Daily Press Briefing - June 14, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Economic Statecraft Day
    • Helicopters / Rosoboronexport
    • UN Monitors in Al Haffa
    • Chapter 7 Resolution
    • Foreign Minister Lavrov's Comments on U.S. Weapons / Bahrain / Situations Not Comparable to Russia-Syria Helicopters
    • Secretary's Istanbul Remarks / Managed Yemen-style Transition Process
    • U.S. Non-lethal and Humanitarian Support
    • Kofi Annan Meeting / Iran / Russia
    • Undersecretary Burns' Trip / Human Rights Issues
    • Conviction of 9 Medics / Expedited Review / Assistant Secretary Posner Expressed Views
    • Parliamentary Process / Elections / Seeking More Information
    • Special Representative Marc Grossman's Trip to Doha / Meeting with Qatari Government Officials
    • Military Cooperation Claims
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 14, 2012


1:27 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right. With extreme apologies to all of you, we are very late. I hate to do that. We were in a little bit of a mess upstairs this morning, but here we are.

Today, as you know, is Economy Statecraft Day. This is part of our effort to promote U.S. business abroad. U.S. embassies around the world are using the day to host some 250 different events in 130 different countries to encourage connections between the American business community and their counterparts and their consumers around the world. So you will hear about a lot of those events.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds. You look bemused there, Josh.

QUESTION: Why were you in a mess upstairs this morning?

MS. NULAND: Why were we in a mess?


MS. NULAND: Because we had a number of issues that we were taking care of and we were a little short-staffed. That’s why. There’s nothing foreign policy related here, Arshad. It was just --

QUESTION: So it’s a not a substantive mess that you’ve had to deal with?

MS. NULAND: It was not a substantive mess. It was simply an administrative mess. And for that, I am very apologetic.



QUESTION: So the subject – the suggestion has been made over the course of the last 24 hours that the helicopters that the Secretary was talking about on Tuesday were in fact not new but maybe refurbished or old and refurbished. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’ve seen in the press that the exporter of these helicopters has spoken to the fact that they have been refurbishing them. This is Rosoboronexport. From our perspective, as you know, the Secretary didn’t state at any point that they were new. She simply stated that she was concerned about the supply of helicopters moving from Russia to Syria. Whether they are new or whether they are refurbished, the concern remains that they will be used for the exact same purpose that the current helicopters in Syria are being used, and that is to kill civilians.

QUESTION: But you said that it would be a dramatic escalation. So you – I mean, I’m semi-sympathetic to the argument that reintroducing aircraft that have been missing or haven’t been in action for several months is an escalation, but it would be even a more dramatic escalation if they were new helicopters, if in fact Syria was adding to its fleet, would it not?

MS. NULAND: These are helicopters that have been out of the fight for some six months or longer. They are freshly refurbished. The question is simply what one expects them to be used for when one sees what the current fleet’s being used for.

QUESTION: So your position would be that the Russians should either delay or just cancel the return – sending them back?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary said very clearly yesterday that we’ve been asking the Russians for months to consider suspending their military relationship with Syria in all of its elements.

QUESTION: But I mean, in terms of these specific helicopters.

MS. NULAND: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Why did you not disclose --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?

QUESTION: -- when you were asked both on Tuesday and on Wednesday that what she was talking about were in fact old refurbished helicopters?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to speak to where her information comes from --

QUESTION: I didn’t ask you --

QUESTION: -- but in the context of --

QUESTION: I did not ask you where her information comes from. I asked you why you did not disclose on Tuesday or Wednesday that these were refurbished helicopters.

MS. NULAND: Well, it was very clear that we had accurate information here. It’s not incumbent upon us to give an accounting of where all of our information comes from. But now we’re in the context of the supplier of these helicopters having confirmed it themselves.

QUESTION: Well, but again, you’re not answering the question.

MS. NULAND: Arshad, I think I’ve answered the question.

QUESTION: No, but you’re not answering the question. The question is not where you got the information. The question is why you were not – the Secretary talked about a dramatic escalation. Matt makes the point that the reentry of helicopters that had not been in use is an escalation. What is not clear, however, is why it is necessarily a dramatic escalation, given that they are already using helicopters in their fleet domestically. And so what I don’t understand is why you would have chosen, given the Secretary’s comment that this was going to be, she thought, a dramatic escalation, to not disclose that these were in fact refurbished old helicopters previously sold to the Syrians.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, it is very clear today what we are talking about. When you look at the Soviet and Russian-made helicopters that are in use in Syria today, every helicopter that is flying and working is attacking a new civilian location. So the concern is when you add three more freshly refurbished helicopters to the fight that is three more that can be used to kill civilians.


