State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, February 21, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 21, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary’s Global Business Conference
    • World Bank / Fully Expect to Have Strong American Candidate
    • President Karzai / Reconciliation Process / Ambassador Grossman
    • Desecration of Religious Articles / General Allen Formal Apology / Secretary Panetta
    • Friends of Syria / Ministerial Conference in Tunisia at End of Week
    • Political Solution Best Way to Go
  • IRAN
    • EU / Contracts / Iranian Letter to P5+1 / IAEA
    • Israel / NSA Advisor Donilon Meetings
    • Oil / India / Former Under Secretary Burns / Japan / Venezuela
    • Presidential Election / GCC
    • Support / Counterterrorism
    • Parliamentary Review
    • U.S. Respects Territorial Integrity of Pakistan / Balochistan
    • Intensive Discussions on All Issues
    • Calderon Government / Merida Initiative / Strong Efforts in Region


12:14 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. Hope you all had a great, long weekend. We had some fun at the G-20 ministerial. Did a little minister watching, did a little whale watching. I have nothing at the top, except to say that, as you know, the Secretary’s Global Business Conference is ongoing, and she is going to make remarks to the conference at 12:45, so we need to make ourselves quick here.


QUESTION: I have nothing.

MS. NULAND: Okay. That’s what we like.


QUESTION: Sure. President Karzai released a statement today talking about direct talks with the Taliban, saying that he’s hopeful to have direct talks with the Taliban. How does the U.S. see this? Is this a step forward? And how does this relate to the U.S. initiative involving Qatar?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we have been gratified to see President Karzai speaking out publicly in support of Afghan-to-Afghan reconciliation. As you know, we’ve been working on this for some time. And our job, our goal, is to work ourselves out of a job if that makes sense. Because when we get to the point where it’s Afghans and Afghans talking to each other, then we’ll really have a true reconciliation process.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. involved with talking to him? I saw the President spoke with Karzai yesterday. Was that – has the U.S. been kept abreast of developments in this outreach that he has?

MS. NULAND: Yes. I mean, we’ve been talking about this all the way along. As you know, Ambassador Grossman has been working on this for some time on his last trip, which we talked to you about a little bit. He saw President Karzai at the beginning of the trip, he saw President Karzai at the end of the trip. So it was appropriate that our presidents speak to each other to support the process which, at this stage, is still preliminary but which is moving along.


QUESTION: Another topic? Syria —

MS. NULAND: I notice Andy has a whale watching tan – (laughter) – or at least a whale watching pink.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, the ministers are a lot harder to see than the whales, I’ll tell you that.

The – on Syria, the ICRC today is calling on all sides to engage in what they’re saying would be a daily two-hour ceasefire in order to allow humanitarian aid to flow more freely. Is this a suggestion the U.S. thinks is either viable or a good one?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, you know where we’ve been, that we think that the violence needs to stop completely. So if a pause is the best we can do, then obviously we want to be able to get humanitarian aid, and we want international organizations to be able to get humanitarian aid to those who are suffering from Assad’s onslaught.

But more importantly, what we are focused on, as you know, is increasing the international isolation and the international pressure on the Assad regime to stop the violence altogether so that we can move on to a democratic transition. And that will be very much the focus of the ministerial conference on – in Tunisia at the end of the week.

QUESTION: Is – do you think that the rebel groups would be well advised to say proactively that they would agree by this proposed ceasefire? Should the Assad government also agree to do it?

MS. NULAND: Well, let’s start with whether we can get Assad to understand that the violence he is perpetrating against his own people has to end. I mean, just – you’ve seen what’s been going on again over the weekend. He seems to have again escalated his assault, particularly on the city of Homs, which took more than 150 shells over the weekend, where we see government troops massing around the town. So, we know where the fault lies. The fault lies with the government. They have got to stop before we can get to the next stage.

QUESTION: One more on Syria, if I may.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: The Russians apparently have already said that they don’t intend to attend – to go to the Friends of Syria conference because the Government of Syria hasn’t been invited. But the Chinese are saying they’re still studying that invitation. Do you have hopes that that might mean that the Chinese could show up?

