Daily Press Briefing - September 7, 2011
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Clinton Hosting a Reception Commemorating Eid ul-Fitr
- Ambassador Williams Met with Nigerien President / Discussed Libyan Convoy
- U.S. has been in Contact with Mali, Mauritania, Chad, and Burkina Faso / UN Security Council Resolutions and Securing Borders
- Damage to U.S. Embassy in Tripoli
- Safety and Security of Libyans of African Descent and Sub-Saharan Africans Living in Libya
- Bombing Outside New Delhi High Court
- Indian Ambassador to the U.S.
- Bombing in Quetta
- U.S.-Pakistani Counterterrorism
- 9/11 ANNIVERSARY
- U.S. Always Vigilant on September 11th
- Ambassador Crocker
- Afghan-led Reconciliation
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- Dennis Ross and David Hale Meeting with President Abbas
- Quartet / Israelis / Palestinians
- Ambassador Ford / Public Diplomacy
- U.S. Commitment to Withdraw Forces in Iraq / Post-2011 Relationship
- Press Freedom
12:45 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me start by welcoming our special visitors from Afghanistan, who are here on an international visitors program. Special communications specialists, we welcome you to the State Department, as we do all of you.
I have one announcement at the beginning, and then we’ll go to your questions. This evening, Secretary Clinton will host a reception commemorating Eid ul-Fitr. The Department has been hosting these kinds of receptions and celebrations of Ramadan and of Eid for some 15 years. This year’s celebration is going to honor American Muslims’ contributions in the field of athletics. And we’ll have some 11 special sports guests. We’ll put out some more information about them later in the day.
The honorees will also include players from the movie Fordson, which is a film about majority-Muslim – a high school football team that is majority Muslim in Dearborn, Michigan. We’re also going to have some NBA and NFL players, college athletes, amateur competitors in boxing, weightlifting, and fencing. And this event starts at 5:30 this evening.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on what your understanding is now from Niger about this convoy yesterday and any that may have crossed since yesterday, at least in terms of numbers and identities of those who are in – who are – of the Libyans who were in the convoy?
MS. NULAND: Well, our U.S. Ambassador in Niger, Bisa Williams, did meet with the Nigerien president yesterday to discuss the movement of these Libyans. Our understanding is that the convoy included some military and senior officials under Qadhafi’s former regime. They are now being held in the capital, in government villas, and they are being monitored closely by Nigerien officials. Niger is also in direct contact with members of the Libyan Transitional National Council to discuss the future of these folks and their property.
In that context, I’d like to say that the United States, in addition to working closely with Niger, we’ve also been in contact with Mali, Mauritania, Chad, and Burkina Faso to emphasize the importance of respecting the UN Security Council resolutions and of securing their borders. We’re calling on all of these countries to make every effort to control their borders, to detain any Qadhafi regime officials, to confiscate contraband, any illegal weapons, and disarm them, and also to confiscate any wealth that might properly belong to the Libyan people. So those efforts will continue.
I can’t speak from the podium to the specific identities of the individuals. I would refer you --
QUESTION: Or –
MS. NULAND: -- to the Government of Niger.
QUESTION: -- numbers?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a precise number here. Again --
QUESTION: Is it --
MS. NULAND: -- to the Government of Niger.
QUESTION: -- fewer than the several dozen you were thinking that there might have been yesterday?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is it’s about 20 to 25, something like that. There were --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. There were reports of a massive convoy of 200 cars. Those reports appear to be overblown. And it is our understanding that the Government of Niger is taking measures now to strengthen its own border controls and --
QUESTION: There have been some suggestions that these guys are describing themselves as defectors. Do you have any sense of what their politics are?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think that they are just beginning to be talked to by Nigerien officials, so I don’t have anything further on what their intention was when they left.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you suggested that these people should be returned to Libya, should be detained and returned to Libya. I was curious under what authority that should happen. I don’t believe that any of the individuals who were reported were under the travel ban by the UN resolutions. What’s the reasoning for that request?
