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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

On the Record Briefing

Special Briefing
Jake Sullivan
Director of Policy Planning 
Washington, DC
April 29, 2011


MR. SULLIVAN: So it’s Friday afternoon, and I thought what better way to kick off the weekend than come back down here and talk to you guys about topical issues in the world. So same as last time, happy to take questions on any subject, but, again, will not be shy about telling you when I don’t have something or am not up to speed particularly on something. So with a common collegial understanding on that point, I’m happy to take your questions.


QUESTION: Are you now in a position to talk about the serious sanctions that the White House has –

MR. SULLIVAN: Can I just let her go ahead or is it –

QUESTION: Well, it’s the same question. So I’ll defer to him.

MR. SULLIVAN: Oh, I’m sorry?

QUESTION: It was the same question, so I’ll defer to Arshad about the same sanctions.

MR. SULLIVAN: I am not in a position right at this moment to talk about the serious sanctions so far as I know. But –

QUESTION: The White House has confirmed that the President has signed the executive order, but I don’t think they’ve actually released the executive order yet.

MR. SULLIVAN: Our goal from our perspective is to defer to Treasury for the first announcement in the lay-down of what’s contained in the executive order. And then at that point, we’ll be prepared to talk about the diplomatic and foreign policy implications of it. But for the moment, I’m going to defer to my friends in Treasury. And if my colleagues hear anything different over the course of this briefing, we’ll try to get you something before the end of it.

QUESTION: Another subject?


QUESTION: There’s a report, actually. UN Representative Susan Rice talked about it – allegations that Qadhafi’s troops are carrying out sexual attacks and also have been given Viagra. Is that – do you actually have any confirmation of that?

MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to speak to any specific allegations. I’ll just say generally that we’re very troubled by the brutal, vicious attacks committed by Qadhafi regime forces on innocent civilians including women and children. The purpose of the Security Council Resolution 1973 is to provide protection to those civilians and to stop those attacks, and we’re going to continue our efforts to ensure the safety of people, including women, throughout the country of Libya.

QUESTION: So do you have indications that there actually are sexual attacks going on?

MR. SULLIVAN: Like I said, I’m not going to get into specific allegations of particular types of attacks. Our focus is on the bottom line, and the bottom line is that day in and day out, there are continued massacres and attacks on civilians of all different kinds that are leading to death and injury, and those attacks are being perpetrated on men, women, children, old people, everyone, and the goal of the NATO mission, the goal of the coalition mission is to protect the civilian population and to stop the Qadhafi regime from perpetrating those attacks.

QUESTION: The other day, Gene – Ambassador Cretz said that you have seen – you as in your Administration – have seen figures with death estimates ranging from 10 to 30,000. Where did you see these from? Were these your own or from other sources? And what’s the basis for these estimates?

MR. SULLIVAN: I’ll have to get back to you on what the source of Ambassador Cretz’s statement is.

QUESTION: Looking – continuing with Libya. Looking ahead to next week, there is expected to be, as you know, a Contact Group meeting in Rome. I’m not asking if the Secretary is going. What I’m interested in is what the Administration, whoever represents it, is interested in getting out of this. You alluded earlier in the week to the financial mechanism, but can you give us any sense of what you expect, what you hope to see out of this meeting?

MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah. I think there are a few different dimensions to what we’re hoping to get out of Rome. Number one, in relation to financial assistance, is to work with the international community to ensure that we have coordination of all the different countries’ contributions to the TNC. Number two, with respect to other forms of nonlethal assistance, we similarly want to ensure that everybody is on the same page in terms of who is giving what, what the needs are, and how they can be filled. Number three, we’re very much focused on increasing the diplomatic and political pressure on Qadhafi and sharpening the choice for those around him. And that means having a single voice with which the international community speaks on what the bottom line is, and that is that Qadhafi must go. And using the Rome meeting to reinforce that message is going to be an important priority for us.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

MR. SULLIVAN: And then beyond that, it will be an opportunity for us to consult on other aspects of the conflict, the humanitarian dimension, as well as to touch base on the civilian protection mission under 1973. Though, of course, the Contact Group is distinct from the NAC and coalition format which directs the military operations.

QUESTION: One of the things you spoke about the other day – I think you used the word – you pointed out that it had been about 30 days at that point that the operation had been ongoing, and you talked about the need for patience, and one aspect of patience is living with the status quo in a sense, which is evolved into a de facto partition. I realize the line keeps moving, but that’s essentially what you have. I wonder whether the meeting will at all discuss sustaining that de facto partition of Libya. Not that that’s the end state that you want, but is there more that you can and should be doing to try to buttress the portion of Libya that is not under Qadhafi’s control even as a temporary mechanism, as a temporary measure?

