12:03 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Friday, everyone. I apologize that we are late. We had meant to be out here half an hour ago, but it’s hard sometimes to get our act together on time.
For those of you who did not have a chance to accompany us on our Nordic, Caucasus tour, it was terrific, especially the cuisine at all stops. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: I don’t have anything.
MS. NULAND: Jill.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yes. As you know, senior joint envoy Kofi Annan was here today for a meeting with the Secretary. The greatest amount of time, the general focus of the session, was on crafting a unified political transition strategy and the importance of gathering international unity behind a plan that can gain traction in Syria as was outlined by the Secretary when she was in Istanbul and in keeping with the sense of urgency that the Joint Special Envoy expressed when he was in New York yesterday. They also, obviously, both reiterated the importance of keeping faith with those Syrians who have suffered and died for change.
QUESTION: Is --
QUESTION: And did --
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Was there any idea of divvying up jobs? In other words, the Russians are key in this, so was there – did they get into any specifics about what Russia could do vis-a-vis what the United States or other countries could do?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been strongly working with, encouraging the Russians to work with us on a common political strategy. That was also the thrust of what Kofi Annan was urging in New York yesterday. So the conversation this morning did focus very much on how we can create more unity behind some of the elements that the Secretary put out in Istanbul. As you know, we have our Special Advisor on Syria, Fred Hof, in Moscow today. Kofi Annan has also been working with the Russian Federation. We are all working together in New York as well.
So I think it’s less, Jill, a division of labor and more a continuing of conversations in Washington, in New York, in Moscow, wherever we are meeting, to try to come to some unity about how we have to go forward here, to craft a way to the post-Assad future that Syria deserves.
QUESTION: Does that unity include Iran as part of --
MS. NULAND: I – you know where the Secretary has been on Iran. She was very clear about it yesterday in Istanbul, that it’s extremely hard to imagine that a country that has played such an extreme role in supporting and perpetrating and – supporting the violence that’s going on could be constructive in this context.
QUESTION: But Kofi Annan has said it’s – it could be part of the solution.
MS. NULAND: Well, our view is that it’s very hard to imagine.
QUESTION: Victoria --
QUESTION: But the Secretary has said at this point, and Susan Rice said right now, or something like that. So – they’re – you’re leaving yourself an out. I mean, if the Iranians showed that they were helpful in some way, that they really could be part of this, why not?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, at the moment, they are supplying materiel and advice to the Syrian regime, to the shabiha, who are perpetrating the violence. So we are not in a place where we think that they can be constructive.
QUESTION: So you --
QUESTION: The role of Russia, in your view, in supporting Assad is just as bad as the Iranians, so why are you talking about the Russians about it, and therefore, why not the Iranians?
MS. NULAND: The Iranians are bragging publicly about the advice, the material support, the techniques and tactics that they have been providing the Syrian regime. They are proud of the role they’ve played in the regime’s use of violence. With the Russians, the issue is a question of how best to end the violence. The Russians have supported the Kofi Annan six-point plan. So the ends are agreed. It’s just a question of the means, I think.
QUESTION: So Victoria, you’re saying that they are – you are focused on crafting a unified political strategy. I mean, beyond the six point that Annan came up with some months back, what should this unified political strategy include? I mean, I – looking at the entrenchment of positions by the regime on the one hand and on the opposition on the other, and the bridges are broken between, what should this strategy include?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, I would refer you to the comments that the Secretary made on the record in Istanbul yesterday in her press conference where she outlined very clearly the elements and the principles that we believe need to undergird this post-Assad transition. That was her message to the countries that she met with on Wednesday night in Istanbul. That was her message again to Kofi Annan today. So we’re hoping to craft a strategy based on those principles, based on those elements, and work as well, of course, with as – with a cross-section of Syrians along the same lines.
QUESTION: As a result of the meeting today, are there new elements that can undergird this strategy as you suggested, and could you share them with us?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I don’t have her full list here in front of me. I should have had that. But just to repeat the basics, that Assad needs to transfer power and leave Syria, that we need a transitional government that is representative and pluralistic of the Syrian people, that we need a ceasefire that is respected by and adhered to by all sides, that this transitional process has to lead ultimately to free and fair elections, that there has to be rule of law and human rights protections for all Syrians – majority, minority, et cetera – in this transition period. So those are the essential elements. And as she said in Istanbul, we are ready to meet anywhere, anytime with countries and actors who are willing to work from those basic premises and principles.
