Daily Press Briefing - May 11, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Presidential Elections
    • NDI Election Monitors
    • Haqqani Network / FTO Designations / On-Going Counterterrorism Dialogue with Pakistani Government
    • Opening of Supply Routes / Continued Dialogue
    • Invitations / NATO-Israeli Cooperation
    • Secretary Clinton's Conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
  • CUBA
    • Alan Gross
    • Deputy Secretary Burns's Meetings
    • Damascus Bombing / Climate of Violence
    • Chen Guangcheng
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 11, 2012


12:55 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Friday, everybody. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Did you all – well, I presume you did, but I want to know – have any reaction to the comments that were made by the Egyptian presidential candidates in their debate? Do you --

MS. NULAND: Yeah, I think we’re not going to comment on their internal debate. I think it’s a good and healthy thing that they’re having a debate.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any concerns that they both called Israel an enemy, or one of them called Israel an enemy and the other one said it was something close to that, and that they both talked about looking into the – reviewing the peace treaty with Israel? That doesn’t cause you any kind of an alarm?

MS. NULAND: We’re not going to get into the back and forth of what’s happening in a campaign. People say things in a campaign and then when they get elected they actually have to govern. We’ve made absolutely clear where we are on these elections. We want to see free, fair, transparent elections, then we want to see whomever is elected represent the best interests of all Egyptians, the human rights, democracy, constitutional rights of all Egyptians. And we – as we have said to all of the candidates that we’ve spoken with, we believe that it is in the best interest of Egypt to maintain its existing arrangements and regional responsibilities with neighbors.

So those are the points that we’re making, but we’re not going to get in the middle of this campaign.

QUESTION: So you think this is just campaign talk?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to characterize it beyond what I’ve just said.

QUESTION: But do you think the debate fits the standards that we’ve seen in other democracies?

MS. NULAND: Well, we don’t usually comment on internal political debates and whether they meet standards. It’s notable that Egypt is able to have a presidential election, is able to have presidential debates, so let’s take it from there. But we’ve made no secret of our hope and expectation, that whomever is elected, that the Egyptian political system going forward with honor existing obligations and have peaceful relations with its neighbors.

QUESTION: You said that you’d had – you’ve been in touch, or at least people – presumably the Embassy has been in touch with the candidates. Have they specifically been told that if they abrogate the treaty that they lose billions of dollars in U.S. funding?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the precise conversations that, as you – that our Embassy personnel, our ambassador, have had. But they’ve been absolutely clear about where we stand on these fundamental issues.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: Still the same topic?

MS. NULAND: Still on the same topic, Samir? No? Something else?

QUESTION: Elections in Algeria.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Let’s do this. Let’s do Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow-up. Yeah, just to follow very quickly on Matt’s point. A couple weeks ago, actually, Amr Moussa – and I think I asked this, but let’s see if we can get some more information on the topic – he made a difference between the peace treaty with Israel and the Camp David Accords, and he called the Camp David Accords dead and buried. And he stuck by that, it seems, throughout the whole rhetorical debate, whatever. And then I saw the debate; it was quite impressive. They handled a lot of issues.

So you don’t have a position on this? I mean, did you correct him? Did you tell him that they are one and the same?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to, from this podium, get into debates with candidates in these elections. We are going to work with whomever is freely and fairly elected, and our hopes and expectations have been very clear to all candidates.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But considering that you are – you basically husbanded this whole process, the Camp David, do you see any difference between the peace treaty or the Camp David Accords? Do you see any difference between the two?

MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this before, Said. I’m not going to go back into it.


QUESTION: The ruling party in Algeria won the majority of the seats in parliament. Did you have a chance to observe or to review how fair this election was?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we put out a statement a little bit ago answering the question you asked yesterday. We did have – we did support a team of observers sent by NDI to be part of the Algerian election monitors. As you know, NDI observed and reported both on the pre-election period and they’re reporting on the conduct of the elections. To my knowledge, we don’t yet have any publicized findings with regard to it, but our sense is that things went forward calmly, et cetera. But I think we’ll wait for their final report.

Thanks. Please.

QUESTION: On the Afghanistan – on the Haqqani Network, the congressional intelligence committees apparently have sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking for the Haqqani Network to be designated FTO. And I know you, about six months ago or five months ago, were talking about being in the final stages of that review. Can you update us on where things stand and if the Secretary – what weight the Secretary will give to this letter from the lawmakers?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, welcome back to you, too.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: I see you got a haircut on your day off. We were all a little shaggy by the time we were done with that trip. (Laughter.)

