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Daily Press Briefing, November 8, 2012

Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 8, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing

Coordination with Congress on Benghazi
Doha Conference Update / Friends of the Syrian People and Ad Hoc Group Updates
Accountability Review Board
Defensive Support / NATO / Patriot Missiles
Attention to Human Rights Urged
Earthquake / Condolences / Disaster Relief
OSCE Monitors Update



12:46 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right. It’s Thursday, right? So we would say happy Thursday. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Can we start with a little housekeeping on Libya?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Not that I expect any significant answer or substantive answer, but the impatience seems to be growing on the Hill. Yesterday, Congresswoman Lehtinen – Ros-Lehtinen sent yet another letter to the Secretary complaining about the delay in getting documents. Do you guys have any response to these complaints?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are responding to all of these letters as we get them.

QUESTION: Well, she says that she hasn’t gotten any response.

MS. NULAND: She hasn’t gotten any response to any of her letters?

QUESTION: That’s what she said.

MS. NULAND: I did not see the letter that most recently came in, but my understanding is that as these letters have been coming in, we’ve been responding to them. We have also been making appropriate documents available to members and their staff. There will be a number of closed-door sessions on the Hill next week at the Hill’s request. So as you know, we are very committed to working with the Congress throughout this process. We are obviously – as we learn the lessons that we need to learn from this incident, we’re going to need to continue to work with the Congress on remedies, et cetera. So that relationship is obviously crucial for us.

QUESTION: Who from the Department is going to be at these hearings next week?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think that’s currently being worked out. I’ll let you know if we have something to announce, but all of these are, my understanding, classified sessions at the Hill’s request.

QUESTION: And you’re aware of more than one?

MS. NULAND: There are a number of them that the Administration is participating in. I’ll take a look for you and see what we can share tomorrow.

QUESTION: The documents that you’re making available, has there been any limitations placed on the time that they’re able to look at these documents? There’s reports that they’re only available for a couple of days this week, which means many members wouldn’t be able to see them because they’re not in town.

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we’re working with staffs to ensure that the appropriate people can get to them on the schedule that is convenient for them, so if there are issues we are working them through. But members have been coming and going because of the election, et cetera.

Other thoughts? Done? No. All right, Samir.

QUESTION: Any update on what’s going on in Doha?

MS. NULAND: A little bit. I talked to our team again today. Our understanding is that the broader opposition set of meetings began today. There are also a number of senior representatives from observer countries. I understand, for example, Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey was there today. Our sense is that these conversations are quite serious, that they’re quite substantive, but it’s obviously just the beginning there. There are about 60 delegates in the conference room. There are at least that many in the lobbies of the Sheraton where the meetings are happening. And the report I had was that it looked and felt like a little Damascus out there. So we wish them the best, and we are eager for a good outcome, as you know.

QUESTION: What are you expecting to come out from Doha? What would be the ideal thing?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve talked about that a number of times. We talked about it at length last week. We would like to see what the Syrian people would like to see and what they have been calling for, which is a political structure that’s broadly representative of all of the groups, and the regions of Syria that is better connected to the situation on the ground, to the folks who are working on the future political structure and the current political structure within the opposition inside Syria. So that’s what we’re hoping for because we think it will be most effective in terms of –

QUESTION: I mean, what would meet your representative condition? What would be representative?

MS. NULAND: Again, it’s not for us to pick folks. It’s for Syrians to pick folks. But we want to see all of the different ethnic groups represented. We want to see all of the geographic aspects of Syria represented so that people inside Syria will feel comfortable with this group, that their own views will be represented, that they will be protected in a future Syria that this group would be working on, and so that those doubters in the international community, or who are still clinging to Assad, will see that there is a better future with this group.

QUESTION: How about the sexes, all of the sexes of Syria represented?

MS. NULAND: Obviously, you know how strongly we feel –

QUESTION: So are you concerned at all about women being under-represented or not represented at all? Is that a concern of yours?

