Daily Press Briefing - June 15, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Talks with Russia / Post-Assad Transition
- Implementation of Kofi Annan's Plan / UNSC
- Secretary Clinton Will Accompany President at G-20
- Comments by Major General Mood / UN Monitors
- Ambassador Ford Meeting with Syrian Opposition
- Parliament Dissolution / Seeking More Information
- Upcoming Egyptian Presidential Elections
- Supreme Counselor of Allied Forces
- Rio + 20
Daily Press Briefing
12:44 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Thin crowd today. Everybody’s jumping into their weekend. Happy Friday, everybody. Apart from welcoming some special guests from Hamden, Connecticut and McLean, Virginia, I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: What is the latest – sorry – what is the latest on Syria with – particularly pertaining to the Russians? You’ve seen Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments from his press conference this morning. He says that – specifically denies what you said yesterday, that there are not continuing talks, or any talks at all, going on between the U.S. and Russia about post-Assad – a post-Assad Syria. Is there something we lost in translation here, or does he not understand the – what people like Deputy Secretary Burns were actually talking about?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, more broadly in terms of the U.S.-Russia dialogue on Syria, I think if you had a chance to see the briefing in advance of the Los Cabos G-20 meeting, Ben Rhodes spoke to that in general, that we have a lot of business to do with the Russians and in the meeting between President Obama and President Putin, including work on Afghanistan, work on Iran. Obviously, disagreements persist with regard to Syria, but it’ll be a good opportunity for the presidents to meet and work it through.
I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth here. If you go back and look at what we said yesterday, as I did, we were talking about the general direction that we want to see Syria go, the general principles that the Secretary has outlined for a post-Assad transition. With regard to our dialogue with the Russians, as we’ve been saying all along, we are talking about the full spectrum of issues. I wasn’t meaning to imply any positions on their part. That’s for them to decide.
QUESTION: No, no. I – well, I – and I don’t think – I mean, I’m not sure that that’s the point, but I mean these discussions are – do include the full range of Syria post the transition, the political transition. Correct? They don’t just deal with you telling them to please stop sending weapons?
MS. NULAND: No. We’re talking about the situation in Syria. We’re talking about how we can implement the Kofi Annan plan in all of its elements, the six --
QUESTION: Which include the transition?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: All right. So Lavrov is basically just picking and choosing what – it appears, at least, that he’s just picking and choosing what it is that he wants to hear when the Secretary or another U.S. official sits down and talks with him.
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to characterize the Russians’ views, but you know we --
QUESTION: Then just the last thing on this: They seem to be indicating that they would be willing to go to a Contact Group meeting in Geneva on whatever date that that might be, even if Iran wasn’t invited, as long as they could invite Iran to a meeting that they want to host themselves somewhere down the line on Syria. Is that your understanding?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I haven’t seen what they might’ve said today on that issue. Our presidents are going to have a chance to talk. I think it’s Monday; it may be Sunday.
MS. NULAND: So we’re going to have a better sense of how much convergence we have and how much work we still need to do after that meeting.
QUESTION: But are you inclined or are you willing to consider having – there being a conference in Russia at some point on this?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are focused now on putting together whatever Kofi Annan has in mind. We’re not going to prejudge the exact makeup of it or the where of it. We’re going to continue to talk to him about how it goes.
QUESTION: No, I know, but the Russians have expressed an interest, as they have for the past decade, and expressed an interest in holding a Middle East peace conference, which the Quartet keeps mentioning in every single statement that at an appropriate time -
MS. NULAND: At an appropriate time, right?
QUESTION: And it hasn’t – it’s been 10 years now and it still hasn’t gotten to be the appropriate time. So I’m just wondering, are you willing to say that you’re – that you’d be willing to go to a Syria conference in Moscow at the appropriate time?
MS. NULAND: Again, our presidents are going to meet in a couple of days. I think we want to hear out the Russian views and see how much convergence we have.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Matt’s original question?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Your characterization of the conversations between Deputy Secretary Burns and Foreign Minister Lavrov were that they were constructive. And I have the similar perplexity about how constructive they can have been about Syria if Foreign Minister Lavrov says that you were – that he at least is not talking about a political transition.
