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 13, 2011
QUESTION: So, I hope the dinner was good last night because not a lot seems to have come out of – not a lot of substance seems to come out of the Quartet meeting. What exactly was the problem? Why could they not agree on a statement?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying we had said repeatedly here and in backgrounders leading up to this event that the purpose of the meeting was not necessarily to issue a statement, that we weren’t even clear that we would want or need a statement; that the main purpose of the Quartet was to have the principals, who have all been working on diplomacy with the parties themselves, come together and assess where we are and talk about how each of the principals, all of the envoys working together, can meet our goal of getting the parties back to the table.
As you heard last night from our background briefer, there are still significant gaps between these parties. That was the conclusion of the principals last night. As you know, they did issue a statement in May advocating moving forward to the table based on the vision that the President put forward in his May 19th speech. The only reason to put out an additional statement will be if and when we think that statement will encourage this process of getting back to the table. And that’s not where we are right now.
QUESTION: So you’re – so that wasn’t – are you saying that there was no attempt to try and come up with language for a statement?
MS. NULAND: I’m saying that the principals last night concluded that an additional statement was not going to advance the process at this time.
QUESTION: Did they --
MS. NULAND: And they instead asked their envoys to go back to work this morning – they are back at the table this morning – so that we can continue to work together on getting these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: But you’re saying that there wasn’t an attempt to get – there was no attempt – there weren’t negotiations all day yesterday about trying to get language for a statement that they could release?
MS. NULAND: Again, the – neither the purpose of the meeting nor the purpose of the --
QUESTION: But that – okay, that’s not my question.
MS. NULAND: -- subordinates’ work was to --
QUESTION: Are you saying that there was no attempt to get language for a statement?
MS. NULAND: The major effort yesterday was to concert views on how best to encourage the parties back to the table. They are continuing to do that today. I’m not going to speak to the private diplomacy that went on in that room.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then you just said that they concluded – their conclusion from this meeting after was that there are still significant gaps to --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: But, I mean, any of us in this room could’ve told them that without having a lavish meal with wine that Lavrov said was very good. What was the point? Because you seem to have just disappointed the Palestinians big time. I mean, you made the Israelis happy but, I mean, President Abbas is out today saying he’s very sorry that they couldn’t come up with a statement, and he said it redoubles their – it makes them more desirous to go to the UN to get their resolution, which is exactly the opposite thing of what you want.
MS. NULAND: Our message back to the parties, and I think you heard our background briefer say this yesterday, is that all the Quartet can do, all any of us can do, is encourage them and nudge them back together. But it’s the responsibility of the parties – the Israelis and the Palestinians – to get themselves to the table, to show the will to get to the table.
QUESTION: Yes, but by –
MS. NULAND: So that’s what we want to see.
QUESTION: But being unable to speak with a single voice to push them back to the table, to even come up with language that could cut – that could – that you think could encourage them to go back to the table, is just – I mean, that cannot be a good thing.
MS. NULAND: The Quartet spoke in its statement with a single voice on May 20th. We have copies of that statement, if you need to be reminded of it, so --
QUESTION: Right. I know. So the point – so I can’t figure out why you – why not just reaffirm the Quartet’s commitment to what the President laid out in his May 19th speech?
MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary’s view yesterday was that issuing the same statement again wasn’t going to change the fact that we all have more hard work to do to help these parties close the gaps and get back to the table.
QUESTION: Well, I’ll drop it after this, but the thing is – this will be my last one on this – but the thing is that statement was issued without a principals meeting.
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: It was issued without even an envoy-level meeting.
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: And now all of these – all of the principals get together, they have a big dinner here, and they are unable to speak with a single voice. So that suggests that things are worse off now than they actually were back on May 20th, when that first statement was released. And I guess I just – I still – I’ve been asking this question from before the meeting. The point of this meeting has always been suspect. I mean, I can’t figure out what it was. And I guess that I sense the question really is: Why did they have it, knowing already that their conclusion was going to be that there are significant gaps still to be bridged?
