Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 17, 2012


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Authorization of Ordered Departures in Tunis, Khartoum / Lebanon Travel Warning
    • Embassy Cairo / Consul General Alexandria / Demonstrations
  • PAKISTAN
    • Situation Report / U.S. Monitoring Situation
  • LIBYA
    • Benghazi Attack / Ambassador Rice's Comments
    • Ongoing FBI Investigation / Libyan Investigation
  • EGYPT/ REGIONS
    • Readout of Contacts with Egyptians / U.S. Support
    • Host Country Security / U.S. Has Ongoing Conversations with Hosts Countries
  • LIBYA
    • Reports of an Alleged Video of Benghazi Incident
    • U.S. Will Continue to Assess Incident in Benghazi / Secretary Clinton
  • EGYPT
    • Security / Military Force
  • SUDAN
    • Khartoum / Safety, Security / U.S. Working with Sudanese
  • REGION
    • Congress / Programmatic Support
  • SYRIA/IRAN
    • Envoy Brahimi / US Concern / Need a Unified Plan of the Opposition
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Acts of Violence Worldwide / U.S. Standing with Democratically Elected Governments
    • Update on Secretary Clinton's Calls / Meetings
  • BURMA
    • Daw Suu Kyi's Visit / Amnesty of Prisoners
  • CHINA/JAPAN
    • Secretary Panetta / US Will Continue to Counsel Japanese and Chinese Leaders
  • IRAN
    • P-5+1 / Lady Ashton / Non-Starter on Table
  • PAKISTAN
    • Warren Weinstein


TRANSCRIPT:

1:57 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. It is a new week. I hope you all received everything that we were sending out over the weekend as we continued to monitor the situation around the Middle East and North Africa. I don’t have anything at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Well, as you continue to monitor, can you give us an update of Tunis and Khartoum, the situations there since the ordered departures on Saturday? Saturday, whatever day it was.

MS. NULAND: Situation in Tunis is largely calm. There – the mission is closed to the public today. In Cairo, our Embassy is open, but we are not doing any immigrant or nonimmigrant visa appointments. We made that decision just to reduce crowds around the mission. But we are providing American citizen services. Consulate General Alexandria is closed today and tomorrow. And as you know, the Egyptians have been very responsive in providing the additional security that we’ve been looking for.

QUESTION: Sorry. I asked about Khartoum, though.

MS. NULAND: And Khartoum. So as you know, on Saturday or – yeah, Saturday, after carefully reviewing the damage done to the outside of our building, we authorized ordered departure for all the family members, the nonemergency personnel. The Embassy is remaining open under our chargé, and – but it’s going to be closed to the public, I guess, today and tomorrow.

QUESTION: What about Lebanon? The Travel Warning went out, and then there were reports on Embassy staff allegedly destroying confidential documents out of an abundance of caution. Is that usual practice? Is that true?

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the Travel Warning on Lebanon, that was one of our periodic updates, and frankly, the timing of it wasn’t related to the demonstrations that we’ve seen around the region. It was updated to cover some of the changes we’ve made with regard to the Fulbright and the English language program, also to take into account some of the shelling that we’ve seen on the border area coming from Syria, et cetera.

I’m not going to speak to how we handle classified. You can imagine that wherever we think it’s necessary, we take appropriate security measures, and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: Could you clarify whether the Consulate in Alexandria was attacked?

MS. NULAND: There have been some small demonstrations, I think, in the hundreds in Alexandria. But to my knowledge, the Consulate was already closed for the weekend when those had begun, and we agreed with the Egyptians to keep it closed for a couple days and see.

Okay.

QUESTION: There were also demonstrations in Pakistan. Do you have any update what’s going on now?

MS. NULAND: I do have a little bit of a situation report there for our – it was Pakistan you asked about, Goyal?

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. So all of our personnel in Pakistan are safe and accounted for. We did have protests that were relatively widespread around the country today. However, most of them have been dispersed peacefully. We are obviously continuing to monitor the situation closely. My understanding is that our missions were open today.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific? When you said on the Lebanon Travel Warning that the Fulbright and whatever the other program was suspended, when was – when were they suspended? Today? Or was that something just done recently that hadn’t been --

MS. NULAND: No, I don’t think it was in connection with this round of demonstrations around the region --

QUESTION: No, no. I’m just asking when.

MS. NULAND: I think these were – I don’t have a date, but I can get that for you, Matt. It was as a result of the deteriorating security situation in general that the decision was made to suspend those programs. But I will get the timing. I think it was more than a month ago.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you’re getting the date or the timing, how many people does that affect?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I had it. I think it’s about 10, but it may be more than that.

QUESTION: And that means that if the program is canceled, they come home?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Usually. Usually. Yeah.

Please.

