Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Qs & As w/State dept spox Victoria Nuland, November 28, 2012

Reds by other reporters


QUESTION:  Over the last week, it looks like there have been about a dozen military bases across Syria have been taken over by the Syrian rebels.  Do you see any fundamental change on the ground?  What’s your assessment right now?

MS. NULAND:  Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday.  We are seeing opposition forces continuing to make steady gains.  We also are following reports of two deadly car bombs in Damascus today.  The fighting in and around Damascus is clearly intensifying, and reports that the opposition shot down a regime helicopter; you’ve probably seen that on YouTube.  This is all clearly evidence of the increasing strength of the opposition and its capabilities.

At the same time – we talked about this also on Monday – we see increasingly horrific tactics being employed by the regime as it struggles to cling to power, including direct attacks on hospitals in civilian areas.

QUESTION:  As you mentioned, apparently now the rebels are using shoulder missiles, and over the weeks we have seen they are taking from the regime.  Is that changing enough your calculations regarding arming, heaving arming?  Since they are already getting these arms, do you think that it’s – might be the good time to do something about it?

MS. NULAND:  Our own policy is not – has not changed with regard to this.  As you know, we are supplying only nonlethal support to the opposition.  But analytically, you’re clearly right, that as they take more facilities and as they make gains on the regime, they are able to capture weapons and there are other things getting in there.  I’m not able from here to actually confirm the precise type of weaponry in some of these recent attacks, but we’re clearly seeing more lethality there. 


QUESTION:  Regarding the new Syrian opposition group called Coalition, National Coalition, it has been now about two weeks, I believe, since its inception and it have been recognized by a number of European countries.  What’s your assessment so far?  Do you think they have the right track?

MS. NULAND:  I think in general, we are pleased with the progress that they have been making.  As you know, they had a meeting earlier this week or at the end of last week with the international community on assistance and they were able to give us some very precise and well-organized guidance on the political support and non-lethal support. 

They also today held some closed meetings in Cairo, which continue tomorrow, to work on finalizing their organizational structures.  You’ll recall that after the meetings in Doha, we had urged them to do two things:  to continue to strengthen their internal structures so that they could be effective; and to deepen and broaden their outreach within Syria so that they can best represent the needs of the Syrian people so that the movement is truly connected to what’s happening on the ground.  We’re seeing both of those things happening well, and we’re continuing to look at those trends.

QUESTION:  There have been reports from that Cairo meeting that it’s been marked by some serious disagreements, and specifically that the SNC sort of remnants that remain in the broader coalition are trying to push back for more representation.  Do you feel that that coalition is sort of set in stone, that they’ve got the numbers that they need in the right proportion? 

And secondly, do you – is it your hope or expectation that they are going to come up with this structure that you’re talking about, a political structure, presumably, perhaps sort of a potential prime minister-type person in time for the Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco next month?

MS. NULAND:  Well, the goal of the meeting that they’re in now, which is a closed-door meeting, it’s not a meeting that we’ve had much – we’ve seen people coming in and out, obviously, but it is their own internal meeting – is to come up with the structures to take the organization forward, the committees to work on different things, leadership structure, et cetera.  So we are hopeful that they’ll be able to come to agreement on that. 

Vibrant debate is a good thing, particularly if the result is a consensus-based structure that is broad and is strong for the period going forward.  But I think we don’t want to prejudge where that’s going to go.  The fact that they’re meeting, that they’re working on it is important, and it’s their decision whether they need to change some of the things they did in Doha or whether they just need to broaden and deepen the movement going forward.  So we’ll see how that comes forward.

Was there – I can’t remember --

QUESTION:  It was just sort of – do you expect to see a sort of a shadow government taking form in time for the Friends of Syria?

MS. NULAND:  I’m not sure that that’s the way they are going to characterize what it is that they are trying to do.  I think in the first instance they’re looking to have a clear leadership structure for the organization and leaders to take forward the different lines of work, whether it is political organization, whether it’s outreach to the international community, whether it’s support for humanitarian, et cetera, so that all those things can get done going forward.

QUESTION:  And would that, establishing those sort of clear lines of responsibility, would that sort of make it easier for you guys to advance their recognition, that you don’t have to make them the sole legitimate representative?

MS. NULAND:  It’s certainly one of the things that we’ve been saying since Doha.  We want to see increasing organization, increasing clarity about who we should work with and increasing effectiveness in the way they are able to work with Syrians on the ground so that they can be guiding us in the international community in our support.  So it’s one of the things that we’re watching, and it would certainly be helpful.


MS. NULAND:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Can I just --

MS. NULAND:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- follow-up?  Once the coalition met some of the criteria you just elaborated, what should we see as a change of the U.S. policy regarding Syria?

MS. NULAND:  Well, again, I’m not going to prefigure where we may go on this until we go there.  But we’ve obviously said that as they do increasingly well in terms of their internal organization and in terms of their connectivity to the situation inside Syria, we will continue to evaluate our relationship with them.  So we’ll just have to see.


QUESTION:  And again, Syrian refugees now in Turkey.  Today, a number of intellectuals called on Turkish Government to open up to international humanitarian relief organizations.  Apparently, it’s not open to them.  What’s your assessment while try to cope with this refugees now about 140,000-50,000 people?  Is there a good partnership with Turkey regarding this refugee crisis in Turkey?

