Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 25, 2012


Index for Today's Briefing
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Comments by President Abbas / Palestinian statehood
    • Settlements
  • IRAN
    • Sanctions and State of Economies / Impact
    • Legislation on Sanctions / India
  • SOMALIA
    • Rescue Operation
    • Anti-piracy Efforts
  • SYRIA
    • Human Rights and Dignity / Seek a Peaceful End to Situation
    • Arab League Proposal / Consultations in the Security Council
    • Russian Federation
    • Status of Embassy
  • INDIA
    • Jay Leno Comments
    • Secretary's Meeting with New Ambassador to U.S.
  • LIBYA
    • Qadhafi Loyalists
  • IRAQ
    • Tragic Events in Haditha in 2005
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Negotiations Prevent Nuclear Proliferation / Highest Standards
    • President's Remarks on Economy / High-Tech Visas
  • EGYPT
    • Respect for Universal Human Rights
    • Milestone in Transition
    • Exception to Emergency Law


TRANSCRIPT:

1:05 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything at the top today, so why don’t we go to what’s on your minds?

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS. NULAND: Said.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. The Palestinian issue. Palestinian Authority President Abbas today in Amman said that the Palestinians will immediately go to negotiations if Israel acknowledges Palestinian borders. Do you concur? Do you agree with his request that this is really a reasonable thing to do?

MS. NULAND: Well, Said, I think you know where we have been in all of this. We have been encouraging the parties as they begin to talk to each other face-to-face under the auspices of the Government of Jordan. We want to see all of these issues settled through negotiation, and we want them to stay at the table and work on the issues rather than be out there making statements in public.

QUESTION: He also said that King Abdullah of Jordan assured him that he made a convincing case on behalf of the integrity and the veracity and the viability of the Arab Peace Initiative, and that the Administration – the Obama Administration agrees and concurs with the tenets of that peace plan. Do you still consider that plan as being viable, although 10 years have passed on that plan?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, all of this work that has been done over the decades to try to support a lasting peace between the parties is important to the conversations that they’re having now, including the input from the Arab League. But at the end of the day, these parties have got to sit face-to-face and settle these issues themselves through negotiation and a lasting settlement.

QUESTION: And lastly, he said that the main obstacle remains to be the settlements. Do you agree that settlements should be an obstacle to restarting the negotiations?

MS. NULAND: Well, Said, we have been very clear for a long time about where we stand on the settlements. We don’t think it’s helpful to the environment. But fundamentally, this issue of where borders are can only be settled through negotiation.

QUESTION: So you consider the settlements are part of the border issue?

MS. NULAND: Again, once you have a negotiated settlement that has concluded arrangements with regard to land, with regard to borders, then the settlement issue goes away. This is why we are so focused on trying to help these parties come up with a lasting settlement.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Hale in the region or here?

MS. NULAND: He’s here. He’s here.


Goyal.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Pakistan’s UN permanent representative – he – Mr. Abdullah Hussain Haroon said that sovereignty of the Palestine people should be now a first priority by the United Nations Security Council, and he called that time has come that Palestinians should get their own state, two states side by side. Any comments on --

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’re all seeking that goal, a negotiated solution so that we can have these two states, so that they can live next to each other, so that they can both have security, they can both have peace. So we don’t disagree with the goal, but we think that the only way to get there is for them to talk to each other.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. NULAND: Please. Unless Jill was going to the Middle East peace.

QUESTION: No. I wasn’t.

MS. NULAND: No? Okay. Arshad.

QUESTION: We’re --

MS. NULAND: Missed you. Where you been?

QUESTION: I’ll tell you after the --

MS. NULAND: Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But it’s nothing untoward. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Glad to hear it, Arshad. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. To all of our viewers out there today. (Laughter.)

