Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 13, 2012


Index for Today's Briefing
  • EGYPT
    • New Defense Team / Civilian Leadership
    • U.S. Looking to See Government Move Forward / Mr. Mekki
    • Ambassador Anne Patterson
    • U.S. Wants to See a Smooth Transition
    • Relationship Between Civilians and Military
    • Democratic Transition in Egypt / Civil Society / NGO Projects
    • Readout of Secretary Clinton's Recent Meetings in Egypt
    • General Tantawi / General Anan
    • Existing Treaty Obligations / Treaty Relationships
  • IRAN
    • Earthquake / White House Statement
    • Humanitarian Assistance to Iranians
  • NORTH KOREA
    • U.S. Encouragement to Chinese Partners on Importance of DPRK on Compliance
    • New York Channel
    • Floods / UN Assistance
  • JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA
    • U.S. Policy Remains the Same
    • U.S. Takes No Position on Territorial Dispute
  • SYRIA/TURKEY
    • Readout of Secretary Clinton's Travel in Istanbul
    • Syrian Opposition Forces / Options Require Intense Analysis
    • Conversations with Key Stakeholders
    • Susan Rice's Interview
    • Syrian Civil Society Groups / Operational Interagency Work / Vetting
  • LEBANON
    • U.S. Wants Open Transparency in Court Proceedings
  • VENEZUELA
    • Vienna Convention


TRANSCRIPT:

1:03 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry to keep you waiting. Haven’t done this in a while, so it took me a little bit to get my act together this morning. I don’t have anything at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

You’re in the traditional seat there, Mr. Pennington. So take it away, yeah.

QUESTION: Could I ask – I am in the absence of – about Egypt.

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Your reaction to the changes, particularly in the military leadership there and whether you had any prior notice that this was going to happen.

MS. NULAND: Well, first, I think my colleague, Jay Carney, has spoken to this recently on the plane with the President. We obviously did know that there were discussions ongoing about a new defense team. With regard to the precise timing, less so, but when the Secretary was in Egypt, we knew that there would be a change in an appropriate moment and that it would be discussed between the civilian leadership and the military.

What is important to us – these are obviously personal decisions for Egyptians to make. What is important to us is that the civilian leadership and the military keep working well together to advance the goals of the democratic transition in Egypt and to work through the many remaining outstanding questions about how we get to a fully democratic parliament, a constitution, et cetera, and to address the ongoing security situation in Sinai. So that is what we will be looking for in the period going forward.

I would also say, as I think our colleagues at the Pentagon have already said, that these new appointees, the new leaders of the military, are all people that we have worked with before and who – many of whom have trained here in the United States as well.

QUESTION: What can you say about the appointment of the senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as the new Vice President? Is there any concern that this might be a move to perhaps preempt any actions by the Egyptian judiciary going forward, making decisions perhaps that President Morsi might not like?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves in terms of all of those things, Ros. As I said, we are looking to see the government move forward to implement the remaining aspects of the transition. Clearly, having somebody who’s got strong legal background could be helpful, could be appropriate in the context of working through these remaining constitutional issues that have to be solved there. So – but time will tell obviously.

QUESTION: What does Washington know about Mr. Mekki? What has his career been like, given since, I assume, his status? He was ruling on laws throughout Mubarak’s regime.

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we have known him in the past, that the Embassy’s had contact with him. But beyond that, obviously with regard to any of these new leaders in Egypt, whether they are civilian or whether they’re military, we’re obviously going to judge them by their actions going forward and their commitment to upholding the democratic principles of the transition.

QUESTION: Can you describe the extent of the U.S. Embassy’s contacts with the government in the past 48 hours, any background briefings they may have had, any introductions they may have had, any sense of reassurance, particularly when it comes to the 1979 Peace Treaty?

MS. NULAND: Well, beyond saying that our Ambassador Anne Patterson has been in contact with a number of Egyptian leaders in the last couple of days, I’m not going to get into the substance of our diplomatic exchanges, other than to say that Ambassador Patterson’s message is very much the one that we’re giving publicly – that we want to see civilians and military work together, and we want to see the transition move forward.

Michel.

QUESTION: Toria, the White House has said that we had expected President Morsi to coordinate with the military to name a new defense team. What does this mean, do you think?

