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 October11, 2011
12:48 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Let’s go to your questions.
QUESTION: It’s not on that, but if anyone wants to ask anything on that, I’ll defer to them.
QUESTION: I have sort of a follow-up; different country, but the same subject. Can I do that?
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) I think Matt’s going to ask you to wait, then. Anything on Ukraine?
QUESTION: Well, are you saying it’s not --
QUESTION: Are there any implications for U.S. relations with Ukraine stemming from this?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve certainly made clear our concerns to the Ukrainian Government, and we will continue that conversation with them.
Anything else? Matt.
QUESTION: I just want to – Egypt. The situation there is not getting better. It appears to be getting worse. I’m wondering what your concerns are.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously saddened and deeply concerned about the violence that broke out on Sunday as well as other recent indications of violence against religious sites across the country. The Egyptian cabinet has promised a full investigation of what took place and that it will hold the perpetrators of the violence accountable, a policy that we support and we expect to see carried through.
We are gratified to see that religious leaders from across Egypt have condemned the violence, and we would say that the tragic loss of life on Sunday reaffirms the importance of Egypt emerging from this transition as a vibrant democracy that respects the rights of all Egyptians, and a place in which all Egyptians feel included and feel safe.
QUESTION: But does it not give you concerns that, in fact, instead of emerging as a vibrant democracy, it’s actually going the other way?
MS. NULAND: Well, clearly, we had a serious breakdown on Sunday. People lost their lives. There has to be an investigation. There has to be accountability. The Secretary is expecting to be in contact with Foreign Minister Amr again sometime today to again stress the importance of digging in and continuing on the transition course. This can’t be an excuse for slowing down because what we’re seeing here are pent-up aspirations, pent-up concerns within the Egyptian population, and we need a complete transition to a democratic system that protects everybody’s rights.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that --
MS. NULAND: Kirit, please.
QUESTION: Sorry, if you’ve mentioned it, I totally apologize – I missed a second there – whether you believe that this is an example of why you believe the emergency law should be lifted. Did you say that at all? I don’t know if you addressed that at any point.
MS. NULAND: I didn’t speak to the emergency law in this case, but as you know, our view has been that the emergency law should be lifted and should be lifted as soon as possible.
QUESTION: How do you feel about – I mean, in light of this case, do you think this makes the case that they need to have an emergency law to maintain order, or do you believe that this is exactly the reason you feel that it’s being abused?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think this – there is – it weighs in one way or the other here. I mean, this was a security breakdown, so we need, obviously, this particular incident to be investigated, but we don’t see any application here for the emergency law. And as you know, we think it’s unnecessary.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that this may be used as a pretext by the military to push back the electoral calendar?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I said that our view is that we need to stick to the transition on time and as fully and quickly as possible because we’ve got a lot of pent-up feelings here. So --
QUESTION: Okay, but in your consultation on the issue, are you getting any assurances from the high military council, whatever it’s called?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have had assurances all the way through that the military wants to turn over power, that it wants to stick to its own timetable. These are the issues that we’ll be reinforcing, that it’s exactly because of events like this that indicate the intensity of feeling and the concerns about future security that Egypt has got to meet the promise that it’s given to its own people to have a full and complete transition to democracy.
QUESTION: The (inaudible) process will be to investigate – some people are saying that they are incapable of investigating themselves because it’ll be the judge and the executor. Do you have confidence in them that they actually – they will carry a thorough investigation into the incident in Maspero?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Egyptian cabinet has said that it will conduct such an investigation, so I think before we prejudge how they’re going to conduct this investigation, let’s see how they choose to do it. But you’re absolutely right that it’s got to be a transparent and fully accountable investigation.
QUESTION: Even though you’re expecting an investigation, do you have questions about how the military handled this protest? And for example, do you question their claim that the Copts fired on the military – that particular claim?
MS. NULAND: Look, there are a lot of competing claims here. I don’t think it would be appropriate to second-guess or weigh in one way or the other from this podium. I think what’s important is that we have a thorough investigation and an investigation that has credibility in the eyes of the Egyptian people in the first instance, but also the international community.
QUESTION: Can I pick a different topic?
MS. NULAND: Still on Egypt?
QUESTION: It’s not – on Egypt.
QUESTION: Back in August, members of the military council were actually in town complaining about your meddling in their affairs. How do you interact with, let’s say, the opposition in Egypt, with the Coptic groups, civil society groups and so on without sort of irking the military council?
