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 8, 2011
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. I apologize for keeping you waiting. We had a lot to go through today. I have a brief statement at the top about the Secretary’s upcoming travel, and then we’ll go to your questions.
On July 15-16, Secretary Clinton will travel to Turkey to participate in the Contact Group meetings on Libya, and also to have a bilateral visit with Turkish officials. The Contact Group meetings allow the international community to come together and coordinate views on our next steps on Libya. They’ll also allow us to assess how we are doing in implementing UN Security Council 1970 and 1973 and our efforts to protect civilians, as well as facilitating the start of an inclusive Libyan national dialogue that will lead to that country’s reconciliation and reconstruction.
While in Turkey, the Secretary will also meet with President Gul, Prime Minister Erdogan, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and other political leaders. They’ll be discussing Libya, Syria, and the full range of issues that we work on together bilaterally and multilaterally.
The Secretary will then travel to Greece on July 17th and 18th. She’ll meet with President Papoulias, Prime Minister Papandreou, Foreign Minister Lambrinidis, and other political leaders to discuss all of the issues that we work on together.
QUESTION: I’m assuming that there’ll be questions about the trip, so if there are –
MS. NULAND: Questions about the trip?
QUESTION: The trip to Turkey you mentioned, will there be – both countries are working on the reconciliation process between Turkey and Israel. Will be this discussion part of the meeting?
MS. NULAND: Again, we will talk about the broad range of issues that we work on together – both regional issues, global issues – so I don’t want to pre-judge the agenda. But you know all of the issues that we work on with Turkey. It’s a very rich agenda now.
QUESTION: During the discussions are going on between Turkey and Israel, would you be able to update us if this panel report is about to be released? What’s your take on current –
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re asking me about relationships between Israel and Turkey – probably better addressed to Israel and Turkey.
In the back, still on the trip?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you – what were the dates that she’ll be in India? And can you give us information on when she’ll travel to the ASEAN forum?
MS. NULAND: She’ll be – the Strategic Dialogue is on July 19th. I believe Chennai is the day after, on the 20th, but I actually don’t have a date in this statement.
MS. NULAND: And then with regard to onward travel, we’ll have an announcement about that sometime next week, I would guess.
QUESTION: I’m sorry – India.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: When Secretary will be in Chennai – as you said, first time – because it’s going to be IT, and IT hub basically for the U.S. investment in India. Is there something in pipeline before she visits Chennai or Delhi as far as anything to be signed between the two countries? Because recently when Indian delegation was here, the Treasury Department, large delegation and first-ever U.S.-India economic and financial Strategic Dialogue here took place in Washington. What was achieved here, and what do you think she will achieve while in India?
MS. NULAND: I think at the moment, we’ll leave the travel statement as we have it. I would guess, as we usually do, we’ll have some sort of a preview of the trip’s activities a little bit closer to the stop in India.
QUESTION: But one more thing. Newly – not official yet, but newly appointed – new ambassador of India to Washington, Ms. Nirupama Rao, will be the Washington – U.S. – Indian ambassador to Washington. And she has been dealing all these as foreign secretary, as far as Secretary’s visit and visiting back and forth, and also dialogue between India and Pakistan. She already made clear many times that, as far as U.S.-India relations, the strategic relations, economic relations or U.S.-Pakistan relations are concerned, she has been asking Washington that Pakistan should do more as far as tackling the terrorism is concerned.
What I’m asking now, as far as this trip is concerned, is that going to be based on also, like you mentioned, terrorism and counterterrorism and all of the – India-Pakistan will be part of the discussion?
MS. NULAND: As I mentioned, counterterrorism is one of the issues that we work on together in the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, and we always talk about our regional cooperation and our global cooperation. So I think you can expect those issues will come up.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Jill, still on the trip? No? Okay. Please, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So as I expect that you expected the Syrians have reacted pretty negatively to Ambassador Ford’s visit to Hama, can you, one, give us an update on his trip? What did he see? Who did he talk to? When did he leave? Was he actually there for the demonstrations, the post-prayer demonstrations today? And what do you say to the Syrian complaint that he went there without permission, that this was some kind of a violation of at least diplomatic courtesy, if not their own internal rules?
MS. NULAND: First, on Ambassador Ford’s activities today and an update on the trip, he did stay the night in Hama. And today, he drove into the city and, as you may have seen on YouTube, when he got into the city the car was immediately surrounded by friendly protestors who were putting flowers on the windshield, they were putting olive branches on the car, they were chanting “down with the regime,” and it was quite a scene.
Based on that, he concluded two things: First of all, that if he got out of the car he would become “the story.” And second, that it was probably not a good idea to stay beyond midday because his goal, as you know, had been to show support for the activities that the Syrians themselves were undertaking to demand their democratic rights, not to become the story himself. So he concluded that he should leave at about 1:30 while prayers were still going on before the protests began, and he did, and he’s now back in Damascus.
