Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 23, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Humanitarian Mission to Gaza / Support to Palestinians
    • Continuing Conversation with the Hill
    • Durand Boundary
  • MALI
    • Assistant Secretary Carson's Meetings in Paris
    • Funding for ECOWAS Force
    • Attack in Beirut / FBI Support / Effects of Instability in Syria / Applaud Efforts of Lebanon
    • Meetings with Okinawa Governor
    • Pussy Riot Case
    • Foreign Ministry's Human Rights Report / OSCE Election Observation
    • Support Right of Peaceful Assembly


This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.

1:04 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Tuesday. We had a great trip to Haiti yesterday, missed some of you. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Well, that’s interesting because I don’t really have anything that’s worthy of starting the briefing, so I’ll pass.

MS. NULAND: Wow, Matt passed. Front row, anybody? No?


QUESTION: (Laughter.) How do you assess the visit of Emir of Qatar to Gaza today?

QUESTION: That was going to be my second question. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I was going to say that was definitely at the top of Matt’s list.

QUESTION: It actually was, and I have a list.

MS. NULAND: Excellent, but it wasn’t worthy of --

QUESTION: Gaza-Qatar-visit, right there.

MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) We’ve seen the reports that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa visited Gaza today on a humanitarian mission. We share Qatar’s deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza. And as we work with the international community to support them, we of course remain concerned about Hamas’s destabilizing role in Gaza and the region, and we urge all parties in the region to play a constructive role in bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Do you consider this visit as a recognition in the legitimacy of the Hamas government?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, the Qataris have described this as a humanitarian mission. I think we all have humanitarian concerns. We would hope that the opportunity was taken to make clear the importance of Palestinians and Israelis talking to each other, and we’ve been very clear about our concerns about Hamas.

QUESTION: But the Emir is the first head of state who visits Gaza.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think I’ve made clear where we stand on all of these issues.

QUESTION: Tangentially --


QUESTION: -- where do the discussions with the Hill stand on the Palestinian assistance?

MS. NULAND: We’re continuing to work through it and we’re continuing to make our case that we think this money is important for the Palestinian Authority, it’s important for their ability to provide good governance for the people of – for the Palestinian people. And we are also, as we’ve said a number of times, working with other countries, regional states to see what they can do to provide more support to the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Okay. But it’s still held up, in other words?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: And how much? It’s 250 million?

MS. NULAND: 200 million, yeah.[1]


MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Not 250, okay. And then tangentially related to that, similar discussions you’re having with the Hill --

MS. NULAND: We got all kinds of tangents here.

QUESTION: -- about Egypt.

MS. NULAND: We are also continuing to have conversations with the Hill.

QUESTION: So still blocked there?

MS. NULAND: We have not yet come to resolution on that one, but we’re continuing to talk about it.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the visit of Emir of Qatar to Gaza. He made this visit without coordinating with the Palestinian Authority. How do you view that? This --

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to the Qataris for what they have in mind and for what kinds of coordination they may or may not have done beforehand.


QUESTION: Did they let you know about it ahead of time?

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

QUESTION: Well, would you have had any advice for them if they had?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into hypothetical conversations that we didn’t have.


QUESTION: But do you support such a visit?

MS. NULAND: Michel, I think I’ve spoken to where we are on this whole range of issues.

QUESTION: A change of subject?

MS. NULAND: Yes, Lalit.

QUESTION: Following Ambassador Grossman’s interview in – I think Pakistan or Afghanistan – the Government of Afghanistan issued a strong statement today saying that they do not recognize Durand Line and it has no legal status. Can you say what’s U.S. official position on Durand Line?

MS. NULAND: Well, our policy on this has not changed. It was correctly stated by Ambassador Grossman that we see this as the internationally recognized boundary.

QUESTION: Have you received any protest from the Government of Afghanistan on this issue?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no, but I know that there’s been quite a bit of press commentary out there.

Anything else? Done? No. Please, Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Hi, (inaudible) Al Jazeera. Anything about Secretary Clinton’s travel to Western Balkans, maybe?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce for you, but when we do, this room will be the first to know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: On Mali, do you have details or a readout on the meeting between the U.S. and the French in Paris on the Sahel and --

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a detailed readout. I think you are referring to the fact that Assistant Secretary Carson went out with a U.S. delegation to Paris to talk more about how we can support ECOWAS, how we can support the transitional authority in Bamako, not only in developing the – a peacekeeping force, but also in supporting a political evolution towards elections. So we’re working on all of those issues.

