Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 16, 2012


Index for Today's Briefing
  • ECUADOR
    • Julian Assange Asylum
  • SYRIA
    • UNSMIS / Discussions in New York / Proposals at UN
    • Spillover from Syrian Crisis / Violence in Lebanon
    • Suspension of Syria from OIC
  • PAKISTAN
    • Condolences for Loss of Pakistani Forces at Hands of Terrorists
    • Security of Pakistan's Nuclear Material
  • EGYPT
    • Restriction of Media Freedom
    • Egyptian Democratic Transition / Support Democratic Principles
  • IRAN
    • Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Meeting in Tehran
  • BAHRAIN
    • U.S. Deeply Troubled by Sentencing of Nabeel Rajab
    • Need for full Implementation of Reform Steps
    • Support National Dialogue to Help Heal Bahrain, Protect Rights of all Citizens
  • JAPAN / KOREA
    • Island Dispute
  • VENEZUELA
    • Consular visit to Detained American


TRANSCRIPT:

12:44 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Thursday, everybody. Let’s start with whatever’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts at all on the decision by Ecuador to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr. Assange?

MS. NULAND: This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes. I don’t have anything particular to add.

QUESTION: You don’t have any interest at all in this case other than as of a completely neutral, independent observer of it?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly with regard to this particular issue, it is an issue among the countries involved, and we are not planning to interject ourselves.

QUESTION: But Assange (inaudible).

QUESTION: Have you not interjected yourselves at all?

MS. NULAND: Not with regard to the issue of his current location or where he may end up going, no.

QUESTION: Well, there has been some suggestion that the U.S. is pushing the Brits to go into the Ecuadorian Embassy and remove him.

MS. NULAND: I have no information to indicate that there is any truth to that at all.

QUESTION: Does – and the Brits – Foreign Secretary Hague said that the Brits do not recognize diplomatic asylum. I’m wondering if the United States recognizes diplomatic asylum given that it is a signatory to this 1954 OAS treaty which grants or which recognizes diplomatic asylum, but only presumably within the membership of the OAS. But more broadly, does the U.S. recognize diplomatic asylum as a legal thing under international law?

MS. NULAND: Well, if you’re asking me for a global legal answer to the question, I’ll have to take it and consult 4,000 lawyers, but --

QUESTION: Contrasting it with political asylum, this is different – diplomatic asylum.

MS. NULAND: With regard to the decision that the Brits are making or the statement that they made, our understanding was that they were leaning on British law in the assertions that they made with regard to future plans, not on international law. But if you’re asking me to check what our legal position is on this term of art, I’ll have to take it, Matt, and get back to you.

QUESTION: Yeah, just whether you recognize it outside of the confines of the OAS and those signatories. And then when you said that you don’t have any information to suggest that you have weighed in with the Brits about whether to have Mr. Assange removed from the Embassy, does that mean that there hasn’t been any, or just that you’re not aware of it?

MS. NULAND: My information is that we have not involved ourselves in this. If that is not correct, we’ll get back to you.

Is that it? Hey, have a weekend? No. Jill. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, not so fast.

MS. NULAND: No? Okay.

QUESTION: Could I change the subject to Syria?

MS. NULAND: You can.

QUESTION: Okay. Let’s see, where do we start? Could we get a readout on Wendy Sherman’s meetings with the Russians? Apparently, they are saying that they asked her to support this idea of extending the monitoring mission – UN. And of course, I’d like to find out what’s the latest on the U.S. view on extending these monitors.

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I have to admit to you that as we were coming down here, she was not yet finished in Moscow, so I don’t have a full readout. I do know that she talked about Iran, she obviously talked about Syria. With regard to the Russian proposal which they have now made in New York as well, we are in New York seeking more information from them with regard to what they have in mind. We have said consistently that we don’t support an extension of the current UNSMIS mandate because we don’t think that they’re able to do the job that they were sent there to do, which was to monitor a ceasefire which we don’t have and to be able to move freely around the country, which they haven’t been able to do.

