Wednesday, January 4, 2012

US Department of State Press Briefing January 4, 2012 (Full Text)

Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 4, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Quartet Meetings
    • State Department Map
    • Taliban / Political Reconciliation
    • President Saleh / Visa
    • U.S. Engagement with International Political Parties
  • IRAN
    • Freedom of Navigation in International Waters
    • EU Sanctions
    • American Citizen Detained in Iran
    • Iranian Government treatment of U.S.-Iranian Dual Nationals
    • Arab League Monitoring Mission / Violence / Opposition
    • Awaiting Arab League Report
    • Ambassador Feltman's Meetings
    • NGO Raids
    • Establishment Bureau of Counterterrorism / Structure and Leadership
    • International Focus of Bureau of Counterterrorism
  • ASIA
    • Assistant Secretary Campbell's Travel, Meetings in Seoul, Beijing

1:02 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. I’m hoping we fed you so richly with that last meal that this one will be petite. I have nothing at the top, so why don’t we go to what’s on your minds?
QUESTION: Right. This will just be dessert?
MS. NULAND: This will be dessert. How’s that? I like that.
QUESTION: Absolutely.
MS. NULAND: Dessert in January. I thought there’s no dessert for anybody in January.
QUESTION: Right. No, for nobody, okay? So, good, that leads me into my first question about the Israeli and the Palestinian talks yesterday. They did have a meal. I guess they had no dessert since there wasn’t anything very exciting that Foreign Minister Judeh had to say afterwards. You promised us yesterday you would give us the American view of what happened, so what is it?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, again, to thank the Jordanians for this initiative that they took to get the parties together. From our perspective, the most important thing that’s happened so far and that’s continuing to happen is that these parties are talking directly.
As you know, that was something that the Quartet has called for for many, many months, but it was a key tenant of the proposal that was made in September that, really, the only way to get where we need to go, where they need to go, is for these parties to talk directly. So we consider that that first round of meetings was constructive, as were their interactions with the Quartet envoys. As you heard the Jordanian foreign minister say yesterday, we expect another round of these direct talks to pick up on January 6th, and that is important that this dialogue is continuing. And we are, as Quartet parties, supportive of that, and we’ll see where it goes.
As I mentioned yesterday, the meetings also gave our envoy, David Hale, a chance to meet directly with President Abbas, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with Foreign Minister Judeh. We continue to believe that the subject of the conversation needs to be focused on, first of all, territory and security, that both parties should be working towards making comprehensive proposals to each other that can become the basis of a negotiation. So that is what we’re looking to see as the next round moves forward, and that is the message that we are giving to the parties and that the Quartet as a whole is giving to the parties.
QUESTION: What – so do you know who is going to be meeting, at what level is this next meeting going to take place?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that it is, again, the designated envoys for the two sides, Mr. Molho and Mr. Erekat.
QUESTION: My last one on this is that yesterday, I asked you what the U.S. believed was the Quartet deadline or timeframe for the two sides to present their proposals on security and borders. Is it January 26th, as would be four months from the 26th of September, which is what the Quartet outlined, or is there some wiggle room here?
MS. NULAND: Well, you are correct that when the Quartet put its proposal forward in September, the idea was 30 days for the first meeting and then 90 days thereafter for the parties to put forward their proposals. That remains the aspiration of the Quartet, that we see comprehensive proposals by the two parties by January 26.
But again, this is a live negotiation now. They are talking to each other. So what’s most important is that that conversation continue and that they work together on next steps that’ll increase confidence, that’ll increase trust, that’ll increase dialogue, that’ll bring us closer on the real issues. So --
QUESTION: So you don’t buy into the Israeli line that the deadline – that that four-month period or this second 90-day period only kicks in once direct talks are happening? In other words, it would be 90 days from yesterday?
MS. NULAND: Our --
QUESTION: Do you – you’re sticking with the January 26th?
MS. NULAND: Our view remains that we would like to see real discussion based on real proposals begin within this month, which is why, though, we’re encouraged not only that they are talking directly, but that there is another direct meeting between them even this week, which can – we hope will give us some momentum, we hope will give us some grounds to increase the confidence, increase the trust, encourage the sides to really begin working this out themselves.
QUESTION: When you describe the talks as constructive, is it your understanding that in the discussions so far, they’ve gotten into any of the issues that you said you’d like them to bring up?
MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that they are talking about the real issues. One of the values of this session, in fact, was that we were not in the room for the direct session or for all of it. So it’s – they really need to talk to each other. That’s what’s going to settle these issues.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) If you were not in the room, would you characterize your engagement as perhaps less engaged or more engaged or partially engaged? How do you shepherd, I mean, for the lack of better words, these talks? And would the next step be, let’s say, talks in Washington?
MS. NULAND: Well, let’s start with the next round at the end of the week in Amman, and see where we go from there. I think there’ll probably, thereafter, be some kind of a coordination session among the Quartet envoys to look at where we go later in January. But I think your word “shepherd” is a nice one. It’s a nice one for the season. Shepherd, support, encourage, provide a format, increase confidence – all of those things are goals and aspirations of the Quartet to stay with both parties, to help them work through their issues. As you know, the envoys met also separately with the parties, and as I said, our envoy met with leadership – both the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership.
So our goal is to help listen closely, see if we can help them close the gaps, see if we can encourage them, and particularly encourage them in this area of talking directly to each other, because that’s the best path forward.
QUESTION: The Palestinians – yeah, sorry. The Palestinians feel that you’re becoming less and less enthusiastic about engaging yourself fully as you have been in the past. So should that word “shepherd” exacerbate their feelings at the present time that you are actually not as interested as, let’s say, in past years in seeing these talks through?
MS. NULAND: I think I would reject that characterization. I would say, though, that our view is that we cannot do this for the parties. They have to do this for themselves and they have to do it with each other. We can provide a supporting environment. We can listen to both sides and help them to hear each other. We can provide ideas, as we have done through the Quartet proposal. But at the end of the day, they have to make peace with each other.
QUESTION: And lastly, Victoria, the Palestinian Authority President Abbas said that, come the 26th of January, he will make some really difficult decisions. Has he discussed any of that with you?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into our private diplomacy with President Abbas or with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Our view remains that we have some good momentum going now with the direct conversation. There’s going to be another round this week. We want to see real progress in January, without any kinds of brinksmanship or preconditions or any of that kind of thing. We want to preserve this good environment that’s been started in Amman.
