Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 9, 2011


Index for Today's Briefing
  • BAHRAIN
    • Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry
    • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • DRC
    • Electoral Process
  • IRAN
    • Robert Levinson Video
    • Swiss Ambassador Meeting with Iranian Authorities
    • Virtual Embassy Tehran
  • SYRIA/TURKEY/RUSSIA/CHINA
    • Ambassador Ford / Secretary's Meeting with SNC / Homs / Turkey / Foreign Minister Davutoglu / Russia, China / Arab League / Asad
  • RUSSIA
    • Putin / Elections / OSCE
  • BURMA
    • U.S. Wants to See Democratic Future / Political Prisoners / Refugees / Neighbors / Sanctions
  • EGYPT
    • U.S. Wants to See Democratic Transition
  • PAKISTAN
    • U.S.-Pakistan Relations Complicated But Essential
    • Secretary Clinton / Prime Minister Gilani / SRAP Grossman / Ambassador Munter / Foreign Minister Khar / President Zardari
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • December 14 Quartet Meeting / December 15 Special Envoy Hale to Cairo and Paris
  • CHINA
    • Human Rights Concerns


TRANSCRIPT:

1:06 p.m.

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Friday. I have to say it’s great to back with you and not on an airplane. I have one small thing at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds.

This is with regard to Bahrain. The United States commends the Bahraini Government for moving quickly to implement the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report recommendations. And we particularly commend the news that the International Committee of the Red Cross has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bahrain’s Government that will provide access to detainees.

We’re also encouraged by the news that the Government of Bahrain has halted the trial proceedings of over a hundred athletes and dropped all charges related to their participation in the protests. An essential element of promoting national reconciliation is ensuring the confidence of Bahrain’s citizens in their government’s commitment to, and compliance with, international human rights obligations. We urge the Government of Bahrain to act quickly on the other recommendations of the BCI, and we call on all parties in Bahrain to create and support a climate conducive to reconciliation. And I would also add that Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Mike Posner, is going to be in Bahrain next week to continue our human rights dialogue.

QUESTION: Did you happen to check the news before you came out here, maybe from the last three hours or so? Are you encouraged by the fact that the Bahrain police have broken up a huge demonstration – or attempt to demonstrate?

MS. NULAND: I had not seen that. Are you asking what our reaction to that is?

QUESTION: Well, you seem to be pretty happy with them on other issues, but --

MS. NULAND: Yeah. No. I did not see that.

QUESTION: -- as of this morning, they had broken up a rather large attempt to protest.

MS. NULAND: Was it a peaceful demonstration that they broke up?

QUESTION: I’m not aware of whether it was a peaceful demonstration or not, but --

MS. NULAND: Okay. Well, if you’d like some reaction, we can see what we have. Frankly, I had not seen that before I came down.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. NULAND: Anything else, Matt?

QUESTION: On Bahrain? No. I have a bunch of questions on things, but I don’t think that you’ll have at least answers that are newsworthy to any of them, except for one, which is very minor, so let’s get it out of the way at the top.

MS. NULAND: All right.

QUESTION: Congo election. What’s your reaction to that? With Kabila winning?

MS. NULAND: To the announcement of the results in the Congo? I think I do have some reaction, when I find it in this mess that is the book that I have here. So, we’re obviously continuing to follow the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo closely. Today was the publication of the preliminary results, and we are urging the National Independent Electoral Commission to ensure the credibility of these results by proceeding with maximum openness and transparency.

We continue to call on all Congolese political leaders and their supporters to act responsibly, to renounce violence, to resolve any disagreements they might have through peaceful dialogue and existing legal remedies. The Government of the DRC remains responsible for providing security for the people of the Congo, and any person who uses or incites violence to derail the democratic process should be held accountable.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any reaction to the actual results that were announced?

MS. NULAND: Well again, these are preliminary results, so our reaction is that they need to be confirmed and checked by the Independent Electoral Commission.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: The lead opposition candidate, Tshisekedi, is claiming victory in this, despite coming in second in the results. Does the U.S. have a comment on that? Does the U.S. think that the result is credible at this point – the preliminary results?

MS. NULAND: Well again, these are preliminary results, and as I said, they need to be confirmed and they need to be processed through the DRC’s own processes. So I think we won’t comment.

Jill.

QUESTION: Toria, on Robert Levinson. You’ve seen the video, I presume, that the family has released on the website?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Is there any reaction to that? And he is pleading for – directly for help from the U.S. Government. Is there anything that the State Department can do at this time?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we have been working intensively on this case since he first was kidnapped. And we’ve – well, since he first disappeared, which was more than four years ago. And we have been sharing relevant information that we have about his case with many governments to see what we can do. The FBI has the investigative lead in this case.

The video, as you know, was released by his family onto this website. It was their decision to release it, in an effort, they hope, to help bring more leads to the investigation. So obviously, we’re all hopeful that this will bring more leads. But the FBI has the U.S. Government lead on working with the family and working to try to secure his safe return.

