12:57 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Good morning, everybody – afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday. We have a very, very busy week here in the Department. The Secretary has a very large number of counterparts from around the world coming in, if you’ve seen the week ahead. So we will get right to it. I have two things at the top.
First is with regard to Russia. The United States is deeply concerned by the apparent harassment of Russian political opposition figures on the eve of the planned demonstrations on June 12th. This follows searches of opposition leader’s homes and several arrests in connection with the May 6th demonstration in Moscow, and also follows the passage of the new law in Russia that imposes disproportionate penalties for violations of rules concerning public demonstrations. Opposition leaders organizing the June 12th demonstration are being called in for police questioning, which is scheduled to begin one hour prior to the demonstration, clearly designed to take them off the streets during the demonstration. And taken together, these measures raise serious questions about the arbitrary use of law enforcement to stifle free speech and free assembly.
My second piece is with regard to Syria. The United States joins Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan in expressing deep alarm by reports from inside Syria that the regime may be organizing another massacre, this time in the village of Al Haffa in Latakia province, as well as in the towns of Deir al-Zour, in Daraa, in Homs, in Hama, and in the suburbs of Damascus. UN military observers have been trying to make their way into Al Haffa, in particular, and they’ve been blocked by regime forces and barred from the town, which is yet another violation of the regime’s commitment to cooperate with the UN supervision mission inside Syria.
Taken together, Syrian forces have already escalated their repression in direct defiance of their commitments to the Annan plan by using now new horrific tactics, including the firing on civilians from the air by helicopters added to the use of irregular forces, the shabiha. This constitutes a very serious escalation. And we remind Syrian commanders of one of the lessons from Bosnia. The international community can and does learn what units were responsible for crimes against humanity, and you will be held responsible for your actions.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. Jill was quicker off the draw there.
QUESTION: Well, on that specific case in Syria, you were mentioning that they are organizing – and this is the actual forces of the government, correct?
MS. NULAND: Organizing against Al Haffa. That is our concern, and the UN made a particular appeal to be able to get into Al Haffa because it had heard concerning reports about regime plans. At the same time, if you follow Syrian media, they were claiming that the opposition would cause a massacre. In any event, it was a perfect opportunity to allow the UN in and for the UN to help protect civilians, but it’s the regime who barred them from being able to go in.
QUESTION: Because the previous massacres, there has been a question or it appeared that there were the shabiha groups or some type of less formal. But this is actually, you’re saying, the government creating an onslaught onto a village?
MS. NULAND: Well frankly, from our perspective, it barely matters whether these are regular forces or whether they’re the irregular forces of the shabiha. The responsibility lies with the government. And the government had an opportunity to allow the UN in to bear witness to do what it could to protect civilians and has aggressively chosen not to do so.
QUESTION: And how do you have this information?
MS. NULAND: This is the result of UN – this is coming to us from the UN through the support staff for Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan. He himself spoke to it based on the information that his people, who are trying to get in, are giving to the UN.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow up --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- on that. But you have not been able to independently verify that information, have you?
MS. NULAND: No. This is based on the monitor’s reports.
QUESTION: Are the sources the monitors themselves or perhaps the opposition working with the monitors?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have sourcing in both cases.
QUESTION: And you’re talking about more than just one event that will take place at Al Haffa, Deir al-Zour, Daraa, and many other places, so like a multipronged massacre effort?
MS. NULAND: Well, the concern is that there is a planned new attack on the village of Al Haffa. This is in addition to ongoing violence in other places of Syria that is being widely reported – Deir al-Zour, Homs, Hama, suburbs of Damascus.
QUESTION: Would something like this, a horrific possible event like this, call into issue perhaps some extraordinary effort at the UN to implore or press upon the Syrians not to do so?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think this is what you’re seeing. You are seeing Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan making a direct appeal and trying to bring this potential massacre to light before it happens, asking member-states to do the same, which is what we are doing here, based on the witness that monitors outside of the town who are trying to get in are giving to him. So we are calling this out now in the hope that we can stop what could be a potential massacre.
QUESTION: Isn’t this the same kind of thing that you stop – you tried to stop in Libya with military force? Wasn’t it the slaughter that was going to happen in Benghazi of the rats and infidels and whoever else that Qadhafi called them – wasn’t that one of the prime movers for the NATO operation?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, there were a variety of different factors in the Libyan context. Libya is a different situation than Syria, but again, you have the similarities here, or obviously, the indiscriminate use of force by a regime against innocents, against civilians, for its own purposes.
