Daily Press Briefing - February 27, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Clinton's Trip to London, Tunis, and the Maghreb
- Congratulations of Iranian Film Director Asghar Farhadi
- Friends of Syria Meeting / Sanctions / Humanitarian Initiative / Pressuring the Assad Regime / Opposition Group / China and Russia / Syrian National Council / Ambassador Ford / Remaining Diplomatic Missions / Transition
- NORTH KOREA
- Bilateral Talks / Nutritional Assistance / Military Exercises
- Consultations / Doha Conference
- NGO Situation / Support of the Electoral Process
- Building of Lower Portion of Pipeline / Evaluating a New Application
- Security Situation / Travel by U.S. Personnel / Condolences to Those Affected by Deaths
- Qur'an Incident / Investigation
- FARC / Release of Hostages
1:02 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon. Sorry to be a little bit late, everybody, today. Coming off the Secretary’s trip to London for the Somalia conference, to Tunis for the Friends of the Syrian People, and then on along the Maghreb we had a bilateral visit in Tunisia and one in Algeria and one in Morocco. Just to advise that we will not have a daily press briefing tomorrow or Wednesday because the Secretary is testifying all day tomorrow in the Senate and all day on Wednesday in the House. So she will surely be covering the world in those testimonies. I have one thing at the top and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds.
My topper message is simply, on behalf of all of us, to congratulate Iranian film director, Asghar Farhadi, on his Oscar win yesterday for his film, A Separation. This is the first time that an Iranian has won the Oscar, and this is a film that really gives the world an invaluable picture of life in Iran. We applaud his achievement and celebrate the vibrancy and historical greatness of the independent film industry in Iran.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Now that the dust has settled from Tunis, we saw the EU sanctions today on Syria, more talk coming out of the UN in Geneva. Can you put this all together and say how your government and your partners are any closer to stopping the violence in Syria now?
MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, Brad. As you know, more than 60 nations came together in Tunis in the Friends of Syria meeting to increase the pressure on the Assad regime. And as the Secretary had called for about a week before the meeting, this pressure is taking three forms. The first is, obviously, to increase the sanctions on Assad and his people. If you look at the communiqué from the meeting, all of those countries agreed that we should do all we can to institute travel bans on senior members of the regime, to freeze their assets, to stop purchasing Syrian hydrocarbon products, to cease infrastructure investment, cease financial services transactions with Syria, reduce diplomatic ties, and consider closing embassies. Those were the recommendations of that group.
We see the EU today as you noted, Brad, immediately follow up with its own tightening of sanctions, in particular, it’s called for a cut-off of cargo flights to and from Syria, it’s designated seven senior regime officials, and it’s restricted the purchases of diamonds and heavy metals, which fuel the regime’s coffers. So there’s the sanctions track to increase the pressure on the regime.
In addition, we have created this multinational, humanitarian initiative under the UN’s auspices. This will be consolidated under the UN’s leadership. The emergency relief coordinator of the United Nations will have overall support and coordination of the individual donations from nations. As you know, the Secretary announced an additional $10 million from the United States going to buy things like food supplies, water, blankets, hygiene kits, heaters, winter clothing. So the UN will manage this effort, they will do so by creating these humanitarian operational hubs in the neighboring countries surrounding Syria. They will also be aided in this work by a group formed by the Friends of the Syrian People, which is called the Syrian Humanitarian Forum, primarily made up of the EU and the Arab League, which will assist the UN in thinking through both how to get humanitarian aid in, and in evaluating the needs, et cetera.
The third track of the Friends of the Syrian People is to continue to work with the opposition both outside and inside Syria, to help them articulate their vision of how the peaceful, democratic, unified transition should go forward. As you probably noted, the Syrian National Council was well-represented at the Friends of a Syrian People, and the conference recognized them as a legitimate representative of the Syrians, while also noting that we work with the groups inside.
The president of the Syrian National Council made a very strong statement to the conference, particularly underscoring that their vision of Syria’s future is a state which operates under the rule of law and which provides equal opportunity and human rights protections for all of its citizens, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, or gender – a very important public statement for those Syrians who fear for their future, or those Syrians who are suffering from Assad’s effort to rip the country apart and to divide Syria along ethnic or sectarian lines.
