12:52 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Happy Thursday, everyone. I have nothing at the top, except to welcome all our summer interns in the back. If you want a job, let me know.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
MS. NULAND: I think we put something out just before coming out, but perhaps we didn’t. I think we are increasing our staffing in the consular section by some 30 to 35 percent. Is that what you were looking for, Matt?
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s good. Do we – is there a number that can – did it go from one to – 30 percent of one?
MS. NULAND: Well, in general we don’t size our Embassy staff, but the increase is about --
QUESTION: Well, there are thousands of Americans over there. I’m sure they’d like to know how many --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We are absolutely confident that the staffing is adequate. There is a 24/7 hotline available. There’s 24/7 consular service available. The actual opening hours of the consular section are 7:30 in the morning to 7 o’clock at night. As I said yesterday, we have a fact sheet up on our website for anybody traveling. We’re encouraging anybody traveling to enroll in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program that’s at step.state.gov, so if we have any emergency security announcements, you will get them immediately. But we are fully confident that we’re ready.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is that we were told last night by the Olympic Committee that they had received the Secretary’s letter and they had responded. Can you tell us what the response was about the moment of silence at the opening for the Israeli athletes? Did they say okay or did they say we’ve already done our commemorations?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, what Matt is referring to is that the Secretary did write to the chairman of the Olympic Committee, expressing our support for a moment of silence in recognition for those killed in the Munich games. I’m going to leave it to the Olympic Committee to characterize its own response to the letter. They have, unfortunately, not yet made a decision on this in a way that would reflect the – what the Secretary was asking for in her letter, but we are continuing to talk to them and continuing to talk to the British Government about an appropriate way to commemorate this anniversary.
QUESTION: That sounds as though the answer is no.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to leave it them to characterize their own response.
QUESTION: But you say that they have not yet – they have, unfortunately, not yet made a decision in the Secretary’s favor. Right?
MS. NULAND: I --
QUESTION: Did they leave open the possibility? I mean, are you still hopeful that there can be some kind of accommodation reached?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re certainly hopeful that there will be a way found to commemorate this anniversary that is respectful and appropriate in London.
QUESTION: At the opening ceremony?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are continuing to make our views known on this one.
QUESTION: Does – I’m sorry. Still on the Olympics. Sorry. Does the --
MS. NULAND: Olympics trumps Syria today. Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the United States have any particular concerns about security during the Olympics, given the fact that there has been, as we know, problems with the security firm that was initially hired to provide the security in London?
MS. NULAND: We do not, Jo. We have full confidence in our British allies. As you know, we’ve been liaising with them for many months now, and we will continue to do that throughout the Olympic Games.
QUESTION: Toria, I thought an answer was given, like, a couple days ago, that they will not do that. What caused the Secretary of State to send a letter that – I assume in the last day or so, correct?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think the letter was two days ago, something like that.
QUESTION: But they have already – as per all news reports, they have already made a decision not to. So --
MS. NULAND: I think a number of governments and people around the world were trying to prevail on them to reconsider the decision.
QUESTION: Right. Right. There was, like, 100 --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. This is an anniversary that only comes --
QUESTION: -- 150,000 petitions or something like this.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, this is an anniversary that only comes up once every 20 years, when the --
QUESTION: Forty years.
MS. NULAND: -- timing aligns. Yeah. So --
QUESTION: Which – 2002, the Olympics were in Salt Lake City. Was there any effort by the U.S. Government at the time to have a moment of silence at the opening ceremony?
MS. NULAND: Again, my understanding is that the alignment of the anniversary has only come up twice in the past, and this is one – every 20 years it comes up, so in Salt Lake City it didn’t come up in the same way.
QUESTION: Oh, so that – you mean to have a round number, I think.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. No, to have --
QUESTION: I mean, the anniversary comes up every year.
MS. NULAND: That the date of the Olympics actually corresponding with the date of the event only comes up once every 20 years, is my understanding.
QUESTION: No, it’s once every four years.
MS. NULAND: I’ll get you some further follow-up on this, but that – yeah, exactly.