MS. NULAND: On the broader group, we obviously want to see women represented. You know how strongly our Secretary feels about that and how all of us feel about that, and it’s essential.

QUESTION: But you didn’t mention that in –

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously. Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just one more. You say that it looked and felt like a little Damascus out there. Do you think that that’s representative?

MS. NULAND: Again, there are lots –

QUESTION: Or was that you mean a little Syria – like a slice of all parts of Syria?

MS. NULAND: A slice of all parts of Syria, but there are also lots of different colors and faces inside Damascus. But a little Syria, let’s put it that way, better put.

Matt’s just fixing me up right and left here today.

QUESTION: Can I just ask: If they succeed in creating this broadly representative structure, would the U.S. be willing to recognize it as the legitimate voice of Syria, of Syrians?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know in the past we made that decision for the TNC in Libya when we were confident that it was broad enough and representative enough. I don’t want to get ahead of where we will go in policy, but we want to see something strong and diverse and unifying come out of this, and then we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: But would that be on the table if they do what you say is so necessary for Syria?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to be predicting here where we’re going to go, but you know where we’ve been in the past, and you know that with regard to the SNC, the farthest we were willing to go was to call them a legitimate, not the legitimate as we did in the TNC context.


MS. NULAND: So I’m not going to predict to you where we’re going to go until we see the outcome, but you can draw your own conclusions about what we’ve done in the past.

QUESTION: I understand, but you’re calling on them to do certain things, and wouldn’t it help that call in some way if you said, “Look, this will have benefits in some way?” Not, “You guys should really do this, we want you to do it, but of course we’re not going to do anything different on providing weapons, we’re not going to do anything different on military intervention plans; we may do something different on, I don’t know, political recognition.” I mean, what do they gain from it?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve said, and I said last week, and the Secretary’s been clear when she spoke about this, that one of the issues that we want to come out of this is a group that can better help the international community direct the assistance going into Syria. Whether it’s the humanitarian assistance we’re providing, the non-lethal assistance we’re providing, whether it’s other assistance being provided by others, a group that can be broadly representative across the country and help all of us. That’s certainly one thing, particularly given that some Syrians have complained that they don’t know how to get assistance, they don’t know who to reach out to. So I think that goes both ways. In terms of other forms of political, economic support, let’s see how the group looks, and we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: There have been some reports from the meeting itself that Ambassador Ford’s getting pushback from elements of the SNC and elsewhere that are worried that his role there is to sort of set forth a U.S. proposal on what this group should look like. Are you concerned at all that whatever the results of this meeting may be, that it’s going to be perceived as a U.S. sort of solicited or a U.S.-planned group, that it won’t have the sort of domestic nature that you’re hoping to encourage there?

MS. NULAND: We’re not concerned about that. We are not inside the room where the Syrians are making these decisions. These decisions will be made by Syrians. What we are doing – as are some 20 other countries who have representatives out in Doha observing – we are available for conversations with all groups, we are working, making ourselves open so that we can meet them and talk to them. But decisions have to be made by Syrians. The Secretary herself said that, and Robert Ford is saying that to any group of Syrians who chooses to meet with him out in Doha, that these are not decisions we can make for them; they have to make them for themselves.


QUESTION: Victoria, what has become of the meetings of the group of Friends of the Syrian People? Will it decide on a date when it will take place anytime soon?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, the goal of the Group of Friends and of the ad hoc group is to support the Syrian people. So the most important thing going on for the Syrian people now is this effort to come up with a new leadership structure for the opposition that’s maximally effective. So I think we don’t want to make any decisions going forward about how we intersect until we see what emerges from that. But obviously, we will remain committed.

QUESTION: Any update on Ibrahimi’s mission? I mean, is the Secretary in contact with him? Is he coming to the Security Council again?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary has been in contact with him. I think she spoke to him last over the weekend. I’m just taking a quick look here as to when exactly it was. I think you know that the UN Security Council had a briefing by Jeff Feltman, who was very much representing the UN’s view of things a couple of days ago, sort of giving a sense of where things are.

