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 23, 2011
MS. NULAND: I have nothing at the top, so why don’t we go to – directly what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So why don’t you enlighten us as to what’s going on in Libya and your understanding? And also, what’s happening in terms of the diplomacy, in terms of what the Secretary is doing and what other officials are doing? As specific as possible, please.
MS. NULAND: Good. Well, obviously, the battle for Tripoli continues and the ground situation is somewhat fluid, but we have seen some amazing images in the last little while. But there is no question that the Qadhafi regime has nearly collapsed. There is also no question that the best thing he could do for his people would be to relinquish power immediately. We stand with the proud people of Libya at this historic time. Their transition has begun. The Transitional National Council, with whom we maintain daily, hourly contact, is preparing to lead the country through its democratic transition. And we support and echo their calls for national unity at this time, for calm, for no retribution, for no reprisals.
The Secretary spoke yesterday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regarding the next steps that the UN can take in the planning that it is doing to assist the Transitional National Council and the Libyan people as they prepare for the transition. They talked about support in the areas of humanitarian relief, security assistance if it is requested, the support the UN can and will offer in the area of political and democratic transition support, constitution writing, and especially in the area of support for the rule of law. This transition will have to be Libyan led, it must be Libyan led, but both the U.S. and the United Nations will support the Libyan process and will be guided by the principle that this is Libya’s to lead.
We are also working urgently today, as you may have heard Ambassador Rice say just a little while ago, this week to be able to release between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in U.S.-held frozen Libyan assets. We are working in the UN Sanctions Committee to be able to do this. We want to give this money back to the TNC for its use, first and foremost to meet humanitarian needs and to help it establish a secure, stable government and to move on to the next step in its own roadmap. And we hope this process will be complete in the coming days. There’s quite a bit of diplomacy both in New York, here in Washington, out in capitals. And the Secretary has been involved in this herself, of course, to get this work done in coming days.
QUESTION: Before you get to the money, can you say – you said that what the best thing for Qadhafi can do now is to relinquish power immediately. What power does he have that you see that he can now relinquish?
MS. NULAND: Well, that’s a good question. He doesn’t seem to have much control of anything. It’s interesting that he still hasn’t been seen –
QUESTION: Are you sure that he hasn’t --
MS. NULAND: -- are wondering where he’s been --
QUESTION: -- relinquished power? I mean, he doesn’t seem to be leading – making any kind of an attempt to lead a --
MS. NULAND: I think what the --
QUESTION: -- to lead his people.
MS. NULAND: -- what the Libyan people are looking for, what the international community is looking for, is a reliable, affirmative statement not only to the Libyan people and the international community but to his own loyalists that he understands this is over, that he understands that the days of his leadership are over, so that everybody can move on to have the democratic, strong, united Libya that they deserve.
QUESTION: So short of him turning up dead someplace, you would like to see him come out and say, “I give up, I relinquish power,” so that his supporters won’t carry on the fight?
MS. NULAND: Well, that’s certainly what the Libyan people themselves have been asking for.
QUESTION: Well, then that’s what you would like to see.
MS. NULAND: It’s what the Transitional National Council has been asking for. And it’s what the United States has called for, for many, many weeks.
QUESTION: And on the money issue, this between 1 and 1.5 billion, that’s the – part of the liquid assets, right, that are frozen?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: And you said to give back that money to the TNC, but actually isn’t it to give the TNC? It’s not really their money --
MS. NULAND: To give back to the Libyan people, managed by the legitimate governing authority, the Transitional National Council, their own money.
QUESTION: All right. And what’s your understanding of what needs to actually happen at the UN for that? Because yesterday, you were saying that you would prefer not, or you would have preferred not to have to go through the UN. So --
MS. NULAND: Yesterday, I believe what we said here was that we would prefer for the UN Sanctions Committee to take action, but if the UN Sanctions Committee could not act, that we would find ways to do this unilaterally. So the diplomacy goes on. Ideally, the UN Sanctions Committee will make an affirmative decision to allow this money to be released under its own (inaudible).
QUESTION: Can you (inaudible) how you arrived at that $1 to $1.5 billion figure? And would any decision by the Sanctions Committee cover further releases down the line? I mean, is this a point of principle, that they would then sort of roll back that control over the money that would allow you to unfreeze other things as they become liquid?