QUESTION: It’s clear --

MS. NULAND: Jill, Jill,.

QUESTION: On Syria. So what the U.S. wants, what the Secretary is saying, when you say “suspend,” that means no more supplies of anything, no more people on the ground refurbishing, no refurbishing in Moscow; in other words, they stop or they break all of those contracts that they have and just stop dead in the water?

MS. NULAND: We’re not suggesting any breakage. We’re simply, as the Secretary said very clearly – she articulated what she’s looking for yesterday; I would refer you to her remarks – that further shipments should be suspended, further relationships should be suspended, in the context of a regime that is using these weapons against its own people.

QUESTION: Still on Syria?


QUESTION: The UN mission said today that it finally made it into Al Haffa --


QUESTION: -- and among other things it discovered was the overpowering stench of death, as well as no living people anywhere in the city. Does this add credence to the French’s call for some sort of Chapter 7 action regarding Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are also getting the same reports that you are getting from Al Haffa. Here again, very clearly, the regime kept the UN monitors outside of the city while it completed its cleansing and is only allowing them in now to bear witness to the destruction. So clearly not living up to its commitments under the Annan plan, which were for the monitors to be able to be in these cities and towns to help prevent this kind of violence, not simply to bear witness to it.

With regard to Chapter 7, we’ve been clear for a number of weeks that that is a direction that we are consulting on, that we are considering, that we are looking at, including with our French allies.

QUESTION: Is there any idea that having so-called blue helmets would prevent this sort of cleansing, which I should note is a very particular term diplomatically? Would that go anywhere in the direction of protecting the Syrian people from what many allege to be the crimes of the Syrian Government?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’re making assumptions about what would be in a Chapter 7 resolution. What we have talked about in terms of a Chapter 7 resolution is Chapter 7 style sanctions, Chapter 7 style arms embargo, other potential issues. But the current monitors that we have are unarmed, which is not quite the same as blue helmets. But it’s – we’ve seen the problems, that they are effective where they’re able to operate and not effective where they’re not able to operate.

QUESTION: But the fact that they were denied access to this town for at least 24 hours, and by the time they got there all the work had been done, some could argue they’re not having any positive impact by being there in the country; they’re simply going in now and collecting the evidence for what they believe happened, and they say they don’t have forensic scientists on top of it. Is it time for something different? How much more of this will the world have to see before the U.S. and other countries go in and say we need to change strategy here?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think that Kofi Annan spoke to this himself, his own grave concern that in too many places the monitors are not being allowed to their job, they’re not being able to move freely, they are being shot at. There are – as we have said, it still is a mixed picture. There are other parts of Syria where the fact of the monitors has allowed for organizing, has allowed for people in towns to feel safer. But we wouldn’t dispute your premise that this is extremely concerning, that they are not allowed to do what they are there for, and that when they are allowed to work, it’s to bear witness to the regime’s violence.


QUESTION: Thank you. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was responding to Secretary Clinton’s remarks, pointed out that the U.S. recently shipped arms to Bahrain and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy in that regard. Does he have a point?

MS. NULAND: Josh, I spoke to this extensively. I don’t remember if it was yesterday or the day before yesterday. There – you cannot equate these situations. I’ll just briefly summarize, but refer you back.

In the Bahrain context, in the first instance, we are not talking about a regime that is using helicopters against its own people, number one. Second, when we had concerns about how a new set of weapons might be used, we put a pause on our relationship with Bahrain to ensure that the commitments that we have, particularly through our end-user certificates which dictate how weapons sales are to be used, are being complied with, and that – and to encourage Bahrain to complete the work to implement the BICI Commission’s recommendations. And the only thing we’ve gone forward with are things that are clearly usable for external defense, including the fleet, et cetera. So the situations are not comparable at all.

QUESTION: All right. Well, let me try one more, then. Secretary Clinton often used to talk about a Yemen-like solution for Syria.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Is that still the guiding principle to – an end state that resembles what we see today in Yemen?

