Daily Press Briefing - June 22, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- UN Arab League Envoy Annan's Comments / Iran Role in Syria / June 30 Meeting in Geneva / Reports that Syria Shot Down a Turkish Military Plane / Syrian Military Defections / Cairo Meeting / Defection of Syrian Pilot to Jordan / The Secretary's Conversations with UN Arab League Envoy Annan
- New Prime Minister
- Attacks in Kabul / Haqqani Network Connection
- Discussions with the Government of Pakistan / Haqqani Network
- Efforts to Get Both Parties to Resume Negotiations
- Violence in Gaza
- Visit of Parliamentarians
- Impeachment Trial
- New Government
- UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro
Daily Press Briefing
Today's briefing was held off-camera, so no video is available.
12:21 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Friday. In keeping with our summer schedule, we thought we would just gaggle today. I don’t have anything at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what your thoughts are on Kofi Annan’s comment today that Iran has to play a part in Syria? Does this – do you necessarily think that that’s at odds with your position on this – on them not – it not being appropriate for them to come to this meeting that he’s planning?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would refer you to Kofi in terms of what he – whether he was referring to the general point that Iran should be part of the solution to the problem in its neighborhood. My understanding is he didn’t draw a direct connection to the conference that he’s talking about.
QUESTION: So you don’t see that as being – I mean you agreed that Iran should – “should” being the operative word – be a part of the solution in Syria, right?
MS. NULAND: By part of the solution, we mean breaking its ties with the Assad regime, not fueling the violence, et cetera.
QUESTION: Well, I understand, but I mean – but you do see a role if it behaves the way you think it should be? You see a role for that?
MS. NULAND: We would like to see Iran play a far more constructive role than it’s played, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So – and then just on the meeting, is there anything new on that, or is that still a work in progress?
MS. NULAND: We’re continuing to work at the staff level to try to flesh out appropriate parameters for the meeting. But I don’t have anything new to report, either on the substance or on timing or venue.
QUESTION: Just so I understand you clearly, you said that Iran must break its ties with the Assad regime as a precondition for it to participate in any kind of a regional conference on Syria?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re mixing apples and oranges. The statement made by Kofi Annan was that Iran should play a constructive role in finding a solution on Syria. We would agree that Iran should be far more constructive with regard to Syria. From our perspective, that includes breaking its ties with the Assad regime, stopping what it’s doing in terms of aiding and abetting the violence that’s going on.
QUESTION: So breaking the ties would be a precondition for Iran to participate?
MS. NULAND: No. You’re now making a link to the conference. The position on the conference is as it has been all the way along. In its current posture, Iran is not playing a constructive role. We don’t see any role for it, therefore, in the conference.
QUESTION: I don’t think --
QUESTION: So if --
QUESTION: -- that Annan said anything about constructive. I think he said they should play a role. Whether they’re playing – you see them as playing a non-constructive --
MS. NULAND: We see them as playing a destructive role.
QUESTION: Destructive role, even better.
MS. NULAND: All right.
QUESTION: But Kofi Annan was saying they should be part of the equation, but you’re saying at this point they shouldn’t be.
MS. NULAND: Again, our understanding of what Special Envoy Kofi Annan was trying to say was that they need to be a better actor with regard to Syria; they need to play a role in getting to a solution in Syria. Our position on that is to agree that they need to be part of the solution. Right now they are not part of the solution.
QUESTION: What actually is the hold-up to agreeing to hold the talks on the dates June 30th that Kofi Annan has proposed? I mean, everybody seems to agree that something needs to be done in Syria. Why can’t we agree on holding a meeting on June 30th?
MS. NULAND: Well, Jo, we’ve talked about this for two weeks here now, that essentially we are prepared to go to a meeting if it’s well prepared. But we need to make sure it’s well prepared, and those conversations about the parameters of the transition that we need to have are still ongoing.
QUESTION: What would constitute well prepared for you?
MS. NULAND: Again, we talked about some of the things yesterday, so I don’t have anything to add on that.
QUESTION: Did the Turkish Government brief you about the reports that the Syrians shot down a jet fighter, Turkish fighter, today?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the reports you’ve seen. We have obviously been in contact with our Turkish ally. But with regard to the specifics of the case, I think we’re going to let the Turks speak to it rather than speak to it ourselves.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to them?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’ll let the Turks speak to it. To my knowledge, they haven’t raised this at NATO at this point.