QUESTION: Forgive me if I missed this by the way, but has the Secretary – when was the last time the Secretary herself had any direct conversations with her counterparts or others – Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas – on these issues?
MS. NULAND: I would have to check the calendar, but my memory, Arshad, is that she spoke to both of them earlier in December but not since the new year, if that’s your question.
QUESTION: Well, my question – I’d be interested also to know how far back in December, whether it was December the 1st, whether she had any conversations leading up to these meetings. Can you check that for us?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We’ll have some more for you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. But as her statement did make clear, she was in close contact with the Jordanians as they were midwifing this round of meetings, and our envoy was obviously in close touch with both sides to encourage and support it. In terms of her direct conversations with the parties, I’ll get that for you.
QUESTION: And did you say September or December?
MS. NULAND: December was what I said, but I didn’t have a date in my frontal lobe here, so – are we still on this subject? No?
QUESTION: Another subject. Do you have any updates on these controversial maps of the region – Southeast Asia, India especially?
MS. NULAND: I do. I’m thrilled and relieved to tell you that we have now put the revised maps up on our website. So please go and enjoy them. And what you will see when you look at these maps is that they reflect the fact that the United States takes no position on the dispute and urges all the parties to seek a peaceful resolution to resolving the claims. What you’ll see on the maps is consistent with what the U.S. geographic position has been consistently, that there is a dashed line representing the 1972 line of control, reflecting Kashmir’s unresolved status. We neglected to actually label that dotted line in the last round of maps. It has now been labeled.
What else do I have with regard to the maps? Oh, the maps also add our standard disclaimer with regard to Kashmir that says that names and boundary representations are not necessarily authoritative. As I said, that reflects the fact that this is in dispute and the U.S. takes no position on the dispute.
QUESTION: So what is the gist that we should take from this on the Kashmir policy?
MS. NULAND: That we made a goof and we fixed it, and we’re now back in compliance with our own cartographical policy.
What took so long, you’re going to ask me, Kirit; I do not know what took so long. We wanted to get it right so we don’t have to do this again.
QUESTION: But if you have no policy on this, I’m wondering why it took so long to change it.
MS. NULAND: To get the maps corrected --
QUESTION: It’s a Photoshop job.
MS. NULAND: I think until our fabulous colleagues in the third row pointed this out to us, it was not clear what had gone wrong, and we wanted to make sure --
QUESTION: Right. But that was, like, a month or two ago.
MS. NULAND: It was. We had Christmas, we had New Year’s.
QUESTION: But I thought there were two different – I thought there was – different maps going on here. Wasn’t there one that – where the problem was with the Chinese border and one would --
MS. NULAND: My understanding is --
QUESTION: In other words, when the question came up yesterday, you said that the questioner was talking about a different map.
MS. NULAND: No, no. What happened yesterday was that some folks in the room thought that we had put up a new map, when in fact, as of yesterday, we had one map that was correct and therefore was never taken down. What we did today was replace the other maps that had been wrong.
QUESTION: And it shows the line of control as a dotted line --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: -- suggesting that it’s in dispute. Well, that’s not going to please the Indians at all. I mean, that’s their entire point. That’s – was that – that’s the complaint is that it shouldn’t be – that it’s not disputed, according to them --
MS. NULAND: Well, again --
QUESTION: -- and that Kashmir is an integral part of India.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, it is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Okay. That’s fair enough. Now you said that the other thing is that the names and boundary lines are not what?
QUESTION: Necessarily authoritative?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. There is --
QUESTION: Well, then what the – I’m sorry. What’s the point of having a map if it’s not going to be authoritative?
MS. NULAND: There is an asterisk on this set of maps, which is also consistent with our standard policy when we are trying to make clear that there is a dispute here. And it says that the names and boundary representations are not necessarily authoritative, meaning that they are in dispute and we are not taking a position.
QUESTION: Can you just clarify that the – he was talking about the U.S. policy on Kashmir.
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Do you still believe that there should be an international intervention on that kind of thing? Or do you believe that it should continue with the bilateral talks?
MS. NULAND: The U.S. believes that this issue is best solved in bilateral channels. We’ve been very supportive of the work going on in bilateral channels, and we’d like to see it continue.
QUESTION: What is the Embassy entity that actually makes these determinations about the maps?
MS. NULAND: You have stumped me. I think it’s the U.S. Geological Service, but I’m not sure. Let us get that for you, Arshad.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.
QUESTION: On a separate topic --
QUESTION: -- the U.S. seems to be moving toward official talks with the Taliban. I’m wondering if you have an update on that effort. And related to that, how would you characterize contacts between the U.S. and the Taliban up to this point so far? And there are concerns related to talk of possibly releasing detainees at Guantanamo Bay. How would you address concerns over that?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, Michael, we spoke to this extensively yesterday, so I would refer you to the conversation that we had yesterday. What we have here is a continuation of the policy that we’ve had straight through, which is that in addition to supporting and fighting alongside those Afghans who – alongside the Afghans to fight those Taliban who remain on the battlefield, we are also prepared to support Afghan-led reconciliation with those Taliban who are prepared to talk.
But the conditions for reconciliation held by the United States are the same held by the Afghan Government, namely that these – the Taliban have to be willing to renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, and support the Afghan constitution and all of its elements, particularly with regard to universal human rights, rights of women, rights of minorities. So what we said all along is with regard to this talk about potentially establishing a Taliban office, supporting an Afghan-led process, we are prepared to support those things on the understanding that what we seek, what the Afghans seek, is true reconciliation along the lines that I discussed, that they are ending the violence, we are supporting the democratic constitution of Afghanistan.
With regard to Guantanamo, simply to say that no decisions have been made with regard to any releases.
QUESTION: But can you also characterize contacts so far between the U.S. and the Taliban? How would you characterize?
MS. NULAND: We have made clear that in coordination with Afghans we have had some meetings. We also made clear when the Secretary was in Afghanistan and Pakistan that, at the request of the Pakistanis, we had one meeting with the Haqqani guys. Obviously, we’re going to do this in a way that supports an Afghan-led reconciliation process. This is not American-led, this has to be Afghan-led, and we will do it again in the context of trying to support a real reconciliation for those who are truly coming off the battlefield, truly ready to join a political process.
