State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, February 13, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 13, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Budget Rollout / S/R Davies Trip
    • Six-Party Talks/ Kim Jong-un/ Nutritional Assistance
    • Arab League/ Friends of Syria Meeting/ International Peacekeeping Efforts/ Humanitarian Access/ Syrian National Council
    • Attacks Against Israeli Diplomats in India and Georgia
    • Great Lakes Contact Group
    • No Charging Document Yet / Request to US for Budget Aid / AmCit Arrest
    • A/S Feltman Meeting/ Human Rights/ Arms Sales


11:55 a.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Monday, everybody. Apologies for gaggling rather than camera, but as you know, today is budget day, so the President is out, White House is out, and we will at 1:30 have Deputy Secretary of State Nides and AID Director Shah to preview the State Department’s budget request.

I have one announcement at the top: Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies will lead an interagency team to Beijing on February 23rd to meet with DPRK – with the DPRK delegation led by First Vice Minister Kim Kye Gwan. This is a continuation of the meetings that we’ve been having with North Korea to prepare – to see if it is prepared to fulfill its commitments under the 2005 joint statement of the Six-Party Talks and its international obligations, as well as to take concrete steps towards denuclearization. As you know, this is the third such meeting that they have had.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Sorry, just on that, the meeting is on the 23rd?

MS. NULAND: It’s on the 23rd in Beijing.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: That’s the plan at the moment, yeah.

QUESTION: Can you spell Kim’s name for the record?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Kim, K-i-m, Kye, K-y-e, Gwan, G-w-a-n, okay? And he is first vice foreign minister.


QUESTION: Is the Department 100 percent sure that Kim Jong-un is alive and well?

MS. NULAND: We have no reason to believe he is not.

All right. Is that it? That was great. I love that briefing. No?


QUESTION: Can you please tell us what you think of the Arab League communique that came out and their call for international – joint Arab international peacekeepers and also any efforts that you are engaged in to try and get humanitarian access into Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, as you know, the Secretary is hosting Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu for lunch and a meeting today, and they will both have a chance to address all of you later this afternoon, and I would expect that she’s going to have quite a bit to say on Syria and on our plans going forward as we head towards this Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis on the 24th. With regard to —

QUESTION: And you can confirm that the Secretary will be there?

MS. NULAND: It is our expectation that she will be there, but let me let her say that herself once she sees all of you later this afternoon.

With regard to the concrete proposal of the Arab League, we are continuing to talk to them about it. Much of this conforms with the leadership that they’ve been displaying all the way through this crisis, particularly their calls for the violence to end, for heavy weaponry to be withdrawn, for political prisoners to be released, for dialogue to begin.

With regard to the precise proposal for peacekeeping forces, we obviously applaud the Arab League’s leadership. We share their goal of trying to find a way to end the violence. We look forward to being able to continue to consult with them on their precise idea for a peacekeeping force. But we would note that there are a number of challenges with regard to this proposal, not least of which is whether, in light of the double veto of the last UN Security Council resolution, the kind of UN resolution you would need for this sort of a mission we could possibly get through the council.

So we’re going to continue to talk to them about it. I think the Secretary, as I said, will speak more about our focus in the near term with regard to Syria, but it won’t surprise you that we are, as we’ve been saying all of last week, focused on tightening the noose on the Assad regime economically, working with nations around the world. We are focused on trying to strengthen the opposition in its aspiration for a smooth political transition. We are focused very much on looking at options to increase our humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria and the international community’s ability to help them and on making it possible to have a peaceful democratic transition on the ground.

QUESTION: Sorry. Now, who will be at the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we’re in the process of – all of us – looking at the Arab League proposal, and nations are working with the Arab League and declaring themselves if they’d like to come.

QUESTION: So do you or do you not think peacekeepers are a good idea? Or are you just saying that there are problems with it because of the Russians and the Chinese?