QUESTION: And in this climate, which is really pretty bad right now with Iran, does that have – what are the prospects you would say for even getting any help to free him, given the circumstances?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying that we’re not in a position to confirm even where he is. What we have said, what the FBI has said, Secretary said it in March, is that we’ve received indications that he’s being held captive in Southwest Asia. We have, in the interest of following all leads and pursuing all avenues, we have been in touch, through the Swiss protecting power with the Government of Iran, to see if we can get any more information, and efforts will continue in all directions. But again, for details on that, I would refer you to the FBI.

QUESTION: Isn’t – did the Secretary herself actually see that video tape? I know she referred to proof of life back in March. Is it -- did she actually herself view that tape?

MS. NULAND: At the time?

QUESTION: Yeah. Any time. Actually, yeah, I was thinking at that time.

MS. NULAND: I don’t know the answer to that, Jill.

Please.

QUESTION: Syria? Could we go to Syria?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: No. Hold on one second. Two things. One, this building and everyone in it was aware of this video and had seen it in November, correct? A year ago? More than year ago?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t think it’s productive to the case for us to get into any more detail here about what we knew, when we knew it. I think what’s important is that the FBI has the lead, is working with the family, and is pursuing all investigative (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Well I mean, it’s been all out – even in March, it was all over the place, that this is – this video was old and that everyone had seen it. I know that for a fact that it was floating around this building since – for more than year.

MS. NULAND: Well again, there were --

QUESTION: What’s wrong – why can’t you say that you – that she saw it or that the Secretary – at least top aides to her – were aware of this tape and had seen it – for – were aware of this video and had seen it more than a year ago?

MS. NULAND: Well, she spoke to the case herself in March --

QUESTION: In March. But --

MS. NULAND: Again, I am not --

QUESTION: -- by then it was already several months old. Anyway. Okay. Never mind about that. You used the word kidnapped when you --

MS. NULAND: Yeah. That was an error. I – what – that was an error.

QUESTION: -- you don’t – not a Freudian slip, you don’t think? You think – is there any --

MS. NULAND: I, frankly, can’t speak to how we evaluate what happened.

QUESTION: Why would you use the word kidnapped?

MS. NULAND: Because I’m really tired, Matt.

QUESTION: Join the club.

MS. NULAND: All right. (Laughter.)

Kirit.

QUESTION: Can you say whether the U.S. has been in touch with any other governments regarding his whereabouts? I mean, there’s been some reporting about his possible location in countries other than Iran. You’ve only mentioned contacts with Iranian officials.

MS. NULAND: I think I said that we have been pursuing leads with a number of countries, but again, since the FBI has the lead in this case, I would urge you to ask that question directly with them.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last time you approached the Iranians through the Swiss was?

MS. NULAND: Again, I would suggest that you talk to the FBI, because they have the lead.

QUESTION: Okay. And I do have one other Iran question, but if anybody else has Levinson, I’ll --

QUESTION: I do.

MS. NULAND: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you think this video is legit? And do you all have an idea of when you think it actually was made? Do you have any indication, any date with it?

MS. NULAND: Well, we don’t have any reason to believe that it is not him, if that’s what you’re asking. With regard to when it was made and what we know when we knew it, again, to the FBI, please.

QUESTION: Just briefly – (inaudible) on his condition in the video that he’s being treated well, is that – is there – from observing the video, is there a view on his health, on his treatment?

MS. NULAND: Again, Shaun, this is FBI business. They’re the experts in these kinds of things.

Did you want to stay on Iran, Kirit?

QUESTION: Iran. Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: You put out this TQ just a short while before the briefing about the meeting that the Swiss Ambassador had on your behalf with Iranian authorities this week, and in it, you say that you do not discuss the contents of your diplomatic correspondence like that. That’s not true. I mean, there are a number of cases where you have, particularly with regard to the hikers and with the Bob Levinson case, you’ve mentioned every time that’s come up through the Swiss. I’m curious why you couldn’t, in this case, say what was discussed in that meeting.

MS. NULAND: Well, as Matt’s pointed out a number of times, we discuss these things when we consider it to be helpful, and in this case, we’ve concluded that we don’t want to discuss the contents of the message to the Swiss.

QUESTION: And why is that? I mean, I don’t understand.

MS. NULAND: Well, it goes to a number of sensitive issues.

QUESTION: Is it --

QUESTION: When – can you at least say when this meeting happened?

MS. NULAND: I don't know whether it was yesterday or the day before. It was one of those two.

QUESTION: Okay. But it was – regardless of --

MS. NULAND: When the Iranians called in the Swiss --

QUESTION: Yeah, when the meeting happened.

MS. NULAND: -- or when the Swiss informed us? Let me take it and get back to you.