MS. NULAND: Look, whenever there are diplomatic differences in any relationship, it’s good to sit down and talk; it’s good to see where we agree and disagree. We consider that that conversation was useful, was constructive as preparation for the conversation between our two presidents. And now we have to see how that goes when they get together.
QUESTION: Okay. And it’s constructive even if they don’t appear to be any more enthusiastic about the idea of a political transition now than they have been for the past several months?
MS. NULAND: Again, there are things that happen in diplomatic conversation. There’s public messaging. Let’s see where we are after our presidents get a chance to sit down.
QUESTION: He also warned about two things, or said two things: one, that the United States should not try to bypass the Security Council, and second, if they go to the Security Council, there will never be a resolution calling for the removal of Bashar al-Assad. Could you comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been trying to work within the Security Council on Syria for a year. We’ve had some instances of progress. We’ve had some difficulties, which everybody knows about. We were successful in getting two resolutions supporting the Kofi Annan plan. As we have been saying, we want to implement that plan. We want to see it work. But if it’s not going to work, we are going to have to go back to the Security Council and keep talking. So we want to make the Security Council work, but it takes all players to make it work.
QUESTION: Well, the Russians – officials, diplomats, analysts, and so on – they all seem to be concerned that we may have a deja vu of what happened in 1999 in Yugoslavia. Is that something that the United States might consider, use the massacres that occurred actually to bypass the Security Council?
MS. NULAND: Again, let's not get ahead of where we are in the diplomacy. We have had lots of good – we’ve had lots of bilateral conversations. We’ve had lots of multilateral conversations. We’re going to have this G-20, which is not only an opportunity for the bilateral conversation we talked about; we also have a lot of the key leaders who’ve been interested in Syria there together at that meeting, so let's see how that comes forward.
QUESTION: Speaking of that meeting -- (inaudible).
QUESTION: A follow-up on this: Is Syria perceived less urgently than, let’s say, Yugoslavia was in 1999?
MS. NULAND: I wasn’t here involved in --
QUESTION: I mean, but you’re the --
MS. NULAND: I just can’t evaluate the – obviously it is among the most concerning global issues now, and I would expect that Yugoslavia was at that time, Said, but --
MS. NULAND: The Secretary will be accompanying the President, yes.
QUESTION: And does she have plans to do – will she be following his schedule the whole time, or does she have plans to have separate meetings?
MS. NULAND: She does not have any independent bilateral meetings scheduled at the moment, but you know how these multilateral gatherings are. It’s an opportunity to see colleagues, grab them for meetings as necessary, so--
QUESTION: General Mood told reporters this morning in Damascus – and I’m quoting here – “there appears to be a lack of willingness to seek a peaceful transition. Instead, there is a push toward advancing military positions.” And he's talking mainly about the Syrian Government and the Syrian military in particular. We’re at the halfway point of the Annan plan. What’s the value in continuing for another six weeks, given that, as General Mood points out, they don’t have weapons, their task is not to stop violence, and instead it just seems to be increasing so much that they themselves are at risk of trying to carry out their mission.
MS. NULAND: Well, first with regard to General Mood’s substantive point, we’re obviously seeing the same thing that he is seeing. Syrian troops are today shelling rebel-held towns across the country, including in Aleppo, in Homs, and in other places. General Mood himself will be in New York on Tuesday to brief the Council on what he is seeing.
We’ve talked about this before, Ros, that where they are able to do their job, where they are able to get in ahead of violence, these monitors have provided space for political activity. They have provided space for people to come out into the streets and express themselves peacefully. But the problem is that as with all the rest of the Annan plan, the regime is not allowing the monitors to operate where they are most needed, where there is danger, et cetera. And we saw that in Al-Hafa, where they were kept outside until after the massacre and then allowed to come in and see the results. So this is a matter of concern, this something we have to keep watching, and we look forward to hearing what General Mood says about the timing, the numbers, the effectiveness, et cetera on Tuesday.
