Daily Press Briefing - April 25, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- World Press Freedom Day / Eritrean Journalist Dawit Isaak
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- Palestinian Authority Restriction of Information Access / Settlements
- P-5+1 Process / Sanctions
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- NORTH KOREA
- U.S. Working Closely with China / Encourage North Korea to Change Course
- Talks / Sanctions
- Ambassador Hale's Travel
- Ambassador Grossman's Travel
- Ambassador Grossman's Visit / Parliamentary Review
- Nuclear Missile Launch / Urge All Nuclear-Capable States to Exercise Restraint
- Travel of Congressman Rohrabacher
- Incident Involving Embassy Personnel / Appropriate Steps Taken
- Force Realignment / Ongoing Consultations
- Dialogue with NGOs
1:06 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. In keeping with our Free the Press campaign heading up to May 3rd, our journalist of the day is from Eritrea. And he is Dawit Isaak, who’s an independent Eritrean journalist. He co-owned the first Eritrean independent newspaper, which often reported on alleged abuses of regime power. He was arrested in 2001 without any formal charges or a trial, and he has since been held incommunicado by the Government of Eritrea. And we take this opportunity to call on the government to release him immediately. And you can learn more about him at our website humanrights.gov.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: I don’t have anything that’s significant enough to begin with, so --
MS. NULAND: Excellent.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with the Free the Press campaign.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you aware that the Palestinian Authority blocked something like eight websites that are critical of Mahmoud Abbas? And if you are, do you have a comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I do have something on this. We have seen these reports, and we are concerned about any uses of technology that would restrict access to information. We are raising these concerns with the Palestinian Authority. You know that we’ve had these concerns in other parts of the world, and we wouldn’t want to see the PA going in the direction that some of those regimes have gone in. You know how strongly we advocate freedom of expression, freedom of information. So we will raise these things and endeavor to figure out what’s going on.
QUESTION: Are any of these news agencies and websites U.S.-financed?
MS. NULAND: Said, we started to do a little investigation of that. None of them is funded by the State Department programs under MEPI. I don’t have a full picture of the USAID programs yet. As soon as we do, we’ll get something back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a related – slightly related question. In an interview with CNN yesterday, President – Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he supported the idea of a contiguous Palestinian state – which commentators said seemed to be a new line from him – that it wouldn’t look like Swiss cheese under any future arrangement. Is that – do you see that as progress? Is that something that is – marks a step forward?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that our goal remains a comprehensive peace that creates and allows for a secure Israel and a prosperous and contiguous Palestinian state. But as we’ve always said, we can’t do this through press announcements. We can only do this when the parties sit down together and do the negotiating they have to do.
QUESTION: But I guess my question is: Is Netanyahu’s statement a – does this mark a new – an advance in Israel’s position toward this goal that you’re referring to, contiguous state being now --
MS. NULAND: Well, we ourselves have always called for a contiguous state, so that’s a good thing. But what’s most important is that these parties really roll up their sleeves and work together.
QUESTION: On a somewhat related note, the head of the Israeli military, Lieutenant General Gantz, made some remarks about Iran, saying that he considers the Iranians to be – the Iranian leadership to be rational, and hinting that pressure can work in terms of making them refrain from a bomb. What is your – do you have a reaction to his remarks, an assessment?
MS. NULAND: I don’t, Shaun. I really don’t. I mean, you know where we are. We are working on this approach of pressure and talks in the hope that we can make progress on this. But I think it’s really only Iranian behavior that’s going to tell the true story of what their intentions are.
QUESTION: Also on Iran? There’s the report that apparently, according to the Iranian ambassador to Russia, that the country is now thinking about giving up its nuclear program in order to avoid the looming EU sanctions. Does the U.S know about this? What can you say about it? If this is indeed true, is this a positive development?
MS. NULAND: Well, frankly, these issues have to be negotiated at the table that we have now created and restarted with the P-5+1 process. So the ambassador of Iran to Russia is not a central player in those, and frankly, what’s most important is what Iran says and does at the negotiating table.
QUESTION: But the fact that he is indicating that they are seriously looking at the long-term impact – we believe – ostensibly – on the Iranian economy, is that perhaps a leverage point for the P-5+1 process?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we consider it new that the sanctions are biting on the Iranian economy, and that it is a direct result of the international pressure that we’ve been able to bring to bear – more sanctions than we’ve ever been able to muster against Iran – that has brought them back to the negotiating table. But now, what’s most important is that they actually roll up their sleeves and work with us and come clean on their program.
