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 September 30, 2011
MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday. I have one thing at the top and then we’ll go to your questions.
This is with regard to the sentencing in Iran of former parliamentarian Mohsen Armin. We are deeply troubled by the news of the sentencing of former parliamentarian Mohsen Armin to six years in jail for exercising his rights of freedom of expression and assembly in Iran. As the Secretary made clear yesterday in the statement that she issued condemning the conviction and possible execution of Pastor Yousef Naderkhani, we’re gravely concerned about reports about the Iranian Government’s continued repression of its own people. Despite statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ahmadinejad claiming support for rights and the freedoms of Iranian people, the government continues its repressive crackdown on all forms of dissent, religion, and assembly. And the case of Mohsen Armin is yet another very serious example of the Iranian Government restricting the rights of its citizen to peaceful, free expression and assembly.
Let’s go to your questions.
QUESTION: So, Toria, are you in a position to confirm the deaths of two American citizens in Yemen earlier today? Can you – if you are, can you tell us what the circumstances of their deaths were? And I don’t believe the Privacy Act applies in the case of deceased people, so, as much as you can give us would be great.
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what case you are referring to, Matt. Are you referring to dual-Yemeni-U.S. national Awlaki, who the President spoke to earlier today?
QUESTION: That would be one of the two, yes.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the President spoke very fully on the Awlaki case --
QUESTION: I realize that --
MS. NULAND: He was a dual-U.S.-Yemeni citizen. He was also the leader of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. And as the President made clear, he played a significant operational role in the attempted attack on the U.S. airliner around Christmas in December 2009, and he also oversaw the plot to detonate explosives aboard a U.S. cargo aircraft.
With regard to another dual-citizen or another U.S. citizen --
QUESTION: Samir Khan. I’m not sure since – I haven’t heard this before. Does it really make much of a difference whether they’re dual citizen? Are you saying that he wasn’t really a U.S. citizen?
MS. NULAND: I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply saying that this was a guy who was a very, very dangerous individual who was involved and dedicated to trying to kill Americans.
QUESTION: And have you been in touch with his – I mean next of kin, as he might have in the United States?
MS. NULAND: I have no information about that one way or the other.
QUESTION: And the second – sorry – the second person, Samir Khan.
MS. NULAND: Whether there were any other folks involved in this who may have held either dual-U.S. citizenship, we’re not in a position to confirm one way or the other right now.
QUESTION: If either of – well, okay – then I’m going to ask you answer a hypothetical, but it actually goes beyond this. If there were relatives of either of these men, this is something that you would be in charge of notifying if they were in the United States; this is something the State Department would be involved in, correct?
MS. NULAND: Were the Yemeni Government to come to us and say that there were U.S. citizens who had been killed in their country and notifications were required, we would take care of that, yes.
QUESTION: To your knowledge, has that happened in this case?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information about this case, with – further than what I’ve just said.
QUESTION: So, you mean to tell us that Awlaki was not stripped of his U.S. citizenship, although he committed high treason?
MS. NULAND: You know, it’s interesting; I looked into this with our lawyers before coming down here. You might be interested to know that there is no law currently on the U.S. books that allows for the revocation of U.S. citizenship based on one’s affiliation with a foreign terrorist group. Now, an American can be stripped of citizenship for committing an act of high treason and being convicted in a court for that. But that was obviously not the case in this case.
QUESTION: But there is precedent. I think, just chess master Bobby Fischer was stripped of his citizenship, I believe, at one time.
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to any comparison here or there. I’m simply giving you the current state of U.S. law.
QUESTION: But you called him an operational figure. Doesn’t that imply action?
MS. NULAND: Under U.S. law, there are seven criteria under which you can strip somebody of citizenship, and none of those applied in this case.
QUESTION: ACLU has a pretty strong statement about this al-Awlaki incident, saying that it’s essentially an extrajudicial killing and represents a program under which American citizens, far from the battlefield, can be executed by their own government without any judicial process. And I’m just wondering, what’s the State Department’s sort of position on the legality of this incident?
MS. NULAND: We work closely with the Yemeni Government on this case, on other cases, in an effort to defeat Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is a terrorist organization which is intent on killing Americans. With regard to application of U.S. law, I’m going to refer you to the Justice Department.
