State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, July 30, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 30, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations
    • Large-Scale Attacks in Aleppo / Assad’s Days Numbered
    • Movement towards a Pluralistic Syria
    • Increase In Nonlethal Support to Opposition / $15 Million in Aid / Communications, Medical and Humanitarian Assistance
    • Political Transition / Support for Annan Plan
    • Need For Negotiations to Determine Status of Jerusalem
  • DPRK
    • Need for Compliance / United with China on DPRK Position
  • IRAN
    • Working In Tandem with Israel to Increase Pressure
    • Future Meeting between Cathy Ashton and Saeed Jalili


12:45 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Hope everybody had a good weekend. Happy Monday. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Really? (Laughter.) I have something rather obscure that I wanted to ask about.

MS. NULAND: Ah, can’t wait. Let’s start with the obscure on Monday morning.

QUESTION: You want to start with obscurantism, or what?

QUESTION: Obscure and obscurantism are different things.


QUESTION: At 10:14 p.m. on Friday, the Department put out a note about the inability to reach consensus on the arms control – on the Arms Trade Treaty, excuse me. And you said in the note that you supported the outcome, which, of course, was a failure to reach consensus. What did you not get – did the United States not get out of this negotiation that it wanted?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, apologies for making you work at 10:14 on a Friday night. As you may know, the negotiations on this treaty went relatively late in New York, so we wanted to make sure that we spoke to them when the negotiations concluded.

What we supported was a decision to give this more time to get it right. As you know, this is a treaty that needs to be adopted by consensus. There was not consensus in New York. There were a number of countries who thought that more work needed to be done. That said, we did make considerable progress, and there was a commitment that the nations will come back early in the New Year and try to conclude this treaty. What we want is further review, further refinement in order to meet the high standards of a treaty that we could sign and that we were confident could receive the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, that deals with the illegal use of small arms while allowing states and nations participating to implement their own national laws and to protect the rights of their citizens enshrined in their own national documents, including in our case the right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution.

So more work needs to be done, but we very much support the goals. And we think that rather than trying to jam a weak treaty, it’s better to give it some more time and have consensus when we come back in January.

QUESTION: You said that there’s a commitment to come back early in the New Year. Was there a commitment by all 178 nations to do that?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that the second session of these negotiations will start early in the New Year and that that was the trend in the room there and what we expect.

QUESTION: You said commitment, not trend. I mean, who committed to doing that? Because I didn’t see a commitment anywhere to do that.

MS. NULAND: Let me send you to New York for the precise – actually, I’ll take it from – on the precise commitment versus gentlemen – gentlepeople’s agreement. But the expectation is that these talks will resume multilaterally early in the New Year.

QUESTION: And why do you oppose it going to the General Assembly?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we don’t have consensus on the text, so you would be sending to the General Assembly – to the GA a text that is disputed on a treaty that we all agreed would be adopted by consensus. So we think it’ll be a stronger document if we keep working on it and try to get consensus.

QUESTION: But is your concern that the GA could approve a treaty or could approve a document by two-thirds majority, and that therefore, any concerns – the residual concerns that the United States might have might not be addressed as long as you get two-thirds of the countries involved to vote for it?

MS. NULAND: Again, we don’t think the work of this body is finished, so why would we rush it to a vote in the GA, and particularly, given the fact that a number of large countries – ourselves included – aren’t ready to join onto the text?

QUESTION: And then last one from me on this, if I may: Did U.S. domestic politics – and notably the Second Amendment right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution – did a domestic political calculation in any way affect your negotiating stance and your unwillingness to accept the current draft?

MS. NULAND: Well, that’s not a political issue; that’s a constitutional and legal issue in the United States. It’s a matter of U.S. law. It’s a matter of our founding principles. So obviously, as a nation, regardless of who’s in charge of the nation, that has to be taken care of.

But more broadly, we want a treaty that can stand up around the world and can deal with this problem. We have in the United States some of the highest standards in the world in terms of our regulations and our laws with regard to these issues, and we want to make sure that when we do this treaty, we do it right.

QUESTION: Can you explain what in the treaty was problematic with regards to the Second Amendment?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into the precise text under negotiation. That’s obviously not something that we would do in a public forum. But what we want to do is ensure that the goal of this treaty, which is to ensure that small arms don’t get into the wrong hands, is as tight as possible while being true to the laws of our own nation and the laws of other nations.

QUESTION: This treaty that had been under negotiation for months and years, and during all that time, what, you just found out recently that there’s something in there that might affect the Second Amendment?

MS. NULAND: No, this has been an issue all the way through, how to ensure on the one hand the strongest possible treaty with regard to the regulation of small arms while ensuring that those states that do a good job of this don’t have to change their own laws.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand what, in an arms trade treaty, how that affects the Second – U.S. national law and U.S. constitutional law.