QUESTION: Was that – does that mean that – I mean, on the question of the contact group, I realize Iran is one element of that, or at least in the Kofi Annan vision of that. Did he bring up the broader idea of establishing a new contact group for Syria? And does the U.S.’s stated doubts over Iran’s role carry over into broader doubts about whether this is the time for a new group to be formed on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, without getting too much into the substance of the Secretary’s diplomacy with Kofi Annan, I think the question here is what the right structure and format is for increasing the international unity. Obviously there’s work to be done individually with nations, as we discussed with regard to Russia, but there’s also a question always what’s the best meeting form and place. And those discussions are continuing.
When he uses the term “contact group,” as you know, that’s just a diplomatic term of art for getting countries together who can get this done. But our view on Iran remains as the Secretary stated --
QUESTION: Another element that came up yesterday from Ban Ki-moon was this – the notion that perhaps now is the time, or soon will be the time, to reassess the monitors, whether their presence there is actually delivering anything worthwhile beyond sort of reports on the ground. Did that come up, and does the U.S. have any new view on the usefulness of the current monitoring operation?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think if you look at the report from the Joint Special Envoy yesterday, the picture is as mixed as we’ve been discussing here; that there are extremely useful aspects and roles to the monitors, but there is a question whether in the context of Assad not providing the environment, how long they should continue, whether there’s any sense, et cetera. But I think that is a conversation that needs to go in parallel obviously with our efforts to get to a political transition, with our upping of the pressure on the regime through sanctions, and with our work with the Syrian opposition.
QUESTION: So just picking up from what Andy was saying --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- in other words, the U.S. could envision having this contact group as a broader group in addition to the Friends of Syria?
MS. NULAND: Again, Jill, we are committed to the Friends of the Syrian People. We think that is useful. We think that group needs to continue. With regard to where we go on the kinds of proposals that are starting to be discussed in New York, again, we have said that if we can get together a group based around these common principles that we think will be helpful, we’re prepared to meet.
QUESTION: And just one last question –
QUESTION: -- I’m sorry – about Russia. The Russians obviously could, we think, induce Assad to do something. They may be the only people who can induce Assad to step aside. How deeply in discussions is the U.S. with Russia on specifically what could induce him to do that?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, as you know, we have Fred Hof in Moscow today for an intensive round at the level of Syria experts. He is, as you know, one of the Secretary’s special envoys on this issue, and he was meeting with his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov, who leads on these issues.
And our sense of that initial conversation on the – among Syria experts – was that it was constructive. We have more work to do in that channel, Syria experts to Syria experts. We have more work to do at the political level. So we’re going to continue these discussions. We always talk to the Russians about our concern about their continued resupply and support on the military side, that that’s obviously one lever of influence that we want to see them use. There are others, and we are continuing to work on that together.
QUESTION: Can you report on Russia and Iran? I mean, I understand that in public they say different things – the Russians and the Iranians – about where they stand vis-a-vis Assad. But if it weren’t for the Russian protection that Assad is getting, whether at the UN Security Council or on the international stage in general, you could argue that with Iran alone, he wouldn’t have survived this long. So their role – Russia’s role – is just as key to Assad’s survival as whatever he’s getting on the ground from the Russians.
You have also often, informally and formally, discussed Iraq and Afghanistan with the Iranians. So why not Syria?
And finally, what is the connection between your refusal to include Iran in this contact group with your fear that it could dilute the nuclear talks with Iran? Because the Iranians always want to include other regional issues in their discussions with the international community, so this comes at a very inopportune time when you’re trying to keep them focused on the nuclear issue.
MS. NULAND: Well, first on the last point, there’s no connection or linkage, positive or negative, between these two files. And there hasn’t been in our minds and there hasn’t been in anybody else’s minds that I’m aware of. So we can just take that one off the table.
There is a manifest difference between a country like Russia, a country like China, that has signed up through the UN Security Council resolutions to the Kofi Annan six-point plan, which includes a political transition as one of its key points, and a country like Iran, which is implacably supportive of no change.