QUESTION: Speaking of working with the Yemeni Government, can you be a little bit more precise in terms of how the U.S. did work with the government and any role that President Saleh might have played?
MS. NULAND: I can’t get into any operational details on this particular incident. I would simply say that the U.S. and the civilian Yemeni Government and their security forces have cooperated for many, many years in an effort to try to combat the terrorist threats in Yemen to Yemenis and to the United States, particularly from Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. But again, I can’t comment on the specifics of this operation.
QUESTION: When you say for many, many years, were they working specifically on Awlaki for many years or was it just generally working on --
MS. NULAND: We’ve been working on Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula together for many years, and that cooperation continues.
QUESTION: Yes. Thanks, Toria. So what does this mean of U.S. views of Saleh? And do you think – do you still want a speedy transfer of power, him leaving office?
MS. NULAND: We do. It doesn’t change our view that it’s time for President Saleh to transfer power and allow a peaceful transition to a democratic process in Yemen.
QUESTION: Did you see him interviewed today in The Washington Post?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, he states very clearly that he’s not going anywhere. He’s saying that for me to go, the others have to go, basically calling for a stalemate and threatening that he will go on conducting whatever operation that (inaudible). So how do you react to that?
MS. NULAND: Again, our view is that he needs to step aside. He needs to follow the roadmap put down by the GCC. He does note that consultations are ongoing in Yemen between the opposition and government forces. We want to see those consultations brought to a speedy resolution to allow a transfer of power.
QUESTION: So, Victoria, are --
QUESTION: What kind of effort are you going to persuade him after – of your point of view?
MS. NULAND: We are making it absolutely clear where we stand. We are also very supportive of the efforts that the GCC has made, including sending its envoy last week, and its efforts to continue to put pressure on him and his government.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) for fighting al-Qaida notwithstanding? He’s claiming credit for fighting al-Qaida.
MS. NULAND: We fight al-Qaida with the Yemeni Government, with security forces. We expect that cooperation will continue in strong shape, but it is time for President Saleh to turn over the reins of power and allow a democratic transition.
QUESTION: So just to drill down on that a little bit more, you’re making a distinction between the Yemeni Government and Saleh, right? They’re – is that correct?
MS. NULAND: Well, the – Saleh has authorized his vice president to continue to conduct negotiations with the opposition parties on a roadmap that’s going to put them on a democratic course, which presumably would lead to new constitution, new elections, et cetera. That’s the course we want to see politically in Yemen. We are also continuing to work with Yemeni security officials, with security forces, on the al-Qaida problem. And we would expect that any government that would emerge in Yemen would share the interest of the current government, would share our joint interest in continuing to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
QUESTION: So can you characterize at all the role of Saleh in this? I mean, he just – because, obviously, he just came back a week ago, and now this happens. Is there any type of definition that you can give? Did he even help or hinder, or any type of characterization of what he did?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on any operational details having to do with this case.
QUESTION: Would it be safe to say that Saleh was bypassed by the U.S. Government in terms of conducting the operation against Awlaki?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not in a position to comment at all on that.
QUESTION: Are you able to tell us just if there’s been any contact between U.S. officials, either at the Embassy or from here, with Saleh since his return to Yemen?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, there has not been any direct conversation with Saleh, but if that is incorrect, I will get back to you.
QUESTION: Okay. And just – back on this, the interview in The Washington Post, he advanced an interpretation of the GCC agreement, under which he said that he saw it as requiring all sorts of people to give up power, not only himself, including his main rival, the general and so on. Is it your – is that your understanding of what the GCC deal would require, or does it only require that Saleh set the wheels in motion to give up his power?
MS. NULAND: The first step in our reading of the GCC proposal is that he sign it, that he – and in signing it, that he make clear that he will relinquish power. Then it speaks of a process of agreeing on a roadmap in which there would be new elections, which presumably would bring a fresh set of folks into power.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to Andy’s question from earlier?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Brad.
QUESTION: Your legal advisor here has spoken at length previously about the legality of drone strikes on terror targets. And I just want to know why, in this case, you feel that is extended, this legality, to an American citizen who hasn’t been charged or tried with any crime.
MS. NULAND: Brad*, I don’t have anything further to add from what I’ve already said on this point.
QUESTION: Can I just try to clarify something?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Yemeni Government has not notified you of the deaths of any American citizens on its soil?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, it has not.
