Special Briefing
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Questions from Twitter for 21st Century Statecraft Month
Washington, DC
January 13, 2012

MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our second State Department Twitter briefing, a feature that we are offering every Friday in January as we pursue 21st Century Statecraft Month. I am joined here today by our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Digital Strategy Victoria Esser, who’s going to be posing the questions that we are getting from our various Twitter feeds around the world. Over to you, Victoria.

MS. ESSER: Thanks, Victoria. Our first question comes from our Arabic feed @USAbilAraby and AluCarDv8 would like to know: How do you answer to the use of power by Bahraini demonstrators?

MS. NULAND: Well, thank you AluCarDv8. The United States does remain concerned about continuing acts of violence in Bahrain between the police and the demonstrators. The key to Bahrain’s future, as we have been discussing with officials in Bahrain, is a real dialogue among Bahrainis that’s going to serve as the foundation for reconciliation and a renewed spirit of national unity.

The Government of Bahrain has taken significant steps, as Bahrainis know. It called for an independent commission of inquiry into some of the recent violence. That commission came forward with a report, and now the Government of Bahrain is working hard to implement those recommendations. We urge the Government of Bahrain to complete the work that it has started to implement comprehensive reform that will restore confidence, restore stability, and encourage dialogue among all Bahrainis.

MS. ESSER: Great. Our next question comes from our U.S. Embassy in China’s Sina Weibo account @USA_Zhongwen, and it contains several questions: Why does the U.S. want to shift its strategic focus to Asia rather than the Middle East? What is the U.S.’s attitude towards the sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea? What is its attitude towards China’s stance that China still owns the sovereignty of the relevant islands but opens its seaways to others? And lastly, how does the U.S. view the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands?

MS. NULAND: Well, that is a long question. Let me answer it in pieces. First, with regard to what we are calling our pivot to Asia, I think you know that the United States has spent ten years now engaged in intensive military activity, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. In Iraq, we have now been able to bring U.S. combat forces home. And in Afghanistan, we are in a process from now until 2014 of transferring more authority to Afghans for their own security.

So it is not that we are leaving the Middle East or that we are leaving Europe. It is that we feel that we need to, at the same time, now that we have more capacity, deepen and strengthen the investment that we are making in Asia in terms of the peace and stability in Asia that U.S. has undergirded for 60 years, and in terms of our promotion of economic openness, prosperity for all, and democratic governance. So we are increasing our investment in Asia now that we have an opportunity to do so.

With regard to the South China Sea, as I said, above all what matters to the United States and to our friends and allies is that we maintain peace and security throughout the region, and that includes guaranteeing freedom of navigation, overflight, and lawful commerce for all. So in that context, we take no position nationally. The United States takes no position on some of the competing land claim territories that there are in the South China Sea. Rather, we’re encouraging all the parties to conform their land claims, whether they’re land or – their claims, whether they’re land or maritime, to international law and to collaborate together through diplomatic means to resolve their disputes. And we’re also encouraging all regional leaders to commit to freedom of navigation for all.

With regard to the islands that you mentioned, which the United States calls the Senkakus, we also take no position on the ultimate sovereignty of those islands. We want to see the dispute settled among the parties peacefully and in conformity with international law.

MS. ESSER: Our next question comes from our English-language feed @StateDept. And @Heritage would like to know: Given the failure of engagement policy with Iran, how can President Obama hope that negotiations with the Taliban will be positive?

MS. NULAND: Well, thank you, @Heritage. First of all, with regard to Iran, our position remains that Iran has a choice. It is Iran that is self-isolated. It is Iran that made choices not to come clean with the international community about its nuclear program. And the door remains open to an Iran that is prepared to have a real dialogue and come back into compliance with its international obligations. Unfortunately, Iran has not accepted our offer to resume those talks on terms that are serious and that are committed to really demonstrating to the international community its peaceful intent. But just to make clear, the choice is Iran’s.

With regard to the Taliban, Secretary Clinton spoke to this quite a bit this week. She made clear that this issue of being open to supporting an Afghan-led process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan is part of our larger strategy, a strategy that she calls fight, talk, build. With regard to the fight part, as we have for ten years, we will continue to support Afghanistan, along with our international partners and our NATO allies, in fighting those insurgents who insist on staying on the battlefield and fighting against the Government of Afghanistan, against the Afghan people and their hard-won new state.

