26 November 2012

Egypt: U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: Egypt


Excerpt from the United States Department of State daily press briefing:

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Monday. I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving and a little bit of a rest. We are back. I have nothing at the top. Let's go to what's on your minds.

QUESTION: Can you tell us, following your statement on Egypt the other day, what, if anything, you've heard from the Egyptians to ease your concerns and what the U.S. position is currently on the situation?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are following the unfolding political situation in Egypt very closely. The Secretary had a phone call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr this morning, not only to inquire about that situation but also to talk about the follow-up on Gaza. She took that opportunity to reiterate some of the points that you saw in our statement, that we want to see the constitutional process move forward in a way that does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands, that ensures that rule of law, checks and balances, protection of the rights of all groups in Egypt are upheld, et cetera.

Our understanding from the Egyptian side is that there are now discussions ongoing among a number of the stakeholders, that President Morsi is conducting consultations with various groups, including with the judiciary. We had called for that in our statement, and the Secretary underscored that, the importance of settling these disputes in a democratic manner. So we look forward to seeing the outcome of that.

QUESTION: Can you say if your concerns have been at all eased by what the Secretary heard from the Foreign Minister?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we had wanted to see this issue settled through democratic discussion among the various stakeholders in Egypt. Discussions are clearly being held. We await the results of those.

QUESTION: Okay. But I guess, were you concerned that that wouldn't happen and that this might deteriorate into a - just a permanent power grab? And if those were your fears, have they been eased?

MS. NULAND: We were concerned, not only that there would be concerns out there, we were concerned that there would be violence, that there were competing demonstrations, et cetera. So the fact that the right people are talking to each other is a good step, but obviously we want to see this issue resolved in a way that meets the standards and principles that we've been supporting all the way through, since the Egyptian revolution began.


QUESTION: Do you regard President Morsi's decree as non-democratic?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think our statement speaks for our view on this and the various concerns that we had.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, it's a simple question, though. Is it - did it - do you regard it as non-democratic? I mean, it was a decree issued by a president who operates without a legislature and who was, essentially, putting his actions above review by the courts. So is that non-democratic, in your point of view?

MS. NULAND: Again, we were very clear in the statement that we issued that we want to ensure that, as this governance situation goes forward, that the rights of all Egyptians are protected, that there is a balance of power, that there are checks and balances in the system. As you know, they are operating in a very unclear political environment now, as they try to get a constitution drafted, approved, put forward to referendum. So there are a number of things at play, but our enduring principles on which our support is based haven't changed through any of this.

QUESTION: And when --


QUESTION: Just one --


QUESTION: -- one small thing, sorry, Said. When was the conversation with the Foreign Minister?

MS. NULAND: This morning.

QUESTION: This morning?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Victoria, on that (inaudible), you mentioned the rule of law, checks and balances. And on the other hand, Morsi claims that this is temporary. In the absence of any kind of mechanism to ensure that it can be temporary, what is suggested for Morsi? What - when you talk with him, what do you tell him on this whole point?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, as I said, we underscore the principles that we want to see undergird the conversation that they are having. He has made clear, and part of the decree was to give the constituent assembly more time to come up with a constitution. So when he says it's temporary, our understanding is it's temporary, until there is a constitution that can be approved. But the concern was that there were various issues that were not well represented in the way he went forward with this.

QUESTION: Do you have enough to take him at his word when he says temporary?

MS. NULAND: Again, Said, what is important to us is that these issues be settled through dialogue, that these issues be settled democratically. We are encouraged that the various important stakeholders in Egypt are now talking to each other, that President Morsi is consulting on the way forward, but we're not going to prejudge where that's going to go.

QUESTION: And finally, do you consider Morsi to be quite the opportunist who has taken advantage of, let's say, the Gaza success - he considers it to be a success with the Secretary of State going there - to go ahead and implement these things?

MS. NULAND: I can't speak for the timing of these decisions. I can say that, whereas the Secretary and President Morsi did discuss the importance of getting to a constitution that protected the rights of all Egyptians, that had checks and balances, we did not have any forewarning of this decree, including when she was there.

Please, Margaret.

