12:47 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy New Year.
QUESTION: Happy New Year.
MS. NULAND: Welcome to 2012. Welcome to the State Department. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: The Pentagon has come out with a statement earlier today about the Iranian bluster or Iranian threats. I’m just wondering what the State Department’s view of what Iran has had to say and – well, what’s your – what is your view of that? And then I have something about the nuclear issue with Iran, just – first in terms of the Strait of Hormuz.
MS. NULAND: Well, I haven’t seen what our brothers and sisters at the Pentagon had to say, but as we --
QUESTION: They said they don’t care what the Iranians say; we’re sending ships – they’re sending ships back.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we believe in freedom of navigation through the straits, and we believe in our right to move our vessels. And I’m sure that whatever they had to say with regard to their goals is in line with that.
With regard to the larger question of bluster and threats from Iran – we spoke to this a little bit last week – frankly, we see these threats from Tehran as just increasing evidence that the international pressure is beginning to bite there, and that they are feeling increasingly isolated and they are trying to divert the attention of their own public from the difficulties inside Iran, including the economic difficulties as a result of the sanctions.
QUESTION: Are you aware of this – what was presented as a new offer to talk with the P-5+1 over the weekend, and do you know anything about it?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the press reporting. As you know, the EU has the chairmanship of this. I think the EU spoke to its expectations sometime earlier today or yesterday. The foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton’s spokesperson made clear that if Iran wants to accept the opportunity that the P-5+1 put forward in September for talks, it needs to respond to the letter that the P-5+1 put forward, and we haven’t yet had a written request from the Iranians saying that they’re ready to talk. More importantly, the Iranians know what will be expected of them in the context of that – that they have to meet their commitments to the international community and that they have to be prepared to engage constructively and seriously on a comprehensive solution that restores the international community’s confidence in the peaceful nature of their program.
So we’ve seen press reporting, we’ve seen public statements. We haven’t seen what we need to see, which is a formal diplomatic request in writing to resume talks.
QUESTION: Okay. But that what you just read was the European response. There – is that your – that’s your response as well?
MS. NULAND: That’s the joint response of the P-5+1.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the question about the Strait of Hormuz? If the U.S. Government’s position is that this is bluster, given that we are in a political season here in the United States, how does the Obama Administration resist any sounds from the right wing in this country to perhaps step up any sort of military pressure on Iran?
MS. NULAND: Well, Ros, this is not a platform here for political debating inside the United States. If you want to ask a campaign question, you can ask it of the campaigns. I speak for the State Department and for the Administration more broadly with regard to how we see these threatening noises from Iran. And obviously, as Matt made clear, the Pentagon has spoken to freedom of navigation and we’ve repeated it here through Hormuz.
QUESTION: But certainly, there is the – there would be the discussion that some might argue that perhaps the best strategy for the Obama Administration going forward with Tehran would be to actually step up some sort of show of military power – raise the potential, if not just actually pursue something. Is that simply not on the table at this point?
MS. NULAND: Ros, as you know, the Administration has made clear at every stage, and the President himself has made clear that no option is off the table. No option is ever off the table. But we are where we have been, which is that we believe that the sanctions are biting, that we are seeking with the support of the Congress to strengthen multilateral sanctions – including those that target Iran’s oil sector, and that we are going to make clear that we believe the freedom of navigation through Hormuz is essential.
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: Let’s go to Nina first.
QUESTION: The – it’s Nadia.
MS. NULAND: Nadia, sorry.
QUESTION: It’s okay. The head of the Iranian army said that he’s not going to repeat his warning to the American ships not to return to the strait. Do you take this seriously? I mean, obviously, it’s implying that they mean it, that they don’t want them to come back. Do you take his threats seriously?
MS. NULAND: We take seriously the role that the United States military and, particularly, our Navy plays around the world in ensuring freedom of navigation through essential routes.
QUESTION: Victoria, but do you expect this increased task force – naval task – U.S. naval presence in the Gulf along with the exercises to lead to some sort of incident, international incident? Or do you expect things to be business as usual?
MS. NULAND: We want to see Iran come back into compliance with its international obligations, to do so peacefully. We are not seeking a confrontation, but we will make sure that the role that we play in ensuring global freedom of navigation is continued.
QUESTION: So you don’t expect this heightened rhetoric to lead into any kind of confrontation?
MS. NULAND: You’re taking me into hypotheticals here, Said.