QUESTION: Have there been any conversations with the Embassy in Moscow to see if indeed this was directly communicated, perhaps, to the Russian Government to actually see whether this is just speculation in the press or there might be some sort of signal coming out of this?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think you’re taking this far more seriously than we are. What matters to us is what happens in the room.
QUESTION: If I can go back to Andy’s question for a second?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you see – does the prime minister’s statement present you with an opportunity to drive the point home about settlement and outposts and so on, the fact that he acknowledged the need for a contiguous contiguity for a possible Palestinian state?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think there’s any lack of emphasis on our part with regard to how we feel about settlements. I mentioned yesterday that we had been in to talk to the Israelis about this latest move, just to confirm that our Ambassador Shapiro did speak to Israeli negotiator Molho on this issue. So I don’t think there’s any lack of attention to that matter.
QUESTION: Yeah. But up to this point, there has been either a dismissal on the part of the Israelis or they just flat out snub your call to stop the settlements and so on. Now the prime minister himself has spoke of the need for contiguity. Don’t you think that this is a good opportunity to sort of emphatically make the point once more?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve been emphatically making the point all week long, but thanks, Said.
QUESTION: What was the Israeli response when Shapiro went in to --
MS. NULAND: The Israelis have made their views known on this publicly as well as privately. I don’t think that what they said to us privately differed all that much from what they’ve said privately. But I’ll let them speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Which is that?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to let them speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Well, what’s your – I want to get – find out what your – is your understanding that they have legalized these outposts?
MS. NULAND: I am not going to get into what happened in the room with them. I’m going to let them characterize their own views. But they’ve been pretty clear publicly --
QUESTION: Well, forget about that. What’s your understanding? I don’t know what they’ve said. I’m asking you: What have they said? What is your understanding of what their position is?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to them on their position.
QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Yeah, yeah. I am.
Go ahead. Please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: No. I need to stay with the Palestinian for a second.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Right. You can ask the Israelis about their own views.
QUESTION: Yeah. This has to do with a determination that was in today’s Federal Register signed by Bill Burns, who I believe is a U.S. official, right?
It says – and I’m not going to read the whole thing, but it says: “I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of the enactment of that act -- ” which refers to the appropriations bill – “obtained in the UN or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member-states or full membership as a state outside of an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians and waive the provisions of Section 1003 of the Anti-Terrorism Act,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Basically what this means is that the Palestinians can still have a waiver to have an office here. Now, I’ve got a couple of questions about this. One, I’m not aware – and maybe I’m wrong, but I am not aware that the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2012 has actually been enacted yet.
So one, is that correct? And two, how is possible that you’re waiving this if they got membership in UNESCO in November?
MS. NULAND: Well, I haven’t seen this citation that you’re reading from, so why don’t I take it from you and why don’t we endeavor to come back to you with answers on both of those.
QUESTION: A question on North Korea.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: The Chinese vice foreign minister today appeared to make a veiled warning to North Korea not to carry out this supposed or possible nuclear test. I was curious if you had seen or had a reaction to those comments from the Chinese vice foreign minister, and if there’s – what the thinking is, if China is doing enough with their leverage with North Korea to put off a possible nuclear test.
MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said all through this period, we have been working closely with the Chinese, encouraging them to use all of the political and other kinds of leverage that they have with the DPRK to encourage it to change course. So obviously, public statements of this kind are most welcome. And we look forward to consulting with the Chinese on what more they think can and should be done when we go to – when the Secretary and Secretary Geithner are in Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue next week.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: A question to Iran again. They – Iran reported that there was a cyber attack on its oil industry last week. The implications were that the West was behind it, although the United States weren’t named specifically. Have you any idea what might be behind those attacks, who might be, or can you even confirm that these attacks occurred?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information on that one way or the other. I refer you to the Iranians.
QUESTION: Former negotiator Larijani said today that this is a really good time for the negotiations to go on between Iran and the West. Do you feel that this is really a propitious time for Iran to go forward with --
MS. NULAND: Well, I think it’s going to be a matter of what these talks produce. So we are obviously committed to working hard. As we said at the time, we believe the first meeting in Istanbul was worth having. We’re going to have another meeting in Baghdad. But I think we’re now getting down to concrete proposals. If there are real steps, we’ll be prepared to respond, but we need to now see some real steps.
