Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 19, 2011


Index for Today's Briefing
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Announcement of the Death of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Il
    • Ambassador King's Meeting
    • North Korea's Period of National Mourning
    • Food Aid
    • Secretary Clinton Briefed on Events in North Korea
  • SYRIA
    • Arab League Proposal
    • Ambassador Ford
  • IRAN
    • Discussions Continue on Russian Draft of UN Security Council Resolution
  • JAPAN/IRAN
    • Readout of Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Gemba
    • Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Gemba Shared a Concern About the Direction Iran is Going
  • IRAQ
    • Arrest Warrant
    • Iraqis Struggling with a Number of Issues
  • SRI LANKA
    • Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Taliban / U.S. Government's Commitment to Support Afghan-led Process
  • EGYPT
    • Secretary Clinton's Statement on Reports of Violence in Egypt


TRANSCRIPT:

2:39 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. Apologies that we’re so late today. As you know, the Secretary had lunch with Japanese Foreign Minister Gemba upstairs and then she had her brief presser. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: The Secretary’s comments on North Korea were unusual for what she didn’t say, I found. Is it no longer the U.S. Government’s position that North Korea should abide by and keep follow-through on the pledges to disarm?

MS. NULAND: Well, of course, it’s our view.

QUESTION: Well, why didn’t she say that, then? Why did she just wish for a peaceful transition? Does she not think that the new leadership is going to be able to follow through on those pledges?

MS. NULAND: Matt, I think you’re reading too much into this. What --

QUESTION: I’m not reading into anything. I’m asking you why she – why her comments were so brief and so unexciting.

MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) We didn’t excite Matt today in the press conference. First of all, her main --

QUESTION: Well, look, can I disagree with the --

MS. NULAND: Can I finish my thought?

QUESTION: That is not a press conference. A press conference involves a back-and-forth, like – kind of like what we’re doing now. It’s a – when there are no questions, it’s not a press conference.

MS. NULAND: The Secretary and Foreign Minister Gemba were obviously focused, first and foremost, in the aftermath of the announcement of the death of the North Korean leader on – focusing on calm, regional stability, peace on the Korean Peninsula. That obviously doesn’t change our longstanding view that we want to see North Korea abide by its international obligations, including in the nuclear field. So nothing there changes. I think that she did make reference to the Six-Party Talks and our desire to get back to those when the North Koreans meet – make the kinds of moves that we’ve been asking them to make to reassure the international community of their peaceful intent.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I just – I found it curious because every time any U.S. official speaks about North Korea or has spoken about North Korea in the past, they’ve made specific reference to this and it didn’t come up here, but there shouldn’t be anything read into that?

MS. NULAND: There should be nothing read into that.

QUESTION: All right. Then what about the decisions on nutritional assistance and a bilateral – a new bilateral meeting? There was plenty of talk, chatter in South Korea last week and over the weekend, as I predicted this would leak out there. What’s going to – what’s going on with that?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, just to reconfirm what we said on Friday, we did have good conversations at the level of Ambassador King with the North Korean side on what it would take to reassure us with regard to monitoring if we are to move forward with nutritional supplements for North Korea.

But we have not made any decisions inside the U.S. Government on that question, nor have we made any decisions inside the U.S. Government on the question of another round of U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks. Those issues were to have been discussed interagency today. Whether we would have made decisions today, I don’t know, but obviously, we are fully engaged now in consulting with our Six-Party counterparts, as we’ve made clear in the wake of the events in Pyongyang over the weekend.

QUESTION: Does that mean that decisions on these are likely further away now than they were before the announcement?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think right now, the North Koreans are themselves going to go into a period of national mourning. So we obviously will keep looking at this issue internally, and we, as I said, did have good conversations last week. But we need to see where they are and where they go as they move through their transition period.

QUESTION: Oh. Well, okay. This is my last one, then. I understand that, but you could still make a decision on supplying food or nutritional assistance despite a mourning period, could you not? But you’re saying that no, you want to wait to see where the North Koreans are after the --

MS. NULAND: No, I’m simply saying that meetings that might have happened today with our travelers who just got back instead were focused on maintaining close contact with our other partners in the Six-Party Talks, and on ensuring calm and regional stability on the peninsula. So we have yet to do – have the internal review of these issues that we need to have.

