State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, October 12, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 12, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary Clinton’s Meeting with the Swiss Ambassador to Iran
  • IRAN
    • Assassination Plot Against Saudi Ambassador to the United States / Indictment / U.S. Outreach to International Partners / Deputy Secretary Burns Briefing with the Diplomatic Corps / Encouraging Countries to Hold Iran Accountable / Increase Political and Economic Pressure on Iran / Treasury Sanctions Designations / UN Security Council / Worldwide Travel Alert / U.S. Thanks the Mexican Government for Their Cooperation
    • Comments by Grand Mufti of Damascus / Condolences on the Death of Grand Mufti’s Son / More Violence is Not the Answer
    • Syrian Embassy / Harassment of Syrians in the United States / Justice Department / Indictment
    • Protests / Syrian Regime
    • Prisoner Exchange / Refer you to the Israelis
    • Travel of Assistant Secretary Campbell
    • Upcoming Visit of Korea’s President to Washington
  • IRAQ
    • Training Relationship / Discussions Are Ongoing / Sovereign Decision for Iraq
    • Fighting Terrorism / Haqqani Network / Reconciliation / Ambassador Grossman


 1:21 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. I hope you all got a chance to hear or see the Secretary’s speech at the Center for American Progress this morning on the importance of American global leadership. I have one quick thing at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds. I can’t imagine what might be on your minds today.

First, just to say that the Secretary today met with the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti. This was a previously scheduled meeting to allow the Secretary to thank Ambassador Leu for all of her efforts to help free the American hikers from Iran – Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd – and her continuing dedication to protecting American citizens and to covering their issues as they arise in Iran.

Under our protecting power agreement with Switzerland, Ambassador Leu represents our interests in Iran, and she has tirelessly advocated on several cases involving U.S. citizens. She also met today with Under Secretary Sherman and members of our Iranian affairs office.

QUESTION: Sorry. Who did, the ambassador?

MS. NULAND: The ambassador did. And of course, because she was in the building, we had the opportunity – the Secretary did – to brief her on the plot that our law enforcement foiled by Iran on the life of the Saudi ambassador here.

QUESTION: Is that it?

MS. NULAND: That’s it, Matt. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Did she make any specific requests of when – for when the ambassador goes back to Tehran?

MS. NULAND: In terms of advocating —

QUESTION: Talking to the Iranian Government.


QUESTION: No? Then can you bring us up to date on the meeting held here with Deputy Secretary Burns and the diplomatic corps, and also your efforts at embassies abroad to get diplomats to reach out to their host governments?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you heard the Secretary say, as you’ve heard others say, we consider this plot not only a violation of U.S. and international law, but not in keeping with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, to which Iran is a party. This also marks a dangerous escalation in some of the tactics that we’ve seen Iran use in its terrorist actions around the world, and we consider that Iran needs to be held accountable.

So in that spirit, this Department has been engaged in very broad and deep outreach with our international partners and countries around the world. The Secretary has made a number of phone calls to her counterparts and has more calls to make. She’s spoken with her Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud; her Mexican counterpart; she spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov today, and she has a number of other calls to make today. Deputy Secretary Burns has also been on the phone with a number of his counterparts around the world.

As you mentioned, Deputy Secretary Burns also invited members of the diplomatic corps in today for a briefing this morning on the plot, to go through the indictment, go through what we know and what we knew, and to talk about our commitment to the security of all diplomats stationed in the United States. We also used that opportunity to ask our partners in other countries around the world to help us in our efforts to hold Iran accountable, and particularly to help increase the pressure – political and economic pressure – on Iran.

As you know, yesterday, the Treasury issued additional sanctions designations. Five individuals were sanctioned, four members of the IRGC and the Quds force, and the plot arranger. And we also placed additional sanctions on Mahan Air, which is the Iranian airline that provides transportation and a considerable stream of funding to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC.

In addition to that, we have sent a message to all of our ambassadors and chiefs of mission around the world to go in and see the hosts in the countries where they are stationed to brief them on this situation and to encourage partners around the world to join us in pressuring Iran. We’re also providing classified briefings on the Hill today to members of Congress. And Under Secretary Sherman will be testifying in unclassified session on Iran tomorrow. That was a previously scheduled hearing, but we now know what the bulk of the questions are likely to be about.

