1:02 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Happy Monday, everybody. I see after our grueling trans-Atlantic flight yesterday, Matt’s sleeping in. Some of us are here.
QUESTION: I’ll speak only for myself. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Secretary’s here. I’m here. Before we start, let me just do one thing at the top, which is to let you know we’ve also put out a public notice about this, that the – President Obama has designated Ambassador Kathleen Stephens as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs pending the Senate’s confirmation of the President’s nominee for that job, Tara Sonenshine. Ambassador Stephens began working as our – today. As you know, this is similar to the procedure that we used when Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman was awaiting confirmation. We brought Ambassador Shannon back from Brazil to fill the gap. This is something that we do when it’s a big job where we need somebody to do the work in the interim. It had been done previously by Ann Stock, who is also Assistant Secretary for Educational Cultural Affairs, but that’s a big a job, too, so we decided we needed to bring in reinforcements for the interim period. But the full expectation is that the Senate will act promptly on Tara Sonenshine’s nomination.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds. I can’t imagine what that could be. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On Embassy Damascus, we all saw your notice this morning. I’m just wondering if you can tell us what that means for the state of communication between the U.S. Government and the Assad regime, given that Ambassador Ford is no longer in Damascus, presumably no longer able to at least directly confer with either regime officials or opposition. Does that mean that’s we’re cutting a line of communication? How are you going to keep those open?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, as we notified this morning, we have concluded that we need to suspend operations at our Embassy in Damascus in light of the fact that we have security concerns about the safety of our personnel. As you know, we had been working for many weeks with Syrian officials to try to control access around our Embassy facility. We were not able to come to appropriate arrangements there. So the decision was made to suspend operations. Ambassador Ford and the remaining personnel departed the country – Damascus time – this morning and the flag’s been taken down.
We have asked our ally Poland, and Poland has agreed, to be our protecting power in Damascus. So big thanks to Warsaw for that. So any remaining American citizens in Syria who haven’t heeded our repeated travel warnings, which were updated again today, can receive consular services through the Embassy of Poland.
QUESTION: Okay, but that – the question was: How are you going to maintain lines of communication with the Assad regime given that you don’t have anybody on the ground?
MS. NULAND: Ah, yes. Yes. So after a brief little break in Europe, where he’s going to meet up with his wife, who he hasn’t seen for a while, Ambassador Ford will be coming home. He will set up shop here as head of our Syria team. The expectation, as our announcement said earlier today, was that – is that Ambassador Ford will continue to maintain the contacts that he has broadly across Syrian society, but particularly with Syrian opposition, as will the Secretary’s Special Advisor, Fred Hoff, who works with Syrians outside of the country, so that we can maintain contact, so that we can make sure that the Syrian people know that we stand with them in their desire for a democratic future.
QUESTION: And when you have to --
QUESTION: Will all the Syrian personnel who have also been evacuated – will they also be working out of this makeshift office here at State in the interim?
MS. NULAND: A number of them will be reassigned. We have a pretty big staff already here in the Department, but we will have those that we need to maintain the business will be working here.
QUESTION: You didn’t mention anything about when contacts need to be made with the Syrian authorities, whether an American is detained or any other reason. How will that – will that go solely now through the protecting power, or will those contacts be maintained from here as well?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Syrian Embassy in Washington remains open at the level of the charge, as necessary, particularly having to do with security issues. As you know, in the past, we have done business with the charge. We can also – the Polish protecting power, obviously, will do the business in the way that the Swiss do for us in Iran, et cetera.
QUESTION: Have you received assurances from the Syrian Government that your property will be protected in your absence? Or do you expect it to be ransacked in the next 72 hours, or something like that?
MS. NULAND: Well, before departing the country today, Ambassador Ford did go in and see Foreign Minister Mualem* to formalize our decision to suspend, inform him, and also to make clear that we expect that the remaining Vienna Convention obligations that they have to our property, et cetera, will be respected, and to formally make clear that the Government of Poland will be our protecting power. So our expectation is that our property will be protected and the hope is, as I said, this is a suspension, and when there are better days in Damascus, we’ll be able to reopen.
*Ambassador Ford met with Deputy Foreign Minister Arnous.
QUESTION: This is their first conversation in quite some time, I imagine.
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure of the answer to that. I know that when this issue of requiring a hardening of the Embassy and the streets around it first came up in December, they had at least one direct conversation. And Ambassador Ford has been in a number of times since to talk to Foreign Minister Mualem’s deputies, but I don’t think that in a couple of weeks they’ve had a direct conversation.