QUESTION: So – to sort of reiterate, so the fact of Kim Jong-il’s death doesn’t, in your view, necessarily change the North Koreans’ position on monitoring and evaluation? Do you think that the understanding that you received in Beijing last week will still hold with the new regime? Or does the whole thing sort of go up for re-discussion now?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we had made no decisions when we were in Beijing. We were in the process of having a discussion on what it would take on our side. The information gleaned from those talks needed to come home here, needed to be reviewed here. We haven’t yet had those internal discussions. And again, we want to be respectful of the North Korean period of mourning. We will obviously need to reengage at the right moment, but again, we haven’t made any internal decisions here.

QUESTION: Okay. And has Special Envoy Davies briefed the Secretary yet? That was – I saw that was time TBD on the schedule. Has that happened yet, do you know?

MS. NULAND: Ambassador Davies and Ambassador – and Assistant Secretary Campbell have been in contact with her regularly since last evening and again this morning. Again, this was primarily focused on responding to the events of the weekend.

QUESTION: Okay. And the last one on this: The Secretary said that the U.S. had reached out to Moscow and Beijing in connection with the Six-Party Talk partner discussion. Can you tell us with whom they’ve been in touch? I mean, how – who have you actually talked to and at what level?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve been in – obviously in our – at the embassy level, but the Secretary is also looking forward to talking to her counterparts when those calls can be scheduled.

Josh.

QUESTION: Sure. So you said that there was no decision made here on granting food aid, but was there an agreement reached in principle in Beijing with the North Koreans on how much food aid would be provided and what would be the next steps, should that have been approved back here in Washington?

MS. NULAND: Again, it wasn’t that kind of a meeting, Josh. It wasn’t a penciling of an agreement meeting. It was a discussion about the kinds of monitoring assurances that we would need if we are to go forward and the kinds of food aid that we would consider if the conditions were right and if the right decisions were made.

QUESTION: As you know, the AP reported that the U.S. Government had put forward a number of 240,000 tons of food aid – 20,000 per month over the next year – and sourced that to senior U.S. officials. Was that report incorrect? That’s what you’re saying now?

MS. NULAND: What I’m saying to you is that it implied the decisions of the U.S. Government had been made, and they have not been made.

QUESTION: But that report was correct or incorrect? I don’t understand.

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the details of the conversation that went down between the North Koreans and us, but no decisions have been made about whether to provide food aid, about what the amounts might be, or about what the types of nutritional assistance might be.

QUESTION: One last quick one: It was also reported, and I’m told that, Ambassador Davies was planning to travel to Beijing, and those travel plans were actually made and have now been cancelled. Is that accurate or inaccurate?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether he had booked tickets one way or the other. What I can tell you is that no decision has been made inside the U.S. Government about another round of bilateral talks between the U.S. and DPRK.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that he was not planning – he had not made plans to go to Beijing to have this meeting?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to whether he had booked travel, but he had not been authorized to travel for a meeting, because we had not made a decision about a meeting.

QUESTION: So you’re saying he wasn’t authorized but he may have planned it anyway without authorization?

MS. NULAND: I have – I can’t speak to what he may or may not have – his conversations may or may not have been with the airlines. But again, no decisions had been made by the U.S. Government. There were to have been meetings today which may or may not have made decisions about some of these issues, but again, they were superseded by events.

QUESTION: Can --

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Are we moving on? Can we move on to another --

MS. NULAND: One more for Shaun.

QUESTION: Just you just mentioned that the United States has reached out to partners in the Six-Party Talks. In terms of outreach of any to North Korea in the period to come – obviously, they’ll be a funeral. I’m not presuming that the U.S. would be formally invited or whatever, but what would be the U.S. contact with North Korea in the funeral? Would the U.S. express condolences? Would the U.S. send any sort of message as the funeral comes?

MS. NULAND: Well, the press reporting indicates that the North Koreans do not intend to invite foreign delegations. At least that is what we have seen. With regard to any future steps beyond those that we have taken already, I just can’t speak to that at this stage. Stay tuned. There are meetings going on today.

QUESTION: Just a follow – would it be appropriate for the U.S. to offer condolences for the death of Kim Jong-il?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate in this case. I think you did hear the Secretary say today in her press availability with Foreign Minister Gemba that the United States hopes that this – for improved relations with the people of North Korea, and we remain concerned about their wellbeing. So one always hopes in a transition that things get better for the people of the country.

Please.