With regard to what he saw the day before, he had a chance to talk to lots of average citizens –these were shopkeepers, people out on the street, young men. Today, as he – as his car started to try to leave Hama, he was escorted out of town by a group of friendly young men on motorcycles who were bent on ensuring that he didn’t have any security trouble getting out of the city, and he didn’t.
With regard to the second part of your question, frankly, we’re a little bit dismayed by the Syrian Government’s reaction, because as I mentioned yesterday, our Embassy in Damascus did inform the Syrian Government, in this case the ministry of defense, that we planned to have a delegation go to Hama in advance. And in addition to that, as I mentioned yesterday, as they drove up towards Hama, they had to go through a Syrian Government military checkpoint and they were allowed to pass. So the notion that this was somehow a surprise to the Syrian Government or was in violation of their will doesn’t make any sense. And frankly, what we would say back to the Syrian Government is they really need to focus their attention on what their citizens have to say rather than on spending their time picking at Ambassador Ford.
Let me also make clear here that he was not the only foreign ambassador to make such a visit up to Hama yesterday. The ambassador of France also went to Hama. Interestingly, the two trips were not pre-coordinated. They did happen to see each other in Hama yesterday evening, but the French had the same notion that we had, that it was the right moment to make the point that we stand with the right of the Syrian people to protest peacefully and to ask for change.
QUESTION: So a couple things --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: -- just very briefly. It sounds as though from your description of what happened today, that a U.S. official at the vanguard of a U.S. presence finally got the reception you were looking for in a Baath government-controlled – Baath Party-controlled country, yeah? Flowers, people cheering – I seem to remember that was the prediction what was going to happen in Iraq, yeah. It didn’t really. But the – did he actually speak to any of these flower-bearing professors of love for the United States? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Again, I think the thought was that if he got out of the car it would create more of a stir and --
MS. NULAND: -- so he did not speak to people today. But again, if you see this YouTube visit video, you will see these demonstrators accompanying the car, putting flowers on the windshield.
QUESTION: Okay. I haven’t seen the video. But I presume the car had a U.S. flag on it; that’s how they knew?
MS. NULAND: I don’t --
QUESTION: Or was he standing up through a sunroof and waving?
MS. NULAND: I actually don’t know. I think he did not fly the flag. Generally, these days for security reasons, we don’t fly the flag.
QUESTION: How did they – how do you think they knew?
MS. NULAND: I think because he had been in town the day before and plenty of people had seen him and spoken to him, I’m sure the car has diplomatic license plates, it was well-known --
MS. NULAND: -- that he was in town. We certainly helped to --
QUESTION: All right. And then my last one is that the Syrian reaction that I asked about and that you discussed a little bit: Have they, to your knowledge, conveyed that directly to the Embassy or to the State Department or is that – or are you just – you just know about it because of the press reporting of what the people in the regime have said?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether they actually called anybody from the Embassy in Damascus, but you saw that their statements were made to the press. These were --
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not aware, though, of a formal complaint that has been delivered to either the Embassy or here?
MS. NULAND: I’m not aware of a formal demarche, no.
QUESTION: To clarify, is there any requirement that the ambassador notify the foreign ministry that he is traveling? And just in this case, second question: Why notify the ministry of defense and not the foreign ministry?
MS. NULAND: To the second question, it was a matter of courtesy because of concern about security conditions and because they had to pass through these military checkpoints. So they wanted to ensure that there were no incidents. He also had his defense attaché with him, he had his regional security officer with him. I can’t speak to Syrian Government regulations one way or the other except to say that we did inform the Syrian Government that he was traveling. I would note that Syrian Ambassador Mustafa in the United States travels completely freely – doesn’t have to tell us where he’s going, doesn’t have to register. And again, the reason that Ambassador Ford and Embassy personnel wanted to go up was because it’s really the only way to witness firsthand, with the exception of the things like these handheld YouTube videos that are getting out, what’s going on, because the country’s still closed to press and to the internet.
QUESTION: Well, can you just speak directly to the claims by the Syrians that the reason for his visit was deliberately to provoke and incite these protests?
MS. NULAND: Absolute rubbish. The reason for his visit was to stand in solidarity with the right of the Syrian people to demonstrate peacefully, and that’s what he did yesterday.
QUESTION: Can I just follow on that?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Because it does play into the hand – the storyline that the Syrian Government has been pushing. Back a couple of years ago, this administration was reluctant to speak out in the case of Iran for fear that the government could claim that it was being fomented by the United States. In this case, do you feel that his visit was helpful? Or do you feel that maybe this is in fact playing into the hand of the Syrian Government?
