Daily Press Briefing - November 2, 2011
Index for Today's Briefing:
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- Palestinian Membership in UNESCO / U.S. Legislative Realities
- Work of the Department of State and the Quartet at the Peace Table / Commitment to the Process
- U.S.-Provided Security Funding to Palestinian Authorities
- U.S. Commitment to UN Security Council Resolutions
- Arab League Proposal / Asad's Violence and Arrests Need to End
- U.S. Case that Members of the Qods Force Attempted Assassination of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.
- Virtual U.S. Embassy to the Iranian People Will Open / Enhanced Website To Launch Soon
- U.S. Support for Strengthening Human Rights in Turkey
- KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE
- Executive Order 13337 Delegates the Decision-Making Authority to the Secretary of State
- Goal Remains to Complete the Process Before the End of the Year
- U.S. Supports TNC in its Efforts to Unite All Militias / Support for Full Representation in New Government
- Early Stages of Bringing our Embassy Back to Previous Working Levels
- Diamonds and Kimberley Process / U.S. Abstention from the Recent Nonbinding Decision
- U.S. Targeted Sanctions Against Individuals and Entities in Zimbabwe That Undermine Democracy
12:59 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything at the top, so why don’t we go right to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Okay. So presumably, you all have seen Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction to the Palestinian move at UNESCO in terms of accelerating settlements and at least temporarily cutting off the transfer of the tax money that they provide to the – collect for and then are supposed to send on to the Palestinians. What is your – well, what are your thoughts about that?
MS. NULAND: Well, our view on these kinds of things has not changed. We don’t consider it helpful. We don’t consider that it contributes to the environment that we need to move forward. But more generally, I think it’s probably a good moment to step back a little bit because we’ve had the UNESCO move, we’ve had these moves on the Israeli side, and just to remind ourselves what the logic of the proposal that the Quartet put forward on September 23rd was.
It was that rather than engaging in provocative action vis-à-vis each other, these parties would, under the auspices of the Quartet and with the Quartet’s help, start working on narrowing the differences that divide them on the essential issues, particularly issues of security, issues of land, territory, et cetera. So that’s what we want to do. We want to get the focus back to the Quartet process, back to narrowing the differences rather than either side conducting actions that hurt the environment for negotiations.
QUESTION: Okay. So what is the consequence for Israel of this? Is it the same consequence that the Palestinians face for going ahead with their plans at UNESCO and the UN, which is nothing?
MS. NULAND: Look, we have said, as I just reiterated here, this is not helpful. I think that the fundamental consequence for both sides is that we’re not getting closer to two states living side by side in peace and security.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, at this point, neither side seems to be really all that enthusiastic about getting to that point. So – and you seem to have zero influence. Now it seems to me that one of the ways that you could have some influence, or could get some influence back over one or the other side, is to actually do something in response to actions that you consider to be counterproductive and provocative. Why won’t you do that? Or is that just too much to ask during this political – the election season coming up?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we have taken action. In response to the UNESCO move, as mandated by legislation, we have stopped funding UNESCO. That is the cost of that move on the U.S. side. There have been other costs. We are also continuing on an hourly and daily basis to try to get these parties focused not on these things, but focused on getting themselves back to a real conversation with each other on the issues that will affect the daily life of Palestinians.
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure it’s heartening to hear that you cut off funding to a party that really isn’t involved in this as a result, but you haven’t done anything that would affect either the Palestinians or the Israelis. Nothing. Correct?
MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this for three days now.
QUESTION: No, I’m asking a simple question. You – what have – what are the consequences for the Israelis and the Palestinians continuing to blow you off, to do – and to do more than that, to take steps that you say hurt the peace process, hurt the idea of – or hurt the chances of getting back to the table?
MS. NULAND: There are consequences in the UN system, there are consequences in terms of the environment for getting these parties back to the table, which is going in the wrong direction at the moment.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: (Inaudible), you said that we’re trying every minute, every hour of every day to try to get the sides back into talks. When was the last time that Secretary Clinton made a phone call either to a senior Israeli or a senior Palestinian official on the peace process?
MS. NULAND: Well, we had extensive contacts, as you know, in the New York timeframe, face-to-face contacts both at the presidential level, at the secretarial level. We’ve had the envoy meeting since then. She’s been obviously very supportive of those efforts. And David Hale, our ambassadors – our Ambassador in Israel, our CG in Ramallah have been very actively engaged with the parties in recent days, including today.
QUESTION: CG in Jerusalem, you mean?