QUESTION: Toria, in Friday’s briefing, Friday evening, you essentially stated that all questions concerning any aspect of the Benghazi attack – the circumstances surrounding it, the outcome of it, et cetera – would henceforth be directed by you to the FBI since it’s their investigation.

And yet, on five Sunday shows yesterday, Ambassador Rice, who works for the same agency as you, was giving the latest U.S. assessment of how this event unfolded, specifically by saying we don’t believe it was premeditated or preplanned, and by saying that those with heavy arms and so forth showed up, in essence, as she put it, to hijack an ongoing demonstration.

So my first question for you is: Given that Ambassador Rice is out there talking publicly about it and not referring Bob Schieffer and Chris Wallace and the rest to the FBI, may we consider that we can again begin asking you questions at this podium about the circumstances of the attack? If it’s fair for the Ambassador to discuss it, it should be fair in this room, correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by reminding you that Ambassador Rice outranks me, as does my own boss, so she is often at liberty to say more than I am. And I guess that’s going to continue to be the case.

What I will say, though, is that Ambassador Rice, in her comments on every network over the weekend, was very clear, very precise, about what our initial assessment of what happened is. And this was not just her assessment. It was also an assessment that you’ve heard in comments coming from the intelligence community, in comments coming from the White House. I don’t have anything to give you beyond that.

She also made clear, as I had on Friday, that there is an ongoing FBI investigation. So frankly, I’m not sure that it’s useful to go beyond that. I’m not capable of going beyond that, and we’ll have to just see what the FBI investigation brings us.

QUESTION: You would acknowledge, however, that the account of the events, the preliminary account of the events that Ambassador Rice offered, diverges starkly from the account offered by the Libyan President, correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve heard a number of different things from Libya. I would simply say that what – the comments that Ambassador Rice made accurately reflect our government’s initial assessment.

QUESTION: And one last question, if I might, because Ambassador Rice spoke to this. She suggested that there had been an ongoing demonstration outside the Consulate or in the proximity of the Consulate in Benghazi that was, in essence, hijacked by more militant elements who came armed to the affair. I just want to nail this down with you. You are – you stand by this notion that there was, in fact, an ongoing demonstration?

MS. NULAND: I’d simply say that I don’t have any information beyond what Ambassador Rice shared with you and that her assessment does reflect our initial assessment as a government.

Please.

QUESTION: The Libyan Interior Minister said today that he dismissed two security officers in relation to the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi. Is this something that you are expecting? Do you think this is a step in the right direction? And do you think that the Libyans should have taken more fully a responsibility for protecting the Embassy in Benghazi? And how close are you in terms of cooperation with the investigation? I mean, what level, I mean?

MS. NULAND: Well, we talked about this a little bit last week, and I’m going to stand by what I said, which is obviously the Libyans are leading an investigation. We have our own FBI investigation. We also have close FBI and Libyan cooperation as we both pursue these. But I’m not going to get into the back and forth of who’s arrested, what we think, what we know about any of this. And the investigation is obviously going to lead us to the appropriate conclusions about precisely what happened and how it happened.

QUESTION: Can you confirm at least that there’s two security officers have been dismissed because of that?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to refer you to the Libyans, because this appears to be – you’re – appear to be giving me backaction that they may have taken.

QUESTION: Do you have confidence in the Libyans’ ability to do a prompt and thorough investigation?

MS. NULAND: I would say that we are already working well with the Libyans, as we have throughout this very difficult period. And – but with regard to the precise aspects of how we’re cooperating on the investigation, I’m going to send you to the investigating agency.

QUESTION: You’ve had – there’s been other investigations that the Libyans were supposed to have done that they’ve struggled, I guess, to finish, one being the circumstances of Qadhafi’s death, I think, in October. And I think it’s 11 months and you guys have no information, if that’s correct.

MS. NULAND: I frankly don’t know what the status of the Libyan investigation on that is. But with regard to --

QUESTION: That was two weeks ago, so --

MS. NULAND: With regard to this one, as you know, they are doing an investigation, we are doing an investigation, and we are going to collaborate together. So presumably, information will be shared, and we’ll help each other.

QUESTION: And have any of their investigations into various things since a year and a half ago – there was Yunus, there was Qadhafi – have any of them borne any information that’s been solid that you’ve received?

MS. NULAND: I really can’t speak to that, Brad. I haven’t looked into all of these different things.

Annie.

QUESTION: On Egypt, you said the Egyptians have been cooperative in providing the additional security you requested. Can you talk a little bit more broadly about what the contact with the Egyptians has been like over the last few days? And what is the status of the discussions about delivery of aid? Has that been affected at all?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the White House reported that the President had a good conversation with President Morsi. I think it was before the weekend. I can’t actually remember. It might have been Friday. Right. And then the Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Amr on Saturday. I think we reported that conversation out to you over the weekend. She, as you know, spoke to leaders around the region on Saturday. She also spoke to Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, FM al-Faysal. She spoke to the Libyan Prime Minister Abushagur. She spoke to Foreign Minister Davutoglu, spoke to Foreign Secretary Hague, and Foreign Minister Fabius of France.

