUESTION: We’ve had two facts. Lashkar-e Tayyiba is a terrorist organization declared by United States and also by the United Nations. Secretary Panetta this morning said that Lashkar-e Tayyiba – Pakistan Government maintains relationship with Lashkar-e Tayyiba, which is a terrorist organization. So, miss, how do you maintain relationship with Pakistan, given that it has this relationship with LET?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think it’s no secret to anybody in this room that we have a robust dialogue with Pakistan on counterterrorism issues, and we continue to try to strengthen our approach, collaborate as much as we can. Obviously, these two organizations that Secretary Panetta spoke about this morning are on the list of subjects that we talk about together. But beyond that, I don’t think I’m going to get into the substance. Thanks.

QUESTION: Given that, do you consider Pakistan as a state sponsor or terrorists?

MS. NULAND: I think you know that our view is that Pakistan is a partner in our fight against terror, and we’re going to continue to work together. We believe it is in our interest and it’s in the interest of Pakistan that we continue to strengthen our cooperation and collaboration.

Behind you. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up.

QUESTION: Wait, can we stay on this for just a –

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think it’s on the same question and then back to Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s a follow-up on that. So anybody who can cooperate with the U.S. will not be put on the state terrorism list?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t –

QUESTION: The – Pakistan is having a relationship with two terror organizations. And we are not putting Pakistan on the state terrorism – state sponsor of terrorism.

MS. NULAND: Again, I think Secretary Panetta spoke to our concern about how these two organizations operate and any relationship that they may have with Pakistan, which is a subject that we talk about with Pakistan, which is a different issue than a state being a sponsor of terrorism itself.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a – kind of related to that, but is it your understanding that Secretary Panetta said that the Pakistani Government had a relationship with –

MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to –

QUESTION: That’s not what I heard.

MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to send you to DOD to – for that to parse their own Secretary’s words.

QUESTION: Or just maybe look – take a look at the transcript for yourself?

MS. NULAND: Exactly.

QUESTION: He says Pakistan has relationship with LET and –

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think –

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the – that what he meant to say was that the Pakistani Government, which he did not say – was that the Pakistani Government – is it your understanding that what he was meaning to say was that the Pakistani Government has relationships with these two networks?

MS. NULAND: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: But again, I would send you to him and his people for a parsing of his words.

Please.

QUESTION: Other subjects?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Turkish foreign minister made a statement, and you didn’t have time to comment on that. You said that you didn’t see the speech. Would you be able to elaborate and have your view on Turkish latest approach to Syria today? Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Secretary Clinton also spoke to this this morning at NDU in her extensive comments on the situation in Syria, and she made the point to that audience, which I obviously can’t improve on, that Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu made this trip in the interest of giving Asad a last chance, and he obviously has squandered that last chance, and the Turkish Government’s own frustration and concern is evident in the statement that the foreign minister made yesterday.

And more broadly, it speaks to the point that the Secretary’s been making about the growing chorus of condemnation around the world. Just six months ago the notion that close allied – close partner Turkey would make such comments about Syria would be unheard of. But it’s his own actions that have drawn this kind of criticism.

QUESTION: So you stated that his last chance is past now, and there is no more diplomacy. Is this the –

MS. NULAND: The foreign – Foreign Minister Davutoglu drew his own conclusions and made his own warnings. I’m not, obviously, going to speak for the Turkish Government. The Secretary made clear, as we’ve all been making clear, what our posture and what our policy is, that we are working with partners and allies to tighten the noose economically and politically, and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: On Syria, have you been able to get any clarification on this whole issue of gunships and naval bombardments of –

MS. NULAND: Here’s what we have: I mean, obviously there is Syrian naval patrolling along the coast. We’ve seen the pictures of the boats. We have not been able to confirm, and I pushed again today, that those ships are able or actually firing into the city. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s plenty of carnage in the city of Latakia being inflicted on innocents by Syrian armor, by Syrian snipers, by Syrian security personnel. So Latakia is in pretty awful shape from our reports of – by the – at the hands of the Syrian army.

QUESTION: Okay. So going back to what the Secretary – the Secretary’s comments this morning at NDU, where she talked about Libya as a kind of case, yes, for strategic patience and suggested that the same was being pursued with Syria as you go about building up your chorus of indignation –

MS. NULAND: Condemnation.

QUESTION: -- condemnation and indignation. I’m just curious how – when is this – how many Syrian – how many dead Syrian innocent civilians do there have to be before your strategic patience wears out?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think anybody has any patience with a guy who is killing innocents over and over and over again, who week after week goes into more and more cities.

