State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, November 5, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 5, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Meetings in Doha / Secretary Clinton’s Calls
    • Syrian National Council / Principles of Transition Plan / Support for More Representative Opposition Leadership Group
    • Designation of Haqqani Network Chief of Suicide Operations Qari Zakir
    • Blast in Manama
    • Urge Implementation of BICI Recommendations
    • John Timoney
    • UN Negotiations on Cyprus Issue
    • Under Secretary Sherman’s Meeting with President Museveni
    • Support Efforts to Have Talks


12:56 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Monday, day before Election Day. Per tradition, we will not brief tomorrow, and we will then see you again on Wednesday. But before we get ahead of ourselves, I have nothing at the top. What’s on your minds?

QUESTION: I don’t really have anything huge, but I did want to ask about Doha and what’s going on there. And what do you expect, at least, from Assistant Secretary Jones and Ambassador Ford? Are there – are they having meetings before the actual Syrian conference, or what’s happening there?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding of the lay-down in Doha is as follows: That today and tomorrow are meetings of the Syrian National Council. I think you know that they had talked over the weekend about broadening their membership. Our understanding is that they have now taken a decision to do that sometime today, to broaden their membership from currently about 200 to some 420 people. They now have to go forward and decide among themselves who will be included in that. And then on Wednesday begins the larger conference that is hosted and sponsored by the Government of Qatar with lots of international participants and support on the question of restructuring the Syrian opposition altogether.

So my understanding is that Ambassador Ford and Bill Taylor, our assistance chief, arrived sometime this afternoon. They will be meeting with lots of Syrian opposition folks. Assistant Secretary Jones is going to fly either tonight or tomorrow to arrive in time to be there on Wednesday when the broader conference starts. Ambassador Ford will be focusing mostly on contacts with a broad cross-section of the Syrian opposition, as he always does, and Assistant Secretary Jones will be working with all of the other international players who are there.

Also to say that the Secretary made a large number of phone calls over the weekend; a number of them were in support of the conference in Doha and particularly the part that starts on Wednesday. She talked to Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh; she’s talked to Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr; she just finished a phone call with the Qataris, and we expect she’ll make another – a number of other calls in the next couple of days.

QUESTION: Sorry, who in Qatar? The Foreign Minister?

MS. NULAND: With Hamad bin Jasim.


MS. NULAND: Who is the Prime Minister/Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware – well, one, just logistically, are you aware of any side meetings going on between you guys and other members of the – non-Syrians, between you guys and people who are not directly involved?

MS. NULAND: You mean other international participants?


MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think, as I said, Assistant Secretary Jones will primarily be working with the other countries going in support with the Qataris.

QUESTION: Today or tomorrow?

MS. NULAND: Well, she gets there – I think she gets there tomorrow evening Doha time, so she’ll be there all week and will have an opportunity not only to talk about support for the Syrian opposition, but also the broad cross-section of other issues we (inaudible) at this conference.

QUESTION: All right. And then more specifically, when you say the SNC has decided to make – to broaden its membership from 200 to 420, would – is this in itself something that could save the SNC as a – in your eyes as a credible institution?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, they’ve made a decision to broaden their numbers. We’ve said from the beginning, and we said it all week last week, that we expect that the SNC itself will be part of the opposition structure that emerges from the Doha process all the way along, but that other groups in addition to the SNC will also be represented. But again, this is a decision for the Syrians to make. My understanding is that the SNC, at this stage, has only made a decision to broaden its numbers, not who it’ll broaden to. But how that might morph over the course of the week, we just don’t know, Matt.

QUESTION: But – so, well, I mean, more than doubling your membership, is that a good thing or is that just a recipe for more bickering?

MS. NULAND: I think, as we’ve been discussing, what we are looking for is the same thing that the Syrian opposition inside Syria has been calling for, which is an opposition that represents more of the groups, more of the geographic representation, more of those who have been involved on the ground with local coordinating councils, with revolution councils, et cetera. So I think until we see what happens to the SNC, we really can’t answer the question.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, understanding that you don’t know exactly who these additional 220 people are going to be —

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: — is this a step in the right direction? Is this the kind of thing that you are looking for from them and had been pleading with them for the last year to do, to become broader?

MS. NULAND: Well, we had been urging them to broaden the type of representation within the group. Just broadening the numbers doesn’t necessarily broaden the representation, so I think we have to see who they actually bring into the group.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have any – you don’t think —

MS. NULAND: We don’t know.

QUESTION: — one way or the other yet?