We are reporting that the IMF submitted a – some projections to the G-20 about the impact of the current sanctions effort underway against Iran. The IMF note says, among other things, that a halt in – that financial sanctions against Iran may be, quote, “tantamount to an oil embargo,” close quote, and implies a supply decline of 1.5 million barrels per day. It also says that a halt in Iran’s oil exports could push oil prices 20 to 30 percent higher.

Do those projections come – one, did the U.S. Government seek such projections from the IMF? Two, do those come as a surprise to the government? Three, are you dismayed at the thought that the sanctions might be even more effective perhaps than you might have hoped when designing them?

MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t actually speak to what prompted the IMF to do this work, nor am I going to speak to the substance of IMF communication with member states. Treasury may be able to enlighten you further on either of those things.

What I would say, Arshad, though, is that in the context of working with the Congress on the final legislation that emerged, this Department, other parts of the Administration, the White House, were very cognizant that as we institute this legislation, as we work with countries around the world to try to decrease countries’ dependence on Iranian crude and have them diversify, that we need to do this in a phased and managed way so that we don’t have untoward impact on oil markets, so that countries can diversify, so that there is more supply.

And as we’ve said, we’re working not only to encourage countries to diversify away from Iran, but we’re also working with other suppliers to pick up the slack, because obviously we’re conscious that the health of economies around the world is a major concern and something that we have to protect.

So we’re trying to do this in a phased and managed way. Nonetheless, we are, as we’ve said, beginning already to see a bite into Iran’s resource base with which it can fuel its program as countries make decisions to seek crude oil from other countries.

QUESTION: How are you seeing that bite into Iran’s resource – I’m not sure if you said base or space, but --

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re seeing another – a number of countries talking about and beginning to make alternative arrangements for their crude supply. We’re also seeing the same thing that you’re seeing, which is an impact on the Iranian currency as people hedge their bets. And we’re seeing impacts in terms of Iran’s ability to use the international financial system to fuel its exports.

QUESTION: And in line with your effort to handle this is in a phased and managed way, as you know, the first set of sanctions that the President signed into law at the end of last year go into effect on February the 29th. That’s for non-petroleum dealings with the Iranian Central Bank. Banks, to know that they are in compliance with the law, need to have some kind of certainty about what the law means. And as you also know, the law has a great many ambiguities and undefined terms in it. I don't believe that the Administration has yet published any kind of regulations explaining how banks should interpret the law so that they ensure that they’re in compliance, and they’re now a little bit more than a month out.

Are you making progress on that? Do you have any sense of when you’re going to promulgate those regulations so that banks can have some kind of certainty about how to deal with this?

MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, Arshad. We are doing two things at once. We are, as you said, first and foremost as an interagency, working on implementing regulations to go with this legislation. That’s a process that is still underway but we hope to complete soon. But we are also consulting now with countries and entities around the world about what we expect those regulations can include and answering the questions of many of our partners and allies around the world. As you know, we’ve sent briefing teams on these issues, both the banking sanctions and the oil sanctions, to some 10 countries already.

QUESTION: How soon? It’s the last one for me on this, but it seems to me that if you’re dealing with major financial institutions and major amounts of money, that they would want to have at least some time to figure out what they need to do. Are you hoping to give them a month? Are you hoping to give them a week? I mean, how soon do you think you’ll be able to promulgate those regulations?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think I’m able to give you that answer at this moment, but if we have a little bit more clarity, I’ll come back to you. But my understanding is that the expectation is that it will be soon, but I can’t give you a timeframe standing right here.

Jill.

QUESTION: Somalia?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Iran still?

MS. NULAND: Still on Iran? Shall we stay on Iran? Go ahead, Tejinder.

QUESTION: Have you seen India moving away from Iranian oil even by one barrel? And the second is: Israeli media has reported that Iran and India have made now – finalized a deal to get – to pay for the oil with gold, and China is going to follow. Any update on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said a number of times over the last week and a half, we have had intensive conversations with the Government of India in Delhi about this legislation, and we are continuing to work with them on how we can implement it together in a phased and managed way. I’m not going to give you an up-and-down scorecard on our consultations with each of these countries as they happen, and I’m not in a position to comment on stray Israeli media reports.