QUESTION: So Victoria, is it your --
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Karzai released a statement referring to the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations. Now how do you explain the discrepancy there and how he sees it and how you’re explaining it?
MS. NULAND: Well, I wouldn’t read too much into it. He also said on December 27th that he supported the establishment of an address for the Taliban for this Afghan-led process. He makes reference in the statement that he made yesterday to the demands of the Afghan Loya Jirga, which he went to to say we want to continue this reconciliation process. The Afghan Loya Jirga said that it would be supportive of an Afghan-led process.
So I think what you see in Karzai’s statement is Karzai welcoming an American role in an Afghan-led process. He is, certainly, I don’t think asking us to do this independently of Afghanistan, nor are we interested in doing that.
QUESTION: Toria, you said that there are the militant Talibans that are waging war in Afghanistan, and then there are those that are pursuing peace. So are we to understand there are two Talibans in this?
MS. NULAND: Well, as in all such conflicts, there are folks who are not ready to come off the battlefield and there are some who are – who may be willing to consider doing so. So what we’ve said all along, and the Secretary said when she was in Afghanistan and Pakistan in October, that our policy would be to fight, to talk, and to build all at the same time. So you fight those who continue to insist on fighting and to fight the state of Afghanistan, and to support our Afghan partners as ISAF when those fighters are not prepared to lay down their arms.
But you also support an Afghan-led process of talking with those who are prepared to truly talk towards reconciliation. And then the last piece, of course, which we never forget, is building. And that means building a better neighborhood around Afghanistan. This goes to the Silk Road Initiative, where we’re trying to encourage better neighborly relations among Afghanistan and its neighbors, particularly Pakistan, but the states on all sides so that we can improve trade, improve cooperation, improve the lives of average people, and defeat the incentive for terrorism and for violence.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MS. NULAND: Please. Cami.
QUESTION: Still one more.
MS. NULAND: Still on Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Have you received any formal requests from Afghanistan about releasing these prisoners from Gitmo? Any list they have sent it to you?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we’re not today, we’re not in the future, going to get into the details of these Afghan-led discussions. That’s not productive to the process. What I’ve said to you is that we’ve not made any decisions with regard to releases. I don’t think I’m going to go beyond that.
QUESTION: And secondly, previously this Administration had said that there’s no difference between a good Taliban and a bad Taliban; just Taliban is the Taliban. But now today it seems like you are differentiating between the Taliban who wants to talk and Taliban who is fighting. So how is it different between the previous argument and the new argument?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know what you’re referring to, but we’ve always made clear that
those-- we would support the Afghan people in defeating the enemies of the state. And in-- and we’ve been supporting them for 10 years on the battlefield against those who insist on waging war against the government. So I don’t think that there’s a change there.
QUESTION: Madam, where do you put the al-Qaida in this process as far as peace talks with the Taliban is concerned? And secondly, Talibans and Haqqani Network both have joined together that they will not attack anymore Pakistani civilians, but the attacks otherwise will continue.
MS. NULAND: Well, in your first question, we don’t see any place for al-Qaida in this process. With regard to Pakistani Taliban, I think that’s a better question addressed to them. I’ve – we’ve seen reports of a recent meeting – we’ve seen all kinds of different reports, but it’s a question addressed to them.
QUESTION: And secondly – if I may, one more. If I got back on this new bureau as far as Talibans are concerned. One, the timing of this bureau, and second, Talibans last week question also announced that they will open a new office in Qatar. So where do we stand as far as opening – are you going to allow for them to open a new office also in the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t – I don’t think that that’s an issue even in the wind, Goyal. And again, with regard to the Qatar idea, it’s also not a formal proposal at this stage. And your previous – there was something before that, I think. I can’t remember (inaudible).
Okay. Kirit.
QUESTION: Two questions on Iran, if I may. I feel like we go through this every day when it – they ratchet up the rhetoric, but they’ve done it again and said that they – they’re going to require permission for any foreign warships to enter the Strait of Hormuz. That’s beyond where they’ve gone before. What do you have to say about that? Is the U.S. going to request any permission to enter?
MS. NULAND: Kirit, I think you know the answer to that question. We spoke to this from the Pentagon yesterday. We spoke to this from this podium yesterday. Jay Carney spoke to this from the White House. The U.S. --
QUESTION: Well, but they’ve gone (inaudible) beyond where they were yesterday, so --
MS. NULAND: They have, and this is the kind of bluster that indicates that they’re feeling pressure. But we believe that the United States needs to continue to play the global role that we have played for a long time in terms of ensuring and promoting freedom of navigation in international waters, and our policy will continue to reflect that.
QUESTION: And regarding their specific request for permission?
MS. NULAND: I think you know the answer to that. We consider this international territory.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Yemen?
QUESTION: Well, hold on. I’ve got still – well, can I do --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- one more Iran question if you don’t mind? The EU has, in principle, agreed to impose some sanctions to ban the oil imports from Iran. Do you have anything to say about that?
MS. NULAND: Obviously, very good news and the result of lots of consultations among us, between the U.S. and EU countries, within the EU, very, very welcome and supportive of the intent of the Congress when it passed the new legislation at the end of the year. So these are the kinds of steps that we would like to see not just from our close allies and partners in places like Europe but from countries around the world, because we do believe that this is consistent with tightening the noose on Iran economically, and it also – we think that the place to get Iran’s attention is with regard to its oil sector.
QUESTION: May I ask you about Yemen, President Saleh?
QUESTION: May I follow up on this?
MS. NULAND: Let’s – Michel.
QUESTION: News stories coming from Iran have said today that Turkish foreign minister has delivered a letter from the United States to the Iranians regarding the situation in Strait of Hormuz. Can you confirm that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that is accurate, Michel. I think this is a bilateral visit to Turkey. I am not aware of any U.S. message delivered through Turkey, so --
QUESTION: On Yemen, this just was on the AP wires that a senior official from Yemen’s ruling party says President Saleh has decided not to come here for medical treatment or whatever his reasons were for coming here, and has decided to stay in Yemen. What is the U.S. position on that? Do you want him to stay there?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the same press reports you have. To date, we still have a visa application from President Saleh at our Embassy in Sana’a. It hasn’t been withdrawn. We also have not made a decision one way or another with regard to that visa. Our view is that President Saleh needs to step aside and allow the process to go forward as agreed and as he has signed up to, so we want to see the vice president and the opposition continue to work towards a democratic process in Yemen. So frankly, I’m not going to speak to his travel plans one way or the other. We --
QUESTION: I’m just wondering whether you think the process can go forward if he is still in Yemen.