QUESTION: You’re telling me that the discussion of the new virtual embassy, it’s not in your interest to say whether that was a topic of discussion, or are you saying that that wasn’t a topic of discussion?

MS. NULAND: I’m saying I’m not going to talk any further about the exchanges we’ve had with the Swiss about the messages that they are getting from Iran for us. But if you want to talk about Virtual Embassy Tehran, I’m happy to talk about it because I’ve got some news.

QUESTION: And you’re claim it that has gone viral?

MS. NULAND: Well, it’s --

QUESTION: I’m not sure a website can go viral, but if that’s the word you want to use, that’s fine.

No, I do want to talk – I want to know if the Iranians have complained to you about this.

MS. NULAND: Again, I’ll take that one as well, but what I do want to say about this and --

QUESTION: That you mean – so – okay, so I’m just going to assume, then, that the meeting with the Swiss was not about the virtual embassy; it was, rather, about the drone?

MS. NULAND: I am not in a position to confirm one way or the other what the subject of the meeting was.

QUESTION: Well, have you --

MS. NULAND: So I would caution you against making assumptions.

QUESTION: Well, have the Iranians spoken to you about the virtual embassy?

MS. NULAND: Again, I do – I will take that question and get back to you with an answer, because I do not have one right now. With regard to Virtual Embassy Tehran, I think Mark spoke yesterday about the fact that even though the Iranians have been jamming it directly, we’ve had lots of hits through VPNs and through other ways to get on the site. Today, we are up to three-quarters of a million hits through other circumvented ways to get to the site. So there’s obviously a huge amount of interest in this.

QUESTION: So have you – from yesterday – yesterday, it was like 9,000 or something like this, and today, three-quarters of a million, or the day before?

MS. NULAND: I don't know what the number Mark gave you yesterday, but as of 9 o’clock this morning, we had had 770,000 page views and more than 273,000 unique visits. So there’s a lot of interest in this. And it looks like folk around the world are using sites all around the world, in fact, to try to circumvent the jam and get to our site.

QUESTION: Can you give us any more detail on that? Because I know (inaudible) Mark said yesterday and the point that I raised was that by design, using a VPN, you can’t pinpoint where the original user is from. And yet you guys conclude that those users originated from Iran. And I’m just curious; I mean, I understand that you said maybe from countries that not – would not normally be on those sites. Can you give any more specificity on why you believe that those users are coming from Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think Mark spoke to this yesterday. This is not an exact science, so I don’t think anybody is asserting that every one of those hits is Iranian. What we’re asserting is that there’s a huge amount of interest in the website. I can give you a few more factoids on usage as of today. You know that we have, as part of this, an Ask the Spokesperson page. We’ve had 1,353 questions already in Farsi on the Ask the Spokesperson page. We added over 6,000 Facebook friends to our Facebook page, which is also part of this effort, so we now have 45,000 friends on the page. So our estimation is that it’s got great interest, and again, the site is in Farsi, so it’s Farsi speakers who are queuing in.

QUESTION: Have all the questions been answered?

MS. NULAND: Probably not in the last 24 hours, but we do have a team that is answering them.

QUESTION: And are they going to give them answers that are other than, “No, I’m sorry, we won’t say what the Swiss were talking about. The reviewing and -- ” (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I would bet you that those are not the kind of questions that we’re getting on the website.

Goyal.

QUESTION: You don’t think people have asked about whether the United States tried to topple the Iranian regime, whether people have written in asking about why there was a drone flying over Iranian territory? You think that people aren’t interested in that in Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, I actually haven’t seen what the questions are, but if you’re interested in the kind of questions we’re getting, I think we can get a little – take – do a little research on
that --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. NULAND: -- and get you something on that.

QUESTION: I’m actually more interested in the response or, rather, what I suspect is lack of response to questions about sensitive issues. Because if the questions are just like, “When can I get a visa,” or, “How can I get a visa,” those would seem to be questions that could be answered just by looking at an FAQ page. So yeah, a sample of what the questions are and whether there are sensitive questions. And if you’re giving them any better response than the non-responses that we get here would be very interesting.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ll certainly give you the flavor of the questions. I think if you saw the Secretary’s interview with BBC Persia and with VOA Iran, which was about a month ago, where we had live questions, including from people whose – who asked to have their identity masked, the questions were really substantive, they were on the full range of issues, and they were both on the positive and the negative side in terms of U.S. relations with Iran. So our goal is to set up an open and transparent dialogue with the people of Iran. We are not afraid of hard questions and we hope that people are making good use of the website --

QUESTION: Well, I don’t doubt that you’re not afraid of hard questions. What I wonder is whether you answer hard questions.

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary answered them quite fulsomely, so I would hope that we would be following her example.

QUESTION: I just want to understand something.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: These questions are directed to you --

MS. NULAND: They’re --

QUESTION: -- correct? As the spokesperson?