Jill.

QUESTION: On Somalia --

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: -- we’re, of course, following this rescue of the two aid workers. Could you tell us, from the State Department’s perspective, what role the State Department might have played from the beginning in this? And also, there’s a report of another American citizen, a journalist, who was kidnapped in that same area. Do you have any information? I think I have his name: Michael Scott Moore.

MS. NULAND: I’m going to have to take Michael Scott Moore. I don’t think I have anything on that one today.

QUESTION: He’s like right in that same area.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Let us take that one.

With regard to the heroic results of this rescue operation, the President has spoken to this, the Secretary of Defense has spoken to this, and our brothers at the Pentagon who brief spoke to the press this morning about how this all went down. I will say to you that, although we obviously participate in the interagency process to counter piracy, the operation was conducted by the Department of Defense, and our American is now in their good care. So, obviously, we are consulting with them and we have offered to be helpful.

We are working, obviously, with the government of – we worked, obviously, with the Government of Denmark in advance of this. But the operation was very much done by our brothers and sisters at the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: What about --

QUESTION: With this, there seems to be a trend now that some of the pirates or criminals are seeing that there – the – it could be good news in the sense that the anti-piracy efforts seem to be bearing some fruit, so they are now moving in inland and kidnapping people, as opposed to going off in boats and taking people. Is there any growing concern here that this – that we could be seeing more of this precisely in that region?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon that these pirate groups have had bases at sea and they’ve also had bases on land. I mean, this is not a new problem, unfortunately, which is why we have to be vigilant and have to be prepared to do the kinds of operations like we saw last night.

QUESTION: More on this?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said that you worked with the Danish Government in advance of this. Does that mean that the U.S. Government, through the State Department or some other agency, informed the Danish Government that it was considering mounting such an operation?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into exactly who was told what when and what kinds of consultations. But, obviously, we had an American citizen and a Danish citizen rescued together. We were in very close contact throughout with the Government of Denmark, given the fact that it was American forces that would attempt and ultimately be successful in this rescue.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for a tick-tock, but just so they knew that you were planning to do this?

MS. NULAND: Again, we were in very close consultation with them.

QUESTION: Is that a yes?

MS. NULAND: Before, during, and after.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: Okay?

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. The President said yesterday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will realize in a short order – I mean, that’s not the exact word, but will realize shortly that the forces of change cannot be reversed. Is this some sort of a euphemism, or should we interpret it as an imminent U.S. action on the ground?

MS. NULAND: Well, just to give you the President’s eloquent quote again, he said, “The Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed and that human dignity cannot be denied.” This is very much in keeping with the approach that he has had to all of these Arab Spring movements, that the United States will stand with those who are seeking a better, more democratic way of life, are seeking change from their government, and are seeking fundamental human rights and human dignity.


I wouldn’t read into this any imminent change with regard to our perspective on military action, which, as you know, our policy has long been that we don’t see further militarizing the situation in Syria as a good idea.

QUESTION: Okay. So that – again, just to make certain that this should not be interpreted as an imminent action by the U.S., for instance, at the level of the Security Council or other levels?

MS. NULAND: Well, Said, obviously, we are in the process of working with Arab countries, we’re in a process of working with the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Assad regime. And you’ve seen the Arab League now join us in saying it’s time for Assad to step aside and allow a transition. They put forward a very concrete proposal, which Assad rejected out of hand.

So, obviously, the focus now is in the Security Council. Consultations are going forward with all of our partners. And we would like to see, as I said yesterday, a resolution that reflects the same principles and the same expectations that the Arab League had when it reached its agreement on November 2nd with Assad, which he has not lived up to.

Jill.

QUESTION: More on Syria, if I could.