MS. NULAND: There are a number of challenges with it, but first and foremost, you would need a new UN Security Council resolution. It’s proven difficult to get any UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Right. But what does the U.S. think of this? I mean, you went ahead, you weren’t – you knew that they were going to veto the last resolution, yet you went ahead and had a vote on it, so, I mean, you thought it was a good thing. What does the U.S. think of peacekeepers?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we need more time to talk to the Arab League about how they would see this coming together, because, from our perspective, there are a number of challenges in getting it to come together.

QUESTION: But when you say a number of challenges, what are those challenges? Just the Russians and the Chinese, or are you saying that there’s a – there would be a reluctancy you think on the part of people to contribute troops to this mission?

MS. NULAND: I think we’re not even to that stage. I think the question goes to if it’s a UN peacekeeping operation it has to have a UN mandate – is that mandate a Chapter 6 mandate, is it Chapter 7 mandate, could you get any of those things through, all of those kinds of things. But I – until we have a chance to talk to Arab League partners about how they would envision this going forward, I don’t think we can go any further than that.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s – given the fact that the Russians particularly led the opposition to the UN Security Council, do you think that they should bear the responsibility to convince the Syrians to allow humanitarian access in?

MS. NULAND: Well, there are humanitarian organizations working there now. The ICRC is there. Some of the other NGOs are there. I think the first-order question for us is whether the international community can do more to get more humanitarian aid in there, because, as we know, the violence is escalating and more and more people are affected and more and more towns are affected. So I think one of the things we’ll be working on in the run-up to the Friends of Syria and at the meeting itself is how all of us can do more. And then there’ll obviously be a question about whether existing mechanisms are enough or whether more needs to be done.

QUESTION: Are (inaudible) considering to recognize the Syrian National Council? Is there any idea (inaudible) about this recognition of the body?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think where we are with the SNC – as you know, the Secretary has met with them, a number of U.S. officials have met with them. We consider them one of the major groups involved in the opposition, so we’ll continue to talk to them in that context. But there are also a number of other groups including inside Syria.

QUESTION: How do you regard to the FSA? What’s the – what’s your relationship with FSA, Free Syrian Army?

MS. NULAND: We don’t have any formal or official relationship with them one way or the other.

QUESTION: Will the United States welcome Russian participation in the Friends of Syria group?

MS. NULAND: This is an Arab League initiative, so I’m not going to prejudge that question. But this is a group, as we understand it, that is devoted to trying to find ways to implement the Arab League proposal and get to a democratic transition process in Syria, which is something that the Russians rejected at the UN Security Council.

QUESTION: So they shouldn’t be there?

MS. NULAND: Again, this is something that the Arab League is going to have to discuss with them. We don’t have any indication one way or the other whether they’re even interested. But the goals of the group are something that they’ve already rejected.


QUESTION: Another topic. Do you have any comments on the attacks against Israeli diplomats in India and in Georgia, and do you have any concerns of a possible retaliation, Israeli retaliation, against Iran, Hezbollah? Or were there any talks this morning on this topic between officials?

MS. NULAND: Well, I would refer you to the statement just issued by the Secretary. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, it says –

QUESTION: We were in —


QUESTION: You show up 25 minutes late. You start this briefing with an announcement that there’s going to be direct U.S.-North Korea talks, and now there’s a statement on something which is huge that goes out when none of us who were in here can see it?

MS. NULAND: Well, you’ll get a chance to see it. It’s – if you didn’t have it, then you have a chance to see it.

QUESTION: Well, that just doesn’t work. We’re a wire service.

MS. NULAND: Good bye, Matt. All right. I will read it to you. This is a statement by the Secretary: I condemn in the strongest possible terms the bombing of an Israeli diplomatic vehicle in India and the attempted attack on the Israeli Embassy personnel in Georgia. The scourge of terrorism is an affront to the entire international community. The United States places a high priority on the safety and security of diplomatic personnel around the world and we stand ready to assist with any investigation of these cowardly actions. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured personnel in New Delhi and their loved ones.