MS. NULAND: I think it’s exactly what I said at the beginning in response to Matt Pennington’s question, that when the Secretary was in Egypt, then we had Secretary Panetta also in Egypt, it was our understanding that there would be a change, that it would be consultative. So from that perspective, the fact of the change wasn’t a surprise to us.

QUESTION: But you cannot explain it too that President Morsi didn’t coordinate with the military?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to the Egyptians. What we want to see is a smooth transition, and we want to see the civilians and the military continue to work well together in defense of, in support of, the Egyptian peoples’ aspirations to live in a democracy with a strong constitution, elected parliament, et cetera.

QUESTION: And do you think that there was coordination between the President and the military?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to the Egyptians on the specifics of their coordination, but we certainly heard when we were there that there was discussion between them about an appropriate transition at an appropriate time.

Please.

QUESTION: Toria, just one more on this. Those who would support this move say that it illustrates more civilian control over the military. Does the U.S. share that – does that – the U.S. think that that is good, now that the civilian government is exerting more of a role, putting the military, let’s say, in second place?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, you’re characterizing it in a way that we wouldn’t characterize it. What we want to see is the civilian leadership, the elected leadership, the civilian government work well with the military on the many issues that are in front of Egypt as it continues on this transition and as it works on security in the Sinai.

So with regard to the relationship between civilians and military, these are issues that have to be settled as they work through this constitution, which is yet to be written. So there are many issues going forward, but we want to see it done in a manner that indicates dialogue and indicates a commitment on all sides to the spirit of the democratic revolution.

Please.

QUESTION: Yes, please. I’m going to avoid to characterize anything, but how do you characterize what happened?

MS. NULAND: How do I character – I think I’ve spoken --

QUESTION: Yes. I mean, not you personally. I mean, as a State Department, as Washington, how do you characterize what --

MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to refrain from characterizing what happened.

QUESTION: No, I mean --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the – saying that what happened was a coup in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that’s a word that we have used here.

QUESTION: And one more: The White House has said, too, that we hope that President Morsi’s announcement – announcements will serve the interests of the Egyptian people and maintain good relations with Egypt’s neighbors. Do you think what happened will affect the relations between Egypt and the neighbors, and especially Israel?

MS. NULAND: The – putting it that way, I think that what we are trying to say is precisely what I said at the beginning, that there is a lot of unfinished work with regard to the democratic transition in Egypt. There is – obviously, where there security issues in Sinai that have to be dealt with the – as the Egyptians work to gain control of Sinai, the way they do it obviously has an impact on their neighbors, has an impact on the region, has an impact on their existing security and treaty relationships, and we want to see all of those things go smoothly in the coming period for Egypt, but also for the region and for the neighbors.

QUESTION: One thing that hasn’t been top of mind regarding Egypt has been the ability of NDI, other U.S.-sponsored NGOs, independent NGOs to continue doing their civil society work inside Egypt. Has there been more cooperation now that President Morsi is in charge? Has there been less? How can you characterize what’s happening there with that civil society development?

MS. NULAND: Well, we continue to work on a number of the civil society projects and NGO projects that we have been supporting throughout this period designed to strengthen civil society as an essential pillar of a vibrant democracy. That said, as you know, the IRI and NDI did suspend their operations until such time as we can sort through – or the Egyptians can sort through – an appropriate legislative framework in which these particular NGOs can operate.

So we never got to the point where the laws were clear and understandable for all. As we move towards a democratic constitution, our hope is that among the things that’ll get settled is the role that NGOs can play in this democratic society and that they will be well-supported and well-defended and that it will be clearer what the appropriate place for foreign NGOs is in the new Egypt.

QUESTION: And what is the concern about the development and the maturation of political parties that are not the Muslim Brotherhood, absent the presence of foreign NGOs to help these groups? I know it sounds patronizing, but absent that, is there enough space for these organizations to continue their political work?

MS. NULAND: Well, one of the things that came up when the Secretary was in Egypt not too long ago – and as you know, she met with a group of Christian leaders, she met with women activists, she had a chance to hear from some representatives in civil society. And one of the concerns that they had was whether they had put their own voice forward strongly enough in the political process.

And as she always does, she encouraged these folks to be politically active and to have their voices heard in the system. So that can take the form of political parties. It can take the form of civil society NGOs making their views known to the new parliament when its seated, participating in the constitution-writing process and ensuring that they are well-protected.