QUESTION: But one of the big differences that you all have been citing up until this point was that one of the reasons that – was that there was the threat of an imminent massacre, an imminent slaughter of people from Qadhafi, and now you’re – now there is the same here in Syria. So I’m just wondering, is this – what – if this isn’t a trigger to move toward at least planning or getting ready to – for some kind of military operation, what is?
MS. NULAND: In the Libya situation, there were a whole bunch of prior actions taken, including the ability of the international community in that case to get between Qadhafi and the population that he was seeking to annihilate. In this case, based on where we are now, based on our continuing concern that foreign military intervention in this situation is not clearly going to save lives and may actually cause a greater explosion of violence for a whole variety of reasons, we are taking the step now to do what we can with the UN monitors, to do what we can by bringing these instances to light.
QUESTION: But the slaughter is coming.
MS. NULAND: The slaughter has been ongoing --
QUESTION: Well, right, but --
MS. NULAND: -- in Syria for some months.
QUESTION: But this is coming.
MS. NULAND: For many months.
QUESTION: I mean, I thought after Rwanda, it was “Never again,” where it was – that – I just don’t understand why it is that if you’re – if you know or have evidence that there’s about to be a massacre of potentially thousands of people, no one’s going to do anything to stop it except for, say, to – except for – to tell Assad not to do it.
MS. NULAND: Again, this is why we have the monitors there, so that they can play the role that they are --
QUESTION: See these people be killed?
MS. NULAND: -- designed to play to be able to get in there and stop this kind of thing from happening. But in the context of a regime that is refusing to meet its own commitments, that is refusing to cooperate even on the most basic level with what it has agreed to, we are, at this point, doing what we can to make it clear that this is an absolutely brutal, continued assault on individuals.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), is Russia aware of this information about this pending massacre or have they reacted to it? Has their position changed at all?
MS. NULAND: Well, it sounds like it’s a question for Russia, but they, as UN Security Council members, presumably have access to the exact same information that we have from the UN.
QUESTION: But just to go further on this issue, we all recall it was the Benghazi impending massacre that actually prompted the world reaction and interference at the time. That’s what added that kind of urgency at the time. So are we in a similar situation?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve been in a situation of regime assaults on towns for months now. We’ve been in a situation of indiscriminate use of force by this regime against its own population. So the question for the international community is, repeatedly, how we can increase the pressure on the regime to change its ways or peel its people off of it that are still supporting.
QUESTION: Well, but --
QUESTION: Is Fred Hof still in Moscow? And if so, has he taken this incident up with the Russians?
MS. NULAND: Fred Hof was there, I think it was on Thursday, Friday. He is now home.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout from his meetings?
MS. NULAND: I think I spoke to this a little bit on Friday, that we considered the consultations constructive but we still have a long way to go and we’re continuing to talk to the Russians.
QUESTION: Toria, I appreciate that you might say that the question for the international community is how to increase the pressure, but I think a lot of people would say the question for the international community is: Why aren’t you doing anything?
MS. NULAND: I would reject the notion that the international community has been --
QUESTION: But you’ve just gotten up and said that there’s going to be a massacre someplace and no one’s going to do anything to stop it except for flail their arms and go running to Assad to tell him not to it when he hasn’t listened or done anything that you’ve told him or asked him to do for the last 15 months.
MS. NULAND: Do you have a specific proposal in mind?
QUESTION: When it’s my job to come up with those kinds of proposals, if and when that ever happens, I’m sure I will. But there seem to be a lot of – there seem to be many options out there, and I just don’t understand why you’re not taking one if you see something – if you see an atrocity about to happen, not acting or doing nothing tangibly to stop it seems to me – I mean, you might as well – it goes back to Rwanda. It goes back to Benghazi. I mean, there you acted. In Rwanda you didn’t, and everyone said no, we’re never going to let this happen again. And now you’re about to let it happen again.
MS. NULAND: Again, as you know, there are a variety of factors that were in place in the Libya context that are not in place here, including an effort to have a unified Security Council in terms of increasing the pressure on the Assad regime. So among the things that we are continuing to talk about is working with those countries that are still supporting the Assad regime, including supporting him militarily, to stop doing that, including considering going back to the UN for a Chapter 7 resolution to increase the pressure.
But again, the concern has been that putting foreign military forces into this situation, which is on the verge, as everybody has said, of becoming a civil war, will turn it into a proxy war, and that the better course of action here is to use all of the economic, political, other pressure we can use to peel off from Assad those people who are still obeying his orders, those members of the business elite who are still supporting him and enabling him, and to get the monitors into these places where we have concerns. And it is Assad who is blocking all of those measures.
