State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, October 3, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 3, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan / U.S. Consular Support to Families
    • GCC Agreement Presents Best Route Forward for Yemen
  • Keystone XL
    • No Decision Made / Compliance with FOIA Request from Friends of the Earth
    • Counselor for Energy and Environment at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa
    • Embassy Ottawa Contacts
    • Welcome Israeli Statement / Continue Meetings with Palestinians / Direct Negotiations are the way Forward
    • Quartet Meeting Expected near End of Week
    • U.S. Funding to Palestinian Authority / Intensive Consultations with Congress Continue
    • U.S. Desire for Free, Fair, Transparent Trade with China
    • U.S. Legislation Regarding Chinese Currency
    • Arms Sales to Taiwan
    • Al-Megrahi / Justice Department Investigation Ongoing
    • U.S. Encourages Unification of Opposition Groups, Supports a Peaceful and Nonviolent Transition
    • Situation in Homs
    • Concerned by Escalation of Violence by Government Forces


12:56 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Good morning, everybody. Happy Monday. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go right to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s actually afternoon now.

MS. NULAND: It’s afternoon because I’m late. I apologize.

QUESTION: No, no. It would’ve been afternoon anyway even if you were on time. (Laughter.)

I’m wondering if you managed to get answers to the questions that I was asking on Friday about – that you said you would take – about the Al-Awlaki case, and then Samir Khan as well, and what the State Department’s role would be given that these two men were American citizens.

MS. NULAND: Were we to be asked by the families of either of these men for consular support, repatriation of remains, or anything of that nature, we would be prepared to assist. But as of now, we have not been asked for help by the families.

QUESTION: Okay. So, they’re – and that there has been – so there’s been no consular involvement at all as —

MS. NULAND: There has not. We obviously stand by to help if help is requested.

QUESTION: The former vice president was on television yesterday comparing waterboarding to extrajudicial extradition – in this case, Al-Awlaki. Do you have any comment on that? The former Vice President, Dick Cheney.

MS. NULAND: I don’t. I think you know where this Administration has been on the waterboarding issue.

QUESTION: Okay, but do you see any kind of moral equivalence in this case?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any comment on that at all.


QUESTION: Thanks, Victoria. On this Keystone XL, there have been some stories out there about the FOIA release of the emails, and I wanted – I guess there’s a lot to ask, but first of all, do you believe – do these emails not show some type of overly cozy relationship between the – TransCanada’s person, Paul Elliott, and the State Department?

MS. NULAND: Well, first let me just repeat where we are in the XL pipeline review process. This is the pipeline from Canada down into the United States. We have issued our Environmental Impact Statement, but the Secretary has made no decision as to whether to permit this project. We are in the process of having a series of open meetings. We’ve had meetings in all of the states affected by the pipeline, and there’ll be a meeting – open meeting in Washington later this week, and then we have to take views from all of the other agencies. So we don’t anticipate the Secretary making a final decision on this before the end of the year.

As you mentioned, Jill, we have been asked for some – to release some emails. We will obviously comply with that. These are emails between one of our counselors at our Embassy in Ottawa, Marja Verloop, who is counselor for energy/environment at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. She meets regularly with Canadian ministers, but she also meets with industry representatives and environmental groups in Canada. So her job includes engagement across the spectrum.

The Friends of the Earth have requested copies of communications between the Department of State and Paul Elliott, so from our perspective, they’re only looking for emails on half of her work, not her full docket there. And I would also say that Miss Verloop herself didn’t have any impact or any input in the development of the Keystone Environmental Impact Statement.

So we will obviously comply with the FOIA request. The FOIA request itself is one-sided because it only seeks to find out about her conversations with the Canadian Government. Her conversations were far broader than that. That said, she did not play a role in either the development of the Environmental Impact Statement, nor will she play a role in the Secretary’s ultimate decision.

QUESTION: Will you release any documents to show that, the communication with other groups, environmental groups, et cetera?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’re not in the business of releasing government email unless we’re under a Freedom of Information Act request. I just wanted to point out here that what’s been requested under the FOIA is itself one- sided in that it only seeks to understand her work with the Canadian Government, not the full spectrum of her work, which also included Canadian NGOs.