QUESTION: None of us are very good at math --
MS. NULAND: Exactly. Math is not our strong suit here in the press corps or at the podium.
QUESTION: Can we do Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to comment directly on that matter, except to say that we are gratified by some of the comments that General Tlas has had about the importance of unity in Syria, the importance of those fighting for a new and different Syria to do so in a manner that will ultimately lead to a state that respects the human rights of all, majority and minority alike, and to call on his countrymen, particularly those in the military, to refuse Assad’s orders. And we hope that his former colleagues will take note of this and – as the Secretary has said – will understand that there is no honor in killing their fellow citizens.
QUESTION: Why won’t you say whether you’ve talked to him?
MS. NULAND: Again, he – to the extent that he was taking some time before he went public, we’re going to leave it to him to characterize the encounters that he had.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, the reason that I ask is that it seems to me to be completely logical that you would have talked to him, given that you would say that you have been talking to him, working with the opposition for months, and the Secretary has met members of the opposition. And you’re being criticized – or the Administration is being criticized – by the Romney campaign for not doing enough to work with the opposition, and this is, as you guys point out, the most – senior-most military defection. Why wouldn’t – do you fear it will harm him if – some way if it’s known that you’ve dealt with him?
MS. NULAND: Well, let’s start by saying I have no doubt that if he wants to have contact with us, we will have contact with him going forward. I want to respect the fact that he chose to have a period of seclusion after he came out of Syria, and we’ll let him speak to the contacts that he had during that period.
With regard to the larger issue, as you know, we’ve had the broadest possible contacts both inside and outside Syria. We’ve worked with all of these – in the context of all of these conferences that the Syrian opposition has had to try to bring themselves together, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: One more, just on events on the ground. It appears as though the government onslaught on Aleppo is intensifying, and the fighting in Damascus also appears to be quite fierce. We have reports from neighborhoods in southern Damascus saying that a shell is landing every minute, a pretty heavy bombardment. Any comment on the renewed or continued violence?
MS. NULAND: Well, as my colleague Jay Carney said yesterday, we have grave concerns about the situation in and around Aleppo and obviously Damascus, as we’ve been saying for a number of days now. Aleppo has again, as you said, been bombarded by Syrian fighter jets in the latest desperate effort of the Assad regime to hold onto control, and there are credible reports of columns of tanks prepared to attack the city.
Just to remind, this is a civilian area, this is very densely populated. The city itself is a World Heritage site of great beauty and great renown. And as a result of this, already we have thousands of people fleeing the city on the march, IDPs and refugees into Lebanon and elsewhere. So our hearts are with the people of Aleppo. And again, this is another desperate attempt by a regime that is going down to try to maintain control, and we are greatly concerned about what they are capable of in Aleppo.
QUESTION: As I presume you’re aware, the Secretary General – or former Secretary General visiting Srebrenica on the – to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre there said he did not want future secretary generals to be visiting Syria and apologizing for what they failed to do. How, from a moral point of view, is what is transpiring in Aleppo different from what transpired in Srebrenica?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, this is the concern, that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that’s what the regime appears to be lining up for. I think the Secretary General – I can’t obviously speak for him, but he shares the frustration that we have, that Security Council members had an opportunity to pass a new resolution that would put forward a strong political transition plan with real consequences for this regime if it didn’t follow through, and again, we had a third double veto.
So he is obviously sharing the frustration that we all have that the UN Security Council has been checkmated in this circumstance, which makes it all the more important – as we’ve always said, we have a two-track policy. We want to work in the UN, but if not we will work with those countries who want to support the Syrian opposition in seeing a new day. So that’s what we are doing.