MS. NULAND: Under the Sanctions Committee’s own rules and regulations, individual participants can appeal, can request of the Sanctions Committee that exceptions be made for extraordinary circumstances – in this case, humanitarian need – and then the Sanctions Committee has to make an affirmative decision. That’s how the committee works. And in the absence of the international community yet having taken the next step, which will obviously be necessary at an appropriate moment, which is to look at, based on what the Libyan people themselves want, what the TNC wants, what aspects of 19 – UNSCR 1973 still make sense, this is the best and fastest route to get relief, to get money, to the TNC, to do it in a way that has the support of the international community.
QUESTION: And the figure, that 1 to 1.5 billion, is that the amount that’s actually liquid in accounts here that could be sent as cash money to them now?
MS. NULAND: It’s a portion. It’s a little less than half of what is liquid. It is our judgment that this is the right amount now to meet immediate humanitarian and governance needs. And again, the question of the onward release of assets will depend on the situation on the ground, will depend on the desires of the Libyan people, what the TNC requests of the UN, et cetera.
QUESTION: So this money --
MS. NULAND: Josh.
QUESTION: Do you believe that – does the Administration believe that this money should be released with the condition of accountability and transparency on the TNC to make sure it’s not diverted for other than humanitarian purposes? And how would that transparency and accountability mechanism work?
MS. NULAND: Absolutely. The TNC has made strong commitments to the United States. It has made strong commitments in support of the UN – U.S. request to the UN Sanctions Committee with regard to the use of the money, with regard to transparency, et cetera. I’m not prepared to go into details here from the podium, but we would not have taken this step if we didn’t have confidence that the money will be used – will get to the people who need it and will be used appropriately.
QUESTION: How do you --
MS. NULAND: And that’s the case --
QUESTION: What gives you that confidence?
MS. NULAND: That’s the case that we’re making to the Sanctions Committee. You know that we’ve been in close contact with the TNC. We have our mission in Benghazi. This has been the subject of discussion at Assistant Secretary Feltman level, at the Secretary’s level in her diplomacy, to ensure before we went to the Sanctions Committee and during this process of convincing members of the Sanctions Committee, that this money would be used properly and would be used for the purposes that we requested its release, namely humanitarian and good governance.
QUESTION: How could you – could you explain to us how this money is released? Does it go to, let’s say, the ministry of finance, the Libyan ministry of finance, or a Libyan bank? Or does it go through an escrow process under supervision?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think this is as far as we can go today on how this might happen, because the discussions continue in New York. The diplomacy continues. So I’m not prepared from the podium today to get into all the nuts and bolts. The most important thing now is that the Sanctions Committee take action in coming days so that this money can get to the Libyan people.
QUESTION: But your comment seemed to imply that there are some of the Sanctions Committee who are standing in the way of speedy action. Can you – is that true, and who are they?
MS. NULAND: This process is very complicated. It’s very complicated anytime you want to go to the Sanctions Committee and get release, because every individual member of the Sanctions Committee has his or her own national – I mean, each nation has its own laws, has taken the sanctioning action in conformity with its own laws. So the relief has to be reviewed nationally by each country in terms of precedent, in terms of its support for the stated intent. In this case, for its understanding of how the money will be used and whether it’s in keeping with the spirit of the Sanctions Committee relief clauses that you’re trying to exercise.
QUESTION: Madam, just to follow up --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: What many people are asking, even within the (inaudible) there in Libya that it has taken too long for the United States to help the opposition or to get Qadhafi out. One, why it took so long because thousands of more people have been killed by Qadhafi regime; and second, now do you believe that you – do you believe and you have confidence in this group now that they will be supporting the fair and free elections and democracy?
MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, thank you for that opportunity to step back a little bit. As I said, although this situation remains fluid in some neighborhoods of Tripoli, and we all understand that this isn’t over until it’s completely over and until all weapons are laid down and the process of transition completely begins, it’s important to remember that this fight has lasted less than 200 days. It was February 16th, around then, that the protests really began in Libya. Ten days, just a mere 10 days after that, UN Security Council 1970 was passed, which froze the assets of the Qadhafi regime, which imposed the arms embargo and the travel ban, which allowed humanitarian aid to begin to flow. I said yesterday I think that under the President’s leadership, the Secretary, Ambassador Rice at the UN, all of us, have been working to assemble one of the broadest and deepest communities of common action in current memory to address this situation.
