No 206 Posted by fw, June 26, 2011
At a U.S. State Department briefing on Friday, June 24, Matt Lee of Associated Press sparked a round of questioning by asking why the State Department felt it necessary to issue three “dangerous situation” warnings about the Gaza Flotilla over the past three days? “What is the big concern here?” he asked. He followed up with questions, such as: Why is it a problem for the US that the flotilla would be in international not Israeli waters? Does the US believe that Israel has the right to prevent ships from entering international waters? Does the US consider the blockade to be legal? Matt’s lead prompted other journalists to follow up with a similar line of questioning.
A video of the entire 30-minute briefing is available here on the State Department’s website. The Gaza Flotilla questioning starts at the 1:35 minutes into the video and ends at the 14:32 minute mark. A transcript of the entire briefing is available here on the website. Alternatively, below is a transcript of the Gaza-related excerpt.
Don’t miss Lee’s question toward the end of the segment about Hillary Clinton’s statement in defence of Saudi Arabian women driving and breaking the law. As Lee points out: “Okay. So a provocative act in support of the Palestinians in Gaza is not okay, though?”
Not surprisingly, the spokesperson stuck to the State Department’s official script, reflecting unwavering support for its military ally in the Middle East — Israel. As the Gaza Freedom Riders put it, history teaches us that when morally-challenged governments refuse to act in the humanitarian interests of an oppressed, besieged people, responsible and informed citizens of the world will show up, speak up and act up.
QUESTION [Matt Lee]: This morning, Victoria, you put out a statement – or a statement went out in your name – about the flotilla. This is the third warning in three days from this building or people in this building about this. What is the big concern here? Are you – is there a worry that this is going – that this may upend your efforts to get the peace talks restarted?
MS. [Victoria] NULAND: I think this just continues a year of diplomacy and public statements that we’ve had making clear that we don’t want to see a repeat of the very dangerous situation that occurred last year. So we thought it was timely to put out all in one place our views on this issue, and I do commend to all of you the very detailed statement that we put out earlier in the day.
QUESTION: Right. But is there a concern that this may have broader – if it goes ahead, that there may be broader implications for the effort?
MS. NULAND: We have seen some warming in relations between Turkey and Israel, as we talked about I think it was on Tuesday. We want to see that effort continue. We want to see those who want to aid humanitarian situation in Gaza use the appropriate channels. There has been some progress, as the statement makes clear, in opening the way for more humanitarian aid. More humanitarian aid is getting in through legitimate channels. So we’d like to see that process continue and not have a repeat of the dangerous situation we had last summer.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, one of the things that the Secretary said yesterday in – when – in her comments to this was that attempts to go into Israeli waters were provocative and irresponsible. And it’s my understanding that the flotilla organizers do not intend to go into Israeli waters but in – they will stay in international waters. Is that your understanding or is that not your understanding per what the Secretary said yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the intentions of those involved in the flotilla. I think the Secretary was clear it was in response to a question yesterday —
MS. NULAND: — as you remember, so that also speaks to the fact that publicly this issue is out there, that we do not want to see the bad situation of last year repeated. We do believe that channels exist for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza in a safe and secure way and that that situation is improving. And we urge all NGOs who want to participate in that to use those channels.
QUESTION: But does a flotilla sitting in international waters off the Gaza – off the coast of Gaza, is that a problem for the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to get into the Law of the Sea issues here. I simply want to say that we don’t want to see a conflict at sea, on land. We want to see appropriate legitimate channels used for the —
QUESTION: I understand, but in the briefing that just preceded this —
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: — you talked about wanting to – in another instance, in the South China Sea, the U.S. has been very concerned about the freedom of navigation.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And so I’m not quite sure what the U.S. problem would be with a flotilla that stays in international waters, whether it’s off the coast of Gaza or off the coast of the Philippines.
MS. NULAND: I think we’re not talking about a freedom of navigation issue. We’re talking about appropriate and safe and agreed mechanisms for delivering aid to the people of Gaza.
