Daily Press Briefing - July 2, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Deputy Secretary Nide's Trip / GLOCs
- Opposition / Annan Plan / Political Transition / Geneva Meeting / Cairo Conference / Chapter 7
- Presidential Election / Pena Nieto
- Maritime Domain Awareness / South China Sea
- NORTH KOREA
- Food Assistance
- JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA
- Japan-South Korea Relationship
- Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman
- U.S. Support for Turkey
- U.S. Sanctions / Delisting of al-Faqih
- Destruction of the Cultural Sites in Timbuktu / UNESCO
- Church of the Nativity / World Heritage Committee / UNESCO
1:02 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Welcome, everybody. Happy Monday. Welcome in particular to all of our summer interns from around the building in the back of the briefing room there. Welcome, and thank you for all you do. Let’s go to what is on your minds.
QUESTION: Can we start with Pakistan? I presume this will be very brief, but Under Secretary Nides is there or was there at the top of a delegation talking about GLOCs. And was – were they successful? Is there a deal imminent? What can you tell us?
MS. NULAND: Deputy Secretary Nides was in Pakistan today. As you know, we’ve been working through a range of issues with Pakistan over the last few months, including towards working on reopening of the GLOCs. That work continues. We don’t have anything in particular to announce today.
Also on Pakistan, just to advise that Secretary Clinton made a call over the weekend to Pakistani Prime Minister Ashraf to wish him well in his new post, and she also noted that we want to continue our engagement and work through the issues that we still have.
QUESTION: Do you know who else was with Nides?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything else on that delegation. I’m sorry. And he’s on his way home now.
Still on Pakistan --
QUESTION: I’m sorry. He is? Or did they go to Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is he was getting ready to get on a plane. I talked to him a couple minutes ago, and he was headed home.
Okay. Anything else?
QUESTION: Toria, besides wishing him well, did she get into the subject of GLOCs?
MS. NULAND: It was a very short conversation, essentially to welcome him to his new job and to say that we look forward to working together.
QUESTION: Just (inaudible). Deputy Secretary Nides is on way home, but are the talks ongoing now? I mean, there’s been some question about sort of when those discussions take place and when they don’t. Are they going on still? Are there still people there talking to them about the GLOCs, or does this sort of put this particular set of discussions at an end?
MS. NULAND: Well, as a broader matter, we’re continuing to talk about the GLOCs, and we will until we have resolution of the issue. But his visit is concluded and he’ll come home. We had talked earlier about the fact that there had been a technical team there, a lot of the technical issues have been resolved, but we have to keep talking about it politically.
QUESTION: Are you aware that there is a meeting tomorrow of the Pakistani – of the commission or their national security council or something along those lines which is supposed to take up this issue?
MS. NULAND: Sounds like an issue for the Pakistanis. I know that they have been continuing to look at these issues internally along with us.
QUESTION: No, but are you aware of a meeting tomorrow?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on their internal meetings. I’d refer you to them.
QUESTION: The reports in Pakistani media indicate that the deal is imminent and the GLOCs could be opened as early as this week. So can you say that – have you neared an agreement on this issue?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce.
Please. Still Pakistan?
QUESTION: It’s a different subject.
MS. NULAND: Anybody else, Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Syria?
QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. One opposition group after another are – they are saying in statements and on the internet and so on that you are compromising principle, in this case aiding them with arms, because of your fear that extremist Islamists might rise to the fore. Is that true?
MS. NULAND: What was – are we aiding --
QUESTION: They are claiming that you are compromising aiding the opposition with arms because you fear the rise of Islamic extremists.
MS. NULAND: You know our position on further militarizing this conflict. We are concerned that that will simply add fuel to the fire.
QUESTION: So you feel that any kind of aid and arms is counterproductive?
MS. NULAND: Our position on military support hasn’t changed, Said.
QUESTION: And surely, among the reasons you think it would (inaudible), there is a concern that there might – that weapons going in there in a lawless place might end up in the wrong hands, right? Isn’t that one of the – one among many concerns?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into it beyond saying that we are concerned about pouring more weapons into an already over-militarized situation. What we want to see now, particularly following the meeting in Geneva on Saturday, is all sides take advantage of Kofi Annan’s plan now and work with him on forming up this transitional governing body so that we can now move past the Assad regime.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up quickly. Your allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia are really financing and pouring arms into Syria. If you stand so principally against the influx of arms into Syria, can’t you lean on your allies to stop doing so?