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: The Russian ambassador yesterday told some of us that, in essence, what the United States is trying to do is they have – and the West in general – have written off Assad and that the action at the United Nations Security Council basically is aimed at creating an anti-Assad resolution; that the West just wants to get rid of him, and in spite of what the Russians have said, nobody seems to be paying attention to them talking about violence by the opposition; that this is really just a – you’re railroading something through the get rid of Assad. What do you say?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, as our consultations that Assistant Secretary Feltman had in Moscow yesterday make clear, we are eager to work with the Russian Federation on a strong resolution at the UN. Those consultations have been ongoing in Moscow, obviously, with Ambassador Kislyak here in Washington, and in New York. And that will continue.

That said, I’m not sure what he means by the West, how he defines that term, because we now have all of the members of the EU, the United States, Australia, and the Arab League countries making very clear that it’s time for Assad to step aside. So our question to those who are still protecting him is whether Syria really can go forward under his leadership, given the violence that we’ve seen.

So, frankly, you have a growing chorus of condemnation, as my boss likes to say, with regard to Assad. And we do not think that he is the guy to take his country forward. And the longer he stays around, the more difficult that’s going to be. So we think it’s time for the Security Council to embrace what the Arab League, the leading powers in the region who have to deal with this country and live next to it, want to see.

QUESTION: And just to his point about the violence by the other side, by the opposition, that it’s not being – that nobody seems, on the Western side, to be talking about that, do you take his point at all, that that’s at all a legitimate criticism?

MS. NULAND: We’ve made clear from the very beginning that we don’t support violence by any side, and we also don’t want to see this conflict further militarized. That said, the vast majority of violent incidents in Syria, in our analysis – an analysis that we have shared with the Russian Federation and will continue to share and that the Arab League now appears to share – have been committed at the hands of the Assad regime. And the degree to which people are taking up arms to defend themselves, while we don’t support that, it’s a natural reaction to the fact that they are under physical violent threat.

So we continue to believe that it is Assad whom – and his regime who must end the violence, or step aside, or both.

Please.

QUESTION: Victoria, the – more violence may be committed by the regime, but as we have seen, there is a spike in anti-government violence that has also taken its toll on the public. Are you taking note of that? Are you sort of monitoring this increased violent activities by opposition groups?

MS. NULAND: What we are seeing, Said, and I think with regard to activities in recent days, among the things that we are seeing, we are seeing military officers defecting from the Syrian military forces, and we are seeing then regime forces attack those defectors. And some of those defectors have taken their arms with them. So in places like Homs, where we’ve seen the regime fire mortars into apartment buildings and kill 18 civilians yesterday, our analysis of this is that in some cases, these Syrian military operations have been in retaliation for the defection of military officers.

So they’re going after guys who don’t want to fight for them anymore. And in some cases, these guys are taking their weapons with them. So this is why we put the bulk of the blame for the cycle of violence at the feet of the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one other question? Again, from the ambassador, he is saying another thing, and of course it has to do with Libya, which is some in the opposition are not encouraged to deal – to try to negotiate or put an end to this, because in the back of their minds lurks the idea that the West could come in, a la Libya, and launch some type of military operation. So in other words, Western attempts really are kind of backfiring and continuing this standoff, which he says could lead to civil war.

MS. NULAND: Well, we reject that characterization, obviously. As we’ve made clear repeatedly from this podium, from podiums far more senior than this one, we do not seek further militarization of the conflict in Syria. That is not what we think the right answer is. The right answer is for the Syrian regime to heed the call and meet its commitments to the Arab League, end the violence, pull back its forces, allow political prisoners out, allow journalists in, protect its people. And that will bring the – a peaceful situation in Syria, which can be the basis for real dialogue about the way forward.

So when the Secretary met with the Syrian National Council, she made absolutely clear that we want this situation to end peacefully, we want to see the Syrian opposition continue to pursue its objectives peacefully. So I think we have a straw man set up here.