MS. NULAND: We don’t know yet.

QUESTION: Victoria, on this very (inaudible) that Matt raises, why in your judgment so much emphasis on the opposition closing ranks and uniting and so on, and not so much on a program, on an agenda of what is next for Syria, what kind of future they see in Syria? The emphasis seems to be on them coming together, but basically, there is no, like, basic program that can bring them together.

MS. NULAND: Well, Said, you’ll recall that when the opposition came together in July and came forward with both a sort of bill of rights for all Syrians and its version of the transition plan, which happened pretty quickly after the Geneva meeting, we were supportive of the principles included there, particularly the notion that we were all working towards, that the Syrians were working towards, a unified, pluralistic Syria that represented and protected the rights of all groups within the country and that had a clear transition roadmap. I think the concern was that after those good set of documents in July, they were not able then to take that to the next step and form an implementing committee that would begin to work with Syrians inside the country to gain traction on those kinds of ideas.

So we have always been seeking not only a firm set of democratic principles that would guide the Syrian opposition, but also a transition plan based on those principles that was broadly accepted not simply by exiles outside of Syria, but by those inside Syria, specifically those who are beginning to lead and guide the ground situation now. So the two go hand in hand. We’re not simply looking at folks; we’re looking for a plan and principles.

QUESTION: So assuming that this point has been made time and again since July, which everybody assumes that it has, why do you think they have not been able to come together on this program, on the Geneva points, for instance?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think one of the concerns that we’ve had that we’ve been clear about for the last little while, and that the Secretary spoke to last week, is that you’ve had these groups primarily dominated by folks operating outside Syria, and the folks inside Syria have been dealing with the struggles of daily life. And now we see more folks inside Syria who are running newly liberated regions, who are beginning to think about and talk about what happens next, so we want to make sure that these principles going forward really reflect the needs and the ground situation inside Syria.


QUESTION: There has —

MS. NULAND: Still Syria?



QUESTION: There has been a statement by the LCC – now, I’m not quite sure which LCC that is, but the Local Coordination Committee – being quite critical of Secretary Clinton’s comments, saying that her intervention in the affairs of our revolution is unwelcome, and the international community’s policy is defeatist, they would say, it’s allowed Assad to stay in power for longer than he should have. Is there any comment that you have to that? Because that’s – they’re basically saying it’s your fault that everything is falling apart.

MS. NULAND: I saw a version of that statement, and I think there are two pieces here. The first was a misunderstanding of where we are. We have said, the Secretary said, we do not intend to pick Syria’s next leaders. Only Syrians can do this, so none of the activities that we’ve been involved in for the last months and months are designed to do that. They are simply designed to ensure that those Syrian voices inside Syria, those Syrian voices from across the ethnic and geographic arrangement there, are heard and are part of the process, because our concern has been with such a narrow representation in the opposition, the only groups that are speaking for the Syrians are those outside Syria, not those inside. We don’t have the kind of partner that we need to help us to better align the support that we’re giving, whether it’s humanitarian, whether it’s non-lethal, whether it’s support that other countries have chosen, with the real needs inside Syria. That’s one thing; we talked about this on Friday.

The second thing is to really ensure that all the colors of Syria are represented in this group as a way to unify the opposition, both in terms of the way they’re operating on the ground politically, and in defense of the citizens of Syria, but also to help convince those Syrians who are still on the fence about the future that they – that the leadership represents their interests as well, whether they are Alawi, Christian, Druze, et cetera, and to convince those who are still on the fence in the international community that what could come after Assad will be better, will be more peaceful, will be more democratic. So this is what we have been seeking, and that would be our message back to these folks, very much to support what Syrians themselves have been calling for, which is a broader, more representative opposition leadership group.


QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up. Is it your expectation that this meeting will end with a new structure for the Syrian opposition, will in itself produce a successor or a – sort of a – some other form that the role that the SNC has played to date, that there will somehow now be a new structure with which the international community can interact as the full representation of the Syrian people, or is this just the beginning of a process that – and that final sort of formulation might not emerge for a while?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the Syrian opposition talk about this a number of ways. Some of them have predicted that this process this week will, in fact, come to closure on a new structure that is broader. Some have said that this is going to be a first effort of a broader group to get to know each other and that the actual structure will take longer. I think you know that the Arab League has talked about a follow-on session in Cairo. Our main concern is that a broader, more representative group of Syrians have an opportunity to talk, meet with each other, and decide their own future in Doha this week.