MS. NULAND: We’ve had Quartets with statements; we’ve had Quartets without statements. We’ve had statements without meetings, as we were able to do on May 20th, because the groundwork had been done among the Quartet principals before the President’s speech.
As we said, it has been quite a number of weeks since the statement on May 20th. Each of the Quartet members, in their own capacity and with their – the help of their envoys, has been trying to encourage these parties to seize the opportunity and come back to the table, whether it is the United States, whether it is EU Representative Ashton, whether it is UN Representative Ban Ki-moon, whether it is Foreign Minister Lavrov representing Russia.
So it was important, we thought, for those principals to sit in the same room – yes, over some food – and compare notes on what they are hearing from the parties, and to discuss together how best to divide up the work going forward, to try to get these parties back to the table, and to try to do it as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Is the distinction here that when the President made a speech and the Quartet kind of appreciated the comments – I don’t remember the exact words that they used, but it wasn’t that the Quartet was signing off or endorsing this as a kind of precondition or a jumping-off point for negotiations – was that what you wanted to do at this meeting last night, but you felt that there was not enough agreement between the parties for the international community to kind of endorse this as a starting point for negotiations?
MS. NULAND: In the May 20th statement – and we have copies of it here, so you can see it – the Quartet members, without actually coming together because the work had been done beforehand, embraced the President’s vision as a good starting point to try to get these parties back to the table. Since that – the speech, since the Quartet statement, each of them has been working in their own right and each of their teams has been working with Israelis, with Palestinians, to try to have them seize the moment.
And these issues are difficult. There are gaps between the parties. So it was important for everybody to sit in the same room and make sure that we are comparing notes about what we’re hearing from the parties and to try to concert on how to use the time this summer to get them back to the table.
QUESTION: Okay. I understand, but, I mean, just to follow up on what Matt was saying, if you endorsed it as a good jumping-off point in May –
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- do you not think anymore that it’s a good jumping-off point?
MS. NULAND: No. The point was that it only makes sense to put out another statement – you’re obviously not rescinding the statement you put out; it still stands – you only put out another statement if you think that a piece of paper is going to change the situation we have now, which is that we still have significant gaps between these parties, we’ve got work to do – all of us – to nudge them together. And that’s the work we need to do.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, I think that part of the issue is that there’s serious kind of questions as a usefulness of this kind of Quartet as a body that’s going to advance the process. If all – if your judge of kind of your work product is just the statement, and that’s going to – what’s going to lead the parties to the next step, I mean, it does make sense that meeting – who – I don’t want to be flip, but who cares about the Quartet if all they’re doing is meeting and putting out statements, and that’s the judge of the usefulness of this group?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think you just made our point. The reason that we didn’t put out another statement is because we still stand by the statement that we had in May. But the diplomacy that we’ve all been doing, as you have seen – and I know it’s frustrating; it’s a frustrating business we’re in – has not yet led these parties back to the table. So we have more work to do. And the conversation was very much about what each of the Quartet members and their representatives can contribute to our goal of getting these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: But, I mean –
MS. NULAND: So it was live diplomacy, it was private diplomacy, and it’s difficult. We don’t make any secret of that.
QUESTION: Okay. But in the week or two leading up to this meeting –
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- in meetings with the Palestinians, in meetings with the Israelis, they have told us that you put a lot of stock in this Quartet meeting as – that this Quartet meeting is going to be very important in terms of helping you move the process forward. I mean, what was – even if you didn’t – weren’t able to put out a statement, I mean, what did this meeting achieve last night?
MS. NULAND: This meeting was a chance for those four principals and their teams to sit down and compare notes about what we’re hearing from each side and about the difficulties we face in getting them back to the table and to compare notes about who is best able now to make the arguments that it’s going to get each side back to the table, and that’s the work that continues, and we make no secret of the fact that it’s difficult and gaps remain.
QUESTION: So would you say that at the end of the meeting, each party kind of was tasked with an assignment of how they’re going to – what they’re going to do to kind of move this to the next step?
