Daily Press Briefing - May 15, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement
    • Secretary Clinton to host Global Town Hall with Civil Society Representatives Tomorrow
    • NATO Summit Invite / GLOC Discussions Continuing
    • Human Rights
    • Elections
    • Escalating Violence / UN Monitors
    • Arab League Conference / Engagement with SNC and other Opposition Movements
    • Next Friends of Syrian People Meeting
    • Access for Journalists
    • Sanctions
    • Anyeli Hernandez Case / Hague Convention
    • Chen Guangcheng
    • Ambassador Carlos Pascual Misquote
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 15, 2012


12:39 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. I’ve got a couple things at the top, then we’ll go to what’s on your minds. First to advise that we are pleased to note the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement enters into force today. This agreement’s going to provide duty-free treatment for more than 80 percent of U.S. exports and consumer and industrial products and expanded bilateral trade and promote economic growth between our countries.

And then the second thing is just to call your attention that tomorrow Secretary Clinton is going to host a Global Town Hall with Civil Society here at the Department at about 10 o’clock. Tomorrow’s Global Town Hall is going to bring together civil society representatives from 40 countries, senior leaders from the State Department, online participants at embassy viewing parties around the world, and representatives from governments that have approached us about opening their own dialogues with civil society. So tune in for that.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: NATO announced today that Pakistan is being invited to the summit in Chicago, and I’m just wondering what this means in terms of whether there’s a resolution yet on reopening the transit line.

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said yesterday, we are continuing our discussions with the Pakistanis. Our technical team is still there. We are making progress. We have not yet completed an agreement. We do consider the agreement important, but we also consider and all of our NATO partners considered it important to have Pakistan in the ISAF and neighbors event at the summit in Chicago. So the invitation has, in fact, been issued.

QUESTION: But do you want them there even if they’re being incredibly unhelpful and actually hindering the mission rather than helping it with the supply line closure?

MS. NULAND: Well, as Secretary General Rasmussen said when he was here, as a neighbor of Afghanistan, Pakistan does have an important role to play in supporting Afghan security. We do want to see these land routes opened. We are continuing to work on it. But we thought it was important to have them at the summit in this partnership role.

QUESTION: Fine. Well, China is a neighbor of Pakistan, too. Are they getting invited?

MS. NULAND: Well, they don’t provide the kind of --

QUESTION: Well, neither does Pakistan.

MS. NULAND: Again, we are continuing to work on this, and we’ve decided to --

QUESTION: Isn’t that a reasonable expectation that you will have a deal done if they have gotten the invitation? Don’t you have some kind of a guarantee or a promise or a pledge from them?

MS. NULAND: As I said, Matt, we are making progress, and we will continue to work on this throughout the week. Obviously, it’ll be a wonderful signal if we can get it done by the time of the summit, but we decided nonetheless – NATO countries altogether decided that it was important to have Pakistan in the ISAF meeting.

QUESTION: Was that determination that it was important to have them there – is that a new determination? I mean, presumably the calculus has been that they should be – that their importance has not – is not new. So why the timing on this decision now, and why didn’t you invite them a month ago?

MS. NULAND: Well, I can refer you to NATO on the precise timing. But as I said, we are making progress in these conversations. We are not finished yet, but we are making some good progress. And we are going to continue to work on it all the way through the week and as long as it takes.


QUESTION: But madam, just to follow up --


QUESTION: -- have you seen comments from foreign secretary of Pakistan, Foreign Minister of Pakistan Ms. Madam Khar that she made publicly, that – or suggested that routes should be opened? I mean, the kind of comments she made publicly, that means Pakistan has already decided or something must have been already decided in both sides. Have they – have she informed you or she talked to somebody here?

MS. NULAND: Well, we did talk about this yesterday here, Goyal. We do welcome the comments that she made. I think they’re part and parcel of the progress that we’re making in our conversation together, but it’s not finished till it’s finished.

QUESTION: I mean, just to ask you one more quickly, two major – three major problems were there, actually. Let me just repeat – I know you said yesterday same thing: one, that U.S. should or NATO should stop drone attacks immediately; and second, some kind of apology; and third, major problem is also from both sides that what will you do about the Haqqani Network and other terrorists which are being in this – in that country and supported by the Pakistanis.

MS. NULAND: Was there a question there, Goyal?

QUESTION: I mean, are they part of the talks or you stuck on these issues or --

MS. NULAND: Well, all the issues that you’ve mentioned have been discussed in the context of the larger reengagement conversation that we’re having with Pakistan in the wake of their parliamentary review. An additional issue in those conversations is the technical discussion about opening the GLOCs. So these are all part of the same big umbrella, but the GLOC conversation is being handled now at the technical level as we try to work through the issues.

