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Middle East Digest - October 7, 2011


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Washington, DC
October 7, 2011

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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 07, 2011

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QUESTION: On – on Libya, sorry, the NTC is saying that they’re making their final push for Sirte. Do you have any information on how that effort is going and if you really feel this could be the end for Qadhafi and his resistance?

MS. NULAND: Our information is that good parts of Sirte have been liberated, but there is still some work to do, and as you say, that the TNC forces are making a hard push. I think you know, Brad, that the TNC has said that when Sirte is liberated, they will declare all of Libya liberated, and they’ll move on to the next political steps, which are forming a transitional government, et cetera – an interim government, et cetera. But I can’t speak to the precise battle conditions, but there is a good amount of Sirte already liberated, so that’s good news.

QUESTION: And would that be the right time for them to declare that all of Libya is liberated after – presumably when or after Sirte falls? Would that be a fair assessment by them?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Bani Walid and Sirte were the last major population centers that were under Qadhafi force control, so we obviously trust and support their judgment in terms of when they have won the battle. And they’ve made this judgment that when these two last population centers are liberated, that they will call all of Libya liberated, and I think it’ll be a good thing to be able to move on to the next political and security steps in effort to ensure that the country is united and that the reconciliation can also begin.

QUESTION: But there’s no caution that it might be too early for a “mission accomplished” moment?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, let’s let the TNC make its own decisions about Libyan security. I think you may also have heard Secretary of Defense Panetta at NATO, speaking about the NATO role, and he spoke to some of the issues that the TNC is also looking at – first of all, the condition in Sirte, but regime capability to attack civilians, Qadhafi command-and-control. So these are all of the issues that the TNC has said it believes it will have under control after it has liberated Sirte.

Said.

QUESTION: Toria, there has not been much talk lately of the unfreezing of funds. Could you update us on the unfreezing of Libyan assets that are in the United States and elsewhere?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Said, about a month ago, a huge amount of Libya’s assets, both United States – assets in the United States and assets in countries around the world, were unfrozen. A lot of that money went into the multinational fund that the TNC can draw against. Our understanding is that they are using that money well, that there is still money available there, that we’ve had, as you know, some relief in the United Nations as well, particularly for support for the oil sector. So obviously, when there’s a sense that more money is needed, we can look at more unfreezing. But at the moment, our sense is that the TNC has the funds that it needs.

QUESTION: Okay, a quick follow-up on this. Okay, a quick follow-up. There has also been allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars, actual cash, were found in Libya and different places under Qadhafi’s control. My question is: Is there some sort of a regime in place to ensure or to control or to oversee the fact that these funds are not pilfered or are not subject to corruption?

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about stacks of cash that were found, sort of in various sites?

QUESTION: Stacks of cash, right. What happened to these stacks of cash, a lot of them in U.S. dollars?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S. dollars.

MS. NULAND: Well, that’s not a surprising practice for regimes of this kind. Let me take the question in terms of specifically what the TNC may have put in place to manage this kind of thing. But as you know, in general, our view is that they have been very responsible and transparent with the Libyan people’s money.

QUESTION: Is NATO helping the TNC as far as the TNC’s efforts to liberate Sirte is concerned?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that the role of Operation Unified Protector is to protect civilians, so the degree to which there are NATO operations around Sirte, it’s in an effort to help defend civilians from those Qadhafi forces who are still creating violence and creating tension there. So those operations continue and, as was re-confirmed at the NATO defense ministerial just earlier this week, they will continue until there is a judgment that the mission is completed.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the weapons search in Libya? It’s just been a couple weeks, I think, as well since we’ve heard about --

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about our efforts to work with the TNC on the conventional weapons problems? Yeah.

QUESTION: On conventional, specifically the MANPADS but also small arms and whatever other good things they have floating around that country.

MS. NULAND: Well, when we first started talking about this about a month and a half ago, the U.S. had one team in Libya working with the TNC. We now have nine teams working across Libya. We initially had given $3 million to this effort. We’ve recently added another $10 million, and we are working all around Libya. I would say that for each of these Americans, there is a full TNC team with them, so the Libyans are also growing their own capability.

I’m frankly not in a position to speak to the sort of volume and scope of their success at the moment, but we are very, very committed to this effort. The Libyans have asked for our help, and we have increased our support apace.