So the points that we are continuing to make are about the importance of maintaining security, vigilance, working together. That is moving well. And as you know, we are continuing to work with the Hill on the support that we think is important to support those very forces of moderation, change, democracy, openness in Egypt that are very important for defeating extremism of the kind that we saw.

Please.

QUESTION: Is that a harder argument to make this week than it was about two weeks ago when some of that roadblock seemed to be moving out of the way?

MS. NULAND: Well, it’s a conversation we obviously have to continue to have, and the Secretary will be having it with the Congress as well this week, we expect. I mean, from where we are sitting, if you look at what happened, not just in Egypt but in other parts of the region where we saw violence, it is those who have the more extreme views who were not successful in some of these electoral contests. And they’re resorting to the street. They’re resorting to violence. And it underscores the message that we’ve been giving that we need to support those who are willing to see change that is truly democratic, that’s truly representative of the will of the people, and that isolates extremism.

QUESTION: Victoria --

MS. NULAND: Margaret, and then I’ll come back to you, Said.

Please.

QUESTION: On Friday, you went into some detail explaining to us how the FAST
teams are structured and function, also talked a bit about under the Vienna Convention some of the stipulations for host countries and security that they need to provide. You mentioned that at times the U.S., while they cede the protection to the host country, we do at times have conversations about increasing security, improving security, more along the lines of what the U.S. would like.

That was sort of standard practice. Now that we’ve had this event on 9/11, can you talk to me about whether those conversations have continued, whether that has in any way changed the relationship of the host country security practices and what we advise them?

MS. NULAND: Well, around the world – and not just for the United States but for every country’s diplomatic mission, as we talked about on Friday – we all have to rely for the outer ring of security on any diplomatic mission on host country security. Usually, in normal, calm times, it can be done by regular static police posts. Sometimes it has to be done by higher level police. And when situations get out of hand, sometimes the military has to be brought in.

So it is an ongoing conversation in every part of the world with the host government as to what we are seeing, what the threats and risks might be, how their forces are postured, training we might be able to provide, how we can work together. But it is always the responsibility of host governments to deal with security outside of an embassy perimeter wall. And then it is obviously our responsibility inside the perimeter.

So I think what we saw last week was that in some cases we had governments that had a lot of will to protect us but may have overestimated the capability of the forces that they had around and had to augment, and it took them a little bit of time to catch up, so we had to have conversations – very, in some cases, high-level conversations – about what we were seeing. Those conversations continue. And as I said, the Secretary talked to a lot of her colleagues in the affected areas to maintain – to ensure that we’re maintaining vigilance going forward.

QUESTION: But in some of those cases, there have been fatalities. Lethal force has been used. Has the U.S. voiced any concern about the methods that the host countries are using to protect these U.S. interests?

MS. NULAND: Well, regrettably, there have been some demonstrators who have lost their lives. This is, again, a host country decision. What we generally see is an effort to quell demonstrations that get out of hand that move beyond the peaceful realm, first with less lethal means, whether it’s water cannon, whether it’s gas. But obviously, it’s up to the host country how it determines when it needs to and if it needs to move to lethal force.

QUESTION: Toria, going back to Friday’s briefing --

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: -- you said that you would endeavor to tell us if there was anything that had been in that initial timeline that was fundamentally incorrect. Are you aware of anything that was incorrect in that initial timeline?

MS. NULAND: I am not at the moment, but I’m not privy to all the investigative information on that.

QUESTION: And you’re sticking with – you will try to tell --

MS. NULAND: I will.

QUESTION: -- and you will tell us if --

MS. NULAND: I will.

QUESTION: And then secondly, are you aware there is apparently a video of Ambassador Stevens being taken out of the room in the consulate? Have – I have not seen it, but apparently there are – there’s some chanting in the background. Are you aware if anyone has – in this building has seen this video?

MS. NULAND: I’ve heard about this video.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the people who were pulling him out were excited that he was alive or appeared to be alive, or is it your understanding that they were celebrating his death?

MS. NULAND: Matt, clearly, this video and whether or not it’s authentic and whether or not it has – it’s an accurate representation of what happened, whether or not it’s Ambassador Stevens, is going to be part and parcel of this investigation. I would simply say that, speaking as a member of the corps of this Department, it’s very, very difficult to see that circulating on press organizations, and I would ask if that’s appropriate in this circumstance. But I’m not in a position to confirm what, who, where, and whether it has any value in this.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just one last thing from Friday – excuse me – from Friday’s briefing. You again didn’t want to get into the number of embassies that actually have Marine guards, so the Marine recruiting – the center for – or whoever it is that does recruiting for the Marine guards, for the Marines themselves, say that they have outfits or units in about 125 embassies. This is on the publicly accessible websites.

