State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, April 1, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 1, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Rebellion / Governance
    • U.S. Assistance
    • Nonlethal Support to Syrian Opposition Coalition and Supreme Military Command
  • D.P.R.K. / R.O.K.
    • Latest Provocations from D.P.R.K.
    • Regional Diplomacy / Secretary’s Meeting with R.O.K. Foreign Minister / Trip
    • International Obligations
    • National Democratic Institute / Government Accusations
  • R.O.K.
    • Civilian Nuclear Talks
    • U.S. Position
    • Bassem Youssef / Increasing Restrictions on Freedom of Expression
    • Electoral Laws / IMF Conversations
    • Russian Influence
    • Benghazi Survivors
    • Oil Spill in Arkansas / Safety is an Essential Consideration in Keystone Pipeline
    • Brussels Talks Tomorrow / U.S. Supports Continuation of Dialogue



12:44 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Monday. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what is on your minds.

QUESTION: It’s not just Monday. You know what today is.

MS. NULAND: Today is Easter Monday, Good Monday, Happy Monday. April Fool’s Day.


MS. NULAND: What do you got for me?


MS. NULAND: Let’s go.

QUESTION: It is Dyngus Day.

MS. NULAND: It is what?

QUESTION: Dyngus Day.

MS. NULAND: Dyngus Day. Of particular importance to Matt Lee?

QUESTION: To – no, to Polish people in Buffalo. Yes, it’s a very big holiday.

MS. NULAND: Excellent, all right.

QUESTION: Anyway —

MS. NULAND: It’s also opening day, is it not?

QUESTION: Yes, it is.

MS. NULAND: All right. Baseball fans.

QUESTION: So let’s get – so we have only a few minutes before the game starts.

MS. NULAND: Okay. So let’s get this done.

QUESTION: I have nothing.

MS. NULAND: You have nothing? No? Front bench.

QUESTION: I want to know what the plural of Dyngus is.

MS. NULAND: Let’s call it off and go to the game, no?



MS. NULAND: No? Anybody? All right, it’s been wonderful being with you. (Laughter.)

Nicolas, (in French).

QUESTION: Can we start with Central Africa?


QUESTION: You issued a statement on Saturday condemning the rebellion, the Seleka. Are you satisfied now with the new government they have formed over the weekend?

MS. NULAND: We’re obviously not satisfied, as you saw in our statement. We were very concerned as of Saturday that the rebels would take steps to try to take care of governance going forward and in a manner that was not democratic, that was not transparent. They have done exactly that. We stand by our concerns that any future governance of the country only be decided in an inclusive, transparent, and democratic manner that is consistent with Libreville. This is not that.



MS. NULAND: You thought it was too insufficiently lively here that we needed to —

QUESTION: Sorry, just on C.A.R. for a second?


QUESTION: Did that statement on Saturday talk about any assistance that the U.S. might be forced to withhold, or is there any?

MS. NULAND: Let me check on that. I know that we have a small contingent of U.S. forces in the south of the country involved in the counter-LRA training of local forces. I don’t think that they would be affected. We have a good amount of humanitarian assistance, which, as you know, would not be affected.

We have looked, as a legal matter, at the question of whether one can call this a coup for purposes of formal designation. A coup, as legally understood, generally involves the military of the country. Here we have rebels. So we’re continuing to look at what impact this might have. As you know, we have some $28.6 million in FY2012 assistance; 22.8 million of that is for humanitarian purposes. I think Patrick went through this about a week and a half ago.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Well, then I’m sorry. I wasn’t —

MS. NULAND: Yeah. But there is some assistance that may be affected. We’re still looking at that.

QUESTION: And the forces there are there by invitation of the government, correct?

MS. NULAND: They are.

QUESTION: So if it is declared legally a coup, does that change whether the LRA contingent can be there legally?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know the formal answer to that, but all forces in the C.A.R., as I understand it, have been supportive of efforts to go after the LRA. It’s destabilizing to C.A.R. as well. I don’t know that we’ve had any factions in this discussion who have raised concerns about that.

And Miss Margaret.

QUESTION: Happy April.

MS. NULAND: Thank you. Happy April Fool’s Day.

QUESTION: There was – on a serious note, there was a story crossing about a British group following the Syrian conflict that declared March was the deadliest month thus far in two years. I was wondering if you can give us an update on the pledge and then delivery of U.S. aid, whether it’s actually been deployed – some of what was pledged in Rome – and whether there’s reason to believe that some of that support has made any difference in some of the casualties and lessening some of the pain.