So in answer to your question, primarily we think the best solution here is still a political solution, that it is the violence perpetrated by the regime that is ripping the country to shreds. So we want to see the guns silenced, we want to see the humanitarian aid allowed in. We want to see the peaceful transition begin in a unified way. And we will keep the pressure on, including having countries from around the world now – not simply the Arab League, the EU, and the U.S. – but countries now also in Asia, Latin America, et cetera, increasing the sanctions pressure on Assad.
QUESTION: Just picking up on your last point, you want to see the guns stopped, you want to see the violence stop immediately. I assume that is the number one goal at this point. How do these things do that, because it hasn't happened today, it didn't happen yesterday, it hasn't happened any of the days over the last several months. How do these three things that – you have a punitive element with the pressure, you have a humanitarian element, and you have a diplomatic element with the opposition – how – do any of those do anything to stop the violence immediately?
MS. NULAND: Well, fundamentally, we have to increase the pressure on the regime until it silences its guns. So in addition to all of these measures, as you heard the Secretary say in her public comments both in Tunis and in Morocco and in some of the interviews that she gave over the weekend, we are also reaching out to Russia, to China, to countries that are continuing to protect the Assad regime and encouraging them, even if they don’t agree with us on all of the steps for Syria’s transition, to nonetheless use the influence that they have to convince him to silence his guns, to allow the humanitarian in. Even if it’s only for a few days, a day, we have got to help the people of Syria, we’ve got to provide a way forward. So first and foremost, to ask and appeal to Russia, China, Iran, other countries that may be able to prevail on him to allow the humanitarian aid in.
But the second point that the Secretary, I think, made very clear both in Tunis and in some of the interviews that she did afterwards, is that we are also appealing to people inside Syria who are continuing to support the regime, who are continuing to aid the regime. She had a very impassioned comment directed at the Syrian military and the directed at the business community that still supports Assad. As she said specifically, the longer you support the regime’s campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honor. This was the Secretary’s comment to the military and to the business community that still supports him. And in contrast, if you refuse to shoot, if you refuse to kill your brothers and sisters or prop up the regime and take part in attacks, your fellow citizens, your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes. So the other point of pressure is to try to appeal to the humanity, to the true patriots and citizens inside Syria to stop supporting the bloodshed.
QUESTION: Toria, now on this very point, there was also a call obviously on the military basically to defect. And when the military defects, that are going to exacerbate violence rather than stem down the violence. So how do you reconcile these two positions?
MS. NULAND: That understand your point, Said. What she was saying –
QUESTION: Let me ask – let me try to clarify it. She called on the Syrian military basically to defect. And when the military defects, whether the military defects with its arms, it defects with its guns and tanks and so on, and that creates the kind of environment where more violence is likely to ensue.
MS. NULAND: She didn’t call on the Syrian military to join the opposition; she called on them to stop killing their own brothers and sisters, to refuse to execute the Assad regime’s orders and refuse to fire on innocents. It is he who is giving the orders. So if they refuse to obey the orders, as we’ve seen in other transitions – you remember that the Egyptian military refused to fire on its own people; the Yemeni opposition also wanted – the Yemeni military refused to fire on its people. So to join its fellows in uniform who refused to execute bloody orders that they may receive from tyrants.
QUESTION: Okay. So this is a call for them to refrain from firing on the public rather than join the opposition.
MS. NULAND: She did not make the second call that you assert.
QUESTION: Okay. And a quick follow-up on –
MS. NULAND: Because as we’ve said fundamentally, we don’t think more violence is the answer.
QUESTION: On the referendum, do you dismiss this as a ploy by the regime to sort of prolong and perpetuate its continued existence at the top of the pyramid in Syria and hierarchical oppression pyramid, or is it – do you dismiss it because it is not enough?
MS. NULAND: Well, we dismiss it as absolutely cynical. It is – essentially what he’s done here is put a piece of paper that he controls to a vote that he controls so that he can try to maintain control. It is – even the referendum that they put forward is ridiculous in the sense that it requires that the state approve any of these patriotic opposition groups. So he’s going to handpick who gets to be in the opposition and who doesn’t. And of course, there’s no way to evaluate whether the vote that happened represented anything like a referendum even on the ridiculous proposal that he put forward when the guns and the tanks and the artillery are now – are still firing into Homs and Hama and cities all over the country. So how could you possibly have any kind of a democratic process in conditions like that?
QUESTION: And finally, Hamas announced its total support to the revolution on the opposition. Is that a good or a bad thing?