And finally, as USUN, I believe, has made public, Ambassador Rice in New York is conducting a series of meetings, individual meetings, with all members of the Security Council today and tomorrow to brief them on the plot.

QUESTION: What exactly are you looking for from other countries? What would you like them to do, other than just come out and condemn it as you have? And then secondly, this convention to which you and the Secretary referred to – first of all, I wasn’t aware that there was a class of internationally protected people. Shouldn’t all people be protected like that? But that’s neither here nor there.

The – that convention, in it, says that countries that are parties to it must either prosecute or extradite people who have been accused of or charged with either harming or killing a member of this protected class. Is that what you want the Iranians to do?

MS. NULAND: Well, in this case, obviously, we have two indictments outstanding. We have one for somebody who is in American custody, and clearly, there will be a U.S. court case. The other person is at large.

QUESTION: That’s who I’m talking about.

MS. NULAND: And so obviously, if there is an opportunity to bring that person to justice, we would welcome that.

With regard to the precise measures, we are looking for countries to join us in increasing the political and the economic pressure on Iran. On the political side, obviously to condemn this effort and other similar efforts by Iran. On the economic side, there are a number of – a huge number of international sanctions, UN sanctions, and national sanctions already in place on Iran. But a number of countries are not enforcing these as tightly as they might, so obviously, everybody redoubling their efforts to enforce UN sanctions, national sanctions, regional sanctions, and to take more sanctioning measures that are within their capacity would be greatly appreciated to send the message that this is not the kind of behavior that can be tolerated in the international community.

QUESTION: But you haven’t set out a specific “We would like you to do specifically X.” It’s just “We would like you to tighten what you have, add more if possible.” You haven’t said, “Why don’t you look at these” – like the five people that you – who were hit yesterday with sanctions. You haven’t looked specific – you haven’t asked – made a specific ask on those?

MS. NULAND: Well, whenever we do these kinds of sanctions of our own, we are encouraging countries to look at what we have done. And if they have a similar opportunity to follow us where they can, but also to look at their relationship with Iran, which may be different than ours, look at what economic and political pressure they can nationally bring to bear, regionally, et cetera.

Let’s start with Jill and then go to Josh and then Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Victoria, the focus obviously is on sanctions, but I have a question about the efficacy of sanctions in light of this transfer of money. I mean, the transfer of money allegedly from Iran to the United States – to an FBI account, apparently – raises the question of “Do sanctions work?” Now, we don’t have all of the details, but can you answer: Does that – the fact that money actually got from Iran, apparently from the Quds’ source, to the United States into a bank account – doesn’t that show or undermine the possibility that sanctions work?

MS. NULAND: Frankly Jill, I can’t speak to exactly where the money was sent from where to where. It’s not necessarily clear to me that it came directly from Iran into an American bank. As we see there are efforts to make cutouts. I’ll leave that to you, I don’t have those details. I would say that we do believe that the international sanctions on Iran now are biting. This is the first year in a long time that Iran – its economy has not been growing. We see measures of increasing desperation to try to circumvent sanctions and measures like this. But again, as I’ve said, we believe that all countries should look hard at how they can tighten sanctions, how they can enforce sanctions, and whether sanctions are well-enforced within their own – to the limits of their own national law.

Please. Sorry, we were going to go to Josh and then we were going to go to Said.

Yes. Please.

QUESTION: Are we to expect further unilateral measures, additional sanctions, or designations coming from either Treasury or State? And also the – 90 senators signed a letter in August calling on the Administration to sanction the central bank of Iran. Is that something that’s under consideration right now?

MS. NULAND: We haven’t made any additional decisions at this point, but other issues are under review. I don’t want to speak specifically to the bank issue but just to say that we are continuing to look at what more we might be able to do.


QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. On sharing – the sharing of information. What mechanism do you use? The State Department talking to the different ministry – foreign ministries like the Russian foreign ministry and so on? Or is it agency to agency, like the FBI to whatever intelligence in Saudi Arabia or in Russia and so on? So what mechanism do you use to share information?

MS. NULAND: Well, in the first instance we’re obviously using our State Department and diplomatic mechanisms. As I said, Deputy Secretary Burns had members of the diplomatic corps here, we’ve had our ambassadors going in on a – with a set of points that explain what we know about this case and go through some of the particulars in the indictment, et cetera. For those countries that are seeking more detailed information, we are making briefing teams available if those are requested, and they can be requested at any level of detail that is useful.

