Daily Press Briefing - May 17, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Technical Discussions Continuing
- DEA Incident
- Raul Castro's Daughter Visit and Visa Issuance
- Havana Club Supreme Court Case
- NATO Supply Lines
- Islamabad Embassy Threats
- Israeli Aircraft Over Northern Cyprus Reports
- Economic Sanctions
- Human Rights and Democracy
- Chen Health and Visa Status
- Economic Assistance
- Bogota Bombing
- Defense Minister Barak Meetings
- Hale Travel to the Region
- Ambassador Shapiro Comments on Iran
- G8 and NATO Discussions
- NGO Participation in Presidential Elections
- Regime Violence Against UN Monitors and Students
Daily Press Briefing
1:02 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. I apologize again for being late today. Let’s go right to what’s on your minds.
MS. NULAND: On the GLOCs?
MS. NULAND: No. We are continuing to have discussions.
MS. NULAND: We are where we were yesterday.
QUESTION: So you can’t report any progress between yesterday and today?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the teams took a pause today and that they resume tomorrow.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Just find my things here. So as you know, we support counter-narcotics interdiction not only in Honduras but throughout the Central American area. We do this through our program SICA, the Central American Integration System. So under the program that we use, we obviously strictly adhere to U.S. law. In this particular operation on May 11th, the U.S. DEA was involved only in a supporting role. We did not use force. No U.S. personnel fired any weapons. We were involved purely supporting and advising. The units that we support are comprised primarily of host country – in this case, Honduran – law enforcement officers. They were trained, they were vetted, as part of this program we work on together.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean that they advised them to open fire on a canoe carrying civilians with a pregnant woman and --
MS. NULAND: Well, I highly --
QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand – you say they’re in an advice and support role. So what did they advise and support? Did they --
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I --
QUESTION: Did they tell – did they say, hey, this looks like a good target; shoot it?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, as I understand it, the Honduran authorities are taking – are doing a broad investigation of this incident to evaluate what exactly happened and how it happened. So I think we need to let that go forward.
With regard to the precise actions in an advisory role that the U.S. folks played, I can’t speak to that. I’m going to send you DEA for more on that, but --
QUESTION: Okay, but they were --
MS. NULAND: But my – but the point I wanted to make here is that our guys don’t fire in these operations. They didn’t in this one. With regard to the preplanning of the particular operation, I’m going to send you to the agency that was in the lead.
QUESTION: Okay. There were State Department personnel or equipment involved? Yes or no?
MS. NULAND: State Department personnel involved in this particular --
QUESTION: No, I understand that State Department helicopters that are down – or some kind of – some type of State Department aircraft are in Honduras, and I don’t know; I’m asking if they were at all involved in this.
MS. NULAND: We do have two helicopters supporting the Honduran National Police Tactical Response teams. The helicopters are titled to the State Department as part of our narcotics and law enforcement program, our INL program. They were piloted – they’re piloted by Central Americans. In this case, my understanding is that they were piloted by the Guatemalan military and some contract pilots who are temporarily deployed to Honduras. So again, this is part and parcel of a program that we do bilaterally with each country, but that is also regionally constructed across Central America.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Let me just – let me get this straight then. So these – the helicopter or helicopters that were involved in this incident are actually owned by the State Department?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: But they were being flown by Guatemalans?
MS. NULAND: Correct. And contract pilots.
QUESTION: With – and with DEA agents and Honduran police as passengers?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to who the passengers were. Again, I’m going to send you to DEA.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Jill.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to visa issuance, but I would refer you to some of the public comments that she herself has made.
QUESTION: On Pakistan?
QUESTION: Hold on. No, no, no. Yeah, on this. So now that she’s spoken about it, you’re still not going to say whether you granted her a visa? We’ll just have to assume that when she shows up in San Francisco and starts speaking that she didn’t come in illegally?
MS. NULAND: I think that’ll be a fair assumption to make.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so then you basically just confirmed that she has gotten a visa.
MS. NULAND: Again, she’s spoken about her travel plans.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, there are members of Congress who are quite irate about this, and they say that they’re outraged and appalled that the Secretary would allow not just Ms. Castro – or – I don’t remember her full name – not just her but also this Cuban Communist Party architect who’s in New York currently and another Cuban who is at least tangentially related to the government, that these people that the Secretary would approve are allowed visas for these people to be approved. Can you talk at all about what is the process you go through in determining whether someone meets the criteria that’s in the law that says that you can deny visas to members of the Cuban Communist Party, government employees, that kind of thing?
