State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, February 14, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 14, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Series of Explosions / Awaiting Investigation Results
    • Support for Austerity Measures / Supportive of Eurozone Allies
    • Vice President Xi Jinping’s Visit / Full Range of Human Rights Issues
    • Supportive of Dialogue between China and India
    • Want to See a Peaceful Democratic Transition / Friends of Syria Meeting in Tunis / Aid
  • IRAN
    • Still Required to Uphold International Nuclear Obligations / Oil Sanctions
    • Normal Naval Capacity
    • Charging Document Received
    • One Year Anniversary of Unrest


11:53 a.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Happy Saint Valentine’s Day, everybody. We are up early because the Vice President and the Secretary are hosting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping for lunch today, so we want to be up and down before lunch starts. So we’re going to have a compressed briefing today. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything either.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about what happened in Thailand?

MS. NULAND: In Thailand, yeah. Well, as you know, we’ve had a series of explosions in the vicinity of the Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. We obviously condemn this attack and offer this – our sincerest condolences to the innocent people who were injured. The Thai police are currently investigating the events surrounding the explosion.

What I would say is that with regard to this bombing, the incidents in Delhi, incidents in Georgia, while we will await the results of the investigations, these events do come on the heels of other disrupted attacks targeted at Israel and Western interests, including an Iranian-sponsored attack in Baku, Azerbaijan, and a Hezbollah-linked attack in Bangkok, Thailand before this. So they serve as a reminder that a variety of states and non-state actors continue to view international terrorism as a legitimate foreign policy tool, which we consider reprehensible.


QUESTION: Do you have any additional information on the bomb blast in Delhi? Is the U.S. assisting that – the Indian Government? Has India sought any help from you?

MS. NULAND: We have offered our assistance. Frankly, I don’t know where we are in terms of the Indian Government taking advantage of that, but we have offered to be of assistance if that will be helpful.

QUESTION: And do you have information on Iranian link to this Delhi bomb blast, as Israel is saying that? Do you have – got any information in the last 24 hours?

MS. NULAND: Again, as I said yesterday and as I just repeated here, we are not going to prejudge this. We’re going to await the investigation. However, we do note that comes in the context of a whole series of these kinds of things.

QUESTION: This investigation (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: The Indian investigation, I think the question was about, yeah.

Nicole, did you have something?


PARTICIPANT: No? Okay. I thought your hand was going up.

QUESTION: You heard me thinking.

MS. NULAND: I did. I heard you thinking. I heard the wheels grinding.

Please, in the back.


QUESTION: Guy Taylor at Washington Times.


QUESTION: Does this Department agree with assertions and accusations made by Israeli leaders that Iranian operatives are behind this attack in Delhi, the attempted attack in Tbilisi, and the attempted attacks in Thailand?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think I just answered that. We are going to await the results of these investigations. We have offered to assist in these investigations. However, we do note that they come on the heels of other disrupted attacks that do have Iranian fingerprints on them.

QUESTION: What is the – if you’re not drawing a link, why raise this?

MS. NULAND: Well, because there seems to be a spate of —

QUESTION: Well, there have been a lot of other attacks —

MS. NULAND: There have.

QUESTION: — around the world that you’re not drawing parallels to.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we seem to have an uptick in this kind of violence. We’re concerned about it. Some of these have been linked to Iran. With regard to these recent ones, we’re going to await the results of the investigation, but we are looking at the links.

QUESTION: Right. But so you – okay.


QUESTION: So you do think that there are links – that you’re suspicious that there are – that there may be links?

MS. NULAND: Again, we are just concerned that these come on the heels of other incidences that clearly had links back to Iran.

QUESTION: But I guess I’m – why do you feel comfortable pointing that out to us if you’re not – if you’re going to await the results of the investigation, unless you have suspicions or some kind of reason to believe that Iran might be behind these latest ones?

MS. NULAND: I think what we’re concerned about is this uptick in use of terrorism as a weapon, and particularly terrorism against innocents.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Ian Talley, Wall Street Journal-Dow Jones. Please forgive a slight preface. Greece is on the precipice of a default. Prime Minister Monti has said that a default would shoot foreign costs for Italy up, and economists around the world have said that that would trigger a cascade of other defaults in the Eurozone and a financial crisis. As you’re aware, many of the members in Europe are the funders for NATO, and Greece has long had a history of animosity to Turkey. Is there any concern with – does the State Department have any concern about the potential Greek default and as a failed state?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been working with our European colleagues throughout the Eurozone crisis. We have been very supportive and we continue to be very supportive of the tough austerity measures taken by the Papademos government and their determination to move forward on economic reform. The new assistance package and the required reforms are going to demand very difficult sacrifices from the Greek people. They’re essential, though, to restoring the health of the Greek economy. We want to see that go forward and we’re certainly not going to be predicting the failure of that plan at this moment. It’s important for Greeks to implement what they’ve agreed to and for the Eurozone countries to all work together to address the crisis.

