Daily Press Briefing - January 19, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- U.S.-Pakistan Relationship
- Arab League/Monitor Report
- Continue to Work Globally to Tighten Constraints on the Assad Regime
- Russia/UN Security Council Resolution
- Ship from Cyprus Reportedly to Syria with Weapons
- Austerity Measures/Support the Right to Protest and Express Views Peacefully/Call to Refrain from Violence
- King Abdullah/Wall Street Journal Piece
- Want to See Parties Keep Talking
- Concerns about Defense Minister/Strains with Venezuela
- Taliban Office in Qatar/Ambassador Grossman in Kabul on Saturday
- Independent, Transparent Judiciary Critical to Healthy Democracies
- Arrest of Mr. Zdorovenin
- Iran/Oil Issues/Certifications
11:58 a.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Good morning, everybody. We are up early today because the President is out in Florida at 12:30, so we will do our business with economy today and move off the stage. I have nothing at the top. What’s on your minds?
QUESTION: Yeah, on Pakistan. We have reports out of Pakistan that they have agreed to reopen supply routes toward the Afghan enterprise, although they may be applying tariffs to stuff going through. I’m just wondering if they’ve told you anything about that and if you have any view on tariffs as a proposal for those supply routes.
MS. NULAND: Andy, we’ve seen the same media reports that you have seen. We have not, as of this moment, had any official communication from the Government of Pakistan on this subject. It is, as you know, part of their ongoing parliamentary review. So from where we’re standing at the moment, we don’t have anything new.
QUESTION: And do you have any position on tariffs --
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m certainly not going to get into speculating about what they might do and how we might react. I think we’re going to wait and speak to them when they are finished with their review and they’re ready to talk to us and make proposals.
Brad, did you have something?
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about the Syria – the Arab mission.
MS. NULAND: Let me just make sure, were there other Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you received – has the Secretary of State received a request from the former Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, for a meeting? And if yes, what’s the response?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, she has not.
Anything else on Pakistan?
QUESTION: Also, the foreign ministry today indicated in Islamabad that Pakistan would like to have a relationship with the United States in a broad range of areas, which should not be confined to security issues. Any comments – once the review is complete and once they have conversations with the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Well, I haven’t seen the Pakistani MFA comments, but it certainly sounds, as you describe it, completely in sync with our view of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, that it should be broad and deep, that we have work to do together across the range of issues, whether we’re talking about increasingly open society, economic things, development things, and the full range of security issues. So we would certainly share the view that we have a lot to do together across the range of concerns.
QUESTION: Victoria, you’re saying it should be broad. So are you suggesting right at the present time it is not broad and comprehensive, and it is only restricted to security measures?
MS. NULAND: I am not meaning to suggest that at all, Said, and in fact you know that in the context of some of the difficulties that we’ve had since November 26th, the full civilian relationship has been going forward, including the economic relationship. One of you asked yesterday about whether civilian assistance has continued to flow since November 26th, and the answer to that question is absolutely, yes.
QUESTION: One quick question again. Pakistani Government has indicated that if General Pervez Musharraf does return to Pakistan that he will be arrested. Do you guys have a comment on that, on whether he should return and if he’s arrested?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve spoken about this before in the last week or two. Our view is that this complex of issues is an internal matter for Pakistan.
Next subject. Please Andy – Brad.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: This major date is today, the 19th, so I just was wondering – I saw that you suggested that this thing maybe should not go on forever, that certain progress has to be met, and this isn’t a solution, just having monitors – what you’re looking for in the report as a – as the meetings take place this weekend, and secondly, what you really hope for in terms of post-report and how to really stop the violence in Syria.
MS. NULAND: Well, we did talk about some of these issues yesterday, Brad. The Arab League is now meeting on Saturday and Sunday, to 21st to 22nd. We do want to give the Arab League a chance to receive the report of its monitors, to absorb it. We want to talk to them as we have been in the lead up to this about what comes next. And as we’ve said, it’s a mixed picture with these monitors. In places where the monitors have been able to deploy, we have seen the Syrian opposition able to mount large, peaceful demonstrations. We’ve seen journalists, including international journalists, able to join them. The concern is simply that in places where monitors are not present, or sometimes after monitors withdraw from the scene, we’ve seen the violence continue, we’ve seen the violence in some cases exacerbated.
