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 24, 2011
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on what’s going on with – in terms of the frozen Libyan assets?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we have too much more to say than what we said yesterday, which is that we are working hard in New York to try to get between a billion and 1.5 in Libyan frozen assets in U.S. hands back into the hands of the Transitional National Council so that they can use them for urgent humanitarian needs of the Libyan people. Those efforts continue, and we are hopeful that we will have a resolution in coming days.
QUESTION: Not today?
MS. NULAND: We are working on it. We would like a resolution today, but the diplomacy continues in New York.
QUESTION: Okay. Because there was word out of – from Europe that there would be a draft submitted today. You’re not aware if that’s definitely going to happen?
MS. NULAND: That there would be a draft --
QUESTION: -- circulated today.
MS. NULAND: Circulated where today?
QUESTION: In New York.
MS. NULAND: Well, we are working in the Sanctions Committee, as you know.
QUESTION: No, no. This is a resolution --
MS. NULAND: Are you talking about something separate from that?
QUESTION: A resolution in the Security Council.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, our preference --
QUESTION: That would supersede the Sanctions Committee.
MS. NULAND: As you know, our preference is to get this done in the Sanctions Committee. Under the Sanctions Committee’s own charter, there are ways to get money released for urgent humanitarian needs. That’s been the focus of our effort over the last weeks and days. If that is not possible, as you know, as we said yesterday, we will seek other means to get this money released, including other methods in New York. But I’m not prepared to go into any further details here.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, the images that we’ve been seeing the last couple of days of the chaos on the streets, the people firing weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, even a grandmother on a balcony at one point with an AK-47 firing off, it just – it seems as if the situation is unraveling even further and that there doesn’t seem to be anyone in control. I wonder kind of what your reaction is to that and what the U.S. would like to see happen at this point when it is so chaotic.
And secondly, obviously that brings up the question of weapons again and the weapon stores of the Qadhafi regime. Who’s in control of them? How do you know they’re safe?
MS. NULAND: We’ve all seen some of these TV images over the last few days. The vast majority of these images, as you know, are people celebrating. That said, the TNC is stressing on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, its commitment to doing its best to ensure that anybody fighting in its name adheres to international humanitarian principles, and they have reiterated their own commitments to Geneva Convention and Additional Protocols. They are working hard to try to send the message that folks fighting in their name, folks – Libyans who are celebrating, need to set an example of calm, set an example for the future Libya that we all want to see, which is one that is tolerant, one where violence ceases to be a fact of daily life.
The TNC is sending messages to its own people. Our understanding is that some of their folk will relocate from Benghazi further west later today. They are also – I think you’ve seen their announcements about efforts to set up their own security committees to bring some order and some calm in Tripoli. But the situation remains fluid, and the job’s not done until it’s done.
QUESTION: And the weapons?
MS. NULAND: With regard to the issue of Libya itself having been awash in weapons and these kinds of things over the 42-year reign of the tyrant Qadhafi, since the beginning of this conflict, the United States has been concerned about the potential for proliferation challenges from Libya on the conventional side, and we’ve been actively engaged both with the TNC and with our international partners on this. We have emphasized repeatedly to the TNC that the Libyan opposition has to effectively secure these materials, and we are supporting them in their effort to do that. The TNC has assured us that it will meet all of its international commitments.
More specifically, we have been working with the TNC. We gave them – we have provided about $3 million to two NGOs, the MAG International and the Swiss Foundation, for use in de-mining. And the TNC --
QUESTION: Could you spell that?
MS. NULAND: M-A-G International and the Swiss Foundation for de-mining, which have been working on the ground with the TNC in areas that the TNC has controlled to secure conventional weapons stockpiles that they come across and to dispose of landmines and unexploded munitions that they have.
We’ve also been working on the MANPAD problem with the TNC. Specifically, we had a couple of teams of U.S. Government experts in the region, including to all of Libya’s neighbors who are willing to cooperate with us working on this problem, and that work will continue.
We’ve also been monitoring the known missile and chemical agent storage facilities since the start of this conflict. We’ll continue to do so. We believe that these known missile and chemical agent storage facilities remain secure, and we’ve not seen any activity, based on our national technical means, to give us concern that they have been compromised. But that monitoring will continue.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up on the MANPAD problem, as you describe it? Do you have any assessment of how large a problem that is with Libya at the moment?