MS. NULAND: I don’t – it’s – I mean, it’s not school, there is not a teacher, there aren’t assignments, obviously. But it is diplomacy where different countries, different representatives, bring different things in terms of encouraging parties back to the table. And I think the commitment at the end of the dinner was that all four will redouble their efforts to try to get these parties back to the table, and that’s what you see today.
QUESTION: So what are the envoys doing today? They were supposed to meet this morning. Do you have a readout on that?
MS. NULAND: They started --
QUESTION: And then what happens?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. They started at 11:15. So it’s ongoing. And again, I think they took the mandate from their bosses to see what each of the four participating organizations and countries can do to get ourselves where we want to be, which is with these parties back at the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Is heading off the Palestinians’ bid for recognition at the UN in September the number one priority right now of the Quartet members? And if so, why? And if not, why?
MS. NULAND: The number one priority of the Quartet members is to get these parties to the negotiating table because we believe that is the only place we can get to the end state that they seek, the end state that we seek, as the Secretary spoke to this yesterday, two states living side by side in peace and in security. You know where we are on the proposed ideas for the UN in September. We don’t think it’s going to be helpful; we think it’s going to make it more difficult to get folks back to the party – to the table, which is why we need to spend the time between now and September redoubling our efforts, and none of these principals wanted to leave any stones unturned in that.
QUESTION: So how do you help Prime – President Abbas, then, make the argument to the Palestinian people that being patient and trying to find a way back to direct talks is indeed the best solution? They’re looking at people in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Yemen, in Syria, all trying to make political change, and they’re looking at Abbas and at his predecessor, Arafat, and saying, “You’ve given the Americans just about 20 years. How much longer are we supposed to wait for an independent state?”
MS. NULAND: I thought the Secretary actually hit this issue very clearly yesterday when she was asked this question. She made a connection to Sudan and the new state of South Sudan, who put down their weapons, came to the negotiating table. It was difficult, it took a long time, there are still some outstanding issues, but they came to a peace agreement and a new state was born. And that’s the model that we would like to see in this case.
QUESTION: When the next meeting will be held? The Quartet meeting.
MS. NULAND: No decisions have been made except that the envoys under their bosses’ imprimatur continue to meet today. So obviously, they finish that meeting and then think about next steps.
QUESTION: Do you expect any meeting before September?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think any decisions have been made, unless they’re being made today.
In the back, please.
QUESTION: Yes. Can I change the subject?
MS. NULAND: Still on this? Still on this, please.
QUESTION: No. We’re still on this.
QUESTION: What are the significant gaps you keep repeating about – between the parties?
MS. NULAND: This question was asked from our – of our background briefer yesterday, and I think given the state of the diplomacy, which needs to be done behind closed doors, I am not going to comment here on the specifics.
Anything else on this subject?
MS. NULAND: Please, Matt.
QUESTION: Just following up on that, isn’t it not true that there are significant gaps not only between the parties but also between the members of – individual members of the Quartet?
MS. NULAND: One of the strengths of the Quartet is that we’re not all identical. We come at these issues from different perspectives, from different --
QUESTION: So the answer is yes?
MS. NULAND: -- from different – with different relationships with these parties. That’s why having the Quartet come together and comparing notes about what we see is valuable. But I’m not going to speak to the details of who was where yesterday. I don’t think that would be useful.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t – but I just want to make sure I understand correctly that it’s not just that the problem – it’s not just that there are gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which we know full well what they are, but there are also gaps between the members of the Quartet on how to get them back to the table. Is that not correct?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think there are any gaps among Quartet members with regard to the goal that we seek, which is to get --
QUESTION: Not to the goal, the way to get there.
MS. NULAND: You’d have to speak to other members of the Quartet with regard to their own positions. You know the U.S. position, and again, we felt this meeting was important precisely so that everybody could get in the same room.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. And then my last one. Is it not the case that the results from last night or lack of result from last night was exactly the reason that you guys didn’t want to have this meeting in the first place and only reluctantly agreed to host it?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary hosted the meeting because she thought it was important to concert views at this time. In the week leading up to the meeting, when you all asked here and you asked of the Secretary what did we expect, I think we were pretty clear and consistent that what we expected out of this meeting was to take stock of where we are, to take stock of the diplomacy that each side has been doing, and to see where we all think we need to go moving forward. That’s exactly what happened.