MS. NULAND: CG in Jerusalem, yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, that was – the New York timeframe was six weeks ago, right? And there is a very widely held perception among certainly the community of analysts that look at this that the Administration isn’t just doing all that much. And one barometer of an administration’s interest in a given issue is the engagement of the Secretary of State in actually talking to foreign leaders about it, or the engagement of the President. We can ask at the White House for when the President last actually talked to somebody, but has the Secretary not actually spoken to an Israeli or a Palestinian for six weeks now?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether she’s not spoken to a single member because, for example, there may have been international meetings. But the Secretary takes action when our negotiators judge that a conversation between her and an Israeli leader or a Palestinian leader can help push the balance and affect the outcome. I don’t think anybody doubts, nor should anybody doubt, her commitment, the President’s commitment to the process that the President set in motion with his speech on May 19th, setting out the clearest framework for how we could move forward, her support for the Quartet process, her personal engagement in New York.
We are still at the stage of working at the envoy level to try to get concrete proposals together. So we need to see each side, Israelis and Palestinians, put their ideas down on paper. And she will interject and intervene and support that process as necessary as we go forward.
QUESTION: Is the absence of calls on her part, then, a tacit admission of American impotence here?
MS. NULAND: Arshad, we are leading a Quartet process that is engaged in trying to find a path forward, despite the obstacles, despite the obstacles in the UN system, despite the obstacles on the ground. And we are not the ones who are giving up here on trying to get these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: With all due respect, there was a time when the – including this Administration had a very senior political figure running the process. In this Administration, it was former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. In the latter part of the George W. Bush Administration, it was the Secretary of State who was making almost monthly trips to the region. In earlier periods, it has been Dennis Ross. In periods even earlier, it was Henry Kissinger. There is this perception that the Administration, at the highest levels, isn’t pushing this very hard. How do you address that when you can’t even point to a conversation that she’s had since mid or late September?
MS. NULAND: I just reject the premise, Arshad. We had hours of presidential time, hours of secretarial time, less than two months ago, directly engaged personally. The Secretary watches this issue on a daily basis, is prepared to engage as necessary. So I don’t think it’s a matter of the level of the person on an airplane day to day. It’s a matter of the commitment of the Administration as a whole, led by the President, supported by the Secretary of State, in a process to get these parties back to the table. And that’s what we’re engaged in.
And frankly, if the entire international community and the parties focus more on the roadmap that the Quartet has put down, focus more on encouraging these parties to close the gap between them, to put down real, concrete proposals on territory, on security, and were pushing from all sides as much as we are pushing at every level, rather than indulging in moves that distract attention and damage the environment, we might be further along.
QUESTION: Just one more follow-up from me. Do you regard the Israeli response, which is to – I mean, as this is publicly known – to accelerate settlement building, which, of course, the Palestinians reject, and to, at least temporarily, cut off funding for the Palestinians, do you regard this as not merely not helpful but indeed actually counterproductive? Because, particularly in the case of the funding – I mean, in the case of the settlement building, it’s hard to see how that makes the Palestinians any more inclined to do what you want them to do, which is to come back to the negotiating table and put their ideas down on paper. And in the case of the funding freeze, however long it lasts, that essentially starves the Palestinian Authority, which does work, which the Israeli Government and an Israeli general, who you cited recently, view as actually useful in terms of preserving security. So is this not merely not helpful, but – or – but actually counterproductive to what you perceive to be your interests and Israel’s interests?
MS. NULAND: Look, we are deeply disappointed by yesterday’s announcement about the accelerated housing construction in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. We continue to make our opposition to this clear to the Government of Israel. And as we’ve said again and again and again, unilateral actions by either party work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and do not advance the goal of a reasonable and necessary agreement between these parties.
So we’ve also said that we believe that the regular transfer of money, whether it’s U.S. money, whether it’s Israeli money, is important and should continue to be made. These are key to strengthening Palestinian institutions and are necessary for funding future of the state. So again, we want to see both sides get back to focusing on the negotiations and away from unilateral actions that make all of that harder.
QUESTION: At what level have you made clear your continued opposition to these steps? Was it the ambassador in Tel Aviv? Was it --
MS. NULAND: Certainly the ambassador in Tel Aviv. I believe that David Hale’s also been on the phone today.
QUESTION: Anybody higher than that? The assistant secretary or the --
MS. NULAND: Well, David Hale is the Secretary’s representative on these issues.
QUESTION: I know.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: One quick – you said the Israeli money, but that’s actually Palestinian money, as I understand it. These are taxes.
MS. NULAND: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you see an equivalent, then, of what the Palestinians did, having this very symbolic vote at UNESCO versus these tangible response that the Israelis are doing, withholding Palestinian money and building more settlements?
MS. NULAND: I think our concern is that neither of these sets of actions is helpful to the environment of getting back to the negotiating table. And obviously, there’s an action/reaction here that is not helpful. So we’re trying to get these parties into a positive cycle of engagement and trying to encourage them to come back to the table, and that’s going to continue to be our focus. And our concern is that the move in UNESCO, whereas it may have looked symbolic to some, actually has real consequences – has consequences on the U.S. side, which you’ve already seen, but it also has consequences in terms of the environment, that this is what we’ve been warning about.
