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 July 5, 2011
MS. NULAND: On a separate note, Syria. The United States is very concerned about the ongoing attacks against peaceful demonstrators in Syria. The Government of Syria claims that it’s interested in dialogue at the same time that it is attacking and massing forces in Hama, where demonstrations have been nothing but peaceful, and continuing its attacks along the Turkish border. We urge the Government of Syria to immediately halt its intimidation and arrest campaign, to pull its security forces back from Hama and other cities, and to allow Syrians to express their opinions freely so that a genuine transition to democracy can take place. And with that, why don’t we go to your questions?
MS. NULAND: Anything else on Mexico? No? Please.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yes. We can go back to Syria.
QUESTION: You said that you are very concerned over the situation in Syria. How is this really different than, let’s say, your position was last week? Or is there a degree to quantify your concern at this juncture?
MS. NULAND: A week ago, Hama was the positive example of a city in Syria where peaceful demonstrations were allowed, where people were meeting each other and organizing and talking. And today, we see Hama surrounded by Syrian security forces, so we’re going in the wrong direction.
QUESTION: Do you feel that we are reaching a tipping point where you have perhaps to declare that Mr. Asad should step aside?
MS. NULAND: The Syrian Government has declared an interest in having a national reconciliation dialogue. So on the one hand, they claim to be talking the talk, but the walk we see them walking outside of Hama, et cetera, belies their interest in really having a national reconciliation dialogue, so we’re concerned.
QUESTION: What signs would there have to be by the Syrians to show that they are genuinely interested in pursuing talks with the opposition?
MS. NULAND: As we’ve said, we’d like to see their forces pulled back from cities, from the border. We’d like to see the violence stop. We’d like to see peaceful demonstrators allowed and we’d like to see a real dialogue begin. We want to see political prisoners released. We want to see repression and torture ending in Syrian jails.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: In Kabul yesterday, there was a protest demonstration against Pakistan for the shelling for the last couple of weeks which has killed around more than 50 people in Afghanistan. What is your sense of situation over there, shelling by Pakistan inside the Afghanistan territories for the last couple of weeks?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything specific on that issue. I will tell you that our own strategic dialogue at the working level continues with Pakistan on a broad range of issues. We have Assistant Secretary Brownfield there either today or tomorrow continuing our law enforcement and counternarcotics dialogue with Pakistan, so we continue to work the full range of security and law enforcement and stability issues with Pakistan.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on the same issue, New York Times today reported that U.S. believes that ISI was involved in the killing of the Pakistani journalist. Do you agree with that?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to any intelligence issues, obviously, from this podium. I will say that when this incident occurred back in May, we issued a very strong statement, and I will simply repeat today that we strongly condemn the abduction and killing of reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, and we’ve raised our concerns about this case with the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: Do you believe this is an act of terrorism, killing a journalist there?
MS. NULAND: Anywhere in the world, killing an innocent journalist is a gross violation of human rights and needs to be investigated.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. NULAND: Please, please.
QUESTION: This meeting in Pakistan with William Brownfield --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- part of it had to do with IED-making facilities and the number of Pakistanis that have been killed as well by IEDs. I’m just wondering, when we had testimony just recently from General Allen and Admiral McRaven saying that they’ve told Pakistan where some of these IED-making facilities are and they have yet to go after them, was – did Brownfield take a message to them today insofar as that’s concerned that we need more cooperation in going after these facilities?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak today to the precise question of IEDs, but as you know, Assistant Secretary Brownfield has been working, as he does all over the world, the full set of law enforcement and counter – and counternarcotics issues with the Afghans. There is a separate counterterrorism working group under the Strategic Dialogue, which has also met in the not-too-distant past, so it sounds like some of that would come more appropriately under that working group.
QUESTION: So you don’t know if the IED threat has been brought up at this particular meeting?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to it. Let me see what Bill has to say.
QUESTION: Another on Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: There was a gay rights event at the Embassy, and apparently there have been a number of rallies across the country in protest about that. Has there been any formal complaint by the Pakistani Government about that event?
MS. NULAND: Not that I’m aware of today. I think you know how strongly this Department and Secretary Clinton feels about these issues, that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights, and that we will speak out for what we think is right anywhere in the world, including in Pakistan.
QUESTION: Yes. It was reported today that Qadhafi has opened line of dialogue with the opposition. Do you support such calls?
MS. NULAND: We’ve heard lots of reports of this kind – Qadhafi’s talking, Qadhafi’s not talking, Qadhafi’s leaving, Qadhafi’s not leaving. You know what the U.S. position is – that he needs to end the violence, pull back his forces, step down. So that hasn’t changed. And we’re looking for action, not --
QUESTION: So you don’t support a political solution or dialogue between the two factions?
MS. NULAND: We support whatever’s going to get us to a place where Qadhafi knows it’s time for him to go.
QUESTION: On Libya?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Turkey recognized Libyan rebel forces as an entity, official entity. Does the U.S. Administration have any plan any time soon to recognize?
MS. NULAND: First of all, to say that we very much welcome the step that the Turkish Government has taken, including its provision of aid to the Transitional National Council. I think you know our position, which was articulated by the Secretary at the last Contact Meeting at Abu Dhabi, that we do see the TNC as the legitimate and credible interlocutor for the Libyan people, and we are working very closely with them on the full range of issues associated with the transition.