QUESTION: Okay. So you just know this by your own – what, osmosis?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to what we know and how we know it.
QUESTION: Well, the government put out a statement – the Yemeni Government put out a statement saying that this guy had been killed. Is that how you know that he’s dead?
MS. NULAND: I’m, again, not going to speak to any operational details of our cooperation with Yemen, before or after.
QUESTION: When an American citizen dies or is in trouble in a foreign country, the State Department is proud of its role in helping, assisting, offering assistance, advice. It takes an interest in such things. I mean, downstairs, it says, as you walk to the cafeteria, that the safety of American citizens abroad is the primary – is of primary importance to the State Department. You’re telling me you don’t have any information about this at all?
MS. NULAND: I’m saying that I don’t have any further comment on this particular case. If there’s anything further to say, we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Isn’t the U.S. concerned, though, about what this says about the respect for human rights? I mean, Awlaki’s father went to federal court last year to try to get the apparent order to have his son captured or killed removed, and the case was thrown out of court without even a hearing because the government argued, well, this involves state secrets and we can’t allow this information to get out during the discovery process. Doesn’t that send the wrong message that the U.S. has been trying to counter in other countries for so many decades?
MS. NULAND: Ros*, I think you’re taking me into issues that are better addressed to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: But the U.S. is very much involved in public diplomacy in trying to show why the values that Americans live under are preferable to other sets of values. Certainly, doesn’t this complicate the work that U.S. diplomats are going to be doing now when it comes to asking other countries to respect the rule of law, to give people a fair chance to defend themselves when they’re accused or suspected of doing something that might be wrong?
MS. NULAND: Ros*, I think it is important to remember who Awlaki was. He was the leader of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, living and working with Yemeni citizenship for many years in Yemen, intent on killing Americans, the mastermind behind the Christmas bombing, and continuing to advocate around the world for the death of Americans.
QUESTION: Thank you. I still find a little difficulty in putting together the U.S. position on the Government of Yemen --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- because obviously, on the one hand, they’re helping with terrorism, and the President praised them today; on the other hand, they are cracking down on demonstrators. So you have this problem. Isn’t it that – how do you square that – how do you deal with the fact that the government is helping on the one hand but cracking down? It’s a typical Arab Spring dilemma.
MS. NULAND: Well, our counterterrorism cooperation is undertaken with the counterterrorism forces in Yemen and is for that specific purpose. That doesn’t change the fact that, whether it’s in Yemen or anywhere else in the world, we oppose the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.
QUESTION: Are you – do you have any open channels with Saleh’s opponent, General Mohsen al-Ahmar, and the opponent tribe, al-Ahmar, which they are not related? Do you have any open channels with them, and could they have helped also in the process of pursuing and hunting al-Awlaki and other al-Qaida members?
MS. NULAND: Again, with regard to the Awlaki case, I’m not going to get into the operational details now or later. With regard to whom the Embassy is in contact with across the spectrum, we can endeavor to get you a little bit more information, but I would guess it’s a broad cross-section of folks.
QUESTION: Toria, I just wanted to clarify. So is it accurate to say that this was not a unilateral operation, or was Yemeni security forces involved?
MS. NULAND: I think the President was pretty clear earlier today that we worked very closely with the Yemeni Government on this and on the larger issue on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
QUESTION: Toria, can you please take the question and find what you can in this case, in this specific case. No one is taking any position and saying – trying to say al-Awlaki was a great guy or anything like that, but the State Department has – quite apart from the emotion or how much you hate this guy, the State Department has responsibilities when it comes to American citizens overseas, and it welcomes those responsibilities.
So in this case, when an American citizen has been killed overseas, can you take the question as to what, if any, role you would have? I mean, if this was just Joe Blow in Australia, you would be involved. And I’m presuming that – I guess this is my question: In a case like this, is the State Department involved, in the areas where it typically would be involved when an American dies in an unnatural cause overseas?
MS. NULAND: Why don’t we agree that I will take the question for Monday, with regard to whether we have any consular involvement with his family, et cetera.
QUESTION: That’s my question. It has nothing to do with the operations. It has only to do with --
MS. NULAND: I will --
QUESTION: -- and whether this puts – and if you can answer that question, then does it put – has it put the State Department in a bit of a difficult position here?