QUESTION: Is it too much —

QUESTION: Did you have any – do you have any – I mean, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that Iran stands behind these attacks. Do you have any indications that that’s the case?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Indians are investigating the incident in New Delhi. The Georgians are investigating in Tbilisi. So I don’t think we want to get ahead of those two investigations.

QUESTION: In the statement you mentioned that the U.S. is ready to assist with the investigations. Has there been any developments since then? I mean, are you formally going to be involved in the investigation?

MS. NULAND: I think that’ll depend on whether either of those governments asks for our assistance, and I don’t think we’re there yet.

QUESTION: So they haven’t asked you?


QUESTION: Given the – what turned out to be an al-Qaida affiliation to the attacks in Mumbai three and a half years ago, is it too soon for people to be speculating about who might have been behind this attack today in Delhi and the attempted attack in Tbilisi?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think I just said that we’re going to await the investigations, which we expect will be led by the host countries.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria and al-Qaida actually? The bombing from last week – do you have any more information which would lead you to believe that al-Qaida could be involved in those attacks?

MS. NULAND: We don’t have any more information one way or the other.

QUESTION: But I mean, when the attacks happened in December and last month, you were saying that – or at least officials were saying that they bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida. Do you believe that this recent attack bears the hallmarks of al-Qaida?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think we made a formal public judgment on that, one way or the other. I think there were concerns, obviously.

QUESTION: Do you have concerns about this particular attack, that al-Qaida could be involved?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have any particular information, one way or the other.

QUESTION: On North Korea?


QUESTION: Did you get any hint for North Korea to be able to combine the two steps which U.S. has requested?

MS. NULAND: Well again, we’ve been very clear with North Korea what will be necessary here before we can get back to North Korea — Six-Party Talks. Our last round in this format was in December. Relatively soon thereafter, they had – the leader passed and they’ve had a change. So I think the question is whether they are prepared to respond to what we are looking for in order to get back to talks. So that’s what we’re looking to find out in Beijing.

QUESTION: Is this still in a preparatory stage, to figure out their intentions to —

MS. NULAND: Of course.

QUESTION: Why did you decide to have this dialogue, at this timing?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think that – we thought that it was a good time to see where they are. So that’s – and that makes good sense to give them an opportunity to see if they are ready to answer the questions that we have.

QUESTION: Did you see any positive signs from North Korea?

MS. NULAND: I think until we have the talks, we’re not going to know if they are positive signs.

QUESTION: People are saying that the ball’s been in North Korea’s court. So does that mean that North Korea proactively communicated with the U.S. to get this meeting going?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the back and the forth that may have gone into making this decision. We did make the decision to go to a third round after consulting with our other Six-Party colleagues, including the South Koreans. But I think it’ll depend on what we hear when we go in and see them in Beijing.

QUESTION: Will Davies go to South Korea or Japan after meeting with Kim Kye Gwan.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that at this moment. If that changes – I just have that they depart Beijing after this meeting, but I don’t know if he plans to do consultations. I guess it may depend on whether we hear anything new.

QUESTION: But the timing again for these talks is – you felt that Kim Jong-un – transition had gone smoothly enough that they’re all ready to talk. Is that what it boils down to?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether we’re going to hear anything new or whether they are more ready than they were in December, but they’ve had a decent interval after the mourning period to assemble their positions. So we’re hopeful that they’re ready to respond to some of the things that we asked about in December.

QUESTION: Sorry if you’ve just said this and I spaced out, but whose idea is it? Was it your idea – did you make the overture to have talks, or did they say we’re ready to have talks?

MS. NULAND: I can’t actually speak to that, Elise. I’m not sure how this all came together except that we have been waiting for them to say that they were ready.

QUESTION: Did Robert King go on this trip or does he any plans to meet with anyone – of the North Koreans?