QUESTION: So your feeling is that the meeting on May 23rd in Baghdad will be far more substantive than the meeting in Istanbul, which basically set the date of the meeting?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve sort of set the table at Istanbul. Now we need to start seeing what the meal’s going to look like.
QUESTION: And when you say concrete proposal, do you expect Iran to submit like a – to open up its facilities and to submit to whatever it needs from the West to aid it in a civilian program?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know all of the issues of concern to us with regard to Iran’s program. They’re clearly outlined in the repeated IAEA reports. So we had a chance to have that opening meeting of this round of talks and to talk about all the issues that we care about, and now we have to do some more technical exchanges between now and Baghdad, and then we have to see whether at the Baghdad round we can really get down to what the Iranians are prepared to do and what steps we might be willing to take to respond if the steps are real.
QUESTION: And finally, is the feeling in this town that the sanctions are so biting that Iran is beginning to approach these talks seriously?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’ve said that we believe that the sanctions are biting, as I said at the top of the briefing. We think that that has led to their decision to come back to the table, and we hope that it’ll continue to contribute to working through this issue diplomatically, because that’s obviously the best way to get this done.
QUESTION: Did you have an update on David Hale?
MS. NULAND: I did, especially after I mangled it yesterday.
QUESTION: Oh. Was he not in Saudi?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. He actually went to Saudi last night. He had a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister bin Abdullah today in Riyadh. He then went on to Cairo this evening. In Cairo, he’s going to meet with Egyptian officials. But he’s also going to meet with Qatari Prime Minister Al Thani, who is also going to be in Cairo at the same time.
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: And then he is coming back to Washington on the weekend.
QUESTION: So he’s not going to Qatar, he’s --
MS. NULAND: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: And wasn’t there another one that he was going to – wasn’t he going to go to the UAE or something like that? Maybe --
MS. NULAND: Net on this trip: He will have been in Jerusalem, Jericho, Amman, Riyadh – I think he was in Kuwait at the front end, I can’t remember – Saudi, et cetera.
QUESTION: All right. And so he decided that it’s not worth his while, it’s not worth his time to go back to Israel and the PA after Cairo?
MS. NULAND: I think he – that he wants to come home and report and consult here before he makes another trip. That’s the current planning.
QUESTION: When he is in Cairo, isn’t he going to bring up the gas issue between Egypt and Israel?
MS. NULAND: The which issue?
QUESTION: The gas.
QUESTION: Natural gas.
MS. NULAND: I’m sure that’ll be one of the subjects that he discusses, yes.
QUESTION: Any message he will bring to Cairo in this regard?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ll let him have his consultations in Cairo and we see what we want to read out on those.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on Ambassador Grossman’s travel to Copenhagen, Ankara, and Abu Dhabi?
MS. NULAND: I do have some info on Ambassador Grossman’s travels.
First, on his European stops, as you know, he was primarily focused on support for the Afghan National Security Forces in line with the Chicago summit agenda that the Secretary laid out when she was in Brussels last week. He also was yesterday in Turkey for the same purposes, in Ankara. Today, he is in Abu Dhabi, and he – there was also a meeting of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan in the UAE.
And he is going on tonight to Islamabad, where he will be having bilateral conversations, and he will also be taking part in a core group meeting – this is Afghanistan, U.S., and Pakistan – that’ll be attended for the Pakistanis by Foreign Secretary Jilani, and by the Afghans by Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin.
QUESTION: So when he visits Islamabad and meets the foreign ministers, is he carrying any message from Secretary Clinton on --
MS. NULAND: When he goes to Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Well, this is, as you know, in the context of the parliament concluding its review. We have begun our process of reengaging with the Pakistani Government to work through the issues that have come up during the review. So this will be an effort to really take up those issues one at a time and to see how we work through them.
QUESTION: So has Pakistan formally informed you about the parliamentary review or the conditions that they have announced publicly?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we mentioned a week ago that the Secretary had spoken to Foreign Minister Khar, so she gave some views on this, and it was agreed at that time that Ambassador Grossman would make a trip to Pakistan to deepen and broaden the conversation that we’ve been having. I think you know that we had also had Deputy Secretary Nides in Pakistan, I think it was two weeks ago. And we had USAID Administrator Shah there, we had Generals Allen and Dempsey there. So you can see us working hard now with the Pakistanis to work through the issues.
QUESTION: And this is a day-long trip?
MS. NULAND: He will be there – he’s arriving this evening. I think he will be there through Friday is my understanding, because the core group meeting is on Friday.