MS. NULAND: Well, it’s interesting. I asked that question: Are they directed to me? In fact, they’re directed to our hub director, who speaks Farsi. So they’re directed to the Department and they’ll be answered on behalf of the United States Government. So they’ll be official USG answers.

QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?

MS. NULAND: I wish they were addressed to me. I don’t speak Farsi, however.

QUESTION: Just one more question on the meeting with the Swiss. Do you know how long that meeting lasted?

MS. NULAND: I do not.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. NULAND: Said.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Today was another bloody day in Syria, and I want to ask you about your meeting with the Syrian opposition. Are you totally frustrated with the opposition outside of Syria versus, let’s say, the opposition inside Syria? And what kind of activities have the Embassy or the Embassy staff or Ambassador Ford indulged in since his return with the local indigenous opposition, for the lack of better words?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, let me start with what Ambassador Ford has been up to in the last couple of days since he’s been back in country. He has picked up where he left off, continuing to meet with opposition leaders. He’s had a number of contacts with them and meetings. He’s also working very closely with other ambassadors, in particular, the French and the Turks, who are in Syria to compare information about what we’re hearing about the situation on the ground, particularly our shared grave concerns about the humanitarian situation, situation in Homs, in particular.

With regard to the Secretary’s meeting with the SNC, she spoke to her reasons for wanting to have the meeting. And then we had a participant in the meeting do a backgrounder afterwards, which I would call your attention to. We did consider it a very useful encounter. It gave the Secretary a chance to meet herself and get to know the leaders of the SNC. You heard her messages, which are that we encourage them to try to make common cause with groups inside Syria. They talked quite a bit about their efforts to do that and their work together, and to ensure that their council remains broad-based and represents all of the colors and backgrounds and confessions in Syria. And in that meeting there were different confessions represented.

So those conversations continue: Robert’s conversations inside Syria, our conversations with the external Syrians, and our encouraging of them to continue to concert efforts.

QUESTION: What kind of leverage or incentive do you have for the Syrian opposition outside of Syria? That seems to be really divided and not a homogenous group, by any measure. And there seems to be a great deal of animosity between them and the ones inside.

MS. NULAND: Well, our information is that their contacts with the groups inside are increasing and are strengthening, that they are increasingly using new communication tools to try to work together. And we’ve obviously been encouraging that. They, both inside Syria and outside, are working on concrete proposals for how a democratic transition could move forward. And they are increasingly working together on those efforts, so we are encouraged by that.

But as I said, what encouraged the Secretary with regard to the group that she met from the SNC was that we had Sunni, Alawi, Kurd, Christian, represented in that group. And they spoke quite eloquently about their determination to represent all Syrians and about their concern that it is the Asad regime that’s trying to tear apart the fabric of Syria and pit the confessions against each other. So they are very conscious of the need to stay unified, represent all the minority groups, and work together with all the groups inside Syria as well.

QUESTION: And lastly, there’s been a lot of news reports about – from Homs, like Sky News, and others, and so on. My question to you: Do you have your own sources to actually – to provide you with what is really happening inside the city of Homs?

MS. NULAND: We do, and we’re extremely concerned about what’s going on in the city of Homs. There are reports today, you know, that the government may be preparing a very serious new assault on the city of Homs in a very large-scale way. We’re receiving a number of reports, including reports that 26 civilians were killed by regime security forces just yesterday, and 11 of those deaths were in Homs.

We have repeatedly, the Syrian opposition has repeatedly – including the SNC, the Arab League has repeatedly called on the Syrian regime to allow international observers in, to allow journalists, folks like you, back in, if they have nothing to hide. And frankly, it is extremely concerning that in places like Homs we have huge number of reports that they are preparing something large-scale. It’s a perfect example for them to prove that they are not the propagators of this violence. And obviously, they’re chosen not to do so and they are not going to be able to hide who’s responsible if there is a major assault on the weekend.

QUESTION: Do you have plans – do you have any plans to protect civilians in Homs?

MS. NULAND: We are extremely concerned about the fate of civilians not only in Homs but throughout Syria. This was one of the major topics in the Secretary’s meeting with the SNC. It comes up in every meeting that Ambassador Ford and our Embassy staff have. You know --

QUESTION: But any practical plans to protect the civilians?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, our aspiration had been, back in October, to have a UN Security Council resolution which allowed for international observers, allowed for us to have witnesses and eyes on the street as to what was happening, to call for an end to the violence. And that resolution was vetoed by two countries. So we have been continuing to talk to Russia and China. We have been continuing to talk to the Arab League. The Arab League is talking to the countries who have made it more difficult to have the kind of UN Security Council action that would allow us to do more to protect civilians. But we are extremely concerned. And we also have called repeatedly for the Syrian Government to allow humanitarian access to some of these areas, which is also not happening in the way that it should.

Please.

