Daily Press Briefing - June 27, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Discussion with P-5
    • Annan Plan / Geneva Meeting / China and Russia's Support for Annan Plan
    • Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Violence Against Civilians
    • Supreme Court's Decision / Support for Democratic Transition
    • President Obama's Call to President-elect Morsi
    • Government's Response to Protests
    • OAS Delegation
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 27, 2012


12:51 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Welcome, everybody. Happy Wednesday. It’s Wednesday, right? Yeah. I’ve got one little thing at the top, then we’ll go to what’s on your minds.

Today here at the State Department, we are welcoming senior officials from China, France, Great Britain, and Russia for discussions on the implementation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. These discussions are being led by Acting Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller. Together with the United States, the permanent members of the UN Security Council will meet through this Friday, continuing the dialogue that the P-5 has had on fulfilling our commitments under the NPT Review Conference Action Plan, and following up on similar meetings that we had in London in 2009 and in Paris in 2011.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Geneva. As you’re obviously aware, the Geneva meeting for Saturday has been announced. Does the fact that the meeting is to be held mean that the P-5+1, notably Russia, have now come to some sort of agreement on a – the outlines of a political transition for Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying that the Secretary spoke to some of these issues in her press conference in Helsinki a few hours ago. As you know, Kofi Annan has been working with key states on a political transition plan. He put forward a plan a number of days ago that states have been consulting on for this – most of this week. The Secretary spoke to him yesterday and told him that we like and accept his transition plan, and we think it can form the good basis not only for a meeting – the kind of meeting that he’s been looking for to show international unity – but also to help the Syrian people move forward.

So on that basis, the Secretary has agreed to go to the meeting in Geneva on Saturday, and we very much hope that this will be a meeting that really does fully endorse the plan and takes us to the next step in supporting the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Well, do you think that you have the Russians on board with the idea of a political transition that ultimately leads to the departure of Bashar al-Assad from power or not?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to speak for the Russian Federation. I will let them speak for themselves. But our litmus test for whether we thought this meeting should go forward, as we’ve been saying for many days now, was that we expected we could make concrete progress. We’ve been working with Kofi Annan, who’s been working with all the member-states. Based on our consultations, we have hopes for a successful meeting on Saturday in Geneva.

QUESTION: And does a successful meeting mean that Russia would have to sign onto a political transition plan that would entail Assad’s departure?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, that is the purpose, is to put some flesh on the bones of how this transition can go forward. The Secretary also said that if you look at the way Assad has played his cards over the last few months, and basically over the last year, he has believed that he’s had the support of China and Russia in this process. He – the first indication that they were having reservations about the way he was conducting himself was when they signed up for Kofi Annan’s six-point plan in the first instance. So now the hope and expectation is that working together on a transition plan, that will make clear to Assad that he does not have a blank check from those countries anymore, and that it is time for – time to move on. And it’ll also dishearten those who are still supporting the regime.

QUESTION: Here’s the thing: I don’t see how you can plausibly argue that yet another meeting is a success if you don’t persuade the Russians that Assad should go.

MS. NULAND: Well --

QUESTION: Do you – can you plausibly claim it a success if the Russians don’t agree to the proposition that Assad should go eventually?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think you’re asking me to get ahead of where we are. We believe that we have the grounds for a good meeting. The Secretary is looking forward to going. And I will ask you to be patient for the outcome of the meeting.


QUESTION: And just one – can I ask one other one on this?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just – are you gratified that Iran has not been invited to the meeting? And are you dismayed that Saudi Arabia has not been invited to the meeting?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, this is Kofi Annan’s invitation list. We are comfortable with it. We had made strong representations, the Secretary had throughout these discussions, about Iran and our view that Iran was not playing a constructive role. But we are comfortable with the collection of actors that the Joint Special Envoy has chosen to invite.

QUESTION: Can I ask you what changed between yesterday and today that made this meeting possible? You spoke about a transition plan that he outlined days ago, and it seems to me the only thing that changed is that we learned that Iran will not be going to this conference. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we have been saying all week, there were – there are – were a number of issues here. First of all, was the meeting going to be substantive, was it going to show unity? And second, who should be there? And all of these issues had to be worked through diplomatically over the course of the week. We are comfortable enough with where we are that we think the meeting can be a success on Saturday.

QUESTION: How are you comfortable? I mean, you say, “Was it going to be substantive?” What is the substance that is going to be presented at this meeting? He asked you a very simple question about are we going to speak – is there going to be a commitment from all present that Assad must leave as part of a transition plan, and you can’t answer that.