MS. NULAND: It was helpful to us in two ways. First of all, it gave him a chance to see firsthand and to report back to us the situation in Hama. In fact, most of his reporting focused on how peaceful things were in the city, that there were – there was almost no security presence in the city, just a little bit around the Baath headquarters; gave him a chance to talk to people on the street about why they were out and what their intentions were. I would also say that we made absolutely clear yesterday that this was not about us getting in the middle of it; this was about us supporting the rights of Syrian citizens. And, you know, it was interesting that he had no difficulties with average Syrians in Hama. In fact, he was warmly welcomed and he had this reception that we talked about.
So the Syrian Government has claimed many things. It’s claimed that there are foreign instigators behind what’s going on in their country. It’s claimed that there are gangs of young men instigating these things. That is not what he witnessed. He witnessed average Syrians asking for change in their country. And he left early today so as to make clear that this was not about us, this is about the rights of the Syrian citizens.
QUESTION: And you don’t think that footage of – excuse me – footage of him being hailed as a savior or welcomed in the city as a savior doesn’t play into the storyline?
MS. NULAND: I reject the word that you used. I think they welcomed him as a witness to their ability to exercise their universal human rights.
QUESTION: Okay, and I just – I do want to follow on one thing from yesterday, which was the notification of the ministry of defense. If you could go through exactly how that happened and what the – was there any immediate response from the ministry of defense saying, okay, thank you for letting us know; go ahead? Or, I mean, what exactly did they say when you made that notification?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a precise tick-tock, but my understanding is at some period before the visit – a day or two before – the defense attaché’s office notified the ministry of defense that a delegation would be going to Hama. I don’t know if there was a formal reaction one way or the other, but certainly, the Embassy’s conclusion was that they would be safe and secure making the trip. They indeed were. They were able to pass through that military checkpoint, as I said.
QUESTION: Were they expecting it? Were they expecting him?
QUESTION: And it was a couple of days before, you said? Before he left?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have the precise timeline, but it was certainly in advance of the visit.
QUESTION: Were they expecting his car? Like, were they on a – did – was there, like, he was already pre-cleared or something? Like, when you say the idea that this was a surprise – I mean, was – were they ready? Were they expecting him when he got there?
MS. NULAND: Suffice it to say that he went through the military checkpoint on the outskirts of the city. His car is well-known to them, they waved him through, and he didn’t encounter any security difficulty inside the city.
QUESTION: And he wasn’t hiding in the back seat or anything?
MS. NULAND: He was not hiding in the back seat.
QUESTION: Is there any intention by the Ambassador to prevent, in a sense, like, a Benghazi scenario? In other words, was there any intent that he would go there to prevent an attack by Syrian forces on the city?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said yesterday, we were concerned that Hama, which had been a center of peaceful protest a week, a week and a half ago, had now become a place ringed with Syrian security forces. Hama is very important historically in Syria, so his decision to go to Hama reflected not only our interest in standing with the Syrian people but also in standing with the Syrian people in Hama, which is so critically important when the city had security forces around it.
QUESTION: Bouthaina Shaaban, the advisor – the Syrian advisor to President Asad actually made some serious allegation against Ambassador Ford himself. She said that not only was it a breach of diplomacy, but it proved no doubt that Mr. Ford has connections with militant groups. She was very specific in saying that Ambassador Ford had connections with militant groups.
MS. NULAND: The people that Ambassador Ford saw in Hama were students, shopkeepers, average citizens. He was not only not there to instigate; he was there to support the Syrian people. When he came to the point where he was concerned that it might become about the United States rather than about the Syrian people, he chose to leave and go back to Damascus.
QUESTION: So the –
MS. NULAND: Because from our perspective, this has to be about the Syrian people.
QUESTION: So the United States Government does not maintain any kind of covert or overt relations with any Syrian groups militant or otherwise?
QUESTION: Be sure to tell us all about the covert ones.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Right. Indeed.
MS. NULAND: The United States’ intention in Damascus from our Embassy in our bilateral relationship with Syria is to see that country move in an increasingly democratic direction along the lines of what the Syrian people themselves are asking for.
QUESTION: What –
MS. NULAND: Please. In the back.
QUESTION: Isn’t it customary that countries usually advise their officials to keep away if there is a security concern within an area –
MS. NULAND: Again –
QUESTION: -- rather than going into the security concern?
MS. NULAND: Again, the Embassy informed the ministry of defense for precisely this reason, to ensure that we would not have a security incident, to make sure that the government was aware, and that procedure worked in this case. Was it a bold thing for Ambassador Ford to do? Yes, it was a bold thing for him to do, but it speaks to the importance of sending the signal that we stand with the Syrian people.
QUESTION: What has he heard from the people that he met in Hama, and what was his message to them?
