1:16 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. I am sorry we are truly late today. A couple of other things going on this morning.
I don’t have anything at the top of this rainy Friday, so why don’t we go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Okay. So at the risk of repeating the rather unpleasant exchange up on the Hill this morning between Under Secretary Sherman and a member of Congress, what can you tell us about the proposed swap for Alan Gross?
MS. NULAND: First of all, we remain very concerned about the welfare of Alan Gross. We have, and we will continue to use, every available diplomatic channel to press for his immediate release, and we continue to call on the Cuban Government to release him.
I’m not going to comment on our private exchanges with the Cubans. We have talked to them about this issue. But I will certainly say unequivocally that the U.S. is not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five in exchange for Alan Gross. Alan Gross is not a spy, and he – it is simply not comparable with the crimes of the Cuban Five in any way.
QUESTION: Sorry, just --
QUESTION: What’s not comparable? What he did, or what he’s accused of doing?
MS. NULAND: Exactly.
QUESTION: Just because I was at the White House when a former president said it depends on what the meaning of “is” is – you said the U.S. Government is not considering. Has the U.S Government previously considered releasing a member of the Cuban Five in exchange for Alan Gross, even if it is not currently doing so?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: Did you check?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: You did check, and so the answer is no?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And when you said that you have talked to the Cubans about this --
MS. NULAND: We have talked to them about Alan Gross’s situation and the importance of releasing him. We also talked to them, as you know, about other matters of mutual concern --
QUESTION: Well, recently?
MS. NULAND: -- including we’ve had recent conversations about their opening of new airports and TSA standards and all those kinds of things.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious. I mean, Under Secretary Sherman this morning said that there had been a very recent meeting between the United – quite recent – between the U.S. and Cuba on the Gross matter. Can you shed any light on that, when it – might’ve – but she was unable to say when. Who met whom, when, where?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’m not going to get into the details of exactly who met whom, when. I will say that it was within the last month.
QUESTION: And has the U.S. Government considered releasing other Cuban nationals, not those of the so-called Cuban Five, in exchange for Mr. Gross?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: But did you – again, forgive me for asking this, but I – there are times when you have asked and, no, and there are times when you haven’t asked. Did you ask that question, or were --
MS. NULAND: I did ask that question.
QUESTION: And you were told no?
MS. NULAND: As I said, to my knowledge, no. And what I’ve said here about our considering release of the Cuban Five also --
QUESTION: Here’s my problem, though. If you asked the question and you were told, “I can’t tell you that,” you’re knowledge is imperfect, but the answer is not “no.”
MS. NULAND: I understand, Arshad, and I would also say that Under Secretary Sherman endeavored to give more information to our colleagues on the Hill. I think she will be giving more information to our colleagues on the Hill over the next 24 to 36 hours. So if anything emerges as that – those responses are prepared, I will also have it for you here. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. But my – just so you understand, my problem is that I could not, in a story today, cite you as denying that the U.S. Government may have offered the release of someone other than those five for Mr. Gross, based on your statement not to your knowledge and your response to my follow-up that you asked and I said, well, did – were you told “no,” and you didn’t answer that. So you haven’t denied the possibility that you may have offered to swap somebody else despite repeated opportunities to do so.
MS. NULAND: Let’s start this again. We believe that Alan Gross should be released. We’ve made that point to the Cubans. We’ve also made clear that we are not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five. I am not aware of any other proposed prisoner swaps. We want the guy out of jail.
QUESTION: The – just another “is” – what the meaning of the word “is” is question, and that is you are not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five for this, but if a Cuban Five member, say, was released from prison and was sentenced to three years of probation, say, that had to be served in the United States, technically he is not being – would you – he is not being released. But are you saying that a suggestion that that person might be allowed to serve his probation in Cuba instead of in Florida or instead of in the United States, that also is ruled out? That also is not being considered, or was not considered?
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re getting me into all kinds of hypotheticals and if X, then Y.
QUESTION: Well, the story that’s out today is pretty specific, that this guy – I believe his name was Gonzalez – right? – he got out of – served his time, got out and was put on probation. And the story says that the U.S. suggestion was that instead – that you would push for the courts – that the U.S. Government would push before the courts in Florida to allow him to serve his probation time in Cuba instead of in the United States. Okay? So that’s not technically a release, but it is a swap of some kind or at least an offer to. You’re saying that that is not true either?