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of where this meeting is going to take us. Kofi Annan’s been working on a transition plan. We are supportive of it. We expect a lot of unity at this meeting. And we just need to let the meeting go forward before we predict its outcome.

QUESTION: But you were supportive of this days ago. And yet now in the last 24 hours you say you are ready to go to this conference. Wherein was the change?

MS. NULAND: We have seen increasing unity over the last two to three days about what the right message to send from this meeting will be. That said, we need to let the meeting go forward.


QUESTION: So you expect – if you say there’s unity on the – on what the right message should be, you expect – fully expect Russia to join in any statement that calls for Assad to leave power?

MS. NULAND: Again, you’re asking me to prejudge --

QUESTION: But you said there’s unity on a message?

MS. NULAND: -- the outcome of a meeting before we’re going to have it. Kofi Annan’s put forward a transition plan. We think it’s a good plan. We think that this will be the basis of the discussion. We are increasingly optimistic about the support that he has gotten for his plan. And we need to see how the meeting goes forward.

QUESTION: I’d just like to add I’m not prejudging the meeting.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: You are the one who stated here that you guys would only go to the meeting if you would get to a political transition.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: So you’ve prejudged the meeting, that it has to fulfill X and Y. I’m asking you if it will.

MS. NULAND: And I’m saying that we feel that we are in a strong enough place, in terms of the consultations that Kofi Annan has had, that the meeting can be productive.

QUESTION: This is along the same lines and not looking ahead --


QUESTION: -- but where we are right now. The Secretary said recently we disagree with Russia on Syria. Do we currently disagree with Russia on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, the Secretary’s on her way to St. Petersburg on Friday, where she will have a chance to have a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and we will be able to take soundings on precisely where we are. The – among the many advantages of the Kofi Annan process has been his ability to bring countries together around common elements, first his six-point plan, and now he’s working to have unity around a transition plan.

That doesn’t change the fact that we will continue to make clear to Russia that we think it is a bad idea to be arming the Assad regime as we work towards this – towards a transition. But I think the full range of Syria issues will be on the table when the Secretary sees Foreign Minister Lavrov and when they are both present at the Geneva meeting the following day.

QUESTION: Would you say the U.S. and Russia have narrowed their disagreements at this point?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to prejudge, but I think we would not be going to this Geneva meeting if we didn’t think that there was – there were improved chances for unity among the participants on the way forward.

QUESTION: Victoria, could you explain to us what is exactly the understanding of the United States for the transition? Does it have to be immediate, complete, and total?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to prejudge the meeting we’re going to have on Saturday.

QUESTION: No. I’m not talking about the meeting. I’m asking your view of the transition that must take place.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: It has be immediate and complete, that includes Assad, his family, his regime, everything? And then I have a follow-up.

MS. NULAND: Again, I think the best articulation that we have made in this format is when the Secretary spoke to the principles that need to underlie any transition, that there needs to be a complete ceasefire that is observed by all sides, that we must have a transition government that reflects the views and the needs of Syrians of all stripes – men, women, minorities, the various different ethnic and political groupings, et cetera – and that we’ve got to have human rights and rule of law respected in the transition period, and this transition has got to lead to free, fair, transparent elections.

QUESTION: Okay. And do the Russians have a different understanding of this transition, that it might be partial transition?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to let the Russians speak for themselves.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t you agree when you say that your positions are closer you must have a better understanding of the Russian position on transition then you did, let’s say, at the beginning of the week?

MS. NULAND: Again, Kofi Annan has put forward a transition plan that will form the basis of discussion on Saturday. We have been working at various levels to try to bring countries closer around those ideas. So let’s have that meeting on Saturday and see how we do.

QUESTION: And finally, just one last thing. Do you believe that the uninviting of Iran was a tit-for-tat with uninviting Saudi Arabia?

MS. NULAND: I think you ought to talk to the Special Envoy about how he came up with his list. You know where we were on Iran.

QUESTION: Toria, can you shed some light on the transition plan that Kofi Annan has put?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get ahead of the Joint Special Envoy in ventilating what he’s thinking, but we’ll have this meeting on Saturday. And our expectation is that we can have a good meeting.

QUESTION: Do you feel he’s put a lot on the line at this meeting?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary made clear – and has been making clear for some time – that we have to change up the game here and that one of the underdeveloped aspects was how you get from the bloody Assad regime to a post-Assad transition. And we needed to give confidence to more Syrians that their life would be better after Assad, and we needed to create more unity within the international community about how this could be done.

