The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Sudan, Syria, Taliban talks, Saudi women driving

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 spokesman Victoria Nuland:

  • Nuland opened the briefing by welcoming the agreement signed by the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to withdraw troops from the Abyei region and allow Ethiopian peacekeepers to enter. "This agreement is a very important first step, and we urge the parties to move quickly now to implement it and translate it into immediate concrete improvements in the security and humanitarian situation on the ground, including the swift deployment of the Ethiopian forces, so that we can amplify the peacekeeping force in Abyei," she said.
  • State was not impressed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's speech to his nation, where he blamed "saboteurs" for the violence sweeping his country and promised reforms. What's important now is action, not words," Nuland said. "We would also note in the speech he spends a lot of time blaming foreign instigators rather than appreciating that his own people are simply disgusted by the regime -- by a regime that supports itself through repression, corruption and fear." Ambassador Robert Ford will go to the northern border regions to investigate for himself. As for Assad's blame on "foreign instigators," Nuland said, "We're just not buying it." No word yet on a possible war crimes complaint against Assad at the International Criminal Court.
  • Nuland declined to expand on Defense Secretary Robert Gates' Sunday revelation that the U.S. government has had preliminary talks with the Taliban, led by the State Department. "Many countries have had these kinds of contacts. The United States has had some preliminary contacts, but that's as far as I'd like to go," she said, emphasizing that they are "very, very preliminary contacts."
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about the issue of women driving in her June 17 conversation with Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal and "The secretary has been engaged, as have others, in quiet diplomacy on this subject," Nuland said. The subject of Bahrain did not come up in the call and the U.S. is not pressing Saudi Arabia to remove its military presence from Bahrain. "Our view on the forces in Bahrain is that Bahrain as a sovereign state has a right to ask for support," she explained.
  • The Libyan Transitional National Council in Benghazi is running out of money, but Nuland said she is confident help is on the way, following pledges of support during a donors meeting in Abu Dahbi. After the briefing, State posted this statement on aid to the rebels, which touted the $25 million of non-lethal supplies the U.S. is providing. Nuland said State is waiting for the Senate to move legislation that would allow some of the $33 billion of Libyan frozen assets to go the rebels. "You know that we're working with the Congress on new legislation that would allow us to move some of these assets to the TNC. As I understand it, that legislation is still in the Senate," she said.
  • Acting Special Envoy David Hale and NSC Senior Director Dennis Ross are still in the Middle East and Hale met with Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed el-Orabi Monday night. More information on their trip will be released Tuesday, Nuland said.

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