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State Department Spokesperson: Syria’s Use of Landmines to Fence in its Own People “Horrific”
Excerpt of Daily Briefing on Syria
March 14, 2012

Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 13, 2012

QUESTION: Yeah. On Syria, have you received any update from Kofi Annan regarding his mission? He was expecting an answer today from the Syrian authorities. Have you got any update?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary spoke to former Secretary General Kofi Annan this morning on the phone, part of our regular consultation with him. As of that phone call, he was still awaiting a formal response from Syrian authorities to the proposals that he discussed with them. And we will wait to hear what he receives from them.

QUESTION: On Syria as well, the Assad government announced parliamentary elections. Is that credible or helpful in any way?

MS. NULAND: Parliamentary elections for a rubber-stamp parliament in the middle of the kind of violence that we’re seeing across the country, it’s ridiculous.

QUESTION: As a result of yesterday’s consultation, do you think that you are closer to the Russian position on Syria?

MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary spoke to this very clearly yesterday following her meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I think we need to – the foreign minister had been on a long trip and it culminated in the stops in New York and then he was headed back to Moscow, and I think we have to see.


QUESTION: Staying on Syria?


QUESTION: I presume that you guys are very happy and supportive and will attend at the highest level possible the next Friends of Syria meeting.

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, I don’t have anything to announce on the Secretary’s schedule, but we’ve seen the same thing you’ve seen, that the next meeting is likely to be in early April. As you know, the Secretary is very committed to this process.


QUESTION: Yes. You’ve been saying that arming the Syrian opposition is not helpful now. But in the meantime, you always remind people that no option is off the table. Implicitly, that include arming the opposition. Can you elaborate about the condition under which you would go openly for this option?


QUESTION: Can I just go to Afghanistan?

QUESTION: One more on Syria, please?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Arab League has said today that crimes against humanity have committed in Syria. Do you agree with this?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we need to start with getting the violence to stop so that we can all get in, including the appropriate UN and international authorities, to evaluate the situation before we’re going to put a label on this. But I don’t think that anybody could say that what has been happening there is anything short of horrific.

And frankly, I think you’ve seen a new element in this today, where we have very credible reporting that the Syrian regime is now planting anti-personnel landmines on some of the escape routes that refugees have been using to flee the violence and to take shelter in neighboring countries like Turkey and Lebanon. So using something that was designed for purely military purposes to fence their own people in, it’s just horrific.


QUESTION: Last one on that.


QUESTION: On Syria. If you look at the entire situation, the most immediate thing, obviously, is to save lives.


QUESTION: Is there – just taking it down to the basic – that basic issue, is there anything on the table right now realistically, humanitarian help, corridors, anything like that that the international community could pull together, absent some sort of big solution to the issue?

MS. NULAND: Well, Jill, I think you saw the statements by Russia and by the Arab League on the weekend. You saw what the Secretary had to say about this yesterday. We’ve seen what Secretary – former Secretary General Kofi Annan has been saying. The number one issue is to stop the violence. If we can do that for a day, if we can do that for a week, if we can do that for a month, we can begin the next step, which is obviously the urgent provision of humanitarian aid, but also to provide space for a political dialogue to begin and a real transition process to begin.

But as the Secretary made absolutely clear yesterday, the very first step has to be taken by the Assad regime, and they have to be pressured. And Kofi Annan is part of that, our diplomacy with Russia and China is part of that, the Security Council is part of that, the Friends of the Syrian People are part of that – to silence his guns.

QUESTION: But – excuse me – but the Russians – I mean, this is kind of yesterday’s issue.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: But the Russians are saying everyone has to lay down arms.

MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary – again, she spoke to this very clearly yesterday, that the first step has to be for the Syrian regime to silence its guns. Assuming that that were to happen, the expectation of all of us would be that all guns would silence, and that was – and she was very clear about that publicly and in her meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: Well, what’s your reaction to Lavrov? He disagree with this point.

MS. NULAND: This is something that we’re going to have to continue to talk about. I mean, she – as she said yesterday, we would reject any equivalence in sequencing or morally between premeditated murders by a government’s military machine and the actions of civilians who are under siege and defending themselves. So our view of the sequence is quite clear.

QUESTION: But if the goal is to get everything – the violence to stop, what difference does it make who stops first, right? I mean, otherwise you’re arguing against something that would theoretically bring about what you want.

MS. NULAND: Again, we have Kofi Annan involved in live diplomacy with the Assad regime. If he, as the Secretary said yesterday, can conclude something that first and foremost gets the violence to end that we can all support, then we’ll obviously get behind that. Because we started this with Jill asking what’s the most important thing.


MS. NULAND: The most important thing is to save lives.

QUESTION: Exactly. So you’re saying that if Kofi Annan arranges it, it’s okay?

MS. NULAND: I’m saying that if Kofi —

QUESTION: But if the Russians propose it, it’s not okay?

MS. NULAND: I’m saying that if Kofi Annan can come forward with something that the Assad regime will accept and silence its guns —


MS. NULAND: — then our inclination will be to be supportive of that.

QUESTION: Regardless —

MS. NULAND: But the expectation that the opposition would be expected to preemptively stop its self-defense while the regime keeps rolling through towns is unrealistic.

QUESTION: But you would accept something that Kofi Annan presented that the Syrians agreed to, even if it meant that the opposition had to stop the – its side of the violence first, correct?

MS. NULAND: Again, Matt, I’m not —

QUESTION: As long as it was Kofi Annan’s plan and not the Russians’ plan, it seems to be okay.

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to prejudge what he may come with. The Secretary spoke to this very clearly yesterday. And what she said yesterday was if he comes forward with something that we judge can be effective, we will support it.

QUESTION: But anything that he can do to stop the violence you will support?

MS. NULAND: Matt, you’re asking me to reframe this in a way differently than the way she framed it. I’m not going to go beyond what she said, which was that if he can effectively get Assad to stop the violence, then we would expect others to stop the violence, and we would be supportive. But we need to wait and see what he can achieve.

QUESTION: In her meeting with Lavrov, has the Secretary felt any change in Russia’s stance toward Syria?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to put – give this a grade scale. It was a consultation following the foreign minister’s travels in the region. I think the conclusion of the five points between – that Russia and the Arab League all agreed to over the weekend narrows some of the gaps. But as we’ve made clear, and as was clear yesterday, there are still issues of how you actually achieve the kind of end to the violence that we need.

QUESTION: Victoria —

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: — on that point, do you think that if a proposal is made and its coherent and it’s doable that pressure can be brought to bear on the opposition, the different opposition group, to actually have the discipline to cease firing on the regime’s forces?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, if the violence on the part of the regime stops, then there’s no need for self-defense. And all of us who would be able to have, we would hope, influence and contact would make that point. But we’re now into prospective scenarios that we all hope to see, but it’s got to start with Assad.

QUESTION: And a quick follow-up on the planting the anti-personnel mines along the path of the refugees. You said credible sources. Can you independently verify that or were you able to independently verify that?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we believe this is credible.