MS. NULAND: Well, his message was: We stand with you, and we stand with your right to protest peacefully, we stand with your right to participate in a process that brings Syria in an increasingly democratic direction. He was warmly welcomed yesterday, and today you saw the crowds surrounding the car saying, “Down with the regime.” So that was their message back to him.
QUESTION: Did they ask for help, for assistance, for anything?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into his specific one-on-one contacts with individual Syrians except to characterize them as average folk. They weren’t particularly leaders, they weren’t particularly political leaders or civic leaders; they were just average folk, and that was what he had wanted to do.
QUESTION: Two things. He was talking to the – you’re talking about the people he talked to yesterday. Is that right?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And then also just to kind of talk about – you said he’s not trying – he wasn’t trying to incite the protests. But certainly by going onto the street and meeting with them and saying that we stand with you and your right to protest, that is encouraging them to keep protesting.
MS. NULAND: We believe, as you know, in the universal human right of peaceful protest anywhere in the world. And we will support that right wherever we see it. Our concern in Hama was about the potential for violence, about whether the citizens of Hama would be able to continue to protest peacefully as they have been for many weeks.
QUESTION: No, but I’m just saying that – just to play devil’s advocate here – I mean, I understand what you’re saying about him not trying to incite any kind of –
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- violence or anything like that. But by driving into the middle of a protest where people are protesting and saying, “I stand with you,” that is kind of ginning up the crowd to continue to do more.
MS. NULAND: But I think you’ve mischaracterized what happened. Yesterday was not a protest day in Hama. It was an average day in Hama. He was able drive into the city, got out of his car, talked to people, visited the hospital, took soundings with folks who wanted to talk to him.
QUESTION: Right, but I’m talking about today.
MS. NULAND: Today, the protests were called for after prayers, which would have been two o’ clock local, something like that. So in the morning he drove into the city to see what was going on, expecting that things would not have actually started and that he would, again, get out of the car, talk to people in advance. And what happened was, as he got into the city, folks who had decided to come out early in advance of when the protests were called surrounded the car, and that – it was at that point that he became concerned that it would become about him rather than about the Syrian people, and that’s when he decided that he wouldn’t stay.
QUESTION: So he didn’t know when he was going into the city that people were going to be outside on the streets? I mean, don’t – I mean, doesn’t the – not to get too much into security matters, but don’t – when you have a convoy of a U.S. ambassador, don’t people advance to the scene first? I mean, he got there and was completely surprised that there were hundreds of people on the streets?
MS. NULAND: First of all, I can’t speak to how many people were actually on the streets when he drove into the city. His intention this morning was to do the same thing that he had done yesterday, to talk to folks in advance and see what was going on. What was going on already on Friday morning were folks coming to the square to begin to get ready for the planned protest, and that’s what you saw around the car, that’s why he didn’t get out, and that’s why he left.
QUESTION: I was wondering if the ambassador’s trip and his report back from the trip answered any outstanding questions that you had had about the nature of the protests in Syria? Were you unsure about who these people were or what their motives were and now you are certain? And if you do have a better sense of who they are, what does that say about U.S. policy going forward about – in regards to the Syrian protests? Are we going to see much stronger, more overt support for the Syrians? Is there going to be any change at all? Or is this just a – sort of a goodwill gesture?
MS. NULAND: I think part of the issue has been this closed press environment that the Syrian Government has maintained for several weeks now. So when they don’t allow their own media in, when they don’t allow international media in, when the internet is closed, it’s very hard for an embassy, for the United States, to have a sense of what’s going on among the Syrian people. So from that perspective, to be able to go up there, see it for himself, make the symbolic gesture of standing with the Syrian people, begin to talk to them, particularly to talk to average people, is valuable to us. It’s not the end of the line, of course. We want to continue to have that kind of access to the Syrian people and we want to make sure that they know that America is on their side, but this is theirs to lead. This is theirs to lead.
QUESTION: So can we expect more of this kind of outreach directly to the Syrian – the groups that are protesting?
MS. NULAND: Certainly, it is our intention to try to maintain contact with a broad cross-section of Syrians.
QUESTION: How was the reception the French ambassador received? Do you have anything on that?
MS. NULAND: I would suggest that you speak to the French, but my point was simply that this is – it wasn’t only the United States that thought it was an important moment to stand with the people of Hama. The French also made that calculation.
QUESTION: I believe there are still about 12,000 refugees in the border. Are you in dialogue with the Turkish and Syrian governments so far? Are they just staying there? Are they awaiting anything right now? Do you have an update on refugees?
