State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, December 16, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 16, 2011. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Chinese Lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s Return to Prison / Human Rights
    • Reports of Russian Airport Seizure of Alleged Radioactive Materials Bound for Iran
    • Russian Draft of UN Security Council Resolution on Syria
    • State Department Continues Due Diligence
    • Discussions Continue on Supply Routes
    • Ambassador Robert King
    • Ambassador Glyn Davies
  • IRAQ
    • Discussions with Iraqi Authorities about Prisoner Daqduq
    • Christian Bale / Human Rights Defender Chen Guangchen


Today’s briefing was held off-camera, so no video is available.

12:20 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right, guys. Happy Friday. Just to remind that our Public Affairs party starts at 2 o’clock, so everybody be there or be square. I have one small thing at the top. Then, we’ll go to what’s on your minds.

This is with regard to Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Just to say that we are deeply disappointed by the announcement that Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng, whose five-year suspended sentence was set to expire next week, has been returned to prison for three years. We’re especially concerned about Gao’s welfare and whereabouts, including reports that his family has been unable to communicate with him. And we reiterate our calls for the Chinese Government to immediately release Gao from custody and clarify his whereabouts.

As Ambassador Locke said on International Human Rights Day, the forced disappearance of Gao is a serious human rights concern and demonstrates that China is not living up to its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We again express our deep concern over the continued use of extralegal measures against Gao and other human rights activists, and urge China to hold up – uphold its internationally recognized obligations.

Okay, let’s go to what’s on your minds. Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the Russian seizure of this stuff going to Iran?

MS. NULAND: Just to say that we’ve been in contact with the Russians about it. If – but we don’t have any independent confirmation. But obviously, if they were able to seize a big cache, that would be good news.

QUESTION: This was the uranium?

MS. NULAND: The thing at the airport. We’ve just seen press reporting. We have reached out to Russian counterparts just to get more information about what and how and all that.

QUESTION: Victoria, can you just say, I mean, whether you have any concern, if the reports were true? I mean, it seems to be just medical isotopes, but do you have any broader concern beyond that?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, all we’ve seen at this point, Kirit, are the press reports. So until we hear from the Russians exactly what they’ve got and how it all went down, I don’t think we should be evaluating it.

QUESTION: I just want to know your level of concern about what you’re hearing.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, until —

QUESTION: If you could —

MS. NULAND: We’ve only had the reports from you all as to what they’ve seen. If the press reporting is accurate, it seems to be quite significant, and the good news is that they were able to seize it. What they learn about the back story will obviously be of interest, if they’re prepared to share.

QUESTION: Russia, but separately. I know that the Secretary talked a little bit yesterday about the Russian Security Council draft resolution on Syria, saying that there were problems. But she also said she hadn’t actually had time to review it. I’m wondering if you have now had time to review it and if you see there’s any prospect of movement on this or what the situation is.

MS. NULAND: Well, we have had time to review it. Obviously, up in New York, we’re working with the UN – the Russian UN Mission. The good news here is that Russia has decided that UN action is appropriate. We want to work together on a way forward. But as the Secretary said yesterday, we do have some concerns with the text of the draft. We wouldn’t be prepared to accept it as it is written, particularly because it appears to create a sense of parity between these peaceful protestors and the action of the regime, which has been extremely, extremely brutal and violent.

We also have urged the Russians to work with the Arab League and to ensure that the Arab League’s demands are incorporated into any draft. And as you know, the Arab League has some meetings, I believe in Cairo tomorrow, so we want to see —


MS. NULAND: In Doha. Thank you, Samir. So we want to see how they come out of those meetings and what their reaction is to the Russian draft as well. But clearly, this begins a new process in New York which we very much welcome.

QUESTION: So what’s in the draft that makes you think you can work with the Russians on it?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, as I said, it is good news that the Russians have recognized that the UN Security Council can’t be silent any longer and that we’ve got to use that organization to make clear that the violence needs to end, et cetera. But as I said, the text needs work, so we’re going to see if we can do that work together.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Russians, by putting this forward, in effect put more pressure on the Chinese to sort of clarify their position? Do you see China now as the main roadblock, given that the Russians are playing ball, at least in some sense?

MS. NULAND: Andy, I’m going to send you to USUN on that one, because frankly, I don’t have any information here on how the Chinese have reacted to the Russian draft.

Yes, please. Mr. Rogin.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: You grace us with your presence.

QUESTION: Glad to see you again. On the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s in Congress today. The current version of the language, as it’s attached to the payroll tax/UI bill, says that if – from – within 60 days, if the Administration doesn’t act, the permit would be issued by law. Is that – can they do that? Can they – can that permit be issued by congressional decree or by the force of legislation without the State Department’s explicit endorsement or say-so?

MS. NULAND: Josh, I’m actually not prepared to speak to the legality and constitutionality of what the Congress is appearing to try to legislate here. And if you need a legal brief, we can get you a legal brief. But I will repeat what we’ve said regularly, which is that the presidential authority here has been delegated to the State Department. We were in the process, we have been in the process, of jumping through all the hoops that have to be jumped through to determine whether this is in the national interest, including working with all of the states that are affected and with whom the pipeline – that pass – where the pipeline passes through. And in the context of that, these grave environmental concerns came up in Nebraska, and Nebraskan citizens, including the Republican governor, urged us to look at an alternative route.