MS. NULAND: He is not going on this trip. I think, obviously, if the North Koreans have more to say on the nutritional situation, then Glyn Davies and team will be prepared to hear that, but the current plan is not for Robert King to go.

QUESTION: There was a plan to provide food aid due to the emergency need of the North Koreans. Is it now the evaluation that emergency need has subsided, or is there any movement on that issue at all?

MS. NULAND: Well Josh, we had never made a U.S. Government decision one way or the other about nutritional assistance.

MS. NULAND: You were planning to make the decision on the day after it was announced that Kim Jong-il had died, right?

MS. NULAND: We were never at the stage of making a decision. We were at the stage of continuing to consult with the North Koreans, including in this meeting that Robert King had in December, about need, monitoring, and the kind of thing, were we to go forward that we might be able to provide. We did not finish those conversations, so we’ll see where we are.

QUESTION: Those conversations since the death of Kim Jong-il have not continued; is that correct?

MS. NULAND: We’ve had some back and forth through our channel here in the States, but nothing that was conclusive with regard to the answers to the questions that we had.

QUESTION: You will touch on the nutrition aid but King is not going, so —

MS. NULAND: Again, the primary focus of this delegation, the primary mandate for Special Representative Glyn Davies is with regard to the Six-Party Talks. Obviously, if they want to talk about nutrition and they have answers to some of the concerns and questions that we had, then we’ll be prepared to hear that. Okay.

QUESTION: Toria, back to Syria, I had a question regarding the delegation which (inaudible). Dan Benjamin will be in the meeting too. Do you have any concerns about al-Qaida leader al-Zawahiri —

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry, Dan Benjamin —

QUESTION: Ambassador Benjamin will be —

MS. NULAND: Is doing what?

QUESTION: Will be joining the meeting today with the Turks. My question is regarding al-Zawahiri’s statements about Syria this weekend. Do you have any concerns about al-Qaida’s involvement in India?

MS. NULAND: I think Elise has just asked that question and I answered it as best I could. With regard to Dan Benjamin joining the meeting, he often participates when the Secretary meets with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, because of course, we have very close preparation on counterterrorism.

Please, Scott.

QUESTION: Can you give us any readout on the Thursday-Friday contact group talks on Congo?

MS. NULAND: I think I do have something on that. You’re talking about the Great Lakes Contact Group?


MS. NULAND: Yeah. The Great Lakes Contact Group met in Washington February 9th and 10th. This group includes representatives, obviously, from the United States, Belgium, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, European Union, and the United Nations. They were chaired by Ambassador Barrie Walkley, the special advisor for the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

They discussed the recent elections in the DRC, security sector reform, regional issues including sexual and gender-based violence, conflict minerals, armed groups including the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the political and security situation in Burundi. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Sherman also addressed the group at the beginning. There were some NGOs who made presentations to the Contact Group on a bunch of different topics including the elections and conflict minerals. The NGOs who participated included the Enough Project, the International Crisis Group, OxFam, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International USA.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more on Egypt, whether there’s been any movement in these cases? And I know we’re hearing from budget people later, but is U.S. aid to Egypt at all affected because of this crackdown on NGOs?

MS. NULAND: Well, we still have not received the official version of the charging document; however, we have no reason to doubt the version that has recently been published in the state-controlled press. That version indicates that there are both misdemeanor and felony charges which will be brought, the misdemeanor charges being failure to register, felony charges being engaging in political activities without Government of Egypt permission and receiving foreign funds without permission.

So the expectation is that these charges will be brought, but we can’t even confirm that the Egyptian court has received the charges yet and there apparently have been no court summonses or notifications of the U.S. citizens formally. So we are continuing to work with Egyptian authorities at all levels, working with the NGOs to try to resolve the situation, and exploring any possible legal avenues or courses through this diplomatically.

QUESTION: Well, is it your expectation then that these Americans are going to be brought to trial?