I think the question is: What is the right response from the international community? And we believe that U.S. action alone is not going to have as much impact, as the Secretary said this morning, as action by as many of the countries that are partner – trading partners, that are neighbors, that have influence with Syria as possible, actually taking action.

So what she has been focused on, what the President has been focused on in extensive diplomacy over the last weeks and the last days, is really trying to call out in public and in private those countries who are still buying Syrian oil and gas, who are – have not renounced willingness to send weapons, who have not spoken as strongly as the United States and now some of Syria’s neighbors about what we are seeing so that we can tighten the economic and political pressure. Remember that we still have not been able to get a UN Security Council resolution. We have a president’s statement, but we don’t have a Security Council resolution because some countries have still not come off the fence.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second. I thought that a presidential statement, at least as it relates to North Korea, is just as good as a Security Council resolution. Is that not – is that not really the case?

MS. NULAND: We still believe that a strong UN Security Council statement would be of value. We continue to pursue it. We’re continuing to talk about it in New York, and we will have more conversation about Syria towards the end of the week in New York.

QUESTION: So the argument after you were unable to get a resolution on North Korea that a presidential statement was just as good really doesn’t hold much water, does it?

MS. NULAND: This – I’m not going to mix apples and oranges here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, but let’s go back to --

MS. NULAND: We believe that --

QUESTION: I’ll leave it then. Let’s go back to Syria. You said that you’re going to call out publicly to countries who are still buying and selling oil. Which countries are those, if you’re calling them out publicly?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary spoke to this last week when she was interviewed on CBS. She named a number of countries that we’re working with. India is one, China is another, the continued Russian willingness to send arms. So – and we’re also working with all of the members of the Security Council, we’re working with all of Syria’s neighbors, and that work will continue.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, are there any European countries that are buying – continuing to buy oil and gas from Syria?

MS. NULAND: There are, and we’re continuing to --

QUESTION: And they are?

MS. NULAND: I’m not – I don’t think I have a list in front of me, but we are working on a daily basis with European leaders to encourage them to look hard at the – how they might increase their own economic pressure in this area on Syria.

QUESTION: Is it possible to get a list, since you say that you are publicly calling them out?

MS. NULAND: Let me look into what we can say about the countries that we’re working with on this issue.

Please.

QUESTION: And the countries in the UN Security Council which you said are obstructing the Security Council resolution on Syria?

MS. NULAND: We’re working with a number of countries that remain to be convinced. I don’t think I need to give a list here. I think you saw during the debate on the president’s statement that there were still some countries on the fence. I think we’re encouraged by the fact that the entire Security Council supported the president’s statement, but that doesn’t change the fact that we think that there’s more UN action that could be taken here.

In the back. Josh. Josh.

QUESTION: Still on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Okay. So still on Syria. Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you aware of some reports that the Spanish Government is trying to offer President Asad and his family a refuge, and apparently Turkey is aware of this plan?

MS. NULAND: That’s not something I have anything on. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: And how do you justify the U.S. continuing relations with Syria on diplomatic levels?

MS. NULAND: We’ve spoken about this from this podium many times. The Secretary spoke to it today. We believe that the work that Ambassador Ford and his Embassy are performing in Syria has been vital not only to our ability to give our message straight to the Syrian Government, as he did in his meeting with Foreign Minister Mualem last week, but also in our ability to have direct contacts with a broad cross-section of Syrians and other partners who are represented in Syria; his historical trip to Hama, where he stood with the Syrian opposition and expressed our support for them directly. So from our perspective, it is absolutely essential and has very much helped us to have a better feel for the situation in Syria and to get to know some of the opposition figures.

Please. Still on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes. Going back to the foreign ministers yesterday, Foreign Minister Davutoglu – yesterday his speech, he said that there are unspecified steps he’ll be taking if the violence continues. And today there are a couple of (inaudible) that are talking about buffer zone and then they – those reports, some of them are denied. My question is: Is there anybody can shed light what would be the next steps now as a humanitarian aid or an engagement? Should we wait from allies, from Turkey or from you, beside the sanctions track?

MS. NULAND: On the humanitarian side, I think you know that the Turkish Government has been very generous in setting up camps, in providing support for those refugees who’ve come over the border. The U.S. has repeatedly offered our support to the Turkish Government, to UNHCR in that effort, and we are very gratified by that open response. And as the humanitarian situation develops, we continue to look at it.

QUESTION: Can I have two more brief things on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: One is on Ambassador Ford’s presence. Ambassador Ford’s predecessor under the previous administration was pulled out of – recalled from Syria after the assassination of Mr. Hariri, which killed a handful of – dozens of other people. It was – that was done as a symbolic gesture to show disapproval with that. Right now, you have the Administration saying – Secretary Clinton, as you just said, saying it’s absolutely vital to have an ambassador in Syria, even though the death toll among Syria people, their own – the government’s own citizens is far higher than the number of people that were killed in the explosion that killed Hariri.