QUESTION: So – but as you know better than most, given your service as NATO ambassador, the international community or members of the international community have chosen to act without Security Council authorization, right, particularly in Kosovo. So sort of pinning it all on the Russians and the Chinese doesn’t seem entirely fair when the U.S. Government and likeminded governments could choose to act in a more robust manner and yet have decided not to. So how it is different? Yes, you can’t go through the Security Council, but that doesn’t stop you from taking greater action outside the Security Council.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, as – the Secretary made the same point, I think, when she saw the Haitian Prime Minister on Tuesday, that in the absence of being able to work in the UN we have to redouble our efforts with likeminded nations outside of the UN system. That is what we are doing, trying to work through our sanctions committee to strengthen and squeeze the regime. You’ve seen new sanctions just in the last couple of weeks from the EU, from others, to do what we can on the humanitarian side, but most importantly now to work with the opposition on a – the plans and the principles that have to undergird a democratic transition. Because he is going to go, and as General Tlas said, when that day comes we have to have a Syria for all Syrians. We have to have security for all Syrians. We can’t have reprisals. We can’t have individual agendas. We have to have people in Syria who are prepared to work towards a democratic future that protects the rights of all. So that is what we are working on.
If you are back on the issue of external military intervention, you know our view that we do not believe that pouring more fuel on this fire is going to save lives. We are working in nonlethal ways. We are working to support the Syrian opposition. But that option is not something that we are --
QUESTION: Why are you convinced – rehearse for us, if you will, why you are convinced that external military intervention would make things worse.
MS. NULAND: Because the route out of this is not more violence, it is not more destruction. The route out of this is an end to the violence and the beginning of a true political transition process.
QUESTION: Could you comment on what Mr. Erdogan said today that Assad is on the verge of departing? He suggested that Assad was on the verge of departing, that he basically controls Damascus and parts of Latakia.
MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speak to what the Prime Minister had in mind, but I think he’s obviously seeing what we are seeing and what the Secretary spoke about on Tuesday, which is that he’s – the Assad regime is increasingly losing control of its territory; that there are swaths of the country that are no longer under the control of the regime; that his tactics are increasing violent, increasingly desperate, as that happens. And he will go. It’s just a matter of time and it’s a matter of how many have to die before that happens.
QUESTION: So you concur with his assessment that his departure may be very imminent?
MS. NULAND: I can’t put a timeline on it. I don’t have a crystal ball, but we do believe he will go.
QUESTION: He also said that Syria has ceded some land for the PKK to use as bases perhaps to attack Turkey and that Turkey does deserve the right to strike deep into Syria. Do you agree with that analysis?
MS. NULAND: I have not seen those comments. As you know, there is a vibrant Kurdish population in Syria. Our efforts with the opposition, both inside and outside, has been to encourage those Kurdish Syrians to work with the rest of the opposition on a common transition plan, to encourage non-Kurdish members of the opposition to welcome Kurds in, because at the end of the day, unity in Syria, pluralism in Syria, a voice for all the different groups and colors of the country, will be essential if they’re going to have a true democracy. So we are encouraging the Kurds of Syria to work in a harmonious way with the rest of the opposition and the rest of the opposition to work well with the Kurds.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that this may morph into a conflict between the – a conflict that spills over to Turkey between the Kurds and Turkey from all sides?
MS. NULAND: The entire international community is concerned, most importantly right now, about the violence inside Syria and the regime’s attacks on its own people.
QUESTION: You say that the regime appears to be lining up for a massacre in Aleppo, but you talk about sanctions and trying to tighten the noose around – on the Assad regime, which maybe in the long run could be effective, but what can you say that you’re doing to stop the regime from actually undertaking a massacre in Aleppo?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are working with the opposition to try to strengthen them. This is a horrific situation. This is abhorrent what this regime is willing to do against its own people. We have to call it out. We have to do what we can to strengthen the opposition for the day after. We have to do what we can in coordination with others in the international community who are strengthening the opposition. We have to ensure that the opposition itself is behaving in a manner that is representative of all Syrians and reflects the potential for a future that is democratic. But this is a regime that will stop at nothing to hold on to power, and it is an extremely dangerous situation.
QUESTION: Well, no, I understand. But all that stuff that you’re talking about, and you used the words yourself “the day after” --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: But what specifically can be done to prevent the further loss of life right now?