We would support a small UN observer presence in Syria, and we are talking to our colleagues on the UN Security Council about how this might move forward. As you know, there are some meetings and reports in New York today on this subject, so consultations continue.

QUESTION: So that would be – I think there are 150 of them left now?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a precise number. I’ll send you to the UN.

QUESTION: Would it be smaller?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, the proposal that the UN has made is relatively small, but again, I’m going to send you to New York for the precise number. I think we’re talking 20 or so.

QUESTION: And how do you --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: How do you assess – just one more – how do you assess what the Russians are doing right now in terms of trying to bring this to some type of conclusion? I mean, they’re – they continue to say let’s do it peacefully. It seems pretty far beyond peaceful at this point. But how do you assess the efforts of the Russians to cooperate and do something?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we’ve been trying to work with Russia for many, many, many months on Syria. We thought that we had made quite an important advance with the Geneva transition plan, which we still stand by. Unfortunately, when Kofi Annan was unable to get Assad moving at all, either on his six points or in the direction of support for the Geneva plan, it was our view that we should go back to the UN Security Council, endorse the plan as a council, and put some sanctions against it if it wasn’t implemented. It was Russia who blocked that.

So our lines of communication with Russia remain open on this subject, as evidenced by the fact that Under Secretary Sherman is there today, and we’re also talking in New York. But I will leave it to them to characterize how they think we should move forward in the current period.

QUESTION: Will you have something later perhaps from her meetings?

MS. NULAND: If I have something more to share from her meetings, we will get that out to you. As you know, by common agreement, we won’t be out tomorrow, but we’ll find a way to get you something.

Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: So are you not receptive to the idea that Mr. Churkin proposed just a little while ago to have a meeting tomorrow with the presidents of Iran and Saudi Arabia?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’re talking about it in New York. This proposal was made this morning. Frankly, we’re not sure we understand the objective and the goal of the meeting. As we’ve said all along, to have meetings for meetings’ sake is not what any of us needs to do. What we need to do is have meetings that support the Syrian people and support an end to the bloodshed. So I’m going to leave it to colleagues in New York as they try to work through with the Russians what they think the impact of such a session might be.

QUESTION: And on the small presence that you are suggesting, what good would they do? I mean, if you reduce their presence, let’s say, from 150 now to about 50, what do you want them to do? What could they possibly do?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, this is a subject that we’re discussing in New York. This is the proposal that the UN leadership has made. So we have to look at, if we’re going to go in this direction, what the mandate for this smaller group might be presumably. But I don’t want to get too far out in front of discussions in New York. One thing that they could do is support the UN humanitarian efforts that are coming in and out and moving around Syria. As you know, we have Valerie Amos there saying that we need to – all of us – increase our support for the UN appeal with some 2.5 million Syrians now needing UN support. So that’s one potential function. The other question is whether – if and when we can get to a political transition, there is a role to be played there, so – but I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions in New York because these are exactly the questions that we’re all looking at up there.

Please.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about how serious the injuries are to Assad’s brother? We were told that he was hurt in that bomb blast last month, may have lost a leg.

MS. NULAND: We are not in a position independently here to confirm these press reports that Maher was injured in the explosion on the Defense Ministry last July. But frankly, rather than focusing on the injuries of a couple of leaders, I think we all need to stay focused on the egregious abuses that the regime is exacting on its people.

Please.

QUESTION: How do you read evacuating the Lebanese kidnapped people who were wounded in the attack on Azaz to Turkey and then bring them back after they were taking care of their wounds? Is Turkey receiving people kidnapped and then sending them back to their kidnappers?

MS. NULAND: I mean, I frankly don’t have any details to substantiate some of this press reporting about the movement of these people one way or the other. More broadly, I would say, as we said yesterday, we are deeply concerned about spillover from the Syrian crisis that could impact on the stability, on the sovereignty of Lebanon, and we firmly condemn kidnapping as a tactic, obviously. We call on all sides to exercise restraint. We welcome efforts by Lebanese leaders and security forces to try to calm the situation. We think that in general, Lebanese security forces have done a superb job.