But at the same time we have – we are getting signals, the Afghans are getting signals, that there are some Taliban, perhaps as a result of the pressure that we are putting on them, that are ready to come and talk. So as I – as we said, we want to support the Afghans in starting a process. Wars rarely end on the battlefield; they usually end at the negotiating table. We don’t know, frankly, @Heritage, whether this is going to succeed. But if the Afghans want to give it a try, we’re prepared to support it and we have been active in trying to help Afghans talk to each other, and we’ll see where it goes.

MS. ESSER: Okay. Our next question comes from our Farsi feed @USAdarFarsi. And @IranLGBT would like to know: What do you think of the assassinations of Iranian scientists? Any comment? Any human rights advice for Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, as Secretary Clinton made absolutely clear earlier this week, the United States had no involvement in any acts of violence inside Iran.

With regard to the human rights situation in Iran, we have expressed longstanding concerns that, frankly, Iran has a truly deplorable human rights record. The Iranian regime has systematically strangled the free expression of its own people, blocking television channels, closing newspapers, shutting down production companies, hacking email accounts, and even now putting cameras into internet cafes. The Iranian judicial system lacks transparency and due process, sentences kids to death. And regarding religious freedom, there are protections in the Iranian constitution that the system doesn’t live up to.

So we will continue to speak out about our concerns, and we appreciate the fact that we can do that directly to our Farsi speakers. We firmly believe – the United States firmly believes that Iranians deserve to live in a society that respects their universal rights and their fundamental freedoms, and we will continue to stand with the Iranian people in their search for a freer, more just Iranian society.

MS. ESSER: Our next question comes from our Hindi feed @USAHindiMein. And @JornoPurnai* asks: Pakistan is facing a situation similar to what it faced in 1999. What measures are you taking to prevent a coup by the military there?

MS. NULAND: Well, @JornoPurnai*, the Secretary also spoke to this issue earlier this week. As she said, the United States stands strongly in favor of a democratically elected civilian government in Pakistan. With regard to some of the tensions that we’ve seen inside of Pakistan in recent days and weeks, we expect Pakistanis to resolve their internal issues in a just and transparent manner that upholds the traditions and the letter and the spirit of the Pakistani constitution. This is the message that we are giving all Pakistanis.

MS. ESSER: Our next question comes from our Spanish language feed at @USAenEspanol. And @gaby_hacay asks: How will the relationship between the U.S. and Ecuador be affected if President Rafael Correa is reelected?

MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, gaby_hacay. The United States and Ecuador have long been close friends and partners. We work together on all kinds of issues – promoting democracy, protecting human rights, increasing trade, countering the scourge of narco-trafficking and illicit activities. We remain committed to broadening and deepening this relationship.

There have been difficulties in the past in our relationship, but by nominating a new ambassador to Ecuador, the President and the Secretary of State are demonstrating our commitment to the relationship and the importance that we place to having a relationship at the highest levels. And we look forward to the advice and the consent of the Senate with regard to that ambassadorial nomination.

We also – with regard to the elections, we stand ready to work with any Ecuadorian – any government, any president that the Ecuadorian people elect through a free, fair, democratic process. And we encourage the Government of Ecuador to continue to make progress in strengthening its democratic institutions and ensuring the full protection of fundamental freedoms for all of its people.

MR. ESSER: Our last question comes from our Urdu feed @USAUrdu. @cadet1081 asks: Pakistan is committing a genocide of the Baloch nation. Why does the U.S. not intervene in Balochistan and make us get our freedom?

MS. NULAND: Well, @cadet1081, this was a very popular question on our feed, so we wanted to make sure that we answered it today. The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Balochistan, especially targeted killings, disappearances, and other human rights abuses. This is a complex issue. We strongly believe that the best way forward is for all the parties to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue. We take the allegations of human rights abuses very seriously, and we have discussed these issues with Pakistani officials and also urged them to really lead and conduct a dialogue that takes this issue forward. Thank you.

MR. ESSER: That’s all we have for today. Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Thank you, Victoria. Look forward to next week.