MS. NULAND: The same way we do around the world, that we maintain broad contacts with a broad cross-section of Egyptians, including the Copt community, obviously. And then we’re very transparent about it with the government and publicly, that this is part of our engagement with the full Egyptian society.
QUESTION: Toria, what the U.S. is doing to protect the minorities in Egypt and in the Middle East, in Tunisia and Libya and other places?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we are calling on governments to be accountable, to be transparent, to protect all their citizens. This takes us to some of the concerns that we’ve had in Syria and our repeated points about the need for a non-sectarian Syria where all Syrians can feel safe and can feel included, and where you don’t have one group exploiting others. So this is a very, very important point across the Middle East. It’s a very important underpinning tenet of democracy around the world that even as you have majority choice in elections, you have to have full and strong protections of all minority groups.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. And a follow-up on the military assistance and economic assistance to Egypt: Is there any change?
MS. NULAND: No change.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: There are reports out of North Carolina that the family of Samir Khan on Thursday received a – what they’re calling a condolence call from the State Department. First question on that would be: Was there, in fact, a call? Second would be: Can you describe the nature, or would you, in fact, call it a condolence call? And the third would be: Why on Thursday? Why not do it any earlier?
MS. NULAND: I’m just – I have some background here, but I can’t find it. Yes, we did make a call to the family of Samir Khan. I believe the first call was on October 3rd, so I believe that since then I had said here that we had not been in contact. If I did say that, then it was incorrect, our information was incomplete, and that call was to express our sympathy with the family. And then I think we had a follow-up on October 7th, but let me get you the full information on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Then why – I still think that the first call was still several days after he was killed. Can you explain what – why there was a lag in that?
MS. NULAND: I can’t, except to say that there has been some issue in this case of identifying the appropriate next of kin.
QUESTION: Okay. And so you don’t think it’s inappropriate to call it a condolence call; you said it was expressing sympathy?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. Okay.
MS. NULAND: Well, you can characterize it how you’d like.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you – don’t you see it as somewhat odd that the U.S. Government being responsible for his death would offer a sympathy call (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: This was an effort to reach out to the family of an American citizen and see if any further assistance was required of us. And my understanding is that nothing else was asked for at that time.
QUESTION: Did they ask for any kind of an explanation of how he died? I mean, I’d --
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: So what you’re saying is that there were actually two calls.
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that there were two contacts. There was one on the 3rd and one on the 7th. But let me get you the right --
QUESTION: Okay, but when I asked about this last week, both Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – the first call was Monday, it was asked about on Monday, or was it – yes –
QUESTION: Monday. The answer was that you don’t get in touch with them unless they get in touch with you first.
MS. NULAND: Again, I think that I had incomplete or inaccurate information, at least at the beginning part of the week. I think the last time we answered this question was on Wednesday. So we are correcting it now, and in this case I think that we had – when we determined that we had next of kin information, it was at that point that we made a reach-out.
QUESTION: What was the point for the second call?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have it here so let me see if I have anything further to give you on these.
QUESTION: Okay. The only reason I’m asking is that you said that there was no ask. So I’m curious; if there was no ask on the first call, why there would be a reason for a second call.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: But just to be clear that there weren’t protracted discussions about the circumstances surrounding his death and any U.S. involvement in the attack?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: And who made the call?
MS. NULAND: I think they were made from the Consular Office here in the Department.
QUESTION: And to who?
MS. NULAND: To one of the family – the family member who was next of kin. Let me get you some more on that.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you comment on Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to sort of legalize outposts, what they call outposts on private Palestinian land?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what in particular you’re referring to, so maybe I missed a Netanyahu announcement?
QUESTION: I’m referring to outposts or settlements that are erected on Palestinian private land, and there was a big issue in the Israeli courts. And last year, the justice – their justice ministry, along with the ministry of defense, decided that they should be torn down. But now, under a great deal of pressure from the settlers and right-wing communities, Mr. Netanyahu is about to legalize these outposts and make them legal and legitimate settlements. Do you have a comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Said, I’m going to have to take it because I’m not sure exactly what has and hasn’t happened in Israel on this issue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to my – oh, do you want to do this one, still?
QUESTION: Just one on this issue. So are you saying that you have not been told in advance, because he just launching this task force to basically doing what Said just said now?
MS. NULAND: I’m saying that I personally don’t have the appropriate information to respond to the point, so let me get some.