QUESTION: Some statements attributed to high-level American officials suggesting that we are – we’re about – we’re on the cusp or we’re – some high-level Syrian officials are getting ready to defect. Could you comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, in addition to the pilot that we saw fly his MiG out a couple of days ago, our reports are that in the last couple of days we have had more senior level defections. We’ve had four senior army officers – two brigadier generals and two colonels – defect yesterday and join the opposition. So, as you know, we’ve been calling for many, many weeks on members of the military to vote with their consciences and to break ties with Assad and to refuse orders and to refuse to participate in the violence that’s ongoing. So we’re beginning to see this stream accelerate, and that’s a good thing.
QUESTION: But these defections have been restricted to the military rather than, let’s say, high diplomatic officials or high government officials and so on.
MS. NULAND: We don’t have any reports of Assad’s senior government members defecting, no.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Haven’t you been – you have been saying this for months.
MS. NULAND: Months, thank you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah? Since February?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s now almost July. Correct? I mean, back in February and March there was talk from the podium – not just you but other – and Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta to – about indications that senior members of the inner – of Assad’s inner circle were making preparation or getting their ducks in a row in case they had to get out. But you’re saying you haven’t seen any of those inner circle people leave?
MS. NULAND: Well, what we have seen, as we’ve talked about for some weeks and months here, is we’ve seen plenty of money moving out of Iran – moving out of Syria. We’ve seen plenty of family members moving out of Syria. And these are often good indications about how people feel about the staying power of their government.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) just get an update on Ambassador Ford’s whereabouts? Is he still on travel? Is he planning to participate in this Cairo meeting next week?
MS. NULAND: I think we haven’t decided precisely who will represent us, but Ambassador Ford is one option, at the Cairo meeting. He’s in Washington today.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, do you have any --
MS. NULAND: Yeah, let’s just finish Syria.
QUESTION: The pilot yesterday – have you – have any American officials spoken with him in Jordan?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no, but the Jordanians have been meeting with him and debriefing him, and we’re in contact with the Jordanians.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Thanks, Toria. Can I just clarify on the Kofi Annan comments? Did someone from the U.S. Government actually reach out to his staff to clarify what he said, whether he was suggesting that Iran should be involved in the July 30 – I mean June 30th meeting? Or are you just assuming from your hearing of it that he didn’t mean that they should be involved in the meeting?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary spoke to him. I think it was Wednesday. So she has a good sense of his views on these issues, and he obviously knows absolutely where we are on these issues. But we are in constant contact with his staff with regard to how the conference might be planned, so –
QUESTION: And so he hasn’t – no one from his staff has brought up that Iran should be involved in the next meeting?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of the conversation that the Secretary and that we’ve been having with him, but obviously there has been a question of whether Iran is an appropriate participant in this meeting, and we’ve been clear for some two weeks now. I think you were with us in Istanbul when we first made those points, and that view hasn’t changed.
Finished on Syria? Yes? Okay. Pakistan.
MS. NULAND: Well, in the first instance, we are pleased that the leadership issues appears to have been settled. We obviously look forward to working with the new prime minister and hope that this will open space to continue to roll up our sleeves and get back on track with all of the things that we want to do with Pakistan.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication with him after he was elected?
MS. NULAND: I think he was chosen a matter of hours ago, right? So I would guess there will be, but there hasn’t been yet.
MS. NULAND: Well, as ISAF has said, as we said out in Kabul earlier today, we obviously condemn the attacks that took place yesterday at the Spozhmai Hotel in Kabul’s suburbs. We offer our deepest condolences to all the victims and the families.
We join General Allen in praising the quick and superb – and professionalism of the Afghan security forces. As you know, they responded and did so very expertly. They were in the lead. There was minimal ISAF support in this instance, and they were able to deal with the incident relatively quickly. So from our perspective, this speaks to their increasing professionalism, their increasing capability to be in the lead in their own security.
QUESTION: General Allen mentioned that he believed that this bore all the hallmarks of a Haqqani Network operation. Is that an opinion that you share? And if so, have you brought this up with the Pakistanis?
