Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 2, 2012


Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
    • Persecution and Arrests of Baha'i Community Members
  • SYRIA
    • Humanitarian Aid
    • Friends of Syria Meeting
    • Sanctions
    • Syrian National Council
    • China
    • Timeline
    • GCC
  • TURKEY
    • P5+1 Meeting
    • Iranian Oil
  • EGYPT
    • Elections
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Taliban / Reconciliation
  • COLOMBIA
    • FARC Hostages
  • ISRAEL/AZERBAIJAN
    • Airfield Access
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Track-Two Meeting
  • RUSSIA
    • Ambassador McFaul / Harassment of Embassy Personnel
  • BURMA
    • Elections


TRANSCRIPT:

12:44 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Monday, everybody. I’ve got one thing at the top and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds. We want to call attention to the fact that April 1st, yesterday, the seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community marked a – the anniversary of their cumulative total of incarceration of 10,000 days in Iranian prison for their beliefs. We condemn Iran’s ongoing persecution and arrests of Baha’i community members, and we continue to be deeply concerned by the harassment and intimidation of all religious minorities in Iran, including its significant Sunni and Sufi populations, Christians like Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, the Zoroastrians, and others. And we renew our call on the Iranian authorities to release the seven Baha’i leaders and immediately guarantee all religious communities the right to practice their religion freely.

QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll get back to Iran in a minute, but I want to begin with Syria, because I’m a little confused. I wasn’t working yesterday, but I’ve tried to read up on what happened. But I don’t know exactly what the U.S. – what the Secretary committed the U.S. to doing. The 12 million – or the new aid that she announced, which brings it to 12 million, is that correct? That’s all in humanitarian aid, and none of it goes towards this fund which is going to pay the Free Syrian Army? Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Shall we take a moment and go through all of the outcomes --

QUESTION: Well, no. I don’t want to go through. I just --

MS. NULAND: -- or you just want to go through the money outcomes?

QUESTION: Well, I’m trying to figure out exactly what the U.S. is – what the Administration is doing differently now than it was before yesterday.

MS. NULAND: Okay. So let’s go through some of the results from the meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People yesterday. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, I call your attention to the Secretary’s press conference in Istanbul, where she went through all of these things. But let me just do it again for your purposes.

We’ve been talking about working along four lines – first of all, strengthening sanctions; second, increasing humanitarian support; third, working with and strengthening the opposition in Syria; and fourth now, beginning to help the Syrians to establish dossiers of accountability with regard to the atrocities that have been committed.

So on each of these, first with regard to sanctions, a number of countries, including the United States, announced new targeted sanctions on individuals. And the Friends of the Syrian People also yesterday established a Sanctions Working Group. The goal of this is to look across the lines at what various countries have committed to, to look at how sanctions are being implemented, to help countries implement them increasingly effectively, to shout out when countries are not supporting the general sanctions direction of the Friends of the Syrian People, and that – and also to try to broaden the number of countries who are putting sanctions on the regime. We have a number of countries in the Friends of the Syrian People who don’t have much of a tradition of using sanctions as a tool of foreign policy. A number of them have asked for help in how you implement sanctions, how you track whether they are being followed, so this will be, we hope, more effective.

And as you heard the Secretary say publicly yesterday in some of her TV interviews, we do believe that these sanctions are beginning to have a profound effect, and we’re seeing some cracks within the regime as well as a result of the pressure individuals are under as they find it harder to travel, to move their money, et cetera.

The second is the humanitarian. On the humanitarian side, as you know, many of the Friends of the Syrian People countries have been contributing to humanitarian relief that is delivered by UN humanitarian organizations – Red Cross, Red Crescent, et cetera. Yesterday, the Secretary announced an additional contribution on the U.S. side of 12 million in humanitarian aid, bringing the U.S. total contribution in humanitarian aid – this is food, medicine, et cetera – to almost 25 million, and we put out a fact sheet yesterday on exactly what we’re doing there.