QUESTION: The Turkish foreign minister today warned Syria that if they’re going to continue this kind of oppression, Turkey is going to establish a buffer zone. Are you talking with the Turks now about a buffer zone to protect civilians?

MS. NULAND: Well, we spoke to this issue a little bit while the Secretary was on travel. She met, I guess it was Wednesday, now, with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. And obviously, in that meeting we discussed Syria at length. There are concerns, obviously, that we have a large number of refugees in Turkey now, but that situation could be quite a bit graver if the violence – as the violence continues, and particularly if there is a large-scale assault.

So again, I think in that meeting we expressed our support for the efforts of the Arab League in particular to try to move this process forward and get us – get to a point where we can have international observers and do more to protect the civilian population. Turkey itself has made some strong moves now on the sanctions area. So we’re trying to up the pressure so that we can do more here.

QUESTION: How would you categorize the talks you are having with the Russians and the Chinese, as far as going back to the UN Security Council to have a resolution on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve obviously made clear that we think that that is the right thing to do. The Arab League is also talking to them. I think that we all have a shared concern that the violence has to end. You’ve increasingly heard the Russians speak out strongly about the need for the violence to end. Foreign Minister Lavrov did it again at NATO yesterday in his press conference. The Chinese said similar things during our meetings in Bali last week.

The point that we are trying to make to them is that a Security Council resolution is one of the strongest tools that we have, and that it’s very difficult, without a common view from the UN family of nations, for us to move on to next steps. And we are continuing those consultations, as is the Arab League.

QUESTION: On the meeting between Secretary Clinton and Davutoglu, did the buffer zone topic come up?

MS. NULAND: All aspects of the situation in Syria and our concern about the humanitarian situation came up. But beyond that, I think I’m not going to get into details.

Please.

QUESTION: Are we still on Syria, or can we move to Russia?

QUESTION: No, I’m on Syria still.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: You mentioned that – you talked about the government – indications the government is planning a large-scale assault on Homs? From your understanding, from this building’s understanding of the way the Syrian military works, is such an assault possible without the – without orders or at least understanding from or approval from the top; i.e., the president?

MS. NULAND: I assume that you are taking us to --

QUESTION: No, I’m not taking you anywhere. Just taking it – asking if you think that something like this would have to have the approval of President Asad.

MS. NULAND: Well, our view is that President Asad bears responsibility for what the security forces of his country do, despite his comments to the contrary on television. I mean, from our perspective, what kind of leader goes on television while his army and security forces are committing the horrific kinds of atrocities that are already going on in Syria against his own citizens, and claims he has no responsibility for him – for them? So we obviously – we hold him responsible for them.

QUESTION: So you – but you think that it’s not – to prepare a major assault on a big city, your understanding is that that would require presidential approval?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to how the military chain of command works in Syria, and frankly, it’s irrelevant. He’s the president of the country. He bears responsibility for what his security forces do. And that’s – and it’s further to why we have said – the President has said he needs to go.

QUESTION: So since you brought up the interview, which I didn’t – so in other words, you do think he’s crazy?

MS. NULAND: Matt --

QUESTION: Well, I’m sorry. You brought up the interview. I wasn’t going to bring up the interview. You brought it up. In that interview, he said that the only – that a government that would attack its own people would be only – would be led by a crazy person.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to his mental state. We hold him responsible for the violence.

Anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Mark Toner did speak to that issue, actually, just the other day. So do you have a – do you agree? Do you concur that he’s disconnected or maybe crazy?

MS. NULAND: I fully support all formulations used by Mark today, tomorrow, and always.

QUESTION: So – I mean, it’s a serious question. Should he be impeached on the basis of insanity?

MS. NULAND: Said, we think he needs to go, that is how peace is going to come to Syria.

Anything else on Syria? Please.

QUESTION: Russia, please?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Vladimir Putin is claiming that protestors there are acting with support from the U.S. State Department. Do you think he really believes that?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to what Putin believes or doesn’t believe. The Secretary spoke to this issue yesterday.

QUESTION: Do we have any evidence there was fraud in those elections?

MS. NULAND: Do we have any evidence that there was fraud in the Russian elections?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. NULAND: Again, the OCSE has made its preliminary findings. The Secretary made very clear what our concerns are about these elections. She made it clear on Monday, she made it clear on Tuesday, she made it clear yesterday. So I don’t think I need to repeat them today.

QUESTION: Do you think this is a threat to the reset of U.S.-Russian relations?

MS. NULAND: She also spoke to that issue yesterday. She made very clear that we want to continue to have collaboration and cooperation with Russia where we can, but we’re going to continue to speak out when we disagree, as we do in this case.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Mexico. According to --

MS. NULAND: Let’s stay on Russia, if we may.

Yeah, Shaun.

