Excerpt from the United States Department of State daily press briefing:
QUESTION: Is the aim to --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please, Samir.
QUESTION: There are reports today quoting members of the SNC criticizing this new approach, saying it's going to lead to more division among the opposition, and they will not accept any alternative to their body.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think if they don't participate in a broader structure, they risk making themselves irrelevant. So we would hope that they would participate actively in Doha and be part of the solution to a representative structure.
QUESTION: But then there will be division.
MS. NULAND: Again, I spoke to Matt's sort of arithmetic that more makes harder. Our concern is that we have a relatively narrow slice of the Syrian conversation fighting with themselves rather than a broad representative group that --
QUESTION: Fighting with themselves. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Anyway.
QUESTION: I mean, come on. Is there any evidence that the - that a broader group is going to get together and work together --
MS. NULAND: Well, I would --
QUESTION: -- any more than the SNC did?
MS. NULAND: I would simply say --
QUESTION: Just because some of them happen to be in the - on the ground and being shelled every day?
MS. NULAND: I would simply say that if you look at transitional efforts, the first transitional government in Libya, they were very careful to be broadly representative geographically, broadly representative in terms of background, and that ensured that they were able to have a conversation about the needs of the entire country. In Yemen, it was a similar situation, where we worked hard to try to reflect - the Yemenis worked hard with the international community to try to reflect all the constituencies in Yemen. From our own democratic experience, when you have a representative group that reflects, in the American case, all the states, you have a better chance of being coherent in terms of a national policy.
QUESTION: Wait, wait. So in terms of the United States, you think that right now that the Congress is working just superbly? There's no --
MS. NULAND: It's better than all the alternatives, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- no gridlock at all? No problems there?
MS. NULAND: What do they say, democracy's really difficult, but everything else is worse? All right.
QUESTION: So, is the aim to come out of Doha with some kind of government in exile somehow?
MS. NULAND: Again, I'm not going to put labels on this. The goal from our perspective is to support Syrians in having a broader, more effective, more representative grouping lead this opposition.
QUESTION: And I wondered if you had any comment about whether you'd seen the video that's circulating of Syrian rebels executing Syrian soldiers, which some of the rights - international rights community is saying could amount to war crimes.
MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, Jo. We have, obviously, seen this video. We condemn human - let me start again. We condemn human rights violations by any party in Syria. There is no justification for that kind of behavior, ever. Anyone committing atrocities should be held to account. I would note that the Free Syrian Army themselves, back in August, put forward a code of conduct which reflects rules of war, international codes, and they have routinely called on their fighters to adhere to that. And we would echo that sentiment here.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Wendell, I knew you came for a reason. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Please, have mercy. (Laughter.) We're reporting on a cable --
MS. NULAND: I will if you will, how about that?
QUESTION: All righty. We're reporting on a cable that indicates security concerns in mid-August prompted agreement for weekly reviews. What's your reaction to this?
MS. NULAND: Again, Wendell, I don't have anything broadly new to say on this, other than you know how seriously we take the Accountability Review Board process that the Secretary has stood up. We want them to look at all of these questions that are out there, all of the documents that are out there, and give us their best advice about what happened and what we can learn from it.
QUESTION: And given the - just the few days between now and the election, would you expect the Review Board to report before Tuesday?
MS. NULAND: No. We said when it stood up that we expected its work would take somewhere between 60 and 65 days, based on past precedent. That takes us into December, based on when they started. And we need to make sure that it is a complete and thorough review, rather than it be pitched to some artificial deadline.
QUESTION: Do you consider Republican calls for a response before Tuesday to be politically motivated?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know we don't talk about politics here, so I'm not going to speak to what one side or the other in this exciting American time has to say about this. I appreciate the opportunity, though. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That is my charge. Tunisia has agreed to allow U.S. questioning of a suspect in custody in the Benghazi tragedy. The Republicans are saying that's only because of pressure from Senator Lindsey Graham, but, of course, the Deputy Secretary Burns met with the Tunisian Foreign Minister yesterday. Did yesterday's meeting precipitate the decision to allow the U.S. to question this suspect?
MS. NULAND: Wendell, I'm going to frustrate you on this one as well and say that from this podium, I'm not going to be speaking about any aspect of the requirement to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attack. I'm not going to speak about our conversations with other governments. I'm not going to speak about what we're learning or who we may be pursuing along with the Libyans.
QUESTION: What did the Deputy Secretary talk with the Tunisian Foreign Minister about yesterday?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the meeting is today, in fact, that it --
QUESTION: Did I get that wrong?
MS. NULAND: -- wasn't yesterday.
MS. NULAND: It might have been this morning. The expectation is that he's going to talk about the full complement of issues that we have. We, obviously, are working hard with them to deepen and broaden their democratic institutions. As you know, we are supporting economic reform and we have provided, as the Secretary said - announced when we were in Tunisia not too long ago - budget stabilization support with the support of the Congress. We've obviously been having an ongoing conversation about the need to remain vigilant in support for the security around our Embassy, and that conversation continues, but there are a full range of things that we're talking to the Tunisians about, including security sector reform.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There's another report about security in Benghazi and - well, about the immediate aftermath of the attack and whether or not a FEST team should go. I notice that your colleague, at least one of them, has spoken about this on the record. I am wondering if you can tell us why the decision was made not to ask for one of these teams to go.
MS. NULAND: Again, I am going to leave it to the ARB to do a full review of what went on before, during, and after. I'm not going to get into any of the details from the podium.
QUESTION: So as soon as you stand down, you'll go on the record and say something?
MS. NULAND: I'm not planning on speaking on this issue at all.
QUESTION: Well, then can you explain why Philippe was quoted in this story, a State Department official?
MS. NULAND: I'm going to again --
QUESTION: You've seen what he had to say?
MS. NULAND: I actually didn't see on this particular matter, but I'm going to refer you to him for anything he wants to say on it.
QUESTION: I think that since it is a television network that is reporting this, that they would - they and all the rest of us would love to have something on camera.
MS. NULAND: I'm sure that the television networks will appreciate you advocating for that, but --
QUESTION: Well, I hope they do.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I think it's ridiculous for someone, an official in this Department, to speak on the record about something and you not be able to speak about it from the podium. Just because it's on camera --
MS. NULAND: Well, again --
QUESTION: -- doesn't mean that --
MS. NULAND: Again, I didn't see what he said this morning, so I will --
QUESTION: Well, can you explain to us why and - since has spoken about it on the record and is quoted in this story as talking about it, can you take that and come back to us on camera and give us a similar explanation as to why a FEST team wasn't thought to be necessary?
MS. NULAND: I will speak to him and figure out what it is he said, and we will go from there.
QUESTION: Let me second Matt.
MS. NULAND: Excellent.
QUESTION: Can we change topic?
MS. NULAND: Please.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)