State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, December 13, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 13, 2011. 

Index for Today’s Briefing


1: 05 p.m.

MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. Before we get started, I just wanted to remind all of you that later on this afternoon, we will have an on-the-record phone briefing from our Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, reporting on the results of the Durban conference. So any of you who would like to join that, you may dial in.

Now, let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Toria, there is a meeting between Secretary Clinton and UAE foreign minister. Do you have any guidance or any readout for this meeting?

MS. NULAND: Well, the meeting started at 12:30. I think it’s a luncheon meeting, so it’s still going on. As you know, UAE is a good friend and partner of the United States, and we have very, very close consultations. I think we expect the meeting to cover a full range of bilateral regional issues, including the security situation in the region and the bilateral cooperation that we have. But why don’t we see if we can get you a readout afterwards?

QUESTION: Can I ask about the – Iran and Congress? Where are you in the process right now? I know there’s been a lot of talks regarding the amendment that was on the defense bill. Can you give us the state of play on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, beyond saying that – you know we’ve been in close contact with the Congress throughout this period. We are now reviewing what was acted on last night, but I don’t have any further comment at this point until we get a chance to review it.

QUESTION: So you can’t say if you’re happy with the changes that have been made, and if that satisfies the Administration’s concerns?

MS. NULAND: Again, this is something that was completed last night. We need a chance to look at the language to make sure that all parties understand it, and then we will have further comment, I would guess.


QUESTION: On Congress, with regards to Pakistan, there’s a bill to withhold $800 million unless and until Pakistan takes the steps to stop the supply of ammonium nitrate to Afghanistan that is used in IED bombs. Do you think that is a step in the right direction? And will it have any effect on the relationship with Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, just to clarify what has and hasn’t happened here, in our understanding, we have not cut 700 million in aid to Pakistan. What we have is something on the defense authorization bill, which is currently moving in the Congress, which would require the Department of Defense to continue providing a strategy on how we will use certain military assistance and measure its progress, in particular on progress that we are making with Pakistan on the IED issue.

So if – obviously, if this legislation becomes law, we’ll work with the Government of Pakistan on how we can fulfill the requirements. But, this requires us to maintain a strategic perspective and to be clear with our Congress about the strategy. And as you know, this is a subject that the U.S. and Pakistan have been working on for some time together, both through DOD programs and through State Department programs.

QUESTION: Okay. Just to follow up, there was a conference of the diplomatic corps in Pakistan chaired by Prime Minister Gilani, and they have come up with a few recommendations after the conference. And they’re making it very clear that nothing short of an apology from the United States and NATO on the airstrike will be acceptable to them if at all this relationship has to come back on track. So do you have a comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a comment specifically on the outcome of the conference. Frankly, I don’t have full information from our Embassy after the conference. I think you know our view, that while this relationship is sometimes difficult, it’s very important for the United States and Pakistan to continue to work together, particularly on the threats that face both of us, and our dialogue with them continues on how we can do that together.


QUESTION: No apology either?

MS. NULAND: Michel, did you have something?

QUESTION: Yeah. On Iran, they’ve announced today that they won’t return the drone to the U.S. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary mentioned yesterday that although we have asked them, we were not holding our breath. So, anybody else?


QUESTION: I just have a follow-up on the Keystone question. There was a taken question yesterday and the – Senator Lugar writes that the State Department’s characterization of our Keystone XL legislation is blatantly misleading. He also said that it shouldn’t be like a multiyear doctoral dissertation, that you should be able to make a decision. So I wonder, what is your position on this legislation that’s going through Congress on Keystone?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, let me just clarify what we’re doing with the extra time. As you know, the State Department has the responsibility delegated from the President with regard to the permitting. So we’ve been involved in this process to ensure that we have open meetings and consultations in all of the states that the pipeline passes through, working with the eight agencies of the U.S. Government that need and deserve to have an opinion on whether this pipeline is in the national interest. So, in the context of some of this work that we were doing with the states – particularly in Nebraska – a variety of concerns came up quite loudly, quite clearly, about whether the pipeline was properly routed, and particularly properly routed with regard to some environmental concerns in the state. And there were quite loud voices asking that we consider an alternative route.

So that requires us – we’ve heard those voices. We want to make sure that we’re completely thorough. So what we are doing now is doing a study of the alternative routes and whether they might be more in the national interest. And again, that involves redoing the environmental impact study, because it only looked at the one original routing.

So we want to do this right, and it’s more important for the United States national interest to do it right than to do it fast. We’ve made these points to the Congress. And, frankly, at the end of the day, this permitting decision, one way or the other, has to be based on a full accounting of the interests of the American people, where it goes, as well as all of the agencies that have to weigh in, and we want to take the time to do it right. And we’ve made that point to the Congress.


