Daily Press Briefing - October 16, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary's Travels/Interviews
- UNITED KINGDOM
- Gary McKinnon / U.S. Alliance with UK
- Need for Direct Negotiations
- Ambassador Locke's Visit to Aba Prefecture
- Advocacy for Better Dialogue / Self-Immolations in Tibet
- Changes to Exit Permit Requirements / Human Rights
- Continuing Violence
- Iranians are Malign Force / U.S. Coordinates Closely with Turkey on Syria
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Tuesday. The Secretary is just finishing her program in Latin America and will be returning later this afternoon. I have – or later this evening – I have nothing for you at the top.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the series of interviews she gave on this trip? We didn’t have one, so we didn’t get a chance to ask her directly. But she said she took responsibility related to the Benghazi attack. I just wanted to be clear on what she’s taking responsibility for.
MS. NULAND: Well, if you have a chance to get up on our website, you will see transcripts of five TV interviews that the Secretary gave yesterday, as she always does when she’s traveling and she has TV crews with her or TV correspondents with her. I think she was extremely clear what she’s taking responsibility for. She is the head of this Department. She takes responsibility for this Department fully. She’s never made any secret of that. That’s been her position all the way through this.
QUESTION: What is she taking responsibility for, though? She just said, “I take responsibility,” full stop.
MS. NULAND: Brad, you can go back and reread that interview. The question was clear.
QUESTION: I have reread it.
MS. NULAND: The answer was clear. I’m not going to try to improve on it here.
QUESTION: Why won’t you?
MS. NULAND: Because she was –
QUESTION: She doesn’t finish the thought.
MS. NULAND: She was extremely clear what she takes responsibility for, which is the operation of this Department, all of the men and women here, and certainly she is personally, as she has said again and again and again since September 11th, committed to getting to the bottom of who did this and learning the lessons that we need to learn from it.
QUESTION: So you said she takes responsibility for the operation of this Department and the people who work here. So she wouldn’t be taking responsibility for things like intelligence assessments, per se, because that is something that might not be done by this building; is that correct?
MS. NULAND: Brad, I am not going to stand here and parse the Secretary’s words. She was very clear in her interviews.
QUESTION: Well, if she was so clear, why can’t you answer a question like that?
MS. NULAND: I want you to go back and read the interviews.
QUESTION: I have read all of them.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think she was very clear.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on matters of security.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does she, at the end of the day, determine the – I know she shares with the intelligence people, those who are experts at security. But she takes the final decision in terms of what kind of security you should have on your diplomatic missions?
MS. NULAND: She speaks specifically about how security is done in this building in those interviews, as our team that testified, spoke to, but she made very clear that she takes responsibility for this Department.
QUESTION: And a very quick follow-up. If, let’s say, there is a couple of proposed security agencies, whether private or government, does she say we will go with this one or with that one?
MS. NULAND: That is not the way this works in this building. We’ve talked about the way these things work extensively. I don’t have anything to add here.
QUESTION: Tom Lewis, BBC News.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Welcome. We miss Kim, but welcome. I guess she’s on the road. The United States is disappointed by the decision to deny Gary McKinnon’s extradition to face long overdue justice in the United States. We are examining the details of the decision.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. How will you --
MS. NULAND: You’re so polite. (Laughter.) You raised your hand.
QUESTION: I’m British.
MS. NULAND: He pauses. It’s the British way.
QUESTION: Are you saying that we here are less – (laughter ) –
MS. NULAND: I made no comparative assessment. I just positively complimented our British guest.
QUESTION: How will the U.S. proceed, therefore, in --
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything particular to share with you today. As I said, we’re examining the decision.
QUESTION: Was it a bad day for the U.S.-UK relations, especially with – in the light of the extradition treaty?
MS. NULAND: I think you know that we have an incredible alliance, and that will obviously continue in all of its forms.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. The Palestinian issue?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: First of all, could you confirm if there was a meeting between the Palestinian President and the King of Jordan and Ehud Barak in Amman last Saturday?
MS. NULAND: You’re asking me about a meeting between –
QUESTION: Are you aware of it?
MS. NULAND: -- three folks in the Middle East, none of whom was American.
QUESTION: But you did not –
MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to their spokespeople.
QUESTION: Okay. Fair enough, but – so you are not aware that the meeting took place?
MS. NULAND: As I said, I’m going to send you to their spokespeople to confirm a meeting among them. We speak to what we’re up to, obviously.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, Abbas on his part in the Gulf once again spoke about the effort at the United Nations, and he said that this is not in contradiction with our commitment to the two-state solution or to direct negotiation. Can you --
MS. NULAND: That what is not, Said? You didn’t give me a noun to start that sentence.