MS. NULAND: I think what she’s talking about is a Yemen-style process. The Russians have also talked about that. If you go back to her detailed outline that she gave at her Istanbul press conference about – I guess it’s about a week ago today – she lays out in some detail what a post-Assad transition might look like, certainly the guiding principles and the guiding elements, including the fact that, first and foremost, he’s got to hand over power, he’s got to leave the country, we’ve got to have a transition government that represents and protects the rights of all of the Syrian people, including minorities, that rule of law has to be established, that the ceasefire has to be reinforced by all sides.

So the comparison to Yemen is simply that you have a – you have the ruler of the country stepping aside, you have a transition government, you have national unity around that transition strategy, which leads to elections. And the point that she’s been making to the Russians, to all of the counterparts, and that we are making publicly, is that we can still have a managed transition in Syria, and that’s what we’ve all got to seek, and that if we do not start working together in a unified way as an international community with the Syrians of all stripes on what that can look like, then we’re going to have an unmanaged transition, and that’s going to be far bloodier and far more destructive in terms of the fabric of the country, both in terms of relations among people, in terms of the physical infrastructure, and in terms of the governing structures.

QUESTION: But in the absence of an arms embargo, isn’t there --

QUESTION: Toria, in the – that discussion – that --


QUESTION: Thank you. That discussion of the Yemen-like thing seems like ancient history right now because – even though it’s probably just a week ago – right now, the focus between Russia and the United States seems to be on this tit-for-tat spat over these weapons and helicopters and all of that. Tell us realistically, right now, in your discussions with the Russians, what percent of the conversation is the weapons part of it? Is that all you’re talking about, or is there anything else? Are you still talking about Yemen?

MS. NULAND: Well, as the Secretary said yesterday, we have a disagreement about the weapons, obviously. That said, we are continuing to talk about a post-Assad transition strategy in that context. Today in Kabul, in the context of the Hearts of Asia Ministerial that Deputy Secretary Burns attended, Deputy Secretary Burns and Foreign Minister Lavrov had a bilateral meeting. They obviously talked about many subjects, including the upcoming talks with Iran in Moscow. But Syria was also a key subject.

It was a constructive conversation. I won’t say there aren’t still gaps; there are still gaps. But it was a constructive conversation, and we’re continuing to talk to the Russians about this. We’re going to talk – we’re talking to them in New York in the context of the conference that Kofi Annan is suggesting, talking to them in Moscow, and talking to them here.

QUESTION: And in --

MS. NULAND: And in Kabul. And in Kabul, yes.

QUESTION: Kabul or Cabo?

MS. NULAND: Kabul and Cabo.

QUESTION: Did that – did Cabo also come up between Burns and Lavrov? Did – was that part of --

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to let the White House speak to presidential meetings, but as you know, President Putin and President Obama will both be at the G-20 meeting in Cabo --


MS. NULAND: -- and obviously, we talked – they talked about preparing that session.

QUESTION: All right. And I just have one more brief one, which is on the – when you were answering a question about Chapter 7, you said what – your idea of a Chapter 7 resolution would be sanctions, arms embargo, and then you said other potential issues.

MS. NULAND: To be worked --

QUESTION: Meaning not – I mean, the question was framed in terms of peacekeepers, so I just want to make sure that peacekeepers aren’t part of other potential issues.

MS. NULAND: We haven’t gotten to the point of talking about that situation at this moment. As you know, we continue – there’s no peace to keep right now, so --


MS. NULAND: -- that’s – that is part of the problem.

QUESTION: Right. Well, like – something like a no-fly zone --

MS. NULAND: Again, beyond --

QUESTION: -- or the French --

MS. NULAND: Beyond the issues that the Secretary has explicitly cited – arms embargo, tighter sanctions – I don’t want to prejudge as we’re in the middle of consultations on what might be included.

QUESTION: But can you give us even a very general idea of the other – what other potential issues might be? I mean, are they – would they be – include military stuff, or would it – is it – is that pretty much not being considered?

MS. NULAND: We’re going to – we don’t take anything off the table, as you know. We just have to see where the situation takes us.


QUESTION: On Syria, could I just ask --

MS. NULAND: Are we still on Syria? No?

QUESTION: There’s just – last one on Syria.