Let me just say that yesterday, the Secretary had a conference call with a number of the countries who participate in the ad hoc group on Syria, and who are also out in Doha, to compare notes on what we’re seeing and what we’re looking to support. She – on that conference call were Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan, the Qatari Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Al Thani, UAE Foreign Minister Al Nahyan, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, French Foreign Minister Fabius, German Foreign Minister Westerwelle, UK Under Secretary of State Alistair Burt, and Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Ramzy Ezzeldin. So she herself is also very active in supporting the Doha process.

QUESTION: A couple days ago, or maybe it was yesterday, you said that she had made some calls over the weekend about this?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, she made some bilateral calls.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) she’s – and you mentioned Jordan, Egypt, Qatar. Is this conference call yesterday the – does that wrap it up for – at least so far --

MS. NULAND: That’s just --

QUESTION: -- or what she’s done this weekend? In other words, she didn’t since – you didn’t brief on Tuesday, so I can’t tell if these notes of mine are from Monday or from Wednesday. I think they’re probably from Monday because you said over the weekend. So between Monday and now, have we – are we up to date on all of her calls on this?

MS. NULAND: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So just the conference call, then after --

MS. NULAND: She made no calls on Tuesday.

QUESTION: So then since when you said Jordan, Egypt, and Qatar, the only thing she’s done is the – I’m not trying to say it’s nothing, I’m just – she hasn’t done anything other than the conference call?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay. All right. Thanks.

MS. NULAND: Okay? Moving on. Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) go back to the Libya documents for a second?

MS. NULAND: Can you tell me who you are, please?

QUESTION: Hi. I’m sorry. I’m Meghan Walsh from FOX News. Congressman Chaffetz, on our air this morning, said that in response to a letter he sent, State printed material from its website that anyone can find and sent it back as if that was complying with the request. Do you have any response to why that’s the kind of material being provided?

MS. NULAND: Well, I didn’t see what Congressman Chaffetz said this morning, so I apologize for that. But we have been, as I said in response to Andy’s question, making documents regularly available based on the specific requests that the Congress has been making to us. And we’ve been doing that for staff and we’ve been doing that for members, and we’ve been working closely with the Congressman’s staff. So if there are any concerns, we can handle them directly.


QUESTION: Following on Libya, and I apologize if you covered any of this earlier, can you give an update on the ARB, where they are in terms of number of meetings, if that’s appropriate, or kind of where they are in their – sort of the trajectory of their investigation and whether there’s any clarity now on how long that investigation is expected to take?

MS. NULAND: Anne, I don’t have anything that puts you inside the room. I’m sorry, that’s not the way they want to operate. But I think you know when the Secretary formed them up, she encouraged them to try to report within 60 or 65 days, which is about average for ARBs. We remain confident that that’ll be an appropriate timetable, but obviously they are in the driver’s seat. But that would put you into sort of early-mid December, so we just have to see where we are.

QUESTION: Is that likely to be a report with covers on both sides and handed to her, or will it take a form beyond that?

MS. NULAND: I think we don’t know yet, but traditionally there is a report. Usually they are largely classified. There is sometimes an unclassified portion, but I think we don’t know yet and we won’t know until we get closer to the time.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense at this point of whether the members of that commission will be made publicly available?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that at this stage. I think we need to let them finish their work, and then they can decide on their press posture.

QUESTION: Is that the Secretary’s preference, that they go out and talk about their own investigation?

MS. NULAND: Again, we are not – we are in the middle of the process, so I’m not in a position to predict for you what their press posture will be, what her press posture will be.

QUESTION: Just to take Anne’s first question to the extremely literal sense, why don’t you tell us about where the ARB actually is?

MS. NULAND: Where it physically is? They have had meetings inside this building, if that’s what you’re asking, but they’ve also been --

QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the Federal Register notice from the other day that said they’d moved.

MS. NULAND: Did they?

QUESTION: Yes. They have a new phone number. They have a new --

MS. NULAND: You’re ahead of me. I haven’t been reading my Federal Register.