MS. NULAND: Well, the process can go forward if there’s no interference with the process that’s been begun, yeah.
QUESTION: But would the United States help Ali Abdullah Saleh to go elsewhere, like in Europe or Canada or Australia for treatment?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re not going to dictate his travel plans one way or the other.
QUESTION: On Syria, the Syrian foreign ministry has considered today your statement as a meddling in the Arab League work in Syria. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS. NULAND: What we have been saying here, both at the White House and from this podium, is that we want to see the Syrian regime live up to all the commitments it made to the Arab League – not some of them sometimes in some places – and that we remain concerned that despite promises, despite some sporadic improvements in some places, the violence continues in Syria, and it continues primarily at the hands of the regime. So we will judge the Assad regime by whether it lives up to all of its promises as the Arab League itself will judge the Syrian regime.
And as you’ve heard, there have been considerable questions within the Arab League about whether all of the conditions are being met. And just in recent days, we’ve had more deaths in Daraya, in Homs. We’ve had reports of security forces firing into peaceful demonstrations, et cetera, intimidating demonstrators from coming out into the streets, even when monitors may – might have been allowed to be present. So from our perspective, this is not about the Arab League mission. This is about the Syrian regime’s commitment to live up to all of its promises --
QUESTION: But you did --
MS. NULAND: -- which we consider lacking at the moment.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you did mention yesterday that, as we have noticed, whenever there are monitors present, people would come out and feel safer by demonstrating. So do you encourage the monitors to be there at every demonstration so people can feel safer?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think what you see is the Syrian people taking advantage of the presence of monitors to make their true views about their regime clear – where they feel safe, where there are enough monitors. In some instances, we are seeing large crowds, and we saw particularly large crowds over the weekend. I think, unfortunately, what we are also beginning to see now is the regime getting a little trickier and cannier about this because it isn’t happy with the large demonstrations that are coming out. And so in advance of its expectation of demonstrations, it’s beginning to intimidate people. It’s beginning to put folks in the square where demonstrations are expected. So that’s causing a deterrent effect, again, on crowds feeling safe even in the presence of monitors.
So again, this is not a regime that is behaving consistently with the commitments that it made to end the violence, end the attacks on its own people, release political prisoners, allow monitors from anywhere, allow journalists back in, and that’s the standard that the Syrian people are going to judge the regime by. It’s also the standard that the Arab League is going to judge the effectiveness of its own program by.
QUESTION: You also said that the Arab League mission should be allowed the benefit of time. They are coming up with their report on Saturday. So once they submit that report and that report is unsatisfactory, that the regime actually has not done anything to change the conduct of what it’s been doing in terms of pulling out forces, releasing prisoners, as you suggested, and you mentioned some names, would then – would that then cause you to take another step, perhaps go to the Security Council?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have also said that we want to wait for the Arab League to make its report. Our understanding now is that the Arab League ministerial will be not on Saturday but on Sunday, so we will await their own evaluation of their own mission.
We have, as you know, all along been looking at additional measures that we can take, that the international community can take, to continue to ratchet up the pressure on the Assad regime. We’ve made clear for many weeks now that we think its time for a strong UN Security Council resolution. We are continuing to consult in New York. New York is back to work today on what might be in that resolution. But I think we’ll also be guided in part by our consultations with the Arab League and how this monitoring mission concludes as it goes forward.
QUESTION: A question on – excuse me – a question on Egypt. The head of the IRI --
QUESTION: Before we go to Egypt, can we --
MS. NULAND: Anything else on Syria? Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry about that.
MS. NULAND: Sorry.
QUESTION: The Turkish newspapers said that the Turks have deployed a – missile batteries, Hawk missile batteries along their border to counter, apparently, the deployment of Syrian missiles batteries. Are you concerned that this situation may deteriorate and we may actually have some sort of heightened tension or even conflagration along the – Syria’s northern border with Turkey?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen the reports that you’re citing on Turkish deployments. Obviously, it’s the sovereign right of Turkey to protect its own territory. We’ve been concerned all along with regard to the potential for – we’ve had significant refugee outflows, potential for even larger refugee outflows. The Turks have been enormously generous hosts in supporting those Syrians who have sought refuge there. And again, this is all part and parcel of the fact – of – that we’ve got to see the violence end in Syria. We’ve got to hold the regime – all of us – to the commitments that it’s made to end the violence.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.)
MS. NULAND: Still Syria?
QUESTION: Well, it’s semi-Syria. It’s Feltman’s talks in Cairo with the Arab League. What’s – is that – the information the meeting is going to come on Sunday, not Saturday, is that from him?
MS. NULAND: Well, he’s --
QUESTION: And how did those talks go, if they haven’t --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. He --
QUESTION: -- if they’ve happened already?
MS. NULAND: He got on a plane last night. I don’t know whether he was starting his conversations this afternoon or whether they start tomorrow. We’ll see if we can get some preliminary information about his bilateral conversations and his Arab League conversations. They were designed to take place in advance of the meetings on Sunday, but I think he’s just beginning his consultations in Cairo.
QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t know if he’s met the Egyptians either, to read them the riot act or whatever?
MS. NULAND: Right. He was planning to do both while in Cairo, so I don’t have that.
QUESTION: A question on Egypt. The head of the IRI, International Republican Institute, said today that an Egyptian citizen and a U.S. citizen from his staff were called in today for questions from prosecutors, Egyptian prosecutors, and were accused of things they hadn’t done. I was curious if you have any reaction to that and if there was any update on contacts between the Embassy and Egyptian authorities since we last spoke on this yesterday.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you may know, some of the heads of the U.S.-based NGOs are now in Cairo talking to their own staff, working with our Embassy, meeting with Egyptian officials, so we are supportive of their efforts and continuing our own efforts to try to resolve these issues immediately. I had not heard this report of the IRI staffer. Obviously, we have called for many days now for the harassment to end, for property to be returned.