MS. NULAND: Unfortunately, what we are seeing is a regime that has been given chance after chance to end the violence, to turn the page, to address the grievances of its own citizens, and instead they have responded with bombardment from fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter gunships, artillery in the city, and now this massing outside of one of the most historic and beautiful cities in that part of the world. And it is a desperate situation, and we are continuing to do all we can in the international community to put the pressure on.
Please – please.
QUESTION: You say strengthening the opposition. Isn’t strengthening the opposition – doesn’t that encourage the violence to some extent, because that means they have more means of operating, more means of going out in an offensive, which will, of course, bring forth a reaction from the regime? So how – what happened to Kofi Annan’s plan about the negotiations? It seems like after the vote at the United Nations, judging from Ambassador Rice’s comments, it seemed like that was off the table, and now we’re going to work with our friends to build up in one way the opposition so that they can take the country. Is the Annan plan – is that still part of U.S. policy? Are you going to try and get a negotiated settlement? Are you encouraging the opposition to try and find a means of getting to a negotiated settlement, or is it still just building them up and letting them continue until they take over?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, on the last part of your question, we have been encouraging the opposition all the way through to prepare for the kind of transition that was endorsed by all members of the P-5 in Geneva on the basis of Kofi Annan’s plan. The problem then became, when we took that to the United Nations and wanted it endorsed in a Security Council resolution and a resolution that had real teeth for noncompliance by Assad, it was vetoed by two of those same members who endorsed it in Geneva. So we – obviously that plan remains on the table, but we don’t think, based on Assad’s behavior, that unless there are consequences for him, unless those countries on the Security Council who continue to protect him are willing to put those consequences in place, it’s going to be very hard to implement it through the Security Council.
So, as the Secretary has said, we’re going to continue then. If the Security Council cannot, is not able to do what it should be doing to protect peace and security in Syria and in the region because it’s being blocked by two members, we have to move forward and work with those countries who are willing to do what they can to try to help stop the bloodshed in Syria. So that is why we are strengthening our efforts through the Friends of the Syrian People, some hundred organizations and countries, with individual allies and partners who have unique ability to support the Syrian opposition.
As you know, the U.S. decision has been to support them nonlethally with communications equipment, with medical supplies, with those kinds of things. So that is our decision, in keeping with our view that fueling the military fire is not going to save lives in Syria. Other countries are making other decisions, and the – it’s clear that the momentum is with the opposition, but we are very concerned about Aleppo at the moment.
QUESTION: Can you explain to me – I’m not talking – going back to the question of external military intervention, which I realize you do not support, what I do not fully understand from your answers is your reasoning for not supporting it. You said that we don’t believe that violence is the way to stop this, but violence, at times, is the way that this country has chosen to try to stop conflict. And there are times when you fight wars because the only way you think you can stop killing or other threats to your national security is through actually fighting.
Why, in this case, is it your belief that external military intervention would not ameliorate the situation, would not ultimately help put a stop to the fighting? Why wouldn’t it? I mean, I can understand if you feel that it’s not worth the cost or there’s no political support for it or it will end up in a war situation, but I don’t understand why you think that wouldn’t necessarily stop.
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into a full military analysis here from the podium, but let’s start with the fact that the vast majority of Syrians do not – continue not to want foreign military intervention, more weapons flowing into their country. Instead, they want an end to this violence, they want Assad to leave, they want the violence to end, and they want the political transition to begin. So further militarizing the conflict is not something that the vast majority of Syrians are seeking because they see the same thing that we do – it could potentially lead to a much greater loss of life.
QUESTION: And then one other --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: -- thing if I may. Former Under Secretary of Defense Flournoy, speaking at Brookings yesterday as an advisor to the Obama campaign, cited two reasons for the U.S. reluctance to arm the rebels. One, we all know, is the fear that the armaments would fall into the wrong hands and potentially the hands of extremists.