So —

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up because as it seems, someone from the Department of Justice actually went to Saudi Arabia and met with the king and told him, like couple weeks ago, three weeks ago. Was the State Department made aware of that?

MS. NULAND: We’ve been involved in this for many months. We’ve been in tight interagency cooperation with our brother and sister agencies around the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up on that?


QUESTION: How much time passed between when the U.S. learned of this plot and when the Saudis were alerted to it. It was several weeks, right?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the operational details. Just to say that the Saudis – we have been working very closely with the Saudis for a number of – for quite some time now.

QUESTION: And yet, the U.S. didn’t alert the Saudis right away when it was learned?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into all of the operational details and who briefed whom exactly when. We have a whole raft of reasons not to get into that as we were developing the case. But just to say that we have been working intensively and well with the Saudis for quite some time.

QUESTION: One question regarding Argentina. The media is mentioning that also the plot involved with – involved bombing Israeli Embassy and the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Buenos Aires. Can you confirm that this is true?

MS. NULAND: Beyond what is in the indictment and I’m not going to go beyond that, I would simply say that we do believe that there were other targets, and there were follow-on notions by these plotters. But we do believe that the entire plot now has been disrupted. But I’m not going to get into specific details

QUESTION: But there were contacts with Argentinean officials during these days also?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into any specifics. Argentina was one of the countries called by Deputy Secretary Burns today, though.


QUESTION: What can you tell us about your consultation with the Saudis and with other allies to bring the matter into the Security Council. Is this something that specifically the United States will go to? And what exactly, what kind of mechanism or platform that you can raise in the Security Council?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, the stage that we’re at today and tomorrow is that Ambassador Rice up in New York is consulting individually with each member of the Security Council and discussing the plot. So I don’t want to get ahead of her diplomacy, but we are talking about it vigorously with all members of the Security Council.

Please, Cristophe.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the risk of regional escalation? No. I think the Secretary said there is a risk of escalation. So, how concerned are you with regional escalation that could occur between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, this is a matter of concern. The relations have not been good for a while. This is not the first effort by Iranian operatives to threaten official Saudis. So obviously we are concerned there. I don’t think anybody is seeking a wider conflict here. We are seeking to hold Iran to account and to make it absolutely clear that its relationship with the international community, its ability operate with the rest of us, is going to suffer as a result of this kind of behavior.


QUESTION: Toria, has there been any request – specific request from the Saudis for the United States to do anything vis-à-vis Iran?

MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to send that one back to the Saudis if you’re asking what their position is on this.

QUESTION: But, well – yeah. But I mean you’re the interlocutor, so can you confirm they’ve asked anything of specifically other than” let’s criticize this” and that type of rhetorical diplomatic stuff. But is there anything that they’ve asked the U.S. to do?

MS. NULAND: I think I’m not going to get into the specifics. Obviously, they were very appreciative that we were able to foil this plot, that we worked together on it, that their ambassador is safe. We – the Secretary in her conversation with Foreign Minister Saud agreed that we should work together to increase the regional pressure, increase the pressure on Iran, and have it understand that this kind of activity is unacceptable.


QUESTION: Based on your conversations of the last 24 hours, are some of the countries that have been traditionally reluctant to sanction Iran or to carefully enforce the sanctions, is this bringing about any change of attitude from them?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think it is early in our briefing efforts. We’ve been briefing today essentially. Let me simply say that I think countries around the world were quite surprised by how brazen this effort was – a sitting, major country ambassador on American soil. So I think countries are absorbing this. They’re looking hard at their own relationships with Iran and we look forward to continued consultations on these issues.

Let me get to Anna, who hasn’t had a chance to ask anything yet. Go ahead, Anna.

QUESTION: Thank you. There’s a quite a lot of skepticism about this plot amongst the Iran watchers out there, and saying it looks very clumsy and kind of amateurish for a sovereign, elite, whatever – Guard Corps. So, can you just talk a bit about your degree of certainty to which the Iranian Government was in on this, was – knew what was happening – was backing the plot? And that it wasn’t just two rogue guys out there?