QUESTION: Toria, have the events of the past few days complicated U.S. support for unlocking that emergency cash that was promised by the President some time ago and U.S. support for the IMF loan that was arranged pre this change in constitutional power?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been strong supporters of Egypt and the IMF coming to an agreement that would support increasing economic reforms in Egypt to get them on a stable footing and then would provide them with some funding, so we were pleased to see that they've come to an agreement there. We've also been clear with the Congress that we think that the support in the form of economic support funds that we've pledged to Egypt should go forward. But obviously, I think everybody's watching now that this current set of issues has a democratic resolution.

QUESTION: So it has complicated it? Is it fair to say that?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think everybody is watching how this goes forward. All of the support that we provide for Egypt, whether it's political support, economic support, has been in support of an Egypt that is becoming increasingly democratic, that will have a constitution that protects all of these rights. So that's the trajectory that we want to see Egypt on, so we need to see how this latest round gets resolved.


QUESTION: In that vein, you've talked about how they're in an uncertain period and that a lot of the things that Morsi announced the other day were described as temporary. It seems to me that he's basically saying, "Trust me; it'll work out the good way." And this money and U.S. support would be contingent on that. At heart, do you trust him that it'll come out the good way?

MS. NULAND: Again, as I said at the beginning, and as I've been saying for the last 10 minutes, these moves raised concerns not only in Egypt, they raised concerns in the international community about the way forward here. We are pleased to see that there now are conversations going on about how to move forward, that the various stakeholders in this conversation are being consulted. So it is a very murky, uncertain period in terms of the legal and constitutional underpinnings, which makes it all the more important that the process proceed on the basis of democratic dialogue and consultation.

Please, Michel.

QUESTION: Toria, has the Secretary learned about this decision when she was in Cairo last Wednesday?

MS. NULAND: No, she did not. She heard about it when everybody else heard about it, when it was announced publicly.

QUESTION: On the other part of the phone call that didn't involve this - these changes, one, did - has - did she make any other calls related to Gaza and the ceasefire? And then - well, actually, let's say one is: What did they discuss about the ceasefire, she and the Egyptian Foreign Minister? And then two, did - has she made any additional - any other calls except to the Egyptians on the ceasefire?

MS. NULAND: She spoke to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday. That was more of a readout on her own visit because they had been together in Israel, but then they had split ways, and about follow-up also following her conversation with President Abbas.

With regard to the Gaza situation, as you know, there was a commitment to the ceasefire and then there was a commitment that conversations would begin some 24 hours later on some of the underlying issues. So obviously, she was eager to touch base on that and get a sense from the Egyptian side of how that is going. Our sense is that discussions are ongoing, that the sides are talking, and we will see what comes of that as well.

QUESTION: And when you say our sense is that, that's the sense that she got --

MS. NULAND: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: -- from the Foreign Minister?


QUESTION: Toria --


QUESTION: -- I just wanted to follow up on Margaret's point on the IMF loan - $6 billion worth, I think - is there a mechanism to make them contingent or make them conditional on this temporary thing having an actual window, an actual timetable?

MS. NULAND: Well, the IMF makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board then has to meet and decide. I think we're in that in-between stage. Again, I think we're all watching how the situation evolves in Egypt.

QUESTION: But could you explain to us or clarify that this actually can be done? Could we say we will give you these loans provided that you do one, two, three?

MS. NULAND: I think I'm going to send you to the IMF on political conditionality.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. NULAND: In general, IMF conditionality is economically based and is part of a package that is pre-negotiated with the government before it comes forward to the Board.

QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned few times the word watching, we are watching. Is it a status of wait and see what will happen, or you are trying to put some kind of, not condition, at least guidelines to what may take place? Because the concern there is that at a certain point, as before, security will be better deal to have it - security deal then to have a democracy in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: I think we've been very clear in our public statements and in our private statements about the Egypt that we support, of the trajectory for Egypt that we think is best for the region, best for our relationship, and we were not shy about making those points very clearly in the statement that we released - I think it was on Wednesday or whenever it was, might've been Friday - and in the private conversations that we've had with Egyptians.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: When you were asked the question about the IMF loan and U.S. - potential U.S. support for that in the Board, you said we're in this in-between period between when the staff makes a recommendation and when the Board makes a decision on it. As you well know, the United States has the largest and, effectively, a blocking share on the Board. And your response was, "I think we're all watching how this unfolds." Which suggests to me that you are hinting at the possibility that your support is partially contingent on your support for that IMF loan in the Board is partially contingent on how the political situation unfolds.