QUESTION: On Syria, the Russian foreign minister has said today that the Syrians’ armed opposition, as he called them, is attempting to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe, in order to justify foreign military intervention in the Syrian conflict. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: Our assessment remains that the vast majority of those Syrians who are demonstrating for peaceful change are doing so peacefully. We ourselves have said repeatedly we believe that peaceful protest is the only appropriate way to express views and seek change. I’d call your attention in particular to the December 11th strike for dignity, which is a new technique that the Syrian opposition is deploying where they are not taking up arms. They are instead conducting general strikes and civil disobedience in parts of the country and areas of the economy that the regime needs to take notice of. This first one on December 11th was completely peaceful and was quite broad-based.

So from our perspective, we have supported peaceful protest, we will continue to do so, and we think it’s a mischaracterization of the situation to say that there are – that the violence in Syria is the result of agiteurs. We know where the violence is coming from. The violence is coming from Asad’s regime, his brutality. Just yesterday we count 18 more dead, 13 killed in Homs, and if you’ve had chance to review the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report, 5,000 innocent civilians now dead in Syria. It is absolutely chilling, some of the things that the UN has found, particularly with regard to the viciousness of the regime. So we put responsibility for the violence squarely at the door of the regime.

QUESTION: Lavrov criticized the West for taking an immoral stance on Syria by raising the pressure on President Asad’s government while turning a blind eye to violent action by militants. What do you think about the immoral stance that the West is taking?

MS. NULAND: We think it’s the Asad regime that is immoral in the violence it’s perpetrating on its own people. And frankly, we think that it is past time for the UN Security Council to speak up. As we said yesterday in New York, the silence of the Security Council is, frankly, unconscionable in the face of the Asad regime’s violence, and we are again calling on our partners on the Security Council to be willing to take action and speak out for the innocents in Syria who are suffering at the hands of the regime – including Russia.

QUESTION: Given what you call the chilling level of violence, why is it still kind of unacceptable for some Syrian civilians to take up arms, if that’s what it takes to defend themselves? We’ve seen that the peaceful protests have not been – while it has shaken the foundations of the country, it hasn’t forced the government into respecting their rights to protest, or in to respecting their right to life in many cases.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, Brad, the view of the vast majority of Syrians, and particularly those in the opposition – a view that we share – is that further militarizing the situation in Syria is not in the interest of anyone, and could threaten to rip the fiber of the country apart. This is exactly what the regime wants. The regime wants an armed conflict, because that’s what they understand. That’s what they are trying to provoke. So we think it is far more effective, as do the vast majority of Syrian oppositionists, to maintain a peaceful attitude in their protests, and particularly this new strike for dignity technique reflects their own internal decision that they will be more effective if they strike peacefully at the economy than if they play into the regime’s hands and take up arms against them.

QUESTION: But it their restraint bringing any restraint from the Asad regime? Is their peacefulness providing any sort of limitation in the regime’s response?

MS. NULAND: I think what you have here is the juxtaposition of the largely peaceful response of the protesters with the viciousness of the regime, creating a great moral authority for those civilian Syrians who want to live in a different way, who want to see a government that doesn’t kill its people, but that talks to them and leads to a more democratic, non-sectarian Syria. I mean, what the regime particularly wants is to pit the confessions within Syria against each other.


MS. NULAND: We were particularly struck when the Secretary saw the Syrian National Council representatives, for example, in Geneva last week, that so many of them said that they never lived in a Syria, they didn’t grow up in a Syria, where the confessions were pitted against each other, that this is a regime technique and it wants citizens to take up arms, because that is what it understands. So.

QUESTION: The gap seems to be widened between Russia and West about Syria – at least in words. First, do you agree with that? And if yes, do you think it could be related to Russia’s own domestic situation, i.e. the elections and the difficulties that they experience?

MS. NULAND: Well, I obviously can’t speak for Russia, can’t speak for Russia’s motives. We, as you know, have had a very frank conversation bilaterally with Russia, that we think it’s high time for the UN to act. We thought it was when they vetoed and we think it is all the more necessary now. The chorus of countries that are appealing to Russia, to China, to some of the other countries on the Security Council that were reluctant before, is growing and particularly those countries in the Arab League who would like the UN support for the program that they’ve put forward. And frankly, it’s very hard for us to understand why any country on the Security Council wouldn’t want to support the call of the Syrian Opposition, the call of the Arab League, the call of all of us, for independent monitors and for the return of a free press, which are key components that we’d like to see the UN Security Council call for.

We think it’ll be stronger and we think it’s the best way, at the moment, to provide more protection for innocent civilians. And if, in fact, as some have asserted, there are concerns about violence on both sides, which we reject in primary – although there are some instances – but in general, we believe that the opposition has been peaceful. If there are concerns, then let’s get those monitors in there. Let’s get all of you in the fourth estate back in there. And let’s have the UN Security Council say that and say it loudly and clearly. That’s the best way to assess what’s really going on and to ensure a balanced picture that the Russians themselves claim is needed.


QUESTION: What do you expect that can happen in the Security Council? What actions? Do you think it’s going to be only measures taken against the regime, or do you think it’s going to be really a military action there in the future? What’s your sensation?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve said again and again from this podium and elsewhere that we don’t think further militarizing Syria is the right way to go. But we do think that the organization that’s responsible for global peace and security, the UN Security Council, ought to speak out about the violence, ought to support the increasingly loud call inside and outside of Syria for monitors, for the return of the press, for auditing of the situation, so that we can stand on the side of the innocents in Syria.