QUESTION: Has any of your allies ask a waiver to be exempted from sanctions so far, on especially energy sector or oil sector?
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about how we will implement the new legislation?
QUESTION: Has any of your allies ask for a waiver so far?
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the waiver provisions under the new legislation put forward by Congress?
QUESTION: Sanctions. Yes.
MS. NULAND: We are not at that stage. The stage that we are at now is consulting with allies and partners around the world about the implications of this legislation and working with our allies and partners together to tighten sanctions that already exist on Iran and to encourage countries around the world to decrease their dependence on Iranian oil.
QUESTION: It looks like their – the latest sanction – it really hurt them. According to report, their currency fell 10 percent yesterday, but they’ve – they keep testing missile. If they do continue, do you have anything in terms of unilateral sanction still on the – against Iran?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have the toughest sanctions in the world on Iran. We continue to look at what more we can do. We are also working, as I said, with allies and partners around the world. It’s less a matter of having more sanctions on the books and more a matter of ensuring that those sanctions that we already have are fully implemented by all countries within their national competencies and national authorities. But I also, as you note – as you said, take note of the fact that there seems to have been a significant drop in the Iranian currency, and that’s among the measures of how these sanctions are biting on the country.
QUESTION: President Zardari last week said – hinted that they will go ahead with the gas pipeline agreement with Iran, despite U.S. reservations. Do you have some concerns on this agreement that Pakistan has? And if they do, will it affect the U.S. aid given to Pakistan and different (inaudible), considering the sanctions that you have for Iran?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you say, we’ve made absolutely clear over many months now our concerns about this deal, and we will continue to talk to Pakistan about it. Were it to go forward, how it might be impacted – again, this is the kind of conversation that we have to have with Pakistan and that we’re starting to have now.
QUESTION: Speaking of – staying on Pakistan for a second?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just very briefly, are you following – are you at all following the situation with former Ambassador Haqqani and the investigation into this – the investigation the supreme court has ordered into this alleged memo incident?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we have followed it, but it’s an internal Pakistani matter.
QUESTION: You have no concerns at all about this?
MS. NULAND: It’s – we consider it an internal Pakistani matter.
QUESTION: So whatever happens to him you have no – you consider it an internal matter?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve said regularly with regard to this case, with regard to other judicial proceedings in Pakistan, that we want to see judicial proceedings go forward in accordance with the Pakistani constitution, including the protections on citizens’ rights and in accordance with international law, so --
QUESTION: As of this moment, you don’t have any problems with it? You just want it to --
MS. NULAND: As I said, we want to see --
QUESTION: You don’t have any concerns, though, at the moment?
MS. NULAND: I don't have any statement to make on that case from this podium, no.
QUESTION: Also on Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there any word on whether there is compensation going to the families of those soldiers who were killed on November 26th?
MS. NULAND: I think the Pentagon spoke to its intentions at some length, just before Christmas and afterwards. I would refer you to them for the details on what they plan to do.
QUESTION: That’s funny, because they referred us to you today, saying that they didn’t know what the status was --
MS. NULAND: With regard to compensation payments?
QUESTION: Yes. Yes.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let – Ros, let me take it, but my understanding was that was an issue for them.
QUESTION: And then also on Pakistan, in terms of other efforts to rehabilitate the relationship between Washington and Islamabad, is there any progress on border crossings, on training, on perhaps a return to Shamsi airbase, other issues?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re continuing to talk to the Pakistani Government at all levels following the New Year holiday. Our Ambassador Cameron Munter’s been back in touch with the Pakistanis. We want to get back to normal and get into a full counterterrorism relationship again. We think that’s important, not only for U.S. security but for Pakistani security and for the security of the entire region. So those conversations will continue.
QUESTION: The foreign office spokesman in Pakistan said over the weekend that Pakistan has not received anything from the coalition support, for instance June 2010, and only $400 million from the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill were received during 2011. So do you agree that the figures are correct and if the state of the relationship is a reason for this delay?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don't have the figures in terms of disbursements at my fingertips here. You do know that some of the money on the military-to-military side – it was difficult to spend because some of those programs had been suspended and because of the state of the relationship in counterterrorism cooperation. We’ve talked about that at length. We can get you some separate information if you’d like with regard to civilian funding.
QUESTION: Yes, please. That’d be nice.
MS. NULAND: Still on Pakistan, anybody else? In the back. Thanks.