QUESTION: Just sort of apropos of Matt’s question, do you know, is the Atrocities Prevention Board aware of this issue? Are they doing anything in particular regarding this warning that you’re just making about a potential massacre?
MS. NULAND: I’m sure that the Atrocities Prevention Board will have all of the data that all of the rest of the international community will have if, in fact, this goes forward. As you know, we set up our – a separate accountability facility for Syria, which we are endeavoring to pull together all of the information that Syrians have about atrocities, all the information that the international community has about atrocities in Syria, so that when the day comes that we can bring all these people to justice, we have full files.
QUESTION: Okay. But then the prevention part of their name would be sort of moot at that point. They haven’t prevented anything; they’re just going to be documenting it.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the number one aspect of prevention is to make clear to people that they will be held to account, so that’s a clear aspect of what’s --
QUESTION: And in your opening statement, you talked about the ability of the international community to sort of lay blame where it needs to go as far as individual perpetrators of these potential atrocities, presumably soldiers or whomever might be following through.
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: What, in this case, makes you think that you’ll be able to pin the blame on specific individuals? Do you know which military or quasi-military forces are in the field around this town now?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, you have UN monitors who are on the outskirts of the town trying to get in. So those same UN monitors are able to bear witness to who is coming and who is going, in addition to the fact that we are expecting that if this goes forward, there will be citizen accounts as well.
QUESTION: Victoria, are you concerned that these rumors might be floated either by the regime or the opposition as a – to deflect attention from elsewhere where they might be striking?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, they are striking all over the country, and we are calling that out as well today.
QUESTION: Toria, I’m not quite sure I follow the rationale on why military action would turn it into a proxy war. I know when we were talking about arming the opposition, that’s pretty obvious that that could be a proxy war. But if you had military action from the international community, why would that turn it into a proxy war?
MS. NULAND: There is a concern, obviously, that you could have some states supporting one side, other states supporting another side. Our goal here is to stop the violence, not to increase the military activity inside Syria. The goal is to stop the violence.
QUESTION: I mean, they would obviously – like Russia might not support it, but if there were some type of international coalition, what, would Russia send airplanes to fight that?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into all kinds of hypotheticals, Jill. But the goal, as the Secretary said last week when we were in Istanbul, is to try to unite the international community around a common plan that includes a viable transition that has Assad stepping down, gets the violence ended, gets a ceasefire enforced by all sides. And we think that that stands the best chance of saving more Syrian lives than starting to further militarize this conflict.
QUESTION: And just one last – on the opposition.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are reports that they are strengthening, that they’re getting more money, they are doing better, they’re taking the fight to the government. Do – from your perspective, do you see that happening?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to analyze a balance of forces here, but clearly we see the government having to take action in increasingly desperate ways in more and more parts of the country. So from that point of view, we see the Assad regime facing mounting threats to its control. We do see it having to operate in many, many places. What government voluntarily uses helicopters and fires from them on their own civilians if they’re not desperate? What government depends on a bunch of thugs in trucks, irregulars, if they’re not desperate?
So clearly the government is under threat, and it’s not just a security threat. They’re also under increasing economic threat as they’re running through the country’s reserves, as the international sanctions that have been put in place squeeze down the revenue by some 30 to 40 percent already that the government has access to. So we see these indiscriminate, increasingly violent efforts by the government as very much desperate efforts. But nonetheless, Syrians are suffering and dying.
QUESTION: When is the appropriate time for the Chapter 7 resolution?
MS. NULAND: We are consulting in New York with our partners. I think, as the Secretary said when we were in Istanbul, we are going to accelerate those conversations in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: So is it correct then to presume – or not to presume – is it correct that the Administration has made a calculus – or the calculus of the Administration is that it is comfortable sacrificing the lives of the potential victims of this upcoming potential massacre on the off chance that that’s going to bring the Russians and the Chinese on board at the UN?
MS. NULAND: I would reject that. I think you are proposing options that are not in evidence, Matt.
QUESTION: Could we just follow up a little bit on the Syria situation? Lavrov was, I guess, set to meet in Tehran with an Iranian official. Do you expect that as a result of that meeting there will come some sort of a softening position by Russia on Syria?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to what’s going to happen in the Lavrov meeting in Tehran. I would refer you to the Russians on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Would Iran be part of whatever contact group or international conference concerning Syria?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary spoke to that last week. I spoke to it on Friday. We just find that hard to imagine.
