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 August 9, 2011
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody.
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. All right, I have nothing at the top, so why don’t we go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: What’s the – what’s your latest understanding of the situation in Syria? Have you heard from the Turkish foreign minister about his trip?
MS. NULAND: As you know, the Secretary and Minister Davutoglu spoke the other day before he went in to Syria. We are expecting them to speak again when the foreign minister has finished his consultations, but we haven’t yet had that call. I think the meetings are ongoing on the ground in Syria now.
QUESTION: That’s not scheduled, then? It’s basically whenever he finishes?
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: Do you expect that today?
MS. NULAND: Unclear whether they will speak today, but they will speak as soon as he has completed his round.
QUESTION: In his conversations so far, apparently, President Asad has said that they will not relent in going after terrorists. What do – do you make anything of that?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the same press reports you have. It is deeply regrettable that President Asad does not seem to be hearing the increasingly loud voice of the international community, a voice of concern that is now growing in strength, in volume, and in number of countries making their views known. I would note in particular that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had a very strong statement yesterday abhorring the violence and calling on the regime for change. We’ve also seen the statement of the GCC and the Arab League. So the pressure on Asad is growing. The concern is that he is not listening.
QUESTION: Are you – you’re referring to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Which was, I think, Sunday.
MS. NULAND: That’s right.
QUESTION: Not yesterday.
MS. NULAND: That’s right.
QUESTION: Are you aware of King Abdullah – of the other King Abdullah has said anything? He’s a bit closer to the action.
MS. NULAND: I’m not aware. We’ll check for you what we’ve seen. But I was – just now I was referring to Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: What do you think of the claim by the Syrian regime that there are militant elements that actually provoke these firefights and so on?
MS. NULAND: The kind of violence and use of armor and tanks against innocents that we’ve seen in Syria can’t be justified on any basis.
QUESTION: So, Toria, with the United – with these countries now, we’ve got the GCC, the Arab League, individual countries, what does the U.S. want to see them do? I mean, what’s the message from the United States other than, of course, calling for him to stop the violence? But how far does the U.S. want them to go? Should they – should the U.S. – be calling for him directly to step down?
MS. NULAND: As the Secretary said last week, our concern had been that we hadn’t had enough voices, particularly in the neighborhood, making clear that the path that he is on is unacceptable and is abhorrent. And that has changed radically, particularly given his horrible choices in Hama and in Deir al-Zour over the last week.
So to start with, the political condemnation is growing. As you know, the United States and many other countries have significant sanctions on Syria. We want to continue to work with our partners and particularly those with continuing economic interest in Syria to strengthen those sanctions. So those conversations are ongoing. We still believe that further action in the UN would be helpful, although the president’s statement last week began to set the table for that.
And clearly, the decision by Foreign Minister Davutoglu, one of Syria’s near neighbors, to go and give the message of the international community directly is significant, and we hope the regime is listening.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. NULAND: Please, Kirit.
QUESTION: I believe the UN is supposed to meet to follow up sometime this week. You said that you believe that the time is – or that you believe that further UN action could be warranted. Do you think there should be a push for sanctions at the UN this week?
MS. NULAND: I don’t want to speak to the timing. We had the president’s statement last week. But I think what’s significant in terms of what further UN action would represent is that the chorus and the community of nations who do not want to stand silent in the face of this kind of violence is growing. And that’s important, obviously, in a UN context if we’re going to take further steps there.
QUESTION: On the sanctions, do you expect these sanctions to include, one, gas and oil, and second, air transport, a boycott of giving access to Syrian airways, and vice versa?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have said in the past that we are particularly interested in further oil and gas sanctions. This is not something that would particularly apply in the United States context because our own economic contacts with Syria are limited. With regard to other things, we’re asking all countries with trade relations with Syria to look deeply at what they can do to continue to pressure the regime.
QUESTION: Quickly, and I’m sure you’ve seen the latest comments from Foreign Minister Lavrov, which appear to be more critical than Russia has been in the past. Do you sense that Russia has now turned and that, therefore, it may actually be possible to get action and a resolution at the UN Security Council when it was not previously?