QUESTION: Well, why don’t you just – you’re not going to get in trouble for releasing too much, believe me. Why don’t you just dump all of this stuff, and if she was meeting with environmental people or having email exchanges with them as well, why not just put it out there?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not sure that releasing all of her email is the answer, but we’re certainly asserting here, and we will assert when we make the release, that this only represents a portion of her work.

QUESTION: If you look at some of those emails, they are extremely friendly, little smiley or frowny faces, and the tone, seriously, seems to be extraordinarily friendly, which, of course, raises that issue with his role previous in the campaign with Secretary Clinton when she was running for president. And just, so we have it coming from you, can you tell us if there is any issue of his previous employment with the decision that is to be made?

MS. NULAND: We do not believe that there is any issue here with regard to affecting in an inappropriate manner the decisions that the Secretary needs to make. I would also note that the Department maintains close relations with Friends of the Earth. They’ve been in a couple of times at the assistant secretary level. We’ve met with them repeatedly at lowers levels as well. We meet at the assistant secretary level with all participants in this process. So we have endeavored to run a very transparent and even-handed process, and that effort is ongoing.


QUESTION: I just want to ask a question about the FOIA release, and the, sort of, timeline for it. There was an account about – that the State Department initially declined to release these emails, then it reversed itself, but it was moving so slowly that a judge actually had to order it to sort of follow through on its promise to deliver on this information. Is that a correct accounting of how this email train actually got out there?

MS. NULAND: What I have here is that we released the original – the first tranche of 34 documents on August 25th. We released another 27 – sorry, 67 documents on September 29th. And we have now actually completed our response to this request.

QUESTION: So there’s isn’t anymore coming –

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: — in regards to this particular FOIA?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: And another – some of the emails that have been reported are suggesting and – or sort of characterizing the Embassy in Ottawa as having – as going out of its way to be friendly to TransCanada executives, arranging invites for them to Fourth of July parties for instance, briefing them on the Secretary’s travels to Canada for the North American Foreign Ministers Meeting, that sort of thing. I’m just wondering, is that – do you – how do you characterize that as – if, number one, if that happened, is that regular procedure for embassies and foreign – is that anything out of the ordinary?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, Embassy Ottawa was also conducting a broad conversation with NGO groups and environmental groups in Canada, which is also part of its work, and under reported in the FOIA request that the Friends of the Earth made. It is traditional that embassies would invite a broad cross section of their contacts from government, from industry, from NGO, from environmental groups, from cultural institutions to Fourth of July parties and other embassy events.

So I can’t actually speak to the balance of guests, but I can tell you that the balance of their diplomacy, they endeavor to be quite careful to meet with everybody who wanted to meet them.

QUESTION: Toria, are you suggesting that the environmentalists and NGOs were also invited to these parties?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to specific parties on specific dates, but I do know that the Embassy maintained a broad set of contacts.

QUESTION: Well, it seems to me if your point is that this is only half of the story —

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: — that you would endeavor to make sure that the full story was known without having to get a – without having a FOIA request.

MS. NULAND: Well, it’s —

QUESTION: Right? I mean – or do we have to submit one now? I would like all email related to this involving NGOs –

MS. NULAND: Contacts with NG – right, NGOs?

QUESTION: Exactly. I mean, is that what you’re waiting for? I mean, it seems to me that if you’re innocent of any kind of wrong-doing, if that’s even the right word, you would want to get that out there and prove it.

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re getting it there today, and we will continue to get it out there, that the Embassy’s job was to maintain contacts both with the business community, with the government, with the NGO community, with the environmental community.

QUESTION: Are you aware that there was any connection between Ms. Verloop and this guy who worked for Secretary Clinton’s campaign?

MS. NULAND: You mean after she became –

QUESTION: No prior to – I mean, I presume she’s a career foreign service officer, yes, or civil servant.