MS. NULAND: Well, I assume you’re talking about the additional support for – the nonlethal assistance both for the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the nonlethal support for the Supreme Military Command. On the Supreme Military Command side, where we were looking at providing medical support as well as food rations, my understanding is that the first shipment is either on its way or to be on its way in the next week or two. Let me check on that.

With regard to the additional assistance to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, that is flowing. As you know, we were supporting a number of things, first their administrative support at their offices in Cairo, but also to begin to deepen and broaden the support that they are able to provide to local coordinating councils, to some of the newly elected governance – governing authorities outside Aleppo, et cetera. That is starting to flow. I don’t have a dollar figure for you, but essentially what we are doing are receiving information from the SOC when they have incurred expenses, and we are paying those bills for them based on the receipts.

Anything else? Miss Elise.

QUESTION: Can we move on to North Korea?


QUESTION: I’m going to start with what they did on – over the weekend in terms of formally declaring war and saying they’re in a state of war. And I’m just wondering where things are in the state of diplomacy – you have the South Korean Foreign Minister coming tomorrow to meet with the Secretary – and whether you think that these threats and these declarations by North Korea are indicative of some new belligerence, or do you think that this might be an attempt by North Korea to actually get back to the table?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, when a country takes this kind of a rhetorical stance, takes the measures that they’ve taken to cut off hotlines, to make the kinds of declarations that they’ve made, we take it absolutely seriously. And we say yet again, as the White House said over the weekend, that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to the United States national security and to international peace and security. We’re going to remain vigilant in the face of these threats and these provocations and we’re going to stay steadfast in our defense of our allies, [Republic of][*] Korea, Japan, et cetera. That’s why you see us taking the moves that we’ve made to protect the U.S. homeland through increased missile defenses and the demonstration that the Pentagon’s talked about, about our commitment to protect the Republic of Korea.

As you said, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea will be here tomorrow. Secretary Kerry will have a chance to consult with him. There’ll also be a joint press availability after that meeting, so you’ll have a chance to hear from both of them. And as I said last Thursday, we do expect that we – that the Secretary will be discussing the D.P.R.K.’s provocations on all of his stops in Northeast Asia next – on his trip next week. This will be very much front and center, and particularly in Beijing.

QUESTION: But what about the idea of is this an attempt by North Korea to kind of, as it has in the past, make these provocations, make these threats in order to get some attention from you and your allies to get back to the table, or do you see any chance for diplomacy with North Korea dead right now, or frozen?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said in the past, these kinds of threats are not going to get them back to the table. They’re going to take them in the opposite direction, which is —

QUESTION: It has – it actually has in the past.

MS. NULAND: — which, it’s going to take them in the direction of further isolation. I mean, when they started with all of this back – this latest round back in November, they got first one UN Security Council resolution with more sanctions and then a second one with more sanctions. We are looking at trying to increase the pressure, both in the way we implement those sanctions and with our allies and partners.

More broadly, though, these kinds of moves are not going to make North Korea more secure. They are not going to feed the people of North Korea. They’re not going to get the country out of its isolation. There is a very simple and clear path for the D.P.R.K. if they care about the future of their country, if they care about the future of their people, and that’s to stop with the provocations, stop spending money on the wrong things, and meet their international obligations so that we can meet them halfway on that.

The President’s also been clear that if they stop, if they come back to – into compliance with their international obligations and unclench their fist, as he’s put it, that we will be prepared to meet them.

QUESTION: You don’t see a chance for diplomacy in this current climate?

MS. NULAND: We’ve made clear that there is a chance for diplomacy if they do the right thing, but not if they don’t.

QUESTION: Why – you said that we take seriously their various provocations of late, and Elise began by asking you about the statement about being in a state of war. But because the Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty, have you not been in a state of war for the last 60 years with the North?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you say, the technical legal circumstance was a state of armistice. We see a number of rhetorical steps being taken by the D.P.R.K. The precise meaning on the ground and what they intend to do as a result of some of these statements that they’ve made remains to be seen, and that’s why we’re being vigilant ourselves in terms of our national defense and our defense of allies.

QUESTION: But you’re not going to be buffaloed into talks with them because of these kinds of gestures?

MS. NULAND: As I said, it’s going to take that prospect in the wrong direction.

Please, Guy.

QUESTION: North Korea.


QUESTION: Given the North Korea issue will be front and center during the Secretary’s upcoming trip, particularly with Beijing, can you tell us what message that he’s hoping to convey to the Chinese?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of his trip, obviously, but as we’ve been discussing with all of our partners in Northeast Asia, we’re going to have to get the attention of the regime. We’re going to have to look at other ways to increase the pressure on them. And Beijing is the – has the most leverage, given their intensive trade relationship.