But again, this kind of violence that we’ve seen in Lebanon, violence we’ve seen with regard to Lebanese citizens, is further to the damage that Assad is wreaking not only on his own country, but potentially on the neighborhood with his violence.

Please.

QUESTION: Are you contemplating telling the Americans that are in Lebanon to leave? Because yesterday, after the Saudis told their citizens they should leave, I think there were a lot of countries that said the same thing.

MS. NULAND: Well, we do have Travel Warnings with regard to American citizen travel in Lebanon. You’ll find them on www.state.gov. We did update them when – about a month ago when some of this violence began to spike, but I don’t have any information to share on a broader notice to Americans at this time.

Said.

QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. I know you addressed this before, but more and more there is almost universal acknowledgement that extremist elements, including al-Qaida elements, are making their way and their presence to Syria, and in fact, they are targeting, let’s say, like the Christian community in Aleppo. I mean, there has been a complaint by the nun’s orders – the Syrian nun orders and so on that they have been chased out, many members have been killed, and so on.

So is the United States doing anything to sort of ensure, one, that these elements don’t have a permanent presence in any future Syria, and second, that the Christian community in particular and the Alawites, the minorities, are protected?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, as we’ve said for a number of weeks here, we do remain concerned that extremist terrorist elements – al-Qaida elements – may be trying to take advantage of the lack of governance, of the chaos, of the violence in Syria for their own agenda. We are, in our work with the Syrian opposition, making clear that they need to take a strong stand, not collaborate with these kinds of extremists, speak against violence, and that they must defend the rights and protect the freedoms of all Syrians under their care. We make that point in all of our conversations with Syrian opposition members. We make it publicly, we make it privately. We are also, in our work with neighboring countries of Syria, working quite intently to try to understand and intercept the intentions of nefarious groups like this who might want to exploit the situation.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Al-Qaida and terrorists are after Pakistan’s nuclear establishment, and there was an attack against the Pakistan military because they were trying to get maybe the nuclear weapons and so forth. Is there a position or is the Secretary worried about future of Pakistan’s nuclears, it may end up in the hands of terrorists?

MS. NULAND: Well, first and foremost, we express our condolences for the loss of life suffered by the Pakistani military, again, at the hands of terrorists. As you know, Pakistanis have suffered more than their share at the hands of terrorists inside Pakistan, which speaks to our efforts to address this threat together and to try to address it as a community operating in that region. Pakistan itself has issued a statement in the last couple of hours denying that there was either any nuclear material or any nukes at this site, and we don’t have any information that would contradict that.

QUESTION: Sorry, just --

QUESTION: But generally, is the U.S. worried about the future of this nuclear, because (1) terrorists are after them, and (2) it may not be secure as much as U.S. wants or under the international security code?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said all along, we have confidence that the Government of Pakistan is well – or well aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal and has secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly. We do talk about these issues and support Pakistani efforts to keep them secure, and we have for quite a long, long time. And we don’t have any reason to be concerned at this moment.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I just – Pakistan has suffered more than their fair share? Who has suffered their fair share? Is there a fair share?

MS. NULAND: There is not a fair share, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: On that very same thing. Actually, one of the ideas of why this might have happened is that it might be the Taliban warning to the Pakistani military not to cooperate with the United States, because they – these sources say that there is some discussion at having – or let’s say speculation – that the Pakistani military would launch an offensive in North Waziristan using jets that happen to be located at that base. Do you have any indication of what the ultimate reason for that attack was?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously I’m going to send you to the perpetrators of the attack as to why they would choose a weapon like terror to make their point. But we have been working well with Pakistan in trying to look again at what we can do now that the GLOCs are open to strengthen our counterterrorism cooperation. I think I mentioned yesterday that we’ve seen improvement in recent weeks in the cooperation we are having – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and ISAF – trying to squeeze these networks. And it’s not unusual that when they feel squeezed, they lash out. But that just speaks to the necessity of continuing our efforts to end their ability to exact violence on Pakistani citizens or any of us.

Please.