QUESTION: Please, ma’am, can we turn to Iraq?

MS. NULAND: We can.

QUESTION: On the issue of the contractors which are providing security and logistical support for State Department and other U.S. civilians in Iraq, are there State Department concerns about the visas for those people, and have those been part of talks with the Iraqis about extending or renewing those visas?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, as we move into this next period, the hallmark of which is a partnership between two sovereign nations, the Iraqis will – and it’s appropriate – start wanting visas and residency permits for our contractors. We’re in dialogue with them about that. What we are hearing from our contractors is that that process is moving smoothly, but we are obviously prepared to work with the Iraqi Government as this goes forward.

QUESTION: Is it your concern, though, with – just for a layperson, it would seem late in the day, in terms of the year-end deadline for military withdrawal and the full implementation of the security and logistical contract help.

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think we have information to indicate that some kind of wall or gate is going to come down, on those contractors who haven’t succeeded in getting themselves accredited under the new rules are going to be kicked out. Our understanding is that there’s going to be ample time for appropriate procedures to be completed. And we’re in dialogue with the Iraqis about how that works. But if that doesn’t end up being the case, then we’ll obviously have to address it.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a question. We are approaching a year in 2011 related to Latin America where they are three countries that don’t have a U.S. ambassador. I’m talking about Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. And also, yesterday I have – and also a communication that there was some dialogue with Bolivia related to some archaeological places. So I want to know what’s your point of this, considering that in April the President will go to a conference in Colombia related to all the American countries. Is there going to be any next steps or any dialogue? Do you think there’s going to be ambassadors in these countries in the future? How the situation is going to be?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball. Let me say that our position on these issues hasn’t changed. The picture is not monochromatic in the different countries. For example, in the case of Bolivia, we would like to get to a better place. In the case of Venezuela, the issue is more difficult, as you know. But obviously, we continue to talk to all of these countries about what it would take to get back to normal relationship at the level of ambassador and to work on it.

QUESTION: But do you see that the climate or the environment is improving in – you don’t think that there can be talks in the future? Or you still think that there is, like, a cold relation with these three countries? Do you think there is any place to improve the relations here?

MS. NULAND: Well, there’s always a place to improve any relationship, and that’s why you maintain dialogue and you keep trying. I would caution you against this monochromatic view. These countries —

QUESTION: It’s *called the* (inaudible) in some way, right?

MS. NULAND: These countries are different, the relationship is different, the reasons that we ended up in the posture that we’re in are different. So we will approach each relationship on its merits and continue the dialogue and being very open and transparent about what it’ll take, from our perspective.


QUESTION: Can we change topic?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: And it’s about North Korea. It’s already mid-December, and I wonder if it is safe to say that a third round of bilateral talks with North Korea is unlikely, given the pace of changes in North Korea’s position and the upcoming holiday season.

MS. NULAND: I am not prepared to speculate on timing one way or the other. This building works all the way to the end of the year, but that said, we have said that the ball is in the North Koreans’ court. So I don’t want to say to you that the year is over in diplomacy, nor do I want to get your hopes up.

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting that there’s still a window of opportunity, depending on the results of Ambassador Davies’ travel in China, for example?

MS. NULAND: I’m not suggesting anything one way or the other. I’m saying stand by and we’ll let you know if we have something to announce.

QUESTION: One more issue on North Korea is food aid. I know that there is no decision made yet, but Ambassador Davies, he used the term “nutritional assistance” when he was talking to the press in Seoul last week. And I was wondering if this new term is implying that if and when the U.S. decide to provide food aid to North Korea, it’s going to target the most vulnerable recipients, like children, pregnant women?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’ve talked about the things that we would need to work through and that we’re still looking at and working through before we make any decision. I think the term “nutritional assistance” is a little bit broader than food aid, as you yourself have made clear. Food aid implies cans of things. There are many different ways to help a country that is in need, including dietary supplements and other things – things that, in some cases, are easier to monitor. So I think we’re using this broader term because we are continuing to look at the needs and we – it may actually be sort of a broader category that we consult on if and when the time comes.

Please, Dave.

QUESTION: Even without a crystal ball, can you tell us what the Secretary has in mind for her meeting with the president of Bosnia? Will she be pressing them, for instance, to – on the issue of governmental reform structure that has been lagging?

MS. NULAND: Well, she obviously will, as she always does. It’s been a very, very long time. But she’ll also have an opportunity to thank them for the constructive role that they’ve played over the last two years as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. With regard to government formation, we do remain quite concerned about the lack of progress. She’s going to again express our hope that political leaders will agree on the formation of a new council of ministers, adopt a budget, and make progress on the kinds of reforms that they need to make in order to bring them closer to the EU and to European integration, which is so much in their interest. So I think all those subjects, as they always do, will come up. Thanks.

Anything else? All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:28 p.m.)


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