QUESTION: Is too much expected of what this mission could do, given how long it took to get UN agreement to send in the observer mission? Was it given too much to do, or did it have too high expectations to meet?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think anybody expected the monitors who are unarmed and are monitors – they are not peacekeepers – to be able to go in and make peace in an absence of a ceasefire. The expectation when we sent them in was that the six-point Annan plan would be adhered to starting with the regime, and the first point there calls for a ceasefire. So we had – what was it – two days of relative quiet on the regime side, and then they started back up. So here – so again, you have the monitors put in a nearly impossible situation of trying to implement a plan that the government is not helping them to implement.
QUESTION: Well, if you had two days of quiet, is this observer mission a failure?
MS. NULAND: Again, Ros, as I’ve said, we see a mixed picture. We see that they have done good where they have been able to work, but we’ve also seen them denied access, we’ve seen them shot at, we’ve seen them unable to stop regime-sponsored violence, and this is concerning. So we will hear what Mood has to say on Tuesday.
QUESTION: Thank you, Toria. There’s reports out today that Russia – there’s a ship in a Black Sea port loading up with munitions to, according to these reports, reinforce Russian troops who are under attack by Syrian opposition forces of some sort in the city of Tartus. Is there anything that you have on this that you’re able to comment on about munitions coming in to reinforce Russian troops in Syria?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the report that you’re referring to. I think my Pentagon colleague spoke to this a little while ago. Frankly, we’re not in a position to confirm that report.
QUESTION: Well, there’s also reports that more Russian troops are coming to reinforce these troops that are under siege. Would that be seen as a --
MS. NULAND: Russian troops? I didn’t understand the point.
QUESTION: Russian troops coming from Russia to reinforce their colleagues in Syria who are under siege. Would that be --
MS. NULAND: We don’t have anything to confirm. We've looked at this, which isn’t to say one way or the other.
QUESTION: You’re talking about the NBC report here?
MS. NULAND: The NBC report, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have information that there are Russian troops in Syria to begin with?
MS. NULAND: I mean, that was the strange thing about your report. I haven’t even seen reporting of it. I mean, with – there have – I mean --
QUESTION: There were reports that Russian troops were actually on their way to Syria to reinforce the troops that are supposedly under siege in Tartus.
MS. NULAND: I mean, what we’ve seen in the past, as you know, is that when there is a tanker or something else, there’s a protection force for it. Frankly, I don’t have anything new on any of this one way or the other.
QUESTION: Are you concerned at all with an arms race going on in Syria? There are reports of weapons going to the opposition and on the weapons going to the government. Is there – would there be an arms race that would come and spoil everything?
MS. NULAND: Well, call it what you will. We have been concerned about escalating violence and about the lack of a ceasefire and about the potential for civil war in the increasingly looking situation like it’s looking like we’re descending toward civil war. So of course. I mean, you’ve – but we put the responsibility first and foremost at the doorstep of the regime, which still maintains the preponderance of force, which is conducting the preponderance of violent acts. But you do see more and more folks in the opposition taking up arms to defend themselves, and this is the problem. This is the situation.
QUESTION: The French are suggesting taking the Annan plan and making it an – under Chapter 7 resolution. Would that be something you’d be looking at?
MS. NULAND: We talked about this quite extensively yesterday. The Secretary herself has said that if we cannot get appropriate pressure on the Assad regime with what we are doing now and get the international community united, that we’re going to have to look at Chapter 7, and we are consulting with our Security Council partners.
QUESTION: The Annan plan under Chapter 7 precisely --
MS. NULAND: I think we all have to look at what will be most effective. But in the first instance, we want to try to maximize the pressure on Assad now.
QUESTION: Hello. Jo Biddle with AFP. Hello.
MS. NULAND: Hi, nice to see you.
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Robert Ford is there. My understanding is that they are having intensive sessions with the opposition to look at its ideas for a post-Assad transition plan and that those talks continue. I think, based on what I heard a minute ago, they could continue well through the weekend. So we’ll hear what he has to say on Monday.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. NULAND: Yes. Please.
QUESTION: Yesterday you said that you were looking into or inquiring with the Egyptians as to what exactly was going on there with this court decision and parliament being dissolved. I’m wondering if you managed to get any clarity on this, or is it still Nile-like opaque?