MS. NULAND: Well, first I believe the Secretary spoke to this at CAP a little while ago. We do believe that this comes – goes to high levels within the Quds force, and we believe that the indictment speaks to that, and the court case will speak to that. Iran has a long history of using cutouts. It also has some – clumsy, I think was the word that you used – some clumsy efforts in its past. I can’t speak to what they were thinking when they planned this, but our concern is that it appears to be an escalation in tactics and a dangerous one.

QUESTION: So does it go up to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that except to say that we are quite confident that the trail leads to the high levels of the Qods force.


QUESTION: Yes. Victoria, have you spoken to Ambassador Adil al-Jubairin the last 24 hours? Is he in town? Can you tell us where is –

MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether he’s in town. I know that the Secretary spoke to him. I can’t – (phone ringing) – hello. Is that your mom, Christophe? (Laughter.) Hi, Cristophe’s mom.

QUESTION: Good service.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Not all of us are getting service today.

QUESTION: Who’s your provider?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary has spoken to him in recent days. I don’t remember if it was yesterday or the day before. And other members of the State Department have been in contact with him.

QUESTION: Has there been any kind of increased security over at the Embassy – at the Saudi Embassy as a result?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak about specific security measures except to say that Deputy Secretary Burns was able to reassure the members of the diplomatic community who are in today that we take our responsibilities under the convention that was in danger of being violated and under the Vienna Convention extremely seriously.

QUESTION: Do you know if Ambassador Moustapha was present at that briefing?

MS. NULAND: He was not.


QUESTION: Can you confirm or deny that the restaurant targeted was Café Milano in Georgetown? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I can’t go beyond what was in the indictment, my friend.

QUESTION: Are you taking any precautionary measures, in Iraq for example, where Iran can resort to hostile actions against the U.S. to complicate the U.S. mission in Iraq, for example?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to go into specific security measures that we are taking. It’s been reported in the press already. I think that we have put out a worldwide alert to U.S. citizens as we do whenever we see a heightened risk of terrorist activity. We did that in the last 24 hours, and we’re obviously taking other appropriate security measures.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that Iran might resort to this retaliation or hostile action against the U.S.?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to our security concerns except to say that we’re taking appropriate precautionary measures, including warning American citizens, as we have in other important moments, like when the Yemeni was wrapped up, like on the anniversary of September 11th; this is common practice for us.


QUESTION: At the meeting with Secretary Burns, could you tell us what happened? Was he the only one to talk? Did any of the diplomatic corps express their opinions, and if so, what did they say?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me just give you a light once-over since it was a diplomatic exchange just to say that he briefed the members of the diplomatic corps on the indictment in case they hadn’t had a chance to read it. He confirmed many of the things that I’ve confirmed for you today, that we do believe this was – has links up to high level of the Quds force. He talked about our expectation that countries will join us in holding Iran accountable. He talked about our commitment to security. The ambassadors did have a chance to ask some questions, and a number of them did ask questions. I think it went for about an hour, something like that.


QUESTION: Do you know what the Saudis (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: I don’t.


QUESTION: Do you have a list of countries that were present(inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we’re going to be releasing a list. I think they can speak for themselves.

Yeah. Anything else on this subject?

QUESTION: Well, you said that the Syrian wasn’t there.

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: So why not say who was there?

MS. NULAND: I think – let’s let those countries who attended say so if they’d like to.

QUESTION: Except for Syria.

MS. NULAND: Well, you asked me a direct question, and I answered a direct question.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s go down the list. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: This could be a very long –

QUESTION: Afghanistan. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a list here, Matt.

QUESTION: Albania. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a list here, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. Listen, this –

MS. NULAND: This could be a long afternoon.

QUESTION: I’m going to ask you to go into hypothetical territory for a second.

MS. NULAND: Oh, my goodness.

QUESTION: But since you have occasionally done so in the past, I’m assuming that you’re not going to flat out reject it. A plot like this, had it succeeded, what would the U.S. reaction – what would it have been? I mean, I can recall that only one other case of an assassination of a foreign political official in Washington; that would be the Letelier case. But the person who was killed wasn’t actually a diplomat, and I don’t know if he would have been considered a protected person under this statute. That was by the Pinochet government, as you will recall. So what would that have been – a plot like this if it had succeeded, what would it have been characterized as?

MS. NULAND: I think –

QUESTION: Is it an act of war? Is it an act of terrorism? Is it – or is it just a murder?