MS. NULAND: One more because we don’t have a ton of time, so I’d rather --

QUESTION: Just briefly, there’s a Time Magazine report – I believe it came out yesterday – saying that the State Department is part of the nonlethal assistance, has been offering media and technical training to dissidents. Is that true? Is that something that the State Department was doing?

MS. NULAND: Well, depending --

QUESTION: We’ve been hearing about it for months.

MS. NULAND: Depending upon how you --

QUESTION: What specifically --

MS. NULAND: -- read that particular story, it was greatly over-revved. As you know, we have two separate and distinct areas of work ongoing. The first is with regard to internet freedom, and these are programs that we do around the world, that we’ve been doing with Syrians and many, many other countries for quite a long time. And these are programs that help citizens in countries where the internet is restricted or unavailable to find ways to have access to the internet so that they can – their fundamental freedom to expression and access to information is respected.

So these are programs that are – that enable the civil society in an internet-repressive environment to work around the repressions that their governments put in place. So those are longstanding programs, some $76 million since 2008 for programs around the world, and we’re putting another 25 million into them this year. Not just Syria, but around the world.

The second issue is the issue of – above and beyond our humanitarian assistance to Syria – our nonlethal assistance to the peaceful opposition. This is largely in the communications area. It’s designed to help those who are subjected to government intrusion, government interruption of their ability to communicate with each other to do so, to help support unity among the peaceful opposition.

QUESTION: Can we do Bahrain?



QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Go ahead. Syria?

QUESTION: Yes. Did we decide on the Annan meeting? Will the U.S. attend this meeting if Iran is going to be there?

MS. NULAND: Our position on Iran hasn’t changed. We don’t think they’re an appropriate participant in this meeting.

QUESTION: Just on the --

QUESTION: What does this mean? The U.S. will not attend anything?

MS. NULAND: I think we’re continuing to talk to Joint Special Envoy Annan and the UN about the parameters of the meeting. I don’t think the parameters have been decided. We’ve made absolutely clear what the parameters are for us. They need to – it needs to be a meeting about the post-Assad transition strategy, and we don’t see Iran as having a place there.

QUESTION: Does that mean – just on that, does that mean that you do – that the U.S. does see utility in having a meeting roughly around the end of the month and then a Friends of Syrian – a contact group meeting roughly around the end of the month, and then a Friends of Syria meeting less than a week later in Paris on the 6th of July? You do see utility in that?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’re going to leave it to the UN in terms of the when and where of the meeting that Kofi Annan is talking about.

QUESTION: Right, but I get – what – the point I’m getting at is you do see the utility of having two separate meeting – two separate groups and two separate meetings within that short timeframe?

MS. NULAND: We are open to having two meetings of the – because they’re separate meetings, obviously.

QUESTION: Okay. Is this something that came up between Deputy Secretary Burns and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the details of that conversation except to say that we have – we are continuing to talk to the Russians about the parameters for the kind of meeting Kofi Annan is talking about. So I assume that that meeting – his meeting was discussed.

In terms of the Friends of the Syrian People, we’ve said many times that the door is open to Russia if they want to participate, and they’ve chosen not to.

QUESTION: Can we do Bahrain?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.



QUESTION: Sorry, very quickly on the Burns trip?


QUESTION: Were you aware that Tuesday was World Day Against Child Labor, and that Bill Burns arrived in Uzbekistan on that day, where the government directs and dictates massed forced labor of children? Was there any – some symbolism to that or --

MS. NULAND: I don’t think there was particular symbolism to arriving on that day, but we always talk about human rights issues in Uzbekistan, and he did as well this time. I should say that when he was in Kabul, he also had a number of other meetings. He met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. He met with the Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. And he’s meeting with President Karzai, I think, right about now.

Bahrain? We just --

QUESTION: Bahrain?


QUESTION: The sentences for some of the 18 doctors have been reduced. As I understand it, one has been sentenced to five years in prison, one to three, seven of them to sentences ranging from one month to one year, and nine people acquitted. And I think on top of that, there are two other people who are believed to have fled the country and so they are – or to be in hiding, and so their sentences have not been reduced.

Does the Administration believe that these are appropriate sentences in the circumstances? And what does the Administration think about the opposition claims that these prosecutions – all of which, if I am not mistaken, are against Shiite doctors – are politically motivated?