I’m wondering if it is correct to assume that this Administration believes that the symbolic – that any symbolic – that any symbolism that there would be from withdrawing Ambassador Ford now is outweighed by his – by what he is able to do. Is that correct, that he is making it more – that it’s a more important symbol for him to be there than it is for him to be withdrawn? Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: It’s about symbolism, but more importantly, it’s about the work that he does every day, the work that he does every day in meeting with opposition figures, meeting with leaders, being available to talk to the Syrian Government. It is a different time and different place in the – and it’s also a different administration, of course. But in the days of Hariri, you were talking about relations with a very tight circle of Syrians which mattered.

Today in Syria, as you have opposition leaders and other voices across the country expressing a different view of where their country ought to go, a view with which we are extremely sympathetic, that it ought to go in a democratic direction, there are many, many people with whom the United States needs to maintain contact. The contact is even more difficult because we have a Syrian Government who has closed down press freedom, closed down the internet, that kind of thing. So different times, but it’s about the action that that Embassy, led by Ambassador Ford and Ambassador Ford himself, is able to do.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my last really briefly on Syria is that – so the emphasis on coalition building here, on increasing the chorus of condemnation – is this an example of what an official, an unnamed official, called leading from behind?

MS. NULAND: On the contrary, this is the United States not only setting its own example with the repeated rounds of sanctions that we have put forward ourselves, our leadership in the UN Human Rights Council to get the statements of condemnations, our leadership in the UN which resulted in the presidential statement, the extensive diplomacy, which has led to this growing chorus of condemnation, and we are trying to not only lead by example but also work with as many others as possible to follow the lead that we have set in increasing the pressure on Syria.

QUESTION: So that infamous quote – which you’re familiar with, correct? From a story in a major newspaper not so long ago – you would not agree with that --

QUESTION: It was The New Yorker.

QUESTION: -- magazine. You wouldn’t agree with that as the Administration’s strategy in this case?

MS. NULAND: On the contrary.

QUESTION: Well, same issue – ambassador. You, I believe, last week, cited a couple of Arab countries withdrawing their ambassadors from Damascus as a positive thing in terms of isolating Asad. But on the other hand, you sending your ambassador to Damascus, isn’t that a kind of a contradiction? On the one hand, you send your ambassador to talk more, but citing as a positive thing --

MS. NULAND: This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. In the case of the United States, we need to be available to have contacts with some of these new Syrian voices who are emerging. Other countries make other decisions based on their relationship to express their concern, to increase the pressure. In the United States’ case, it would be counterproductive. In the case of other countries, neighbors of Syria, strong partners and supporters, their choice of that kind of action sends the kind of message that we hadn’t seen from the region before.

Anything else on Syria before we go on? Please. Josh, I think, wanted to go to Somalia.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on abduction of U.S. national aid worker in Lahore?

MS. NULAND: In Lahore?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: We have a number of cases. You’re talking about the case from yesterday? Yeah. Unfortunately, we don’t have anything further. We do have very good cooperation ongoing with the Pakistanis. As you know, it’s – they’re leading the investigation, but the FBI is assisting. But we have no information on the individual, and unfortunately, we also don’t have any information on – we also don’t have any claim of responsibility at the moment.

Please.

QUESTION: Different topic? Al Jazeera Arabic’s Kabul bureau chief, Samir Allawi, was detained by Israeli authorities while he was on vacation. He’s been in detention for four days, no idea of when he’s going to be released. Is the State Department concerned about Israel detaining journalists?

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen this report. I would refer you to the Israelis for the list of charges or whatever the other – the circumstances might be there.

QUESTION: You don’t have any concern about this case?

MS. NULAND: I don't have the – any further information, other than we need to – I would refer you to the Israelis with regard to what the charges might be.

QUESTION: Is he an American citizen?

MS. NULAND: He is not. To my knowledge, he is not.

QUESTION: Have – I want to – I can move on?

MS. NULAND: Yep.

QUESTION: Yeah? Yemen?

MS. NULAND: Yemen.

QUESTION: President Saleh says he’s going back to Yemen soon. What do you think about that? Or are you going to hide behind that’s a hypothetical until he actually shows up at the airport?

MS. NULAND: Our view on this issue hasn’t changed in a number of weeks. President Saleh, before he left Yemen, made a commitment to sign the GCC agreement, to move forward with a democratic transition in Yemen. If he is well enough to make a statement, he is well enough to sign the GCC agreement and allow his country to move on.

[This is a mobile copy of Middle East Digest - August 16, 2011]