MS. NULAND: We certainly believe that the plot we foiled was an intent to execute a massive act of terror. I’m not going to speak, as you predicted, to hypotheticals – if X then Y – on the part of the United States. But what I do want to say is to join Secretary Clinton, as she has repeatedly in the 24 hours, in congratulating U.S. law enforcement on its superb effort and its success in foiling this plot, which would have been not only deadly, but have had very dangerous international repercussions.

QUESTION: But doesn’t it already have?

MS. NULAND: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Failing, it has very dangerous international repercussions as well, right?

MS. NULAND: Absolutely.

QUESTION: On not including Syria, is it because Syria is such a close ally of Iran? You think that would be the reason?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to who was here and who wasn’t any further.

QUESTION: So were they invited but didn’t show up or just not invited?

MS. NULAND: We – I’m – I think I will stay off of who was invited and who was not invited except to say that the normal folks that we invite to diplomatic briefings of this kind were all included in the invitation. Thanks.

Please. Go ahead in the –

QUESTION: What’s your assessment –

MS. NULAND: Sorry. Behind you first. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Victoria, something related to Syria, too. Syria’s top Sunni Muslim cleric has warned Western countries against military intervention in Syria, and he told the U.S. and Europe that we will prepare suicide bombers who are already in your countries if you bomb Syria or Lebanon. Do you have anything on this?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I think that you are speaking about the comments by the grand mufti of Damascus; am I right?

QUESTION: Correct, correct.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, let me take this opportunity to express American condolences on the death of the grand mufti’s son. We condemn violence of this kind, no matter whose hands it is at. That said, more violence is not the answer. So we also condemn efforts to incite further violence.

QUESTION: Can we go back – Iran?

MS. NULAND: Back on Iran? Let’s just finish on Iraq. Yeah.

QUESTION: But – excuse me, Toria.


QUESTION: But you talked about the bombers that – they are in the U.S. and Europe, and they are ready to bomb themselves if there is any interference in Syria.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we are not interfering in Syrian internal affairs. But that said, we’re also not going to countenance threats of violence against us or our allies or our friends anywhere in the world.

Please. Are we still – back on Iran, I think. On Iran, yeah.

QUESTION: A question that – following what you said, it seems that the message is – to the world to reconsider some of the relations that they are having with Iran in many cases, and I want to point that Iran offered to Argentina six months ago to have a constructive dialogue based on the attacks that happened and the core situation that Argentina and Iran is having at this moment. The U.S. has any position on this?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to the bilateral relations of individual countries except to say that we are encouraging countries around the world to hold Iran to account and to do what they can to ensure UN sanctions are implemented and that they’re taking appropriate measures bilaterally.

QUESTION: But you think there can be a constructive dialogue with Iran in this moment?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to sovereign decisions made by Argentina.

Please, Josh.

QUESTION: On Syria, today the Justice —

MS. NULAND: Wait. Anything else on Iran before – please.

QUESTION: What’s your assessment on the potential gain for the Iranian regime out of such a massive act of terror plan in the U.S. soil?

MS. NULAND: I can’t even begin to get inside the heads of people who would plan such a thing.

QUESTION: How do you see the Mexican role within this plot? Do you see any responsibility from their point? Or is this a cause for U.S. Government to increase its activities within or with Mexico in coming times?

MS. NULAND: First of all, thank you for that opening. I neglected to thank the Mexican Government. We’ve had superb cooperation with them throughout this period, and that was the – one of the purposes of the Secretary’s conversation with her Mexican counterpart, to thank Mexico for the superb cooperation we’ve had together.

Please. Still on this?



QUESTION: Iran has said that it’s going to file an official complaint. Now when you said that Deputy Secretary Burns and the Secretary both – when they briefed the diplomatic corps on the plot, are you going to show or did they share any evidence, will they share any evidence of whatever that was gathered of this incident?

MS. NULAND: Again, the briefings that we are having are based on the indictment which is now public. We have made clear that if there are countries that would like more detailed briefings, that we are prepared to send teams to brief them more deeply.

Please, Josh. Still on this? Josh.

QUESTION: Syria, Syria —

MS. NULAND: Anything else on Iran? Going once, going twice. Okay. Syria.