MR. SULLIVAN: Our goal, the goal of the international community, is a democratic transition in a unified Libya to a new leadership that redeems the aspirations of the Libyan people. With respect to what we can do in the interim in order to support the Libyan people, I would say there are a number of different dimensions. One is providing increased tangible and political support to the TNC, and another is to ensure that humanitarian access reaches as many people in Libya as possible. But at the end of the day, our fundamental objective remains a Libya that enjoys territorial integrity and the growth of democratic institutions.

QUESTION: Jake, sorry, back on Syria. The White House now has released the executive order. Does that free you up to talk about it yet, or do you have to wait for them to explain?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, what’s your question?

QUESTION: Well, I guess the first question is: You’ve targeted members of Asad’s family but not Asad himself. Why is that? A White House official said earlier that Asad may be targeted if the crackdown continues. What sort of benchmarks are you using for when he crosses the line and actually becomes a potential target for sanctions?

MR. SULLIVAN: So if you give me one second just to consult with my colleagues. This is an awkward situation where there’s a release of this information while we’re in the middle of the middle of the discussion. So let’s table that question for right now. I’d like to be able to get to it and --

QUESTION: Okay, but we can stay on Syria?

MR. SULLIVAN: -- and related questions.

QUESTION: Well, just – I mean, I had -- talking about the Human Rights Council, you were saying?

QUESTION: No, just in general the strategy on Syria. What are you trying to do?

MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah. Well, obviously, you saw today the strong statement put out by the Human Rights Council, adopted with an overwhelming positive vote from countries around the world, that not only condemns the violence but also dispatches a mission from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to investigate the abuses in Syria and report back to the Council. So we believe that that sends a clear message on behalf of a broad cross-section of the international community that these attacks against civilians perpetrated by the Syrian government are unacceptable.

Then, there is the dimension of targeted sanctions, which are meant to show the direct personal costs on individuals who are personally associated with and responsible for the violence that’s been perpetrated against civilians in Syria. And then beyond that, we have an ongoing consultation with other members of the international community about how, collectively, we can work to sharpen the choice for this Syrian regime and show them that continued violence against their people is not the answer.

QUESTION: And so, but following on that, I mean, in the Libya case, there was the Human Rights Council and then the U.N. Security Council, and there seem to be two prongs of the same strategy. What’s the strategy as far as the UN Security Council goes? And how does the IAEA -- potential IAEA action on Syria over its alleged nuclear establishments play into how you’re going to start putting pressure on them?

MR. SULLIVAN: Secretary – Ambassador Susan Rice was engaged in consultations at the United Nations. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a report on Syria, and those consultations, which occurred in formal session, are continuing outside of formal session. And as developments unfold in New York, I’ll be sure to update you. But I can’t – I don’t have anything specific about next steps in New York.

With respect to the IAEA Director General’s comments, we believe they’re consistent with our long-held view that Syria was clandestinely constructing a nuclear reactor in violation of its NPT and IAEA safeguards obligations.

QUESTION: One last one on the Security Council: Is the pace of your engagement with the Security Council informed at all by a feeling that it would be much harder to get any kind of Security Council Resolution through on Syria than it was for Libya? Is this a harder sell?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think at the moment, we’re in a position where we are doing the best we can to work with other countries to build the kind of international consensus around condemnation that you saw at the Human Rights Council today, and beyond that to be able to determine what steps the international community can take and what tools it has available. And that’s a process that is underway as we speak, and we’re assessing what opportunities are not only available but are going to be most effective in helping to stop the violence.


QUESTION: Given recent comments by Ambassador Rice that Syria was seeking Iranian assistance in the repression of its citizens, what is the specific evidence that corroborates these allegations? And also in regards to Rice’s comments, are you concerned about how further U.S. involvement in the conflict between the Syrian people and their government could potentially draw Iran in and possibly escalate or prolong the conflict going on in Syria?

MR. SULLIVAN: Can you restate the second question? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about how further U.S. involvement in the conflict between the Syrian people and their government could potentially draw Iran into the conflict and possibly escalate the situation?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, let me start with your second question first. This ultimately is a question about the Syrian Government’s brutal treatment of its citizens and the Syrian people’s desire to see their legitimate aspirations realized. This is not about the United States.

And from our perspective, we have stated the basic principles that have guided U.S. policy towards these types of situations, namely that we have condemned the brutal violence that has taken place. We have called for the government to respect the rights of its people, including the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion. And we have called for meaningful political reform and change that responds to their aspirations. But, at the end of the day, this is about a government that is terrorizing and brutalizing its own citizens and citizens who are standing up for their own rights, and it’s not about the United States.

With respect to your first question, I would say that I’m not in a position to get into specifics about the information we have on Iran’s involvement in supporting Syria’s efforts to repress its own citizens. But we feel that we could state with confidence, as the President has and as Ambassador Rice has, that that involvement is ongoing and is unacceptable.