QUESTION: Nothing has changed?
MS. NULAND: We find that hard to imagine.
QUESTION: Toria, the National – the Syrian National Council has elected a new president. Have you contacted him, and how do you view this election and the new leader?
MS. NULAND: Our folks have been in contact with Abdulbaset Sieda. One thing I would say is that we welcome the fact that one of his fist acts as the SNC chairman was to issue a statement which reaches out to and encourages the protection of minorities and encourages a bigger tent for Syrians in the SNC. So that’s a good move, and we look forward to working with him.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think our Pentagon colleagues spoke to this a little while ago when they were out before the press. They said that we have had some progress on the technical level, but these consultations are not complete. The team’s been out there for some six weeks, so it is going to come back and take a break at home and debrief. But we are prepared to send the team back when we think we can make some progress.
QUESTION: Well, when the assistant secretary of defense goes to Pakistan and the army chief refuses to meet him, and the very next day the negotiating team comes back, what kind of progress does it indicate?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think that the assistant secretary is still in Pakistan, so I’m going to refer you to the Pentagon on how his talks are going. But there’s no question that although we’ve made some progress, this remains difficult and we’re not finished.
QUESTION: And is the demand of apology from Pakistan really the sticking point in this?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the details of the various things that we’re still working on.
QUESTION: You said you’re going to send the team back when you think you can make some progress. I mean, when do you think you can make some progress? Do you have a timeframe for that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we need to hear from the Pakistanis when they think that’s a good idea.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean that there is some kind of an offer on the table from your side and you’re waiting for a Pakistani response, or does that mean that the Pakistanis aren’t even accepting – not even willing to look at what you’re offering?
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I don’t have the details of where the technical team left it. I’m going to send you to DOD since it was their team. But in general, we have made some progress, we’ve had some agreement in some areas, but it’s relatively clear what the issues of disagreement that still need to be worked on. And I think both sides are going to take some counsel, and then we’ll see what we can get back to.
QUESTION: But in the grand scheme of negotiations and negotiated agreements, this surely cannot be one that you would have expected that would take – it would take longer than six weeks. I mean, the issues are pretty simple here. It’s not like an arms reduction agreement. This is pretty straightforward, is it not?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think you can ever predict in a negotiation the speed or issues that are going to come up. There are a number of issues here that have been difficult, and we haven’t made any secret of that.
QUESTION: What do you make of Secretary Panetta’s remarks about losing patience with the Pakistanis?
MS. NULAND: I think his remarks speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Does that – from that’s – presumably, he was speaking from – he was speaking for the entire Administration, but specifically from the Pentagon. So does the State Department feel the – are you all here at the State Department losing patience with the Pakistanis?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think there’s any light between us that these issues are difficult and we need to solve them.
QUESTION: Light between you and the Pentagon?
MS. NULAND: Between us and --
QUESTION: Not like between --
MS. NULAND: -- the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: There’s no light between the United States and the Pakistani Government?
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Is that what you’re saying?
MS. NULAND: I’m saying that they’re – we stand by as an Administration the statements that have been made. These issues --
QUESTION: By Secretary Panetta?
MS. NULAND: -- are difficult – these issues are difficult between the U.S. and Pakistan, and we need to get to the – we need to settle them.
QUESTION: But when you said there’s no light between --
MS. NULAND: -- between the State Department and the Pentagon.
QUESTION: The Pentagon. Okay.
MS. NULAND: Okay?
QUESTION: So even though it was a DOD team, were there State Department people on that team?
MS. NULAND: We initially had some State Department folks on the team for aspects of it that we were responsible for, and then our folks came home a little bit earlier. We obviously are prepared to support the renewed talks when it’s appropriate.
QUESTION: Why did they come back earlier? Was it just a regular – a regular move back, or is there a reason why the Department of State people came back earlier?
MS. NULAND: I think at the time we spoke to this, and it essentially had to do with the fact that the aspects of this that we were working on, it wasn’t deemed that there was more progress that could be made at that time. And the Pentagon’s issues we were continuing to try to work through.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Oh, anything else on Pakistan? Please. Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) said that they’re waiting for the Government of Pakistan to conclude the agreement. Could those negotiations take place in D.C. as opposed to in Islamabad?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re prepared to talk about this wherever we can make progress. I don’t think we are married to one place or another.
In the back. Still Pakistan?