QUESTION: President Obama has signed a defense bill which also contains provisions to withhold a big amount of military aid for Pakistan. How are you interpreting this, and how should Islamabad see this in the context of relationship between the two countries going forward?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, these are certification requirements in the bill, so obviously we’re going to have to certify that cooperation is going well in order to release money. So it’s essentially a continuation of some of the issues that we’d had before.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. How do you assess the conduct of the Arab League monitors thus far? Are you disappointed, or have they done a good job? How do you keep track of what they are doing?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying that the Arab League has about 100 monitors in country now. I think you’ve seen over recent days that in places where there have been groups of monitors, the Syrian opposition has taken advantage of this to come out into the streets and to try to send a clear message, when they have felt safe in the presence of monitors, to their own government that they want change. And some of those demonstrations have been quite significant.
That said, more broadly, our concern is that the Syrian regime has not lived up to the full spectrum of commitments that it made to the Arab League when it accepted its proposal some nine weeks ago. For example, the violence hasn’t stopped; far from it. We’ve had reports from independent observers of some 49 new deaths in Syria since the 31st of December. The vast majority of this – these deaths have been at the hands of government troops, snipers, government armored personnel, et cetera. We’ve even seen reports that in places, the military is donning police uniforms in order to hide what they’re up to.
So we’ve also seen some limited political prisoner arrests, but nothing like what the Syrian Government promised to the Arab League, which was a full prisoner release, including a release of the most high-level political prisoners. We have concerns about specific important political prisoners like Najati Tayara from Homs, Yahia Shorbaji from Daraya, these kinds of folks who we have reports have been tortured, et cetera.
So our concern is that the Arab League monitors, although they are providing some ability for some demonstrators to express their views in some places, they have not led to the full implementation of the commitments that the Assad regime took on, and that the violence continues, that it continues very severely, people remain locked up, and that in some cases, the regime is actually putting out its own false reports that monitors are on the way, demonstrators come into the streets, and then they fire on them. So we have serious concerns.
QUESTION: One --
QUESTION: Quick follow-up, just a quick follow-up, Ros. The head of the Arab Parliamentarian – he called the Arab monitoring regime a sham, ineffective, it has failed, and he called on the Syrian situation to be presented at the Security Council. Do you agree with him?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Arab League itself, its monitors have not yet issued their own report. They consider that the mission is still going. I would note, though, that there is sufficient concern within the Arab League about how the mission is going, that they’ve called their own ministerial meeting for this Saturday to take stock. So we obviously will await that meeting. We support their efforts to ensure that this mission is credible, is effective if it’s going to continue to go forward. And we will – we are in close touch with them. You should know that the Secretary has dispatched Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman. He’s on his way to Cairo – I think it’s this evening – so that he can consult with the Arab League as well on Syria and on other issues in advance of their meeting this weekend.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that: You seem to place most of the blame on the Syrian regime. I’m curious whether you’ve placed any blame on the mission itself for not being able to be more present or be able to stop any of the violence. There’s been some criticism from some of your allies and from certain quarters of the job they’re doing.
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, they have – they are trying to get into different parts of Syria. They have been blocked in places. It’s a question of whether their numbers are sufficient, whether they’ve been – had all of their demands and requirements met, including their demands to see some of these political prisoners, which we also understand have been denied. So again, we are not going to pass judgment on the Arab League mission in advance of the Arab League itself meeting and taking stock. We would simply note that the Assad regime is far from meeting the standards that it agreed to in these other categories, and that the violence continues. And most of the violence is at the hands of the regime.
QUESTION: What else is the U.S. Government doing in this interim period? We’re now talking another five days before another meeting. In the meantime, Ambassador Ford has hosted another commentary on the Embassy’s Facebook page. What else is he doing? What else are staff inside Damascus doing to try to help those who are trying to deal with the Assad government?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, our Embassy and Ambassador Ford continue to meet with and talk to a broad cross-section of members of the opposition, trying to help them to take maximum advantage of those monitors where they are. We see the opposition trying to do that. We’re also continuing our message to the opposition that they need to come forward with a unified platform of transition to help their countrymen see that there’s a better future after the Assad regime and to help galvanize their movement. We are also continuing to work with allies and partners around the world about tightening their own sanctions on this regime and about what comes next if, in fact, the conclusion is that, despite the best efforts of the monitors so far, the violence is not ending.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Ford still encountering limits on his travel, on his ability to meet with people?