MS. NULAND: Well as you know, more than 70 countries have been invited by the Tunisian hosts. The invitation explicitly says that this is a meeting in support of the people of Syria and in support of the Arab League initiative for a political transition, which is what we all supported at the UN Security Council in the resolution that was subsequently vetoed. So, if in fact China chooses to accept the invitation, that will certainly be a positive sign of its willingness to work with the rest of us to try to end the violence.

QUESTION: Could we just – I’ve been away for a couple of days, so I just wanted to make sure on where we stand in terms of arming the opposition or aiding them in some way, because Senator McCain has been raising this and some other senators. Where does the United States stand right now on that issue of aiding them militarily?

QUESTION: Well Jill, our position fundamentally has not changed. We believe that a political solution to this is the best way to go, that is what is needed in Syria, and that if Assad will heed the view of the international community or respond to the pressure that we are bringing to bear, that we still have a chance for a political solution, we still have a chance to get to the kind of transition scenario that the Arab League has laid out and that many of the Syrian groups support. So, from our perspective, we don’t believe that it makes sense to contribute now to the further militarization of Syria. What we don’t want to see is the spiral of violence increase. That said, if we can’t get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures.

QUESTION: So, that does leave the door open to ultimately – I mean, what triggers that? You’re saying it’s Assad himself who would trigger that?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speculate where this is going to go. What we are concerned about is that despite the 137 votes in the UN General Assembly, despite the fact that the sanctions that we are all bringing to bear on Syria are beginning to bite in a very serious way on the Syrian economy, the lesson that he’s taking from this is to escalate the violence and to bring more pressure onto these cities in Syria.

So, we’re going to meet at this Friends of Syria group in Tunis. We expect a very large showing from five continents and talk about all the issues that we’ve been discussing – how we can tighten the sanctions further working nationally and regionally, what we can do to get more humanitarian aid to those who are suffering, and how we can support the opposition in presenting a united front representing the interests of all Syrians for a democratic process going forward. But as you know, we never take anything off the table.

QUESTION: Well, last week – hold on just one – last week, though, you had said repeatedly that you don’t think that more weapons going into Syria is the right thing to do.

MS. NULAND: That remains our position. That remains our position.

QUESTION: Well, you just – but you just opened the door to it. You’re saying if you can’t pressure him into easing the assault, then other options have to be considered, which seems to be not just opening the door a crack; it seems to be flinging it wide open.

MS. NULAND: What I said was that if we cannot get him to heed the view of his own people or of the international community, we don’t rule out additional measures. I’m not going to speculate what those may be. What we are focused on now is increasing the pressure on him to get him to stop.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I mean, whether or not you are going to speculate or identify what those additional measures might be, one can imagine what they might be, and you’re not ruling anything out, whereas last week you were. So something has changed.

MS. NULAND: What we are —

QUESTION: What is it?

MS. NULAND: I think you are over-reading what I am saying. We have never ruled out anything in this regard. What we have said, though, is that we want a political solution. We want to see this resolved peacefully for the sake of the Syrian people, for the sake of the region.

QUESTION: Well, are you saying that there could be American boots on the ground in Syria?

MS. NULAND: I am not saying that.

QUESTION: Well, then so you are going to rule out some things.

MS. NULAND: I – Matt, as you know —


MS. NULAND: — we never rule anything out. I’m simply saying that our focus now is on trying to pressure the regime into a political solution and on aiding the people of Syria, both in presenting a viable political alternative and in a humanitarian way. And I’ve also said repeatedly, and I say it again today, that we don’t think contributing to the further militarization of Syria is a good idea. But, you are not wrong that we are reminding that we have not taken anything off the table.




QUESTION: I have a few questions. First off, over the weekend, Iran said that it was seriously considering expanding its preemptive cutoff of oil supplies to more countries within the EU. What is the U.S.’s reaction? Has the Saudi Arabian Government reiterated its promise to fill that gap if indeed oil shipments did drop, particularly to Spain and Greece and Italy?

MS. NULAND: Well, first and foremost, we see Iran lashing out and responding to the increasing international pressure that it is under. As you know, the EU has already declared that it will make no new contracts with Iran and that it will do what it can to phase out the contracts that it has between now and July. So it sounds like the tail chasing the head here, what the Iranians have said.

What is important is that Iran understand that the international community is resolved to maintain pressure, as we had – as we take up our response to the letter that Iran has put forward to the P-5+1.