QUESTION: And has – and the Secretary has said that names and groups have been floated from the U.S. side as potentially worthy of inclusion. Has the U.S. also suggested or pointed to any structural frameworks that might – that the U.S. believes might be sort of a good, efficient way to organize this new group?

MS. NULAND: Rather than dictating this ourselves, we have been supportive of some of the ideas that Syrians themselves have put out. There are a number of different plans floating out there that different Syrian oppositionists have put forward, that different defectors have put forward. We have simply said that we want to see a broad, diverse representative structure that can help inside unify the opposition and help outside directing support and giving confidence that there is an alternative to Assad that will be better for all of this.

QUESTION: Along those lines —


QUESTION: Is there anyone that you’ve said that you don’t think is appropriate?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve obviously said that —

QUESTION: Other than Assad himself?

MS. NULAND: We’re not —

QUESTION: As you’re not picking Syria’s leaders at all —

MS. NULAND: We’re not in the name-picking business either affirmatively or negatively, but we are assuming that the principle that the opposition has always spoken to, which is that folks should not have blood on their hands, that they should not be – have been involved in the massacre of the Syrian people, that that’s a principle that will largely be guiding. But I think we have to see what happens.

QUESTION: Okay, and then just – you mentioned a couple times the meeting in July —


QUESTION: — which, as my memory, limited as it may be —

MS. NULAND: I think you were on that trip, weren’t you, Matt?

QUESTION: Which trip?

MS. NULAND: The Geneva trip, that —

QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m talking about what happened right —

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Not Geneva itself, but what happened the day or two later —

MS. NULAND: Right. In Cairo, I think.

QUESTION: — in Cairo, right, where you guys presented this as a wonderful coming-together of the Syrians, when in fact – well, I remember at the time saying there were questions, but, I mean, there were fistfights at this meeting —

MS. NULAND: There were?

QUESTION: — that broke up. And yet you guys said, “Oh, look at this. How wonderful. They’ve gotten together and they’ve come up with this manifesto.” So in retrospect now, weren’t you completely naively optimistic that that was going to produce anything? And why did you go on nattering on about how wonderful this meeting was, and how all the Syrian opposition was now united, when, in fact, it was clear to everyone – at least, it was clear to most of us sitting here, but – that they weren’t united?

MS. NULAND: First of all, if you go back and look at those documents that were issued on July 3rd, they were very solid documents in terms of the kinds of rights and protections all Syrians should want, and the transition plan itself was quite detailed. So it was in that context that we were optimistic. Obviously, the expectation was that a leadership group would be appointed which would begin to socialize those documents inside Syria, would begin to get support for them among a broader cross-section of Syrians. That didn’t happen, in part because those who were able to come together on the substance could not come together on leadership and instead spent most of their time and energy arguing with each other.

So I don’t think that anybody wants to see that groundwork thrown out. We want to see it built on. So yes, it’s been difficult. With regard to fistfights, there are plenty of democratic parliaments where there are fistfights, but we don’t get —

QUESTION: Well, that’s true.


QUESTION: But I mean, didn’t that give you some kind of clue with walkouts and people, like, beating the crap out of each other? Didn’t that give you some kind of a clue that maybe this wasn’t all that it was – that you were cracking it up to be?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think the concern was that they weren’t able to take these good words and turn them into action, and we’re looking for a group that can do that.

QUESTION: Victoria?


QUESTION: If you could clarify to us. You just said that groups with blood on their hands. For instance this morning, early this morning Syria time, somebody blew a car bomb or whatever it was, killing 50 soldiers. Would you say that a group that would commit such a heinous, whatever you want to call it, crime would be excluded from any engagement and holding fast to your tradition of not engaging people that have blood on their hands?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve spoken to principals here. These decisions on who’s in, who’s out, are going to have to be made by Syrians. With regard to violence against civilians, you know that regardless of who commits it, we condemn it, and it is not in keeping with the kind of Syria that we want to see going forward.


QUESTION: Different topic?


QUESTION: The designation that came today from State in regard to the suicide chief for the Haqqani Network —

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Can you give us some explanation in terms of why that happened now, what exactly now happens given this designation, because there was some language in there referring to U.S. property and prohibition against doing any kind of business with Americans. Was there reason to believe that that was happening?