MS. NULAND: Well, first let me say that we operate in all cases in issuing visas under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, under the laws of the United States. There is no blanket restriction on the issuing of visas to Cuban citizens. In all cases, visas are issued for legitimate travel purposes in the United States, including coming for conferences, courses of study, et cetera. I can’t speak to either of these specific cases except to say that anybody who is visaed into the United States is visaed in accordance with U.S. law.
QUESTION: Okay. One of the other points that the people on the Hill – that lawmakers are making is that it’s a travesty – I think it’s their words – that these visas would be approved while Alan Gross is still incarcerated.
MS. NULAND: Again, we visa people under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the law of the land. We don’t link visa policy in cases like this to our larger political and economic and human rights relationship with countries. It is based in U.S. law.
QUESTION: Can I ask why not? I mean, if you want to make a point to the Cubans about this one particular case, wouldn’t it make sense to say until our guy, who has been – who you say has been – done nothing wrong and has been unjustly imprisoned --
MS. NULAND: Again, these are --
QUESTION: -- that until he is released that we’re not going to grant any visas? I mean, why not do that?
MS. NULAND: Again, U.S. visas are issued on – under laws that are passed by the U.S. Congress.
QUESTION: I understand, but the law doesn’t say --
MS. NULAND: So it is again --
QUESTION: -- that you have to grant the visa.
MS. NULAND: It is again within the purview of the Congress if it wants to change the laws under which we operate.
QUESTION: But is it not within the purview of the State Department to deny a visa for whatever reason it wants to?
MS. NULAND: No. We have to --
QUESTION: No, it’s not?
MS. NULAND: We have to operate within U.S. law.
QUESTION: So you have to give visas to Cuban Government officials to come to the States?
MS. NULAND: We have to follow U.S. law, and if we are going to deny visas, we have to do so under one of the stipulations in the visa law.
QUESTION: Are those --
QUESTION: Still on Cuba?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Still on Cuba?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s a different subject, but --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the Cuban foreign relations minister today accused the U.S. of stealing the rum brand Havana Club.
MS. NULAND: Of stealing the?
QUESTION: The rum brand that’s named Havana Club. Last week, the Supreme Court denied the Cuban company Cubaexport the authorization to sell that brand with that name in the U.S. And they’re arguing that the State Department recommended not to approve this permit, arguing that it doesn’t fit well with Cuba policy towards – well, with U.S. policy towards Cuba, sorry. Do you have any comment on that or are you aware of this?
MS. NULAND: That sounds like an extremely intricate case with which I am not familiar. We will take it and see if we have anything to add --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: -- but it sounds like it may also be a matter for the U.S. courts.
QUESTION: I have two questions: one Pakistan-Afghanistan, another Burma. First of all, as far as your ongoing talks with Pakistan on the opening of the routes for the NATO supplies, now I understand according to the news reports Pakistan is demanding at least $5,000 for tariff before they allow through their territory. Any comments on that? You have any information about this, or have they informed you that they want $5,000 for each truck to be – go through their lane?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we talked about this yesterday. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff in the press one way or the other. We don’t consider it productive to be conducting this negotiation from this podium, so I’m not going to comment on every stray comment about what’s going on, but we are working through all of these various issues with the Pakistani side and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: Still on Pakistan --
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: Do you know how many trucks are going on a daily basis, approximately? Have any idea?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have that.
QUESTION: “None” isn’t the answer?
QUESTION: Still on Pakistan, yesterday, some NATO countries, embassies received threats in Islamabad. Has security at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad been increased, and has an updated travel advisory been issued for U.S. citizens living in Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: I – we never comment about the security posture of our embassies anywhere in the world. I’m not aware of any new alert information, but I would refer you to the Embassy’s website. Maybe they’ve done something in the recent hours.
QUESTION: According to press reports, Israeli jets --
QUESTION: Can we stay on Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Sure. Go ahead.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to make a prediction. These negotiations are ongoing. It’s most important that we get it right and that we do it completely.
QUESTION: According to press reports and – Turkish officials stated that Turkish jets chased yesterday Israeli aircraft over the Northern Cyprus, which is a Turkish airspace. Did you have a chance to talk to any of the Government of Israel or Turkish? What’s your understanding about the situation?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that one way or the other.