QUESTION: On the issue of the Embassy, any news on the status of the Embassy business?

MS. NULAND: Nothing new. We’re continuing to try to work this through with the Syrian Government.

QUESTION: Again, a quick follow-up: In the event that a decision is taken to close the Embassy, what happens to the locally contracted employees? How would you guarantee their continued safety and security and so on?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals of this situation. Traditionally, in circumstances where we’ve had to temporarily shutter our doors – this was certainly the case in Libya – we do what we can to keep our locally employed folks on payroll. They obviously return to their homes and await a better day. But I can’t speak to the specifics of what would happen in this case.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Toria, you said that you’re still working with the Syrian – you’re still trying to work this through with the Syrian Government. Has the Syrian Government taken any steps thus far, or has it indicated any willingness thus far to try to provide – to try to do the things that you believe would provide better protection for the U.S. Embassy?

MS. NULAND: The Syrian Government has made some proposals. We have gone back with some counterproposals. They’ve come and done some work directly with us. So, as I said, we are hopeful that we can work this out. This is what we want to do. And the conversations continue.

Please, Goyal.

QUESTION: On India?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Madam, this Jay Leno and Golden Temple controversy is still going on in Punjab, and also – in India Punjab, and also in Delhi. And your comments actually fueled, according to those in the Indian state of Punjab, because what they are saying is that it did hurt the feelings of the Sikhs, which happen to be prime minister also one of – among one of them. They are saying that the Golden Temple is a place of worship, not a summer home for Mr. Romney, just like other major faith religious places like Mecca and Vatican.

So how can you defuse this controversy among those people still in the U.S. and also local in Washington, D.C.? Gudwara also going on every week, these talks and discussions.

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t think it’s appropriate to be going any further on this topic, particularly if, as you say, we are fueling rather than helping. We have complete respect for the Golden Temple as a place of worship, as you have said, and obviously for the Sikh people within the Indian nation.

QUESTION: And finally, as India celebrates tomorrow the constitution day of India, I have a copy of the U.S. Constitution, and it doesn’t say anywhere anything that anybody can say anything, abuse or accuse anybody’s religion.

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we believe in both freedom of religion and tolerance for all religions, so that is the basis. While we’re on the subject of India, perhaps I can advise you that the Secretary had a good meeting with the new Indian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Rao this morning. This was their first official meeting since Ambassador Rao has taken up their dialogue – her new position, and they talked about maintaining the momentum in our bilateral relationship and our strategic dialogue.

Ambassador Rao has already done a lot of travel around the United States and been to a lot of American universities, and she was able to give the Secretary some flavor for that. They also talked about the full range of bilateral issues, including the importance of our civil nuclear cooperation and our continued efforts to chart a way forward that will bring India the benefits of American nuclear technology. They also talked about Iran and the EU sanctions and how we can work together – about the U.S. sanctions, Iran, the EU sanctions, and how we can create a global community that goes in this direction. She – they talked about Afghanistan and the important role that India plays in supporting the New Silk Road initiative and private sector capacity building in Afghanistan. And they talked about Burma.

QUESTION: And just during their meeting, this Golden Temple issue never came up?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, it did not.

QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.

MS. NULAND: Tejinder, still on –

QUESTION: Two subject on – from that meeting. One is about the – where do we stand on the nuclear cooperation?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’re still trying to work through the legal and regulatory issues that we have in India is my understanding.

QUESTION: About direct investment retails and on the trade subject, did it come up?

MS. NULAND: I do not have that specific – I’ll have to get back to you on that, Tejinder.

Please, Scott.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on Senegal, please?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Deputy Assistant Secretary William Fitzgerald told the French media in French – I’ll spare you my speaking French – that the Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade should retire rather than run for office saying that his decision to run for reelection is regrettable. Anything to add to that? The constitutional court in Senegal has not yet ruled on whether Mr. Abdoulaye Wade is eligible to fun for reelection. He is a standing president.