MS. NULAND: I’m not prepared to go beyond what I’ve said here and also to just reiterate that we have had discussions with the Cuban Government about this case and the importance of releasing him but we need for purposes of diplomatic confidentiality to not go any further here. But we are very firm in reaffirming that we were not looking at the release of any of the Cuban --
QUESTION: You’re talking about the release from –actual release from prison. Is that --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay, so that does not apply to a release from probation?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not prepared to speak any further about our private diplomatic exchanges with the Cubans except to say that we believe that the guy needs to get out of jail and we want to see that happen.
QUESTION: Okay. Well that is understood. We know that you want Alan Gross out. The question is what you’re prepared to do to – what, if anything, are you prepared to do sweeten the deal or to make a deal with the Cubans for getting that release. And so the question about when you did not – when you say that there – you’re not considering releasing any member of the Cuban Five, does that specifically – that release – does that mean release actual from – from actual incarceration or – and that’s it? Or does it also include a release from some kind of enforced probationary period?
MS. NULAND: Matt, we have parsed this as far as we’re going to parse it today. And I’m at the end of what I have to say on this issue.
QUESTION: I want to follow-up because I believe it’s important. When you say we have not considered the release of any of the Cuban Five –
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: -- that statement, to my mind, implies that none of those five individuals, including Mr. Gonzalez, who is cited in the AP story, might be traded for – or if there was any consideration given to trading that person for Mr. Gross. The problem is – and I think it’s an important issue, so I’m not just doing this for grandstanding – you have not, however, made clear that Mr. Gonzalez – that the possibility of Mr. Gonzalez’s being swapped fits into your denial. And the problem with that is, it’s a very disingenuous denial if in fact you are or did consider the possibility of allowing Mr. Gonzalez to serve out his term elsewhere in exchange for the release of Mr. Gross. So I don’t – I want to make very clear my intent is to give you every opportunity, whether now or later if you have to, but to be perfectly forthright in the meaning of your denial. Because to deny something in a way that leaves open the possibility that, in fact, you were considering trading this guy who is out of prison now for somebody else, is, I think, wrong. I just don’t think it’s right to do that from the podium, so I want to make very clear why Matt is pushing this, and why I’m pushing it. I would like to believe that denials of that sort are intended to be not disingenuous but straightforward. And I hope it will be possible for you to clarify whether that denial does indeed apply to the possibility of a swap for Mr. Gonzalez.
MS. NULAND: Well, Arshad, I appreciate the opportunity you are offering me here and I hope you will appreciate that I am not in a position to go further than I’ve gone today on our private diplomatic exchanges with the Cubans.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Iran. Could you give us a little more clarity about the meeting – the direct meeting in New York between the United States and the Iranians?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I said yesterday that we did meet with the Iranians. I did not confirm who met or where the meeting was. I will again confirm that we did meet with the Iranians, it was two days ago. They know that very well. And any efforts on their part to deny it speaks, again, to how truthful they are about any of these sorts of matters. But I’m not prepared to discuss any further who met with whom or where.
QUESTION: Could you confirm whether or not there was an exchange or, I should say, a letter was given to the Iranians?
MS. NULAND: I cannot. I can say that the substance on our side was to make absolutely clear that we consider this behavior a violation of U.S. law, violation of international law, and unacceptable, and that we intend to hold them to account.
QUESTION: So was the purpose to show them irrefutable evidence as to the plot?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’ve said what I can on this meeting, and we were absolutely clear as we have been in public about how we feel about this and we made the points clear to them directly.
QUESTION: But to understand clearly the purpose of the meeting, what is the purpose of the meeting? Is it to sort of discuss what happened with them or to say, look, here’s one, two, three, four, you guys are guilty, take this back to your government? Is that --
MS. NULAND: Well, they can read the indictment as well as all of the rest of us can read the indictment, which is absolutely clear and quite lengthy, some 50 pages. It was to have a face-to-face meeting to say to them this is absolutely unacceptable and we will hold you to account.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update in terms of those specialized briefings? What foreign – what other countries received those officials – what countries received those? Anything on that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a full list here with me. Were there countries that you needed further information about?
MS. NULAND: Was there any country in particular you interested --
MS. NULAND: I think I mentioned yesterday that we did have – we do have a team either en route to Russia, I don’t think they’re there yet. But the Russian side did ask for a team to come and we will send a team.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: This (inaudible) today, Ambassador Ford just spoke on Skype to – shortly, and he talked about having a more of a UN role and he wanted international monitors. Is this a new formula that you can work with the Russians and the Chinese in the Security Council that might be acceptable to everybody to get consensus as opposed to just go for a condemnation that obviously (inaudible) to face a veto from the two countries?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that when we were trying to negotiate the UN Security Council resolution, the United States and some of our allies on the council felt extremely strongly that the minimum the Security Council should do would be to send international monitors. Because one of our major issues in Syria is that we don’t have free press there, we don’t have open coverage of what’s going on, and we want to ensure that the international community has the real picture. And we were unable, in the context of the Security Council negotiations, to get consensus on the sending of a monitoring team. And the resolution that ultimately was vetoed by two countries didn’t even include a monitoring team. So we had already ratcheted the thing well back below what we think is necessary to help protect peace and security in Syria and to stand with the Syrian opposition.