MS. NULAND: Well, where we have been and what we have suggested to the Government of Niger – and they have already taken these measures – was that, in the first instance, they should be detained, so they have been detained. And in the second instance, that Niger should open a dialogue with the Transitional National Council about these folks’ future and what their intentions were and what the TNC, representing the Libyan people, thinks the appropriate future course would be. So that is ongoing now. But you were right, Kirit. I was mistaken yesterday in thinking that some of these folks were on the 1970 list. Our information at the moment is that none of them are on the specific list of individuals banned under 1970. But again, the information picture is evolving here as well.
QUESTION: You said that any wealth that they may have taken should be returned. How do you define that wealth? Is it artifact or is it cash? And is there a cap on that cash? I mean, if someone has two or three hundred, five hundred, a thousand dollars with them, is that part of the wealth that should be returned?
MS. NULAND: Again, this is not for the United States to decide. This is for the Transitional National Council, working with the Government of Niger, to evaluate whether these folks have, in fact, absconded with some of the wealth of the Libyan people, and they can work it out together. But our intention here is to ensure that if there was a siphoning of national wealth, that it is returned where it belongs.
QUESTION: The list of countries that you’ve spoken to is missing at least three immediate neighbors that I notice, but all those three are what the State Department considers not to be in Africa but to be in the Near East. Were you just meaning to refer to countries that fall under the AF bureau?
MS. NULAND: Well, I was speaking in particular --
QUESTION: Or were you saying that – suggesting that Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria don’t need to be reminded of the – what’s – I’m just curious.
MS. NULAND: Yes. I mean, Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria have been working on this Libya issue for many months now and we’ve been working closely with them, and they’re working with the UN on border issues and refugee issues. We have been particularly concerned about this flight south into the African countries in recent weeks.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about Qadhafi’s whereabouts? Rebels were saying that they were surrounding the place where Qadhafi is hiding.
MS. NULAND: I’m seeing the same press reports you’re seeing, but I don’t have anything definitive to give here.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the damage being done to the Embassy in Tripoli?
MS. NULAND: Just to say that the damage to the chancery, the Embassy building, appears to be significant, and it’s going to need some repair. But our team continues to look at that situation, also look at the housing for our personnel, some of which is in okay shape and some of which has been damaged, and to look for an alternative site that we can use in the interim while those repairs are being made.
QUESTION: So will that delay the opening of the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: We haven’t made any decisions yet. It is – as you heard Secretary Clinton say in Paris, it’s our intention to get our people back there as quickly as we can.
QUESTION: Specifically on that, I mean, without getting into specifics of when you want to open, is this damage significant enough to delay the opening?
MS. NULAND: I think our intention is to reopen in an alternative site while we also repair the chancery.
QUESTION: So no?
MS. NULAND: So no is the expectation, but I don’t – I can’t speak to a precise date.
QUESTION: Does the damage look to be vandalism, or is it something that happened during fighting, or is it impossible to tell?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, but I’m sure when our political team gets back, we’ll have more on that.
QUESTION: And wasn’t – and I may be misremembering this, but wasn’t the chancery actually in an office building? It wasn’t a standalone building.
MS. NULAND: My understanding, but I may be mistaken – I’ve never been there myself – was that it was a group of townhouses strung together.
QUESTION: Victoria, there has been some horrifying stories being told by African migrant workers about random killing, random arrests, and basically just plain racism by virtue of their dark skin taken in. Have you raised these concerns with the Transitional Council?
MS. NULAND: We have. We share the concerns that have recently been expressed, I think yesterday, by the International Organization of Migration about the safety and the security of both Libyans of African descent and sub-Saharan Africans who are living in Libya. This issue has been raised by Chris Stevens, our special envoy to Libya with the TNC, and it’s also been raised by Ambassador Cretz with his contacts.
The TNC, as you know, is working very hard to get the word out to its forces not to be randomly detaining people, to exercise appropriate universal human rights standards in its own conduct, and to release those detainees who do not have evidence of having been engaged in fighting. The TNC is also working closely with the IOM, the International Organization on Migration and other UN agencies, to help those who want to leave Libya to be able to do so. A UN humanitarian team arrived in Tripoli on September 1st, and UNHCR is working closely with IOM to try to register and evacuate those folks who want to get out.