QUESTION: Did they speak about the violence at all, about the fighting, the – Homs, Hama?
MS. NULAND: My understanding – and I don’t have a full readout on that conversation -- is that it was relatively pro forma, businesslike. We don’t think that the Syrian Government has any questions about where we stand on these issues, particularly given the President’s statement over the weekend about the violence and the strong comments that the Secretary had both in Munich and in Sofia, strong statements from Ambassador Rice in New York over the weekend.
QUESTION: Victoria, can you elaborate a little bit about the nature of the threat. Some news reports have said that it’s directly linked to al-Qaida. Is this precisely the threat, or are you talking about general things that emanate from other groups? Some even talk about President Assad release some fighters who’s going to arrive and they might be linked to al-Qaida.
MS. NULAND: Nicole, have a seat there. Some room down here. She’s being modest and sitting over there.
Well, I’m not going to get into details of our security assessment, beyond saying – as we say in the statement that we released today – our concern is that the situation in and around Damascus is becoming increasingly violent, reflecting the fact that the regime is increasingly losing control of the situation, because itself – it itself has resorted to violence, rather than dialogue with its own people.
Our Embassy facility – for those of you who know – Damascus is right at the confluence of many main streets. It has no protection or setback to speak of. I will say, Nadia, that for almost 20 years, the U.S. Government has been petitioning the Government of Syria to be able to move the Embassy, to have a plot of land elsewhere that was better protected as we have for many of our missions, and we were never able to come to an agreement on that. So this is obviously regrettable and not what we wanted, but where we are.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up quickly?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I know that you’re talking about a security threat, but some saying that basically Arab states now should close their embassies in Damascus as a measure to step up pressure on President Assad. Would you encourage that?
MS. NULAND: Well, a number of Arab states have already taken that measure. You remember that our analysis was that that if we could keep Ambassador Ford and our personnel there, our analysis was that would help us to maintain contact with the Syrian people. We will now endeavor to do that from Washington. I think each nation has to make its own decision how best to support the Syrian people as we go forward.
QUESTION: Could you underscore the exact state of the relationship between Washington and Damascus? I’ve had people ask me, “Does this mean that relations have broken off?” And I’ve said no. But can you explain exactly what it means to not have a physical ambassador right there in Damascus?
MS. NULAND: We have suspended our diplomatic presence in Damascus. We have not broken diplomatic relations. And there’s a difference there.
QUESTION: Hi, Toria.
MS. NULAND: Hi.
QUESTION: Would you tell us a little bit about what steps the U.S. might take next? What is Plan B, given the failure of the resolution in the Security Council?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary spoke to this quite fully in Sofia yesterday. She was asked the “what next” question, if you will. And she spoke about a number of measures.
First of all, in a situation where the Security Council has been blocked from acting in support of the Arab League Plan, in support of the defense of a democratic path for Syria, we’re going to have to take measures outside the UN to strengthen and deepen and broaden the international community of pressure on Assad. So to continue his diplomatic isolation, to work with as many countries as we can, to increase both regional sanctions and unilateral national sanctions on the Assad regime, to pressure those countries that are still trading with him – and particularly that are trading weapons or otherwise fueling his war machine – to stop.
Secretary also spoke yesterday, and you’ve seen a number of other foreign ministers speak about the friends of a democratic Syria – those countries around the world that stand for a transition that support the Arab League plan, doing more together to support a path forward for them, to provide what humanitarian relief may be possible – that’s obviously difficult, but we want to look at that – and to provide political support for them. So those conversations are now going forward among the countries that might want to be part of this kind of a friends initiative, and we’ll see where that conversation goes in the coming days and weeks.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Will there be some kind of formal meeting of this new group?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re at the stage of consulting with likeminded countries and with the Arab League, and we’ll see how this develops as we go forward.
Still on Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah. Foreign Minister Lavrov will be visiting tomorrow Damascus. Do you expect any more hardening position – Syrian hardening position – or what do you expect?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’d obviously refer you to the Government of Russia with regard to their expectations for this visit of Foreign Minister Lavrov. He did advise the Secretary that he intended to do this when they saw each other in Munich. Our hope and expectation is that Foreign Minister Lavrov will use this opportunity to make absolutely clear to the Assad regime how isolated it is and to encourage Assad and his people to make use of the Arab League plan and provide for a transition and step away.