So 10 days after the protests begin, you see this first UN Security Council resolution. Thirty days after that, on March 17th, a mere 30 days, UN Security Council 1973, which not only imposed the no-fly zone, but also authorized all necessary means to protect civilians. Just two days after that, the President approved U.S. to begin action to implement that resolution, to use our unique capabilities to take out the air defenses of the regime. And it was just a week after that, March 26th, that the NATO operation was approved and NATO began picking up more and more of this mission. That same week, March 29th, the Secretary proposed, and the international community stood up, the Libya Contact Group. It initially had 20 countries and a number of international organizations. It now has 40 countries, including not only the UN and NATO and the EU, but also the African Union, the GCC, the Arab League, to support the Libyan people, to support the TNC politically, economically, militarily in this fight for transition.
And just a couple of months after this all began, we opened our mission in Benghazi, and then on April 15th you saw the NATO ministers, at the Secretary’s initiative, all call for Qadhafi to go, and that call, obviously, echoed throughout the international community thereafter.
So less than 200 days, one of the broadest coalitions in history – U.S. leadership absolutely essential in galvanizing this community. But again, it’s not over till it’s over. And not only does this community need to help the Libyans finish the job, it’s got to stay with Libya, stay with its government, as it moves through the difficult transition. Because we’ve all seen that sometimes the hardest work starts after liberation when you have to rebuild a state, and in the case of Libya, a state that’s been ruled by a dictator for 40 years.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the money, please?
QUESTION: You’ve been talking about the credibility of the NTC, and there was an incident last night that undercut that credibility. I know this is military versus financial, but the point is, of course, save Qadhafi, the NTC assuring people that he had been arrested, and then he pops up smilingly after that. So what can you say? I mean, can you trust them if you have information like that? Could you trust it if we take it to the financial part of it? Are they trustworthy?
MS. NULAND: We said yesterday that the situation was fluid, that we were asked by a number of folks whether we could confirm Qadhafi’s location, whether we could confirm the son’s under arrest. We’ve got a little bit of a fog of war situation here, including in some of the reporting on the TNC side that makes – it’s not a surprise given the fact that they are established primarily in Benghazi, they have locations elsewhere in Libya. But until the full leadership of the TNC is able to take root in Tripoli and is able to get its feet under it, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to these fog of war things.
What we are focused on with them is planning for this transition, getting them – working with them as they plan the economic, political, rule of law, security underpinnings of the new Libyan state so that it can lead a transition towards democracy. So in the context of the action that’s going on in New York, our contacts, those of the international community with them have enabled them to think through very systematically how they would use this money. So I think you’re comparing apples and oranges, a stray report in the fog of war, versus real strategic planning that they’ve been doing, that they’ve been doing with a lot of their members on what comes next. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to need our continued support; they are.
QUESTION: Are you briefing members of Congress? Maine Senator Susan Collins says we don’t know enough about the TNC and she expressed concern about their eastern Libyan roots. What are you telling Congress, and how are you assuring them that this is a reliable group?
MS. NULAND: Wendell, we have briefed Congress all the way along. As you know, we’ve had a number of hearings. I don’t have the precise number, but just in the last couple of days, we had a flurry of phone calls with staff and with members, and later on today, there is a broad briefing call with members of Congress so that all of their questions can be answered. But obviously, we want and need members of Congress to have their questions answered, and we’re prepared to work with them. And as we move forward, we hope that they too will have more contacts with the TNC and with members of the Libyan leadership team that has come into Tripoli.
QUESTION: Collins is concerned that the group might be susceptible to extremism in some form. What are you telling them when they express that concern?
MS. NULAND: This has been an issue that the TNC itself has been thinking about and working on from the beginning, and that has been a central subject of our conversation with them from the beginning. We are heartened and encouraged by the fact that the TNC, in all of its public pronouncements, in all of its private commitments to us and other members of the international community, has said that it wants to govern in a transparent, democratic way, that it wants – that it is prepared to meet all of its international human rights commitments, and that it does not want a state led by extremists; it wants a government of national unity that supports the universal human rights of all Libyans. So those are the statements that the TNC themselves have made. That’s what the international community will hold them to going forward.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: In his remarks on TV a couple days ago, Assistant Secretary Feltman said that the assassination of General Younis highlighted the dangers of Islamist elements in the – among the rebel forces. And I was just wondering, is it the State Department’s conclusion that they were somehow responsible for that assassination, and do you think that that’s a warning sign going forward?
