Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Victoria Nuland, Dec 29, 2011, Press Briefing

Turkish Jets civilians killing/US role
QUESTION:  I have two quick question related to Turkey. 

MS. NULAND:  I can’t imagine – they’re really related to Turkey?


MS. NULAND:  I’m so surprised.

QUESTION:  Turkish Government today acknowledged that mistake was made and over 30 civilians were killed in the southeastern city of Sirnak in Turkey.  Given the extensive cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey, especially on intelligence matters, first of all, have you been able to get in touch with the Turkish counterparts how this happened?  Because the general’s staff today also stated that there’s an investigation underway.  Are you taking any role?  And some blame, of course, that since the U.S. giving intelligence, you might have a role within this accident.

MS. NULAND:  This is an incident that has just happened.  In terms of the government’s reaction, I think probably it’s more appropriate to ask the Turkish side what they are doing with regard to the investigation.  But clearly, they’ve said that they will investigate.

QUESTION:  So you have not been contacted by Turkish Government asking any kind of –

MS. NULAND:  Not to my knowledge.

Turkey/Journalists arrest
QUESTION:  And last week, I asked about the arrested journalists.  I was told that Mark was going to get me back.  Do you have any update?  Have you been able to talk to Turkish Government on these trials that have been going on and added new ones now?

MS. NULAND:  Let me apologize if we didn’t get back to you.  I’ll take it again, and we’ll endeavor to get back to you before the end of the day.

QUESTION:  Thank you.


Egypt NGO raids/SCAF relations
QUESTION:  Could you give us some details, Toria?  We have been hearing on the ground that they went in; they took basically everything – papers, computers, et cetera.  Also confirm that nobody was injured and that they might have taken some money as well?

MS. NULAND:  I don't know about the last issue, Jill.  We’ve obviously been in contact with NDI and with IRI during the course of the day.  They’ve reported concerns not only about their staff but about their property, about their ability to continue to operate.  And we have relayed, as you see here, both publicly and privately, our concerns about this incident. 

QUESTION:  What do you think this says more broadly about Egypt’s commitment to democracy?

MS. NULAND:  Well, again, as you know, we believe that these NGOs are there to support the democratic process.  Some of these are institutions that are supported by the United States Government, that work around the world in the interests of helping citizens realize their goals of democratic processes taking root in their country.  And we have been very open and transparent with Egyptian authorities at all levels, particularly about the operating procedures and policies of NDI, IRI, and other international – other NGOs that we support.  So we are very concerned, because this is not appropriate in the current environment.

QUESTION:  But this – is there an environment right now that’s conducive to democratic advancement, when actions such as these occur?

MS. NULAND:  Well, again, we’ve just had a number of successful rounds of elections, elections that were generally judged to be free, fair, with open, broad participation, so that is a good thing.  This is not a good thing, so we are obviously expressing our concern.


US/SCAF relations
QUESTION:  This not first time I believe – I think this first time you coming out this strongly and giving kind of a warning to Egyptian SCAF.  But my question is:  Is a fair description that you only come out when the NGOs like these supported by a U.S. Government being touched?  On the other hand, for months, since the revolution, there have been constant complaints come from activists.  And would be fair that you have been quiet all those months, complaints similar to this?

MS. NULAND:  I don’t think that’s fair.  We’ve spoken out about freedom of NGO activity for many months in the Egyptian context and asked for a level playing field for all international NGOs.

QUESTION:  Is this going to trigger any kind of process, or it already triggered any kind of process about the relationship between the U.S. Government and the SCAF from now on?  Or will it be in the future if you did not receive the answer you had been seeking?

MS. NULAND:  Again, we are looking for this issue to be resolved immediately.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  I have another question about that.  The conditions – there are conditions now on U.S. aid to Egypt.  Is this the kind of thing that the Secretary will take into consideration in deciding whether or not the Egyptian Government should get $1.3 billion?

MS. NULAND:  Well, Michele, as you’ve said, we do have a number of new reporting and transparency requirements on funding to Egypt that we have to make to the Congress.  The Egyptian Government is well aware of that, and it certainly needs to be aware of that in the context of how quickly this issue gets resolved.


AL Mission/Syria
QUESTION:  Two question on the Arab League mission.  According to press reports, there are only 66 Arab monitors today currently in Syria.  Do you think this number is enough to satisfy the expectations?

MS. NULAND:  Well, our understanding is that the Arab League intended, over a period of days and weeks, to deploy somewhere between 150 and 300 monitors.  So they’re in the middle of that deployment now.  So I think we need to let them continue to try and get their people on the ground and see whether it’s sufficient.