QUESTION: So it’s nine teams; that would be one American, either contractor or official, embedded alongside a TNC – NTC team?

MS. NULAND: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: And is – are there any plans to expand that further in the coming days, weeks?

MS. NULAND: Well, this last expansion to nine teams is only about two weeks old, so I think we need to absorb that and see how the need evolves. But certainly, we’re very committed.

QUESTION: On Syria?

QUESTION: Can we (inaudible)? This may be a question best addressed to the Department of Defense. It’s on Libya. But could you update us? There has been no talk whatsoever on the training of Libyan forces, on preparing them for the future, so to speak, to assume responsibilities. Is there anything that is underway that the United States has assumed responsibility for in terms of training and equipping and so on?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’re getting ahead of where the TNC is, Said. I think you know that what they have said is that their first job, obviously, is to liberate the whole country. Their second mission is to try to get those militias that helped to liberate the country unified under one national command. They have made some progress on that in recent days and weeks, particularly in collecting weapons, in getting some of the militias to pledge loyalty to central authority. I think they’ve going to have their initial focus be on bringing everybody together under one national tent.

We have said to them nationally, and the international community has said to them, that if they need support in police training, in demobilization, in helping to manage this militia issue, that we stand ready to help. And we’re in consultations about how we might be able to help them, but there haven’t been any decisions by them or deployments by us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: So, please.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering forming a contact – international contact group to handle the situation in Syria, like what you did with Libya? Also, another question: A prominent Syrian prodemocracy opposition figure was attacked today by the regime; any reaction to this?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, with regard to contact group-like structure, let me say that we have essentially an informal structure in our regular contacts with our EU partners, with our partners in the region, our conversations with Turkey, our discussions with the GCC and the Arab League. So every time the Secretary, the President, meet with counterparts, the subject of Syria comes up, and we make an effort to coordinate. It’s also the case that in recent meetings of the Libya Contact Group there have been discussions about Syria as well on the margins there.

Thank you for raising the case of Riad Seif. For those of you who have not seen this, there is some absolutely gruesome footage on YouTube. Riad Seif was a very prominent Syrian opposition leader. He was beaten on the street at the hands of folks who appear to be pro-regime thugs. As I was coming down, we were hearing about another case – I, unfortunately, don’t have the name here – another prominent opposition activist outside of Damascus who was also beaten on the street by pro-regime thugs.

This is a clear escalation of regime tactics. We’ve obviously had a number of opposition folks arrested. We’ve had reports of torture, beatings, et cetera, but not on the streets in broad daylight, clearly designed to intimidate others. And it really signals an escalation on the part of the Syrian regime.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the regime has been emboldened by the vetoes at the Security Council?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to cause and effect here. I would simply say that the violence continues unabated. The Syrian regime has also been putting out a lot of disinformation about the cause of the violence in Syria. I would simply say that if they are not afraid of the international community knowing what is truly going on, they should let you all come back, international journalists presence come back, they should welcome international human rights monitors into their country. And we would note that none of that is happening and the thuggery continues.

QUESTION: Today, the Russian President Medvedev issued a statement saying that Syria must reform and must reform right now; it must stop the killings and so on, or else for Bashar al-Asad to move on. Do you find that as a helpful statement by the Russians, and do you see this as a step for a future effort at the United Nations?

MS. NULAND: Well, that is a very positive, if in fact the Russian Government is calling for the regime to stop its violence. I hadn’t seen the statement that you are referring to. But as we have said, we want to see more countries join us, not only in increasing the political and rhetorical pressure on the regime but also tightening the economic noose. And there are more steps that could be taken by countries like Russia to up the pressure on Asad, including joining us in an arms embargo.

Please.

QUESTION: Hi. Still on Syria.

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Charley Keyes, CNN. So were there two separate cases in addition to the killing of a Kurdish opposition leader in northern Syria?

MS. NULAND: We have two reported cases. One is Riad Seif. The second one – we will get you the name after the briefing. We were just learning about it as we were coming down.

QUESTION: But not fatalities, as far as you know?

MS. NULAND: No. Just severe, severe beatings and then dragged off by thugs.