QUESTION: On Egypt, there are reports about intimidating the press. And the case of two journalists – Tawfiq Okasha and Islam Afifi – arrested with charges of inciting violence and promoting false information against the President, did you see these reports?

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these reports, Samir. We are very concerned by reports that the Egyptian Government is moving to restrict media freedom and criticism in Egypt, including preventing the distribution of Al-Dastour and the suspension of broadcasting of the Al-Faraeen satellite television channel and that they’ve also announced investigations against these two news outlet owners. Freedom of the press, freedom of expression are fundamental tenets of vibrant, strong democracies. They are part and parcel of what the Egyptian people went into the streets for, and we join the Egyptian people in expecting that their new government will support and extend freedom of the press. So this is something that we are watching closely.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Iran.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Egypt.

MS. NULAND: Yep.

QUESTION: Do you feel that President Morsi, giving himself all that authority that he did, in a way can compromise Egypt’s democratic transition?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, the situation is quite complicated and quite confused and quite evolving, shall we say in Egypt with regard to powers. As we said at the beginning of the week, our expectation is that this full democratic transition will continue, that we will get to – that the Egyptian people will get to a constitution that they can support by referendum and that then the issue of a fully elected parliament will be settled, and this will elaborate all of the powers and structures of the democratic state going forward. But this is very much a work in progress, and we are calling on all players in Egypt who are involved in this to support democratic principles moving forward.

QUESTION: So giving himself the ability to choose those who are going to write the constitution, does that bode well for the constitution?

MS. NULAND: Well, the constitutional drafting committee, which is still working now is my understanding, came out of the original parliament that was elected. So I’m going to reject the premise of where you started. I think what we need to see is how this constitution emerges, whether it truly protects democratic freedoms and lives up to the high standards that the Egyptian people expect, and then obviously it’ll need to be put to referendum.

Please.

QUESTION: How do you read the low-key reaction to the OIC with regard to the membership of Syria, suspending the membership of Syria?

MS. NULAND: Low-key by --

QUESTION: I mean, the President was there, but there was nothing big. They opposed it, but was there anything positive in that?

MS. NULAND: The reaction by --

QUESTION: Iran.

MS. NULAND: The reaction by Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. NULAND: You can speak to the Iranians about how they reacted and why they reacted. We issued a statement last night, as you know, commending the OIC on taking this step and making clear that this is another important signal to Syria that its isolation is deepening.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any special readout of --

MS. NULAND: I don’t.

QUESTION: Do you --

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak for the Iranian motivations there.

QUESTION: Yeah, but is this a sign of weakness by the Iranians?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak for Iran.

QUESTION: How’d you look at Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visit to Tehran to – for the Non-Aligned Movement summit?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we may have spoken to this a little bit yesterday from our mission in New York. We think that this is a strange choice for where to hold this meeting particularly given how many aspects of their UN obligations Iran is not in compliance with. We’ve made that point to non-states. We’ve made that point to the Secretary General. And – it’s just – does not send a good signal.

QUESTION: What doesn’t? His visit or the fact that the meeting is there?

MS. NULAND: The fact that the meeting is happening in a country that’s in violation of so many of its international obligations and posing a threat to neighbors, et cetera, is – sends a very strange signal with regard to support for the international order, rule of law, et cetera. And we’ve made that point to participating countries; we’ve also made that point to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

QUESTION: Well, what does the presence of the UN Secretary General there do? Does that send a bad message as well?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we just find it interesting, if he does choose to go, that he would go in the context of all of these violations of UN obligations that Iran is engaged in now. If he does choose to go, we hope he will make the strongest points of concern.

QUESTION: What is interesting? We find it interesting that he would choose to go? Why? Why is it interesting? Iran is a member of the UN, correct, whether or not --

MS. NULAND: Iran is --

QUESTION: -- whether or not they’re in compliance with it. So why would it be particularly interesting for you if Ban Ki-moon were to go? Was this – would it just – would it, in your eyes, under – I don’t know, underscore the impotence of the UN, and in particular the Office of the Secretary General, if he goes to a country that is flouting numerous UN resolutions?