QUESTION: But, Toria, you’ve been saying all along that it doesn’t change anything; the UNESCO movement doesn’t change anything on the ground at all. And in fact, it doesn’t, does it? But what Israel did yesterday does change things on the ground.
MS. NULAND: It changes the --
QUESTION: And yet you’re still – you’re unprepared or unwilling, politically or for other – to take any action against either side for continuing to do things that you say are destructive to the peace process.
MS. NULAND: What are you proposing, Matt?
QUESTION: It’s not my job --
MS. NULAND: You’ve obviously got a policy recommendation here.
QUESTION: No. It’s not my job to propose things. That would be the best and the brightest that you allegedly have working in this Administration trying to figure things out. I am asking how U.S. policy – how is it U.S. policy to encourage peace talks if you’re unwilling to do anything against either side when they continue to ignore you and, in fact, not just to ignore you but to make matters worse, is what you said. You’re a parent. You have two spoiled children who are doing things that you don’t like. What do you do to get them to stop that behavior? You don’t do nothing. You punish them. You take some kind of action. You have, or you did have, leverage with the Israelis because you gave them $3 billion a year. You do have, or did have, leverage with the Palestinians because you give them millions of dollars a year. And yet, you’re not going to do anything with that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re engaged in a policy polemic here rather than questions for the podium.
QUESTION: Okay. It’s --
MS. NULAND: I think you know exactly where we are, which is to try to get these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Can I try to --
QUESTION: Answer this: Is the Administration upset or embarrassed at all by the fact that two relatively tiny groups of people are running roughshod over American foreign policy?
MS. NULAND: We are concerned about whether we can get back to a good environment for talks. That is what we are concerned about.
QUESTION: You do believe that your involvement in UN organizations such as UNESCO, such as the IAEA, such as the World Health Organization, are in – that your involvement is – that that’s an American national security interest or in an American interest. And you’re prepared to allow these two small groups of people to make you forfeit your national interests in international organizations. That’s what you’re saying to me.
MS. NULAND: Look, with regard to UNESCO, we were absolutely clear, not only with the Palestinians but with the international community before this happened, that if this went forward, there would be a cost. There is legislation on the books. It is U.S. law that we have to cut off funding in this case. That is what we have done. The choice was clear. The choice was made. But now what’s important is that everybody – the parties, the international community – all need to take a step back and find a way forward back the negotiating table that doesn’t force bad choices on the international community, that enables the parties to get back to productive work together. That is what we are focused on.
QUESTION: Across the street this morning, Secretary – former Secretary of State James Baker complained that the U.S. is actually showing no leadership. And he referenced his position back 20 years ago on the loan guarantees, when he said that we will give the loan guarantees if you stop the settlements. And he apparently used that as basis of an example of leadership. Do you concur with Secretary Baker?
MS. NULAND: Well, Secretary Baker is a private citizen. He was engaged in this process 20 years ago. He also spent a lot of his time as Secretary working on these issues. I would note that at the time when Secretary Baker was serving, the U.S. was not speaking out publicly about the importance of the Palestinians having a state.
QUESTION: Okay, just a quick follow up. He also mentioned a number of things. He said that for the next 12 months, there is not likely to be any kind of serious negotiations – going back to negotiations – and therefore, the United States should focus on three things: one, to maintain peace in Gaza; and second, to make sure that Israeli-Palestinian security arrangements remain and, in fact, aid to the security apparatus, the Palestinian security, continues; and thirdly, and most importantly, to really focus on the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, that if that goes down, then everything else in the region will go down.
MS. NULAND: Well I think we’re certainly focused on all of those things, but we are also focused on trying to make progress with these parties and trying to use the President’s framework from May 19th and the Quartet framework to get these parties really working on the issues that divide them and narrowing the differences. We are not prepared to give up on narrowing the differences between these parties.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on this. And lastly, do you feel that at one point if Israel continues to issue these permits for a new settlement and so on, that at one point this window will close completely?
MS. NULAND: Said, I’m not going to set up false premises out there in the future. You know where we’re focused.
QUESTION: Secretary of – former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also gave a very strong interview to Associated Press yesterday in which she also had serious issues with the way that this Administration was handling the peace process. Now in the last two days, you have two Secretary of States questioning – two former Secretary of States questioning the way this Administration is handling the peace process. You haven’t been able to get the parties to the table. It does, to Matt’s point and Arshad’s point, speak to an ineffectiveness, if not – no one’s challenging your commitment to wanting a two-state solution, but it does speak to the ineffectiveness of U.S. policy.