QUESTION: Well, isn’t it, in fact, the case that the questions that you’re having to answer right now are exactly the questions that you didn’t want to have to answer because you knew that there wouldn’t be anything that came out of this substantively, and you – and that is why you tried not to have – not to host this meeting?
MS. NULAND: We will – the United States will always roll up its sleeves and do what we can to try to get these parties back to the table, to settle this longstanding issue. This building has been engaged in trying to foster a lasting peace in this region for, arguably, decades. So if there is an opportunity that more diplomacy might help, we’re always going to take that opportunity, and that’s what the Secretary did yesterday.
QUESTION: That’s an excellent answer, but it’s an answer to a question that I didn’t ask. Isn’t it the fact – isn’t it a fact that the questions that you’re having to answer last night about the lack of a meaningful or tangible result from a meeting – or is it that those questions are exactly why this building didn’t want to have the meeting in the first place and only reluctantly agreed to have it – to host it?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the premise of your question. I can only tell you that in – over the last four weeks, the Secretary has been thinking about this meeting, has been preparing for it, and was certainly prepared to host it, and felt that it was important, timely, and useful to get her counterparts in the room.
QUESTION: I just have one more. Are you – does the United States feel that the Quartet is a useful body? Or would it be helpful – more helpful for you to just – between your acting envoy and the Secretary’s efforts – just kind handle this by yourself? I mean, is – are these meetings where you can’t agree kind of a distraction from the urgent goal of getting the parties to the table?
MS. NULAND: I think the process that you’re seeing, the live diplomacy that you’re seeing, speaks to the difficulty of the issues. And I think the fact that we have very committed organizations and nations around the world and the fact that we try to work together on these issues is an important factor. Have we succeeded in our short-term goal, which is to get these negotiations restarted? We haven’t. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying and keep trying together.
Please. Anything else on this? Are we finished on this? In the back, then. Thanks.
QUESTION: Last one.
MS. NULAND: Last one on this?
QUESTION: Yeah. Why the Quartet didn’t invite the parties to the dinner yesterday instead of listening to their – to listen to their positions directly?
MS. NULAND: When the parties come together, we want it to be because they’re ready to start negotiations.
QUESTION: Yes. My name is Nazira. I’m from Afghanistan.
MS. NULAND: Welcome.
QUESTION: I need to get your opinion regarding Afghanistan currently situation. And President Karzai’s, brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been killed last night by his bodyguard. Just I need to get U.S. State Department reaction, and do you think there is any links between this incident and the pulling out of the U.S. forces?
MS. NULAND: First of all, we condemn the murder of Governor Karzai. We express our condolences to his family, including to President Karzai. We have tried for quite some time to work with governors around Afghanistan, and this is not an appropriate way to deal with issues.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that his death will destabilize the south, that there will be a power grab? And also on the opposite, are there – I mean, not to benefit from someone’s death, but he was seen as someone who was having a monopoly on power and not kind of sharing it and devolving power around the south. So do you think that this – his death might have a silver lining in terms of the kind of end of this warlordism?
MS. NULAND: Violence is never the answer for getting to democratic progress that we all seek. And as you probably know, the U.S. had worked with Governor Karzai as we work with governors around the country to try to make common cause, to end corruption, to eradicate the drug trade, et cetera. So I can’t --
QUESTION: But you also saw – I mean, just – respectfully, you also saw him as someone who was fueling corruption and fueling the drug trade. I mean, even though you might have worked with him, I mean, a lot of officials have said that working with him was a necessary evil because he had all the power and was able to get things done. But he was corrupt and was – had a large part in fueling the drug trade.
MS. NULAND: The way to deal with issues in Afghanistan is not through assassination. It is through collaboration, reconciliation, et cetera.
QUESTION: How will his death affect what you were just talking about – fighting drugs, et cetera?
