Victoria Nuland
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 10, 2012


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • International Human Rights Day
  • SYRIA
    • Deputy Secretary Burns' Meeting with UN Special Envoy Brahimi and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov
    • Supporting the Syrian opposition / Friends of Syria Meeting
    • Concerns with Al-Nusra
  • VENEZUELA
    • President Chavez's Health/Travel to Cuba
    • Communications between U.S. Government and the Venezuelan Government
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
    • Direct Talks / Settlements
  • EGYPT
    • Egyptian Constitutional Drafting Process
  • BAHRAIN
    • Assistant Secretary Mike Posner's Trip to Bahrain / U.S. Welcomes Call for Dialogue
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Provocations and Threats / Missile Launch
  • INDIA
    • Wal-Mart Lobbying U.S. Congress
  • AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN
    • Suicide Attack / Dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • IRAN
    • Sanctions
  • LIBYA
    • Accountability Review Board Report Status
  • UNITED ARAB EMIRATES/ISRAEL
    • Global Counterterrorism Forum in Abu Dhabi


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:13 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Monday, everyone. I am sorry we are so late. We had a lot of issues to wrestle today. First, let me give a shout-out to the State Department interns in the back of the room. Welcome. We are so happy to have you with us. And also just to remind everybody that it is International Human Rights Day. The Secretary has done a statement today, which you’ll have. And as you know, she gave a speech on human rights last week in Dublin. Let’s go to what’s on your minds, after we turn off Arshad’s phone there, or whatever the heck that is.

QUESTION: It’s my tape recorder, actually.

MS. NULAND: Your tape recorder?

QUESTION: I think it’s our Secretary’s voice I was listening to there.

MS. NULAND: Excellent. Should we all pause and listen to her voice, or shall we --

QUESTION: I’m going to proceed.

MS. NULAND: All right.

QUESTION: Let’s – I only have one thing and it’s very brief. I just want to know if there’s anything you can tell us about Bill Burns’ – Deputy Secretary Burns’ meeting yesterday and – was it yesterday or Saturday? Oh, whatever. Over the weekend in Geneva with the Russians on Syria.

MS. NULAND: Let’s just go to Syria then. We did put out a few lines on the meeting between UN Special Envoy Brahimi, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov, hereafter known as the “triple B” meeting. Just to say that, as the Secretary made clear after her meeting with Mr. Brahimi and Foreign Minister Lavrov last week in Dublin, we are committed to helping Special Envoy Brahimi see what he can do to support and advance a Syrian-led political transition process.

So the two deputies met with Mr. Brahimi yesterday to hear his ideas and to declare our support for the process. I would say that that was a preliminary meeting. We expect there’ll be more such meetings as Mr. Brahimi fleshes out his plan. I don’t have any particular details to announce at this point, but we expect that he will be making efforts to work towards the kind of transition outlined in Geneva, particularly the democratic principles undergirding it.

QUESTION: Well, was there any kind agreement reached on at least an outline? Or did the B’s just bumble?

MS. NULAND: The B’s had a chance to hear some preliminary ideas from Mr. Brahimi, but I think we’re going to have to keep talking.

QUESTION: But you said, “More such meetings.” Did you mean to say more such meetings at that level with the Deputy Secretary?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: And any idea when that might be? I mean, you don’t have that much time between now and Marrakesh, and presumably you’re trying to get something done between now and then, n’est-ce pas?

MS. NULAND: I think you should look at this process of Mr. Brahimi trying to work on implementing a transition as something that is running in parallel with the Marrakesh process, which, as you know, is where we’ll have a meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People, and we’ll have a chance to see the Syrian Opposition Council members. So the Marrakesh meeting is very much about the international community supporting the Syrian Opposition Council, hearing their views, moving forward, and talking to them about how they see the transition moving forward, even as Special Envoy Brahimi works with them and works with other stakeholders in Syria to see if he can get a transition going. So the two things are two pieces of a multifaceted approach, but it’s not a matter of having something to deliver to Marrakesh.

QUESTION: The Russians aren’t even coming to Marrakesh, correct?

MS. NULAND: The Russians do not participate in the Friends of the Syrian people. They have been invited; they have chosen not to participate.

Jill.

QUESTION: Speaking of the Russians, Mr. – Minister Lavrov sounds furious. He is saying that, essentially, a certain country – probably the United States, I would think – is trying to lead this down the road of Libya, and any type of statement about Assad leaving will not happen. Now this would appear to be a non-starter. If he is saying nothing about any type of demand that Assad leave, and the United States has said that they – that it totally believes that he has to leave, doesn’t that mean that this is doomed?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen what Foreign Minister Lavrov has said that you are reporting here, Jill. I don’t know if he spoke again today. Secretary was very clear again when we were in Belfast on Friday that we don’t see any transition process that includes Assad. This is not a new position for us. The President has said that he needs to go for a year. Frankly, we don’t see the Syrian opposition making common cause with a guy who’s responsible for the kind of bloodshed that he’s responsible for.