MS. NULAND: Obviously, the more the support – the more that groups peel away from the Assad regime and supporting it, the better. That said, there have been concerns that some of these extremists will try to exploit the violence for their own purposes. That is not what we want to see. We want to see a peaceful, democratic, Syrian-owned transition process here that represents the views of all Syrians – Sunni, Alawi, Druze, Kurds, Christians, women, all the minority groups.
QUESTION: Madam, can you confirm that if still Russian and Chinese arms are still flowing to the Assad regime in Syria? And also, unless – until they stops, then military will automatically stop fighting their own people?
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. I didn’t understand your last point, Goyal.
QUESTION: That unless, until – if the arms supply from Russia and China stops then, I’m sure the Syrian military will stop fighting their own people.
MS. NULAND: Well, as the Secretary made clear, he is fighting his own people. He is firing on militant – on innocents, using this massive military machine that he has built up over the years with Russian support, with Iranian support. I can’t speak to what is still coming in. We have concerns that neither of those countries nor China has renounced arming of the Assad regime, and continues to support him. So again, this is our point to these regime – to these countries, that if they want to do some good here, even as we may have our disagreements about how a transition may go forward – if they want to do some good here, they can use their influence with Assad to silence his guns. And that has to happen now.
QUESTION: And finally, we are still talking to them. What is the reaction from China with Iran now at this time?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think they’ve – you’ve seen their public statements. I’m not going to speak from – for them.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, the Chinese public statement, in reaction to the Secretary’s comments, was very strong, and essentially said that the U.S. was being super arrogant in trying to dictate how this should play out. What is the – how can you, on the one hand, appeal to them to join your effort to bring the guns to a halt and at the same time call them despicable and call them out publicly the way that the Secretary did in Tunis? How does that work?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we’re joined by the 137 countries who supported the view that the United States has, that the Arab League has, that the EU has about how to end this conflict and move forward, as represented in the UN General Assembly vote a week ago. Add to that the very clear articulation of the way forward by the 60 countries representing the great majority of the world’s nations from all continents at the Friends of the Syrian People Conference just last Friday. So it is China, it is Russia, it is Iran that – they are the outliers in continuing to protect the Assad regime. He is going to go down. It is a matter of time. And as the Secretary has said, they really need to think about what side they want to be on when that happens, and about the positive humanitarian role they could play right now if they were willing to do the right thing.
QUESTION: And secondly, another part of this, and you’ve alluded to it, was the trying to encourage the opposition to get its act together. I’m wondering if, coming out of this meeting, you have any confidence that that’s in fact happening. We have reports today that there’s a splinter group now that’s developed, splitting away from the Syrian National Council, called the Syrian Patriotic Group, accusing the main body of not doing enough. So it seems as though, after all these calls for unity, in fact the opposition is emerging from this less unified than they were going in.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Syrian National Council did make a very strong showing at the Friends of the Syrian People Conference, a very impassioned speech by President Ghalioun, which I would recommend to all of you. I think it’s out there on the web for you to see. One of the – as I said at the beginning, one of the most important aspects of that speech was to make it clear that they want to see a Syria that represents all the groups and colors and histories and traditions in Syria, as compared to Assad, who is ripping the country apart along ethnic and sectarian lines. So that was a very strong statement which all of the countries at the Friends of the Syrian People applauded and which is applauded in the conference statement because it is so important that all of the Syrian opposition groups come together, work together, on a common transition plan.
That said, it is Assad and his violence that’s making it difficult for the groups in different parts of Syria to work together to communicate, to exchange ideas, to gather. As you know, we had hoped to have some opposition folks from inside Syria at the conference. That proved impossible for security reasons. Either they couldn’t physically get out of the country because of Assad’s violence or they were afraid if they came out, they wouldn’t be allowed back in. So he’s doing everything he can to hamper a real, genuine, multi-ethnic dialogue about the way forward. And it is difficult. As you know, some of the folks from inside Syria were represented by video, which was the best that they could do.
So our goal is to continue to work with all of the groups that we’ve worked with, those outside of Syria, those inside of Syria, to help them to come together even in the context of the very extreme and dangerous and violent circumstances that he’s created.
