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 10, 2011
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything at the top, so we can go directly to what is on your minds.
Jill? Oh, sorry, Matt, did you --
QUESTION: No, I have nothing.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Jill.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, every day we ask you, so should President Asad step down?
MS. NULAND: Let me say that the focus of our activity, as you know, based on the Secretary’s meetings, her numerous phone calls, her recent conversations with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, is to continue to strengthen the international chorus of condemnation regarding the abhorrent activities of the Asad regime. And I think that our view is that this community of countries willing to call him out, call Syria out for what it is doing is growing.
And over the past week, based largely on his actions but also because of the strong diplomacy that we have been conducting with a number of countries, you see moves like the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council – as I mentioned yesterday, Saudi King Abdullah, Kuwait, Bahrain, other countries taking increasingly strong stands and making clear that what’s going on in Syria is absolutely unacceptable to the international community.
Now, the fact that we got this UN Security Council presidential statement last week speaks to the fact that countries like China and Russia are no longer willing to sit by. So I think the question now is: What message is the Asad regime going to take from this? Are they going to stop the violence? Are they going to pull the tanks back? Are they going to allow a real democratic transition to take place? So that’s where we are on Syria today.
And as you saw probably, the Treasury Department today announced a new set of sanctions. We’ve sanctioned the Commercial Bank of Syria, we’ve sanctioned the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, and we’ve sanctioned their largest mobile phone purveyor, Syriatel.
QUESTION: Speaking of the sanctions, where are we internationally? I mean, do you feel that the countries that have rhetorically come forward are backing that up with sufficient, concrete steps with other sanctions?
MS. NULAND: This is very much the focus of the diplomacy that we’re engaged with, with the Europeans, with Syria’s neighbors, to encourage, as we said yesterday, as many countries as possible to take national action to tighten the noose, to ensure that we do as much as possible to increase the pressure on Asad. And our own sanctions are designed to deny him the money to commit this kind of violence.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Davutoglu after his marathon meeting yesterday?
MS. NULAND: Yes. They had another long phone call --
MS. NULAND: -- last night in which they compared notes on where we are and committed, again, to work together to build the pressure on Asad.
QUESTION: And is there any new thinking as a result of this lengthy conversation? Is there, like, any steps that the two countries might coordinate together or are likely to see in the next two or three days?
MS. NULAND: I think we are very much together on the fundamental demands that both Turkey, the United States, and an increasing chorus of countries have with regard to the Asad regime – that the violence has got to stop, that the tanks have to go back to barracks, and that we have to start a real democratic transition.
QUESTION: And finally --
MS. NULAND: So we are working very, very closely together.
QUESTION: -- and lastly, how do you read the meetings between Mr. Muallem, the foreign minister of Syria, with the foreign minister of Russia yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything – any particular comment on the Russian meeting.
QUESTION: So there has been no similar conversation between the Russian foreign minister and the Secretary of State as there was with the Turkish foreign minister, was there?
MS. NULAND: We have, as you know, been coordinating closely on Syria with Russia. When Foreign Minister Lavrov was here in the middle of July --
MS. NULAND: -- it was very much a subject of conversation, obviously, our work together in New York. There has not been a phone call, though, in the last 24 hours if that’s what you’re asking.
QUESTION: How long was the call? You said it was lengthy? How long?
MS. NULAND: They spoke for about half an hour.
QUESTION: Staying in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan stated that tanks, they withdraw from Hama, so he state that is a good step after the meeting of the Foreign Minister Davutoglu and his counterparts in Damascus. Would you agree that – do you see any changes so far?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Turkish press, as I understand it from press reporting, has been allowed in to Hama. We ourselves are not in Hama, so this is based on Turkish information. We are looking for an end to the violence in all parts of Syria. We’re looking for a withdrawal of forces from all parts of Syria. So any moves along those lines would be in keeping with what we are both looking for, but we need to see a complete process.
QUESTION: From first conversation, from conversation between foreign -- Secretary of State Clinton and Davutoglu, Foreign Minister Davutoglu from Sunday, there is kind of an uproar in Turkey in terms of the language they used in the press release about that phone call. Do you have any regrets over the language of the statement that’s released after the phone call between the --
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure precisely what it is that caused the uproar. I would simply say that from our perspective, our very close diplomatic coordination with Turkey on this subject and on other very important subjects around the world has been vital to the effectiveness of the diplomacy, I think, of both countries. So we very much value the relationship that Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Davutoglu have and that we have at all other levels with the Turkish Government.
QUESTION: The statement reflected a couple of – first, that U.S. State Department reinforces – this is the one where (inaudible) is to ask Turkish counterpart to kind of send the message of the United States of government. Did you ask foreign minister to send or convey any of the messages of the U.S. Administration to Damascus?
MS. NULAND: This is a partnership that we have with Turkey. We are allies, and Secretary Clinton works very closely with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. So it’s a matter of the two of them coordinating their messages and working with other allies and partners around the world to amplify the message.
MS. NULAND: Libya. Yeah.
QUESTION: No, Egypt.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let’s do Libya, and then we’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Very quickly, yesterday, you suggested that the dissolving of the TNC is a sign of vibrant transparency and democratic accountability. But all the reports point that they are really in disarray. I mean, do you still sort of stick to your point of yesterday that this is really a sign of a very healthy process?
MS. NULAND: I think we stand by what I said yesterday, which is that this is an opportunity for renewal not only in political terms, but in terms of the confidence that the Libyan people are going to have to have in TNC leadership. So it’s in that spirit that we want to see the next step, which is for Prime Minister Jibril to propose and for the TNC to consider a new government. And that government needs to be one that can be seen as open, transparent, broadly representative, et cetera.