QUESTION: And he’s also going to Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: He’s not going to Afghanistan on this trip.
QUESTION: He’s going back to D.C.?
MS. NULAND: Correct, yeah.
QUESTION: As part of the deepening of the relationship, did Pakistan inform the U.S. that it was going to conduct this missile test in the last 24 hours?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know what kind of advanced information we have – we had. I assume we had some, because I do know that they did have contact with the Indian Government before they proceeded with this.
QUESTION: Any reaction to that, to the missile test, to this – obviously it comes after the Indian test.
MS. NULAND: Well, we – obviously, the same message that we gave at the time of the Indian test, that we urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear and missile capabilities. We understand that this was a planned launch. The Pakistanis have said it wasn’t a direct response to the Indian test. But what’s most important is that they do seem to have taken steps to inform the Indians, and we, as you know, are quite intent on those two countries continuing to work together and improve their dialogue.
QUESTION: Sorry, just on Grossman’s meetings with the Pakistanis, not the core group --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: So Ambassador Grossman is prepared to discuss everything that’s on the list of Pakistani concerns?
MS. NULAND: I think he’s open to working through the results of the parliamentary review with the Pakistani Government. I don’t want to prejudge or preempt how those conversations will go or what agenda the Pakistani side will bring, but as we said, we had been waiting for that review to be concluded before we could fully reengage. So this is our opportunity to do that.
QUESTION: But do you see the results of that review as something that can be negotiated, or is it something that you’re just going to accept flat out or --
MS. NULAND: I think we want to hear the Pakistani Government’s presentation of where it thinks the bilateral relationship needs to go, and then we will present our views and work through the issues, as partners do. That’s the expectation, so --
QUESTION: So it is something that you see as a negotiation process?
MS. NULAND: This is a conversation. This is a bilateral consultation about how we can improve our relationship along all of the lines that have been difficult. So I don’t want to prejudge what he’s going to hear or where we’re going to go in response. But as you know, we had said that we really needed them to complete their internal work and then come back to us, give us a sense of what they think this ought to lead to, and then we can talk. So that’s – this is the talk.
QUESTION: Does he have the authority to – or the authorization to discuss things like drone strikes, which are very high on the Pakistanis’ list? Well, I mean, at the top of the Pakistanis’ list.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you can imagine that (a) I’m not going to get into intelligence issues and how we talk about them or don’t talk about them; and I’m certainly not going to get into the precise instructions of our fully empowered special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
QUESTION: So he is? He can negotiate with the Pakistanis on this and any other issue?
MS. NULAND: I am not using the “n” word and I’m not going to get into his instructions.
QUESTION: Just briefly on that?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you when the last time he was in Pakistan, when his last visit was to Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: I do not have that. I will take it for you.
QUESTION: In the same region, Afghanistan. Congressman Rohrabacher has been giving interviews talking about his co-del he was on where he did not end up going to Afghanistan. He said he had a conversation with the Secretary, who, basically, what he is saying is told her it would be best if he did not go to Afghanistan. I was curious if you had any comment on that situation and whether the Secretary might have had any conversations with President Karzai about letting Congressman Rohrabacher come to Afghanistan as part of that co-del.
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think we can improve on what Congressman Rohrabacher himself has said, so why don’t we just leave it there.
QUESTION: Any reason why we would support President Karzai’s wishes over a U.S. congressman going on this trip?
MS. NULAND: I think you know whenever any American travels, including members of Congress, members of the Executive Branch, traditionally there’s a visa process engaged there. In this case, sometimes when they fly in, it’s sort of handled more administratively. We were advised, as Congressman Rohrabacher made clear, that the sovereign government didn’t think this visit was timely. So it was in that context that he made his decision after our advice.
QUESTION: I have a question on South America --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- for what Americans might consider the ongoing soap opera involving the Secret Service, except this doesn’t involve the Secret Service. We’re talking about three U.S. Marines who apparently have been punished as well as an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia who apparently were implicated in tossing a prostitute out of a moving car sometime last year. And I wanted to find out, since we know that the Marines have been punished, who was the employee of the Embassy? Was this person an American? Was this person a local hire? What can you say about a pending lawsuit now, apparently, against the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, your report of the incident in question is not accurate in terms of what actually happened. Second, this is something that happened back in December. There was a State Department employee involved. The – we did cooperate fully with the appropriate Brazilian authorities, including with the civil police. None of the Americans involved in the incident are still in Brazil. The civil police, as I understand it, are still working on their case, and no charges have been brought by the Brazilian authorities.