Our understanding is that all of these NGOs are willing to cooperate with appropriate judicial requests for transparency, for openness, et cetera, and they have been cooperating with Egyptian judicial authorities all the way through. So we want to see this handled appropriately within rule of law and within democratic standards.
QUESTION: Do you still see this as remnants of Mubarak holdovers as being part of the problem here?
MS. NULAND: We spoke to this yesterday, that we’ve had ongoing issues trying to explain to folks the role of NGOs, whether they’re international NGOs or whether they’re domestic NGOs, in a democratic society. And that’s part of the transition that Egypt needs to go through.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Mubarak holdover comments you had from yesterday? Isn’t the entire Egyptian Government, interim government, a Mubarak holdover? I mean, who’s new in that entire government?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into a who’s who of the Egyptian Government. There are faces in and out. I think the concern was simply that some of the rhetoric we heard was redolent of a different time and was not compatible with some of the – with even the electoral process that’s underway, and underway quite vibrantly now, in Egypt.
QUESTION: Well, you seemed to lay the blame at some individuals. You didn’t want to name them yesterday, but I mean, I’m just curious. I mean, when you say holdovers, I mean, it’s – they’re all holdovers, right?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think I’m not going to go further than I did yesterday on this one.
QUESTION: Victoria, there was a lengthy article today, a report in The New York Times, saying that your overtures toward the Islamists constitutes a historic shift in foreign policy held by successive American administrations. Are we on the cusp of an historic shift towards the Islamists? And if that is the case, how would you view their – their rhetoric is moderate as far as governing, but let’s say things regarding women, women’s rights, and so on?
MS. NULAND: Said, we’ve talked about this many times. It’s a different day in these countries as their citizens are allowed to go to the polls, as parties from across the political spectrum are allowed to register, are allowed to participate. So what we’ve said, whether we’re talking about Morocco or Tunisia or Libya or Egypt, is that we are going to judge these parties not by the names on their doors, the t-shirts they wear, but on their commitment to upholding universal democratic standards, universal standards of human rights, including the rights of participation of all their citizens, minorities, tolerance, and the rights of women. So those are the standards that we’re going to judge them by.
As you say, some of these parties have had quite moderate rhetoric, and we appreciate that in – and – but that rhetoric now has to be matched in the way they proceed. And frankly, we feel that the people in these countries are probably also going to judge them by whether they are bringing greater democracy, greater prosperity, greater enfranchisement, greater participation to the broadest possible collection of citizens rather than being exclusionary or intolerant.
QUESTION: When was the last time you saw a foreign policy analysis on the front page of The New York Times that didn’t refer to a historic or seismic shift or sea change?
MS. NULAND: Was that a crack at The New York Times or was that – (laughter).
QUESTION: I don’t know. I’m just wondering when the last time it was.
MS. NULAND: Steve has to defend himself. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It seems to me that stories like that don’t get on the front page unless they’re referring to things like that.
Anyway, can I ask – go back to Iran for a second?
QUESTION: Just – I wanted to know if there’s any update on your – the Swiss getting consular access to the American – the dual American citizen, and what – if there’s any change, what your understanding is about his case right now, where it stands.
MS. NULAND: Unfortunately, there is no change. Just to repeat where we’ve been, we had asked three times over the Swiss protecting power – in October, in November, in December – for access to him. The Swiss protecting power has asked at least twice, if not more, of the Iranians that they have access to him. All of those consular access requests have been refused.
I do want to say, though, Matt, that this is not, unfortunately, unusual in Iran when you’re dealing with a dual national. And this individual, Amir Hemati, is a dual U.S.-Iranian national, and the Iranian Government has historically not recognized our rights to access. That doesn’t change the fact that we will keep asking for it.
QUESTION: Does your current travel advice or travel warning for Iran include warnings to Iranian – to people who hold dual Iranian-American nationality that this is, in fact, a problem?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s available on our website. You can check.
QUESTION: A clarification on this Bureau of Counterterrorism. In the fact sheet that you’ve sent there are two things. One is strengthening counterterrorism diplomacy and building the capacity for foreign partners. And can you provide us with a list of countries that are partners now? And also, I suppose India was not – has it joined this bureau and this partnership?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, there is a difference between our global counterterrorism initiative that was launched in New York with a limited group of countries and the counterterrorism cooperation that the United States has bilaterally with some 100 countries around the world, if not more. And we do cooperate with India in counterterrorism. This can take the form of intelligence sharing, it can take the form of joint training, it can take the form of shared diplomatic initiatives, it can take the form of joint work to strengthen borders.
So if you’d like a list of the countries around the world that we cooperate in counterterrorism, we will ask our new bureau to provide that to you. But you shouldn’t confuse these initiatives. The U.S. has a robust counterterrorism relationship with, as I said, at least a hundred countries.
QUESTION: On this, and I’m sorry I wasn’t here for the briefing, but I don’t know if this was addressed – is my understanding correct that Coordinator Benjamin will now become an assistant secretary of State and that all of his minions – not meaning that to be a pejorative word – but all of his staff will then become --
MS. NULAND: All of his deputies, and his office directors --
QUESTION: -- deputy DASs and PDASs?
MS. NULAND: With regard to the assistant secretary status of Coordinator Benjamin/Ambassador Benjamin, as you may know, the Congress puts a limit on the number of Assistant secretaryships available in this building. We are short one for this new bureau. We have requested an additional slot for an assistant secretary from the Congress for Ambassador Benjamin. Assuming it is granted, he would then become an assistant secretary, so he is --
QUESTION: And they would then become deputy assistant secretaries and --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Well, okay, because – and what is the corresponding increase in terms of money, in terms of salaries?
MS. NULAND: He did speak to that. There is no budgetary impact one way or the other --
QUESTION: Well, I’m curious about --
MS. NULAND: -- either on programs or on personnel.
QUESTION: You’re absolutely sure of that? When you (inaudible) --
MS. NULAND: You mean does he personally get a salary?
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that it’s – he’s doing it for the money – but I just – but I believe that when you are moving from a coordinator to a Senate-confirmed position, there is an increase in salary, and that when one moves --
MS. NULAND: Would that it were true. I’m not sure it’s true, but we will confirm for you, Matt. He was asked a direct question with regard to budgetary impact and --
QUESTION: Overall budget impact. Not his --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, but I think it’s (inaudible) – talking about programming.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. So I will ask him whether he’s expecting a salary increase with this.