QUESTION: What’s the chances that the Syrians will allow an international monitoring team?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we were concerned about whether they would allow it. They haven’t even allowed the free press in. But we felt it would be a very strong and important signal for the Security Council to say, “We want to send monitors,” and to challenge the Syrian Government to accept them. But unfortunately, we weren’t able to get there in the Security Council. We still think that this is one of the most important things that the Syrian Government could do to prove to the world that it has the right intentions and that it is willing to protect its own people in the first instance and have a dialogue about reform in the second instance.
So the Syrian Government has heard the calls from the United States, it’s heard the calls from countries around the region, including some of the Gulf countries and some of their neighbors, for international monitors and has not welcomed them, has not said, “You all come,” has not made that possible, and is still denying free press access. So I think that speaks to what they’re up to.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Could I just ask you about the wisdom of choosing the venue, the venue that Ambassador Ford chose, which is WINEP? It’s a very pro-Israeli or a very Israeli-friendly place. Is that a wise --
MS. NULAND: He chose what venue, Said?
QUESTION: To do his presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which is a very close or very Israeli-friendly place, something that the Syrians may take advantage and say, “Look, he’s speaking to a friendly crowd,” a crowd that has – historically has been anti-Syrian and anti-Arab and all these things. Was that a wise choice? How was – then – that venue was chosen?
QUESTION: Near East Policy.
QUESTION: Near East Policy.
QUESTION: Near East Policy, yes.
MS. NULAND: Near East Policy, there you go. And they cover a very broad range of issues. They’re one of the most respected institutions in Washington on these issues. He participated by Skype, as a number of our ambassadors now do, with Washington conferences, international conferences, as a way to be able to join more kinds of groups without having to travel, without having to spend those kinds of resources of time and energy. I used to do it a lot myself, to participate in conferences by Skype.
So I think the intent here was to get to a broad audience in Washington and to participate in a forum that was likely to be covered and likely to be televised so that he could speak forthrightly about what he sees going on in Syria, and as we’ve said before, to help shine a light on what’s happening inside the country, which we consider extremely important.
QUESTION: I’m saying, I guess, that the Syrians may take advantage of this (inaudible) – I just want to rephrase that – say, look, he’s used, as for his first appearance via Skype in Washington, a venue that is very hostile to Syria historically.
MS. NULAND: Well, they may well, but this is not the only venue that Ambassador Ford is using. As you know, he’s using his Facebook page, he’s using his meetings with the opposition leaders. I’m confident that if he were invited by other organizations in Washington to Skype in, that he would be open to that as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Syrian Embassy was going to have a conference, that you think he’d join in?
MS. NULAND: I think that’ll be the day.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. NULAND: Yes, please.
QUESTION: As – unfortunately, as I expected and anticipated, the readout from the meeting between Special Representative Hale and President Abbas in Paris was less than – I don't know – it was less than nothing, I think, is probably what it was. Are you in a position to provide any --
MS. NULAND: It was three whole sentences, Matt. It was –
QUESTION: That said what? That said nothing. I mean, literally, I knew less about the meeting after reading that than I did before. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: That speaks to some of the sources who were informing you before you got the briefing, Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah. And I could have written that myself anyway, not having been at the meeting. Are you in a position to enlighten us at all about what’s happened and whether there’s any progress towards getting either party to agree to this preliminary meeting that had been proposed for the 23rd in Jordan but may not be on the 23rd in Jordan?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, thank you for the opportunity to share with the larger world what we did say last night in a press note about the meeting, which is that Special Envoy David Hale met with Palestinian Authority President Abbas in Paris last night for 45 minutes. They had a very serious discussion of the issues, including a very serious discussion on the Quartet proposal of September 23rd. And we look forward to continuing discussions with Palestinians and Israelis about the timetable laid out by the Quartet. I would only add that we believe it was a productive meeting, we believe that we are making progress in trying to meet the Quartet’s timetable, and stay tuned.
QUESTION: You mean in terms of meeting the – are we going to take this stage step by step now? We’re talking about the first timetable --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: -- of the meeting within 30 days of the 23rd when the proposal was made?