QUESTION: Jake, the Obama Administration has said repeatedly that it is up to the Syrian people to decide what they want, who they want as their leader. But when you listen to the chants of the protesters on the ground, they’ve made it quite clear they want to topple the regime. So why is this Administration not saying anything about what President Asad needs to do? Is it because you feel that the protesters don’t possibly represent a majority of Syrians, or they’re just a marginal group? I mean, why are you hesitant? I understand you want it to be a decision by the people, but the people seem to have spoken.

MR. SULLIVAN: Let me start, again, with the baseline, that all of this is ultimately up to the Syrian people. But we have made clear what not only the United States’ expectation is, but what the international community’s expectation is, and that is that the Syrian Government stop attacking its own citizens, stop putting military forces into the streets to repress and brutalize them, and begin to respond to their legitimate aspirations. That’s a message that we’ve been sending clearly and unequivocally, and we’re going to continue to send it. And to your – going back to this now, if you want to ask questions with respect to the executive order I can address it.

QUESTION: Okay, well maybe we can just sort of replace the original one about why Asad’s family and not Asad, and is – as the White House says, if he is potentially a target if the crackdown continues, what is going to be the benchmark that determines that culpability?

MR. SULLIVAN: What I would say to that is, in this executive order the President has identified specific people who are responsible for the commission of human rights abuses in Syria, including those related to the current repression and the current violence as well as their supporters. And the executive order also provides and allows the U.S. Government to maintain the flexibility to respond to the situation as it develops, including through the use of additional designations as appropriate.

QUESTION: Does that mean you think President Asad himself is not involved in ordering the – is not involved in the human rights abuses?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think what the executive order does is it targets particular people who are related to the military apparatus and the intelligence command and identifies them as being the first people on the list that we are going to impose these sanctions against.

QUESTION: He’s the president. They’re supposedly obeying his orders.

MR. SULLIVAN: But our view of the first tranche of these designations is that they should be directed against the individuals who are engaged at a military and intelligence level in perpetrating acts of violence against the Syrian people. So, for example, one of the individuals is the brigade commander in the Syrian Army’s Fourth Armored Division, which has played a leading role in the actions in Dara’a. Another individual is the head of the Political Security Directorate for Dara’a Province, which obviously is one of the epicenters of the violence in Syria. And the third is the director of the General Intelligence Directorate. So our view was, these were three individuals who we felt should be immediately targeted both in terms of their assets and their transactions, and that’s what the executive order does.

QUESTION: Is the fact that President Asad is not on the list a way to signal to him that the door is still open to change course, engage with the United States? Are you offering him a way out?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think the signal we’re trying to send with this order is that a series of individuals and organizations that have played a key role in perpetrating this violence should bear costs for doing so, and that the choice is imposed on others about what they do in the future. And if they continue this violence and if they engage in this violence, we have the flexibility to add additional designations.

QUESTION: You said “the first tranche.” So there’s another tranche coming? Could that include some --

MR. SULLIVAN: I didn’t mean to imply that. I’m just saying this – as I said, this executive order maintains flexibility for additional designations if necessary. These were the individuals identified for designation at this time.

QUESTION: The third to last paragraph, section 9 of the executive order, refers to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury having the authority, as warranted, to determine that on the blocking of assets of individuals listed in the annex can be withdrawn. One individual whose assets were blocked and then subsequently unblocked was, of course, Musa Kusa in Libya. Is it your hope that this might lead – not just might make people who you think are responsible for human rights violations to think twice about conducting them in the future, but that it might also tempt people allied with the regime to defect, as it were, and therefore have their assets unblocked as Musa Kusa’s were. Is that one -- is that an aspect of this at all, or is it sheerly a deterrent?

MR. SULLIVAN: I wouldn’t want to speak to hypothetical scenarios about unblocking assets in the future. But I would say --

QUESTION: It is in there. I mean, the Secretary has the authority. It’s not hypothetical if she and the Treasury Secretary have the authority.

MR. SULLIVAN: Right. I’m saying in specific cases, I don’t want to speak to any kind of hypothetical about who might be up for unblocking based on what activities. But what I would say, is that part of the theory of the case of imposing targeted sanctions is that it is meant to sharpen the choice not just for the individuals who haven’t been targeted, but also for the individuals who have been targeted about what they have done and are continuing to do.

And in the Libyan case, there was an example of somebody whose assets were unblocked. Whether or not that would apply in the Syrian case obviously depends on unique facts and circumstances. But an underlying part of this is that it does sharpen the choice for Syrian leadership who are involved in these decisions.


QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up I have -- do you believe that President Asad is in charge?

MR. SULLIVAN: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Do you believe that President Asad is in control?

MR. SULLIVAN: In control of?

QUESTION: Of his country and his -- is the man in charge, the man calling the shots in Syria?

