Tongue-Tied at State

Sunday, October 16, 2011
Basically, while there's an American hostage being held by the Castro regime, the U.S. is discussing new airports with the Cuban hostage-takers.

That's just scandalous.

From Friday's Daily Press Briefing with State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland:

QUESTION: Okay. So at the risk of repeating the rather unpleasant exchange up on the Hill this morning between Under Secretary Sherman and a member of Congress, what can you tell us about the proposed swap for Alan Gross?

MS. NULAND: First of all, we remain very concerned about the welfare of Alan Gross. We have, and we will continue to use, every available diplomatic channel to press for his immediate release, and we continue to call on the Cuban Government to release him.

I’m not going to comment on our private exchanges with the Cubans. We have talked to them about this issue. But I will certainly say unequivocally that the U.S. is not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five in exchange for Alan Gross. Alan Gross is not a spy, and he – it is simply not comparable with the crimes of the Cuban Five in any way.

QUESTION: Sorry, just --

QUESTION: What’s not comparable? What he did, or what he’s accused of doing?

MS. NULAND: Exactly.

QUESTION: Just because I was at the White House when a former president said it depends on what the meaning of “is” is – you said the U.S. Government is not considering. Has the U.S Government previously considered releasing a member of the Cuban Five in exchange for Alan Gross, even if it is not currently doing so?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Did you check?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: You did check, and so the answer is no?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you said that you have talked to the Cubans about this --

MS. NULAND: We have talked to them about Alan Gross’s situation and the importance of releasing him. We also talked to them, as you know, about other matters of mutual concern --

QUESTION: Well, recently?

MS. NULAND: -- including we’ve had recent conversations about their opening of new airports and TSA standards and all those kinds of things.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious. I mean, Under Secretary Sherman this morning said that there had been a very recent meeting between the United – quite recent – between the U.S. and Cuba on the Gross matter. Can you shed any light on that, when it – might’ve – but she was unable to say when. Who met whom, when, where?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’m not going to get into the details of exactly who met whom, when. I will say that it was within the last month.

QUESTION: And has the U.S. Government considered releasing other Cuban nationals, not those of the so-called Cuban Five, in exchange for Mr. Gross?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: But did you – again, forgive me for asking this, but I – there are times when you have asked and, no, and there are times when you haven’t asked. Did you ask that question, or were --

MS. NULAND: I did ask that question.

QUESTION: And you were told no?

MS. NULAND: As I said, to my knowledge, no. And what I’ve said here about our considering release of the Cuban Five also --

QUESTION: Here’s my problem, though. If you asked the question and you were told, “I can’t tell you that,” you’re knowledge is imperfect, but the answer is not “no.”

MS. NULAND: I understand, Arshad, and I would also say that Under Secretary Sherman endeavored to give more information to our colleagues on the Hill. I think she will be giving more information to our colleagues on the Hill over the next 24 to 36 hours. So if anything emerges as that – those responses are prepared, I will also have it for you here. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. But my – just so you understand, my problem is that I could not, in a story today, cite you as denying that the U.S. Government may have offered the release of someone other than those five for Mr. Gross, based on your statement not to your knowledge and your response to my follow-up that you asked and I said, well, did – were you told “no,” and you didn’t answer that. So you haven’t denied the possibility that you may have offered to swap somebody else despite repeated opportunities to do so.

MS. NULAND: Let’s start this again. We believe that Alan Gross should be released. We’ve made that point to the Cubans. We’ve also made clear that we are not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five. I am not aware of any other proposed prisoner swaps. We want the guy out of jail.

QUESTION: The – just another “is” – what the meaning of the word “is” is question, and that is you are not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five for this, but if a Cuban Five member, say, was released from prison and was sentenced to three years of probation, say, that had to be served in the United States, technically he is not being – would you – he is not being released. But are you saying that a suggestion that that person might be allowed to serve his probation in Cuba instead of in Florida or instead of in the United States, that also is ruled out? That also is not being considered, or was not considered?

MS. NULAND: Again, you’re getting me into all kinds of hypotheticals and if X, then Y.

QUESTION: Well, the story that’s out today is pretty specific, that this guy – I believe his name was Gonzalez – right? – he got out of – served his time, got out and was put on probation. And the story says that the U.S. suggestion was that instead – that you would push for the courts – that the U.S. Government would push before the courts in Florida to allow him to serve his probation time in Cuba instead of in the United States. Okay? So that’s not technically a release, but it is a swap of some kind or at least an offer to. You’re saying that that is not true either?

MS. NULAND: I’m not prepared to go beyond what I’ve said here and also to just reiterate that we have had discussions with the Cuban Government about this case and the importance of releasing him but we need for purposes of diplomatic confidentiality to not go any further here. But we are very firm in reaffirming that we were not looking at the release of any of the Cuban --

QUESTION: You’re talking about the release from –actual release from prison. Is that --

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay, so that does not apply to a release from probation?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not prepared to speak any further about our private diplomatic exchanges with the Cubans except to say that we believe that the guy needs to get out of jail and we want to see that happen.

QUESTION: Okay. Well that is understood. We know that you want Alan Gross out. The question is what you’re prepared to do to – what, if anything, are you prepared to do sweeten the deal or to make a deal with the Cubans for getting that release. And so the question about when you did not – when you say that there – you’re not considering releasing any member of the Cuban Five, does that specifically – that release – does that mean release actual from – from actual incarceration or – and that’s it? Or does it also include a release from some kind of enforced probationary period?

MS. NULAND: Matt, we have parsed this as far as we’re going to parse it today. And I’m at the end of what I have to say on this issue.

QUESTION: I want to follow-up because I believe it’s important. When you say we have not considered the release of any of the Cuban Five –

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: -- that statement, to my mind, implies that none of those five individuals, including Mr. Gonzalez, who is cited in the AP story, might be traded for – or if there was any consideration given to trading that person for Mr. Gross. The problem is – and I think it’s an important issue, so I’m not just doing this for grandstanding – you have not, however, made clear that Mr. Gonzalez – that the possibility of Mr. Gonzalez’s being swapped fits into your denial. And the problem with that is, it’s a very disingenuous denial if in fact you are or did consider the possibility of allowing Mr. Gonzalez to serve out his term elsewhere in exchange for the release of Mr. Gross. So I don’t – I want to make very clear my intent is to give you every opportunity, whether now or later if you have to, but to be perfectly forthright in the meaning of your denial. Because to deny something in a way that leaves open the possibility that, in fact, you were considering trading this guy who is out of prison now for somebody else, is, I think, wrong. I just don’t think it’s right to do that from the podium, so I want to make very clear why Matt is pushing this, and why I’m pushing it. I would like to believe that denials of that sort are intended to be not disingenuous but straightforward. And I hope it will be possible for you to clarify whether that denial does indeed apply to the possibility of a swap for Mr. Gonzalez.

MS. NULAND: Well, Arshad, I appreciate the opportunity you are offering me here and I hope you will appreciate that I am not in a position to go further than I’ve gone today on our private diplomatic exchanges with the Cubans.