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State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, January 3, 2013

  • Written by Press Release
  • Category: Latest National News

Washington, DC--(ENEWSPF)--January 3, 2012.

Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary's Health / Plans to Return to Work / Committed to Testifying on Benghazi
    • Senator Kerry Confirmation Hearings / Visits to DOS
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
    • Palestinian State Can Only Happen Through Negotiations
    • $450 million for Palestinian Authority / Congress
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Special Envoy Hale Travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman
  • D.P.R.K.
    • Google Executive Schmitt and Gov. Richardson Travel
    • U.S. Citizen Detained in D.P.R.K.
    • All U.S. Companies Subject to Sanctions Regime against North Korea
  • INDIA
    • Protests over Rape / U.S. Programs to Combat Violence against Women
  • PAKISTAN
    • Internal Pakistani Report Regarding Osama bin Ladin
  • PAKISTAN/AFGHANISTAN
    • Ongoing Dialogue / Taliban Prisoner Releases
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • General Allen's Recommendation
    • President Karzai Visit to Washington, DC January 8 - 11
  • IRAQ
    • United States' Enduring Commitment to Iraq / Support for Political Dialogue
  • SYRIA
    • Syrians Spying on Syrians in US / We Would Take New Reports Extremely Seriously
    • Casualty Figures / Ongoing Brutality of the Regime
  • REGION
    • Rohingya Muslims / General Concern about Statelessness
  • BURMA
    • Kachin Rebels and Burmese Government
  • PAKISTAN
    • Deputy Secretary Nides Call with Pakistani Ambassador / Bilateral Economic Relationship
  • RUSSIA
    • Missile Defense
  • SYRIA
    • Recognition of Syrian Opposition Coalition
  • VENEZUELA
    • Political Transition / Concern within Venezuela that Government is not Transparent
  • BOLIVIA
    • Narcotics Situation
  • DEPARTMENT
    • NDAA / Iran Sanctions

TRANSCRIPT:

12:47 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Happy, what is today, Thursday, everybody, and happy 2013. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Could we maybe first ask on scheduling? Now that the Secretary’s out of hospital and home and resting, have you any updates on possibly when we might see her back here again?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, to confirm what Jo says, that the Secretary was discharged from the hospital yesterday, that she’s resting at home. Some of the senior staff who spoke to her about half an hour ago say that she’s sounding terrific, upbeat, raring to go. She’s looking forward to getting back to the office. She is very much planning to do so next week, and we’ll have further precise details about that as she continues to make progress.

QUESTION: Any idea whether it’s likely to be towards the beginning of the week or back end of the week, or --

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any more details except that she’s very much looking forward to coming back next week. But in terms of the precise timing, we’ll let you know as soon as we know.

QUESTION: Has she made any calls to foreign officials, do you know, in the last day or so, or --

MS. NULAND: You mean in the 12 hours since she’s been released from the hospital, Arshad? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: She’s a formidable --

MS. NULAND: She is.

QUESTION: She’s a formidable person, so --

QUESTION: She is.

QUESTION: -- I don’t know if she’s made any calls or not, but I’m asking.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any other foreign leader calls to report today beyond the two that she made on Saturday the 29th, but given that she is sounding really well, I’m sure she’ll be back into it soon.

QUESTION: Great. And one other thing: Just – you said, I think, yesterday that you were still working with the Hill to try to figure out when she might testify on Benghazi. Is there any greater clarity on that?

MS. NULAND: There isn’t, beyond saying that, as I said yesterday, she is committed to testifying, and we are working with the committees on an appropriate set of dates.

QUESTION: Is she likely to make an appearance before the press next week after her arrival in this building?

MS. NULAND: Is that a formal request for news, Said? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, and we would all love to see her.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any schedule for her yet for next week, but as soon as we do, we’ll put it out as we always do.

QUESTION: Toria, I missed the very top of what you were saying. Is – can you describe any activities that she might have, and where she is at this point? She’s in New York?

MS. NULAND: She’s at home in New York. She is talking to staff. She is taking paper at home. She sounds terrific. She’s looking forward to coming back to work next week.

QUESTION: Is she having visitors or --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Sorry, Indira.