MR. SULLIVAN: I -- we have seen nothing to suggest that he’s not in control of the government of Syria.

QUESTION: So why is he not designated by the executive order?

MR. SULLIVAN: The executive order is designating individuals who are connected to -- directly to the violence that took place in Dhahran and other places in Syria. The three individuals have military, political, and intelligence connections to what’s unfolded over the previous few months, and the organizations similarly have had those kinds of connections.

QUESTION: And he does not?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) rogue?

QUESTION: And he does not? He does not have military, political, or intelligence connections to the violence in Dhahran?

MR. SULLIVAN: I would say that the focus of this executive order and the individuals identified in it are to find people who are key perpetrators, key decision makers. And we have selected them based on our assessment that they need to be deterred and the choice needs to be sharpened for others around them.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting he’s not in the chain of command, then, that he’s not actually part of that system --

MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not suggesting anything with respect to President Asad. I’m looking at the four corners of this executive order and identifying for you the rationale for why it is that these individuals were selected.


QUESTION: And, Jake, you mentioned this message being sharpened, the choice. That sounds like a general message to a number of people, perhaps, but do you -- does the U.S. have a specific message, then, for President Asad?

MR. SULLIVAN: Our message to President Asad, and to all of the people in his government and his security apparatus, is to stop the killing, stop the violence, and respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Jake, to the best of your knowledge, is President Asad’s government facing an armed rebellion?

MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t know if “armed rebellion” is meant as a term of art or --

QUESTION: The people that they are killing, are they armed? The people who are calling for reforms in Syria, do they -- to the best of your knowledge, do they have weapons? Are they fighting, actively fighting the Syrian security forces?

MR. SULLIVAN: Our sense is that the Syrian government is turning weapons, including tanks and heavy machine guns, and so forth, on people who are protesting and who do not have weapons.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So let’s contrast that with the situation in Libya, where, in fact, one could make the argument that Colonel Qadhafi and his government are, in fact, facing an insurrection, an armed insurrection and would be within their rights to crack down on it as a sovereign government. Why is not what is happening in Syria worse than what’s happening in Libya, where you have -- that there is absolutely no reason or excuse for turning -- opening fire on unarmed civilians?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think it’s very important to take each country on its own terms, with its own context and its own circumstances. And in the case of Libya, what we found was a dictator with a history of besieging and brutalizing his own people, not only engaging in gross violations of human rights and attacks and killings against innocent civilians, but also threatening to do much more of that on a much larger scale, to go door to door, to show no mercy, to overrun Benghazi. So we felt, obviously, in the case of Libya, that it was important to mobilize the international community behind a civilian protection mission.

QUESTION: And so, because it was Asad’s father who has had the big history of repression and wiping out an entire town -- city, and not him himself, that’s what gives him this pass?

MR. SULLIVAN: From my perspective, comparing and contrasting two situations and drawing analogies has severe limits. And what is more effective in terms of producing effective decision making is to look at the country on its own terms. And as we look at Syria, we see a government that is attacking its own people, killing its own people, engaging in gross human rights violations. And we are looking at a range of different tools for how we can respond to that. And one of those tools is the targeted sanctions that we released today.

QUESTION: I understand that. I’m trying to find out --

MR. SULLIVAN: And another set of those tools is the growing international condemnation that we saw reflected in the U.N. Human Rights Council’s resolution today.

QUESTION: I’m trying to --

MR. SULLIVAN: And as we continue to work with the international community, we will look for additional avenues and paths to try to produce an outcome where the Syrian Government stops attacking its own people and begins responding to their aspirations.

QUESTION: Well, what I’m trying to figure out is how you are able to make this major, major distinction between the two countries. I mean, here, you have – on one hand, you have Qadhafi, who gave up his weapons of mass destruction, who you had – and then you look at Syria, who are trying to build a nuclear reactor illegally. I mean, it seems to me that the behavior of both governments has been equally reprehensible, but the behavior now, opening fire on unarmed civilians is different than bombarding people who are actually attacking your troops, not --

MR. SULLIVAN: Our view on the Syrian Government’s actions against its own people and in the region is a view that is clearly stated for the record not just in the preceding days, but over the course of preceding years, that Syria has a history of repression – that repression has turned into brutal violence – that it has a history of destabilizing behavior in the region, that that destabilizing behavior continues.


MR. SULLIVAN: All of that, we believe, is part of the challenge that we are facing in dealing with Syria today.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR. SULLIVAN: So the question for us is: What are the tools that are available to us as the United States; what are the tools available to the international community to effectively try to bring about what I think everybody wants to see, and that is an end to the violence? And that is how we are approaching the question before us, which is a government in Syria that is attacking its own civilians.

QUESTION: So basically, what you’re saying is that you don’t have the tools to really put an end to the violence very quickly in Syria?

MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t believe that that’s what I just said. I --


MR. SULLIVAN: What I said was that our – we have a stated objective, and we are trying to pursue that objective through a series of different means, and we will continue to do that as we move forward, and we will do so in consultation with and, where possible, also in concert with other members of the international community.

QUESTION: To put the question, in a way, very simply, the question, I think, is: Why are you not doing more? And Kim offers one potential answer, which is that perhaps you don’t feel that you have so many tools at your disposal. I mean, briefers, for example, have talked about the extent to which Syria is already under U.S. sanctions. And therefore, can you help us understand – and the idea is not just to whack you for a different response in one country versus another, but can you help us better understand what, if anything, may constrain your response in Syria? Are there – what are the factors that make you look at Syria and think, “For now, we’re going to stick with our – these human rights sanctions on five individuals and entities”? In other words, what is the constraint? What is – why is this the appropriate policy response and not more in this instance?

MR. SULLIVAN: Are you referring to something in particular or just more --

QUESTION: Generally.

MR. SULLIVAN: Generally. I mean, that’s what makes that question very difficult to answer. We have to look at policy options and then work through each of them and work through the benefits and the costs of each of them with respect to pursuing and promoting our objectives – not just in Syria, but everywhere in the world. So as we go through that process, we’re looking at a set of tools that are available to us. Two this week were the Human Rights Council and the targeted sanctions.

As we go forward, we will continue to review the options and tools available to us to see what else might help bring about a different result in Syria. And that’s essentially the decision-making framework that we are trying to pursue – looking at Syria on its own terms, in its own context, to try to promote the objective that we’ve now discussed at some length here today.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that you don’t feel that you now have sufficient consensus on the Security Council to get, for example, a resolution on Syria?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think it’s fair to say that, as I said before, consultations in the United Nations are ongoing. They have occurred in formal session. They are occurring informally at this point. And it’s not for me at this point to speculate where that will lead.


QUESTION: Can you give us some insight into the – into your cost-benefit analysis, as you just described it, and to why you’re not ready to say that Asad has lost his legitimacy and why he was not included in this executive order? What is it that made it more – that made the cost or made the benefit of that less than the cost, in your estimation?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think it will not surprise you to learn that we believe, ultimately, that the question of the political future of Syria is up to the Syrian people. You will probably not be surprised to hear me say that because we had this exact conversation earlier this week. We’ve said repeatedly, and will continue to say, that the actions of the Syrian Government are neither those of a responsible government nor those of a responsible member of the international community. And that is a position that we have sketched out in clear and unequivocal terms and will continue to do so.

And I’ve described the rationale for why we’ve identified the individuals and entities on the list in an effort to make clear that there are costs for the kind of behavior that those individuals and entities were engaged in, and to sharpen the choice for authorities in Syria and for actors elsewhere who are contributing to the violence in Syria.

QUESTION: So you’re hoping that Asad himself looks at this executive order and looks at its impact on these three people – which is minimal, correct? I mean, its direct impact is going to be nothing. He’s going to look at the executive order and say, “Oh no, this is what might happen to me; I’d better stop -- ”

MR. SULLIVAN: Our view is that --

QUESTION: -- and he’d salvage himself that way?

MR. SULLIVAN: Our view is that President Asad has a choice to make about whether or not he and his government are going to continue attacking its citizens, or whether or not they are going to end the violence that we have roundly condemned. And we are going to continue to work to try to bring about an outcome where that violence stops.

QUESTION: How much –

MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah. Sorry. Just let me get some people from the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jake. I’m just – do you know at what level consultations have been going on in Damascus between our ambassador and the Syrians? I’ve been told like maybe within the last 10 days, he met with Mualem, the foreign minister and the deputy foreign minister. But do you get a sense whether Ambassador Ford still has much access or is able to communicate our views directly to the leadership?

MR. SULLIVAN: I can tell you that he is engaging with senior Syrian officials on a fairly regular basis. In terms of who those individuals are, I’ll see if I can get you more information on that.


QUESTION: Yes. I was wondering if I could ask about Jimmy Carter and North Korea for a second, if that’s okay with everyone.

QUESTION: Could we just get one more question –

MR. SULLIVAN: One more.

QUESTION: I hate to –

QUESTION: Sanctions –


QUESTION: One more – Admiral Mullen – isn’t it true – basically has said that the U.S. is not going to push for Asad to step aside. Am I over-interpreting what he was saying?

MR. SULLIVAN: Quite honestly, I haven’t seen what Admiral Mullen said. So I can’t characterize it in any way.


QUESTION: Just on the sanctions, he put the Qods Force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force on the list. I mean, they already are under sanctions. So is this like a political statement? What’s the thinking behind that?

MR. SULLIVAN: I have to refer you to Treasury in terms of how this designation interacts with similar Qods Force designations for other terrorist groups.