QUESTION: So at this point, the State Department is not concerned about Greece as a defaulting nation or triggering a wider problem beyond the financial implications?

MS. NULAND: Again, Greece has just taken some steps in the parliament to pass a new reform package. We are focused on supporting Greece as it tries to implement these tough measures and supporting the Eurozone countries as they work to get out of the crisis.

QUESTION: And finally, if I may just follow up, should the U.S. Administration be taking a stronger leadership role in trying to resolve the Eurozone crisis? Treasury – the U.S. has said it won’t contribute any more funds to the IMF firewall. The U.S. is being criticized in Europe and Asia and Latin America for not taking a more proactive role. Should the Administration or State Department be taking a more proactive role in resolving the Eurozone crisis?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me first say we are taking a very active role in trying to support our European colleagues and particularly our Eurozone allies and partners as they resolve this crisis we have had. Members from this Department speak to countries; the President has been active, as you know; the Treasury Department and Secretary Geithner and his deputies lead on these issues. I’m going to refer you to them in terms of the daily contact that they have with Eurozone partners to try to assist in this. But our goal is to be supportive not only because we want to see the Eurozone succeed and thrive, but because our own economic strength is linked to the fate of Europe.




QUESTION: As far as the vice president’s visit is concerned, many Tibetans and human rights organizations are demonstrating and the Tibetans were asking yesterday for a free Tibet and organizations – human rights organizations are asking that China is abusing the innocent Chinese and Tibetans and others in the country in the name of economic growth. Is – this issue is going to be – I know you have been discussing with all the Chinese leaders visiting here. But what is the action taken as far as those innocent people are being harassed in China?

MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal —

QUESTION: Especially Tibetans. Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Goyal, I think you know how often and how fully we speak out with regard to Tibet and the rights of Tibetans inside China. With regard to this visit, we fully expect that the full range of human rights issues will come up, but I’m going to refer you to the White House because they’ll be debriefing on the visit.

QUESTION: And one more quickly, as far as Secretary’s talk with the Chinese, there’s a tension also in the Indian Ocean as far as Chinese presence is concerned between India and China. Is that concern here or do these things come during the meetings in Delhi or here with Chinese officials?

MS. NULAND: Well, we regularly work on all of these issues with both India and with China, and we have been supportive of dialogue between them. Whether it’s going to come up on this visit again, I’m going to refer you to the White House.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: New topic. On Syria, please?


QUESTION: A number of officials in the Arab world are making clear that the Arab League decision on Sunday on Syria, which included an explicit mention of material support for the Syrian opposition, will include arms if the bloodshed in Syria doesn’t cease. So they’re saying, essentially, that they stand willing to arm the Syrian opposition if the violence doesn’t stop. You said here repeatedly that the U.S. doesn’t feel that arms into Syria is a solution. Is there a disagreement now between – well, on this aspect of the Arab League plan and stated U.S. position? Do you – would you not back that element of their roadmap for going forward?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, Andy, if you look at both the roadmap that they put forward to the UN Security Council earlier in January which was vetoed by Russia and China, and if you look at the outcomes of their meeting over the weekend, neither of those speak about external military intervention. In fact, I believe that at least one if not both speak about the importance of not having external military intervention. And we continue to believe that further arms into Syria is not the answer. Silencing the guns is the answer, and that is the trajectory that we are working on.

QUESTION: So is it safe to say that you would be counseling Arab states not to arm Syrian opposition or Syrian rebels?

MS. NULAND: We have made clear that we want to see a peaceful democratic transition, that we want to see all pressure of those countries who support a democratic future for Syria put on the Assad regime economically, diplomatically, to end the violence, to accept the Arab League roadmap, to work with the Syrian opposition to get us to a new day in Syria. That’s what we support, and we’ve been absolutely clear about that with all countries.


MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary said that U.S. will increase support to the opposition inside Syria and outside Syria. Will you consider having, like, an office – representative office for the opposition in Washington?

