Daily Press Briefing - August 10, 2011
Index for Today's Briefing:
- U.S. Focus is to Continue to Strengthen International Condemnation of Assad Regime's
- Activities / Actions in Syria Unacceptable to International Community
- Treasury Announcement of Sanctions against Syrian Financial Institutions and other Companies
- Focus of U.S. Diplomacy / Increasing International Pressure on Asad
- Secretary's phone call with Turkish FM Davutoglu / U.S.-Turkey Close Diplomatic
- Coordination on Syria / Turkey's Commitment to Cooperatively Build pressure on Asad
- U.S.-Russian Coordination on Syria
- Want to see Withdrawal of Forces, End to Violence in all Parts of Syria
- Valuable U.S.-Turkey Partnership regarding Syria / Coordinating, Amplifying Messages
- NORTH KOREA / SOUTH KOREA
- Exchange of Fire / Call on North Korea to Exercise restraint / U.S. Wants to see continued Improvement in North-South Relationship
- North Korea must show Progress toward Showing Commitment to Nuclear Obligations
- TNC Reorganization / U.S. Wants to see next steps, Consideration of New Open, Transparent, and Representative Government
- NATO, U.S. Missions able to provide Advice and Assistance to TNC if Requested
- Concerns about Anti-Americanism / Expressed concerns to the Egyptian Government
- U.S. Is strong supporter of U.S. Transition to Democratic Future
- Personal Attacks against Ambassador Anne Patterson Unacceptable
- Aircraft Carrier / Concerns about Lack of Transparency from China
- Settling South China Sea Issues
- U.S. Wants Maximally Transparent Military-to-Military Relationship with China
- Saeb Erakat-David Hale Contacts
- U.S. Leadership Role in Negotiations / Up to Parties to make the Tough Decisions
- Setting Deadlines / Goal is to get Parties Back to Table
12:37 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything at the top, so we can go directly to what is on your minds.
Jill? Oh, sorry, Matt, did you --
QUESTION: No, I have nothing.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Jill.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, every day we ask you, so should President Asad step down?
MS. NULAND: Let me say that the focus of our activity, as you know, based on the Secretary’s meetings, her numerous phone calls, her recent conversations with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, is to continue to strengthen the international chorus of condemnation regarding the abhorrent activities of the Asad regime. And I think that our view is that this community of countries willing to call him out, call Syria out for what it is doing is growing.
And over the past week, based largely on his actions but also because of the strong diplomacy that we have been conducting with a number of countries, you see moves like the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council – as I mentioned yesterday, Saudi King Abdullah, Kuwait, Bahrain, other countries taking increasingly strong stands and making clear that what’s going on in Syria is absolutely unacceptable to the international community.
Now, the fact that we got this UN Security Council presidential statement last week speaks to the fact that countries like China and Russia are no longer willing to sit by. So I think the question now is: What message is the Asad regime going to take from this? Are they going to stop the violence? Are they going to pull the tanks back? Are they going to allow a real democratic transition to take place? So that’s where we are on Syria today.
And as you saw probably, the Treasury Department today announced a new set of sanctions. We’ve sanctioned the Commercial Bank of Syria, we’ve sanctioned the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, and we’ve sanctioned their largest mobile phone purveyor, Syriatel.
QUESTION: Speaking of the sanctions, where are we internationally? I mean, do you feel that the countries that have rhetorically come forward are backing that up with sufficient, concrete steps with other sanctions?
MS. NULAND: This is very much the focus of the diplomacy that we’re engaged with, with the Europeans, with Syria’s neighbors, to encourage, as we said yesterday, as many countries as possible to take national action to tighten the noose, to ensure that we do as much as possible to increase the pressure on Asad. And our own sanctions are designed to deny him the money to commit this kind of violence.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Davutoglu after his marathon meeting yesterday?
MS. NULAND: Yes. They had another long phone call --
MS. NULAND: -- last night in which they compared notes on where we are and committed, again, to work together to build the pressure on Asad.
QUESTION: And is there any new thinking as a result of this lengthy conversation? Is there, like, any steps that the two countries might coordinate together or are likely to see in the next two or three days?
MS. NULAND: I think we are very much together on the fundamental demands that both Turkey, the United States, and an increasing chorus of countries have with regard to the Asad regime – that the violence has got to stop, that the tanks have to go back to barracks, and that we have to start a real democratic transition.