MS. NULAND: Correct, or a meeting soon of --
QUESTION: You won’t consider it a failure, then --
MS. NULAND: -- under Quartet auspices.
QUESTION: -- if it happens on the 25th or the 26th? It won’t be --
MS. NULAND: Absolutely not.
QUESTION: Is that looking – I mean, are there problems, logistical or other problems, with the proposed date and venue that you’re aware of?
MS. NULAND: I think I said yesterday or the day before that the Secretary has said she hopes this meeting can happen before the end of the month, that we’re at the stage now of trying to find an appropriate time and place, and we are quite hopeful that we can have this meeting.
QUESTION: Does that mean – (inaudible) an appropriate time or place. That implies that the parties have agreed to come and that it is simply a matter of venue and timing. Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: I think I don’t want to go further than I have, except to say that we want to see a meeting under Quartet auspices. We’d like to see it before the end of the month. We’d like to see Israelis come. We’d like to see Palestinians come. That’s what we’re working on, so stay tuned.
QUESTION: But you don’t mean to imply that they’ve agreed?
MS. NULAND: I don’t mean to go beyond what we have said, yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, this is what you’d like to happen, but doesn’t seem to be what’s taking place. Because Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator, said yesterday, immediately to the Palestinian news agency after the meeting, that he’s not aware of any invitation to the 23rd, the date, and they’re still adamant that the terms of references and freezing of settlements are conditions for meeting any kind of halfway to go into this Quartet proposal. So I don't know if you have more information than the Palestinian had, why you think that – or you hope, at least, not even why you think, but why you hope that this meeting will take place if nothing else changed between now and then, and very likely, that’s not going to change.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, unless I saw something differently than you saw, I think the statement you’re referring to was issued before the meeting had happened, but --
QUESTION: It was after, actually.
MS. NULAND: Well, in any event, we are continuing to work on this issue. We would – as the statement says, we’re continuing to talk to Israelis and Palestinians about how we can get envoys together under Quartet auspices, how we can get them both to the same place, and that’s what we’re working on.
QUESTION: Well, did Representative Hale issue or offer – give an invitation to or somehow formally invite President Abbas to participate in such a meeting?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we’ve said that this first meeting we envisioned not at the leader level. We envisioned it as the envoy –
QUESTION: No. No. I know. But for them to send – for him to send someone to --
MS. NULAND: -- level. Well, the Quartet issued something a few days ago before the Hale meeting saying that the Quartet wanted to host such a meeting where Palestinians could come, where Israelis could come, and it was working – it didn’t mention a specific date. I then mentioned a specific date, which in discussion and negotiation is probably going to change. So as I said, stay tuned.
QUESTION: Yes. Victoria, could you comment on a report by the Israeli press that the Netanyahu government is gearing up to announce a massive, massive settlement construction on the eve of the Quartet meeting if it ever takes place?
MS. NULAND: We are aware of these reports, plans for the construction of additional housing in East Jerusalem. You’re talking about the housing in Givat Hamatos, right?
MS. NULAND: Our position on this would not change from what we have said in the past, which is that we believe such actions would be counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct talks between the parties.
QUESTION: Do you think such announcement of such plans is actually intended to sort of sabotage any likelihood for a Quartet meeting?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to that one way or the other. The Israelis have said that they are ready to come to such a meeting, and we take them at their word.
QUESTION: So forgive me. This has not yet happened --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: -- this announcement, right?
MS. NULAND: Correct, right.
QUESTION: So it’s a hypothetical question at the moment?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: You’re prepared to answer that question, but you’re not prepared to answer questions about a hypothetical prisoner exchange?
MS. NULAND: This construction –
QUESTION: Well, I’d like –
MS. NULAND: -- were it to happen –
MS. NULAND: -- would be within the frame –
QUESTION: All right.
MS. NULAND: -- of our policy concern about construction of this type. So it’s not –
QUESTION: All right. Well, would –
MS. NULAND: Our policy isn’t hypothetical on this issue.
QUESTION: Would negotiations between Israel and a terrorist group be within your range of concern?
MS. NULAND: Matt, we spoke to this yesterday.
QUESTION: I don’t understand why you can answer a hypothetical question about this, and you can’t answer it about something else. I mean, is – it just – I mean, you don’t answer hypothetical questions unless you – unless this building decides or this Administration decides that it’s within their interest to do so; is that correct?
MS. NULAND: I think that’s a fair characterization. Yeah. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. So –
MS. NULAND: That’s absolutely fair. That’s absolutely fair.
QUESTION: All right. So the next time you get a hypothetical question, I just want you to say – just be honest and say not “We don’t hypothetical questions,” because clearly you do.
