The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.
From the Daily Press Briefing of June 17, 2011
12:36 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Staying with the Human Rights Council, we also welcome the council’s appointment today of Ahmed Shaheed as special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. The special rapporteur will serve as a voice for the millions of Iranians who have suffered egregious human rights violations and are not heard by their own government. We encourage all members of the United Nations to support Mr. Shaheed in his duties, and call on the Iranian Government to live up to its commitments to universal human rights and to respect the writ of the special rapporteur.
And now, roll photos. I hope we can roll the photos. Here we go. I’m proud to announce that the United States has delivered a second shipment of non-lethal aid to Benghazi, Libya, which was requested by the Transitional National Council. These items are being provided to support the TNC’s efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The shipment consists as – of uniforms, body armor, first aid kits, tents, and related materials transferred from existing Department of Defense stocks. We’re working closely with the TNC on a daily basis to assess additional assistance requirements, and no decisions have been made, as yet, on any additional requirements.
Did the pictures come up? There you go. You can see the things being unloaded on the dock.
QUESTION: Do you have a – is there a monetary amount attached to this shipment?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a breakdown of this specific shipment, but as you know, this is part of the 25 million that we were able to draw down.
QUESTION: But – well, does this complete that 25 million, do you know?
MS. NULAND: I have to – I’ll have to take that question and get back to you. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: And this body armor is for combat use, or are they for civilians, civilian workers?
MS. NULAND: Body armor could – can be dual use, of course.
QUESTION: I understand, but they are different. I served in Iraq with the United Nations. Their personal protection equipment for civilian use, for the UN in this case, are different than, let’s say, what soldiers and combatants use.
MS. NULAND: I’ll have to take the question on --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: -- precisely what kind of body armor.
Are there – and now on to your questions. Yes?
QUESTIONS: What’s your understanding of the situation in Yemen right now? What do you know about President Saleh’s intentions to go back or not go back?
MS. NULAND: We don’t have any further updates from yesterday. He remains in Saudi Arabia. We don’t have anything further on his health or his intentions. More broadly with regard to Yemen, we deplore the use of violence against protesters in any country, and we underscore our support for the right to demonstrate, based on such demonstrations being peaceful.
One thing we’d like to note is that Yemen is a very heavily armed country and it is a traditional, tribal society. But what’s been remarkable is that civil society and youth protests have been going on for months without these kinds of issues coming up. When demonstrators have been fired on by security forces, they haven’t run home to get their own guns. Instead, we’ve seen – we’ve been encouraged to see that very few demonstrations have – demonstrators have resorted to violence.
More broadly, we call for an immediate, peaceful, and orderly transition in Yemen that allows the Yemeni people to realize their aspirations, and we encourage all sides to engage in dialogue and peacefully Yemen forward.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any contact between U.S. officials and President Saleh or his inner circle?
MS. NULAND: I am not.
QUESTION: But there has been contact with the acting president?
MS. NULAND: Yes, our ambassador on the ground has been in contact with him.
QUESTION: And that would be recently? I mean, yesterday you had mentioned that you were pleased with his efforts to date. Has there been any – that you’re aware of, any recent contact between the ambassador or people in this building and the acting president?
MS. NULAND: And Vice President Hadi? I’m not sure whether they have met in the last couple of days, but I do know that after President Saleh departed the country, they were in regular contact. If you’d like an update on that, we can get it for you.
QUESTION: Does the United States think that Saleh should return?
MS. NULAND: We’re not going to comment on whether he comes and goes. What we’re encouraged by, as we said yesterday, was – is that Vice President Hadi is using the power that he has to begin to convene conversations with people from across Yemen, and we would like to see those conversations turn into a process that takes Yemen in a democratic direction.
QUESTION: Does the United States have a position on the opposition’s call for a transitional council in Yemen?
MS. NULAND: Our goal is the same as that of Yemeni people, to see Yemen transition to a democratic future, and it’s up to the Yemenis how that is achieved.