So the question with regard to the Brahimi process is whether, in the context of the outline that the entire P5, including the Russians, agreed to back in June in Geneva, there are players who could come together from the opposition. Perhaps there are folks who are currently in the government without blood on their hands who could support those kinds of democratic principles and form the basis of a transitional structure going forward. Mr. Brahimi thinks it is worth a try. We want to support his efforts, and we’ll have to see where that goes.

QUESTION: Victoria, but you talk about the Brahimi process. Mr. Brahimi has been on the job for four or five months now. How much progress has he made? Where are we now from where he began?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, he’s done a number of trips to the region. He’s taken soundings with various stakeholders. He came to Secretary Clinton; he went to Foreign Minister Lavrov, said I want to make another push to see whether Geneva is implementable, and I need your support. And it’s on that basis that, obviously, the Secretary agreed to try to help if we can. So we’ll see what this push brings.

But it doesn’t replace all of the other things that we are doing, which you will see in Marrakesh, including, notably, trying to strengthen the opposition in coming up with its own plan, in working on its own connectivity between external opposition, internal opposition, effectiveness of their political operation, even as more areas are liberated from the regime, et cetera. So they will have their own plan, and we will be encouraging them in that regard as well.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. A couple weeks ago he came out of the UN, after the closed session with the Security Council, and basically said that he doesn’t even have a plan, he wouldn’t call that he has a plan. So how far along has he – what kind of progress has he made towards suggesting a plan?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we took it when the Secretary saw him in Dublin, he sees a lot of merit in the democratic framework for a transition that the Security Council members and other neighbors of Syria came up with in Geneva back in June. The question is whether he can get Syrians to rally around it. We obviously support efforts that he’s making to try. We’ll have to see where it goes. But as the Secretary said in Belfast, this is a renewed push, but we don’t have anything yet and nobody should be sanguine about whether this is going to be easy or whether this is going to be quick.

Jill.

QUESTION: So where do we stand now on the opposition, recognizing the opposition?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we have, as the Secretary said, been looking at ways that we can deepen and broaden our support. We will be in Marrakesh on Wednesday – the Secretary will be – for the Friends of the Syrian People. I think we want to talk there about more support that we can give them along the lines of what she foreshadowed last week, but I don’t want to get ahead of announcements that we might make.

I think, among other things, she’ll want to meet with them, she’ll want to hear from them both in her own meeting and in the broader meeting about how they see things going forward, both in terms of their own internal organization, about their connectivity with Syrians inside Syria, about their transitional planning, about the needs that they see for external support, how they would have us best direct the nonlethal support and humanitarian support that we are providing. So she’ll want to hear about all of those things. But she’s been clear that we’d like to offer them more support, and I think you’ll see some of that at Marrakesh on Wednesday.

QUESTION: Do you have that worked out who – with whom she would meet?

MS. NULAND: We’re working on an appropriate list of leaders from the SOC, but I don’t have anything to announce today, Jill.

QUESTION: And just one other question. I’m interested in recognition and what it means legally, if the United States were to. I’m not saying you – I know you hate hypotheticals, but there must be legal ramifications to this. If you say that you’re recognizing them as representatives of the Syrian people, what does that mean legally? Do you still talk with the existing government of Assad?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, you’re getting me ahead of where we are, Jill. If we make an advance in the next coming days or so, we’ll be prepared to explain any implications of that. What I would do is remind you of how this went in the Libyan context where we were able to take progressive steps, as the Libyan opposition themselves took steps, to work with them and to advance the way we dealt with them politically.

QUESTION: So that, I mean, it would work with diplomatic mission? For instance, you would take the embassy, the Syrian Embassy, and say now, at this point, the opposition, they can go and occupy it?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to foreshadow decisions that we haven’t made yet and haven’t announced yet, but just to remind you that in the Libyan case, both with regard to how we dealt with the leadership of the opposition and also with regard to the physical status in Washington and beyond, it was an iterative process; there were a number of steps along the road.

QUESTION: Toria --

QUESTION: Was there any – in the Libyan example though, was there anything that happened immediately after that meeting in Istanbul? Wasn’t that the key that unlocked the process for the – for them to get some of the assets that had been frozen?

MS. NULAND: I can’t recall exactly what happened when on Libya. We can go back and look at all of those things. There were different steps that needed to be taken in order to unlock the assets. In the Syrian case, obviously we’re not holding regime assets here, so that is not – doesn’t pertain, so --

QUESTION: Well – no, I know. That’s why I’m asking about Libya, not about Syria.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: But I mean, didn’t you have to recognize them first before that process before the assets --

MS. NULAND: There were steps that had to be taken. I can’t remember at what stage in the process, as compared to where we are now in Syria, where that unlocked. We can go back and look at that, Matt.