MS. NULAND: We have been working on this for some time. I think the concern is not only about remaining MANPADS in Libya, but also about their proliferation, which is why we’re working with all of the neighbors. I can’t scope it for you at the moment. I’m not even sure that the Libyans themselves can scope it. But this is something that we have been working on and that we will continue to work on as the TNC takes control of Libya, and they want to continue to work on it with us and with the international community.
QUESTION: And does bringing MANPADS under control present any particular or specific problems that other weaponry does not?
MS. NULAND: Well, there’s a – as you know, worldwide, the U.S., over more than a decade, has been in the business with international partners of trying to ensure safety, security, and destruction, where possible, of MANPADS. This is part of a bipartisan – in fact, it’s spanned two administrations’ effort to get rid of MANPADS because they are a very dangerous, unstable weapon, and if they fall into the wrong hands, they can be extremely disruptive, as we’ve seen around the world.
QUESTION: And just to clarify, if the TNC does say that they want to cooperate and they want to do this, have they already started to do anything? Because after all, they do control large swaths of the country at this point.
MS. NULAND: Yes. This was my point, that we’ve had this appropriation of money. We have a couple of NGOs already working with them on both the MANPAD issue, on demining where they come across mines, and about destruction of stockpiles of weapons where they have come across them. And that cooperation has been very good, and we expect it’ll continue.
QUESTION: Okay. And just one thing on the money issue, the 1.1 to 1.5 – you mentioned yesterday that that is less than half of the cash assets of that 30 billion. And you also said yesterday that you felt that that was – or the U.S. feels that’s an adequate amount or appropriate under the circumstances. But it does kind of raise an issue of whether – of why not give them the entire cash amount immediately. Is there some concern? Do you want to see what they do with that first tranche and then evaluate? Or why not give it all?
MS. NULAND: Let me say this is an effort – this effort we’re engaged in now on the 1 to 1.5 is an effort we’ve been engaged in for a number of weeks before the conflict broke the way it did in Tripoli and elsewhere. And the immediate concern was to be able to meet the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people, to be able to help the TNC establish governance, pay salaries, that kind of thing. Obviously, as the situation settles down, when the TNC can fully establish control over all of the country, we’re all going to have to look in the international community about next steps with 1973. We’re going to have to hear from the TNC about what it wants done with those – that frozen – the frozen assets of the Libyan people, and we’ll have to take it from there.
But this was an initial tranche. It’s been in planning for a long time. We still think it’s an important – to get it to the TNC for the use of the Libyan – with the Libyan people in the next couple of days.
QUESTION: Any comment on the --
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MS. NULAND: Kirit.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the weapons? There’s one other bit of reporting that was out there about demolition teams that were hired to go after some of the anti-aircraft systems that have been out there on the ground in the rebel-held parts of Libya. Can you tell us about those efforts that apparently gone through the State Department?
MS. NULAND: I’m at the end of the specific detail that I have on this program, but it would – the report that you cite would be in keeping with the scope of these kinds of programs that we’ve had here and elsewhere. If it’s helpful to you all, we can get some more experts gathered up who can give you some detail on how these programs have --
QUESTION: I think it would be. And just on mustard gas and chemical agents, I was curious if you knew the size of the believed stockpiles.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have those figures here at the podium, but again, let us take that and get back to you.
QUESTION: Any comment on the presence of Qatari, Jordanian, and British troops that are helping to keep the peace in Tripoli and perhaps secure these stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that. We’ve --
QUESTION: A news report just broke out of Tripoli that there are actually British, Jordanian, and Qatari troops that are just doing that.
MS. NULAND: I have nothing on that.
QUESTION: Now will the United States push for an international force, now that things are evolving so rapidly?
MS. NULAND: I think you asked this question yesterday --
QUESTION: Exactly. But --
MS. NULAND: -- and I think you asked it the day before yesterday.