The third line, support for the Syrian opposition. First and foremost, on the political side, I think you know the Secretary, President, other U.S. principals have been calling for the SNC to broaden its outreach to as many communities as possible within Syria and to issue a very clear statement of its goals and intentions for a transition to a democratic Syria. So they put out – as you know, a week ago, they met in Istanbul, and then they published on Saturday – we also pushed this – a copy of this to some of our travelers; if you need to see it we can pass it to you. On Saturday-Sunday, they published what they are calling the Covenant for a Future Syria, I think is the way they described it. But it goes through very clearly their aspiration to have a Syria that is based on rule of law, that is based on a new constitution that is ratified democratically, to have elections, et cetera, et cetera, and also states very clearly their intention to be for a Syria for all Syrians, to protect the human rights of all communities, et cetera.

So that was a very good step. As the Secretary said yesterday, when we met with the Syrian National Council, what we were seeing there is that they are having some success expanding their membership. We now have not only members who have long lived outside of Syria, but we have a number of new members, some of whom the Secretary met with yesterday, who are freshly out of Babr Amr, other parts of – Homs, Daraa, et cetera, and they are now contributing their insight to the group. So it is broadening in scope.

The Secretary also reiterated that we have been supporting the needs of the civilian opposition with communications support, medical support, that we are now looking at how we can expand that. We had a number of consultations on this trip, she did both in Saudi Arabia and in Istanbul, with other countries about the kinds of needs that the civilian opposition has. We haven’t put a public dollar figure on that. There are a number of reasons for that. Partly, we’re still working through all of the needs. But some of this has been moving.

But one of the things that was very much confirmed by the Secretary’s meetings with the opposition leaders, both those who are formally members of the SNC and those who are just affiliated, and particularly with those who are freshly out of Syria, is that one of the biggest issues that they face is communicating among themselves – communicating inside Syria, communicating even in the same city. The woman that she met with from Homs made clear that when Homs was under shelling attack, they didn’t even know what was happening on the other side of the city, let alone be able to talk to opposition leaders in cities across Syria, and also to connect the external opposition with the internal opposition.

So this is something that we are very much committed to and that we will be continuing to work on. Britain and a number of other countries have also indicated their support. Other countries made clear that they will be providing a different kind of support. They will be providing support directly to the Free Syrian Army. I won’t speak to them, but as the Secretary made clear yesterday, this is something that was very much welcomed by the SNC.

The last line here is the accountability line. So the Syrian opposition is trying now to keep good records of the atrocities that have been witnessed. There is a lot of international experience in how you build accountability dossiers that can be used later in trials. Whether they are domestic trials or whether they are ICC trials is an issue, obviously, to be decided by the Syrian people. But we announced this – after consulting with a number of countries, we announced this accountability hub center initiative, and we put out a fact sheet on that today. That will do a number of things. It’ll train Syrians in how to keep these records. It’ll will provide a safe and secure storage place for the records. It’ll start connecting a number of the groups internationally that do this, including the UN. And the message that we want to send with this is that people committing atrocities, particularly regime figures, but frankly anybody committing atrocities inside Syria, should know that justice will find you eventually.

QUESTION: So wait, wait. Hold on – I think – I – congratulations, by the way. I think, A, that was – you may have set two records.

MS. NULAND: The longest answers? Yeah.

QUESTION: One was the longest answer ever uninterrupted.

MS. NULAND: Good. Good. That was my goal.

QUESTION: And secondly, the longest answer that didn’t answer the question. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: What is the Administration doing differently today than it – which was my question, remember?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Back 10 minutes ago when – before you started? The question was: What is the Administration doing differently today than it was before Sunday?

