State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, February 15, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 15, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO Yohannes in Ghana
    • Secretary Will Attend the G-20 Meeting in Cabos, Mexico
    • World Bank
  • IRAN
    • Announcement on Nuclear Fuel Production / IAEA Safeguard / Sanctions
    • Correspondence from Iran to Lady Cathy Ashton
    • Hekmati Case
    • Virtual Embassy Tehran
    • Oil Exports
    • Possible Links to Bombing in New Delhi
    • Remarks by Ambassador Sherry Rehman / Relationship with the U.S. / From Aid to Trade / People-to-People Exchanges
    • Remarks by Ambassador Munter
    • Constitutional Referendum / Arab League Plan / Friends of Syria Meeting
    • Protests / Bahrain Independent Commission Recommendations
    • David Hale’s Visit / President Abbas
    • Status of Visit by Ambassador Suzan Johnson-Cook


1:10 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: I am sorry to keep you all waiting. We had a little bit of a challenging morning. I have a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds. First, we want to note that Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO Yohannes is in Ghana today to conclude the first compact with Ghana under the MCC. This compact is going to be focused on reducing potter – poverty by raising incomes in rural communities through private sector-led growth and agribusiness.

QUESTION: Maybe you can reduce potteries. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Think pottery is important for economic growth, right?

All right. The second is with regard to Secretarial travel. Secretary Clinton will travel to Mexico to participate in the first G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting. It’ll be an informal meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, February 18th to 20th. This session of the G-20 foreign ministers will focus on the principles which ought to undergird international – the international economic system, green growth and sustainable development, food security, and human development. And the Secretary also anticipates having a chance to have bilateral meetings with a number of her colleagues.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Can we start with that? I mean, first of all, you’ve said G-20 and then you said 24.

MS. NULAND: I don’t think so. Maybe I —

QUESTION: I got a tape recorder and a transcript, but we’ll see when it comes out. But —

MS. NULAND: It’s only 20.

QUESTION: Okay. Great. Second, do you expect all the foreign ministers to be there? It’s our understanding, for example, that the Chinese don’t plan to send their foreign minister.

MS. NULAND: Our expectation is about two-thirds of the countries at the current moment are planning to send their foreign ministers, but I would refer you to the Mexicans for the current list.

QUESTION: And what is the purpose of meeting at this level, meeting in this grouping? The G-20 was created to deal with financial crises. There’s a logic to having the finance ministers meet and having the heads of state meet. Why the foreign ministers?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think as the Secretary’s been highlighting with her focus on economic statecraft, foreign ministries also have a role to play in promoting a number of these aspects of economic growth around the world, and if you look at the agenda for this meeting which I just annunciated, a level playing field for the international economic system. These are issues that she has been working on, many of her colleagues work on – the green growth and sustainable development agenda, certainly an issue that many foreign ministers have a role to play in, and the Secretary has been a champion of. Last one, food security and human development.

So from our perspective, it is useful to get this larger group together and for foreign ministers to compare experience. And as I said, this is an informal meeting, so we’ll see how this grouping works. It’s the first time it’s happened.

QUESTION: And – but you don’t mention any of the major – any of the sort of most salient issues on foreign ministers’ agendas these days. Don’t mention Syria, you don’t mention Iran. What’s the purpose in getting all these folks together if they’re not going to address some of the most immediately pressing issues like those? Or do you expect them to discuss those issues, too; it’s just not part of the formal agenda?

MS. NULAND: Well, we certainly expect that in the Secretary’s bilateral meetings with individual ministers, and perhaps even in the larger sessions, all of the hot topics that foreign ministers from these countries are dealing with will come up. It is not, as you said, part of the formal agenda. This is an economically focused agenda. But even all the economic issues are ones that are at the top of the Secretary’s agenda as well.

QUESTION: And just – last one from me. Are you in a position yet to say what are some of the bilats that she’ll be having?

MS. NULAND: I am not. We’re still working it through.

QUESTION: Can I just – I don’t want to get bogged down in this meeting, but what is the difference between an informal meeting of the G-20 foreign ministers and a formal meeting, which has – an informal meeting, which you just said has a formal agenda? What – I don’t understand. What’s the difference between them?

