State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, March 8, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 8, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary Clinton’s Travel to New York / UN Security Council
    • Deputy Oil Minister / Defections
    • Money Moving out of Syria
    • Valerie Amos Trip to Homs / Humanitarian Aid
    • Turkish Position on Regime
    • Chinese Envoy in Damascus
    • Narcotics and Weapons Trafficking
    • Atrocities of the LRA / Invisible Children
  • IRAN
    • Comments by Supreme Leader / P-5+1 Statement
    • Cyber Warfare
    • IAEA / Possible Parchin Visit
    • Meeting between President Obama and President Netanyahu
    • Nutritional Assistance Talks
  • IRAQ
    • Women’s Rights
    • MEK Move from Camp Ashraf


12:40 p.m. EST

QUESTION: Let’s get this over with, please.

MS. NULAND: Nice, nice.

QUESTION: There’s a lot of basketball on right now.

MS. NULAND: Matt, just for you, I have to shout out to my home state team and say go Huskies tonight.

QUESTION: Tonight? They’re playing right now.

MS. NULAND: All right. Now.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: See? That shows just how much I know. All right, let’s do this thing. I have nothing at the top. What’s on your minds besides basketball?

QUESTION: Can I – very little, actually, but I have one logistical thing, and then – and that is has anything – Monday, has anything been cleared up yet as to what’s happening in New York other than —

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further to what I said yesterday, that the Secretary’s up there for this UN Security Council session on the Arab Spring, and she’ll also see Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: All right. But no other meetings to announce?

MS. NULAND: No additional meetings that I have to announce.

QUESTION: Okay. And then substantively, you have seen that this semi-senior Syrian official claims to have defected. What do you know about this and what can you tell us? Is it a good sign, a sign of things to come?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we are not at this moment able to authenticate the YouTube video that we’ve all seen. But if, in fact, it’s true that the deputy oil minister of Syria has defected, that would be absolutely in keeping with the kind of calls that the Secretary and the President have been making for senior members of the regime to break with Assad, refuse to stand with this brutal dictator, and instead, stand up for the dignity of their people. So it would be very good news indeed.

QUESTION: Do you have any analysis on why? I mean, if this is true, it’s a very isolated case, and that there haven’t really been any defections. It’s certainly not the level that we saw from Libya. What’s the Administration’s readout on why these calls are not getting a broader response?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know how these things start. They start with a trickle and then they tend to turn into a torrent. As you know, we have been saying that we are seeing an uptick over the last couple of months of military defections. They seem to be in the rank and file primarily, but once these things get going, they tend to increase. So let us hope that we are at the beginning of a trend.


QUESTION: Yeah, can you say anything about these reports – I think it was in The Washington Post – about millions of dollars being moved out of Syria? I mean, could that be a sign that people are hedging their bets, and what – they would like to maybe defect?

MS. NULAND: Well, Lach, as we have been saying for a couple of weeks now, we are seeing increasing amounts of money moving out of Syria. We are seeing family members being relocated in Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey and neighboring states. So this is often the first step when people who had previously supported a regime begin to understand that it’s going down. And as you know, it is our view that Assad will eventually fall.

QUESTION: Can you say who these people are?

MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to name names and those kinds of things for a number of reasons, including the privacy of the individuals, some of whom are in mid-process here, because they want to make sure that all of their family members can be safe.

QUESTION: Just on the oil – deputy oil minister, is it something that you guys are able to do, to confirm the authenticity of this video? I mean, should we expect at some point a ruling on whether or not the U.S. sees this as a genuine defection?

MS. NULAND: Well, presumably, after some time has passed, it’ll be a little clearer exactly where he is and whether folks outside of Syria have spotted him. But one of the things we would note about this is that he would be well-placed, this particular individual, to understand the impact that the international sanctions that we, that the Europeans, that the Arab League, that other countries are now beginning to put on Syria are having for the regime, are having for the health and welfare of Syria and the Syrian people. So he’s – he – this particular individual is privy to a lot of information about what Assad has really done to his country.