MS. NULAND: I – no.
QUESTION: Just say, “It’s not in our interest to answer that hypothetical question,” and –
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve rarely said we don’t answer hypotheticals. I think I’ve said I will not answer a hypothetical question.
QUESTION: Well, let’s go back to –
MS. NULAND: That doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t.
QUESTION: -- trowel through the –
MS. NULAND: But we could continue this all afternoon, it being Friday.
QUESTION: No. No.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: Look, perhaps an issue that is tangibly hypothetical or hypothetically tangible, that Hamas is getting ready to move its headquarters from Damascus to Cairo as a result of this swap deal. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Said, I spoke to this yesterday. I don’t have anything –
QUESTION: Right. But now it’s becoming more –
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further to what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: Just into this, I mean, we talk about the exchange of prisoners, but now – the next step now is a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Do you still see it as detrimental to the peace process that the Palestinians getting together, considering Hamas, that you say, is a terrorist organization? How does – is this different, the Palestinians getting together, as opposed to Israel negotiate with Hamas, which is a terrorist organization?
MS. NULAND: Again, I also spoke to this yesterday. Our position on Hamas has not changed, and particularly with regard to Hamas participating in Palestinian Authority governing structures. Hamas needs to renounce violence, it needs to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and it needs to affirm that it is prepared to support existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in order for it to be a legitimate participant and a legitimate interlocutor in our view.
QUESTION: But Victoria –
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Going back to Iran.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: On this issue, but don’t you think when Hamas negotiated the Israelis regarding the arrest of people in Shalit, they didn’t recognize Israel as a state?
MS. NULAND: Look, this was a sovereign decision that Israel has made. They may – if – assuming that they have been involved in this, as the prime minister has said, they made a sovereign decision in order to get their guy back. That’s their decision to make. We would refer you to them. The question was: What are our standards with regard to Hamas? And I think I’ve just spoken to that.
QUESTION: Okay. So a sovereign decision from the Israelis to negotiate with this terrorist group and release – to release a prisoner, that’s – you’re okay with that, but you deny that the United States is negotiating a prisoner release or an exchange, a swap with a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism? Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: Are you asking me whether the United States is –
QUESTION: Well, I’m saying you seem to have no problem with the Israelis talking to Hamas about this, and yet you have a big problem about talking about a potential – the possible – a possible swap between the United States and Cuba, which the last time I checked, is a state sponsor of terrorism.
MS. NULAND: I made clear that we are talking to the Cubans about how we’re going to get Alan Gross back.
QUESTION: Yeah. But you did not – a swap – but the question was about a swap, yes. And you said, “No. We’re not considering the transfer.”
MS. NULAND: I’ve already spoken to the Cuban issue today.
QUESTION: No. I – yes, but – so you’re okay with the Israelis doing it, but it’s not okay – but you’re saying the U.S. is not involved – not doing the same thing, even if it’s in its sovereign interest to get your guy back?
MS. NULAND: Israel is making a sovereign decision about its prisoner.
QUESTION: You have made your --
MS. NULAND: We are dealing with our issue with Alan Gross in the manner in which I discussed earlier. It’s our sovereign decision how we will deal with this going forward. The number one thing is Shalit shouldn’t have been in jail, Gross shouldn’t be in jail, and that’s where these two are equivalent.
QUESTION: About Cuba, what is the last information that you have regarding Alan Gross about his health? Because the only thing I remember is that Richardson went to Cuba and he couldn’t see him. Do you have a last report about in which stage he is now?
MS. NULAND: I unfortunately, today here in front of me, don’t have an update on his health. I’m not sure when our consular folks last saw him, but if you’re interested in that, we can get a little bit of an update for you.
QUESTION: Just a thing on the Palestinian thing: Prime Minister Fayyad is due in town next week. Any plans between him and any officials in the State Department, including the Secretary?
MS. NULAND: Well, the – I can’t speak to exactly who will see him. I’m confident that somebody will see him, but let us find out for you.
QUESTION: Just on Iran? Going back to Iran for a moment?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: In the countries you are reaching out to on this issue, Pakistan has had some close contacts with Iran lately. The president was in Iran a month or so ago. They have signed some agreements as well, including a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan. So given these contacts, are there any additional concerns that you have vis-à-vis Pakistan? Or is it just like normal reaching out, as there are with other countries?
MS. NULAND: Well, Ambassador Munter received the same request from the mother ship here to engage with the Government of Pakistan on the Iran issue and did so. I think Ambassador Grossman had already left Pakistan when this story broke. So our Embassy is, obviously, following up with the Pakistani Government and answering any questions that they have.