Is there any thought to maybe including a wider group in some kind of these peace efforts? I’m not talking about the Quartet per se, but other parties that have influence on the parties. I mean, you don’t – just to blunt, I mean, you just don’t seem to be getting anywhere with these parties. You don’t seem to have enough influence if you’re not willing to take these measures of consequence to get the parties to do what you need them to do. So do you either go back to the drawing board and start again or do you walk away and say if you’re not going to help yourselves, we can’t help you?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I don’t think that anybody here believes you can bludgeon parties to the peace table. That is not the exercise that we’re engaged in. Second, I would reject the premise that we haven’t moved forward in recent weeks. We did have, less than two weeks ago, the envoy meetings with each party in which both parties agreed to try to work now with us on the next stage of the roadmap that the Quartet put forward, namely to come up with concrete proposals on territory, on security.
So we’re going to continue to keep our sleeves rolled up and work with these parties on that with the goal of having another meeting in the next couple of weeks where we can see what the progress of their internal thinking is, and to try to meet the deadline of having them exchange those first drafts with each other within 90 days. So we’ve got a path going forward and we are focused on trying to stick to that so that we can actually narrow the gap, because that’s what’s most important.
QUESTION: But that path, respectfully, can’t be done, don’t you think, in a vacuum to what’s going on on the ground right now and the unilateral moves that both sides are taking.
MS. NULAND: That’s exactly why we were warning against the move in UNESCO, exactly why we have been critical of the settlement activity, and why we want to focus international pressure on these parties to come back, why we’ve set out a concrete step-by-step approach that breaks things down into smaller bites and endeavors to narrow the gap.
QUESTION: Just a quick – can I follow up on that? You said another meeting in the next couple of weeks. Did you mean another set of meetings --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: -- meaning separate meetings with each side?
MS. NULAND: Correct. Another set of meetings.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) last two questions --
MS. NULAND: Can I let Michele, who’s had her hand up for –
QUESTION: I had a question about the UN bid, because the Palestinians are now expecting a vote either on November 11th, 13th, somewhere coming up. What’s your diplomacy been on that? What do you – I know Bosnia seems to be unable to decide where to go. Have you been reaching out to countries like Bosnia to encourage them not to support the Palestinians?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re certainly working, as we did in New York. We’re continuing to work with all our Security Council partners on this issue. The focus of that activity is largely in New York, but I don’t think anybody doubts where we stand on this, and we’re continuing to make that point clear.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) last two questions, Said’s point that next 12 months might not be negotiations, which you did not object to that – one of the premise of the question. And second is your appearing as ineffective in the Middle East peace process. Some argue that these two reasons because of the next 12 months is the reelection season and they have the Administration’s in U.S. in need with the strong Israel lobbies. Do you see this reelection term in any way making you less effective in any way it affects your ability?
MS. NULAND: The American election, you’re talking about or elections in the --
QUESTION: Next 12 month – reelection of this Administration.
MS. NULAND: No. We are focused on trying to make as much progress as we can. As I said, we are working on having another round, another session, with these parties in coming weeks. We are focused very much on the 90-day clock that the Quartet set forward for these parties to be ready to exchange their ideas with each other so that we can start negotiations.
QUESTION: According to news reports from Israeli press, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been trying to commit his cabinet to bomb Iran in near term. First of all, do you – how do you assess this kind of a statement? And secondly, how do you see this threat of the Iranian nuclear weapons in near term? Is there anything changing radical – in radical terms?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on stray press reports out of Israel. I’m going to send you to the Israeli Government for its views on these things. We remain committed to Israel’s security. We and Israel share a deep concern about the direction that Iran is taking. We continue to work with Israel, with the international community, to speak clearly with regard to Iran’s nuclear obligations. And you know where we are on this, that Iran has got to make – take the necessary steps established by the international community to come back into compliance with its obligations.
QUESTION: Well, without speaking to it, the – there has been previous concern by the – about the possibility for Israel to take unilateral action against Iran. So this report aside – this news report aside, what is level of concern here in this administration that Israel might take unilateral action?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are focused with Israel, we are focused with our other international partners, on getting Iran to comply with the IAEA, to increase the international pressure for Iran to comply, and that’s the focus of our activity.
QUESTION: Did you just, in response to the second-to-last question, say that there was no – that the U.S. election season has no influence over how you approach the peace process?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that’s exactly the way the question came, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, let me --
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to go back over it.
QUESTION: Well, let me --
MS. NULAND: I’m not --
QUESTION: Let me ask the question straightly – straight, then. I believe that the question was there is concern that political pressure in the United States during the election season may make it difficult for the U.S. to be a completely honest broker in the peace talks. Do you reject that accusation? Do you reject the suggestion that the American political process, i.e. the upcoming presidential election, will have any role in what America does, what the Administration does, as it relates to the peace process?
MS. NULAND: I reject the notion that we are working any less hard now than we have been working over the last few months and years on trying to get these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Okay. Good. Because I thought what you said was no, flat out no, the American election season doesn’t have any influence on --
MS. NULAND: I’m not here to comment on electoral issues or political issues.
QUESTION: Okay. The other thing is that, in response to one of Elise’s question, you rejected the notion that we haven’t made progress in the past few weeks, but yet, at the beginning, you acknowledged that this is going in the wrong direction.