MS. NULAND: The actions that Asad has taken in the last week, I think, have certainly caught the attention of those countries which were more reticent to criticize him publicly, and that’s why you’re beginning to see this stronger public condemnation. We continue to believe that that political condemnation needs to be followed by increasing action on the economic side to increase the pressure on Syria.
In the back.
QUESTION: Did you discuss those economic sanctions with Turkish officials yesterday? Fred Hof met with the chief advisor of prime minister yesterday. And could you give us some details on this meeting?
MS. NULAND: Fred Hof, as you know, was talking to Turkey, was talking to a number of European countries. He’s on a broad swing to look particularly at the issue of sanctions. I don’t want to get into the specifics of those discussions, but they were primarily designed to talk about how we can up the economic pressure.
QUESTION: Is it possible to put in sanctions, bilateral sanctions to – I mean, not United Nations Security Council only, but between Turkey and Syria like United States and Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly, any nation, it’s within their sovereign right to apply sanctions bilaterally. That’s the route that the United States has taken in the absence of stronger UN international action, so any of Turkey’s neighbors or other countries could certainly go that route --
QUESTION: The last --
MS. NULAND: -- if they made that sovereign decision to do so.
QUESTION: Turkish officials from foreign ministry said today – this morning, actually – that Davutoglu will not convey any international community or someone else messages to Syrian officials, but only Turkish Government message. What does it mean?
MS. NULAND: Well, it’s obviously appropriate that the Turkish foreign minister should convey the message of Turkey, Syria’s neighbor. Our interest is in staying closely coordinated with all of our allies, with all of Syria’s neighbors, as this diplomacy goes forward. And we’ve been very gratified in particular by the close coordination that the Secretary has had with Foreign Minister Davutoglu.
QUESTION: Why Foreign Minister Davutoglu was in Damascus today across Syria about (inaudible) people who were killed? And plus, the armored vehicles of Syria apparently was entering the city of Ibis, which is a very close Turkish quarter Would it be unfair to take this as an initial reaction of how the Syria sees Turkish reach out?
MS. NULAND: Sounds like that’s a question for the Syrians, not a question for us. But our hope and our expectation is that the Syrian regime will hear the message that Foreign Minister Davutoglu is bringing and will heed the increasing call from the international community, which is joining us in calling for an end to the violence, a withdrawal of forces, and a beginning of a true political democratic process.
QUESTION: Is the buffer zone right now – is the buffer zone under active consideration by Turkish border at the moment, if the violence continues?
MS. NULAND: It sounds like that’s a question also for Turkish authorities rather than for us.
QUESTION: What is your level of understanding or belief of President Bashar al-Asad’s control of the regime and the government apparatus itself at this point?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think I want to characterize internal processes inside the Syrian Government. But again, he is head of a regime that is brutally cracking down on innocents and continues to do so whether it’s in Hama, whether it’s in Deir al-Zour, whether it’s in other suburbs of Damascus. So to absolve him of responsibility would seem absurd.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you’ve seen this release by WikiLeaks of this cable from 2009 which basically, as the Obama Administration was considering engaging them – the Syrian regime – it kind of noted these potential for brutal tactics and brinksmanship and gamesmanship. And I’m wondering why – if you knew him to be this individual, why you would engage with him at that – knowing what you know about him? I mean, it doesn’t seem like anything that he’s doing really is much of a surprise, given what you knew about him in the beginning.
MS. NULAND: I think you won’t be surprised if I don’t pick up on any effort to draw us into something that comes from WikiLeaks.
QUESTION: Yeah. What kind of – you want to follow?
QUESTION: Well, I got – I just – forget about the WikiLeaks parts of it. I mean, it – the assessment – and it was not merely one that was provided in private cables. The Administration assessment for a while have been that Asad was not – was capable of doing – given – despite his background as an ophthalmologist, was capable of pretty much doing anything because he was essentially being run by his father’s cronies.