The second reason that she cited was the concern that if the United States – she cited the success that there has been in turning back some Russian weapons shipments to Syria, and she cited the fear that if the United States itself started arming the rebels, that the Russians would sort of let loose the floodgates and pour weaponry into the Syrian Government forces. Is that a major factor in your reluctance to arm the opposition?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve said from the beginning that one of our concerns was that we could end up in some kind of a proxy war. Beyond that, Michele Flournoy is now a private citizen. She has the luxury of analysis. I think we’ve made clear that our concern is about further inflaming the situation.
QUESTION: What’s the U.S. position in terms of defining where communications support is nonlethal versus lethal? Does surveillance actionable information go into then lethal type of aid versus – you said communications equipment earlier. Where’s the line?
MS. NULAND: We’re talking about equipment. We’re talking about --
QUESTION: So surveillance strategy not there?
MS. NULAND: We are talking about equipment. Physical equipment is what we’re providing.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on your comment about what’s happening in Aleppo and Damascus, lining up for a massacre, is there anything different about the targeting or the actions being taken around Aleppo that you see as different? Is it being targeted at groups? Was there a reason you chose that word, “massacre”?
MS. NULAND: The concern are the columns of tanks outside the city that seem to be massing for an attack, the fact that you now have not only helicopter gunships but fixed-wing aircraft, which is a serious escalation in this conflict, the kind of artillery, et cetera that we’re seeing.
QUESTION: Isn’t what’s happening in Aleppo right now exactly what you feared was going to happen in Benghazi and prompted the NATO to act?
MS. NULAND: This was also in the context of a common call from inside Libya for external support. It was in the context of a UN Security Council resolution. It was in the context of very, very different terrain. We are talking now about an assault potentially on tiny city streets filled with civilians. This is a major population center.
QUESTION: Yeah. Wasn’t that the same thing in Benghazi? Or actually, this is worse.
QUESTION: So the situation is worse, but you don’t do anything?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are doing what we can to increase the pressure.
QUESTION: Well, but to increase the pressure on who?
MS. NULAND: To increase the pressure on the Assad regime, to call out the potential for this kind of a massacre. Let’s --
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop – I mean, none of the things that you’re doing – ultimately, maybe in time you could put enough pressure on the regime, but admittedly, nothing you could do can stop this from happening in Aleppo.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to where this is going to go, except to express our concern.
QUESTION: Well, I guess – so really, the situation – the main thing about this was different, because frankly, as it was pointed out, you don’t really need the UN Security Council blessing to go in and act. You’re saying that the main thing is, is that the vast majority of Syrians, many of – some of whom – at least thousands – are about to be massacred in Aleppo don’t want your help or don’t want outside help. And then in the Benghazi, in the Libya situation, they did want your help.
MS. NULAND: There are a vast number of --
QUESTION: Can I ask how you know that the people who are about to get massacred in Aleppo don’t want your help?
MS. NULAND: There are a vast number of differences, including the fact that this is an extremely heavily populated major city surrounded by homes, civilian areas, et cetera.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask one separate --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’ve done what we can on this one, Arshad.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you a question. You said you make assertions about the vast majority of Syrians. I don’t – are you doing polling? I mean, how do you know that?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve got extensive contacts with opposition inside and outside Syria.
QUESTION: And their message has been --
QUESTION: In Aleppo?
QUESTION: And their message has been consistent?
MS. NULAND: Including --
QUESTION: There has been no change? I mean, there’s no change? Given that tanks are massing, you don’t sense any difference?
MS. NULAND: Again, the vast majority of the Syrians want the violence to end. They don’t want increased violence.
QUESTION: Well, no. These people don’t want to be killed.
MS. NULAND: No, of course.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: When did you decide that – this is my first --
MS. NULAND: Anyway, guys, I think we’ve done what we can here.
Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: When did you decide that the Syrian opposition now speaks for the vast majority of Syrians? I thought for a long time you were saying they were a representative of the Syrian people, but now they speak on behalf of the Syrian people, it seems.
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what your point was there.
QUESTION: You said that you know that the vast majority of Syrians don’t want U.S. intervention in any way because the Syrian opposition told you so.