QUESTION: Today, the Justice Department charged a Virginia man for videotaping Syrian American protestors in Washington and passing that information both to Syrian intelligence officials in Damascus and officials at the Syrian Embassy here in Washington. Do you have any plans to bring any complaints or measures against the Syrian Embassy officials who were involved in this plot to spy on Syrian Americans who were protesting and punish their families back in Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, first to say, big week for U.S. law enforcement – Iran and now Syria. Second, Josh, as you know, we had made clear that we had concerns going back to July/August about the Syrian Embassy abusing its diplomatic protections to pursue Syrian Americans and Syrians in the United States and to harass and intimidate them. And we had passed our concerns to the FBI and asked them to pursue it.

So I think you see here the first fruits of the FBI’s investigation and their indictment against Mohamad Soueid for actions performed at the direction of and under the control of the Syrian Government and its officials to harass and spy on Syrian officials – on Syrians inside – in the United States. And we do believe these links go back to Syrian officials. So let’s let the Justice Department do its job, let’s let the FBI continue to do its job, which is what we had asked for.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, so the indictment says that Syrian Embassy officials were involved and in contact with the man charged. So are – is any diplomatic action being taken against those officials who have already been named by the Justice Department as participating in this?

MS. NULAND: I think we are evaluating this indictment. I don’t think any follow-on decisions have been made. But we are very pleased to see that the Justice Department is taking the appropriate legal action against this individual in the United States.

QUESTION: Toria, in this indictment that you, in fact, say that this man met – spoke with President Bashar al-Asad in private – do you have any comment on that? It’s kind of a striking detail.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any comment beyond what’s in the indictment.

QUESTION: So just to clarify this issue, you’re saying he was in contact with government officials in Syria. Was he in contact with officials in the Embassy here?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to go beyond what’s in the indictment. I’m going to send you to the Justice Department for any details that are not in the indictment. I, frankly, didn’t have the time to read the indictment myself this morning, but I would refer you to it for the details that we are able to make public at this time.

QUESTION: Whether he spoke directly to officials in Damascus or at the Embassy here, does that make any difference as far as the diplomatic relations with Washington?

MS. NULAND: This is clearly linked back to the officials of the Syrian Government, whether they’re physically here, whether they’re physically in Damascus, whether they’re in both places. The concern remains that we have the Syrian Government seeking to intimidate Syrians in the U.S. and Syrian Americans, and it’s unacceptable.

QUESTION: I guess my question – I’m sorry, but do you sort of – is the ambassador – does he bear responsibility, direct responsibility for that, Ambassador Imad Moustapha?

MS. NULAND: We believe the Syrian Government and its representatives here bear responsibility, yes.

QUESTION: But the ambassador himself does not bear the responsibility?

MS. NULAND: I am not going to finger one way or the other. He’s a representative of the Syrian Government. We trace this back to the Syrian Government, and we hold them accountable.

QUESTION: Yeah. Some of the families here or some of the people who have complained to you as that – that they – their photographs were taken at the Embassy protest. Have you been in contact with them about this indictment?

MS. NULAND: The Justice Department may have been. Again, our role here was to turn this over to them for their investigation, and they appear to have been very active.

QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTION: Yesterday —

QUESTION: Still on Syria.

MS. NULAND: Still on Syria? Yes.

QUESTION: There were thousands of pro-Asad protesters in Damascus today. How do you read today’s pro-Asad demonstrations?

MS. NULAND: The regime obviously has a strong ability to get its message out, but that doesn’t change the fact that, in cities across Syria, peaceful protesters are protesting against this regime. And those people are facing brutality on a daily basis, whether it is Syrian security forces firing on them, whether it is arrests, whether it is torture, imprisonment, et cetera.

QUESTION: Is this an assumption, or do you have any links that you can prove between the regime and the demonstrations, or organizing the demonstrations?

MS. NULAND: The Syrian – regimes of this type, autocratic, dictatorial regimes – are very capable of doing rent-a-crowd when necessary.


QUESTION: Yesterday, Israel representatives agreed on a prisoner swap. First of all, your reaction to that – do you think it was a good deal?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, all we’ve seen is press reporting at the moment, so I’m not going to go beyond suggesting that you talk to the Israeli Government about this.

QUESTION: But you must have an opinion. I mean, is this – they must have informed you —

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on something that may or may not be under discussion. I think you need to talk to the parties involved.