QUESTION: Looking ahead, the opposition is planning what they describe as major protests this weekend. What are the expectations the United States has, in terms of how the authorities will handle these demonstrations?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we do anywhere in the world, Shaun, we respect the right of citizens to express themselves through peaceful protest, through peaceful demonstrations. We expect that those demonstrations will remain peaceful on behalf of all parties, whether they’re the demonstrators or whether they are those keeping social order. So our expectation is that, if there are protests, that they will be peaceful and that they will be allowed to proceed peacefully.

QUESTION: Just speaking on the peaceful protest thing, so can – after the briefing, can you check on this Bahrain stuff? Because it does look like it was a peaceful protest and that this protest was broken up and dispersed by tear gas and other stuff. So I’d be curious if you would like to amend or change any of the high praise that you opened the briefing with once you get the details of what happened this morning.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, Matt, we were praising steps that the Government of Bahrain has taken to implement aspects of the recommendations. If we’ve had a new incident that needs commenting on, we will obviously do so.

Goyal, you’ve been trying to get in.

QUESTION: Burma.

MS. NULAND: Burma, yes.

Are we finished on Russia? Yes? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: As far as Secretary’s visit to Burma, many Burmese Americans here are asking couple questions. One, what is the future – democratic future of Burma? And also, Aung San Suu Kyi, if she is going to be somewhere in the upcoming, maybe, new elections? And finally, The future of the Burmese, hundreds of thousands of refugees in Thailand and many other countries, and also, of course, the political prisoners.

MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, as you know, the Secretary spoke extensively on all of these topics, both when we were in Nay Pyi Taw and when we were in Rangoon, and Daw Suu Kyi herself spoke to the issue of her political future. We want to see a democratic future for Burma. We want to see the Burmese people allowed to take that forward through free, fair, transparent elections. If Daw Suu Kyi chooses to participate, we want to see her be allowed to participate. With regard to political prisoners, the Secretary was crystal clear, saying that even one political prisoner is one too many, and we obviously spoke extensively about the need to deal with national reconciliation inside Burma so that refugees can come home.

Please, Michel.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, do you have --

MS. NULAND: Anything else on Burma? Still Burma? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Special Envoy Burma Derek Mitchell – he just visited South Korea and now he’s in Japan. Could you please explain what is his purpose to visit the three countries in East Asia?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, when we were in Bali and we saw many of our Asian partners, we had extensive consultations with them about the plan that the President announced to send the Secretary of State to Burma to match some initial steps that they had made with initial steps on the part of the United States. Ambassador Mitchell was with us on that trip. So this is an opportunity now for him to interact with the folks who lead on Burma policy for the governments of Japan, Korea, China, to consult on what we saw, and to coordinate on how we can work together to encourage more positive progress in that country.

QUESTION: Is part of the reason he’s going to visit China is to ease China’s concern on the U.S.-Burma relation?

MS. NULAND: Well, I would expect that he would repeat the comments that the Secretary made in Burma, that we favor good relations between the neighbors, between Burma and China, and we don’t see this in zero-sum terms, and I think obviously to make clear that we’re absolutely transparent and open about our policy with Beijing.

QUESTION: When you said you had extensive consultations in Bali with your Asian partners about the trip, the trip that the President was going to announce, you also said – you said that there was also a discussion of the – how you would match the preliminary steps that the government has taken. I’m curious as to – had you already decided? Because I was under the impression, at least as we were flying over there, that those hadn’t been – those weren’t 100 percent, those steps that you would take, and that it all depended on how the meetings in the capital went. But now you’re saying that they – the allies, your friends and partners, were extensively briefed on how you were going to match their steps?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, Matt, you’re absolutely right that we went to Burma with a menu of matching steps, depending upon where the Burmese Government was in its moves when we arrived. We discussed some of those steps ahead of time, but we had not made a decision about which of them the U.S. Government would implement. Those decisions were made when we were in Burma, which is further to why it makes sense for Derek Mitchell to go now and consult with some of our Asian allies so that we – they understand why we did what we did and what we’re expecting to see going forward.

QUESTION: Any decision on what – which sanctions are going to uplifted? The Secretary spoke about some sanctions maybe lifted or (inaudible) --

MS. NULAND: What the Secretary said was that it is too early to take – to start talking about that, that more progress will be required.

Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Egypt.

MS. NULAND: Sorry. You want to – go ahead. Egypt? Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to what was said by or reported by – said by one of the generals regarding the outcome of the election and whatever is the outcome – he simply said, in a nutshell, that we are the ones who are in charge of the country and we’d be in charge of the country.

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve said all along that we expect Egypt’s leaders to keep moving Egypt forward along a democratic path. And some of those comments did not comport with either those expectations or with other comments that have been made by the military leadership about their expectation about turning over power. So we expect them to meet those commitments to the Egyptian people, the Egyptian people expect that, and we will be looking for that to be followed though.