QUESTION: And finally --
MS. NULAND: So we are working very, very closely together.
QUESTION: -- and lastly, how do you read the meetings between Mr. Muallem, the foreign minister of Syria, with the foreign minister of Russia yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything – any particular comment on the Russian meeting.
QUESTION: So there has been no similar conversation between the Russian foreign minister and the Secretary of State as there was with the Turkish foreign minister, was there?
MS. NULAND: We have, as you know, been coordinating closely on Syria with Russia. When Foreign Minister Lavrov was here in the middle of July --
MS. NULAND: -- it was very much a subject of conversation, obviously, our work together in New York. There has not been a phone call, though, in the last 24 hours if that’s what you’re asking.
QUESTION: How long was the call? You said it was lengthy? How long?
MS. NULAND: They spoke for about half an hour.
QUESTION: Staying in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan stated that tanks, they withdraw from Hama, so he state that is a good step after the meeting of the Foreign Minister Davutoglu and his counterparts in Damascus. Would you agree that – do you see any changes so far?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Turkish press, as I understand it from press reporting, has been allowed in to Hama. We ourselves are not in Hama, so this is based on Turkish information. We are looking for an end to the violence in all parts of Syria. We’re looking for a withdrawal of forces from all parts of Syria. So any moves along those lines would be in keeping with what we are both looking for, but we need to see a complete process.
QUESTION: From first conversation, from conversation between foreign -- Secretary of State Clinton and Davutoglu, Foreign Minister Davutoglu from Sunday, there is kind of an uproar in Turkey in terms of the language they used in the press release about that phone call. Do you have any regrets over the language of the statement that’s released after the phone call between the --
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure precisely what it is that caused the uproar. I would simply say that from our perspective, our very close diplomatic coordination with Turkey on this subject and on other very important subjects around the world has been vital to the effectiveness of the diplomacy, I think, of both countries. So we very much value the relationship that Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Davutoglu have and that we have at all other levels with the Turkish Government.
QUESTION: The statement reflected a couple of – first, that U.S. State Department reinforces – this is the one where (inaudible) is to ask Turkish counterpart to kind of send the message of the United States of government. Did you ask foreign minister to send or convey any of the messages of the U.S. Administration to Damascus?
MS. NULAND: This is a partnership that we have with Turkey. We are allies, and Secretary Clinton works very closely with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. So it’s a matter of the two of them coordinating their messages and working with other allies and partners around the world to amplify the message.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There was a report – just as I was coming in so I don’t have a lot of details – about South Korea returning some fire. Do you have anything on that?
MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that this exchange of fire has now ended. That’s a good thing. We call on the DPRK to exercise restraint. What we want to see, as you know, is a continued improvement – an improvement in the relationship between the North and the South, and we want to see the North begin to take steps along the lines that we discussed in New York last week so that we can get back to the Six-Party Talks. But that’s going to require further commitment on their part to their obligations on the nuclear side.
MS. NULAND: Again, this incident is now over. We have expressed concern and we will continue to express concern that the DPRK exercise restraint. That said, our main message is that the DPRK needs to reach out to the South and that it needs to show progress in meeting its commitments.
QUESTION: But they shouldn’t reach out to the South with --
MS. NULAND: Absolutely not. Right.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, you say this incident is now over, but the Cheonon incident is over as well and you’re still looking for them to make an apology or do something along those lines. So I’m just wondering if this latest incident doesn’t make you think that the North Koreans are less than serious about this rapprochement that allegedly started back in Bali.
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re looking for them to take the positive steps if they want positive response from us or from the South.
QUESTION: What do you want them to do in terms of keeping their nuclear commitments?
MS. NULAND: I think we were clear after the discussions in New York last week that we are looking to see the progress along the lines of their commitments to pursue a denuclearization and to open their system for inspection and all those kinds of things. So that list of asks has not changed.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The New York talks between the U.S. and North Korea was preceded by North-South nuclear talks in Bali, which was symbolic move representing improvement of North-South relations. But as we discussed, we had exchange of fire between the two Koreas, so are we actually moving back where we were several weeks ago?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think time will tell whether North Korea is willing to take the kind of steps that we are asking for, that Six-Party Talks colleagues are asking for. We are asking North Korea to exercise restraint. We are – this incident is now over and we now need to move back to the main business at hand, which is for North Korea to show us, to show South Korea, to show its other partners that it’s truly committed to the kind of goals that we have together in terms of denuclearization.