But certainly we want to see a new democratic Egypt in which NGOs, political parties from all stripes, are comfortable operating, and the views and voices of the many, many colors of Egypt are represented in civil society are met and represented in the democratic process.

So as you know, the mandated role for IRI, for NDI, is not to support any given political party but to provide training both for NGOs, for parties, in ensuring that there is a rich, vibrant opportunity in the democratic society for people of all stripes to operate.

QUESTION: Is there any – and I’m sorry to keep pointing on this, but is there any guarantee that, absent a third-party involvement in this development of this political space, that what develops in Egypt in the next several months or next several years will actually be a fair playing field for all of those political groups?

MS. NULAND: Well, let’s start with the fact that there are already lots of Egyptian NGOs involved in this space, and that is a great thing. And that sort of movement is growing, particularly, as I said, as some people worry about whether they’ve been left out of the process. So first and foremost, we obviously want to see the Egyptian civil society sector strengthened. But as we do around the world, we’re prepared to support them, we’re prepared to work with them, and we hope that we can get to the place where the rules of the road are clear for those members of our civil society who want to help them can operate.

Michel.

QUESTION: Toria, a news source coming from Egypt have said that General Tantawi and General Anan are under house arrest. Do you have any information about this?

MS. NULAND: We saw that just before coming down. We do not have any information to confirm that.

Please.

QUESTION: Have you had any conversations with them about Egyptian – Egypt’s foreign policy after the shakeup? Any reassurances that their treaty relationships will remain the same?

MS. NULAND: Again, the points that I’m articulating here are identical to the points that we are articulating in private, that we want to see Egypt work well to address the security concerns that it has in Sinai and to do that in a way that is compatible with their existing treaty obligations, to do it in a way that benefits the people of Egypt but also benefits their neighbors, benefits the region. So we’re obviously talking about the full complement of issues. And as I said, these are not new players to us. These are people we have worked with over time.

QUESTION: But have they given their assurances? It’s one thing for the U.S. to say we want you to do this. Has Egypt said we are doing it, we’re trying very hard, we’re not trying very hard? What have they told Washington?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into the conversations we’ve had in the last 24 hours. But certainly when the Secretary was in Egypt, we had good conversations, as she said at the time, as President Morsi said at the time, about the importance of maintaining treaty relationships, maintaining working operating practices with neighbors. So what is what we expect going forward.

Please.

QUESTION: In the last 48-72 hours, a TV station was closed and a newspaper was banned in the name of this transformation, of this democratic change. Do you have concern about the freedom of expression? Or you still have doubts about it, or you are concerned? Because this is something like we were are not discussing in the last two or three days.

MS. NULAND: Well, freedom of expression, freedom of press, are obviously fundamental in any vibrant democracy. I didn’t have information on these two particular instances or what the backdrop might be, so if we have anything to add on these two, we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: One follow-up on my question about General Tantawi and General Anan. If they are under arrest, what does that mean to you?

MS. NULAND: Again, as I said, our information cannot confirm that, so I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. NULAND: Yes, please. Can’t wait.

QUESTION: Sure. Iran.

MS. NULAND: Maybe I can wait. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: The earthquake.

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: There was a statement from the White House yesterday saying that the United States stands ready to assist if need be. First of all, has there been any response from the Iranians of needing any assistance? And second, some Iranian American advocacy groups have been saying that the United States should be explicit that – about sanctions in this case, that Iranian Americans who might want to send relief supplies should not fear the impact of sanctions.

MS. NULAND: Right. Well, thank you for that. First with regard to the earthquake, obviously, as the White House statement said, our hearts go out to those people who are affected. We have said that we stand ready to provide assistance. We have not had any pickup of that from the Iranians; and in fact, there have been Iranian public statements in the last 24 hours saying that they did not see the need for foreign assistance. Nonetheless, our offer stays on the table.

And thank you for your question with regard to what Iranians in the United States or Iranian Americans should be thinking. Americans wishing to provide humanitarian assistance to Iranians during this time may donate food and medicine without obtaining an Iranian transactions regulations license. Additionally, certain noncommercial personal financial transactions to Iran are authorized under existing general licenses. But we would refer anybody who is concerned or who wants further clarification to the Department of Treasury.