MS. NULAND: It is supporting the sanctions working group to help tighten the --

QUESTION: Which you did before that, though, correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, every nation was involved in individual sanctions. We were not working together as intensely to try to strengthen them, to try to find the holes, to try to help countries that want to do more that don’t know how. We also obviously increased our own sanctions. We increased our humanitarian aid. Okay? That’s the second thing. We made clear in consultations with other countries and in working with the SNC that we are looking at how we can increase the nonlethal assistance that we provide to the civilian opposition. We consulted with countries that are doing other things to make sure that what we are doing and what they are doing is well-coordinated and worked with the opposition on how all of those things can work. And we stood up this accountability center.

QUESTION: But one, I remember the sanctions – this coordination of sanctions was discussed in Tunis as well back in the first --

MS. NULAND: Not in terms of a formal working group and at that --

QUESTION: All right. Two, you were providing --

MS. NULAND: -- and having staffs working on it permanently.

QUESTION: Two, you were providing humanitarian assistance before. Now, you’re just providing more, right?

MS. NULAND: We’re doubling it now. Yeah.

QUESTION: Three, you are providing communications equipment to the opposition? That is something that you were doing before, no?

MS. NULAND: We were doing it in a very modest way, and now we are looking at what more we can do, and we are trying to key it specifically to the needs that we’re hearing about.

QUESTION: Okay. So can you be more specific? When you say you were doing it in a modest way before, what does that mean? What – I mean, does that mean people were being given cell phones, computers? What was going on before, and what’s different about it now when you talk about more focused or directed – how is it going to be different than what was the modest program before?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me start with the goal here. As the Secretary said yesterday, the goal is to help the opposition communicate with itself, communicate with the outside world, to help it to organize better and to help it to have better situational awareness so it can evade a regime attack. So you can imagine that getting into precise specifics about exactly what we’re providing to whom and how we get it in there would defeat the purpose of helping them evade regime efforts to disrupt their communications, which have – which is precisely the goal here. So I’m not – we’re not going to talk publicly about exactly what this means, neither the kinds of equipment nor where it goes. What I will say is that we had a pretty modest program through MEPI, as we do in many countries. We will now be expanding this in scope.

QUESTION: Has that actually happened, or is it still in the process of happening?

MS. NULAND: It is beginning to happen.

QUESTION: Victoria.

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us why the term “clearing house”? Has this been used in this context before? I’m talking about the language, the term --

MS. NULAND: The accountability. Yeah.

QUESTION: Accountability clearing house.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: What is -- because I think the Arabic language, we don’t have a similar term, “clearing house.”

MS. NULAND: Well, I think what we were trying to convey here is that while our expectation is that there will be a small bricks-and-mortar center for this, probably in Turkey, it’s bigger than that, because there is a huge virtual web-based component where our goal is to build networks among organizations that have – keep accountability records, whether they are human rights NGOs or whether they are the UN agencies that do this, and to provide a way, web-based, for Syrians who are bearing witness to get their information in.

So when we say “clearing house,” that’s designed to convey this kind of hub-and-spoke relationship, but also to train Syrians outside and inside in how you store these kinds of things securely, because you can’t just throw stuff up on the internet and hope that it won’t be compromised. These kinds of records, particularly if you want people to come forward with very sensitive material, they have to be assured that it’ll be protected and that they won’t make their own personal situation worse by bearing witness.

QUESTION: So this will be a physical structure somewhere?

MS. NULAND: The hope is that there will be a small bricks-and-mortar structure for training, for coordination, but it’ll be a much larger effort in a virtual sense.

QUESTION: Okay. And a quick follow-up on topic of aid. When you say communication and when you say we welcome aiding by others, perhaps, the Free Syrian Army or the Syrian Free Army, are you advocating a militant aspect to this revolt now?

MS. NULAND: What I said was --

QUESTION: Has there been a marked change in your position?

MS. NULAND: What I said, and what the Secretary said yesterday, was that the Syrian National Council very much welcomed these initiatives. From a U.S. perspective, one of the things that was important on this trip was we had a chance to coordinate with a number of the countries that are providing different kinds of assistance than we are so that we can ensure that this is mutually supportive.

QUESTION: As I understand you correctly, you still officially oppose any kind of increase in violence or the committing of violence by different opposition groups, be it by the opposition groups or the regime, because you want the violence to end rather than increase; correct?