QUESTION: Madam, my question was a clarification that as far as global war on terrorism is concerned, hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people were killed around the globe by Taliban and also thousands in Pakistan, innocent Pakistanis. My question is the timing of this new bureau.
MS. NULAND: We’ve had an Office of Counterterrorism in this building for many, many years. When the Secretary came in and launched her Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, patterned after the Pentagon’s similar four-year review, among the questions that she asked were: Is this building correctly aligned in terms of its offices and bureaus for its 21st century responsibilities? And one of the overwhelming recommendations of the first QDDR was that we needed to upgrade this office, it’s no longer a coordinative office, it operates much more like a bureau, like many other functional bureaus that we have – Office of Oceans and Environment, Office of Counternarcotics, et cetera – and so it should be appropriately named and appropriately managed.
So that recommendation came forward with the QDDR early in, I think it was, January-February. We then, along with all of the other elements of the QDDR, had to consult closely inside this building, inside the interagency, with the White House, but especially with the Congress on the establishment of these elements in line with the recommendations. So that’s taken some time, and as we get these hatched, we are announcing them. So I wouldn’t read too much into the establishment of the bureau as compared to the news of today. But more broadly, it’s designed to help the Department better meet its strategic priorities.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Regarding these comments of President Chavez one week ago when President Cristina Kirchner was informed by his press secretary that she had a cancer problem, today she was intervened. I want to know if there’s going to be any official contact to Argentina to follow her state of health from the United States.
MS. NULAND: We are in close contact with her. The Secretary has a close relationship with her, obviously concerned for her, for her health, and – but I don’t have anything particular to announce today.
QUESTION: Just a question about that: There are reports apparently about – of a U.S. teenage girl from the Dallas area that was deported to Columbia recently, and local media in Dallas are saying that there’s a possibility of some mistake with ICE. And I was wondering, have you heard any of these reports or know anything about this case?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. It sounds like it’s a question for ICE, probably. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell’s travel to China, Japan, and Korea, especially his talking points on Burma with these countries?
MS. NULAND: Well, he’s completed his stop in Beijing; I think he’s either in Seoul or on his way to Seoul for the second stop. He did give some press remarks in Beijing which I would call your attention to. Just in terms of what he did in Beijing, he met with Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai. The meetings were obviously about the bilateral relationship; they were also about regional issues focusing heavily on close coordination with regard to North Korea at this important moment; Burma, outcomes of the Secretary’s visit, staying coordinated on how we can encourage reform in Burma; and they also talked about Iran, you won’t be surprised. And now he’s off to Seoul for consultations on the full range there.
QUESTION: And secondly, on Pakistan again: The former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, in an interview today said he feels he has threat to his life by the forces in the establishment. Are you concerned about his statement coming out?
MS. NULAND: Again, we spoke to this yesterday, that we want to see procedures in Pakistan go forward in a manner that’s consistent with the Pakistani constitution, consistent with international legal standards.
QUESTION: On L.A. arsons, are you able to flesh out the State Department’s role in identifying the suspect? I believe it was State Department agents – officials who identified him in the video.
MS. NULAND: We talked about this yesterday, so I would refer you back to that. And if you need more, we can put you in contact with the fabulous members of Diplomatic Security who were involved.
The last one in the back and then we’re going to – go ahead, Lach.
QUESTION: Will the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism also be looking at U.S. extremist groups, or only foreign terrorist organizations? That’s the first part.
MS. NULAND: You mean American citizens extremists?
QUESTION: In other words will they also have – be coordinating operations against Army of God-type American extremist groups?
QUESTION: No? Only foreign terrorist threats?
MS. NULAND: We are the State Department. We do international relations --
QUESTION: Oh, I know.
MS. NULAND: -- diplomacy, et cetera.
QUESTION: Yeah. I was just wondering if this would also – because the FBI, of course --
MS. NULAND: We obviously coordinate closely to the degree that any of these groups might have foreign contacts, et cetera. But U.S. domestic law enforcement is the responsibility of U.S. domestic law enforcement agencies.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)

US State Department Establishes Bureau of Counterterrism (Full Text)

Establishment of the Bureau of Counterterrorism

Special Briefing
Daniel Benjamin
Coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Washington, DC
January 4, 2012

MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Before we do the daily briefing, we have a special briefing today on the next stage of implementation of Secretary Clinton’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the establishment in the State Department of a Bureau of Counterterrorism. As you know, we’ve had an office under Ambassador Dan Benjamin. It is now about to become a full-up bureau. So to tell you more about that, Ambassador Daniel Benjamin.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, thank you very much, and thanks for coming today. Today the State Department is pleased to announce the establishment of the Bureau of Counterterrorism, fulfilling one of the key recommendations of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which was concluded in December of 2010. We believe that this change will strengthen the State Department’s ability to carry out its counterterrorism mission around the world. My office and the Department have been taking on a growing role in counterterrorism in recent years, moving well beyond coordination. And the creation of this new bureau is another important step to ensure that we can accomplish the mission that the President and the Secretary have set out for us. The mission of the new bureau will be to lead the Department in the U.S. Government’s effort to counter terrorism abroad and to secure the United States against foreign terrorist threats. The bureau will have a number of concrete responsibilities. In coordination with Department leadership, the National Security Staff, and U.S. Government agencies, other U.S. Government agencies, it will develop and implement counterterrorism strategies, policies, operations, and programs to disrupt and defeat the networks that support terrorism. The bureau will lead in supporting U.S. counterterrorism diplomacy and seek to strengthen homeland security, countering violent extremism, and build the capacity of partner nations to deal effectively with terrorism.
There are many examples of the growing importance of civilian counterterrorism work, what we here call strategic counterterrorism, which the Secretary discussed in her September 9th speech on the issue. The Administration puts a strong emphasis on increasing counterterrorism diplomacy, both multilaterally and bilaterally. And just last September, you may recall in a major initiative we established the Global Counterterrorism Forum with the goal of building an international architecture for dealing with 21st century terrorist threats. The GCTF offers CT policy makers and experts an opportunity to exchange best practices and to improve programming around the world. The new bureau will work with partners in the GCTF on a wide range of challenges, such as strengthening the rule of law in countries where terrorism poses the greatest threat.