QUESTION: Do you have a sense of how organized the Yemeni opposition is? Is it as disparate as it seems to be in Syria? What’s the U.S. Government’s read on that?
MS. NULAND: We, as you know, have been meeting with a cross-section of Yemenis. We are interested to see that they are beginning to meet, as I said, with Vice President Hadi. What comes of those conversations and whether that brings more structure, I think, remains to be seen.
QUESTION: On Syria –
MS. NULAND: Oh, sorry, anything else on Yemen before we move to Syria?
QUESTION: Do you believe that the possible return of Mr. Saleh could exacerbate the volatility of the situation in Yemen?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on the hypothetical situation of what will happen in Yemen – if he does come back, if he doesn’t come back. As I said, we are interested in seeing the democratic transition process move forward in Yemen.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thanks. Here, please. Anything else on Yemen before we --
QUESTION: Well, just as – just following – I mean, are you concerned that, if he does go back, there will be – that will create new problems?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re taking ourselves down a hypothetical road that we don’t need to go down right now.
QUESTION: Well, no, we’re not: He either goes back or he doesn’t. It’s a 50-50 proposition. It’s not a hypothetical. One or the other is going to happen.
MS. NULAND: Well, at the --
QUESTION: So, I mean, does the U.S. have any concerns about what might – what would happen or could happen if he does go back?
MS. NULAND: We want to see Yemen move in a democratic direction.
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment --
QUESTION: Would his – is his – would his return be a move in a democratic direction?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on the effect of his return, one way or the other, or whether he’s going to --
QUESTION: But surely you have a view about this. Does no one in this – no one in this building has considered the possibility of what would happen if he goes back?
MS. NULAND: Again, it is up to Yemenis to work together to take themselves in the direction of a democratic future for the country. With regard to whether President Saleh goes back and plays a role in that or does not, I’m not going to comment on what that might bring. That would be hypothetical. I’m simply saying what we would aspire to see.
QUESTION: Whether or not you want to comment on it, does the U.S. have a view? Yes or no? Or has really no one ever – no one has contemplated this?
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve answered this question. Is there any --
QUESTION: Well, actually, no. Does the U.S. have a view or not? Don’t – I’m not asking you what it is, but surely someone has – someone in this building has given it some thought as to what the ramifications would be if he goes back or if he stays in Saudi.
MS. NULAND: Our goal and our aspiration is the same as that of the Yemeni people, to see a peaceful transition there. We had been encouraging President Saleh for many weeks to meet his commitments under the GCC agreement, to sign it, to move on to a democratic transition. He is now in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment. We are encouraged that the democratic conversation is beginning in Yemen. Whether or not he plays a role in that, we’re not going to speculate on.
QUESTION: If I may, on the GCC agreement, you support the GCC agreement, which explicitly calls for him to leave power. So you – then you have a position on that.
MS. NULAND: We do have a position. That position hasn’t changed.
MS. NULAND: The question, I thought, had to do with whether there was an effect on that by him returning to the country.
Please, anybody else on Yemen? Jill? No? Syria then.
QUESTION: On Syria, has Secretary Clinton spoken with her Russian counterpart, Lavrov?
MS. NULAND: She did speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, and she did discuss Syria with him. She also discussed Middle East peace, Libya, UN Security Council 1267, and Russian-Georgian relations. With regard to Syria, the discussion focused on action in the UN Security Council and how the U.S. and Russia can work together to make sure that we can get to a UN Security Council resolution that supports peace and security in Syria.
QUESTION: Was there any indication that the Russians are softening their animosity towards that resolution at all?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think I want to go further into the substance of her conversation. I would simply say that it was a good conversation.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. What was the resolution they discussed? The Bolivia resolution?
MS. NULAND: This is the UNSC 1267, which is the resolution –
QUESTION: The Bolivia –
MS. NULAND: -- that we’re going to split now with regard to designating terrorists in Afghanistan, Taliban, and al-Qaida. So something that –
QUESTION: Sorry. What was the number of it again?