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to —

QUESTION: She’s not a political appointee? I mean, did she have any kind of connection with — did she know him before his work with TransCanada? Did she know him from the campaign or is she not – because the way it – the way the emails read to me was that although her – this woman at the Embassy in Ottawa may have had a friendly email exchange, his email – this guy’s email exchanges with people in this building, including Cheryl Mills’ people and Jake, he seemed to be getting blown off quite a lot and the emails, some of them, were like, “God this guy won’t ever stop asking for meetings, why?” And then another one saying, “Oh well. Conveniently she’s going to be out of town so we won’t have to deal with this.” So it – I’m just wondering with the whole idea that somehow there was something wrong or something bad going on here because of this guy’s connection with the campaign. If there wasn’t a connection between him and this woman, Verloop, in Ottawa, I’m not sure I – I don’t understand why the – do you understand what I’m saying?

MS. NULAND: I got lost in the thicket of your question, Matt, I think.

QUESTION: It seems to me that the people that he – the people that – sorry it wasn’t – the people that he knew from the campaign didn’t seem to be particularly helpful to him in this building – in terms of arranging meetings in this building.

MS. NULAND: Again, our view on this, from beginning to end, is that this department, our folks in Ottawa, behaved transparently and even-handedly with regard to all the groups involved in this process.

QUESTION: But the allegation from Friends of the Earth is that there was some kind of cozy relationship because of this guy’s previous role as – on Secretary Clinton’s campaign. And the only cozy relationship that I can see – maybe I’m not reading enough of them but –that I saw was between him and this – and Verloop, and not particularly between people that he did know from the campaign who were in this building, not in Ottawa.

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to whether they had a relationship before she took up her posting in Ottawa or before he went to work for TransCanada. I can take the question if there’s an interest there, but I’m not sure what we’ll learn.

Please, Catherine.

QUESTION: Just a clarification. I believe previously when you’ve spoken about the Keystone decision process, that you said there would be a decision before the end of the year. I think you just said that there wouldn’t be one before the end of the year.

MS. NULAND: I wouldn’t parse it too finely. I think we’re looking to the end of the year to make a decision.

QUESTION: Okay. So December, January, not –

MS. NULAND: That’s the thinking. But we’ve got quite –

QUESTION: — late 2012.

MS. NULAND: That’s the thinking.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. NULAND: Anything else on this one? No?

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You issued a statement in the weekend welcoming the Israeli Government decision to accept the Quartet proposal. The chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Israel acceptance is an exercise in deceiving the international community. And they won’t accept going back to negotiation unless Israel freezes the settlements and accepts ’67 border as a parameter. What is the United States doing to bring – it’s obviously two huge different gaps between the two sides. How can you bring these two sides together assuming that something will happen by the end of 2012?

MS. NULAND: Well, you did point out that we welcomed the Israeli statement yesterday. We continue to meet with the Palestinian side and urge them to come back to the table without preconditions. We had, as you know, a meeting between our consul general in Jerusalem and President Abbas, I believe it was, on Friday. We’re continuing to talk to both sides. We’re also anticipating a Quartet meeting sometime by the end of this week or on the weekend to try to see what we can all do to encourage the two sides to come back to the table. We continue to believe that the Quartet has put forward a good timetable, an appropriate roadmap for these parties to begin working directly together and that that is the best way to get down to brass tacks and try to get to a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.

QUESTION: But when you say – without precondition, aren’t you adopting the Israeli position completely?

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: When you – in your statement, when you said the two sides have to come back to negotiation without any preconditions, aren’t you adopting the Israeli point of view?

MS. NULAND: Well, we also made a statement with regard to settlement activity with regard to construction in Jerusalem last week that we found this unhelpful, et cetera. So if you look at the totality of the Quartet statement, it talks about coming back to the negotiations without preconditions, and it also speaks to both sides about avoiding action that could be detrimental to that.

So, Eli.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Quartet statement talks about a possible meeting in Moscow. Is that something that the United States supports?