QUESTION: But press reporting is Netanyahu – pictures of Netanyahu saying that this is a deal and al-Khaled Mashaal saying that this is a deal.

MS. NULAND: Again, I would refer you to them at this stage.

QUESTION: You don’t – you think that those are fake?

MS. NULAND: I think that we need to —

QUESTION: That this has just been invented out of thin air?

MS. NULAND: I think that it —

QUESTION: That the Israeli cabinet didn’t meet yesterday and approve this?

MS. NULAND: — at this stage that this is at, it’s more —

QUESTION: The stage that this is at is where the prime minister of Israel says that Galid Shalit is going to back in Israel within a few days.

MS. NULAND: I think that —

QUESTION: It seems pretty advanced for you guys not to have any clue about whether this is actually true or not.

MS. NULAND: At the stage that this is at, we would like the Israeli Government and others involved to speak to it. We are not prepared to speak to it.

QUESTION: All right. On this —

QUESTION: On the same subject —

QUESTION: On the same subject, but not on the release, I’m just wondering if there’s been any response yet, positive or negative or neutral, to this idea of a meeting on the 23rd in, I presume, Amman.

MS. NULAND: We’re continuing the conversations. I think, as the Secretary said to some of you yesterday, whether it’s the exact date of the 23rd and whether it’s in Jordan or somewhere else, we are continuing to try to broker this meeting as soon as possible, and ideally before the end of the month.

QUESTION: Well, okay. So it’s – so in other words, if it’s on the 24th or the 25th, it’s not going to be – blow up the Quartet’s entire timetable, which called for this meeting within 30 days?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Quartet’s timetable was advisory. It was a recommended timetable. And obviously, as soon as we can get these parties back to the table, then we can proceed with the rest of the timetable. But our goal is to get them back to the table.

QUESTION: But you think that – I mean, are you suggesting that there might be a problem, a logistical problem, with that date in that venue, or —

MS. NULAND: I’m saying that we have to work schedules, we have to continue to work the parties, and we’re doing that. And as I think I mentioned that David Hale is seeing President Abbas on Thursday, so tomorrow.

QUESTION: Right. And when this meeting does – if it does happen, but presuming – operating on the assumption that it will happen because you really want it to – although that hasn’t really worked for you in the past – but operating on the presumption that it will happen, is this something that it would be – that the Quartet principals would be at as well, or —

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the proposal is a meeting at the envoy level under Quartet auspices. But again, I think we’re talking to the parties about how this could work, so let’s stay tuned.

QUESTION: And it – and in terms of the two sides, is it – it’s on – it’s negotiator level, not leader level?

MS. NULAND: Correct. That’s the proposal.

QUESTION: Just going back to the prisoner exchange, I still believe that you consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Whether they finalize this deal or not, how do you explain that one of your closest allies engaged in negotiation with a terrorist organization?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to this situation at all at the moment.

QUESTION: When – just to follow up on Nadia’s comment, conceivably, if there was, let’s say, direct negotiations —

MS. NULAND: Said, you’re taking me into if this, then that, then where are we going?

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s right. Okay. But that’s a deal that’s almost done, Toria. I mean, everybody’s saying it’s all but done. I mean, the prisoners – the exchange take place. But if negotiations have taken place between the government of Hamas, quote, unquote, in Gaza, and the Government of Israel, doesn’t that really blow out of the water that you cannot negotiate with terrorists and so on? If you can negotiate the exchange of prisoners, then you can conceivably negotiate other things as well. So that – how does that set with, let’s say, preconditions that were underlined time and again, that the fact that there was reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas exclude them out of the negotiations?

MS. NULAND: Said, I’m not going to comment on this set of issues at all. Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry. It’s —

QUESTION: What’s – when this is – if there is such a deal, will – once it’s finalized, is this something you’d be prepared to comment on?

MS. NULAND: I would expect that we would have something to say, yeah.

In the back. Please, Samir.

QUESTION: Did Deputy Secretary Burns meet with the commander of the Lebanese army today?

MS. NULAND: I have to say I do not know the answer to that. I think he was supposed to, but let me get back to you on it, okay?


QUESTION: Venezuela had its review, human rights review, before the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week, and they have rejected some of the more salient recommendations put forth to them by the United States and Britain, said that’s meddling by old empires and that sort of thing. And I was wondering if you had any reaction to that or anything to say on the subject.