MS. NULAND: 1267.
QUESTION: So that – it doesn’t have anything to do per se with Syria?
MS. NULAND: No. No. Syria’s separate. Syria is a resolution that is in discussion and negotiation now, so it wouldn’t have a number until it’s passed.
QUESTION: So but they discussed this 1267?
MS. NULAND: Correct. Middle East Peace, Libya, Syria, UNSC 1267.
QUESTION: But they discussed the Syrian resolution?
MS. NULAND: They did.
QUESTION: Yes. And –
MS. NULAND: And she expressed her hope that the U.S. and Russia can work together to come to a resolution.
QUESTION: On 1267 though, that’s terrorism in – terrorists – that’s the list?
MS. NULAND: That’s the resolution that’s under discussion in the UN today. It – that’s the – 1267 is the resolution that allows for the sanctioning of al-Qaida and Taliban, extremists on terrorists list, and we are now working to split that resolution in two so that we can more stringently sanction al-Qaida and so that we can keep the right Taliban on the list but also allow for appropriate reconciliation, assuming former members of the Taliban want to meet the conditions of reconciliation.
QUESTION: So does that – so in effect, this is making it easier to remove people from the list if they are interested in reconciliation?
MS. NULAND: Without getting too far into it, if we need more detail, we will get our UN folk to help you with this. My understanding is that when this was first passed, right after September 11th, all of the extremists were lumped together. And so this is going to – this action in the UN today is going to split the lists. It’s essentially a housekeeping issue, which will allow us to strengthen the al-Qaida sanctions to ensure that those Taliban who remain extremists can stay on a separate list, but that those who are reconciled can come off.
QUESTION: And the Russian view – I mean, there had been some problems before with the Russians and taking specific individuals off the list where they had objected, even though President Karzai and ISAF had kind of signed off and said okay, these people are okay. Is it your understanding that the Russians are prepared to support this now?
MS. NULAND: The conversation was simply about the aspiration to get this one finished in the near future.
QUESTION: And then on the Syria –
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- part of it, the Syria resolution, where exactly can you give us update where we are on that?
MS. NULAND: Discussions continue in New York. As I said yesterday, we’re working individually with the various members of the UN Security Council on a text. The Secretary’s diplomacy today with Foreign Minister Lavrov was in support of that resolution effort, and the work continues.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Do you feel that you made any progress with Mr. Lavrov?
MS. NULAND: As I said before, I don’t want to characterize the conversation or get into their diplomatic exchange in any detail, besides saying that it was a good conversation, productive on all issues.
QUESTION: Did she have any conversations –
QUESTION: Just to follow-up to Jill’s on this very issue.
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Yes. Just to follow-up to Jill’s question on this very issue, two weeks ago, Mr. Juppe, the French foreign minister, said that they have already nine vote, not including Russia or China. Could you tell us where we are today? Are there like 11 votes or 12 votes that are actually in support of a very strong UN Security Council resolution against the regime in Syria?
MS. NULAND: I would say with discussions ongoing in New York, it’s probably not helpful to that effort to be counting votes from this podium.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: What about any discussions between the Secretary and her counterpart in Beijing? Have there been any discussions on Syria?
MS. NULAND: She has not yet had that phone call. I think as – she’ll make calls as appropriate depending upon how negotiations go in New York.
QUESTION: Can I just ask for clarification?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Why is it not the time to do that?
MS. NULAND: I think we were at a stage where she had a number of things to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov about. As I said, she went through quite a list, including where we’re going on Middle East Peace. And she always stands ready, as you know, to support diplomacy ongoing in New York as necessary.
Please, in the --
QUESTION: So you wait until there’s a bigger list for the Chinese and then talk?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speculate about when the phone call will be timely, but she’s always ready to do these things as necessary.
QUESTION: So you’re not suggesting --
MS. NULAND: In the back, please.