MS. NULAND: And my answer is the same as it was two days ago, which is that we will be led by the desires of the Libyan people. This is their country to take through a democratic transition, to secure in the post-Qadhafi era. If they come to the United Nations with specific requests for support in the security area, then obviously, the international community will look at that, but it’s premature to be speculating what those might be or how we might answer their request.
QUESTION: Is that an option to guard against devolving of violence in Libya and you have a total breakdown and chaos?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re going to be led by what the Libyans themselves feel they need. This is their country to secure. If they need international support, the international community stands by to help, and we are waiting for their specific requests.
QUESTION: Toria, sorry to keep yanking you back and forth, but back to that money issue --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- firstly, do you have any update on the total amount that we believe of Libyan frozen assets in this country? You’ve been saying around 30 billion. Some other people are saying they think it might be a bit higher than that. Do you have any new number for that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. And part of the difficulty here, Andy, is that some of this money is – when you try to trace it back, you’re not exactly sure the chain of custody. Some of it goes to the question of the value of the assets that might be in real estate, et cetera. Market fluctuates. So that’s why from here we say around 30 billion. You may see numbers that are slightly higher, based on other people adding other things that we may or may not consider part of the U.S. pool of frozen assets or valuating the assets more highly than we have.
QUESTION: Okay. And one follow-up, and it may go to this chain --
MS. NULAND: The fog of money? Do you follow that?
QUESTION: Yes --
MS. NULAND: The fog of frozen assets? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It may go to this chain of custody issue --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- that you mentioned. When you said that you’re going to be looking the broader issue of unfreezing the – what you can of the bulk of it, is there some doubt that – is there a sense that some of that may not be released ultimately to the TNC, that it may not rightfully belong to the Libyan Government, that it would go elsewhere? Is that one of the things that you’re trying to parse out now?
MS. NULAND: I think you’re over-reading. This again goes to the conversation that the international community is having now, specifically in Doha, where Assistant Secretary Feltman is and where we’ll have to – that we’ll have to have in New York as the TNC establishes control over the entire country and comes forward to the UN to talk about how it wants to proceed in terms of support that the international community can give and in terms of unwinding some of the things that the UN did to pressure Qadhafi and to get to this stage. So that conversation has yet to be had. It’ll be Libyan led, but obviously 1973, 1970 were put in place to achieve the precise result that we are coming to – we’re not yet there but we’re coming to – in Libya. So we’ll be driven by the Libyans as we look to the appropriate unwinding of those.
QUESTION: The rebels have put a bounty on Qadhafi for about a million and a half, whoever capture him or kill him, and they would be given amnesty. Is this a position that the United States will support?
MS. NULAND: I’ve seen those press reports. You know where we’ve been on Qadhafi. Job one for him is to relinquish power. With regard to his future, he needs to be brought to justice. The Libyan people have to make a decision how they do that, but the process by which he and other Libyans with blood on their hands are brought to justice should conform with international legal standards.
QUESTION: Does it worry you that he might go to his hometown of Sirte or might go to the south and unleash an insurgency similar to the one in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: There are a lot of rumors out there. What we are seeing is that the support for Qadhafi continues to drain by the day, by the hour. I think you saw his former foreign minister jump ship. It was yesterday or earlier today. I would also note, if you missed it, that another big group of countries recognized the TNC over the last couple of days. I think since August 20th, all of the following countries have recognized the TNC as the legitimate governing authority: Tunisia, Egypt, Kuwait, the Palestinian Authority – entity, country – Arab League, Bahrain, Greece, Hungary, Iraq, Morocco, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, and the Republic of Korea.
QUESTION: No, wait. I’ve got --
MS. NULAND: Do you have Lebanon as well?
MS. NULAND: Excellent. Lebanon. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no. I’ve got three very brief ones on – still on Libya.
MS. NULAND: Good.
QUESTION: One is you said at the beginning that the TNC has promised that it will meet all of its international commitments. Does it – has the TNC actually made or been in a position to make any binding commitments? I mean, it hasn’t. You’re just talking about promises that they’ve made to --
MS. NULAND: We’re talking about --
QUESTION: There’s nothing in writing here. They haven’t signed any treaties that – they aren’t a UN member, so these are just the assurances that they’ve given to you?