So just in general, forget about the WikiLeaks portion of it. Can you answer at least this question?
MS. NULAND: I think if the question goes to why did we choose a path of engagement in 2009 – is that where we’re going? I think –
QUESTION: Right. If there were concerns about what he was capable of.
MS. NULAND: I think in 2009 when the Administration came into office, you saw an effort to turn the page and have a fresh start in many places where relations had been difficult. And in some places, that paid off very well, and our partners joined us in turning the page. In the case of Syria, the message from 2009 was: If you are prepared to open Syria politically, if you are prepared to be a reformer, if you are prepared to work with us on Middle East peace and other issues we share, we can have a new and different kind of partnership. And that is not the path that Asad chose.
QUESTION: Do you agree with the assessment that Asad is neither as shrewd nor as long-winded as his father?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to –
QUESTION: -- and that Syrian foreign policy or his actions play almost entirely to his vanity, that Syrian diplomats lie repeatedly even – and show no embarrassment at being caught at lying, and that they are so concerned with protocol issue that even –that they’re incredibly concerned with protocol issues, but don’t really understand what they are?
MS. NULAND: I think you’re asking me to psychoanalyze Asad and this – the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: I’m just asking you if you think these assessments from the field are accurate, if they generally – if people generally accept them?
MS. NULAND: This Administration, the United States, will judge Syria, has judged Syria based on the regime’s actions. And the regime’s actions are getting more and more abhorrent by the day.
QUESTION: So you don’t care to comment as to the – President Asad’s shrewdness or lack thereof or whether his speaking abilities are the same or different than his father’s?
MS. NULAND: How shrewd could he possibly be when he’s taking his country into a downward spiral of violence and oppression, rather than seizing the opportunity that the international community was willing to give him for reform and change?
QUESTION: Yeah. Who has Ambassador Ford met with since he returned to his post in Damascus? And can you characterize the conversations he’s having there?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that one, Lachlan, because I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I’ll take that one for tomorrow.
QUESTION: Yeah. On China?
MS. NULAND: Anything else on Syria before we leave Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.
QUESTION: Why the U.S. not able to get a consensus on Syria at the United Nations, unlike in the case of Libya? Which are the countries which are assisting your efforts?
MS. NULAND: Again, as we said this morning, I think you see the chorus of condemnation growing not only geographically, but you see it growing in strength and in revulsion at what’s going on in Syria. So the question now is turning those political messages into common international action that will increase the pressure on the regime.
QUESTION: One last one on that.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Would you consider that the time has passed for any kind of reform, that he must go?
MS. NULAND: He clearly, for many, many weeks now, has not taken the opportunity that the President gave him so many months ago. So again, we’re going to judge him by his actions, and his actions are abhorrent and repulsive.
QUESTION: But what is he rehabilitate? So would he be rehabilitated into the community of nations?
MS. NULAND: Let’s start with some actual move to end the violence, none of which has happened.
QUESTION: Can I – do you think it would be fair to say that any efforts by this Administration to engage this regime are over?
MS. NULAND: To the degree that the Syrian Government wants to meet with Ambassador Ford or wants to see us, we will continue to have those conversations and be open to a direct relay of our message. But our message is not going to change – that what he’s doing is disgusting, is abhorrent, is dangerous, and is taking his country in the wrong direction.
QUESTION: Well, but what I’m saying is – you were talking a few minutes ago about efforts to engage on 2009. And don’t forget, I mean, the President did say at the time, anyway, as a candidate, that engagement didn’t always mean having a relationship with countries that you agree with. So, I mean, given what you know now about this regime, aside from relaying your message of abhorrence or whatever, are the efforts to have a new relationship and a new partnership with this regime over?
MS. NULAND: You can’t have any kind of partnership with a regime that does this kind of thing to innocents. So I wouldn’t use the P-word with regard to where we are today at all. Where we are today is to do what we can with U.S. influence, whether it’s directly in Syria or with our allies and the neighbors of that country to end the bloodshed, first and foremost, so that we can help those in Syria who want to take their country in a more positive and democratic direction.
