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 October 03, 2011
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you managed to get answers to the questions that I was asking on Friday about – that you said you would take – about the Al-Awlaki case, and then Samir Khan as well, and what the State Department’s role would be given that these two men were American citizens.
MS. NULAND: Were we to be asked by the families of either of these men for consular support, repatriation of remains, or anything of that nature, we would be prepared to assist. But as of now, we have not been asked for help by the families.
QUESTION: Okay. So, they’re – and that there has been – so there’s been no consular involvement at all as --
MS. NULAND: There has not. We obviously stand by to help if help is requested.
MS. NULAND: Well, you did point out that we welcomed the Israeli statement yesterday. We continue to meet with the Palestinian side and urge them to come back to the table without preconditions. We had, as you know, a meeting between our consul general in Jerusalem and President Abbas, I believe it was, on Friday. We’re continuing to talk to both sides. We’re also anticipating a Quartet meeting sometime by the end of this week or on the weekend to try to see what we can all do to encourage the two sides to come back to the table. We continue to believe that the Quartet has put forward a good timetable, an appropriate roadmap for these parties to begin working directly together and that that is the best way to get down to brass tacks and try to get to a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.
QUESTION: But when you say – without precondition, aren’t you adopting the Israeli position completely?
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: When you – in your statement, when you said the two sides have to come back to negotiation without any preconditions, aren’t you adopting the Israeli point of view?
MS. NULAND: Well, we also made a statement with regard to settlement activity with regard to construction in Jerusalem last week that we found this unhelpful, et cetera. So if you look at the totality of the Quartet statement, it talks about coming back to the negotiations without preconditions, and it also speaks to both sides about avoiding action that could be detrimental to that.
QUESTION: The Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Al-Araby said that the Arab state should step in and pay the money that the Congress is holding now, which is around 190 million. Do you worry that in the long run, that the United States will lose its leverage or its influence in – on the Palestinian in particular, but in the Middle East in general, should you lose this battle with the Congress, which is most likely?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, you’re taking me into all kinds of hypotheticals. I think we saw in the Quartet situation, and in the diplomacy that we had in New York and that we’ve had since, that U.S. leadership on this issue remains central to pulling all the players together. We are very appreciative of those Arab countries who do provide generous support to the Palestinian Authority, and we continue to use our bilateral diplomacy with Arab countries to encourage them to at least match us when they can in support for institution building, because we think it is so important. So, as I said, we need this to go forward.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. The Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has – claiming a lot of credit, trying to get a lot of mileage out of the killing of al-Awlaki, and his supporters aren’t (inaudible) enough to wage attacks on the opposition. How far have you gotten in convincing him, persuading him, to sign to the GCC agreement?
MS. NULAND: We continue to make the case publicly and privately that we believe that the GCC agreement presents the best route forward for Yemen, and that’s where we stand. But you know where he is. He hasn’t been able to actually get out his pen and do the necessary.
QUESTION: I understand, but are there any kind of leverage that you are using with Mr. Saleh to convince him?
MS. NULAND: I think the number one piece of leverage is the concern of his own people that the longer this goes on the more unstable Yemen remains, and their aspirations are not being met. We had a spate of violence a couple of weeks ago that was very concerning to everybody, representing the frustrations of the people that the country was not moving forward. So if he truly believes in a strong, stable, democratic Yemen, as he says he does, he should sign the paper and let things move on.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, are you working on anything with allies or through the UN on Yemen?
MS. NULAND: Our main focus on Yemen has been to support the diplomacy of the GCC, which has been very active in this case. As you know, they had their envoy in Yemen trying to work the situation, and then they came to the UN to get support, and they continue to try to work with Saleh’s people and with the opposition to come up with a roadmap moving forward. So that’s been the main thrust of our support, both in Sana’a and internationally.
QUESTION: The Lockerbie figure Megrahi --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- recently reported in a coma, is giving interviews, saying, among other things, that his role in the whole thing was exaggerated, that he never hurt a fly. Is the United States trying to talk to him now, given that seems to be an opportunity, talking to the Libyans about him?
MS. NULAND: He does seem to have made a miraculous recovery, doesn’t he? It’s – you know where we are on Megrahi. He never should have been let out of jail. Our own Justice Department investigation of him is ongoing. We are continuing to talk to the TNC. We also had some members of the Senate in Tripoli last week who raised his case. So we believe that the right place for Megrahi is behind bars, and we will continue to make that case to the Libyans.
QUESTION: Sorry. Did you say that --
QUESTION: I mean, would the United States like access to him right now?
MS. NULAND: At – I think I’m going to send that one to Justice. They are the ones with the open case. If there were anything to say to him, presumably it would be in that context. The only thing we have to say to him at the State Department is we believe he should be behind bars.
QUESTION: You said that --
QUESTION: Can I ask you just to follow up?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are there any efforts right now, besides the discussions with senators, to apprehend him?
MS. NULAND: The TNC has been looking at this case. My understanding is he remains at his house in Tripoli. They have not made any firm decisions about where they will go with this, but they know that we and the international community have concerns and believe that he should be behind bars. I think you know that the TNC’s first effort and main thrust is to continue to try to get security control of all of Tripoli, all of Libya, and will move onto some of these issues with more dispatch after that.
QUESTION: Can I ask about – do we have an extradition agreement with the TNC?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, we – they’ve only been in power and recognized by the U.S. for a short period. We haven’t negotiated any agreements with them.
QUESTION: Have you asked the TNC to snatch him and send him to America?
MS. NULAND: We have made clear to the TNC that we believe he should be behind bars. We have made clear to them that our own investigation remains ongoing and could lead to further discussion and requirement for discussion with them. We’ve also made clear to the Scottish authorities that we think a mistake was made here.
QUESTION: You said that he does seem to have made a miraculous recovery. What’s the basis for your saying that?
MS. NULAND: Well, he seems to have been giving interviews. I mean, that’s the only basis
QUESTION: Well, he’s lying in a bed. I mean, it’s not like he’s out running a marathon or anything like that. He’s still bedridden.
MS. NULAND: Well, the last time he was lying in a bed, at least based on the CNN reporting we saw, he wasn’t able to speak. So I don’t know what’s going on there.
QUESTION: So, in fact, you’re not really sure he’s made a miraculous recovery at all?
MS. NULAND: Well, if miraculous means he’s out running marathons, that’s clearly not the case. But he seems to be able to advocate for himself, which would – not the conditions that he was released under.
QUESTION: Are you aware of reports emerging from Homs, a very large city, about armed groups fighting back and hunkering down and actually hit-and-run battles and so on going on? Do you have any information on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we made some comments last week about this situation. We were very concerned about the escalation of violence there and the vicious attack on the opposition perpetrated by the government. We had seen the same reports that you had seen about some folks fighting back. Again, most parts of Syria, the opposition has maintained its nonviolent stance and has demonstrated great restraint. Our understanding in Homs is that some of these folks that had taken up arms have actually retreated now.
But we blame this violence on the Syrian regime. They’re the ones who have started it by firing on innocents. They’re the ones who have escalated the tension. They’re the ones in the strongest position to stop it.