QUESTION: Do you foresee a moment when – I mean, you’ve recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Do you foresee a moment when they will be in a position either inclusive enough or have a broad enough representation of the people who are actually on the ground in Syria that they could be the structure which would be recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think that is up to the Syrian people. And at the moment, the vast majority of those who can speak to us from the Syrian National Council are resident outside of Syria. So we are supportive of their goal of trying to unify the groups. That said, there are very important groups in some of the major cities, some of the cities that are under the heaviest siege right now, and we want to ensure that they get a chance to speak their peace at the right moment about how they want to be represented in the future.
QUESTION: Toria --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. asked any Arab state to provide the Free Syrian Army with arms?
MS. NULAND: As we have said, Michel, our goal is a political solution based along the lines that we’ve talked about.
QUESTION: But Secretary Clinton has agreed last week to provide the opposition with arms.
MS. NULAND: Pardon? I’m not sure what you’re --
QUESTION: In Tunisia, we’ve read, that she supported providing the Free Syrian Army with arms.
MS. NULAND: That’s a false report. I don’t know where you saw that, but that’s not accurate.
MS. NULAND: He is now home. He is working in the NEA bureau under the leadership of Assistant Secretary Feltman, and he is one of the lead players in the Department in working through this strategy both with our partners around the world but also in an interagency context.
QUESTION: Is there any particular structure to this yet? You said he was going to be using social media a lot. Is there anything you can say about that?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, he has – that – none of that has stopped. He’s continuing his Facebook page, his Twitter page, his phone and other contacts with all of the groups and individuals that he was working with in Syria. But he’s just having to do that now from Washington rather than from the field. Yeah.
QUESTION: And one last question, back to China and Russia. Is the Secretary calling her counterparts today, tomorrow, about --
MS. NULAND: We are continuing our diplomacy with China and Russia. Deputy Secretary Burns has spoken to his Russian counterpart. Under Secretary Sherman has spoken to her Chinese counterpart. We’re obviously continuing our messages privately and publicly.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you more comfortable that the Syrian opposition is better defined, let’s say, than its counterpart in Libya a year ago, that they are actually – they have a face, they have an address, and all that stuff?
MS. NULAND: Said, I think I spoke quite extensively to the challenges that they face, both that we had a strong showing by the Syrian National Council at the Tunisia conference, but they face challenges and the opposition inside faces challenges coordinating among themselves because of the violence there.
MS. NULAND: So this is a work in progress. Let’s put it that way. A work in progress.
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. Can I ask why this wording about closing embassies, urging countries to close embassies, was included? When the United States closed its Embassy, it was referred to strictly as a security concern, not as a punitive diplomatic measure against the Assad regime. And you also spoke at length in previous months about the value of having diplomatic representation in Syria, and now we’re hearing from the Tunis meeting that all countries are urged to end that diplomatic representation.
MS. NULAND: Well, the way the Friends of the Syrian People communiqué is crafted, it says, “To reduce diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime and consider whether to close embassies and consulates.”
Brad, this reflects the fact that in some cases, some of the remaining diplomatic missions – and I’m not going to get into the who and the what – are playing a useful role on the ground in terms of being eyes and ears and support for the humanitarian effort, for the effort to coordinate and strengthen the opposition in working on its transition plans. But in many other cases, as you know, embassies have been closed, including from the Arab League countries, as a political statement of concern, of disgust with the situation.
So the communiqué was designed to give different regional organizations and different countries a continuum of choices in how to put the pressure on and not to close missions that might be helpful for the other goals that the Friends of the Syrian People are trying to advance, but where it is appropriate and possible to make a political statement, to do so.
QUESTION: So, for example, the Polish Embassy right now is playing an important role for the United States. You wouldn’t want that to close necessarily today?
MS. NULAND: Correct. They’re playing a very important role, including in trying to help us get to Homs so we can retrieve the remains of our deceased journalist and the others who are imperiled there.
QUESTION: Can we just return to this notion of the continuum of choices and then back to the arms question that Michel raised. While the Secretary didn’t obviously publicly support this, several of the key players did, including the Saudis and the Qataris, and they continue to say that this is a legitimate option that should be considered – arming the opposition.
Is it – do you emerge from this meeting with a sense that each country will set its own national policy on potentially arming the rebels and that that’s okay within the broader Friends of Syria framework?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you can see that there is a continuum of views within the group on the right course here. As we have said, our view is that a political solution and immediate silencing of the guns is the best option. The concern – and the Secretary has talked about this, she talked about it in her press avail in Tunis, she’s also talked about it in some of the interviews – is that we could fuel an increasing spiral of violence here, and that’s not good for the people of Syria and the long-suffering people of Syria.