MS. NULAND: Again, one has to look at what the succession plan is in terms of Kandahar. But as you know, we have a very strong international presence there. We’ve been very focused over the last year in trying to increase stability, prosperity, openness, good governance in Kandahar Province. And we hope that the march of progress continues in Kandahar.
QUESTION: Does this give the Administration any pause in its plans to draw down U.S. forces from Afghanistan in any way?
MS. NULAND: I think --
QUESTION: I mean, to be rather crude about it, is this part of the cost of the U.S. pulling out of Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we see a particular causal link here. And again, our plans and the way this troop reduction will go forward will be based on what our commanders see on the ground in terms of where the troops come from and how it proceeds. The President has drawn the larger map, but the commanders and our new ambassador will make the call as to how we ensure working with Afghan security partners and our international partners – where, how, when – to ensure that the gains that have been made through the surge are not lost.
QUESTION: And you said – after you sent condolences to the family, including President Karzai, you said the United States works with governors around the country. Can you repeat that sentence, that the United States works with governors around --
MS. NULAND: Around Afghanistan --
MS. NULAND: -- to try to promote democracy --
MS. NULAND: -- promote prosperity, promote good governance --
MS. NULAND: -- end corruption, eradicate drugs.
QUESTION: And then you said this is not an appropriate way to deal with the – so the State Department believes that assassination is inappropriate?
MS. NULAND: I think that’s a --
QUESTION: It just doesn’t seem like you’re that upset here.
MS. NULAND: I think we’ll have a formal statement later in the day. But as I said, we do condemn this murder. It’s not the right way to deal with Afghanistan’s problems, and we do send our condolences to his family.
QUESTION: But are you worried about a potential power grab, that this could destabilize the south?
MS. NULAND: I would imagine that we are in discussion with the Government of Afghanistan on ensuring that the gains that we have made in southern Afghanistan continue.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The French prime minister is telling parliament that a political solution is starting to take shape. Is the State Department aware that a political solution is starting to take shape?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think that we are seeing the same thing that some of our Western partners are seeing. I think we spoke about this last week. We have a lot of folks claiming to be representatives of Qadhafi, one way or the other, reaching out to lots of other folks in the West. And – but the messages are contradictory. And we remain to have a clear-cut message, more importantly, the TNC remains to have a clear-cut message that Qadhafi is prepared to understand that it’s time for him to go.
QUESTION: So are the French misreading this or being mislead?
MS. NULAND: I think the French Quai d'Orsay, the foreign ministry, spoke to this pretty clearly yesterday, that they get a lot messages, as do we, but unless and until we are sure that the conditions of 1973 can be met and that he understands that it’s time for him to step down, we don’t have a solution.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the – your Embassy in Damascus as of yesterday, do you know if it’s open and operating today, what its plans are for security and otherwise?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is the Embassy is operational today. We have been able, working with the Syrians, to upgrade security, get some of the repairs made that needed to be made, particularly with regard to windows and cameras and those things. The Syrians returned the American flag that had been taken down yesterday. We, in turn, returned the Syrian flag that had been left on our gates. So things are improving on that front, and we do think that there is better attention now to our security.
QUESTION: Who had your flag?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know who ended up with our flag, but it’s been returned.
QUESTION: But I mean, if it’s overly – if they --
MS. NULAND: The foreign ministry has returned it to us.
QUESTION: So does that seem to speak to what the Secretary suggested yesterday, that the Syrian Government was behind this whole thing?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know they – I think you --
QUESTION: They brought it back to --
MS. NULAND: -- saw reporting that they --
QUESTION: “Capture of the Flag” or something. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: They arrested a number of people. I think they arrested six people. So clearly, the Syrian law enforcement got involved. So how they --
QUESTION: And you have no idea if that’s --
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a --
QUESTION: Are you asking to interrogate these people that were arrested?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information for you on that. I think we’re asking for a judicial process that is free, fair, transparent.
QUESTION: Are you asking for an investigation as to how this took place? I mean, there was some talk about that yesterday, but any more specifics?
MS. NULAND: I think that the Syrian Government has pledged that they are looking into it and their arrest of some people speaks to that.