MS. NULAND: Generally when we do multilateral groupings in formal session – for example, when G-20 finance ministers meet, which they do regularly in a formal session – not only is there an agenda for each session, but there are usually statements, agreements that come out the back. So an informal meeting, whether it’s a NATO meeting, whether it’s a G-20 meeting, whether it’s something else, allows ministers to talk without necessarily committing to a work product.

QUESTION: Right. So basically, there won’t be any – this meeting will not accomplish anything?

MS. NULAND: I think —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) wear jeans. (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Is that what Matt’s really got – (laughter) — that way, he can wear his shorts in Cabo, right? (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Unfortunately, I won’t be there. But it basically means there aren’t going to be – they’re not going to accomplish anything?

MS. NULAND: There are likely to be outcomes from this meeting which will be codified in some manner, but we’re not looking at formal communiqués which every country signs up to. There are – there is value in diplomacy to both informal session and formal session.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to the hot – or one of the hot topics of the day, which is Iran and what you make of their announcements this morning? Are these game changers or is it just bluster and wasted time that you don’t really pay much attention to?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the Iranian announcement today. These appear to be related to Iran’s production of nuclear fuel in order to operate the Tehran research reactor, the TRR. The activities at the TRR do remain under IAEA safeguard, and we expect to learn more from the IAEA inspectors who are currently on the ground in Iran.

But I would say that one thing is absolutely clear: that Iran is clearly feeling the pressure of its international and diplomatic isolation of the increasing economic pressure on it, unprecedented sanctions which are growing that the international community is continuing to strengthen.

So with regard to this news today about activity at that reactor, we frankly don’t see a lot new here. This is not big news. In fact, it seems to have been hyped. The Iranians have, for many months, been putting out calendars of accomplishments, and based on their own calendars, they are many, many months behind. This strikes us as calibrated mostly for a domestic audience.

QUESTION: So when you say that they’re clearly feeling the pressure, is this a sign that they’re clearly feeling the pressure that they’re wanting to trumpet some minor accomplishment?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think the way they’re reacting is part of a piece of that pressure. I would also note – that you’ve probably seen – there was a very sizeable and forcible crackdown on peaceful protest inside Tehran yesterday, large-scale cutoffs of the internet over the last couple of days, and they continue to keep major opposition figures under house arrest. So again, they are clearly being challenged – the regime is – not only from outside Iran but from inside Iran in a way that is causing them to take steps.

QUESTION: Do you think that it is – understand that the – Cathy Ashton received a letter from Iran finally responding to the invitation for talks. Do you think it’s tied to that in some way to say – to kind of show – offer itself leverage at the bargaining table?

MS. NULAND: Well, first we can confirm, as the EU spokesperson already has, that Lady Ashton did receive a response from Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, to the letter that she put forward in October. We are studying the letter. We’ve seen a copy. We are working with our P-5+1 partners to evaluate the contents.

But you’re not wrong, Elise; it may be that they felt the need to bluster on their nuclear side even as they make clear that they do want to come back to the table for talks.

QUESTION: What does the letter say?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we will continue our evaluation of the letter and then we will come back to you with our views on it.

QUESTION: Did – does —

MS. NULAND: But I’m not prepared to share it at the moment. It was addressed to Lady Ashton.

QUESTION: Does it express any interest in a resumption of talks?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re not going to comment on it until we have a chance to evaluate it and work with our P-5 partners.

QUESTION: Is it bluster on their side, or are they trying to sort of show or scare the countries around the region with their nuclear progress in response to reports that your Arab allies are putting pressures on the Administration to strike, actually to have a military strike against Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speculate any further as to Iran’s motives behind its various actions, but our view on this is it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive.

QUESTION: Are your Arab allies putting some pressure on the Administration to opt for a military option?

MS. NULAND: I think that is not the central focus of the conversation that we are having with anybody around the world. The focus of the conversation is on how we tighten and intensify the sanctions so that Iran comes back to the table. And as I said, we now have this letter, so we can see whether it takes us where we need to go.

QUESTION: Can I ask you – you said it’s not terribly new and not terribly impressive, which is all very nice. What would be new and impressive from your point of view?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into advocating for the Iranians what would make for an impressive program. You know our view on their program, which is that they —

QUESTION: Do you —

MS. NULAND: — still need to demonstrate to all of us, including taking advantage of the IAEA inspection team now, that this is a purely peaceful program, as they claim.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you – would you counsel other countries around the world – not naming anyone in particular – to also view this as not terribly new and not terribly impressive and not terribly worthy of any kind of escalated action or any kind of action at all? Is that something you’re telling your friends and allies?