MS. NULAND: Okay.

QUESTION: Does that sound about right to you?

MS. NULAND: It does. I’m happy to check it against our data if that’s helpful.

QUESTION: And it’s about – there are roughly 200 or so --

MS. NULAND: About.

QUESTION: -- missions?

MS. NULAND: About. I will check both of those for you, Matt.

QUESTION: Victoria --

MS. NULAND: Said.

QUESTION: Yes. You said that some countries were trying to protect us rather enthusiastically or genuinely, suggesting that perhaps other countries were not. Let me ask you this question in that light. Do you attribute that the inaction or the slow action by the President of Egypt – do you attribute it to inexperience, or perhaps he was trying to play to the animosity of a popular sentiment?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not standing here in a position to parse anybody’s motives. I would simply say that we have seen in the past that – and the Egyptians themselves saw in the context of Tahrir Square – that as some of these events get out of hand, the police in Egypt have not been the strongest reed and it’s ultimately taken military force to quell difficulties, whether they were Egyptian internal difficulties or whether they involved their Vienna Convention obligations.

So it was when we began to get military forces around the Embassy that we began to get the situation under control, and that’s obviously a decision that is never an easy one for any government to make for the reasons that we’ve talked about here, but they did ultimately make it and we are feeling much better about the security now.

QUESTION: So you think that basically the problem is a result of the breakdown in the – let’s say the security institution rather than just a political position?

MS. NULAND: I can’t really parse it here, Said, but there are a lot of factors that go into this. We talked a little bit on Friday that governments across the region that used to be autocracies had one kind of a relationship with their military, and now they have a different kind of relationship with their security structures, with their military, with their police, and there are some growing pains here, obviously.

Please, Andy.

QUESTION: To follow up on that, sort of next door on Sudan over the weekend, there were reports on Sudan’s state news agency that they had turned down our request to send Marines to beef up security around our Embassy Khartoum, whereas the Yemenis apparently let them in. Can you tell us what happened there? And is there ongoing discussion with the Sudanese about improving security in Khartoum?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to speak to our internal deliberations with the Sudanese. I think I did release a little bit of a statement on Saturday, which frankly I don’t have in front of me right now, Andy, about safety and security at our mission in Khartoum. But as you know, Khartoum was another mission where we directed our family members and our nonemergency personnel to leave. We had ordered departure on Saturday. There was external damage to the building, and we are continuing to work with the Sudanese to ensure that the response going forward is appropriate.

QUESTION: So you’re not able to confirm from the podium that the Sudanese turned down the request for additional Marines?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into our internal security deliberations for the Sudanese.

QUESTION: Well, are you comfortable with the level of security at the Embassy right now?

MS. NULAND: Our personnel and our facility is safe at the moment, but we are continuing to evaluate the security posture of Sudanese forces on a daily basis.

QUESTION: Victoria, just two things, one on Libya and one on Egypt. First on Egypt, my understanding is that Ambassador Patterson was out of Egypt at that time. I think she was here on September 10.

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Is it the case that on that day, September 10, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo cabled Foggy Bottom alerting officials here to the effect the video was having and the likelihood for violent protests and was effectively ignored by Foggy Bottom?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m first of all not going to speak about internal government telegrams, et cetera. What I will say to you is that we were well aware, both through Embassy monitoring of social media and other sources available to us, that this video was being used to whip up strong feelings in Egypt that could, in fact, lead to demonstrations. And it was on that basis that the charge took the precaution on the morning of September 11th, or even before they came into work, of having most of the Embassy staff stay home that day well before the protests even began. So when we had the difficulties, there was actually minimal staff in the building because we were already alerted and we had alerted the Egyptians as well.

QUESTION: Okay. And on Libya, again, mindful that you’ve already told me once today that you won’t be in a position to say anything other than what Ambassador Rice disclosed --

MS. NULAND: You’re going to try again anyway. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Simply on the basis of what Ambassador Rice has publicly disclosed, does the United States Government regard what happened in Benghazi as an act of terror?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to put labels on this until we have a complete investigation, okay?

QUESTION: You don’t – so you don’t regard it as an act of terrorism?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think we know enough. I don’t think we know enough. And we’re going to continue to assess. She gave our preliminary assessment. We’re going to have a full investigation now, and then we’ll be in a better position to put labels on things, okay?

