An odd exchange at the State Department press briefing, via the official transcript:
QUESTION: Can I – moving on, I’m surprised you didn’t have anything to say about the Pope. Do you?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the President put out a statement last night.
MS. NULAND: Secretary Kerry put out a statement last night. I commend both of those to you. We congratulate Pope Francis on his election. We look forward to continuing to deepen and improve our already strong relationship with the Holy See. You know how many things we work on together, particularly in the areas of human rights protections, aid to refugees, those kinds of things.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you: Does the United States regard the election of the Pope to – that election to have met international standards for the election of a world leader? (Laughter.) He is, after all, a head of state, and a head of government. Does it follow? Does it – you routinely criticize countries or governments for having elections where there is not universal suffrage, where there is not any possibility of appealing the results, where there is not – where there were no monitors, for example. I’m wondering if this meets the standard for a free and fair election in your mind.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the world has watched this conclave go forward as it’s gone forward in history down the centuries.
QUESTION: Today, it seems like it would be the – it’s probably the least transparent election. (Laughter.) I mean, it’s more opaque than an election in North Korea or Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
MS. NULAND: But it is, nonetheless, an election with designated balloting and multiple rounds of balloting. But Matt, I could perhaps recommend that the next time they do it, you’re interested in being a monitor? Is that possibly --
QUESTION: Yeah. I’d love that.
MS. NULAND: -- an option? I don’t know if you would meet their standards, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I might not. I might not.
MS. NULAND: Do you --
QUESTION: But I say all this just thinking – I’m just being – and I hope that the Holy See appreciates that I’m just asking because I am a devil’s advocate. So – that’s – so, but you – can you --
MS. NULAND: I think you secretly aspire to some red shoes, maybe.
QUESTION: But, so you don’t – you think the election of the Pope was okay? It meets your – the fairness, free and fairness standard?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we have any reason to question the process.
QUESTION: Okay. More generally, what’s your – what does the U.S. think about theocracies?
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, I’m curious. You seem to think – I mean, and with all due respect, I’m not accusing the Vatican of doing anything improper. But you seem to take issue with theocracies in places like Iran, and yet you celebrate the theocracy in the Vatican.
MS. NULAND: Matt, he is the head of the church. And as you know, the amount of --
QUESTION: And so it’s a private club; it’s different than --
MS. NULAND: It is – he is the head of a church, and we will take it on that basis. I think we’re gone beyond our podium here.
Please, go ahead.