MS. NULAND: Of course we want the violence to end. We want an immediate ceasefire.

Please.

QUESTION: These communication materials you mentioned, who are you going to deliver exactly? It’s going to be civilians or it’s going to be FSA elements within Syria?

MS. NULAND: Our support will be for the civilian opposition. Again, I’m not going to talk about the details for obvious reasons because we don’t want to – we want this to be effective; let’s put it that way.

QUESTION: You stated before that you are not exactly happy with the coordination between SNC and the FSA after this latest Istanbul conference. How do you assess this?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think I’ve ever spoken, or we’ve ever spoken, to coordination between the groups. We are – what we have seen – and the Secretary spoke to this yesterday – is that the SNC, which began as a group primarily made up of longtime exiles from Syria, is now becoming more of an umbrella organization. And there are – both in terms of its membership – that you see folks who are – have recently fled Syria, joining – there were people at this conference under the SNC umbrella yesterday who we all had a chance to speak to who had been out for a week, for a month, for six weeks, and are able to provide a real perspective on what is needed and what will help. They also have very close contacts, more effective contacts, back into Syria, which is helping the SNC.

But the SNC is also adopting an approach where there’s the organization itself, but it’s also providing an umbrella for those who are not ready to necessarily sign up with the SNC, but want to be affiliated. So what this covenant does is it allows groups who don’t necessarily want to call themselves SNC to nonetheless say we support these goals and principles as outlined in the covenant.

QUESTION: One more question relates to Istanbul conference. Were you able to meet with the Kurdish part, Kurdish National Council, or – it appeared that their delegation walk out last week.

MS. NULAND: We – there were some – as you know, the Secretary’s senior advisor on this issue, Fred Hof, was at the conference the week before. He’s had a number of contacts all through the week with the Kurdish group. They continue to talk to the SNC about some of their issues. And again, when we talk about the SNC becoming more of an affiliated structure, this is part of what we’re talking about, that they are – even if some of these Kurdish groups haven’t signed up to the SNC, they’re nonetheless in dialogue and trying to work through principles.

QUESTION: I just have a couple quick questions.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Andy.

QUESTION: First, on the accountability clearinghouse --

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: -- is it possible or likely that the Syrian Government could avail itself of these services to put forward its own arguments about atrocities that armed opposition may have undertaken?

MS. NULAND: Well, it would strike me as unlikely that the Assad regime would want to avail itself of the structure that grows out of the Friends of the Syrian People. But it is – the accountability clearinghouse is designed to receive information about atrocities of any kind committed by any group, so it’s --

QUESTION: So there isn’t any sort of barrier to them?

MS. NULAND: It’s – correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: It’s an equal-opportunity clearinghouse.

QUESTION: Okay. And the second one is on the proposal, or fact of various other members of the Friends of the Syrian People bankrolling some of the salary costs for the FSA. Was this an option that was presented to the United States and rejected, that you guys decided no, we don’t want to do that? And if so, why, if you think, broadly, as a member of this broader group, it’s a good idea?

MS. NULAND: It didn’t go that way. This was an initiative of some specific countries on which we were briefed.

QUESTION: And does the United – I mean, you presumably do back this as a good idea in that it’s a Friends of the Syrian People sort of – part of this broader initiative. Why is it a good idea?

MS. NULAND: Again, this was something that was put forward at the meeting to the SNC. As we’ve made clear, as the Secretary’s made clear, we are going to contribute in the ways that we’ve talked about. Other countries are going to contribute in the ways that they deem most appropriate. What’s most important is that the Syrian opposition get the help that it needs.

QUESTION: But isn’t there – is there any concern that by – in having this happen through a sort of Friends of the Syrian People process, that you are leaving yourselves open to the Assad regime accusations that you’re essentially funding an uprising against his regime, that you’re funding --

MS. NULAND: Again, this is not an initiative of the Friends. It doesn’t appear in the communique. It’s something that was made known in the context of the conference, but it’s a bilateral initiative, or an initiative of a few countries to the SNC.