QUESTION: Their effort at the United Nation was not in contradiction with negotiation. Do you agree that any effort at the UN on the part of the Palestinians is not in contradiction with the proposed negotiations?
MS. NULAND: Well, I haven’t seen his exact quote, and with all due respect, you mungled it a little bit. So I’m not quite sure what he said. However, our position on all of these issues has not changed. We think the way this needs to be settled is through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is the route to a lasting peace between them, not the UN route.
QUESTION: Let me try to untangle what I said.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: He said the following: that their effort at the United Nations would continue, because it is not in contradictions of any negotiations that might be entered to anytime in the future.
MS. NULAND: Our view on this has not changed – that the UN route is unproductive, counterproductive, that what we really need is for these parties to be focused on sitting down at the table with each other.
QUESTION: Yes. I will try to be polite as well. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: What a day. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Regarding Tibet, Ambassador Gary Locke was spotted paying a visit to Aba Tibetan Autonomous area this September. There was a photo tweeted on Twitter. My – Aba area is the area where more than 30 self-immolation cases since last year, so I wonder if you could please confirm that, and also if State Department have more information on that. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Sure. This stop that he made, that Ambassador Locke made in Aba Prefecture, was part of a broader trip that he made to Chongqing and Sichuan Province in September. While on that trip, he met with government officials, and he participated in events that were designed to advance U.S.-China trade, and he visited the Stilwell Museum. When he was in Aba, he met with a number of local residents, including ethnic Tibetans. You saw the quite poignant photo. Some of them work in the travel industry. He also visited villages and monasteries to learn more about how ethnic Tibetan people live and work and to have a chance to talk to them.
I think you know that we have been very clear and very transparent with regard to our views on Tibet and our advocacy for better dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people on issues of concern and our grave concern about the rising number of self-immolations.
QUESTION: How many days was he there, and what is his impression of the area? Because it’s heightened – the security is heightened.
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to his personal views at the end of that trip. I’ll send you to his spokesman at our Embassy in Beijing. I think the trip was three or four days long – I’m not sure – between the stops in Chongqing and the stops in Sichuan. But again, our Embassy in Beijing can give you more information.
QUESTION: Is he in the States right now? And then does he plan to share it with – his experience with the congressional leaders or the Tibetan communities in the United States?
MS. NULAND: Well, whenever we have members of Congress visiting China, they always are briefed by Ambassador Locke. The various human rights issues in Tibet always come up, and he shares his impression and they talk together about how to raise these issues with the Chinese Government. He’s not shy about that. If the Congress is interested in his trip, I’m sure that he will address any questions that they have.
QUESTION: So he’s indeed here in the States?
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I – my impression was he was – he’s in Beijing this week. I don’t have any information that he is back in Washington this week. But frankly, I didn’t check on his status, his physical status, when I came down.
QUESTION: One final question.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you please specify and clarify more about U.S. position regarding self-immolation?
MS. NULAND: We have done this many times. We have grave concerns about self-immolations in Tibet and about the underlying grievances that the Tibetan people have. And we have consistently urged dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people with regard to those grievances.
Please. Anything else? No? We’re done?
MS. NULAND: No, okay.
QUESTION: No, please.
MS. NULAND: Oh well.
MS. NULAND: What Brad is referring to is that the Cuban Government today announced changes to their exit permit requirements to allow Cuban citizens to depart the country without explicitly having exit permits. This is consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that everybody ought to have the right to leave any country, including their own, and/or to return to their own country, to come in and out.
We obviously welcome any reforms that will allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely. We remain committed to the migration accords under which our two countries support and promote safe, legal, and orderly migration. Our own visa requirement remains unchanged. Our understanding is that this exit permit regime is going to take effect on January 14th, so we are analyzing, obviously, all of the details and any implications it may have for our processing, et cetera.
QUESTION: So just two things with that. Firstly, this was something that the United States had long called for; that’s correct?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Secondly, what --
MS. NULAND: Very few countries, as you know, have exit permit requirements. I mean, if you want to leave the United States, if you want to leave most countries around the world, if you have a passport, you can go.
QUESTION: And what implication – you mentioned implications. Just could you spell out what this might mean for certain asylum laws in the United States? And correct me if I’m wrong, there’s certain congressional legislation on people who enter the United States from Cuba. Would this change any of that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think it changes any U.S. laws on the books. I think the question becomes whether more Cubans desire to travel and are applying for visas and all those kinds of things. So obviously, we need to see how it affects the flow of travel. We obviously always urge Cuban families to use legal family reunification and other immigration mechanisms that are already in place.