QUESTION: What I – why I’m asking this because simply it was even reported in New York Times that it was – evidently, this message was aimed at Washington and simply the reaction over there was simply, okay, as if it’s, say, you say, assume they are trying to convince people there is a green light as long as the Islamists are coming so we can be in charge of the country till – so the Islamists cannot do what they want to do.

MS. NULAND: We have not changed our position one iota. We want to see a democratic transition happen in Egypt as peacefully, as openly, as fairly, and as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Regarding – there is another thing which I want to be clarified.

MS. NULAND: Which includes, I would add, the military handing over power.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: Thanks.

QUESTION: On a democratic transition that produces an Islamist government that is ready to – that is – that wants to renounce its peace treaty with Israel and its obligations, you’re saying that that’s acceptable to the United States and that you wouldn’t prefer to have a military government in power that was prepared to continue those things?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we’ve only had one round of three rounds of these elections. Second, you know what we’ve said repeatedly, and I’ll say it again here: We are not going to judge these parties or these political actors by the names they call themselves. We are going to judge them by how they behave. And what they need to do to respond to the aspirations of their own people is to have a – first of all, clean, fair, open elections, to compete in them, and then to come to government and lead Egypt in a way that is democratic, transparent, open, conforms with human rights, protects the rights of all minorities in Egypt, protects tolerance, protects pluralism, protects women. So we will judge them on their meeting these high human rights standards, not by what they call themselves.

QUESTION: Right. But a government that does that is a better than a government that does not do that and also abrogates its treaty obligations, correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve also obviously said that we would – we want to see peaceful relations with neighbors continue and we want to see current obligations upheld with regard to neighbors.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. NULAND: So that is our universal message to all actors who are competing, that their relationship with the United States, their good relationship with the United States, will depend on them upholding their responsibilities.

QUESTION: Right. Exactly. So you would prefer to see a government in Egypt that did all those things, correct?

MS. NULAND: We would.

QUESTION: And if a military government was to do that, and a civilian – a democratically elected civilian government was not to do that, you would then prefer to see a military government, correct?

MS. NULAND: We want to see a democratically elected government. That’s what the Egyptian people went into the streets to have. And we believe that they can and should and will have that if everybody follows the transition plan that has been put in place, and if those people who are elected make good on their promises. And all these parties have been speaking about their aspirations to uphold universal human rights, and we will hold them to it.

QUESTION: Right. But a democratically elected government that doesn’t respect the things that you do and that you don’t want is less preferable to a military government that does, correct?

MS. NULAND: Matt, you’re asking me to game things that are going on in the future.

QUESTION: I’m just asking you what you want to see in Egypt, because if they can’t get that, what you want, through a democratically elected government, then you’re going to be stuck and --

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to go four, five, six months out. Our – the aspiration of the Egyptian people is to have --

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll ask you in six months and we’ll see what your answer is.

MS. NULAND: Thank you, Matt. Thank you.

Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue?

MS. NULAND: Is this still on Egypt?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Regarding (inaudible) realities, it’s a billed in on the Congress is – it’s saying about conditionals with – about the foreign aid and all this thing. And it was mentioned before that the Administration or State Department opposing these conditional issues. Is it your position that – it’s still the same? Or do you want to – I mean, to link it to the – how the steps are taken in --

MS. NULAND: Our position on this has not changed. We do not think that conditionality will be helpful. We think there will be a backlash from exactly those people we’re trying to help, which are those Egyptian citizens who are seeking a democratic future.

QUESTION: But still you are looking for the military transferring the power to the civilians, right?

MS. NULAND: We are, absolutely. Yes.

Michel.

QUESTION: On Lebanon --

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- do you have any reaction to the explosion that targeted UNIFIL in the south?

MS. NULAND: We do. I’m going to take that one, Michel. As I said, I’m slightly jetlagged and can’t find it here, but we do have a reaction, so we’ll put out a little bit later. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I ask you --

MS. NULAND: Can I let these guys, please?

QUESTION: Yeah. On Pakistan, General Dempsey this morning said that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is a mess. Does the State Department agree – have the same assessment about U.S. relations with Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: I have not seen that interview, so I can’t comment on it directly. But you know where we are with Pakistan, that this relationship is complicated, but it’s also essential to both the United States and Pakistan. And we are working very hard to keep open channels and to get back to work together.

QUESTION: It was not an interview. It was at a public forum, a think tank (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on something I haven’t seen.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you agree that messy is a synonym for complicated?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into parsing words here. Thanks.

QUESTION: Can you tell me when the last contact – high-level contact with Pakistani officials has been from this building?

MS. NULAND: Well, Secretary Clinton spoke to Prime Minister Gilani, I think it was on the weekend. I cannot speak to whether Marc Grossman’s been active with them in the last couple of days. If that’s helpful to you, I can, but we’ve obviously been in constant contact. And I think Cameron Munter, our ambassador there, saw Foreign Minister Khar either yesterday or today. I’m not sure which day.