MS. NULAND: Well, my understanding is that all of his requests to travel outside the city have been denied. I don’t know if he’s even trying anymore, given the pattern that the Syrian Government has put forward, but I can get you some more information about that. And obviously, we have concerns about surveillance of his contacts, et cetera.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the last time all his requests were turned down, he just went out anyway. You said he’s not going to do that now? The situation is not --
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to what his future plans may or may not be. I think the main issue here is continuing to be able to talk to the opposition.
QUESTION: Is it able to meet within the city with opposition figures?
MS. NULAND: He is able to have meetings. He’s able to work with folks through other mediums, on the phone, through new media, et cetera.
QUESTION: The French foreign minister earlier today called for a reassessment of the role of the Arab League mission of monitors. Would you agree with such a move?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the Arab League itself is going to take stock on Saturday. We are consulting with the Arab League, sending Assistant Secretary Feltman to talk to them. So I think we want to get their assessment face to face, in person, and have them assess the mission themselves when they get together on Saturday.
QUESTION: Are you saying that Feltman’s going there specifically to talk to them ahead of this meeting?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: It was my understanding he was planning to go last week.
MS. NULAND: His main focus now is to talk to them about this.
QUESTION: Now. So why was he originally going there?
MS. NULAND: Well, he had --
QUESTION: Before the weekend, before this meeting for Saturday got called, he was going to go.
QUESTION: Right. Is he going someplace --
MS. NULAND: -- to do some bilateral work in Egypt, and he had always planned to have meetings on Syria with the Arab League.
MS. NULAND: It takes on a particular saliency now that he will be --
QUESTION: No, I understand. But I mean it wasn’t that the Secretary saw what was happening and said all of the sudden, “Jeff, go to Egypt.” I mean, he was going already. So --
MS. NULAND: He was going anyway for a bilateral visit. However, she has instructed him to take stock with them.
QUESTION: Is he going some – anywhere else?
MS. NULAND: I believe he’s going to Riyadh as well. I think we put out a notice on that a couple days ago.
QUESTION: There was this controversy over the map at the U.S. State Department website.
MS. NULAND: Are we – first, are we finished with Syria?
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Syria.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: This – the Syrian opposition accuses the head of the monitors, Mohammed al-Dabi, a Sudanese, of some terrible crimes in Darfur and so on. Are you satisfied that he is someone that can credibly lead this team of monitoring?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, I missed you on Thursday when we spoke to this issue.
QUESTION: Right. Yeah. Sorry about that.
MS. NULAND: We did speak to this issue on Thursday. We’re going to judge this monitoring mission by the results. I’m not going to get into parsing personalities.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Please. Still Syria?
QUESTION: A different topic.
MS. NULAND: Let me let Lalit do it.
QUESTION: Still Syria.
MS. NULAND: Still Syria?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Any reaction to the threat from the Free Syrian Army to carry out attacks in a couple days against the regime if the mission does not succeed – of the Arab League?
MS. NULAND: From the attack on the oil pipeline and the --
QUESTION: No. The Free Syrian Army threatened today to attack the regime spectacularly in a few days if the Arab League mission does not succeed in ending the violence.
MS. NULAND: Well, our consistent view throughout this has been the view shared by the vast majority of Syrians in opposition, which is that further militarization of Syria, further violence in Syria, is not the answer, is not the right move for the Syrian people; that the opposition is far stronger when it exercises its right to peaceful protests and makes its views clear, taking the moral authority of not resorting to the same tactics that the regime has used. That’s exactly what the regime wants, is to make this – make Syria more violent, and have an excuse to retaliate itself.
QUESTION: In the controversy over the map, now the State Department has posted the new map, which shows line of control (inaudible) and Kashmir with a dotted line, thereby indicating that it is a disputed territory. So is that the official position of State Department, that it is a disputed territory?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I think the map that you saw has been up straight through. We have not yet replaced the maps that we had to take down that were incorrect. And when we do, we’ll let you know and we’ll walk you through the whole thing. But I think the one that you’re referring to is not a new map on the website.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying that, as we’ve said all along, we are prepared to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation. As the Secretary keeps saying, you don’t negotiate with your friends. But this process will only be successful if those Taliban are prepared to renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, support the Afghan constitution in all of its elements, including human rights for all citizens, and particularly for women.