MS. NULAND: Well, we signed up to the Quartet statement. I think that what is anticipated there is that at an appropriate time when enough progress would be made, it might make sense to have the Quartet join with the parties in Moscow. But you note that a date has not been set because we’re not there yet. But we are obviously prepared for that if we get to that point, and we hope we do get to that point.

QUESTION: But can you just say – do you think it’s appropriate for the Russians to be hosting the peace process?

MS. NULAND: Again, if we get to the point where the Quartet proposal has led us through these steps – we’ve had a first preliminary meeting, we have had proposals on security and borders put forward by the parties, and we’re moving along – then the Quartet as a whole and its support for that will have borne some fruit, and under those circumstances we would be prepared to have a conference in Moscow if it could help the parties and if the parties were prepared to go, and that’s why it speaks of that.


QUESTION: Are you able to give us any more information on the consul general’s meeting with President Abbas on Friday? I’m wondering specifically if he left that meeting any – with any sort of hope or greater sense of encouragement that the Palestinians may, in fact, come around and accept this.

MS. NULAND: I think you won’t be surprised, Andy, if I don’t go into details of our diplomatic discussion except to say that we thought the meeting was important, it was a good airing of views, and we’re going to stay in close touch.

QUESTION: Did – on the Quartet, you’re talking about an envoys meeting this week, right?

MS. NULAND: An envoys meeting towards the end of the week is the thought.


MS. NULAND: I think they haven’t decided yet. They’re looking at Europe somewhere.

QUESTION: Okay. And – but – and it would be David Hale and –

MS. NULAND: Yes. At the Hale and Ross level.

QUESTION: No – and no idea on when actually it would be or venue?

MS. NULAND: They are still working on it.

QUESTION: And then can you explain what is going on with the Hill and this money that has been suspended? This is money, if I understand correctly, that would have been spent before September 30th in the last fiscal year but hadn’t yet been spent? Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: This is money to fund the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian institution building that we had notified to Congress but that has not yet been obligated. You have to notify it before

the end of the fiscal year. You’ve seen and heard the Secretary speak about the final tranche of that, the 50 million that she notified about two weeks ago. We are continuing intensive consultations with the Congress on this money because we feel that U.S. support for Palestinian institution-building is a vital piece of what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to prepare the ground for a successful and stable peace. This money goes to establishing and strengthening the institutions of a future Palestinian state, building a more democratic and stable and secure region. We think it is money that is not only in the interest of the Palestinians; it’s in U.S. interest and it’s also in Israeli interest, and we would like to see it go forward.

QUESTION: So how much is it?

MS. NULAND: There are various reports. We’ve – over the year, we’ve provided some 200 million —

QUESTION: Well, how much is being – how much is affected by this, these holds?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have the specifics here and I think there are different holds in different parts of the Congress on different pieces of the money, but simply to say that we want to see the whole 200 million that we have notified go forward.

QUESTION: Right, and so what is the effect of this on the ground?

MS. NULAND: Well, the concern would be that the Palestinians would not have the money to fund their police, to fund their civil servants that provide services, to continue to strengthen their own security forces that maintain peace in conjunction with Israel. So that’s the concern.

QUESTION: But – no, what is the effect on the ground right now? Are there projects that are underway that are being stopped?

MS. NULAND: I think where we are is we still have some money in the pipeline, but the concern is that if we don’t get this going with the Congress in short order, there could be an effect on the ground.

QUESTION: And is there a reason why it wasn’t distributed, disbursed?

MS. NULAND: Well, sometimes these things take some time to absorb. In this particular case, I’m not – just because you notify doesn’t mean that all the money is obligated immediately.

QUESTION: Right, but is it a situation where if you had got – just gotten the money out quickly – more quickly, that this wouldn’t – they wouldn’t have been able to put holds on it?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that this money was notified before the end of the fiscal year for use in the coming month, so there never an intention that all of it would have been spent by October 1st.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am –


QUESTION: There’s been a lot of confusion; we were trying to chase this all weekend.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: And talking to different parts of the government, we kept getting, “No, the money is still going to flow freely,” or “The money has been stopped,” a lot of confusion in the Administration’s message on whether or not this money was going to the PA. Where’s the breakdown?

