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Briefing Skipper: Mexico, Karzai, Syria, Yemen, Koran burning

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: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Los Cabos, Mexico, over the weekend to attend the G20 foreign ministers meeting. "We had some fun at the G-20 ...

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

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:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Los Cabos, Mexico, over the weekend to attend the G20 foreign ministers meeting. "We had some fun at the G-20 ministerial -- did a little minister- watching, did a little whale-watching," Nuland said. The British press picked up on the fact that Clinton was the only minister who didn't wear white for the official photo. No word if her green outfit had an environmental significance. The State Department is "gratified" that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is now openly talking about direct interactions with the Taliban in pursuit of Afghan peace. "Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job, if that makes sense, because when we get to the point where it's Afghans and Afghans talking to each other, then we'll really have a true reconciliation process," Nuland said. Nuland said that State views favorable the International Committee for the Red Cross's proposal to negotiate a humanitarian ceasefire in Syria but she said that steps to increase pressure on the Syrian regime would continue in anticipation of Friday's "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunis. "You know where we've been, that we think that the violence needs to stop completely. So if a pause is the best we can do, then obviously we want to be able to get humanitarian aid and we want international organizations to be able to get humanitarian aid to those who are suffering from Assad's onslaught," said Nuland. The administration is still against arming the Syrian opposition. Expectations are low for the visit of the IAEA officials in Tehran. "We will await the report of that visit. But as you know from the public statements that they made, they had a relatively ambitious agenda which was designed to give the Iranians the opportunity to demonstrate that their program is for peaceful purposes," Nuland said. Still no response to Iran's letter offering new talks." I think our hope is to be able to have a little bit more to say by the end of the week," she said. Nuland had a very positive reaction of the presidential election in Yemen, even though there was only one candidate. "The United States congratulates the Yemeni people on carrying out this successful presidential election and taking the next step in their democratic transition. Our understanding is that turnout was very high -- and particularly high among women; among young people, voters under 30. And it just shows quite a bit of enthusiasm and ownership by the Yemeni people for this transition going forward," she said. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is still in California and is still immune from prosecution because he is president, for now. The State Department has heard from the Pakistani ambassador and from the government in Islamabad about Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's Baluchistan resolution, but there's nothing the administration can do to stop lawmakers from introducing bills about things. "Members of Congress introduce legislation on many foreign affairs topics, but they don't in any way imply U.S. government endorsement of those positions," Nuland said. "With regard to Baluchistan itself, we encourage all the parties in Baluchistan to work out their differences peaceably and through a political process. So we would like to again make clear that we respect Pakistani sovereignty in this regard." The U.S. is still going to push hard for an American to be head of the World Bank when Robert Zoellick steps down, despite some countries' desire for a change in the tradition of having an American World Bank President. "One of the things that has happened at the World Bank over recent time, as well as at the IMF, is that the leadership structure has been more open to more countries. That said, with regard to the senior jobs at the World Bank, we fully expect that we will have an extremely strong American candidate," Nuland said. Nuland condemned the "horrific incident" in Afghanistan whereby a truckload of Korans was apparently burned at the Bagram military base. "I think the concern is that some around the world will think that this represents an affirmative statement by the United States. And it does not represent our values or our view of how the Koran ought to be treated," she said.

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:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Los Cabos, Mexico, over the weekend to attend the G20 foreign ministers meeting. "We had some fun at the G-20 ministerial — did a little minister- watching, did a little whale-watching," Nuland said. The British press picked up on the fact that Clinton was the only minister who didn’t wear white for the official photo. No word if her green outfit had an environmental significance.
  • The State Department is "gratified" that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is now openly talking about direct interactions with the Taliban in pursuit of Afghan peace. "Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job, if that makes sense, because when we get to the point where it’s Afghans and Afghans talking to each other, then we’ll really have a true reconciliation process," Nuland said.
  • Nuland said that State views favorable the International Committee for the Red Cross’s proposal to negotiate a humanitarian ceasefire in Syria but she said that steps to increase pressure on the Syrian regime would continue in anticipation of Friday’s "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunis. "You know where we’ve been, that we think that the violence needs to stop completely. So if a pause is the best we can do, then obviously we want to be able to get humanitarian aid and we want international organizations to be able to get humanitarian aid to those who are suffering from Assad’s onslaught," said Nuland. The administration is still against arming the Syrian opposition.
  • Expectations are low for the visit of the IAEA officials in Tehran. "We will await the report of that visit. But as you know from the public statements that they made, they had a relatively ambitious agenda which was designed to give the Iranians the opportunity to demonstrate that their program is for peaceful purposes," Nuland said. Still no response to Iran’s letter offering new talks." I think our hope is to be able to have a little bit more to say by the end of the week," she said.
  • Nuland had a very positive reaction of the presidential election in Yemen, even though there was only one candidate. "The United States congratulates the Yemeni people on carrying out this successful presidential election and taking the next step in their democratic transition. Our understanding is that turnout was very high — and particularly high among women; among young people, voters under 30. And it just shows quite a bit of enthusiasm and ownership by the Yemeni people for this transition going forward," she said. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is still in California and is still immune from prosecution because he is president, for now.
  • The State Department has heard from the Pakistani ambassador and from the government in Islamabad about Rep. Dana Rohrabacher‘s Baluchistan resolution, but there’s nothing the administration can do to stop lawmakers from introducing bills about things. "Members of Congress introduce legislation on many foreign affairs topics, but they don’t in any way imply U.S. government endorsement of those positions," Nuland said. "With regard to Baluchistan itself, we encourage all the parties in Baluchistan to work out their differences peaceably and through a political process. So we would like to again make clear that we respect Pakistani sovereignty in this regard."
  • The U.S. is still going to push hard for an American to be head of the World Bank when Robert Zoellick steps down, despite some countries’ desire for a change in the tradition of having an American World Bank President. "One of the things that has happened at the World Bank over recent time, as well as at the IMF, is that the leadership structure has been more open to more countries. That said, with regard to the senior jobs at the World Bank, we fully expect that we will have an extremely strong American candidate," Nuland said.
  • Nuland condemned the "horrific incident" in Afghanistan whereby a truckload of Korans was apparently burned at the Bagram military base. "I think the concern is that some around the world will think that this represents an affirmative statement by the United States. And it does not represent our values or our view of how the Koran ought to be treated," she said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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