QUESTION:  Yesterday, Syrian National Council called for – called on head of the Arab mission, Mr. al-Dabi, to leave the post.  Do you think head of the mission is credible enough to continue his work?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to comment from this podium – we’re not going to comment on the individuals that the Arab League is deploying.  As I said, we’re going to judge this mission by fulfillment of the mandate that it has promised its own people and that it’s promised the Syrian people, that it will deploy fully, that it will have full access, and that it will report honestly and credibly on what it finds.

QUESTION:  From this podium in the past you’ve said that the U.S. believes that if monitors were in place, the Assad regime would not be able to do its worst.  It does appear that the attacks do continue and that these monitors are playing a game of whack-a-mole. How concerned are you that this is not stopping the violence?  And do you have any concerns about the mission itself – the monitoring mission itself, which has come under some criticism for having a somewhat muted response?

MS. NULAND:  Well, first of all we are concerned as you point out that even though we have monitors on the ground, and they are playing a role in some places, we also have a continuation of the violence.  For example, we’ve had reports of at least 10 people killed in Homs, Hama, and Idlib yesterday, even as the Arab League monitors were trying to deploy there.  So – and we’ve had violence in other parts of Syria.  That said, if you go up on YouTube today, you can see great pictures of a democracy rally in Idlib, that went forward with quite a crowd at the same time that the monitors were there.  So clearly, their presence appears to have provided some space for public expression. 

But what we want to see, as we’ve said from the beginning, is that monitors able to move throughout Syria, to talk to anybody that they want to talk to including political prisoners who are still locked up.  We also want to see all the terms of the Arab League agreement implemented.  So it’s not only a matter of a deploying the monitors; it’s a matter of the Syrian Government living up to its commitment to withdraw heavy weapons from the cities; to stop the violence everywhere, which clearly has not happened; to release all political prisoners.  We’ve seen a modest prisoner release, but it appears that the most important, high-profile political activists have not been released. 

And we also want to see Syria opened to the press.  You may have seen that in recent days the Syrian opposition has been calling on international journalists to, again, try to apply for visas and to see what happens, to see if the Syrian Government will live up to its commitment to open its streets more.  So unfortunately, the violence continuing, Syrian regime still propagating violence against its own people.  But in some people where the monitors have deployed, we see some positive signs, but not enough.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Mark Toner, Dec 22, 2011, Press Briefing

Mr. Dabi, the head of the Arab League Mission
QUESTION:  Have you got a chance to see who is the head of the mission, Mr. Dabi who has been (inaudible) in the Sudan work with the – al-Bashir for decades.  What’s your understanding, whether his profile fits into the --

MR. TONER:  Well, we are aware of the individual, that he was appointed by Bashir as an advisor on Darfur.  Certainly, Sudanese armed forces and national intelligence and security service have a disturbing human rights record over the last 20 years of Bashir’s rule.  I’m not aware of those – of individual allegations against him or his actions.  I think our concern right now is getting this monitor mission up and running on the ground in Syria in the hopes that it can help stem this recent violence.  I mean, it’s ongoing violence, but the recent uptick in violence that has really grown to atrocious proportions over the last several days. 

We’ve got a seven-member team on the ground from the Arab League now; we just hope they can get more monitors in and get set up.  As I said, and our hope is that they will end the violence and that will a – will be able to stop the killing.

International Contact Group for Syria
QUESTION:  Again on Syria.  Is there a plan for to create international contact group like you did in the Libyan case?  A few weeks ago, Mr. Feltman at the – on the Hill mentioned something like this is floating around.  I’m just wondering whether --

MR. TONER:  Yeah.  I mean, it’s a fair question.  We’ve had such frequent contacts, obviously, with the Arab League, with Turkey, with our other likeminded partners in the EU.  So I don’t know that there’s a real need.  We’ve already got good communications, frequent communications; we’re trying to coordinate as best as possible.  Whether going forward that might be an idea we’ll entertain to kind of improve coordination remains to be seen.


QUESTION:  Do you have anything to say about the arrival of the advance team from the Arab League.

MR. TONER:  Just that we expect that – I’m sorry, rather.  We’ve seen reports that the advanced team of seven Arab League officials are currently on the ground in Syria, and our understanding is that these people are going to lay the groundwork for more observers to begin work in the near future – should grow to about 30 to 50, not including administration – administrative support and that kind of staff.

But – and I would just add that we’re all aware of the outbreak of violence in Syria over the last couple of days since they’ve signed the protocol on Arab League observers.  And again, it just speaks to fact that this regime – actions speak for themselves.  We’ve seen, to date, no real attempt on the part of the regime to end its campaign of violence, incitement, and intimidation.

QUESTION:  Vice President Hashimi, today, told Washington Times, that, quote, Iran definitely involved in move to arrest him.  Do you have any evidence to support that?