QUESTION: May I have one more if you don’t mind, please?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: A different issue, but related to Pakistan. There are major problems going on as far as human rights issues are concerned in Pakistan, as far as minorities are concerned, like Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs. Basically, major problem there because recent case by the Supreme Court, there are Hindu girls or Sikhs are being – girls are being forced, kidnapped, and they marry them by force. And then case goes to Supreme Court and Supreme Court doesn’t take any actions. These are the recent case there. So they’re asking that U.S. should intervene as far as human rights and forced marriages are concerned against minorities in Pakistan.

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we’re never shy about talking to the Government of Pakistan, speaking publicly when we have human rights concerns. I think you also know that it is coming soon upon the season when our annual human rights reports are issued. So I would expect that, as we always do, we’ll have something to say this year on the issues that you raise.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. NULAND: Said. Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Today, the Syrians announced the results of the legislative election. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, you think – I think you know where we’ve been on elections in the current environment in Syria. We consider it pretty ridiculous to try to have voting in the middle of the kind of violence and lack of harmony and unity that we see in Syria right now. So we don’t put a lot of stock in these elections.

QUESTION: As far as the figures that they are announcing, like 51 percent of the electorate voting and so on, you have no comment on that?

MS. NULAND: We’re not – we don’t consider anything that happened in this environment in Syria free, fair, transparent, et cetera, or representative of the will of the people. So I’m not going to comment on their characterization of it.

QUESTION: And do you think that the fact that 30 women were elected to the legislative council is a good thing in that part of the world where women are actually – women’s representation is regressing almost everywhere else?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to endorse the process as a whole. So obviously, whatever results came from it, they came in the context of an illegitimate process and illegitimate timing.

QUESTION: And do you have any assessment of the volatility of the situation in the last couple days?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, as we’ve said again and again, we are deeply concerned about the escalating violence on the ground, the country’s deepening sectarianism, the regime’s failure to allow the political transition that the Annan plan calls for, its failure to live up to any of the six points. And the fact that not only is the regime still firing on its own people, not only has it not pulled back its heavy weapons, but this has created a climate where violence by other spoilers in increasingly common.

So we are concerned, and we now have some – I think it’s about 200-plus UN monitors. Our understanding is where the monitors are able to be present, we see violence stop, we see peaceful demonstrations begin again, we see people able to gather and talk about a transition. But whenever monitors have to leave, the violence resumes. So we remain concerned that we continue to have a regime that has not lived up to its commitments.

QUESTION: And lastly, are you aware that there is almost a vertical split within the Syrian opposition – the internal opposition and the external opposition? There was a conference that was supposed to be held under the auspices of the Arab League yesterday and today. It was canceled because there’s been a splintering of efforts with some going to Istanbul, others going elsewhere, to gather. Do you have any connections with any of these groups, and are you coordinating, sort of, rejoining efforts among the opposition groups?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I don’t think we would characterize what happened with the conference the way you would at all, Said. Our understanding is that at the request of some of the opposition groups, the Arab League conference has been postponed, not canceled. As you know, the SNC has just gone through its own elections. It’s reappointed Mr. Ghalioun as its president.

We, as you know, are in touch with not only all kinds of figures in the SNC, but figures in opposition movements both inside and outside of Syria, including these local revolutionary committees. We are continuing to encourage and to do what we can to facilitate dialogue among them, including among some of the groups that are operating separately, like the Kurds, et cetera, so that we can have – if not an umbrella movement, we can have an umbrella platform for the period when we can get to a political transition, and particularly a platform that respects the human rights, the dignity, the democratic opportunity of all groups in Syria, whether they are Alawi, Shia, Druze, Christian, minority women, or any other group.

QUESTION: Do you regard Dr. Ghalioun as sort of the first among equals when it comes to speaking for the Syrian opposition? And what recent contacts have you had with him personally?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Secretary has met with him three times in the context of her meetings with the SNC. He’s been at all three of the meetings. We have regular contact with him and with the foreign minister, if you will, (inaudible) of the SNC. Our representative, Fred Hof and Ambassador Ford are in contact with both of them virtually every week, see them whenever they travel.

Again, the SNC is trying to play a coordinator umbrella role, trying to help articulate the desires and interests in a transition of Syrians both inside and outside. And our goal is to help all of these groups work together to make it clear that there is a better way, a better path for Syria.

QUESTION: Are you seeing any progress just on that basic front? Are they getting it together or not?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think when we last saw them, which was at the big conference that was in Istanbul, there was marked progress in the sense that they had met for a whole week beforehand. They issued this umbrella declaration of principles, which was signed on to not only by SNC members, but the Kurd groups and a whole bunch of other groups participating in the process.

I think it’s a continuing challenge, obviously, for folks outside of Syria and inside of Syria to work together, which speaks to our decision to try to provide more nonlethal assistance, including communications assistance, to help revolutionary councils talk to each other, talk to folks outside, and work on a real way forward for that day when the transition – when Assad gets out of the way and the transition can move forward.