MS. NULAND: I think our expectation would be that if he goes at this time that he will use the visit to make the point about our broad concern as an international community and the UN’s concern about the number of aspects of their UN obligations that Iran is flouting.

QUESTION: But you would prefer that he not go?

MS. NULAND: Again, he’s going to make his own decision. We’ve made our views known that we think that this is a strange place and an inappropriate place for this meeting.

QUESTION: Another issue?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: If I can just follow up on Iran.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is there a city in the world that would be acceptable for this meeting to be held?

MS. NULAND: Again, this is an organization that we’re not a member of. Our point is simply that Tehran, given its number of grave violations of international law and UN obligations, does not seem to be the appropriate place.

Please.

QUESTION: I have to ask this question, Madam, and diplomatic viewpoint I know it has been covered by the Administration and by the media as far as attacks on the Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This issue also was – became a big issue in the Indian parliament, a lot of big debates, and also parliamentary were saying that Foreign Minister should bring this issue to the Administration in Washington.

My question is that if officially – I’m not saying protestor or any kind of this thing – official message, any kind of message came to the State Department on that issue or anything by the Embassy in – U.S. Embassy in Delhi?

MS. NULAND: Well, you’ll remember, Goyal, that right after the incident, the President spoke to his counterpart, the Secretary spoke to her counterpart, so we had an opportunity to express condolences and to talk through these issues.

Scott.

QUESTION: In Bahrain --

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- do you have anything to say about the three-year prison sentence that was handed down to the human rights advocate Nabeel Rajab for a tweet that was critical of the Prime Minister?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have two issues now. We have the issue of the tweet where the – my understanding is that that – the decision on his appeal has now been postponed, but we have a three-year sentencing today for his participation in what the Bahrainis called illegal gatherings.

So with regard to the sentencing today on the gathering, as you know, we’ve long made clear that it’s critical for all governments, including Bahrain, to respect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, so we are deeply troubled by the sentencing today of Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison on charges of illegally gathering. We believe that all people have a fundamental freedom to participate in civil acts of peaceful disobedience, and we call on the Government of Bahrain to take steps to build confidence across Bahraini society and to begin a really meaningful dialogue with the political opposition and civil society, because actions like this sentencing today only serve to further divide Bahraini society.

QUESTION: Do you want him released?

MS. NULAND: We have said that we think that this is an inappropriate case to begin with.

Please.

QUESTION: Right. But are you telling the Bahrainis that you think he should be released?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we are now that the sentence has come down. We’re not getting in the middle of that. We’ve said from the beginning that we thought that this case shouldn’t have gone forward.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But it is appropriate while the case is still pending for you to be calling for him to be released, but once --

MS. NULAND: This case he’s – this case he has now been sentenced --

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS. NULAND: -- and the other case hasn’t – hasn’t come forward.

QUESTION: But since you think that it’s inappropriate and shouldn’t have --

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we think --

QUESTION: -- you certainly want him freed?

MS. NULAND: Obviously, we think that this should be vacated.

Please.

QUESTION: So have you guys been in touch with Bahraini authorities about this case today?

MS. NULAND: We have all the way through, and we also have today. Yeah.

QUESTION: Who spoke to whom today?

MS. NULAND: I think our Embassy spoke to the Bahraini authorities today.

QUESTION: Victoria, the King of Bahrain claimed that his country still needs the help of foreign troops, let’s say from Saudi Arabia, and it is still being threatened by the minority of the country and perhaps by Iran. Do you concur with his assessment?

MS. NULAND: Our message to the Kingdom of Bahrain throughout this has been to first complete the recommended reform steps that the Bahraini Independent Commission recommended. As you know, they got about halfway through and some of the rest of that implementation has not gone forward. But secondarily, and the Secretary made these points the last time that we had the Foreign Minister here and the Crown Prince here, we strongly support a national dialogue to try to heal the country and get the constituencies talking to each other about reform that’s going to protect the rights of all citizens.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the presence of foreign troops, in this case from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, is actually an intimidating factor for the minority or for the majority in this case to demand its equal rights under the law?