MS. NULAND: I would not leap to any conclusions about that. We have been very supportive all the way through of Egypt and the IMF coming to agreement. They have now come to agreement. We think that Egypt needs IMF support. It also needs to be on the reform path that it and the IMF have now agreed to.

With regard to U.S. ESF, as we made clear, we support clearing this through the Congress, but the Congress is also watching democratic developments in Egypt. So it's on this basis that I think all of us want to see the consultations that are ongoing now on a way forward among President Morsi, various other constituencies in Egypt, including the judiciary, go forward in a way that is peaceful, that is democratic, and that reassures everybody about the democratic trajectory that Egypt is on.

QUESTION: So U.S. support for the IMF - U.S. support in the board for the IMF loan is in no way contingent on the resolution of the political disagreements in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Arshad, I don't want to prefigure how this is going to come forward to the board, nor do I want to make any definitive statements of - beyond what I've already said about what we're expecting in Egypt.

Please. You are - who do you represent, please?

QUESTION: I'm (inaudible), Al-Ahram newspaper, Al-Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper. Have you discussed the unfolding crisis with the opposition figures in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has been in contact with all of the different political groups and factions in Egypt. She's also been trying to get a sense from folks about a way forward here, and been supportive of all of the basic principles that we have been underscoring from the beginning. So yes, we've been in consultation with everybody on the Egyptian side.

QUESTION: Change subject?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: The Palestinian Authority will present this week its bid for Palestine to become a UN nonmember observer state. Do you also oppose this step - how will you oppose it in the General Assembly?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know the - we've obviously been very clear that we do not think that this step is going to bring the Palestinian people any closer to a state, that we think it is a mistake, that we oppose it, that we will oppose it. The Secretary was very clear with President Abbas when she was in Ramallah last week that our position on this has not changed, and we are continuing to make that clear, not only directly to President Abbas and the Palestinians, but also to all of our UN partners as well.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary discussed this issue with the Israelis when she was in Tel Aviv?

MS. NULAND: Obviously, it was one of the subjects that we discussed when the Secretary was in Egypt. It was in Ramallah - Jerusalem. Let me try a third place. Yeah, Jerusalem.

QUESTION: Some reports say that you actually warned Israel against taking the retaliatory steps against the Palestinian Authority if they go to the United Nation. Could you clarify that for us? Is that true?

MS. NULAND: I'm not going to get into any of the details of our conversation on this, either with the Palestinians or with the Israelis or with any others, other than to say that we continue to try to dissuade the Palestinians from taking this action. We think it's going to be complicating and potentially a step backwards in terms of the larger goal, which is a negotiated solution.

QUESTION: There have been calls, as a result of the Gaza fighting, that it is really time to put the Palestinian issue back on the front burner. There have been calls by Mr. Hague, the Foreign Minister of England, and others saying that you can only take the lead. Will such a step actually sort of push you forward toward this issue, or sort of take you back from this issue?

MS. NULAND: I think we've said all the way along that our concern is that this is complicating, that it makes the process of restarting the negotiations potentially harder. And this is among the arguments that we are using in trying to dissuade the Palestinians from this step, that it's potentially complicating.

QUESTION: So you are not likely to push forward in the next few months for - to restart the negotiation as a result of Palestinian ungratefulness and action at the UN?

MS. NULAND: Again, this doesn't aid that process at all. Beyond that, I'm not going to predict the future here, Said.

QUESTION: Are there any potential ramifications to the Palestinians seeking nonmember observer status? And as you're well aware with UNESCO and potentially other UN organizations, actively seeking membership can trigger a cut-off. Does that have any influence here on U.S. funding for the UN?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, there's no legislative impact that is triggered in the same way that there was with regard to UNESCO. However, as you know, we also have money pending in the Congress for the Palestinian Authority, money that they need to support their regular endeavors and to support administration of the territories. So, obviously, if they take this step, it's going to complicate the way the Congress looks at the Palestinians, and it's going to make all of that harder as well.