MS. NULAND: I think the fact that the TNC itself decided after that incident that it really needed to conduct an internal audit, that it needed to dissolve its executive committee and refresh its leadership speaks to their commitment to ensure that not only in name, but in action they meet the highest standards of universal human rights and that they present to the Libyan people a governing committee that meets their aspirations for a democratic future, for a future free of extremism and free of any obstacles to the highest standards of universal human rights.
QUESTION: On the financial issue, just a follow-up: I know you said you don’t want to talk in details, but is there a mechanism already in place to monitor where this money is going to to avoid mistakes that happened in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: These are the things that we’re talking about now within the Sanctions Committee. I don’t want to get ahead of decisions there. So I think I’ve said what I can, but clearly, we have worked hard to –with the TNC. They, too, want to learn lessons from Iraq and elsewhere where there have been difficulties in the past, and we have every expectation that if this money is released, it will be used well, and it will get to the people who need it.
QUESTION: My point would be a U.S. committee to oversight or to be in charge of where this money is going.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’ve said what I can on the mechanics of this for today. I think the first thing is to get the action, and then we’ll be prepared to brief a little bit more on the mechanics.
QUESTION: All the assets frozen in U.S. are subject to Sanctions Committee? Because we knew that the total amount of these frozen assets was $30 billion, something like that, and it was a combination of some multilateral sanctions and the United Nations Security Council resolution. So now all this money, $30 billion, are subject to Sanctions Committee only, not a multi – bilateral sanction issue?
MS. NULAND: I didn’t say that. I said simply that in order to release this 1 to 1.5 billion dollars, we would like to do that tranche through the Sanctions Committee. That’s our preferred course. We’re working hard on it in coming days. If we can’t move it through the Sanctions Committee, we’ll have to find other ways to do it.
QUESTION: Wait. Going back to your timeline that you gave in response to Goyal’s question, it was over a month ago that the meeting in Istanbul where the recognition took place, correct?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: So why is it just now that you’re getting around to going to the Sanctions Committee? Because, I mean, at the time the idea was to get that money freed up as soon as possible, and yet it’s taken more than a month to do it. Is it just – were people preoccupied with other developments in other parts of the region? I mean, it seems to me that you could have gone to the Sanctions Committee the Monday after the conference on Friday and said, “Why can’t you do this?”
MS. NULAND: Well, immediately after Istanbul there was some work to get the kinds of assurances that we needed to make the presentation. I would say that the work in the Sanctions Committee has been going on for a couple of weeks, and we’re hoping to bring it to resolution quickly.
QUESTION: But it was just presented today?
MS. NULAND: No. It’s been going on for a couple of weeks.
QUESTION: What was it then that Susan Rice was doing today?
MS. NULAND: Susan Rice simply made a public statement, similar to the statement that I made at the top of the briefing, saying that our hope and expectation is that this Sanctions Committee work will be completed in coming days.
QUESTION: Are you planning direct aid to the TNC, other than frozen assets?
MS. NULAND: If we can get this billion – 1.5 released, that’s a big chunk of money --
QUESTION: I mean, it’s --
MS. NULAND: -- and it’ll do some good. And then we have to see where things go in terms of finishing the work in Tripoli, moving on, and deciding about the future of the 1973 regime, et cetera, and led very much by the desires of the Libyan people.
QUESTION: Do you favor sending – having the United Nations send a UN peacekeeping force?
MS. NULAND: It’s – we talked about this yesterday. It’s premature to talk about any of these kinds of things until the TNC has a chance to evaluate its own needs, until it can come forward to the UN with some proposals. But the UN is preparing for all contingencies.
QUESTION: You talked yesterday about preservation of Libyan institutions. With this last sweep going on, I mean, are there any signs that anybody might be selling off the assets of Libyan institutions or trying to dip into the bank accounts in Tripoli or elsewhere? Is there any reason for concern?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that here, I think, until the ground situation is a little clearer in Tripoli. One probably couldn’t say one way or the other, but I think the fact that the TNC has called for calm, that we’ve seen calm in the vast majority of the neighborhoods in Tripoli that are under the TNC and the anti-Qadhafi forces control, there has been calm, it gives us hope. But I wouldn’t want to say one way or the other, based on what we know today.
QUESTION: Still on --
MS. NULAND: Still on Libya?
QUESTION: Yeah. The stray report about Saif al-Islam, did – how did you guys find out that he was in fact not in opposition hands?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are not in the business of commenting on every stray rumor in the middle of a ground battle in Tripoli. So I’m not going to get into what we knew when and what we didn’t know, only to say that this kind of stray reporting is not uncommon, as all of you who have covered war zones know. So --
QUESTION: Chris Stevens --
MS. NULAND: I’m looking here at Steve.