MS. NULAND: Nile-like opaque. I like that. It’s elegant, Matt.
Well, we are continuing to monitor the situation in Egypt. We’re looking closely at the decisions that were made yesterday and their full implications. Our sense of this is it’s not exactly clear to Egyptians themselves what the path forward is. But if in fact the conclusion is that there need to be new parliamentary elections, our hope is that they could happen swiftly and that they reflect the will of the Egyptian people.
More importantly, as you know, or equally importantly, this weekend we have the second round of the Egyptian presidential elections. And we are hoping and expecting that these will be free, fair, transparent, that the monitors and witnesses who the Egyptian Government have invited in will be able to be present throughout the country and will be able to give reassurance to the Egyptian people about the outcome.
And finally, as you know, the Supreme Command of the Allied Forces in Egypt has pledged to turn over power --
QUESTION: Isn’t that a NATO --
QUESTION: Supreme Council – (inaudible) --
MS. NULAND: Council of Allied Forces. There you go. Thank you. The SCAF has pledged to step down, turn over power to the elected leader on July 1st, and we expect them to meet that commitment to the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: But in terms of the parliamentary election, you don’t – even though you thought the first one was fine and dandy, you don’t have a problem? You don’t see a particular problem with just redoing it?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we respect the independence of Egypt’s judiciary.
QUESTION: You do?
MS. NULAND: But we are troubled by this court ruling yesterday that will effectively dissolve a democratically elected parliament. So now the question is: The court has called for new elections. If, in fact, that’s the direction that Egypt goes, they need to be swift, they need to be fully democratic, free, transparent, so that we can move on to giving the Egyptian people what they want, which is an elected president and an elected parliament and a system that is permanent and sustainable.
QUESTION: When exactly did you come to the – did you decide that the Egyptian judiciary was independent? Since Mubarak was toppled?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have --
QUESTION: When was that – when did that light bulb click?
MS. NULAND: We’ve never taken specific issue with the independence of the judiciary in this recent year. What we’ve been concerned about, as you know, with regard to other things has been politicization.
QUESTION: Do you – just to follow up, I mean, do you regard the decision by this court yesterday as one taken solely on the merits and entirely untainted by any political bias?
MS. NULAND: You’re asking us to make judgments that the Egyptian people have to make. As I said, we had concerns. The remedy here, if it is to be a new election, is for that election to happen swiftly and for the Egyptian people to have full confidence in it.
QUESTION: But you make judgments – you meaning the Obama Administration and past Administrations – make judgments all the time about prosecutions and court decisions. We had an example just yesterday where you noted the reduction of the sentences of the medics in Bahrain, but you regretted that nine of them still have prison sentences and you wish that an alternative had been found. In the Human Rights Report you released just a month ago, you routinely look at prosecutions and will determine whether you – and say bluntly whether you think they are politicized or not. And it – in saying that you respect the independence of the Egyptian judiciary, I think it’s worth hearing whether the United States has a judgment on whether this was an impartial, according to the law, verdict by the court or not.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I’ve said, Arshad, that the full implications and the full understanding of how the court ruled and why it ruled are things that we are still talking to Egyptians about and trying to understand. And our understanding is that Egyptians themselves are trying to understand the court ruling.
But we’re troubled that yesterday’s court ruling did appear to dissolve this independent parliament. So that is the point that we’re at now. We’ll continue to try to understand it. But if, in fact, the conclusion is that this set of parliamentary elections has to be rerun, we want that done as quickly as possible, and we don’t want it to hold up the turning over of power by the SCAF to elected Egyptians.
QUESTION: And do you believe – does the Administration believe – we heard a lot during the period and soon after Mubarak’s ouster about the importance of the longstanding ties between the U.S. military and the Egyptian military. And of course, it is the Egyptian military through the council that continues to run the country today.