QUESTION: And what message will Secretary Clinton have? You mentioned that she’s – that the Department is working with the Hill in large measure – I think it was in response to an earlier question about Egypt – what message will Secretary Clinton have for lawmakers when she sees them imminently?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’ll let her speak herself to members of Congress, but you can understand that they want to have a full assessment of what happened, what we know, what measures we took at the time, what measures we’re taking going forward to continue to protect our personnel and our facilities. I think she, in general, has been heartened that so many members of Congress have reached out to say, “What do you need? How can we help?” So I think she’ll want to talk about all of those things, but she’ll also want to, I would guess – and we’ll see where this goes and I’ll speak to it after she does it – but as we’ve said here, to make clear, as Ambassador Rice also did over the weekend, that our assessment is that these people in all of these transitioning countries who have stood up for change and who have fought for change in their own countries, whether you’re talking about Libya or Tunisia or Yemen or Egypt, don’t want now to let some – a few mobs hijack their desire for a better future.

So America can’t turn our back now on these countries. We have to continue and deepen and broaden our support so they have a better, more peaceful, more democratic future – a future where people who have grievances express them peacefully, express them to the ballot box rather than having protests turn angry and violent. So she will want to underscore that. She’ll want to talk about it in terms of the programmatic support that we’re asking for from the Hill.

QUESTION: Do you expect that she’ll be able to answer any of their questions, or will she refer the lawmakers to the FBI’s investigation and say that they’re (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, but obviously, we’re all focused on ensuring the integrity of the investigation.

Goyal. Anything else on this part of the world?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what you’re saying about the Secretary’s prospective message, given the – sort of the urgency of the situation as it’s been demonstrated by these incidents, is there any chance that the State Department might up its request for aid for these countries?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speculate, Andy, at this point. We’re looking at everything, obviously, but first and foremost at security.

Please.

QUESTION: What’s your assessment of the degree of infiltration of al-Qaida in the Maghreb in Libya today?

MS. NULAND: You’re asking me to make an intelligence assessment from this podium. I’m not going to do that. I’m sorry.

Goyal and then Samir. Goyal first and then Samir.

QUESTION: Nepal?

MS. NULAND: Nepal, my goodness.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Since State Department has already revoked the terror designation of the Maoist government in Nepal, now what Nepalese are asking – what kind of U.S. help – asking to have a new government or continuing the democracy, and of the violence against so many governments there by the terrorists or Maoists in the past?

MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there, Goyal?

QUESTION: Yeah. The question is now – that was the demand by the Maoists to remove – the U.S. should remove the terror designation in order to support the democracy and the constitution and the future government there.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve spoken about this before, and we will continue to talk to all forces in Nepal with regard to this, but I don’t have anything new to give you today, if that’s what you’re asking.

Please, Guy.

QUESTION: Regarding --

MS. NULAND: Oh, Samir, I promised you. I apologize, Guy. Samir.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: There were lots of press reports in the weekend about Iran increasing its Revolutionary Guards and intelligence people in Turkey, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. Do you have anything on this?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything specific, but you know that we have been concerned about Iranian activity not only with regard to Syria, with regard to its affiliations with Hezbollah, but the – an increase, an up tempo in general, but I don’t have anything specific for you, Samir.

QUESTION: Speaking of Iran and Syria, can you offer any initial read on the meeting this weekend between President Assad and Lakhdar Brahimi?

MS. NULAND: I can’t. My understanding is that Envoy Brahimi is going to finish the rounds that he is doing now before he begins consulting with the international community on his conclusions and his proposals going forward. So we are going to respect his desire to have a full round of consultations, and I’m expecting that we’ll hear more from him next week when we’re all in New York.

QUESTION: Apart from any security measures going on in Beirut, do you have any comment in general on the Hezbollah demonstrations?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new today. Hezbollah demonstrations over the weekend?

QUESTION: No, today.

QUESTION: Today.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have it coming down. Let me see if I’ve got anything to give you later in the day.

QUESTION: On Iran and Syria, one more: There were some comments over the weekend acknowledging or appearing to acknowledge some – the presence of Revolutionary Guards in Syria. How do you view that, and I guess, does this validate some of the long suspicions that you’ve spoken about here about their role in the Syrian civil war?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, it didn’t surprise us in the least. We’ve been saying for months and months and months that we’re concerned about the involvement of Iran in Syria, and that this wasn’t simply a matter of political support and economic support; it was a matter of fighters, it’s a matter of materiel, and we are very concerned about it.

QUESTION: I think that the commander who was quoted, he said the Revolutionary Guard weren’t involved in direct military operations, but only advising, I think, and financial assistance. Do you have – do you think this has any credibility, this limited role as he described it?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are concerned, we continue to be concerned that it is about materiel, it is about training, it is about personnel in units. And I don’t know where he draws the line, but clearly this is active and strong support for the Assad regime.

Said?

QUESTION: Toria, should the violence of the past few days against the embassies give the United States pause as it considers aiding the rebels in Syria, and what kind of forces that might emerge and take part in that country?