MS. NULAND: Again, we haven’t – they haven’t been formally charged. So we’ve seen this press report. We haven’t even gotten our own copy of the document, nor have they. So until we see formal charges and we see exactly what the implications will be, I don’t want to prejudge that.

QUESTION: The aid —

QUESTION: According to the draft note that you guys sent up, there is still $1.3 billion in military assistance being requested for Egypt for 2013. How does that square with your warnings earlier that the aid might be affected if this drags on, which it is indeed doing.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to get ahead of the 2013 budget till we roll it out. As you know, with regard to the 2012 money, there are a whole raft of certification requirements that kick in before we can disburse any of this money. As the Secretary has said with regard to 2012 – and let’s hope we’re still not in this situation in 2013 – we do have concerns that if we can’t resolve this situation, it could have implications for the whole relationship with Egypt, including what we would like to do together and how we would like to support them.

QUESTION: But the fact of the matter is that the budget’s out and it’s been out for an hour, so I mean, you’re not going to —

MS. NULAND: I’m going to let the Deputy Secretary roll it out.

QUESTION: — you’re not going to dispute the 1.3 billion. I mean, this is not – this is something that – I mean, if Congress wants to put certification requirements on it, they will do that as they go through the budget, right? You don’t necessarily ask for them to put restrictions on aid, do you?

MS. NULAND: This is a budget request. And again, I want to let the Deputy Secretary of State do his rollout. But this is a budget request of the Congress for Fiscal Year 2013, which would begin in October of 2012. So we are at the stage of making a proposal to the Congress. As all of you know through your many years in this town, it is an Administration proposal that has to work through the Congress. But even before you get to 2013 money, there’s the question of 2012 money.

QUESTION: And so this Administration thinks that Egypt deserves to have $1.3 billion in 2013?

MS. NULAND: Over the course of many years, we have considered security support for Egypt to be a good investment for the United States and a good investment for the region, and economic support for Egypt, including all of the NGO programs we fund, including NDI and IRI, to be a good investment, particularly in the context of a country that is trying to make the very difficult transition to democracy.

That said, it doesn’t change the fact that if we cannot resolve the current impasse, it could have implications for this relationship and for our ability to disburse this money.


QUESTION: Could we have a readout of Assistant Secretary Feltman’s meetings in Bahrain?

MS. NULAND: I have a little bit on his trip in general. So he was in Manama from the 10th to the 13th. He participated in Sherpa meetings at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which were in preparation for the 2012 Manama Dialogue which will be held in December. So I don’t have a readout on his informal discussions. He obviously had a chance to see a broad cross-section of Arab leaders and Europeans, talked a lot about Syria and preparations for the Friends of Syria meeting.

Officially in Bahrain, he saw Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmad al Khalifa. He also spoke – yeah, so that’s what I have in terms of his official meeting. In that discussion, they talked about all of the bilateral issues, including implementation of the independent commission recommendations, human rights issues in general, as well as regional issues.

QUESTION: Does the Department have a view on the current success or lack thereof of the implementation of the commission’s recommendations?

MS. NULAND: We do. I think our view is that since the Bahraini independent commission report and recommendations were released on November 23rd, the government has taken some initial steps to begin implementation of the recommendations. This includes establishing a national commission to follow up; removing the arrest authority from the Bahraini National Security Agency; transferring the investigations and prosecutions of human rights violations to the attorney generals, so out of criminal courts and into civilian courts; dissolving the state national safety courts and moving these cases to civilian courts; announcing greater autonomy for the inspector general of the minister of interior; an MOU with the ICRC providing access to detainees; announcing the formation of a victims compensation fund; working with UNESCO.

But much work remains to be done, including reinstatement of workers who were unfairly dismissed from their jobs; resolution of the ongoing court cases, particularly the cases against the doctors, the journalists, former members of the parliament, and others which appear to be based, at least in part, on their criticism of government action; steps to reform and integrate the policy and security services; fostering a media environment conducive to a free expression and a free press.