Our ability to oversee and implement CT programs, which cover, by the way, everything from police training to countering the al-Qaida narrative, will be strengthened by the establishment of the bureau. The new bureau will lead the Department in U.S. Government efforts to reduce radicalization and mobilization abroad. It will work with the recently established Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications to de-legitimate the violent extremist narrative, to develop positive alternatives for populations that are vulnerable to recruitment, and it will work to partner with governments and civil society in building capacity to counter violent extremism.
As part of the standup, we are reorganizing and taking steps to make the new bureau effective across a wide range of policy and program activities. For example, we’re creating a new Strategic Plans and Policy Unit to improve our ability to do strategic planning and to develop metrics to measure the effectiveness of our programs. We’re also making changes that will tighten coordination between counterterrorism policy and programs, and we’re doing more to improve program implementation.
Finally, I want to emphasize that in these tight budget times, we’re doing our part to be good stewards of public funds by standing up the bureau with existing resources. PA will have a Fact Sheet that outlines the bureau’s mission and its priorities, and will provide you with some additional detail. And I’d be happy to take a few questions now.
MS. NULAND: Arshad.
QUESTION: Not about the creation of the new bureau itself per se, but can you give us an update on where things stand on your ongoing review of the MEK’s status as a Foreign Terrorist Organization?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, obviously, designations of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is one of the core activities of the office and of the new bureau, and it will continue to be so. And what will also continue is the policy of saying that we continue, pursuant to the U.S. District Court’s order, we continue to do the review. And obviously, it’s a very exhaustive effort, and we’ve been exchanging material with counsel for the other side. And it – I – there’s – we don’t have a date set for any decision, but you will certainly know it when it’s done.
QUESTION: And one other one, if I may, on Pakistan. As you well know, there’s been a significant deterioration in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship over the last year, going back certainly to the case of Raymond Davis, but other – lots of other events. From your vantage point, to what extent has or has not U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on counterterrorism deteriorated over the last 12 months or so?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, metrics are important, but I don’t think we have metrics for assessing exactly that. There’s no question we’re going through a difficult time in the wake of the cross-border incident and a number of other incidents that have occurred in the last year. But let me go back to basics. We think that it is essential that we have a good counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan. We believe it’s in both of our nations’ interests. No country has suffered more at the hands of militancy than Pakistan.
And I would add that this bureau, when we’re doing our job right, is also going to be working closely with Pakistan. We hope to continue building civilian capacity for countering terrorism, which is an essential need there and which was one of the working groups of the Strategic Dialogue that the Secretary created with the Pakistanis and which I am sure is something that we will continue doing. And it’s in everyone’s clearest interest.
So I can’t – I’m not going to give you a meter – a needle reading on the meter. We obviously have issues that are being worked out. The Pakistanis are doing their own review within their parliament. But we look forward to resuming some of our collaborative efforts.
QUESTION: You say, “When we are doing our job right, the bureau will be working with the Pakistanis.” Is it fair to say then that you’re not really doing anything now with the Pakistanis?
MR. BENJAMIN: No, it’s not.
QUESTION: Your bureau?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: We do have these long-term processes going on. We are deeply engaged with our post in Islamabad on countering violent extremism, on disability and capacity building, on what we’ve done in the anti-terrorism assistance program. So we’re not going to make any blanket statements that we’re not cooperating by any means. Absolutely, we’re still working together.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about Iran? In the last couple of days there’s been a lot of bellicose talk from Iranian military leaders. And I’m just wondering, are you worried that as the sting of sanctions grows over this year and as Iran finds itself feeling more isolated, that the threat of Iranian terrorist activity is going to rise or destabilizing activity abroad?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, another issue that we’ve dealt with extensively as an office and we’ll continue to deal with extensively as a bureau. Obviously, Iran was and remains the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world. The recent discovery of plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington and the arrests in that connection have certainly given us a great deal to think about and to wonder about exactly the same question you posed.
I don’t want to engage in hypotheticals and suggest that the Iranians are going to amp up their support for terrorism, but we know that they do believe that it is a legitimate tool of policy, something we vehemently disagree with. And we’re, of course, going to be as vigilant as we can to ensure that no one is resorting to terror to strike at us or our partners.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you, obviously, where, when, or how, but do you see it as a rising threat based on the tendencies that we’re seeing right now?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I see it as an existing threat and one that has been there for quite some time. And we’ll have to see how the Iranians respond to the fact that this plot in our hemisphere, in our country, was disrupted.
QUESTION: Related to that, you just referenced –
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last year top – several top terrorist leaders were killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan region. Can you give us a sense where do you stand in terms of achieving your goal of defeating these terrorist organizations, terrorist outfits in that region?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: There’s no question that 2010 – I’m sorry, 2011; I have to get my calendar straight – 2011 was a very successful year in terms of taking some bad actors off the street. And as Administration spokesmen have said on many occasions, we will continue to do what we need to to safeguard our national security against the groups that carried out the 9/11 attacks. But as – I want to underscore we all know that there is no way to shoot our way out of this problem conclusively and forever, and that’s why strengthening our engagement with others to support their civilian institutions so that they can actually hold that territory, police that territory, try people who want to carry out violent attacks either against people who live there or abroad, is an absolutely vital undertaking.
Al-Qaida, core al-Qaida, as we’ve called it, is certainly under greater pressure than it has been at any time since 9/11. But as the President has said and as others have said, the job’s not over and the work goes on.
QUESTION: And secondly, in November Secretary Clinton has said that the sanctions against Haqqani Network is on its way – they are – U.S. is very close to declaring this as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Where do we stand now on that front? When is it going to become –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, much as we discussed a moment ago, we don’t set timelines or dates as to when we’re going to put out particular decisions on designations. So we are looking at that very closely and we’ll continue to do so. And obviously, we have a huge concern in reducing the ability of the Haqqani Network to carry out terrorist attacks.
MS. NULAND: Can you identify yourself?
QUESTION: Mike Ledeen with Fox News. In terms of the bureau, can you talk about what the bureau will be doing that the office before it didn’t do, and also what the bureau will be doing that other parts of government aren’t already doing?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: The establishment of the bureau in many ways is a confirmation or ratification of the things that we have been doing increasingly in recent years. So the fundamental tasks remain the same, but what we have now is an infrastructure to continue doing them more effectively and building on those successes in the future.