MS. NULAND: I will certainly endeavor to determine by Monday whether there’s any consular requirement for our folks in this case.
QUESTION: Sorry. One more. I also just wanted to clarify, following Brad’s* question, if you could just give us the legal justification for targeting al-Awlaki. I’m not sure I understood --
MS. NULAND: That’s a question for the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: But why have you spoken about this incident --
MS. NULAND: Please. Please.
QUESTION: Is it – GCC propose a sale on the table* and did you resume contact with the GCC countries to push their proposal forward?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the GCC proposal is still very much on the table, that it is --
QUESTION: And you’re working with it?
MS. NULAND: And we are working closely with them. The Secretary met a number of GCC members in New York. She also was very supportive of the report that the envoy brought, went to the UN Security Council and urged the GCC to keep trying.
QUESTION: And just explain why that’s a Department of Justice issue. Defining how the United States acts in international conflicts, I thought, was in the realm of the State Department. By putting this in the Justice Department, does that mean this is, particularly with regard to a U.S. citizen, it’s different than the war on terror, per se?
MS. NULAND: I was asked a specific question about the legal underpinnings for this case. That’s clearly a Department of Justice question. With regard to the – you’re not wrong, Brad*, that Legal Advisor of the State Department Harold Koh has given at least a couple of speeches on the broader legal underpinnings for the war on terror that this Administration operates under, and I would refer folks to those.
QUESTION: Do those apply in this case, or is this case different than, say, the operation that killed al-Rahman or bin Ladin in May? Is this different and that’s why that would have to go to the Justice Department, because he’s an American citizen?
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re taking me into realms that I’m, frankly, not competent to speak on.
QUESTION: Right. With bin Ladin --
MS. NULAND: But I’m happy to continue to pursue the --
QUESTION: With bin Ladin you didn’t refer questions to the Justice Department, I’m guessing. I don't remember that at the time.
MS. NULAND: The questions didn’t come up as to – in quite the same way.
Was there another question here? Matt*.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the status of the Quartet proposal. Okay. Could you update us on the status of the Quartet proposal? That’s one. And second, the Palestinians are about to request that Mr. Tony Blair be removed from that position, because they feel that he has not done a good job over the past four years; he’s been promoting the Israeli position, not done much else. Give us the status and give us your view on the latter.
MS. NULAND: Well, first, with regard to what we are up to the parties, our consul general in Jerusalem, Consul General Rubinstein is meeting with President Abbas later this evening, endeavoring to understand and work with President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority on the Quartet proposal and to see – understand better how they have received it. I don't have any information about what you’ve said about Tony Blair. It’s not something that we --
QUESTION: Yes. If the Palestinian request that Tony Blair is not very effective and maybe someone else should take over, like maybe Jack Straw, the former British foreign minister, would you support that position?
MS. NULAND: You’re taking me into hypotheticals. You can imagine I’m not going to go there. Also to say that our Quartet envoys are working the phones with their counterparts, and they expect to have a meeting in Europe sometime in the next week or so, when the dates can be worked out.
QUESTION: The consul general’s meeting with President Abbas – is that an effort to further understand the statement put out by the PLO Executive Committee, which effectively seemed to reject the Quartet proposal and that they said no talks would be possible as long as settlements continue. That’s the Executive Committee of the PLO. Is he trying to ascertain whether or not that is a formal rejection of the Quartet roadmap?
MS. NULAND: I think he’s trying to work with President Abbas directly to understand how he received the Quartet statement, what further statements the Palestinian Authority expects to make, as you say, what the statements yesterday may or may not mean for the future, and to continue this diplomacy that we’ve had very intensively to try to encourage both sides to take advantage of the very concrete proposal the Quartet put forward to try to get the parties back to preliminary negotiations within 30 days and concrete proposals within three months.
QUESTION: What is it about the no negotiations until there’s a settlement freeze that the United States doesn’t understand?
MS. NULAND: It’s not a matter of understanding. It’s a matter of continuing to consult and continuing to make precise what it is – how the Palestinian Authority has appreciated where we are and where they want to go in the future and continuing that diplomacy. So this is an important meeting this evening, we consider.
QUESTION: But you said endeavoring to understand better how they received it. So you’re hoping that this statement is not at all what it actually says? You’re hoping it’s not as black and white as what it said?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re interested in hearing more how President Abbas is evaluating the proposal and to make sure that he has the benefit of our full explanation about how it came about.