QUESTION: One more question, please. One more. Did you receive any signal from their embassy here that they may suspend their operation as well?
MS. NULAND: We have not.
QUESTION: How are they – how is he going to show the isolation of the Assad regime if he’s coming to visit the government in Syria at a time when everyone else is running away?
MS. NULAND: Well, he can certainly make clear what it felt like to be two of fifteen on the Security Council. That certainly speaks to the isolation. Thirteen, as my – as the Secretary made clear, both in Munich and in Sofia – 13 other members of the council were ready to join this resolution from four continents.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. They had China. That’s over 1 billion people. So they – you already got 20 percent of the world’s population --
MS. NULAND: And it’s --
QUESTION: It’s not complete isolation.
MS. NULAND: It’s two countries from two parts of the world, when the rest of the Security Council representing four continents was ready to support the Arab League plan and the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Why have you chosen Poland to represent the U.S. interests in Syria? And could you elaborate on the role of Polish diplomats representing the United States?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, we are delighted that the Government of Poland was willing and able to accept this responsibility. To my knowledge, it may be the first time that we’ve asked our ally Poland to be a protecting power for the United States.* Poland maintains an embassy that is effective enough to take on this extra work load. They are a strong ally and partner of the United States. A protecting power obviously provides consular services to Americans in need, provides advice to Americans, and as necessary – if messages have to be transferred between us and the Government of Syria in Damascus – they will be the transferring entity in that case, both from Damascus to us and the other way around.
*Poland has previously served as a protecting power for the United States in Iraq following the first Gulf War.
QUESTION: But Toria, you just said that you’re hoping that when Foreign Minister Lavrov meets with the Assad regime on Tuesday, that he would deliver the message that perhaps Syria should go along with the Arab League initiative. If Russia took the time to veto it on Saturday, what did Lavrov indicate to Secretary Clinton that gives the U.S. the impression that he might actually say, “You need to take a second look at this Arab league proposal”? It doesn’t seem to make sense.
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to get too deeply into the conversation that they had in Munich, which we described at the time as quite a vigorous conversation. I will say that it was clear from that conversation that the Government of Russia also, as they’ve said publicly, has concerns about the escalating spiral of violence in Syria and about where this could lead not only inside the country, but for the region as a whole, for Russia’s relationship with the Government of Syria.
You’ve seen recently some public statements from Foreign Minister Lavrov and his people that they are not interested in protecting anybody in particular, that they are also interested in peace and security. So they have made some public statements about wanting to seek a political solution. Let’s see what they can achieve.
QUESTION: A quick couple questions. A couple of other world leaders over the weekend also talk about a contact group on Syria or friends for Syria. What’s your understanding? Have you started any kind of a process to create this group?
MS. NULAND: Well, Nicole, I think, asked and her colleague sitting next to her asked the same question a moment ago and my answer to that was that this is an idea that a number of countries have been thinking about, of how the friends of a democratic Syria can work better together, and we’re continuing to talk about it among interested countries, including the Turkish Government. The Secretary had a relatively brief meeting with Foreign Minister Davutoglu in Munich about the way forward, et cetera, and we’ll continue to talk about it.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Davutoglu is coming to U.S. this week. Some say in Turkey that one of the topics will be buffer zone. Is there any way you can elaborate the issues regarding Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, beyond saying that they always talk about Syria – and I expect that they will again – I’m not going to preview a meeting that hasn’t happened yet.
Please, in the back. Still on Syria?
QUESTION: Just on this friends of Syria group – just if you can – could you be a tiny bit more specific just about who we’re talking about other than Turkey and Great Britain and the United States?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me – beyond saying that we have a number of European countries interested in this idea, a number of Arab countries interested in this idea, I think we need to have a little bit of time to work with partners and allies. But as we made clear, we had 13 out of 15 Security Council members thinking we need to do more to support the Arab League plan and a democratic Syria. In the absence of being able to work in a UNSC context, we have to clearly put together a group that can work outside the UNSC.
QUESTION: So what is the hope, then, for the Syrian people? We’re seeing more video coming out of the crackdown in Homs over the last 72 hours. How much longer do they have to wait for someone to try to help them against this government?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, Ros, this was the travesty – as Secretary Clinton said – of what happened in New York on Saturday. There is a plan on the table. It’s a plan that would provide a very clear way forward. And it was blocked and vetoed in the UN.
