State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, February 17, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 17, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • State Department Global Business Conference / Phone Conference with Deputy Secretary Nides
  • IRAN
    • Sustainable Process Moving Forward / Working within the P-5+1 / Correspondence from Iran to Lady Cathy Ashton
    • Trilateral Meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan
    • Pakistan / Pipeline
    • Sanctions
    • Iran/Pakistan Relationship
    • Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Letter
    • Friends of Syria Invitation
    • Vice President Xi Jinping’s Visit / Peaceful Protest / Tibet Issues
    • Talks / Not Prepared to Accept Preconditions
    • Focused on Strengthening Opposition/Humanitarian Support
    • Welcome Efforts/Ongoing Dialogue / Closely Coordinating with India
    • Continue to Work on Issues


12:46 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: I see the long weekend has almost begun, very empty front couple of benches here.

QUESTION: Filling up.

MS. NULAND: Filling up, there we go. Okay. I have a couple of things – actually just – yeah, a couple things at the top. First, just to advise, that on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, Secretary Clinton is going to host the first State Department Global Business Conference. This is a conference that’s going to focus on the work that the U.S. Government does to promote American prosperity. This will bring together – abroad, in particular – that will bring together senior officials from the U.S. business support organizations from over 100 countries, the U.S. private sector executives focused on international business, senior U.S. Government leaders from the White House, the State Department, Commerce, Treasury, Energy, the USTR, Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. The conference is designed to underscore the work we do to promote U.S. business abroad, increase U.S. exports, and attract investment into the United States, creating American jobs.

We will have a preview of the conference from Deputy Secretary Nides in – for all of you – in a phone conference later this afternoon at 2 o’clock. So if you want to learn more about this event, dial into that. We will also have a background call at 3 o’clock to preview the Secretary’s agenda for the G-20 meeting in Los Cabos over the weekend. That will be at 3 o’clock, and I think we’ve already sent a notice around if you want to join that one with a Senior State Department Official.

I think that’s all I have and since the Secretary did all the tough issues today, I’m hoping we can make this short and sweet.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the – it’s the tough issues, the one that both Secretary and Lady Ashton addressed on Iran. They both welcomed the letter but said then that they were still assessing that the partners still needed to discuss, sort of, what it might mean. What questions still remain to be answered about this letter? I mean, it’s a short English language letter. What are you trying to figure out that you don’t know now?

QUESTION: Well, I think the Secretary and Lady Ashton both spoke to this issue. In the first instance, to ensure if we move forward, we’re moving forward in a way that is sustainable; that we don’t just have a one-off meeting that doesn’t go anywhere; that we are able to sustain a process in which Iran is really, truly moving back into compliance with its international obligations. So with that in mind, there’s also the need to do work among us about what would constitute true steps, in that regard – so as Lady Ashton also said in her response to the question. So I don’t think I can improve on either of those two answers.

QUESTION: But I guess what I’m trying to get at is, are you seeking more information from the Iranians as to their intentions now, or are you setting out parameters with – among the P-5+1 about what conditions they would set for establishing any round of new talks?

MS. NULAND: I think we’re working, obviously, within the P-5+1 about what it is, precisely, we would expect if and when and as that may lead to questions for more – for the Iranian side. Well, yeah, I knew, obviously, we’ll have to engage with them, but I think that remains to be seen.

Other thoughts?

QUESTION: Amid the machinations of Iranian politics, are you confident that Mr. Jalili speaks for the decision makers of Iranian nuclear policy?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think what’s interesting is that it took, as the Secretary said this morning, a long time to get this short answer to a letter that was sent in October. So it is our – it is not our view that Iran sends letters to the P-5+1 without having coordinated them internally, and it’s interesting that it took a long time to get to this stage. So we don’t have any reason to question that this letter speaks for the going in intention of the Iranian Government. That said, we have quite a ways to go.

QUESTION: And what would be the – what doubts are there concerning the sustainability of a negotiation? I mean, if you have the objective shared on both sides, isn’t it simply a matter of logistics of planning dates and events and both saying, we are committed to sending a person for however long it takes?

MS. NULAND: Beyond reminding that we’ve had a number of false starts with the Iranians in terms of trying to negotiate a path back to full compliance, we’ve had negotiations that started and fizzled or negotiations that ate up a lot of time and didn’t go where they needed to go to reassure the international community. I think the point here is that we want to make sure, as the Secretary said, if we go forward – and a decision has not been made – that it is well planned, well coordinated among us, and that we’re absolutely clear as a unified group about our expectations going forward.

QUESTION: But the actual negotiations didn’t take a long time. It was always the preparation and then the referral back to capitals. When – usually it’s in a hotel somewhere for about three hours and then we don’t hear anything for three months. Is – when you talk about sustained negotiations, is the idea something like a date in process, where you just get people in a hangar for three months and have them hash out —

MS. NULAND: And lock them down and don’t let them out —

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS. NULAND: — and don’t let you guys come anywhere near them, I think you’re way ahead of where we are here, Brad.

QUESTION: The Iranian President Ahmadinejad was in Islamabad yesterday with trilateral talks with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both the countries are your friends. Did you pass out any message to the Iranian president through Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: We did not.