QUESTION: But just to broaden it out a little bit, I mean, we saw the same thing with Iran. I mean, there was this policy of engagement. They brutally cracked down on their people and engagement was kind of dead. And, I mean, it seems as if the same in Burma. You said you were going to engage the regime. In fact, it’s done the opposite.
I mean, do you think that – are you rethinking the whole idea of engagement? Because part of the reason that you don’t have good relationships with these countries is because of the way that you – they treat their people. And so it seems as if the idea of engagement, while idealistic, in reality, is not possible.
MS. NULAND: To say it again, I think the President and Secretary Clinton came to office believing that we should start fresh with countries around the world, including those where we’d had difficult or even bad relations, and there should be an offer of engagement. But the question of whether you can have a partnership requires two. So if you offer engagement, and rather than taking up engagement, your partner chooses to spend their time and energy repressing and violating the human rights of their own citizens, in any such situation, there are limits to what the U.S. can do with such a country. And I think you’ve seen that, obviously with Iran, and we’re seeing it in Syria now.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. What was the P-word that you mentioned?
MS. NULAND: Partnership.
MS. NULAND: Partnership.
QUESTION: On Libya?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Are we done with Syria? Yeah. Good. Libya.
QUESTION: Libya. Several weeks ago, Secretary of State Clinton announced that U.S. would recognize the TNC as the official representative government of Libya. At the time, one of the explanations was that this would help speed to Libya some of the frozen assets that were placed as part of both U.S. and UN sanctions. To date, zero dollars of those frozen assets have been released to the Libyan rebels or the TNC. I’m wondering if you can explain to us: What’s the hold up? What’s the State Department doing to unfreeze these assets? And when might we see the money actually start to get to the rebels?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we said at the time, when we were in Istanbul and the Secretary made the historic announcement with regard to the TNC, this doesn’t change the fact that we have difficult internal U.S. procedures with regard to the banking situation, et cetera. And we’re also in an environment where UN Security Council Resolution 1970 put some restrictions on what we can do. So we’re continuing to work internally on various routes to get some of this money to the TNC. We’re also continuing to work with the TNC, which is in its own state of internal political transition, on how to ensure that the money, if given, is used properly and for humanitarian purposes. So it’s going to be a little bit of time yet, but please know that we are working on it and we’re working on it hard.
QUESTION: So therefore, do you believe that some adjustment or modification or clarification of the UN sanctions is necessary in order to facilitate this process? Is that the position?
MS. NULAND: They’re – that is one route, as we discussed at the time, for being able to speed more money to the TNC. There are other routes, and we’re working on all of them.
QUESTION: Is it --
QUESTION: And how much time are we talking about? Weeks, months, years?
MS. NULAND: Again, it’s extremely complex. It’s complex legally. It’s complex financially. So I think it wouldn’t be appropriate from this podium to speculate, but we have the same aspiration as the TNC, which is to get money to them as quickly as we can.
QUESTION: Has there been a hitch in the – in this very small amount, the $ 13 million, about, that the Embassy had control of? Is it – or don’t they – I was under the impression that that – that they had control of that now.
MS. NULAND: Let me take that one as well. That’s one while I was away that I didn’t hear about, so let me take that one.
QUESTION: And then the other thing is, is that the reshuffle in the TNC doesn’t appear to really bode well for the unity of this group, particularly after the killing of the commander. Do you have any concerns at all about this, or is it just kind of par for the course in a struggling opposition government?
MS. NULAND: The TNC had a shock with the killing of the defense minister, and I think what we see is an effort by the TNC to take a hard look at itself and to make an important step forward that can reassure Libyans that in reshuffling the government, that they have a truly democratic and a truly transparent leadership group. So frankly, while the killing was an awful event, the fact that the TNC has not just stood pat, but has really taken this as an opportunity for internal reflection, for renewal, we are optimistic about that, and we have – we welcome their objective and the objective of newly reappointed Prime Minister Jibril to form a new executive committee as quickly and as transparently as possible. Remember that this executive committee is the leadership body of the TNC as a whole, so it’s important that not only the rest of the TNC but that the Libyan people have confidence in it.