QUESTION: Chris Stevens – I just wondered what – has he made contacts today with the TNC? I mean, what’s been on his agenda today?
MS. NULAND: He has been following up on the Secretary’s call with TNC Chairman Jalil yesterday. He’s been working on all of these issues that we’ve discussed.
QUESTION: If the TNC is planning to move its headquarters to Tripoli, will the U.S. team in Benghazi move with it to Tripoli? And what is your thinking about where they will set up? I’m told that the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli is uninhabitable.
MS. NULAND: We have to, obviously, assess this on a daily basis. Looking at the security situation in Tripoli, our understanding is that there is some damage to our building, but I can’t speak to whether it’s habitable until we are able to get an advance team in there. We’ll obviously move the Embassy back to Tripoli as soon as we can, but in the meantime, Benghazi’s fully functional. The bulk of the TNC remains there. They, as you say, have said that they will start moving some of their folks west, so we will look and see how that goes as well.
QUESTION: And then do you plan to have an ambassador to Libya, either Gene Cretz or --
MS. NULAND: We have an ambassador. He never --
QUESTION: In Libya?
MS. NULAND: He never stopped being ambassador to Libya.
QUESTION: Is he going to return to Libya?
MS. NULAND: And the expectation is that when he can, he will.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. It was raised yesterday, and I’m just wondering if there’s anything further on it – the suggestions not only from Mitt Romney but now from a number of Congress people that the U.S. should be asking the TNC to extradite somehow Mr. Megrahi of the Lockerbie attack. I’m just wondering if those requests or opinions have been lodged with the State Department and if that’s something that you would consider. Is that something that’s possible to do? Have you made any decisions on that?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary has said many times, you’ve heard her say, that Megrahi would be better off behind bars. The Libyan people, the TNC, will obviously have to look at this when they can. We will be in consultations with them. The Justice Department will have the lead.
QUESTION: Well, I’m – so you’re actually saying that you might – that there might be some case to be made? This guy was convicted and served his sentence.
MS. NULAND: This will be --
QUESTION: You’re suggesting that now that you’re going to – that you, who agreed to the UN – to this international court in the first place, will now say that you want this guy put back – brought to the U.S. to be put in jail? I mean, the Scots let him go. But you --
MS. NULAND: I never said anything about the U.S. The Secretary has made clear this guy should be behind bars. The Department of Justice has the lead on these issues.
QUESTION: Right. Well, the --
MS. NULAND: No decisions have been made. We have to let justice do its job here, and we also have to have a Libyan government back in Tripoli before these conversations could happen.
QUESTION: But I thought that the question was about the – was about extraditing him, bringing him to the States, correct?
MS. NULAND: Andy, was it about extradition?
QUESTION: That’s the demand. That was the demand, but I’m interested in any further steps on the Megrahi case.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I don't have anything further on details, other than to say that the Secretary thinks he ought to be behind bars and Justice will have the lead.
QUESTION: On Syria?
QUESTION: Can I – I have one more on – you just called – or a little while ago you said that the group of countries that was supporting the opposition was one of the broadest and deepest communities of common action in recent memory. Is that – do I have that right? Yesterday you said it was an unprecedented coalition.
MS. NULAND: I don't think I called it a coalition. I think I’ve called it a community, but coalition works as well.
QUESTION: Well, the word is – unprecedented is what I’m getting at. And I think that was the word used by some people at the White House as well. Is there a reason that you’re no longer calling it unprecedented? Have you discovered that, in fact, it’s not unprecedented, that it’s just one of the broadest and deepest in recent memory?
MS. NULAND: I heard, Matt, that you were comparing it to the Hanseatic League. I think we can take --
QUESTION: No, no, that was NATO.
MS. NULAND: We can take your comparing NATO to Hanseatic League. I don’t think that I can remember a time, certainly in my lifetime, when we had the UN, the EU, NATO, the GCC, the Arab League, and the AU pulling – AU in some of its member-states – all pulling in the same direction, all supporting the same international action politically, economically, militarily. So I stand by unprecedented. That works.
QUESTION: Just one quick one on Libya. The planning, I presume, is somehow in place, but aside from the money, when you talk about aid to help write constitutions, nation-forming assistance, is there a plan to use NGOs, or would this be, like, U.S. State Department or AID people who might provide that assistance?