MR. TONER:  We do not.  We continue to call on any legal or judicial process that goes forward with respects to Vice President Hashimi to be done in full accordance with the rule of law and full transparency.  And we do note that Prime Minister Maliki did speak about the need to observe rule of law in judicial proceedings, and also that he’s called for a meeting of the various political blocs.  That’s exactly what we want to see happen.  We want to see all of the political blocs get together in an effort to – through dialogue to resolve their difference.

France/Genocide denial law/
QUESTION:  Today in France --

MR. TONER:  Yes, sorry.

QUESTION:  Today in France, lower house passed this – make illegal to recognize --

MR. TONER:  This is the genocide bill?

QUESTION:  Genocide bill.  Yeah.

MR. TONER:  Just very quickly.  Yeah.  Our views on this issue have been expressed before.  They haven’t changed.  We continue to support normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. 

The latest arrests in Turkey
QUESTION:  And one more.  Within this week there are scores of Turkish intellectuals – and about 40 of them journalists – being arrested.  It has been few days.  I just want to ask if you --

MR. TONER:  Right.  We are aware of these arrests.  I think up to 38 people were arrested, many of whom are prominent academics, journalists, intellectuals, political activists.  We’re certainly monitoring the case very closely, and we would urge that any investigations and prosecutions proceed in a very transparent manner given the sensitivity.

QUESTION:  Have you been able to talk to Turkish Government?

MR. TONER:  I’ll find out if we have. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Victoria Nuland, Dec 21, 2011, Press Briefing

[Reds asked by other reporters]

Greek-Cypriot FM meeting w/Sec. Clinton
QUESTION:  Foreign minister of Greek Cyprus has been in town, and she met with Secretary Clinton yesterday.  I haven’t seen any readout.  Is there any way you can elaborate on the meeting?

MS. NULAND:  I think we did have a readout yesterday.  I didn’t have it from here.  We didn’t have the question yesterday, so we didn’t give it here, but I think our European bureau gave it.  Whether I still have it, I don’t know.  I was also in the meeting.  They obviously talked about our hope that the UN process will produce a lasting settlement on Cyprus, that we have another round of those talks coming up in the end of January, and that we hope that sides will really roll up their sleeves because it is very important and very urgent. 

We also obviously talked about bilateral business, we talked about the – about Cyprus’s upcoming EU presidency, talked about Iran.  As you may know, Cyprus has recently made a decision to de-flag Iranian shipping vessels, and that was something that was obviously welcomed by the U.S.

QUESTION:  The foreign minister yesterday – she said at the think tank that one of the subjects in the meeting was Turkey’s threats in the south – East Mediterranean.  Is there any way you can elaborate on that?  What is – how do you see the latest escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not – I didn’t see the foreign minister’s comments, so I’m not sure what she’s referring to.  We obviously talked about the energy issues.  Maybe that’s what she was referring to, do you think? 

QUESTION:  Yes, related to energy issues.

MS. NULAND:  Well, on energy, the Secretary restated the position that you’ve heard her give many times, that we support the right of Cyprus to exploit resources within its own zone, but we would like to see the benefits of that exploration shared among all Cypriots in the context of a full settlement of the issues between them.

Iraq VP Arrest order
QUESTION:  Do you have any position on the prime minister’s demand that the Kurds essentially return the vice president?  Do you think that’s the right way to go?

MS. NULAND:  They need to work this out within the rule of law.  They need to respect the Iraqi constitution on all sides.  If there are charges, they need to be processed appropriately within the Iraqi judicial system, as we said yesterday, and all sides need to cooperate in that.

MS. NULAND:  Well, the Ambassador has been in touch with both of those leaders in the – in recent days.  I’m not going to speak to the details of those conversations.

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up on Vice President Hashimi:  You just said that it should be solved through Iraq judicial system and rule of law.  So does it mean you have confidence in the rule of law if he were to go back, and do you think that there’s going to be a fair trial?  You have that confidence?

MS. NULAND:  We went through this conversation exhaustively yesterday.  I don’t think we need to go through it today.

QUESTION:  It was (inaudible).

MS. NULAND:  It was pretty exhaustive, so – all right. 

QUESTION: The U.S. is calling on Syria’s few remaining supporters in the international community to warn Damascus, that basically, if it doesn’t comply with the Arab League initiative, that more steps are coming.  Are we now seeing something akin to a Libya-type action?

MS. NULAND:  Ros, I think what you are seeing here is increasing concern that Syria is again in a pattern of making promises and not delivering potentially as a stalling tactic.  But in this case, particularly given the violence of the last 24 to 48 hours, we have reports just yesterday of some 84 civilians killed again by regime forces in Idlib, in Daraa, government artillery opening fire on civilian homes. 