QUESTION: On the terms of reference, the timeframe, so you’re in support of, let’s say, a month for negotiations, three months for whatever it is, and then in one year they will arrive at a final resolution. You agree with that?
MS. NULAND: That’s the proposal that the Quartet has put forward. Obviously, if we can’t get the parties to adhere to that timetable, it’s going to --
QUESTION: I understand. But you are in support of that timeframe and you think that things are doable within that timeframe?
MS. NULAND: The timetable that we, as members of the Quartet, signed up to last Friday? Yes, we’re supportive of it.
QUESTION: So you still --
MS. NULAND: Please, in the back.
QUESTION: -- you feel that you can arrive at resolution at the end of the 12-month cycle?
MS. NULAND: Again, if the parties take advantage of the timetable as outlined, that we have this first preliminary meeting within 30 days, that real proposals come forward on territory and security within the three months, then we would be within sight of that deadline put forward. But it has to be a full package.
QUESTION: The reason I raise this is because Secretary of State Clinton, from that podium, declared last August 31 or 30th that within one year we could do this. So we have been there before.
MS. NULAND: We have. But again, it requires the parties coming to the table and negotiating in good faith.
QUESTION: Just to make sure, there are now 23 days left, right, for that preliminary meeting to happen?
MS. NULAND: You’re – I haven’t taken a count myself, but it sounds like you have, Matt.
QUESTION: Almost there?
MS. NULAND: We’re continuing to work on it.
QUESTION: No, but it was a week ago that the Quartet statement came out, a week ago --
MS. NULAND: It was last Friday.
QUESTION: Exactly. And a couple of hours from now, it’ll be exactly seven days. So within 30 days; it’s now within 23 days, correct?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) UN Security Council started looking at the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition today, and according to the comments from both the Security Council president and the Palestinian representative, we’re looking at about three weeks where then the next president of the Security Council will have to decide whether or not to bring it forward for full discussion and ostensibly a vote. Does this bring any new sense of urgency to trying to get some sort of talks restarted? And concomitantly, does it raise the urgency to try to stop having that full discussion in the Security Council?
MS. NULAND: Well, Ros, I think you know where we’ve been. The Secretary has said this a couple of times again this week, that regardless of what happens in New York, we are intent on trying to get these parties back to the table, because if you want to establish a state that’s living in security with Israel side by side, it has to be done at the negotiating table.
That said, this UN Security Council process proceeds. As you made clear, we had this first formal meeting of the Admissions Committee that was formed last Wednesday, met today. There is quite a bit of work that needs to be done. This is – the next step is that an informal group of experts representing the members of the committee will need to examine the substance of the application, and that has to be scheduled by the Nigerian presidency that starts in October.
So we are obviously playing an appropriate role in the Security Council Admissions Committee, as we are supposed to do, but our main diplomatic focus remarks getting these parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Who will be the U.S. expert or designated --
MS. NULAND: I don’t know if the expert has been named. Ambassador Rice represented us today at the first meeting of the committee.
QUESTION: But – no, but, I mean, presumably, it’s not her who’s going to be the expert? It’s going to be someone --
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure whether a decision has been made, but let us – actually, let me ask you to ask USUN that one, whether she is the U.S. expert or whether they put it to somebody at a different rank.
QUESTION: Victoria, I wanted to ask if you are keeping count with who’s with the proposal and who’s not on the Security Council, because the Palestinians claim as of today, as of like an hour ago, they have eight votes. I wonder if you have a comment on that.
MS. NULAND: We continue to work very hard with all members of the Security Council – I think you’ve seen the President’s diplomacy, you’ve seen the Secretary’s diplomacy – to make clear our view that this problem is not going to get solved in a lasting, durable, sustainable, secure way in New York.
QUESTION: Did the Israelis accept the Quartet proposals? And how come Ambassador Rubenstein meeting with Abbas and not with the Israelis too?
MS. NULAND: Well, Consul General Rubenstein is based in Jerusalem and he’s our main interlocutor in a permanent way with the Palestinian Authority. I think you know that it’s the Jewish holidays now, so it’s hard to do business with the Israeli Government, but obviously we will continue our consultations with them after the holiday.