QUESTION: But the point – I mean, is the Administration comfortable with the idea that some of its friends and allies are going to be paying – essentially paying mercenaries that fight the Assad regime?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve – the SNC made clear that this is very welcome. We are coordinating closely with these countries to make sure --

QUESTION: Well, I understand, but --

MS. NULAND: -- that our efforts are mutually reinforcing. I’m not going to give it a grade one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, no, no, no, but – we’re not asking for --

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: We’re not asking for a grade. We’re asking whether you think it’s – whether the Administration thinks it’s a good idea for these countries to do that.

MS. NULAND: Again, they are making their own sovereign decisions about what they think is important. We have not discouraged this initiative, and we are coordinating closely with them.

Please.

QUESTION: Okay. You haven’t – you have not discouraged the initiative?

MS. NULAND: Correct, correct.

QUESTION: Could I ask a quick follow-up --

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: -- on that? On the clearinghouse itself, on the secretariat, let’s say, if it has a secretariat, will we have organizations like the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, sent out there to vet whatever data and information that would come in?

MS. NULAND: If you look at the factsheet that we put out --

QUESTION: I did, yeah.

MS. NULAND: -- it talks about a steering group, right, which includes association with these other international organizations. Again, this is not designed to be the only place where accountability can be kept. It’s designed to be an enhancement to current, ongoing UN-NGO efforts at accountability. It’s designed to be a resource for Syrians and to be affiliated with all the other efforts.

QUESTION: I understand, but it will have an international dimension or a component where you have these organized --

MS. NULAND: No, of course, yes, and it’ll have links to all those organizations, yes.

QUESTION: On the clearinghouse --

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: -- is it at all a response to the recent criticism that there’s been human rights abuses committed by the opposition?

MS. NULAND: Primarily, this is an initiative to ensure that regime elements, who are continuing not only to obey the Assad orders to fire on their own people, but are also committing gross abuses themselves – some of this horrible reporting we’ve seen about the killing of children, about the impressing of young people, about the travel bans on men, about the mining – all of that stuff can be documented. But as I said in response to Andy’s question, obviously, it’s an opportunity to, if there are abuses that can be documented on the other side, there’s a place to catalogue them. But most importantly, we’re trying to send a political message here that those who are still carrying out his bloody orders, there are people bearing witness to that and they will be held to account. And folks anywhere who are committing atrocities need to know that justice will find them.

QUESTION: Do you hope that it will be a deterrent in the opposition?

MS. NULAND: That’s exactly the hope and the hope that it will --

QUESTION: But a deterrent for the opposition. For example, on Libya --

MS. NULAND: A deterrent for anyone who would commit atrocities in Syria.

QUESTION: Last week --

MS. NULAND: Are we still on Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: Last week, you said the world is more united against Syria regime. What is your understanding of China’s absence to the Friends of Syria meeting again?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, China was invited to attend this time and declined not to attend. I’ll refer you to the Chinese with regard to their decision there.

QUESTION: So – do you think the world is more united against – to the regime?

MS. NULAND: There’s no question. I mean, starting with the Security Council presidency statement, which China joined. Yeah.

QUESTION: So are you disappointed that China is not – didn’t --

MS. NULAND: It’s China’s choice whether it wants to attend the Friends group. We’ve made clear that the door is open.

QUESTION: Speaking about the UN Security Council --

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: Kofi Annan’s told them a couple – a little while ago that the regime is ready to withdraw from civilian – withdraw troops from civilian areas by April 10th or on April 10th. Is that at all okay with you?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, after the Security Council meeting, Ambassador Rice, in her capacity both as presidency of the council this month and speaking in her U.S. hat, had a comment on --

QUESTION: I missed that.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. So --

QUESTION: What did she say?