This is not the behavior of a government that is getting ready to implement the Arab League proposals of – which some seven weeks ago it said it accepted.  And I will remind that key to that was not just the issue of allowing in monitors, but for the violence to end, for forces to go back to barracks, and for all the political prisoners to be released.  So on the contrary; we’ve got lots of promises as the government continues to mow down its own people.  So I think what you see in the statement from the White House is concern that this process of discussing monitors et cetera is not only becoming a cover for inaction, but is providing cover for increasing violence on the Syrian side. 

QUESTION:  Does this statement indicate that the level of urgency inside the U.S. Government is reaching a point where we are going to see a new set of discussions not just on additional sanctions but on some sort of intervention?

MS. NULAND:  I think what you see here is our view that the Arab League proposal really needs to be implemented now.  It is already seven weeks overdue in implementation.  The violence is increasing rather than decreasing.  We have said that we want to see more action in the UN Security Council.  So what can we do in the UN Security Council?  We can either endorse positive implementation of the Arab League plan and steps forward or we can make clear that, again, the Syrian Government has made promises, stalled, said one thing to one set of interlocutors and another thing to another set of interlocutors.  And it is absolutely time for the international community to increase the pressure on Syria and to do what it can to enforce our ability to protect civilians. 

Now, first and foremost there, would be being able to get monitors into that country.  So if we cannot do it through the Arab League proposal, that’ll be first and foremost on our list through the Security Council.

QUESTION:  How long is – I mean, if this is already seven weeks overdue, how much longer is the U.S. willing to see that Syria complies or doesn’t comply?  A day?  A week?  Another month?

MS. NULAND:  Well, I think what you see is that the frustration is growing.  Now, the Arab League believes it’ll be able to start implementing its monitoring regime this weekend.  We’re going to see whether that’s true.  But I think, particularly in light of the violence of the last 48 hours, our concern is growing that this is a delaying tactic.

QUESTION:  Does this mean we’ll see a Security Council session, emergency session called in the next several days? 

MS. NULAND:  Our work at the UN is continuing.  We are having consultations with all Security Council partners.  And in part, this statement is designed to make clear that this issue of implementing an agreement that they supposedly signed up to seven weeks ago is increasingly dragged out, even as the violence increases.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) issued a statement today saying that these towns that being bombarded by the Syrian regime are in bad need for humanitarian assistance and for the Red – International Red Cross to provide humanitarian help.  How can you do that? 

MS. NULAND:  Well, again, we’re not in a position to do that right now because the Syrians are not allowing humanitarian workers in, they’re not allowing monitors in, they’re not allowing the press in.  So as I mentioned to Ros, these would be first on the list of things that we would want the Security Council to take up.

QUESTION:  Victoria, in the face of continued resistance by the regime to accept the Arab League proposals, and in view of what the White House said, what is the priority?  What measures that you prioritize as having to take in the future, one by one?  Do you have such a list?

MS. NULAND:  Well, first and foremost, tightening the sanctions.  So any countries that are continuing to trade with the regime or otherwise line its coffers and give it fuel, food, money, anything that it can use against its own people, they ought to examine hard their own national policies, strengthening international sanctions as well.  Number two, trying to get international monitors into as much of Syria as possible as the best way of bearing witness to what’s really going on and telling truth about who’s at fault here, which, as you know, we firmly believe that the responsibility lies with the regime.  The third issue would be being able to provide humanitarian support for communities in need. 

So these are not new ideas.  These are not new concerns of ours.  Our concern, and I think you see it in the urgency of the White House statement, is that this has been going on a very long time now, and the violence is getting worse, not better. 

QUESTION:  How is your level of engagement right now with Russia and China on this particular issue?

MS. NULAND:  Well, as you know, the Secretary spoke to both foreign ministers earlier this week.  I’m not sure whether – I don’t think Syria came up in the China call, but it certainly did with Foreign Minister Lavrov.  We’re also very much engaged with both countries in New York. 

QUESTION:  Again, to follow up earlier question, head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Galioun, I believe he was not asking – not talking about the Arab League plan.  He was basically saying that these safe zones should be created, not asking – going through the Asad regime.  Are you planning, or it’s under consideration, to talk about these safe zones near the border of Turkey? 

MS. NULAND:  I’ve – we’ve seen the statements by Mr. Galioun, but we haven’t had a chance to talk to them about exactly what they envision and how they would propose that such a thing would be implemented.  We continue to believe that job one is to increase the pressure on the regime and to get monitors and the press back into Syria.