MS. NULAND: Said, we’ve talked about this many, many times here today. We’ve made our decision; other countries are making other decisions. Our goal now is to try to stay coordinated on all of these issues having to do with the opposition.
QUESTION: The opposition meeting in Cairo continue to say the thing that we were talking about the on trip, which is there’s a lack of clarity about whether Assad has to go or whether he cannot be part of this governing body. I know the Secretary talked about this, but is there any guarantee? How can you assure them that he won’t be sticking around?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, just for background for those of you that didn’t follow the Geneva meeting, the countries assembled by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, the P-5 countries, all of the regional states, agreed after much work on a framework for a post-Assad transition. This framework calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body that can include representatives from across the political spectrum, but whose members have to be approved by mutual consent. So from our perspective – and the Secretary made this absolutely clear when we were in Geneva – there is no way that Assad, his cronies or anybody with blood on their hands is going to meet the mutual consent standard.
So if in fact what the opposition wants is to be able to have some control over who’s going to govern their country going forward, this express written assurance that they will be able to consent to those who are in the transition and governing body, we believe, gives them ironclad guarantees that they will be able to veto people like Assad and others that they have concerns about.
QUESTION: Isn’t mutual consent a recipe for failure? I mean, every side will veto the other side and it will go nowhere?
MS. NULAND: Well, in coalition governments around the world, in transition governments, in previous experiences like this, there’s always this issue of whether you’re willing to sign up and work with the other folks who are going to be in the government. It’s always a matter of compromise and conciliation, and that’s going to have to be worked through. But if in fact the concern on the government side is about jihadi forces or on the opposition side is about folks like Assad and others that clearly have been part of this bloodbath, they have what they need in the Kofi Annan plan. That isn’t to say that it’s not going to be a complex process to put together this transitional governing body, but the mandate that the group gave to Kofi Annan was now to roll up his sleeves and begin working with all sides to come up with candidates to try to come up with a body that can actually move Syria beyond Assad.
So in addition to that, as you know, the Secretary made a very strong call that countries that have influence with pro-government forces need to lean on them to cooperate in the formation of this body, and we will be working with the opposition for them to join in this process, come up with strong candidates who represent all the colors of Syria. And for us, that work is ongoing right now. We have Robert Ford at the Cairo meeting that the Arab League is leading with the opposition to try to bring some unity of their own behind this plan.
QUESTION: Will Kofi Annan be, ultimately, the judge eventually of who comes on this – is he the High Commissioner --
MS. NULAND: Well, he is the facilitator --
QUESTION: -- kind of --
MS. NULAND: -- for the Syria people. That’s the way it’s set up. But the plan very clearly makes – sets out that it is the Syrians themselves who have to make these decisions. And that was something that was very important to the opposition. It was also very important to all of us.
QUESTION: What’s his practical next step?
MS. NULAND: Well, you need to speak to him, but my – our understanding from the conversations that we had with him on Saturday is that he will now begin reaching out to his contacts across the Syrian spectrum and try to work on good candidates for this and work on implementing this plan.
QUESTION: In their public pronouncements, many members of the opposition have been extremely negative about the results of the Geneva meeting, saying they can’t work with this formulation. Is Ambassador Ford, in effect, trying to sell the Geneva deal to the opposition members who are gathered in Cairo? Is – or and have they expressed these same sorts of reservations through him to you? Are we like, say, sending the same messages privately as they are saying publicly?
MS. NULAND: Well, my understanding today is that the Cairo conference is underway, that they are actually beginning to make some more progress than we’ve seen in the past on a transition strategy of their own. The goal is to have that strategy be complimentary, coherent, cohesive with the Annan plan so that we can move on to the appointing of the individuals. I think when you are only receiving press reports out of a very complex document that’s issued on a Saturday 5,000 miles away – or however far away we were from where most of the opposition was – it is important for them to have time to study it. It is important for those countries that participated in the process, whether it is us, whether it’s the regional states, whether it’s the Russians and Chinese, to be able to explain the thinking behind it, for Kofi Annan to do that. And we are confident that when they have a chance to really look at how much this plan gives them, they will see the merit in it.