QUESTION: Would you oppose its disbursement?

MS. NULAND: We have made clear that we think the money should go forward in the interest of the Palestinian people, regardless of whether their leaders make bad decisions. That said, there are folks in Congress who are watching this extremely closely, and we have said to the Palestinians that they should not count on favorable response from the Congress if they go forward with this.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: The Israeli newspaper Maariv claims that both the Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman are quite dissatisfied with the lack of your pressure on the Palestinians to prevent them from going to the United Nations. Do you agree with that assessment?

MS. NULAND: Well, I hadn't seen that, but the Secretary just had a meeting, just flew from Asia to Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss this issue, among others. So I would, obviously, reject the notion that we're not paying enough attention.

QUESTION: Do you feel that perhaps Mr. Abbas is a bit panicky, seeing that Gaza came - I mean, Hamas came on top in this Gaza fight, and he's losing control, and perhaps losing the last vestiges of any two state possibility, and that's why he's (inaudible) to the UN?

MS. NULAND: I can't speak to his motives. I think that's a question better directed at him, Said.

QUESTION: And your (inaudible) diplomacy on this extends beyond just telling the Palestinians not to go ahead with it? And by that, I mean: Are you telling other members of the UN that you're planning to vote against this, and they should too, and this - and here are the reasons why? Or have you basically just resigned yourself to the fact that this vote is going to end up very much like the numbers in the Cuba embargo vote, where you're going to be in a minority of about three or four who are opposed?

MS. NULAND: I think it's fair to say that this issue has come up in the Secretary's diplomacy with virtually every leader she's seen over the last month, making clear --


MS. NULAND: -- that we think this is a mistake, that we oppose that it, that we will oppose it in the GA, and we encourage others to look hard at the negative implications for the peace process.

QUESTION: Okay. And based on that, do you think anyone has been swayed?

MS. NULAND: Again, I'm not going to predict the future in the General Assembly --


MS. NULAND: -- but we're making clear our views.

QUESTION: Okay. So can I predict something, then?

MS. NULAND: You're welcome to make any predictions you want, but --

QUESTION: And let's come back. I mean, how about this --

MS. NULAND: -- last I looked, Matt, I think this was our briefing, not your briefing, but that's okay.

QUESTION: Do you think you're going to win? Do you think - in other words, do you think that the Palestinians will not succeed in their bid at the UN?

MS. NULAND: Again, I'm not going to predict how this is going to go. Our view here is to - our point here is to make our view very clear before decisions are made.

QUESTION: Can you say if your - if the talking points have been written for the day after, where you express real disappointment with the General Assembly for voting overwhelmingly to support Palestinian recognition? Have they already been written, or are you really holding on to some slim hope that they're going to lose?

MS. NULAND: Again, we are continuing to make the point in advance of this move that we think it's the wrong move.

Said. Said. Said.

QUESTION: Matt did not ask you about the future. He asked you about the past. He asked you if anyone had been dissuaded. So it was not a question about the future.


QUESTION: There are 193 members that are voting on this issue and it's 50 plus one - or half plus one - so the Palestinians need 98, and they claim that they have a lot more than that. So what is your plan for the day after? Just to follow on Matt's point.

MS. NULAND: Again, we are not on the day after. We'll talk about the day after if and when there is a day after. I'm going to talk about where we are today, today.


QUESTION: Does that mean that on other issues that you don't - that you do not get ready for foregone conclusions when they are already foregone? You don't prepare for --

MS. NULAND: We are always ready for all contingencies in this Department. Margaret, was there more? Yeah?

QUESTION: The Palestinian leadership's supposed to be arriving in the U.S. within the next two days.

QUESTION: Tomorrow.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for anyone in this building to meet with Abu Mazen or to meet with the Prime Minister?

MS. NULAND: I would expect that if we have senior Palestinians here, we will have a chance to meet with them.