Does the Obama Administration believe it has any influence over the SCAF and over the decisions it does or does not take toward democracy in Egypt? Do you think you have any influence over the SCAF, given the long history of American-Egyptian military ties on these matters, or not?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, throughout this transition in Egypt, we have worked hard to keep our ties open to the SCAF, to be in dialogue with them, as we are with all of the other forces in Egypt and a broad cross-section of the political parties. We were pleased when a clear transition, including elections for parliament and president, were set by the SCAF. We were very pleased when they made their commitment that they would step down and turn over power on July 1st. So our message to them is the same message that we’re giving publicly, which is that they’ve made a commitment to the Egyptian people, the Egyptian people expect them to keep it, and so does the international community.
QUESTION: The fact that you’re making this point in public and in private suggests that you don’t actually believe that they will turn over power. I mean, if you were absolutely certain that they would, why would you be talking about it?
MS. NULAND: I think you’re overanalyzing now.
QUESTION: Victoria, very quickly, an Egyptian legislator described what happened as a military coup through the courts and instead of tanks. Do you agree with that characterization?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to characterize it one way or other, except to say that we have stood by the Egyptian people all year long in support of their aspirations to have a free, fair, transparent, democratic, permanent transfer of power, for them to make the choice in how they are governed. And we stand by that and we want to see that happen and we want to see it happen in a constitutional way.
QUESTION: But you don’t see this as tainting the transition to democracy?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, I think we’ve spoken to our concerns about the process and what we want to see happen now.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, there is a – supposedly a delegation of Al-Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood, coming to town next week. Do you know anything about that?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure who would have – who invited them. I don’t have any particular information at this point.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) next door?
MS. NULAND: Are we done with Egypt? Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have any thoughts or concerns about the detention of the ICC staff, including some lawyers.
MS. NULAND: Well, we are continuing to be in touch with the Government of Libya about that, and we are pressing them for an urgent resolution of this matter. The United States and others, including the ICC itself, have been concerned about these four who have been detained since June 7th. We have said to the Government of Libya, and we will say it here, that we consider that they are obligated under Resolution 1970 to cooperate fully and provide any necessary assistance to the court pursuant to that resolution. And we’re also urging them to safeguard the well-being of Mrs. Taylor and her three colleagues and to ensure that they’re granted appropriate consular access.
QUESTION: May I change the subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Next week, we have – apart from the Los Cabos meeting, we also have in Rio the UN Environment Summit. What is the U.S. hopes for what could come out of this summit, given that a lot of protagonists seem to be pretty pessimistic that anything concrete or any fixed dates will come out of it?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, to say that the Secretary will be leading the U.S. delegation. I think we put out a notice about that. I would expect that in advance of her departure, probably Tuesday or so, we’ll have a broader briefing about our expectations and hopes. But this is 20 years on since the first Rio conference. We’ll take stock of all of the goals that were set then, and I think the United States has a strong record of leadership both at home and abroad on all of these global sustainability issues, so we will want to share our experience.
I think the other great benefit of the Rio conference – and we’ll be talking more about this when we brief – is that it’s not just leaders meeting. There’ll be a business component, there’ll be an NGO component. There’ll also be a local government component, given the role that the local government plays now in supporting sustainable development. So stay tuned; we’ll have more for you next week.
QUESTION: Are you going to be meeting with any idea of a fixed kind of program that comes out of it, fixed dates for addressing some of these issues?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. My understanding is that they are negotiating now a statement that will come out of the meeting, and we’re very much engaged in those negotiations, but --
QUESTION: I believe only about three paragraphs of that statement have actually been agreed yet, so what is the --
MS. NULAND: Well --
QUESTION: What are the holdups?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak about the negotiations that are happening on a statement that hasn’t been issued, but again, we’ll have more to say in the middle of next week, I would guess.
QUESTION: Are you also going to do – although I’m not sure you can today, being the date that it is, the 15th – for the P-5+1?
MS. NULAND: What we generally do there is that those members of the press who travel with Under Secretary Sherman or meet her, we do some kind of a – we do a background briefing in advance, then the meetings happen, then usually the EU speaks for the P-5. So that’s our expectation.
QUESTION: Is that – that’s the plan?
MS. NULAND: That is the plan.
Anything else, guys?
MS. NULAND: Happy Friday.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:11 p.m.)