MS. NULAND: Again, we think the best course of action here is for the communities to talk to each other and talk about how reform can strengthen everybody’s confidence and everybody’s sense of security.

Please.

QUESTION: About Japan?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the territory issue between Japan and South Korea which has small island, Takeshima, now Japan plan to appeal the case to International Court of Justice. Do you support that or --

MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this all week long. We want to see our allies work this out together. That’s – you’re talking about the Japan-Korea dispute. Is that the one you’re talking about, or you’re talking about --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. NULAND: -- Japan-China dispute? We’ve got islands a-popping here. Yeah.

With regard to Japan and Korea, we want to see our two allies work this out together.

Please.

QUESTION: Okay. My question is not about the territory issue. There were so many women who were forced into sexual slavery during the Second World War. The South Korean called them the wianbu in Korean, and this – I know you called them sometimes comfort women and sometimes sexual slavery. So I’d like to know what is your principle to call them, the comfort women or the sexual slavery?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we speak to this issue in our Human Rights Report on an annual basis. We always raise it in bilateral dialogue. We sometimes use the one term, we sometimes use the other term. There’s no particular mystery to that.

QUESTION: One more question.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: There was a report about that. Secretary Clinton called them sexual slavery during the meeting with the South Korean – the Foreign Minister. And Secretary Clinton also told him that from that times the Department of State would call them the sexual slavery not the comfort women. Is that report right or wrong?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to get into her private diplomacy and back and forth with individual ministers. We’ve made clear to both governments, all governments, that we use the terms interchangeably and will continue to do so.

Please.

QUESTION: The Senkaku Islands – Secretary Clinton has previously said that it falls within Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Does the State Department continue with that opinion?

MS. NULAND: Our position on all of that has not changed.

Okay. Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah. I’ve got --

MS. NULAND: Please, Scott.

QUESTION: On Venezuela.

MS. NULAND: Scott, yeah.

QUESTION: Anything new on this guy?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. We did get in to see him. I think it was yesterday. They met with him where he is being held. But we do not have a Privacy Act waiver for speaking to the press, so I don’t have anything further to report, but we did get in.

QUESTION: So now that you’ve been in to see him, is there anything else that you want the Venezuelans to do? Or they’ve given you consular access, so that’s --

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ll continue to provide him consular access, but I can’t speak about the case because he hasn’t given us permission to do so.

QUESTION: Was it yesterday or do you just think it was yesterday?

MS. NULAND: August 15th, yesterday, right?

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Actually, (inaudible), Toria, yesterday you suggested that the Venezuelans were not cooperating or hadn’t followed protocol. Do you feel now that they are?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. We had sort of an evolution here, where first we didn’t have any notification, then we had notification in Washington, not in Caracas. We’ve now had – yesterday, I spoke to the fact that we’d had appropriate notification in Caracas, but we were trying to get in to see him. We’ve now been in to see him. Okay. So that’s your --

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Ecuador granting political asylum to Julian Assange?

MS. NULAND: We talked about this at the top. I don’t have anything to – no comment on that one at all.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry. I was a little late. Sorry.

QUESTION: Well, wait. I got – I’ve got to go back to that, but I have one in the Middle East first, and that is – do you know what the status is of the $200 million in budget support that was supposed to go the Palestinians? It’s usually delivered in June. Has there been a – are you aware of any hold being placed on it for --

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the 2012 money?

QUESTION: I believe the money that was supposed to arrive there --

MS. NULAND: Not the 2011 money, where --

QUESTION: The money that was supposed to arrive there in June.

MS. NULAND: Why don’t – can you ascertain whether you’re talking about 2011 or 2012, and then we’ll get back to you, Matt? Because the answer is different depending upon --

QUESTION: Okay. Well how about giving us both answers? If it’s 2012 money, what’s the deal with that?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is we’re still working with the Congress on some of the 2012 money, but the 2011 money did move forward. But if I have messed that up, I will get back to you.

QUESTION: Do you know how much, when you say some of the money you’re still working with Congress on?

MS. NULAND: I have to get back to you on that. Let me do that. I don’t have it here.