QUESTION: I’m going back to that question. The kind of statements that were made last week, do they help the cause of Pakistan-U.S. relations?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further on that set of statements.
QUESTION: Prime Minister of Jordan Nasser Judeh is coming to town. Could you share with us what is he likely to discuss with the Secretary?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we will read out the meeting after it happens later this afternoon. But as you know, Jordan and the foreign minister have played an integral role to our efforts to try to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to negotiations face to face with each other. So I think we will compare notes on how the Jordanians see the situation following the exchange of letters between the prime minister and the President, and we’ll see where we go from here.
QUESTION: So it is fair to assume that this meeting was prompted by the Palestinian-Israeli talks?
MS. NULAND: I would guess that the main topic will be Israeli-Palestinian issues, but when we see the Jordanians, we always talk about other regional issues, including Syria, Iran other aspects where we work together.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. NULAND: Jill, please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Did you see they’ve given me a paper cup? I don’t know what I should make of that.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on this woman, Cao Ruyi – I guess is the pronunciation – whom Chinese authorities have tried to force to have a abortion or induce labor? Representative Christopher Smith has been dealing with this.
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these reports that a Chinese woman is being detained and possibly pressured into a forced abortion by Chinese family planning authorities after purportedly violating China’s one-child policy. We are concerned by these reports. We have reached out to the Chinese authorities in Beijing to ask about this issue. I think you know that we make no secret that the United States strongly opposes all aspects of China’s coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization, and we always raise these issues with the Chinese Government.
QUESTION: Egypt. I was wondering if you had any information on the health of former President Mubarak. His lawyer apparently is saying he’s in very critical condition; some are talking about a coma. And his lawyer is also saying that he should be moved to a hospital from the prison facility where he’s currently being treated. Does the U.S. have any view on whether he’s getting the right kind of treatment?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these reports, but frankly we don’t have any independent information. So we would refer to the Egyptian side.
QUESTION: And you don’t have any view on whether or not he should be – I mean, if – treated at a hospital versus a prison?
MS. NULAND: Again, since we don’t have any information with regard to his condition, I can’t speak to that.
QUESTION: Did they make a request to have him receive medical treatment in the United States for care?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: On Japan?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: In Okinawa yesterday, there were prefectural assembly elections, and parties which oppose the current Futenma relocation plan, they won a majority. So first, do you have any reaction to these elections? And do you think this will affect the current U.S.-Japan realignment plan?
MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen the election results. If we have any comment on that, I would guess it would come from our Embassy in Tokyo rather than from here. But we remain completely committed to the plan that we’ve negotiated, and we assume Japan does too.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: There was a statement over the weekend by the foreign ministry saying the North Korea has no plans at this time for a third nuclear test. How does the U.S. see those comments? Is that a step forward by the fact that they’re saying that? Or – this has also included – this included lots of quite sharp rhetoric as well towards South Korea in the course of the statement. How does the U.S. view the statement by North Korea? Is it a sign – look – is it a positive sign?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we’ll judge them by their actions rather than their words. It’s a good thing, obviously, that they are saying better things. But we continue to call on them to fulfill their international obligations, to refrain from any provocative activity, including provocative rhetoric with regard to their neighbors.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication between the DPRK and the U.S. on this?
MS. NULAND: I don’t believe so. Not recently. No.
QUESTION: Didn’t the Leap Day Agreement also say that they weren’t going to do any nuclear tests?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you – and then said they didn’t launch any rockets, and they did.
MS. NULAND: We spoke to that at the time, I think, right?
QUESTION: I know, I know. So you no longer consider that to be valid. But you consider – do you think North Korea should be bound by the terms of that agreement, since you think it’s been abrogated by them?
MS. NULAND: Well, they should be bound by the terms of their UN obligations and by the talks that they entered into in 2005. So obviously the Leap Day Agreement was an attempt to reaffirm commitments that they had made and to have step-by-step progress towards the implementation of their obligations. They chose to disregard that within weeks of having agreed to it. But the fundamental issue hasn’t changed, which is our expectation that they’ll live up to their international obligations.
Anything else? Jill. Please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- is there any other action that the United States is taking? Talking with ambassador, our – the U.S. ambassador, meeting with the foreign ministry, anything beyond that?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we are discussing this with the Russian side both here and in Moscow. We have our Assistant Secretary Posner’s deputy, Tom Melia, will be in Moscow for talks on the broader cross-section of human rights issues after the Russian holiday. I think he’s there 13th, 14th, and he will obviously raise all of these issues as well.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:28 p.m.)
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