QUESTION: When you say that none of the people involved are still in Brazil, does that imply that the Embassy employee is an American?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: And does that person still work for the U.S. Government?
MS. NULAND: I do not have the answer to that. I believe so. But as you know, we don’t talk about our personnel for privacy reasons.
QUESTION: What is the policy? Much has been made about the Secret Service reviewing its standards of behavior for its employees when they’re detailed overseas. What is the standard for the State Department and its employees and how they’re expected to behave, conform to local laws overseas?
MS. NULAND: We have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of conduct of the kind that was of – that involves prostitution or anything of that nature. I can give you the Foreign Affairs Manual regulations, if that’s helpful to you.
MS. NULAND: Not only for the reasons of morality and local law, but also because any kind of conduct of that kind exposes our employees to blackmail and other things.
QUESTION: Even though that a country like Colombia may have legalized activity in this (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Just a couple things on that. What about the description that you were read of the incident isn’t correct?
MS. NULAND: Well, Ros talked about somebody being thrown out of a car and this kind of thing. That is not what happened in this case.
QUESTION: What did happen?
QUESTION: Because that’s the description that the Secretary of Defense offered to reporters who were traveling with him. So --
MS. NULAND: Our information is that after four Embassy personnel left the club, the – a woman involved in this incident attempted to open a car door and get into a closed and moving vehicle. She was not able to do so. She fell and she injured herself. All of the Embassy personnel involved in this incident were interviewed by the Brazilian civil police. We have also conducted our own investigation into the incident, and we’ve taken all the appropriate steps regarding the individuals involved consistent with our laws and our regulations.
QUESTION: Did these – did any of these – in particular, the Embassy employee, did they violate any rule?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, they haven’t been charged by Brazilian authorities.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean any of the FAM rules.
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the precise adjudication of the case for reasons of privacy with regard to our employee.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you said that none of the people are still in the country.
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: But someone can be moved without being punished. I mean, you could be transferred just simply because this person – for another reason. So do you know if there was any – was there any reprimand or punishment handed out, and was there any reason to? Did they – did these people do anything wrong?
MS. NULAND: Again, my information is that we conducted our own investigation of this issue, and we took the appropriate steps. What I’m not at liberty to get into is what steps those might have been, given the privacy issues involving the employee. And that’s our policy that we don’t talk about disciplinary steps taken with employees.
QUESTION: Well, the Secret Service didn’t either until just recently.
MS. NULAND: I understand that.
QUESTION: Well, that’s why it’s important to know whether they actually did something wrong or they were just transferred or moved to – or demoted or whatever. I mean, maybe – I mean, the description that you just read, it sounds like it could be perfectly plausible that these people didn’t do anything wrong at all. So that’s --
MS. NULAND: And it may well be. I just don’t have information with regard to the case beyond what I’ve just given you.
QUESTION: Well, I would suggest that the Department might want to come clean on this, considering the interest in the – in that. The other thing is that in the FAM, it talks about – it said “notorious behavior” or something like that. But it only talks about that being a problem if it were to become publicly known.
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I think I should get it for you.
QUESTION: So I’m not sure I – okay. But I’m not – I’m curious as to – you say it’s a zero-tolerance policy, but it’s not clear to me that it is, in fact, zero tolerance if the only way it gets you into trouble is if other people find out about it.
MS. NULAND: But the problem – but this is the problem. This is why you have to have a zero-tolerance policy, because at any given time, if you open yourself up to such behavior, it could become known. And you can’t, as somebody engaged in behavior of that kind, predict when that might happen. And so you’re immediately vulnerable, and so is the U.S. Government. So that’s why we have the regulations that we have.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we --
QUESTION: Is there a lawsuit pending against the U.S. Government?
MS. NULAND: As I said, we have – I have information to indicate that there have been no charges filed by the – in Brazil.
QUESTION: FAM stands for foreign manual?
QUESTION: Wait, wait. I just want to make sure that you understand that – what I’m trying to get. I want – basically, I want to know if the people involved in this violated that FAM regulation.
MS. NULAND: I understand that, and I – my expectation is that we are not going to talk about an individual personnel case from the podium.
QUESTION: I’m just curious as to what FAM stands for.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. Foreign Affairs Manual, which are our published rules and regulations for ourselves. But anybody who’s interested in those, we’ll get them for you. I did have them a couple of days ago. I don’t have them here.