MS. NULAND: I actually didn’t see the precise words. I spoke to her people, because we were coming out concurrently. But my understanding is that – and if I’m not right, then whatever she said is binding in terms of our response, but – that as you know, the Secretary and the Friends had called for a real timeline, that Kofi Annan has set a timeline now. Obviously, we all hope that the implementation will be as rapid as possible – will be more rapid than April 10th and that we will judge him by his actions, not by his words.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean this gives him another eight days – I mean, more than a week.

MS. NULAND: Again, we all want to see this happen immediately, and we will judge him by his actions.

QUESTION: Do you expect that – a week ago, you and the Russians were coming closer and closer. But today, Lavrov, the foreign minister, said that we don’t accept the idea of a timeline or a shelf life for this initiative by Kofi Annan. Do you expect that there will be some sort of animosity between you two?

MS. NULAND: Well again, I didn’t see what Lavrov had to say. It probably was just in the --

QUESTION: Well, in a press conference today, he was very clear on the issue of a timetable.

MS. NULAND: Well, we feel very strongly, as did all 80 of those countries that were represented yesterday, that we can’t allow Annan – we can’t allow Assad to do what he’s done time and time again, make promises and break them, that the time – as the Secretary said yesterday, that the time for excuses is over. So we were very firm, and the Secretary made absolutely clear again and again that a timeline is necessary.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the Russians are giving Assad a cover -- that they’re

stalling?

MS. NULAND: Again, we are determined that there not be cover created by the situation.

QUESTION: So (inaudible) one week if this deadline is correct and it’s going to be implemented. What is the plan B? Surely should be some plan for a short time. What kind of steps are you willing to take if Assad, again, doesn’t do what he promised to?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to prejudge where we’re going to be on April 10th, but I think if you look at the outcomes of the Friends of the Syrian People meeting, it’s very clear that our intention is to maintain as much pressure – build the pressure through all of these lines that we talked about on the regime. So --

QUESTION: On Egypt.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please – still on Syria? In the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. All I want to say is just to follow on something Matt, I think, was getting at.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Setting aside what you think about the (inaudible) plan, in particular, it seems pretty clear that the Saudis are stepping up their role in Syria and some of the Gulf countries too. Does the Administration worry at all that the conflict might start to be seen, even if it isn’t in fact, start to be perceived as a conflict between the Saudis, the Gulf countries, and the regime rather than between the people of Syria and the regime? Is that a concern at all?

MS. NULAND: Well, we had a chance to have broad consultations, as you know. The Secretary saw – we were in Riyadh on Saturday. The Secretary had a chance to talk to all of the GCC members about this. There is no daylight between us, that the number one goal here is to increase the pressure on Assad until he stops, and that we’ve got to do all that we can here. Countries are making their own decisions how to do that. What’s important is the coordination among us.

The additional thing I would say here is that there is no doubt that all of the countries, all 82 countries, join the SNC in our commitment that this new Syria that we seek, this democratic Syria we seek, has to be a Syria for all Syrians, not to replace one ruling clique with another ruling clique, that what we are seeking is a democratic Syria where all ethnic groups are welcome, are part of the political process, have their rights and their freedoms protected. And the Gulf countries made statements to that effect that was – those principles were in the statement that the GCC plus U.S. issued on Saturday.

Please.

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: A couple of questions. Victoria, have you been in touch with your allies in Azerbaijan and Israel over the reports of Israeli access to airbases in Azerbaijan on the Iranian border?

MS. NULAND: I think Mark spoke to this on Friday. We don’t have any information to indicate anything new on this front.

QUESTION: So since --

MS. NULAND: Yeah, please. Please.

QUESTION: What is going on with this P-5+1 meeting? Is it happening on the 13th in Istanbul, as someone who you know, we all know very well, said? Or is it not happening? Because she seems to be the only one who’s saying it’s going to happen on that time – at that time and that place.