QUESTION: Is this an exemption that’s been issued, or is this standing policy that --

MS. NULAND: Standing policy. Standing policy.

QUESTION: So nothing specifically has changed in the case of the earthquake?

MS. NULAND: Correct. No need for change.

QUESTION: When was the last time that the Iranians accepted any U.S. assistance after a natural disaster? Do you know right off?

MS. NULAND: I do not right off the bat, no.

Please.

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, visited – is visiting China today to discuss about joint commercial project. Do you have any response to his visit? And then also, what’s the United States hope – U.S. is hoping for in terms of economic reforms in North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have anything in particular on this, except to say that we always encourage our Chinese partners to make our broader, more general agreed points with DPRK leaders when they are there about the importance of coming back into compliance with their international obligations.

More broadly, I think the Secretary has been very clear on what we hope to see with the new leadership in the DPRK. They have a choice now. They can open their country, come back into compliance, and live in a place that respects human rights, respects the needs of their people, or they can keep doing what they’ve been doing and continue to face isolation and continue to face misery. So we’re hopeful that the new leadership will consider changing course, because that’s obviously what’s in the best interest of the North Korean people, in the best interest of peace and security.

QUESTION: Can we stay on North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: There were reports in a couple of news outlets – I believe Yonhap and Kyodo – saying that the U.S. and North Korea had contact in New York last month. Is that something that you’re aware of? Is that the case? If so, what was discussed? Has there been any progress?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have anything on that particular set of foreign news service stories. You know, Shaun, that we maintain a regular contact through the North – through the New York channel as we need to. But I don’t have anything – any big breakthroughs to report for you.

QUESTION: When you say regular contact, does that mean that there has been recent contact?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into the day-to-day of this, but the channel remains open. We use it as we need to, but we haven’t had any big breakthroughs in it, if that’s what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just stay in the same area? Unless --

QUESTION: Well, I wanted to ask, has North Korea asked for any assistance for – after the floods there?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge not, but if that is – you mean of the United States?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: I think they would know where we might be on that. They have asked for UN assistance is my understanding. I don’t know of any direct bilateral assistance. But if that is not correct, we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: In the same region, I know Patrick touched on this last week before the trip, but President Lee went to disputed islands, islands disputed with Japan. Obviously, Japan and the Republic of Korea are both U.S. allies. Has the U.S. had any communication with the two countries regarding their relations? The Japanese obviously aren’t very happy about this.

MS. NULAND: Well, we continue to say the same thing to both sides, that we don’t take a position on this ourselves; we want to see them work it out through dialogue. That remains our public and our private message.

QUESTION: Has there been contact since President Lee’s visit specifically about this?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. I’m going to refer you to our embassies.

Please.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I thought we were going to do this whole briefing and never talk about Syria.

QUESTION: Eventually we always get you.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I saw you guys torturing Patrick for days and days and days there.

QUESTION: Starting with a couple of factoids.

MS. NULAND: Yes. Factoids.

QUESTION: I mean, a bigger picture, but the rebels are saying they shot down a military jet. Do you have anything on that claim? Also, these apparent executions, reports of executions, that Syrian forces in Damascus had publicly executed 10 people, do you have any confirmation of either of those?

MS. NULAND: I do not have any confirmation of either one. So --

QUESTION: Okay. And then could we – since now you’re back and we can pile on you --

MS. NULAND: I can’t wait.

QUESTION: Yeah. But this – the contingency plans with Turkey, now that the Secretary has spoken quite a lot about that, but where do we stand? I mean, that – there seem to be obviously a lot of imminence about this, it has to be done quickly, the fear that something might happen soon. Where do we stand with that? What should we be watching here in DC, if anything? And is the U.S. coordinating in that fashion with other countries, but it just hasn’t been announced as formal?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, for those of you who had an opportunity to watch the Secretary’s visit to Istanbul, we had very good and intense consultations with the Turkish Government. She saw President Gul, Prime Minister Erdogan, spent a lot of time with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

As you heard her speak about in Istanbul, she also had a chance to sit down with a group of activists, most of them relatively recently out of Syria or operating both in Turkey and going back and forth to Syria. These are the people who are trying to address the human needs of Syrians and to be the – to think about the kind of civil society that a future free, democratic Syria is going to have. So that was a very interesting meeting to have. Some of them are recipients of some of this nonlethal assistance that we are giving, working on justice and accountability issues, working on free media, working on student issues, et cetera. She and Minister Davutoglu also had a chance to sit down with some refugees, as you saw, and with UNHCR.