QUESTION: But in terms of the political reasoning behind it?

MR. SULLIVAN: Like I said, for how it actually works and what it means, I would refer you to Treasury. For why they’re on the list –


MR. SULLIVAN: They’re on the list because it’s our assessment that they have been contributing to the violence that is being perpetrated against civilians in Syria.


QUESTION: One more on sanctions. How much time has elapsed – days or weeks – before you consider successive steps should the violence continue?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think it’s difficult to answer that question without understanding what you’re getting at when you talk about additional steps.

QUESTION: You’re sending a signal to the Asad regime saying, “Listen, we’re worried about the violence, and we’re taking some steps, and we’ve zeroed in on three people.” You haven’t excluded further sanctions. So in this – so in terms of a time frame, are we talking days or weeks to sort of assess is he getting the message or not?

MR. SULLIVAN: We’re constantly reviewing the situation and constantly assessing the range of options available to us to deal with the situation. And so I can’t put a particular time frame on anything that we may do because it’s very difficult to predict what comes next.


QUESTION: So no – you simply don’t know?

MR. SULLIVAN: Simply don’t know what?

QUESTION: How long it could take before you take other steps should the situation continue?

MR. SULLIVAN: The actions that we take are determined by events and circumstances on the ground, by the behavior and actions of the Syrian Government, and by our consultations with others. And so we cannot put a particular time frame on anything because what that essentially is doing is speculating about future events, which I prefer not to do.


QUESTION: Okay. So on North Korea and Jimmy Carter, I was – first I was curious to know if State has been in contact with him since he got back. And also I was – I wanted to know if there was a reaction from State regarding his blog post in which he said that the North wants to improve relations with America and is prepared to talk without preconditions to both the U.S. and South Korea on any subject. And then also I was wondering if there was a reaction to his statement that the U.S. Government and the South Koreans withholding food aid to North Korea amounted to a human rights violation.

MR. SULLIVAN: As to the first question, I think it’s important to point out at the outset that President Carter traveled to North Korea as a private citizen. He didn’t carry any messages with him from the United States Government. He has been in contact with U.S. officials since coming out, as he normally is, in providing a readout of his trip. I’ll try to get you information on who that is.

On the second question, we have consistently said that we believe that North Korea has to take meaningful steps to improve inter-Korean relations, that North-South talks are an important opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity through dialogue and to take tangible steps to improve North-South relations. We’ve also consistently said that we don’t believe in talks just for the sake of talking. So the North has a clear sense of what it has to do, which is improve North-South relations and demonstrate a change in behavior, including by ceasing provocative actions, taking steps toward irreversible denuclearization, and complying with its commitments under the 2005 joint statement and under the Security Council resolutions, both 1718 and 1874.

And with respect to the issue of food aid, what I would say is that everyone should remember who is responsible for the plight of the North Korean people, and that is the North Korean Government itself.

QUESTION: Follow up?


QUESTION: Regarding Kim Jong’s proposal to have a summit meeting with the South Korean president, the South Korean foreign minister’s comments today was that North Korea should demonstrate sincerely about having talks in the first place if they want to have – if they want to improve North-South’s relationship. But as you said, the State Department’s position is that North-South talks are important opportunities for North Korea to demonstrate their sincerity. Are there – I mean, are U.S. and South Korea on the same page on this issue?

MR. SULLIVAN: I believe that the United States and South Korea are on the same page. Secretary Clinton was recently in Seoul and had the opportunity to speak with both the foreign minister and the president in great detail about the issue of North Korea. And in those conversations, which were the latest in a long line of intensive consultations, the most intensive consultations between any two administrations of our two countries perhaps ever, as well as very good cooperation and consultation between the U.S., Japan, and Korea, we came to a – we reaffirmed a common set of principles about the path forward.

So I believe that the United States and South Korea have had very good cooperation on this issue and have a common sense about what North Korea has to do and about what the opportunities and challenges are that lie ahead.

QUESTION: But in terms of the consequence – I mean, talking about U.S. position seems to be that at the talks, if and when we have the talks, it’s an opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate their sincerity. But South Korea side said before we have talks, they should show their sincerity. So there seems to be some difference between U.S. and South Korea on how soon they should demonstrate their sincerity.

MR. SULLIVAN: I think the United States and South Korea, as well as other members of the Six-Party Talks and other members of the international community are united in the view that it’s ultimately words and not – actions and not words – excuse me – that is going to dictate North Korea’s capacity to show the world that it is actually serious.

And in terms of talking through the sequence of talks and work to rebuild inter-Korean relations and the potential over time to restart the Six-Party Talks, the specifics of those are something that are under constant discussion between the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China, Russia, as – all as members of the Six-Party Talks. But the core principle of the importance of North Korea showing through its behavior that it is meaningfully altering its course is something that is deeply shared by the United States and South Korea.