But this is a serious situation. We have urged the TNC to take it seriously. They are putting out the word to their own people, but we will be watching extremely closely and we are supporting the UN’s efforts as well on this front.
QUESTION: On a related topic –
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- right before the uprisings in Tunisia and now in Libya and so on, there was a council that the United States was a member of, which is a business council. In fact, we had a briefing in this room that included Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. What is the status of that business council? Is it ongoing? What’s going on with that? Because we were told at the time – we were given, in fact, a very positive picture about Libya’s role in this business and facilitating business among the Maghreb countries.
MS. NULAND: Said, let me take that question. I would guess that there’s been some hiatus in this activity given the ferment in the region, but let me take the question with regard to our thoughts about its future.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Please.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: On the –
MS. NULAND: Anything else on Libya before we leave Libya? No? Okay.
MS. NULAND: First, I hope you saw the statement that we issued earlier today. Just to repeat here, that the United States expresses its deepest sympathy to the people of India in the wake of this despicable and cowardly act on the New Delhi high court. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of these innocent victims and once again note that India is demonstrating its bravery and resolve in the face of terrorism. Ambassador – Deputy Secretary Bill Burns accepted credentials this morning from the new Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao, and he was also able there to express our sympathy and solidarity.
We are not going to speculate on who may have done this. You’ve seen some press reports claiming responsibility, but I think we would refer you to the Indian Government as its own investigation proceeds.
QUESTION: So this –
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: In your statement, you say that you are offering assistance to Indian authorities. Have you received any request for the assistance?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, this just happened in Delhi just a few hours ago, so I think the Indian Government is still at the stage of evaluating what it might need. But we have made clear that we stand ready to help if there is a formal request.
QUESTION: There was another attack in Pakistan’s southern city Quetta this morning, on the Frontier Corps head offices, and some 24 people have been killed. There are reports linking it to the arrest of al-Qaida operative from Quetta and because FC had been involved in the arrest there. Do you think this could be a backlash of that and with the death of an operative last week and these arrests and further such actions? Do you see an escalation of such actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, again, a tragic bombing, and our condolences go to the families of the victims. I’m not going to speculate on that either. Obviously, there will be a Pakistani investigation. But a very, very tragic situation and a very bloody day in that region.
QUESTION: In recent past, there had been a number of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan and, in fact, those numbers have gone up considerably. What is your assessment of the – that internal situation inside Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: You’re asking me generally to evaluate the internal situation?
QUESTION: About terrorism. Yes. Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Pakistan has been fighting its own internal terrorist situation for many years. We’ve talked a lot here about the U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relationship. I think the fact that the ISI itself grabbed one of the top remaining al-Qaida guys over the weekend speaks to the fact that they are in this fight and fighting hard. But it is a tough one, and more Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists than any other part of the world.
QUESTION: Pentagon this morning said that the level of vigilance and security at U.S. bases in United States and around the world has been increased, not because of any direct threat but as a precaution. Do you see any such threat in your interaction with other countries’ attacks on 9/11 anniversary in other countries and installations like in Pakistan and Afghanistan or elsewhere?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I think you know that it is normal and usual for us to be vigilant both at home and at our facilities abroad around September 11th given what al-Qaida has said in the past about the anniversaries. That said, I’m obviously not going to speak about intelligence issues one way or the other, and I’m going to refer you to DHS with regard to our posture here. With regard to our posture overseas, we are always vigilant on September 11th and we will be so again this year.
QUESTION: You put out a Worldwide Caution, didn’t you, just a couple days ago?
MS. NULAND: We always do. We always do.
QUESTION: Has there been any curtailment of Ambassador Crocker’s movement as a result of threats made by the Taliban recently on the 10th anniversary of the attack and invasion of Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge. If you heard National Public Radio about a week ago, Ambassador Crocker spoke quite passionately about why he agreed to return to Afghanistan and the mission that he sees there both in ensuring that neither Americans nor anybody in the region face what we faced on September 11th.