QUESTION: And what is your – what is the State Department’s view of the trilateral meeting that was held yesterday at the joint statement that —

MS. NULAND: I spoke to this yesterday. The degree to which it helps these countries to do better as neighbors, that’s a good thing. The degree to which it gets everybody supportive of a process of Afghan to Afghan reconciliation, that’s a good thing. The degree to which it allows them to talk about issues that have been difficult among them, including some of the concerns that we have about Iran’s activity in Afghanistan, that’s a good thing.

QUESTION: And one more thing on the gas pipeline, which Pakistan is saying that it is going ahead with construction. The gas pipeline – Iran and Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve spoken to this many times before. If in fact the pipeline does go forward, and there’ve been a lot of false starts and backing and forthing on that, we have issues of concern and we’ve been very clear about those with the Government of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Just a quick one madam. On the one hand, you’re talking about sanctions against Iran. On the other hand, many countries including India, Pakistan, Russia, and China are still doing business with Iran. So how are you going to enforce or – what are you talking to them about answers you are getting from these countries still doing business with Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we are engaged in conversations with all of these governments with regard to the importance of implementing existing international sanctions, national sanctions, and also doing what they can to increase sanctions, particularly to wean themselves from Iranian crude. So this is a process, it’s still going on. But as the Secretary said today, we do assess that the pressure, economic and diplomatic, on Iran is beginning to pinch. And you see the fruit of that, and the fact that we – after many months, have Iran suggesting that we go back to the table.

QUESTION: One just quick one. As far as dealing – Pakistan dealing with Iran, now inside Pakistan what they are saying now they have passed a resolution also that the U.S. should not interfere in their internal matters on many issues. Any – how far this kind of statement go between Pakistan and U.S. relations?

MS. NULAND: We’re not seeking to interfere in their internal issues. We are not.


QUESTION: Just a quick one, still sort of on the Iran side of things.


QUESTION: But these attacks on the Israeli diplomats. Israel is now laying the blame squarely on Iran and specifically on the Qods Force in their public statements. And I’m just wondering if the U.S. has any information to back up that contention that the Qods Force is part of this operation.

MS. NULAND: I think, Andy, we are still where we are, that we wouldn’t be surprised if the fingerprints and the trail lead back to Iran but we’re not in a position to assess until the investigations of the host governments are complete.

QUESTION: On that point?


QUESTION: Have you received any request to help in the investigations either in Georgia, India, or Thailand?

MS. NULAND: Lach, that is a good question. I know we had offered. I don’t know what’s been taken up. So let us take that for you and get back to you.

In the back.

QUESTION: Still on Iran?


QUESTION: In the joint press conference today, President Zardari has said that if any country attacked Iran, Pakistan will support Iran in that fight. Do you think that’s a veiled threat to Israel and in a way to United States?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the goal of the process that we are engaged in, the two-track process of pressure and openness to talks under the right circumstances, is designed to ensure that we can solve this diplomatically and it doesn’t come to the scenario that you reference.

QUESTION: And you were just talking about the gas pipeline. He also said that Pakistan will go ahead with this project despite anybody’s pressure. So how do you see that statement? If they do go ahead, what are you going to do? What are the options?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speculate where this is going to go. We’ve seen this discussion about this proposed pipeline go on for a long time, and there have been many fits and starts. We think it’s a bad idea; we’ve made that clear. But I’m not going to predict where this might go.




QUESTION: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asked that by today the State Department release all communications between Consulate Chengu, Embassy Beijing, and this building about the possible defection of that Chinese official. Has that been met?

MS. NULAND: We have received the congresswoman’s letter concerning Wang Lijun and we are working on her request.


QUESTION: Also on China. China is sending a senior envoy to Syria today. I’m just wondering if you had any contacts with Beijing over what this envoy might be there to say. And China is also sort of curiously saying that it hasn’t received a formal invitation to this Friends of Syria meeting, and I’m wondering if anybody has received a formal invitation. Is that something that’s even out there?

MS. NULAND: With regard to the envoy, as you know, the subject of Syria certainly came up in the meetings with Xi Jinping over at the White House. Whether at that point he made reference to the idea of sending an envoy and what the mission might be, I can’t really speak to. I would send you to the White House for that one.

With regard to invitations, our understanding is that the organizers are still working with a number of countries and invitations per se have not yet been sent.

QUESTION: But you – but how do you know that you’re going to be invited?

MS. NULAND: We’ve already been invited by the host.

QUESTION: Do you have to be a friend of the United States to be a Friend of Syria?

MS. NULAND: You have to be a friend of the Syrian people. As we’ve said before, our expectation is that those invited to this conference – and we do think it’s going to be a very large group of countries from all continents – are going to be countries who have in word and deed supported the Syrian people throughout this process and have in particular been supportive of the UN General Assembly statement yesterday, the Arab League proposal for a peaceful transition. And with regret, China is not in that category, nor is Russia.

QUESTION: But it’s the host country, Tunisia, that will be making out the full guest list for the party?