MS. NULAND: Well, Said, I think this speaks to the work that we’ve been doing for many months now to try to unify the opposition, internal and external, behind a transition strategy that is democratic, that is based on universal human rights, where there’s a place for all Syrians, no matter who they are. And our concern remains that the longer this goes on the more the delicate fabric of Syria, with its many ethnic groups and confessions, tears and the more the institutions are destroyed. And this is why not only do we need to hasten the day that the bloodshed ends, but we need a strong, unified plan of the opposition so that we minimize the damage going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. But the common slogan among all these rebel groups or opposition groups in Syria seems to be – and it really rhymes beautifully in Arabic – it says, “Alawites to the grave, and Christians to Beirut.” I mean, this seems to be the common thread between all these groups. Are you counting them against espousing such horrible and hateful sectarian slogans?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know we are and you know we have been. The code of conduct that the opposition groups put forward back in July has a very strong bill of rights to it, which speaks about the rights of all of the different groups of equal – of appropriate representation, all of those kinds of things. Even some of the FSA websites have talked about the importance of a Syria for all Syrians. And our message here from this podium, the Secretary’s message, has been that anybody fighting in the name of the Syrian people has to be prepared to work for and support a Syria for all Syrians, where no group dominates another. We don’t want to trade – and nor do the Syrian people – one set of authoritarian thugs for another set of authoritarian thugs. We need a Syria that represents all the Syrian groups, that protects all of their rights, that includes political participation for them and a place for them, and rule of law for all Syrians.

Please.

QUESTION: Can I ask you to just step back and take a 30,000 foot view for a moment here? On Friday, the people who read what we write and who watch us on TV and who listen to us on the radio and who are not foreign policy experts but just ordinary American – who, by the way, happen to be in the middle of a presidential election season – see on their screens 33 different locales across the world, stretching from Western Europe to South Asia, where either U.S. embassies or American citizens, American diplomatic personnel or Western fast food chains and the like are under attack.

And this prompted two lines of thought that I would like you to address. Number one is that the United States – its position in the world is diminished from where it would have been, say, four years ago because we’re under attack. Our standing is obviously diminished because our adversaries around the world feel free to attack us. And the second point that I’d like you to address is the notion that President Obama, with his Cairo speech and his outreach to the Arab Muslim world, that that has failed, or that it’s been rejected in some core sense when the locales that we’re talking about are all Arab Muslim locales.

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to start, since you are an infrequent visitor to our briefing room here, by reminding you that we don’t do politics here. We represent this Department in its --

QUESTION: I didn’t ask you any political questions.

MS. NULAND: I understand. But you’re talking about calendar cycles in this country. So I’m just going to lay that marker down, just to remind you of what we do here.

Let me also remind you that, sadly, this is not the first time, as Ambassador Rice made clear, that we’ve seen acts of violence erupt in many parts of the world in response to insults against Islam, insults against other religions. And they are often difficult to contain. But the larger point – and this goes to the vision that the President laid out in Cairo – is that in every one of these places that has had a democratic transition, that has had a change, we are seeing the governments standing up and rejecting this violence, rejecting the extremism that these represent, calling on people to respect rule of law, calling on people to express their grievances through the ballot box, through the newly available democratic principles, and that’s good for America.

It is good for America that so many of these people now have the right and the ability to express their concerns, express their grievances through real politics, through peaceful means. That doesn’t mean that we – that those governments have convinced everybody to use those available methods, but at least we have relationships with governments across North Africa and the Middle East that are democratically elected, that represent people, that are accountable to people, that have to deliver peace, justice, security, prosperity. This is not going to be easy. They have a long road to go. But it underscores the importance of Americans and this country standing with those who want to live as we do. Because democratic countries make better allies and friends of America.

QUESTION: So, wait. There are just two – there were two points, and I’m still waiting for you to address them. Number one is address the notion that this reflects diminished U.S. influence that we could come under attack like this. And the second is that the President’s outreach policy, starting with his great Cairo speech and so forth, has obviously failed. I didn’t say I’m agreeing with those points of view, but I’ve asked – they’re out there, and you’re well aware of that, and I’m asking you to address them.

MS. NULAND: I --

QUESTION: Is our influence stronger? Is this evidence of that? And number two, has President Obama’s outreach policy to the Arab Muslim world been a success?

MS. NULAND: I addressed the second part of that question in making clear that we are now standing with governments across this region that are freely elected, that have to be accountable to their people, and that is better for us than where we were before this Arab Spring. But we can’t abandon these people now, particularly because they are facing extremism in their midst; they are facing folks who want to roll back the clock inside their countries and between their countries. And that’s all the more reason why we have to continue to work with them.

America, sadly, for decades has been the victim of violence. You can look at the Beirut bombings of the ’80s; you can look at terrorist attacks ever since September 11th. We all wish this weren’t the case, but these are people who obviously don’t believe what we believe, which is that if you have grievances, if you feel insulted, you address them politically, you address them peacefully. And we all have to stand together as an international community against grievance being expressed through violence, through terror, and we will continue to do that.

Please.