QUESTION: I understand. But has there been any curtailment of his movement as a result of the threats made by the Taliban just three days ago?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what’s the status of the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership talks which are going on? Do you have any timeline for when it’s going to conclude, and what are you looking into it?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce at the moment. Talks continue, including at a high level here in Washington tomorrow. But why don’t we wait till tomorrow. We’ll have a little bit more to say on that.
QUESTION: Afghanistan’s NSA – Spanta is here for talks.
MS. NULAND: That’s right. That’s right. And talks will continue.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) or is he arriving today?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that he arrives this evening and that his meetings are tomorrow.
QUESTION: And is that going on here?
MS. NULAND: There’ll be meetings here. There’ll be meetings at the White House as well.
QUESTION: And nothing at the Pentagon?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge, but I don’t have his full schedule in front of me.
QUESTION: We’re talking about morning, afternoon, evening?
MS. NULAND: I don’t – you’re talking about the meetings here? I don’t think I have a time to announce at the moment.
QUESTION: Any update on the efforts to reach out to Taliban and have a dialogue with them?
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Is it any update on the efforts to have a dialogue with the Taliban and the reconciliation efforts that have been launched? Any update on that?
MS. NULAND: I think you know where we’ve been on this, that we support an Afghan-led process under conditions that those reconciled accept the Afghan constitution, lay down their weapons, and are willing to live within the human rights standards set by the constitution. I don’t have anything particularly new to report on that front, though.
QUESTION: Mideast. Can you give us any readout on David Hale’s meetings there? Palestinians – senior Palestinian officials are on the radio saying some fairly negative things about U.S. policy toward Palestinians and particularly on the UN bid, so it doesn’t sound as though that they have made any progress. Did they?
QUESTION: And why Dennis decided to go.
MS. NULAND: I had an exchange with White House Senior Director for the Region Dennis Ross this morning. He did attend the meeting with President Abbas along with Dennis Hale. Apparently, it was his plan to attend, and I got it wrong yesterday.
QUESTION: David. David Hale.
MS. NULAND: David Hale. Sorry. They saw President Abbas today. Those consultations were good. He is – they are both now consulting with members of the Quartet. They’ve been speaking by phone with the various Quartet members, and they are on their way home, I believe, tomorrow.
QUESTION: The Palestinian official who spoke on the radio said that it was his impression that it was – the only objective of these talks was to prevent the Palestinian bid at the UN from going forward, that no other issues associated with the peace process were even brought up. Is that a correct description of what happened?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to get into the back and forth of our private diplomatic exchanges. But you know that our objective has been, first and foremost, to get both of these parties back to the negotiating table, to get them to consider that a better option than other options, including New York. So the conversation was about how to get back to negotiations and obviously about the fact that we consider the New York course misguided, and we think it’s going to make coming to a lasting peace much harder.
QUESTION: At an event hosted by (inaudible) yesterday, a round table event, the – Ms. Hiba Husseini, the advisor to the PLO for the ongoing effort, said that, first of all, that the Palestinian effort does not threaten the United States, that in fact there is no divergence between going to the United Nations and doing the negotiations at the same time. You don’t concur, do you?
MS. NULAND: We do not. We disagree with those statements.
QUESTION: Why do you disagree? Why are they mutually irreconcilable?
MS. NULAND: Said it before, say it again, will say it every day if I need to. The only path to two states living side by side in peace and in security is through negotiations. You can say whatever you want in the UN. It’s not going to lead to that outcome, and it could exacerbate tensions in the region, exacerbate tensions between the parties, and make it harder to get back to the talks. That’s why we want to focus on getting back to the talks.
QUESTION: But why is it either the United Nations or negotiation?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’ve been over this again and again.
QUESTION: Would you be willing to substitute the phrase “settlement construction” for going to the UN in what you just said about the negative consequences of going to the UN? Are they the same? Are the equal obstacles in your – I realize they’re different, but are they equally problematic?