On the Haqqani Network, we have received the letter from the Congress and we are reviewing it. We continue to talk to the Congress about these issues and we continue our internal review of the larger question of the network as a whole. Let me just underscore again, though, that we have made designations of many of the key leaders of the Haqqani Network, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was designated by the Department in 2008. He’s a key leader. Key members Badruddin Haqqani, Sangeen Zadran, Mali Khan were all designated in 2011. And Treasury designated five others significant members whose names I can give you afterwards most recently.

When we designate these individuals, as you know, it allows us to freeze any U.S.-based assets and to pursue civil and criminal penalties against U.S. individuals who conduct any transactions with them. As you know, as we continue our review, we consider it absolutely essential to designate individuals, because that allows us to pursue the assets of individuals rather than have to sort of try to divine who might be covered by a blanket designation. So one could argue that in terms of the effectiveness and freezing operating capital of the network, individual designations are also a very essential part of this, which we’ve pursued aggressively.

QUESTION: Given that you’ve – the position you’ve just outlined on the usefulness of individual designations, are we to understand then that the group designation is sort of on the back burner now, that – I mean, you’re getting what you – you’re doing what you need to do through these individual actions, so you don’t necessarily need to designate the group?

MS. NULAND: No, I don’t think it’s a walk or chew gum situation. As we’ve said, we are continuing to review the question of the larger group thing. Let me just also add one more point, which is that in addition to U.S. national individual designations, we’ve also worked with the international community, and the majority of those individuals that I cited have also been added to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1988 list of sanctioned individuals.

QUESTION: I don’t understand why the review is taking – it’s been over a year since you’ve been starting to review, and presumably even before that, because there have been – it’s just been the last year that we’ve been talking about it. But this group has been responsible for attacks involving American casualties for some time. And so why is it taking so long, or is it based on the fact that the Haqqani Network would be part of a political solution at the end of the day and you don’t want that to hurt your chances of any type of political solution with groups in the country?

MS. NULAND: Again just to underscore, most of the key leaders here have --

QUESTION: I understand. But blanketing --

MS. NULAND: Can I finish my point? Have already been designated. Whether it’s the right way to go to designate the whole group, whether that’s going to increase our ability to get to their money, to get to their ability to operate, is something that we’re continuing to review and we’re going to take the time that we need to do that. And we’ll discuss it with the Congress as we go through, as we have been all the way through.



QUESTION: Wait a minute. Staying on that for just one second --


QUESTION: Is one of the – you’re saying that the efficient – or the effectiveness of a group designation is not yet – you haven’t – no one has made a decision that it is – that it would be effective to designate the group, as opposed to the individuals. Not yet. That’s part of the review. Is one of the – first of all, is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Just to say that when you go from individual designations to a group designation, one of the factors to be considered and one of the factors we are considering is: Would this increase the effectiveness? Will it be additive --


MS. NULAND: -- or does it just make one feel good and not necessarily add to our ability to control?

QUESTION: Well then, why couldn’t one make the case then for, say, al-Qaida? I mean, presumably like the Haqqani Network, al-Qaida doesn’t have a bank account that says “Al-Qaida Holdings” that you can go after and freeze someplace. Why not just do individuals for all of the FTOs and not have a group designation if --

MS. NULAND: Well, every --

QUESTION: Or is it because the Haqqani Network and its particular amorphous configuration is somehow different than groups like the FARC or the IRA or --

MS. NULAND: Well again, without getting into the details of the review that we’re conducting that we’re taking our appropriate amount of time to conduct, each of these groups is different: Each of them operates differently; each of them within the group, the different members play different roles. With regard to al-Qaida, a decision was made on a group designation based on the absolute implacable standard of all members of the group.

So I’m not going to prejudge where we’re going to go on the Haqqani Network, just to say that we’re taking time because there are a variety of factors here. But make no mistake; a huge number of the kingpins have already been designated, not only by us, but also by the UN.

QUESTION: But the group itself – I’m sorry, but the group itself has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks that have included Americans.

MS. NULAND: Again, Elise, we’re going to continue to review this based on what’s most effective to dry up their money and dry up their ability to operate.


QUESTION: Yes. Can we go to a different topic?

QUESTION: One more.