QUESTION: Just on this and I realize that you can’t confirm his identity, but is there a deputy oil minister of this name that you’re aware of?

MS. NULAND: Yes, yes.

Anything else? All set? Go watch basketball? No? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t know if you have seen the press reports from Valerie Amos’s trip to Homs, and she’s apparently come out saying that she’s been devastated. I’m wondering, have you received any information from the UN or from her office about what exactly was seen on that trip?

MS. NULAND: We have not, I don’t think, had a full debrief yet on her visit. You’ve seen what she’s been saying to the press. I would simply note that although the Syrian regime allowed her in, they still have not allowed in the humanitarian aid that she oversees, particularly into those most devastated neighborhoods outside of Homs.

Okay. Moving on. Yeah?

QUESTION: Yeah. Any – I guess any reaction to these reports that – of narcotics trafficking and weapons trafficking by the Afghan Air Force? I know that the U.S. military is supposedly looking into those allegations. Has there been any coordination here?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Pentagon does have the lead in looking into this, and I think they spoke to it earlier today. You know where we are on any kind of corruption and are continuing efforts to work with the Afghans on these issues. But I can’t speak to these particular allegations. And the Pentagon has committed that they are working with the Afghans to investigate.


QUESTION: So wait, can I briefly go back to Syria?


QUESTION: Can I have a reaction to Turkey’s comments that they’re toughening their stance towards the regime and they might consider helping the opposition army with arms?

MS. NULAND: Well, I haven’t seen what you’re specifically referring to. I think that the Turkish position has been quite tough for some time. You know where we stand on these issues. We’re making our views clear to Turkey, but Turkey has been an enormous help in the humanitarian effort taking in so many Syrian refugees and now providing staging points for the humanitarian aid. And our discussion with them on Syria is ongoing.

QUESTION: And also, can I have a reaction to this Chinese envoy in Damascus with this peace plan?

MS. NULAND: Well, we don’t have any particular information. We haven’t had a readout from the Chinese. Any effort to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people is most welcome. You know our view that his guns have to be silenced first before anybody could expect the other side to match that. So our hope is that the Chinese Government is doing some good here. We’ll see when they come out.

Please, Catherine.

QUESTION: Toria, have you seen this video that’s going around the web, the Kony 2012 video, and does the State Department have a reaction to that or a comment on it?

MS. NULAND: We have. It’s had some 25 million tweets. In fact, Mark had it brought to his attention by his 13-year-old, I think, earlier this morning. Well, certainly we appreciate the efforts of the group, Invisible Children, to shine a light on the horrible atrocities of the LRA. As you know, there are neighboring states, there are NGO groups who have been working on this problem for decades, and we, of course, are very much involved in trying to support all the states of East and Central Africa. We have a multifaceted strategy to work on this, including, as you know, we now have special forces advisors working to train some of the neighboring states in their efforts to get a handle on this awful, awful problem.

QUESTION: And if I could just follow up, the film makes a point that they are doing this now because the U.S. – they say the U.S. could pull out these advisors that you cited at any moment. So they’re trying to keep up the momentum. Is that a concern – a right concern on their part that these advisors could be moved out of Uganda?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information to indicate that we are considering that, but that would be a question for the Pentagon. As you know, they’ve only been in for a couple of months, and we consider them a very important augmentation of our effort to help the East and Central African countries with this problem.

As you know, hundreds of people – hundreds and thousands of people around the world, especially young people, have been mobilized to express concern for the communities in Central Africa that have been placed under siege by the LRA. So the degree to which this YouTube video helps to increase awareness and increase support for the work that governments are doing, including our own government, that can only help all of us.