MS. NULAND: You know where we’ve been on settlements. We do not think that they are helpful to the peace process.
QUESTION: Right. But do they exacerbate tensions between the parties and in the region?
MS. NULAND: I think I’m not going to go beyond what we regularly say about settlements.
QUESTION: Okay. I understand you don’t want to get in trouble, but it seems to be that there are obstacles on both sides here. Correct?
MS. NULAND: I don’t disagree that both parties have to show the will and roll up their sleeves and come back the table.
QUESTION: And that includes the Israelis doing things, not just the Palestinians not going to the UN. Correct?
MS. NULAND: We have made clear that we believe that settlement activity is unhelpful to the process.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m just – forget about the specifics. Forget about going to the UN. Forget about settlements. Both sides have to do stuff here in order to get the talks back together. It’s not just one side not going to the UN.
MS. NULAND: Both sides have to show the will to come to the table. Absolutely.
QUESTION: Alright. Are you – you’re familiar with these comments that we’re allegedly made by former Defense Secretary Gates to Prime Minister Netanyahu, are you, the reported comments?
MS. NULAND: I’ve seen the reports.
QUESTION: And what do you make of them?
MS. NULAND: Secretary Gates, along with his successor Secretary Panetta, have worked extensively with their Israeli counterparts to strengthen the security of Israel, including the decision to move forward on a number of weapon systems that are helpful to the Israelis. Secretary Gates’ goal was the same as the President’s, when he was in office, and we stand by where we are today.
QUESTION: But what – well, I’m wondering what you make of the reported comments that he’s reported to have made to the – to Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel is being ungrateful.
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on stray comments that may or may not have been made in a meeting by a former member of the Administration.
QUESTION: Would you say that officials in this building, that you’re aware of, share that – share the sentiment of those reported comments?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on supposed comments that may or may not have been made.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, how about this: Is it the view of people in this building or is it the view of this building that Israel is ungrateful in some way for – has shown ingratitude for the assistance the U.S. has given it?
MS. NULAND: No. It is the view of this building that Israel is an ally of the United States, that we have a strong relationship, and we have shared interest in coming to a peaceful resolution in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Okay. And you’re convinced that the current Israeli administration is interested in pursuing peace negotiations?
MS. NULAND: That is why we are working so hard, and sending David Hale and sending Dennis Ross, and continuing to discuss this issue, because we want to get back to the negotiation table.
QUESTION: So is it the view in this building that Israel is a grateful ally?
MS. NULAND: You’re asking me to pick and choose adjectives to describe relationships. I’m just not going to go there. It was a good effort, though. Good effort.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the delegation. Are there any plans to meet with this delegation that are made of businessmen, Palestinian businessmen?
MS. NULAND: Which delegation?
QUESTION: There’s a Palestinian delegation in town that are meeting in the think tanks. It’s composed of the advisor to the PLO for legal matters; it is composed of the former ambassador to France, Ms. (inaudible), and then two other businessmen. And they said they were meeting with a number of U.S. officials as well during this week. Are there any plans to meet with any Palestinian delegation?
MS. NULAND: Here in this building this week?
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.
MS. NULAND: I’m going to have to take the question. I don't know about this particular delegation.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more on this – the Hale-Ross comet that flies into the Middle East every so often? You said that they’re coming back tomorrow, but they’re talking with the members of the Quartet. I presume that’s by phone. They’re not stopping in Europe on the way back.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: And so the conversation with the Quartet is what? To having a meeting and preparing for a meeting in New York at the UN? Coming up with some kind of a statement, even though we know that those aren’t important at all, unless you decide that they are? What – to what end is the consultation with the Quartet?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that phone calls made today in the first instance were to debrief members of the Quartet on the consultations that they had with the Israelis and with the Palestinians and to talk about next steps. I think they’ve obviously got to come home and report, and then we’ll figure out what happens next on the road to New York.
QUESTION: So you would not expect any action by the Quartet before the end of this week or before the --
MS. NULAND: Not going to speculate one way or the other.