MS. NULAND:  Well, I think as we’ve been saying for more than a year now, Turkey has been a superb host to the Syrians seeking refuge there, and we’ve been working very closely with the Government of Turkey for a long time.  Turkey was able to handle this with only its own resources even though all of us in the international community, including UN agencies, had been open to doing more.  But our understanding is over the last few months, Turkey has been welcoming more help from UN agencies both in terms of establishing and managing camps and in terms of financial support to those camps, and particularly with the winterization.  So some of our assistance is now going directly to Turkey, both directly and through UN agencies to support the refugee floods.

QUESTION:  Also, there are about two million displaced Syrians within Syria.  And as you mentioned, winter is coming up.  People are arguing that it’s going to be even more disaster.  I don’t know how it can get worse, but winter is coming.  Do you think something has to happen?  Do you think you have to move little more decisively to help these millions of people within Syria?

MS. NULAND:  Well, I think you know that the UN agencies have two global appeals out for more support for their humanitarian efforts.  The U.S. is the largest donor to refugees inside Syria, some 200 million in support for refugees inside and – internally displaced in Syria and refugees outside Syria.  We are focusing our efforts very much in this stage on winterization as well as donations to the World Food Program.  We still have complaints from the UN about access inside Syria, so that’s something that everybody with influence needs to push on the Syrian regime about.  But it’s obviously very concerning as it gets colder and colder.  We’ve all seen the reports both from IDPs and from refugees.


QUESTION:  Final question:  These Patriots – apparently there is a team that’s doing some field work in southeast of Turkey.  Do you know which countries going to lend these Patriots and which type of Patriots are going to Turkey?

MS. NULAND:  I think those are among the things that are being worked out now.  My understanding of the status of this is that Turkey has formally made its request to NATO and NATO has sent site survey teams to Turkey to look at where to place them, what kinds of systems might be required, countries that could donate them.  There are a number of NATO countries, just a handful, that have these kinds of systems, so we have to look at the right mix.  But I don’t think that the team is back yet or has made recommendations back to headquarters.

QUESTION:  But still the request is accepted?

MS. NULAND:  Again, the way this works is the country makes a request, then there is a gathering of information, the site survey team – that’s what’s going on now – and then a formal recommendation from NATO military authorities and the civilian staff that works.  This comes back to the NATO council and perhaps higher for a decision.  So the decision hasn’t been taken yet.

QUESTION:  Does the U.S. favor such a deployment?

MS. NULAND:  We’ve said that we strongly support NATO meeting the needs of our Turkish ally.  We have to work through what precisely we would approve, but that process is entrained.

QUESTION:  Is the --

QUESTION:  Timeframe?  How long does it take, the process?

MS. NULAND:  I think we just have to see how long this site work takes.

QUESTION:  Is there a general rule for trigger of these missiles?  That’s one as one of the discussion points that – some of Turkish officials said trigger- command and control of these missile is going to be in Ankara.  Do you have any lead on that, any --

MS. NULAND:  Well, in terms of the command and control, that’s part of which systems you deploy and all those kinds of things.  That has to be worked through.  But these are defensive systems, so just to remind that they don’t have a warhead of their own; they knock incoming missiles out of the sky if such missiles exist.  So they are virtually automatic once they’re deployed.

QUESTION:  But they can be used for no-fly zone, for example?  For northern Syria, it has that capability.

MS. NULAND:  Well, as you know, Turkish officials have made clear that the request is for territorial defense and population defense of Turkey.  It’s not for use beyond – the request is not for use beyond the Turkish border.

QUESTION:  You were asked about a gas for gold deal between Turkey and Iran a couple days ago.  Do you have anything more on that?  I mean, do you have any comment on this deal?  Apparently Senate is bringing bill to put sanctions to end such deals as well. 

MS. NULAND:  Well, we continue to consult with Turkey.  As you know, we had a preliminary round of successful consultations with Turkey with regard to the sanctions under the NDAA.  As you know, those need to be – those are – the exemptions that we grant are for six months and then we have to do it again.  So consultations, obviously, are continuing with Turkey and other countries with regard to the scope of the U.S. sanctions laws against Iran.

I would simply note that we also have on our books Executive Order 13622 from July 31st, which allows the United States to sanction countries that provide precious metals to Iran, so that’s obviously another subject to discuss with those countries where it might apply.  But discussions continue with Turkey. 


QUESTION:  Again on Turkey, during the Gaza crisis, there was a disagreement, a huge disagreement between Turkey and the U.S.  Have you been able to patch up some of the differences between two countries regarding those disagreements during Gaza?

MS. NULAND:  You’re talking about the recent round of Gaza --


MS. NULAND:  -- violence? 


MS. NULAND:  Look, we were working closely with Turkey in the context of the Gaza crisis because Turkey has influence that we don’t have with Hamas, and we have other influence in the region.  We had some clear disagreements with some of the rhetoric coming from Turkey.  We were clear about that privately and publicly.  But I think we all want the same thing, which is for the Palestinian people, wherever they are, to live in safety and security, and for Israelis to be able to live in safety and security.  So --

QUESTION:  How was --  

MS. NULAND:  -- I think we were all very pleased with the outcome of the ceasefire, et cetera. 

QUESTION:  How was – Turkish role during the truce was realized between Hamas and Israel?  Was it helpful or do you see any -- 

MS. NULAND:  Well, I think we commented on this at the time.  I don’t think I have anything new to say about the -- 

QUESTION:  During the agreement, regarding the agreement, to sign the agreements, how was Turkey’s role?

MS. NULAND:  Well, again, I think we talked about the fact that Turkey was using its influence with Hamas, but I think this is probably a question better addressed to the Egyptians who were in the lead.