QUESTION: Is she getting any visitors?

MS. NULAND: Her family has been there. Beyond that, I don’t have any details for you, Indira.

QUESTION: Would you expect that there would be any restrictions on her activities once she does come back to work?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further on the medical side in terms of details. I think you saw one of the statements that we put out that her doctors have asked her not to do any international travel for a little bit, but I don’t have any more details beyond that.

QUESTION: That’s the statement from a while ago.

MS. NULAND: Yes, exactly. Nothing new today.

QUESTION: Do you expect her to – I mean, does that mean that she’s not likely to make any trips before Inauguration Day?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce, but it sounds as if the doctors’ preference is that she not make any international trips for a little while.

QUESTION: And has there been many messages coming from the many of her counterparts around the world? Obviously, she may not have talked to most of them, given that she’s not been very well, but have you had a flood of messages from British Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Minister and --

MS. NULAND: I think you could call the number of goodwill messages a tsunami, yeah.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, really?

QUESTION: Victoria --

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a related question: Do we have any idea on when the hearing could begin for John Kerry?

MS. NULAND: In terms of the confirmation hearing?

QUESTION: Yeah, the confirmation hearing.

MS. NULAND: No. Again, we’re also working with the Hill on an appropriate date for the hearing. It goes to the calendar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which hasn’t yet been set.

QUESTION: Is it likely to begin after the 20th of January?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t yet have anything to announce, Said. As soon as we have an agreement with the committee, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: The committee normally would announce that, wouldn’t they?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Normally, they would announce it and we would confirm it.

QUESTION: And on the point – that point, previously the committee was saying we need the Secretary to testify before we go ahead with the hearing on Kerry. Is that your understanding? Have you gotten an update from them?

MS. NULAND: I think we obviously have made a commitment that the Secretary will testify, and we are obviously looking for a date for Senator Kerry’s confirmation hearings. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any direct link made between the two of them. We are eager for both to happen as soon as is appropriate and as soon as the committee is ready.

QUESTION: And on Kerry, previously, I guess it was, like, last week, he was being prepped by the State Department some – on various issues for the – in preparation for his nomination hearing. Is that continuing? Has he physically been here? Has he been around?

MS. NULAND: It is continuing. As you know, we have a well practiced procedure for preparing new secretaries for confirmation hearings. The Senator was in the building yesterday. He had a number of meetings with senior staff, has received a huge pile of briefing materials. He is not in the building today. My understanding is he’s up at the Senate today, but we expect he’ll be back in the building on a regular basis starting tomorrow.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the Palestinian issue?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Okay. Today, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization held its first meeting --

MS. NULAND: Said, can you speak a little louder? I don’t know; you’re not carrying from that seat that you --

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry. Today, the Executive Committee of the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, held its first meeting in the new year to consider a number of agencies that the new status gives them to join, or allows them to join, in the United Nations. Have you spoken to them, have you spoken to the President of the Palestinian Authority, to refrain from joining what you would call controversial agencies of the United Nations?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said all the way through this, we’ve been very clear with the Palestinian Authority that we oppose and object to any additional moves in the UN to advance their status, that we don’t think that’s the way to get to a Palestinian state, that that can only happen through negotiations. So our position on that has not changed, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. If I may follow, also during that meeting, Abbas told his colleagues that the Authority was on the verge of collapse financially. And I know you mentioned yesterday that Secretary of State, from her bedside, hospital bedside, spoke to the Qatari Foreign Minister and discussed the issue, the financial issue, of the Palestinians. Could you update us on the money that is being held in the pipeline here by Congress? Are you making any headway with Congress to avert such a catastrophe?

MS. NULAND: As you know, we have some $450 million that is available to go to the Palestinian Authority when Congress is prepared to release it. We have made clear that we think that money should go forward. We are continuing to have that conversation with the relevant committees, and we will continue to do so in the new year when the 113th Congress takes up its duties.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, I asked you yesterday about the Israeli military plan, which they did today, actually, to move Bedouins and farmers and so from the northern Jordan Valley area for military exercises, and yesterday you said that you did not know much about this issue. Do you know today any more than you did yesterday?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any particular comment on that at all, Said.