MS. NULAND: We are listening to the voices of the Syrian opposition. We are also listening for other voices inside Syria. The kind of groundswell call for external support that we’ve seen elsewhere is not there here.
QUESTION: Can I ask a --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Again, thank you for that, Matt. This is further to the unconscionable actions of the Iranian Government that have been supporting the Assad regime all the way through this conflict, and even as the violence escalates, continue to provide material support, training. Just last week, we saw the IRGC Qods Force chief, Soleimani, in Damascus to give his help and support. We’ve seen Syrian delegations welcomed in Iran. So Iran is not only not neutral in this conflict, but it is an actor in the side of the Assad regime, and it’s extremely dangerous.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Today, Mr. Lavrov – Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister – said that the monitors’ mandate that is due to expire in 25 days should be extended beyond that. Do you agree? Or is this --
MS. NULAND: Our view in agreeing to the 30-day technical rollover was that unless the situation changed manifestly on the ground and there was a positive role that the monitors could play, the 30-day technical rollover was so that we could wind down this mission, because clearly they’re not in a position, in security terms now, to do what they were put there to do, which was to provide some safety and security for the Syrian people. And we had hoped to begin to monitor a transition.
QUESTION: Victoria, isn’t somebody like Manaf Tlas being considered for any role in the transition?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, that’s a question not for --
QUESTION: Him or somebody of his caliber?
MS. NULAND: -- not for us; it’s a question for the Syrian people to decide, right? They will pick their own leaders. It is interesting that he is out --
QUESTION: But you are in contact with --
MS. NULAND: -- he is out making appeals to his countrymen and trying to lead this in a positive direction, but it’ll be for Syrians to choose their own leaders.
QUESTION: Have you had any contact with any of the defectors yesterday that we saw, the United States?
MS. NULAND: The two ambassadors?
QUESTION: The two ambassadors, yes.
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: And there’s also a meeting going on in Berlin at the moment under the auspices of a German think tank and the U.S. Institutes of Peace. I believe about 50 Syrian opposition leaders are involved. Is the United States involved in any --
MS. NULAND: Yes. Fred Hof is there.
QUESTION: On Iraq, there have been a series of bombings there recently that are being attributed to al-Qaida. Does the U.S. know anything about this, and is there a concern that the violence going on in Syria is leading to a return of al-Qaida in the general area?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this a couple of times this week. We’ve said all along that al-Qaida in Iraq remains a very dangerous threat that continues to bring harm to the Iraqi people. We support and commend the Government of Iraq for the aggressive efforts at counterterrorism that they have put forward and their efforts to diminish the capabilities of terrorists inside Iraq.
The recent uptick in the scale and frequency of attacks is disturbing, and it bears very careful monitoring, and it’s a constant reminder of the formidable challenges that continue to be faced in Iraq. But we continue to believe that the Iraqis have the capability to deal with this, and they are working hard at that now.
QUESTION: South China Sea?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: As best we understood in Cambodia, part of the code of conduct was that countries that were claimants would not take some unilateral action to change the status quo. Does the establishment of a military garrison in the newly-formed town of Sansha change your confidence in the Chinese promise, made to Secretary Clinton, that they would engage in a conversation with ASEAN on this code of conduct – the seriousness with which China might approach this code of conduct?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we are continuing to hope and press for all the parties to work together on a code of conduct on some diplomatic resolution to this. As we said earlier in the week, we are concerned by unilateral moves. This is exactly the kind of thing that the Secretary spoke out against, any effort to decide this unilaterally by force – economic force, military force, et cetera. So we will continue to talk to the Chinese Government about this, as are others in the region.
QUESTION: Does it make you think that they weren’t serious in telling you that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think there is a concern here, that they are beginning to take actions when we want to see all of these issues resolved at the table.
QUESTION: Just on that issue, yesterday Senator Jim Webb specifically asked the State Department to look into whether the recent actions by China in the South China Sea were a violation of international law. What will the State Department response be to his question?