QUESTION: Are we getting closer with the Russia regarding the implementation of Geneva statement?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think the question here is whether, having agreed on the democratic principles that have to undergird any kind of a transition, having agreed on what we want a future Syria to look like in the Geneva statement, namely that it has to unified, it has to be pluralistic, it has to be democratic, it has to protect the rights of all Syrians no matter where they come from, can we now get a process going to move past the back-and-forth that we had in June and encourage Syrians of all stripes to rally around the idea of forming a transitional structure? And that’s something that UN Special Envoy Brahimi wants to try, and we’ll see how he does.

Please. Can you tell me who you are? Still on Syria?

QUESTION: Just – yes.

MS. NULAND: Okay.

QUESTION: Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News. Has the U.S. in any way facilitated the movement of weapons out of Libya to arm Syrian rebels?

MS. NULAND: No.

QUESTION: Okay --

QUESTION: There was a report yesterday in the Sunday Times --

MS. NULAND: It was a false report.

QUESTION: It’s a false report. Okay.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. given tacit approval for the Qataris and Saudis to arm the rebels?

MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this before. You know where we are in U.S. policy, that we are providing nonlethal assistance. Other countries are making other choices. We are doing our best, both in the Friends of the Syrian People and in other formats, to try to stay well coordinated in terms of understanding who we are supporting so that we’re supporting opposition forces that favor a democratic, unitary, pluralistic Syria and not having any of our support fall into the hands of extremists. So we’re obviously trying to be coordinated. That would be what I would have to say on that subject.

QUESTION: Just to put – draw a fine point on this story that appeared yesterday in the Sunday Times, has the Administration made a decision to change its policy and to begin to arm the Syrian rebels?

MS. NULAND: We have not changed our policy.

QUESTION: The fact that a new military command has been formed and so on does not persuade you to go ahead and arm the opposition that now it has become solid and respectable and in command of what it does?

MS. NULAND: We are maintaining our current posture of providing nonlethal support and not going beyond that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to label the Al-Nusra Front a terrorist organization in Syria because of its ties to al-Qaida in Iraq?

MS. NULAND: Well, you’ve probably seen a pre-notification in the Federal Register. We will have more to say about this tomorrow in the coming days. What I would say is that I think you know that we’ve had concerns that Al-Nusra is little more than a front for al-Qaida in Iraq, who has moved some of its operations into Syria. This, again, goes to the environment that Assad and his regime have created with their violence, that they have, as we’ve been concerned about for many months, created an environment with this violence that extremists can now try to exploit. So that we do see al-Qaida in Iraq trying to make these inroads, but I don’t have anything to announce with regard to legal steps of ours today.

QUESTION: And finally, is there any truth to some reports of chemical weapons being used inside Syria? There’s some video footage this weekend on Al Arabiya.

MS. NULAND: That something has actually been used?

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to confirm that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Still on Syria? Are we finished with Syria? Okay, moving there. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on Venezuela and Colombia. The first one: Do you have any reactions on Chavez’s travel to Cuba? And the second one is: Colombian magazine report that one of the people who led to the capture of Mono Jojoy, one of the guerilla leaders, claimed that the U.S. didn’t pay the reward of $5,000 – or $5 million, sorry. If you have any question – any comments on that, too?

MS. NULAND: On the – this was a Rewards for Justice program in Colombia which --

QUESTION: No. It is one person who lead to the capture and, after, killing of Mono Jojoy, one of the guerilla leaders. He claimed that the U.S. hasn’t paid him the $5 million reward.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that. We will check into that, and if I have anything we’ll get back to you.

Going back to the Venezuela question, can you --

QUESTION: It is regarding President Chavez’s travel to Cuba. You know, he’s very ill. He’s going to be operated or so. So I was wondering if you have any comments on the current political situation in Venezuela or on Chavez’s health.

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, with regard to his health we would refer you to the Venezuelan authorities. I think they’ve spoken about this pretty extensively.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Palestinian issue?

QUESTION: Can I just have a quick follow-up on that?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: While considering that this is his fourth surgery coming up and the fact that he has now named someone to act in his stead should he not be able to continue his duties, is that not a matter of interest for the U.S. Government?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we would want to see any succession follow the terms of the Venezuelan constitution. We’re obviously watching events there carefully.

QUESTION: Do you wish him a speedy recovery?

MS. NULAND: As with anybody who is suffering what he is suffering, we do.

QUESTION: As always, always the case.