Let me add one other point in terms of the guarantees that the opposition has here about their future. Later on in the document where it talks about the powers of the transitional governing body, it makes clear that they take over the full authority of the state. So if – as the Secretary said on Saturday – Assad refuses to leave, he’ll essentially be stripped of power because the TGB will have all the power of the state, including all of the power over the security apparatus and the intelligence apparatus. So this essentially dispels the fiction that he’s going to have any role.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just one more – one quick follow-up on that. Did they – are you able to say whether or not the mutual consent formulation was run by members of the opposition prior to being put into the Annan – revised Annan plan? Did they have any opportunity to vet that wording before it was put into the document?
And secondly, can you tell us what – you’ve mentioned now you want to take this to the Friends of Syria group on Friday, I believe. What is the process there? I mean, do you put this up to a vote amongst the group? Or how do they – if indeed they want to endorse it, how do they – how do you get that endorsement?
MS. NULAND: Well, on the first part, there have been consultations, as you know, for months and months with the Syrian opposition on a unity plan of their own and, particularly in the last few weeks, the elements that they want to see go into a transition. We worked very hard to try to reflect what we were hearing from them in this document so that it would be something that would be coherent with their own thinking going forward. But I’m not going to get into the precise conversations that we had with them.
With regard to the Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Paris, I think we have to see how that meeting shapes up. But traditionally, as you know, there have been common positions taken by that group at the end of the meeting, either in the form of a host statement, et cetera. So our hope and expectation is that many of the countries who were not able to participate in the Geneva meeting, but will now be at the Friends meeting in Paris, will have had a chance to study the document – it’s now out in public – and will be able to add their voices to those of us who have already endorsed it as a strong way forward and give Special Envoy Kofi Annan their political support going forward.
QUESTION: Toria, you said that if Assad refuses to give up power, that there’s a mechanism that this transitional governing body would get the power. Bearing in mind it has no headquarters, no members, no military, no apparatus, no existence in essence right now, what is the timeframe for that handover, that mechanism?
MS. NULAND: Well, when you go back and you read the document, it talks not only about creating the transitional governing body, but also empowering it with the full executive powers of the state, including the powers over defense, security, intelligence, et cetera. So the expectation is that the members would be formed up and then the power would transfer. The goal here, as you know, as we had in Yemen and elsewhere, once this government is formed, once the powers have transferred, this is the best way to ensure, if you care about the institutions of the Syrian state, that we can move on to this democratic transition without having to rip the institutions to pieces. So the hope and expectation would be that in the process of formation there would also be work with other stakeholders in Syria to see that their loyalty now should shift to this body.
QUESTION: This body first has to come into existence.
MS. NULAND: Of course. Of course.
QUESTION: Members have to be chosen.
MS. NULAND: Of course.
QUESTION: And what – is there any timeframe for when this body might be a reality and not just an idea on paper?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think Kofi Annan himself was asked this question at the – at his press conference on Saturday. And he said: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m going to work to get this done as quickly as I can and to work very hard with all of the forces in Syria. That is why we are all urging now that everybody roll up their sleeves and start thinking about who can usefully serve in this body, representing all of the political views, all of the ethnicities, and giving comfort to people across the spectrum that this is going to give them a better future than what they have with Assad.
QUESTION: Explain to me how, if no members ever are established within this body, how it could theoretically assume power at any stage if it doesn’t have anybody in it.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the first step is to get the governing body named and agreed, and then it will begin to govern. Obviously, the chicken has to come before --
QUESTION: By that argument if Assad says no and his government says no to every single opposition candidate presented, then that body, by mutual consent, can never have any members and therefore can never take power.
MS. NULAND: Again, to start with the fact that before this Geneva meeting, as the Secretary said on Saturday, there were – Assad and his folks, I think, never thought that Russia and China would abandon them. So this is not only – they have essentially signed up to a plan that creates an alternative structure to Assad and his cronies that makes clear that nobody can serve in this structure that doesn’t meet the consent of the other candidates. And so this is designed not only to appeal to the opposition, but also to appeal to those people serving in the government, serving in the military, who have grave discomfort with what Assad has been up to but worry, and worry about preserving the institutions of the state, worry about being able to have a say in the future of their country, and to strip them away from Assad, who is taking them nowhere.
So part of the goal here is to encourage those members of the government who are prepared to disassociate themselves from the bloody tactics of the regime and join this kind of an institution to step forward and start working on it.
QUESTION: Toria, where this government should be based? Inside or outside the --
MS. NULAND: No, this a Syrian government for Syrians in Syria.