MS. NULAND: I think your number’s about right. I think our number yesterday was 13,500, something like that, on the Turkish side. As you know, Turkey has been very hospitable, is providing assistance. We continue to make clear, including in the Secretary’s conversation with Foreign Minister Davutoglu yesterday, that if Turkey would like American support through the UNHCR, that we stand ready to help.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Syrian security forces to re-enter Hama soon or in the near future?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, but certainly our hope is that they will allow peaceful protest to continue.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple (inaudible), some very small logistical things and then a larger question. One – on this, one, Syria is still a state sponsor of terrorism designee, correct?
MS. NULAND: I believe so, yes.
QUESTION: It’s my understanding that diplomats from countries that are designated state sponsors of terrorism have to at least report on their travels, if not get permission in – within the U.S., outside of the UN, outside of a 25-mile radius and also outside of a 25-mile radius of Washington. You said before that the Syrian ambassador is free to travel wherever he wants. Can you check to see if Syria has been granted an exemption from that rule? Because --
PARTICIPANT: He does have a reserve.
QUESTION: He has been granted?
PARTICIPANT: He travels all over (inaudible).
QUESTION: Well, that – yeah, I know that he travels --
MS. NULAND: Let me --
QUESTION: -- outside of the country, but the --
MS. NULAND: Let me check on the precise --
QUESTION: But there is a notification requirement, and in some cases, I think for like North Korea, they actually have to get positive, affirmative permission to travel.
Then secondly, why did not – why did the Embassy not tell the foreign ministry that it was going, that the delegation would be going, which would be standard procedure?
MS. NULAND: On the Ambassador Mustafa, the technical question of what we require him to do, let me come back to you. I am --
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that he’s not allowed – that he doesn’t --
MS. NULAND: Right, right.
QUESTION: -- travel freely and that he’s not allowed to, but I believe that if you’re a country who is a state sponsor, that there are requirements that you have to --
MS. NULAND: But certainly, when we looked into this this morning – as you said, he’s traveling all over the place – I don’t think that we have denied his travel. But let me check on the technical question.
Our interest was to ensure that we had informed the Syrian Government. We did inform the Syrian Government. In this case, it was the ministry of defense that mans the checkpoints and the barricades, and we wanted to make sure that the visit was safe and secure.
QUESTION: It’s not a question of the fact that you – or the possibility that you suspected that the foreign ministry, if you told them, would say “No, you cannot go,” and that the defense ministry might have not really been able to process such a notification or at least get it to the officials who might have denied permission or might have ordered it to be stopped? Is that not the case?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the specific technical decisions there; simply to say that there is no question that the United States informed the Syrian Government that this trip was happening and there were Syrian Government officials who allowed the trip to proceed.
QUESTION: And then my last non-logistical question is you said that you were a little bit dismayed by the Syrian Government reaction. Is that entirely true? I’m wondering what you may – what you think that Ambassador Ford’s visit and the Syrian response will do to people on the Hill who have been calling for Ambassador Ford to be recalled, who said that he should never have gone there in the first place. Aren’t you, in fact, a little bit happy that the Syrians are so upset about this because it will make the – I mean, it makes it look as if the Administration’s engagement policy actually has a point to it?
MS. NULAND: We’ve said for many weeks, I’ve said from this podium, the Secretary has said that we believe it’s important to maintain our Embassy in Damascus at this time, to have an ambassador there with the kind of stature that he can give to our views with a cross-section of Syrians. So this trip yesterday made clear that a U.S. ambassador in Syria can send a very potent signal to the Syrian people by a visit to a place where they are simply trying to express their free will to demonstrate peacefully. So he – by standing with them, he was representing not only U.S. values but also the importance of having an ambassador at an embassy in Damascus at this time.
QUESTION: Would you deny that an antagonistic relationship between the United States and the Syrian Government, or the U.S. ambassador and the Syrian Government on the ground is not – is actually an affirmation or would actually counter the criticism that has come from people on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: I think I have to reject the characterization of what we’re seeking. What we’re seeking – and we’ve said it for weeks and weeks and weeks – is a transition to a more democratic Syria. The President has said --
QUESTION: So you’re not interested in convincing the Hill that there are people on the Hill – that they’re wrong when they criticize – you don’t have any interest in that?
MS. NULAND: This is not about the U.S. Congress; this is about U.S.-Syrian policy and it’s about the United States supporting the rights of Syrian people, people around the world to exercise their universal human rights to protest peacefully.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up after that. Beyond the public pronouncement by a couple of members of Congress to recall Mr. Ford back to town from Damascus, are you aware of any kind of effort that is being exerted by Congress to actually impose on you to recall Ambassador Ford?
MS. NULAND: Not that I’m aware of at the moment.
QUESTION: Is it correct to assume now that Iranian people can hope that if they arrange a demonstration, not in Tehran but in maybe Los Angeles, they could be hoping for one of the officials – top officials of State Department to show up there with another one?
MS. NULAND: To show up in Los Angeles?
QUESTION: Yes. To – in support of Iranian people, for democracy.