QUESTION: All right. Can we move north?
MS. NULAND: Say again?
QUESTION: I want to move just a bit north --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Ford is courageously calling it like it is in Syria and standing with those Syrians who want to live a better life and have a more democratic future. And he is using those tools available to reach as many Syrians as possible, and Facebook has been an effective mechanism for that in his public diplomacy.
QUESTION: Does he have plans to continue these kinds of posts?
MS. NULAND: You can – I would refer you to him, but I would expect that, given his mission, which is to support those who want change and to make clear that the United States believes that it’s time for Asad to step aside and it’s time for change are heard as broadly as possible, I would guess that he will continue to make our views known using whatever means he deems appropriate.
QUESTION: So he did or did not get – the stuff that he posted on Facebook was cleared or was not cleared? Was it his own initiative and not signed off on or ordered or approved in any way by people here?
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Ford has broad guidance to support the goals of the United States in Syria, and he makes his own management decisions with regard to how he does that.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. NULAND: We are not in the business of clearing every Facebook post by every embassy.
QUESTION: I think that might come as --
MS. NULAND: We do support the comments that he made.
QUESTION: That might come as a surprise to a lot of embassies around the world who are petrified of saying anything unless it’s been cleared off by Washington. I ask only because in previous cases where he has done things that have antagonized the Syrian Government, it has been with the direct – on direct orders or encouragement from Washington, like his visit to Hama, like his visit to the other place.
MS. NULAND: I think I would take issue with your characterization. Ambassador Ford has the confidence of folks in Washington within his mandate to make his own decisions about travel, to make his own decisions about public diplomacy. He does so courageously and in support of U.S. views.
QUESTION: Well, I think that I’m only – I mean, I think you yourself said that he was told or at least it was signed off on for his trip to Hama.
MS. NULAND: I did not – I think what I said was that --
QUESTION: We can go back and read the transcript, but --
MS. NULAND: -- I think the question was did we know he was going to Hama, and the answer was yes, we did know, and we didn’t stop the trip. It was his choice to go.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So it was signed – but essentially, it was signed off on, so – but you’re saying that this Facebook post was entirely his own initiative. You support it, but it didn’t have to be cleared by Washington.
MS. NULAND: His public diplomacy does not have to be cleared in the individual cases by Washington.
QUESTION: But in fact, sources connected to the Syrian Government say that Ambassador Ford is trying to force the Syrians’ hand and have them expel him, and that would be an easy way for the United States to cut off diplomatic relations.
MS. NULAND: I think he and we would categorically disagree with that. We think it’s important --
QUESTION: You wouldn’t (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: We think that it is important to have him there and that he’s playing a very important role in terms of conveying the views of the U.S. Government and standing with those Syrians who want change.
QUESTION: Is it the assessment in this Department that these kind of activities will ultimately force the Syrians to expel him?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to that at all. We believe that he is doing important work, as is his Embassy in Damascus.
QUESTION: Just following up on that, I’m curious if you could characterize his – the current state of his dialogue with the Syrian Government. Has he met any senior officials recently? Is he – is that line of communication still functioning, or has it suffered because of this public diplomacy that he’s undertaken?
MS. NULAND: Let me take that one, Andy. I haven’t – I don’t have anything particular about recent meetings he’s had with Syrian officials. I do know that he’s extremely active with a broad cross-section of Syrian civil society. But let me take the question about when he last saw a Syrian --
QUESTION: Okay. Since the point of – one of the points of him being there is being in touch with the government. That would be interesting to know if that’s actually still occurring.
MS. NULAND: And as you know, we are certainly open to his meeting with members of the government if they so choose. But let me take the question about what he’s done in recent weeks.
QUESTION: On Russia?
MS. NULAND: Are we finished with Syria? Yeah? Okay.