QUESTION: And that wouldn't be contingent on the UN vote, right? I mean, they would - even if they went ahead, regardless of the outcome at the UN, you wouldn't say, "No, I'm sorry. You went ahead with this, so we can't meet with you."

MS. NULAND: Again, you're putting me into all kinds of sequences that haven't happened here yet. But when we have senior Palestinians in the United States, we generally tend to meet with them. But I'm not going to predict exactly who and when and where and what.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) I missed the top of the briefing, I'm very sorry, but --

MS. NULAND: Let's do it again.

QUESTION: I'd love to. Then I'd know what's going on. One question I do have about this story that American troops might be asked - that additional troops might be sent into Sinai. Have you not gotten into that?

MS. NULAND: I have nothing on that.

QUESTION: Okay. You know that they've --

MS. NULAND: I don't have anything on a request from the Egyptians. I don't have anything on consideration of that. If we do, I'll come back to you, Jill. But I don't have anything on that.

QUESTION: Would that originate with the Egyptians, or would it originate with the United States that would say, "Can we do this? Do you need help?"

MS. NULAND: Well, in general, we obviously work hand-in-glove with the Egyptians on security in Sinai. I do not have any indications at the moment that additional help has been requested. But if that changes, we'll let you know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Victoria?


MS. NULAND: Let's go to Michel and then back to Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we go back to the Palestinian bid to the UN? President Abbas has said that if the bid was successful, he would begin negotiations with Israel the next day. Don't you think that the recognition will help the resuming the negotiation?

MS. NULAND: Again, we've made clear that we think that this move will be counterproductive with the environment for negotiations. It's going to be harder to get Israel back to the table if this goes forward. They've been very, very clear about that. That is - those are among the reasons why we think this is a bad, shortsighted move. It doesn't change the situation on the ground for the Palestinians. It doesn't bring them any closer to a state. It just makes it harder to get back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Hold on. Wait a second. For - you seem to suggest that it is the Israelis who are not going back to the - you said they would - if they'd - if the Palestinians did this, it would make it hard or make it more difficult for - to get the Israelis back to the table.

MS. NULAND: It's going to set back prospects for restarting talks with Israel.

QUESTION: But in fact, isn't it the Israelis - isn't it the Palestinians who are holding out on talks at the moment? It's not the - the Israelis have they're ready to sit down at any point.

MS. NULAND: Again, and that dynamic could change if this goes forward.

QUESTION: But - and you don't buy the argument that this would give the Palestinians a better negotiating hand? So it's purely in their self-interest, in their interest that you don't - you think that any recognition that they might get at the UN does not help their cause, despite the fact that it would be - give them - it would give them some additional negotiating leverage?

MS. NULAND: We don't think it gives them any additional negotiating leverage vis-a-vis the Israelis. On the contrary, it could make it harder.

QUESTION: The Secretary's involvement - direct involvement, and success in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas generated a great deal of interest and hope. Shouldn't she sort of push forward and take, actually, advantage of this new feeling to push forward for the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to start again? I mean, directly become - sort of take the bull by the horns, so to speak?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, you know where we are in time and space here, Said. We have an Israeli election in January. We have, obviously, an American aspiration to be helpful to these two parties to try to come back to the table. If there are steps taken between now and when that might be possible but make it harder, then we can't do more for the parties than they want to do for themselves.

QUESTION: Yeah, but a great many a diplomatic feat occurred actually in this kind of period. I mean, we can go back to the year 2000 where President Clinton himself, when he proposed his 10-points, which were that close to achieving.

MS. NULAND: I think I've said now about seven times that we don't want any steps taken that will make the possibility of getting these parties back to the table harder. This is one such potential step.


QUESTION: But what would change, in fact? The Palestinians are already observers at the UN, through the PLO. So --

MS. NULAND: You mean what changes in terms of their --

QUESTION: Their status.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I'm --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Palestinian Authority --

MS. NULAND: I'm going to send you to our folks at the UN for all of the technical differences here or for even why this might be something that folks would seek.


QUESTION: Well, wait a second. If you can't explain how this is any different than what it currently is, how are you - how can you be so convinced that it's the wrong thing to do?

MS. NULAND: I'm just not going to get into all those details from the podium here.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)

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