So as the Secretary herself said last week when we had the foreign minister of Qatar here, we don’t think the situation in Syria can continue as it is indefinitely. So we look to the Arab League to make some assessments, to talk to all of us, but certainly what we want to do, moving forward, is to work in lockstep with the Arab League to strengthen our approach in the UN Security Council, to have a strong resolution, and also to continue to work globally to tighten constraints on the Assad regime.
As I said yesterday, we firmly believe that countries that are continuing to trade with Syria, and particularly those that are trading arms, need to really think hard about the fact that they are now contributing to fueling the violence and to lining the pockets of a regime that is clearly still exacting incredible violence against innocents.
QUESTION: But what you’re saying with regard to the Arab League monitors is that while they are doing some good on the ground, there’s nothing that’s essentially stopping the violence. Is there a long-term kind of, I won’t say strategy, but I’ll say kind of idea of how it’s possible to really effectively stop the violence in Syria at this point?
MS. NULAND: Well again, this is a matter that we are consulting with lots of allies and partners, including Arab League, who has had this opportunity to have their own people on the ground to talk to Syrians of all stripes about what will be most helpful. So those are consultations that we want to have continue. Certainly, we believe that we’ve got to increase the economic pressure on the Assad regime to change course. He does stand largely alone, with the exception of support he continues to get from Iran. But that pressure can increase. And we want to make it clear that the goals that the Arab League put forward in its agreement with the Syrian regime, which the Syrian regime has not lived up to, are the goals that all of us share. And that’s the standard that we want to see.
QUESTION: So Toria --
QUESTION: And just lastly, on today’s reports you had one – on the one hand, reports of tanks and equipment being pulled out of a town north of Damascus, but there’s also reports of deaths elsewhere in the country. Do you see this is as just kind of more of the same, that there’s a give and pull, but essentially no change in behavior from the regime?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Fundamentally, our view is that the Syrian regime has not lived up to any of the four commitments that they made. The violence has not stopped; we do not have the heavy weaponry pulled out of all cities and towns; we do not have political prisoners out, in fact, they’re continuing to collect political prisoners; and we obviously don’t have international journalistic presence; et cetera. So we are looking for all of those things, as is the Arab League.
I think there will be a question going forward that where these monitors have been able to work, they have been – they have provided an opportunity for the Syrian opposition to demonstrate and have its views heard and come out into the street. But the concern is that the minute that they leave a town, the violence continues.
So we need to hear what the Arab League has to say about that, and then we need to think about how we work together.
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: For the time being, you’re saying that the initiative or the lead should remain with the Arab League and be ceded by the United States and the Europeans and the United Nations --
MS. NULAND: Absolutely not. Said, you’re putting words in my mouth today.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to understand.
MS. NULAND: Our point is simply that the Arab League has had this 150 sets of eyes on the ground. They’ve been all over Syria. We want their view about how best to support the aspirations of the Syrian people for change, their view of how best to end the violence as part of our discussion going forward, and so we look forward to having those consultations. But we’re continuing our work in New York, we’re continuing our work with countries around the world to tighten the –
QUESTION: Two quick follow-ups. First, when did the clock run out? I mean, I know you addressed this before, but as far as the State Department is concerned, when does the clock run out on these monitors?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, we want to hear what the Arab League has to say about this, and we want to consult with them. So I’m not going to prejudge where we’re going to go on their mission.
QUESTION: When do you expect to hear from the Arab League on this? They’re meeting this weekend. Is there a meeting set up for Monday or –
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that Assistant Secretary Feltman stays in very close contact with the foreign ministers of all of those countries. He’s talked to virtually all of them in advance of the meeting. I expect that we will start to hear from them on the weekend, and presumably they’ll also issue some comments publicly. So I think by the time we see each other on Monday, we’ll have a good sense of where they want to go, and we’ll be working together on what’s next.