QUESTION: But don’t you ask the Israelis to refrain from such activities, as these things do not build the kind of bridges and goodwill that is needed?

MS. NULAND: On the particular issue that you cite and military exercises, I frankly don’t have anything, Said. If I do, we’ll get back to you.

Please, Indira.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask about Google CEO/Chairman Eric Schmidt’s apparent possible trip to North Korea, and what kind of guidance has come to him from the State Department. What sort of advice have you given him on counseling him what to say or what to ask about or when to go? What messages are you carrying? He’s obviously been a good ally and friend of the Secretary, so I assume he wouldn’t do this without checking first.

MS. NULAND: Before we go to the DPRK, let me just add one last thing on the Middle East, which I should have mentioned when Said asked his question: Just to advise that Special Envoy David Hale will make a trip to the region next week between January 8th and 10th. He’ll be in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman to meet with senior Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian and Jordanian officials, as well as his Quartet envoy colleagues. We’ll obviously give you an update on that as that goes forward.

Now to --

QUESTION: Do you know where the Quartet envoy meeting will be?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know which city it will be in, whether that’s going to be in Jordan or in Cairo, but I would expect it’ll be one of those two. We’ll get that for you, Arshad.

With regard to the trip, we are obviously aware of the trip that has been announced for Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Governor Richardson. As you know, they are private citizens. They are traveling in an unofficial capacity. They are not going to be accompanied by any U.S. officials. They are not carrying any messages from us. Frankly, we don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful, but they are private citizens and they are making their own decisions.

QUESTION: Why don’t you think the timing is particularly helpful?

MS. NULAND: Well, in light of recent actions by the D.P.R.K., obviously.

QUESTION: By that, you mean the missile?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: And did your express your view to them? I mean, it – that the timing was not right?

MS. NULAND: They are well aware of our views.

QUESTION: And they’re going ahead notwithstanding?

MS. NULAND: I would refer you to them with regard to their plans.

QUESTION: You said the trip that was announced, but to my knowledge it has not been announced. To my knowledge, there was a story by the Associated Press saying that they were going, but I don’t believe Google has announced it and I don’t believe Governor Richardson’s office has announced or confirmed it.

MS. NULAND: So, bad verb choice on my part; that we’ve seen this press reporting with regard to this.

QUESTION: Would you rather that they not go now, that they cancel any plans they have to go for now, given your – that you think the time is not right?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, we don’t think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they’re well aware of our views.

QUESTION: And did they talk to Ambassador Davies or anybody else in the building about their plans in advance?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into any further details with regard to our contact except to say that they are well aware of the U.S. Government’s view on this.

Indira.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that they were – apparently one of the goals was to help win the release of this American citizen, is that not something – I mean, I think – my understanding was the timing was they wanted to get that American citizen out as soon as possible. Is that not something that the State Department is assisting them with in terms of any support or guidance in how they might achieve that?

MS. NULAND: Again, they are not going on our behalf. No American official is going with them. They are not carrying any messages from us. That said, with regard to the U.S. citizen who’s been detained in North Korea, I think we’ve said here before that we are in contact with the D.P.R.K. with regard to him through the Embassy of Sweden, which is our protecting power in Pyongyang. They have been granted consular access to him and they are providing all appropriate consular assistance.

Due to privacy considerations, I can’t go into it any more, but we are obviously quite active on this case.

QUESTION: One follow?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Toria, Happy New Year.

MS. NULAND: Happy New Year, Mr. Lee.

QUESTION: As you know, North Korea still object to U.S. sanction – U.S. economic sanctions. Do you think it is possible for Google to do business there in North Korea legally?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, without knowing what might be planned, et cetera, Google, like all U.S. companies, are subject to the restrictions under U.S. law.

QUESTION: I think you answered this question maybe, but do you know the timing of their trip to North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to them. As our colleagues have said, this is press information so far.

Please.

QUESTION: Would you be happy to see Google help North Korea to expand their internet access to the global community?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we support internet freedom around the world. We support the right of all people to have access to the internet, and we oppose government restrictions on that wherever they are found. That said, all U.S. companies are subject to the U.S. sanctions regime with regard to the D.P.R.K.

Please.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Madam, first of all, Happy New Year.