MS. NULAND: As you know, we work in Washington, we work at our embassies overseas. In the United States, any group of people, whether they are citizens or whether they are visitors, have the right to peaceful protest. So --
QUESTION: Can you --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, my question was whether you can hope that they will get one of the officials to show up in their demonstration in a show of support. That was my question. I know that they can’t go to Tehran, it’s too dangerous, but --
MS. NULAND: I would guess that if there were such a protest in the United States, that plenty of Americans would be interested in observing.
QUESTION: You talked about the importance of Ambassador Ford reaching out to the Syrian regime in his meeting with President Asad’s advisors. What about your outreach to the Ambassador here? Is the State Department maintaining contact with him?
MS. NULAND: We do have occasional contact with him. We’ve had contact in the last week or so. But again, we don’t judge that that’s the most effective way to get our message, unfiltered, to senior Syrians. We believe that Ambassador Ford is better placed to speak directly to those people who speak directly to President Asad.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that the – you don’t think that the Syrian ambassador here has a direct line to the president?
MS. NULAND: He may have a direct line, but when Ambassador Ford speaks directly to those Syrians who sit with the president, we don’t have to wonder whether the message was filtered between us and those senior Syrians.
QUESTION: So have you been limiting your contact with the ambassador here?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. I think it’s been relatively normal. I don’t have any information that he’s been seeking meetings that have been denied in any way.
QUESTION: Can you check on the last meetings with him?
MS. NULAND: Sure, sure.
Please. Anything else on Syria? We still on Syria?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Do you know who shot this YouTube video?
MS. NULAND: I don’t.
QUESTION: It was not anyone from the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: No.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. The Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told members of the press on Wednesday outside this building that they are going to the United Nations, submitting their application by the end of this month. One, what are you doing to dissuade the Palestinians from doing so? And second, what do you expect as a result of the Quartet meeting next week in Washington?
MS. NULAND: As you know, as we’ve been discussing for several weeks here, we believe that going to the United Nations is not helpful. It will not achieve the result of a lasting peace that – with two states living side by side in security that Palestinians seek, that we all seek; that the right course of action is for the parties to come back to the table, using the framework that the President laid out on May 19th. Those are the points that David Hale has made in his regular diplomacy with Saeb Erekat and with all other interlocutors on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side.
With regard to the Quartet on Monday, as I said yesterday, our expectation is that these ministers who’ve been involved, each in their own way, in trying to get the parties back to the negotiation will come together and will compare notes about where we are and plot a course forward.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. He also said that all there needs to be is for Mr. Netanyahu to say it in Hebrew or English, whatever, that we accept the premise of a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, consistent with what the President said. What are you doing in terms of leveraging your influence on the Israeli Government to do so?
MS. NULAND: With both parties, we are making the same points, that now is the time to come back to the table, that the status quo is unstable, that we need to get back to negotiations along the lines of the outline that the President put forward, that it – delay is not going to help anybody, and we need to restore trust between them and get to the table.
QUESTION: According to the latest reports, 14,000 new Jewish settlers moved to the West Bank as of last year – last two half months. How do you see this? Is this helpful? Or are you planning to send, for example, one of the U.S. ambassadors to inspect what’s going on with settlement problem?
MS. NULAND: Our position on settlements is unchanged. We do not recognize the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We continue to call on all parties to avoid provocations as well as actions that would prejudge the outcome of these negotiations that we seek. So --
QUESTION: But can you – when you talk about what David Hale is doing and Dennis Ross and meeting with the parties --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- and trying to get them back to the table, can you specify at all what the strategy is? Are you in the stage where you’re kind of narrowing differences on what it’s going to get them to get back to the table, or are the differences so wide that neither one is – if – I’m not sure what the end game is here between now and September.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re now in an intense phase preparing for the Quartet. I think given the fact that the Quartet’s in just three days, the best thing to do would be have that meeting go forward and then ask David Hale or another senior Administration official to give you a sense of where we are in the light of that.
QUESTION: But – okay, thank you. But not to disparage the Quartet, but I mean what is – what practically – I mean, just given the years of Quartet meetings and statements that have come out of it, I mean, what is the kind of goal of this Quartet meeting? A statement that urges the parties to come back to the table? I’m really not – I mean, it’s good that you all get together and kind of check in and see where you are, but I mean, what kind of intense preparations and what kind of outcome are you expecting from this meeting that could possibly affect the parties’ willingness to come back to the table?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re in the three-day run-up, live diplomacy getting ready for this Quartet and trying to improve the atmosphere in advance of the Quartet, so I don’t think it’s going to be helpful for that process for me to get into the details from the podium. I think it will be more useful to have the meeting go forward, see what comes out of it, and then ask Ambassador Hale to speak to you about where he feels we are after the Quartet.