MS. NULAND: My understanding of the way this goes, you’re talking about the designation of Haqqani Network chief of suicide operations Qari Zakir. This designation today follows on the broader U.S. designation of the Haqqani Network not too long ago. It is a way of ensuring that U.S. banks know that this individual is completely covered by the broader designation and giving them what they need to identify him as a full member of the Haqqani Network and he doesn’t have the name, et cetera. But as our designation document makes clear, he is the Chief of Suicide Operations for the Network. He is also the Operational Commander in Kabul, in Takhar, in Kunduz, in Baghlan provinces of Afghanistan. He’s also responsible for the training program. So it just makes absolutely clear to American entities that they shouldn’t deal with him in any way, shape, or form.

Let me also take this opportunity to draw your attention to the fact that last week the UN as a whole listed the Haqqani Network, which greatly broadens the pressure that they are under from the international community.

QUESTION: This is the first designation of a specific member since the entire network was designated by the U.S.

MS. NULAND: Right, right.

QUESTION: So what more is accomplished by singling him out as an individual that was not by designating the entire network and all of its members?

MS. NULAND: Again, sometimes the banks and the other affected entities come back to us and look for individual proof that this person is actually covered by the broader designation, so this makes absolutely clear that from a U.S. Government point of view, we consider him a full and guilty member of the Haqqani Network and he should be treated accordingly.

QUESTION: Does that mean, in this case, that someone – that he tried to, like, open a bank account or something?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any back story on that, but it certainly means that we’ve got a case against him.

QUESTION: All right. In addition to the addition from Treasury, there was also the removal of someone from the SDN list. You’re aware of that?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have that. This was —

QUESTION: It was by – anyway, he’s an American, and I’m just curious as to why he may have been removed. Usually when —

MS. NULAND: Do you have the name, Matt?

QUESTION: There are five different names that are listed. It’s all the same person, though.

MS. NULAND: And was it an action we took or an action Treasury took?

QUESTION: It was done in the same thing —

MS. NULAND: In the same note?

QUESTION: — as the addition of this guy.

MS. NULAND: Let me take it and see if we can get you any more on it.

QUESTION: I’m just curious, because usually when the people are taken off, either they’ve gone through some kind of a court battle to get removed, kind of like the MEK, or they’ve been killed.



MS. NULAND: Let me see what we have on that.

Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to – do you have any comment on what happened in Bahrain?

MS. NULAND: We strongly condemn the blast that took place this morning in two neighborhoods in Manama. We’ve seen reports that two people were killed and at last one was injured. Our deepest sympathies go to the families of those affected. More broadly, we remain deeply concerned about the rise of tensions in Bahrain. Recent violence in Bahrain has claimed the lives of protestors, of security forces, of innocent bystanders, and all of this just undercuts the process of national reconciliation that we have strongly been urging on Bahrainis of all stripes for many, many months. So we are continuing to engage with the Government of Bahrain, with the opposition, urging them to talk to each other and to reduce the tension going forward and to embark on a real dialogue.

QUESTION: So would you characterize the U.S. engagement as less enthusiastic as it would have been elsewhere?

MS. NULAND: No, not at all. We’ve been involved in this process with Bahrain for months and months and months. We’ve had assistant secretaries in and out of there. We’ve had, as you know, Assistant Secretary Posner was there three times now to try to urge implementation of the BICI recommendations. We’ve been very much involved at the embassy level. You’ll remember that the – I think it was the Crown Prince was here earlier in the summer, and the Secretary had a strong conversation with him as well, so.

QUESTION: Do you feel that you are closer to implementing these recommendations?

MS. NULAND: I think we’re concerned that a year has gone – almost a year has gone by and we’ve only seen about half of the recommendations go forward and that dialogue is not going forward between the government and the opposition.

QUESTION: Did you get an answer to the question I asked, I had on Friday about this American police officer who’s serving as an advisor to the Bahrain Interior Ministry?

MS. NULAND: I did, Matt. This is John Timoney. That’s the individual. So our understanding is that last year, the Bahraini Government invited former police official John Timoney to assist them in the Ministry of Interior with their police reform efforts. This is a Bahraini Government initiative. He is not working for or on behalf of the U.S. Government. So we’re not able to speak to what in particular he’s involved with.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not – excuse me – he’s not being paid by the U.S.?

MS. NULAND: He is not. He is not.

QUESTION: And then just as an outside observer, then, given the situation there, how effective do you think he’s been?

MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speak to even what he’s involved with inside the ministry. You do know that as part of the —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) police reform in Bahrain?

MS. NULAND: We’ve been concerned that these recommendations of the BICI, particularly in the area of police reform, have not been strongly enough implemented. It is one of the issues that we are continuing to urge on the Bahrainis, in terms of needing to really work on how the police respond to unrest, building a police force that’s representative of all Bahrainis, and taking some of these other steps.