MS. NULAND: You’re talking, Jill, about the 1 to 1.5 or are you talking about humanitarian and other assistance?
QUESTION: No, just humanitarian in addition to perhaps the actual financial aid. You were talking about assistance which would be kind of the NGO world assistance. But would the United States, the State Department actually, provide people on the ground or in some capacity who would work with the NTC on writing a constitution, putting elections together, that type of assistance?
MS. NULAND: First of all, before I get to your question, you’re using NTC. We use TNC.
QUESTION: I know.
MS. NULAND: Just to say that for all of you who might be confused out there, the Libyans themselves have used both in their documents interchangeably, so we’re going to continue to call them the TNC. That’s what trips off our tongues, but it’s all the same entity for the world out there.
I think you’re getting a little bit ahead of the game. What we need now, first, is for the TNC representing the Libyan people to come forward with its set of interests in terms of how the international community can help. Our sense of how this should work – and the Secretary discussed this with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday – is that the UN should be the lead international organization for providing the humanitarian, political, economic support, that the nation-states of the UN would then support that effort.
And again, until we have the list, we have to – we wouldn’t be able to speak to how we might play our role. But traditionally in transitional countries, whether you’re talking about support now in Egypt or Tunisia, in the past support in other places, there are some programs that the State Department offers, programs in the areas of rule of law, security support, humanitarian assistance. And there are other programs that we contract through NGOs, et cetera. So I think it remains to be seen.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that timeline. How quickly do you expect the TNC will be able to produce this wish list for the United Nations? And without that, what’s going – what’s the political directors meeting in Istanbul going to do? I thought they were also going to be looking at some of these needs. How are they doing that before, or are you expecting them to have the list on hand come Thursday?
MS. NULAND: The first job is obviously to finish the job in Tripoli, so that’s very much the focus of the TNC inside Libya at the moment. And it’s not going to be able to fully evaluate, I would suspect, all of its needs until it’s fully in charge. That said, the planning, the next phase of planning and thinking about these things, goes forward in Istanbul on Thursday.
Yesterday, I told you that the U.S. delegation would be led by Assistant Secretary Gordon. He will be on the delegation. But yesterday, Secretary Clinton asked her deputy, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, to lead the U.S. delegation, so he will be going as will Assistant Secretary Feltman, Gordon, others.
And indeed, Andy, that meeting will put together the TNC leadership, the UN, the EU, NATO will be represented, the member countries will be represented, so that we can hear the most updated report from the TNC on what it expects. The UN can talk about how it’s organizing, and this coordination can continue in preparation for the day when we have a more formal request and a more formal UN process.
QUESTION: One more on Libya quickly?
MS. NULAND: Please. Wendell.
QUESTION: In February, P.J. said there were still chemical weapons (inaudible) to the Libyan (inaudible) comfortable with their security then. Are you comfortable with their security now, and why?
MS. NULAND: This will obviously be a priority for everybody, and that’s all I’m prepared to say on that one at the moment.
QUESTION: In Libya, Libyan --
MS. NULAND: Are we finished with Libya still? No?
QUESTION: Hold on.
MS. NULAND: One more Libya?
QUESTION: Can you just expand on that just a bit?
MS. NULAND: I can’t, frankly, because we’re getting into areas of intelligence, so I don’t want to go --
QUESTION: No. But what will obviously be a priority for everybody? What? Exactly what?
MS. NULAND: Ensuring that we have a full accounting, and I don’t think it simply speaks to the question of WMD. It also speaks to the larger question of weaponry, et cetera, ensuring that the governing forces in Libya have full command and control and are – of any WMD or any security assets that the state might have had, and are prepared to meet international obligations and international standards of nonproliferation, transparency, et cetera.
QUESTION: On Libya, you described Qadhafi regime as near collapse. My question is: Do you see any need or are you taking any precautions to protect the Qadhafi loyalist in the case of total collapse of the current regime?
MS. NULAND: The TNC itself has called for calm, has spoken against retribution, point-scoring, score-settling. We are very supportive of that sentiment. We think it’s very important. We want to see Libyans have the government that they deserve – a government of national unity, a government where all Libyan points of view that are in keeping with international best practices and standards are represented, including the fact that the TNC itself has said that it would be willing to have former Qadhafi loyalists who don’t have blood on their hands be considered in the leadership structure.