MS. NULAND: Anything else on this? No? Please. Can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: Follow-up on – I’m David Ivanovich with Argus Media. May I follow up on the Venezuelan question? There seems to be some concerns about the successor that Mr. Chavez is saying should be named if he were to die. Do you have any concerns about who he is naming as whether that really would be following the Venezuelan constitution or not?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me just say it again. Should the president become permanently unavailable to serve, the Venezuelan constitution itself defines a succession policy. Should an election become constitutionally necessary, the expectation in the hemisphere, including our expectation and we assume the expectation of the Venezuelan people, would be that it be peaceful, that it be inclusive, that it be free and conducted on a level playing field, providing an opportunity for Venezuela to demonstrate its commitment to representative democracy.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you --

QUESTION: I have a follow-up.

QUESTION: -- what is “permanently unable to serve”? What does that mean? Does that mean dead?

MS. NULAND: If he --

QUESTION: What does that mean? A stroke or incapacitated or --

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that --

QUESTION: Is Fidel Castro permanently unable to serve?

MS. NULAND: -- under all constitutions, heads of state who conclude that they should no longer serve for whatever reason can take themselves out of the – can resign, can retire, whatever they want to do. I’m not going to speculate, but --

QUESTION: But permanently unable – that sounds like some kind of a Pentagon line, like terminate with extreme prejudice or something.

MS. NULAND: Well, as compared to what’s been happening over this period, where he’s been naming temporary implementers of his powers, as you know.

QUESTION: Gotcha. Okay.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up.

MS. NULAND: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Because Mr. Hammer said last week that the U.S. is willing to, more than ready to, to exchange ambassadors with Venezuela, and he would like to reassume the dialogue. So in the frame of all the situation with President Chavez, do you see any chance or this is going to have any impact on U.S. willingness to continue to foster dialogue with Venezuela?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to speculate on hypothetical situations, as we try hard here not to do. We obviously want the best possible communications between our government and the Venezuelan Government on all issues of mutual interest, including but not limited to counternarcotics, counterterrorism, rule of law, commerce, et cetera. But we don’t currently have any plans to reestablish relations at the ambassadorial level with Caracas.

Please.

QUESTION: While we’re on Venezuela, please?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You talked about – in a comment on a hypothetical situation, should it be necessary to have an election, you talked about the importance of it being conducted on a level playing field. Can you be a little more specific on whether you particularly – by that you specifically mean media access for all candidates to major media, which I think has been one of the big issues in Venezuela in terms of whether people actually have access to coverage by major media?

MS. NULAND: Well, that would certainly be one litmus test of level playing field, as it is around the world. Yeah.

Okay. Said.

QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated today that he, in fact, called for the resumption of direct negotiations with Israel from the point where they were last and during the last negotiation session, and – provided that all settlement activity be frozen for the time being. Do you support such a call, or is that – you consider that to be conditional?

MS. NULAND: As the President has said all the way along, as the Secretary has said, we are prepared to be full partners in supporting negotiations if and when the parties are ready to enter into direct negotiations. So it always takes two to tango, as we say. So – and we’ve also called for both sides to come to the table without preconditions.

QUESTION: Do you consider it reasonable to call for resumption of negotiations from the point where they ended?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we support any scenario in which the parties can get back to direct talks, because it’s going to be the only way to settle all of the longstanding issues between them. It’s the only way to get to the two states living next to each other in peace that we all seek.

QUESTION: Is a construction moratorium a good way to get them back to the table?

MS. NULAND: Again, you know where we are on settlements, where we are on construction in Jerusalem. That hasn’t changed. Mark spoke to this extensively last week. We want to avoid provocation by any side and get back to conditions for direct talks.

QUESTION: And have you taken any measures since last week, or have you taken any steps, to dissuade the Israelis from construction in the E1 area?

MS. NULAND: We’ve been very clear in public and in private about how we feel about E1. Mark spoke to it last week.

QUESTION: What about the tax transfer holdup? Has the U.S. done anything to try to help mediate that fallout from the UNGA vote?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we said at the time of the UNGA vote, we were concerned that this would have consequences, would imperil the relationship between them. That said, we favor support for the Palestinian Authority, support from all quarters, because this goes directly to the issue of maintaining quality of life for the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Victoria, one last thing on the money that is being held up. Have you done anything to make sure that it is released and properly delivered to the Palestinians?

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about on the U.S. side?

QUESTION: Right, yes, U.S. The U.S. money and --

MS. NULAND: We continue to work with Congress to make the case that continued U.S. support for the Palestinian people is in our national interest, is in the interest of the peace process. But again, there are a lot of views in the Congress, particularly in light of the move at the UN.

QUESTION: Just on this, there’s a Quartet meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, envoy level. Do you expect anything substantial or significant to come out of this, or is this just kind of a stock-taking exercise in looking at how dismal the chances are to get the peace process started again?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think it’s been a while since David Hale has met with his Quartet counterparts, so I think it’s an opportunity to look at where we are and if and when we might be able to be in a position to get these parties back to the table, obviously, in light of all of the factors. So it’s – let’s say that at this stage, it is gardening, but it is important gardening.