QUESTION: Victoria, I wanted to follow up – I know you’ve said that unified political strategy. But independent of that, independent of, let’s say, the contact group, the Friends of Syria, is there anything in the United States sort of diplomatic arsenal, any ammo that it can do on its own? And – because time is critical.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, to go back to the way the Secretary outlined this in Istanbul yesterday, she talked in terms of working along three key tracks. The first is this effort to craft a post-Assad political transition to create a perception of inevitability and reality there with all groups that are concerned, international and Syrian, to peel off those who are still supporting Assad or who are afraid of change with the real prospect of how this can be done in a stable, managed way that supports the human rights and aspirations of all. So that is one track, obviously, which goes to the conversation primarily with Kofi Annan in New York, et cetera.
The next track is the sanctions track, which we’ve been talking about for a long, long time. All of the sanctions that we’ve assembled among the Friends of the Syrian People Group, the working group that met here earlier this week, to both tighten them and look at how we can pile more on, look at what the appropriate levers and vulnerabilities are in the system. So we’re going to continue that work. That’s certainly work that we, at this point, have done unilaterally, but that could be considered in a multilateral context when the moment is appropriate to go for a Chapter 7 resolution. We’ve always talked about sanctions – multilaterally, UN-induced – being part of any Chapter 7.
And then the third is this basket with regard to support for the opposition, increasing the unity among opposition groups, their own vision of how to take Syria forward, as well as – as the Secretary mentioned yesterday. We had had loose coordination among the countries that are supporting them in terms of consultations. We’ve now established a more formal coordinating mechanism, and the experts responsible for that led on our side by Robert Ford will meet in Istanbul – it’s in seven days, something like that, now. So trying to reinforce and make more unified and strong the way we work with the opposition, that’s something we’re obviously doing with or without more UN action.
QUESTION: Can I – I have two very brief things.
MS. NULAND: No, it’s – welcome back.
QUESTION: Crafting – thank you – crafting a unified political strategy, does that – the strategy would replace the Annan plan?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, when you read the Annan plan, it talks about a political transition. So the question that’s arisen since then is exactly – okay, that’s an aspiration. Exactly what would it look like? So in her comments at the – in the meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday night and then articulated publicly on Thursday in Istanbul, the Secretary started to lay out some of the principles and elements that would have to guide that. She also talked at some length about –
QUESTION: To guide that, the transition? The –
MS. NULAND: The transition, yeah.
QUESTION: What is now the end of the Assad plan?
MS. NULAND: Correct, the post-Assad transition strategy.
QUESTION: But if you can’t get even the first part of point one done, why – or do you think that elaborating on what comes after the last point has any value if you can’t even get point number one finished?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, there was never a perception that you had to do one, and then you could do two, and then you could do three. There was always a –
QUESTION: Well, there can’t be –
MS. NULAND: Can I finish? There was always a package approach here.
Again, if you look at the way she articulated it yesterday in Istanbul, the point is that obviously we all hoped that we would have a ceasefire, we would have some of these other elements, then you could have a political transition. But since we don’t have the ceasefire – and why don’t we have the ceasefire? We don’t have the ceasefire, (a), because Assad’s not stopping, but (b), because people inside Syria continue to help him to perpetrate his violence.
There are still senior members of the military supporting him. There are still senior business folks supporting him. There are folks sitting on the fence, as the Secretary has said. So from that perspective, creating the reality of a political track that creates a real alternative to Assad can help convince members of the military who may be ambivalent, but still obeying orders, that hey, there’s a way out of this, may help convince members of the business community, and certainly we hope will be effective in peeling those who are on the fence off from supporting him, so creating a sense of national unity and alternative inside Syria as well as outside.
QUESTION: So it doesn’t replace the Annan plan; it’s what comes after?
MS. NULAND: It’s – no. It is a deeper and broader articulation of that political transition strategy in the Annan plan.