QUESTION: I’m so sorry, Victoria. There was a huge presidential election just south of the border --
QUESTION: No, we're --
MS. NULAND: Let’s finish with Syria. Then we’ll come to Mexico, I promise.
QUESTION: A couple things. One is in response to Andy’s question about the opposition coming out and not being happy, or coming out saying that they rejected, actually – I mean, there are not too many positive voices there, you seemed to suggest that their impressions of this deal were all based on erroneous media reporting. Do you – and that once they had – were able to read the whole document, they’d be jumping for joy and saying what a wonderful thing this is. Do you really think that it takes more than 48 hours to digest a three-page document?
MS. NULAND: Again, the opposition is meeting in a very broad configuration in Cairo. They themselves are working on the future that they see for their country post-Assad. We are seeing more traction, more unity in that meeting than we’ve seen in the past. We are also seeing a conversation that is quite coherent with regard to what they want and the elements in this document.
So we and other countries who were represented at the Geneva meeting are working with them so that they can understand the full intent of this document and take full advantage of it.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any opposition figure, credible opposition figure, coming out in support of this?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think there have been folks who have been interested in it, but are sitting on the fence, and I think we’ll see this meeting ends tomorrow in Cairo.
QUESTION: And the other thing is that when you began the – when you started, you said – you talked about how this was a framework for a post-Assad transition. Having sat in Geneva all day on Saturday, I don’t remember those words at the top of this document or the word Assad being mentioned at all. And I think that’s a problem that the opposition has. There’s nothing in here that mentions him, and there’s nothing in here that would lay down criteria other than a mutual consent to keep him out.
So aren’t you stretching things a bit from what this text does, and certainly the Russian and the Chinese interpretation of it, when you say that it’s a framework for a quote/unquote “post-Assad” transition?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think so, Matt. I mean, one of the reasons why we don’t name names in this document is because this is a process for the Syrian people, the Syrian political actors, to decide among themselves. It is for them to make decisions about who can --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then why do you say --
MS. NULAND: Can I finish? Can I finish?
MS. NULAND: Who will – for them to make decisions about who’s going to participate. Our point is for those who want to participate in this structure, who fear that Assad could take it over, are – we are seeking to reassure them that we don’t see any way he can meet the criteria in the document because he’s not going to pass mutual consent by anybody. So the Russians are right in saying it doesn’t speak to Assad. So are you. However, we’ve set it up in such a way that Syrians will make decisions and there’s no way Syrians are going to allow him to continue.
QUESTION: Right, but don’t you think it’s a bit of stretch for you to call it a framework for a post-Assad transition when that’s not – I mean, not only does it not mention Assad; it doesn’t mention anybody. And as Lavrov said with that huge grin on his face in Geneva, this doesn’t exclude anybody.
MS. NULAND: We are confident that if this and when this transitional governing body is formed up along the lines of this document, that he’s not going to be part of it.
QUESTION: Victoria, once this coalition is formed, the Syrian coalition is formed, will it have an immediate access to the Syrian regime’s assets frozen in foreign banks?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the scenario here, but the idea is that this would be a legitimate, transitional governing body with all full powers of the state.
QUESTION: But isn’t that a problem? If Assad refuses to go, you could potentially have two authorities claiming to run Syria. How is that going to work in practice?
MS. NULAND: Well again, this process of forming up this structure is going to, in and of itself, attract those in the government who are ready to join up with the post-Assad transition. So he may, at the end of the day, still say, “Hey, here I am over here,” as we’ve seen in the past in some of these other transitions. But he won’t effectively have any power.
QUESTION: Do you envision a future where, actually, you could turn these diplomatic missions such as the Embassy here in Washington or other places for this transitional body?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to get ahead of where we’re going to be, but we’ve seen that scenario in other places. We’ve seen, in – even in this Arab Awakening period, that when you have a legitimately empowered transitional structure, we have been able to start doing business with that structure.
QUESTION: On Mexico?
QUESTION: In Syria --
QUESTION: One more on Syria, please.