MS. NULAND: Well, we do work regularly with the Syrian opposition, both the SNC outside of Syria, and we have worked very actively with the opposition inside Syria, the local coordinating committees, et cetera. We’ve done that both with Fred Hof, who is the special representative on these issues. We’ve done it with our Ambassador Robert Ford, and he continues to stay in contact with the Syrian opposition even as he has had to leave Damascus. The Secretary, as you know, met with the SNC back in – I guess it was December in Europe. So we will continue to maintain those contacts.

I think what the Secretary was speaking of in the context of working towards the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis in a week and a half is continuing to encourage all aspects of the Syrian opposition to work together; to speak actively about the vision that they have of a peaceful, unified, nonsectarian Syria for all Syrians; that rather than ripping the country apart along ethnic lines the way Assad is now doing, that they see a Syria that will be democratic, that will be pluralistic, that’ll be tolerant, that’ll be a welcoming place, whether it’s for Sunni, Alawi, Kurds, Druze, Christians, women, other minorities. That’s what many of them have spoken about, that’s what we continue to encourage as they work together. But as you know, they don’t all know each other inside and outside, some of those connections have been difficult to make. So we are working with all of them about strengthening their common view so that when that day comes, that we have a democratic transition process that they are ready to implement their goals.

Please, Nicole.

QUESTION: Toria, what can the Friends of Syria accomplish in this meeting that the same countries weren’t able to do in the UN?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think the Secretary has spoken to this. She spoke to it in Sofia, she spoke to it again yesterday. What we’re going to try to do, since the UN path has been blocked, is to take those countries – and we do expect it’s going to be a very large group of countries – to gather them together, have them work on essentially four issues, the ones the Secretary outlined yesterday.

First of all, increasing the economic and political pressure by increasing the sanctions that we all have, implementing sanctions on the books, putting more sanctions down on the Assad regime so that it has to really – A, to dry up the money fueling its war machine, but also to have those around Assad think twice about whether his policies are the right thing for Syria.

The second thing is the humanitarian aspect. As you know, all of us support the work of the ICRC and the Red Crescent, who are working already in Syria. I think the question becomes whether we can do more, and particularly whether we can do more with international organizations. The needs are enormous, as the Secretary spoke to yesterday – food, medicine, clothing, those kinds of things. So we want to do more.

The third issue is this issue that we just spoke about with regard to Samir of strengthening and unifying the opposition.

And then the last issue is finding ways to increase the pressure to be able to implement the transition plan that the opposition has spoken about and that the Arab League has spoken about.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Iran, unless somebody’s —

QUESTION: On Syria, you just talked about humanitarian aid, as the Secretary yesterday and Turkish foreign minister also talked about the urgency of the matter. What’s your plan for these urgent medical and other aids to get into Syria? Is this just to wait (inaudible) Syrian-France conference or is there any plan you are committed to?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, aid is already flowing from the international community through international NGOs like the ICRC and the Red Crescent. Our assessment, I think the Turkish minister’s assessment, was it is not enough and we have to put more in, so we are working on how we can do that. Obviously, the degree to which we can do that in advance of the conference we will do it, but certainly the conference will be a good convening point for working together to increase the support.



QUESTION: With whom are you going to coordinate the channeling of this aid inside Syria?

MS. NULAND: Again, we already work with international NGOs like the ICRC, like the Red Crescent. We will do that. We will try to expand the base of NGOs that we all work with.

QUESTION: But you don’t have a plan about the expansion. How do you expand it? That’s the question?

MS. NULAND: Again, we are working on this plan now with those organizations.

QUESTION: After Yemen, 11 months that people have been —

MS. NULAND: We already have quite a bit of aid going in, but it is not enough for the needs anymore. So we are working on expanding the plan.

QUESTION: Can you actually find out how much aid – humanitarian aid the U.S. has supplied since the —

MS. NULAND: Yeah, we —

QUESTION: — uprising began?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I actually asked for that myself today, so we need to get that going.

QUESTION: New one.


QUESTION: Officials there have said that there’s going to be a nuclear announcement today. Any insight on that? And secondly, if your suspicions prove true or accurate on what could be – could constitute a proxy war by Iran against Israel, how would this escalate, or would there be an escalation response by the U.S. Administration to a potential proxy war on an ally?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we’ve seen lots of boasting from Iran about some big announcement that they’re going to give. We haven’t seen it yet. Whatever they plan to announce, it doesn’t change the view of the international community or of the P-5+1 that Iran is still required to uphold its international nuclear obligations, including the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions to suspend its proliferation of sensitive nuclear activities and to come clean with the international community about its nuclear program. So that is what we are working on.