QUESTION: And just one more, if I may. Would an update on what these advisors are doing currently be more of a question for the Pentagon, or do you have a summary?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve spoken about this in general terms. If you need a detailed briefing, I’d send you to them. But we are not part of the fight ourselves. We’re involved in training and supporting and providing advice to the forces of the governments of East and Central Africa that are engaged in the fight.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that this type of call, which takes viral form on the web and so on, might increase pressure for direct U.S. involvement in the fight for Kony rather than just providing the support that you mentioned?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think anybody in the region favors that. What they have asked for is this logistical technical training support, and that is what we are providing. We are also helping them with their public information campaign. We are trying to get the word into these communities that if members of the LRA, whether they’re pressed into service or whether they’re volunteers, are ready to defect, that they’ll have support in doing that, et cetera.

Catherine, yeah.

QUESTION: Just one more, Toria. Their strategy is to target 12 policy makers, what they call it. I don’t believe Secretary Clinton was on that exact list, but has the State Department received an uptick in phone calls or emails or anything of the like?

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge. I think that this building and frankly this government has a reputation of being on the right side in these issues and being quite aggressive in trying to support the governments that are going after the LRA.

Please, Elise.

QUESTION: On Iran, could you tell us what you’re making of these comments by the supreme leader saying that the fact that President Obama was speaking out against going to war with Iran was positive, but that trying to cripple the Iranian people by more sanctions was not positive?

MS. NULAND: Well, I haven’t –

QUESTION: It seems like it’s a little bit more – it does seem in a way to be a little bit more conciliatory towards the United States. And I’m wondering if the U.S. thinks this is some kind of overture by the supreme leader for – that they’re serious about talks.

MS. NULAND: I have to say I haven’t seen what the supreme leader had to say in particular. The Secretary spoke quite clearly this morning in quite a full manner about our expectations as we move forward with Iran. And as you know, we also had a statement from the P-5+1 in Vienna in the context of the BOG meetings on our expectations with regard to access for the IAEA into Parchin and other facilities.


QUESTION: Sort of Iran related. Israeli media reports are saying that Israel’s asked the United States for advanced bunker buster bombs and refueling planes that might increase its capacity to go after the Iranian nuclear facilities. Can you – do you have any comment on these reports? Have these requests been made?

MS. NULAND: Well, these were put in the context of conversations between the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu. We’re obviously not going to get into details with regard to their conversation. I don’t think anybody should doubt the commitment that we’ve made to Israel’s security, to Israel’s qualitative military edge. That commitment has been matched not just – it’s not just in words; it’s in deeds. And the President has spoken – spoke to that a little bit when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here.

QUESTION: You don’t have to get into the conversation between the prime minister and the President, but presumably, if there was such a request, it would not stay just at that level. It would get down to the people who would actually have to arrange for the sale and the provision, which means that there would be quite a wide net of people involved in the conversation. How about any conversation between people in this building, in particular, Assistant Secretary Shapiro and his Israeli counterparts on the same subject?

MS. NULAND: I do not believe that conversation has taken place. I don’t have anything for you on it either way.


QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. On this issue, if and when the talks are resumed with Iran, what would be the point of departure? Where they stopped before, or there is a new set of demands or requests that are in place now?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Secretary has made clear, the President has made clear that as we go into these talks, we have the goal of, on the one hand, ensuring that this is not a one-day wonder, and on the other hand, ensuring that if the talks go forward, that they are sustainable, that any progress made is verifiable. So with regard to exactly how this is going to go step-by-step, we are still working that through with our various partners. But the goal is to ensure that the degree to which Iran makes commitments to come back into compliance with its international obligations, that those are verifiable, that we can have the kind of transparency to be sure that they are meeting the individual commitments that they are making.

So I’m not going to prejudge what our position’s going to be going in or what their position’s going to be going in, but you can be sure that there are a lot of people working on this issue of ensuring that any steps taken are true steps, that they can be verified, and that they can be seen clearly.