QUESTION: Do you have confidence that that will be a independent or fair investigation which leads to an accurate reflection of what – of how this came about? I mean, if yesterday, as the Secretary intimated, that perhaps either they allowed it or were involved in some way, then how can they realistically investigate to any of your satisfaction?
MS. NULAND: Our number one priority is to restore the security and operational effectiveness of our embassy and to see the Government of Syria meet its Vienna Convention obligations. I think we are – I think the situation has improved since yesterday with the cooperation that we had overnight and we had today, and we want to see that continue.
QUESTION: Yesterday you weren’t ready to say that the Syrian Government was directly behind this. Are you – have any of your investigations or looks into this or inquiries yielded any more evidence that they were?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we have anything further to say than – from what the Secretary said yesterday, that whether they allowed it, whether there was some incitement, it was dangerous and it was inappropriate, and we are pleased that the situation is somewhat improved today and we expect that to continue.
QUESTION: Has Ambassador Ford spoken to anyone inside the Syrian Government about Monday’s events? And if so, what kind of response did he get from them?
MS. NULAND: He saw the deputy foreign minister this morning, I believe. And again, it was a much more collaborative tone and we’ve seen some improvements around the mission, as I discussed.
QUESTION: Are you willing to offer them even some faint praise for the actions that they’ve taken, maybe thank you? They returned your flag. They arrested six people. They’ve improved security. They got your cameras back or whatever it was. Does that – is that --
MS. NULAND: I think --
QUESTION: -- deserving of any kind of praise, any --
MS. NULAND: Again, this is an incident that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. As I said, the situation has improved and we are hoping that that trend continues.
In the back.
QUESTION: But you’re not willing to thank them?
MS. NULAND: It’s not a matter of thanking or not thanking. It’s a matter of collaborating to ensure that this incident is never repeated.
QUESTION: How did the incident affect your view about Syria --
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: -- in general? How did the incident affect the U.S. State Department policy toward Syria? In general, I mean. Because the message that Madam Secretary has given yesterday was very clear. She said President Asad is not indispensible. But in general, how this incident did affect your Syria policy?
MS. NULAND: I think the incident at the Embassy, as I said yesterday, was extremely concerning, and it was particularly concerning with regard to the Syrian Government’s failure to meet its Vienna Convention obligations. So that is one aspect.
With regard to the larger U.S. policy on Syria, I think you heard the Secretary speak to it yesterday. Our concern is about the regime’s relationship with its people, and particularly its people who, like so many other people across that region, are trying to protest peacefully for change, are nonviolent themselves, and are being met with a steady barrage of violence. So her larger message was with regard to that.
QUESTION: Can I follow –
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: -- on Syria still? Just to flesh out a bit more from that meeting with the deputy foreign minister this morning.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I didn’t hear you say that he delivered any sort of formal complaint. Did he do so when he met with them this morning?
MS. NULAND: No, of course he did.
QUESTION: Oh, he did. Okay. All right. I didn’t hear that. You said --
QUESTION: Wasn’t that complaint actually made yesterday by --
MS. NULAND: It was made yesterday and this was a follow up to that.
QUESTION: And then again this morning.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said there were some improvements. Can you explain what that is? Is there more security around the Embassy at this point, around the residence or --
MS. NULAND: There is.
QUESTION: There is more security, Syrian security?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the other question I would ask was that yesterday you mentioned that there would be possibly some requests for compensation for the damages. Was that brought up this morning?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, but we can see what we can get. Yeah.
QUESTION: CNN International had an interview with Buthaina Shaaban, who’s this government spokesperson. She denies that the Syrian Government gave approval for the attack. She was critical of Secretary Clinton saying that Asad had lost legitimacy, but she also made another point. She said the role of the government is to support national dialogue, not to go to Hama on the week of the national dialogue to support people who are saying no to dialogue. So if you – in other words, the ambassador went there to meet with people who don’t want any dialogue. And then she says no to dialogue means yes to violence, so Western power should decide what side they support. What do you say to that? That the people – that the ambassador went there to meet with people who do not want dialogue? And do you have any update on this dialogue, where it’s heading?