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen DAS Fitzgerald’s comments. If we have anything further to add, I’ll get back to you, Scott.

Samir.

QUESTION: What’s your assessment on what’s happening in Libya? I mean, there were reports that followers of Qadhafi still functioning, and the government today, they took back the – Bani Walid town.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously following closely the situation in Bani Walid. What we understand today is that the Libyan defense minister went up to Bani Walid to try to defuse this tension. Our understanding from Libyan officials is that these were less Qadhafi loyalists and more local militias. So again, this speaks to the importance for central authorities in Libya of trying to integrate the remaining militias into a common national force. And the fact that the defense minister went up there himself to try to have these discussions with the militia about the value of joining up with the central army, we consider a good thing, and we stand ready to support these efforts.

QUESTION: On Libya. Any change in the status of Ambassador Ali Oujali, who is in town?

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge, although I’ve seen some press reporting, but I haven’t seen anything official.

QUESTION: There has been no – you’re not aware that he has resigned?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’ve been formally notified. I’ve seen his comments in the press that he is tired and is hoping that he’ll be replaced, but I don’t think we’ve been officially notified.

QUESTION: Can I move to Iraq?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay, are you following the military tribunal that ended yesterday with the sentencing of staff sergeant Frank Wuterich for a maximum of 90 days in prison for the Haditha massacre in November 2005?

MS. NULAND: Well, first to say that the individuals charged in this case were tried under the military justice system.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. NULAND: So with regard to the outcome of that judicial process, I’m going to send you to the Pentagon, I’m going to send you to the Department of Defense. More broadly, though, I’d like to say that the tragic events in Haditha in November 2005, they were tragic for both the United States and for Iraq. In the aftermath of this incident, the Department of Defense conducted a complete and comprehensive review of all of our rules of engagement for our soldiers in Iraq, training, other procedures to protect civilians during armed conflict, learned a huge number of lessons from this Haditha incident, and was able to make changes to the way we do business as a result. So very much a tragedy, something that we learned from. But with regard to the verdicts, I’m going to send you to DOD.

QUESTION: The head of the council of Haditha said that they will pursue legal action against the soldiers in the United States of America as well as in the International Court of Justice. Has there been any kind of formal request or formal filing with the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on this issue?

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge, Said.

Please.

QUESTION: Change it to Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: There’s been a meeting between the Pakistani army chief, ISI chief, prime minister, and foreign minister about the trilateral summit on Afghanistan. Do you have any indications whether Pakistan’s attending? And also, what can you tell us about –

MS. NULAND: Trilateral summit on Afghanistan? What are you referring to?

QUESTION: It’s coming up in Afghanistan – U.S., Pakistan, and Afghanistan in Islamabad in a few weeks apparently.

MS. NULAND: I’m, frankly, not sure what you’re referring to. You may be referring to our efforts to restart the core group consultations, which had been done at the level of Ambassador Grossman. We’d had two or three rounds of core group consultations. These were directed at trying to improve cross-border communication, counterterrorism operations. We haven’t had a meeting of the core group since October, November. It’s obviously one of the things we want to restart, but I’m not aware of any scheduled meeting.

QUESTION: So you’re not aware that anything is being planned for at least the core group meeting in the next one or two months?

MS. NULAND: Apart from our saying we think it’s important to get started again, I’m not aware of any concrete agreement on a date.

QUESTION: And also, you mentioned that you’re working to diversify, globally, people away from Iran and buying oil from Iran. Are some of these efforts going on in Pakistan? Is there any discussion on exporting cheaper LNG to Pakistan? Apparently, some Embassy officials met people from the Pakistani energy sector and suggestions were made.

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’re talking to countries around the world about the implication of this legislation and our efforts to cut global dependence on Iran. Pakistan is one of the countries that we’re working with, as you say, primarily from the Embassy.

