Excerpt from State Department Daily Press Briefing, January 19
U.S. Department of State
On-Camera Daily Press Briefing Index
Briefer: Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: This major date is today, the 19th, so I just was wondering – I saw that you suggested that this thing maybe should not go on forever, that certain progress has to be met, and this isn’t a solution, just having monitors – what you’re looking for in the report as a – as the meetings take place this weekend, and secondly, what you really hope for in terms of post-report and how to really stop the violence in Syria.
MS. NULAND: Well, we did talk about some of these issues yesterday, Brad. The Arab League is now meeting on Saturday and Sunday, to 21st to 22nd. We do want to give the Arab League a chance to receive the report of its monitors, to absorb it. We want to talk to them as we have been in the lead up to this about what comes next. And as we’ve said, it’s a mixed picture with these monitors. In places where the monitors have been able to deploy, we have seen the Syrian opposition able to mount large, peaceful demonstrations. We’ve seen journalists, including international journalists, able to join them. The concern is simply that in places where monitors are not present, or sometimes after monitors withdraw from the scene, we’ve seen the violence continue, we’ve seen the violence in some cases exacerbated.
So as the Secretary herself said last week when we had the foreign minister of Qatar here, we don’t think the situation in Syria can continue as it is indefinitely. So we look to the Arab League to make some assessments, to talk to all of us, but certainly what we want to do, moving forward, is to work in lockstep with the Arab League to strengthen our approach in the UN Security Council, to have a strong resolution, and also to continue to work globally to tighten constraints on the Assad regime.
As I said yesterday, we firmly believe that countries that are continuing to trade with Syria, and particularly those that are trading arms, need to really think hard about the fact that they are now contributing to fueling the violence and to lining the pockets of a regime that is clearly still exacting incredible violence against innocents.
QUESTION: But what you’re saying with regard to the Arab League monitors is that while they are doing some good on the ground, there’s nothing that’s essentially stopping the violence. Is there a long-term kind of, I won’t say strategy, but I’ll say kind of idea of how it’s possible to really effectively stop the violence in Syria at this point?
MS. NULAND: Well again, this is a matter that we are consulting with lots of allies and partners, including Arab League, who has had this opportunity to have their own people on the ground to talk to Syrians of all stripes about what will be most helpful. So those are consultations that we want to have continue. Certainly, we believe that we’ve got to increase the economic pressure on the Assad regime to change course. He does stand largely alone, with the exception of support he continues to get from Iran. But that pressure can increase. And we want to make it clear that the goals that the Arab League put forward in its agreement with the Syrian regime, which the Syrian regime has not lived up to, are the goals that all of us share. And that’s the standard that we want to see.
QUESTION: So Toria —
QUESTION: And just lastly, on today’s reports you had one – on the one hand, reports of tanks and equipment being pulled out of a town north of Damascus, but there’s also reports of deaths elsewhere in the country. Do you see this is as just kind of more of the same, that there’s a give and pull, but essentially no change in behavior from the regime?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Fundamentally, our view is that the Syrian regime has not lived up to any of the four commitments that they made. The violence has not stopped; we do not have the heavy weaponry pulled out of all cities and towns; we do not have political prisoners out, in fact, they’re continuing to collect political prisoners; and we obviously don’t have international journalistic presence; et cetera. So we are looking for all of those things, as is the Arab League.
I think there will be a question going forward that where these monitors have been able to work, they have been – they have provided an opportunity for the Syrian opposition to demonstrate and have its views heard and come out into the street. But the concern is that the minute that they leave a town, the violence continues.
So we need to hear what the Arab League has to say about that, and then we need to think about how we work together.
QUESTION: So —
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: For the time being, you’re saying that the initiative or the lead should remain with the Arab League and be ceded by the United States and the Europeans and the United Nations —
MS. NULAND: Absolutely not. Said, you’re putting words in my mouth today.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to understand.
MS. NULAND: Our point is simply that the Arab League has had this 150 sets of eyes on the ground. They’ve been all over Syria. We want their view about how best to support the aspirations of the Syrian people for change, their view of how best to end the violence as part of our discussion going forward, and so we look forward to having those consultations. But we’re continuing our work in New York, we’re continuing our work with countries around the world to tighten the –
QUESTION: Two quick follow-ups. First, when did the clock run out? I mean, I know you addressed this before, but as far as the State Department is concerned, when does the clock run out on these monitors?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, we want to hear what the Arab League has to say about this, and we want to consult with them. So I’m not going to prejudge where we’re going to go on their mission.