QUESTION: All right. And then just back to the Assange thing, the reason that the Ecuadorians gave – have given him asylum is because they say that they agree with his claim that he would be – could face persecution, government persecution, if for any reason he was to come to the United States under whatever circumstances. Do you find that that’s a credible argument? Does anyone face unwarranted or illegal government persecution in the United States?

MS. NULAND: No.

QUESTION: No?

MS. NULAND: No.

QUESTION: And so you think that the grounds that – in this specific case, the grounds for him receiving asylum from any country or any country granting asylum to anyone on that basis that if they happen to show up in the United States they might be subject to government persecution, you don’t --

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on the Ecuadorian thought process here. If you’re asking me whether there was any intention to persecute rather than prosecute, the answer is no. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. Well, wait. Well, hold on a second. So you’re saying that he would face prosecution?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not – we were in a situation where he was not headed to the United States; he was headed elsewhere.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. NULAND: So I’m not going to get into all of the legal ins and outs about what may or may not have been in his future before he chose to take refuge in the Ecuadorian mission. But with regard to the charge that the U.S. was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely.

QUESTION: Okay. Fair enough. But, I mean, unfortunately this is – this case does rest entirely on legal niceties. Pretty much all of it is on legal niceties, maybe not entirely. So are you – when you said that the intention was to prosecute, not persecute, are you saying that he does face prosecution in the United States?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t – that was not the course of action that we were all on, but let me get back to you on – there was – I don’t think that when he decided to take refuge that was where he was headed, right?

QUESTION: No. He was headed to Sweden.

MS. NULAND: Obviously we have – right. Right. But obviously we have our own legal case. I’m going to send you to Justice on what the exact status of that was. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. There is – so you’re saying that there is a legal case against him?

MS. NULAND: I’m saying that the Justice Department was very much involved with broken U.S. law, et cetera, but I don’t have any specifics here on what their intention would have been vis-a-vis him. So I’m not going to wade into it any deeper than I already have, which was too far. All right?

QUESTION: Okay. Well, wait, wait. I just have one more. It doesn’t involve the – it involves the whole inviolability of embassies and that kind of thing.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: You said that at the beginning that you have not involved yourselves at all, but surely if there was – if you were aware that a country was going to raid or enter a diplomatic compound of any country, of any other country, you would find that to be unacceptable, correct? I mean, if the Chinese had gone in after – into the Embassy in Beijing to pull out the – your – the blind lawyer, you would have objected to that, correct?

MS. NULAND: As I said at the beginning, our British allies have cited British law with regard to the statements they have made about potential future action. I’m not in a position here to evaluate British law, international – as compared to international law. So I can’t – if you’re asking me to wade into the question of whether they have the right to do what they’re proposing to do or may do under British law, I’m going to send you to them.

QUESTION: Right. But there’s – but it goes beyond British law. I mean, there is international law here, too. And presumably the United States would oppose or would condemn or at least express concerns about any government entering or violating the sovereignty of a diplomatic compound anywhere in the world, right?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to what it is that they are standing on vis-a-vis Vienna Convention or anything else. I also can’t speak to what the status of the particular building that he happens to be in at the moment is. So I’m going to send you to the Brits on all of that. You know where we are on the Vienna Convention in general, and that is unchanged.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. NULAND: Okay?

QUESTION: Well, when the Iranians stormed the Embassy in Tehran back in 1979, presumably you thought that was a bad thing, right?

MS. NULAND: That was a Vienna Convention covered facility and a Vienna Convention covered moment. I cannot speak to any of the rest of this on British soil. I’m going to send you to Brits. Okay?

QUESTION: Very quick follow-up. You said there is a case against him by the Justice Department. Does that include --

MS. NULAND: I did not say that. I said that the Justice Department is working on the entire WikiLeaks issue, so I can’t speak to what Justice may or may not have. I’m going to send you to Justice.

QUESTION: Is there a U.S. case against him?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to Justice, because I really don’t have the details. Okay? Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)

DPB #146

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - August 16, 2012]