QUESTION: I’m just curious, one, if the Secretary has made any additional calls since the ones that you read out on Saturday, since then. And two, I noticed that her schedule for today said she was involved in internal meetings in the Department. Do any – are you aware if any of these meetings have to do with this – with the situations, and could you offer us – give us any details, who she might be meeting, if in fact she is talking about the situation, who it is that she’s --

MS. NULAND: Yeah. She also spoke with the King of Morocco on Sunday. That call was very much in line with the other calls that she had. The King expressed his condolences, his concern, our commitment to continue to work together for peace, security, justice in that part of the world. As you know, we had had the – our bilateral talks with the Moroccans earlier in the week, so they also had a chance to review those talks.

With regard to her meetings today, she has had an update from her team, but she’s been updated regularly all weekend long. And she has also continued to direct the continued review of the security posture at all of these missions.

QUESTION: Change of --

MS. NULAND: Please, Guy, finally, mister patient.

QUESTION: Regarding Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington this week, could you give us an indication as to the likelihood that the United States will or will not announce a full lifting of the ban on Myanmar’s imports to the United States during her visit? Is that being considered?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new to announce for you here, Guy. I think you know that we have Daw Suu Kyi in Washington. I think it’s beginning tomorrow, and she’ll see the Secretary, and then she’ll go up to New York and she’ll be traveling around the country. She’ll be making a lot of her own statements here. We also are expecting President Thein Sein in New York for the UN General Assembly. We’ll have a chance to meet with him there. But I’m not in a position to predict whether we’re going to take any new steps on Burma this week or next.

QUESTION: Would it be fair to suggest that with the release of the last 400-odd political prisoners today that that might make the possibility of the removal of sanctions likelier or less likely?

MS. NULAND: Well, Ros, we’ve seen the press announcements that we have 514 prisoners granted amnesty today. But as in the past, until we get a chance to review the lists and understand who it is, we’re not even in a position to confirm whether any of these guys were political. So we, obviously, need some time to do that, and we will continue to work closely with the Burmese to verify exactly who we’re talking about.

QUESTION: How substantive are – is this building expecting discussions between Daw Suu Kyi and the U.S. Government when it comes to trying to support and expand financial, educational, and non-profit ties between the two countries, absent any decision on these remaining sanctions?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, she’s been a very strong voice for continued ties between our country for education, for reform, all those kinds of things. The Secretary takes counsel with her whenever she can, and I think that’ll be – that they’ll have another opportunity for that tomorrow.

QUESTION: Can we stay --

QUESTION: Can I take a larger picture on this?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Especially in light of what has been happening in the Middle East and North Africa in the past 18 months or so, this whole process of reconciliation, as it were, with Burma has been going on since the mid-2000’s, and it’s been a very slow, deliberate process after a ramp-up of economic and political sanctions. Does the go-slow approach that was started in the Bush Administration and continued by this Administration to see improvements in the political climate there – is that the model that this building is using for all of the political changes that are happening now in the Middle East and North Africa? And if that’s not an accurate analogy, why isn’t it?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I think I’m going to take issue with your premise, Ros. The changes and reform steps that we’ve seen in Burma in the last year are qualitatively and quantitatively broader and deeper than we had seen at any time before, with the allowing of Suu Kyi’s party to run, with release of prisoners, with the outreach to all of the minority groups. There’s obviously a lot more to be done, and we will talk to both Daw Suu Kyi and to President Thein Sein about that going forward.

I am always – I think we are as a Department always loathe to make comparisons across regions, across cultures, even across countries, because every place has its own history, has its own back story, if you will. And every emerging and changing transitional country has to find its own way. What we do is to stand on basic principles that are rooted in our own history that human rights of all have to be protected, rule of law has to be protected, and all citizens deserve the right to pick their own leaders.

QUESTION: So can we stay in Asia?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Last --

QUESTION: Can we stick with Burma, just one last one?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Finishing Burma.

QUESTION: You said that – you said “we’ll have a chance to meet” with Thein Sein in New York. I mean, obviously we’ll have a chance to meet a lot of different people up there. Do you actually expect senior U.S. Government officials to meet him on the sidelines of UNGA?

MS. NULAND: I would expect so, yes, as we have in the past.

QUESTION: And the Secretary or somebody --

MS. NULAND: Is that a picture of me you’ve got there going there, Guy? (Laughter.) We’ll see if it’s sufficiently flattering, right? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The Secretary or somebody else?

MS. NULAND: Burma is boring him today.

I’m not prepared to announce her appointments yet, Arshad. As you know, we will as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: So can we stay in Asia just for a second?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: So several times last week, you declined or didn’t want to talk about the situation between China and Japan. Things got a little bit more dicey Friday and over the weekend. I’m wondering if you – especially because Secretary Panetta is due there tomorrow – if you would like to talk – say anything today about the situation.