QUESTION: Going to back to something that you said last week about --

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- about Turkey, someone asked about statements made by Erdogan. Do you – and you said that this is Turkey’s own prerogative to do whatever it wants in terms of its own sanctions. But are you coordinating with Turkey to impose sort of the bilateral sanctions, perhaps the United States and Europe and Turkey together, outside of the UN route?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that in all of our conversations with the Turks over the last few months – the President’s conversations with Prime Minister Erdogan, the Secretary’s many bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister Davutoglu – we have talked extensively about our shared concern about the situation in Syria. We have been very open and transparent about our own plans with regard to sanctions, and the Turks have been clear about their own thinking about how they can contribute to the pressure, including the signaling that they’ve been doing in recent days, that they intend to apply more sanctions. So yes, we are talking about this. We are also talking about how we can work together to encourage more countries to take similar steps.

QUESTION: And lastly, there’s been a statement attributed to Mr. Asad during his meeting with Davutoglu, the foreign minister of Turkey. He threatened that he will burn, literally, the Middle East, lobbing rockets and so on on Israel, Hezbollah involved and Iran is involved. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen those statements, but they sound completely in keeping with the attitudes of a vicious regime that is interested in deflecting international attention away from its problem at home, and his effort would be much better spent on listening to his own people and stepping aside.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, please. I’m looking for State Department reaction on the Pakistan Government recommendation of treason charges against the doctor who is suspected of assisting the United States in targeting Usama bin Ladin.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to have any comment on that issue.

QUESTION: Have there been conversations between the United States and Pakistan about the detention of the doctor?

MS. NULAND: I think I’m not going to have any comment on this set of issues at all.

QUESTION: Is there – is it – in a – like if we just widen it out, isn’t there a negative signal being possibly sent here that a person assisting the United States will not be supported or stood by?

MS. NULAND: Well, now you’re getting me into intelligence issues, which I’m certainly not going to talk about.

QUESTION: But aren’t you concerned about someone who should have been felicitated by – for helping nab one of the most – world’s deadliest terrorist, murderous people? He’s being now – been imprisoned and been charged with treason.

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to have any comment on this issue at all.

QUESTION: But can you just say that – have there been any discussions in the past between the United States and Pakistan officials over the fate of this physician?

MS. NULAND: I’m not, from this podium, going to get into this set of issues at all.

Please.

QUESTION: Can we just – Pakistan – just general question. When you meet and talk with Pakistanis – and also they have been saying that there is some kind of campaign going on against Pakistan in the United States, all these issues and all there every time on Pakistan, but others are saying that because of Pakistan’s involvement as far as terrorism is concerned. So what do they tell you, Pakistanis?

MS. NULAND: Goyal, we’ve had this conversation here many times. I think we had it on Wednesday, if I’m not wrong. You know well where we are with Pakistan. We have an intense relationship on a number of issues, including on the counterterrorism docket. The Secretary, the Secretary of Defense, the head of the CIA have all been in contact in recent weeks with their Pakistani counterparts. We have Ambassador Grossman in Pakistan next week, and we are going to continue working on this issue of counterterrorism together because it is in both of our interests.

QUESTION: No. I mean, on this campaign against Pakistan, which they are blaming the United States. Any --

MS. NULAND: We obviously reject that completely. We believe and we are trying to make the case to the Pakistani people, as I said yesterday, as well as to Pakistani leaders, that only working together are we going to defeat this threat to both of us and also to make it better known in Pakistan about all of the civilian assistance that we have been giving to the Pakistani Government in an effort to strengthen their democracy, strengthen the education system, strengthen the economy because that is also one of the best deterrents to extremism, when quality of life is being raised for everyone.

QUESTION: Can I just make one more clear? Yesterday, on my question about why Pakistanis hate United States, yesterday, I was talking to many Pakistanis. What they have come to one conclusion, madam, is that any aid by the United States to the Pakistan went directly to the leadership, but it has not reached to the public, to the people. And the day U.S. will reach to the people, either humanitarian aid or politically and all that, then things will change.

MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, you can help us in telling the story of the large amount of U.S. civilian assistance to Pakistan that went to aid victims of the floods very directly, that has gone into the Pakistani education system, some of it through NGOs. It goes into the health system, it goes into micro-lending, some of this with the government, some of it through independent NGOs in Pakistan and international NGOs. So we are doing our best to try to tell the story of our support for a better quality of life in Pakistan, and you can help us with that.