QUESTION: All right. And then the second thing is that when you talk about all that and this idea of making it inevitable or showing to the Syrian people that Assad’s departure is inevitable, I mean, this is stuff that was being talked about back in Tunis at the first meeting. I mean, I remember it well. So nothing has – you don’t think that that was – that’s been a success so far? I mean, clearly it’s not been, but how exactly – is the unified plan designed to crystallize that inevitability? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think from a broad perspective, we’ve always been working on this from a pressure and change strategy. Those are the two aspects. So there’s the external pressure, and then there is the work to articulate and strengthen the opportunities for change. So that goes to speaking – to working with the opposition, but it also goes to speaking not in general terms anymore, but in very concrete terms about how you get from the end of Assad to a democratic election through a transition that protects the rights and freedoms and dignity of the Syrian people. So whereas that had been a general aspiration, we’re now trying to create a real transition plan that people can see.
I would draw the analogy, as the Secretary did yesterday, to Yemen, where when the GCC put forward its plan, it wasn’t accepted immediately, but it created a clear set of first there’s going to be this, then there’s going to be this, then there’s going to be this, that ultimately was endorsed by referendum by the Yemeni people, and that helped those members of the military in Yemen who weren’t sure whether they should stick with Saleh or whether they should go for this to change their mind. It helped to peel off his remaining support. So to – in some regard, the playbook is the same.
QUESTION: But hadn’t the Friends of Syria, or Friends of the Syrian People, created this kind of, like, business group that was going to look at post-Assad investment in Syria and hadn’t – and that was designed not only to get the business people who supported Assad off the fence, but also to – or to jump the fence, but also to let the Russians and the – particularly the Russians know that, hey they’re going to – if they don’t get on board, they’re not – they’re going to be excluded. So I mean – wasn’t there that, already? And wasn’t this idea of making it, the inevitability of Assad’s departure, clear to people? It seems to – when it was first articulated in Tunis all those months ago, it hasn’t really gone anywhere. Is that – is this an admission that that has not worked?
MS. NULAND: I think the business initiative that you’re talking about --
QUESTION: I mean, it was this human rights clearinghouse, too. I haven’t heard anything about the --
MS. NULAND: Yeah, yeah, yeah. All of these are additive. The human rights clearinghouse is working and existed. All of these things are additive. On the business side, obviously, the concern by some members of the business elite inside Syria who continue to support him or just sit on the fence is that it’ll be worse after he goes. So to start that conversation in support of a perception and a commitment and an understanding that nobody wants to tear apart the economic fabric of Syria in the post-Assad era, we want to actually create the opportunity for more prosperity, more – get the Assad-Maalouf clan out from domination from all of it and that some of these people who aren’t sure about the future will actually be better off if they jump the fence.
On the political – what I’m talking about with regard to the transition strategy goes to political actors, goes to those who have concerns about whether what comes after politically will support their rights. So we’re working in all of these aspects – pressure, change – to make it – to get to the place that the Syrian people deserve.
QUESTION: Toria, just a quick follow-up on the point --
QUESTION: Where does the security situation figure into that plan? I mean, you talk about democracy and economy, but what about the spoilers? How much is being discussed about that part of the equation?
MS. NULAND: I think this goes to what we’ve been saying for a number of weeks now, that the concern is not only the violence that he’s exacting on his own people – which is not abating; it’s actually increasing – but the fact that this general environment of violence and instability that he’s created has allowed spoilers to exploit Syrian territory and that that is very, very dangerous. So this goes to the commitment that we’ve got to accelerate this process through pressure and through a clear roadmap and vision of change.
QUESTION: But you compare it to Yemen, which is, even under the new leadership, is --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- really, seriously being tested by al-Qaida, and that’s with U.S. military assistance in there. I mean, are those sorts of scenarios also being discussed in regards to Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly, when we talk to Russians and others who fear a rise of terrorism in the region, who fear instability spilling over borders, among the points that we make is that continuing to protect Assad and buy time for him is increasing the likelihood that precisely what you say you don’t want is going to come about.
So I think Susan Rice has spoken to these three scenarios, and that is among the points that we make to the Russians in terms of trying to get everybody on the same page about a real transition, because this is endangering not just of the people in Syria, but of a wider security situation in the neighborhood.
QUESTION: Toria --
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: -- in your answer, point (b), to Matt’s question, you said that we’re trying to peel off some of the support that he still enjoys.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: So he enjoys the support of the mercantile class. He enjoys the support of the Christians, the Alawi. So he does enjoy the support of a big portion of Syrian society. Why not deal with him as an interlocutor?