QUESTION: When do you expect an answer from them if they will accept the proposal or not?
MS. NULAND: If I could tell you that, Samir, I’d have a crystal ball.
QUESTION: A couple of days ago, you said that working with Pakistan on resolving the dispute on Haqqani Network was the first and foremost priority. Now, there was an All Parties Conference in Pakistan yesterday and the military leadership was also there and they denied completely having any links with the Haqqani Network and they refused what they call the U.S. allegations. I wonder if you have a comment on that.
MS. NULAND: Just to say that I think you know where we are. The Secretary has spoken to this issue as well every day this week that we continue to believe that job one between the U.S. and Pakistan on the counterterrorism front is to tackle the Haqqani Network. We continue to make outreaches at all levels to our Pakistani counterparts. Ambassador Grossman will be traveling to the region. I think he’s leaving this evening. He’ll be in Kabul, he’ll be in Islamabad, he’ll be in some of the neighboring countries, so this is a chance to continue that work.
QUESTION: Now U.S. and Pakistan have completely opposite viewpoint of the problem which is Haqqani Network. Do you think there is a deadlock on this at this point?
MS. NULAND: Is there a – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Do you think there is – given the differing opinions on both sides, do you think there is a deadlock on this issue at this point?
MS. NULAND: I think what’s important in this case is that we continue to have very clear and candid conversations among all of the principals with their Pakistani interlocutors. As I said, Ambassador Grossman is on his way to the region to continue those conversations. So the dialogue continues. We’ve got to find a way to work on this together.
QUESTION: Will Ambassador Grossman also addressing this issue? There was this report yesterday that Afghans don’t want Pakistan a part of the tripartite dialogue which is coming up in October. Will he be addressing that as well?
MS. NULAND: Yes. I mean, obviously, we believe that this tripartite dialogue – U.S., Afghanistan, Pakistan – has been useful. That it has helped us together solve some problems. So obviously, he’ll be talking to folks both in Kabul and in Islamabad about the value of it to see where we go. But we continue to think it’s an important structure.
QUESTION: Is the Afghan Government conveyed its reservations to the U.S. Government in this regard as yet or not?
MS. NULAND: Has the --
QUESTION: The Afghan Government conveyed any reservations to (inaudible) the U.S. Government?
MS. NULAND: Which government? I’m sorry.
MS. NULAND: Has the Afghan Government?
MS. NULAND: Yes. We’ve seen the concerns that have been reported in the press, and Ambassador Grossman looks forward to talking to both Afghans and Pakistanis about this.
QUESTION: How confident you are that, during this visit and other high-level contacts that are there, this issue could be resolved?
MS. NULAND: We have to keep working on it together and that’s our intention.
QUESTION: Sorry, just to follow up on that, so you’ve only seen these Afghan concerns reported in the press; they haven’t been conveyed to you directly?
MS. NULAND: No, I think I said that we have had statements of concern from the Afghans. Ambassador Grossman wants to talk about this directly with the Afghans and he will on this trip.
QUESTION: Okay. Just on the – Grossman’s travels, is Uzbekistan on his itinerary, do you know?
MS. NULAND: We’re going to put out a media note with his full itinerary later today. I don’t actually have it memorized, so let us do that later this afternoon. He’s leaving this evening.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS. NULAND: On Syria, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything for us?
MS. NULAND: Was that a generic softball? What is it that you’re interested in?
QUESTION: No, it’s okay. I wanted to actually – what is – first of all, how is the well-being of Ambassador Ford? That’s one. Does he continue to conduct his business, whatever, and meeting the opposition effectively, or has he been constrained to the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Ford is well. He is healthy. He is resolved to continue his important work of meeting a broad cross-section of Syrians and listening to those who want change and standing with them as they try to promote change, so he is undeterred.
QUESTION: Let just follow-up with a question that I asked you a couple – three weeks back, in summer. Do you think Ambassador Ford may be pushing the envelope a little bit too much and maybe is trying to get thrown out of the country?
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Ford went to see a mainstream opposition leader and his group. If we as American diplomats cannot have meetings with all colors of the political spectrum, particularly in a country like Syria, then we wouldn’t be doing our job. So he is doing precisely what he is paid to do and what he represents the President and the American people in doing, and it’s particularly important in Syria, where press freedom is constrained and where we – none of us can get an accurate picture of what’s going on unless we go and talk to folks individually.