So the question becomes how we can support – continue to support the Syrian opposition in its effort to pull together its own plan to work in a consolidated and unified way to have its voices heard in a peaceful manner going forward, and how, if and as necessary – and it’s very difficult now with the monitors unable to operate – we might be able to provide some humanitarian support. So these are all things we’re going to look at, but also, this issue of squeezing and pressuring the regime economically and by cutting off its arms so that the money that’s fueling this war machine dries up.
QUESTION: Would you support any move – I mean, to bring Assad before the International Criminal Tribunal?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, he’s going to have to be accountable for what he’s done. It’s going to be up to the Syrian people how that happens.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) quickly?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Are we still on Syria? One more on --
QUESTION: Are you considering --
MS. NULAND: I like the beard, I think. I can’t tell from here. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.) On Syria.
MS. NULAND: Are we keeping it or is it just a vacation hangover?
QUESTION: Till Assad goes.
MS. NULAND: Till Assad goes? Wow, wow.
QUESTION: I think – yeah, yeah, I’m thinking about it.
MS. NULAND: Excellent, excellent. (Laughter.) I like that. I like that.
QUESTION: Thank you. Are you considering to open virtual embassy or digital diplomacy for Syria since you closed your embassy there?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we have a very active digital program with the Syrian people now. Ambassador Ford will obviously continue his Facebook page, his Twitter, his dialogue with the Syrian people, and we do that not only with Ambassador Ford, but through the State Department platforms, so we have many, many ways to maintain our connections as well as the connections of some of our other senior folks here in the Department.
QUESTION: Your good ally, Qatar, seems to have brokered another deal between Fatah and Hamas, whereby President Abbas is going to be the head of this interim government. First of all, your reaction to that? Do you welcome this?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen these reports of the developments in Doha. We’re obviously seeking more information about precisely what was agreed. But as we’ve said many times, questions of Palestinian reconciliation are an internal matter for Palestinians. What matters to us are the principles that guide a Palestinian government going forward, in order for them to be able to play a constructive role for peace and building an independent state.
Let me just reiterate those for all of you again: Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence. It must recognize the State of Israel. And it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the roadmap. So those are our expectations. So we are continuing to engage with President Abbas and his government. David Hale is seeking further clarification about what the implications of this might be.
QUESTION: Toria, the details are already out. I mean, we know it in the media, so I’m sure you have the outline of this agreement. But you indicated or you seemed to indicate that you don’t mind if President Abbas is the head of this government, saying that most of the ministers is going to be a technocrat, an independent, not Hamas member.
MS. NULAND: Again, we are not going to give a grade to this thing until we have a chance to talk to Palestinian Authority leaders about the implications. And our redlines remain the same in terms of what we expect of any Palestinian government, and those – the redlines that affect our ability to deal with it.
QUESTION: So this --
QUESTION: So you don’t --
QUESTION: So will this help or hurt the peace process that – or the lack of peace process, if that’s not really going well?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to wade into that until we’ve had a chance to talk to the Palestinians about it. I will say that our own position on Hamas hasn’t changed. It remains a designated foreign terrorist organization.
QUESTION: You don’t believe that peace talks with Israel are impossible now?
MS. NULAND: We want to talk to the Palestinian Authority about what this might mean. As you know, we have been working hard to continue to send the message to the parties that we think that the work that they did a few weeks ago – a couple of weeks ago in Amman was useful, was a good start, and we want to see them come back to the table. But again, we have to evaluate the implications of this, both inside the Palestinian Authority and with regard to this process, because we think that the work that’s already been done is valuable, and we don’t want to see it disrupted.
QUESTION: Are you counseling your ally, Israel, to take a similarly measured approach when viewing this new government?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think the Government of Israel is also looking for clarification.
QUESTION: Well, actually --
QUESTION: No. It sounds like they say it’s impossible.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) has basically said that --
QUESTION: That peace is over.
QUESTION: -- it’s an either/or, it’s either with Hamas or peace with Israel. It seems --
MS. NULAND: But again, it’s not particularly clear to us until we have a chance to talk to Palestinian Authority leaders exactly how this might be implemented in the short term and what it might mean. Our redlines remain the same, as do those of Israel.
QUESTION: Would you caution Prime Minister Netanyahu to perhaps be a little more measured in his words, given that the sense from this building is that we need information, not hot rhetoric of any sort, before moving ahead?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to join in any of that from this podium.
