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.

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