QUESTION: Well, in that light, the IAEA delegation is now in Tehran, and apparently, that’s all that they’re going to be able to see during this latest visit. The government does not seem inclined to allow them to carry out inspections as they’re supposed to be able to do. Is that sending the wrong message to the international community? And if so, why?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we understand it, the IAEA is on day one of what is planned as a two-day visit. I don’t want to prejudge what they are able to see before they have had a chance to complete their visit and come out and make their report. We will await the report of that visit. But as you know from the public statements that they made, they had a relatively ambitious agenda which was designed to give the Iranians the opportunity to demonstrate that their program is for peaceful purposes. So we await the results of that visit.

QUESTION: And then continuing on with the apparent growing U.S. pressure on Israel to not carry out any sort of military strike in order to stop what it believes is Iran’s attempts to build nuclear weapons, does the Administration feel that it’s getting its message across?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the White House read out the meetings that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon had over the weekend in Israel, a very good set of consultations. I don’t think our view has changed since the President said that we don’t believe that Israel has made a decision about military action. Israel and the United States both believe that Iran has got to live up to its international obligations, and we’re focused on the pressure we can bring to bear to make sure that happens.

QUESTION: But considering that the head of the DNI, James Clapper, is on his way to Israel this week, and there are reports now that Defense Minister Ehud Barak may be in Washington several days ahead of his expected appearance at the AIPAC conference week after next, it seems to suggest that there seems to be more talking and more persuading that needs to be done with the Netanyahu government.

MS. NULAND: We’ve always had a very intense set of engagements with Israel, so this is just part and parcel of the conversation that we’re having in all channels and at all levels – not only about Iran, of course, but about bilateral issues, about Syria, about the neighborhood. So it makes sense that various members of the U.S. Government are meeting various members of the Israeli Government in this season.

QUESTION: Madam, as far as this business conference is concerned —

QUESTION: Continuing on Iran talks?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: What progress U.S. has made in its talks with India and China to reduce their dependence on Iranian oil? Have you made any progress?

MS. NULAND: Well, you guys can ask this every single day if you’d like. As you know, we are having talks with countries around the world about the implications of the legislation with regard to our expectation that countries will increasingly wean themselves of dependence on Iranian oil. We’re talking to India, we’re talking to China, we’re talking to countries in Europe, we’re talking to countries in Asia and Africa, et cetera. But I’m not going to give you a blow by blow of how these conversations are going with the individual countries, except that I think it’s fair to say that in all of these conversations, we share an objective, which is to increase the pressure on Iran.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, the former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns, wrote an op-ed saying that to India, the decisions to continue purchasing oil from Iran is a slap in the face of U.S. Does this building have the similar view on, say, the views of former Under Secretary of State?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, former Under Secretary Burns is an old and dear and close friend of mine. He is a private citizen, so he expresses – he speaks for himself at this stage. Our goal is to continue to work with India to encourage it to do what it can to reduce its dependence on Iranian crude. And we will continue those discussions.

QUESTION: Is this particular issue having any strain on your relationship with India?

MS. NULAND: Our discussions with India are continuing and they will continue. We’ve worked through hard issues before with India and we’re looking forward to working through this one.

QUESTION: And finally, on this bomb blast in Delhi, do you have any update on it? Has India —

MS. NULAND: You mean with regard to the terrorist —

QUESTION: Is Iranian – yes.

MS. NULAND: No. I don’t have anything further. As I understand it, the Indians’ own investigation continues.

Matt, did you —

QUESTION: So, yeah, I just want to go to the nuclear thing. It’s been a week since Mr. Jalili’s letter was received. Has there been – have you formulated your response to it, or are you still studying this very short 196-word letter?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are continuing to work in the P-5+1 context about where we might go next. We obviously have read the letter. We’ve absorbed the letter. We now need to think about —

QUESTION: You have?

MS. NULAND: We have read the letter. Can you imagine that?

QUESTION: Okay. And what is your – what do you think about it, then?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think the degree to which we opine, it’ll be when we are ready to give our response collectively to the Iranians, and we are still working through how we will present that, so I don’t have anything further now.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea how long that might take before you can get your act together and get a unified response to —

MS. NULAND: I think we are expecting to do some more work this week. And I think our hope is to be able to have a little bit more to say by the end of the week. But I will get back to you when I have a better timetable on that.