MS. NULAND: On this? Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Madam, these individuals you named and many others are doing business in the name of Haqqani Network, itself under the name of organization. And funding is also in different names, including individuals and also including under the organization. And number two, have you informed or are you getting any support or help or cooperation from the Government of Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: On what subject, Goyal?

QUESTION: On this Haqqani Network and --

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we’ve been talking to the Pakistani Government about the Haqqani Network for arguably years. This was a key subject when the Secretary was there in October, November, and we’re continuing to work on it together.

QUESTION: Are you getting any cooperation – full cooperation now after Usama’s death, because in the past you’ve been going on for the last 10 years? But now question is: Are they with you now or not?

MS. NULAND: This is not a black and white picture, as you know. We have been talking to the Government of Pakistan about our counterterrorism cooperation. This is part and parcel of the dialogue we’re having about how we can do more together, and we’ll continue to have it.

QUESTION: In this connection, may I have one more please on a different --

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: As far as number two, the al-Zawahiri is concerned, there is a major campaign going on in Karachi for the last 10 days and what they call the Pakistanis a bloody campaign, and nobody knows what’s happening there. Some people think and believe that this may be they are looking for al-Zawahiri, the number two. Do you know where he is now, or are the Pakistanis are telling you where the number two is?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Secretary spoke to this a little bit when she was in Delhi. I don’t have anything to add to what she said there, and certainly I’m not going to get into intelligence issues.


QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up on Pakistan.


QUESTION: NATO Secretary General Rasmussen today in a speech was talking about opening land routes, and it was suggested that he hoped that Pakistan would be able to see its way clear the open the land routes into Afghanistan in time for the NATO summit, and that somehow an invitation potentially could be connected to whether or not they open these routes. Can you give us an update on where this stands, and is it your view that they would be more likely to get invited if they were to open the land routes?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that when Ambassador Grossman was in Pakistan – what was it, some 10 days ago – he had substantive conversations himself with regard to the opening of the land routes. And then he brought with him an expert team to work with the Pakistani expert team. That team is still in Pakistan. They’re continuing to work together on this issue.

And I think Secretary General Rasmussen spoke pretty clearly with regard to where NATO is on this set of issues. He did say that – he did remind that the supply routes are blocked and that we are continuing our dialogue and we are looking for a solution. So I don’t think I can improve on that from here.

QUESTION: On the rest of his announcements today, the invitations have been sent to all these countries, and surprise, surprise, no Israel there. Is it – his reasoning was that Israel doesn’t participate in either ISAF or KFOR peacekeeping missions and that’s why they’re not coming. Now, without getting into the – resurrecting the debate from several weeks ago --

MS. NULAND: Then let’s resurrect it anyway. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no. No. I just want to know – so is participation in peacekeeping missions, NATO or other – or NATO peacekeeping missions, is that a requirement to get – to attend, to participate in these summits?

MS. NULAND: No. Let me just explain it again. He explained it yesterday. Assistant Secretary Gordon also testified on the Hill and worked through how we’re basing our invitations to the summit.

First of all, let me just start with: We strongly value Israel as a NATO partner. We’re going to continue to ensure that NATO-Israeli cooperation stays strong, stays robust. Israel, as you know, participates in one of the regional formats, and does not participate in any NATO operations. It participates in the Mediterranean Dialogue. Whenever you have a NATO summit, given all of the partnership formats that NATO has, you can’t, at leaders level, do all of them. It would be a six-day affair. So for every summit, the alliance as a whole makes decisions on, in addition to meeting at 28, what other formats it’s going to have. So for this summit, as Rasmussen made clear, we’re not planning to have a Mediterranean Dialogue meeting, which is the forum – the multilateral group forum, as opposed to Israel-NATO that Israel participates in. We are planning on having a meeting in ISAF format, which is with the participants in the Afghanistan mission and the countries that support that. So that brings in Afghanistan, its neighbors, all of the countries like the UAE, et cetera, that participate in ISAF.

There is going to be a second special meeting, NATO plus countries we’re calling the Chicago partners, and these are a group of 13 countries – Rasmussen spoke to this yesterday – who are some of NATO’s most active partners in terms of working in operations. I have a list of them, if you’d like. They’ve – it’s not necessarily KFOR; it is any of a number of operations that NATO runs. The 13 are Australia, Austria, Finland, Georgia, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Qatar, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UAE. Each of those countries has participated robustly in at least one operation, and many of them have participated in two or more. So that was the criteria – criterion used for these 13 Chicago partners. This is a new format.