QUESTION: I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a glass-half-full explanation better than that one in a long time.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: Because while that may be your position, which I kind of doubt it – maybe it’s your public position, but I’m not sure it is privately – a lot of other people publicly think that this is a sign of chaos, indecision, and inability to come together to form a cohesive governing authority. You don’t share any of those concerns?
MS. NULAND: I think our concern is to see the TNC come back together in a transparent, open, democratic way, to refresh and renew the leadership in light of the events and the concerns that came as a result of --
QUESTION: But you just described the killing of their top military commanders as an opportunity for internal reflection and renewal. Yeah?
MS. NULAND: I think that would have been --
QUESTION: I think the assassination of Lincoln was also the opportunity for internal reflection and renewal, but I mean, not really –
MS. NULAND: It would have been more concerning if, in the face of the kinds of internal ferment that clearly was in the backdrop when this happened, they had all slammed the barn doors and said we’re just fine. And rather than doing that, they are looking hard at what they have to do to ensure that there is a democratic, transparent leadership in which their people can have confidence, that the international community can have confidence, in it. So I think no action would have been an issue of concern. To take action, to take responsibility for presenting a common front, for coming together as a renewed democratic leadership group, offers an opportunity for the TNC which we want to see be transparent and we want to see be democratic. And those are the conversations that we are having with them.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) democratic leadership, absent an election to elect them?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the roadmap which they put forward at the last Contact Group in Turkey calls for a democratic transition that would take them from where they are now to an interim status eventually to elections. But you’re not going to have the confidence in the – of the Libyan people in this body leading that roadmap and leading Libya in that direction if it can’t prove that it’s going to take necessary steps to get its own house in order after an event like the killing of the defense minister. So from that point of view, the way they deal with this is going to set the stage for future events, and our expectation is that it will be an opportunity for them and that they need to pursue it democratically.
QUESTION: Right, but whatever interim government succeeds the cabinet that was dismissed, you don’t expect to be as the result of an election, correct?
MS. NULAND: Correct. This will be another interim executive committee that will then need to take the TNC along its roadmap.
QUESTION: So how is this democratic? I mean, maybe there’ll be a democracy eventually if they eventually get to elections that will ultimately, through a popular vote, select the leaders. But in the interim --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- I don’t see how this is democratic in the least.
MS. NULAND: In the sense that the TNC Executive Committee is chosen from the larger TNC. So the larger leadership of the government needs to have confidence in those on the executive committee. So that would – from the perspective that that executive committee doesn’t self-appoint; it has to be approved by the TNC leadership. It’s not broadly, pluralistically democratic in the sense of all Libyans – one Libyan, one vote – but it’s certainly far more democratic than Libya has ever been under the Qadhafi regime.
QUESTION: Can I just – forgive me for --
MS. NULAND: And it’s an interim first step.
QUESTION: Yeah. Forgive me for sticking to this, but words are important. Words like democracy –
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and democratic are particularly important –
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- to this country. And talk about a successor government being democratic when it will at best be the result of a selection by a group of people that is not necessarily representative, and is certainly not chosen by the people through any electoral process, strikes me as suggesting that this going to be a – it’s going to be as democratic as the selection of the Politburo in China. I mean, or the Central Committee, right? I mean, this is – this – how can you call this democratic if it is not the result of an election by the people?