MS. NULAND: Well, we saw the comments that he made. We are in close touch, obviously, with Senator Webb on these issues as we talk to our ASEAN colleagues, as we talk to the Government of China about these things. We share the concern that these issues need to be handled within international law, within Law of the Sea Treaty terms, and we think it’s important that members of Congress are also speaking out and particularly important committee members for that part of the world.
Anything else? Please.
QUESTION: A question on Serbia. Today the new government will be formed by Socialists and President Nikolic party. And I just read an AP article that this government is raising fear that Serbia can go back to the situation from the 90s. Do you share that fear?
MS. NULAND: Do we share the view --
QUESTION: About the government, about the fear that Serbia can go back to the situation from the ’90s when Milosevic and Socialist Party formed the same government.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the government formation hasn’t yet happened, and our understanding is as yours, that it may be later today.
QUESTION: Today, yeah.
MS. NULAND: As we have said, we look forward to working with the new government, that our message to the new president, our message to the new government, will not change, that we want to see this new government move forward promptly and constructively to advance regional cooperation with all of its neighbors, to demonstrate its strong commitment to rule of law, independent democratic institutions, and to resume the EU-led dialogue with Kosovo, because that’s the best way forward in all of these issues.
QUESTION: I have a question on the Macedonia-Greece naming dispute. There was this weekend a visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Macedonia, and what came out of this was a call from the Macedonian side for negotiations with Greece, for talks with Greece. And the Secretary General himself, he said that he will speak with the Greek Prime Minister Samaras now that the government there is formed and functioning, to seek their commitment on this issue. And of course, Samaras is a hardliner, especially on this issue. So I was curious, now that Philip Gordon is in Athens, that – do you believe that this will be explored further, their commitment to discussing this?
MS. NULAND: Well, you’re right. Assistant Secretary Gordon is in Athens today. He is going over the full range of bilateral regional issues, including economic issues, in Greece. As it always does, this issue is probably likely to come up. I’ll let you know if we have anything to report after his consultations.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Sunday, the State Department slipped out an email saying that you were freezing military aid to Rwanda because of concerns about its involvement in what is happening in the Congo. What evidence, other than the UN report, does the United States have that the Rwandans are getting involved in the rebellion in Congo?
MS. NULAND: Well, we obviously have information of our own which we share with the UN as well. But the UN report, in our view, is quite comprehensive and quite concerning.
QUESTION: And further to that, Stephen Rapp then suggested that there might be consideration of war crimes prosecutions brought against Paul Kagame. Would that be something that the U.S. is building a case for? Would that be something that you would support?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, as we have repeatedly said to the Government of Rwanda, we have deep concerns about Rwanda’s support to the Congolese rebel group that goes by the name M23. This was outlined and highlighted in the UN Experts Group. Our immediate focus is on a cessation of violence in eastern DRC and the end of outside support. We support regional cooperation against armed groups, including joint military operations.
With regard to The Guardian interview given by Ambassador Rapp, what he was trying to do was to underscore the importance of holding to account those responsible for crimes against humanity – this is what he does all around the world – and noting as a general principle that neighboring countries have been held responsible in the past for cross-border support. He did not call for any specific action in this particular case.
QUESTION: So there isn’t any kind of investigation specifically into Paul Kagame then, on the U.S. side, at the moment?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are continuing to watch this case very carefully and to send public and private messages to the Government of Rwanda. I don’t have anything further beyond that.
QUESTION: No, wait. Staying there --
MS. NULAND: What – staying in Africa.
QUESTION: So last year, you may remember, there was the case of this Ugandan Little League team that made the Little League World Series, and they were denied visas because there were some discrepancies. It wasn’t clear that they had the proper birth certificates or proper proof of age, not only for Little League but also to get a visa.
This year, a different Ugandan Little League team has qualified for the Little League World Series, and yesterday the Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania said that they will be getting visas and they were – and that they expect the team to arrive on August 11th. I want to know if you can confirm that the Little League team from Uganda got visas to come to play in the Little League World Series.
MS. NULAND: You have stumped me, Matt. I will find out.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: All right. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)
DPB # 134