MS. NULAND: My --
QUESTION: Can I just – okay? So the two don’t seem to square with – the two statements don’t seem to square up.
MS. NULAND: My concern is that – the concern that I was trying to express was that the environment for collaboration, good work between the parties, is not going in the right direction as a result of the moves of the last couple of days. And we want to get back to a place where everybody is focused on the negotiations.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that – do you have – still have influence over either – any influence over either party when it comes to this, when it comes to trying to get them back to the table?
MS. NULAND: We continue to believe that U.S. leadership is essential, and that is what the parties say to us.
QUESTION: But do you think that you actually have influence over them?
MS. NULAND: We continue to believe that our role, our leadership, in this process remains essential.
QUESTION: But you don’t – so in terms of influence, you don’t think you do? Or you --
MS. NULAND: Of course we do.
QUESTION: You do have influence?
MS. NULAND: Of course we do.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you give me some demonstrable evidence of what that influence has been?
MS. NULAND: Matt, we remain deeply engaged, economically, politically, in security terms, with both parties. Both parties want to see the U.S. engaged with each of them individually and in this process, and that’s what we’re endeavoring to do.
QUESTION: How are your conversations on the Hill going with regard to trying to persuade members of Congress not to cut off U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that the Palestinians went ahead and sought full UN membership? Are you making any headway in making that case on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: Arshad, our conversations with the Hill continue. They are quite complex. These issues are complex. We believe this is going to take some time to work our way through. But the important reality that we have to grapple with, and that the world has to grapple with, is that today, we are living under U.S. legislation which requires us to cut off U.S. funding to any UN agencies that go in the direction that UNESCO has gone in. So we obviously have to comply with U.S. law, and we will comply with U.S. law. But we are continuing to talk to the Hill, but I wouldn’t expect any speedy resolution of those discussions.
QUESTION: My question – and forgive me if I was not clear – my question was not about the funding to UNESCO or other UN agencies. My question was about the Administration’s previously stated position that it believed that continuing funding to the Palestinian Authority, and particularly security funding to the Palestinian Authority, was in the U.S. national interest, and therefore, that you were going to talk to the Hill about trying to get them to do that, even though there were, as you will recall, resolutions on the Hill calling for cutting off all such funding.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And what I’m wondering is whether you’re making any headway on that, particularly given the fact that Israel has just decided to, at least temporarily, suspend the transfer of Palestinian revenues to the Palestinians. So I suspect the Hill may be less sympathetic to your argument here. So are you making any headway on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, those conversations also continue and they continue quite intensively. We continue to make the case to members of Congress – and we have notified money, as you know, that we want to see go forward – that the money that the U.S. spends on security, on infrastructure, on education, on supporting the people of the Palestinian Authority is very important to our national security. It’s important to – not only for Palestinians and for Israelis, it’s important for Americans and that that money should continue, and it should continue particularly now when we’re in a fragile time.
QUESTION: And have you made – you said that the United States had been in contact with the Government of Israel regarding the decision to accelerate the settlement construction. Have the contacts also included this issue of their freezing of the transfers of the Palestinian tax revenues?
MS. NULAND: They have.
QUESTION: And last question, and in no sense do I mean to denigrate the able U.S. Ambassador and special envoy on this issue, but if you are the Israeli prime minister, why should you take this seriously if you don’t hear it from the Secretary or you don’t hear it from the President or the Vice President? I mean, there are times when a leader picks up the phone and calls another leader and says, “Hey, we really think you ought to do this and here’s why.”
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think that the Government of Israel has any doubt that when our envoys speak to them, whether it’s the President’s appointee in the host country or whether it is the Secretary’s envoy, that they are speaking for the Secretary and the President.
QUESTION: Right. But they may have a different response if they hear it right from the top.
MS. NULAND: Again, there is no question that, as necessary and as appropriate, the direct contacts have and will continue to be made at the Secretarial level and above.
QUESTION: Victoria, very quickly, you’re still committed to the principle that any settlement should be based on land for peace, UN Resolution 242 and 338, and any swaps should be mutual and equal?
MS. NULAND: Said, you’re getting me deep into the theology of the peace process here.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m not (inaudible), but --
MS. NULAND: I think you know where we stand on the settlements.
QUESTION: -- you are committed to 242 and 338 and the land for peace?
MS. NULAND: We remain committed to UN Security Council resolutions.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: A different topic?
QUESTION: No, (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: Still on this?
MS. NULAND: Still on this?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: In your – going back to your answer to Arshad’s question, your answer that was not – you answered the question on UN funding. He was asking about the Palestinians. I want to talk about the UN funding for a second. It is the Administration’s belief that U.S. membership in UNESCO and the IAEA and WHO and all these other agencies is in the U.S. national interest, right?
MS. NULAND: It is.
QUESTION: So is Congress not working at cross purposes? Congress – does the Administration think that Congress is not acting in the U.S. best interests?