Anybody else on Libya? Libya and --
QUESTION: One more, one little sort of shift over the weekend related to these reports of talks was that the TNC saying that Qadhafi might be allowed to stay in Libya. And so my question really is: Does the U.S. take any position on that? Would the U.S. be okay with a solution that left Qadhafi in Libya if out of power?
MS. NULAND: From our perspective, first things first, we need to know that this guy is ready to end the violence, pull back his forces, and step down from power. That’s what we’re focused on at the moment.
QUESTION: Yes. There – what’s the opinion of the State Department on the Russians’ attempts to have some type of negotiations, including those intriguing chess talks?
MS. NULAND: The chess talks. Again, the talks need to lead to the result that we have been seeking, that the TNC is seeking, that Libyans are seeking – an end to the violence, a pullback from the – of his forces, and a recognition by Qadhafi that it is time for him to step down from power and to go. So we are obviously watching all of these efforts. We’re waiting for some of these efforts to succeed and get the message through to him.
QUESTION: But you support the Russians trying to do this?
MS. NULAND: We are interested in getting to the result of Qadhafi understanding that he needs to step down from power. So the degree to which the Russians are sending the same message today that we are sending, obviously, we’re supportive of that.
QUESTION: Morocco --
MS. NULAND: Anybody else on Libya?
QUESTION: Yeah. Where does he need to pull his troops back to?
MS. NULAND: Well, he’s still on the march. He’s still attacking innocents. So what we have said for the – for a long time was his forces need to go back to barracks, they need to go back to where they’re home-based. We need to see an end to the violence. But the most important aspect here is for Qadhafi to understand it’s the time for him to give up power.
MS. NULAND: All right. Anybody else on Libya before we leave Libya?
MS. NULAND: Please.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: How concerned are you about the uptick in violence there and the fact that there’re still no defense or interior ministers after six months? It seems like when there was not a government in place in Iraq for so many months, the U.S. put a lot of pressure on them to get it together. Is that same pressure being applied now to get these key positions filled and do something about the violence with the withdrawal pending?
MS. NULAND: I think you saw that Assistant Secretary Feltman is in Iraq today for the opening of our consulate in Basra. It gave him an opportunity to have some meetings with Iraqi officials. With regard to the uptick in violence, I would simply say that the people who are doing this are not only enemies of the United States, they’re also enemies of the Iraqi people and their desire to live peacefully and have stability in their future.
So we continue to work with the Iraqi security forces as they get ready for the full takeover of their own security. But obviously, we continue to work with the Iraqis on ensuring that they have a full and strong and stable government.
QUESTION: Peace talks.
MS. NULAND: Say again?
QUESTION: The peace talks?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Could you share with us an update on the trip or supposed trip of the Palestinian negotiator this week?
MS. NULAND: I can simply confirm that he is going to be in Washington, as I understand it, later in the week. We will do what we can after those meetings to give you some kind of a readout.
Also, I think you saw us confirm on background – I’ll confirm it on the record – that we will have on July 11th a meeting in Washington at the ministerial level of Quartet ministers.
MS. NULAND: He will certainly meet with David Hale. I can’t speak for the rest of his meetings at the moment. I think we’re still thinking about that.
QUESTION: But on just – recall the – the Palestinian negotiator is not meeting with the Secretary of State?
MS. NULAND: I cannot speak to that at the moment. I’m not sure any decisions have been made.
MS. NULAND: Please.
MS. NULAND: Morocco, yes.
QUESTION: Official figures show that 98 percent of them would respect constitution changes. Do you have any feeling about fair and balanced, or fair, free and – about elections? How do you think the elections went there?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, it was a referendum, so it was --
QUESTION: Referendum, I understand. But --
MS. NULAND: -- a yes vote or a no vote.
MS. NULAND: So I can’t speak to the reporting of 98 percent. We did welcome the decision by Moroccan leaders, now supported by Moroccan people – we understand it was something like 72 percent turnout – to move in the direction of constitutional reform, to move in a more democratic direction. So now we need to see that vote of the people implemented.
QUESTION: So you don’t have a view on the 98 percent?
MS. NULAND: I do not.
QUESTION: What do you think about the process of the constitution changes that they put forward? There were a lot of questions whether they just put very brief time to put forward for people to vote, or many other issues, actually. Do you have any issues with the process of those changes?
MS. NULAND: I think, as we said yesterday, we have welcomed the fact that Morocco is moving in a more democratic direction; at least that’s what the voters asked for with their vote. So now we need to see where this process goes in terms of real change in Morocco.
QUESTION: A quick one on Iran: Yesterday, a senior Iranian lawmaker was saying that he plans to, with parliament, try to bring lawsuits against 26 U.S. officials and former officials on human rights charges and would be tried in absentia, and that there’s also been some sort of motion of Iranian parliament to try and do this. I was just wondering what your reaction would be to this kind of event.
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen it. I would call it a pretty clumsy tit-for-tat in response to the multiple human rights sanctions that the international community has leveled in the direction of Iran.