QUESTION: -- fax number. You didn’t happen to notice that there was a little bit of movement down on the first floor?

MS. NULAND: Oh, you mean they moved out of the transition space?


MS. NULAND: Oh, there you go. Well, that would be normal for this time of season, right?

QUESTION: Yes, it would. But, I mean, did that disrupt anything?

MS. NULAND: Did their move disrupt anything? I will check on that, but I doubt it. I think what Matt’s referring to is that they were initially sitting in the swing space that we always use during transitions in this building, so they may have been moved somewhere else, as we ourselves were moved somewhere else just recently. Moves in this building are not uncommon, so --

QUESTION: I know. I’m just wondering why you think that that should be secret, considering it was announced.

MS. NULAND: I don’t think anybody thought it was secret. I personally was not tracking that they had physically moved. It makes sense that they would, Matt.


MS. NULAND: But nobody’s trying to hide their physical whereabouts.


QUESTION: One on China?

QUESTION: Hold on. Given kind of how much public debate this has stirred, is there any thought to moving beyond just the classified part of this to have a kind of public reckoning, considering how much concern there is in this country?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we don’t know what their report’s going to look like, how they’re going to choose to present it, and we don’t --

QUESTION: But that should be immaterial, no?

MS. NULAND: And we don’t – Brad, if you’ll let me finish my comment – and we don’t know after they report whether they or anybody else in the Administration will have public comment on it. I’m just not going to get ahead of that until we see the decision.

QUESTION: I understand, but shouldn’t --

MS. NULAND: We totally understand the fact that everybody wants to know what the conclusions are.


MS. NULAND: Nobody wants to know more than us. But I can’t predict press posture this far out.

QUESTION: But shouldn’t the press posture be irrespective of what they decide? I mean, obviously, if they say you did everything great, it makes sense to make it public. And if you say – they say various agencies in the Administration handled things poorly, then you might decide otherwise. But shouldn’t the press posture be independent of what they actually report?

MS. NULAND: Again, obviously, there will have to be public information on the back end of the ARB. I can’t predict to you what form it’s going to take at this stage.




QUESTION: China is having 18th Party Congress today, which will determine the power – the leadership transition in the highest level. I wonder if you have anything on that, and what is United States expectation of China’s political reform, and what’s your expectation of the new Chinese leader?

MS. NULAND: Well, these are internal decisions for Chinese leaders to make. We’re not going to get in the middle of it. As you know, we have a broad and full relationship with China, and we expect that that will continue.



QUESTION: President Obama is visiting Burma November 19. I wonder if you have anything on that, because he will be the first sitting president visiting Burma.

MS. NULAND: Well, I know that that’s been reported in the press, but I’m going to let the White House announce and speak about any potential presidential travel, which they haven’t yet done.

QUESTION: Finally, did you get a chance to check with your – the character of your Chinese name that you would like to use?

MS. NULAND: The physical characters? I didn’t --


MS. NULAND: -- but I will for you. Thanks.

QUESTION: I just want to get a quick one back on the Turkey Patriots issue. I know we talked about this yesterday.


QUESTION: President Gul is now saying that they are in discussions with NATO about potential Patriot reinforcements. I’m wondering if you’ve – if this building’s had any contacts with the Turks on this, if you have anything more to say on the advisability of that, where it is in the process.

MS. NULAND: I think we’re still where we are-- were yesterday in terms of the formal process. Turkey, as you know, has been talking to us bilaterally. They’ve been talking to all NATO allies in the context of the alliance, about the kinds of defensive support that they anticipate needing, that they feel they need, particularly as these border incursions continue, including today. But-- and we’re looking within NATO at how to support whatever they might come forward with, but we’re not yet in a formal NATO process.