MS. NULAND: Why not deal with --
QUESTION: With Assad as an interlocutor or representative of at least certain segments of Syrian society? I’m being the devil’s advocate here.
MS. NULAND: I would argue that a year and a half ago, we tried that. At the beginning of this conflict, we tried that. You could argue that in supporting the Arab League plan, we gave him an option for a way out. In supporting the Kofi plan, we gave him an option to be a positive representative of those parts of Syria that he claims to represent. And none of that has worked. And now, it is absolutely clear that we’ve got to make it real that Syria post-Assad can – we can (a) get there in a managed way, and (b) that it’ll be better for as many of these constituencies as we can get to as possible.
QUESTION: When Assad leaves, where does he go? And what guarantees will the U.S. want from whatever host country would take him to make certain that he eventually can be brought to the ICC for prosecution?
MS. NULAND: Ros, as you know, with all of these situations, there – when the leader gets to the point where they may or may not be petitioning to leave, there are always ways to work through these things, but I’m not going to discuss them here.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MS. NULAND: Please, Michele. (Laughter.) Let me guess, it’s Bahrain.
QUESTION: On Bahrain, yes, exactly. I’m wondering – and this is a couple of days ago that the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was rearrested, apparently, for what he was writing on Twitter. And I wondered if the U.S. has brought this issue up with the Bahraini Government?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these reports. You’re talking about Nabeel Rajab, yeah? We’ve seen the reports. We have been seeking more information from the Bahraini Government. And, frankly, until we have that information about his status precisely, I think I’m going to refrain from precise comment.
But you know how strongly we’ve been engaging with the Government of Bahrain about the importance of allowing freedom of expression, of implementing the recommendations of the BICI Commission, and working through the issues in the country in the spirit of national dialogue. So we will continue to make those points to them.
QUESTION: And do you feel they’ve made progress in implementing the BICI report? And secondly, the complaint you hear from activists is that the Americans don’t push nearly as hard on these issues because – and it also sells weapons to Bahrain – that you’re sending mixed signals.
MS. NULAND: Well, on your last point, we reject it completely. We have been intensively engaged with the Bahraini Government on support for political dialogue, support for reform. The Secretary, as you know, saw the crown prince not too long ago, a number of weeks ago, and we read out that conversation at the time. And it was very intensively focused on support for national dialogue, reform, continued stability.
At the same time, while we have gone forward with the aspects of our defense relationship that helped Bahrain with its external security, with its ability to defend itself from external aggression, we continue to have a pause on any aspects of security reform that could be used against their own people. And we are talking to the Bahraini Government about all of the aspects of implementing the BICI.
As you know, we had given a report about a month ago that we saw significant implementation of a number of the BICI recommendations, but a lot of work still to do on others. I can get you our sort of sense of what still needs to be done if you need that.
QUESTION: Just --
MS. NULAND: Sorry.
QUESTION: You said something about the security reform. You meant the security --
MS. NULAND: Security --
QUESTION: That when you said that you have a pause on certain parts of this --
MS. NULAND: We have a – we continue to have a pause on the export of materiel that could be used for crowd control, internal security, et cetera.
QUESTION: On another subject, this nomination of Brett McGurk, is it in trouble? And can you confirm that the State Department is investigating allegations of these emails between him and Ms. Chon of The Wall Street Journal?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, on the subject of the emails, they’re out there for everybody to see. I’m not going to get into emails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife. With regard to Mr. McGurk’s nomination, I think you know that he spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration. He is, in our view, uniquely qualified to serve as our ambassador, and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination.
QUESTION: So obviously you’re sticking with him. But can you confirm that – because there are reports – that the State Department actually has looked into these alleged emails, or the allegations that these might have compromised security or sensitive information?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to say on the emails.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Because, I mean, there are rules for Foreign Service officers to not get into situations where you’re blackmailed. There’s sort of a sense that you have to act morally. There are these regulations in your guidebooks. And some people have lost security clearances over having extramarital affairs. So I wonder why it is that this doesn’t seem to be – factor at all into your decision in keeping this – keeping his nomination out there.
MS. NULAND: Again, we consider him uniquely qualified. All of the necessary things were done before his nomination, and we urge the Senate to confirm him.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that those emails actually came from the State Department system, in – within the State Department system?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak about the emails. They’re out there for you to look at. They’re obviously very much available for anybody to read.