QUESTION: Actually, on – related to that --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ambassador Ford or anyone from the Embassy in Syria has gotten in to speak to the Syrians and show them the evidence?
Yeah. Please, Johann.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, I believe, had a phone conversation yesterday with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. Was Iran one of topics or did your government ask anything special from Turkey in terms of new sanctions on Iran?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary and Foreign Minister Davutoglu spoke this morning, in fact, very early before her speech. And the conversation was only on Iran, and it was her opportunity to brief the foreign minister on the situation, and I think you know that the Turkish side requested a briefing team, so I believe our briefing team was sitting in the foreign minister’s office when she made the phone call, so she was able to say hello to Ambassador Benjamin as well. So --
QUESTION: So the briefing team already went to Turkey and --
MS. NULAND: That’s my understanding, that they were actually there when she called Foreign Minister Davutoglu.
QUESTION: Is there any way you can share with us what’s the Turkish reaction so far?
MS. NULAND: I think that would be a question for the Turkish side, Johann.
QUESTION: Does that team then go to Moscow, or is it a totally separate --
MS. NULAND: I think there are different teams, but I’m, frankly, not sure who’s going where.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. A human rights senior officer, Mona (inaudible), responsible for Libya, says that there are anywhere between five to seven thousand prisoners in the hands of the rebels. These prisoners are a collection of either former mercenaries or workers, African workers that are taken to be mercenaries by virtue of the color of their skin. Their situation is really miserable. Could you update us on the situation of these prisoners and other human rights abuses committed by the rebels or the TNC?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know where we have been and where the TNC has been on this issue of Libyans of sub-Saharan African descent or other folks who’ve been picked up for the color of their skin. There was a big sweep early on, great concern that – about the human rights of these people, whether this was racially motivated or whether there were actually – it was actually legitimate cause. The TNC has been working intensively to try to get these people released, working with the International Organization of Migration. I can’t speak to the numbers that you’re citing. Let us get an update for you on this situation. But we have also been trying to assist the TNC and IOM in rectifying any human rights abuses that have been --
QUESTION: One quick follow-up on Libya. Mr. Qadhafi is claiming responsibility for igniting the Wall Street revolution that is taking place.
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So do you care to comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I think I just did. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: One on Libya.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any U.S. Government agency or agencies that take – actively take part on the ground in trying to locate Muammar Qadhafi, in trying to help TNC forces to locate Muammar Qadhafi?
MS. NULAND: We do not have any U.S. boots on the ground in Libya, except for those members of the U.S. military who are involved in protecting the U.S. Embassy security, and our Ambassador’s security.
QUESTION: Libya. There was a report today that it’s the first time since the fall of Tripoli there’s actually has been a fight in between loyalist forces to Qadhafi and the rebels. Is this something that worries you? Is this a step backwards? How secure is the city, considering that they moved the fighting into Sirte?
MS. NULAND: We saw these press reports earlier this morning, which made it sound like Tripoli was on fire. We have been in contact with our Embassy. Apparently, this was a gun battle outside of the center of the city. Seven guys, Qadhafi loyalists, took over a building. The fighting is now over. Four of the seven have been arrested, according to press reporting, and the TNC is going to pursue this in the courts, obviously.
QUESTION: So it’s an isolated incident (inaudible) --
MS. NULAND: Isolated, relatively small incident by the sound of it. And the important thing is that it be handled judicially now.
QUESTION: Victoria, do you have any information about the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Cairo and a Saudi diplomat in Karachi?
MS. NULAND: The Saudi ambassador to Cairo --
QUESTION: To Cairo.
MS. NULAND: I don't have anything on that.
QUESTION: Can I make you a hypothetical question?
MS. NULAND: An apolitical question?
MS. NULAND: Hypothetical question.
QUESTION: Hypothetical question.
MS. NULAND: Oh, here we go.
QUESTION: Chavez --
MS. NULAND: Have you been having lunch with, Matt? Is that it?
QUESTION: No. Chavez helped – he said that he helped to bring the two kids that were in Iran to the United States. Do you think that the Government of Venezuela may help in these negotiations with Cuba, Chavez personally?
MS. NULAND: No. Thank you.
QUESTION: Toria – yeah. One other thing.
MS. NULAND: Yes, Arshad.
QUESTION: A series of members of Congress have, since last Friday, made the case that the – in letters to the Department – that the Department should not proceed with the $53 million arms sale to Bahrain that was notified some time ago. I – forgive me if it has come up this week, but is the Administration giving any thought to not going forward with that sale, which I believe includes armored personnel carriers and – no, it’s humvees, excuse me --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- and missiles?