MS. NULAND: They’re – my understanding is that this is still being worked out, but there is a host country, Tunisia, who is convening the conference, but there may also be either organizational or national chairs for aspects of the conference. And they’re working all that through, including who they expect will be there. So stay tuned on that one.

QUESTION: But how can – wait – how can you have an – so this organizational chairs would be countries? Would be —

MS. NULAND: Could be countries. Could be the Arab League plus. That could be regional organizations as well. This is still being worked out.

QUESTION: Who’s – my question is who’s working this out?

MS. NULAND: Various members of the Arab League, various countries that want to play a leadership role, and it’s not worked out yet. But Tunis is the place. The Tunisians, of course, as the hosts.

QUESTION: Is Jeff Feltman sort of – he was – met with the French in Paris today. Is he central to this effort?

MS. NULAND: He is. He is to the planning of the conference for sure. Yeah.

Okay. Anybody else? Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MS. NULAND: North Korea.


MS. NULAND: Can we just do North Korea? She’s been very patient here. Yes .

QUESTION: North Korea has reported that withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea is a precondition to the permanent peace in Korean Peninsula. What is your comment on it?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we have said for quite some time that we are not prepared to accept preconditions for the resumption of talks. And that precondition in particular would be unacceptable.



QUESTION: NATO General Secretary Rasmussen today again ruled out the military option regarding Syria. And Turkish foreign minister and some political leaders in Lebanon also said similar things. What’s your position? Is U.S. Government also rules out military intervention right now?

MS. NULAND: Well, our position on this has not changed. As you know, the President never rules out any option. That’s not the way we do business. That said, we do not think that more guns into Syria, more – or international intervention in Syria is the right answer. We don’t think further militarizing the situation is going to bring peace and stability and a democratic transition to the people of Syria.

We are instead focused on strengthening and unifying the opposition so that it is prepared and ready for that day when Assad cedes power, which he will eventually, so that the Arab League proposal or something like it can be implemented. And we’re in the short term very focused on strengthening our humanitarian support to those suffering in Syria.

QUESTION: So you agree with the statement comes out from NATO to rule out? Because some accuse that it’s another license to kill for the Assad regime as not seeing any kind of NATO intervention is coming.

MS. NULAND: I think I’ve just given the American position on the issue of military things with regard to Syria.


QUESTION: The Japanese emperor is expected to have surgery maybe late tonight our time. Do you guys have a comment on his health or on the situation with him?

MS. NULAND: I frankly didn’t know that. I don’t think we will have a statement, but the White House might.



QUESTION: As far as vice president of China’s visit to the U.S. was concerned, hundreds of Tibetans demonstrated everywhere he went, including at the White House, State Department, and the Commerce Department. What they were saying that U.S. should look at the policy that Tibet is not part of China and that millions of Tibetan are asking your help that they are suppressed by Chinese. So you have any message for these peaceful Chinese demonstrating everywhere against China?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, one of the great things about this country, which we hope will serve as a model for countries around the world, and does for many, is that we allow peaceful democratic protest by anyone with regard to virtually anything. So these individuals were expressing their views through their peaceful protest. It’s their right to do so. You know, I think, where we stand on Tibet and the Tibetan issues. I don’t think I need to repeat it here. We obviously always raise these issues with Chinese authorities. They were raised during the Xi visit, and we will continue to raise them.

Please, Lach.

QUESTION: Yeah. I don’t know if this has come up before, but the British are organizing a conference on Somalia next week. Who’s representing the U.S.?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not quite ready to make that announcement, but I think by Tuesday we will be ready here. We will be well represented.


MS. NULAND: All right? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Maldives?


QUESTION: What is your current assessment of the situation in Maldives after – a week after the changing guard there?

MS. NULAND: Well, we welcome the efforts that all sides appear to be making to find a peaceful way forward. We also welcome the ongoing dialogue among Maldivians regarding the role of a unity government in addressing these issues and possibly creating the conditions for early elections. We’re continuing to urge all parties to work together to find a way through this.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Blake was there, and then his visit was followed by India’s Foreign Secretary —

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: — Ranjan Mathai. What role do you see for India there in the entire thing?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve been closely coordinating with India. India has traditionally played a strong role. Our understanding is that we are pretty well in lockstep with India in terms of calling for unity and calling for a democratic, peaceful path forward. And my understanding is that Bob Blake and his Indian counterpart are working very closely together on these issues.


QUESTION: Honduras?


QUESTION: Can you give us any idea, any assistance delivered or asked for on the prison fire in Honduras?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no. But if that is not correct, we will get back to you.


QUESTION: Anything new on Egypt NGOs?

MS. NULAND: No, except that our legal team has had a number of senior meetings over the last 36 hours. We continue to work very hard on these issues. So we need to let that work go forward and hope we can solve this in earliest days.

QUESTION: Do you know if any senior U.S. officials or Ambassador Patterson has had any direct contact with the Egyptian minister of international cooperation, Miss — I’m not going to venture to pronounce her name, but —

MS. NULAND: Yeah. We have in the past met with her. Whether, in light of some of her rhetoric, we continue to do so, I don’t know the answer to that. We’ll take that, Andy.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)