So we’re obviously consulting with a broad cross-section of countries. We’re taking soundings on what countries think the right answer is. But the Secretary did make the point over the weekend in some of the interviews that she gave that this is one of the most capable, most deadly militaries in the world; and this – the opposition, to the extent that it’s taking up arms in self-defense, is confronting tanks and heavy artillery and a massive machine with essentially guns and much lesser armaments. So there is a question what the right answer is in terms of trying to get to a peaceful democratic transition, which we all – which we all want, and not making it worse and not adding to the bloodshed.
QUESTION: But – and if we – just to wrap this one up, last week you said that there were – you would leave other potential options on the table, nothing ever goes off, but you might have to consider additional measures, which was widely interpreted as leaving the door open to a potential future decision on arming the rebels. Is that door open still?
MS. NULAND: Beyond saying what we’ve been saying all along for a week and a half from this podium, that we don’t take anything off the table, and that if he doesn’t heed the will of his own people and the increasingly loud and strong voice of the international community, that we may have to consider additional measures, I don’t have anything further to give you on that, Andy.
QUESTION: The Secretary focused the importance should be on defections from the circle of the regime more than arming the opposition. Do you have a progress report how many people in the military or the close circle of Assad are leaving him?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to size this for you, Samir, but the Secretary did speak over the last week about the fact that we are seeing an escalating pace of military defections, including of higher-ranking people. We’re also seeing some close allies and supporters moving their money out of the country, moving their family members out of the country – clearly not a vote of support for the Assad regime and its staying power.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: On the embassy --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- there are no plans to close the Syrian Embassy in Washington, are there?
MS. NULAND: There are not.
In the back, please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. There are some U.S. officials also have the concern that right now there is no appropriate successor for Mr. Assad so maybe the ouster of the regime may lead Syria to more chaos. What are your concern, what are your comments about that?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, for many weeks now we have supported the Arab League plan, which has a very specific roadmap for how a unified national conversation about a transition could go forward. That same roadmap was endorsed by the 60 countries at the Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Tunis. It was also endorsed by the 137 countries at the UN General Assembly a week and a half ago. But the first step is that the violence has to end.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: On the U.S.-DPRK talks in Beijing --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- can you confirm media reports that the North Koreans said that they would suspend uranium enrichment activities if the U.S. increases the amount of food aid and also increased grain in the aid package? Do you have anything on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of the conversation that Glyn Davies had with his DPRK counterpart last week beyond echoing what he said at the time, which was that this third round of bilateral talks was substantive, it was constructive, we did make some modest progress on the nuclear issue and on the issue of DPRK-ROK relations, both of which are absolutely vital if the DPRK wants to get back into Six-Party Talks.
As they always do, the North Korean side also raised the nutritional assistance, so we did discuss that. As you know, the United States does not link these issues. There is no deal to be had here. But we did continue to discuss the questions that the U.S. has with regard to need, with regard to how we might monitor nutritional assistance, if we are to go forward with it.
So no decisions have been made either on the Six-Party Talks side or on the nutritional assistance side. As you know, Glyn Davies is on his way back. He’s also had consultations with the South Koreans, with the Chinese, with the Japanese. So he will come back, and we will have a chance to consult with him here before we make any further moves forward.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. NULAND: Thanks. Sorry?
QUESTION: Does the United States believe South and North Korea dialogue should be the – a precondition to the resumption of Six-Party Talks?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve always said that there were two elements to being able to get back to the table. The first was a real demonstrative commitment by the North Koreans to move back into compliance with their international obligations and the second was that they continue a constructive dialogue with South Korea. So both of those are important to us.
QUESTION: One more on North Korea.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The North Koreans are reacting to the U.S.-ROK military exercise very strongly. I mean, it says it’s ready for war. So what’s your reaction to that?
MS. NULAND: Well, this is a regularly scheduled exercise. We traditionally have this kind of rhetoric and bluster at the time of these exercises, so we wouldn’t consider that terribly new.
QUESTION: Just one last one on North Korea. I’m wondering if you’re able to say – I’d like you to say, whether you’re able to say it or not – whether or not the U.S. side has in any way felt that its specific concerns on monitoring and transparency are being honestly addressed.