MS. NULAND: Well, this is obviously not the democratic end state that we’re looking for in Libya, nor is it the democratic end state that the TNC itself is looking for. TNC has set itself on a roadmap that leads to elections and leads to the right of every Libyan to vote for their leadership. That’s what we all want to see. But in the interim, and until we get to that point, and to improve the situation that Libyans have had under the dictator Qadhafi, this is more democratic than they’ve had in the past in the sense that the TNC as a whole increasingly represents a broader cross-section of Libyans. It is growing. It is broadening geographically in terms of the types of Libyans who are represented in it. So I agree with you, it’s not the end state, but it is far more democratic than Libyans have known in the past.
QUESTION: There should be no worry or anxiety that the dissolving of the TNC is a sign of fragmentation and infighting and so on?
MS. NULAND: Again, our expectation and our contacts with Prime Minister Jabril and others in the TNC, including from our mission in Benghazi and elsewhere, indicate that it is their expectation that they will form a new government quickly, transparently, democratically, that will bring more confidence to the Libyan people in the ability of this group to take them forward along the roadmap that they have --
QUESTION: What is your expectation? That’s their expectation.
MS. NULAND: And those are the United States’s expectations as well, and that is our request of them.
QUESTION: One thing the State Department could do without going through the UN is to give the Libyan TNC representatives in Washington full diplomatic status and give them back control over their Embassy. Why hasn’t that happened yet and what’s the schedule for that?
MS. NULAND: Let me come back to you tomorrow. I think we may have more to say on that one tomorrow.
QUESTION: Actually, didn’t they hand over the Embassy – they handed over the Embassy to them last week.
QUESTION: They’re not in the Embassy.
QUESTION: Well, there’s a reason why specific people aren’t in the Embassy, but isn’t it true that you handed over the embassy last week?
MS. NULAND: It is true. And that’s the – I’m the victim of my own summer vacation in being behind on this – (laughter) – on this issue.
QUESTION: Can we move to Yemen?
MS. NULAND: I think we have one more on Libya back here. Do we?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Libya?
QUESTION: Could I ask a question about Afghanistan? As you know, nowadays Afghanistan’s situation is very bad.
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. I think we wanted – you have nothing on Libya?
QUESTION: Oh, no. No, about Afghanistan.
MS. NULAND: Can we come back to you after --
MS. NULAND: -- Matt’s question.
QUESTION: Let’s just get rid of the Middle East here. Yemen – why is it exactly you think it would be a bad idea for President Saleh to go back to Yemen right now?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’ve opined on that one way or the other. We’ve simply said that the democratic process in Yemen should not be held hostage and needs to continue, and we’ve encouraged Vice President Hadi to continue his conversations with the opposition. And we’ve encouraged President Saleh, wherever – in Saudi Arabia to go ahead and do the necessary, which is to sign the GCC deal and --
MS. NULAND: -- get his country back on track.
QUESTION: While it is true that neither you nor your deputy have opined on this from the podium, everybody else seems to have opined on it. Why are you reluctant to say that you think it would be a destabilizing and potentially dangerous thing for President Saleh to go back to Yemen when it is clearly what you think?
MS. NULAND: The issue in Yemen is to move forward with a democratic transition along the lines of the deal that the GCC put forward that President Saleh himself said repeatedly that he supported. So, I think, the question is better put – why is President Saleh finding it so difficult to sign this thing so his country can move forward.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but that – that might be the question you want me to ask, but that’s not the question I am asking. So the question I’m asking is: Why is it when you think that it would be destabilizing and potentially dangerous for President Saleh to go back, why won’t you admit that that is what – why won’t you say that that is your concern and that is why you don’t think it would be a good idea for him to go back?
MS. NULAND: Again, from this podium, our view is that Yemen needs to move in a democratic direction along the lines of the GCC report. How that happens is up to the Yemeni people, but it’s got to happen. So there are many, many routes that President Saleh could take to facilitate that process and he hasn’t taken any of them.
QUESTION: The route that you don’t want him to take is the route that goes from Saudi Arabia back to Sana’a.
MS. NULAND: I think that was your characterization of what we want.