QUESTION: But are there any projects in the pipeline, any discussions on trying to export cheaper gas from U.S. to Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything specific on where those conversations are leading, but we are talking about all kinds of diversification.

QUESTION: Is that a yes, there may be some discussions somewhere?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have anything specific.

Please.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wonder if you could confirm a Wall Street Journal story saying that the Obama Administration has withdrawn a demand to – that Jordan and Vietnam forego their rights to produce nuclear fuel as part of an eventual nuclear cooperation agreement?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Thank you for that question. This goes to the U.S. Government’s negotiations, consultations with countries with which we are seeking to negotiate agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation, the so-called 123 agreements. This story implied some massive change of policy, which is not the case.

We have, throughout this Administration, been committed to upholding the highest standards to curb nuclear proliferation and further – and the further spread of sensitive technologies. It is already our practice that we review each of these 123 agreements documents on their merits, taking into account our negotiating partners’ domestic policies, the proliferation concerns in the country, and how we can negotiate through them.

So there is no one-size-fits-all policy. We are working with both Jordan and Vietnam. Those agreements are not completed. So I’m obviously not going to comment on an ongoing negotiation, but please be assured that the highest nonproliferation standards are our goal here.

Please.

QUESTION: Last night, the President said that we will stand for the dignity and rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Middle East. From the State Department’s perspective, what will that look like in practice, given the recent anti-Christian violence in places like Egypt and --

MS. NULAND: Well, what it’s looked like throughout this and – has been our constantly speaking out on behalf of religious freedom, religious tolerance, political pluralism, and the rights of all citizens, and making it very clear to all parties with whom we engage, including now the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nour, that we expect the highest human rights standards to be upheld in the new Egypt, and that that is what all Egyptian citizens have struggled for and expect.

QUESTION: For Egypt, it’s going to be like concrete sticks or carrots attached to that, like aid withholding or – will you tie aid to religious freedom or human rights in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Well, traditionally, around the world, we have made our views known on this through a variety of methods, so our first expectation is that as Egypt moves forward with a new constitution, its constitution will respect universal human rights.

QUESTION: Staying on the speech last night, President Obama also said that he wants to bring the jobs back, but he also mentioned that we have a – we don’t have enough people for the high-tech jobs. So is – will that change in any way, your policy for high-tech visas?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think, as you listen to the President’s speech, his first priority is on increasing educational opportunities for Americans to take their own educational level up, and to ensure that they have access to education to train for concrete jobs. That was the main thrust of the speech. That said, we are trying to do what we can to make our visa system business-friendly. But the President’s first priority, obviously, is increasing the skills of Americans.

QUESTION: Victoria, I wanted to ask you, as Egypt marks the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, are you comfortable that the Egyptian-U.S. American alliance is solid and remains – Egypt remains a strong ally of the United States?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, to call all of your attention to the statement that the White House put out yesterday congratulating Egypt on the historic milestones in its transition, the Egyptian people have persevered in achieving a number of their goals. They still have quite a way to go. As you know, we are intensively engaged at all levels – with the Government of Egypt, with the people of Egypt – to support them in this transition, and also to help them see their way through to an Egypt that is more democratic, that is more prosperous, overcomes its economic obstacles, begins to grow again, and that continues to uphold its existing agreements with its neighbors and others in the international community, and that respects universal human rights.

So our policy is based on those principles. We are engaged at every level. As I think you know, the President has spoken to General Tantawi recently. The Secretary’s spoken to Foreign Minister Amr. We’ve just had high-level delegations in Egypt, so we will continue that dialogue as they take the difficult steps forward towards a more democratic and prosperous Egypt.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Yesterday you said that you were seeking clarification from the Egyptians regarding the exception under which the emergency law can continue to be applied for thuggery. Did you get any clarification on that?