QUESTION: Sorry. Also North Korea.


QUESTION: There are a few other embassies – Thailand, Philippines – that are publicly saying they’re making plans in case they need to evacuate citizens or making sort of emergency plans for the – for their embassies in South Korea. Is the United States doing anything special in terms of this, given the ratcheting up of the rhetoric coming out of North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Dana, I would simply say that we regularly review emergency procedures at all of our embassies, but I’m not going to get into specifics.


QUESTION: Thank you. The Government of Azerbaijan has accused the NDI, the National Democratic Institute office in Azerbaijan, in illegal fundings of the opposition groups in Azerbaijan. And I believe the general attorney of Azerbaijan communicate to the Embassy of the United States in Baku. Do you have any update on this?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information on that particular assertion by the government. I don’t know whether it happened in the last couple of days. We’ll check into it. But as you know, all of our U.S.-funded democracy NGOs operate within extremely tight guidelines. They don’t fund any particular party or any particular ideological approach. They fund the process of democratic elections and party building in an evenhanded manner across the political spectrum.

Please. Back, Mr. Lee. Let me guess; we’re going back to the D.P.R.K.



QUESTION: Another Korea.


QUESTION: (Laughter.) South Korea and the United States have been in talks to revise their civilian nuclear cooperation. So what’s going on with the negotiations? I mean, South Korea is hoping to leave the door open for enriching uranium and reprocessing or recycling spent fuel. So do you have any clear position on South Korea’s pursuit?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any update for you on our civilian nuclear talks. I would guess, as it always does when we are in Seoul, it will likely come up on the Secretary’s trip. This goes to the issue of ensuring that international standards are applied and all those things.

QUESTION: So that issue will be raised in Secretary Kerry’s meeting with his South Korean counterparts tomorrow, do you think?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, whether it’ll come up tomorrow. It would presumably come up on the R.O.K. side, so I would refer to them.

Yeah, please. Tell me who you are?

QUESTION: Zach Biggs, Defense News.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, we had another series of cyber attacks. In this case, it was a group of North Korean websites that were apparently hit. Given that we’re now seeing increased traffic back and forth with attacks, are you concerned that these kinds of activities could trigger conflict on the peninsula, full-on military conflict?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything specific on attacks within the D.P.R.K. Frankly, I hadn’t seen that. But you know in general we are looking for – to establish rules of the road with regard to the use of cyber assets and transparency that both protects the web but ensures that governments can talk to each other in a reasonable manner if there are concerns. But I don’t have anything in particular with regard to the D.P.R.K.

Anything else? No. Hey, yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: The TV satirist Bassem Youssef was (inaudible) for insulting Islam and President Morsy and for that reason he was questioned or interrogated for over five hours. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. NULAND: Thank you for that. We are concerned that the public prosecutor appears to have questioned and then released on bail Bassam Youssef on charges of insulting Islam and President Morsy. This coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for other political activists is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression.

As I said last Thursday, we’re also concerned that the Government of Egypt seems to be investigating these cases while it has been slow or inadequate in investigating attacks on demonstrators outside of the presidential palace in December 2012, other cases of extreme police brutality, and illegally blocked entry of journalists to media cities. So there does not seem to be an evenhanded application of justice here.

QUESTION: Okay. Last week, it was a blogger. This week is a TV satirist. And in general, it’s becoming like a freedom of expression issue.

MS. NULAND: As I said, yes.

QUESTION: And how do you handle it?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think I said we have concerns that freedom of expression is being stifled. This is something that came up when Secretary Kerry was in Egypt. He raised human rights concerns, including freedom of the press, with President Morsy, and we will continue to raise these concerns.

QUESTION: I’m not sure if you have a chance to see the draft of the new nongovernmental organizations or, let’s say, civil society regulations and laws. I mean, if there is a whole concern about it – because first, it is like almost avoiding any help from the outside world, and second, more focusing on social and economic issues, ignoring political, or, let’s say, freedom of expression. Do you have any chance to see that law or —

MS. NULAND: I don’t know that there have been amendments to the law since the Secretary was in Egypt, but he certainly heard a lot from NGO leaders and, frankly, from the business community as well about their concerns about the draft that was circulating and the fact that it would have – as I said with regard to another country on Thursday – would have a chilling effect on the ability of Egyptian NGOs in the first instance, but also international NGOs to support the democratic process in Egypt. So these were concerns that were also raised in the context of the Secretary’s meeting with President Morsy.