QUESTION: Just to go back to the calls. Do you know if there was a – any similar effort to reach out to the next of kin for Anwar al-Awlaki?
MS. NULAND: My understanding in the Awlaki case is that the next of kin is in Yemen, is Yemeni, and no effort was therefore made.
QUESTION: Only because they were in Yemen and were Yemeni citizens, is that --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Staying on the Palestinian issue, but different?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: President Abbas seems to be lobbying countries that could vote in the U.N. Security Council, like Columbia and France. Are you worried that he might be able to be successful, especially that he is meeting with President Sarkozy next – I think in the next two days? But he was just in Columbia, and they do an intensive diplomacy trying to influence members of the Security Council.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve also had very close consultations with the Columbians on this issue. The Secretary saw foreign minister in New York, and we’ve been in very close touch with the French. So from our perspective, this is an opportunity for President Abbas to hear again from countries around the world why getting back to the negotiating table is the best course of action from him – for him – and for the Palestinian people. And we expect that those will be the messages that he’ll hear loud and clear in both Columbia and in France.
Let me also take this opportunity just to alert you, if you didn’t already see it, that the Quartet, as you know, met at the envoy level on Sunday, and has called for a first preliminary meeting of the parties. The proposal that they’re discussing with the parties is for October 23rd in Jordan and we are very hopeful that both parties will take up that offer. Our Middle East envoy, David Hale, is continuing his consultations in European capitals and he also expects to be able to meet with President Abbas in Europe on Thursday.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the Palestinian issue and the Quartet. The foreign ministry – the French foreign ministry said that the Europeans were split on the issue of Palestinian statehood. Do you have any comment on that, or do you have an update on who stands where?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the EU is a partner in the Quartet, so the EU has played a very, very strong role and the statement released on Sunday after the Quartet meeting was in Kathy Ashton’s name, High Representative Ashton’s name, and so the Quartet, we feel, is strongly behind not only the timeline proposal that was put out in New York two weeks ago but also the notion that if we can get these parties to the table under Quartet auspices on October 23rd, that will be a good start.
QUESTION: Madam, may I have two questions on South Asia, please? One, when we talk about crimes against humanity or crime tribunals, as far as Bangladesh is concerned, over 3 million people were massacred by the Islamic fundamentalists, including the party leaders and his entire family. Now, Bangladesh finance – sorry, Bangladesh foreign minister is here in Washington.
One, whether he’s meeting anybody at the State Department? Second, his government wants to bring those responsible massacring the millions to justice, but I understand State Department or the U.S. is not in favor of – Assistant Secretary Blake was in Bangladesh recently. He advised the government not to go ahead with the bringing those to justice.
Any reason why in this case, as far as Bangladesh is concerned, you are against it; but as far as Sri Lanka, Burma, and other countries are concerned, you are in favor of bringing charges?
MS. NULAND: That – it sounds like we’ve got a garble there, Goyal, somewhere. So why don’t I take the question and we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Yeah. My simple question is really on Bangladesh whether U.S. favors as far as crimes committed against humanity, and 3 million Bengalese were massacred, including the party leaders and his entire family, but Bengali – Bangladesh Government wants to bring charges against those Islamic militants, but here in this case I understand that U.S. Government or the – I mean, the State Department is not in favor of the government to bring charges against these people.
MS. NULAND: I think my point was, Goyal, I want to make sure that I accurately represent where we are in our dialogue with Bangladesh on this extremely important subject, so let me get back to you after I investigate a little bit. But your characterization does not sound right.
Sorry. Back to Khan, I’ve found my stuff here. Here’s what I have on Khan, that the family had appointed his uncle as next of kin, so we were in contact with the uncle on October 3rd. However, on October 6th, we were in contact with his father separately.
QUESTION: 6th, not 7th?
MS. NULAND: October 6th, not 7th. And in that call, we acknowledged their grief and we explained that we had been in contact with the uncle because it was our understanding that he was the family’s point of contact. So the October 6 call was an effort to contact the closer --
QUESTION: Well, how did you know that – because you dealt with the uncle first, did he ask you to call the father, or you just read reports that the father was speaking out about this so you decided to get in contact with the father? I mean, how did you move from the uncle to the father?
MS. NULAND: I think what happened here, but let me take it, was that our information pointed us to the uncle so we first talked to the uncle. And then you saw the father become public --
MS. NULAND: -- and that alerted us to his interest.