MS. NULAND: I think the issue here is that there have been some concerns in some parts of Congress, and we are trying to work through those. So those conversations are continuing; they’re continuing intensively this week.

QUESTION: So what do you say to the Palestinians who are trying to figure out budgets? Obviously, that’s a part of running a government. How can they say to their employees you will be paid for keeping the peace, for educating children, for sweeping the streets, when there’s all this – all these question marks over on the Hill, and ostensibly, there are several different committees that are trying to hold up the money – or several different members of Congress, I should say, who are trying to hold up the money one way or another?

MS. NULAND: We say, as I’ve said here today, that we remain committed to U.S. support for Palestinian institution-building. We remain committed to a dual-track approach, which is to continue to try to build the institutions of a Palestinian state as we urge a return to negotiations. We want to see both happen, and that’s the case we’re making to Congress, and we’ll continue to make it.

QUESTION: Is the Administration also making an appeal to Israel to release government revenues that are supposed to be transferred to the Palestinians that could ostensibly be a backfill while the Congress gets this issue worked out with the Administration?

MS. NULAND: I think we regularly speak to Israel about its support for the same programs, and my understanding is that that support continues.


QUESTION: Secretary of Defense Panetta met today or is meeting today —

QUESTION: Just on the same issue – sorry.

MS. NULAND: Let’s go to Said and then come back.

QUESTION: Secretary of State* Panetta is meeting today with the Israelis and the Palestinians to get them to go back to the talks. On the one hand, the Pentagon or the United States is giving arms and airplanes and so on to the state of Israel, and on the other, we’re seeing that funds to the Palestinian security forces are being cut. Does that put him in a very difficult position in sort of convincing the Palestinians to go back to the negotiating table?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think anybody should question our commitment to Israel’s security. That support continues, but – nor should anybody question the Administration’s support for continuing to build Palestinian institutions. We think both are important.


MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about the status of the meeting, that he’s held today? Is he holding it or has he held it today with the Palestinians?

MS. NULAND: I think he’s in meetings even as we speak, so I’m going to refer you to his folks who are on the ground.


QUESTION: The Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Al-Araby said that the Arab state should step in and pay the money that the Congress is holding now, which is around 190 million. Do you worry that in the long run, that the United States will lose its leverage or its influence in – on the Palestinian in particular, but in the Middle East in general, should you lose this battle with the Congress, which is most likely?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, you’re taking me into all kinds of hypotheticals. I think we saw in the Quartet situation, and in the diplomacy that we had in New York and that we’ve had since, that U.S. leadership on this issue remains central to pulling all the players together. We are very appreciative of those Arab countries who do provide generous support to the Palestinian Authority, and we continue to use our bilateral diplomacy with Arab countries to encourage them to at least match us when they can in support for institution building, because we think it is so important. So, as I said, we need this to go forward.

Jill, did you have something over here on this subject? No.

Please, Nicole.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. NULAND: New topic. Go, Nicole.

QUESTION: Does the State Department have anything to say about the bill in the Senate right now that deals with China’s currency?

MS. NULAND: Nicole, I have to say that currency-related issues and our currency relationship with China are led by Treasury, and Treasury has the lead, both in terms of this legislation and in terms of our larger currency relationship with China, so I’m going to send you to them on this.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, that is true. But the Secretary has made economic policy a priority of her statecraft, and she spends a lot of time talking to China about trade, which is tightly, tightly tied to currency. So I would expect you to have something you can say about the direction of the bill or —

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary has made no secret of the fact that she wants to see free, fair, transparent trade both ways continue to grow, respecting international law, but this piece of legislation goes directly to currency issues, so I’m going to send you to Treasury.


QUESTION: Somewhat related – during her meeting with the Chinese foreign minister last week over at UNGA, the Chinese foreign minister, according to State Department, told her directly that China might respond to the Taiwan arms sales by downgrading various meetings, changing things around. I’m wondering, from the State Department’s perspective, have you seen anything specific that China has done, that they’ve either told you directly or you believe is related to the Taiwan arms sale decision, i.e. canceling meetings, changing planned trips, anything like that?