QUESTION: Aren’t you investigating how they were leaked? They’re from your own system.
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into our internal issues here.
QUESTION: Well, why not? You talk about WikiLeaks all the time. Those were essentially emails.
MS. NULAND: Goes to your usual point, Matt, that we speak about --
QUESTION: What, the lack of consistency?
MS. NULAND: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. Oh, okay, great. When – you said you did – all the necessary things were done before his nomination. What are those necessary things? Was that like a security clearance and vetting and --
MS. NULAND: All that stuff.
QUESTION: Well, I mean – no, I – what are they? I don’t know. What has to be done, not just in his case but in any nominee’s case?
MS. NULAND: His nomination was managed in the exact – with the exact same processes that we use for everyone.
QUESTION: Well, okay. What does that mean? I mean, does that mean that there’s an FBI check or --
MS. NULAND: I’m going to refer you to the White House for how they do this.
QUESTION: All right. And then --
QUESTION: Just one more on that.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: If you do – if you did do that, are you sharing this with members of Congress who have severe problems with his nomination?
MS. NULAND: We always work with Congress on our nominees, and we’re continuing to do that in this case.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that there has been at least one meeting with – on the specific issues, not on the specific issues that were about the emails, with people on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on the specifics of our conversation with Congress, but in all these nomination procedures, we work with the Hill on any --
MS. NULAND: -- issues that they have as our --
QUESTION: But are you --
MS. NULAND: -- nominees are being reviewed.
QUESTION: But are you aware that this – that people from the State Department have gone to the Hill and/or have spoken to members of the committee who have raised concerns about these specific issues. And by these specific issues, I don’t mean the more specific substantive issues that senator – people like Senator McCain have raised. I’m talking specifically about the emails. Do you know if they have been – if this issue has been discussed with people on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that we continue to work with appropriate members and staff on his nomination in support of it, as we do with all nominees, I’m not going to get into details.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: The Palestinian issue.
MS. NULAND: Thank you, Said.
QUESTION: Okay, good. Despite your expressed anger at the beginning of this week at the settlement activities, today the Israelis have announced also more settlement activities in East Jerusalem and Atarot and Giv’ot and Kfar Etzion. It’s about 2,400 housing in all. So beyond another expressed anger, what are you doing to stop them from this activity that is not helping the peace process?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would certainly agree with you that this is not constructive, that we talk about it, as we do in all of these cases whenever they come up, and that we remain engaged.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that if you sort of espouse a different narrative and expressing that anger, that the Israelis may take pause and stop?
MS. NULAND: Said, I’m not quite sure what the question was there.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me rephrase the question. Perhaps if you change your narrative – you keep saying that our position is well known on the settlements. Perhaps you need to remind them of that – what that position is and what are the consequences if they continue to sort of just flaunt their sort of noncompliance with your anger on the settlement issue.
MS. NULAND: Said, this speaks to the larger objective here, which is to get these parties into a direct dialogue about security, about borders. Because when borders are set together peacefully, all of these issues go away. So that’s why our fundamental approach is to try to get them to the table.
QUESTION: But this week marks the 45th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. And the occupation seems to be going on and on and on. Why can’t you take the initiative, so to speak, a fresh initiative perhaps, to get the peace talks going, and you have as far as that initiative an end or a freeze to settlement?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are continuing to work hard with both parties. You’ve seen the exchange of letters between the prime minister and the President. You’ve seen subsequent public reaffirmations of their commitment to work. This is – nobody needs to tell you, Said, that this is hard, difficult work. We are doing what we can to support getting them back to the table.
QUESTION: So what are you doing as far as – in the aftermath of these exchange of letters?
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve said what I have for today. We do anticipate that David Hale will be out in the region again. I don’t know if it’s next week or – I think it may be next week.
STAFF: No dates yet.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. No dates yet.
QUESTION: Vaguely related to this --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Mark took a question the other day about the counterterrorism conference the Secretary was at in Turkey and whether or not Israel – why Israel wasn’t invited to attend. Did --
MS. NULAND: We did put out a long answer to that yesterday. It was like three paragraphs long.