QUESTION: On Japan?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: There are reports that a U.S.-Japan joint announcement on the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan scheduled on Wednesday, today, has been delayed because there are some senators have been criticizing it. I am curious if it’s really a reason – if you – do you think you can make an announcement before Japan’s prime minister visit to D.C. at this – at the end of this April?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me say that we have made progress in these negotiations. As you know, and as members of Congress have made clear, we have obligations to consult and to brief. And there are implications, including budgetary implications, that the Congress has to be happy with. So we are having those consultations. I’m not prepared to predict right now when we’ll go public with where we are, but everybody has their internal procedures, and we’re working through those now.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I wonder if you’re aware, but the head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, cancelled his trip to Washington. Are you aware of that, or do you have a comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I am. I frankly don’t have any back story. He’s a pretty busy guy, so maybe he had things to --
QUESTION: Okay. So it was not done at the suggestion, let’s say, of Washington?
MS. NULAND: No, not at all. Not at all. Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you find yourself in a position where the options towards Syria are actually – they range from bad to worse?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary talked about this quite a bit yesterday. She made clear that we’re at a crossroads, and we’re at a very difficult crossroads as these monitors are starting to come in, are trying to do their job. In some cases, they are able to provide space and bear witness to what is going on, but in other cases, either they’ve had difficulty getting where they need to go, they’ve had difficulty in getting agreement with regard to the makeup of the personnel, and they have – as we talked about yesterday, we’ve had at least one incident where they went into a town, they were able to interview people, and then there were reprisals afterwards, which is just deplorable.
QUESTION: To follow up on my question that I raised a couple days ago on the number of monitors: Are you comfortable that 300 will be able to do their jobs, considering that there are so many flashpoints and there are so many places and villages and hamlets that they need to be at?
MS. NULAND: Well, frankly, we’re – right now we’re at 12, so let us get this scaled up and let us see what a mission of 300 that’s truly able to operate freely, truly able to do what it thinks is necessary in terms of interviewing people, in terms of gathering information, moving around, and then we’ll go from there. But at the moment, we’re at 12, and that’s not enough.
QUESTION: Okay. Going back to the Balkans experience, I mean, we – they had, like, thousands of monitors to be able to do the job. Do you see a point in time where this actually needs to be done?
MS. NULAND: Said, I think we have to take this one step at a time. We’ve seen what just a handful have been able to do in the towns where they’ve been – they’ve shown up. We’ve had outpourings of Syrian civilians thanking them, able to express themselves, so let’s see what we can do with 300. The most important thing now is to get them in and get them deployed and get them deployed freely.
QUESTION: The French foreign minister, Mr. Juppe, suggested today that even if we let the full complement of monitors try to do its work in Syria, that it may well be time for the world to start looking at some sort of military intervention. Is he jumping the gun? Pardon the pun.
MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary made clear again yesterday, as she had in Paris, that even as we do our best to get these monitors in and doing their job, we also have to look at increased pressure in case this Annan plan doesn’t succeed. With regard to external military forces, our position on that has not changed, Ros.
QUESTION: Was the Secretary intending to meet with Burhan Ghalioun?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’d gotten that far in the planning of his schedule. She has met with him, I think, three times now. She – and most recently when we were in Istanbul some three weeks ago. So I think one of the issues was whether he was going to be here when she was here, but yeah.
QUESTION: A U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh from Illinois has written a letter to Secretary Clinton on reviewing a U.S. decision of 2005 not to issue a visa to the Gujarat chief minister in India, Narendra Modi. Is Secretary Clinton responding to the letter? And are you reviewing the U.S. position on that issue?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen the letter. I think you know that our position on the visa issue hasn’t changed at all, so I would guess that if we do respond, it’ll be along familiar lines.
I’m getting the high sign here because we have --
QUESTION: One more, on Burma.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Nine NGOs have – in a statement, have expressed concern on Secretary’s decision to ease sanctions on Burma. They are saying this is not going to be fruitful as far as Burma is concerned. How do you address their concerns?
MS. NULAND: If you’re referring – you’re referring to the letter from the American NGOs, right?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, as you know, we are not at the step with Burma yet that the NGOs are concerned about. We do have a very strong, vibrant dialogue with our own NGOs, with Burmese NGOs, as we develop this action for action policy, and we’ll continue to do that.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)
DPB # 75