MS. NULAND: Are we – let’s – one more on Syria, then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Another element of the Secretary’s statements in Geneva on Saturday was that the U.S. was going to start the wheels turning in New York on the --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- Chapter 7 thing and I’m just wondering if that has started. And also, is it the sort of – it’s often assumed – at least it has in the past – that any Chapter 7 would be dealing with the Assad regime and that they would be the ones who would be subject to globalized sanctions, and soon, were they to be implemented. Is it now that you have sort of brought in both the opposition and the government into this mutual consent sort of conundrum that any possible UN action on sanctions, for instance, or other punitive action would also apply to the opposition if they don’t sign up as you expect them to?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of where we’re going to end up here, but, as the Secretary said, we now want to see this plan not only gain broader support at the Friends of Syrian People meeting in Paris at the end of the week, but also to see it endorsed formally by the UN Security Council with real consequences if it’s not implemented, including sanctions under Chapter 7. So we think that Kofi Annan needs that kind of support, he needs it with regard to all actors, so we’re going to continue those consultations in New York.
QUESTION: Victoria --
QUESTION: Syria --
QUESTION: Mexico --
QUESTION: Syria – one more --
MS. NULAND: This is absolutely the last Syria, because our poor colleagues who cover Mexican things are – have been very patient. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Who will appoint the prime minister and the ministers?
MS. NULAND: Again, this is now for UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan to midwife with the Syrian representatives themselves. Traditionally, in the process of forming these kinds of transitional governments, the decision on who will be the prime minister is made from among those numbers. But I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here; we need to see how the process evolves.
QUESTION: In Geneva, Kofi Annan was asked about the timeframe --
MS. NULAND: I think we’re done on Syria. We really need to move on. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Mexico is one of your closest allies probably in the hemisphere, if not in some parts of the world, but let me ask you: Are you confident that the results of yesterday’s presidential election guarantee that the U.S.-Mexico anti-narcotics effort will continue in the next administration?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying that we congratulate Mr. Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party on his apparent election as the next President of Mexico based on the preliminary results issued by the Mexican electoral authorities. Mexican people have once again demonstrated their strong commitment to democratic values through a free, fair, and transparent electoral process.
We have a very close partnership with Mexico. We’ve built it strongly during President Calderon’s administration. We commend him and his administration and the people of Mexico for the courage and commitment of their actions. We look forward to continuing to work with the Calderon government through its tenure, which is – takes us through December 1st. And we are confident that we will be able to continue having a very strong working partnership with Mexico on all of these issues, because they are vitally important to Mexico and to the United States.
QUESTION: But Victoria – but the elections --
MS. NULAND: Please, please.
QUESTION: In Mexico, these election have been seen like a referendum to the policies of President Calderon. Do you think maybe there will be some changes to the anti-narcotics policy that resulted in so many killings?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re not going to get ahead of a formal seating of a new government and predict changes in policy one way or the other, but we are committed to working in partnership with Mexico to meet the evolving challenges posed by transnational criminal organizations, and we expect that that great cooperation is going to continue with the Pena Nieto administration when it is seated.
QUESTION: There have been any communication of Secretary Clinton or somebody else from the U.S. Government with the new President?
MS. NULAND: Not yet. Stay tuned.
QUESTION: Yeah, but besides when you say that the relation is going to continue and the cooperation, there are members of the U.S. Congress, like Jim Sensenbrenner, who express very, very, very high concern that the PRI, as soon as it get the power, they’re going to start negotiating with the narco-traffickers. And it was an obvious referendum to the antinarcotics strategy by Calderon supported by the U.S. Government in this election. So how is possible that you are saying you’re comfortable with this when the majority of the Mexican people voted and rejected this strategy?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of whatever may be --
QUESTION: That is okay, but at least you have to tell us something more than we are ready to work and we support and this – even the U.S. Congress is worried about it, and you say you’re happy?
MS. NULAND: Again, we will wait until the government comes into office. We look forward to working with it closely. We think the stakes are high for Mexico. The stakes are high for us. And we think we will be able to have good cooperation. But I’m not going to get ahead of the government before it is seated.
QUESTION: But you already congratulate Pena Neito, and he’s not officially the next president of Mexico.
MS. NULAND: Again, based on preliminary results. Thanks.
QUESTION: Toria, on Mexico.
MS. NULAND: Last one on Mexico, then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you give any credit to these allegations that the PRI has been buying votes?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further to say then what I said, which is that the preliminary indications are that it was free and fair, but we will await the final results.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just say that, as part of our longstanding military cooperation, the United States supports the Philippines in enhancing its maritime domain awareness. This has, in the past, included, and will continue to include, information sharing, capacity building through initiatives such as the U.S. support to the Philippine National Coast Watch System. With regard to any other specifics of how we cooperate militarily with the Philippines, I’m going to send you to my colleagues at the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Just one more follow-up. How do you explain the military assistance to Philippine will ease the tension in South China Sea?