QUESTION: And just as a sort of matter of process, if – when these types of requests are made, are they fulfilled relatively swiftly? I mean, what’s the – is there generally a timeline for something like this? Could it happen sort of overnight or --

MS. NULAND: I mean, there – it varies depending upon how much preparation work has been done and what assets are needed and how quickly they can be moved and who can provide them. It’s as varied as any kind of military support might be. But assuming that this is not something that is a surprise to anybody, we would – I would refer you to NATO for how quickly it could happen. But as I said yesterday, this kind of support’s been provided in the past.

QUESTION: Can we go back to China?


QUESTION: I mean, obviously, you’re not getting in the middle of what are internal discussions with the Chinese, but I imagine the United States must be watching very closely what’s going to come out of the NPC meetings. Kurt Campbell, last week in a seminar, described the relationship with Beijing as the most consequential relationship for foreign policy of the next decade. So do you have a hope --

MS. NULAND: No hyperbole there, (inaudible) Kurt Campbell.

QUESTION: No hyperbole, as usual. So do you have a hope of what will come out of these meetings? What would you like to see for the future Chinese leadership?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be commenting in the middle of their discussions internally. I think we’ll reserve that till they’re finished.


QUESTION: You just reserve that for Syrians, right?

MS. NULAND: Exactly.


MS. NULAND: Scott.

QUESTION: Ethiopia?


QUESTION: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says the United States needs to do more to convince the new government in Addis to respect religious freedoms for Muslims in Ethiopia. Are you – have you seen that? Are you doing anything about that with the new government?

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that particular statement, Scott, but you know that we’ve been extremely straightforward about our ongoing humanitarian – sorry, human rights questions with regard to the way Ethiopia develops. When the Secretary was there, she raised these issues, and we have been clear from this podium. So in the context of new leadership, we are renewing our hope that Ethiopia will continue to improve human rights standards for all inside the country.

QUESTION: Could I ask another about the President’s schedule? Ambassador McFaul told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that President Obama thinks the time has come to visit St. Petersburg in the coming year. Do you know anything about that?

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that comment, but again, we’re not going to comment on presidential scheduling here. I’ll send you to the White House.

QUESTION: But it’s a nice place to go.

MS. NULAND: St. Petersburg is a beautiful city, yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria? Sorry.


QUESTION: There was – there’s a video out of a journalist, a Ukrainian journalist called Ankhar Kochneva, I believe, though I might have the name wrong. She’s asking for help. She’s held somewhere within Syria, and I just thought it might be appropriate to ask if you knew anything about this and also whether you had had any news about Austin Tice.

MS. NULAND: On Austin Tice, we have not had any new information. We continue to work through our various channels, including the protecting power, to urge the Syrian regime to be more forthcoming. And with regard to the Ukrainian, I hadn’t seen that, but we’ll look into it.

Please, Catherine.

QUESTION: On Guatemala, do you have anything the earthquake there? Have there been any requests for assistance?

MS. NULAND: There have. I have a little bit of something. First and foremost, of course, our heartfelt condolences go out to the people of Guatemala for the tragic loss of life and property resulting from yesterday’s earthquake. Our Embassy in Guatemala is working to provide some $50,000 in immediate disaster relief, including essential supplies like clean water, fuel, blankets. We’re also making our U.S. Embassy helicopters available to assist the Government of Guatemala with its relief efforts and we are open to other things that the Government may need.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah, I just had one more. Going back to Election Day, I’m just – did anything ever happen that you became aware of regarding the OSCE monitors on Election Day here? Were you called in to deal with any --


QUESTION: -- crises during – I mean, the Department was – you’re not aware of anyone actually being arrested, or there being any problems?

MS. NULAND: First of all, nobody broke any laws. Nobody was subject to any legal process by any means. There were a number of states, as I understand it, that had this no observation closer than 100 feet, and our understanding is that in those states where they were asked to respect that, they did respect it, including in Texas. So from that perspective, it went fine.

I understood that they were going to give some kind of a press conference yesterday afternoon –I, frankly, didn’t catch up with whether they did or they didn’t – reporting their results.

QUESTION: So they behaved themselves.

MS. NULAND: They obeyed U.S. law, as they are supposed to do in all countries where they observe.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:13 p.m.)

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