QUESTION: Well, that’s I’m trying – I’m trying to find. I don’t want it to be my characterization.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I don’t want – and I don’t want it to be the characterization of unnamed people --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- floating around --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- out in the Middle East who we don’t know who they are. I want to know if it is – why the U.S. thinks that it is – that it would be dangerous and destabilizing for him to go back.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not prepared to put that in those terms the way you did from this podium. My point on Yemen is the same point that we’ve been making for some six weeks and certainly since President Saleh was brought to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, that it is still possible for him to fulfill his obligation and his commitment to his people to sign the deal and let Yemen move on, and that needs to happen regardless of where he is.
QUESTION: Another subject.
QUESTION: Yes. Just a follow-up on this. Yesterday, there was a report in Asharq Al-Awsat that the United States had persuaded President Saleh to remain in Saudi Arabia. Today, there was a report on Yemen’s official news agency saying that he will return to Yemen as soon as his recuperation permits. Do you have any clarity on what are his intentions?
MS. NULAND: We do not. The last contact that we had with him was when White House advisor Brennan saw him – whenever that was, early July.
QUESTION: July 10th. But the taken question said that was the last direct contact --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: -- which left open the possibility of indirect contact, which leaves open the --
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to his intentions from here.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. seeking direct contact with him right now?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Do you have – do know of an understanding between the Government of the United States and the Government of Saudi Arabia, the monarch of Saudi Arabia, that whichever successor to Mr. Saleh, he should agree to a pipeline that will go through Hadramaut and down to the Port of Aden as a substitute to the Strait of Hormuz? I mean, do you know about this issue?
MS. NULAND: I have nothing on that.
QUESTION: Another subject.
MS. NULAND: Finished with Yemen? More – Yemen?
QUESTION: No. Afghanistan.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Can we go to Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. As I told you, the situation in Afghanistan day-by-day get very bad and U.S. forces has been killed nowadays and the level is – goes very high. And people – they are trying to lose – they’re hopeful in Afghanistan, and some expert also, they think that situation get more worse, and also they are worried about the economic in U.S., that it will be affectable for the U.S. operation in Afghanistan. Generally, what do you think about that? Do you have any message for the currently time for Afghan people?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, President Obama spoke yesterday to the tragic killing of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, and President Karzai also sent his condolences. That said, we continue to believe that the right path for Afghanistan is to continue to work with the international community, to strengthen its own ability to secure its country, to provide a democratic, pluralistic, prosperous future for their people, and will continue to do that.
Our security objectives, as you know, are increasingly to have Afghans in the lead in as many ports of Afghanistan as possible, with the goal of being able to remove U.S. forces by 2014. So that hasn’t changed. But we remain optimistic that Afghanistan can and will secure its own future over the long term.
QUESTION: Just following on that, as far as security in Afghanistan is concerned, now people of Afghanistan are feeling that what they thought, that their proper reason, their lives will be secured by the international community or NATO, whatsoever. Now they’re feeling that they’re under threat, and also high-level officials are – also been killed in recent days and months. And finally, Talibans in Afghanistan but also, according to Pakistan newspaper reports, Taliban in Pakistans are claiming and – that the remains of Usama bin Ladin will continue to – against those who committed the crime.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment?
MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there, Goyal?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, do you have any comments? I mean, you have any comments what Talibans are saying? And also, high-level officials are being killed in Afghanistan.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, Usama bin Ladin is dead. His network is being dismantled. We have increasing confidence that the Taliban are on defense, as our commanders have said. That doesn’t mean the job is finished in Afghanistan; it’s far from finished, which is why we expect to have U.S. security forces there, coalition forces there, into 2014. But we are committed to the long-term security, prosperity, democracy of Afghanistan, and we’re committed to staying the course with the international community as laid out in the Lisbon summit and beyond. So from that perspective, we stay on course.
QUESTION: But I mean, what assurance can you give to the common people of Afghanistan as far as their future is concerned?
MS. NULAND: I think the assurance that we give is that we are committed to our partnership, our strategic partnership with Afghanistan over the short term, over the medium term, and over the long term.