QUESTION:  I’ve got a couple things.  First on Egypt, the Egyptian foreign minister was quoted with a pretty strong reaction to the Secretary’s statements about the violence against women in the protests, calling it interference in Egypt’s internal affairs and rejecting it out of hand.  I’m just wondering if they’ve made any direct representations to you.  And do you have any reaction to their reaction?

MS. NULAND:  Well, I have to say, Andy, I did not see the foreign minister’s comments.  I will tell you that the Secretary had a very good call with the new Egyptian Prime Minister Ganzouri yesterday afternoon.  She called him to congratulate him on his appointment.  They also had a very good conversation about the path that Egypt is on and the transition underway.  She, of course, reiterated our points about wanting to see a genuine, inclusive, democratic process, free elections, emphasizing the historic importance of the election process underway. 

They also talked about the security situation in Egypt, and she reiterated some of the points that we’ve made and he reiterated the government’s points that it wants to see the protests be peaceful and it is working with its security forces.  They also talked about how the United States can continue to support the economic development of the country going forward.  So from that perspective, our most recent contacts were at the prime ministerial level, and it was a very productive call, all focused in the right direction.

QUESTION:  And the prime minister didn’t mention to her or have any pushback against her comments earlier?  Did that come up? 

MS. NULAND:  Well, she obviously said that she had been greatly concerned and particularly concerned about the horrible images, and he was very clear that the Egyptian authorities want to see their security forces operate within the rule of law. 

QUESTION:  And I think the Egyptian armed forces came out with a statement --

MS. NULAND:  They did.

QUESTION:  -- saying that they were expressing great regret at the treatment of women.  What would your response be to the armed forces statement?

MS. NULAND:  Well, as you know, there was this women’s march in Cairo yesterday, and in the context of that march, as you said, the Egyptian military authorities – I think they posted it on Facebook, in addition to using other channels of communication that the women themselves had been using – expressing regret about what had happened.  So obviously we were gratified to see them recognize that these issues need to be addressed.

QUESTION:  Are you satisfied that Mr. Ganzouri is actually representative of the new Egypt, the post-revolution Egypt and not a relic of the past?

MS. NULAND:  Again, the Secretary had a good introductory phone call with him, and he reaffirmed his personal commitment to Egypt’s democratic path and the course that they are on.  So we are prepared to continue working together.  But as I said, the call was very cordial.

QUESTION:  This clashes as are still going on, as far as we see.  As far as last night, according to activists, these clashes mostly are going on during the night time.  Within the conversation with the prime minister, how – what kind of explanation you have received?  Why these clashes are still going on if the Egyptian security forces are going to act differently?

MS. NULAND:  Well, again, I think I’ve said what I want to say about the phone call.  I think we’ve been absolutely clear that with regard to the demonstrations in Egypt, peaceful protesters should have the right to protest peacefully, that obviously, on the side of the government, we are expecting them to allow peaceful protests to go forward.  That said, as the Secretary’s statement on Sunday made clear, to the extent that demonstrations are not peaceful, we are calling on demonstrators to return to peaceful practice and we want to see security forces who respond to that do so with restraint and within the rule of law.

QUESTION:  So this is the context you are seeing ongoing clashes, protestors are not peaceful and this how the security forces responding?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not going to sit here from this podium and parse every incident that’s happening in Egypt.  We’ve been very clear with the Egyptian Government privately and publicly at all levels that we expect Egyptian people to be able to exercise their right to protest peacefully.  If and when those protests are not peaceful, the security forces need to act with restraint – maximum restraint – and they need to do so within rule of law.

QUESTION:  Please, the last question.  You said you had been speaking out.  Are you ready to take any kind of action if security forces are not acting accordingly?

MS. NULAND:  Well, I’m not going to stand here with a crystal ball and predict where we’re going to go.  I think what we want to see is an Egypt that continues to proceed along an electoral path where the will of the people can be expressed through the ballot box, through peaceful protest if that’s necessary, but that violence is not a tool used by anybody.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Mark Toner, Dec 12, 2011, Press Briefing

[Reds by other reporters]

US Drone/Iran
QUESTION:  Why do you think Iran should give [drone] back? 

MR. TONER:  I don’t have any more details.  I’m not going to say anything more about it.

QUESTION:  Well, do you consider it stolen?

MR. TONER:  Again, we’ve asked for it back.  We’ll see how they respond.

QUESTION:  And what – but what’s the rationale for asking for it back?  It’s not a – isn’t it the international law of finders keepers?  (Laughter.)

MR. TONER:  I’ve said all I can say on this.  Anything else?