QUESTION: I've got a few questions, actually. The first would be if you can give us – shed any more light on the Secretary’s involvement in meetings and so on over the past 12 hours at this point or 15 hours, since the news broke last night?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary was briefed at least twice last night and again this morning by Assistant Secretary Campbell on the events. She’s also been in touch with her counterparts in the interagency on a number of occasions today, and those discussions continue.

QUESTION: And what about any discussions with the Swedes? Have you had any talks with them about their overall impressions inside the capital?

MS. NULAND: With the Swedes?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, Kirit. If we have anything to get back to you on, I will get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. And is there any assessment from your podium about the heir apparent to Kim Jong-il, about what his son may be like? Is there any assessment from your standpoint?

MS. NULAND: I don't think that would be appropriate at this moment. Thanks.

QUESTION: Has any U.S. official met him?

MS. NULAND: I don't know the answer to that, Shaun.

QUESTION: My guess would be no, but --

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge, but if it turns out we find – we know of anybody on the official American side who has had a meeting with him, I’ll let you know. But I think I would have heard that if it were the case.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on Syria?

QUESTION: No, wait. Hold on. You just mentioned something about wanting to respect the North Korean period of mourning. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask why you would want to respect a mourning period for someone who you routinely describe as a belligerent dictator who is not interested in the welfare of his own people, in fact has killed and jailed millions of them?

MS. NULAND: I mention that in the context of if, when, and whether one might be able to engage with the North Korean leadership.

QUESTION: Okay. You didn’t mean to imply that the U.S. was joining somehow, even from afar --

MS. NULAND: I did not. I did not.

QUESTION: -- that mourning period. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this topic?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: You said something about a peaceful transition, right? You said --

MS. NULAND: No. I said that we want to see peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Okay. But you did not use the word you want to see a peaceful transition or the Secretary didn't --

MS. NULAND: I frankly can’t recall at this second, Said, what I said three minutes ago. I apologize.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: What we’re seeking is peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Please.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to Iraq?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Let’s let Mina go to Syria.

QUESTION: Today marks the worst day since the Arab uprising started with the number of deaths in Syria, 114 so far. How do you read this Arab League proposal and Syria agreeing into it to allow monitors into the country? Do you see it as buying times from the regime side?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you say, we have seen these reports and these announcements from the Syrian side that they have now signed the Arab League proposal. From a U.S. perspective, we’ve seen too many broken promises from the Syrian regime, so we’re really less interested in a signed piece of paper than we are in actions to implement commitments made.

And as you know, we firmly support the calls by the Arab League and the stipulations in this agreement that monitors, international human rights monitors, would have unfettered access to all locations in Syria, that the violence will stop, that all political prisoners will be released, and that armed elements of the Syrian regime will be withdrawn from populated areas. So it’s on that basis that we will judge the seriousness of the Syrian regime with regard to this – its apparent acquiescence now to the Arab League’s proposal.

QUESTION: As far as the – as far as you are concerned, the international monitors – will they include U.S. officials or U.S. NGOs or human rights organization?

MS. NULAND: I don't think we’re going to insist on that. I think we are certainly looking to see the Arab League be able to be represented in those monitors. What’s most important is to get monitors into these cities and towns that have been most violent as a way of standing witness in defense of the civilian population.

Kirit.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) did you say this is – whether this was a good first step or not? This is what you’ve been asking for. I mean --

MS. NULAND: What the Syrian Government says it has done is that it has signed this agreement. What I said was a signature on a piece of paper from a regime like this, that has broken promise after promise after promise, means relatively little to us. What we want to see are the actions taken to implement this agreement, along the lines that I just discussed.

QUESTION: You don’t even welcome the promise to do it at this point?

MS. NULAND: We’re not prepared to welcome anything but concrete steps that improve the lives of the Syrian people and end the violence.

QUESTION: Are you able to independently verify that the Syrians have actually signed this document?

MS. NULAND: Apart from their statements and statements by the Arab League, no.

QUESTION: So you’re taking them at their word?

MS. NULAND: I’m simply repeating what we’ve seen reported and what they themselves have said and making clear to you, Said, and to everybody that a signature on a piece of paper, even if it were verified, is not convincing to us until they implement this agreement.

QUESTION: Okay. Are there any kind of communications between you and Ambassador Ford on this very issue?

MS. NULAND: You mean whether he considers the signature credible?