QUESTION: Back to Iran sanctions?


QUESTION: It’s being reported that the U.S. and Japan have come to agreement to cut their import by 11 percent. And, not asking for a blow-by-blow, but do you have any comments about that?

MS. NULAND: Sounds like you’re asking for a blow-by-blow. (Laughter.) We have not made any decisions, as you know. Japan is one of the countries that we’ve had a very good and full consultations with. We’ve had teams of Japanese officials here; we’ve had American officials in Japan. We’re continuing to work through this and to help Japan find ways to reduce its dependence on Iranian crude, but we haven’t come to any conclusions yet in those talks, as the Japanese themselves said, I think, earlier today.

Yeah. Please, Shaun.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)



QUESTION: — the elections there. I just want to – I wanted to see what the readout was, what the assessment was from the U.S. on that. As this has set forward, there have been reports of some violence, boycotts in some of the areas, but overall on the whole, how do you see the Yemen elections?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary will have a written statement later today on this. But certainly the United States congratulates the Yemeni people on carrying out this successful presidential election and taking the next step in their democratic transition. Our understanding is that turnout was very high, and particularly high among women, among young people, voters under 30, and it just shows quite a bit of enthusiasm and ownership by the Yemeni people for this transition going forward.

That said, as you know, this is only the first step in a long, complex transition scenario that was laid out by the GCC and accepted in the context of the government opposition talks in Yemen. So over the next two years, we still need all of the following steps to be completed. We need this national dialogue that the plan calls for to be established. That dialogue will set up a system for constitutional reform. As the constitution is amended, there will have to be a national referendum on the amendments to the constitution. There’ll have to be reform in the voting system, including the cleaning up of the voter lists. And then ultimately there’ll have to be elections for a new government, president, parliament, whatever system emerges from the constitutional process. And all of this has to be completed in two years.

So, we are encouraged and we congratulate the Yemenis for really launching this process, taking ownership of it as a population, and we will stand with them as they take the next steps going forward.

QUESTION: The Washington Post this morning had an interview with John Brennan in which he told them that there are a sort of set of incentives that the U.S. is putting on the table to assist with this transition. There may be more aid and so on and so forth. Can you tell us what actually is under discussion here?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have too many details, Andy. We can get you a special brief on that if you’d like. But in general, as you know, we’ve been providing humanitarian support; we’ve been providing economic support. We obviously work very closely with Yemen on counterterrorism and security issues. So all of those things will continue, particularly the economic support. And depending upon what they are interested in, we can also look at democracy support going forward.

QUESTION: And would this – would it – is it – in concept, is it an increase over the amount of support that the Secretary offered the Saleh Government when she was there, whenever it was, 16 months ago?

MS. NULAND: I need – let me check, Andy, whether there is a new package associated with this or if this is the same money that we weren’t able to spend until we embarked on the transition, so I’ll work on finding that.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. And finally, just — I’m wondering if – I know you’ve talked about this before but just because today is today, does the U.S. have any view on President Saleh, where he’s – what his travel plans are, (a), and what his status is likely to be, (b), would – as this election runs its course?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, as you know, he remains the sitting head of state until the – until his successor, who will now be President Hadi, is inaugurated. So our understanding is that the Yemeni plan is to do that sometime later this week. So until then, Saleh is the sitting head of state and will be accorded immunities here in that regard. He’s in California today, I think.

QUESTION: Okay. And they haven’t told you any forward trip plan for him? They probably don’t say –

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce at the moment.

QUESTION: Madam? Two questions, please.

QUESTION: Well, staying on Yemen. Just in general, is a one candidate, one party election something the United States is going to be encouraging in other countries going through democratic transitions?

MS. NULAND: Matt, it’s a fair point. And, frankly, the way this transition was established under the GCC plan, which was endorsed by both the government and the opposition in their dialogue, this is the beginning of the process, rather than – I mean, obviously, it was an election and a referendum on the one candidate. But more importantly, it was a referendum on the rest of the process, as I just enunciated, laid out over a two-year period.