Iran's threats to Turkey
QUESTION:  A member of the Iran parliament – parliament’s national security council, Hossein Ebrahimi, again threatened Turkey; if it’s attacked, they are going to first attack NATO radar system in southeastern of Turkey.  This is second threat comes from Iran within two weeks.  Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. TONER:  I’m sorry?  You’re saying – you’re talking about Iran – Iranian threats that if they are attacked by --

QUESTION:  Israel or U.S., they’ll attack as a first target.  It will be another --

MR. TONER:  I really don’t have any comment on it.  They shouldn’t be issuing threats like that. 

Syria/Humanitarian corridors/Buffer zone/Turkey's sovereign decision

QUESTION:  About the humanitarian corridors that you touched a little bit, you said about ten days ago you were going to get some details from French, the original --

MR. TONER:  We haven’t heard further details from the French Government. 

QUESTION:  You’re waiting for details?

QUESTION:  Do you believe that to build a buffer zone in the region is the right of Turkey in these conditions?

MR. TONER:  Turkey is going to make its own sovereign decisions.  Turkey’s been a leader in speaking out about the abuses in Syria and has accepted thousands of Syrian refugees, but it’s going to make its own decisions in its own best interests.

QUESTION:  So you see that it is a right of Turkey to --

MR. TONER:  I’m saying Turkey is going to make its own sovereign decisions based on its own security concerns.

QUESTION:  Do you believe that it will increase the pressure on the Syrian regime, this kind of buffer zone? 

MR. TONER:  Again, I don't think anybody’s – I’m not aware that a buffer zone is being seriously considered at this point.  But I do think continued sanctions, the public outrage from all of Syria’s neighbors, is making it clear to Asad that he has no friends left in the neighborhood, except for Iran.

Iraqi PM Maliki Visit/Turkey remarks/PKK
UESTION:  Prime Minister al-Maliki’s visit to here and meeting with Secretary Clinton – have you had a chance to ask or --

MR. TONER:  She sat in on the President’s meeting and then she’s having Zebari over again. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER:  And right – that’s true.

QUESTION:  What’s exactly the position of why the Iraqi Government is being – appears like supporting the Syrian regime right now?

MR. TONER:  I would just refer you to – I mean, it was the first question the President and Prime Minister Maliki got, and they answered it in great detail.  So I would just refer you to their transcript.

QUESTION:  And Prime Minister Maliki also gave an interview Wall Street Journal and said that Turkey’s meddling with Iraq’s domestic affairs.  Do you --

MR. TONER:  I’m not sure what – you’ll have to elaborate on what he meant by that.  I’m not sure what that means.  What he meant by, I mean, in terms of going after the PKK, or in terms of --

QUESTION:  Not the PKK, just supporting some blocs or certain people is the quote he said.  I’m wondering if Turkey is – was part of discussions here.

MR. TONER:  I’m not aware.  No. 

QUESTION:  But on the PKK – you just touched on it – did you have a conversation on the PKK?

MR. TONER:  Again, I haven’t gotten a readout.  We do talk about our counterterrorism cooperation vis-à-vis the PKK, but I don’t know that it came up in those meetings. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011