QUESTION: At least one important Pakistani publication is reporting that U.S. itself was responsible for the killing of SEAL members who were part of the team which killed Usama bin Ladin. How do you react to those reports?
MS. NULAND: Apart from the fact that we don’t talk about intelligence matters, it’s ridiculous and disgusting. Thanks.
QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israeli issue. Palestinian sources say they are studying or weighing in postponing the submission of their application to the United Nations beyond the General Assembly. Is this something that you’re discussing with them, not to let go of the idea, but actually to postpone it?
MS. NULAND: Our position on activities at the UN General Assembly has not changed. It didn’t change in the weeks of my summer leave. We think that this is a bad idea, which is going to make the kind of negotiation that we want to see for a lasting long-term peace more difficult.
QUESTION: Would that be an idea that you would encourage, for Mr. Abbas to climb down from that tree?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve encouraged from the beginning that the Palestinians reconsider this ill-advised course that they have been on.
QUESTION: For many months now, whenever the question has been raised here about settlements, your response, and the response of Mark before you, has been our policy hasn’t changed, you know what it is, don’t ask us to repeat it right here, until today, when you put out the TQ from the question that was asked yesterday about the 900 new permits for east Jerusalem in which you said the United States is deeply concerned about this and basically went back to the language that the Administration had been using before the latest attempt to get the talks restarted floundered and failed. Can I ask why you felt the need to restate – fully restate your position on settlements today?
MS. NULAND: I wouldn’t over-read this. In the past, when we’ve had a specific settlement incident, we’ve spoken directly to that incident while putting it in the context of our larger policy. I think that’s what we did today. For those of you who haven’t seen it, we made clear that we are concerned by continuing Israeli actions with respect to housing construction and made clear that we have raised this issue with the Israeli Government and we’ll continue to make our position known. But I wouldn’t read much more. This is in keeping with our long-standing policy.
QUESTION: No. I know. I know it is. But before you just say – you would just say that you know what our policy is and it hasn’t changed. And now --
MS. NULAND: Well, no. I did at one point. I think it was the fourth time you asked me when I first started this job. (Laughter.) I repeated the entire policy for you.
QUESTION: Did you? I’ll have to go back and look.
MS. NULAND: I did. I did.
QUESTION: Anyway, I wouldn’t worry about me over-reading it too much. I would worry about the Israelis over-reading it. That would be --
MS. NULAND: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: One more on this, on this particular issue.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The language of the TQ said “We have raised this issue with the Israeli Government and continue to make our position known.” What I want to make certain of is when you say this issue you are referring specifically to the new 900 housing permits?
MS. NULAND: I’m referring to the issue as formulated in the sentence before --
MS. NULAND: “Continuing Israeli actions with respect to housing construction in Jerusalem.”
QUESTION: What troubles me about that though is that “continuing Israeli actions” does not necessarily refer to the 900. And I want to make sure that I can make that link.
MS. NULAND: Well, the 900 are part of “continuing Israeli action,” are they not?
QUESTION: That’s all I wanted. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Thank you. Is there – we have a number of – I see some people wanting to get up and finish, but I have a number of hands up, however.
QUESTION: Real quick on China?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: No, no. On the Israeli issue.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you say “concern,” would that include like a quid pro quo of pressure on the Israeli Government or anything that – if you continue with this thing, then we will do --
MS. NULAND: I think the statement speaks for itself.
QUESTION: Could you explain what is exactly meant by concern in this case?
MS. NULAND: I think the statement speaks for itself.
QUESTION: There is this new travel advisory for U.S. citizens traveling to Pakistan. Does this also apply to the diplomats posted in Pakistan and their travel and working, and the U.S. agencies working in Pakistan like USAID and other agencies?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we believe that under the Vienna Convention, Pakistan, like any other government with which we have diplomatic relations, has a responsibility to allow travel of diplomats and to protect them when they travel. So from that perspective, it’s a different situation for diplomats, but the same principles apply.
Thanks everybody. It’s so great to be back. (Laughter.)