MS. NULAND: Again, one —

QUESTION: Where would the problems derive?

MS. NULAND: Well, you’re not a lawyer, I’m not a lawyer, but there are a number of legal issues involved whenever you do a treaty, and you have to ensure that as you negotiate these things, that they also comport with your existing laws and the existing rights of your citizens.

QUESTION: But there weren’t too many other countries that came out and have lamented – or I shouldn’t say that. There aren’t too many other – well, I don’t know of any other countries that are really saying they’ve – they have problems with their national laws right now.

MS. NULAND: There are a number of other countries that weren’t able to join consensus on this text.

QUESTION: Well, there was – you can’t join consensus if there isn’t – I mean, if you’re blocking it.

MS. NULAND: Again, who had issues with the text that need to be addressed and we’re going to keep working on it.

What else do we have? Said?



QUESTION: Victoria, the last time you had a briefing on Thursday, we were looking into the eye of the storm with an impending massacre in Aleppo. Is it your assessment that massacre is still – the threat of massacre is still there, or it’s been dissipated? What is your assessment?

MS. NULAND: Well, you’ve seen fierce fighting across Syria over the weekend, including in Aleppo. Obviously, what’s going on constitutes a serious escalation. We see the regime continuing to engage in large-scale attacks using fixed-wing aircraft, using helicopters, using tanks, shelling civilians, including serious violence in Aleppo, all of which we consider absolutely indefensible and abhorrent.

But this is a pull and a push across Syria, as you can see. We’ve also seen gains by the opposition, including swathes of territory north of Aleppo. So this is a fight. The regime’s got a fight on its hands because it did not do what it should have done months and months and months ago, which is end this violence and start a political transition.

QUESTION: It was also asserted time and again last week that Assad’s days were numbered. Do you feel that Assad’s days now are less numbered, are accelerating towards that end, what —

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said for some time now, but we’ve said with increasing urgency in the last couple of weeks, his days are obviously numbered. This regime is going down. Any regime that has to take these kinds of weapons to civilian populations in the two major population centers of their country can no longer claim this is a few outliers. There is serious, sustained, increasingly capable, increasingly well-organized opposition to this regime because they want change. They don’t want to leave under this kind of a brutal regime that would fire on its own people. They want a chance to have what other countries across the region are striving for, which is a democratic future that protects and advances the rights of all.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, in your many meetings with the opposition, do you impress upon them not to commit any kind of revenge – sectarian revenge attacks against the Alawite minority in particular? Because their website and associated websites are actually fanning the flames of sectarianism.

MS. NULAND: That has been a feature of our conversation with the opposition from the very, very beginning. And in the Secretary’s first meeting with the SNC way – some – almost a year ago now, her very, very first message was that this needs to be a movement towards a more democratic, more united, more pluralistic Syria that respects the rights of all, that we wanted to see the opposition embrace all of the colors and protect all of the people of Syria.

We’ve actually seen a different trend, Said. We’ve seen some of the Free Syrian Army websites, for example, begin to speak out about a Syria for all Syrians, begin to speak about the importance of rejecting extremism, rejecting terrorists, rejecting those who would exploit this revolution for their own purposes, and about the importance that anybody fighting in their name in particular do so on behalf of a pluralistic Syria. So that meshing with the code of conduct that the opposition groups put forward in Cairo, those are the kinds of statements, what we want to see. And they are extremely important in the context of an increasingly violent situation and a situation where some are seeking to exploit that violence for their own purposes.


QUESTION: Do you – sorry —


QUESTION: (Inaudible) long discussion last week about whether the United States needs to be stepping up its support of the opposition. And at that point, you said that there was no signs that Syrians wanted the United States to get involved any more than they are at the moment. Over the weekend, there was a senior member of the SNC who actually called for arming the rebels now. And we’ve also heard, on the grapevine, rumors that the Administration is actually drawing up plans for stepping up its support of the opposition. Could you talk to that, please?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve said all along that we were ready and willing and beginning to provide nonlethal support to the Syrian opposition. As that support has been absorbed, we’ve been increasing the amount of nonlethal support that we’ve been providing. I think you saw that Treasury issued some new licenses for that kind of support, including to the FSA over the last couple of days. So we will be continuing to expand what we do in a nonlethal context to help the opposition be more united, to be more organized. And we are also expanding the coordination and cooperation we have with other nations who have chosen other forms of support.

QUESTION: But how do you respond specifically to the SNC leader who asked for the United States to start arming the rebels?

MS. NULAND: I read that a little bit differently. They asked for support from the international community. Other countries have made other decisions about how to support them. Our decision about our support at this time is related to nonlethal.

