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 25, 2011
QUESTION: In light of recent warning or precaution from the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem possibly restricting Ambassador Ford’s travels should he leave the capital, my question is: First, have you been legally or officially been notified of this statement? And what is Ambassador Ford’s current plans to travel, either in Damascus or outside of the capital?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, let me say that whether it is in Syria or anywhere else in the world, we reserve the right for our diplomatic personnel at all levels to travel as necessary to do their jobs, to represent U.S. views to a broad cross-section of population and leaders, but also so that we can gather the information that we need to evaluate internal dynamics. I don’t think any decisions have been made about onward travel by Ambassador Ford, but obviously, we reserve the right for him to travel.
With regard to your specific question, we’ve had some kind of an informal notification of these new proposed guidelines, but we have not had an official notification from the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: Could you share what they are?
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Could you share what they are, the --
MS. NULAND: Could I share --
QUESTION: The travel – the new guidelines.
MS. NULAND: Again, we haven’t had any official communication from the Syrian Government. We’ve seen the same press reporting that you have seen, so --
QUESTION: A different topic? In that speech --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Sorry, anything else on Syria?
QUESTION: While Secretary Clinton was in Istanbul, also the opposition – Syrian opposition coming in another meeting in Istanbul. And the Administration was talking about they don’t know enough about the opposition, Syrian opposition. Do you have more of a sense right now what kind of opposition is in the making in terms of Syrian position against the regime?
MS. NULAND: I think this is one of the main focuses of our Embassy in Damascus, is to try to get to know as many of these folks as we can and to have open doors to them as they want to talk about their desire to see prosperous democratic reformed Syria. We are making as many contacts as we can. We’re watching these community movements gaining force in many cities in Syria. But our primary interest is in the opposition movements that are forming inside Syria.
QUESTION: On Libya, do you have any readout on the UN envoy that’s there? And what is your understanding of what he’s trying to do there?
MS. NULAND: Following the contact group meeting in Istanbul, Minister Khatib was charged by the international community to do a number of things: First, to work intensively with the TNC on its roadmap, and particularly how the United Nations and the international community can support that roadmap going forward. So that’s the primary focus of what he’s up to. He’s also the main channel for the TNC in terms of its future and its desires regarding Qadhafi, who obviously we want to see step down from power.
QUESTION: So is he meeting with the Qadhafi regime as well?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. I would refer you to the UN. But he’s certainly working with a broad cross-section of Libyans led by the TNC on how we get from where we are now to an increasingly democratic Libya.
QUESTION: So it’s your understanding that he’s trying to find some sort of political situation to what’s going on there?
MS. NULAND: Again, I would refer you to the UN on exactly what he’s up to today, but he was charged to be the international community’s main interlocutor, both with those Libyans looking to take their country forward, and in terms of helping them to achieve their goal, which is for Qadhafi to step down.
QUESTION: What’s the status on the frozen assets of Libyan regime after recognition? Is there anything happening? Anytime soon you’ll be able to release those assets?
MS. NULAND: I think you’ve seen a number of countries have been able to move forward and get some money into TNC coffers, and they are beginning to speak positively about that. With regard to the situation in the United States, recognition was a necessary step for us to now begin doing some of the internal legal work that we have to do to look at our options. As you know, the frozen Libyan assets in the United States are mostly property, but there is some cash. But there’s a question of working through both UN restrictions and some domestic law issues, and that’s going to take a little bit of time. But we are working hard on it and we’ll get back to you when we have something to say.
QUESTION: What kind of approvals, if any, are needed from the UN, from the Security Council, before the U.S. releases those assets?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t want to get too deeply into the legal issues, but there are a couple of different things here. On the one hand, there are sanctions in place on – in giving money to Libya, so there’s a question of whether some relief could, would, should be necessary. Then there are also questions of U.S. law which have to be worked through, and both of these questions have to be looked at together.
QUESTION: Just a clarification: When you say Libya, it is the TNC; you mean TNC, right, from now on? Just –
MS. NULAND: Yes. We have recognized the TNC as the governing authority.
QUESTION: Okay. So you stopped using the rebel term of rebel is going on, or is when you say Libya, it is the TNC?
MS. NULAND: When we are talking about being able to release frozen assets --
MS. NULAND: -- to an entity, we are talking about that entity that we recognize as the governing authority in Libya, the TNC.
QUESTION: Different subject?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: I have a question about the report today that – on Afghanistan that some U.S. money intended for the Afghan Government has ended up in the hands of the Taliban. Has the State Department known about this? How long have you known about it, if so?
MS. NULAND: I think that the report that you’re talking about is in reference to some – a reported DOD investigation of its own funding. If that’s what you are referring to, then I would send you to DOD to talk to them about where they are in their investigation.
I think you know that the State Department did a very serious review not too long ago of our own contracting procedures, and we instituted a whole raft of new procedures designed to improve the way we do this in terms of transparency, in terms of understanding more clearly and being able to track in a better way how the money is spent. But I think with regard to this specific report, I’d send you to DOD.
QUESTION: Well, with respect to the State Department’s portion, is the Afghan Government cooperating with you on this?
MS. NULAND: We are working closely with the Afghan Government to improve this contracting system, yes.
Please. Anything else on this? No?
QUESTION: Just one question. The – in Iran on Saturday night, there was a scientist who was allegedly working with the nuclear program who was killed. Some Iranian officials have said that either the U.S. or Israel or both were behind this. Do you have any comment one way or the other on this?
MS. NULAND: Only to say that we’ve seen a number of conflicting reports on this particular incident, and our sympathies are obviously with the family the victim. We condemn any assassination or attack on a person – on an innocent person. But I would simply say that it’s frequent practice for Tehran to accuse the West for these kinds of incidents, and we hope that Tehran is not planning to use this incident to distract attention from what it needs to do, which is to come back into compliance with international obligations.
QUESTION: Is that a denial that the U.S. was involved?
MS. NULAND: We were not involved.