QUESTION: Gardening. You mean like weeding?

MS. NULAND: No, it’s nurturing of the soil. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Are they actually planting? Are they --

MS. NULAND: Nurturing of the soil.

QUESTION: Are they planting any seeds? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: They’re always trying to plant seeds, as you know.

QUESTION: There’s more gardening? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: On Egypt, after the latest developments there, do you have any recommendations to President Morsi and the Egyptian people?

MS. NULAND: Well, Michel, I think you know that we have said all the way through here that we are deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in Egypt, that we are obviously seeing what you are seeing, that there are very strong opinions in Egypt about both the substance of the constitution and the process to get there. So – but this is – these are Egyptian decisions to make, how to move forward. What we want to see is a process that can garner the respect and the support of the broadest number of Egyptians. We want to see a constitution that, when it is adopted, respects and protects the rights of all Egyptians and the democratic trajectory of the country, but Egyptians are going to have to work through how they get from here to there.

QUESTION: A number of those in the opposition say that because of the way the constitution was drafted that it was dominated by Islamists, that it is inherently an unsound document, and thus, having the referendum on Saturday should not happen. What has the U.S. said to the Morsi government about the wisdom of proceeding on Saturday?

MS. NULAND: What we are saying is the same thing we’ve been saying all the way through, that these decisions have to be made by Egyptians, but they have to be made in a manner that can garner the broadest possible support. So we are not in the business of dictating this constitution on this date in this way. These decisions have to be made by dialogue. But clearly, we have still a lot of churn and a lot of ferment about both the process and the substance, and this needs to be worked through.

QUESTION: Does it help that there were concrete barriers erected around the presidential palace and that – perhaps more significant – that Morsi has given the army the order to arrest people who disturb the process of voting on Saturday? Does that not raise alarms in this building?

MS. NULAND: Well, on the question of stability and public order, our message here has also been consistent. We want to see those exercising their right of freedom of expression to do so peacefully, but we also want to see the Egyptian Government and security forces respecting that freedom of peaceful expression and assembly and to exercise restraint. So those are the – that’s sort of the frame in which we’re watching how things go forward.

QUESTION: Is there any confidence that the Egyptian military will repeat its behavior of 18, 20 months ago when it refused to fire on protestors? Basically, they didn’t want to take sides between Mubarak and the protestors.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we want to see those protesting do so peacefully, and we want to see those who are charged with maintaining security do so in a manner that respects the human rights and respects freedom of expression, and to do so with restraint. So those are the messages that we’re giving.

QUESTION: The flip side of Roz’s question – the flip side is that the military said that they will ensure that the referendum goes on smoothly. Are you concerned that they might actually impose something akin to martial law?

MS. NULAND: Again, the way this goes forward has to be worked out among Egyptians. But again, we want to see security forces respect the right of peaceful protest, exercise restraint, and of course, we don’t want to see mistakes of the Mubarak era repeated.

QUESTION: Can I just make – when you say peaceful protests, presumably you don’t want to see people disrupting the polls, correct?

MS. NULAND: We want to see --

QUESTION: You don’t want to see people interfering in the polls.

MS. NULAND: We are obviously not calling for that. We’re calling for peaceful expression of views.

QUESTION: No, no, I – right, right, but I think the question was – the original question was that Morsi says that he’s given the military orders to arrest people who disrupt the polls. Are you concerned about that? And my question is: Are you concerned about people disrupting the polls? And if they do disrupt the polls, shouldn’t they be arrested?

MS. NULAND: Again, this whole situation in Egypt is very much evolving, changing on a daily basis. Our concern is that Egyptians make the decisions going forward and that the decisions be consensual, they be rooted in dialogue, and that they be peaceful on all sides, both on the side of those who are dissatisfied with the process and on the side of those charged with public security. So we all know what that looks like. It means exercising restraint on the government’s side and it means exercising good judgment and nonviolence on the opposition side.

QUESTION: Right, but I guess the question is --

MS. NULAND: We’re not going to get into the business of commenting on every back-and-forth here as they work through how they’re going to get to this constitution. We want to see it managed in a way that the end product is a constitution that protects democracy, protects stability, and enforces and brings about a national consensus.

QUESTION: But you would not say that peaceful protest includes disrupting voting?

MS. NULAND: We would not.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Victoria, could you tell us if anyone from this building met with Essam el-Erian, the Deputy President of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is in town?

MS. NULAND: Apparently, he did not have any meetings here in the State Department.

QUESTION: So are you – what is he doing in town? You’re not aware of what he’s doing or --

MS. NULAND: I think he was here to attend a conference, but ask him, Said. Frankly, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Just to be clear about that, his question was whether anyone from this building met with him, not that – whether he had meetings inside the building. So nobody from the building met with him, even if it was outside the building? They didn’t go to the conference and chat with him there?