QUESTION: Is there more that you can add to the posting which he had on the Embassy’s Facebook page today addressing what happened when he went to visit the opposition leader and then answering some of the rumors about whether his convoy might have hit a passerby on their way back to the U.S. Embassy? Is there anything more that you can add to that?
MS. NULAND: I actually didn’t get a chance to see his Facebook posting today. I can tell you, as Mark did yesterday, precisely what happened from our point of view – first of all, to say his convoy did not hit anyone. That’s Syrian disinformation. He went straight back to the Embassy with no incident. He was headed to see this opposition leader and his group. They parked a block or so away in order to be discreet, to walk up to the meeting. When they got outside the meeting place, there was a, for want of a better word, Syrian rent-a-mob outside throwing tomatoes and others things and harassing him. They took refugee inside the building. where they called Syrian security. As compared to the almost instantaneous response that Syrian security seems to be able to mount when there’s an opposition demonstration, it took them almost two hours to come and disperse the mob and extract him from the site. And then he and his Syrian escorts went right back to the Embassy without incident.
I would add to that that you often ask about Syrian Ambassador Moustapha here in the United States. He was called in to the State Department by Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Feltman last night and read the riot act about this incident. He was reminded that Ambassador Ford is the personal representative of the President, and an attack on Ford is an attack on the United States. He was also asked for compensation for our damaged vehicles. As you know, we had also asked the Syrian Government for compensation to the damage to our Embassy back in July. That is not yet been forthcoming, but a very strong set of representations were made, again, about their Vienna Convention responsibilities.
QUESTION: Did that conversation include any discussion about something which the ambassador put in his Facebook posting today that he said it’s difficult to go about my business in private – and I’m paraphrasing here – when – or in secret – when it’s patently obvious that I travel about in public and you can see the Syrian intelligence agents trailing me and my team. Was that brought up as part of the conversation?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, but certainly the conversation was about Ambassador Ford’s right and obligation right under the Vienna Convention obligation, as an ambassador of the United States representing the American people, to be able to see a broad cross-section of Syrians as part of his work without harassment.
QUESTION: Do you think he read him the riot act that – as a new diplomatic term of art for –
MS. NULAND: Do you like that?
MS. NULAND: Does that work?
QUESTION: When you say that, what was it? A heated discussion?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to how Ambassador –
QUESTION: Yelling? Pounding on the table?
MS. NULAND: No. No. No. We don’t – that’s unnecessary in this case.
QUESTION: Well, reading the riot act is pretty –
MS. NULAND: I would say that Assistant Secretary Feltman made the point explicitly that I made here a minute ago that we find it incomprehensible that Syrian security authorities are somehow able to arrive on the scene of peaceful opposition demonstrations in Damascus in a matter of minutes, and yet it took them almost two hours to come to the aid of Ambassador Ford.
QUESTION: You find that incomprehensible? I think it’s pretty obvious why that happens, isn’t it? I know it shouldn’t --
MS. NULAND: Unacceptable as well.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, you described this crowd outside of the opposition leader’s place as a rent-a-mob. Perhaps they were actually there even before Ambassador Ford arrived, no?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to how long they may or may not have been there, but they appeared –
QUESTION: Well, if they met him with their welcoming hail of eggs and tomatoes, they were there before, right?
MS. NULAND: Suffice it to say they appeared to be lying in wait for him.
QUESTION: Exactly. And so does that really give you some kind of – any kind of concern that there is a – that there’s some kind of a leak – that Syrian intelligence knows where Ambassador Ford is going before he goes there?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think he makes a secret –
QUESTION: Or this crowd just camped out permanently outside this guy’s office?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think Ambassador Ford makes a secret of his effort to see a broad cross-section of Syrians.
QUESTION: Well, but in this case, you said he was trying to be discreet, they parked a block and a half or two blocks away, they – and yet, they were still – this still happened.
MS. NULAND: Again, it is possible that – we leave it up to Syrian interlocutors whether they feel comfortable or not broadly advertising the fact of their meeting with Ambassador Ford. This was a particularly brave individual. I can’t speak to how Syrian authorities – Syrian thugs may or may not have learned about his whereabouts. But the concern was that this was organized, that it was intentional, and that it was violent, and it was dangerous, and it was unacceptable.