MS. NULAND: Happy New Year to you, Goyal.

QUESTION: And also, I pray for a speedy and fast recovery for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: And also Happy New Year to her. My question is, Madam, that I’m sure, being a woman yourself and being a woman Secretary herself, and also we have a woman ambassador in Delhi, Ambassador Powell, a lot of protests are going on in India as far as gang rapes and other rapes, and this is not just maybe problems in India; it’s an international problem, according to the UN sources. My question is that if you have been following this – these ongoing protests as far as rapes against women throughout India, especially in Delhi, but also if you are thinking of some kind of resolution at the – through the United Nations in the global problem against women throughout the globe but especially in India. Are you following this? Because I have seen a statement from the embassy, U.S. Embassy in Delhi from Ambassador Powell, but what I’m asking you is this: Are you concerned or have you spoken with somebody about this ongoing, continued protest in India?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’ve followed this horrific course of events. And as you say, Ambassador Powell put out a statement on the 29th after the victim died from this assault, offering our heartfelt condolences and our absolute abhorrence of these events.

Obviously, we have as a government worked very hard around the world with regard to combating violence against women. We have a number of programs, including programs in India in public education, in support for NGOs, that help women who are victims of violence, including domestic violence. And we will continue to make this a strong tenet of our foreign policy wherever there is a problem, and unfortunately, there are problems in countries around the world, including our own.

QUESTION: As far as this problem in India, if in India anybody asked any help from the U.S. or if U.S. has offered any kind of help in this to bring down this ongoing? Also it has now spread in Nepal and neighboring other countries also in South Asia.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we have a long and strong relationship with the Government of India and with a broad cross-section of Indian NGOs on combating violence against women. Obviously, if the result of the investigation into this case indicates that the Indian Government wants to make changes or go in a different set of directions with regard to those programs, we’d be interested in talking to them about it. Our goal is, whether it’s in India or anywhere else, to help strengthen all of the public and private organizations that are working to combat violence against women.

QUESTION: Finally, Secretary is aware of this issue in India?

MS. NULAND: I’m sure she’s aware of it. It’s, as you know, had enormous press and it’s a subject that is very close to her heart.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Scott.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MS. NULAND: Scott, still in the region or --

QUESTION: Not really. Go ahead.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Roz.

QUESTION: In Pakistan, it’s been reported that an apparent U.S. drone strike may have killed the Pakistani Taliban leader Maulvi Nazir. Do you have anything on that? Are you able to comment on it?

MS. NULAND: Well, I am obviously not going to talk about intelligence issues at all here, Roz.

QUESTION: Was the Pakistani Government notified that this was happening? Has the Pakistani Government registered any reaction, any objection to this incident?

MS. NULAND: Again, we don’t talk about these issues at all from this podium, Roz.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Pakistan? And I believe that the judicial commission that was set up by the government has submitted its report on the – on how bin Ladin managed to live in Pakistan for so long. It’s been submitted to the Prime Minister Ashraf. Is this something that the United States has already seen? Are you expected to see it? Would you be able to comment on that, please?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that report’s been made public, and I also don’t have any information about whether we have seen it. If we have anything on it, I’ll let you know, but I don’t think it’s out in the public domain yet. As you say, it’s gone to the Prime Minister.

QUESTION: Just follow quickly (inaudible) on Pakistan. Recently, Pakistan has made deals with Talibans and there are dangerous Talibans, and people in Pakistan or comments they didn’t like their Pakistani Government just releasing all these terrorists without putting some kind of restrictions on them. And I understand one of them is wanted by the U.S. I mean, do you support that Pakistan is releasing all these terrorists?

MS. NULAND: Well, maybe if you can give me a little bit more detail on who you’re speaking about. I’m not aware of somebody released who was somebody wanted by us.

We talked a little bit yesterday about the ongoing dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan that has led to some of these release decisions. Again, the United States, Pakistan, are committed to supporting Afghan-Afghan reconciliation. This needs to be done in a manner that encourages the best possible path forward, a renunciation of violence, acceptance of the Afghan constitution, et cetera. But we are very supportive of dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan that can support reconciliation.