QUESTION: Do you see a situation where NATO – the NATO alliance would give advice on how to form the next executive committee or cabinet or whatever it is in the TNC?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think this is a NATO function so much. NATO is –
QUESTION: I understand. But would there – is it – be advisable for them to say, “Look, you guys maybe should do this or do that”?
MS. NULAND: The – many of the countries within NATO, like the United States, have missions in Benghazi which are available to the TNC to provide any advice, assistance that is requested. I think in terms of the U.S. role in this or other countries’ role, it’s simply to ensure that we are providing any advice that they would like, and that we are making clear that the principles of transparency – openness, unity, broad representation – are goals that they share.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Please. Samir.
QUESTION: Yes. There is a lengthy article in The Wall Street Journal today talking about how the Egyptian military rulers, the council, is behind a negative campaign against the – Ambassador Patterson, and the nongovernment organization – pro-democracy organization that receives money from the U.S., that they are describing them as traitors. How do you assess the relations with the military council?
MS. NULAND: Well, first let me say with regard to this kind of anti-Americanism that’s creeping into the Egyptian public discourse, we are concerned. We have expressed these concerns to the Egyptian Government. We think this kind of representation of the United States is not only inaccurate; it’s unfair. We are very strong supporters of Egypt’s transition to a democratic future, and we will continue to be there for Egypt.
With regard to the personal attacks on Ambassador Patterson, they are unacceptable, as you know. She is one of our finest, most respected, most experienced ambassadors around the world, and she is in Egypt to represent U.S. policy and the American people’s aspiration to support a strong, democratic, prosperous Egypt.
QUESTION: How long has she actually been there? It’s only a matter of weeks, right? I don’t even think it’s a month.
MS. NULAND: I think that’s right. I think that’s right.
QUESTION: One more on Egypt. Is --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry, can we just – can I just – when was the last time this was raised with – I remember the Egyptian intelligence chief was here while you were away, and I think that this came up then. But this latest article seems to be more recent than that. Do you know if this has been – if and by whom this has been raised since –
MS. NULAND: Let me take that one for the specifics. Yeah.
QUESTION: And can you also check exactly how long Ambassador Patterson has been there?
MS. NULAND: I will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: I will
QUESTION: It is on Egypt. There is a report of a young Egyptian American boy who apparently was taken by his father in Egypt, and wondering if you had any information on that.
MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to have to take that one. Do you have a name, Jill?
QUESTION: I’ll send it to you. I’m sorry. I don’t have that with me.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: Palestine, Israel --
MS. NULAND: Anything else on this --
QUESTION: Can you tell us the status of the would-be conversation between Mr. David Hale and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat? Has it taken place? Is it taking place this week?
MS. NULAND: I think the last contact was the contact that we mentioned yesterday on August 2nd, but I don't believe that they’ve been back in touch.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the content of their conversation?
MS. NULAND: I don’t.
QUESTION: You don’t. Okay. Quick follow-up. Do you – are you alarmed that the Palestinian Authority is unable to meet its requirements, financial requirements, and that the institutions that you helped create and solidify might be falling apart as the result of the lack of aid?
MS. NULAND: I don't have any specifics on a change of situation with regard to Palestinian finances, do I don't have any particular comment on that.
QUESTION: And lastly, there’s a new Arab Institute Zogby poll that shows that most Arabs in the Arab Spring countries actually view the United States not endearingly. And in fact, they see it as meddling and an obstacle to peace, and basically the underlying current in this thing is the lack of the U.S. ability to move on the peace process. Any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there?
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. I think you – are you alarmed that this may be a trend in, let’s say, places like Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and Syria, other places and so on that people are beginning to view the United States with a bit of hostility?
MS. NULAND: Well, our hope and expectation would be that people would, around the world, would have seen the President’s speech on May 19th as an effort to reenergize the peace process, to help the parties get back to the table. I don't think anybody could accuse the United States of shirking its responsibilities or its leadership role in this context, but it’s up the parties to make the hard decisions for peace.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Actually, many accuse U.S. leadership, in terms of Middle East peace process – when you open any newspapers in Middle East, everybody accuses U.S. leadership. And right now, while the Palestines are going to UN this September, many think that and write that there is no credibility for U.S. leadership to this time pull off the negotiations. So why should they wait another round of talks and they are just going to UN?
MS. NULAND: Again, was there a question there?
QUESTION: Yes. You said there is no accusation, but there are widespread accusations against the U.S. leadership. Do you see any credible to these arguments that you have leadership gap when you – we look at the last two decades of Middle East talks?
MS. NULAND: Well, how about we look at the last three months of U.S. leadership, beginning with the President’s speech and the incredible diplomatic efforts of Ambassador David Hale, the Quartet meeting, all of these kinds of things, the diplomacy that the President and the Secretary have personally engaged in with the parties on both sides, the visits here. These parties have to make the decision to come to the table. We can lay out the best case. We can offer our best offices. We can try to organize the international community for success, and we are doing all those things. But it’s up to the parties to make the tough decision for peace.
QUESTION: What has all that effort yielded, if I may ask, in the last three months?
MS. NULAND: It’s been difficult, as you see, and it continues to be difficult. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying.
QUESTION: But has it yielded anything tangible? I mean, the Quartet didn’t even issue a statement – correct? – after their last meeting.
MS. NULAND: The Quartet issued its statement after the President’s speech, and we continue to try to use that framework, that set of ideas, to try to get these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Does it remain a goal to have some sort of deliverable before the end of the month, when the – George Mitchell’s one-year deadline expires?
MS. NULAND: Kirit, I think we said about three months ago that that was a deadline set in a different time in a different place. I don't think setting deadlines is necessary or appropriate. I think the goal is to try to get these parties back to the table as soon as possible and to make clear that taking this thing to the UN is not going to improve the situation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.