Said.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. Toria, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has embarked on a journey that will take him through South America, Latin America, perhaps the Dominican Republic, where he’s friends with President Fernandez, where the Secretary of State was just – to lobby, basically, to get support for a Palestinian UN effort. And it seems that not only UNESCO, but probably there will be other agencies and so on that the Palestinians will keep trying to gnaw at this issue. So what is your reaction? How do you expect this tug of war to go on?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you said, President Abbas, we understand, is on his way to the Caribbean, and he’s meeting with some of the same folks that Secretary Clinton saw on Wednesday. Our hope is that the partners that he meets with will join us in encouraging him to take the opportunity that the Quartet proposal has given to Palestinians, to Israelis to come back to the table, and to really roll up our sleeves and start negotiating the terms of a Palestinian state so we can get to a Palestinian state. Because as we’ve said many times here – we said it yesterday; we’ve been saying it for weeks – moves in UNESCO, moves in the Security Council, aren’t going to get us to the end state the Palestinians want and need.

QUESTION: But considering that the Palestinians are not persuaded with that point of view – obviously, they’re going ahead with their effort – how do you deal with them? What do you tell them? How do you entice them into getting back into the negotiations?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have to continue to keep talking, and we are going to continue to keep talking. As you know, the President saw President Abbas just two and a half weeks ago. The Secretary saw him. Secretary Panetta saw him. We have our envoys traveling in Europe to try to strengthen the Quartet message to him. And we will keep going with that.

QUESTION: And one --

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: -- last thing. Could you tell us the current activity, the status of Envoy Hale, David Hale?

MS. NULAND: He’s on his way to Europe. There is a Quartet meeting in Brussels on Sunday, and then he’s visiting some European capitals next week, and then he’ll come home and give a report and we’ll see where we are.

QUESTION: Are you trying to have some Arab countries on board as far as this Palestinian issue is concerned?

MS. NULAND: We are. It’s been an intensive subject in all of our diplomacy with Arab countries, with members of the GCC, members of the Arab League, we make our points. As you know the Secretary had an opportunity to see a lot of leaders in the region when we were in New York.

QUESTION: You feel there is some understanding as to your position?

MS. NULAND: I think they certainly share our appreciation that we will not get to a final Palestinian state with secure borders living in peace next to Israel unless this is a negotiated peace. We have, sometimes, differences of tactic and differences of emphasis, but those conversations continue as well.

QUESTION: Would it be okay if the Palestinian leadership continues with its recognition quest, while at the same time, returning to the negotiations?

MS. NULAND: Well, Brad, you know our view, that we just don’t think that any of this stuff is helpful.

QUESTION: But --

MS. NULAND: We believe that the most important thing is to get back to the table.

QUESTION: But if they were to do both at the same time, would that be okay? Would that be a step forward?

MS. NULAND: It would certainly be a step forward if they came back to the table.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: What time will the Secretary travel to the Middle East like Secretary Panetta, for example? Is she considering any – increasing, like, her efforts to engage directly in the region with the parties?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think any Middle East travel decisions have been made but we’ll let you know if we do make them.

Said.

QUESTION: Toria, different topic.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today marks a milestone, today, the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Could you share with us what kind for reflection is sort of going on in the State Department on this event – momentous event?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think our reflections were largely centered around the 10th anniversary of September 11th. You remember that the Secretary gave a very broad-gauged counterterrorism speech talking about the importance of continuing the fight against terror, but doing so using the full toolbox, if you will, using smart power. And the President also spoke extensively on where we are on these issues around the anniversary.

QUESTION: I guess my question is: How do you grade U.S. foreign policy in the past decade?

MS. NULAND: How do I grade U.S. –

QUESTION: Yes, how do you grade U.S. foreign policy?

MS. NULAND: Just a small question, Said.

QUESTION: Has it been a successful foreign policy effort on your part?

MS. NULAND: With regard to what issue, Said?

QUESTION: With regard of really what has transpired over the past 10 years in terms of this, there are so many metaphors and descriptions that describe – that have come to describe the dynamics or the tensions between the United States and the Muslim world over the past 50 years and I would like to see if you have some sort of a gauge to measure. Have you been successful in your effort?

MS. NULAND: I think if you’re asking about whether we’ve been successful in the counterterrorism effort, I would refer you back to the Secretary’s speech where she makes clear that we’ve made significant progress but we have a lot of work left to do. If you’re asking me to grade U.S. foreign policy as a whole, that sounds like the subject for a seminar that we can have off campus or over dinner some time rather than the State Department Daily Briefing. How about that?



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