MS. NULAND: The ambassador went to Hama to meet with people who themselves have renounced violence and are protesting peacefully. And those peaceful protests were met with a ring of security forces and intimidation around the city, as has been the pattern in many other parts of Syria. Ambassador Ford made this point yesterday. It is the protestors who are peaceful. It is the Government of Syria that has been violent.
So I think that is what engendered the Secretary’s concern yesterday. And as she made clear yesterday before her statements, there were some in Syria who thought that the U.S. couldn’t imagine a Syria without Asad. So her first goal yesterday was to dispel that myth. As she put it, Asad isn’t indispensible and we have nothing invested in him remaining in power. Our goal is the same as the goal of the Syrian people and we stand with them, and that’s to see a democratic transformation take place that realizes their aspirations.
So what we would say back to the Syrian Government is end the violence, end the political imprisonments, end the torture, pull your forces back, and then maybe you will get a better response from your people in terms of joining in this dialogue. We are quite sympathetic with those who have chosen not to join a dialogue which is taking place in parallel with this awful violence. So if the regime is serious, it will first end the brutality against its own, and it will listen to those who have chosen peaceful methods to express themselves.
QUESTION: Because Damascus keeps making a point about Ambassador Ford’s trip to Hama, is it possible in any way for Damascus to try to curtail his travel around the country? And if so, what would be the pushback from the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to get into hypothetical situations. For us, in an environment where there is no free media, there is no internet, having an embassy there, having an ambassador gives us the opportunity to meet directly with people, to hear from them, so – and that means not just people in Damascus, but people in other parts of the country, because as you know, there are movements for change, there are peaceful protests in many other parts of the country, and there are places in the country where peaceful demonstrators – other parts of the country, Homs, Deir ez-Zor, et cetera – where peaceful protest has been met with violence.
QUESTION: Are there more --
MS. NULAND: So we want to know what’s going on and we want to be able to talk directly to Syrians.
QUESTION: Are there more intense discussions now with Ambassador Ford and his staff about how they’re conducting these meetings and these trips around the country ostensibly for their safety, but also to achieve the U.S.’s goal of trying to get information, as you say?
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Ford and his embassy remain active in trying to make broad contact with Syrians of all stripes, to try to keep the open dialogue with the regime about what we want to see, but equally importantly, to maintain contact with a broad cross-section of Syrians who want change. And he will continue to make his – make appropriate calls about how best he does that and how best he informs Washington about what’s going on in Syria in this very difficult environment.
QUESTION: In general, is a signatory to the Vienna Convention allowed to restrict the movement of diplomats and embassy staff in any given country?
MS. NULAND: Well, we and the United States have some restrictions ourselves. It’s a matter of notification procedures, generally. But in this case, in the case of the Ambassador’s trip to Hama, it is our view that we notify the Syrian Government adequately.
QUESTION: Yeah. The White House is also saying today that Mr. Asad has lost legitimacy and that he is not indispensible. So I would like you to explain to us what sort of change in U.S. policy this signals.
MS. NULAND: I think the concern is that on May 19th, President Obama said to Asad and his regime, “Lead the transition or get out of the way.” That was some six weeks ago. And what have we seen since then? A Syrian Government that continues to beat, imprison, torture, slaughter its own people. So as the President said earlier today, Asad has lost legitimacy with his own people. And that’s what you see happening as people come out on the streets and they don’t have confidence in a dialogue that is taking place in parallel with all of this violence and all of this repression.
So where are we? This is not about us. This is about the Syrian people making a choice about their own future and deciding the fate of this government, future governments, but being allowed to take their government in a democratic direction.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you said – okay, but you said “Lead the transition or get out of the way.” And then you just said, during the last six weeks, he has not done any of that, and that the Secretary has said, like – the window is narrowing closing if it’s not closed.
So you’re saying – when you say, “Lead the transition or get out of the way,” and then you say all the other things that he hasn’t done, it would follow that he should get out of the way.