QUESTION: On Iraq, the comments made by Secretary of State – of Defense (inaudible) about the possibility of extending the stay of 5,000 or 6,000 troops in Iraq for training purposes.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me say that the U.S. is going to meet its commitment under the U.S. security Iraq – U.S.-Iraq security agreement to withdraw forces by the end of the year. That said, Iraq’s political leaders have now indicated publicly – and obviously, to us – that Iraqis are interested in an ongoing training relationship with the United States post-2011. And as you know, we very much want to have an enduring partnership with the Iraqi Government and people, and a relationship with the Iraqi security forces would be an important part of that.
So we are currently in negotiations with the Iraqi Government about what that post-2011 relationship might look like. Those discussions are ongoing, and you can understand that I won’t comment on the details.
QUESTION: On Russia?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: There have been a lot of reports --
QUESTION: Can we stay --
QUESTION: -- also in the U.S. press --
QUESTION: -- U.S. and Iraq. There was a report today on really a very abysmal corruption situation in Iraq with huge amounts of cash trading (inaudible). Do you have a comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. I’ll take that one as well.
QUESTION: There have been a lot of reports on the Russian plans to modernize a railroad in the Far East, including plans for a discussion of building a tunnel through the Bering Strait. The latest reports, now unconfirmed, are that the Duma has allotted funding for these projects. I was just wondering, is there any contact with this Department on these issues? I have not been able to detect anything from the U.S. side in terms of ongoing discussions with the Russians on a Bering Strait tunnel project. But obviously, they are very intent on moving ahead, although no government decision has been made. Do you know of anything or, if not, could you find out if they’re in interfaces on this issue with the State Department?
MS. NULAND: This is, as you understand it, a tunnel that would link Russia and the U.S. --
QUESTION: And the U.S., yes.
MS. NULAND: -- all the way across Bering?
QUESTION: Yes. Yes.
MS. NULAND: Let me take it. I don’t know where we are on that.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: First, going back to Palestine, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan plans to go to Egypt next week and also his plans include to visit Gaza from Egypt. Do you have any objections to this plan?
MS. NULAND: I think Turkey knows very well where we are on these issues. It’s obviously a Turkish sovereign decision how it conducts its relationship with the Palestinian authorities.
QUESTION: You said yesterday that discussions with Pakistan are continuing to come up with a workable cooperation mechanism. Now Ambassador Munter is in town and he is also meeting some officials – Deputy Secretary Burns and a few others in this building today. Is his visit also part of these efforts?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We have an ongoing conversation going on with Pakistan about these issues, and obviously, it’s a key part of the dialogue when they are here and when we are there.
QUESTION: Has there been any constructive headway on that?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re still working on what might make sense for both countries, so stay tuned.
QUESTION: Had one with Turkey. Reporters Without Borders just published an article about a couple of investigative journalists, Turkish journalists, that arrested six months ago, among others. At the time, I asked question and it was stated that U.S. Government worries about intimidation of Turkey – on the Turkish media. I’m just wondering, within the six months and this – in light of this latest publishing, what’s your view on Turkey in terms of press freedom issues?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, you know that the United States is a strong defender of freedom of expression around the world, including in Turkey. As recently as mid-July, when the Secretary was in Istanbul, she made clear that we have concerns about press freedom in Turkey, particularly with regard to restrictions on journalists, on bloggers, on the free flow of information on the internet. And as she put it, Turkey is strong enough and vibrant enough as a democracy to allow differences of opinion in the public square, whether online or offline. So we will continue to make our views known to officials in Turkey and to monitor the situation.
QUESTION: Do you have any view on these ongoing trials without starting any kind of trial, actually, just going on – the (inaudible) is going on?
MS. NULAND: Just to say here what we have said to Turkish officials, which is that we believe that any investigations or prosecutions need to proceed in a transparent manner so that all defendants are assured due process in accordance with international standards.
Anything else – one back here.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka, what’s the State Department’s comment on the report being published by Amnesty International today which says that the lessons learned in reconciliation committee has its own shortcomings and it doesn’t meet the international standards, and is calling the UN for its own independent investigation?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the report is just out, so I think you’ll give us a chance to look at it, and we’ll have something more for you tomorrow.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:22 p.m.)
DPB # 133