MS. NULAND: Well, we certainly share that view, and as you know, we are in continual discussion with the Pakistani Government about our concerns about the operations of the Haqqani Network and the need to squeeze them far harder than we are.
QUESTION: Would the presumption that this attack has a Haqqani connection sharpen your concerns about Pakistan’s so-far inability or unwillingness to rein in their – these actions? I mean, you have been talking to them about it for more than – well, for years basically, but certainly since the Secretary’s trip last fall, and there was very explicit demands made to them there, and nothing seems to have happened.
MS. NULAND: Well, our concerns, as you know, are plenty sharp, Andy, and we’ve been making the point for a long time that we can do more, they can do more, we can do more together, and this is at the core of this work we’re trying to do to get past the differences we’ve had on counterterrorism so that we can really be maximizing our effectiveness together.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: On the Palestinian and Israeli talks, the Israeli press is saying that you helped to broker a meeting, an upcoming meeting between Mr. Mofaz and Mr. Abbas. Is that – could you comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that, but as you know, the conversations that we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks at the Secretary’s level, at Special Envoy Hale’s level, have all be designed to try to improve the atmosphere and get Israelis and Palestinians back into face-to-face discussions with each other, but we don’t have anything to announce here. I would refer to the parties.
QUESTION: Okay. The Palestinian negotiator said that Mr. Mofaz did submit a request – a meeting with Abbas. Has anyone from this building spoke to – with Mr. Abbas to facilitate such a meeting?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Secretary had a phone call with him not too long ago. We’ve been in regular contact with him, but again, I’m not going to get into the substance of the discussions that we’ve been having, other than to say they are in service to trying to facilitate direct contact.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the Gaza violence – the violence in Gaza now has claimed 11 Palestinian lives and something like 30 wounded. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, beyond what we have been saying, which is to say that we obviously condemn the rocket attacks, they have constituted a serious escalation, we want to see peace restored, we have been supportive of the Egyptian efforts to broker, and we would continue to be supportive of that.
MS. NULAND: So we’ve talked a little bit all week about this delegation of parliamentarians that came to Washington at the Wilson Center’s request and has seen a number of folks around town. Was there a specific question that you had, Matt?
QUESTION: Yeah. How did a guy who’s a member of a foreign terrorist organization get into the country and have meetings with – in the White House and at the State Department?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know – I mean, I can’t speak about the specifics of the visa adjudication of any individual case. What I can say is that anybody issued a visa goes through a full set of screenings. Those screenings do depend, however, on the integrity of the information that’s available to us at the time that we do screen. And this particular case is one that we are now looking into.
QUESTION: Well, how – it’s on the guy’s Facebook page. It doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult to find out. I mean, what kind of screening is there? Does anyone do a Google search on names? I mean, it seems like this is pretty basic stuff. I mean, was – you seem to be saying this was a mistake.
MS. NULAND: Again, we are looking into the circumstances of this particular case, and I don’t have anything more until we get a chance to work through that.
QUESTION: Is it correct that this guy – well, the whole delegation, but including this person – had meetings here in this building --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- with senior officials?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: And --
MS. NULAND: And we have spoken publicly about that yesterday, the day before – saw Bill Burns, et cetera.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, the issue relates – I mean – Bill Burns, who else?
MS. NULAND: Bill Burns, Hormats. There were a couple of others. I think I spoke to it yesterday or the day before.
QUESTION: Right, but not in relation to this one specific individual?
MS. NULAND: Correct. They were meetings with the entire delegation --
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: -- talking about transfer of – to the civilian rule, protection of human rights in a democracy, all these kinds of things that we have supported.
QUESTION: No, I understand that. I’m saying – but you did not speak specifically about this one individual. You talked about the group in general.
MS. NULAND: Right. He was a member --
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: -- of the group.
QUESTION: So when you say it’s under review, does that mean that he could be deported?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to what may result from a review; simply, to say that we’re trying to better understand this particular case.
QUESTION: You’re trying to better – you’re trying to find out if, in fact, he is a member of a designated foreign terrorist organization?
MS. NULAND: No. I’m saying we are reviewing the case of the visa issuance.
QUESTION: Do you know that this man is a member of a foreign terrorist organization?
MS. NULAND: Well, he has himself made such statements in the last day or two to the press, right? So that – we are seeing the same reports that you are seeing.
QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. But I think that it goes beyond that, and that it goes – I mean, he was a self-admitted member of this organization well before he was invited to come to the United States as part of this delegation. And it just – I don’t know; I’m just a little bit confused as to how a thorough screening would not have turned up his membership in this group given that it is literally on his Facebook page. Can you explain that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I said we are looking into it, and we are.
QUESTION: All right. And the other thing is that the Wilson Center says that the people who were invited, the members of the delegation, were all suggested by the State Department. Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: I don't know the answer to that. I will take that one and we’ll see.
QUESTION: Also on Egypt, the SCAF has made a new, rather brief announcement this morning and it wants to protest, saying that it would not – had no intention of rolling back the constitutional decree that it made on Sunday, and also warning the protestors that they were okay to protest as long as they don’t disturb daily life or some other words to that effect.
I’m wondering how you read that comment in light of your own comments and the Secretary’s about the importance of them turning over power as quickly as possible. It doesn’t seem like they’re paying any attention at all.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think what we have been saying for the last couple of days on Egypt – what the Secretary’s been saying, what we’ve been saying here and from the White House – continues to hold in terms of the general principles that have to guide this process going forward if it’s going to have integrity, if it’s going to have credibility, and if it’s going to be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Egyptian people.
Those include all of the things that we’ve been talking about, including the way the announcement of the winner is made, including the handling of the follow-on issues, the constitutional assembly needing to be fully representative of all of the views and colors of Egyptian society and Egyptian political life, and then getting to a democratically elected and seated parliament as quickly as possible. So we continue to make those points to everybody in the Egyptian process.
And with regard to the protest today, we have strongly supported, in Egypt and everywhere else, the right of peaceful protest. So that’s an important principle over this weekend.
QUESTION: Well, in light of the SCAF’s public comments, I’m just wondering if you have any reason to be confident that your message is being heard or is going to be acted on, because certainly to --
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we will judge them by what they do, not by what they say.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The ongoing impeachment trial; President’s supporters say that it’s a coup, attempted coup by his opponents. Do you have anything you can share with us on that?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the Secretary took a shouted question, I think, down in Rio about an hour ago. I just got a brief message. And her response was that we are concerned and we’re watching the situation closely. Obviously, we want to see any resolution of this matter be consistent with democracy in Paraguay and the Paraguayan constitution.
QUESTION: Yes, I have a question on Greece: How are the relations between the United States and the new Prime Minister of Greece, since there are a lot of rumors around that you don’t like his policies?
MS. NULAND: Well, I spoke to the situation in Greece yesterday. We are pleased that the Greeks have a new government and that this government can now begin working again on instituting the reforms and continue its conversation with other Eurozone members about the path forward. And we look forward to working with him and with Greece as it moves through these issues.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sudan has acted to break up a growing number of protests in recent days. I’m wondering if you have any comment on this. And do you feel that perhaps after a long lag, the Arab Spring might be reaching Khartoum?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything specifically on the protests over recent days, except that they appear to be primarily economically motivated, Andy, and that the people of Sudan, just like people anywhere else in the world, are looking to their governments to be focused on the good of the people – prosperity, economic empowerment, all those kinds of things. So our general message is to get past the preoccupying negative activities along the border and in relation to the neighbors, and start focusing on peaceful resolution of the issues that still separate Sudan and South Sudan, and start taking care of your people.
QUESTION: Are you – just as an update, do you have any sense that – how are those things going? How is the Sudan-South Sudan rapprochement – or on the way to – coming along?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have anything particularly new to – for the last couple of days since the last time we talked about it.
MS. NULAND: Jill?
QUESTION: Excuse me. Back to Rio.
MS. NULAND: Back to Rio?
QUESTION: Back to Rio.
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: The final day of the environment summit there.
MS. NULAND: I heard “Bacteria,” and I was thinking --
MS. NULAND: -- “Where would that be?”
QUESTION: It was my British accent getting in the way of the – (laughter) --
MS. NULAND: All right. Back to Rio, yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) British accent. Back to Rio. Final day of the UN summit conference today, and there’s been a lot of criticism from activist groups that the text that’s coming out is actually quite watered down and pretty gutless. What does the U.S. feel about this?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary spoke to that directly in Rio today. So I can’t improve on the comments that she just made down there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:43 p.m.)