So we need to see how this goes forward, but clearly, the TNC is saying the right thing, and we are encouraged by the fact that those parts of Tripoli and other parts of the country that they are managing have not seen reprisals.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the 1970 and 1973 UN Security Council resolutions also can apply to protecting civilians or loyalists? Just to make sure.
MS. NULAND: I think you probably saw today that NATO made a statement that its mission continues until the job is done, until it is confident and has assurances from Libyans that civilians have been fully protected. And we obviously support that.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: An Administration official just said that Mr. Asad should learn the lessons of Mr. Qadhafi. What lesson is that?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what official you’re talking about or what lesson that --
QUESTION: Well, according to CNN, just a news – breaking news that an Administration official said that Mr. Asad should learn from the fate that Mr. Qadhafi is facing. Could you --
MS. NULAND: Okay. Well, I haven’t seen the report and I don’t know who the official was, but there are any number of lessons that might apply.
QUESTION: Such as --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) opposition formed a national council and another (inaudible). Are you in a position to support them immediately? Do you know who they are? Are you willing to work with them? How does it go forward?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these reports that those Syrians in exile, who are meeting in Istanbul, have taken a next step to organize themselves politically. We are, as you know, also watching what’s going on inside Syria with the coordinating committees, and their increasing strength in working together and their commitment to have their own roadmap for Syria’s future. So we support all such efforts, and we also support efforts of Syrians outside and inside to work towards that democratic future.
QUESTION: Can you say what your understanding is of how far they got at all in Istanbul? Is there a contact between the – presumably, there is, because there seem to be conflicting reports about what they were or were not able to accomplish. Do you --
MS. NULAND: I have only seen the press reports that you’ve seen.
QUESTION: Okay. And then can you tell us – give us more details about Ambassador Ford’s little jaunt today?
MS. NULAND: I can. Ambassador Ford went down to Jassem, which is about 70 kilometers south of Damascus, to see for himself what was up there. This has been another town that has been engaged in peaceful protest. He was about – he was there for about four hours. He had a chance there to talk to a number of Syrians, including those in the opposition, and then he drove back to Damascus.
QUESTION: I understand that the security presence was quite heavy as compared to his previous trip outside of Damascus. So can you say how comfortable he was speaking to people, to the opposition? And what was their – what was the message that he got from them?
MS. NULAND: You’re right that compared to Hama, his trip to Hama about six weeks ago, when the security forces were outside the town and he didn’t see much in terms of security presence inside the town; in Jassem this time, there were security forces all over the place. So he was conscious of that, not wanting to make life difficult for those Syrians that he was speaking with, which is why he only stayed for four hours and then had some follow-up contact on the phone with them. He – personally he was – his own Syrian security detail was with him, so there wasn’t any trouble on his behalf.
QUESTION: And then the foreign ministry just said, “Okay go, not a problem”? Was there a military escort or anything like that? Did he just drive by himself?
MS. NULAND: In this case, he informed the Syrian foreign ministry after the visit and he made clear to them that the reason that he didn’t inform them before the visit was because they haven’t been approving any visits by anybody anywhere. He has over the last six weeks three times requested permission to go to Aleppo, for example, and three times has been denied. So he chose to inform them afterwards.
QUESTION: So is he trying to get expelled from the country?
MS. NULAND: He is trying to do his job, which is to be able to maintain broad contacts with a broad cross-section of Syrians and to make sure that they know where the United States stands.
I think I forgot to answer the part of your question where you asked what your message to them was.
QUESTION: And what he heard back.
MS. NULAND: His message back to them was that we stand with them, and that we admire the fact that their action has been completely peaceful. And their message back to him spoke of their desire to continue to work with other folks around Syria who share their interest in a democratic transition
QUESTION: What was the reaction from the foreign ministry when that – I mean, considering that you’ve been calling this country a police state, and I think we pretty much know that it is for some time, the foreign ministry could not have been unaware that he was actually in this town. While he was there, did they have any – did they say anything when he told them after the fact that he’d gone there?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is the reaction was relatively muted. They weren’t surprised. They obviously knew where he was.
QUESTION: The Syrian ambassador – my understanding is that the Syrian ambassador to Washington is back in town. Do you have any plan to meet with him?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know of any plans to meet with him. As you know, Ambassador Ford has been able to meet with the Syrian foreign minister. He met last week with the deputy foreign minister. We don’t have any problems getting our messages to the Syrian Government through Ambassador Ford and --
QUESTION: So you will not rely on the Syrian Embassy in any way, shape, or form for any kind of communication to convey messages?