QUESTION: When Mr. Hale is going to meet with any Palestinian officials? Anything planned?
MS. NULAND: Well, he’s home at the moment.* He’s been working phones to his contacts. I don’t know what his plans are for traveling back out to the region. I think he’s thinking about that now in light of some of these things.
*Special Envoy Hale is currently participating in meetings in the region.
QUESTION: I’m just surprised that you won’t say peace is still possible; even though you don’t know all the details, you’re still hopeful that a peace deal is possible. Is that going out on a ledge?
MS. NULAND: We remain committed to trying to maintain this nascent process that has started under the Jordanian auspices. We think that poses the best opportunity for these parties to get to a real negotiation, which is the next step. And we want to make sure that we can maintain the momentum for that.
QUESTION: But would you counsel both sides in the process to leave the door of peace open, to not rule out the possibility of a peace deal occurring, especially since now they’re talking?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we maintain that both of these parties ought to stay committed to this process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: In the back? Please.
QUESTION: Yeah. A bill has been tabled last Friday in Congress to grant U.S. citizenship to Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who remains under arrest in Pakistan for helping the United States reach Usama bin Ladin. What role State Department has in it? Does this require the State Department approval? Are you supporting it? What’s the position?
MS. NULAND: My understanding of this – and if this is not correct, we’ll correct the record – but this is a sense of the Congress resolution which is moving through the Congress now. It is not finalized yet. But generally, these kinds of moves on behalf of individuals are – when it’s a sense of the Congress, in that sense it doesn’t have force of law. It’s a recommendation, if you will.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: There is one more on Pakistan.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: The Pakistani lobbyist here in Washington has written a letter to the U.S. officials in which he has sought apology on behalf of Pakistan on the NATO airstrikes. Can you confirm if such a letter has been received by State Department? Are you responding to it?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have any knowledge of the letter one way or the other, but I will tell you that we don’t do our business with Pakistan through its lobbyists. We don’t need to do that. We do our business with Pakistan through our representatives in Islamabad and throughout the country as well as through the Pakistani Embassy here. I think you know where we are with Pakistan, which is that we are trying to be respectful of the time that Pakistan is – has asked for to complete its internal review, and then we look forward to talking to the government about where it wants to go on those aspects of its – of our relationship that have been put on hold for the period.
QUESTION: So essentially there is no communication unless and until those recommendations are forwarded to the United States?
MS. NULAND: No. That’s absolutely not true. As you know, the Secretary saw Pakistani Ambassador Rehman not too long ago. Ambassador Munter and Foreign Minister Khar have met a couple of times over the last month or so. So we maintain a very strong communication on other issues. All of our civilian programs are going forward. So it is simply this issue of where we go on some of our security and counterterrorism issues that are pending the internal review on the Pakistani side.
QUESTION: So the White House has issued an executive order affecting the Central Bank of Iran. What led to this decision?
MS. NULAND: This is an executive order this morning, Ros?
QUESTION: Well, it was actually released yesterday, but they put the paper out this morning.
MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that one, Ros, because I’m not exactly sure what it is that we’re talking about and how it compares to the --
QUESTION: About the executive order on the sanctioning of the Central Bank of Iran.
MS. NULAND: I’m going to take it because I need to look at exactly what the implications are.
MS. NULAND: I’m amazed that it’s taken us half an hour to get to Egypt.
QUESTION: Save the good stuff for the middle of the briefing. Do you have a reaction to the charges against several American citizens, including the son of the Transportation secretary?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we are deeply concerned by the crackdown against nongovernmental organizations in Egypt, including the recommendation now that charges be filed against U.S. citizens. Our view, as you know, is that groups like the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, the other foreign NGOs, and the Egyptian NGOs that support democracy in Egypt play a very valuable role in this transition process, and have done nothing wrong. These groups and the individuals associated with them do not fund political parties or individual candidates. Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for many years, supported by the U.S. Government, in order to promote democracy and free elections. There’s nothing new in their activities. In fact, they also served as witnesses in the recent parliamentary elections with the authorization of the Government of Egypt.
So we have communicated for weeks now, at all levels of the Egyptian Government, our grave concerns regarding this crackdown. We’ve underscored how serious these actions are. And we’ve clearly said, as the Secretary did again in Munich, that these actions can have consequences for our relationship, including with regard to our assistance program. That is not what we want. We need to resolve this issue now.