We’ve seen these reports of some kind of a preliminary agreement with regard to an office for Taliban political activity. I would note that on December 27th, Afghan President Karzai expressed his own support for an Afghan Taliban political office, which provided an address that the traditional Loya Jirga of Afghanistan had demanded and the High Peace Council had demanded as a place where they can talk to the Taliban, a necessary site for negotiations in order to move the peace process forward.
So we are not aware of any formal decision, we’re not aware of any formal announcement, but we are prepared to support a process that the Afghans support. And with regard to any office, it would be a question for the host country, the Afghans, and the Afghan Taliban to agree on.
QUESTION: Why in Qatar?
QUESTION: Vice President Biden said that the Taliban is not an enemy of the United States, but the way you describe them, I’m not quite sure if you agree with that.
MS. NULAND: Nadia, we’ve been over this a thousand times, and I also spoke to Vice President Biden’s comments, so I’m not going to speak to that again.
QUESTION: Are you able to say any more about reports that if an office were set up, that the U.S. would release five people being held at Guantanamo as part of this setup of this office and to help move the negotiation process along?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to any of those kinds of reported details.
QUESTION: I wonder if you can step out and look at the bigger picture on this. What would the actual objective of these talks, these potential talks, be from the U.S. perspective? What is the goal? Does it have to do with ending the war in Afghanistan and ending the U.S. presence?
MS. NULAND: Well, in the most macro sense, the question is whether you have a combatant suing for peace, whether you’re ready for negotiations to end a protracted conflict. In the tactical sense, in the strategic sense, are there individual fighters of strategic significance who are prepared to come off the battlefield and join the political process within the framework that the Afghans have discussed and that we have supported, namely that they are now ready to denounce violence, to cut ties with al-Qaida, and to work within the Afghan constitution? So, in any negotiated settlement at the end of a conflict, there has to be a negotiation, right? So the question is whether this office, were it to open, could play a positive role in that.
But as we have said, we have a policy here based on three principles: fight, talk, build. We will continue to fight along with the – beside the Afghans, those enemies of the Afghan Government and people who have taken up arms and are not prepared to renounce violence, at the same time that we are open to supporting talks led by the Afghans toward an ending of the conflict, towards reconciliation of individuals or the group as a whole. And we also have to build. We have to build a better neighborhood among the countries of the region, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then more broadly through the New Silk Road Initiative.
QUESTION: Can I just follow that up quickly?
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: It is – I think that it feels like there’s been statements, more recently than you referenced from Karzai, that indicate that this current group of interlocutors who are in the news right now are not really influential Taliban players. Is that --
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not --
QUESTION: -- a view shared by the State Department, or is there a sense that there’s this illegitimacy to the whole thing that’s breaking right now?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not prepared to speak one way or the other to individuals whose names have been in the news one way or the other. What we’ve said is that we support an Afghan-led process. So the Afghans have to be in the lead. This is their country. We will support a process that leads to reconciliation along the lines that we’ve discussed. So it’s really the Afghans’ call to make here what is legitimate.
QUESTION: Does your support of the Afghan-led process include support for the Taliban opening an office in Qatar?
MS. NULAND: Again, this is a discussion that has to be had by the host --
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sure it is, and I’m sure that the U.S. has absolutely no say in it. What you think doesn’t matter at all to this process, right? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
MS. NULAND: We --
QUESTION: I’m asking a very simple question. Does your support of the Afghan-led process include support for the Taliban opening an office in Qatar?
MS. NULAND: If this is part of an Afghan-led, Afghan-supported process and the Afghan Government itself believes it can play a constructive role, and it is also supported by the host country, then we will play a role in that as well.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve answered the question.
QUESTION: -- you’ll play a role. Will you – do you support it?
MS. NULAND: Again, it has to be under the right conditions --
QUESTION: Well, I know. Okay.
MS. NULAND: -- namely that it supports Afghan-led reconciliation.
QUESTION: When you refer to the host country, you mean to Qatar?
MS. NULAND: Well, Qatar is the country that’s reported to be considering hosting.
QUESTION: And – but you’re saying that you don’t have any independent knowledge that it’s Qatar?
MS. NULAND: I’m saying that there’s been no formal announcement. We’ve seen the same --
QUESTION: And you don’t know of any negotiations going on for it to be in Qatar at all?