      THE WHITE HOUSE   Office of the Vice President Internal Transcript                      December 3, 2011     BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TO JOURNALISTS TRAVELING WITH VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN     Venus Room, Hilton Istanbul Istanbul, Turkey     6:40 P.M. (Local)        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Welcome to the Venus Room.  (Laughter.)  So let me talk a little bit about the afternoon events, particularly the meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan also the Patriarchate because I think you all saw -- I think this morning’s events, the speech and so forth.        So with the Prime Minister, as you know we went to his home.  I’m told this is a rare occurrence.  He does not frequently receive official visitors there, if at all.  So it was incredibly gracious of the Prime Minister to receive us there.         The meeting was scheduled to last 45 minutes.  It lasted two hours.  But it began with the Prime Minister introducing the Vice President and the small group with him to his children and son-in-law -- son and daughter and son-in-law.         And then we sat down.  I might add that we did remove our shoes and put on slippers before going into the house.  And the Prime Minister began by -- I don't want to really characterize what he said, the only I will say to that is he told the Vice President that he had watched his speech this morning and complimented it and expressed appreciation for the very positive remarks that the Vice President made about the relationship between the United States and Turkey and the tremendous development that we’ve seen in Turkey’s economy, as well as in our relationship, overall, steps at the start of the meeting.        And then the Prime Minister asked the Vice President if he would talk to him about our trip to Iraq.  And I would say they spent about half of the meeting talking about Iraq.  The Vice President gave them a very detailed readout of the trip, his meetings, the key take-aways.         And the main points that the Vice President conveyed were these:  One, we the United States are not disengaging from Iraq.  This will be a familiar story to most of you.  To the contrary our engagement in many ways will be increasing through the strategic framework agreement.         The Vice President went into some detail about the workings of the Higher Coordination Committee and the work we’d be doing with the Iraqis through the Higher Coordination Committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement.  And he explained that again it’s really the nature of our engagement that's changed in Iraq from the military lead to a civilian lead.  But the Vice President emphasized that we are determined to be engaged and it’s just as important that the Iraqis are extremely desirous of our engagement as evidenced by the Prime Minister hosting the meeting of the Higher Coordination Council.        They discussed the role of Iran in Iraq.  The Vice President again expressed his conviction which you’ve heard him talk about that Iranian influence in Iraq is very much overstated, that the Iraqis do not appreciate outside meddling or interference from anyone, starting with Iran.  That, of course, there was going to be a relationship.  They shared a long border and history, and that was perfectly normal.  But in terms of negatively influencing Iraq or acting in any kind of malicious fashion there are very strong Iraqi antibodies to that kind of influence or interference.        We also talked about the PKK.  The Vice President made clear our absolute commitment to work closely with Turkey to deal with the serious threat proposed by PKK terrorism.  He also relayed that we heard from the Iraqis that they too -- including the Kurdish leadership, that they too were serious about dealing with this problem, a common problem to Turkey, the United States and Iraq.         So that was the bulk of the discussion on Iraq.  There was also a discussion of Iran more generally.  The Vice President made the case that in our estimation Iranian influence is declining and Iranian isolation is increasing in the region.  And again, some of you heard him talk about this before.        He ran through -- the Vice President ran through the litany of recent outrageous acts by Iran that we believe are further isolating the Iranian regime:  thumbing their nose at the nonproliferation treaty and their obligations to the international community on the nuclear program; the assault on the British embassy; the assassination attempt by -- I should say plot -- on the Saudi ambassador in Washington.  All of these things were putting Iran in increasing isolation in the region.        The Vice President noted that President Obama and our administration had made serious efforts at outreach to Iran early in the administration that were not reciprocated.  These were necessary also to demonstrate to the world that we were serious about resolving the problems that the international community has with Iran diplomatically, and we still are.  And the fact that the world had seen that outreach and that effort had reversed what had been a problem in the past, which was the United States being isolated instead of Iran because of the perception that we were not trying to engage them.  And the result has been the strongest coalition in recent memory internationally to put pressure on Iran.        The Vice President further made the case that we need to sustain the pressure on Iran.  And -- sorry -- and that this was the most likely way to actually modify their behavior.   They briefly discussed Syria as well.  And there the conviction expressed by the Vice President that President Asad and people around him are the source of the problem and instability because they're killing their own people, and there was clearly a growing international consensus that Asad needed to leave.  And of course, the Turks have been in the lead on forging that consensus.    The Vice President raised Turkey’s relationship with Israel.  He expressed our hope that both Turks and Israelis would look for opportunities to strengthen their relationship and to get over the recent tensions.  He repeated what he said to President Gul that it pains us to see two of our closest friends and partners not getting along so well, and that we would continue to encourage both to look for opportunities to strengthen their relationship.   Then there was a brief discussion of a number of issues:  the Egyptian elections, Libya, the Balkans, Kosovo and Bosnia, and then finally the Vice President raised two final issues with the Prime Minister, first, Cyprus and the Halki seminary.  On Cyprus, the Vice President expressed the hope that we would see real progress in the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and Ban Ki-moon, and that we remain ready to do what we can to encourage progress.   On Halki, the Vice President expressed our hope that the seminary would be reopened and praised the steps that the Prime Minister has taken in terms of the restitution of property in recent months.  These were very important steps forward.  And he also praised the constitutional reform process, including the hope that he had heard speaking to the Speaker that this would only further enhance religious freedom in Turkey.   And then finally on Armenia, he said to the Prime Minister what he had raised with President Gul, as well, the hope that now that the protocols for normalization were back on the agenda of the parliament that Turkey would be able to move on those protocols in the months ahead.    And I think that was it.        Q    Did the Vice President in the context of saying we need to sustain the pressure on Iran encourage or urge the Prime Minister to have Turkey participate in further sanctions?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  They didn't get -- there was not specific discussion of sanctions other than the -- to say that the Vice President noted that clearly the sanctions were having a demonstrable impact on Iran, and again, the best way to change their behavior and have them come in to -- to respect international norms instead of flaunt them was to sustain that pressure, but that was the extent of the discussion.        