QUESTION: Who can you speak to in Egypt about this? You tried with the justice minister; he turned you down. It doesn’t seem like anybody you’ve spoken to so far has really been able to influence the process in a positive way, from your perspective. Where do you go now in trying to somehow alleviate or kind of fix the situation?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re continuing to talk to everybody that we can, from the justice ministry to the – all members of the executive who might have authority here, whether it’s the SCAF, whether it’s the civilian government. As you know, the President has spoken to General Tantawi on this issue over the past number of weeks. The Secretary has seen Foreign Minister Amr repeatedly, including again in Munich. Our Embassy and our Ambassador Anne Patterson has been working tirelessly with the Justice Department, with the NGOs, with all the authorities in Egypt who ought to be able to manage this situation.
So we are very concerned, but we’re just going to continue to try to find a way forward on this that gets us back to a normal situation that – where we can all support the democratic transition in Egypt. And I would say that this is not just about American NGOs. This is also about our concerns about Egyptian NGOs who play a very vital role.
QUESTION: Are you insulted that all of these efforts, these entreaties, have been kind of brushed aside so far?
MS. NULAND: We are concerned. It is not a good situation and it’s not a good situation, as the Secretary said in Munich, with regard to the work that we want to do together because it could have implications. We have worked very hard with the U.S. Congress, with individuals in the Egyptian Government. We just had Bill Taylor, our special advisor for economic transitions in the broader Middle East, in Cairo talking to Egyptians about how we might be able to support the reform effort. But all of these initiatives could be affected if we can’t solve this problem.
QUESTION: I understand. This is my last one. They could be affected, but where’s the redline for you? At what point do you say it’s no longer about threatening to withhold aid, you’re withholding aid; it’s no longer about threatening to withdraw some cooperation, you’re withdrawing that cooperation?
MS. NULAND: Well, as the Secretary made clear in Munich, this situation has already seriously affected the atmosphere. We are – we have – we are continuing to try to resolve it, and the quicker we resolve it, the quicker we’ll be able to get back to situation normal.
QUESTION: But there’s no cutoff point?
MS. NULAND: That’s not the way these things work, that I’m going to declare you a redline date and time. We’re going to try to fix this.
QUESTION: These consequences that you’re mentioning as possible, is one of them withholding U.S. support for a new IMF funding for Egypt, which they’ve requested? Could the U.S. support a new IMF loan program for Egypt if these issues are bilateral issues that remain outstanding?
MS. NULAND: Andy, I’m not going to get into speculating what may or may not be possible in this relationship if we can’t move forward. But the Secretary has made very clear, and we – and everybody who has talked to the Egyptians privately has made clear, that this is a very, very difficult situation in terms of the support that we want to provide to Egypt.
QUESTION: Beyond the case of those who are now being brought up on charges, does this give the U.S. pause about SCAF’s intentions to actually step aside and let the civilian government take full and free control of the Egyptian Government? I mean, it seems as if they are basically doing what Mubarak had wanted to do all his years in power, which is eradicate the effectiveness and the establishment of these NGOs.
MS. NULAND: Well, the SCAF has made a public commitment to the Egyptian people --
QUESTION: But they seem to be --
MS. NULAND: -- that it will --
QUESTION: But they seem to be --
MS. NULAND: Ros --
QUESTION: They seem to be contradicting their own words.
MS. NULAND: They’ve made a public commitment to the Egyptian people that they will step down in June when there is an elected government in place. The Egyptian people are expecting them to meet that commitment and so is the international community.
QUESTION: In Egypt again. There was a time when another country will call you to mediate on their behalf, and that was the case with Embassy – with Israel and the Embassy in Egypt. Now you are unable to take your citizen out of Egypt. Does that mean that the U.S. is losing its leverage, or does that mean that the military is hardening their position and they don’t really care anymore about international support?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to speculate as to the various motives behind the Egyptian actions here, except to say that this is a situation that is not only negatively affecting the American NGO community, it’s affecting international NGOs, and it’s affecting Egyptian NGOs. So we are – in our efforts to try to work our way through this and get to the end of it so we can go back to a place where we can support this transition, we are working with countries – European countries, Arab countries whose citizens have also been affected, and maintaining our ties to Egyptian NGO representatives who are also facing court proceedings.
QUESTION: But does this affect SCAF’s credibility?
MS. NULAND: Ros, I think you’ve already asked that question.