MS. NULAND: We have to conform to a piece of legislation that has been on the books for some time.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. NULAND: As I said before, we warned countries, we warned the Palestinians, that this was an issue, that it is real, that it is a matter of U.S. law.
QUESTION: Right. But it can be changed, correct? I mean, it can be amended? There can be --
MS. NULAND: There would have to be --
QUESTION: -- certain waivers put in, correct?
MS. NULAND: There would have to be legislative action for that.
QUESTION: Right. Exactly. So you – and have you told them that?
MS. NULAND: Have we told who what?
QUESTION: Congress, that they have the --
MS. NULAND: I think the Congress is well --
QUESTION: -- ability to fix this?
MS. NULAND: I think the Congress is well aware of its --
QUESTION: Or is it a fact – or is it not --
MS. NULAND: Would you like me to answer the question?
QUESTION: Sure, yeah. They’re well aware?
MS. NULAND: They’re well aware of their own legislative prerogatives in these cases.
QUESTION: Right. They are. And isn’t it the case that you’re not making a big deal about this now because you’re worried that the – as the appropriations bills go before it, that they will punish you instead of actually helping you?
MS. NULAND: I would reject the connection that you are drawing there. We are having conversations with the Congress about how we go forward on this whole set of issues, and particularly how we go forward to support an environment for getting these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Have you asked Israeli officials to call members of Congress to tell them that you think it would be a good idea to keep funding for the Palestinians going and you think it would be a good idea for them to pass – to take action so that you don’t – you aren’t required to cut funding from UN organizations?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to speak to our private diplomatic conversations with the Israelis. The Israelis know our view very well – that we are concerned about what could happen to the Palestinian people if U.S. funding is cut off. They’ll make their own decisions what to do there.
QUESTION: It is a fact, isn’t it, that the United States votes very often – it is very often the – Israel’s lone supporter or one of very few supporters in international fora, such as these UN organizations. Has the Administration made it clear to the Israelis that if the U.S. is forced to withdraw, pull out funding, or – and step back from these organizations, that they will actually be losing an ally in organizations that they think, for whatever reason, are relevant?
MS. NULAND: Without differentiation, we have made clear to all of the partners that we work with in these international organizations about what the consequences are of the legislation on the books.
QUESTION: Right. No, no. But I’m talking about in terms of changing the legislation.
MS. NULAND: I lost the thread of the question.
QUESTION: In terms of lobbying people on the Hill to change this so that you’re not locked in to doing something that you believe is antithetical to U.S. interests --
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to --
QUESTION: -- because of the actions of third parties.
MS. NULAND: I’m – the Israelis are well aware of the legislation on U.S. books.
QUESTION: No, no. Okay, fine. But are you telling the Israelis that it will actually hurt them and their arguments in these international fora if you’re forced out of them?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into the private back and forth that we have with the Government of Israel.
QUESTION: Does the Administration find it unpalatable that it has to go to another government, to other government officials, to lobby members of its own legislature?
MS. NULAND: I reject the premise of your statement.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure I understood. I know you’ve said many times over this interminable conversation for days --
MS. NULAND: Yes. For days, in fact.
QUESTION: -- that the U.S. has to conform to legislation. But I just wanted to make sure I understood how far the State Department goes in the opposite direction from Congress. I mean, are you saying that the State Department does not agree with the requirement that you had to follow?
MS. NULAND: I am saying that we in the State Department are living with the reality of U.S. legislation today, and the international community is living with that reality; namely, that we are compelled by the legislation to cut off funding for UNESCO and we will be compelled, if this continues, in other organizations. So --
QUESTION: You would not have --
MS. NULAND: This is today’s reality.
QUESTION: -- would not have taken that step if that law had not been there?
MS. NULAND: Well, this is a legislated step, right, so obviously we’re going to comply with U.S. law.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Let’s go on to Syria.
QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the Syrians’ decision to agree to this Arab League proposal? Is it enough?
MS. NULAND: Well, we were seeing the press reports as we were coming down. I think until we get a chance to see the details of what Syria has signed up to, and until we’ve had some reaction from our Arab partners, I don’t want to go too far into details here. But I would say that Syria has made a lot of promises to the international community in the past.
So you know what we are looking for here, what the Syrian people are looking for, what the Arab League was looking for going into this round of meetings. And that list was in the original Arab League proposal, that the Syrian forces need to be pulled back to barracks, that the violence needed to end, that the arrests needed to end, that the intimidation needed to end, and that we needed to have a real process towards democratization started in Syria. So that is the basis on which we will judge whatever has been agreed to here. And again, we haven’t seen the details, so I don’t want to get ahead of it.
QUESTION: Are you taking them at their word, or do you think they are just trying to buy time? Because this has been their trademark up to now.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we haven’t sent the details of what they signed up to. So we’re not going to judge them by their words; we’re going to judge them by their actions. But I do think you are right, Said, that there is a risk here that they are trying to string out diplomacy, that they are trying to offer their own people half-steps or quarter-measures rather than taking the real steps. But again, let’s see what comes out of this agreement. Let’s see what they actually do.