MS. NULAND: We have made, as a P-5+1, a proposal to have this meeting on April 13th, 14th in Istanbul. There seems to be some issue as to whether the Iranians have accepted that, but we will be there if they are ready to accept those terms.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re going to – so someone’s going to show up. Wendy Sherman or Bill Burns or whoever is going to be there on the 13th and 14th with a sign that says, “Welcome Iran.”

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously --

QUESTION: And if they don’t show up it’s their fault? Is that the idea? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I mean, it’s simply been interesting to us that we are getting different signals out of Iran as to whether all of this is locked down. But we are – and we’ve been waiting for some time for the Iranians to – in all of their components – to confirm that they’re ready. But we are ready if they are ready at that date and venue.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: Okay?

QUESTION: On Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: There’s been a lot of talk in the Egyptian media recently that one of the presidential candidates, Abu Ismail -- Hazem Abu Ismail’s mother has American citizenship and that under Egyptian electoral law this would disqualify him, because both of your parents are supposed to be only Egyptian nationals and nothing else. Recently, this presidential candidate himself has talked to the election commission in Egypt, which says that it’s investigating the matter.

So my question is: Has the U.S. Embassy in Cairo received any questions on this matter from the Egyptian election commission to verify this and if there’s – if this is something that you could verify or not?

MS. NULAND: Wow. That sounds like one I’m really not going to wade into. I’m going to send you to our Embassy in Cairo as to whether they’ve had any inquiries from the election commission. Frankly, we try very hard to stay out of these kinds of issues.

QUESTION: But this specifically has to do with somebody’s citizenship. Is this something that you could confirm or deny?

MS. NULAND: Can we verify citizenship?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. NULAND: Again, I will refer you to our Embassy in Cairo as to whether we’ve had any inquires of that – in that regard.

Please.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan --

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Al Jazeera has had a series of --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Egypt?

MS. NULAND: You want to stay on Egypt? Yeah, I’m sorry. Let’s do Egypt, and then --

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the new Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Al-Shater? He claims that he has the support of the United States of America.

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary spoke to – she was asked this question yesterday --

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I missed it.

MS. NULAND: -- and she spoke to the principles that we expect to govern these elections, which are the same principles that the Egyptians themselves went to Tahrir Square to have.

QUESTION: Okay. But let me tell you what he said today. He said he does enjoy support of the international community, implicitly saying the United States of America. Do you support --

MS. NULAND: We’re certainly not going to be – as we don’t anywhere in the world – endorsing any individual candidate. We want the Egyptian people to make their decision.

QUESTION: But do you look at the Brotherhood as a buffer against the Salafists, for instance?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to what the Secretary had to say about the principles that we espouse for this election.

Please.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: So Al Jazeera found in a series of reports from Kunar province in Afghanistan that the Taliban has instituted a policy of persuading Afghans who have joined the security forces or the police to switch sides and join them. They’ve also have – are now playing the role of vice and virtue police, scrutinizing what people wear, their appearance, making women stay at home, et cetera. In lights of these revelations, is it the right strategy to continue negotiating with the Taliban, even indirectly, and to hand over control to the Afghan security forces?

MS. NULAND: Well, all of the things that you cite are not new in terms of what those Taliban who insist on fighting the Afghan constitution, fighting Afghan security forces, terrorizing the Afghan people have been up to. So our policy remains that those Taliban who want to continue to have their way by force, to try to overthrow the Afghan constitution, to fight the people of Afghanistan, fight the freedoms and human rights that they have attained, we are going to support the Afghans in meeting them on the battlefield.

However, we are also, as we’ve made clear, willing to support a process of reconciliation with those Taliban who are willing to renounce violence and get into talks. But we have to, as a next step, as we’ve made clear for a couple of weeks – given the multiple signals that we’ve had out of the Taliban and the multiple voices, the next step will be for those Taliban who want to sit down to issue a statement that renounces violence and makes clear that they are committed to a real peace process.

And then as we’ve said, at the end of the day, this process will only succeed if it results in a conversation with people who are ready to completely renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, support the constitution of Afghanistan in all of its manifestations, including the rights for women, minorities, and all Afghans.