QUESTION: Oh, I missed it.
MS. NULAND: I saw it in Istanbul. Yeah.
QUESTION: All right, okay.
QUESTION: Slightly different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. And then we’ve got to go to poor old Scott, who is as jetlagged as I am and has had his hand up multiple times. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. Just briefly, there’s been some violence in Burma, Myanmar, regarding the Muslim minority. Do you have anything to say about the violence itself or more broadly about the treatment of the Rohingya minority in Burma?
MS. NULAND: We are deeply concerned about the reports that a mob killed 10 individuals, Muslim pilgrims, pulling them from a bus and beating them to death near the border of Rohingya state and Bago division in Burma on June 3rd. We are obviously saddened by this tragic loss of life. I think it speaks to the importance of the government and the minorities redoubling efforts on a peace process that includes ceasefire and real negotiations.
QUESTION: Mr. Robert King has met with his Japanese partners in Japan yesterday, talked about North Korean human rights issues. Would you tell us more detail on this?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on his talks. Why don’t I take it, and if we have anything more to share, we will.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The president of Niger yesterday was in France and said in an interview that they have evidence – say they have evidence that there are Pakistani and Afghan jihadis who are training local recruits in the northern part of the country, which is sort of effectively trying to secede, and also saying that if they can’t stabilize the country through talks that are now underway, it would be time to move the question to the United Nations for potential resolutions on military intervention.
I’m wondering if the U.S. has any concerns or evidence that there is this sort of jihadi Afghan-Pakistan connection going on in northern Mali and what you think the current situation there might mean for international – the international community. I mean, does the UN have to get involved now?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to take the part about Afghans and others from far afield ending up in Mali. You know how strongly we feel that the instability in Mali is endangering the security and providing an opportunity for all kinds of nefarious actors to exploit the territory of the country. And this was precisely the point that we’ve been trying to make to Sanogo. He said that he took this action in the first place because he was worried about Mali’s security. He is now the main focus of why Mali hasn’t been able to get itself back together. There is a peace plan on the table that is generous, that is appropriate, that restores democratic rule; and if he cares about his country at all, and particularly these kinds of things, he should take it and work with ECOWAS and work with the international community.
QUESTION: Do you share the view that if this peace plan doesn’t sort of get off the ground, that then it might be time for the United Nations to get involved and to look at stronger steps?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly that is the direction that ECOWAS has threatened to take it, and we’re having those conversations now as they endeavor to get him to do the right thing in the first instance.
QUESTION: Is that going to be part of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf talks today, ECOWAS and –
MS. NULAND: I’m sure that they will talk about Mali. Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Well, in the first instance he is here to meet with the President, so I am going to send you to the White House for what is happening in the top-level meeting. But our position on the South China Sea has been clear, has been consistent – we’ve said it to the Chinese side, we’ve said it to the Philippines, we’ve said it to other actors – that we want to see this situation worked out by the states involved. We believe that a code of conduct is the right direction to go, we don’t want to see any use of force, and that this is part and parcel of why some of these international standards and rules of the road are so important. And the Secretary has made the link between this kind of issue and why it’s important for the United States to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say the tension in South China Sea has strengthened U.S. and Philippine alliance?
MS. NULAND: Well, the U.S. and Philippine alliance has been strong all the way through, but we obviously continue to talk about that particular issue, which is of very strong concern to our Philippine partners.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: It was mentioned that there’s going to be a signing with Del Rosario, the foreign secretary of the Philippines. Do you know what’s being signed? Is it something that’s – is it --
MS. NULAND: I’m going to – I – there were a number of things potentially in the hopper, I have to tell you, in my eight country in eight days – or seven countries in eight days. What was it, Scott? Stage --
QUESTION: Seven cities in eight days.
MS. NULAND: Seven cities in eight days. I don’t actually have the details, but I’m sure that they will announce it when they sign the – I think it’s right after the lunch, which I am already late for.
QUESTION: Does it have anything to do with these bells --
MS. NULAND: I --
QUESTION: -- or return of the bells?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we are at a full resolution there yet, but I don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, is that – okay. Well, is that something that you guys have been doing, or is it the Pentagon?
MS. NULAND: It’s an interagency effort.
All right? Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:45 p.m.)
DPB # 105