QUESTION: But Madam, many people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they are concerned that when U.S. troops starts leaving Afghanistan, then these Talibans will be back in Afghanistan or there will be clash as far as between the U.S. – I mean between Pakistan and Afghanistan Talibans. And the people are still scared of this.

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know, Goyal, that our intention and the intention of the Afghan Government is that U.S. troops are withdrawing, will withdraw, along with allied and other ISAF-contributing countries, in the context of ANSF forces being able to fully take the lead and manage Afghan security across the country. So the equipping and training will obviously continue, and we remain prepared to support Afghan security in any other ways that are considered appropriate by all of us. But the goal is not to turn back the clock, but rather to have Afghans able to fully manage their own security.

Please.

QUESTION: Afghanistan still?

MS. NULAND: Still on Afghanistan? Yeah, go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: Is the State Department being consulted on the report recommendations submitted by General Allen on the future of U.S. troops presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know how this has to go, that General Allen makes a recommendation to the Secretary of Defense. He also will be discussing this in the context of NATO, and then it comes forward to the interagency. So I don’t have anything to share at this stage, and I think we’re still at the Pentagon stage.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News. On Monday, President Karzai is supposed to visit the United States, and I’m wondering if Secretary Clinton will be well enough to speak with him and if some of these issues of reconciliation and reintegration with the Taliban will be on the agenda of his visit.

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, I think the visit has been announced for between the 8th and the 11th, so he’ll be in the U.S. for a lot of next week. I’m going to refer you to the White House for a further lay-down on his precise schedule. Obviously, if the Secretary is back to work when he’s here, she’ll look forward to participating in that visit. I think we expect the full range of issues to come up, the issues of security, issues of political transition – as you know, there are elections scheduled in 2014 in Afghanistan, U.S. ongoing economic support, our Silk Road strategy, our regional integration strategy. So there’s a lot to talk about when President Karzai comes, and we’re all looking forward to having him in the U.S.

Please.

QUESTION: Iraq.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: The country is teetering nearly on the verge of explosion yet we are – I am struck by your position towards what’s going on in Iraq. I mean, there is a threat that Kurdistan may break away. There are elements of – there is heightened sectarian tension, there is violence going on every day, and so on. And your reaction is like that of Switzerland. I mean, the United States has invested blood and treasure, to repeat the common term, in Iraq. Yet, share with us what are you doing behind the scene to basically mitigate this explosive situation?

MS. NULAND: Well, I would completely reject your characterization of our dialogue and our interaction with Iraq and Iraqis. We have been extraordinarily active for many, many months now with Iraqis of all stripes and all groups, and maintaining the highest level contact with leaders across the country in support of political dialogue among them to protect and preserve the gains that they have made, and the constitutional structure of the country that provides for human rights protections and power sharing among the various different Iraqi groups.

So you know that we want to see Iraq continue on a stable, peaceful, democratic trajectory. That’s going to – that takes work. It takes commitment by all forces in Iraq. And we’ve been making the general point about issues of concern between communities being settled by dialogue. But we’ve also been quite active when individual issues have cropped up, including recently with regard to Iraqi forces in the Peshmerga, et cetera. So we are continuing to be enormously vigilant. We have an enduring commitment and agreement to support Iraq, but it is undergirded by our desire to see Iraqi democracy protected in all of its forms.

QUESTION: On that very point, on the constitution, and it was shepherded by the United States of America, there are some major things that have not been followed through on despite commitment to the contrary, like the hydrocarbon law.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Like the power sharing. Like many, many, other things, Article 140 that regulates whatever between Kurdistan and the central government. Could you share with us how much progress have you made in the last two, three years?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I don’t think anybody’s satisfied by how difficult it’s been to resolve some of these issues that have never gotten settled, including the question of the hydrocarbon law and energy sharing, et cetera, inside Iraq. I think Iraqis, among all of us, are the most frustrated by that. But, again, these issues can only be solved politically, they can only be solved democratically, they can only be solved through dialogue. That’s the course that we continue to urge, and we continue to use our influence to try to encourage Iraqis to talk to each other and work through these issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask – this has just happened, actually, so – but the – there’s been a suspected Pakistani al-Qaida operative who’s been extradited from Britain to the United States. He’s apparently wanted here for allegations of providing material support to al-Qaida. He’s called Abid Naseer. I just wondered if you had any information on that. Could you confirm it, and where is he likely to be going?