MS. NULAND: What I have is that we didn’t see him.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Anything else on this?

QUESTION: On Bahrain?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Posner is in Bahrain, and the Bahraini Crown Prince has called for a new dialogue with the opposition. And he’s thanked several states that helped Bahrain, but he didn’t mention the United States. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me first confirm what you had, Michel, that Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor Mike Posner has just completed a trip to Bahrain. He issued a long statement, which is on the Embassy’s website if you want to see it. But to summarize, the United States welcomes the calls by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain for dialogue. And we also acknowledge that Al Wefaq has given a constructive response to that, as have other opposition groups, and have made clear their readiness to engage.

As you know, we have been calling for some time for the re-launch of real dialogue among the stakeholders. And we urge all sides to take this opening now and use it, and we want to see some concrete steps towards building confidence among the groups on real reform going forward.

QUESTION: Did you discuss – when he thanked – when the Crown Prince thanked several states that helped Bahrain during its crisis, he didn’t mention the U.S. Do you have anything on this?

MS. NULAND: Well, we know the role that we have played with all stakeholders, trying to urge dialogue, trying to urge progress, so I don’t think that that should be in any doubt one way or the other.

QUESTION: Did you feel snubbed? And that’s the way it was reported over the weekend, that this was a deliberate, calculated snub to the United States. Do you regard it as such?

MS. NULAND: I think we – obviously, as evidenced by the good visit that Mike Posner had and where we are now, that our relationship and our ability to work well with Bahrainis of all kinds shouldn’t be in question.

QUESTION: Wait, wait a minute. Was his visit good? I mean, he is publicly quoted as saying that the Bahrainis should prosecute people who are behind violence. And it’s – I mean, he’s been quite critical.

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, because this is part of what was in the BICI’s set of recommendations that hasn’t been implemented. I mean, among the roles that he has played in his regular trips to Bahrain is to call it like we see it in terms of where they have done well in implementing BICI recommendations and where work still needs to be done, and this is a place that we obviously need to see work. But one of the biggest obstacles to moving forward on any of it had been that the groups weren’t talking to each other. So to have this renewed call for dialogue, which is welcomed on all sides, is a good step, and we hope it can open the way for more and complete, ultimately, implementation of the BICI recommendations.

QUESTION: But why was it a good visit? I mean, did he have anything to do with the Crown Prince expressing a willingness to re-launch dialogue and to Al Wefaq’s apparently positive signals toward that? Because I read his visit as very critical. Maybe I’ve misunderstood it, but I don’t see how it’s easy to characterize it as good when you guys, if I’m not mistaken, take the view that they haven’t properly implemented the BICI recommendations, for the most part, that many of the underlying issues between the Shia community and the authorities remain totally unresolved. And so I just don’t understand why it’s a good visit.

MS. NULAND: Again, from the perspective of all of this having to start with real dialogue about the reform that’s needed among the groups, and having had many months where there was no dialogue at all, this having been the major subject of conversation when the Crown Prince was last here, et cetera, to see the Crown Prince now call for it, to see Wefaq and other groups say yes, we’re ready, our hope is that everybody will take advantage of this now, they’ll be able to really talk to each other, including about how to implement this unfinished business from the BICI, including prosecutions.

So the role that Assistant Secretary Posner has played in terms of the human rights dialogue that he’s been having with Bahrain over the last two-plus years was key to the working through of the BICI recommendations in the first place, but also keeping a process going whereby we could get back to a real dialogue here today. So obviously, the proof will be in what that dialogue produces, but to have this kind of movement is better than where we were a week ago.

Said.

QUESTION: Victoria, this being Human Rights Day, do you think you have been treating the Bahraini Government with kid gloves, in fact, all your allies, as far – when it comes to human rights abuses in the area, like Saudi Arabia, like Qatar and the other countries --

MS. NULAND: I think if you --

QUESTION: -- giving them, perhaps, a pass?

MS. NULAND: If you’re concerned about that, read the statement that Assistant Secretary Posner released. As Arshad makes clear, there’s – there are no kid gloves involved in that statement.

Please.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: North Korea announced they postponed their launching missile yesterday, and then – but they are still trying to launch missile within this year. What are you going to do to stop North Korea? And also, did you have any direct dialogue with North Korea in several days?

MS. NULAND: Well, we remain concerned that this is just a delay and that the DPRK still plans to launch a missile or a satellite or something that would be in violation of its international obligations, that fundamentally their plans are unchanged. As we’ve said before, any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology would be in direct violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. We again call on North Korea to refrain from a launch and to comply with its obligations.

We – you’ll remember that we have the UN Security Council presidential statement which was adopted in April of this year which strongly condemned their last launch and made clear that the Council was determined to take action if there is a further launch, and we stand by that.

With regard to direct contact, I think you know that we have channels to do that as necessary and we use them as necessary.