With regard to acts on the books, I think you’re – I assume you’re talking about the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 which --
QUESTION: I didn’t know the year. Sorry.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. There you go. Before you were born, I think, Brad. Which provides an avenue for Cuban – most of you, actually – provides an avenue for Cuban nationals to apply for adjustment of status and become lawful permanent residents of the United States. The Department of Homeland Security is the lead agency on the implementation of that, because it applies to folks who are already in the United States. So I would refer you to them for any specific questions.
QUESTION: And then just lastly on this, this was a – I mean, in your view, this was a human rights violation, in a sense, because under the Universal Declaration they should have had this right, freedom of movement to leave their own country. Will the United States be offering any carrot to – I don’t know – incentivize further reforms from the Cuban Government at this point?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve been very outspoken. We are not shy in all of our public and private comments on Cuba that we want to see the human rights of the Cuban people respected. This is certainly a step, but I would advise that even with regard to this step, we await further information, because as I said, it’s not being implemented until January 14th. We need to see how it is implemented. For example, we understand that current Cuban passport holders who don’t already have an exit permit are going to be required to revalidate their passports before they’re allowed to travel. And we would note that the Cuban Government has not lifted the measures it has in place to preserve what it calls the human capital created by the revolution. So the question is going to be whether those other requirements are going to continue to restrict the ability of the Cuban people to take advantage of this change.
QUESTION: So you’d be worried that maybe this new right that’s being granted wouldn’t be extended to people of certain political convictions, maybe human rights defenders, that have been targeted in the past?
MS. NULAND: I think the point I’m trying to make is that the Cuban Government has kept for itself a couple of other checks on the ability of people to leave freely, including this issue of revalidating passports, this issue of claiming that they can preserve the human capital of the revolution in the country. So we just need to all see how it’s implemented.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further to what I had to say yesterday, Said. I mean, we haven’t seen any indications that the Assad regime is serious about stopping the violence.
QUESTION: But this seems to be an idea that is at least gaining some steam, and a lot of people are talking about it. Would you support such a notion?
MS. NULAND: Again, we have said repeatedly that we would support any end of the violence in Syria. But we have not seen any indications that Assad is on that program.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on yesterday, now you have supported the observer force in the past. It was small. But now they are talking about a larger force, 3,000.
MS. NULAND: Who’s the “they,” Said?
QUESTION: Well, Brahimi. Brahimi is talking about perhaps an observer force of like 3,000 people that are – that come, let’s say, from North African countries, African countries, perhaps Latin America. Would you support such a proposition?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we said yesterday that we’re not going to comment on putative pieces of a prospective future Brahimi plan until Mr. Brahimi has had a chance to complete his rounds and formally present something to us and to other members of the Security Council. You know our concerns about the way the observer mission worked in the past - that they weren’t allowed to actually observe and they weren’t allowed to actually move around, and it became a sort of a situation where they were observers in name only. So obviously, any new plan needs to be analyzed in terms of whether the conditions in Syria allow it to be implemented properly.
QUESTION: I’ve got one on Syria.
MS. NULAND Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: And I apologize if this already came up. I came in late and I’ve been a little bit under the weather the last few days. Did anyone in this --
MS. NULAND: We’re dropping like flies. You’ve been my fourth one sick today. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Did anyone in this building know that Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey was going to meet with President Ahmadinejad from Iran yesterday? And is it still the position of this Department that including Iranians in such meetings is a bad idea?
MS. NULAND: Including Iranians in multilateral meetings on Syria; is that what you’re talking about?
MS. NULAND: For example, the Friends of the Syrian People or whatever?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We continue to believe that the Iranians are a malign force in this, that they are actively aiding and abetting the Syrian regime and its war machine. So they can halt that activity before we would see them as productive in any multilateral efforts.
With regard to the meeting, I frankly don’t have any particular information that we had advance notice. We, as you know, coordinate extremely closely with the Government of Turkey on issues having to do with Syria. And our full expectation, based on what we know of Prime Minister Erdogan’s position, is that he was, no doubt, extremely frank with Ahmadinejad about the Turkish concerns.
QUESTION: Did you respond yesterday – and if you did, please move right past, but did you respond to questions about the New York Times story that quoted unnamed officials citing concerns that the U.S.-Saudi-Qatari weapons to Syrian rebels triangle is inefficient, and it’s resulting in weapons going more to Islamist factions than secular factions?
MS. NULAND: I did, Guy.
QUESTION: You did. All right, I’m sorry. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yep. Anything else? All right. Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)