QUESTION: But the riot act terminology sort of implies that -- an or else, stop this or else something will happen; you’ll get arrested if you’re a rioter, the riot will be put down. In this case, did Mr. Feltman have any or else, if this happens again, what the U.S. response would be?
MS. NULAND: Again, that we would continue to make it absolutely clear that this is not acceptable as a way to treat diplomats anywhere in the world.
QUESTION: So just more angry words then? I mean, that’s all their looking at for this kind of behavior?
MS. NULAND: Andy, we want our ambassador to be able to do what he is in Syria to do, which is to talk to a broad cross-section of Syrians, and we want the Syrian Government to treat him appropriately and provide for his security, which did not happen in this case.
QUESTION: Yeah. Are the Syrians – either the ambassador here or of the highest levels of government you’ve spoken to there – taking seriously the message that they must protect U.S. diplomats under the Vienna Convention? Are you getting a sense of that?
MS. NULAND: That was the root of our message, and we’ll see where this goes from here.
QUESTION: So you they haven’t said anything reassuring yet that, “We’ll stop this”? They’re not telling you that?
MS. NULAND: Well, they always speak to the difficulties of trying to manage things, but we’ll see.
QUESTION: How would you describe the meeting with Imad Moustapha? Was it cordial? Was it tense? Did he just listen? Was he told – or did he engage in conversation? Could you describe it –
MS. NULAND: I will refer you to him for his reaction. Simply to say that it was professional, but it was firm on our side.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me follow up with employees – the Embassy in Damascus. There are employees that do not live in the Embassy or its whereabouts, and there are Syrian employees and so on. How do you determine their safety or security or the fact they are not subject to, let’s say, Syrian scrutiny or bullying or whatever you want to call it?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have made clear to our employees, obviously, that we want to know about any incidents that might affect their safety, and we make representations if they are necessary.
QUESTION: Are Syrian employees of the Embassy – go back and forth daily and regularly?
MS. NULAND: They do. They live at home. Yeah.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Back on –
QUESTION: I have one more on Syria. On Embassy – for accident. Have you received any kind of apology or detailed explanation why this happened when you asked from the Syrian Government?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge. I believe that Ambassador Moustapha was largely in a listening mode yesterday.
QUESTION: And yesterday, we talk about no-fly zone here, and Mark said that you’ll look into whether the Syrian Government has been using the air force against its people. Have you had a conclusion whether the Syrian Government has been using air force heavily?
MS. NULAND: To our knowledge, air power has not been deployed in Syria. But if that is – if there are changes to that, we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more – just very quickly – anything more about the reported unrest in Rastan, which was home to many military conscripts, not Alawite, and who have essentially disobeyed orders to shoot on their own people?
MS. NULAND: I don’t – obviously, this – when this Rastan incident happened, the reporting that we had was that one of the reasons that the government came down so hard on Rastan was because many in the opposition were defectors from the military, and there was considerable anger by the government that it was losing people from the military, and they were trying to set an example. I don’t have anything further from those concerns that we had a few days ago.
QUESTION: Because apparently it’s still going on, so --
MS. NULAND: I’m sure, but we will endeavor to give you an update on the ground for Monday.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Back to another piece of week-old news. Last week in New York, Ahmadinejad said that Iran would be willing to stop its 20 percent enrichment if it was guaranteed supplies of fuel to the TRR. And I’m just wondering if you have had a look at that proposal, if you think that that serves as any kind of basis for pushing ahead with those talks on the TRR proposal?
MS. NULAND: Ahmadinejad makes a lot of empty promises. He knows exactly what has to happen if Iran has a serious proposal to put forward. It has to put it forward to the IAEA, the IAEA and we can study it, and then we can respond. But, from our perspective, at the moment, this looks like a diversion from the real issues.
QUESTION: I have one more. And I don’t know if this may have been addressed before, maybe last week and I might have missed it. But did the U.S. take, or are you taking a position in UNESCO on this prize that is supposed to be named for the Exalted Leader of Equatorial Guinea?
MS. NULAND: That is a new one for me, Matt, so let me take that one.
In the back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Tokyo, any update on Predator issue?
MS. NULAND: You know that I’m not going to talk about intelligence issues.
Thanks, everybody. Happy weekend.