Our understanding is that there was also an academic seminar organized by the French Ministry of Defense that followed our bilateral discussions that looked more broadly at all of the challenges in the Sahel and that Assistant Secretary Carson also found that quite beneficial as well.


QUESTION: How do you view the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement on the presidential debates yesterday? They are saying that such debates inflating, inflaming tensions between the U.S. and China.

MS. NULAND: I have to say that I didn’t see the foreign ministry statement, but I think you know that we work very hard not to wade into political campaigns at this podium.

QUESTION: Is that something that you would suggest would be a good rule of thumb for other foreign ministries around the world to follow? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I’m going to let other foreign ministries make their own decisions.

QUESTION: In other words, you don’t have any problem with the Chinese Foreign Ministry or any other foreign ministry weighing in? You don’t have a problem; you just wouldn’t do it yourself? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. NULAND: We’re certainly not going to weigh into our own politics here from this podium.


QUESTION: Mali, going back to Mali?


QUESTION: Have there been any discussions about how this force would be funded?

MS. NULAND: How the ECOWAS force would be funded?

QUESTION: Right. I mean --

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, this is a part of what we’re looking at. I think in the past, ECOWAS has often worked as the regional organization under UN cover, and therefore it has been acting as a UN subcontractor, if you will. But these are the kinds of things that we’re looking at in the context of ECOWAS working through with the transitional government exactly what is needed and what the rest of the international community can do to support that force.

QUESTION: And are you using the model of AMISOM in Somalia as something to look at?

MS. NULAND: We are. I mean, AMISOM, we think, was an effective model, remains an effective model in the sense that you have the regional organization taking the lead, very much supported both in training, intelligence, logistics, other things that they need by the international community. But it is Africans working through to provide support for African problems.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more question about that.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: But in terms of AMISOM, the United States was by far, at least at the beginning, the largest funder, and it spent over – almost more than half a billion dollars in getting – in supporting AMISOM. Do you think that the French have that kind of money and that ECOWAS has the kind of structure that would work for a model like that?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, ECOWAS has a very good track record as a leading peacekeeping force in Africa. They’re quite experienced, as you know, and we’ve worked with them for many years. Again, we’re working through some of these funding issues. We have to start with exactly what’s the plan before we can get to how to fund it. As I said, the U.S. has supported this model in the past. We also supported forces in Cote d'Ivoire and elsewhere. But I think it’s premature to talk about who is going to provide what and all of that kind of thing until we better scope the force, Dana.


QUESTION: On Lebanon, do you have any update on the FBI team that’s planning to head to Beirut?

MS. NULAND: As I think Mark said yesterday, in the Secretary’s conversation with Prime Minister Mikati, they made clear that they would welcome some FBI support. Our understanding is that the FBI has agreed to contribute and that they will be sending their team shortly. But I’m going to send you to the FBI for more details there.

QUESTION: The U.S. Ambassador in Beirut was or has been meeting with the political leaders there. What was her message to these leaders?

MS. NULAND: Well, without getting into the precise details of Ambassador Connelly’s conversations with a broad cross-section of Lebanese political leaders, let me step back and make some general comments, if I may. First, as we made clear in the statement after the attack, we are very concerned by heightened political tensions in Lebanon, particularly in Beirut and Tripoli. In the days since, we applaud the efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the ISF as they try to maintain calm across the country.

The export of instability from Syria threatens the security of Lebanon now more than ever, and it’s really up to the Lebanese people to choose a government that is going to counter this threat. And in that regard, we’ve been making clear that we support the efforts of President Suleiman and other responsible leaders in Lebanon to build an effective government and to take the necessary next steps in the wake of the October 19th terrorist attack.

We, the United States, are not going to prejudge the outcome of any moves to establish a new governing coalition. This is obviously a Lebanese affair. And while we don’t want a vacuum of a legitimate political authority, we do support this process that is now underway to produce a new government that’s responsive to the needs of the Lebanese people.

QUESTION: It means you support a change of government in Lebanon at this sensitive time, as you said?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, President Suleiman is engaged in discussions with all parties to form a new government. We support that process. In the interim, we don’t want to see a vacuum. And as you made clear, Ambassador Connelly’s been talking to all parties in Lebanon about what’s needed now.



MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you provide a readout from the meeting with the Okinawa Governor yesterday and if they talked about the alleged rape case?

MS. NULAND: I thought I had something. Here we go. So the Okinawa Governor was in yesterday. He met with both Assistant Secretary Campbell and his opposite number from the Defense Department Mark Lippert. They obviously talked about the recent case. They reiterated the points that we have been making, that Ambassador Roos has been making, that we take all allegations of misconduct by our service people extremely seriously, that they are – we are cooperating with Japanese authorities.