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge yet, Andy. But let me take that one so we don’t – so we give you accurate information.

Said. Anything else on this? No. Said.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. The Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has – claiming a lot of credit, trying to get a lot of mileage out of the killing of al-Awlaki, and his supporters aren’t (inaudible) enough to wage attacks on the opposition. How far have you gotten in convincing him, persuading him, to sign to the GCC agreement?

MS. NULAND: We continue to make the case publicly and privately that we believe that the GCC agreement presents the best route forward for Yemen, and that’s where we stand. But you know where he is. He hasn’t been able to actually get out his pen and do the necessary.

QUESTION: I understand, but are there any kind of leverage that you are using with Mr. Saleh to convince him?

MS. NULAND: I think the number one piece of leverage is the concern of his own people that the longer this goes on the more unstable Yemen remains, and their aspirations are not being met. We had a spate of violence a couple of weeks ago that was very concerning to everybody, representing the frustrations of the people that the country was not moving forward. So if he truly believes in a strong, stable, democratic Yemen, as he says he does, he should sign the paper and let things move on.


QUESTION: Just to follow up, are you working on anything with allies or through the UN on Yemen?

MS. NULAND: Our main focus on Yemen has been to support the diplomacy of the GCC, which has been very active in this case. As you know, they had their envoy in Yemen trying to work the situation, and then they came to the UN to get support, and they continue to try to work with Saleh’s people and with the opposition to come up with a roadmap moving forward. So that’s been the main thrust of our support, both in Sana’a and internationally.

Please, Dave.

QUESTION: The Lockerbie figure Megrahi —


QUESTION: — recently reported in a coma, is giving interviews, saying, among other things, that his role in the whole thing was exaggerated, that he never hurt a fly. Is the United States trying to talk to him now, given that seems to be an opportunity, talking to the Libyans about him?

MS. NULAND: He does seem to have made a miraculous recovery, doesn’t he? It’s – you know where we are on Megrahi. He never should have been let out of jail. Our own Justice Department investigation of him is ongoing. We are continuing to talk to the TNC. We also had some members of the Senate in Tripoli last week who raised his case. So we believe that the right place for Megrahi is behind bars, and we will continue to make that case to the Libyans.

QUESTION: Sorry. Did you say that —

QUESTION: I mean, would the United States like access to him right now?

MS. NULAND: At – I think I’m going to send that one to Justice. They are the ones with the open case. If there were anything to say to him, presumably it would be in that context. The only thing we have to say to him at the State Department is we believe he should be behind bars.

QUESTION: You said that —

QUESTION: Can I ask you just to follow up?


QUESTION: Are there any efforts right now, besides the discussions with senators, to apprehend him?

MS. NULAND: The TNC has been looking at this case. My understanding is he remains at his house in Tripoli. They have not made any firm decisions about where they will go with this, but they know that we and the international community have concerns and believe that he should be behind bars. I think you know that the TNC’s first effort and main thrust is to continue to try to get security control of all of Tripoli, all of Libya, and will move onto some of these issues with more dispatch after that.

QUESTION: Can I ask about – do we have an extradition agreement with the TNC?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, we – they’ve only been in power and recognized by the U.S. for a short period. We haven’t negotiated any agreements with them.

QUESTION: Have you asked the TNC to snatch him and send him to America?

MS. NULAND: We have made clear to the TNC that we believe he should be behind bars. We have made clear to them that our own investigation remains ongoing and could lead to further discussion and requirement for discussion with them. We’ve also made clear to the Scottish authorities that we think a mistake was made here.

QUESTION: You said that he does seem to have made a miraculous recovery. What’s the basis for your saying that?

MS. NULAND: Well, he seems to have been giving interviews. I mean, that’s the only basis
for —

QUESTION: Well, he’s lying in a bed. I mean, it’s not like he’s out running a marathon or anything like that. He’s still bedridden.