QUESTION: How do you expect the Quartet meeting to end? I mean, what logistically for us in terms of planning for Monday – I mean, there’s going – usually at the end of a Quartet meeting, four of the principals get together, Ban Ki-moon or whoever is representing the UN reads a statement, and then there’s a press conference.
MS. NULAND: I think that the decisions are still being made on that. I think we’re, as I said, in the middle of --
QUESTION: Is there actually going to be a meeting or is there just going to be a dinner?
MS. NULAND: Well, whether it’s a meeting without food or whether it’s a meeting with food that we call dinner, they’ll be talking about the issues --
QUESTION: I’m – well, I hope so. That’s what --
MS. NULAND: We diplomats like to do our business over food. You know that.
QUESTION: So do journalists – (laughter) – which is why we kind of like to know exactly what’s going on, because if this is going to go until 9 o’clock at night, that’s – anyway, that’s one thing. But you said that they were going to get together, compare notes, and plot a course forward. Does that mean that you expect them to actually present something as to what the way is – what is the course forward?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to prejudge what these ministers are going to --
QUESTION: Right. I think the reason that you don’t want to is because you don’t expect them to. Why does the U.S. – why did the U.S. agree to host this meeting when there seems to be really no point to it?
MS. NULAND: We are facing concerns about September, proposals to do things in September that we think are not only not helpful but that could be detrimental to our ability to get parties back to the table, so it make sense before many people go off on holiday for the Quartet to sit down, talk about the diplomacy that all of us have been having with the parties, and see what we can do to work together to try to push them back to the table.
QUESTION: Okay. I have a --
QUESTION: The Italian Government apparently managed to stop the second wave of flotilla from Greek, but now they are coming in through air, they call air flotilla. Do you have any reaction to – I mean, do you – are you okay with people are coming in air travel?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know where we have been on assistance to Gaza, that we believe that people who want to aid the citizens of Gaza should do so through legitimate, agreed channels, and that there’s plenty of opportunity to do that. I think you’re referring to the fact that some of the folks who had been interested in the flotillas came in to the airports in Israel.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Again, if people want to get assistance to Gaza, there are legitimate and appropriate channels to do that.
QUESTION: But you don’t feel that they should have the right to protest?
MS. NULAND: I didn’t speak to that issue one day or the other.
QUESTION: Right. But that’s what they were doing, right? I mean, do you have any problem with them coming to – and staging a protest in the airport in Israel?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to – my understanding is that what happened was some of these folks came in but then were denied entry into Israel. And it’s any government’s sovereign right to decide who comes into their country and who doesn’t.
QUESTION: Right. That’s – I guess – their intention, as they stated, was to go in and stage a protest inside the airport. Is – do you have any problems with anybody staging a protest?
MS. NULAND: Again, there’s the larger question of whether they were allowed access into Israel in the first place, and my understanding is that the Israeli Government made the decision that they would not allow them in. So with regard to protests, you know where we are: Peaceful protests are peaceful protests.
QUESTION: So you would think it was a bad idea then that these people were deported?
MS. NULAND: No, what I said was that whether it’s the Israeli Government, whether it’s the American Government, whether it’s any government around the world, every government has the sovereign right to decide who it’s going to admit into its country. So we didn’t get to this stage, as I understand it, because some of these people were not allowed entry.
QUESTION: So your statement in regards to Syria, which was we support the right of peaceful – of people to protest anywhere in the world, also applies to Israel?
MS. NULAND: Of course. Please.
QUESTION: U.S. counterpart in Islamabad, the spokesperson for the foreign ministry, she addressed the weekly briefing yesterday. And one of the statements that she made was that several steps have been taken behind closed doors in the recent months, and the relationship with the United States is now back on track. Do you agree with the statement, and if yes, what steps are being referred to here?
MS. NULAND: Well, you see us, I think, continuing to work very hard on our relationship with Pakistan – all of the high-level visits that we had in May and June and now the working groups going great guns. We had Assistant Secretary Brownfield in Islamabad earlier in the week. We have more working groups coming forward. So our goal is to continue to roll up our sleeves together and to work on the issues of mutual interest.
QUESTION: In Egypt today, the largest protest gathered since the revolution, what’s your reaction to that? Do you see these protests justified?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these reports of this million-man protest in Tahrir Square. We can’t confirm the numbers. We have noted that – the media’s reporting that the demonstrations are peaceful. That’s our criterion, that demonstrations remain peaceful. More broadly, we’re looking for Egyptian citizens to be able to participate in the move towards democracy and in the change going on in their country.
QUESTION: As you know, the reaction from the crowd is basically against the Egyptian military and they have been – slowness to rule the country for the last six months, especially slow justice. How do you view on that? Do you have any view on that?