QUESTION: Are you saying that talks are not ongoing?

MS. NULAND: As – you know what we’ve been saying forever, that we are at a preliminary stage of trying to support an Afghan-Afghan process. It’s been hard to get that going, but the door is open, but only if the Taliban are prepared to renounce violence.

Scott.

QUESTION: Colombia?

MS. NULAND: Colombia.

QUESTION: Move today to take possession of the last of the FARC hostages by the Colombian Government so reaction to that and any hope for what would happen next?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I saw some reporting that this last sort of move was happening today. I think if you don’t mind, Scott, we will respond to that one tomorrow when this operation is completed.

Okay. Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) back to my subject, so if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that this building does not possess enough valid information that backs these claims of Israeli access in Azerbaijan airfield and that is why you’re not going to follow up on this report, you’re not calling your allies --

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to the Azerbaijanis for whatever they may be talking to the Israelis about. I don't have any information to indicate that the reports that are out there have any basis in fact.

QUESTION: Are you aware of more --

MS. NULAND: What?

QUESTION: Are you aware of more than one report?

MS. NULAND: That one reporting is --

QUESTION: So it’s not plural? I mean, as far as you know?

MS. NULAND: I mean, I’ve only – I’ve seen the one. I don’t know if there are more out there.

Please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Victoria. Do you have anything on the result of U.S. and the North Korea delegation meeting in German -- Aspen meeting?

MS. NULAND: I think this was a track-two meeting. There was no government meeting, if that’s what you’re asking. There may have been some Track II encounter between North Koreans and Americans, but there was no government meeting.

I’m getting the high sign from Jonathan. As you know, the President’s going to go out with the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Mexico shortly, so we want to get off the air before that. Let’s take two more.

QUESTION: On Russia, last week, this whole thing with Ambassador McFaul kind of rose up. Mark said on Friday that you guys were going to go in to the Russians and express concerns about his safety or at least raise the situation with them. I’m wondering if you did, if you – if that has happened, and if it has, what their response was.

MS. NULAND: Well, just to be a little bit clearer, we have for some time now been raising concerns about harassment, not only of Ambassador McFaul, but of Embassy personnel. We have been making clear at all levels, frankly, that we expect our Ambassador, we expect our Embassy to be able to conduct their work free from harassment, free from intimidation. The Russians have consistently, on the government side, pledged to investigate individual incidents. And we are working with them on those issues.

QUESTION: Right, but there was – after he – what was said last week was that – or on Friday was that the specific problem of his schedule becoming public had raised new concerns, and I’m wondering if those – if you’re aware if those have been – if those were raised.

MS. NULAND: Those have been raised.

QUESTION: They have.

QUESTION: Turkey, Iran?

MS. NULAND: Let’s just do – can I just take Andy and just --

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Myanmar. We’ve seen the – we saw the White House statement on --

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have anything further on the elections, and specifically, do you feel that the results of these elections – how will the conduct and result of these elections play into the U.S. consideration of sanctions?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we have said from the beginning, we are going to match action with action, so we are in the process of completely evaluating the results of the elections. I think that you saw the Secretary make clear, as we were congratulating the Burmese people and as we were congratulating the winners, that nonetheless we need to continue to make progress in the electoral systems and make sure that any irregularities here are investigated. But I don’t have anything to announce here in terms of our next steps, in terms of action for action, but we’ll be looking at that.

And the last one here, and then we got to go.

QUESTION: Are you hoping – Secretary spoke to this – the Turkish decision to cut exporting – imports on oil from Iran by a fifth. My question is: Is this enough for Turkey to get away from – escape from U.S. sanctions? Are you expecting any more from Turkey?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary did say how encouraged we are. We had a chance to talk to the Turkish Government about this. We now need to continue the discussions bilaterally, and we will be doing that in terms of what impact this might have, so we have to have some further conversations at the technical level.

Okay? Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

DPB # 60

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - April 2, 2012]