QUESTION: Just on a technical point, did you express your concern through the Swedes in Pyongyang?
MS. NULAND: I don’t believe so. I don’t believe so.
MS. NULAND: Libya. Yeah.
Samir, on this one?
QUESTION: No, Egypt.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let’s do Libya, and then we’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Very quickly, yesterday, you suggested that the dissolving of the TNC is a sign of vibrant transparency and democratic accountability. But all the reports point that they are really in disarray. I mean, do you still sort of stick to your point of yesterday that this is really a sign of a very healthy process?
MS. NULAND: I think we stand by what I said yesterday, which is that this is an opportunity for renewal not only in political terms, but in terms of the confidence that the Libyan people are going to have to have in TNC leadership. So it’s in that spirit that we want to see the next step, which is for Prime Minister Jibril to propose and for the TNC to consider a new government. And that government needs to be one that can be seen as open, transparent, broadly representative, et cetera.
QUESTION: Do you see a situation where NATO – the NATO alliance would give advice on how to form the next executive committee or cabinet or whatever it is in the TNC?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think this is a NATO function so much. NATO is –
QUESTION: I understand. But would there – is it – be advisable for them to say, “Look, you guys maybe should do this or do that”?
MS. NULAND: The – many of the countries within NATO, like the United States, have missions in Benghazi which are available to the TNC to provide any advice, assistance that is requested. I think in terms of the U.S. role in this or other countries’ role, it’s simply to ensure that we are providing any advice that they would like, and that we are making clear that the principles of transparency – openness, unity, broad representation – are goals that they share.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Please. Samir.
QUESTION: Yes. There is a lengthy article in The Wall Street Journal today talking about how the Egyptian military rulers, the council, is behind a negative campaign against the – Ambassador Patterson, and the nongovernment organization – pro-democracy organization that receives money from the U.S., that they are describing them as traitors. How do you assess the relations with the military council?
MS. NULAND: Well, first let me say with regard to this kind of anti-Americanism that’s creeping into the Egyptian public discourse, we are concerned. We have expressed these concerns to the Egyptian Government. We think this kind of representation of the United States is not only inaccurate; it’s unfair. We are very strong supporters of Egypt’s transition to a democratic future, and we will continue to be there for Egypt.
With regard to the personal attacks on Ambassador Patterson, they are unacceptable, as you know. She is one of our finest, most respected, most experienced ambassadors around the world, and she is in Egypt to represent U.S. policy and the American people’s aspiration to support a strong, democratic, prosperous Egypt.
QUESTION: How long has she actually been there? It’s only a matter of weeks, right? I don’t even think it’s a month.
MS. NULAND: I think that’s right. I think that’s right.
QUESTION: One more on Egypt. Is --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry, can we just – can I just – when was the last time this was raised with – I remember the Egyptian intelligence chief was here while you were away, and I think that this came up then. But this latest article seems to be more recent than that. Do you know if this has been – if and by whom this has been raised since –
MS. NULAND: Let me take that one for the specifics. Yeah.
QUESTION: And can you also check exactly how long Ambassador Patterson has been there?
MS. NULAND: I will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: I will
QUESTION: It is on Egypt. There is a report of a young Egyptian American boy who apparently was taken by his father in Egypt, and wondering if you had any information on that.
MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to have to take that one. Do you have a name, Jill?
QUESTION: I’ll send it to you. I’m sorry. I don’t have that with me.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Yeah.
Please, in the back.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we have had concerns for some time, and we’ve been quite open about them with regard to the lack of transparency from China regarding its power projection and its lack of access and denial capabilities. So we want to see more transparency. We would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for needing this kind of equipment. And as you know, President Obama and President Hu have stated together that they want a healthy and reliable military-to-military relationship.
QUESTION: Will this also make the U.S. to more back up your allies in that region in order to make the balance of the military power in Asia Pacific?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think anybody should question the U.S. commitment to our allies in Asia.
QUESTION: Can I ask why you would want the Chinese to explain why they want an aircraft carrier? Can’t they just say, “Because we want it”? Isn’t that a good enough explanation?