QUESTION: So it’s —
MS. NULAND: So I think the statement speaks for it —
QUESTION: Well, but you believe that Israel is within its rights to defend itself to take on or to prevent ships from going into international waters?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to international waters, territorial waters. I’m simply saying that we are encouraging those who want to aid the people of Gaza to use the channels that have been established.
QUESTION: All right. And then was – on the flotilla – this is on the Middle East – I just want to know, wondering if there’s any update on the Quartet meeting in Brussels?
MS. NULAND: Simply that they had a good meeting today, they did begin a conversation about when they’re going to meet next, and they’re looking to do that in the next few weeks. But I don’t have any specific announcements out of the Quartet today.
QUESTION: Is there – is the thought that the next meeting would be at the principals level or is it going to be, again, at the – at an envoy level?
MS. NULAND: I think decisions have not been made on that subject.
QUESTION: To follow up on —
QUESTION: Just to – this is a follow-up.
MS. NULAND: Are we on flotilla too or are we —
QUESTION: We’re on flotilla. Just to make sure, does the U.S. consider that blockade legal?
MS. NULAND: I think the main point that we were trying to make in the statement was that we’ve got to use the channels that are safe, the channels that are going to guarantee that the aid get where it needs to go to the people it’s intended for, and to discourage, in strongest terms, any actions on the high seas that could result in a conflict.
QUESTION: Right, but again, that doesn’t answer the question of the legality or the – whether the U.S. perceives that blockade as legal or not.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on legality here. We can take a stronger look at that if you’d like, but again, the reason that the Secretary spoke to this yesterday when she was asked, the reason that we’ve put out this very fulsome statement that points people in the correct direction, is because we want to avoid the problems of last year, and we do believe that there are good and reliable channels for getting assistance to the people of Gaza.
QUESTION: And just one more. I’m sorry. The people who are putting this together have a rather elaborate website, and they say that – on that that the U.S. should be protecting the rights of American citizens, protecting their safety abroad. So that is the argument that they are making. They’re very disappointed and shocked that the State Department would be warning people off. What do you say to that?
MS. NULAND: It is in the interest of protecting both Americans and other citizens from around the world who might be thinking about engaging in provocative moves like this that we were putting out these warnings so strongly in the same season where we had this problem last year. We don’t want to see a repeat, and we do believe that those who want to aid Gaza can do so and need to do so in the correct manner.
QUESTION: You kept repeating that they have available to them —
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: — proper channels and so on. What – could you share with us some of these proper channels?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Rafah Crossing, as you know, is open again, and we have seen an uptick in the humanitarian aid that is going through there. There are also channels through Israel, and we’ve been relatively encouraged that the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza through these appropriate channels is improving.
QUESTION: But the Rafah Crossing was only recently opened. I mean, until then, it was completely closed. So that’s one issue. And another: Could you clarify for us whether, in fact, the Gaza waters or crossing through the Gaza waters, is that legal or illegal under the Laws of the Seas and so on? Could you clarify that, please?
MS. NULAND: I think that’s the same question that Jill was asking. And I will admit to you I’m not a Law of the Sea expert here, but let me take the question.
QUESTION: Okay. And a quick follow-up on the Quartet: You said that it was a good meeting. Now what constitutes a good meeting? How was the, let’s say, the meeting today different or improved the situation from, let’s say, 24 hours ago?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you saw and as we’ve been discussing here for the course of the last week, David Hale has been involved very intensively with the parties, with the regional states. For the members of the Quartet, I think it was a chance to compare notes on diplomacy that we’ve been doing, on diplomacy that other members of the Quartet have been doing in our shared effort to get these parties back to the table. So, from that perspective, there was a lot to discuss and then to take stock of where to go next.
QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on the flotilla?
MS. NULAND: Please, yeah.
QUESTION: My understanding is that there were a number of the Americans who planned to participate and went into your – I believe in your Embassy in Athens and sought some advice. Can you tell us what the message to them in person was today?