QUESTION: Can we just go back to the Carter part?


QUESTION: Just – do you accept the premise of what Carter said that the U.S. and South Korea are withholding food aid for political reasons?

MR. SULLIVAN: No. I absolutely do not accept that premise. As you know well, the North Koreans were the ones who abruptly suspended the food aid program in March of 2009 ordering our humanitarian personnel to leave the country and leave behind 20,000 metric tons of U.S. food items.

The United States food aid policy towards North Korea is the same as the United States food aid policy towards countries throughout the world, and that is that we provide humanitarian food assistance based on three factors. The first is the level of need in a given country, the second is competing needs in other countries, and the third is our ability to ensure that the aid that we’re providing can reliably reach the people who need it. And our – as we look at the situation in North Korea, this is – it is these factors that determine our policy, and an assessment of them is constantly underway and is underway now.

QUESTION: If I can – and so it’s – you do accept that there is a level of need there, though, right? What I’m getting at is it’s number three that’s the problem, still the problem. Number three on your list with North Korea –

MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t want to get into the specifics of our assessment.

QUESTION: Well you do – do you accept that there is need?

MR. SULLIVAN: That there is need?

QUESTION: That there is a need in North Korea for food assistance, outside food assistance?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think – I can’t speak to the specifics of it, but I think it would be safe to say that there are many people in North Korea who could --

QUESTION: Right. And number two –

MR. SULLIVAN: -- use additional food assistance.

QUESTION: I mean, what – it’s number three. It’s the people who need it who are going – assurance that the people who need it most are going to get it is still the problem, correct?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think the bottom line from my perspective is that we have a three-factor assessment. That assessment is what bears on our approach to providing food aid everywhere, including North Korea. That assessment is something that we are constantly reviewing and are reviewing in this case. And beyond that, it’s difficult for me to get into the specifics.

QUESTION: None of those three factors that you just walked us through is any way related to political judgments or other policy considerations that the United States might have with North Korea.

MR. SULLIVAN: I think that’s self-evident from the three considerations.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Bahrain --

QUESTION: One more on North Korea, so, just one more --

QUESTION: Yeah. On food aid, WFP announced today that it is launching an emergency food aid program to North Korea. Has the US decided how soon it will make any decision on food aid to North Korea?

MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t have anything for you on that. Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Bahrain – a Bahraini military court has sentenced, yesterday, four Shiite Muslim protesters to death for killing two policemen. The opposition has refused the findings. How do you view the verdict, and do you think it helps the dialogue between the government and the opposition at this time?

MR. SULLIVAN: We’ve consistently urged the Government of Bahrain to follow due process in all cases and to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings that are carried out in full accordance not only with Bahraini law, but with Bahrain’s international legal obligations. And we have encouraged, directly, the authorities in Bahrain to bear these commitments in mind as they consider next steps.

With respect to the specific case that you’re talking about, we are troubled by the speed with which the trial was conducted and the swiftness of the verdict. And from our perspective, as we said repeatedly, it’s important that legal processes be carried out in a manner that’s legitimate, credible, and transparent. More broadly, as the Secretary has said, as many senior State Department officials have said, security measures alone are not going to solve the challenges that are posed in Bahrain and so it’s critical that all the parties move forward to a comprehensive political dialogue. And this is a message that we’re continuing to send, as late as within the last 24 hours, at high levels in the Bahraini Government.

QUESTION: Who delivered that message in the last 24 hours?

MR. SULLIVAN: Assistant Secretary Feltman.

QUESTION: What was that? Assistant Secretary --

MR. SULLIVAN: Feltman.

QUESTION: Feltman.

QUESTION: To whom?

MR. SULLIVAN: I’ll have to get back to you on that. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Palestinian agreement that was announced this week – what do you make of that? How does it affect the situation with the Israelis, with U.S. policy?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, as we’ve said consistently, we support Palestinian reconciliation on terms that promote the cause of peace. In order to play a constructive role, any Palestinian government that emerges from reconciliation has to accept the Quartet Principles by renouncing violence, by accepting past agreements, and by recognizing Israel’s right to exist. In terms of this particular deal, the specifics of it, and how it will be implemented that’s something that we’re continuing to study.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up to that. How is that going to affect U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, given that it will include members of Hamas?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, as things stand today, the current Palestinian government remains in place and so our assistance programs continue. And in that regard, I think it’s important to note that our current support to the Palestinian Authority, the current government led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, serves as an important contribution to our efforts to support the building of Palestinian institutions that are necessary for a future state. If a new Palestinian government is formed, we’re going to have to assess it based on its policies at the time and determine, then, the implications for our assistance given U.S. law.

QUESTION: How important is the presence of Salam Fayyad to U.S. policy towards the Palestinians, the presence of him and his position as prime minister.

