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.

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