MS. NULAND: I’m sure that the message to them in person was identical to the statement that we’ve put out today, that we would ask them to use established and reliable channels and to refrain from action that could lead to the kind of difficulty that we saw last year.
QUESTION: When you say that you want – you don’t want a repeat of last year, you want people to refrain from action that could lead to the kind of difficulty that you saw last year, does that only apply to the flotilla organizers or does that also apply to Israel?
MS. NULAND: We’ve been urging all sides, whether it’s the NGOs or whether it’s governments involved, that we not have a repeat of what happened last year.
QUESTION: Right. Well —
MS. NULAND: And I think this speaks to the fact that the neighboring states that – to Gaza have worked hard to establish legitimate mechanisms, efficient mechanisms to get aid in so that people have a way to do this other than to risk provocative action.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MS. NULAND: Anybody – anything else on this? Lachlan?
QUESTION: Just one more on this. Yeah. I don’t think you said it, but people at the State Department have said Israel has a right to defend itself against these flotillas. What exactly would it be defending against, though? That’s what’s not clear to me.
MS. NULAND: Like all states, Israel has a right of national self-defense. Again, I don’t want to get into where the boat might be and Law of the Sea and all this kind of stuff. We are simply saying this is the wrong way to get aid to Gaza. The correct way to get aid to Gaza is through the established mechanisms which are improving, which are open, and which can get aid to the people that it’s intended for.
QUESTION: But it’s just humanitarian aid, so I don’t see why it would be – Israel would have to defend itself if it’s just humanitarian aid coming in.
MS. NULAND: It’s the matter of all states to provide coastal defense, but I’m – again, I’m not going to get into the Law of the Sea issues here. We’re simply trying to make the point that we want this done in a way that not only is going to get the aid where it’s intended, but is going to ensure that we don’t have dangerous incidents.
QUESTION: In general, would you say that the Administration, the U.S. Government, is – would advise anyone against provocative acts?
MS. NULAND: I think that’s a fair point.
QUESTION: It is. Okay. So you don’t see, when the Secretary comes out in support of women who want to drive in Saudi Arabia, deliberately violating Saudi laws and regulations, that – her support of that is – doesn’t mean that you’re not – I mean, I don’t understand where you – if you’re coming out against all provocative acts, it seems to me that that’s a pretty provocative act, and yet she’s supporting that.
MS. NULAND: The Secretary was supporting the right of not only Saudi women, women around the world, to live as men do. She wasn’t encouraging any particular course of action one way or the other. She was simply making a strong public statement of empathy and support for the campaign that these women are on to have these laws changed.
QUESTION: Okay. So a provocative act in support of the Palestinians in Gaza is not okay, though?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we are supporting provocative acts of any kind. I think you can’t equate these two issues. The Secretary was simply speaking to the aspirations of Saudi women to have the laws of their country changed. She wasn’t encouraging any particular course of action for that.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me try and put it a different way, then. You believe that because there are established – already established means, the Israeli port where things are inspected and the Rafah Crossing, that in this case, being provocative is unnecessary and unwise because it’s just not needed; there are other ways to do it? Is that – that’s the bottom line?
MS. NULAND: That’s certainly the case, and we don’t want further incidents. It’s not in anybody’s interest.
QUESTION: Is the regular blockade a provocative act?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve gone as far as we’re going to go on this subject.
QUESTION: I’ll ask again. Is the naval blockade a provocative action?
MS. NULAND: We would consider it provocative and it would be dangerous to have a repeat of the situation that we saw last year.
QUESTION: But the current existing blockade, the naval blockade of Gaza, is that provocative action or is it not?
MS. NULAND: As I said, we believe that there are legitimate and efficient ways to get assistance into Gaza and that those mechanisms are working and that we’re seeing, as a result of them, an improvement in the humanitarian situation.
Jill, are we moving on now? Yeah. Thanks. Please, go ahead.
END OF EXCERPT