QUESTION: When do you expect to hear from the Arab League on this? They’re meeting this weekend. Is there a meeting set up for Monday or –
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that Assistant Secretary Feltman stays in very close contact with the foreign ministers of all of those countries. He’s talked to virtually all of them in advance of the meeting. I expect that we will start to hear from them on the weekend, and presumably they’ll also issue some comments publicly. So I think by the time we see each other on Monday, we’ll have a good sense of where they want to go, and we’ll be working together on what’s next.
QUESTION: You had mentioned that Assad is standing alone except for Iran. Is it your view that Russia isn’t supporting Assad at this point in word or in deed, and do you have any updates – and I apologize if this was covered yesterday – on that ship that arrived – the Russian ship that was – that issue was raised with Moscow?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly we see strong statements out of Moscow that the violence needs to end. We are back in dialogue with Moscow on a UN Security Council resolution, and that’s a good thing. I think we have a difference of view about who’s at fault here. We have a difference of view with regard to appropriate language still in the UN Security Council, what will be most helpful. But again, I think this is why we can all benefit, including the Russian Federation, from a report from these guys who have actually been in these towns and hear what they think.
QUESTION: And the – sorry. The ship?
MS. NULAND: Andy’s talking about the ship that left a port in Cyprus and reportedly made it to Syria with weapons. We have, as you know, asked for clarification from the Russian Federation. This was a subject of discussion with the Embassy. It was also raised by Deputy Secretary Burns when he was in Moscow. Our understanding is that the Russian side continues to look into who was responsible and what happened precisely.
QUESTION: And you haven’t been able to – or have you been able to verify what that ship brought?
MS. NULAND: We have not been able to independently verify it. We have the reports from the Cypriots who saw some of the cargo, but we don’t – we haven’t been able to independently verify.
QUESTION: Yes. France has said that the report of the monitors, the Arab League, should be submitted to the UN Security Council for further action. Do you support this request?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think the Arab League needs to make its own report, and then we need to work together on how to take the results of that mission and bring the ideas and recommendations that the Arab League comes out of this process with to the Security Council so that we can have a strong resolution that reflects the experience that the monitors have had. So I think from that perspective, we are on the same page, but again, we don’t want to get ahead of the Arab League making its report.
QUESTION: Or France; you don’t want to get ahead of France.
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) Please, in the back.
QUESTION: For the past six days, people have been in the streets of Bucharest and other major cities in Romania. What is the view of the organization about this popular protest, and what do you think is the way out for the authorities to get over these social tensions? Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Well, as we have seen, we have countries around Europe, we have countries around the world that are dealing with popular reaction to some of the austerity measures that the financial crisis has led governments to take. What we would say to Romania and Romanians is the same thing that we say to others around the world and what we said to Greece and Greeks at the time, which is that we support the right of people around the world to protest and express their views peacefully, but we call on both protestors and authorities to refrain from any violence.
QUESTION: How could the authorities react over this glitch?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously not going to dictate how Romania deals with its internal issues. These are decisions for the Government of Romania to take in consultations with the parliament and with their people. My comment was simply in response to the fact that we do have folks protesting the austerity. All of us have to make individual national decisions, and we’re all trying to do that, what our policy is to help deal with the financial crisis that we face.
QUESTION: Toria, going back to Syria.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Would you go as far as to call for the indictment of Bashar al-Assad, as the Australian foreign minister has suggested today?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve been very clear that we think he needs to step aside. We do not think that he is the man to lead his country in a democratic direction. That is, I think, a plenty strong statement from the United States. We are interested in supporting the aspirations of the Syrian people to have a better future, and we do not think that’s going to happen with him on the scene.
QUESTION: On Pakistan.
QUESTION: Can we just –
MS. NULAND: Wait a minute. We’re all over the place now.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up.
MS. NULAND: Let’s finish Syria. We’re going to go back to Pakistan. Please.
QUESTION: Regarding his question concerning calling for Assad to be brought to The Hague, you wouldn’t do that because you want to keep the objective on him leaving power, and you feel that might box him in and make him want to stay even more?
MS. NULAND: We are focused at increasing the pressure on him and his regime to stop the violence and to allow a process of change to go forward. We think that’s going to have to include him leaving power. Let’s see if we can achieve those objectives in the first instance.
QUESTION: But considering the monstrosity of his alleged crimes that you’ve detailed from this podium, it would not be absurd to think that this Administration thinks he should be held accountable for those one day?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, those who have been responsible for the violence in Syria are going to have to be held accountable, but first and foremost, we need to see that violence stop.