Some of our international partners have been saying we have no love for Assad, but we’re concerned about sort of chaos after. So the idea here is to present a real plan that creates different realities, that creates a framework of support, within which Syrians can come together and join forces to implement it.

QUESTION: So is there a risk in having this conference, considering it doesn’t appear that everyone is fully at the same place yet among the international --

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve done a lot of diplomacy, and Kofi Annan has led this over the last week and a half to try to narrow positions so that if we agreed to have a meeting we had some degrees of confidence that we would come out of that meeting with more support for the longsuffering Syrian people. So that’s the hope and expectation.

QUESTION: So if this thing blows up with two camps completely disagreeing, you would be surprised it sounds like?

MS. NULAND: Again, you’re taking me into all kinds of hypotheticals, but you know how carefully we’ve worked with Kofi Annan to try to prepare it properly so that we didn’t have an empty meeting, we didn’t have a meeting where we split and gave – because such a – that kind of thing would only give comfort to those who are perpetrating the violence.

QUESTION: Fair enough. I’ll hold you to that.

QUESTION: How this meeting would be a turning point, do you think, as the Secretary has said?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think you’re asking me to predict events this Saturday. So let’s just go on what she said.

QUESTION: Victoria?

QUESTION: That’s on the – I have a question on Syria, but on violence today, so if you’re still on the -- today a TV station was attacked – a pro-Assad Syria TV station was attacked in Syria. Do you see that as an escalation in violence? And have you guys had any contact with any opposition forces about their participation in that?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether we’ve had contact with anybody who claims to have participated. We have, on a daily basis, contact with a broad cross-section of Syrian opposition figures. We’ve seen these reports that seven staff members of a pro-government TV station were killed outside of Damascus. We’re not in a position to confirm who is responsible or even what the circumstances were. There are claims and counterclaims with regard to that. You know that we stand against any violence against civilians from any quarter.

QUESTION: Victoria --

MS. NULAND: Please. Still on Syria?

QUESTION: To your knowledge, did all the country invited have officially confirmed that they would attend the Geneva – the Russian, the Arab, and everybody?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think that’s a question for Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan. I haven’t heard of any countries not being willing to go.

QUESTION: Victoria, if you would just clarify something that you said, that some of your partners told you that they are not in love with Assad, and does that mean that the Russians have told you that they are willing to live without him --

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to let the Russians speak for themselves. They have made --

QUESTION: But they are the ones that have made that statement. The Russians --

MS. NULAND: They’ve made some public statements along those lines, I believe. Yeah.

QUESTION: Was there today a delegation – a Syrian civil society delegation – at the State Department arguing for a visa issuance for Mufti Hassoun?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that that conference has now been canceled, so I don’t know about any delegation lobbying here, but that the entire event has now been canceled by the organizers.

QUESTION: There are also news that the Syrian Support Group is opening an office in Washington to further contacts with the State Department. Are you aware of --

MS. NULAND: I’ve seen the press reports. I don’t have any particulars on who these folks might be.

Anything else?


MS. NULAND: Yeah, Egypt.

QUESTION: Can we return to one of the questions that you were asked yesterday, which was whether the U.S. Government regarded it as a good thing that a court struck down the decree under which the Egyptian military would be able to arrest – would have been able to arrest civilians? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

MS. NULAND: Well, we did – as you know, this was coming down as we were here yesterday, so we didn’t have a chance to fully appreciate what it was about. We do consider this a positive development. We think it marks another step in the direction of a civilian-run government. We now look forward to the full implementation of the court’s decision. As we’ve said many times, we support Egypt’s transition to a democratic government that respects the universal human rights of its people, including the rights to freedom of assembly, free speech, et cetera.

QUESTION: An Egyptian media source said – claimed that Secretary of State will be visiting Cairo. Is that true?

MS. NULAND: There is nothing to announce at the moment. I think she does look forward to a chance to go and consult with the new government at an appropriate moment, but I don’t have anything to announce.

QUESTION: But is it likely to be at this trip?


QUESTION: Okay. What about --

QUESTION: Not on this trip? Not likely to be on this trip?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: What about any – should we expect any sort of invitation from Mr. Morsi to visit Washington anytime soon?

MS. NULAND: I think we need to let President-elect Morsi get himself inaugurated, pull his government together. As we said, we look forward to a chance to continue to interact there going forward, but I don’t have anything to announce on Washington visits.