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: How do you explain your military assistance to Philippine will ease the tension in South China Sea?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, what we are talking about is maritime domain awareness. We’re talking about helping the Philippines be aware of what is going on and supporting our ally in defense of its own security. With regard to what needs to happen in the South China Sea, you know where we’ve been. We want to see this issue negotiated among the stakeholders. We want to see a code of conduct developed. And that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: And under the U.S. and the Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, you are responsible to consider to meet the Philippines’ needs, correct?
MS. NULAND: And we will, as we’ve always said.
QUESTION: Toria, let me ask you a couple of easy questions on Korea.
MS. NULAND: Easy questions. There are no easy questions on Korea. Go ahead.
QUESTION: First on South Korea, the U.S. Government announced presidential delegation to Yeosu Expo. Would you please give me some more details on --
MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that one. I, frankly, don’t have anything now on our expo delegation, but --
QUESTION: Okay. And on North Korea.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Well, you know where we are. We remain concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people, and we remain committed to doing what we can to work with the Government of the DPRK so it will come back into compliance with its international obligations. We were, as you know, prepared to try to work on this issue until we became concerned about whether we could trust the word of the DPRK Government, and that’s where we remain, unfortunately.
MS. NULAND: Yep.
MS. NULAND: Well, we support the strongest possible relationship between our two strong allies in North Asia, but I’m going to refer you to both of them on the timing of their agreement.
QUESTION: Egypt. Maybe it’s an easy question.
MS. NULAND: Are there any easy Egypt questions?
QUESTION: So it’s regarding the president, new President Mohammed Morsi. And in his speech, he raised the issue of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. I know Jill, in her interview with the Secretary, raised that issue, and the Secretary answered a position regarding what’s going on in this case. Is there any contact regarding the actual Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman or it used just as a political, like, slogan?
MS. NULAND: Well, President Morsi has just come into office. To my knowledge, neither he nor his people have contacted us on this case, but I think the Secretary was extremely clear in her interviews over the weekend about where we stand on it.
QUESTION: There is another thing, because this issue was raised before when one of the former parliamentary member was meeting Secretary Burns in this building. And he came out and he said that I talk about this issue, the one who was involved in the visa issue. Is there some kind of statement coming out of our – I mean, U.S. ambassador is informing Egyptian authorities this is not the case, it’s a non-issue?
MS. NULAND: You lost me in the details there. This is with regard to the blind sheikh? What are we talking about?
QUESTION: Yeah. Yes, please.
MS. NULAND: The Secretary said it. I will say it again here. He was tried; he was convicted; he’s serving a life sentence. That is justice served, and we expect that that situation will not change.
QUESTION: Kind of tangentially related to Mexico --
MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah.
QUESTION: -- which was just – why are you so quick to congratulate the President-elect on partial results when you refuse to do that for Putin?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have good confidence in these preliminary results and in the integrity --
QUESTION: And you didn’t have good confidence in the Russian results? I mean --
MS. NULAND: As I said, we have good confidence --
QUESTION: That was an election that has about as much suspense as a North Korean election.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, we – as you often point out, Matt, we are not always consistent.
QUESTION: Can I just go to Syria for a second? In Geneva, Kofi Annan was asking about timeframe that you addressed. He said that within a year – I hope that within a year we will see real results. Do you see this realistic? This sounds okay with your expectations?
MS. NULAND: The Syrian people deserve results as quickly as possible, and we call on all the forces in Syria to roll up their sleeves, support this Kofi Annan plan, and start working on bringing it to fruition. And the faster we can work on it, the better chance we stand to end the bloodshed.
MS. NULAND: We’ve spoken about this issue from our Embassy in Ankara. I don’t have anything further to add. You know how strongly we support our Turkish ally, and we condemn leaks of any kind.
QUESTION: Toria, a quick one, on Security Council committee yesterday dropped a Saudi dissident, Faqih and his group MIRA, from the al-Qaida sanctions list. We’re told that the U.S. was opposed to this move. Can you just tell us, do you have any reaction to it?