QUESTION: And also we got a statement – press release last week about the dialogue with Chinese minister of the international issues, Wang Jiarui. He will be here until 12th and then – did you have already that meeting with him?

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about Wang Jiarui, the Minister of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s International Department.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. NULAND: And this comes up because of his frequent contacts with the North Koreans. Is that why it comes up now? Yeah. Our understanding is that he’s going to – he’s visiting – he’s in the United States now. He’s going to meet with Deputy Secretary Burns tomorrow, and we obviously look forward to hearing what he has to say. I would say in this connection that Secretary Clinton has been in direct touch with Foreign Minister Yang about exchanging views and concerns about the DPRK’s launch, planned launch, as she has with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia.

Please.

QUESTION: Why do you think North Korea is still planning to launch a missile? Do you have any reason to believe they haven’t canceled it?

MS. NULAND: As far as we can tell, this is simply a delay and that their plans are unchanged.

QUESTION: Did Secretary Clinton have a direct dialogue with Minister Yang?

MS. NULAND: Yes. On Friday while we were on our way home.

QUESTION: By phone?

MS. NULAND: Yes.

QUESTION: When did it happen?

MS. NULAND: Friday.

QUESTION: What did he – did she talk about?

MS. NULAND: They talked about the DPRK and our concern about the launch.

QUESTION: Yeah, of course, but I’m sure she asked China to stop the North Korea.

MS. NULAND: Well, you know how closely we work with China on these issues. So they compared notes about what we’re seeing and the question was what influence China could bring to bear on the DPRK to see reason and focus on the development of their country and the feeding of their people rather than on ballistic missile launches that are in violation of their international obligations.

QUESTION: Did she talk about the additional sanction in the Security Council in UN?

MS. NULAND: Well, she obviously talked about the need to implement the commitment that we had made to take action, as I said.

Lalit.

QUESTION: India. India’s main opposition party, BJP, is today alleging that Wal-Mart lobbied here in the U.S. Congress for opening of India’s multi-retail sector, and also paid money to Indian officials in this regard. Do you know about these allegations, and what’s sort of facts about --

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen these press reports. Wal-Mart itself has spoken to this directly. With regard to lobbying in the United States, I think you know that the Lobby Disclosure Act of 1995 and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 require lobbyists for any companies or other organizations to disclose their activities in a periodic report to the Congress. So the report that some of these allegations cite was a regularly required report for the U.S. Government as part of our open government transparency in governance requirements.

QUESTION: With allegations of Wal-Mart paying officials in India for the opening of the multi-brand --

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak for Wal-Mart, but just to tell you that they issued a press release and addressed these directly.

QUESTION: But that’s enough for you? There’s not any – you’re not aware of any investigation into the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or anything like that?

MS. NULAND: On the U.S. --

QUESTION: I mean, this is potentially criminal activity. I don’t know what the details are, but --

MS. NULAND: On the U.S. side, I don’t have any reason to believe that we have a violation of U.S. law here. With regard to the Indian side, I’ll refer you to them.

Okay?

QUESTION: There’s one --

MS. NULAND: Oh, I thought I was getting away here. Still Lalit in the back. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan and Pakistan.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, there was sharp exchange of words between Afghanistan and Pakistan on the last week’s suicide bomb attack against Afghanistan’s spy chief. Afghanistan is now saying that ISI was behind this attack. Pakistan is saying it’s not. Are you aware about the – have Afghanistan and Pakistan approached you on this issue?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know the Turks are sponsoring a meeting in – I don’t know if it’s today or in the next couple of days – which will provide an opportunity for direct dialogue between President Karzai and Zardari. This, we think, is a good opportunity for them to talk directly about issues of concern rather than sort of doing it by public statement. Because as you know, we have long supported better dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in support of Afghan-led reconciliation. So we hope that both sides avail themselves of this meeting that the Turks are offering to work through the issues.

QUESTION: Do you have any reasons to believe the Afghanistan’s statement that ISI was behind this suicide attack?

MS. NULAND: We’re not going to get into the middle of this one. We want them to talk it out directly.

Please.

QUESTION: Last Friday, the Secretary announced some exceptions to the Iran sanctions that are embedded in the National Defense Authorization Act. The – Turkey has been involved in natural gas trades with Iran that have resulted in billions of dollars in gold making its way to Tehran. China has been – it was – in October it was importing more than half a million barrels a day of Iranian oil. Can you help us understand why they merited exceptions to the sanctions?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think if you go back and read the statement that the Secretary released, it is very clear about the basis for these exceptions. And I just remind that what we are seeking here is a process of reducing dependence on Iranian oil. We obviously want to see as many countries as possible do what the European Union has done and get to zero, but we judge them on how they are reducing over time.