QUESTION: And it would be appropriate for Egypt, for the new Egyptian-elected president, to visit Washington as his first stop, considering that its biggest ally?

MS. NULAND: Again, that’s a decision for Egyptians to make, and also for the White House to make.

QUESTION: Have you made any decision on the self-proclaimed terrorist? Is the Egyptian parliament – former member of parliament – sorry, it gets long – who visited the United States last week --

MS. NULAND: You’re asking about his visa status?


MS. NULAND: As you know, he’s returned home. And I don’t have anything further on the visa issue.




QUESTION: We saw by your statement --

MS. NULAND: Sorry – still on Egypt? Yeah.

QUESTION: We know that the President issued a – called Mr. Morsi or sent him a message and so on, but not the State Department. Has the State Department or has Secretary Clinton called Mr. Morsi herself?

MS. NULAND: No. I mean, he’s the President’s counterpart, so it was appropriate for the President to speak with him. I think our expectation is when a government is formed and a foreign minister is named, then the Secretary would reach out.

QUESTION: But then correct me if I’m wrong, but in past practices, the Secretary of State did call leaders when they were elected to congratulate them. That is not so?

MS. NULAND: Traditionally, that’s the purview of the President on that first round. Yeah.

All right, Sudan.

QUESTION: We saw your statement last night. There are reports today that there’s been some additional economically-based demonstrations that were put down. Can you tell us about your concerns about what’s going on in Sudan?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think our concern is that you have citizens in Sudan who are concerned about the economic conditions in the country, concerned about how difficult it is to make ends meet, and they’re exercising their right of peaceful protest, and their government is arresting and detaining them. And this is the wrong response, and it speaks to the fact that the government is putting its energy in all of the wrong places rather than focusing on the needs of its people, which include settling scores with the neighbors and implementing all of the aspects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement so they can move forward.


QUESTION: On Paraguay, I was wondering if you’ve come to any conclusions after yesterday’s meeting of the OAS, and also if you support the idea of an extraordinary general assembly to assess the situation at the foreign ministers level.

MS. NULAND: Well, we were very pleased that yesterday’s OAS meeting agreed that Secretary General Insulza will lead a high-level delegation to Paraguay to assess the situation on the ground and report back to the Permanent Council. We think that’s the appropriate course of action, and we are not at this stage planning to rush to judgment on the events in Paraguay until we have that report back.

QUESTION: So and – yesterday, you said that you don’t consider it a coup. Can you confirm that?

MS. NULAND: I was careful yesterday to say that we hadn’t used the word. We will, again, let the OAS Secretary General go down, consult with all parties, and make his recommendations back to the OAS before we’ll --

QUESTION: But you haven’t determined it yet?

MS. NULAND: Correct.


QUESTION: And just so we’re clear on that, yesterday you – I want to be clear that you have – have you yet made a decision? Have you yet made – has the State Department yet made a determination that the events that transpired in Paraguay were not a coup?

MS. NULAND: We’re not judging this one way or the other until we see the OAS, so the answer to your question is no.

QUESTION: But wait a minute. I mean, isn’t that an internal determination that is made by the State Department? It’s not clear to me why you need to see the results of the Insulza investigation to be able to make that determination. Don’t you have your own sources of information --

MS. NULAND: We, of course --

QUESTION: -- that would enable you to decide?

MS. NULAND: We, of course, do. But he is going to go down on behalf of the OAS and get a full, comprehensive picture of how all parties view these events, and then we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: Did you ever determine if the Malian mutiny was a coup?

MS. NULAND: We didn’t – I don’t think we used the “c” word in that context. Our efforts were all at trying to turn back the clock.

QUESTION: Toria, has there been any new developments since last week’s consultations with the Palestinians and the Israelis?

MS. NULAND: Well, David Hale’s been on the phone with various interlocutors, including the Quartet colleagues, but I don’t have anything else to share in this format.

QUESTION: Also, Peace Now, Israeli human rights organization Peace Now, issued a statement saying that the government and the settlers are planning to take over big chunks of Givat Ha’Ulpana. Have you heard anything about that?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that, Said. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Just one thing on the membership of the Geneva meeting. You said that you were comfortable with the invitation list, so that means you are comfortable with the exclusion of Saudi Arabia from the meeting? You don’t feel like they had a valuable role to play?

MS. NULAND: Again, the guest list was drawn up by Kofi Annan after consulting with lots of countries, and we are comfortable with the way it turned out.

Anything else? Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)