MR. SULLIVAN: The Secretary and other senior members of this Administration have consistently praised Prime Minister Fayyad as well as President Abbas for the work that they’ve done on state building and institution building and have developed very positive relationships with him and with other members of his team as they continue that work. What is most important is that there be a Palestinian government that accepts the Quartet conditions and also embraces, as Prime Minister Fayyad has, the enterprise of building Palestinian institutions that will lay the foundation for a future state.

QUESTION: Would his departure be a problem to the U.S.?

MR. SULLIVAN: I would say that, as I just said, the single most important thing for any Palestinian government is that it accept the Quartet Principles and that it fully embrace and execute the set of steps necessary to build these institutions. Prime Minister Fayyad has done both of those things, and in so doing, has been a very effective and trusted partner of the United States.

QUESTION: And – exactly. So if he were to leave the scene, it would be problematic for you?

MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t want to speculate on what would happen if he were to leave. I think I’ve stated --

QUESTION: Well, okay, but you – all right.

MR. SULLIVAN: -- our strong view that he has done a good job and what we would view as being critical ingredients to the kind of partnership that can help lead the way towards comprehensive peace.

QUESTION: All right, well I won’t hold you to it from the podium, but I hope someone upstairs is considering what you should do if, in fact, he does leave. Is that correct? Is someone – is there thought being put into what would happen if he were to leave? Or if Hamas was to take an active role in the Palestinian government? People are thinking about that, right?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think you can rest assured that we are studying both the specifics and the potential implications of reconciliation in all of its dimensions.

QUESTION: Do you have any view --

QUESTION: Go ahead, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Do you have any view on Egyptian plans to reopen the Gaza-Egypt border?

MR. SULLIVAN: We – again, sort of starting from first principles, we have long supported efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza, but at the same time have been clear that efforts to do that have to ensure that the transfer of weapons and other materiel and financial support is blocked. And we have worked with, and will continue to work with, Egypt and our allies in the region to be able to achieve this. Rafah Crossing from Egypt into Gaza has been open for some time to movement of people and some humanitarian goods, and as things stand at the moment, I’d have to refer you to the Egyptian Government in terms of the details of any change.

QUESTION: Are you surprised at all by the reconciliation announcement in Egypt – in Cairo and the Egyptians’ involvement in bringing it about?

MR. SULLIVAN: We’ve been following the evolving and ongoing negotiations over inter-Palestinian, intra-Palestinian – whichever is appropriate – reconciliation for years, and then more recently in the Egyptian-brokered effort from last year, and then the most recent Egyptian efforts. And now, they’ve produced – excuse me – now, they’ve produced a result and we’re studying it.

QUESTION: Were you aware that something was imminent earlier this week?

MR. SULLIVAN: We’ve been aware of the negotiations between the two parties.

QUESTION: Were you aware that there was something – that it was imminent?


QUESTION: That it was imminent, that it --

MR. SULLIVAN: -- an actual signed deal was imminent?


MR. SULLIVAN: I think all I can leave it at is that we have been tracking the negotiations between the two parties. We saw them come out with a result, an announced result, and now it falls to us and to others in the international community not only to look at that to gain information about it, but also to see how it plays out over time.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that the Egyptians played a role here that was slightly different than the role that Egypt used to play in these kinds of negotiations, or when Mubarak was in power?

MR. SULLIVAN: Can you clarify what you mean by that?

QUESTION: The – well, the Egyptians seem to – this result seems to be a result that would not have happened while Mubarak and Omar Suleiman were the chief interlocutors between the Palestinians. It would appear to give Hamas much more than this one, would appear to give Hamas much more than something that would have been looked – negotiated by Mubarak and Suleiman.

MR. SULLIVAN: Egypt has long been a strong proponent of Palestinian reconciliation, to include intensive efforts by the previous Egyptian Government to bring about that reconciliation. In terms of the specifics of this deal as it’s been described and as we’re working through the details of it, I can’t characterize the difference between it and previous ones at this point, because as I said, we’re looking, as we speak, to understand fully what it entails and what it will mean going forward.

QUESTION: Are you --

MR. SULLIVAN: Let me take one more question, so --

QUESTION: Can we just follow up on Brad’s?


QUESTION: It was exactly the question I wanted to ask on Rafah. Are you confident that the current Egyptian Government will keep in place sufficient safeguards to prevent transfers of weapons, materiel, other items that you would not wish to see go into Gaza?

MR. SULLIVAN: We have worked closely with the Egyptian Government on this front, as we’ve worked with other allies in the region. We intend to continue to do so and believe that that collaboration has been effective in the past and can be effective in the future.

Sorry, guys, I got to go to another meeting.

QUESTION: Well, can you do the Mexico readout? That’s – or if you can get somebody else to read --

MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah, we’ll have someone read it out for you.

PRN: 2011/660

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