And so, as I said, we continue our strong NATO plus Israel cooperation. We continue our Mediterranean Dialogue cooperation. But it was never intended to invite Israel to this summit.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me remind you, my question was: Is it a requirement to participate in NATO peacekeeping operations to participate in the summit?

MS. NULAND: No. This summit --

QUESTION: But this one, yes.

MS. NULAND: This – as I said, again, each summit is distinct.


MS. NULAND: Some summits include --

QUESTION: So this one, it is a requirement.

MS. NULAND: In this one, if – you have to either be in ISAF or you have to be in this Chicago partnership dialogue – I mean Chicago partnership group, or you have to be an aspirant for NATO membership. There’ll also be a meeting with those countries who aspire to be NATO members. None of those is Israel a member of.

QUESTION: But – so in other words, yes, you either have to have participated in a NATO peacekeeping mission but a non-member participant in a – contributor or you want to join the alliance?

MS. NULAND: Those are the --

QUESTION: Those are the criteria for this summit.

MS. NULAND: For this particular summit.


MS. NULAND: Those are the special meetings with partners that this summit will have.

QUESTION: Just off hand, are you aware of Israel ever having participated in any peacekeeping operation – international, NATO, otherwise?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that one way or the other. I don’t think so, but I would refer you to Israel.

Yeah. Okay. Please.

QUESTION: Can we go to a different topic?


QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Could you tell us if Secretary Clinton, during her conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, brought up the topic of the (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: I can’t hear you, Said. Brought up what?

QUESTION: Was there a conversation between Secretary Clinton and the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu?

MS. NULAND: Yes, they spoke on the phone a couple days ago.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And – a couple days ago. And did she bring up the topic of the Palestinian President Abbas letter, whether he’s going to respond to it or not?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, in the phone call, she congratulated him on the unity government. They talked about the importance of continuing to work together and the opportunity, we would hope, that the unity government would present to make progress in trying to get the two parties, Israelis and Palestinians, back to the table. They talked about some details of where we are in that, but I’m not going to go beyond what I’ve just said.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary’s feeling that now that Israel has a strong government, it could grow further, it does not have to get small parties? Is that good for the peace process?

MS. NULAND: As I said, I think they discussed together the opportunity that this unity government might offer to strengthen our combined effort to get the parties back to the table.

QUESTION: Okay. And one – a couple more. On the Palestinian prisoner issue, I wonder if you are aware of the situation of striking – hunger striking Palestinian prisoners?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that, Said.

QUESTION: Well, do you have a position on the hunger strike of prisoners who have not been charged with anything and they have been held for a long time? They’ve gone today – their 70th day of a hunger strike. Thaer Halahla and many others, five others, are probably – are likely to – they could face – I mean, they could die in the next day or so. Would the United States Government take a position on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me take the question, Said, because frankly, I don’t have anything one way or the other. I don’t know if we have a comment on it.

QUESTION: Because, lastly, I mean, it – if something happens to these prisoners, it could be a flashpoint between Israelis and the Palestinians.

MS. NULAND: No, I understand the question. Let me take it, okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.



QUESTION: Yesterday, a Cuban official gave an interview to CNN. Josefina Vidal is her name. She said that they’ve conveyed some kind of offer to the U.S. Government on the release of Alan Gross. Is there any possibility at all of negotiation on that front?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think if you go back to an interview that Secretary Clinton gave to CNN earlier in the week from New Delhi, she was very clear on this subject. There is no equivalence between these situations. On the one hand, you have convicted spies in the United States, and on the other hand, you have an assistance worker who should never have been locked up in the first place. So we are not contemplating any release of the Cuban Five, and we are not contemplating any trade. The continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross is deplorable, it is wrong, and it’s an affront to human decency. And the Cuban Government needs to do the right thing.

QUESTION: So – okay.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So you are confirming that this offer was related to the Cuban Five, because she didn’t confirm it in the --

MS. NULAND: The Cuban Government has regularly tried to link these things, and we regularly reject the linkage.

QUESTION: Well – but I mean, why is it okay – I mean, and several officials have discussed that in those discussions with the Taliban on trading five Taliban prisoners, and Bowe Bergdahl was involved, possibly involved in the trade – why is it okay to talk about trading with the Taliban but not with the Cubans for a U.S. person that’s been in jail and is in poor health?