We are – with regard to concerns about international terrorism, among other things, we are working with allies and partners to investigate these issues, as we said. And we are, as you noted today, beginning to call out more actively anyone who would use international terrorism as a weapon against innocents. It’s absolutely unacceptable. I think you know where we are with regard to our pressure track on Iran, which is that we have the toughest sanctions ever internationally. We are working with allies and partners around the world now to implement the new legislation that we have, which calls for countries to wean themselves from importing of Iranian crude, which is already having a very severe impact on the economic situation of Iran, an impact we hope will eventually bring them to their senses about the need to come clean about their nuclear program.

QUESTION: Toria, do you believe – I think – the premise of the question I think you agreed with, and that premise, unless I’m mistaken, was that you do have suspicions that Iran is fueling this proxy war – engaged in a proxy war with Israel. Are you – do you —

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to use —

QUESTION: Do you – hold that – I just want to make sure because the question was: Should your suspicions of a proxy war turn out to be true, are you concerned about an escalation? So I want to ask flat out: Do you have suspicions that Iran is involved in a proxy war against Israel?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to use those terms one way or the other. We are concerned about use of international terrorism by Iran or by anybody else against Israel or against any other innocents and about a spike in the number of incidents that we’ve seen.

QUESTION: Right. And then you said, “We are beginning today to call out anyone.” What does that mean? You’ve been calling out people —

MS. NULAND: Well, I think, obviously we’ve been calling out people – all the way through. But I think that the —

QUESTION: Is it the view of this – is it the view of the Administration or of this building that your opening line about the thing in Bangkok was that you are going to note that there might – that there have been these other incidences? That is calling out to you?

MS. NULAND: The point is that it is not an accident that we are now drawing connections, that we are concerned. All right? That we are concerned that there has been a recent aggressive spike in use of terror as a weapon.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are drawing a connection?

MS. NULAND: We are concerned about the recent spike in incidents.


QUESTION: Can I just change it slightly?


QUESTION: When we saw this sort of ongoing spate of Iranian scientists being assassinated, I can’t remember if you came out with the same kind of statement about —

MS. NULAND: We did absolutely. The Secretary herself condemned violence.



QUESTION: Ma’am, how concerned you are about this delegation – Indian commerce delegation going to Iran and expanding common shared ties which are beyond oil?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve said regularly that our own sanctions are not designed to prevent food, medical equipment, those kinds of things, going to Iran. What we are concerned about is cutting off the lifeline that fuels the regime’s nuclear program. So that’s why the sanctions are focused primarily on trying to dry up the market for Iranian crude.

So obviously you know that we’ve been in dialogue with the Government of India. We’ve talked about that a number of times here with regard to the implications of this new legislation – our hope that India will join other countries around the world in importing less crude from Iran. That’s a different matter than regular humanitarian trade among neighbors.

QUESTION: No, but this commerce delegation – so you have no concerns if they go ahead and sign deals about food and humanitarian? That trade you – doesn’t come under sanctions?

MS. NULAND: Again, it does not come under our sanctions, no.


QUESTION: Madam, do you believe that Iran has now nuclear weapons ready to go, what now Israeli prime minister —

MS. NULAND: Goyal, our view on this has not changed.

QUESTION: On the sanctions on Iran, Turkish foreign minister was yesterday here. It looks like, according to reports, Turkey is going to stick with Iranian oil. Can you please tell us how are the conversation yesterday with the Turkish counterpart here?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary and Foreign Minister Davutoglu had a good conversation on Iran. They got a chance to talk about all aspects of our efforts vis-a-vis Iran, including these issues.

QUESTION: Will the Administration be pressing aggressively penalties that it can wield if there’s noncompliance for sanctions? The Administration does have some leeway in addressing those and has used that leeway in previous sanctions for Iran. How aggressively will it be penalizing noncompliance?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about that a lot here before. We are not going to – our focus now in the 180 days that we have to implement this legislation is in getting as many of our allies and partners as possible to reduce their dependence on Iranian oil and thereby to meet the terms – the intent of the legislation. That’s our focus. We’re not going to predict where we’re going to be when we come to the certification moment.

QUESTION: So it’s fair that you don’t have major issue with Turkey in terms of sanctions?

MS. NULAND: We are continuing to work with Turkey on these issues and we will throughout this period.