QUESTION: You had mentioned that Assad is standing alone except for Iran. Is it your view that Russia isn’t supporting Assad at this point in word or in deed, and do you have any updates – and I apologize if this was covered yesterday – on that ship that arrived – the Russian ship that was – that issue was raised with Moscow?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly we see strong statements out of Moscow that the violence needs to end. We are back in dialogue with Moscow on a UN Security Council resolution, and that’s a good thing. I think we have a difference of view about who’s at fault here. We have a difference of view with regard to appropriate language still in the UN Security Council, what will be most helpful. But again, I think this is why we can all benefit, including the Russian Federation, from a report from these guys who have actually been in these towns and hear what they think.
QUESTION: And the – sorry. The ship?
MS. NULAND: Andy’s talking about the ship that left a port in Cyprus and reportedly made it to Syria with weapons. We have, as you know, asked for clarification from the Russian Federation. This was a subject of discussion with the Embassy. It was also raised by Deputy Secretary Burns when he was in Moscow. Our understanding is that the Russian side continues to look into who was responsible and what happened precisely.
QUESTION: And you haven’t been able to – or have you been able to verify what that ship brought?
MS. NULAND: We have not been able to independently verify it. We have the reports from the Cypriots who saw some of the cargo, but we don’t – we haven’t been able to independently verify.
QUESTION: Yes. France has said that the report of the monitors, the Arab League, should be submitted to the UN Security Council for further action. Do you support this request?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think the Arab League needs to make its own report, and then we need to work together on how to take the results of that mission and bring the ideas and recommendations that the Arab League comes out of this process with to the Security Council so that we can have a strong resolution that reflects the experience that the monitors have had. So I think from that perspective, we are on the same page, but again, we don’t want to get ahead of the Arab League making its report.
QUESTION: Or France; you don’t want to get ahead of France.
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) Please, in the back.
QUESTION: For the past six days, people have been in the streets of Bucharest and other major cities in Romania. What is the view of the organization about this popular protest, and what do you think is the way out for the authorities to get over these social tensions? Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Well, as we have seen, we have countries around Europe, we have countries around the world that are dealing with popular reaction to some of the austerity measures that the financial crisis has led governments to take. What we would say to Romania and Romanians is the same thing that we say to others around the world and what we said to Greece and Greeks at the time, which is that we support the right of people around the world to protest and express their views peacefully, but we call on both protestors and authorities to refrain from any violence.
QUESTION: How could the authorities react over this glitch?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously not going to dictate how Romania deals with its internal issues. These are decisions for the Government of Romania to take in consultations with the parliament and with their people. My comment was simply in response to the fact that we do have folks protesting the austerity. All of us have to make individual national decisions, and we’re all trying to do that, what our policy is to help deal with the financial crisis that we face.
QUESTION: Toria, going back to Syria.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Would you go as far as to call for the indictment of Bashar al-Assad, as the Australian foreign minister has suggested today?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve been very clear that we think he needs to step aside. We do not think that he is the man to lead his country in a democratic direction. That is, I think, a plenty strong statement from the United States. We are interested in supporting the aspirations of the Syrian people to have a better future, and we do not think that’s going to happen with him on the scene.
QUESTION: On Pakistan.
QUESTION: Can we just –
MS. NULAND: Wait a minute. We’re all over the place now.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up.
MS. NULAND: Let’s finish Syria. We’re going to go back to Pakistan. Please.
QUESTION: Regarding his question concerning calling for Assad to be brought to The Hague, you wouldn’t do that because you want to keep the objective on him leaving power, and you feel that might box him in and make him want to stay even more?
MS. NULAND: We are focused at increasing the pressure on him and his regime to stop the violence and to allow a process of change to go forward. We think that’s going to have to include him leaving power. Let’s see if we can achieve those objectives in the first instance.
QUESTION: But considering the monstrosity of his alleged crimes that you’ve detailed from this podium, it would not be absurd to think that this Administration thinks he should be held accountable for those one day?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, those who have been responsible for the violence in Syria are going to have to be held accountable, but first and foremost, we need to see that violence stop.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Palestinian issue?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. The King of Jordan, King Abdullah, wrote an op-ed today in The Wall Street Journal, and he thought that the Palestinian right to statehood, it really remains the primary issue for the Arab people. Do you agree with his assertion?