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the conversations on this subject are also becoming more substantive and more constructive, but we’re not yet at a point of being able to make decisions.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. This past weekend, there was a conference on Jerusalem in Doha, Qatar. Basically the friends of the Palestinians were warning – including Abbas – warning that the Israelis are rapidly changing the physical character of Jerusalem. And then Netanyahu countered back, accusing them of lying. My question to you: Does the United States keep its own independent survey of excavations or of the changing physical appearance of the old city of Jerusalem and the areas surrounding it?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether we keep our own sort of physical count. It would probably be relatively complex and difficult for us to do that. But the subject does always come up in our consultations both with Israelis and with Palestinians, which gives us a chance to compare the impressions that they have and help them to come to a common impression to the extent that we can be – use our good offices in that context.
More broadly though, with regard to the Doha conference, let me just make the point that statements that serve to delegitimize the deep religious links that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all have to Jerusalem are not helpful. They’re not helpful to the process, not helpful from any side.
QUESTION: And did you – I’m sorry – did you raise these concerns with the parties in concern?
MS. NULAND: We have. We have.
Please. Wait. Let me just go to --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, there were comments from a senior official saying that in coming days we might see a resolution – I guess is how it is implied – to the NGO situation there. Was the delay by the court yesterday until April – was that what you were looking for, or is there something even further that you’re – we’re anticipating in coming days?
MS. NULAND: Well, as the Secretary said yesterday in Rabat, we are continuing to evaluate what the court delay means. We’re consulting with the NGOs, we’re consulting with their legal advisors, and more importantly, we’re continuing to work with the Egyptian Government. I think the point that was made over the weekend is that we have been in intense discussions with all parties in Egypt about how we can resolve this, and we are very concerned and want to see it resolved in coming days.
Let me just add to that that Assistant Secretary Feltman is, even as we speak, speaking to Egyptian Ambassador Shoukry, asked him to come in, and I would expect that we’ll have something further to say about that meeting after it concludes.
QUESTION: So this continued optimism then, I mean, it continues? Or was this just a – yesterday’s event, was that just a step in this long process towards an eventual resolution that you hope for?
MS. NULAND: Again, you used the O word. We didn’t. We are continuing to work hard to try to resolve this as soon as we can, because it is --
MS. NULAND: -- and we are concerned. We are concerned that this issue is not yet settled.
QUESTION: How would you like to see this resolved? I mean, what would be the outcome that you want?
MS. NULAND: We want to see the travel ban lifted. We want to see our people able to leave the country. We want to see the situation with NGOs, whether they’re American, international, or Egyptian, normalized and legalized. And we want to get back to the business of a democratic transition in Egypt that we can all support.
QUESTION: So you want them to continue to work, but you also want them to get the legal documents, whatever allows them to work?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, this whole situation is created by the fact that it is a very murky, unclear environment for the NGOs to operate in. As the Secretary said a number of times over the weekend, these NGOs were invited to Egypt to support the electoral process. They themselves helped serve to validate the fact that it has been a free and fair and transparent process, which was an important international validation for the Egyptian authorities. So this is part and parcel of why this is so incoherent and difficult.
Anything else? Oh, my goodness. I was hoping I’d get away. Andy.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on your favorite subject, Keystone.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The – I know the White House has put out a statement about the – TransCanda’s intent now to build the lower portion of the pipeline, which doesn’t fall under the State ambit, but also to reapply for the full presidential permitting authority for the cross-border portion. My question is: Have you received any indication from TransCanada that they are going to apply? And do you have – can you give us any sense of what a reasonable timeframe would be for such an application to be considered? Would we go back to square one on the whole thing, or has the work that’s been done on portions of Keystone to date mean that any new application might go through more quickly?
MS. NULAND: Well, first just to underscore your first point that the White House did just put out a statement welcoming the fact that TransCanada is going to go forward with the piece of the pipeline that goes from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico, this part doesn’t fall under any process that the State Department’s involved in because it doesn’t cross an international border. We have now received a letter here at the Department from TransCanada advising us that it does intend to apply for a new presidential permit for the piece of pipeline that would cross the border. So when we receive that application, we will obviously begin processing it.
Andy, as we’ve said a number of times, we will make use of the work that we have already done, to the degree that it is applicable to the new application, so that that work would not have to be done again, things that we did to evaluate the environmental impact of parts of the pipeline that might not change, et cetera. But we’re obviously going to have to evaluate a new application based on what’s in it, and do the necessary work on pieces that are new, but also do a full consultation as we’ve had to do with the states involved again and with the eight agencies of the U.S. Government that have to weigh in.