QUESTION: So you mean that you have not heard of it or --
MS. NULAND: I don’t know that we’ve had any contact at all. I would refer you to DOD, whether they were involved at all on this.
QUESTION: But you have heard of the incident, I believe?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’ve seen the same press reporting you’ve seen, but I don’t think we’ve been involved either way.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- how does today’s continuation of the national emergency regarding Burma and President Obama’s decision to maintain sanctions affect last month’s announcement by Secretary Clinton that some of those sanctions, including financial and investment, would be lifted?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve already done some easing of some of our restrictions. I think you also know that the Secretary will see the Burmese foreign minister, and the meeting starts at 1:30, and then she’ll have a press availability afterwards. I think she’ll speak to some of these issues, and you’ll have a better sense of how these pieces layer together. So I think I’m going to reserve on Burma and let her speak to it later today.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Burma, please. Thank you. Madam, as foreign minister of Burma meets with the Secretary here today, many Burmese in the area are asking the U.S. that Secretary should be focusing more and pressing the foreign minister for opening up more human rights and democracy and other issues related. And the same thing, back home in Burma, as Aung San Suu Kyi takes her place in parliament, she’s also asking for more human rights and more task force here and democracy in Burma. Is it going to be an issue between the two leaders today?
MS. NULAND: Well, every time the Secretary meets with Burmese officials, with NGO representatives, with opposition party members, including Aung San Suu Kyi, she talks about the human rights situation, the democratization of the country, the key components of reform, including releasing of political prisoners, including the rights of ethnic minorities, the importance of having not only a ceasefire but negotiated solutions. I think you can fully expect that those issues will come up again today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Jill.
MS. NULAND: We don’t – we’ve been in regular contact with him a couple of times yesterday in Beijing, a couple times today. My understanding is that his leg and foot are healing well, and that – and I think he’s spoken about this – that he’s starting to move around in his cast. We don’t have any reason to believe that there would be health restrictions on his travel.
QUESTION: Any new information on the, basically, falsely imprisoned nephew?
MS. NULAND: Again, we continue to make clear our hope and expectation that not only family members, but supporters of his will be treated fairly, will be treated humanely within Chinese law.
MS. NULAND: Thank you for that, Samir. We, I think, will put out a note later today. But you remember that when we were in Tunis, the Secretary spoke publicly about supporting the Tunisian economy in this moment of transition. So this is – well, I’ll let her formally announce it when she does the signing. But it is economic support that we’ve worked hard to – with the Congress to have for Tunisia to help it bridge this period when it has a newly elected government, when it also has a lot of folks unemployed and it needs to show the benefit of a newly democratizing system. So we are hopeful that this will be supportive of reform and democracy in Tunisia.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, as you know, we put out a statement a minute ago, and I apologize that we didn’t have this on Tuesday when we should have, or on Wednesday.
The United States condemns the bombing that occurred in Bogota on Tuesday. Our condolences go out to the victims and their families. There is no justification for killing innocent people. The United States continues to support Colombia in its efforts to put an end to terrorism within the framework of respect for human rights and rule of law.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I blew it yesterday. She is meeting with Defense Minister Barak. I think that meeting actually got calendared after we saw each other yesterday.
She always, when she gets a chance to speak with him, talks about the key issues on our minds: support for the peace process and a negotiated settlement between the sides. I think she’ll probably want to get his view on the new Unity Coalition. They always talk Iran. I would guess the kinds of issues that you raised will probably be handled at the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Any plans for Mr. Hale to go back to the region?
MS. NULAND: We’re still looking at the best timing for his next trip. I don’t think he’s announced any plans yet.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just make clear that Ambassador Shapiro’s comments were designed to reflect completely what the President has said all along, which is that even as we move forward with the P-5+1 discussions with Iran and hope that we can settle these issues through diplomacy, that we nonetheless take no option off the table.
QUESTION: Well, he went a bit further than that. He said that it’s more than just being on the table; we’re ready now. Like all it’d be --
MS. NULAND: Well, as Secretary Panetta has --
QUESTION: -- a snap of the fingers and all of a sudden we’ve got missiles headed towards wherever.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think Secretary Panetta has also spoken to the fact that it is the responsibility of his building to have appropriate contingency planning. So I don’t think that should be any surprise either.
QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, this is – it should not be a surprise that he could have said this about – the ambassador could have said this about any country?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Because you have contingency plans to attack any country?
MS. NULAND: Except Buffalo, New York.
QUESTION: Well, that’s not a country.
MS. NULAND: Matt, are you comforted?
QUESTION: Yes, please. Definitely in the coming days G-8 and then NATO meeting, and what you are trying to or what you are going to discuss regarding Egypt and the Arab Spring in this context of G-8 or NATO meeting summit?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I’m going to defer on that one as well, because the White House will have a full briefing of its expectations for both the G-8 summit and the NATO summit in Chicago, I believe led by National Security Advisor Donilon starting at about 2 o'clock. So I would suggest that you or your White House counterpart tune into that.
QUESTION: There is another thing. Regarding the – you mentioned yesterday still you are collecting information or getting information regarding the monitoring of NGO participation or American nonofficial participation of the Egyptian presidential election. Do you have any update?
MS. NULAND: I do have an update, and there again you all were a little bit ahead of me yesterday. It appears that the Carter Center has received accreditation as one of the organizations that will witness the election by Egypt’s Supreme Presidential Election Commission. We understand that the Carter Center plans to deploy about 22 witnesses and that in total there’ll be 14 countries participating in the election witnessing – I’m sorry, let me do this again. The Carter Center is going to have 22 people from 14 countries. They’re going to join a – in total – 80-person witness delegation covering 35 countries. And they’ll be there for several days before the election and through the election.
QUESTION: I have a question regarding the lingo. I mean, you are mentioning witness. I mean, for me it’s something – what is the difference from your perspective between a witnessing or monitoring or observing an election?
MS. NULAND: I think the procedure is essentially the same. We tend to use the language that the host nation uses, and in this case the Egyptians are using the term “witness.”
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the Carter Center to warn them about the possibility that some of their witnesses may get thrown in jail arbitrarily and not allowed to leave the country?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, these witnesses have been accredited by --
QUESTION: So you don’t --
MS. NULAND: -- Egypt’s election commission. They – there are some rules of the road set out, and our expectation is that they’ll be able to fully do their job under the rules of the road set out by the Egyptians themselves.
QUESTION: So you haven’t given them any advice as to what to do if they suddenly find themselves in an Egyptian jail cell?
MS. NULAND: I think that we fully expect that this mission will go forward smoothly.
QUESTION: And then the other thing – just the other thing on this. Do you think that – Egypt is a big country. Do you think that 80 witnesses is sufficient to come to a conclusion that is accurate?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we have to let this monitoring and witnessing mission go forward, and then we can evaluate. But we need to remember where we’ve come, which is that until this round of elections, parliamentary and presidential, there were no witnesses whatsoever from the international community in Egypt. So we consider this very much a step forward. Let’s let them do their job, let’s let them report, and then we can all evaluate for the future.
I’ve got time for one more. I apologize. I’ve got to get upstairs for the Burmese. Please.
QUESTION: Quick one on Syria. Today, again, new videos are emerging. In one of them UN monitor are basically crawling away from the fire by the Assad regime, and there are many other videos. And also in Aleppo University, again the regime forces today, and just an hour ago, attacking the university students. What’s your assessment today?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, as we’ve said again, any attack on the UN, any effort to hamper their operations is deplorable, unacceptable, not in keeping with the basic tenets of the Annan plan. As we’ve said again and again, we continue to be concerned that we do not have the implementation that we need, and not only that, that the Assad regime is continuing to fire on its own people, and that where the monitors can give some temporary relief, some partial relief, where they’re able to deploy, that we’ve got to get the full complement in there, and we’ve got to see Assad comply. And he has not.
QUESTION: There seems to be 19 countries together drilling just miles away from Syrian border.
MS. NULAND: Drilling?
QUESTION: Military drilling, 19 countries, including U.S. and UK and many other allies.
MS. NULAND: I don’t know what you’re referring to. I don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: Eager Lion.
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about one of our regular exercises?
QUESTION: I don’t think its regular --
MS. NULAND: Or oil drilling?
QUESTION: No, no. It’s a military exercise.
QUESTION: -- because there has been (inaudible).
QUESTION: Military exercise.
QUESTION: It’s basically everyone but Israel.
MS. NULAND: Ah, I’m going to send you to the Pentagon. Sounds like one of their standard exercise. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:27 p.m.)