MS. NULAND: Again, this is part of our larger concern that China is not as transparent as other countries. It’s not as transparent as the United States about its military acquisitions, about its military budget. And this causes concern, and we’d –
QUESTION: Well, what is this –
MS. NULAND: -- like to have the kind of open, transparent relationship in military-to-military affairs.
QUESTION: Is this aircraft carrier invisible or something? I don’t understand. It’s not difficult. I mean, it seems it’s pretty hard to hide an aircraft carrier --
MS. NULAND: But we have not --
QUESTION: -- unless it’s a miniature model, which I don’t think it is. So I’m not sure what’s the lack of – you know that they had one, you know that it’s out there sailing around on maneuvers or being tested right now. What’s not transparent about that?
MS. NULAND: In our military-to-military relations with many countries around the world, we have the kind of bilateral dialogue where we can get quite specific about the equipment that we have and its intended purposes and its intended movements, et cetera. We are not at that level of transparency with China that the presidents have said we should have and that we aspire to. So it’s in that spirit that we make these comments today.
With regard to specifically what we have and haven’t discussed with China on this particular aircraft carrier, I’m going to send you to DOD.
QUESTION: Historically, I think the State Department has made the point that China’s – the increases in China’s military spending, to the extent that you have visibility into them, are not consistent with its stated ambitions to be a regional power. And is that – has that language gone away or is that still how you view this?
MS. NULAND: No. I think in the larger context, that this was a comment I was making with regard to this particular --
QUESTION: And then the second thing would be – correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe over the last decade, U.S. military expenditures have increased at a more rapid pace than have Chinese military expenditures. Right? I mean, the DOD military – the DOD budget is now somewhere north of $600 billion, I think. Why should it therefore be so very concerning – why should China’s acquisitions policy and defense spending be such a concern when the United States still enjoys such a massive conventional superiority? I mean, just to take aircraft carriers, it’s now 14 to 1 as opposed to 14 to 0.
MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the specifics in comparing budgets and comparing numbers of carriers, I think I’m going to send you to my colleagues at DOD, lest I get into areas beyond the expertise at this podium.
QUESTION: Why are you so worried that --
MS. NULAND: However --
MS. NULAND: -- the larger point is one of transparency. We are prepared to be extremely transparent with regard to U.S. military positions and equipment, and we’d like to have a reciprocal relationship with China, and that’s what our presidents have said we ought to aspire to. So it’s in that context that we make these comments today with regard to this particular acquisition.
QUESTION: Well, are you concerned somehow – I mean, it’s been very – you’ve been very open and very public about your concerns about the tensions in the South China Sea. Are you concerned at all that this specific acquisition, this carrier, could be used by the Chinese to perhaps enflame those tensions or at least serve as something that would not ease them?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think the Secretary made clear when she was in Asia, and I think that you were with her, what we aspire to in the South China Sea, which is a – to go on to the next step and really try to settle this issue among the countries.
With regard to this particular acquisition, the concern is that, again, we want to have a better understanding of how it might be used, what the intentions are, and that that is the kind of information that would be part of a better, more transparent military-to-military dialogue.
QUESTION: Well, it just seems to me from what you’re saying that there were – you talked about transparency, but in fact it’s not a lack of transparency; it’s a lack of another word that begins with t-r that you have with the Chinese, and that word would be trust. You basically don’t trust the Chinese with this kind of equipment. Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: Transparency in itself is a confidence builder between nations, so that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking to build confidence about each other’s intentions.
QUESTION: Well, do you trust the Chinese that they will use this specific piece of equipment, but also in a broader sense, its military for good or for easing – or to maintain stability rather than to exacerbate tensions?
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re getting me into DOD’s territory here with regard to balance of forces and how they see ships deployed, et cetera.
QUESTION: Well, it seems --
MS. NULAND: I’m making the broader point that at the level of relations that we aspire to with China, we ought to be able to be maximally transparent about our military budgets and our military acquisitions, our military endeavors.
QUESTION: Okay. So thus far, you have tried to engage the Chinese on this transparency and they have shot you down?
MS. NULAND: No. We have a dialogue. Is it as strong as we’d like it to be? No. But I think that’s --
QUESTION: But that’s not for your – from – for your lack of trying?
MS. NULAND: Again --
QUESTION: You tried, and they have said no. Correct?