MS. NULAND: I am going to send you to the Department of Justice on that one. As you know, they have recently unsealed a set of indictments. But with regard to details pertaining to the case, they’re in charge.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. NULAND: Okay. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: We’re getting reports again that people who have relatives here in the U.S. and in other countries who’ve been protesting against the Assad regime are being targeted, kidnapped, disappeared, killed. Is the U.S. aware of what seems to be a resurgence in this retaliation, especially given what happened after the demonstrations at the Syrian Embassy last year, I believe? Have – is the State Department aware of this? Can anything be done from the U.S. to try to stop this harassment, and worse?

MS. NULAND: Well, Roz, as you know, and as you said, about a year ago we had significant concerns about official Syrians in the United States spying on, reporting on, private Syrians in the U.S., Syrian Americans, their support for the opposition, and taking retaliatory measures against family members inside Syria. We protested that extremely strongly to Syrian officials here. As you know, there were some requests for senior Syrians to leave the country connected with those incidents.

I don’t have information about new reports to U.S. law enforcement, but obviously we will take any of those reports extremely seriously and ensure that they are fully investigated, particularly with regard to such activity inside the United States.

That said, inside Syria, reprisals, political violence are the norm from the Assad regime, as we know. And they really will stop at nothing with regard to their opponents.

QUESTION: Do you have any further information following on from the UN report yesterday about this – the horrific casualty figures now of 60,000, which I think took a lot of people by surprise?

QUESTION: And which, they suggest, may be understating the case.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, we talked about this yesterday, that these numbers were larger than we had seen elsewhere. We’re obviously continuing to study the details of the report, how they come to those counts. But frankly, I think we’ve all been concerned about the huge numbers inside Syria. It’s just a reflection of the ongoing brutality of the regime, and we continue to put the primary responsibility at Assad’s feet for what’s going on there.

QUESTION: But you have no reason to suspect the numbers are wrong?

MS. NULAND: We don’t have reason to believe that these are wrong. I mean, there are a lot of different ways to come to these kinds of counts, so we’re continuing to look at the methodology. But it’s obviously very concerning.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: Any update on the next three Bs meeting in the work?

MS. NULAND: We don’t have a date yet. We’re continuing to look at the middle of January. I think as I said yesterday, the Russians are on holiday now, so we’re continuing to try to nail down a date.

QUESTION: Well, do you know where it will be? I mean, whether it would be the same like the last one in Geneva?

MS. NULAND: Again, we don’t have either a venue or a date yet to announce, but those are the things we’re working on.

Scott.

QUESTION: Does the United States have a position on Thai officials ordering the deportation of 73 Rohingya Muslim refugees who they picked up adrift?

MS. NULAND: I did not have anything on that with regard to Thais deporting Rohingyas, but let me look into it, Scott, and see if we have anything to share. You know our concerns in general about the treatment of Rohingya and our ongoing concerns about their stateless status and the difficulties that that causes.

QUESTION: The UN is asking them to not deport –

MS. NULAND: -- deport them. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. So --

MS. NULAND: Yeah. And we have been concerned about that in other countries as well.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could I --

QUESTION: Back on Burma itself, have they responded to your call on Kachin rebels use of – not using the air power against the rebels?

MS. NULAND: Have the Burmese responded? We are continuing to have those conversations in Nay Pyi Taw and in Rangoon, trying to get a little bit more clarity on exactly what’s going on because there have also been conflicting statements from the government and the military with regard to what’s going on. But our view is that all sides need to cease and desist and get into dialogue with each other, and we’re making that point to both the government and to Kachin representatives.

QUESTION: Can I ask one other question on Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The meeting this afternoon, the Ambassador of Pakistan, Sherry Rehman, is expected to come to the State Department later today, correct, to meet with Mr. Nides?

MS. NULAND: She’s actually not coming in. She and Deputy Secretary Nides had a phone call earlier today, continuing their ongoing conversation that they have been having about the full range of U.S.-Pakistani issues. But the primary focus was on our bilateral economic relationship which, as you know, Deputy Secretary Nides is the main issue manager on, including kicking off the Pakistan Private Investment Initiative and our continued collaboration with Pakistan to rebuild momentum for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam project.