MS. NULAND: I would simply say that countries that follow the Iranian nuclear program carefully know precisely what this was and what it wasn’t today.

QUESTION: So you have – you don’t have any concerns that one country in particular might use this specific thing or see this as some kind of a provocation that needs to be responded to?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we are focused with all of our allies and partners, including those in the neighborhood, on making the sanctions work.

QUESTION: But you don’t see that – this announcement as something that needs to be responded to —

MS. NULAND: As I said —

QUESTION: — as a provocation that needs to be responded to?

MS. NULAND: As I’ve said, we don’t see this as big news.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, just to put a fine point on it, Defense Secretary Panetta laid out some redlines about a month ago that – redlines on Iran’s proliferation activities. You don’t think that this necessarily crosses any redlines that signal Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapon?

MS. NULAND: Again, as I’ve said, we don’t see this as big news.

Anything else on this subject, or shall we move on?

QUESTION: On Iran but not this, and it just – I don’t think you’ll have much to say about it. But I just wanted to get an update on the Hekmati case if there was one.

MS. NULAND: There is not. We have still not —

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that given the increasing tensions, particularly between Israel and Iran but also any action on the nuclear front, that his situation is – are your concerns – do you have increased concerns about his safety, his welfare, given the heightened tension between Iran and the West?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have concerns for any American in Iranian prisons. And obviously, the longer they’re in Iran’s prisons without us being able to contact them directly, ascertain welfare, be of assistance, it’s of concern. So this case remains of concern.

QUESTION: Okay. And still no response to the Swiss? They’re actually being denied.

MS. NULAND: Correct. The Swiss have been in at least three times asking on our behalf for access to him and have been denied.

QUESTION: On Pakistan – on Iran.


QUESTION: Could you share with us the status of the virtual embassy? Anything new on what is happening with the virtual embassy with Iran?

MS. NULAND: No. I mean, the virtual embassy is essentially an internet platform that we —

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. NULAND: — use to talk directly to Iranians. It’s actually quite heavily used. That as well as our Farsi Twitter feed is growing in popularity. The virtual embassy allows us to have interactive back and forth with Iranians and to answer questions. We also run a Facebook page there, and it’s very popular. Routinely, the Iranians try to take it down, and we support various circumvention strategies in order to ensure that the site remains live and available to Iranians.

QUESTION: Are most of the people who look at it inside Iran or outside Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, I have to say to you that that is relatively difficult to ascertain unless they self-identify in their posts. We do have quite a lot of traffic from Iranians self-identifying as being inside Iran.



MS. NULAND: Yeah. Still on Iran in the back? Yeah.

QUESTION: I think Press TV reported that Iran has cut oil exports to six European countries: Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Portugal. But then the Iranian Government came out and said this is not accurate. What is the State Department’s assessment?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are consulting with our European partners. We saw the same thing that you saw this morning, this big announcement and then subsequent assertions by other Iranians that this wasn’t going to be the case.

With regard to the EU’s policies vis-a-vis Iran and oil, just to remind that the EU did, on January 23rd, ban any new contracts for Iranian oil imports in line with our global push to encourage countries, particularly allies and partners, to wean themselves from Iranian crude. And they are also in the process of implementing their effort to reduce and cut past ties by July 1st.

QUESTION: One more, back to – related to Iran, and that is are you prepared to beyond where you were yesterday and – on any link between these attacks – attempted attacks on Israeli diplomats and Iran? Do you see a definitive link, as the Israelis do, or are you still playing it by ear?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think my colleague, Jay Carney, in his gaggle on the plane not too long ago, said that we obviously wouldn’t be surprised if there are links to Iran, given Iran’s behavior in the past, but we are not going to —


MS. NULAND: — declare one way or the other before the investigations are complete.

QUESTION: So the answer is no, you’re not prepared to go beyond where you were yesterday?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: And on the cutting of oil exports, you don’t know yet if this is true?

MS. NULAND: Correct. We’ve seen the conflicting reports that you’ve seen.

Yeah. Kim, was that – no? Please, Tejinder.