MS. NULAND: These are assurances they’ve given to us. These are assurances they’ve given to the members of the international community. These are also assurances that they have made publicly over the past weeks and that, in fact, Prime Minister Jibril made again yesterday. He spoke in his own press conference – I think you saw it, probably – about creating transparent judicial systems, building new institutions including a national congress that’s going to be elected. He called for the humane treatment of all Libyans by other Libyans, protection of prisoners.
QUESTION: Right --
MS. NULAND: He also said that Libya intends to honor the oil contracts that were signed during the Qadhafi era --
QUESTION: Which is --
MS. NULAND: -- another important international commitment.
QUESTION: Which is all fine, except that there is no constitution. I mean, he could say anything he wants.
MS. NULAND: Obviously, we have to --
QUESTION: But you --
MS. NULAND: -- we’re at the beginning stages here.
QUESTION: But – right, but the commitments that you’re talking about are all stuff that he has just said or promised or that they have assured. There isn’t anything binding about them. In other words, you have no recourse if all of the sudden tomorrow he says something different.
MS. NULAND: We have always said that there is a long road ahead. What we are saying today is that we’re heartened by the commitment to international institutions, international standards, openness, transparency, nonviolence, a unitary --
MS. NULAND: -- Libya. But obviously, they have to – as they can assume power, as they can begin to establish security and control throughout Libya, we will all be looking for them to walk the walk even as they talk the talk.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, well, on the weapons, have you seen any evidence that conventional weapons are seeping outside Libyan borders?
MS. NULAND: Again, this – the question of proliferation has been a concern for many months.
QUESTION: Right. But you said you have teams in the neighboring countries looking for MANPADS or – I think that was what you said, or trying to say. Have they found any?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to – it would take us into intelligence in terms of what we have been able to work with these countries on. Simply to say that this issue of proliferation has been a matter of concern not only for us in the international community but also for the TNC, which is why many months ago we began mobilizing these teams and working with governments.
QUESTION: But are you aware of any seepage of these weapons outside of Libyan borders?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think you would take me into intelligence to be talking about what we have and haven’t seen. Understand that we are working on this hard. We are focused on it, as is the TNC, and we will continue to be so.
QUESTION: Well, okay, but I’m not sure I accept the idea that this is getting into intelligence matters. If there are MANPADS that are being sold on an open market and are – or are finding their way into terrorist hands, I’m not sure if that’s --
MS. NULAND: You’re asking me to give --
QUESTION: No, I’m only asking if you are aware of. I’m not asking for any specifics. Are you aware of any of these conventional weapons seeping – getting outside the control of the TNC or of Qadhafi’s forces and showing up in other places or in bad people’s hands?
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve said what I can say, which is that the proliferation is of concern and we’re working both with the TNC and with neighbors.
QUESTION: And then the last thing is that when you say that you want Qadhafi brought to justice, brought to justice for what exactly? For things that have happened since January, or are you talking about the entire – his entire career?
MS. NULAND: That will obviously be a decision for the Libyan people and for --
QUESTION: No, I know that. But what are you talking about when you say brought to justice? Brought to justice for what?
MS. NULAND: Well, in the first instance, for the crimes committed since this violence began. But it’ll be up to --
QUESTION: Okay. Would you like to see --
MS. NULAND: But it’ll be up to the Libyan people what charges they choose to bring --
QUESTION: I understand. That’s not my question. My question is what would the United States – I mean, would the United States like to see Libya – the new Libyan government put Qadhafi on trial for using the apparatus of the state to commit terrorist acts back in the 1980s? Is that something the United States would like to see? I understand that it’s up to the Libyan people, that you’re not dictating to them what you want to do, but what would the U.S. – when you say bring to justice, how far back do you want them to go?
MS. NULAND: Our focus in the first instance is on the crimes of 2011. With regard to past crimes of Qadhafi, that’s obviously a decision for the Libyan people to make.
QUESTION: Another question on the money thing. There’s an article on the UN website today that says the Dutch have unfrozen about a hundred million euros to be used to buy medical supplies for the World Health Organization. Is it the understanding that as this Libyan money is unfrozen for humanitarian aid, that it will be managed by UN organizations?