QUESTION: Do you know whether they did discuss this attack, which apparently killed a Taliban leader in Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Again, I am not going to talk about intelligence issues at all from this podium.

QUESTION: Toria.

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Russia?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Russians, they may be on holiday now but the Defense Ministry has announced they’re going to have major maneuvers at the end of January in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. There is indeed a major military build-up ongoing in Russia, including in terms of their nuclear weapons. Mr. Ryabkov, who was the counterpart in terms of the discussions on nuclear disarmament, has said that – or has threatened that Russia may leave the START-III Treaty largely because of the issue of the missile defense program of the United States.

Are there still discussions ongoing with the Russians to try and come to some kind of an agreement with regard to the missile defense issue, which obviously is the most important issue for them in this whole defense relationship, or are those just kind of at a standstill at this point?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have a date for you, but I know that as recently as late November, early December, we had discussions again between Acting Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller and Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov on the missile defense issues. We remain committed to cooperating with Russia on missile defense. We think this can be a win-win for both of us because we think we share the same threats. But it’s going to require Russia being willing to have a real conversation about how we can work together on this, and that’s been difficult.

So we remain open to working on this, and we remain open to collaboration, both bilaterally and in terms of the NATO-Russia track, but Russia has not been as open to that as we’d like them to be.

QUESTION: Toria, a small one. There are some rather obscure reports about the possibility of a radiation leak in the Iran – in or near the Iranian city of Isfahan. Do you have any reason to believe that there is any such leak or that people in that city may have been asked to evacuate their homes?

MS. NULAND: Arshad, we saw the same press reports that you are presumably seeing just before coming down here. I was not able to confirm whether we have any ability to verify any of this independently. Obviously, if learn anything that we can share later in the day or tomorrow, we will let you know.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: Okay. Two quick questions: On the issue of recognizing the coalition, I know it was recognized politically and you addressed this before, but in terms of timetable, what needs to happen for them to be recognized legally so they can take over embassies and assets and so on?

MS. NULAND: Well, this is a longer briefing that we would have to do outside of the podium because it goes to a number of international legal issues in terms of control of territory, control of assets of the state. But we are continuing to look at all of these issues in terms of enhancing over time our relationship with the Syrian opposition coalition as they gain traction inside and as the regime increasingly loses control of territory. But you know where we are at the moment to recognize them as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Yeah, and my second question: There are a group of experts that are trying to tie the Iran nuclear issue with Syria as part of a grand bargain. You oppose that kind of connection, do you?

MS. NULAND: I’m not sure which group of experts you’re talking about or what their plan is, but obviously we deal with Iran on the Iran issues; we deal with Syria on the Syria issues. I’m not sure that we --

QUESTION: Right. But you don’t favor – by tying – when you talk to the Russians, because it all involves Russia, when you’re talking to the Russians, you don’t favor combining let’s say the nuclear issue of Iran with that of Syria or the departure of Bashar al-Assad?

MS. NULAND: I’m not even sure how one could package that except to say that we are concerned, as we’ve said all along, about increasingly nefarious activity by Iran in support of Assad inside Syria. But with regard to the nuclear file, that is a separate and distinct issue, and you know how we’re working on that.

QUESTION: The reason I ask this is because Mr. Levitte, the former French Ambassador in this town, basically suggested that any kind of deal with the Russians on Syria ought to include the issue of Iran. So – and he has a lot of cohorts in this town.

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen what he has in mind. I have a lot of respect for Jean-David Levitte, but I haven’t seen his particular ideas.

Please.

QUESTION: Toria, we talked about Venezuela yesterday, and I just wanted to get back to it. There apparently are some reports that top Venezuelan officials are talking with the State Department concerning some type of possible political transition because Chavez may not be well enough, obviously, to be sworn in for a new term. Can you confirm that there are such discussions underway?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we talk to Venezuelans from across the political spectrum, as we do with countries around the world. But any political transition that takes place in Venezuela has to be the product of decisions that are made by Venezuelans. There’s no made-in-America solution here. This has to be something that Venezuelans come to.