MS. NULAND: Let me, just for the benefit of everybody else, give a little bit of background here. This is with regard to a notification that we made to Congress about a future sale to Bahrain for its military, for external purposes, of $53 million in, as Arshad has said, armored high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, better known as humvees and TOW missiles to go on them.
We have received a letter from a number of members of Congress, and we have been in close consultation with the Congress on this issue. As you know, human rights is an issue that we take into account when we look at missile sales. In this case, this is a notification about future intent. This sale doesn’t – there’s a timetable, and quite an extended one, for when these things might be delivered, and we will continue to take human rights into consideration as we make future decisions about this.
But the second point I want to make is that this sale is designed to support the Bahraini military in its external defense function, specifically in hardening the country against potential attack or nefarious activity by countries like Iran, et cetera, and we do have an interest in Bahrain and our other Gulf partners being able to be strong militarily vis-à-vis the regional challenges that they face. So again, this is a notification. No transfer decisions have been made. Human rights will be taken into account. We are discussing this with the Congress. We are also discussing this with the Bahrainis as well as the full docket of human rights issues, and we are continuing to look at things.
QUESTION: So you want to leave open the possibility that at some later date, the Administration or some future administration might make a decision not to sell these – this material to the Bahrainis, on human rights grounds?
MS. NULAND: As I said, human rights are always a factor, and that’s very much a subject of our conversation with Bahrain.
QUESTION: But you’re specifically leaving open that possibility? You might – you’ve notified Congress of intent, but you may not actually carry through on that intent?
MS. NULAND: We have not yet made our transfer and timetable decisions.
QUESTION: And do you – just one more for me on this. I mean, one of the central criticisms made by members of Congress, who, as you know, include members of – include Democrats, so it is the President’s own party who are making – some of them who are making this point – is that this is not the time to be selling arms to Bahrain, that it sends a very poor signal, regardless of what the material is intended for, to be notifying an intent to sell arms to a government where, although the independent commission has yet to report – where human rights groups say there have been widespread violations going back months now. So how do you address that question, that – or that criticism by members of Congress that this is not the time to sell arms to Bahrain?
MS. NULAND: That again, this is a notification of Congress that we have future decisions to make about the appropriate timing, et cetera, that human rights is very much part of the decision making process on these things, and as you say, the Human Rights Commission of Bahrain, the independent commission set up by the king, we think is a very, very important step for Bahrainis in getting an independent view of incidents that took place there so that they can take steps going forward.
So we support the independent commission being able to deliver its report, and then we look forward to steps – for steps to implement its recommendations. And again, this is simply a notification to Congress that we have at this time, and it’s a notification for equipment that is designed for external use to protect Bahrain from external threats. But we will continue to review it.
QUESTION: So two things on that, though. One is how can you be sure, once the equipment is delivered, if it ever is, that it’s going to be – it’s not going to be used on – internally? And then secondly, using – for external purposes sounds as if you’re arming them to invade a country. There are no boats in this, are there? The only place that you can go from Bahrain by land is Saudi. Are you – and that requires going over a bridge. So I don’t – I’m not sure I understand what – Iran, you can’t get to Iran by Humvee from Bahrain unless you go way around. I don’t --
MS. NULAND: That assumes that it is Bahrain going to Iran rather than the other way --
QUESTION: Are the Iranians coming – you expect --
MS. NULAND: I’m not saying what we’re expecting.
QUESTION: -- because my understanding is that you guys think that the Bahraini fear of an Iranian invasion is a little bit overstated. But anyway, I think this is a question for military planners, the minds who come up with what is actually going to be sold to them. But my main question is: How do you know, once the stuff is there – there’s no guarantee that they’re going to use this for external purposes.
MS. NULAND: We do have in all of these sales, and including in this one, end-use monitoring agreements where we are allowed to go in and monitor how this equipment is being used; is it being used for the purpose that we agreed to when we agreed to the sale?
As I mentioned before in answer to Arshad’s question, that before Bahrain can take delivery of this stuff, we have more – we have additional steps we have to take. We have to negotiate still the final terms of delivery, but we also have to ensure that Bahrain is prepared to accept the end-use monitoring requirements. So that is something that we will have to work on together.