QUESTION: You know that Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman today spoke, and she spoke about the reset, she spoke about the absence of an immediate apology, she spoke about terrorists and state-sponsored unilateralism. But the question is that – what do you read in – when she spoke, we seek to avoid divorce, which – we seek to avoid? So what is the U.S. doing on its part to avoid the divorce she’s talking about between U.S. and Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: First of all, Tejinder, I didn’t see Ambassador Rehman’s comments, so I look forward to looking at them. I mean, from our perspective, divorce is not an option with Pakistan. We have strategic interests in common, we have a lot of work to do together. We have a national interest in a Pakistan that is increasingly stable, peaceful, free of terror, democratic, et cetera. So we are continuing to do a lot of work together, and we’re looking forward to the completion of Pakistan’s internal review of our military-to-military relationship so we can get back to all the important work we have together.

QUESTION: So you’re just on a break?

QUESTION: Well, I always thought that the correct familial analogy was mother-in-law, which is what was used in – it wasn’t a marriage, per se.

MS. NULAND: Well, that was a different reference. That was to – as to whether we are hectoring, and the Secretary spoke, as you said, about the importance of mothers-in-law.

QUESTION: So it’s complicated.

MS. NULAND: That’s right, that’s right.

QUESTION: She spoke about embrace of love and hate, life, death, and in fact, divorce. So it’s – I find it quite strange that the State Department doesn’t have any immediate reaction to the —

MS. NULAND: I think I just reacted. I just said that divorce is not an option, didn’t I? Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Just to follow up, I have —

MS. NULAND: Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: Ambassador Rehman also said that what Pakistan is looking – not aid from the U.S., but trade, and she said that as far as textile tariffs are concerned – and also, what I’m asking you is: Is Pakistan – is U.S. focusing more to spend money more on the development in Pakistani people in order to have a better image of U.S. in Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, as you know, the Secretary has been one of the most vocal advocates of switching as much of our economic relationship with Pakistan from aid to trade. That’s been the focus of the Department’s efforts with the Pakistani Government over the last couple of years, and some of the internal reviews we’ve done are focused on that. So we are investing in the economic health and strength of the country. We are investing in energy. We’re investing in education. We are investing in democracy programs and development, so – and micro-lending and all of these kinds of things. So it’s not about improving our image. It’s about helping to strengthen a stable, peaceful, democratic Pakistan.

QUESTION: Well, Toria, just one question on that. I mean, it is a valid point that after everything you’ve been through with this country – and you call them your strategic partner, you have this critical relationship – the one major thing that the Pakistanis have been asking for since 2001 is some kind of preference on textiles. And what kind of pressure is the Secretary putting on Congress to finally give the Pakistanis the one thing that really seems to be the most important to them, which is this little deal on textiles?

MS. NULAND: Well, I frankly am going to have to take that question, Elise.

QUESTION: Could you please take it?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t looked at Pakistan and textiles in a while.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, they talk about it all the time as one of the most important things to them, and after everything – with all of the aid and everything that you’re giving to the country, it seems to be the one thing that could help improve the relationship between the people of Pakistan.

MS. NULAND: Let me take it and see where we are. I haven’t looked at that one in a while.


QUESTION: I know you haven’t actually seen her remarks, but she did complain – she appeared to complain about the fact that there needed to be more people-to-people diplomacy, more contacts between the people of the two countries, and it seems to me that this is something that the Department has been trying to do —

MS. NULAND: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — over the last three years. So where do you think you have failed for her to make that comment now?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been increasing our people-to-people exchanges over time. We are very firmly invested, not only with Pakistan, but with countries around the world in trying to have greater exchanges at the high school level, at the university level, at the special interests level. I mean, it’s sort of interesting that even the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping remembers as one of his own formative developmental experiences the exchange that he had when he was a young professional in Iowa, and that is his first memory of strong cooperative relations with the United States. So these kinds of programs build people-to-people links, they build understanding, they build a strong commitment to relationships among leadership as people go forward.

So with regard to Pakistan, we are trying to increase these programs. We have put more money into them. I think one of the problems that we have in Pakistan is understanding of all that we’re doing. And this is why we try, as often as we can, to get out on Pakistani TV, to have alumni from these programs go home and talk to their own and encourage folks to participate in them. But they’re very important.

QUESTION: Have you seen – I know you’re speaking of the Chinese vice president – have you seen any tangible result from his little excursion in Iowa into any kind of policy of the Chinese? Are they cooperative on Syria, for example, or Iran? Are they respecting human rights the way that Iowans respect human rights because the Chinese vice president spent a couple weeks there?