Any other subjects before we go upstairs? Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. On Pakistan quickly. Is it your understanding that at least some of the perhaps aerial – not overland – supply routes are temporarily backup supply routes to Afghanistan?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think Ambassador Munter addressed the airlock issue earlier today, made clear that that is open. We got your question earlier about food getting in. Matt, frankly, I need to take that one. I don’t have an accurate answer at the moment.

QUESTION: All right. And then last week you were asked a couple times about Argentina, Britain, and the Falklands/Malvinas, and the question was: Are you concerned about a militarization of the South Atlantic? You said you hadn’t been briefed on that. Have you decided whether you’re concerned about a militarization of the South Atlantic, or is the situation there just – is the situation there not a concern?

MS. NULAND: Well, the UK has made clear to us and to the Argentines that what they are engaged in in a naval capacity is normal and is typical for this time of year. So we don’t have any reason to question that. (Ringing.)

Jonathan’s giving me the high sign.

QUESTION: So you – does that mean – that means you don’t have any concerns?

MS. NULAND: We don’t have concerns. We do not have concerns.

QUESTION: Last thing on Egypt?

MS. NULAND: On Egypt. Yeah. There’s a little bit of an update on Egypt, and then I think Samir wanted to ask something on Bahrain, right? Yep.

So we do have a little bit new on Egypt. The – our lawyers who we dispatched from Washington to the Embassy have now received a 24-page document in Arabic, which is the charging document. It was given to us by the Egyptian deputy prosecutor general. We are now translating the document. It appears to be the same text that was published a few days ago in Al-Ahram and it contains charges against 43 defendants, including the Americans who are still subject to travel restrictions in Egypt. The deputy prosecutor general also confirmed that the investigative file, which is comprised of the charging document and all of the evidence, is now with the Egyptian court of appeals. However, the chief judge has not yet assigned the case to a criminal court, nor has any trial date been set.

So in this period, we are continuing to work as hard as we can with the Egyptian Government to work our way through this, and we continue to insist that our people have done nothing wrong and that they ought to be allowed to come home.

QUESTION: And are the numbers – the breakdown of American numbers – still 16? It was seven in the country.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have an updated figure of Americans in the country since we talked about this last week.

QUESTION: But it’s —

MS. NULAND: Let us look into that for you.

QUESTION: But of the 43 people who are being charged, 16 are Americans?

MS. NULAND: I think the number is either 16 or 17. Let us get that for you, Matt, how many Americans are on this list. I just have 43 defendants, including some Americans. I think we had seven Americans on the travel ban who were still in country.

QUESTION: Has there been any change in the headcount of the people at the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’re not commenting on the precise numbers in the Embassy. We’ve talked about a handful. I think I’m just going to stay there, because some of them have come in and some of them have come out over this period.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: I want to – go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: The first-year anniversary of the situation in Bahrain.

MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, Samir. We had wanted to say something on this one-year anniversary of the unrest in Bahrain. And then, I am sorry, I’m going to have to fly upstairs and let those of you who need to get upstairs do so as well.

So as Bahrain marks the anniversary of the demonstrations that began last February, the United States reiterates its commitment to the three core principles that we support in Bahrain and across the region: commitment to the universal rights of all citizens, including freedom of speech and assembly; support for political and economic reform; and opposition to the use of violence on any side. The Bahraini Government and the peaceful opposition have a responsibility, both of them, to work together to ensure that the right to peaceful protest is respected by all sides, and in this regard we also call on protestors to refrain from violence and we urge Bahraini security forces to use maximum restraint.

We reiterate our support for King Hamad’s commitment to implement in full the recommendations of the BICI, the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry. We spoke yesterday in some detail about what we see as positive steps there and what we see still to be done there, and we call on the government to build on its initial steps and complete the process. This is not going to be easy, but making these kinds of deep-seated institutional changes that the BICI has called for will help forge the kind of path we need to see towards reconciliation in Bahrain.

More broadly, we call on the Bahraini Government to work with the opposition and other groups to establish a process leading to real meaningful political reform there. Bahrain is a longstanding partner and a valued partner of the United States, and we are committed to supporting its efforts to meet the legitimate aspirations of all of its citizens.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I have a small one on India and Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Thanks, everybody. We will – I apologize. We’re going to have to pick this up tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine.

MS. NULAND: Some of us have to get upstairs. Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Happy Valentine.

MS. NULAND: Happy Valentine’s Day.

QUESTION: And also to the Secretary, please.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:23 p.m.)