MS. NULAND: Well, first let me say that we are deeply disappointed that an appeals court in Bahrain upheld the convictions of nine of the medics even as they acquitted nine others who were associated with the protest last year at the medical complex. As we have said, we believe these convictions do appear, at least in part, to be based on the defendant’s criticisms of government actions and policies.

So while the sentences were reduced, we are discouraged that the Bahraini Government did not use alternative means to address these cases. And we hope that there is an expedited review of them, including their appeals in the Court of Cassation. And we are urging that they be allowed to stay home during the appeal period and we hope that the review will result in a dismissal of the charges.

QUESTION: And have you conveyed this view to the Bahraini Government directly, and if so, by whom?

MS. NULAND: Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor Mike Posner is in Bahrain today and he has conveyed these views. He’s also spoken out publicly in Bahrain in a press conference today.

QUESTION: And can we do one other one before --

MS. NULAND: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: -- because I know we don’t have much time and I suspect there’s wider interest in this.

As you are, I’m sure, aware, the – an Egyptian court today has made a ruling that appears to have two effects. One, according to the head of the court, it declares – one implication is that there would have to be – is that the current parliament elected in free and fair elections, as you guys have said, would have to be dissolved, or at least the lower house. And secondly, it permits Mr. Shafiq to run.

Do you have any views on the potential dissolution of what, at least you, this Administration, regarded as a free and fairly elected parliament would have for Egypt’s – for democracy in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Well, first with regard to the parliament, we are seeking more information from the Egyptians now, because frankly it’s not clear to us what the implications are going forward for a parliamentary – the parliamentary process, what this means in terms of new elections, partial elections, how they’re going to take this forward. So I’m not going to comment on the precise implications except to say that, as we’ve said from the beginning, we want to see the Egyptian people have what they fought for, which is a free, fair, democratic, transparent system of governance that represents the will of the people – a parliament so elected, a president so elected.

So we are – those are the standards that they want. Those are the standards that the international community wants. So we are trying to get a better handle with the Egyptians on how that is going to move forward, based on this court decision.

Let me just take this opportunity to say that we are also concerned by the decision with regard to the reinstitution of some powers that seem to allow the authorities a broad ability to detain people during this election period. So this is just a little while after the lifting of the emergency law that we all wanted.

QUESTION: You recently released the Human Rights Country Reports, which do take account of – for 2011, which do take account of the Arab Spring. And yet religious persecution seems to be on the rise in a number of countries, including Arab Spring countries. Why did you remove this section on religious freedom from the Human Rights Country Reports?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to it precisely. I will take the question. But my understanding is that instead of having a separate section, we addressed religious freedom issues on a country by country basis because we thought that was more coherent for the way folks like to use the report. But if there’s something to add to that, I’ll get back to you.

I see Mark giving me my signal. As you know, the Secretary’s out very shortly, so I need to hotfoot upstairs.

QUESTION: Can I just – one very briefly on Grossman’s trip --


QUESTION: -- which was announced? You said he’s going to Doha, right? Which raises red flags immediately.

MS. NULAND: Yes, he is.

QUESTION: It says he’s meeting with Qatari officials in Doha. Is he going to meet with anybody else?




QUESTION: So even if a Taliban guy shows up and says, “Hey, Mark, I’m ready to talk,” he won’t see him?

MS. NULAND: That is not what is planned and that is not our understanding of where the Taliban are at the moment, so --

QUESTION: No SNC members either, right?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is he’s meeting only with Qatari Government officials.

Scott, you had your hand up all day. What’s up?

QUESTION: I did, too. Just some advice --

MS. NULAND: Can I just call on Scott, please?

QUESTION: Yeah. Sure.

MS. NULAND: Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: Venezuela says that it’s building aerial drones as part of its military cooperation with Iran. Do you believe that’s true, and is that of concern?

MS. NULAND: The Venezuelans make lots of extravagant claims. So do the Iranians. Our concern, obviously, would be with any breaking of international sanctions on Iran. And we will be most vigilant in watching how this goes forward.

QUESTION: Any advice or guidance to Americans traveling to Greece? Over the course of the last month, there’s concerns about more civil unrest, problems with the banking system, mass strikes in the country. Do you have advice to Americans who are traveling to that country?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have our travel advice in front of me, but all of our advice to travelers around the world is available at 2009-2017.state.gov.

I’ve got to hotfoot it upstairs. I apologize to those I didn’t get to.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)

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