MS. NULAND: Well, he is, as you know, up in Congress today, and he will go back and renew his ties in Iowa tomorrow. My point was not to make a direct linkage today, and frankly, he is somebody who we are just getting to know and who we look forward to continuing to get to know. And I frankly can’t speak to the meetings that happened at the White House and whether we see any tangible effect from his early U.S. experience. I’m going to send you to the White House on that. They were the – leading on those meetings.

QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan?


QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Tejinder.

QUESTION: You just mentioned about this good people-to-people. Have you reached out to Government of Pakistan about a rally that took place in Karachi on Friday, where the Lashkar e-Tayyiba’s Jamaat ud-Dawa spoke very anti-American and he said that they will not be getting the NATO supply routes open? And there were stalls and they asked for Jihadi literature and all that. So that is – completely a counter to the U.S. efforts. So is Pakistani Government doing anything to rein in these – because the LET is a banned from organization.

MS. NULAND: I’m going to have to take that one too, Tejinder. I don’t know whether we raised that particular rally with Pakistani authorities. We’ll take that one.

QUESTION: Can I have one more?


QUESTION: Ambassador – U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Munter, also in the U.S., he was speaking at Harvard, talking about U.S.-Pakistan relations. One thing he mentioned, that next year, when ISI Chief Pasha retires, relations may be not as good as what they are today. I mean, you want to say anything about his visit in the U.S.?

MS. NULAND: Well, Ambassador Munter is up in Boston. He’s speaking to Harvard students. Among other things, he’s trying to maintain strong interest in – from our student body in good relations with Pakistan and the whole neighborhood. I think you over-read what he said. He said we have very – we’ve had productive relationships with the current chief, that there will be a change of chief, and we’ll have to work on establishing the same kinds of relationships and even take it to the next level if we can.

Please. In the back, still Pakistan?


MS. NULAND: How did I guess?

QUESTION: Yeah. You just made a point about – understanding in Pakistan about what the U.S. is doing. In the comments that Ambassador Munter made in Harvard, he also raised this point that there is probably a lack of understanding here in the United States as well about what Pakistan is doing. And he also said that a lot of anger and anguish in Pakistan probably originates from the hyped up expectations on part of United States and the promises that were made and could not materialize later on. Do you subscribe to his views, and are you doing something about it? Do you think the current state of relationship has made it more realistic?

MS. NULAND: Well, I always subscribe to what Ambassador Munter says, so he obviously speaks for all of us. I didn’t see a full transcript of what he had to say, but obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do with Pakistan. We continue to do a lot of work. And we want to get to the point where we can continue and get back to where we were when the internal Pakistani review of aspects of the relationship is complete.

Said, yeah.

QUESTION: Could you – what is your reaction to the announcement by the Syrian Government that on the 26th of February there will be a constitutional referendum?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve spoken about this before. From our perspective, it looks like he’s putting forward a piece of paper that he controls to a vote that he controls in an effort to try to maintain control. And it’s frankly not working in any other capacity, so we don’t think this is going to work either. He knows what he needs to do if he really cares about his people. The violence just needs to come to an end and he needs to get out of the way so we can have a democratic transition.

QUESTION: The Russians are saying that it is a good way out of the crisis, and in fact, they’re also offering to host. They’re saying that the door is not closed on – to talks between the opposition and the government, and they are willing to host them in light of – in view of this constitutional referendum.

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Arab League, more than a month ago or almost a month ago, put forward a very clear program of how these talks can go forward. Government interlocutors and the opposition, led by the vice president – that’s the plan that we support, that’s the plan that we endorsed at the United Nations Security Council, and frankly, if Russia and China hadn’t vetoed it, we might be well on our way to implementing it now.

QUESTION: But wait a minute. That text – yes, you say on one – in one breath that you support the Arab League plan which does call for him for a transition, but then in the next breath, you also signed onto the part that said that there should be a dialogue between the government and the opposition without prejudging the outcome, which means if you’re not prejudging the outcome, then you’re not prejudging the fact that he should step down at the end of that dialogue.

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, the UN Security Council resolution that was vetoed at the end of January explicitly made reference to the Arab League plan for the transition. The Arab League plan for the transition explicitly calls for Assad’s vice president to —

QUESTION: But you just took note of that. You didn’t —

MS. NULAND: Can – would you let me finish?