QUESTION: Do you —

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Yes. Victoria, do you think that the Annan plan is still alive? And what about the new government, the formation of the new government?

MS. NULAND: Oh. Well, first, on the last point, as you know, the Syrian opposition in Cairo put forward a very extensive proposal about a transition plan of its own. It includes a first transition government and then one that results from a broader national meeting, leading to elections. The Syrian opposition has spoken in the last couple of days about now working to try to name some of the figures that they would see representing the different constituencies in Syria when the transition comes.

We think that’s a good effort to try to put some faces on the plan. They’ve also spoken about their willingness to include some technocrats who don’t have blood on their hands from the Assad regime. That could also be reassuring to some in Syria who fear what will happen when Assad leaves. So from that perspective, we think that moving forward to begin to plan for the day after is a very important trend and something that we’re seeking to encourage.

QUESTION: And what about the Annan plan?

MS. NULAND: With regard to the Annan plan, these are extremely important foundational principles that he put forward, the six points, the transitional structure that the international community and all the P-5 are prepared to support. The problem is that Assad has been unwilling to implement on any of it. So obviously, we think it should stay on the table. Obviously, these are the first things that need to happen as soon as we can get to that point. But it is Assad who continues to block movement on any of those things.


QUESTION: You said that the Treasury just issued licenses and so forth, so the help – the support for the Syrian Army is just – the Free Syrian Army, the opposition, is just starting?

MS. NULAND: We have been supporting various groups within the Syrian opposition, the civilian opposition and others, for many, many months now. There were some new licenses issued on Friday. So the question was are we expanding the support, and the answer is yes.

QUESTION: Is there breakdown of the help the U.S. is giving the opposition?

MS. NULAND: Well, for a whole bunch of reasons I’m sure you can understand, we don’t put all these things out in public, primarily so that we don’t endanger those who are the recipients of this kind of support or help the government track them or hurt them in any way. So we do, at the request of the recipients, keep this relatively quiet.

QUESTION: Some of the Syrian opposition are saying that the U.S. is not giving – well, not say anything, but not a lot.

MS. NULAND: Well, we are continuing to do what we can in this front, and we are – and those Syrian oppositionists who are the recipients of it know who they are.

QUESTION: Are you actually drawing up plans to expand it? I mean, as we talk, is there some planning going on somewhere within the Administration to expand this, move it forward?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we have always said that we would expand this nonlethal assistance as it was absorbed and as it was needed, so we are ready for those contingencies. We prepare for all contingencies, as you can imagine. And we’re particularly preparing now for the day after and working with the opposition on all of these things that the Secretary talked about last week and that I talked about as well.

QUESTION: I don’t think my colleague was asking for a breakdown of the recipients, but a breakdown of the financial outlays that the U.S. is making.


QUESTION: There was the 25 million figure that was cited for a while, but it seems that you have increased licenses and have done new things, and we’re beyond now beginning to provide nonlethal assistance. So if you could provide an update on how much money at least would be great.

QUESTION: Or equipment.

MS. NULAND: Well, our original notification to Congress was in the 15 million range with an expectation that that would expand as necessary. Let me see if we have anything to add on financing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you provide any greater detail on roughly what you’re providing? I mean, you’ve said in the past communications equipment, medical, some humanitarian. What else?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we – our preference is to leave it in the broad categories. You can imagine that when you talk about communications equipment, our goal is to help the opposition that has been subject to government oppression, government jamming, government surveillance, government interdiction to circumvent those processes of government control on their communications, on their activities. So if we start talking here publicly about the kinds of equipment that we’re providing, we’re just going to blow the opportunity for the opposition to work. So —

QUESTION: No, no. I get that.


QUESTION: But I was asking what other kinds of equipment. Now you’ve got communications, medical, humanitarian. Anything else? Or does everything you’re providing fall within those three categories?

MS. NULAND: Those are the main categories of support that we are talking about at this stage.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t there also equipment that necessarily isn’t ammunition or weaponry but things that the FSA could use for their own protection, such as night-vision goggles, other types of equipment that don’t necessarily constitute lethal aid?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we are comfortable talking in these broad categories. We would be concerned about going into more detail for fear of the program not actually being able to achieve its goal, which is for these people to be more safe, more secure, better able to handle themselves, given the violence in country.


QUESTION: So all those – in all those categories – are going until 15 million?

MS. NULAND: Again, we had been clear and public about the 15 million we notified to Congress. Let me see if there’s anything further or an update on that figure for you. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Israel?


QUESTION: Today, former Governor Romney suggested that there is something in Jewish culture that explains in part why Israelis are wealthier than Palestinians. Is this something the State Department ascribes to in any way?