MS. NULAND: This is Libyan money that we want to give back to the legitimate governing authority in Libya, which we recognize as the TNC. That said, the world will be looking to the TNC to use Libya’s money for the good of the Libyan people. They have said that’s what they want to do. It is our intention to hold them to that. But what we’ve first got to do is start to get some of this money back to them.
QUESTION: Is it – but you wouldn't talk yesterday about the accountability measures that you’re --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- considering for the U.S. aid. Is one of those accountability measures likely to be having the money basically managed by UN organizations? In this case, you’re purchasing through UN or the Libyans are purchasing through UN organizations.
MS. NULAND: Again, in the Dutch case, these were collateralized loans to allow them to purchase supplies in international stockpiles, is my understanding. With regard to how the money is actually given back and any monitoring that the international community may choose to do, again, we will speak about that if and when we are able to get this money out. And that’s our focus today.
QUESTION: And last week – I don’t know if it was you – a State Department official said that you were working to provide about $10 to $15 million in U.S. – in Embassy funds for the Libyan Embassy – in U.S. funds for the – somehow that the U.S. controlled. Was that provided to them, to the TNC?
MS. NULAND: It was. There were about 10 to 12 million in Libyan Embassy funds that had been frozen. We issued an OFAC license to be able to give that money back, and my understanding is that that money is accessible now to Embassy personnel.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Jill.
QUESTION: I have – I hate to say it – a legal question, but it is. But it’s kind of a basic principle question of how do you define Qadhafi right now. Because in all of these issues – money to the TNC or any aid or whatever – you say that they’re the legitimate authority. But what is Qadhafi right now?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve said that he is a criminal and a tyrant, and the best thing that he could do for his people would be to step down.
QUESTION: So he has no, like, legal standing? He’s just now a criminal who has been replaced as the leader of the country by the TNC?
MS. NULAND: When the United States made its own national decision at the Istanbul Contact Group meeting in July to recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority of Libya, we ceased effectively to recognize Qadhafi and his regime.
QUESTION: So he’s a fugitive from the law?
QUESTION: He’s the King of Kings.
MS. NULAND: Say again?
QUESTION: He’s the King of Kings of Africa. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: In the back, please.
QUESTION: I have a new topic.
MS. NULAND: Anything else on Libya?
QUESTION: Still on Libya.
MS. NULAND: Okay, let’s finish Libya. Please.
QUESTION: Yeah. You said that if the TNC had a specific request of their needs, they could make it at the UN. If they request for peacekeepers, will the U.S. provide those?
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re getting us into a hypothetical situation. We need – we want this process to be Libyan led. We want the TNC to be able to get back to Tripoli, to establish its control, to decide what it needs from the international community to make those requests to the United Nations so that we and other members of the international community can decide how to support them. So we’re not going to get ahead of decisions that Libyans themselves have made. We’re not going to dictate to them what they may or may not need. We want to be – we want them to lead this process. It’s their country. They’ve waited a long, long time to have it back.
QUESTION: So you’re not ruling out boots on the ground, then?
MS. NULAND: We are going to wait and see what the Libyan people think that they need in security terms.
Anything else on Libya? Please.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you confirm that the ICRC has evacuated foreign journalists from the Rixos Hotel?
MS. NULAND: I can, and kudos to the ICRC. As you know, earlier today, earlier this week, we had quite a bit of concern about American citizens, about international journalists, stuck in the Rixos Hotel. We had reached out to the TNC, to NATO, to the ICRC. And earlier today, the ICRC was able to escort them out of the hotel. They are now at the Corinthian Hotel, and they are – a number of them are likely to take advantage of some evacuation procedures that the ICRC’s putting in place later today.
QUESTION: If I could follow up with Jill’s question: So would he be considered a fugitive from the law or would we see, like, “Wanted dead or alive” soon or --
MS. NULAND: Are you asking me to draw a poster with his – (laughter) --
QUESTION: No. I’m asking because she asked the question to define what is the status.
MS. NULAND: This is – there is an ICC bounty on his head. There is a Libyan bounty on his head.
MS. NULAND: It is going to be up to the Libyan people to bring him to justice.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you – you said earlier the TNC was heading further west later today. Are they not going all the way to Tripoli? Is it safe for the TNC to be in Libya and Tripoli right now?