So the hope is that it could be more expeditious because we can make use of the work that we’ve already done, but we still have to do this right and we still have to provide – allow an opportunity for input from all of the folks who we are mandated to allow to have an opinion. So we will await the application and see what we can do.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, the ban on travel, I guess, for mission employees, is that still in place? And how long do you foresee that going on? And I believe the Embassy last night pushed out some kind of a warning message to Americans. How much further of an impact is this weekend’s events happening – having on the Embassy’s operations?
MS. NULAND: Well, due to the security situation, our chief – all of the U.S. personnel who are under the Ambassador’s authority, including those who were engaging with Afghan ministries, are subject to travel restrictions. So the needs of the work are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis based on security. So this notion of a lockdown is inaccurate, but we are being cautious and looking at things on a case-by-case basis due to security, and we’ll continue to evaluate the security posture and adjust it as necessary to protect the security of our staff.
It’s no surprise, it’s no – to anybody, that it’s been a difficult weekend in Afghanistan, including for our military families and the families of the U.S. service members who were killed and wounded. And let me just say, on behalf of the Secretary and on behalf of this Department, that our hearts go out to them and we give our condolences to everyone affected by the ongoing violence. But at this point, we are very focused on working with President Karzai, with his government, with our Afghan partners to try to calm the situation. President Karzai himself and other Afghans have been very active in calling for calm. This is a relationship that is very important to both of us, and we need to stay committed to it and not let the enemies of a peaceful, stable, increasingly democratic Afghanistan get the upper hand in this situation.
QUESTION: Depending on (inaudible), does that mean that any talk about withdrawal during 2013 is out of the question now?
MS. NULAND: The President, everyone in this government remains committed to the Lisbon timetable, which speaks of completing the transition to Afghan lead by the end of 2014. We’ll obviously be working with our NATO partners in the context of – and with the Afghans in the context of the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago on how fast we can move to Afghan lead in the period between now and then. But there’s no change on our timelines.
QUESTION: Toria, your comment about the enemies of a peaceful, stable Afghanistan, is that who you believe is behind this violence, that it’s a group of extremists that are exploiting this furor, and it’s not just popular resentment?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think there are a number of things going on here. There was obviously reaction with regard to the Qu'ran incident, the very regrettable incident for which our President has apologized. But we also had the assassination of two Americans inside of the Afghan ministry. So that was clearly a calculated move. So the concern is that extremists may be trying to exploit popular feelings to get the upper hand, and that is the situation that, in addition to the situation in general, that all of us have to calm.
QUESTION: But you’re hedging that, you’re saying “maybe,” so you don’t – you’re not willing at this point to say that all these protests, the ones that have turned violent and the violence that has been perpetrated, is part of some insurgent plot to destabilize?
MS. NULAND: No. There were obviously popular feelings that were ignited as a result of the Qu'ran incident. That’s a different thing than some of these targeted killings that we’ve seen. But what’s most important now – and the Afghans and the Afghan Government have really been strong in this regard – is that we all seek calm and we – so that we can move forward.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-on.
MS. NULAND: Goyal, can I just go here?
QUESTION: No, it’s different.
MS. NULAND: Still – okay. On Afghanistan? Yeah.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Thank you. Yeah. In order to avoid all these things in the future, whatever, whoever is behind, what kind of steps that you are taking that these things doesn’t happen in the future? And second, this violence also now has now spread across the border in Pakistan. How diplomatically that your relations are impacting with Afghanistan and Pakistan because of these incidents?
MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the mishandling of religious materials, as you know, the military, General Allen, ISAF, have committed to a complete and full investigation in cooperation with our Afghan partners. They’ve also committed to ensure that we do what’s necessary on the education side with personnel.
With regard to our Pakistan relationship, as you know, the Secretary had an important meeting with Foreign Minister Khar while we were in London. I would refer you to the background briefing that we gave after that meeting in London.
Please. Oh, I’m sorry. You were next.
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry.
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we support the release of these hostages as an important step forward and we note that the FARC has promised to release all of its prisoners before, so obviously we want to see these steps actually implemented. But it is a good thing that they’ve the commitment, and now we need to see it happen.
Okay? Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)
DPB # 38