MS. NULAND: I saw some reporting on this, but I think I’m going to take it so that we ensure that we give you all the subtleties on our view.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I believe Assistant Secretary Campbell is getting back to Washington from Asia today. I’m wondering if you have any readout from his meetings or on his trip, specifically in China.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a readout on his China – did he – I don’t think he stopped in China on his trip, unless I missed something. I think he was —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) embassy (inaudible).


QUESTION: I believe he was in —

MS. NULAND: I hear it’s spectacular, and it’s a green Embassy as well.

QUESTION: I believe he was in Beijing yesterday.

MS. NULAND: Huh, maybe I do. Hold on, let me take a look here. You never know what might end up in here. But as you know, he’s on his way home for the big visit.

Let me take it, because he’s been all over the place, and frankly, I’ve lost track.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: So I’m going to just see if he has anything to say on if he was in China and what happened.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Are we to expect U.S.-North Korean talks to begin again once this South Korean visit is done? I mean, is that part of the discussion, that you’ll be preparing to do that maybe next week?

MS. NULAND: I think a major focus of this visit is for us to concert views with our allies in the Republic of Korea on what the appropriate next steps are, and I don’t want to get ahead of the conversation that we’re going to have with our very important visitor at the White House.



QUESTION: Could you update us on Ambassador Jeffrey’s activities in terms of brokering any kind of a deal for staying beyond the December 31 date, deadline?

MS. NULAND: Well, Ambassador Jeffrey continues to talk to the Iraqi Government about what might be appropriate. I think beyond saying what we’ve been saying, which is that we understand that Iraq may have an ongoing interest in a training relationship with us and that we are prepared to have that kind of relationship as we have with many other countries in that region, just to say that the discussions are ongoing.

QUESTION: Okay. But are you aware that the Iranians may be exerting a great deal of pressure on the Iraqi Government to sort of push them into a position of non – or giving – not giving immunity to American troops beyond the 31st?

MS. NULAND: Well, it’s no surprise that we have concerns about the nefarious influence that Iran may be trying to have in Iraq and in other parts of its own neighborhood. So that’s not surprising. I think the question here is what the sovereign decisions of the Government of Iraq are going to be on this subject. And, obviously, if we are able to work out a long-range training relationship, which is in the interest of Iraq and the interest of the United States, we will obviously have to have, as we do around the world, appropriate protections for our personnel. So we’ll keep talking about that, but this is a sovereign decision that Iraq needs to make and needs to make it in a sovereign way.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton has said that the reconciliation talks with Haqqani Network cannot be ruled out. So my question is that: Does this reflect a change in U.S. policy? Because all officials in all earlier statements have been wanting clear actions from Pakistan against Haqqani Network.

MS. NULAND: I don’t think there’s any change in policy here. I think we’ve been quite consistent. We need and we are continuing the conversation with Pakistan to work together intensively to fight terror and to fight the – beat back the Haqqani Network in its efforts to propagate terror, whether it’s in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the region.

That said, with regard to reconciliation as a general matter, you know where we’ve been. This needs to be an Afghan-led process. We can only reconcile with those who are willing to break their ties with al-Qaida, break their ties with terror, renounce violence, support the Afghan constitution, support the universal human rights in the constitution, including the rights of women. So the Secretary has never ruled out, if we are able to reconcile with individuals on that basis and the Afghans want to do that, supporting them in that process. But it remains to be seen whether any of these guys choose that course of action and get off the battlefield. But for those who do not get off the battlefield, we will fight them, and we are encouraging – we are continuing to try to work with Pakistan to fight them together.

QUESTION: Now the Pakistani prime minister last week also made a similar statement that they were reaching out to all outfits, including Haqqani Network, for reconciliation talks. So with the Secretary’s statement, is Pakistan on board in all these affairs to negotiate with these networks and is this on Ambassador Grossman’s agenda as well?

MS. NULAND: Ambassador Grossman will obviously be talking about this full complex of issues with Pakistan. You know that we have also strongly favored trilateral conversations in the core group: U.S., Afghanistan, Pakistan. We would like to get back to those talks as well on the full set of issues, both counterterrorism and where reconciliation might be able to go.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: No. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)