MS. NULAND: They will make their own decisions. Our understanding is that some of them want to relocate closer for communications reasons, to be ready for that moment when they can move all the way to Tripoli. It’s our intention – our understanding that they will establish themselves in Tripoli as soon as they can.
QUESTION: Is Chris Stevens also moving west out of Benghazi?
MS. NULAND: Chris is in Benghazi. He’s a very busy guy. We will, obviously, as we said yesterday, look at reestablishing our embassy in Tripoli when it is safe, when it is secure, and we will be making decisions about that at the appropriate moment.
QUESTION: But he’s not moving incrementally along with the TNC?
MS. NULAND: No plans at this moment for him to move.
Are we done with Libya? Okay. Michele.
MS. NULAND: Pakistan.
QUESTION: There are reports that three people have been arrested in the kidnapping of Warren Weinstein. I wonder (a) if you’ve heard about that, and (b) if you think that helps or if that would – might hurt chances of any sort of negotiations going on with the kidnappers.
MS. NULAND: I can’t comment specifically on these arrests, just to say that the Pakistanis are leading a very vigorous investigation. The FBI and our Embassy are assisting in the Pakistani-led investigation. I can’t go into any further details, but the cooperation with the Pakistanis is excellent. And as you know, we condemn kidnapping of any kind and we call for the immediate release, not only of Warren Weinstein, but of any victims of kidnapping and prosecution of those responsible.
QUESTION: So you can’t confirm whether or not anyone’s been arrested in this case?
MS. NULAND: You’ve seen the Pakistani news reports. I can’t comment beyond that.
QUESTION: The Palestinian/Israeli issue. Has there been any evolvement of the President’s outline that he made on 19th May for a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 border? And are there any plans to issue such a proposal immediately after Labor Day?
MS. NULAND: To issue such a proposal – what proposal?
QUESTION: Are there any plans for a proposal that details the President’s outline and entices the Palestinians to dissuade them from going to the United Nations? Are there any plans to do that?
MS. NULAND: Our work continues with both parties. Based on the President’s outline from May 19th, most recently Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman met with Abbas in Doha, reiterated our concerns about the New York plan and said that – again, that we don’t think that this is constructive, we don’t think it’s helpful, we don’t think it’s going to lead to the end state that we all seek, which is a negotiated solution, and that we think it’ll make things more difficult. Our efforts continue – at all levels – to continue to make the case to both parties to come back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Can you just say that that meeting was yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I believe it was yesterday, yeah.
QUESTION: You believe? Oh, it was yesterday.
MS. NULAND: It was either yesterday or today. I think – was it yesterday?
MS. NULAND: Yesterday.
QUESTION: It was yesterday.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you know – do you have any – what – do you know what President Abbas’s response was --
MS. NULAND: “We -- ”
QUESTION: -- other than to say --
MS. NULAND: “We have more work to do.” Beyond saying we have more work to do, I think I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: Well, the Arab League finalized yesterday their plans to support the Palestinian move --
MS. NULAND: The --
QUESTION: The Arab League finalized yesterday their plans to support the Palestinian move at the UN, and they are going to send a delegation to all the permanent members of the Security Council to ask for the support of the Palestinian position. Do you have any reaction to this?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that’s going to change the U.S. view that this is the wrong way to go.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Syria.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have the Syrians gotten – made any comments to you about Ambassador Ford’s visit yesterday?
MS. NULAND: We did receive a diplomatic note yesterday expressing concern. We have continued to make clear to the Syrians that they have obligations under the Vienna Convention to allow diplomats in their country to do their job, which includes the ability to travel. So it was on that basis, the fact that he had been denied again and again and again permission to travel under their own system that they set up, that he made the decision that he made to go to Jassem.
QUESTION: What was – can you be more explicit about what – what was the concern? That he had just – that he had violated their rules?
MS. NULAND: That he had not followed the procedures that they had requested that we follow. He had followed them in the past, and it had not led to the ability of him to travel.
QUESTION: But the concern was that he had not followed the procedures that they had asked you to follow, and --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Isn’t that correct? Isn’t that an accurate statement?
MS. NULAND: That’s an accurate statement.