MS. NULAND: Please, Syria, in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just – we keep hearing a reference to an uptick in violence by spoilers. I was wondering if you could help us with a little bit more specifics on – who are you referring to? Because you named all of these groups. Are we talking about terrorists? Islamic terrorists? Islamic fundamentalists? Who are the spoilers?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we had over last weekend and last week a number of violent attacks and explosions on the outskirts of Damascus and elsewhere. There have been groups who have claimed responsibility for those. We’ve also seen the SNC and other opposition groups distance themselves from these groups.

So this has been the concern all along: that the longer Assad perpetrated violence himself, allowed and fostered a climate of violence, the more folks who don’t have the best interests of Syrians at heart would exploit that situation, and we’re seeing more of that.


QUESTION: The Secretary in Paris, she said she will host the Friends of Syria meeting this month in Washington. Did you decide on a date for that?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think she made any announcement of a date or a time. She simply said that at an appropriate time we would want to do one here. We haven’t made any decisions.

QUESTION: She said in May.

MS. NULAND: I don’t think she said that in Paris, but let me check on that. But we haven’t made any decisions about an appropriate time.

QUESTION: Are you expecting Mr. Burhan Ghalioun to visit the Washington any time soon?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know that there’s any dates scheduled for a visit here. We’re most interested in seeing the SNC and SNC leaders continue to work on unifying Syrians.

QUESTION: And let me ask you about the role of journalists – American journalists that have apparently entered the country unauthorized and they are reporting from there. What is your position on this? I mean, what if something happens? What kind of contingency plan is there to really help these journalists who have – who go into the country illegally, so to speak, without a visa?

MS. NULAND: Well, first and foremost, the free movement, free access for journalists is one of the six points in Kofi Annan’s plan. So it’s one of the things that Assad has committed to do time and time again; first, in November for the Arab League, then again in January for the Arab League, for Kofi Annan in late February and March, and he still has not done it.

So the degree to which journalists from any country are sneaking in there for cover, unfortunately they are taking this on themselves. We have had a number of American journalists be quite successful in covering this – the story in Syria, but we’ve also had, as you know, some – a couple of tragic incidents. So we continue, in the absence of our Embassy there, to call on Poland, as our protecting power, to help us if and when American citizens get into jeopardy in Syria. And they’ve been, obviously, very helpful.

QUESTION: They’re doing a tremendous job. I mean, we’re all for it. But we’re saying, do you advise them to do it or not to do it?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve got a travel warning for all American citizens with regard to Syria. That applies to journalists as well. But as you know yourself, journalists are often extremely courageous about getting the story.





MS. NULAND: Still Syria?


QUESTION: Yeah. A UN observer’s car was targeted today by an explosion in Idlib. Do you know who was behind it, or do you have any reaction to this action?

MS. NULAND: Well, regrettably, Michel, this is not the first time. And as we said again and again, any targeting of the UN is deplorable by anybody who does it. I don’t, with regard to this incident today, have any more information. I would expect that the UN will be demanding an investigation. Whether that will uncover much, I don’t know. But it’s – the UN observers are there in an unarmed capacity to try to bring about a commitment by the Assad regime and by all actors in Syria to, first and foremost, to cease-fire. So to fire on them is to undo the future for Syrians.


QUESTION: You also talk about, whenever UN observers go somewhere, the violence decreases. But according to two different human rights groups, that actually mass arrests campaign are undergoing even though sometimes the forces stop shelling cities. And basically, most of the monitors right now on the ground, there only may be another hundred. Since the – Assad has not been implementing any of the six points of the Annan plan, as you just also said it, what is your plan going forward? You are just going to wait, the rest of the monitors come, and you are going to daily come down, what’s going on? As Senator McCain said, basically I think you are running out of the adjectives now. Is there anything is going on? Is alternative going forward?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you see that Kofi Annan is doing a report every two weeks to the Security Council, so the last time he reported, we had barely a hundred monitors in. We now have some 250 monitors in. So the question is: Can we, with more numbers, secure more places and allow more space for folks to talk, to dialogue, to have – to plan and think about their future? That is one thing we’ll be looking to hear from him about.

But obviously, at the same time that we continue to push and have high hopes for the Annan plan when the monitors can get in, we are continuing the international pressure. And we’ve just had new senior Syrians designated for sanctions by the EU. The U.S. sanctions continue. The Arab League continues to implement its sanctions. We have our Friends of the Syrian People sanctions monitoring group which is trying to close loopholes. We are seeing that the effect of these sanctions on the economy of Syria has been profound. He’s run through more than half of his reserves. The rial has plummeted. There are lines for gas and other things.

