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Briefing Skipper: Syria, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt

Briefing Skipper: Syria, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Monday’s briefing by spokeswoman Victoria Nuland:

  • Poland is the new protecting power in Damascus following today’s closing of the U.S embassy in Damascus and the departure of Ambassador Robert Ford. "So any remaining American citizens in Syria who haven’t heeded our repeated travel warnings, which were updated again today, can receive consular services through the Embassy of Poland," Nuland said. Ford will head the State Department’s Syria team in Washington and try to maintain relationships inside Syria. Fred Hof will maintain relationships with opposition leaders outside Syria, Nuland said. Ford met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem before he left town. The U.S. is not breaking diplomatic relations… yet. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrives in Damascus Tuesday.
  • Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is coming to Washington this week. At the 2012 Munich Security Conference last weekend, The Cable asked Davutoglu if it was true that his government has requested NATO to start planning for contingencies in Syria. Davutoglu said, "It’s not true," but we’re told otherwise.
  • The State Department can’t confirm reports that Qatar has brokered an agreement between Fatah and Hamas. "We’re obviously seeking more information about precisely what was agreed," Nuland said. She said that State is still waiting to hear about it directly from the Palestinians, but Hamas is still a terrorist organization and the U.S. is still against that. "Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence. It must recognize the state of Israel. And it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the road map. So those are our expectations," Nuland said.
  • State isn’t happy that the NGO workers in Egypt are now going to be charged and tried in Egyptian courts. "These groups and the individuals associated with them do not fund political parties or individual candidates. Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for many years, supported by the U.S. government, in order to promote democracy and free elections. There’s nothing new in their activities," she said. More Americans are seeking refuge at the U.S. embassy. 17 people are affected, about half of them Americans.
  • Former Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens has been appointed as the acting undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, pending the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee, USIP’s Tara Sonenshine. All nominations are stuck in the senate, so Stephens could be running the public diplomacy shop at State for a while. Nuland compared the situation to when Ambassador Tom Shannon was brought in for a while as acting undersecretary for political affairs while Wendy Sherman awaited senate action. "But the full expectation is that the Senate will act promptly on Therese Sonenshine’s nomination," Nuland said without elaborating on what’s behind that expectation.