QUESTION: That he did --
QUESTION: Have there been any possible consequences to this?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: And just the other thing – I mean, the situation in many, many cities in Syria, including Damascus, is not particularly safe. The reason for that is, according to the government – the government might say that the reason for this lack of security is debatable, that they would say that it’s not them. I know you would say that it is them and that’s the reason the security is poor. But do you think that there are – there would be – that there are legitimate reasons for curtailing the restrictions of diplomats’ travel in what could essentially be called a war zone, or no?
MS. NULAND: The most recent requests by Ambassador Ford – I think I mentioned this – he requested permission to go to Aleppo, which has been a relatively peaceful part of Syria. It’s Syria’s largest city. It’s like asking to go to New York. And those requests were denied. So to claim security restrictions just doesn’t hold water.
QUESTION: I mean security concern. You --
MS. NULAND: Concerns. Yeah.
QUESTION: But there are places, when he went to Hama, for example --
MS. NULAND: When he went to Hama, there were security forces outside the city, there were not security forces inside the city. He made the judgment that he would not be in harm’s way. He also has a Syrian guard force, as many ambassadors have, which accompanied him. So we do not consider it legitimate if that is the position that the Syrian Government is standing on.
QUESTION: Okay. And just – you – they sent you the note and then there was a formal response to that note saying we --
MS. NULAND: The note was received today.
QUESTION: And there has been a response to that saying thank you for your note, but screw you, essentially, we’re going to do what we want? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: He’s cursing in my briefing. Should we sanction him? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s not a curse.
MS. NULAND: Should we sanction him?
QUESTION: That’s not a curse. I mean, basically, has there been a response saying thanks, but no – thanks, but we don’t accept your --
MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether the Embassy plans to respond formally to the DipNote with our own DipNote, but certainly Ambassador Ford gave the response directly to Syrian authorities yesterday, which was that we felt we had no recourse given the fact that they weren’t allowing anybody to travel anywhere.
QUESTION: He spoke to – he actually spoke to Syrian – or just by going he gave that – your response?
MS. NULAND: No, he – whether it was he or whether it was some of his staff, they certainly spoke to the foreign ministry yesterday to explain his travel and to make the point that the reason he chose in this instance not to ask for permission ahead of time was because they have been denying all of his permission requests.
QUESTION: Right, right. But they hadn’t expressed concern at that point?
MS. NULAND: They hadn’t – well, they hadn’t issued this diplomatic note that came after.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Syria.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: The Arab League says they’re going to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the Syria situation, and they’ve said they’re calling on both sides, or all parties, to halt the bloodbath. I’m wondering if the U.S. has any specific and concrete expectations out of this Arab League meeting. What do you think they should do now?
MS. NULAND: Concern in the region, concern among Arab League states who live close to Syria, has been growing. As you know, we’ve seen many of them nationally express concern about the path that the Asad regime has taken. We have over the past couple of weeks – and we will continue to – call on all states to look hard at what they can do to tighten the noose – the political noose, economic noose – and to match some of the steps that we’ve made. Obviously, the Arab League will be looking individually and collectively at what it can do to influence the situation in Syria, and we welcome that.
QUESTION: Have they informed you, either individually or as a group, that they are, in fact, going to be looking at concrete steps?
MS. NULAND: I believe Ambassador Feltman has had meetings in recent days with some of their members. I think it would be premature to sort of predict what will come out of this meeting, but I would not expect that Asad is going to be comforted by the statements that are going to come out of that meeting.
QUESTION: On Yemen?
MS. NULAND: On Yemen. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. In the aftermath of the return of the prime minister to Sanaa and the expected return of President Saleh to Sanaa, do you have any position or any new development on what is going on between the United States and President Saleh to persuade him to remain in Saudi Arabia?
MS. NULAND: Our position remains unchanged. Whether he stays, whether he comes back, we need him to sign this GCC agreement and move on, allow his country to move on. So our position is unchanged.
QUESTION: Do you believe his return will speed up the signing or will complicate it?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think it matters where he is; he has the ability to use a pen and sign.
QUESTION: The Palmer report has been postponed for the third time, this – it’s Monday. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. Refer you to the UN. It’s their report.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thanks.