So we want to do that right. We want to get the appropriate environmental impact study of that before we can make a national interest determination. So that’s the process we think is the right one in the interest of the American people and in the interest of all constituencies across the country. So we’ve made those views clear to the Congress, and again, I can’t speak to exactly what the force of law is.

QUESTION: Would you like to respond to General Jim Jones, who said this morning that any delay in issuing the permit risks the Canadians going another way and offering their energy resources to the Chinese?

MS. NULAND: Simply to say that nobody is seeking to delay this. We are seeking to do it properly, and we are seeking to ensure that all aspects of U.S. national interest are covered and protected. I’m not quite sure how one would move the product to other suppliers other than through a different pipeline, which would also take time. So, I think the Canadians are interested in doing this through the U.S., and we are interested in making sure that we can meet our responsibilities to the American people in a way that is full and complete.

QUESTION: Toria, just a quick follow-up on that. I think there was a TQ issued on this, perhaps on Monday —


QUESTION: — talking about this effort to accelerate the approval through the congressional process. And in that, the State Department said that any attempt to short-circuit the existing processes that you guys are undertaking would essentially mean that no permit could be issued. Is that essentially – is that the position – that you have to go through the steps that you have to go through, and if they somehow try to short-cut that, then no permit will happen – it will just not be permitted?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think that sentence in the TQ spoke to the fact that under the current system, which is that the President makes a national interest determination, and in this case he’s delegated it to the State Department, as he does in most cases of this kind, we have to go through certain hoops before we can issue a permit. I haven’t seen the language that Josh is referring to, but that would appear to legislate a different process.

QUESTION: A different avenue.



MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: A question about Afghanistan. There are reports an hour ago about an ongoing terrorist attack on a police station in Kabul. Have you heard anything about this? Any idea who might be involved?

MS. NULAND: I think at this stage we’ve just seen the press reporting. I don’t think I have anything yet. We’ve just seen the press reporting.

QUESTION: Any idea when those abandoned supply routes will be re-opened by Pakistan? Have they given you any hint?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re continuing to have the discussion, as I said yesterday.

QUESTION: But they haven’t given you any indication —

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce. You can talk to them.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on – Human Rights Watch is urging NATO to investigate civilian deaths in Libya and whether those constituted something illegal or something that shouldn’t have happened? Do you have any position on that type of investigation? Do you think it should go forward?

MS. NULAND: Well, NATO spoke to this themselves. The NATO spokesman spoke to this a couple of days ago, so obviously we stand by what NATO had to say.

QUESTION: Nothing new on this?

MS. NULAND: Nothing new on that. Yes.

Please, Josh.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the fact that if Congress doesn’t act the U.S. embassies in Moscow and Azerbaijan will have no ambassadors at the end of this year?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we want to see our nominees approved, and we want to see those very, very important ambassadorial appointments filled.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout of Ambassador King’s North Korean meetings the last two days?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything more than what we said yesterday, which was to give you a scope of the meetings. I think his intention now is to come home and to report, and then we’ll see where we go from there.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the meetings are going take place on the 22nd and 23rd of next week in Beijing?

MS. NULAND: What meetings?

QUESTION: North Korea – resumption of talks.

QUESTION: North Korea and U.S. on nuclear issues.


MS. NULAND: No. There’s been no decision made.

QUESTION: There are reports out that Davies will be returning to Beijing.

MS. NULAND: There has been no American – U.S. Government decision made on such an issue. I think we said that we needed to have Glyn Davies come home, we needed to have him report, right?

Gosh, you just came for a reason today, Josh. Anybody besides Josh, before we let Josh have the floor again? No? Okay. Go, Josh.

QUESTION: The last U.S. prisoner in Iraq, Mr. Daqduq*, will have to be handed over to Iraqi authorities at the end of the month if he’s not transferred to American custody. There was a secure video telephone conference Tuesday night with the Administration discussed – high-level Administration officials discussed this issue. Was there any decision made? Do we know what we’re going to do with this guy? Are we going to hand him over to the Iraqi authorities, or bring him back here, or something else?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know we have been in intense discussion with the Iraqis about this issue, but I don’t have anything to announce today.

QUESTION: Just one more on dissidents in China.


QUESTION: Christian Bale, the actor, tried to meet with a dissident, and he said he was punched by the police – the Chinese guards, rather.

MS. NULAND: Yes, on that one, we’ve seen the reports. We don’t have a Privacy Act clearance from him to talk any further about that. So the request is that we refer you to his representatives. He’s already been quite public about his experiences. More broadly, he was trying to see the legal activist and human rights defender, Chen Guangchen, who is somebody who we have also spoken out frequently about the need to have him released as well.

QUESTION: Well, what was the Embassy – was there any Embassy involvement in this?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Well, why was he even asked to sign a Privacy Act waiver?

MS. NULAND: He has not been in contact with the Embassy, is my understanding.

QUESTION: Do we even know if he’s a U.S. citizen?

MS. NULAND: I think we can —

QUESTION: I think he might not be. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think he might be British.

MS. NULAND: I think, again, I can’t speak to that because of privacy considerations.

QUESTION: Well, wait. You can’t speak to it not because of Privacy Act, because you don’t know anything about it, if he hasn’t been in touch with the Embassy.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, he hasn’t been in touch with the Embassy —

QUESTION: Was there any U.S. Government involvement at all in this?

MS. NULAND: There was not. There was not.


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:36 p.m.)



Summer and Fall at Prairie State College