QUESTION: A country of the region?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Excuse me.
MS. NULAND: Still Syria? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just – not directly related to the uprising in Syria --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- but Syria in general, since it was brought up this morning in the session across the street. What is the status of, let’s say, negotiating a settlement between Syria and Israel, or is that completely off – on the back burner for the foreseeable future?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think anybody in the neighborhood is in the business right now of negotiating new deals with the Asad regime.
Actually, I neglected to make a point I should have made in response to your question and the previous question; namely, that as we have seen this process of diplomacy between the Arab League and Syria, and we’ve seen Syria saying publicly it’s prepared to accept the proposals, at the same time we’ve also seen new violence at the hands of the regime in Syria itself. On November 1st alone, we had at least 11 civilians killed by SARG forces. So there is concern that even as they say they’re prepared for peace, they are still exacting violence and brutality on their own people.
QUESTION: Any update on Ambassador Ford, what he’s been doing since he’s been back?
MS. NULAND: He’s taking a well-deserved rest with his family.
QUESTION: Are you getting questions about whether the turkey is frozen or live? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: I would hope the turkey is frozen if he bought it already a week ago. Yeah.
QUESTION: A question about Iran, if we can move on. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said today that he had a hundred, quote, “undeniable documents,” unquote, proving that the United States had been behind, quote, “terrorist acts,’ unquote, in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. He was speaking at an occasion commemorating the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and he said that he plans to present these documents and that they will disgrace the United States.
Any comment on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, he seemed to be responding to our strong case that members of the Qods Force attempted an assassination of the life of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. I would simply point out that our allegations were made in U.S. court in documents that are now open for the public to see and are clear and can be evaluated by anyone. So I think this is just more rhetoric designed to deflect popular attention in Iran away from the failings of the Iranian Government to meet the needs of its own people.
QUESTION: You don’t want to squarely address the allegation that another head of state – that the head of state of another country has made that the United States is responsible for terrorist acts in his country and elsewhere in the Middle East?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think I need to credit it with a response.
QUESTION: Victoria, could you explain to us a little more on the virtual embassy and what kind of internet traffic it has taken over the past few days?
MS. NULAND: Said is making reference to the Secretary’s announcement when she spoke to the Iranian people on BBC Persia and VOA Iran that we would soon open a virtual embassy to the Iranian people. This will be an enhanced website that is going to open in a few weeks, as I understand it, and we can have a more detailed briefing when it does open. But it will also enable us to augment our ongoing conversation with the Iranian people. We already use Facebook and other social media to answer direct questions we get from Iranians both in Iran and outside about U.S. policy, and this will give us a larger, deeper, stronger platform to do that. And we’ll have the address for that for you when it goes up.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, about Turkey – in other words, the country this time. Recently, the Turkish Government arrested intellectuals, and one of them was Zarakolu, a publisher – owner of publishing house. And as far as I know, Zarakolu had been arrested before a couple of times and has spent years in jail. And so I wondering if the State Department follows this process of the arrest of Turkish intellectuals and Kurdish intellectuals and maybe the delegation that is in Istanbul right now will have a chance to touch bases with their Turkish counterparts and kind of bring this topic to agenda. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a comment on this particular case. I think you know that the Secretary, we, in all of our encounters with the Turkish Government, have been very clear that we want to see a continued strengthening of Turkish human rights norms and particularly with regard to journalists and press freedom and transparency of the court system. So if you’d like, I can take that question with regard to the specific case.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Jill.
QUESTION: Another subject.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Some of the supporters of that have been saying that the President is going to take back from the Secretary the decision for that, whether to give the green light or the red light. Is there any indication that the Secretary would not be the person who would make – ultimately make that decision?
MS. NULAND: The President spoke to this yesterday and he himself reaffirmed that the Department of State is running this process. And we’re doing it in consultation with other agencies, and this is the process that is outlined in the standing Executive Order 13337 delegating the decision-making authority for the pipeline to the Secretary of State and her – or her designee. So we – but we are engaged with all agencies, as you know, in preparing to make that decision.
QUESTION: But it’s not like the President doesn’t get to have – the President delegates authority on all kinds of things on which he is the ultimate decider. So the fact that he has delegated, by executive order, responsibility for this decision to the Secretary of State or her designee does not mean that he couldn’t make the decision himself, ultimately, and have her execute it, correct?
MS. NULAND: Right. There’s nothing to preclude that, but our – but the process is moving forward now on the basis of the delegation of authority pursuant to the executive order. So the Secretary has responsibility for running this process, and she’s looking to run an open, transparent, thorough process which brings in the views of all the agencies.