MS. NULAND: Well, Brad, you can imagine that, as per our practice, we’re not going to speak to any issues that come up in the campaign. If you have a question about something that’s come up in the campaign, I’m going to send you to campaign headquarters.

QUESTION: Let me put it to you this way. Is there anything in the voluminous record of U.S. Government analyses, assessments, reports that suggests this explanation for the disparity in wealth between Israelis and Palestinians?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to anything that’s come up in the campaign. You can refer to the campaign on it.


QUESTION: If I may follow it —


QUESTION: — it’s something that came up by the presumptive Republican nominee —

MS. NULAND: We’re going to keep trying are we, Said?

QUESTION: — about Jerusalem. (Laughter.) My question to you is that —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) he talks about Afghanistan, he talks about Iraq.

QUESTION: — what you said about Jerusalem so emphatically, does that complicate the issue for you and the conduct to your foreign policy, about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, since 1967, administrations of both parties have had the same position, which is that the status of Jerusalem has to be solved through negotiations. So that is the position of the Administration. It’s been the position of the United States across party lines since 1967.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t see those statements as something that is a departure from past policies that could complicate your effort into reaching a peace settlement?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak about what happens in a campaign. I will refer you to the campaign.

QUESTION: Wait. You just gave him an answer with U.S. policy.


QUESTION: I’m asking you for an answer on U.S. policy. Do you see anything in Jewish culture that explains why Jews or Israelis may be wealthier than Palestinians?

MS. NULAND: You’re asking me to speak to cultural issues that I’m just – I’m not going there, Matt – Brad. That is not – (laughter) – he’s sitting in the Matt chair, acting Matt-like. I just accused him of being Matt-like. I’m not going there.

QUESTION: Such a compliment. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I’m not going there. I just aged you by about 10 years, too, right?

QUESTION: What’s the capital of Israel?

QUESTION: That’s generous. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What is the capital of Israel, from the U.S. Government’s point of view?

MS. NULAND: You know the answer to that question very well, which is that with regard to the status of Jerusalem and this complex of issues altogether, all of this needs to be settled through final status.

Anybody else? Happy Monday, please.

QUESTION: A top Chinese party – Communist Party official is visiting Pyongyang, North Korea. His name is Yuanchao Li. Do you have any – there is speculation that his trip may be aimed at (inaudible) North Korea on either Kim Jong-un’s trip – visit to China, maybe honeymoon. So do you have any information or comments on that?

MS. NULAND: I don’t. Sounds like a question for the Chinese Government.

QUESTION: I know you, Toria – you don’t like hypothetical question, but —

MS. NULAND: I hate them.

QUESTION: — if Kim Jong-un travels to China, do you think it will have regional dialogue with North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, that’s a question for the Chinese Government. The Chinese Government and we work very closely together in the context of the Six-Party Talks to make the same points to North Korea, which is if they want a better future for their people, they’ve got a choice to make. They’ve got to come back into compliance. And we’ve been very strong and very united with China with regard to that. China has unique influence there, so we always encourage them to use it to the maximum, and particularly now, where we have a new leader and he’s got some new choices to make.


MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Yesterday there was a report in Haaretz newspaper that the Administration has briefed Israel about its plan B if Iran does not rein in its nuclear program. What is plan B?

MS. NULAND: I think you ought to talk to Haaretz about what they think plan B is.

QUESTION: Is the Haaretz report wrong, or —

MS. NULAND: As we always do with Israel, when the Secretary was there, when Tom Donilon was there just around the same time, we always talk about our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. We always talk about how we’re doing on our strategy of combining pressure with diplomacy. There was obviously, on our side, an update on the P-5+1 talks and about how we can work together to increase the pressure on Iran. You know where we are on these issues. We don’t take anything off the table, but we are focused now on trying to get the pressure and the diplomacy to work in tandem.

QUESTION: Well, what is the next step? Because it seems to me that it’s all about stalemated at the moment. There aren’t talks going on. Nothing’s happening.

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, after the last round, there was a technical discussion to try to understand each other’s positions, after which Cathy Ashton’s deputy met with Jalili’s deputy, and the next step is for Cathy Ashton and Jalili to have a conversation as well. I don’t think that that’s been scheduled. I would refer you to the EU.

But the Secretary, as you know, last week or the week before when we were in Egypt, laid down a very strong marker that the proposals we’ve seen from Iran so far are complete nonstarters, that they really need to go back to the drawing board and make a fundamental choice. So that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for Iran to decide is it serious about making diplomacy work.

QUESTION: And have you had any indications from Tehran yet that they are doing so?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we will look to this next meeting between Ashton and Jalili, or this next conversation, to see how the conversations we’ve had have been absorbed in Tehran.

Anybody else?


MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:11 p.m.)