QUESTION: We understand – just a quick follow-up, Andy. We understand that Iran needs to be credible and not use the talks as a ploy to waste time or buy time and so on, but there is a covert war going on, part of which is really cyber attacks and so on. Suppose Iran requests that these activities stop. Would the United States, for instance, be receptive to such an idea?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the back and forth. There shouldn’t be any cyber warfare of any kind, as you know.



QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that one. On the P-5+1 statement out of the IAEA on the Parchin facility, this urging Iran to grant access, does that constitute a precondition for the P-5+1 to actually start the broader talks; i.e. do the Iranians have to allow inspectors back into Parchin before any talks can resume?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, when the IAEA went in and wasn’t able to see Parchin, our hope had been that before we answered the letter, we would already have the results of that visit. So we were disappointed by that. We considered that a missed opportunity by the Iranians to demonstrate to the world that what they say is true, that this is a purely peaceful program.

So there will certainly be an expectation, as we said in the P-5+1 letter today, that the IAEA will be able to get into Parchin soon as well as all the other facilities that it wants to see, but there’s not an expectation that that has to happen before talks start, although it should’ve already happened, so as soon as possible is our stand.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, does it mean as much now that – to get them to the sites now that there are some reports about satellite images that show that Iran is cleaning up the site even as it’s saying that inspectors can come back in?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the same reports that you have. These reports underscore the importance of the IAEA being able to get into this site as soon as possible, and that there are concerns about Iranians stalling in this regard.

QUESTION: Sorry. There are concerns about Iranians stalling in what regard? You have concerns that they’re trying to wipe up, clean up, after something at these sites?

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these same reports, and the question —

QUESTION: The reports, or you’ve seen the images? I mean, these were —

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into what we see through intelligence. I’m simply going to say that —

QUESTION: Well, I mean there are certainly U.S. officials that are saying that there are satellite images that show that Iran is cleaning up the site, and the IAEA secretary general, or the – sorry – I’m —

QUESTION: Director general.

QUESTION: No, Amano. I mean, I’m blanking on his exact title, but anyway, the director general has said that there is some evidence that Iran is cleaning up the site, so why are you citing reports? I mean, do you believe that Iran is cleaning up the site?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, you yourself pointed to Director General Amano’s statement, which expresses the concern that we have. The P-5+ —

QUESTION: Do you share his concern?

MS. NULAND: The P-5+1 also expressed concern that we’ve got to get in there. Any evidence that Iran is seeking to cover its tracks would raise only further concern about the true nature of the program. So we are offering talks so that Iran can prove to the world what it says, which is that its program is for peaceful purposes. If that’s the case, they ought to allow inspectors into Parchin as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Are you saying that there – excuse me – you say any evidence that Iran is trying to hide its tracks. Is that the –


QUESTION: — that was what you said? Well, do you believe that there is evidence that Iran is trying to hide its tracks?

MS. NULAND: Again, I have pointed to what Director General Amano has said; I have pointed to the P-5+1 statement. I’m not going to speak to our intelligence on this issue.

QUESTION: Well, but – I mean, then you can leak anything out there that you want or – not you personally, and maybe not even this building, but people can point to reports all the time. This is a classic. It happened during the Iraq War. “Oh, we’re not going to talk about intelligence, but look at this story that was on the front page of such-and-such a newspaper —

MS. NULAND: Well, Director General —

QUESTION: — that the Iraqis are building this new huge aluminum tubings – tubes.” You know what I’m talking about.

MS. NULAND: Matt, this is a whole lot more straightforward than that. This site —


MS. NULAND: This site —

QUESTION: Someone out there is throwing up things, saying, “There are satellite pictures that show that Iran is cleaning something up.” You’re not willing to say that there are these photos, but you’re willing to say that the reports about them are of concern.

QUESTION: Reports coming from U.S. officials.

MS. NULAND: I am not going to speak about U.S. intelligence. I am going to point you back to –

QUESTION: But you did.

QUESTION: But you could cite reports that talk about U.S. intelligence?