So these are the kinds of pressure points not only on Assad, but also that we want to see affect the thinking of those in the political class who are still supporting him, in the business class who are still supporting him, who have to see that there’s no future for them, for their families, for their country, if they stick with this guy, and those in the military who continue to obey orders to fire. And we are seeing more defections, more folks moving their family, their money, et cetera, out of the country. So it’s a combined effort to get more monitors in, create more space, force transition conversations, that kind of thing, even as we maintain the pressure.

QUESTION: Do you have any plan to boost the numbers of the monitors? Because experts are saying basically 300, even if they all go, it’s just not enough for a country like Syria.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the UN itself start to talk about perhaps needing more. I think we’ve got to get to the authorized number, 300. We’ve got to hear what Kofi has to say. But I don’t think that we would close the door to more if we thought they could be effective, but we haven’t gotten to that stage yet.

You have to forgive me. I have to be upstairs for something. Let’s take one more here.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second.


QUESTION: No, you can’t move the briefing up 15 minutes and then start it 20 minutes late and still run out of here early.

MS. NULAND: I apologize. We had some --

QUESTION: Well, you’re going to have to take more than one question, at least.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Let’s take a couple. Let’s go here and then to you, Matt. Go ahead.

QUESTION: This is a different topic. Do you have any comment on the case of Anyeli Hernandez and – being returned back to Guatemala?

MS. NULAND: I do. This is the case of the Guatemalan child adopted by U.S. parents. Is that the case that you’re talking about?

QUESTION: Right, in Guatemala.


QUESTION: And her mother, her birth mother, is claiming that she was kidnapped. And the Guatemalan court has ordered that she be returned.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously deeply concerned about allegations regarding stolen children and intercountry adoptions wherever these cases come up. Our primary goal in any kind of intercountry adoption is that they be ethical, that they be transparent. That’s why we push so many countries to join the Hague Convention on Adoptions.

That said, we can’t accept cases under the Hague Convention on Abduction if the treaty was not in force at the time of the alleged wrongful removal or retention. So we consider the appropriate venue in the United States for pursuing this case is in the state courts. They’re the competent organ for holding a full hearing on the merits and the best interests of the child.

QUESTION: And you’re not concerned that that might set a precedent if the situation were reversed, if it was an American child and you were dealing with a country that --

MS. NULAND: Well, again, this is why we are participants in the Hague Convention on Abduction and have been.

QUESTION: Was it --

MS. NULAND: Matt – let’s go to what’s on Matt’s mind, and then I got to go.

QUESTION: There have now been more than 10 days since the Secretary left China without Mr. Chen. I expect that his conversations with the Chinese Government are continuing, but I would like to know: one, if you have any information about that; but also, two, has it gotten to the point now where you’re processing visa paperwork for him and his family?

MS. NULAND: Let me start by saying all of the processing on the U.S. side has been completed. We are ready when he and his government are ready. We have been for more than a week now in terms of his visa to come pursue his studies.

He is continuing to work with his government. Our information is that those conversations, contacts, and processing continue. And we’ve been in regular contact with him two or three times a day, every day.

QUESTION: Okay. And just when you say that all the processing is complete, that means that – for who? Him and his wife and his --

MS. NULAND: Him, his wife, and his two children.

QUESTION: So is the second that he gets some kind of travel document from the Chinese, he can get out?

MS. NULAND: We will be prepared to do what we need to do on the U.S. Embassy side as soon as he is ready with the travel papers.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, since you’re so willing to talk about visas and visa processing today, I’d like to ask you about this report about Castro’s – Raul Castro’s daughter getting a visa to come to speak to a – some kind of a health convention in San Francisco.

MS. NULAND: First I’ve heard. I will take that one, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And then I’d like to know what the deal is with Carlos Pascual saying that you’re not impressed with the Indians cutting back on their oil imports from Iran.

MS. NULAND: Thank you for that question. Carlos Pascual, as the Secretary said when she was in Delhi, is in Delhi himself today with his team to talk about the whole complex of energy issues with India, including our work to reduce different countries’ dependence on Iranian oil. Carlos was misquoted by a reporter. What he actually said was, “I am not doing press today,” not “I am not impressed.” “I am not doing press today.” Reuters did fix this, I believe, and issued a retraction. Is it up on your website now, Andy?

QUESTION: I believe so.


QUESTION: I saw the wire version anyway.

MS. NULAND: It was a mess-up. He is not planning to speak about his consultations until they’re completed. They go on till 3:00 tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, be that – however --

QUESTION: Quick one on Iran?

QUESTION: However that may be, are you impressed with what the Indians have done, or are you unimpressed with what the Indians have done? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: As the Secretary said when she was there, we are making progress, there’s more progress to be made. And that’s what Carlos is talking about, and we’ll have more on his consultations after they’re complete.

I’m sorry. Come get – catch us after the briefing, and we’ll do what we can.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

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