MS. NULAND: Well, Secretary Panetta has already made some pretty strong statements over the course of the weekend. He’s made clear that we are concerned. We’re concerned about the escalation of tensions. We’ve said that before. We said it when the Secretary was in Vladivostok and on her own Asia trip some – when was that? Just a week ago, right? And we are going to continue to counsel Japanese leaders and Chinese leaders to talk to each other and try to work through these issues through dialogue.

QUESTION: Are you saying that Secretary Panetta has got the lead diplomatic role on this, then?

MS. NULAND: Secretary, as you know, saw both President Hu --

QUESTION: No, no. I’m talking about Secretary --

MS. NULAND: -- and Prime Minister Noda.

QUESTION: No, I understand that. But I mean --

MS. NULAND: My point was simply that he reiterated some of the concerns that the Secretary had articulated when we were there, so our concern remains, and we want to see these countries work together.

Andy.

QUESTION: Different topic. Just – we have reports now out of Brussels, I guess, that Catherine Ashton is going to meet Jalili in Istanbul tomorrow. They’re describing this as not a negotiation round but sort of just a catch-up session. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on what you hoped might come out of this particular meeting. Is there a sense that we could get back to a negotiating session at some time? Is that dependent on something that might happen in this meeting?

And given your sort of blanket assessment on Iran as sort of a negative actor in the region, why is it worthwhile going at it with them on this issue now when they’re sort of not being constructive on anything else?

MS. NULAND: Well, this is an effort before we are all at the UN General Assembly next week to see where the Iranians are on the nuclear file. You remember that we had said after the last round, and the Secretary said when we were in the Middle East at the end of the summer, that we hadn’t seen a strong enough proposal from the Iranian side, that we wanted them to go back and work on it, that we didn’t think that there was any ambiguity about what the P-5+1 was looking for. So this is an opportunity for Lady Ashton, on behalf of the P-5+1, to see what the Iranians are thinking. And then we do anticipate that the P-5+1 itself, minus Iran, will have a chance to consult on the basis of that information when we’re in New York next week.

QUESTION: I thought she used the term nonstarters at the time.

MS. NULAND: That was the word that was used, nonstarter.

QUESTION: So what has happened since then that would suggest a starter has been – that a starter has emerged?

MS. NULAND: Well, that’s the question that we have. We made clear that what they had put on the table was a nonstarter; are they prepared to bring anything new?

QUESTION: Right, but they can call you, they can write you whenever they want. What’s the purpose of this meeting to go there and ask them? I mean --

MS. NULAND: Well, they’re meeting --

QUESTION: -- they’re in the position where they should be complying with their international obligations, correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re going the extra mile to offer them a face-to-face meeting to see what’s up.

QUESTION: Does that suggest that you might be open to a P-5+1 meeting with the Iranians in New York?

MS. NULAND: There is no plan for that, based on what we know right now.

QUESTION: And the P-5+1 meeting that you expect to take place in New York, do you expect that to be a ministerial or a political directors --

MS. NULAND: We haven’t decided yet, Arshad.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Goyal. Yeah.

QUESTION: Two-part question. One, in Geneva, World Council of Churches, they issue a statement and are blaming Pakistan not taking care or protecting the minorities, including Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus in Pakistan. And the statement also said that the minorities in Pakistan still live under fear and they are forced to leave the country. Anything the U.S. is doing regard this?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything particularly new to give you today, Goyal. You know that we work on these issues with our Pakistani colleagues and our Embassy in Islamabad, we speak about them in our Human Rights Report, and we’ll continue to have those conversations.

QUESTION: And finally, one more. Unrelated question in – on Pakistan: You must have seen the video from Mr. Warren Weinstein. It’s been one year now anniversary that he is still in the captivities of the terrorists under the leadership of al-Zawahiri. And his wife is making a plea on his behalf that – why it had taken so long for the U.S. and Pakistan, why Pakistan is not helping to release his – her husband.

MS. NULAND: Well, you know we share her concerns. We don’t think he did anything wrong. He deserves to be released. We continue to work on this case, and we will maintain vigilance with regard to it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Margaret.

QUESTION: Any update on the Benghazi attack survivors?

MS. NULAND: What I have is that they are still interested in maintaining their privacy, Margaret. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

And in the back.

QUESTION: Oh, yes. Ms. Nuland, the tensions seem to be rising or ratcheting up between China and Japan over the Senkakus problem, but hasn’t the neutrality of the U.S. a little bit led to this situation? And why did the neutrality position get adopted in the first place?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think I’ve already spoken to the Senkakus issue today. I don’t have anything else to add to what I already said about our concern and our urging of dialogue between the two sides.

QUESTION: How about some comment about the thousand vessels on the way to the waters of the Senkakus? That’s a major change.

MS. NULAND: I think I’ve said what I have on that subject today.

Thanks very much, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - September 17, 2012]