MS. NULAND: We are still in the process of seeking that clarification from the SCAF on what the exception means, and frankly, on how widely it will be applied having noted the concerns of a number of Egyptians about this reference.

QUESTION: Given that thuggery is in the eye of the beholder, why was both the State Department and the White House so very praising of this action yesterday, or the action announced yesterday, to end the law when it doesn’t end it entirely. I mean, its selective application for thuggery, whatever that is, could deprive ordinary Egyptians of rights that I thought you believed they should have. So why was the Administration so quick to praise something that doesn’t actually totally scrap the law, which is what I thought you had wanted for many, many years now?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, if you look at the White House statement and if you look at what we said yesterday, we were commending progress on the road. I don’t think anybody was claiming that progress is complete or that the journey is finished. Yesterday, in your absence – Arshad, we missed you – in addition to talking about the good news in Egypt, we also made clear that we are seeking clarification on this thuggery principle, because as you’ve said, it could be applied in a way that could undercut the aspirations of the Egyptian people to see this emergency law scrapped.

QUESTION: And last thing, is it not your position that there should be no exceptions to the emergency law? I mean, my understanding was that the reasons that you object to the emergency law, which I think includes such things as the ability to detain people without trial, are things that you object to in principle and without, essentially, reservation, and therefore any exception would be something that the U.S. Government would oppose.

MS. NULAND: We are supporting the demand of the Egyptian people that this emergency law be scrapped. So if we’ve had --

QUESTION: In its entirety.

MS. NULAND: That is what the Egyptian people have been asking for. So now the question is, this step which is positive after many, many months, the question is whether this exception will cut into that and how deeply it will. And the Egyptian people are asking for answers, as are we.

QUESTION: And last question. Now that the Egyptian – now that the elected Egyptian Parliament has been seated, is it the Administration’s view that the Prime Minister of the country should continue to be chosen by the SCAF through – I can’t remember if it’s June or July – or is it the position of the U.S. Government that the duly elected parliament should select the prime minister?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re not going to get into dictating the transition arrangements for Egypt. We’re talking, we hope, about a relatively short period of time – period of time now from the end of January until June, when we hope that all these democratic processes can be completed and that the SCAF can meet its commitment – we – our expectation that it will meet its commitment to hand over power fully to new authorities.

But we’re in an interim period now. This – interim arrangements need to be worked out among Egyptians. They need to be as democratic as possible. They need to be open and transparent.

QUESTION: Why not democratic, rather than as democratic as possible?

MS. NULAND: Well, democratic. There you go.

QUESTION: Well, if it’s supposed to be democratic, then why shouldn’t the duly elected parliament make that decision?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve had --

QUESTION: As to who is the prime minister of the government?

MS. NULAND: We’ve had one house of parliament elected. We haven’t had the second round of elections yet. Those will proceed now from this period into March, then that half of the parliament will have to be seated. We will also have to see a new constitution written in Egypt. So all of these issues are in flux. Obviously, we want to see democratic principles undergird the interim governing decisions as well as the final outcome. But we’re not going to dictate from here.

Please.

QUESTION: Burma?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Madam, I have met recently a number of Burmese in this area and, first of all, they are thanking to the U.S., the Secretary of State, and the State Department for taking this initiative for – in Burma. But what they are saying is that they hope that it’s not just a general has taken his military uniform and nothing will happen. But – do you have any message for them, so they can feel something that – something is happening in Burma?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve had a number of messages for the people of Burma. President had messages, the Secretary had messages just a few weeks ago. We have said that we will support this process of democratization through step-by-step measures, but that it needs to be completed. So we’re obviously, on the democratic side, encouraged that we now have a date for parliamentary elections. We have parties registered, including Daw Suu Kyi’s party registered. So now we want to see the people – all the people of Burma – able to exercise their democratic rights in those elections, and the parliament seated and the parliament able to take up its business.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)

DPB # 16

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - January 25, 2012]