QUESTION: Are there still a handful of Americans at the Embassy and have their number – have the numbers grown? And I think they were there at the invitation of the ambassador or of the mission. Have you now extended that invitation and broadened it to this new group?
MS. NULAND: There are a number of Americans at the Embassy. The number has grown slightly. I’m not going to get into the numbers because they are changing. I will say that at the current moment, we are – we have not seen or been given from the Egyptian Government in a formal way a full list of who’s affected. What we do have from our Embassy’s work with the organizations and with individual American citizens – we have a list of about 17 who we believe have been affected by this, and about half of those are Americans who are still in Egypt. Some of them are not in Egypt. And the Embassy has made clear that its invitation is open to those who are affected to give them some time to consider their options with their lawyers.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) we have a number now. That’s more than a handful, obviously. Has that – did that increase occur overnight or in the last two days since this --
MS. NULAND: In the last couple of days we’ve had some Americans coming and going.
QUESTION: Toria, just a technical question. If you have these American citizens on the Embassy grounds, does that remove them from the Egyptian courts’ jurisdiction? I mean, they’re technically on American soil, right?
MS. NULAND: Well, just as a factual matter, the soil of an embassy under the Vienna Convention anywhere in the world is inviolable territory. But let me just say with regard to this case, this is, as we’ve said before, a very unique and unusual situation. This is a situation that is – as we’ve made absolutely clear – gaining the attention at the highest levels of both of our governments. So I don't want to speculate on what might happen going forward. We have a report that formal charges will be filed. In the interim, our ambassador has invited those who are affected, who are still in country, to use the Embassy grounds to give them a little bit of space to work with their lawyers so that they are prepared for what could be coming.
QUESTION: You said people came and went or were coming and going?
MS. NULAND: We had – we have a couple of – there are some folks who are not affected by the travel ban who have been able to go. But the invitation of Ambassador Patterson is particularly for those Americans who are affected by this action, who are still in country, and are not able to leave.
QUESTION: So these who left presumably were family members or people who had –
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak --
QUESTION: -- or under lesser – that face lesser charges possibly?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the individual folks. We don’t have Privacy Act waivers on these individuals. But some of them were able to leave in the last couple of days who weren’t on the travel ban.
Please, Andy. No?
QUESTION: I have a new topic.
MS. NULAND: Are we still on Egypt?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Still it is not clear for me. I mean, they are saying – Egyptians are saying that it’s a legal issue, and it seems it’s not, I mean. And always you are saying that this has to be solved from American side when they meet Egyptians. They said they have to – it has – this issue has to be solved. And still we don’t know what they are telling you. They are telling you it’s a legal issue? I mean, I’m trying to figure out it’s a political issue or it’s a legal issue. What’s your perspective, I mean, what’s your understanding?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously what the Egyptians are saying at the moment is that this is a judicial issue. Just to make absolutely clear, for the Americans involved, these Americans have been cooperating and their organizations have been cooperating with Egyptian authorities on these issues for months and months. They have submitted to hours and hours and hours of interviews. They have been completely transparent about their records. They want to be registered. They want to be able to operate under Egyptian law. But the process has not been clear, and frankly, the process – this judicial process has not been clear either.
QUESTION: But I mean, I’m just – I understand that. I already following this – that part of the thing. But the whole idea is that – are they giving you, beside publicly what they are saying it’s a legal issue or a judicial --
MS. NULAND: I think you’re asking me to answer a question that is better addressed to the Egyptians. I’ve told you how we understand what’s happening.
QUESTION: Because if it’s a – the whole idea, if it’s they are – let’s say they are bargaining something, which is at the end of the discussion of the newspapers, that is okay, if you are not getting it, we’ll cut the American aid or cut the IMF loan, whatever.
MS. NULAND: I think you’re asking me to speculate on the motivations of the Egyptians involved in this, and I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: I have a general question towards Egypt, which is – you mentioned earlier about reaching to different parties in the country. To what extent does the U.S. also reach out to the youth groups in Egypt, some of the main provocateurs of the revolution? Is it – do you have contacts with Egypt’s youth movement on U.S. policy?