MS. NULAND: And our presidents have expressed an interest in improving this aspect of the relationship. With regard to the actual implementation of that, it’s a DOD military-to-military --
QUESTION: Fair enough. But considering the fact that you don’t – you’re still calling for this transparency, do you believe President Hu when he says that he agrees with President Obama that there should be this kind of relationship?
MS. NULAND: We want to see this aspect of the relationship improve, and we’re going to continue to work on it.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up? Actually, Chinese official already made a clear statement that this aircraft is for training and research purpose only. Do you trust this statement?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t think I can do any better than what I said repeatedly, which is that we want to have a maximally transparent military-to-military relationship, and we would welcome formal discussion with the Chinese, a formal explanation from the Chinese about this particular piece of equipment.
QUESTION: Can I just – one more? Have you asked the Chinese for a formal explanation? Has there been a formal request to them for a formal explanation?
MS. NULAND: Oh, again, that’s a good DOD question because if it – if there were to be one, it would be in military-to-military channels.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t come – it wouldn’t come through the State Department at all?
MS. NULAND: No. It would be a military-to-military issue.
QUESTION: Palestine, Israel --
MS. NULAND: Anything else on this --
MS. NULAND: I think the last contact was the contact that we mentioned yesterday on August 2nd, but I don't believe that they’ve been back in touch.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the content of their conversation?
MS. NULAND: I don’t.
QUESTION: You don’t. Okay. Quick follow-up. Do you – are you alarmed that the Palestinian Authority is unable to meet its requirements, financial requirements, and that the institutions that you helped create and solidify might be falling apart as the result of the lack of aid?
MS. NULAND: I don't have any specifics on a change of situation with regard to Palestinian finances, do I don't have any particular comment on that.
QUESTION: And lastly, there’s a new Arab Institute Zogby poll that shows that most Arabs in the Arab Spring countries actually view the United States not endearingly. And in fact, they see it as meddling and an obstacle to peace, and basically the underlying current in this thing is the lack of the U.S. ability to move on the peace process. Any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there?
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. I think you – are you alarmed that this may be a trend in, let’s say, places like Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and Syria, other places and so on that people are beginning to view the United States with a bit of hostility?
MS. NULAND: Well, our hope and expectation would be that people would, around the world, would have seen the President’s speech on May 19th as an effort to reenergize the peace process, to help the parties get back to the table. I don't think anybody could accuse the United States of shirking its responsibilities or its leadership role in this context, but it’s up the parties to make the hard decisions for peace.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Actually, many accuse U.S. leadership, in terms of Middle East peace process – when you open any newspapers in Middle East, everybody accuses U.S. leadership. And right now, while the Palestines are going to UN this September, many think that and write that there is no credibility for U.S. leadership to this time pull off the negotiations. So why should they wait another round of talks and they are just going to UN?
MS. NULAND: Again, was there a question there?
QUESTION: Yes. You said there is no accusation, but there are widespread accusations against the U.S. leadership. Do you see any credible to these arguments that you have leadership gap when you – we look at the last two decades of Middle East talks?
MS. NULAND: Well, how about we look at the last three months of U.S. leadership, beginning with the President’s speech and the incredible diplomatic efforts of Ambassador David Hale, the Quartet meeting, all of these kinds of things, the diplomacy that the President and the Secretary have personally engaged in with the parties on both sides, the visits here. These parties have to make the decision to come to the table. We can lay out the best case. We can offer our best offices. We can try to organize the international community for success, and we are doing all those things. But it’s up to the parties to make the tough decision for peace.
QUESTION: What has all that effort yielded, if I may ask, in the last three months?
MS. NULAND: It’s been difficult, as you see, and it continues to be difficult. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying.
QUESTION: But has it yielded anything tangible? I mean, the Quartet didn’t even issue a statement – correct? – after their last meeting.
MS. NULAND: The Quartet issued its statement after the President’s speech, and we continue to try to use that framework, that set of ideas, to try to get these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Does it remain a goal to have some sort of deliverable before the end of the month, when the – George Mitchell’s one-year deadline expires?
MS. NULAND: Kirit, I think we said about three months ago that that was a deadline set in a different time in a different place. I don't think setting deadlines is necessary or appropriate. I think the goal is to try to get these parties back to the table as soon as possible and to make clear that taking this thing to the UN is not going to improve the situation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:06 p.m.)
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