QUESTION: But – so what – but – okay, so here’s the hypothetical then, but I know this has happened in other cases. If for some reason that end-use monitoring agreement is violated, what do you do, take the stuff back? At that point, it’s too late; they’ve already used it to kill or to do whatever it is, right?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’re into all kinds of hypotheticals, but let me get back to you, if you’re interested in what we have done in past cases where we’ve had such incidents. We do have a number of measures that we can take. I don’t have them here.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it safe to assume that the intent will be used as a bargaining chip or a leverage with the Bahraini Government, conditional on the human rights situation, that you’re not going to deliver it unless you see actually a change in the human rights situation --
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that’s an accurate way to portray this. This is a foreign military sale for use against an external threat. However, whenever we sell military equipment, we have to – we hold countries to high human rights standards. So we are watching intently the work of this independent Bahraini commission. It will make its report. The Bahraini Government will need to take steps to address what is found. And as I said, we don’t make foreign military sales without taking human rights considerations into account. But I wouldn’t characterize this the way you have.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more on --
QUESTION: As far as your concerns – as far as you’re concerned, although it’s a military question, is: Do you make a condition on the countries that you sell these arms to that they’re not going to be used internally against their own populations?
MS. NULAND: That’s certainly the intent of the end-use monitoring requirements we put on things, of the human rights standards that we put on things, that if we’re going to make a foreign military sale, that it’s going to be used for the purpose and not, obviously for – not for use against their own people.
QUESTION: One more from me on this. You – in response to the original question, you suggested that the timeline for any eventual delivery was actually quite long. What is the timeline?
MS. NULAND: Again, there are a number of steps that have to be gone through. As I said, we have to talk about delivery, we have to talk about end use. Some of these items have to be sourced. Some of them haven’t even been manufactured, so – but I’m not – I would refer you to – I don’t have an actual month, date, time type thing. But we have --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Palestine gets into the UN?
QUESTION: Toria, on --
QUESTION: Could it be soon?
QUESTION: But you don’t deny --
MS. NULAND: I think we’re not in weeks and months, Arshad.
QUESTION: You don’t deny that the Saudi force, 5,000 strong that went into Bahrain, used high-tech American equipment, do you? I mean, they used it to quell the demonstrations.
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that at all at this moment.
QUESTION: Real quick --
MS. NULAND: Johann or Matt.
QUESTION: This is totally different and out of the region.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Johann.
QUESTION: Actually, related to last subject, Egyptian army also recently was accused in – on night of October, actually, with the Coptic Christians. At the time, you said you’ll look into it and wait for the result of the investigation. What’s your current view after five days? Do you have any kind of understanding whether the army did use force against this (inaudible) group?
MS. NULAND: I spoke to this extensively on Tuesday. The Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Amr later in the day Tuesday. We expect that the Egyptian Government will do a full and thorough investigation. My understanding is that investigation is still ongoing and that it will take steps to remedy whatever it finds went wrong with security procedures as a result of that investigation.
QUESTION: In general terms, actually – this question from one of the activists from Egypt came today – in general terms, can you in any way explain how do you see the general condition of civil liberties, particularly free speech and torture cases, in post-revolution Egypt?
MS. NULAND: I think you know that in our dialogue with the Egyptian Government, in our dialogue with Egyptian civil society, human rights has been fundamental to the conversation and to our expectations and aspirations for the democratic future that Egypt has to have. Obviously, the events over the weekend were not in keeping with the high standards that everybody wants and everybody excepts, including in Egypt and the international community, and that’s why we have to have a full investigation and lessons have to be learned and remedial steps have to be taken.
QUESTION: What is your – what is the building’s understanding of this incident that happened with – involving a Swiss Embassy vehicle striking and killing a woman near the zoo?
MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that this was a tragic accident and has been deemed an accident by law enforcement, but it’s now in the hands of law enforcement, but – so I will turn you over to them for any --
QUESTION: Well, are there any diplomatic – are there any immunity questions here at play?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge, but in any event, it was deemed an accident on site is my understanding.
QUESTION: Right. No, but that doesn’t – someone died.
MS. NULAND: Yes – no, I understand.
QUESTION: And whether it’s an accident or not --
MS. NULAND: No, I understand.
QUESTION: -- there still can be consequences for that.
MS. NULAND: No, I understand.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the driver of this vehicle is covered by any immunity?
MS. NULAND: I do not know the answer to that question, so let me take it.
QUESTION: A quick one on Turkey: European Commission just released its progress report on Turkey and it criticizes Turkey in terms of human rights and Cyprus issue, but also gives some better points as well. Have you had a chance to look at the report, whether Turkey and EU relations – how do you see the progress so far going on?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that the United States has long supported Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union. Turkey is – we have encouraged Turkey to pursue the political and economic reforms that are necessary for EU accession. And we think that the accession process itself strengthens Turkey, strengthens the European Union. I’m not prepared to parse the EU’s report, if that’s what you’re asking for. But we would like to see the – Turkey be a member of the EU.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)