So this is the beginning. This is an interim stage in their democratic governance and, obviously, after they have a new constitution, our expectation is it will lead to full, free, fair, multi-party, multi-candidate elections, both for the legislature and for the executive.

QUESTION: So you don’t consider this to be a democratic election?

MS. NULAND: We consider it to be a very strong and positive referendum by the Yemeni people on the transition process that their leaders have agreed to. It was obviously a democratic election. It had one candidate because that was what was agreed to at the front end as a transition stage.

QUESTION: Well, would you be comfortable with more one party, one candidate elections?

MS. NULAND: Again, it depends on the circumstances of a transition. Obviously, it’s not an end state for a true democracy. It’s the beginning point in this case.

QUESTION: So you —

MS. NULAND: As a beginning point, if that is what is agreed democratically within a transitional system as an interim stage, then we will look at each case individually. But this is not the end, this is the beginning.


QUESTION: Just on the —

MS. NULAND: Can I just go here, because our colleague hasn’t had a chance to –


QUESTION: On Pakistan, recently the Pakistani foreign office reacted very strongly to the U.S. congressman’s resolution on Balochistan. Has anyone at the Embassy of Pakistan reached out to this building? And secondly, has the Embassy or anyone at the government level told you about the parliamentary review – when it’s coming out?

MS. NULAND: With regard to the parliamentary review, our understanding is the process is still ongoing. So we will, obviously, await the conclusion of that process so that we can have a consultation on the results with the Pakistani Government. With regard to the legislation on the Hill, yes, we did hear from Ambassador Rehman. And we also heard in Islamabad from the government.

And in response to that, we again clarified our position, the same position that I annunciated here – I think it was on Thursday or on Friday, but I will say it again if that is helpful – that the United States respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan. Members of Congress introduce legislation on many foreign affairs topics, but they don’t in any way imply U.S. Government endorsement of those positions, and we don’t generally comment on pending legislation.

With regard to Balochistan itself, we encourage all the parties in Balochistan to work out their differences peaceably and through a political process. So we would like to again make clear that we respect Pakistani sovereignty in this regard.

QUESTION: Well, this is against the self-determination in Balochistan, as some of the lawmakers and some of the Balochistan people are saying that —

MS. NULAND: That is not what we are saying. I think you understand our position very well.

QUESTION: Wait, I have – we do not generally comment on pending legislation?

MS. NULAND: We generally do not comment on pending legislation.

QUESTION: That’s not true at all. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Well, actually —

QUESTION: You comment on pending legislation all the time.

MS. NULAND: Okay. We comment on what we choose to.

QUESTION: You say that you – exactly.

MS. NULAND: We comment on what we choose to. Fair enough, Matt.

QUESTION: If there were an Armenia genocide resolution up there, you’d say, “Wait. We don’t think it’s a good idea.”

MS. NULAND: We comment —

QUESTION: So wait. Do you – so considering that you do generally comment on pending legislation, what’s your comment on this pending legislation?

MS. NULAND: I think I just commented that it doesn’t represent —

QUESTION: You don’t agree?

MS. NULAND: — the views of the United States Government.


QUESTION: Yes. Press reports from Pakistan said that Foreign Minister Khar and Secretary Clinton are expected to meet in London this week. Can you confirm that meeting? And what are they likely to discuss?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any bilateral meetings for the Secretary’s upcoming travel to confirm at the moment. I would expect that tomorrow we’ll have a little more detail on this.

QUESTION: Anything more on NGO workers in Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that we remain engaged in intensive discussions with the Egyptians on all of these issues, and as the Secretary said yesterday, it is our hope and expectation that we will be able to resolve this. I think I don’t have anything further to say than to elaborate on what she said yesterday.


QUESTION: As far as the U.S. Government knows, the legal process is still moving forward despite the consultations?

MS. NULAND: We are continuing to work with the Egyptians on this issue. We’ve seen some press reporting about their next steps. I’m not going to comment on press reporting. The Secretary also declined to do that yesterday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Dominican Republic. There are reports that the U.S. has denied entry to four high government officials from the Dominican Republic due to links with the drug traffic. Do you have anything on this?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that. That is not one I have anything on today. I’m going to guess that we’re not going to comment on our visaing procedures one way or the other, but let me just take the question and see if we have anything else to add.