MS. NULAND: There are press reporting with regard to these concerns. I’m not going to get into it, but I am going to say to you that we’ve had concerns about Parchin. That’s why we wanted the IAEA to get in there. The Iranians were supposed to allow that a couple of weeks ago; they didn’t allow it. We are all concerned, so we want to see that happen.

QUESTION: If these reports are credible, do they slow down the diplomatic momentum, in your opinion?

MS. NULAND: Again, we need to get folks into Parchin so we can see what’s going on. Iran needs to come clean about what it’s doing. It has many ways to do that. One of the ways it can do that is to let the IAEA into all the sites that it wants to see.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: New topic?


QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the talks with DPRK in Beijing on food issues?

MS. NULAND: I think that Ambassador King spoke to the press a little bit after he finished. So he – they had a pretty good round, as I understand it. There are now some technical things that have to happen, so he’s coming home to Washington to work on that. But I don’t have anything further.

QUESTION: So is that – those remaining issues, can you give us a sense of how significant these issues are? I mean, is that something we have to continue discussions with DPRK, or is this something you have to concern – discuss inside the U.S. Government?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think he made clear that he needs to come home and report, and there are a number of technical things that have to go forward. I think we are cautiously optimistic that this is going to work out, that we’ll be able to deliver the nutritional assistance.


QUESTION: New topic?


QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Iraq?


QUESTION: On this day of – the international day of – Women’s International Day, all reports point that the situation for women in Iraq has gotten much, much worse than, let’s say, 10 years ago. In the north, for instance, in the region of Kurdistan, there has been an increase in honor killing, maybe 10-fold. Women are not allowed positions as they were in the past in Baghdad – in the central government and all the provinces. So do you have a comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen this data that you are referring to, Said. I think one of the positive aspects of the transition in Iraq is that the Iraqi constitution so strongly protects the rights of women and their inclusion. And that is change. So our hope and expectation is that local authorities as well and judicial institutions would live up to the honor – the letter and the spirit of the Iraqi constitution in terms of protecting the rights of women and protecting the advances that women have made in Iraqi society.

QUESTION: Are there any particular engagements that you’re aware of that the Embassy or perhaps bodies belonging or related or connected with the State Department that work with, let’s say, with the Iraqi union of women?

MS. NULAND: The Embassy has a very robust program of engagement with women’s organizations, NGOs, women leaders in Iraq to continue to strengthen their participation in Iraqi society and the implementation of their rights.

QUESTION: On Iraq, the MEK is complaining quite strongly about the relocation process for the Camp Ashraf residents, saying primarily that the Iraqis have not signed an MOU they were supposed to in the UN on how Ashraf was going to be set up, and that they are being hustled out of the camp without being allowed to take their belongings. I’m wondering if you have any readout on how the U.S. thinks the relocation process is going, and do you feel that the Iraqis are living up their side of the bargain?

MS. NULAND: Well, we do. And just today – as you know, we had a first tranche of MEK move to Camp Liberty about a week ago. And just today, a second tranche of some 300 MEK have arrived at Camp Liberty. So, we’ve now, of the 3,000-plus, we’ve now relocated about 800. On top of that, the United Nations has already begun its process to provide refugee processing for those who have moved out of Ashraf and relocated to Camp Liberty. So that is underway and we think that that is also beginning to encourage more of the folks in Ashraf to move, understanding that they will have far more options for their future if they go up to Liberty.

QUESTION: Do you know are there any U.S. officials from the Embassy or elsewhere observing the actual relocation process and particularly the departure from Ashraf?

MS. NULAND: We did have some embassy officials both at Ashraf and at Liberty for the first tranche. I don’t know whether that was also the case today. I would guess that we do have some people at Liberty.

QUESTION: Okay. If we could ask about the Ashraf side of that, because that’s the side of the equation that they’re complaining about most strongly.

MS. NULAND: We will. Anything else? Okay, thanks everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)