QUESTION: And it was the same message in both calls?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Was there any apology?
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve characterized it accurately here that we acknowledged their grief and explained our consular opportunities. But I don’t think that they asked for anything else from us.
QUESTION: Could you remind us whether Samir Khan was an accidental victim, or was he targeted?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that one way or the other. I would refer you to others on that one.
MS. NULAND: Syria. Yeah.
QUESTION: The Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that he – he threatened any country who recognized the Syrian opposition, the National Council. You already have the Libyans recognizing it and a big group of consortium of Egyptian leaders also recognize it today. How serious do you take his threat, and what’s the implication of him? How do you see his point of view threatening countries?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, the Syrian regime is itself feeling threatened by the increasing organization and coalescence of the Syrian opposition as represented by the formation of this new group. We continue to be in contact with this group, with other groups, and with Syrian opposition leaders, a broad cross-section of them representing different views. And you know where we stand, that we think it’s time for Asad to step aside so that this – a real democratic dialogue can be conducted in Syria about its own future.
QUESTION: This group, the Syrian National Council, does seem to have a representational plethora of different groups in Syria. And I’m wondering what you would – it does include the Muslim Brotherhood and various, obviously, other groups. What are you looking to see from them in terms of their organization, their platform, at which case you can, if not recognize them, then see them as a legitimate interlocutor of a future Syrian transition.
MS. NULAND: Well, we do consider them a legitimate interlocutor and we are in contact with them.
QUESTION: But I mean – I’m talking about the legitimate interlocutor.
MS. NULAND: Well, you are right that they are an increasingly broad umbrella group. They are one of several emerging umbrella groups. So we are saying to all of these groups and to the Syrian opposition in general that the degree to which they can come together, that they can sketch a real roadmap for how a peaceful transition could take place, underpinned by broad democratic principles, would be very helpful to the Syrian people in general but also to countries around the world who understand that Asad has nothing to offer the Syrian people but who want to be reassured that what comes next will be peaceful, will be democratic, will be non-sectarian, will be inclusive, and that there’s a way to get from here to there. So those are the conversations we’re having with them as we encourage them. But again, this has to be a Syrian solution. This can’t be an outside solution.
QUESTION: Republican congressman from Ohio, Steve Chabot, said that he’s concerned that there are incursions – Syrian incursions into Lebanon. Do you know of any incursions into Lebanon by the Syrian army?
MS. NULAND: I have no information to support that. We do remain concerned about the activity of the Syrian army inside Syria and its continued violence against its own people and the intimidation and the arrests and the beatings. We spoke on Friday about the vicious assassination of Kurdish opposition leader Mishaal al-Tammo and the unprovoked assault on a street in Damascus of opposition figure Riad Sayf. Both of these guys were involved in this new umbrella group that Elise spoke about, and the violence on the regime side is continuing unabated. We have reports that between October 7th and October 10th in Homs, at least 63 people have been killed by Syrian forces.
QUESTION: And one last question: Are you concerned that the Syrians actually may take the initiative in reducing diplomatic relations, throwing Ambassador Ford out and recalling their own ambassador back to Damascus?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a crystal ball into the thinking of the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: What is the current status of Ambassador Moustapha? I mean, he hasn’t been in Washington for some time. Have you gotten any notification that he’s no longer the ambassador? Is he still the ambassador on record?
MS. NULAND: Well, he was here when we called him in most recently to complain, which was some two weeks ago – to complain about the attack on Ford’s car when he went to see the opposition figure. I can’t speak to whether he’s in the city now.
QUESTION: But is he still the – as far as you know, he’s still the Syrian ambassador to the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: As far as I know.
QUESTION: Another question with – Madam, as far as U.S.-India is concerned, there’s a big summit going on in education. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is going to inaugurate tomorrow morning at the Georgetown University in Washington. But under Mr. Kabil Sibal, the human development minister of India is in town. One, he was the person who was responsible as far as attacking those innocent demonstrations in India who were demonstrating against corruption. My question is: One, how – you have any comments about this summit? And second, if Secretary is going to speak to him about those developments in India about – against corruption.
MS. NULAND: Well, this education summit is a very big deal. We’ll have more to say about it tomorrow. The Secretary, as you said, will speak to it. This goes to our continuing effort to increase student-student exchanges; Americans living, learning, and working in India; Indians living, learning, and working here. I don’t want to preempt what’s going to happen tomorrow, so why don’t we speak more about it tomorrow. With regard to whether she’s going to meet separately with the individual you mentioned, I don’t have any information about that.