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

MS. NULAND: — to represent the Syrian Government side in these discussions. The U.S. Government view is that Assad should leave sooner rather than later, that he is an obstacle to peace, that he’s an obstacle to the end of violence. Within the UN context, we made clear that we wanted this transition to start and for the Syrian people to determine the outcome. That doesn’t change our view that we don’t think that he should have any role to play in this process.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve already addressed this, but do you believe that the Syrian vice president is the right man to lead this transition? He is, after all part and parcel of the Syrian Government. He’s been around forever. I mean, he’s part of the old guard.

MS. NULAND: Well, our first position on this, obviously, is that nothing’s going to happen as long as Assad doesn’t let it happen. So we are going to need a process, whereby those in the opposition have the ability to talk to those who are still holding the power. So it is in that context that we were prepared to support the Arab League plan which gives a path that has worked in other places.

It’s worked – or we hope it will complete its job in Yemen. It worked, you could argue — a version of this plan worked in Tunisia, that it – a version of this where there are some government elements negotiating with protestors, negotiating for the formation of the unity government which takes the country towards elections, et cetera, is what we have in Egypt. We’ve always said that there’s no one size fits all. I can’t, frankly, give a grade to this guy, but I can say that starting a process that doesn’t include Assad is something that we are willing to back.

QUESTION: But it’s also a way of maintaining the edifice, which is part of the problem in Egypt and in other places where those transitions are – have become very problematic.

MS. NULAND: Well, the first problem in Syria is that we still have government forces firing into cities and innocents across the country. So, first problem is to get the regime to stop the violence so that we could even begin a dialogue. Frankly, we want the Syrian people to dictate the terms of the dialogue, but we were prepared to support the Arab League plan. It is the Assad regime that’s rejected it and its allies on the Security Council.

QUESTION: So as long as their last name isn’t Assad, they’re okay to lead whatever transition there is?

MS. NULAND: We did support the Arab League plan; we thought it was one way forward. Obviously, this was going to have to include many steps, including a full composition of who was going to work on this issue.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, in order to – but to lead that or to be the interlocutor from the government side, as long as that person is not named Assad, it sounds like you’re okay with it.

MS. NULAND: Well again, we need to see how this came together, but we were prepared to support the blueprint that the Arab League put forward. Fundamentally, it’s the Syrian people who are going to have to decide whether the transition structures have integrity and are something that are going to succeed. But we can’t even get started with the level of violence going on now in Syria.

Said, yeah.

QUESTION: Victoria is it the wish of the United States to see Mr. Assad leave? But does it – is that tied in any way to the ICC, for instance? Like, not only leave, but also be held accountable before the ICC?

MS. NULAND: Well we have said —

QUESTION: Or are they separate issues?

MS. NULAND: Our view on this is that Syrians with blood on their hands, including Assad, need to be held accountable for their actions. We’re not going to prejudge here how that happens, whether it’s a Syrian process or an external process, but people need to be held accountable.

QUESTION: So if he steps down, then he has to look at a fate much like Slobodan Milosevic?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to prejudge how this will go. We’ve seen in this region, just in the last year, many, many different scenarios. We’ve been calling for him to leave and take advantage of the opportunity for a transition that everybody is calling is for, for many, many, many, months now. But how he is exactly held accountable, how the regime forces are held accountable, is going to be for the Syrians to decide.


QUESTION: And finally, is the Secretary going to Tunis?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary is planning to go to the Friends of Syria meeting. Yeah, she made that clear when she saw Foreign Minister Davutoglu.


QUESTION: Is she going to visit some neighboring countries after Tunis?

MS. NULAND: When we’re in a position to announce that whole trip, we will do so. I think it will probably not be till early next week that we announce the whole trip.

QUESTION: Question on Bahrain?


QUESTION: Yesterday you said from the podium that demonstrators should be able to demonstrate peacefully, security forces should allow that. Most of the people who tried to demonstrate yesterday on the anniversary of the beginning of the demonstrations were blocked. What does that say to you about security sector reform that you said is unfulfilled?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we’ve seen a lot of conflicting reports about who was at fault in the situation there. But from our perspective, anybody who wants to demonstrate peacefully should be allowed to demonstrate peacefully – emphasis on the word, “peacefully.” At the same time, we hold the government of Bahrain responsible for the performance of its security forces. We’ve made no secret, Scott, in the context of the implementation of the Bahraini Independent Commission investigation recommendations, that we think that the security sector in Bahrain needs reform, and that that’s one of the unfulfilled, unfinished items on the to-do list.