MS. NULAND: Well, you’re right on the facts of the case. As you may know, consensus is required to maintain the designation in the committee if the ombudsman suggests that somebody ought to be dropped. And several members supported the delisting of al-Faqih, including the UK, where al-Faqih lives. That doesn’t change the fact that U.S. sanctions on him have been maintained. And today’s action has no effect on the way we deal with him.
QUESTION: What --
QUESTION: Are you able – I mean, it’s pretty rare that the U.S. and the UK end up on different sides of an issue like this. Is that a concern to you at all? And do you – why do you reject the British reasoning on why – on allowing this kind of being dropped off --
MS. NULAND: Well again, this has gone forward now in a UN context, but we haven’t changed our own view with regard to him. We did have some concerns about the delisting, but the way this committee works, after the reforms that we made, the ombudsman recommends – and you have to have consensus, which we weren’t going to have – in order to maintain somebody on the list.
QUESTION: You have to have consensus to maintain someone? Or you have to have consensus to drop someone?
MS. NULAND: No. The way – this is part of the reform of the sanctions committee that, for some of these individuals, there is now an ombudsman who makes recommendations on delisting. And those delistings happen unless there is consensus on the committee to overturn the recommendation of the ombudsman, which we do not have in this case.
QUESTION: So – all right. So you actually didn’t drop any opposition. There was no consensus.
MS. NULAND: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: Even though it operates on a consensus basis, as kind of a reverse consensus.
MS. NULAND: Right.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
MS. NULAND: We did.
QUESTION: Well, if you already have, then I’d (inaudible). It’s continuing though, apparently so --
MS. NULAND: Let me see if I can – see if I can find it. We – United States strongly condemns the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu by Islamists militants, including Ansar al-Dine. We call on all parties to protect Mali’s cultural heritage. And more broadly, we condemn the renewed fighting in the north and call on all groups to cease fire and engage with the ECOWAS mediators. ECOWAS now has a team in the north. The Tuareg rebellion fundamentally is a political problem and it requires addressing their legitimate grievances, but it also requires strong cooperation by all players with ECOWAS.
QUESTION: Okay. And then sticking with UNESCO, unless someone else has something on Mali, I don’t think that you had the opportunity to talk about --
MS. NULAND: The opportunity – I wanted this opportunity, Matt.
QUESTION: -- exactly – to talk about the Church of the Nativity and the decision there. The comments that you had before – or that this building had before the vote was taken, was that – well, it didn’t suggest – they said that you were opposed to this listing in – being done this way and that you urged the committee, or whatever it is, not to be further politicized. So do you view this vote as a political statement and not something – or is it – does this vote further politicize a UN body that you think shouldn’t be politicized?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know how we felt about the decision with regard to the Palestinians and UNESCO to begin with. So – and this is further to our concerns that began then. The United States is profoundly disappointed by the decision of the World Heritage Commission to take immediate, emergency action to inscribe the Church of the Nativity as a World Heritage Site against the official recommendation of the International Council of Monuments and Sites, the expert body that evaluated the site, and without any input from the folks who administer the site now: the Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox authorities. They’re the custodians of the site. They should have been properly consulted, and they weren’t. So yes, we do have concerns about what is happening in UNESCO and this case in particular.
QUESTION: Can you explain how this is a political – this is a politicization – I can’t – I’m sorry, I don’t have the pronunciation here – of the UN agency? I’m just not sure I understand why it’s -- why you regard this as political.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, it was your phrase. I didn’t use the phrase. However --
QUESTION: No, no. It was in your guidance from before the vote.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I can read it to you if you want.
MS. NULAND: Well – excellent.
QUESTION: But I can’t pronounce the word, unfortunately.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: Jet lag. Look, this procedure in the World Heritage Committee has only been used four times in the past, in extreme cases when the site in question was under threat of being torn down. That was not the case here. So why did this have to be done this way, this fast, without consulting the appropriate authorities over the objections of the appropriate authorities? It – from our mind, it speaks to a political move rather than a well thought-out move with regard to the site.
QUESTION: What would be that political move? I – sorry, I just don’t get this. Does the United States regard the Church of the Nativity as an unworthy or unsuitable candidate for World Heritage status?
MS. NULAND: Again, we wanted to see this handled properly, which would have included taking the advice of the expert advisory body that evaluated the site and talking to the folks who administer the site.
QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand how it was handled improperly. It was handled in a way that you don’t think was appropriate, but there were no rules broken. There were no – it wasn’t done illegally or outside of UNESCO – normal UNESCO procedure, correct?