QUESTION: So in terms of what has happened since the Secretary’s visit, did he – it seems like things have gone the wrong way since he was there.

MS. NULAND: Well, we talked about this a little bit last week. I mean, it’s a very mixed picture in the sense that one of the things we heard was concern about these – that the elections were rushed, that the electoral law was inadequate and had a number of flaws to it. So the courts, as you know, have now taken up that case. In response to court concerns, the government and President Morsy have agreed to suspend the elections to work through the concerns with the electoral law, which are still proceeding through the court. So that is a better step on that side, but then, as I just said, we have these concerns about freedom of expression, et cetera.

The other issue that was front and center, as you recall, Matt, from that trip was encouraging President Morsy to reactivate his conversations with the IMF. Those have been reactivated. The IMF is now going back out again with a technical team on Wednesday of this week, but that has not yet taken us to an IMF deal. We very much look forward to seeing what happens when this – in this round of discussions.


QUESTION: A quick one on Russia and Syria.


QUESTION: Some time ago, you told us that Russia was trying to sound the Syrian Government on whether it’s ready to go for a political solution, and if so, to name names for – to represent the government in the governing body. Anything happening on this level since —

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new and serious to share on that front. Suffice to say we had encouraged, as I think we said when Secretary Kerry last saw Foreign Minister Lavrov when he did his first meeting, the Russians to use their influence. There have been some ideas floated, but they were not considered serious by the opposition or by the international community.


QUESTION: Just one on Libya. Maybe you could take this question unless you have a response for it, but I think exactly five weeks ago, two members of the House sent a letter to Secretary Kerry inquiring about Americans believed to still be at Walter Reed Hospital being treated for injuries sustained during the September 11 Benghazi attacks. Has the Secretary responded to that letter, and can you tell us about it?

MS. NULAND: We’ve had a number of letters. Are you talking about the Royce-Issa letter?

QUESTION: Frank Wolf.

MS. NULAND: The Wolfe letter. I believe we did respond back to Representative Wolf. Let me get you some specifics on that. But with regard to —

QUESTION: Last week, his office said they hadn’t received a response. I didn’t want to ask about it because I knew the Secretary was traveling.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. No, I believe we have, but if not, we’ll – I mean, I’ll get back to you either way, Guy, but I believe we have. We’ve also spoken both here and in other fora about the injured. My understanding is we still – we have only one still injured at Walter Reed.

Please. Can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: Sylvia Thomson of CBC.




QUESTION: Yeah. A question on Keystone?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The EPA has noted that there was a major spill in Arkansas over the weekend, over 4,000 barrels of Canadian oil spilled. I’m just wondering if the State Department is monitoring the spill and will consider it in its final report on the Keystone Pipeline. Is it being watched or is anybody taking a look at it?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, with regard to the spill in Arkansas, my understanding is that that was on a section of pipeline that dates from the ‘40s and is not part of the Keystone route, so just to make that clear.

QUESTION: It’s an Exxon pipeline, isn’t it?

MS. NULAND: Right, it’s an Exxon pipeline and it’s not a new one. But —

QUESTION: The 1940s, right?

MS. NULAND: The 1940s as compared to 1840s.

QUESTION: Yeah, or 1840s.

MS. NULAND: Pipelines – oil pipelines in the 1840s? Never know.

Obviously, safety is of paramount concern in the way we look at these applications and our national interest determination. It’s an essential consideration that we take into account, and we consult extensively, including with all of the expert agencies, so it’s one of the things that goes into our overall look at the Keystone Pipeline.


QUESTION: Tomorrow, Belgrade and Pristina will continue talks in Brussels, and my question is: What are your expectations on that? Do you think that the next round of talks is possible if there are no results tomorrow?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve been extremely supportive of the process of discussions that High Representative Lady Ashton has been conducting. You’ll recall that Secretary Clinton and Lady Ashton traveled to the region together to support the process, and she’s had a couple of rounds since. So we support the continuation of this dialogue. We hope that the round tomorrow will be a successful one, because we think it’s important both for Kosovo and for Serbia to normalize their relations and move on from the legacy of the past, and move forward both in democratic terms, in economic terms, and on their path for European integration.

Please, Ms. Chomiak.

QUESTION: There are reports that Caroline Kennedy is going to be appointed to ambassador to Japan. Do you have anything on that or when we might be hearing about some announcements?

MS. NULAND: You know that those announcements come from the White House. When they’re ready to nominate somebody, they will.

Anything else? All right. Thank you, all.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)

[*] Briefer intended to refer to Republic of Korea.