MS. NULAND: There’s no equivalency in these situations, and the Cuban Government knows that. This is a matter of a sitting government having locked up a human – an assistance worker on no basis whatsoever. And one ought to be able to work with an established government to deal with an American citizen in an appropriate manner, and we have so far failed to do that with this government.

QUESTION: All right. But you say that he did not break Cuban law?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to what – one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MS. NULAND: I mean, our view is he did nothing wrong.

QUESTION: Well, then why is it – well --

MS. NULAND: He did nothing wrong, and we don’t – we think that his --

QUESTION: His activities – the Cubans say that his activities violated Cuban law. Now whether you agree or disagree with what the Cuban law says, that’s an entirely different story.


QUESTION: However, he – what he was doing, they say, broke their law. Now --

MS. NULAND: Well, we categorically reject --

QUESTION: That – alas – so why is this – okay, but you categorically reject that he broke their law?

MS. NULAND: We categorically reject the charges against him, and the fact that he’s been locked up.

QUESTION: Okay. But you said this is an affront to human decency.

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why? Because he’s sick? Because – why is it an affront to human decency?

MS. NULAND: Because they locked him up with no cause. They are refusing even basic humanitarian consideration for him. Let me just give you one comparison that we do consider of note in this case.

Even with the Cuban Five, all right, we had one of them, Rene Gonzalez, who had served 15 years for spying. He was on parole in the United States. He asked to be able to go back to Cuba to visit a sick relative. We granted him the ability to go back to Cuba. He did that and he came back. That was a humanitarian gesture; again, a completely different situation. But the Cuban Government can’t even grant that kind of humanity in a totally (inaudible) situation to begin with, so hence the language.

QUESTION: On that --


QUESTION: -- yesterday, the Cuban officials said that he can’t travel to the United States to see his mother because he’s at the start of his sentence. What do you say to that?

MS. NULAND: Look, we just reject the whole business, any equivalency and any sort of position by the Cuban Government that this is anything but completely unjust.

Okay? Anything else? Please, Samir.

QUESTION: Deputy Burns’s meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco this afternoon – can you tell us anything about the purpose of this meeting?

MS. NULAND: Why don’t I get you something after the meeting? As you know, we are strongly supporting the reform effort in Morocco, trying to support their efforts to get U.S. investment, other economic kick-starting going there, but let me get you something after the meeting.

QUESTION: Can you – do you have anything on Deputy Secretary Burns’s --

MS. NULAND: There are also Security Council members, of course.

QUESTION: -- meeting with the Russian ambassador?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t think he’s had it yet, right? But I would assume that this follows up on the notification that President Putin will not come to the G-8 meeting, but he does want to meet with the President at the Cabo G-20 – whenever it is, the follow-on two weeks later, so to arrange that meeting, I would guess.


QUESTION: Any information on the person – the perpetrator or perpetrators on the Damascus bombing from a couple days ago? We were talking about it yesterday, that it might have been a third party trying to sow chaos or anything like that, or – and you had said that it didn’t look like the work of the opposition, that it might have been Assad as well. It’s kind of up in the air. I’m just wondering if there’s any new information.

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that I put the responsibility at the government’s feet. I think I said that it could be the responsibility of spoilers. You will see that there have been now claims of responsibility in Syria. Just to reiterate what we said, we still put the onus on the Assad regime for creating a climate of peace and stability rather than a climate of violence, which is allowing all kinds of nefarious actors to sow discord in Syria.

QUESTION: Do you concur with the Secretary of Defense, who said that it has the fingerprints of al-Qaida?

MS. NULAND: Again, he’s got the access to that kind of information. I can’t go beyond what he said.

QUESTION: But certainly, he shares with you, though, doesn’t he?

MS. NULAND: Again, if he’s made a public comment about that, I hadn’t seen it.

QUESTION: Do you think that it has the fingerprints of al-Qaida from all that you’ve seen?

MS. NULAND: I think I’m not going to go further than the Sec Def did.


QUESTION: Any new information on contacts with the Chinese over Mr. Chen?

MS. NULAND: Well, Andy, I think you know that our contacts continue. We are in constant contact both with Mr. Chen, with Chinese authorities. He’s in contact with his own government. But I don’t have anything new to report today.

Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

DPB # 87