MS. NULAND: Well, the last time he was lying in a bed, at least based on the CNN reporting we saw, he wasn’t able to speak. So I don’t know what’s going on there.

QUESTION: So, in fact, you’re not really sure he’s made a miraculous recovery at all?

MS. NULAND: Well, if miraculous means he’s out running marathons, that’s clearly not the case. But he seems to be able to advocate for himself, which would – not the conditions that he was released under.

QUESTION: Couldn’t the United States really see Megrahi if they wanted to? I mean, he’s physically there in Tripoli, and I think you have a friendly authority in Tripoli today. So if they wanted to see him, they could conceivably see him, couldn’t they?

MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what the point of that would be. The Libyan authorities have to make decisions about him and our Justice Department has to complete its investigation of the case.

QUESTION: I’m saying if he’s bedridden and he cannot travel or something, they could certainly have someone to talk to him and perhaps do a little bit of investigation as they look.

MS. NULAND: I’m not sure that that’s necessary at the point that we’re in.

QUESTION: But you’re saying that the proper place for him is to be behind bars, and although he’s been tried through a judicial process that we all admire and acknowledge in Scotland, but now you want him to go through a different kind of judicial process again.

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we have two tracks here. We have the Libyan process on what the new authorities in Libya choose to do in his case. We also have an open U.S. Department of Justice investigation into this whole thing. I think both of those need to proceed. I’m not sure that either at the moment require an interview with Mr. Megrahi.


QUESTION: Yeah. Back to Yemen really quickly if that’s okay.


QUESTION: Originally, I think it was reported that Ibrahim Asiri was among the – those who died in the Awlaki strike, and now the Yemeni Government, I believe, is saying that that’s not the case. I’m just wondering if you know anything about his status right now.

MS. NULAND: I don’t. I’m sorry.

Anything else?



QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the declaration by the Syrian opposition that they have unified and they issued a statement composing a sort of national leadership?

MS. NULAND: Well, this is the latest in an effort of many different Syrian opposition groups to try to unite, and this particular group does unite a number of the groups. As you know, we have been encouraging all the groups to try to unite under one umbrella, so we’re obviously encouraged by any effort to bring more unity. And I think one of the things that we would particularly note about this group is that it has called for nonviolence and for a peaceful transition, which is obviously something that we support. And we are continuing to urge the Syrian opposition to make their views known peacefully to the extent that they can.

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports emerging from Homs, a very large city, about armed groups fighting back and hunkering down and actually hit-and-run battles and so on going on? Do you have any information on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we made some comments last week about this situation. We were very concerned about the escalation of violence there and the vicious attack on the opposition perpetrated by the government. We had seen the same reports that you had seen about some folks fighting back. Again, most parts of Syria, the opposition has maintained its nonviolent stance and has demonstrated great restraint. Our understanding in Homs is that some of these folks that had taken up arms have actually retreated now.

But we blame this violence on the Syrian regime. They’re the ones who have started it by firing on innocents. They’re the ones who have escalated the tension. They’re the ones in the strongest position to stop it.

QUESTION: Do you recognize the council as a legal representative of the Syrian people?

MS. NULAND: We see this group as one of a number of groups trying to organize the Syrian opposition, and in the context, we recognize that it’s a movement in the right direction. But again, there are a number of these groups.

QUESTION: The State Department has frequently said that it wants to help the Syrian opposition sort of get its act together. I’m wondering, in this particular case, were there any U.S. officials there as either advisors or observers for this council – for the formation of this council? Did you have any – did you sort of suggest to them that this might be a way of getting things together?

MS. NULAND: I don’t believe we were represented at the Istanbul meeting. If that’s incorrect, we’ll get back to you, Andy.


QUESTION: Did you confirm if the government used helicopter gun airplanes to oppress the opposition?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information on that one way or the other, Samir.

QUESTION: The opposition claims that they have used, like, crop dusters to dump, like germs or whatever on them.

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, we haven’t been able to confirm it one way or the other. It’s plenty violent without that.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:32 p.m.)

*Leon Panetta is the U.S. Secretary of Defense.