Please, Said. No?

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS. NULAND: Anything else?

QUESTION: Switch topics?


QUESTION: Yeah. On the Palestinian issue, today Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, met with some legislators and journalists and so on in Ramallah and gave a very frustrated assessment of the situation as – he said that all I see is a creeping settlement activity with no hope in sight. Are you – have you done anything to calm his fears down, that the state is still plausible at the end of the day?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve had – as you know, David Hale’s been in the region for two weeks now.


MS. NULAND: He’s had meetings with President Abbas. He’s had meetings with the Israelis. He is continuing to work on all of these issues. What was your precise question, Said?

QUESTION: My precise question that he was saying that there is nothing on the horizon except creeping settlement activities. In other words, he’s dismissing the two-state solution as being viable. So is Mr. Hale telling you otherwise during his special meetings with them?

MS. NULAND: Well, our view remains, and this is the view that David Hale and all American interlocutors are continuing to give to President Abbas and to – frankly to both parties, is that we did see some preliminary progress at the Amman meetings, that we think that the parties need to come back to those meetings, that we’ve had some real beginnings of conversations of substance on both sides, that those now need to be built on, and that nobody should be throwing away the work that was accomplished early in the new year. We should instead be redoubling our efforts and getting back to the table. And frankly, with regard to settlements – we’ve talked about this many, many times – the best way to end settlements is to have permanent borders.

QUESTION: I’d like to go back to China.


QUESTION: You have seen this report about the Chinese allegedly denying a visa to your special envoy for international religious freedom. Is that report correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, our religious freedom envoy, Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, submitted a visa application and requested meetings with officials from various Chinese ministries and other entities a couple of weeks ago. The requested meetings have not yet come through, and the Chinese Government has not yet acted on the visa. We are continuing to work with the Chinese on this visit. We think it’s an important visit, particularly in light of the good conversation on human rights that the President and Vice – the President, the Vice President, and Vice President Xi Jinping had over the last 24 hours.

QUESTION: Really. I hope that conversation was a little bit less one-sided than the comments that were made at the luncheon here by the vice president. In other words, the report you’re saying is inaccurate. The Chinese have not denied the visa. They just —

MS. NULAND: They have not denied a visa.

QUESTION: They’ve taken no action on the visa?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: And they haven’t told you if they have an intent to deny it or anything?

MS. NULAND: They have not.


QUESTION: So – but this – your envoy had wanted to go before the visit of the vice president?

MS. NULAND: She had applied to go about a week ago. It involves – as you know on the Chinese side, when you want to see officials you need to get meetings, you need to have a visa, so —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. No, no. No, I understand that, but when did she want to go?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have an actual date. I think she’s happy to go when she can get the meetings and when she can get the visa. And she’s still ready to go.

QUESTION: So wait, okay, so she didn’t necessarily want to go before the vice president came here.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any specific —

QUESTION: Well, when you said – when – as you said she submitted a visa application several weeks ago?

MS. NULAND: I think she would have been delighted to go before had she been able to get the meetings she wanted and had she been able to have action on her visa. Given the fact that she hasn’t yet done that, we are hoping to do the visit as soon as we can.

QUESTION: But can – I’m sorry, can you say when she submitted the application?

MS. NULAND: I can’t. I don’t have that detail.

QUESTION: Did you say several weeks ago or about a week ago?

MS. NULAND: I think it was about a week ago. I, frankly, don’t have the detail.

QUESTION: Another topic?


QUESTION: Quick one, China?

QUESTION: I was hoping you could give an updated answer to a question you’ve been asked before, and that is whether Secretary Clinton has any interest in the position of World Bank president.

MS. NULAND: The Secretary has addressed this issue many times since last year. She has said this is not happening. Her view has not changed.

QUESTION: And can you say with certainty whether any discussions have taken place between Secretary Clinton and the White House – specifically President Obama – about this position, over the course of the past year?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that, but I think the Secretary’s been very clear about her view with regard to this, and that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Can I just add to make sure that we’re on the same page – I mean, have you checked with her today?

MS. NULAND: I have.

QUESTION: And the bit with that has not changed, what she said in – back in – last July in Zambia is still operative?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

Okay? Thanks very much, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:39 p.m.)