QUESTION: And then one other thing: There was a report a while back in which a U.S. official held out the possibility that the decision might not be made by the year-end goal. The Secretary’s been very clear that she plans to make a decision by the end of the year. That report seems to have been interpreted in various ways as suggesting that it’s definitely going to slide past this year. Where is the Administration, where is the Department now on when it expects to make the decision, and what factors might affect that timing?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary’s goal remains, the Department’s goal remains to complete the process before the end of the year so a decision can be made before the end of the year. But obviously, our first obligation to the American people, to the President, is to ensure that we do this in a rigorous, transparent, and thorough way. So we will obviously have to ensure that we do that, and that’s the first priority.
QUESTION: So if doing it in a rigorous and transparent and thorough manner militates it sliding beyond the end of the year, you would do that?
MS. NULAND: We’d like to get it done by the end of the year, but if thoroughness demands a little bit more time, nobody’s slammed the door on that.
QUESTION: The Libyans seem to be stuck in their efforts to disarm all of the militias. How much concern does the Administration have about this? Does it seem to be a challenge to the NTC’s desire to bring about a unitary government there?
MS. NULAND: Well, we spoke about this at some length yesterday, and we also spoke about it last week. We strongly support the TNC’s desire to unify all the militias. This is the right way to go. We supported the establishment back in early October of the Tripoli Military Council, which is designated to work with all of the militias on bringing them together. But as we’ve also said, one of the keys to giving the militias the confidence to integrate is that the TNC, as it moves to the interim government stage – it appointed a new head yesterday, a new prime minister, Mr. al-Keeb – is that as it makes the rest of the appointments in this expanded interim government, these various factions around Libya, the various political interests, whether they’re geographic, whether they’re representing different tribes, different viewpoints politically, all need to see that they are represented in this interim government so that they have confidence that this government that they are being asked to support and integrate their security forces into truly represents the views of their people.
So we are encouraging the TNC, now on its way to becoming an interim government, to take a broad, unifying, diverse approach, and to do that in tandem with encouraging the militias to unify.
QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. Has there been any direct meetings between any American diplomats and Mr. Abdel Rahim al-Keeb since yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I cannot – let me take that one as to whether Ambassador Cretz has had a chance to meet with him. I do believe they had a phone conversation yesterday, but let me take that one, Said.
QUESTION: And second, could you update us on the status of the American Embassy in Tripoli? How is it staffed, how is it functioning, and so on?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are still in the early stages of bringing our Embassy back in force. The main constraint remains the issue of a permanent home for the Embassy. It’s still in temporary quarters working largely out of the ambassador’s former residence. Those of you who traveled with us saw that space. So I think we are negotiating now with the TNC on a permanent space, and as we are able to grow our space, we’ll also be able to grow our personnel.
QUESTION: On a different country, Zimbabwe, we have a report that Zimbabwe has been allowed to export diamonds from its Marange – if that’s how it’s pronounced – fields. Our report says that the Kimberley Process’s last meeting in June gave the green light to Zimbabwe to sell the diamonds, but that this decision did not have the support of several Western countries. Has the United States changed its former – its position, which formerly was to oppose such sales? And if so, why did you change that position?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think, Arshad, you’re referring to the decision yesterday by the Kimberley Process plenary meeting, which was held in Kinshasa, on a way forward to allow exports from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe. The U.S. abstained in this nonbinding decision. However, we also did not block the Kimberley Process moving forward. And I think you know that since June, the EU has led an intensive round of diplomacy working with the Government of Zimbabwe to try to come up with a compromise here. And whereas we think this compromise might have been stronger – and that’s why we abstained – the compromise that was agreed yesterday does include provisions for continued oversight and continued reporting by civil society.
So we judge that rather than having the entire Kimberley Process deadlocked over Zimbabwe, we would abstain, we would let this go forward. But let me also say that we also maintain our own American-targeted sanctions against individuals and entities in Zimbabwe that are undermining democracy there, and these sanctions prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with those people on the list. And some on the list currently include the parastatal entity that oversees the diamond exports from Marange.
QUESTION: Do you actually believe that the Mugabe government is going to live up to the transparency requirements?
MS. NULAND: Well, that is obviously the expectation and the standard that the Kimberley Process will endeavor to hold the government to. But as I said, we thought it could have been stronger, which was why we abstained. But we didn’t want the continued paralysis of the whole process.
QUESTION: And why not allow the process to continue to be paralyzed if you’re not certain that – or you don’t – I mean, or you don’t have a high degree of confidence that the Mugabe government will indeed permit the transparency? I mean, why not just put the kibosh on it if you don’t think that they’re actually going to follow through?
MS. NULAND: Well, because previously we had no ability to affect Zimbabwe behavior. With this compromise, as I said, we do have some eyes on this process, we have reporting requirements, we have civil society there, which was a better situation than we’ve had in the past. So we need to test it now, and we need to see if the Mugabe government does indeed meet the commitments that it signed up to.
All right. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)