But they had a broader conversation not only about that but about all of these Okinawa transition issues, because there’s still quite a bit of work to do. And so it was a good opportunity to talk through those things with the government.

QUESTION: Did the Ospreys come up at all in their discussion?

MS. NULAND: They did, as they always do.

Yeah. Please, Andy.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) report out of Moscow yesterday that two members of Pussy Riot, that band that had been imprisoned for political statements, had been sent away to prison camps far outside the city rather than serving their time in prisons in town. I’m wondering if you have any follow-up with the Russians on this case, if you have any comment on the fact that these musicians are being sent to the gulag, basically.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve been pretty consistent on how we feel about these Pussy Riot prosecutions from the very beginning. We thought that the sentences were disproportionate. We think that the way they’re being handled is inappropriate to the crime, and we call on Russian authorities to continue to review this case, particularly, as you said, in light of the severity of the sentence.

QUESTION: Has the Ambassador or anyone else sort of brought this up with them in the last day or so?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether Ambassador McFaul has raised it since the sentencing, but he’s been quite clear all the way along with Russian authorities.

QUESTION: When you say that you think that the way that they are being – they, meaning the convictions, are being handled is inappropriate to the crime, that means that their transfer to this prison camp --

MS. NULAND: Well, it means, first of all, the length of the sentences in the first place. But obviously, since then there was an opportunity to handle this more humanely than appears to have been the case.

Please, Scott.

QUESTION: Still on Russia, the Russian foreign ministry issues annual human rights reports as well, apparently. I’m wondering if I could get your reaction to their conclusions about the United States, where Russia finds social inequality, racial and ethnic discrimination, indefinite detention without charge, prison overcrowding, censorship, internet restrictions, and violations of voter rights in the United States.

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to say to you that I haven’t read the Russian report, but more broadly, this country is an open book and we have plenty of nongovernmental organizations of our own that make assessments about our human rights and that represent to the government what they think needs to be done. So from that perspective, whether it’s a U.S. NGO watchdog or whether it’s an international watchdog, bring it on; we’re an open book and we want to continue to improve our society, and we don’t have any concern about being open to the world for observation, et cetera.

I would note in that context that the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as they always do at election time here and in other member-states, has fielded a delegation to come and observe the U.S. elections, and we welcome that.

QUESTION: Yeah. That was what I was going to ask you. Can you talk a little bit more about what your support for this OSCE team is?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that one, Matt, and get you a little more detail. I had looked for the numbers before coming down and exactly where they’re going, and I’m not – I didn’t – wasn’t able to get it before I came down. But we’ll get some more for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And also --

MS. NULAND: And as you know, this – the OSCE member-states always observe each other’s elections, including in Russia, where they did encounter some resistance to some of the places that they wanted to go.

QUESTION: Right. I’m curious more – not just about the numbers and where – what member-countries from the OSCE will be represented on the team, but also what the State Department’s role is --

MS. NULAND: Facilitation.

QUESTION: And so are you driving them around to different – I mean, what exactly do – or maybe it’s not you guys who do it. Maybe it’s someone else. But whatever it is that the government is doing, the U.S. Government is doing to help facilitate their work.

MS. NULAND: Yes. We’ll get a little bit more for you.

QUESTION: So do you have election observers from any other countries or group of nations besides European countries?

MS. NULAND: Let me see what I can get on whether we have any other declared international observers. But again, we’re an open book and we welcome that.

Please, Michel.

QUESTION: On Kuwait, are you concerned about the situation there after the clashes between the police and the demonstrators?

MS. NULAND: I’ve been waiting for you to ask about Kuwait, Michel.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Yeah. We’re obviously following the situation in Kuwait City carefully, particularly after yesterday evening when the police forcibly dispersed what the Kuwaiti Government called illegal protests. In this context, we call on all sides to exercise restraint, to approach their differences peacefully and in a manner that’s consistent with the Kuwaiti constitution and rule of law, including the universal rights of Kuwaitis to peacefully assemble and to express themselves.

QUESTION: But the government has banned any demonstrations after Sunday’s or Monday’s demonstration. Do you support – such as that?

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that particular move, but as you know, we support – whether it’s in Kuwait or whether it’s anywhere else in the world – the right of peaceful assembly.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: All right. Thank you, everybody.

1Ms. Nuland is referring only to Direct Budget Support. There is a total of $495 million on hold: $200 million in Direct Budget Support, $195 million in Economic Support Funds for programs and projects, and $100 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement funds.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:22 p.m.)

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - October 23, 2012]