QUESTION: Right. Whether he – is he like informed or does he – how does he keep taps on what’s going on? Does the Arab League that they have signed or have not signed? Are you in any kind of communication that can really prove or disprove the veracity of this signature?

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to Ambassador Ford’s activities, he has seen the same thing we have, which are the statements by Syrian Foreign Minister Mualem. We have been – we are in contact usually at the Assistant Secretary Feltman level with representatives of the Arab League. They too assert that this document has been signed, but they also share our view that what’s most important is that it be implemented.

Samir.

QUESTION: What’s the latest on the Russian draft resolution? Are you having talks in the Security Council, or they’re going to withdraw their draft?

MS. NULAND: We’ve got collaboration here between AP and Reuters. It’s a new day. (Laughter.) Maybe it’s not a new day.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) you don’t know what’s being filed.

MS. NULAND: Exactly. I’ve added them both. (Laughter.) Sorry, Samir. Yeah. Discussions are continuing in New York on the draft that the Russians put forward. We’ve had a number of informal discussions leading to, we hope, very serious consideration of a serious UN Security Council draft. I think the Secretary spoke – I spoke last Friday – to some of the strengthening that we would like to see in the Russian draft.


Please, Kirit.

QUESTION: On Iran?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Shortly before you came out here, maybe about a half hour ago or an hour ago, Iran said that it was going to invite UN nuclear experts to Tehran for discussions or talks or negotiations. Have you seen that report, and do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen something in the last half hour, Kirit. I’m sorry. I’ve been running around on this other thing. I think what Iran needs to do is not only invite the IAEA, but make sure that all of the places that it needs to see are fully open to it and to be fully transparent.

QUESTION: Iraq.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Iran. During the press avail today, Foreign Minister Gemba said that Japan was – saw a need for Iranian oil to keep flowing. Was that an issue that came up during the meeting? Did the Secretary ask Japan to take further action against the Iranian oil exports? Does the U.S. have a position on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, they did talk quite extensively about Iran. They also talked about the implications of this new legislation. The Secretary spoke, at some length, of course, about our concern about any country’s dependence on Iranian oil. We are, as you know, encouraging all of our partners to do what they can to wean themselves from Iranian oil. At the same time, the foreign minister wants to ensure, as we do, that as we implement this legislation that it is Iran that feels the pain and that we stay in close consultations with our allies and partners about protecting their legitimate interests, their economic interests, et cetera. So we’re working with our partners, including Japan, to secure a well timed, phased, and multilateral approach to implementing these new pieces of legislation and to ensure that it’s the Iranian regime that feels the effect.

QUESTION: Was the – a follow-up on that. Was the Secretary able to suggest to the foreign minister any ways that Japan could successfully wean itself off Iranian oil? Did she present any alternatives for the Japanese as to where they might find oil to make up any future loss of Iranian crude?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think our experts will be in contact about these things and have been in contact. They’ve talked in the past and talked again today about some of these new sources of oil that are coming online – Iraq, Libya, et cetera – and about what we can do together to help partners make that transition to more secure supplies.

QUESTION: And just for the last one on that one, did Foreign Minister Gemba indicate to the Secretary that he believed that Japan was capable of doing this in any particular timeframe? Did they discuss about how long this might take? And did they agree on that?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to get too deeply into the details of their discussions, except to say that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Gemba shared a concern about the direction that Iran is going and also shared a concern about being dependent on any largesse from the Iranian regime and obviously pledged that our teams will work together on these issues.

QUESTION: On this --

MS. NULAND: Yes, Josh.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) the Secretary will now support this provision in the legislation that – the Central Bank of Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we want to implement it in a manner that – we certainly share the objective. Let’s start with that. We share the objective of increasing the economic pressure on the Iranian regime to change course. We just need to implement this legislation in a way that is phased and well coordinated to ensure that it is Iran that feels the tightening and that we don’t do damage to our allies and partners.

Please.

QUESTION: Iraq.

QUESTION: On Iran. Just a quick – have you heard back from Iran officials about your request on the drone? I believe you ask drone back a couple weeks ago.

MS. NULAND: And the Secretary made clear that, even though we had asked, we didn’t expect a positive reply, and we’ve not had one.

QUESTION: You have not?

MS. NULAND: No.

QUESTION: Have you had any reply?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you heard the reply that they gave to the press corps, correct?