So we now are in a position where we can continue to innovate our programming to counter violent extremism, to enhance partner capacity around the world, to do the bilateral diplomacy that we do with other countries to discuss the threats, to underscore where there are gains to be made against particular terrorist groups in particular regions. We have a better platform for doing the work we undertake with, for example, the Department of Homeland Security to work jointly to stop terrorist travel, to improve aviation security, to do all those things we need to do to make for a safer United States at home and to protect our interests abroad.
So the fundamental mission doesn’t change, but we now have a much better organization for building on that and for moving beyond this outdated organization that we had that was really to support coordination, which is something that we’ve long since left behind.
QUESTION: And in terms of what the bureau will be doing that other entities in government don’t do?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, we’re the State Department; we have a set of tools and a set of activities that others don’t do. No one else does the bilateral kind of diplomacy that we do with others on a number of different issues, whether it has to do with how we reduce the space that terrorist groups have to fundraise, to operate. We provide a lot of training. We fund other agencies of the U.S. Government to send their experts out to do it in countries around the world, whether it’s anti-money laundering, counterterrorism finance, border security, rule of law with regional resident-led legal advisors – a whole range of different things that are really in the diplomatic toolkit and that we work with our partners in the government to do. So these things couldn’t be done without a strong State platform for carrying them through.
I hope that answers your question. There are just different things that are in different agencies’ lanes, and the State Department remains at the forefront in terms of those foreign engagements.
MS. NULAND: Karen.
QUESTION: I’m wondering how important the cooperation of certain governments will be in your effort and how much you can achieve. If the – if Iran is the number one sponsor of terrorism and it won’t cooperate with you, and Pakistan – let’s say they choose not to cooperate with you, and other countries where terrorism is a problem, how effective can you really be?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, I would say that in terms of the international cooperation assessment, the glass is 98 percent full, and you’ve got, at least on Iran, the 1 percent that isn’t and the one or two other countries that we have grave concerns about. But international cooperation and the partnerships that have been built have really been one of the great unsung successes of the last decade. There’s extraordinary cooperation in intelligence around the world, in military affairs, and in the diplomatic work to constrain the ability of terrorists to operate and to cooperate, to arrest them, to ensure that they can’t carry out attacks.
Yes, there are problems, and we have countries that we have serious challenges working with, and there are a small number of countries that still view terrorism as a legitimate instrument of policy. But I think the remarkable thing about the post 9/11 period is how much countries have cooperated against al-Qaida, the core al-Qaida, against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and their – the governments of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, Qatar, on and on, against AQ in the Islamic Maghreb, as they call themself, and there we see much greater cooperation among regional partners, for example, in Southeast Asia.
There have just been tremendous strides, and frankly, we’re hoping that this Global Counterterrorism Forum will build on those strides and that terrorist – counterterrorism experts will be able to exchange best practices and identify problems and design solutions in a way that we haven’t been able to before on a multilateral basis.
MS. NULAND: Samir.
QUESTION: Yes. The Syrian Government, after two bombings happened in Damascus two weeks ago, accused elements of al-Qaida behind the bombings and they said they came from Lebanon. Do you know if al-Qaida have a presence in Lebanon?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, let me just say we’ve seen the reports, and I don’t have any further comment on them. We certainly know that there have been sympathetic groups to al-Qaida in Lebanon for many years. You may recall that the Lebanese forces went into one of the refugee camps some years ago to deal with a group that had an al-Qaida-like ideology. So it is certainly true that there have been elements like that in Lebanon over the years. Whether that had anything to do with what’s going on in Syria is another matter entirely.
QUESTION: A follow-up --
MS. NULAND: I understand that the Fact Sheet on the bureau has just been released, so that should be available to you all.
QUESTION: And do you think that al-Qaida was behind the explosions in Damascus?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I don't know. We don’t have anything conclusive on that.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yes, sir. Do you ever reexamine your classification of Hamas, the entity that governs the Gaza Strip, as a terrorist organization in view of steps taken in the last few months, sort of distancing themselves from Syria and Iran and inching their way towards a unity government with the Palestinian Authority that is a partner with the United States in the peace process?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I think we’ve been very clear about what Hamas needs to do if it wants to get out from under the FTO designation, and that has to do with renouncing violence and accepting the Quartet principles. I think that the groundwork is there. The step – the footprints are on the ground. They need to go through them, and we would certainly welcome that, and it’s long overdue.
QUESTION: A couple questions on --
QUESTION: -- that I think are addressed in the – I don't think they’re addressed in the Fact Sheet. How many people are there in the bureau? Do you know?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Yes. I believe that we have 70 FTE government employees and then detailees, contractors, and the like, I think we get to 120, roughly that.
QUESTION: Okay. And it’s no – when you said in being a good steward of the public money, you’re not getting any more money or any more people than in becoming a bureau, correct?
QUESTION: And then will the bureau continue to produce the Country Reports on Terrorism? And will the intel community continue to separately – as has been the case for years – produce the underlying data based on number of terrorist incidents?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Let me just say that we – it’s a congressionally-mandated report, the Country Reports on Terrorism. We’re already gathering information for this year. Rhonda Shore sitting over there has this task, and we’ll be putting out the report again.
QUESTION: And last one from me. And admittedly, unabashedly, it is hypothetical, but I think it’s of sort of topical interest. Brad talked about the threats that Iran has made and obviously the threats towards the Straits of Hormuz. The question I have is whether an attack on shipping in the Straits of Hormuz would be regarded as an act of war or an act of terrorism, and what is the key determinant? Is it whether it is a non-state actor and therefore it’s terrorism, but if it’s by a state military then it’s an act of war? How do you determine those things?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I think that that’s – falls into the – square in the category of hypotheticals, and if there is such an attack we’ll make that determination at that time. As you know, the whole issue of what is an act of state-sponsored terrorism, what isn’t, it’s one we get into frequently. We did with the North Korea issue, for example. So rather than lay out lines that will immediately be overtaken by events, I’ll just leave it at that.
And I think that I would remiss if I didn’t save some time for your reliable spokesperson.
MS. NULAND: Excellent. Thank you all.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: (Laughter.) Okay. Thank you