So as she said in Istanbul, we are working on three main pillars with Turkey, with our other main partners in the international community, and with the broader group in the Friends of the Syrian people, a hundred some countries and organizations. These – first and foremost, the first pillar, obviously, is our work with the opposition to try to hasten the day that the Assad regime falls, that the bloodshed ends, and that we can move on to a democratic transition. That includes all the things that we’ve talked about, the increasing sanctions, the support for the opposition, et cetera.

In that – in the context of that, the Secretary spoke about operational planning, contingency planning that we are doing with the Turkish Government, looking at how we can support those on the ground who are trying to hasten the day without ourselves making the suffering worse. And this is very much the litmus test.

And in answer to your other question, obviously we are working with the Turks. They’re a frontline state there. But the Secretary is going to be speaking this week with other countries that are intensively involved on this on the humanitarian side, working to address the needs both inside Syria and in the growing refugee population not only in Turkey but in Jordan and in other parts where refugees are flowing, because the numbers are just going up astronomically with the fighting.

And then the last piece is this day-after planning. And you heard the Secretary speak and Foreign Minister Davutoglu speak about planning against – the worst scenario is obviously that the horrific thought that chemical weapons would be used, but also all of the other kinds of things that we know that the Syrian people are going to need the minute the bloodshed is over and the rebuilding begins. So obviously the political support for a transition, security at the local level, justice and accountability, the humanitarian needs, ultimately the rebuilding of the economy, et cetera.

So trying to organize the international community so that if there are requests as new Syrian leaders begin to take over that we’re able to help them quickly.

QUESTION: But if I could just go into that second one. The Secretary consistently says we don’t want to make it worse. We want to do something, but we don’t want to make it worse. Would a humanitarian corridor make things worse? What would be the downside of that?

MS. NULAND: Well again, I don’t know what that set of words means to you, Jill – a humanitarian corridor – I mean, de facto now, as you know, the opposition forces control territory from north of Aleppo all the way up to the border. So de facto they are able to operate in a different way now, they are controlling checkpoints into Turkey, they are able to operate in a way that was more difficult when the Syrian Government controlled all of those checkpoints. So --

QUESTION: Are you saying that de facto, there is a corridor?

MS. NULAND: I’m saying de facto there is opposition control of territory all the way up to the border. And that changes the way they operate. It changes the way – the needs that they might have.

But with regard to the larger point, the Secretary’s been very clear. I think you heard John Brennan say the same thing, Susan Rice say the same thing over the last couple of days. The litmus test by which we judge what we will do with and for the opposition is that it’s got to hasten the day the bloodshed ends and not contribute to, or catalyze, as the Secretary said, more bloodshed.

So that’s what we’re looking at. These options require a lot of analysis, and that’s what we’re working on.

Please.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Secretary’s practically spending the day at the White House. Any readout on her meetings there?

MS. NULAND: Well, she’s been on the road for two weeks, so she’s got some catching up to do with her counterparts and that’s what she’s doing.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Staying with the Secretary’s comments from Saturday, she talked about, obviously, the overwhelming humanitarian need, but she also said that the U.S. – if I’m reading this correctly – is going to be setting up a working group to look at what our intelligence services – and I’m quoting here – and our military can do as part of helping to resolve this crisis. Who exactly is going to be involved in this working group? What is this group expected to deliver? What does this actually mean, if we’re looking at, primarily from the U.S. standpoint, some sort of humanitarian intervention? And I’m using that word very loosely.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Well, you’re getting way ahead of things, Ros, if I may. What the Secretary said – and I can’t really improve on the words that she used in Istanbul – was that in the context of our bilateral relationship with Turkey and the work we’re both doing to try to support the Syrian opposition and hasten the day, that we have been doing a lot of work together in our different channels, but we feel now a need to pull together a single group that looks at – that includes folks from the diplomatic side, folks from the military side, and folks from the intelligence side to share a picture of what we’re seeing operationally, to truly analyze how the situation is changing on the ground both politically, militarily, in humanitarian terms. And to evaluate (a) the effectiveness of what we’re already doing to support them, and (b) what more we can do within the frame of ensuring that we are not adding to the suffering. So that is what we’re going to do, as she said.