MS. NULAND: Well, we saw his piece. It was obviously a very eloquent piece. Both the President and the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with the king, opportunities that we valued. And as we’ve said many times, we are quite grateful to the Kingdom of Jordan for offering the opportunity and the environment in which the parties have now finally, after 16 months, gotten back to speaking face to face, and we are cautiously optimistic that this is a process that can grow and deepen going forward, and that they will be able to meet the objectives that the Quartet put forward in September.
QUESTION: So come the 26th, what do you expect? I mean, your expectation post the 26th, let’s say on the 27th, what should happen?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve spoken to this a number of times, Said, that we want to see these parties keep talking, that we want to see the talks that are going on now lead to real concrete proposals on both sides without preconditions with regard to territory and security in the first instance, and for them to really turn into solid negotiations. We don’t want that date to become a straightjacket or to chill the atmosphere for the talks.
QUESTION: Okay. But the King states that the issue of security and borders have been talked about time and time and time again. He uses the word “frustrating.” So he’s frustrated because these issues have been there. So what else that needs to happen or needs to be discussed to get people to understand each other and get back to (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: Well, I read the King’s piece, and maybe I over-read it to mean that these issues have been discussed, that coming up with proposals by both sides can build on work that has been done in the past and thereby expedite the process. I think that we would not disagree with that. The main thing is to keep the parties talking and to get them doing real work on the substance of the issues that divide them.
QUESTION: Okay, and one last one regarding the Palestinians and the movement of President Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, in the West Bank and to Gaza. The Israelis place a great deal of restrictions on his movement, and in fact, they make it from time to time appear as if it’s not a part and parcel to agreements signed but rather as a favor. Do you ever talk to the Israelis to allow him the freedom that he needs to move to go to Gaza and talk to others?
MS. NULAND: Well, we talk to the Israelis about the full range of issues that divide them from the Palestinians, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: A follow-up on yesterday’s Taken Question on Venezuela. How does the United States believe that the fight against drug trafficking in South America will be affected by the appointment of a Venezuelan defense minister who the Treasury Department says materially assists narco-terrorists and the FARC?
MS. NULAND: Well, Scott, I think we were very clear about our concerns about this individual. Our concerns are not new. Our concerns are not alleviated in any way by him now being defense minister. This is a choice that Venezuela and Venezuelans have to make whether they are going to join the hemispheric fight against these issues. So I would ask them the question about their commitment to these issues based on the appointment that they’ve made.
QUESTION: But does it raise concerns to you that that fight might now be more difficult, given someone with his record in this position?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have our strains with Venezuela, so we will continue to work actively and strongly with all countries in the hemisphere who want to work with us on these issues. And if Venezuela wants to be a white space in that work, that’s a choice they’re making.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. take a position on the recent posturing between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falklands?
MS. NULAND: We – I believe we – well, I’m going to take that one because I want to get it right and I haven’t looked at the Falklands in a long time. Okay?
QUESTION: My question last week was answered by Mark about the defense coordination committee of the Pakistani cabinet announcing that they will be putting some new taxes and custom clearance mechanism in Peshawar for NATO supplies, and also about the apology for November 26 NATO attacks. And this is today all over the wires everywhere. Do you have an update on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t know if you were – came in late, but this was Andy’s first question this morning. And I said that we --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, I came late.
MS. NULAND: We do not actually have anything new officially from the Pakistani Government.
Nicole’s been so patient. Hello, Nicole.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Let’s finish Pakistan. Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: For the second time.
MS. NULAND: For the second time, we’re going to finish Pakistan. And we need to stay on track today.
QUESTION: And you know the people in India and Pakistan follow British English and here you follow the American English. Is there (inaudible) in your vocabulary or dictionary, is there a difference between apology and the deep regret that you have been saying? Because Pakistan wants an apology and you have been – not been saying that. Is it --
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the dictionary definitions of these words. I think we have expressed our regret. We’ve expressed our interest in continuing to work through the issues that led to this incident, and we’re now awaiting Pakistani side’s readiness to talk to us about next steps.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Nicole.
QUESTION: I just wanted to know if the U.S. has any comment on the self-immolations that have taken place in Morocco.
MS. NULAND: I have to say that I had not seen that, so let me take that one as well. In the last 24 hours?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I had not seen that. Let me take it.