We seek a more functional, more productive relationship with Venezuela. We remain open to dialogue on a range of issues of mutual interest. But in terms of any transition, any succession, it’s got to be constitutional and it’s got to be decided by Venezuelans.

QUESTION: Toria, just to hold down on the conspiracy theories that will no doubt be spawned by your acknowledging that you talk to Venezuelan officials just like you talk to officials in any country anywhere about the events, the United States is not, in its conversations with Venezuelan officials, seeking to, in any direct way, shape the outcome, correct?

MS. NULAND: We do not believe that there is a made-in-America solution for Venezuela’s transition. Only Venezuelans can make that set of decisions. That is the message that we are giving to Venezuelans of all stripes, that we want to see any transition be democratic, be constitutional, be open, be transparent, be legal within Venezuela, and that it has to be decided by Venezuelans.

QUESTION: Has – have your people in Venezuela been, in any way, able to independently verify the state of President Chavez’s health?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything particular to share there. We’re going to refer you to the Venezuelan Government.

QUESTION: Do you – there’s quite a groundswell of movement in Venezuela by the opposition particularly that they believe they’re not being given the full truth about the state of the President’s health. Is that something that Washington shares?

MS. NULAND: Again, we don’t have any way to evaluate what’s being said, but we have seen concern within Venezuela that the government’s not being transparent.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Bolivia. New reports suggest that Bolivia’s efforts to fight drug trafficking without the assistance of the DEA or other U.S. authorities may be having some bit of an impact, although it is considered controversial. Has the U.S. seen these reports? And what does the U.S. think about the efforts to deal with illegal drug trafficking, coca growing in distribution, outside of a Merida-type relationship?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t get the vector you were coming at from the beginning, Roz, that they are making improvements or that they’re not making --

QUESTION: Apparently they have made some progress --

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in stopping the trafficking, particularly of coca and its byproducts.

MS. NULAND: Let me get you a fuller report on this. You know that we’ve had longstanding concerns about the narcotics situation in Bolivia. That said, I think we do agree that they have made some progress in 2010, 2011, but there is a whole lot more to do. But let me get you a more subtle sense of that directly later today.

QUESTION: Is it a sense of how much they’ve been able to reduce the trafficking? Is it a question of whether they’ve been able to crack down on illegal traffickers? What is the source of the U.S.’s concern here?

MS. NULAND: Well, that the overall picture is still very high on a global scale.

Please.

QUESTION: Victoria, if you indulge me, I’m not so sure this is a proper forum to ask this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway.

MS. NULAND: But you’re going to try anyway. Go for it, Said.

QUESTION: I’m going to try. Yesterday, Al-Jazeera English purchased Current TV for the tune of half a billion dollars. And Time Warner denied them access or whatever the band that they need to air in this country. Is the State Department in any way involved in the licensing process of this thing, or are you involved in any way? Or this is purely something that they have to do with the Federal Communications Commission?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. It’s not a State Department function to license U.S. bandwidth. I think that’s FCC.

QUESTION: But you’re not involved at any level of, let’s say, having a foreign-based media outlet conduct business in America?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, it’s not within our purview of – obviously, if there are foreign policy concerns, we can register them. But to my knowledge, we were not involved in this one at all.

All right, everybody? Jo, one more.

QUESTION: Sorry, just one more. And again, you might refer me elsewhere. Last night or this morning the President signed into law the defense bill, of which I believe some of the $633 billion is going towards diplomatic security. I wondered if you could break that down for us and tell us exactly which embassies or diplomatic outposts it might be going to.

MS. NULAND: Let me take that one, Jo, and see what I can get for you in terms of diplomatic security upgrades there.

And Indira.

QUESTION: Also as part of that bill, the Iran sanctions, the newest Iran sanctions, went through. And I think they were pretty much intact from how they had originally been proposed, and the recommendations that were given by the Administration about ways to change them were not taken. Do you have any comment on these new sanctions and --

MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that we’ll obviously implement the letter and the spirit of the law to the best of our ability, I don’t, Indira. But if we have any comment to come back to you on, I will get that for you.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

Source: state.gov

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