QUESTION: Just follow-up quickly --

QUESTION: Can we --

MS. NULAND: Are we still on Pakistan?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Palestine --

MS. NULAND: We’re on Pakistan still, I think. Yeah. Goyal.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just quickly --

QUESTION: I’m hard of hearing.

MS. NULAND: Sorry.

QUESTION: Pakistan, Palestine, it’s all the same.

MS. NULAND: All those P – P places, yeah. All right. Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you. What I’m asking, when Secretary visited Pakistan if she had any kind of sense that President Zardari was going to leave? And because after her visit to Pakistan, then President Obama also spoke with the President Zardari. Then after they spoke, then he left the country. Now many Pakistanis believe that he might not come back because, one, he was very unpopular in Pakistan, and they are looking some kind of a new – something new in Pakistan. What I’m asking you is: What do you think now the future of Pakistan and future of U.S.-Pakistan relations after he is now out of the country?

MS. NULAND: Goyal, you’re asking me to have – first of all, the Secretary spoke to the issue of President Zardari’s health yesterday in Brussels. She made clear that we don’t have any reason to believe that this is other than a health issue, and we wish him a speedy recovery and a speedy return back to his country. As I said before, we believe that this relationship, while complicated, is essential to both of us, so we are going to continue to work on it.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue --

MS. NULAND: Still on Pakistan?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: Okay. I had you, Said.

QUESTION: The spokesperson of Paksitani foreign ministry yesterday has said that despite their decision of not attending the Bonn conference, they are committed to the peace process in Afghanistan and she will continue to make efforts for that. How do you view the statement? Do you trust that? And – but simultaneously, they also said that the relationship with the United States is under strategic review. So my question is that – have they officially talked to you about what kind of review this is? Because there is talk of conditionalities and they’re asking for black-and-white terms of engagement. So what is going on there?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, Prime Minister Gilani himself made strong statements – it was the day we were in Bonn, I think it was Monday – reaffirming the importance of the relationship. And the Secretary welcomed those in her press conference in Bonn. And as I said, we are continuing our intensive engagement, including through the recent meeting between Ambassador Munter and Foreign Minister Khar. Obviously, we are both trying to roll up our sleeves and get back to work together. With regard to what might emerge from any internal review, I would refer you to the Government of Pakistan on that. But we are obviously making very clear that we think we have hard work to do together, and we need to get back to it as quickly as we can.

Said.

QUESTION: Yes, can I ask you about the current engagement or activities of Mr. Hale with the Palestinian Authority?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. He’s got some meetings next week, I believe. I can confirm that on December 14th, we expect another round of meetings, Quartet envoys, with the Israelis and with Palestinian representatives. These will, again, be separate meetings. And on December 15th, Special Envoy David Hale will travel on to Cairo and then to Paris for consultations. This is further to our effort to get the two parties to put forward concrete proposals and to agree to come back to the table together.

QUESTION: Okay. Today marks the 24th anniversary of the Palestinian uprising, the intifada. And thousands of Palestinians lost their lives, thousands more and multiple more have been wounded and arrested. But the scariest of all, that the land that is designated to them has really shrunk over the past 24 years. So what can you do? What can you tell the Palestinians to look forward to in the next few months in terms of bringing the prospect of a Palestinian state back to life?

MS. NULAND: Well, what I would say, again, is the same message that we have been giving, that the President’s been giving, that the Secretary’s been giving, is that the best way to secure a Palestinian homeland, a Palestinian state inside defined and secure borders is to come to the table and talk directly to Israel, put forward in the context of the Quartet’s proposal within this 90-day period a real, concrete proposal on land, on security that Israel can engage with. Have Israel to do the same thing, which the Palestinians can engage with, and let the Quartet help and support direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis. That’s the fastest route to a state, and it needs to start.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Shaun.

QUESTION: A separate issue: On the Hill, some lawmakers are calling for the Administration to make a new statement on Liu Xiaobo, tomorrow of course being the Nobel ceremony. And there’s fear that perhaps his case is being forgotten, that people forget that he’s still detained in China. Is there anything fresh that the Administration would want to say about Liu Xiaobo – about his condition, about his detention?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we do regularly speak out publicly about his condition and ask that he be fully released. We also regularly raise our human rights concerns, including every time the Secretary meets with her Chinese interlocutors and when the President meets with his Chinese interlocutors. With regard to the anniversary, I can’t tell you, standing right here, whether we plan to have a statement. But I’ll – we’ll take it under advisement.

Please.

QUESTION: On Mexico, according to a news report transmitted last night by Univision channel, Iranian and Venezuelan diplomats plan cyber attacks against the United States with the support of the Cuban Embassy in Mexico. I don't know if you have any comment, or have you had any contacts with Mexican authorities about this (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that. I’m sorry, I don’t.

Anything else? Thank you very much. Happy weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)

DPB # 190

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - December 9, 2011]