So all of these issues were discussed in depth when Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Posner was in Bahrain last week and followed up on by Assistant Secretary Feltman.

QUESTION: And are those incremental steps – sorry, one more. Are all those incremental steps that you’ve just mentioned, are they enough to cross the threshold to allow the $53 million arms sale to Bahrain that was conditioned – that was delayed on the condition of the progress of these recommendations? Has that threshold been passed, or must Bahrain do more before that $53 million sale of Humvees and missile – TOW missiles can be completed?

MS. NULAND: More remains to be done on that. Assistance is still on pause. As you know, we did go forward with some things that were needed for our Afghanistan mission and to keep the Fifth Fleet well served and protected. But all these other kinds of things that you just mentioned, we have not decided to go forward with at this stage.

QUESTION: And do you have a deadline for that decision?

MS. NULAND: No. We’re not going to go forward until we see more progress.

QUESTION: In light of Ambassador Feltman’s conversations with the foreign minister, is this building disappointed or more by reports that the security forces may have turned teargas on protestors today in Manama?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have been concerned about these kinds of issues. And as we’ve said before, we want to see demonstrators demonstrate peacefully and we want to see security forces exercise restraint and operate within the rule of law and international judicial standards, particularly important going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: So that was American protestors that were deported over the weekend?

MS. NULAND: It was.

QUESTION: Do you – I mean, do you feel that – I mean, in this country we have a right to protest peacefully. Do you think American citizens – do you agree with the deportation, that those Americans should have been deported?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the circumstances surrounding this case. These – this is the case of two Americans who were accused of incitement, and the end result that was that they were asked to leave the country, which they did. So I can’t actually speak to what (inaudible).

QUESTION: And then could you speak to the arrest of another American in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we can confirm that this American has been arrested in Mahalla, Egypt. We are providing consular assistance, but for reasons of privacy I can’t go any further than that.

QUESTION: I wanted to come back to the Bahrain question. One of the main criticisms of the BICI report and one of the main recommendations was an extensive retraining of the security forces to not just resort to teargas, rubber bullets, actual bullets, when confronted with demonstrators. And this seems, two months after this report comes out, that somewhere in the government they’re ignoring that, even with the King’s promise to make that fundamental reform. Doesn’t that trouble Washington?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, Ros, one of the unfulfilled recommendations of the BICI is security sector reform, so we’re continuing to urge that security sector reform. And as I said, we are withholding transfer of items that we would sell that would significantly enhance their military capacity, such as TOW missiles, Humvees, and equipment that could be used for internal defense, such as teargas or small arms.


QUESTION: Did your answer to the Israel question have a – was there anything more than the Secretary’s statement that you read out?

MS. NULAND: Not at this stage, except that we are prepared to work with these governments in their investigations and that we’re not going to be opining on who might’ve done this.

QUESTION: So work with the Indians and the Georgias – Georgians, you mean?

MS. NULAND: Georgians and the Indians.

QUESTION: And is there a concern? I believe, in the question, there was a concern about Israeli retaliation. Is there a concern about the Israelis doing something to retaliate for these attacks?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously continuing to talk to Israel about all of these issues. And we have very strong and deep counterterrorism cooperation with Israel, but Israel itself has also called for an investigation. So before we jump to conclusions about where they might take this —

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking – I’m not suggesting any particular target. I’m just asking you about concerns about retaliation. And if there are any, are you advising the Israelis to hold tight, make sure they have all the facts in order before they do anything? Or do you not care and think that they can – I mean, do you think – have you not said anything to them about it?

MS. NULAND: We’re obviously talking to the Israelis about this —

QUESTION: But I mean, have you told them to wait until you have everything nailed down?

MS. NULAND: I think we are all urging that these issues be investigated.

Anything else? Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:25 p.m.)