QUESTION: -- that there’s not enough on the agenda with the Chinese, are you? I mean, there’s always plenty of things to talk about with the Chinese.
MS. NULAND: I’m certainly not suggesting that.
QUESTION: But I guess the question – I’m sorry – would be: If it is important to the United States to get support for what – you took kind of a stronger line yesterday – to get China and Russia to see it the same way, why wouldn’t the Secretary simply pick up the phone regardless of what else she has to discuss and talk with the Chinese?
MS. NULAND: It – as we are negotiating a resolution in New York, it’s always a matter of how much negotiating room the folks in New York have, how those negotiations are going, how a text is evolving. And as necessary, she is always ready to support that diplomacy, but we haven’t made that call yet.
Please, in the --
QUESTION: On the Middle East peace process --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- we are getting a bit mixed messages from the U.S. Administration officials because, on the one hand, there is this message that there is barely a month to get back to the negotiations in order to vote – the September UN General Assembly vote on the Palestinian state. On the other – and the Palestinians gave their yes and Israel is still hesitating – and on the other hand, there is this message that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with the Hamas. So what exactly David Hale and Dennis Ross were trying to do in the region? I mean, what Israel is actually expected to do? To negotiate, not to negotiate now?
MS. NULAND: As I said yesterday, David Hale and Dennis Ross are still in the region. Our expectation is that early next week, we will be able to give you a more detailed readout on how those talks are going. We did put out a list of the folks that they were talking to yesterday. I can add to that list today. I think you can see from simply the list of meetings they’re having that they are fully engaged with both Israelis and the Palestinians. This weekend, Special Envoy Hale will meet with Jordanian foreign – with the Jordanian foreign minister in Cyprus. Next week, he will meet with the Egyptian foreign minister and the head of Egyptian intelligence. And the Quartet envoys at the David Hale level are scheduled to meet in Brussels later next week.
So I think you can see that this diplomacy is quite rich. We – they have met with the parties, they are now meeting with the regional states, and they will go on and meet with the Quartet next week. This is all designed to support the President’s vision as outlined in his May speech.
QUESTION: Do you have a date on that Brussels meeting?
MS. NULAND: I have later next week. We can get a precise date for you.
QUESTION: And I’m just – this is kind of a logistical question, but you said that Hale was meeting Nasser Judeh in Cyprus?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there some reason why they’re meeting in – I mean, he was just in Amman the other day meeting with Saeb Erekat.
MS. NULAND: Perhaps that’s where they were able to meet. I don’t know about the foreign minister’s schedule.
QUESTION: Could you --
QUESTION: Well, wait. And then the Egyptian – then with the Egyptian foreign minister, that’s in Cario or is that also in Cyprus?
MS. NULAND: In Cairo. In Cairo.
QUESTION: Could you confirm to us if Mr. Ross already met with Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and where?
MS. NULAND: Yes. Right. They have already met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with Israeli negotiator Molho, with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. And David met – David Hale met separately with Saeb Erekat.
QUESTION: Now just a quick follow-up. Mr. Erekat suggested yesterday that the Palestinians will go to the United Nation whether there is a restart of negotiation or not. So did that subject come up in these meetings, and what was the U.S. position on that?
MS. NULAND: I think we need to wait until David Hale has finished his regional consultations for me to characterize the shape of the discussions. As I said yesterday, I don’t think it’s productive to get in the middle of it from this podium. But you know that our goals were outlined in the President’s speech.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Do you have an update on the refugee situation on the Syria-Turkey border? How many refugees have now crossed into Turkey? And you had previously said – or it had been previously said that U.S. was involved through the UNHCR. Is that still the case?
MS. NULAND: As of Wednesday at noon, we had a count of about 8,500 refugees across the Syrian border. I don't have an updated number today. We can check and see what we can find for you. We have made offers to the Government of Turkey and through the UNHCR to be helpful and we stand ready to do that, and we certainly welcome the Government of Turkey’s willingness to shelter these refugees and the hospitality that they have shown them so far.