Yeah. Said.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Almost time for the departure of the last American soldier from Iraq. The Iraqi prosecutor general issued a warrant arrest for the Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and the Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Both are Sunnis and from the Iraqiya or affiliated with the Iraqiya coalition. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are closely monitoring these reports that an arrest warrant has been issued, in particular for Vice President al-Hashemi. We are talking to all of the parties. We’ve expressed our concern regarding these developments. We’re urging all political sides in Iraq to work out their differences peaceably, politically, through dialogue, and certainly in a manner that is consistent with democratic political processes and international standards of rule of law. Ambassador Jeffrey has been in contact with all of the parties in recent hours.

QUESTION: Victoria, I mean, coming so soon after Maliki’s visit to Washington, is that Mr. Maliki saying that I’m really in Iran’s camp? I mean, is that how it is interpreted in this building? Or should it be interpreted that way?

MS. NULAND: There are a number of issues that Iraqis have been struggling with for a number of years. We want to see, in this next phase of Iraq’s development, this sovereign phase, Iraqis work together within Iraq’s democratic institutions to preserve national unity, to address the underlying political issues that form the basis of these kinds of tensions. We want to see Iraq’s sovereignty protected and their democratic institutions protected. So that is a goal that we share. We share that goal with most of Iraq’s leaders, and we’re urging them to work together on these issues.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have anything to indicate that these warrants were issued in any way that doesn’t comport with democratic processes? Do you doubt the motivation behind these reports of arrest warrants?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think I’ve addressed our general view that we want to ensure that, whatever is done, it’s within the democratic possibilities of Iraq and within international standards of rule of law. We obviously have not been privy to the underlying documents, et cetera, and we don’t know where this is going from here. But again, we want to see dialogue, and we want to see resolution of these things within Iraq’s democratic processes.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission has cleared the country’s army of deliberately targeting civilians during the final days of its war against LTTE. Do you have any comments? And where are they heading?

MS. NULAND: Well, we appreciate the important work of the Sri Lankan Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission has addressed a number of the crucial areas of concern to Sri Lankans. In particular, the report recognizes and makes substantive recommendations in the areas of reconciliation, devolution of authority, demilitarization, rule of law, media freedom, disappearances, human rights violations.

And while we’re still studying the full report, I do have to say that we have concerns that the report, nonetheless, does not fully address all the allegations of serious human rights violations that occurred in the final phase of the conflict. So this leaves questions about accountability and – for those allegations, and so we urge the Sri Lankan Government not only to fulfill all of the recommendations of the report as it stands, but also to address those issues that the report did not cover.

QUESTION: Has there been any official communication between Washington and Colombo?

MS. NULAND: There has. Assistant Secretary Blake has been in contact with various Sri Lankan counterparts, as has our ambassador there. I’d also say that we’ve seen the government’s preliminary action plan, but we don’t think it really provides the kind of detailed roadmap that we had hoped to see for fulfilling all of the Commission’s recommendations. So those are the things that we are, in our private conversation, urging them to continue to work on, implementation of the recommendations in the report, and addressing those gaps that the report left.

QUESTION: Are you looking forward to, or – in your discussions, have you put any time period, any kind of – that – it cannot just go on for next 10 years or 20 years?

MS. NULAND: No, of course. But we’re looking in the first instance to a report – a response from the Sri Lankan Government to these concerns that we’ve expressed and that a number of Sri Lankans have expressed, to hear what their proposed timetable, as I said, their proposed roadmap is for remediating these issues.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, human rights groups in response to this report said that this is time for an independent, international probe into what happened in 2009. Is that the U.S. position? Does the U.S. think that there should be an international effort at this point? Or do you think the Sri Lankan effort is still – will suffice for the time being?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’ve long said that it is better for Sri Lankans to take these issues themselves and address them fully. That remains our position, so now we want to see if the Sri Lankan Government will lead their country in the next step to ensure that there is full implementation of the recommendations that we have and filling in of the gaps. So let’s see what they are willing to do going forward.

Kirit.

QUESTION: I have a question about a Reuters report that’s out about reconciliation talks with the Taliban that says it – it quotes U.S. officials saying that they are at a turning point and suggests that steps could be taken, including the transfer of some prisoners from Guantanamo. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to comment on the specifics of that report one way or the other. But as you know, we have talked for some time about the need to both fight and talk, and about the U.S. Government’s commitment to support Afghan-led reconciliation provided that those we are endeavoring to reconcile with renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, and support the constitution of Afghanistan in all of its aspects, but particularly with regard to human rights and the rights of minorities.