MS. NULAND: I think, as necessary, we can – we don’t have any objection to that, but we haven’t seen any need to contact the ambassador here.
QUESTION: Does the Syrian ambassador have the ability to travel freely around the United States?
MS. NULAND: He does. He has to request permission. Permission is always granted. We recently had Syrians in California.
QUESTION: Do you think there is a need within Syria, a body like TNC in Libya to deal with -- for international community?
MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that we are watching and we are supportive of the aspirations of the Syrian opposition to form their own roadmap, to think about their own future leadership, I think our objective is to support them and have – and to see a process that is Syrian led.
QUESTION: All right. Can I just go back to the whole notification thing? So the reason that you put these restrictions – or you told the Syrians here that they had to get permission to travel outside of the beltway, basically, was because the Syrians had imposed similar conditions on U.S. diplomats in Syria. Does that conclude basically a beltway-size radius around Damascus that they have to get permission to go outside of?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. It’s about the same as what we impose here, which is about 25 kilometers.
QUESTION: Okay. Seventy kilometers, okay – and seventy kilometers is outside that – would be outside that radius?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: So he intentionally – he violated the Syrian Government’s restrictions or rules, right, by not getting permission?
MS. NULAND: He discussed this with them after the fact and made clear that --
QUESTION: Well, but --
MS. NULAND: -- the reason that he chose to go without requesting permission was --
QUESTION: I understand that --
MS. NULAND: -- because he knew it wouldn’t be granted as previous requests had not been granted.
QUESTION: I understand that. But he knowingly violated the restriction that was put in place by the Syrian Government?
MS. NULAND: He took the decision with support of his --
QUESTION: I’m not –
MS. NULAND: -- bosses here to do his job.
QUESTION: I’m not saying that he wasn’t supported in doing it by his bosses here. I just wanted – you’re acknowledging that he violated the Syrian Government’s – I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that he did it, but you are saying that he violated the Syrian Government’s restrictions on --
MS. NULAND: I’m acknowledging that he chose to inform them afterwards rather than before.
QUESTION: And is that not a violation of what they want?
MS. NULAND: You can call it what you like, Matt.
QUESTION: Another one on South Asia?
QUESTION: Wait. Syria --
MS. NULAND: Please. Still Syria?
QUESTION: As you know, the Syrian ambassador is suspected of using his Embassy resources and staff to spy on Syrian Americans in order to affect retribution on them and their families back in Syria. Now that he’s back in Washington, what is the State Department doing to ensure that this type of nefarious behavior no longer continues?
MS. NULAND: We have mentioned a number of times here that the FBI has opened an investigation into this matter. The investigation continues. So I’m not going to get into the middle of their investigation. I’m going to refer you to them.
QUESTION: Syria – the UN Human Rights Council has concluded, and my question is on India abstaining from that vote. And the Geneva-based UN Watch has called it a profound – have expressed profound concern that India, a great democracy, has joined autocracies Russia and China. Do you still believe India can aspire to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council with this kind of voting?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure whether my information is not right or your information is not right, but my understanding is that we only had four countries who didn’t support the very strong --
QUESTION: And nine of them abstained.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Well, first of all, let me say that we were very pleased by the strength of the UN Human Rights Council resolution that came out. It condemns the violence in Syria, it urgently dispatches a new independent international commission of inquiry to investigate, and it calls for a Syrian-led political process. Thirty-three countries on board for against as noted. Those who voted for it included neighbors of Syria – Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia – again speaks to the growing chorus of condemnation against the Asad regime. It’s – I’m not going to speak to the Indian decision. I think the fact that the resolution was so strong and it was so strongly supported, including in the neighborhood, speaks volumes about the fact that this guy has been conducting revolting brutality against his own people, and even the neighborhood’s patience is growing thin with him.
QUESTION: President Obama, during his visit, had said that he supports India on the – for a seat on the UN Security Council. And with this decision, is the U.S. still happy with India?
MS. NULAND: It remains our position that we support a UN Security Council seat for India.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Are you aware that President Abbas is supposed to meet with U.S. officials in Doha, was about to meet with him? What senior officials?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that. Let me take it and we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Is it an issue of concern for you that a democratic country India is not siding with you on the issue of Syria, where people are fighting for human rights and democratic values?
MS. NULAND: We continue to talk to India about what we are seeing in Syria, and we will – Bob Blake has been in contact with some of his counterparts there and we’ll continue to have that conversation going forward.