QUESTION: Wait one second, though. I mean, the law doesn’t say a process of reducing dependence; it says significant reductions. And convoluted though it is, it also says significant reductions over the prior 180-day period. And I haven’t seen the numbers, but I’ve seen reports about the numbers that suggest that Chinese imports actually may have gone up during some of the months, and therefore I wonder why it is a significant reduction if it’s gone up to some degree.

MS. NULAND: Again, we look at the aggregate for the period, we look at the trend line. There are – obviously the way these things go, sometimes it spikes, but it evaluates the entire period.

Lalit.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up question from a question taken on Friday. When a terrorist organization or any organization is designated as a foreign terrorist outfit or an individual is designated as a foreign terrorist, can he or she or that particular organization can open a account with Facebook or Google because they are U.S. companies, and in the FTO they are – any U.S. organization and citizens applying for having any interaction with them?

MS. NULAND: Well, when activity is sanctioned, it does give the U.S. Government broad latitude to talk to our companies about the way these sanctions are to be implemented. So each case is different and we evaluate each case individually. There are, as you can imagine, circumstances where it might be advantageous for accounts to stay open. I’m not going to go any further than that.

QUESTION: For instance, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan last week opened an account on Facebook and is seeking applications from journalists as writers, videographers. Is that any violation of FTO? Is it okay with this?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to send you to the Department of Justice on that particular one, okay?

QUESTION: Actually, it raises an interesting point, because when you do open an account on one of these things, you actually have to enter into a contractual agreement with the company by clicking on the box after not reading the long disclaimer that they offer you. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I take it you didn’t read it when you opened your account?

QUESTION: No. Does anybody? (Laughter.) Unless they’re – and I don’t know, maybe al-Qaida is reading it, but it raises an interesting question, I think. Can those – maybe L can answer this. I mean, can those contracts – because it says you can’t – when you’re either an FTO or a specially designated global terrorist, you’re not allowed to do business with – or Americans are barred – presumably that includes American companies – are barred from doing business with these people, and having an account is doing business with them even if no money is changing hands. So can we find out if that is a potentially sanctionable activity?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to take it in the form that you’ve just given me, so it may take a little bit.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ve got just two very brief ones. There’s a lot of chatter on the Hill that the ARB report is imminent. Do you have any update on when that might happen? Is it going to – do you expect them to meet their statutory deadline? Or if there is – there is some leeway there. If they need more time, they can have it. Do you expect them to meet the deadline or do you think they’ll ask and get a little bit more time?

MS. NULAND: Well, just to recall that there’s no – in statute, there’s no deadline for when they have to complete their report. In this case, when the Secretary formed them, she asked them to try to meet a 60-65 day timeline. And they pledged to try to do that, which would take you into the middle of December. I don’t have any reason to think that we are off base there, but obviously, we want them to do it, do it right. And we’ll have – we’ll let you know when there’s something to announce.

QUESTION: Can you rule out this week?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to – I don’t have anything to announce one way or the other. I think we’ll know when we know.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is – this came up with Mark last week and he actually did have an answer, but I was looking for a little bit more specific answer. And that’s about this thing in this – the Global Counterterrorism Forum in Abu Dhabi that the Secretary’s going to attend. We’ve gone back and forth about this before, I think, but he said that you guys had managed to get placed on the agenda an item about how to cooperate with non-member states.

This, as you’ll recall, is a question that relates to Israel. And he was able to answer that question, but I’m just wondering, is that agenda item specifically designed for Israel? And whether it is or not, does it envision them becoming a member, a fully fledged member of this group, or does it envisage just them continuing to not be a member and just working with them outside the formal mechanism?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me just remind that the intent of the Global Counterterrorism Forum was that it would be open and that it would grow over time and more states would be able to participate. So just to follow up on what Mark said last week, we do want to talk at this coming-up meeting in Abu Dhabi about how we do that not only with regard to Israel but with regard to a number of other states that want to participate.

So let me simply say that precisely what’s going to be reviewed on – I guess, is it next – is it Thursday or Friday? I can’t remember what day we’re in the UAE this week. We’ll have more precise information about as we get closer to it. But the goal is to ensure that those states that have something to offer, whether it’s in working groups or whether it’s as formal members, over time have an opportunity to participate in the status that they’re interested in.

QUESTION: Do you know or could you find out if it – if the agenda item foresees Israel or any other country becoming a member, a new member, or if it just looks at how countries that aren’t members can fit in on the sidelines?

MS. NULAND: Let me say that we will – in the context of preparing you to cover the trip, as I know you are, we will have more to say on that. Okay?

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: One last one here and then we’ll go. Yeah.

QUESTION: One more on chemical weapons. Although you cannot confirm their use over the weekend, does the U.S. remain concerned that President Assad is in a position to use them?

MS. NULAND: Our position on this has not changed. The President spoke to it, Secretary spoke to it, Panetta spoke to it. You know our concerns.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)

DPB # 209

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - December 10, 2012]