So our role in those – in supporting the Afghans in this process continues. I’m not going to speak to any of the specifics in that report, but again, this process has to be Afghan-led, and it will only work if we are truly talking to people who are prepared to join a political process, put down their arms, and be part of a positive future for Afghanistan.

QUESTION: And can you say broadly whether your feel that there has been progress recently in talks with the Taliban?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have to put an adjective on it. There have been numerous efforts by numerous folk on the Afghan side, on the American side in support of the Afghans. But only time is going to tell if these interlocutors are serious about coming off the battlefield and joining the political process.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up to that.

Please.

QUESTION: Today in an interview with Newsweek, Vice President Joe Biden said that, quote, “The Taliban, per se, are not our enemy.” Is that the official U.S. Government position?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen that comment so I really can’t speak to it.

Anything else? Anybody else? Great.

QUESTION: Can you say whether it’s going well? Would you say that the talks with --

QUESTION: Not even the comment – is the Taliban our enemy or not?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve seen – it’s very clear – we’ve seen ups and we’ve seen significant downs in the Afghans’ efforts to create a reconciliation process. I mean, the Rabbani assassination was, obviously, a very serious step backwards. With regard to whether we’re going to have a serious step forward, I think only time will tell.

QUESTION: Is the Taliban our enemy?

MS. NULAND: Josh, I’m just not going to join in on that one.

Please.

QUESTION: Yeah, quick talk about Egypt. We have seen your statement, Secretary Clinton’s statement yesterday on what’s going on over the weekend, Egypt. Is there – I think the clashes are still going on last night and this morning – is there any way you can reflect on so far SCAF’s treatment of the protesters in Tahrir.

MS. NULAND: I’m rethinking my answer to Josh. I think, obviously, we’ve made clear that those Taliban who are willing to come off the battlefield, renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, support the constitution of Afghanistan, be part of a political process, we would support reconciliation with them, led by the Afghans. So if we are talking about – we’re less interested in what folks call themselves, as we’ve said in other parts of the world; we’re more interested in what they do, and in the actions that they take.

QUESTION: I mean, we always make peace with our enemies, so to say that we’re willing to reconcile with them doesn’t answer the question of are they the enemy that we’re fighting in Afghanistan. I know that al-Qaida is an enemy, I know that the Haqqani Network some people say is an enemy. Is the Taliban an enemy, I think is a pretty basic part of our strategy in Afghanistan that we should be able to be aware of.

MS. NULAND: Those Taliban who have taken up arms and are fighting Afghans or fighting ISAF soldiers are our enemy on the battlefield, of course.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: In that same report it said that we are going to release prisoners from prisons here or in Afghanistan, Taliban prisoner. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to any of the details one way or the other of that report.

Back on Egypt, your specific question was following on to – you saw our statements over the weekend with regard to the violence, concerns that law enforcement officials need to exercise restraint, also concerns that protesters should be peaceful. And that’s our message to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: Are you going to recall (inaudible) – anyway, there many people are questioning this. Are you ready to reconsider your relationship with SCAF after this brutal crackdown on the protesters over the weekend?

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve been very clear with Egyptian leaders what we expect to see.

In the very back.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. This is just about that line that the protesters are peaceful. One of the things that the Egyptian military seems to do in rationalizing its use of pretty extreme violence is to point to indications that some of the protesters have fought back, essentially. Is there a point at which the Administration would support the military’s actions and crack down if the protests were not peaceful? I mean, if the protesters were fighting back in some way? Is that a red line for the Administration in some way?

MS. NULAND: I think if you read the statement that the Secretary issued carefully from yesterday, she makes clear that demonstrators should do so peacefully.

QUESTION: Right, but then they’re not. They do fight back, clearly. So --

MS. NULAND: Again, that is a way of expressing concern when demonstrations are not peaceful. That said, law enforcement officials have a responsibility to ensure that they maintain public order within international human rights standards. So essentially, if you look at the statement, it calls for appropriate behavior by security officials and the government authorities in Egypt with regard to peaceful protest and it calls for protesters to also be peaceful.

Okay? Please.

QUESTION: Yes. Forgive me if you already answered this. What is the status of the American alleged CIA spy being held in Iran?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any comment on that one way or the other. Thanks.

All right? Great guys. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)

DPB # 196

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - December 19, 2011]