QUESTION: Is Secretary meeting with him in – I mean, separately, on one on one (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: She’s going to be with him at the event. I don’t think there’s a separate meeting.
QUESTION: Can we move further afield?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the immolations of young monks in Tibet?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said a number of times in recent weeks, we are very concerned about this trend and the clear anger and frustration and concern that it represents with regard to Tibetan human rights inside China. And we have repeatedly – and will do it here again – called on the Chinese Government to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens who peacefully express their desire for internationally recognized freedoms; and particularly to respect the rights of Tibetans; and to address policy in Tibet in areas that have created tensions; and to protect Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity.
QUESTION: Other subjects, Turkey?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There have been hundreds of arrests in Turkey since 2009. According to opposition Kurdish parties, about 1,500; according to government interior ministries, about 500. What’s your understanding of this – some of them local elected officials, some of them party members, and most of them belong to the Kurdish opposition party.
MS. NULAND: Well, we are aware of these arrests, and we are monitoring the cases carefully. We urge that any investigations and prosecutions proceed in a transparent manner that protects freedom of expression and that all the defendants be assured due process in a timely fashion and in accordance with international standards.
QUESTION: Certainly this has been going on for about two years. So detainment and arrests have been going on for over a couple of years. So your statement is this trial should be transparent, but what is your view so far within these years is happening and some of them have been jailed. Have you come to any conclusion in terms of these universal values you just described?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think our concern is that the prosecutions be – if they are going to be prosecuted – be transparent and that the cases be handled in a timely manner, which has not always been the case, as you point out.
QUESTION: Can I change subjects?
MS. NULAND: Say again.
QUESTION: I would like to change subject, too.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Secretary Tauscher’s trip to Moscow. There was a --
MS. NULAND: Can you tell us who you are? I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.
QUESTION: Sure. My name is Dmitry Kirsanov. I’m with ITAR-TASS.
MS. NULAND: Welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, ma’am. I just wanted to ask you if the whole concept – the whole idea of providing Russia with legally binding guarantees of the U.S. missile defense system, non-aiming Russia is on the table, as she discussed. Is she discussing this idea with foreign minister – Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher is in Moscow this week. She is continuing the discussions that she’s been having with her counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov on the opportunity for Russia and the United States, and more broadly, Russia and NATO to cooperate in the area of missile defenses. As you know, the system that we are building with NATO is a defensive system. It is not directed at Russia, and we do believe that there are exciting and important opportunities for Russia and the U.S. to cooperate in missile defense. Russia has missile defenses, we have missile defenses, they ought to be able to cooperate together, which is a different matter than the legally binding issue. I think you know where we are on that one.
QUESTION: Well, you also know where the Russians are on that. And they still pretty much demand you at least consider this. Are you willing to do that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the negotiations and discussions that we’re having in Moscow, but we certainly believe that a strong partnership in missile defense is in our interest. We hope that the Russians will see it in their interests because these are defensive systems and are designed to protect against threats that we share, and we would like to work together on these issues.
QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on missile defense?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: I asked this question before, actually, and you answered, but these discussions in Turkey have been continuous. The question is whether the intelligence that is going to be gathered by the system will be shared with Israel through America or the NATO. Can you explain whether the claims are correct?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have answered this question before and --
MS. NULAND: -- our answer hasn’t changed. This is a NATO system that Turkey is contributing to. We’re very grateful for Turkey taking on this role within NATO. The information from the radar is designed to protect all NATO allies.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: China has urged the Syrian regime to respond to the Syrians’ people reasonable expectations, as it said, and implement its pledges and end seven month of unrest. How do you view this new Chinese language towards Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, any evolution in Chinese pressure on the Asad regime is welcome. As you know, we’ve been encouraging not only Security Council members but countries around the world to join us in tightening the noose on the Asad regime so that it will stop the violence against its own people. So calls for an end to the violence are most welcome, and we think that it’s probably going to take more pressure over coming weeks.
QUESTION: Do you think – will you be able to vote on a new resolution in the Security Council after this Chinese statement?
MS. NULAND: We are not focusing our efforts right now in the Security Council. We’re working with countries individually on the – on their political message and their economic messages to the Asad regime.
MS. NULAND: Please. I’m sorry, guys. We have to cut it off a little early. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)