MS. NULAND: Absolutely. We talk to Egyptians of all ages and stages of life, all political parties. We have been very open about that. And we’ve been doing a lot of work to make clear in Egypt – as I said from this podium many times, as the Secretary has said, as the President has said – that these organizations are designed to support the democratic transition that Egyptians themselves have fought so hard to have, that they have counterparts that are Egyptian that are doing the same thing, that they’ve already played a valuable role in shining a light and ensuring the relatively good and clean elections that have gone forward, and that they play a very important role in any kind of a democracy, and they’re part of the warp and woof of what needs to happen if the Egyptian revolution is going to fulfill its promise of a really open and democratic state.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up, which is the SCAF meetings – and obviously this is a judicial issue – to what extent do you either agree with that sentiment, or are you concerned that this trial might somehow divert attention to possible anti-American sentiments in the region, that the country is currently going through so many issues? To what extent are you concerned about that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I’ve said that we’re gravely concerned about the impact of this on the relationship and about the fact that this is being used by some for propaganda purposes, which diverts attention away from what’s most important in Egypt, which is for the democracy process to continue and for the transition to continue and for all of us in the international community to be able to support the aspirations of the Egyptian people, including their youth, as you so importantly pointed out. The next generation deserves to live in a more democratic, more open, more prosperous Egypt, and that’s what we all want.
QUESTION: The other aspect of relation, whether it’s education and other contacts between the Embassy and different ministers, are regularly done, normally done, or is affected by this thing?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. No. All the rest of our civilian efforts are going forward at the moment. When the Secretary talks about concerns about the future, she’s talking about FY 2012 issues.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Please, Andy.
QUESTION: It’s also Japan. Maybe it’s the same question. There are reports in the Japanese press that there are talks today and tomorrow here and at the Pentagon on the Futenma relocation issue. I’m just wondering if you can tell us who’s talking to who and what about.
MS. NULAND: We do have a Japanese delegation coming in today to see Kurt Campbell’s deputy, Deputy Assistant Secretary Zumwalt, and he’s joined by his Defense Department counterpart, DASD Schiffer, to continue our discussions about bilateral issues, including the Futenma issue today. This is in the wake of the decisions that the Pentagon had to make more broadly with regard to U.S. force posture, so that – this conversation will go forward in that context. Just to underscore that the U.S. and Japan are both strongly committed to maintaining and enhancing our robust security alliance, which is dedicated not only to the security of Japan but also to the security of the region. And at the same time, we want to mitigate the impact on Okinawa and we remain – both the U.S. and Japan – fully committed to implementation of the Futenma replacement facility and the relocation of the air base to Camp Schwab.
QUESTION: I have several on Japan to follow up on that.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: So the U.S. and Japan, they have reexamined the 2006 roadmap for the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, and now the two governments have agreed to separate the issues of the Futenma Air Base relocation from the issue of transferring the Marines out of Okinawa into Guam. And the most recent agreement I’ve heard is that U.S. and Japan say they will go ahead with moving 4,700 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Has anything changed in recent days to this new agreement?
MS. NULAND: That sounds like you’re asking me to predict the outcome of this discussion before we’ve had this discussion. So let me from this podium simply, at the moment, say we continue to support all the principles of the 2006 realignment roadmap and to pursue a military presence in Japan and in the Asia-Pacific that’s operationally resilient, that’s geographically distributed, and that’s politically sustainable. But I’m not going to get into numbers and timing and all that kind of thing.
QUESTION: So is it inaccurate to say that this agreement has already been made to move 4,700 Marines to Guam?
MS. NULAND: I am not in a position here to speculate or to comment on that. And I think, first and foremost, I’m going to refer you to the Pentagon on exactly where we are in these things. But to the degree that anything is going to be discussed in these talks, then we need to let the talks go forward.
QUESTION: One more?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The status of the Bagram prison – has that transfer been conducted?
MS. NULAND: Are you talking about the full transfer of Bagram to Afghan authorities?
QUESTION: Right, right. There was some thought that it might have taken place over the weekend, but apparently all the details haven’t been worked out. Do you have an update?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, we are continuing to work on those details. We have a number of things still to work through.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I have one more.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The original roadmap called for 8,000 Marines to be moved from Okinawa to Guam.
MS. NULAND: I have nothing more on the roadmap. I don’t have any details on people and things. I’m going to send you to the Pentagon. Okay?
QUESTION: Victoria, I would like to have any comment about the 50th anniversary of the embargo to Cuba that is tomorrow. Is there any possibility to make any change to this embargo?
MS. NULAND: I think our policy towards Cuba is unchanged. If we have anything to say on the anniversary, we will do so on the anniversary.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
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