QUESTION: So you would say then that he has not been particularly effective?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to what he has or hasn’t been doing, because he doesn’t work for us. But certainly, there’s more work to be done on police reform.

QUESTION: Do you know – well, okay, I understand. Understanding that, but he has an understanding of the kind of reforms – presumably he does if he was hired as this advisor by them – the kind of reforms that need to be implemented. He worked in several different U.S. cities. So I’m wondering if – has there been any effort to get in touch with this guy to say hey, what’s going on? Or you don’t know?

MS. NULAND: Again, he was hired by the Bahrainis. He’s not working for us. We have offered to be supportive of police reform, but as I said, there is more work to be done on that docket.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Jo.



QUESTION: I was wondering if you’ve seen the reports today that the Government in Laos has said it’s going to start construction on this multi-billion dollar dam across the Mekong, and groundbreaking work is going to start on Wednesday, November the 7th. I know this was an issue of concern when we were in Laos and also for the Mekong Initiative, and I wondered if the United States had any comment on that.

MS. NULAND: I didn’t see that they had announced they were moving forward today, Jo, but you are right, there were issues of environment, et cetera. So let me take that one and see if we have anything for you.

All right. Samir.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about Deputy Burns’ meeting with the former Libyan Prime Minister Jibril today?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think he’s had it yet. I think it was this afternoon. But let us get you something for – we’ll see if he has anything to add today, because otherwise we’re not going to see you until Wednesday.

QUESTION: It was scheduled for 10:30 today.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Let me get you something.


MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: I have a question on Turkey and Cyprus. Turkey threatened again Cyprus and the foreign companies that pursue exploration agreements with the Republic of Cyprus. I wanted to know if – what is American position on this threat, since one of the companies is Noble; it’s an American company.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve spoken to this issue before. I don’t think our position on this has changed. We want to see Turkey and – we want to see the Cyprus issue settled within the context of the UN negotiations that they are continuing to sponsor.

With regard to the exploration, we want to see those things go forward in a way that is transparent and is clear to all.


QUESTION: Victoria, the Azerbaijani Government rejected U.S. Ambassador Richard Morningstar’s access to the territory of Medieval Armenian cemetery, which is on the territory of modern Azerbaijan. And there are evidences that these monuments, the Medieval monuments, are – have been destroyed by Azeri soldiers. So obviously, the attempt of – Ambassador Morningstar’s attempt to visit this is connected to these reports. However, I was wondering if you got explanation from Baku or if you have any comments on this.

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to our Embassy in Baku. Frankly, I’m not aware of that incident at all.


QUESTION: One follow-up on Uganda. I know Wendy Sherman addressed this in Nairobi today, saying the Ugandan threat to withdraw troops from AMISOM if the UN report on Congo isn’t altered. Ms. Sherman said that her understanding from Museveni was that he’d planned to keep his troops there. I’m just wondering if you’ve had any explicit assurances from him. It sounded to me as though her conversation – her assessment of his willingness to keep troops there was based on stuff – on a conversation they had before they made the threat. So I’m just wondering if you’ve had any direct contact with Kampala following this threat made on Friday, and if they’ve given you any assurances that they do indeed plan to keep their troops there.

MS. NULAND: My understanding was that Under Secretary Sherman had seen him since the press reporting – yeah, that she had seen him on Saturday, that she had raised these issues with him. So if she is being as affirmative as she is, I think she’s the last senior American to speak with him, the most recent senior American to speak with him.


QUESTION: The Palestinian issue?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Victoria, the last 11 months have not been really good for U.S.-Palestinian engagement. The Palestinians are less united than ever before; the Authority is on the verge of bankruptcy; $400 million are held up in Congress and not going anywhere. Do you expect that some – we could see some movement in the next couple months?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we never stop supporting efforts to try to get Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other. We will not let up on this – in this effort. But obviously, it takes the parties to decide that they’re going to work with each other and come to the table.

Please, behind —

QUESTION: I was wondering, how come there’s this practice of limiting the freedom of movement of American ambassador, other than this Azerbaijan case? Were there any other occasions when the U.S. ambassador’s freedom of movement was constrained?

MS. NULAND: In other countries? It completely depends on the circumstances. Sometimes governments assert security reasons. Sometimes they assert sovereignty of one kind or another. But it has happened in other cases.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: It has happened.

All right? Thanks, everybody. Happy Election Day. We’ll see you on Wednesday.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)