These kinds of things take a lot of intense analysis. They take a lot of contingency planning. So we are pulling together our own team; the Turks are pulling together their team. And we anticipate having similar conversations with other key involved stakeholders who have been very much active in trying to support the end of this bloodshed as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: There hasn’t been a lot of unity, understandably, within the U.S. Government about what to do in Syria. Ambassador Rice was just quoted in Foreign Policy as saying that she’s not – she doesn’t think that a humanitarian corridor or a no-fly zone or anything of that sort would be useful. Libya, Kosovo, they’re not Syria. The same – what was done in those two countries wouldn’t necessarily work here. Are the members of the U.S. side going into this working group – going in with a unified message? Or are they going in to see if they can be surprised and find new solutions that haven’t been discussed up until now?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me dispute the way you characterized Susan Rice’s interview. Go back and read it. She was quite careful, and it was within the exact same frame that I put forward – that we need to ensure that we have a good picture of what we are doing in its effectiveness. And we have to ensure that anything further we do doesn’t cause more suffering, more bloodshed. And she made clear that every one of these situations is different. The physical terrain is different. The political and military situation is different. So from the perspective of the Secretary’s comments in Istanbul, this situation is very fluid. It’s moving very quickly. We have to ensure that, first and foremost, we have a good operational picture of where we are.

From that perspective, our government has been completely unified on this. We continue to meet regularly. We need to ensure that we are now as unified as possible in our picture with those countries that live in that neighborhood, that are hosting a lot of Syrians, that have different kinds of information than we do, and so that we are not tripping over each other, so that we are being maximally effective.

And particularly when you get to this aspect of the day after planning, when you’re looking at potentially needing to support a different kind of humanitarian set of needs, support the standing up of democratic governance at every level, justice and accountability, we are beginning to think about a division of labor within the international community so we’re not all doing water, we’re not all doing mitigation of the worst scenarios, that we can cover the waterfront if we are asked by the Syrians for help.

Please.

QUESTION: Toria, has the Secretary discussed a no-fly zone with the Turks?

MS. NULAND: Again, the Secretary answered that question directly in Istanbul. I can’t improve on it. We’ve said that there aren’t any options off the table, but we have to have a really good picture of the effectiveness of what we’re doing now and what more we can do.

QUESTION: Has she met with any FSA official?

MS. NULAND: No.

QUESTION: And did she discuss with the opposition, Syrian opposition, providing them with certain type of arms?

MS. NULAND: The group that she met with in Syria was a civil society group. They were all activists on the civilian side working in free media, working on student issues, on legal issues, on women’s issues. A number of them are beneficiaries of our nonlethal assistance already. She spoke to them about what more we can do to strengthen the work they’re doing to ensure that when that day comes that the Assad regime is gone, we have a strong, vibrant civil society that is working with those who take leadership positions to protect the human rights of all citizens, to stand up justice and accountability that meets international standards, to open that space to media.

So this was sort of a group of proto-NGO activists of the future, if you will, some of whom go back and forward – forth. So her goal there was to encourage them in the work that they’re doing, to be good stewards of the needs and the human rights of all the Syrian people. They spoke quite eloquently about their hope and expectation that some of the external activists, external leaders, would use this time well to get their own act together and, as a couple of them put it, to rise to the occasion and prepare, truly prepare, this democratic transition.

QUESTION: And why she didn’t meet with the FSA?

MS. NULAND: Because that wasn’t the intent of her visit. Her – she was interested in talking to activists.

QUESTION: But the FSA is a part of the opposition.

MS. NULAND: That was not something that was on our schedule.

Please.

QUESTION: Along the Turkish – the Syrian-Turkish border there is a – practically there is a fly – a no-fly zone since the Turkish plane was downed. Any – how do you look at this?

MS. NULAND: I don’t quite understand your question.

QUESTION: Whenever a Syrian aircraft approaches the border, Turkey is scrambling its own jets, so there is practically – maybe not too wide, but there’s practically a no-fly zone there.

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to get into military matters from this podium, other than to say we’ve seen our Turkish ally take measures to defend its own border and its own security, and obviously we’re supportive of that.

Please.