MS. NULAND: Again, they used this emergency procedure --
QUESTION: But that’s not wrong. I mean, that’s not something that can’t be done. That’s in their rules. It allows this, right?
MS. NULAND: Their rules do allow it, but it hasn’t been done in these kinds of cases. And therefore, it speaks to hotwiring a process that should have been done more properly.
QUESTION: But do you – would you – do you not think that the Church of the Nativity deserves World Heritage status?
MS. NULAND: Again, we wanted to see this evaluated properly. We wanted to see the advisory committee deal with it --
QUESTION: What is the Administration’s position? Is the Church of the Nativity a site that is worthy of UNESCO World Heritage status?
MS. NULAND: Again, we were prepared to accept the official recommendation of the advisory committee, which, in this case, did not think it should be designated. So I don’t --
QUESTION: I’m not sure – they said that it didn’t – it wasn’t an absolute imperative to designate it under this emergency thing.
MS. NULAND: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: So in the normal process, in the 18-month process that it can take, would you support it?
MS. NULAND: Again, we were waiting for the conclusions of that group; we were waiting for the consultations with those who administer the site; none of which got done, Matt. So I’m not in a position to give you a view here.
QUESTION: Okay. The problem is that the politicization of this seems to be being done by you guys and not by anybody else, because if you’re not prepared to say that you don’t think that the Church of the Nativity deserves this status, then who cares, what difference does it make how it gets that status, as long as it wasn’t done outside of UNESCO’s rules?
MS. NULAND: There are procedures for dealing with sites that are not under imminent threat. Those procedures were not followed in this case.
QUESTION: Do you counsel against taking similar activities with the Dome of the Rock and the Haram Sharif because there is digging underneath there, and there may be plans to do the same thing with UNESCO – Joseph Tomb, the Holy Sepulchre Church, and many other places?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are prepared to see the World Heritage Committee review any appropriate sites. We just want to see it done through normal procedures.
QUESTION: Considering you are on the losing side of this one, do you feel that your status as a non-paying member of UNESCO has hurt your ability to lobby what the U.S. position is?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we are continuing to pay our dues for the next year and a half, so that is not yet a factor, although it will be in the future. I think our concern is the one that we had at the beginning – that when you allow a territory that has not yet become a state, because they haven’t yet sat down and worked through their issues with their neighbor, to participate like a state, that you end up with certain kinds of distortions of the system.
QUESTION: That doesn’t make – I mean, why should it matter? If anyone has something that is of world significance like this, whether they’re a state or not, isn’t that site deserving of protected status?
MS. NULAND: Again, it is preserve – it is worthy of consideration by the committee and working through the appropriate processes. But Matt, if you go around hotwiring everything, we could declare your house a National Heritage site.
QUESTION: Well, I doubt it. It’s only a couple of years old. But --
MS. NULAND: My point is we want to see things done properly.
QUESTION: -- but just because I live there, maybe it could be.
MS. NULAND: I was thinking that would be – (laughter) --
QUESTION: But no, I – Toria, the problem that I have with --
MS. NULAND: Later, right?
QUESTION: The problem that – I can’t see why you say this is a political move on the part of the Palestinians unless you think that the site isn’t deserving of this status. If you’re prepared to say right now that if this application had gone through the regular process that you would support it at the end, then maybe – but since you’re not willing to say that, or at least you haven’t yet, your opposition to it is political, not then one – not them getting it on the list.
MS. NULAND: Matt, I’m going to reject that, because again, we don’t know what the results would have been if all of the normal hoops had been gone through, including consulting with all of these churches that currently manage the site, including letting the policy expert advisory body do its work. So I’m not going to prejudge where we would have been when we didn’t get a chance to have the normal process go through.
QUESTION: But you’re supportive of the Palestinians’ right, now that they are a member of UNESCO, to go through the regular process, right?
MS. NULAND: We are supportive of any normal processing of World Heritage Committee recommendations.
QUESTION: And because Palestine is a member of UNESCO, they are – it is your opinion or your view that they can submit something for protective status?
MS. NULAND: Look. They have submitted it, it has gone through. Our concern is that it didn’t go through with the appropriate deliberation.
QUESTION: So your concern is not that they shouldn’t have done it in the first place, because they shouldn’t be a member of UNESCO in the first place?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve gone to the end of this one. Anybody else? Anything else?
All right. Thank you, all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)