QUESTION: It’s – if I could follow up?


QUESTION: How concerned are you with the inroads that the cartels are making into the governments of Central America, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic?

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to Mexico, the Secretary had a very full statement yesterday when we were in Cabo San Lucas, so I would refer you to that, with regard to her very strong comments in support of the efforts of the Calderon government, all that we are trying to do together to strengthen Mexico’s efforts through the Merida Initiative, our joint efforts on the border, our joint efforts in law enforcement, stopping of drugs and weapons, et cetera.

With regard to the rest of the region, I think you know that we have a very strong effort with all of the governments of Central America along the same lines – trying to increase training, intelligence sharing, cooperation, and strong programmatics there. So – and with regard to the Dominican Republic, obviously they’re part and parcel of those efforts as well.


MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: May I – two quick questions?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: As far as this Business Conference is concerned, I don’t think I have seen any list of those hundred countries the businessmens are attending this conference. One, is there any businesses from India? And does this conference mean that more private dealing with business-to-business investing in the U.S.? And also more – any business visas?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we have press packets down at the conference itself that give a – give you a full list of the participants. So, why don’t we make sure that you get one of those. But obviously, you know the goal of this is not only to promote U.S. business abroad, but to promote foreign investment and job creation into the United States. So it’s very much a two-way thing, and we’re trying to bring some of the captains of U.S. industry and foreign business together as well as the executive branches.


QUESTION: And secondly, if I may —


QUESTION: As far as sanctions against Iran is concerned, if all the countries that – who are not with the U.S. right now – let’s say India and China – if they also join, are you talking with the other oil-producing countries to fill the gap to help these countries to join?

MS. NULAND: We are. As we’ve been saying for a number of weeks now, we are also working with oil producers who might be able to provide alternative sources of supply, and this includes a number of countries around the world.

QUESTION: Does that include Venezuela?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: It does not.


QUESTION: A World Bank question, please —


QUESTION: — not relating to Secretary Clinton. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Great. Thank you.

QUESTION: With Ambassador Zoellick’s announcement that he’ll be stepping down, would the United States consider a non-American to head – to be the next head of the World Bank?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know and as the White House has said, our expectation is that we will nominate a strong American candidate and we will put our full backing behind that person.

QUESTION: But don’t you think that there’s a legitimate claim that these developing countries have, that there should be a kind of wider distribution of these type of senior leadership positions if there’s a qualified candidate?

MS. NULAND: Well, one of the things that has happened at the World Bank over recent time, as well as at the IMF, is that the leadership structure has been more open to more countries. That said, with regard to the senior job at the World Bank, we fully expect that we will have an extremely strong American candidate.


QUESTION: In Afghanistan, there’s been an incident with a desecration of the Qu’ran – or several Qu’rans, I guess. Has the Secretary been involved? Has she made any contacts with the Afghan Government? Has the Embassy been involved? What’s the stance there?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, as soon as he became aware of this horrific incident, General Allen made a formal apology and a very strong statement about accountability. That has now been followed by his chief’s, Secretary Panetta’s, strong statement, which I think you saw probably about an hour ago, making clear that he also apologized on behalf of the United States to the Afghan people and to people around the world who were offended by this conduct, which we all disapprove of, and made absolutely clear that he plans to hold those responsible to account.

QUESTION: But has the Secretary of State been involved in this at all?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary was obviously briefed this morning and was as concerned and as disapproving as the rest of us.

QUESTION: Your choice of words as “horrific incident.” You used the word “horrific” to describe shelling of Homs last week. Are you —

MS. NULAND: The desecration of religious articles is not in keeping with the standards of American tolerance, human rights practices, and freedom of religion.

QUESTION: I’m not trying to suggest that it’s a good thing. I’m just curious as to why you would use the same word, “horrific” —

MS. NULAND: I think you are —

QUESTION: — to describe the actual murder of people going on and the shelling of their homes in a city in Syria.

MS. NULAND: The concern is that some around the world will think that this represents an affirmative statement by the United States, and it does not represent our values or our view of how the Qu’ran ought to be treated.

I think I need to let you all go so that you can go cover the Secretary’s remarks at the Global Business Conference. We will see you on the back end of this trip. Mark will be up tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:45 p.m.)