MS. NULAND: This is not for us to lead; this is for the Syrian people to lead. They are --
QUESTION: I know, but you already said that. You said if he doesn’t lead the transition, he should get out of the way, and you’ve said he’s not leading a transition. So --
QUESTION: I know you’re saying he’s --
QUESTION: But you’re not --
QUESTION: -- lost legitimacy. How can he lead a transition if he has no legitimacy?
MS. NULAND: The future for him and for his regime are for the Syrian people to decide. What we are saying is that we can appreciate the concerns that they have, because how can a guy who has continued to be involved in this kind of brutality have legitimacy in the eyes of his own people. But what we’re saying as well is this is not a made-in-America situation. This is a made-in-Syria situation, that the Syrian people have to decide what the future of their country is going to be. We stand with them as they do that. The Syrian people have to write their own future. That’s what they want. They want our political support, but they want to do – make this change themselves, and that’s what we support.
QUESTION: I understand that, but maybe then he shouldn’t have said that, “Lead the transition or get out of the way,” because now you’ve said he’s not leading the transition, but you’re not following that. So maybe – I understand what you’re saying, that it’s up to Syrians, but maybe he shouldn’t have said that six weeks ago. Maybe he should have said all of the things that he’s doing, they’re terrible, but it’s up for Syrians to decide. He kind of left it hanging and now is not following it up.
MS. NULAND: Again, the Syrian people want our political support in this process that they are trying to get started, to take their country in a democratic direction. It’s not for us to write their future. It’s for them to write their future. So our goal here is to --
QUESTION: But you wrote the first sentence of that future when you said, “Lead the transition or get out of the way.”
MS. NULAND: Again, I – the President was very clear today that what we are seeing is a loss of legitimacy by Asad in his own people’s eyes. So where this is going to go is theirs to write.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) still not clear to me if they’re – this is a change in your policy towards Asad, to say that he has lost legitimacy.
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re reflecting the reality that we’re seeing on the ground, and we’re reflecting the fact that six weeks ago, we made an assertion about a positive direction he could take his country and he hasn’t taken his country in that positive direction. And we’re reflecting our support for the demands of the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: What will be the next step after this statement?
MS. NULAND: What will be the next step? Again, this’ll – the next steps will be written in Syria. But we want to send a very strong signal of our support for the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and for their ability to write their own future.
QUESTION: Are you considering any new measures against – or sanctions against Syria?
MS. NULAND: As we’ve said, we continue to review what sanctions might be available and appropriate, and we continue to talk to our partners around the world about tightening their own sanctions regimes with regard to Syria, to send a message and up the pressure. We have talked about continuing conversations we’re having about potential oil and gas sanctions, about ICC, et cetera.
QUESTION: What about action in the Security Council to condemn the recent activities by the Syrians against the U.S. and the French Embassy? Are you planning to make any move in the Security Council on this?
MS. NULAND: As you know, we continue to have discussions in the UN about a Security Council resolution condemning the brutality against the Syrian people. Those discussions will continue. We continue to feel strongly that that is an appropriate subject for the UN Security Council to be active on, and we continue to talk to partners about it. I would expect it’ll be a subject of discussion tomorrow when Foreign Minister Lavrov is here.
QUESTION: But would you expect the Security Council to condemn the attack on the U.S. and French Embassy? This morning, the French prime minister said it was unacceptable for the UN to remain silent on this. And you also said on the resolution that it’s been blocked by the Russians and the Chinese; it was specific.
MS. NULAND: On the resolution, we are continuing to work with all Security Council partners. We think this is an appropriate subject for a UN Security Council resolution. With regard to the embassy operations, we’ve – we continue to work bilaterally with the Syrians. That’s where we think that should appropriately rest.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Hormats did not – could not say anything about the reports of the U.S. selling fighter jets to Iraq. Do you have anything on that, any confirmation?
MS. NULAND: My understanding of the situation is that we had notified Congress back in 2010 about a potential sale of F-16s to Iraq – I think it was 18. For a variety of internal reasons in Iraq, that sale did not go forward. And now, were we to come back to that issue, we would have to notify Congress again, so we are not yet at the stage of doing that, but we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Thanks.