QUESTION: Just to clarify this --

MS. NULAND: Speaking of Turkey.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to clarify the situation of FSA, you won’t provide any nonlethal assistance or any kind of humanitarian aid to FSA since they are armed group. Is this the case, still the case?

MS. NULAND: We provide nonlethal assistance to a broad cross-section of Syrians who oppose the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Including FSA?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into – for all of the reasons we’ve talked about here many times and Patrick talked about in the last couple of weeks, we don’t talk about who we’re providing this assistance to because they’ll become targets.

QUESTION: Okay. How about the vetting process? How do you handle who will pick the assistance that you are providing, especially nonlethal assistance? I mean, there are some groups in the region that a lot of people are concerned about they are radicals or not.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: How do you handle the vetting process?

MS. NULAND: Well again, this is among the subjects that we’re talking to Turkey about, we’re talking to other countries about, to ensure that to the extent that we can, we know who’s who, we know what these groups stand for, and that they are supportive of the same basic principles that we’ve supported throughout this Arab Spring; that what we are seeking here is a democratic, pluralistic, unified Syria that protects the rights, the inclusion, the opportunity to be part of the future for all Syrians of all stripes – not people who are looking to divide the country, not people who are looking for vigilante justice, not people who would profess to speak in the name in the Syrian people but really be pursuing individual agendas. And this is not easy. It’s difficult. Groups are changing, groups are moving, which again speaks to the importance of the kind of operational interagency work that we’re doing with Turkey and with others.

QUESTION: Yeah. The common operational center that Madam Secretary has mentioned too, is this the body that you formed? Will Turkish authorities will be in charge with this vetting process?

MS. NULAND: Again, each of our governments do our vetting in our own way. But what this group can do is ensure that we don’t have a different picture in the different agencies and that we don’t have a different picture U.S. and Turkey as we move forward.

Please, Scott. Still --

QUESTION: Venezuela.

MS. NULAND: Okay. They’re not going to let you to there yet, Scott. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the arrest of the Lebanese former minister Michel Samaha who was charged with the chief of national security bureau Major General Ali Mamlouk with plotting to assassinate political and religious figures in Lebanon and planning terrorist attacks?

MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speak to the charges, but you know where we’ve been with regard to Lebanon and our concern about the tensions inside Syria, and particularly the ethnic tensions inside Syria, spilling over into Lebanon. So we want to see Lebanese authorities work well together and work well with Lebanese defense forces to address any spillover here. But I can’t speak to these charges. We want to see any – obviously any court procedure should proceed in an open, transparent manner that respects international standards.

QUESTION: Have you got any information from the Lebanese Government regarding this plot?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that subject to share here.

All right. Can we move on? It was Scott on Venezuela, I think.

QUESTION: Can you tell us, has there been any consular access to the American arrested by the Venezuelan Government? They say he’s a mercenary.

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these claims by the Venezuelan Government, but we have not been notified by them formally about the arrest of this alleged U.S. citizen. So given the fact that we haven’t been notified, we haven’t seen him, we don’t know of anybody that would fit this category, our message back to the Venezuelans is that if, in fact, they have detained a U.S. citizen, Venezuela must now comply with its obligations under the Vienna Convention, notify us, and allow access.

QUESTION: Have you asked them about this then?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether our Embassy has been in today, but I would guess that if they haven’t yet, they will be.

Anything else? Please.

QUESTION: About South Korea.

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: About the visit of the South Korean President to Takeshima, did U.S. Government talk about this issue beforehand or tried to stop this visit beforehand?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think I have anything further except to say that we regularly talk to both Japan and Korea about settling this between them in a manner that is consensual. But with regard to whether we had any advance notice of the visit, I don’t think so.

QUESTION: U.S. Government, of course, knew about that beforehand, right?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information to confirm that one way or the other.

Behind.

QUESTION: Same topics?

MS. NULAND: Say again.

QUESTION: Same topics?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think we’re really at the end of what I have on that topic. We could keep going for a long time, but I don’t think I would say anything new.

QUESTION: Japanese border is quite different from what Korean understandings. Japanese agreed with General Douglas MacArthur’s line 70 years ago. What do you think about that?

MS. NULAND: What we think is that we take no position on this territorial dispute. We want to see our two strong Pacific allies work this out together and work it out through consensus.

Okay, I think we’re finished. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)

DPB # 143

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - August 13, 2012]