Q    But did it -- just so I’m very clear on it, would it be fair for us to interpret his strong endorsement of sanctions -- and given Turkey’s role as a country that could be very valuable in such a regard -- that there was clearly a message?  Gee, we think sanctions are a good thing, be great if you were a part of them?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I would say we don't think sanctions are a good thing, we think unfortunately they're a necessary thing.        Q    Right -- of an effective thing in this context.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And that they're having an impact, and certainly Turkey’s participation -- indeed, they have participated in sanctions -- is an important part of that.  But he didn't say anything beyond that.        Q    On Syria, did you talk about what would come next?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, not in this conversation just the conviction that Asad needs to leave and the killing of the Syrian people needs to stop.   Q    Do you have any reaction to the reporting that the Syria leader in exile says that a new regime would fundamentally change their relationship and support Hezbollah?   SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I haven’t seen those reports, so I really don't have a response to that.        Q    Can you tell us -- the Vice President seemed to be very pointed in the opening part of his remarks today at the summit.  Can you tell us about --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  He did in what -- about what way?        Q    Well, he seemed to be almost responding to some of the things that the Foreign Minister had said in his remarks about Europe and the West in general?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, I -- I don't think --        Q    So that was all planned in his speech?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, it was.         Q    He didn't add anything at the last minute?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  There was nothing --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  She’s talking about the top of the speech where he said -- we are -- our economy is three times the size of any other --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Oh, yes, the very beginning.  Actually --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not here to talk about the American economy.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Right.  No, I actually -- I didn't talk to him about that so I don't know what exactly he was thinking about because I think -- this is speculation -- that because other speakers had been talking about their economies, he wanted to make clear that that wasn’t the focus of his speech but he wanted to say -- get in a few words nonetheless -- but I don't know the --        Q    But that was added?  It wasn’t in the original?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think that was -- yes, I believe that was added.  That wasn’t in the text.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  You should ask him.  You should ask him.        Q    With regards to the discussion of Iraq, were the uses for the Predators discussed?  Because they're stationed in Incirlik now, but would they be used for striking?  And was there anything that the VP communicated to the Prime Minister about Turkish incursions into northern Iraq and air strikes against PKK camps?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not going to go into any more detail than I went into other than to say that the Vice President said the United States was committed to help Turkey deal with the problem.  He also said that of course, sovereignty is very important to Iraq, and that obviously the most -- one of the most important things that could happen would be for the Iraqis both at the national level, but particularly the Kurdish regional government to take whatever steps they could take to crack down on the PKK.   Excuse me one second.   (Interruption to proceedings.)   SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Parting shots as we go out the door?        Q    I think we’re --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Email me if you --        Q    How would you describe -- just very briefly on Israel, you made it sound like almost you spoke in sorry rather than anger, it pains us to see two friends not getting along.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, certainly that's not in anger.        Q    So he didn't -- but he didn't sort of say, look, you got to fix this.  It was more, gee, we --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, we’re not in a position to say that.  It was -- again, it was more -- we’re here.  We have two very close friends and partners who are now experiencing some tension in their relationship and just want to see if we can be helpful.  We intend to be, but mostly we’re saying the same thing to the Israelis, we hope you look for every opportunity to strengthen the relationship.        Now, there have been steps taken in recent months in terms of the earthquake, in terms of Gilad Shalit, other things where they’ve obviously taken some positive steps forward.  But we ideally want to see them get back to a fully normal relationship, and very positive relationship.        Q    And lastly, the buffer zone -- you didn't ask about that?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I know that’s your favorite question.        Q    Well, I know -- look, I have my one obsession.  It didn't come up.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It didn't come up.        Q    How was his health?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not --        Q    I mean just did he seem --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  He seemed fine.        Q    Was he moving around okay?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Oh, yes.  Yes, I mean --        Q    Standing up okay, sitting down?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not a medical doctor.        Q    Sure, but you saw him stand up and sit down.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hey, I -- stand up, greeted us at the door, walked us to the driveway.        Q    Because nobody has seen him move.         SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  He --        Q    Nobody else who isn’t a Turkish government official.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  They got the photos out there --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, he -- as a non-expert opinion, I watch “E.R.” on television, but that's about the extent of it.  (Laughter.)  I can say he looked very well.        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And just to clarify it was you and the Ambassador?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Me and the ambassador and Anthony Godfrey from the National Security Staff.        Q    I’m sorry, if I may, one more question on Iraq.  If Turkish airstrikes continue, will it be problematic with the U.S. withdrawal in terms of --        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  What striking --           Q    If Turkish airstrikes and land incursions into northern Iraq continue will it be problematic in terms of stability with Iraq because the national government and the regional government have differing opinions about Turkish incursions into the region?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Look, if the -- it’s in everyone’s interest -- the national government, the Kurdish region and the Turks -- for the PKK problem to be handled effectively in a way that does not cause further violence against Turks, but also doesn't lead to other problems.        Q    Have the Iraqis said anything concrete as to the steps they can take to that?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  They told us that they were committed to dealing with the problem.  All right?        SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, guys.        Q    Thank you.