MS. NULAND: What’s important to us is that these protests, if they’re going to go forward, are peaceful and that there be no violence and that the Egyptian authorities continue to allow their people to participate in the evolution of their democracy.
QUESTION: How do you assess the Egyptian militaries so far operating for six months? Do you think it’s up to speed?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to evaluate their behavior, simply to say that they are committed to a democratic transition. They are working with the people with the interim government and that’s the process that we expect.
QUESTION: The Lebanese Government has won the parliamentary vote of confidence. Do you have any reaction to that? How do you assess the government’s platform? And have you congratulated the new prime minister?
MS. NULAND: What we’ve said before is that the internal makeup of the Lebanese Government is a matter for the Lebanese people. What’s important to us is that the new government live up to all of its international obligations and commitments, including those under UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, 1701, and the special tribunal for Lebanon. So it’s on that that we will judge this government.
QUESTION: And how do you view the government’s stance on the international tribunal?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, this government has just been seated and we’re waiting to see if they’re going to live up to these obligations.
In the back, please.
QUESTION: But they presented their policy in the platform, in the government’s platform.
MS. NULAND: Was it today? And did they speak --
QUESTION: No. Three days ago.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we need to see them walk the walk.
QUESTION: And according to the announcement that you make that Secretary Clinton will meet with the president, with the prime minister, and foreign minister in Turkey next week. Will she meet with the opposition party leaders, too?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that precisely. I think we’ll have a full schedule for the trip a little bit closer to the time.
QUESTION: There have been a couple of reports today, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, confirming the death of Ilyas Kashmiri.
MS. NULAND: The death of?
QUESTION: Death of militant, Ilyas Kashmiri, who was reported killed in a drone strike, early June, so if you have any information on that.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that (inaudible).
QUESTION: Two, the Secretary and then the Department put out a notice – notices this morning about new travel restrictions on Iranian officials. Who are these people?
MS. NULAND: These new visa restrictions apply to 52 Iranians. They are officials who have been involved in repressive acts against their own citizens and have denied their own citizens their human rights and fundamental freedoms. They include Iranian ministers, government officials, and others.
QUESTION: And who would they be exactly?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a list for you here.
QUESTION: I don’t think that you’ll have a list for me at all. I want to know why you won’t have that list for me.
MS. NULAND: I will take that question.
QUESTION: How do these people know? Have they been informed of this decision?
MS. NULAND: I think we have generally described the category. I don’t know how one goes about informing. I assume that if you go to get a visa and you’re on this list, your visa is not granted.
QUESTION: So in other words, they have to go to the Swiss, or however Iranians get visas to come to the U.S., they have to go there and apply and then be told that they have been turned down.
MS. NULAND: Presumably.
QUESTION: Does not the law require that you notify people who have been placed on the rejection list?
MS. NULAND: The way this goes around the world is that people come and apply and we evaluate the application and then they are notified.
QUESTION: Right. But is the – but, well, I want to know if you have to be notified or if the only reason – if you – if you’re put on this list and you don’t already have a visa, so it’s not a revocation. It’s actually – it’s a policy of denial towards you as an individual. If you – if the law requires that you actually – that you have to be notified of that?
MS. NULAND: I believe it does not, but I’ll confirm that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then I just --
QUESTION: Can I just follow up real quick on one thing, just a point of clarification? If they want to go to the UN, how does that jibe with your obligations under the headquarters agreement?
MS. NULAND: If they want to go to New York, yeah, under the headquarters agreement, they would be allowed to attend.
QUESTION: It would be just for that purpose, then?
MS. NULAND: Yes. Correct.
QUESTION: I just wanted to bring to your attention two issues yesterday at the Pentagon press, General Mullen was speaking and he said as far as the death and kidnapping of the Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad was concerned, it was the direct hand of the Pakistani Government.
And second, Senator McCain said yesterday that now U.S. really has to deal with Pakistan in reality, not just to talk, because according to Senator McCain, Haqqani network and ISI and Taliban are the same.
MS. NULAND: Was there a question there, Goyal?
QUESTION: Any comments on these.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, you know that we strongly condemned the abduction and killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad. We have raised our concerns about this with the Pakistani officials at senior levels. We are urging a full and transparent investigation and prosecution of the killing and to ensure accountability for the crime. Admiral Mullen’s comments stand for themselves. I’m not going to comment any further on intelligence issues.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: GCC – recent proposal by the six states of the GCC that they approved that increase military force to 100,000, which is current 40,000, is the GCC military force. Do you have any view that – on that, why this increase is needed at this point?
MS. NULAND: This was a decision of the GCC within its membership to try to --
QUESTION: Increase the military force to 100,000.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that today.
QUESTION: Would you be able to –
MS. NULAND: Sure. I can take – you’re looking for a reaction?
MS. NULAND: Okay. We’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thanks very much, everybody.