QUESTION: One on Afghanistan. Earlier today the foreign ministry, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, said that they would prefer for the Taliban to have an address inside Afghanistan rather in Qatar. Have you guys discussed their location or where they might set up an office with the Afghans?
MS. NULAND: We have been in dialogue on all of these issues for quite some time. I think we mentioned yesterday that Special Representative Ambassador Grossman will be in Kabul on Saturday. He’ll have a chance to discuss these issues with President Karzai and with his government. As we’ve said many, many times, this process has to be Afghan led, so we look forward to hearing again where they are. But these discussions, as they’ve also said publicly, with regard to an office in Qatar have also been gone through.
So – Scott, is this still Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: Protests in Ankara today against the acquittal of 17 people charged with acting as members of a terrorist organization connected with the killing of a Turkish Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink. Human Rights Watch says that verdict shows that Turkey’s criminal justice system is unwilling to probe state collusion in political assassinations. Any reaction?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have regularly talked to the Government of Turkey about this case and others. I would note that both the Government of Turkey and the Dink family expect that this case is going to end up in the appeals court in Turkey. So we will continue to follow it and not from this podium or any other prejudge the outcome. But we have made clear in this case and in others that we believe that an independent and transparent judiciary and full accountability are critical to a healthy – to all healthy democracies, including Turkey.
QUESTION: So do you believe Turkey possesses an independent and transparent judiciary?
MS. NULAND: It is incumbent on Turkey to ensure that their judicial processes live up to those standards.
QUESTION: That’s not a ringing vote of confidence, though. You’re not suggesting one way or the other.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not in the business of giving report cards on people’s judiciaries. They have a long history of an independent judiciary. I think what is needed here is confidence that this case and others like it are handled in a transparent way.
QUESTION: Toria, I asked yesterday about the case of the Russian national brought before the court in Manhattan. Today the Russian foreign ministry strongly protested the way this case was handled by the U.S. authorities, especially the fact that the FBI notified about this case the Russian Government only after several requests and retroactively dated the response about this case to the Russians. So what’s your comment about all this? What happened?
MS. NULAND: Well, my information, Dmitri, and I think we put this out earlier today, was that the FBI did formally notify the Russian consulate general in New York of the arrest of Mr. Zdorovenin on January 17th, which was either the day or the day after he arrived. I would – with regard to how this process went forward or why they did what they did when they did it, it was an FBI operation, so I’m going to send you to them.
QUESTION: I have a question on Bangladesh. The army there said today that it has foiled a plot last month by some religious fanatic Islamist officers to overthrow the elected government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Do you have a reaction to that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen these same reports that you have that the Government of Bangladesh says that it foiled a coup attempt. Frankly, we are seeking more information. We don’t have very much independent information about it, so I would send you to the Government of Bangladesh.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Have you got an update from Senator Warner and Congressman Crowley? It was my question last week about they said there’s enormous appetite for visas in India after their trip.
MS. NULAND: For?
QUESTION: After their trip to India, they briefed journalists --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: Have you got any briefing from them?
MS. NULAND: Well, given that in about 10 minutes the President is going to speak to some of these issues, I think we’ll let him do that, and then we’ll go from there. How about that?
QUESTION: On India. After you asked India to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil, India is still saying that they will not stop purchasing oil from Iran. Are you comfortable with the response? And what – at what level are you having discussions with them?
MS. NULAND: Guys, again, as we’ve said on basically a daily basis, we are working with countries all around the world on this. I’m not going to comment on every stray up and down of this that comes out in the press. We have had good conversations with India. We’re continuing to have good conversations with India, that India shares our strong interest in Iran coming clean on its nuclear program. So we’re going to continue to have those conversations, and they’re going well.
QUESTION: What is the procedure about this? I mean, do you have a timetable? Because according to the legislation passed last December, you have 90 days to report about the situation, this oil import?
MS. NULAND: 180 days on the oil issues. If you need --
QUESTION: But the State Department is 90 days or --
MS. NULAND: 180 days in order to make certifications. If you need a briefing on these issues, we can get you together with the right experts.
All right. Thank you very much, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:27 p.m.)