MS. NULAND: I’m – I am --
QUESTION: Come on. We’re dancing around. This is ridiculous. You guys are integral to the entire thing. You know you’ve known for months that this is the idea that’s been going on. And I’m trying to – why do you not – why can’t you come out and say yes, we think it would be a good – or we can support – as long as the Afghans are supportive of it and as long as the Qataris are willing to host it, we can support an office being there?
MS. NULAND: Because, again, this is not our negotiation to lead. This is a situation that the Afghan Government has to be comfortable with. The Afghans have to make their own decisions, and they have to work this through.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the --
MS. NULAND: If it is deemed by the Afghan Government to be supportive of Afghan-led reconciliation, then we have already said that we are open to it.
QUESTION: Okay. You say – and you say again that it’s an Afghan-led process, but there are certain redlines, right?
MS. NULAND: Certain redlines in terms of overall reconciliation --
QUESTION: Right. Exactly. So it’s not entirely an Afghan-led process because if all of the sudden Karzai decides that he doesn’t want – that he doesn’t think it’s important for the Taliban to respect the rights of women, are you guys going to go along with that?
MS. NULAND: Well, at the current moment, our redlines are the same redlines that the Afghan Government has. So if that changes, we’ll obviously have to talk about it in that context.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: What if an office in Qatar gives the Taliban exposure and access and diplomatic legitimacy and so on? And these are the people that the United States went to war against back in 2001.
MS. NULAND: Again, the Secretary said it a hundred times; you don’t negotiate a peace deal at the end of a war with your friends. We’ve seen in many other conflict situations that you have to have a political address if you’re going to begin a political conversation. The Afghans themselves have said that they are frustrated that the Taliban do not have a political address. That’s what the Loya Jirga called for. That’s also what President Karzai said that he would support in these statements on the 27th of December. But it’s obviously up to them to work it out.
QUESTION: So should this effort be perceived as an effort to negotiate the end of the war?
MS. NULAND: Again, we – let’s start with trying to reconcile the key fighters and get them off the battlefield, and let’s go from there.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Victoria, one more thing on the Taliban office.
MS. NULAND: On this one? Yeah.
QUESTION: Why Qatar will be hosting this office?
MS. NULAND: I think that’s a question for Qatar, not for us.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about the State Department role in catching this arson guy in Los Angeles over the weekend, or yesterday, I guess, alleged – excuse me --
MS. NULAND: The accused?
QUESTION: The accused – I don't know if he’s been charged yet. I think he’s still the alleged.
MS. NULAND: I can give you a little bit more, Kirit. I think you know that the Los Angeles Police Department had a press conference – I think it was yesterday or earlier this morning – in which they thanked federal authorities for cooperating. We are proud that we were one of those cooperating federal authorities in this case.
Just for those of you who don’t have the background, starting on Friday, December 30th and continuing into the early hours of Monday, January 2nd, there were a series of over 50 arson fires in and around Los Angeles, primarily in West Hollywood and Hollywood. And the LAPD set up an interagency arson task force to follow the fires. Over the New Year’s Eve weekend, that task force put out video showing a person of interest exiting a parking lot and asked for the public’s help. This led to agents in our Diplomatic Security field office in Los Angeles being able to make contact with the task force and giving them certain information based on a separate ongoing investigation about a German national that we’ve been having with the LAPD, which ultimately helped lead to the arrest of the arsonist. And we cooperated throughout the weekend with the task force until it was stood down.
QUESTION: And what exactly was that – I mean, was this – it’s been reported that it was part of a deportation case involving the alleged person’s mother. Can you confirm that?
MS. NULAND: I don't want to speak about the precise other individual, except to say that our LA office was working – of Diplomatic Security – was working with LAPD on a provisional arrest warrant for the Germans on an individual who was connected to this case. And so it was on the basis of that that they recognized Burkhart himself and were able to provide information, and then we were able to share the information we had developed with the Germans on the case with LAPD, which was helpful to them in making the arrest.
QUESTION: So it was just one person who --
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
QUESTION: Sorry, just to connect the dots, just --
QUESTION: -- it’s – it was one person who just happened to see the picture and happened to connect the dots themselves and then recognized him, right? It was nothing beyond that, right?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. It was a member of Diplomatic Security who was working a separate case and saw this and then began cooperating. And then our cooperation, including information from the investigation that we were conducting, was helpful further on in the case. We shared a whole bunch of our information, which helped LAPD.
QUESTION: You said that there was a warrant out for this person?
MS. NULAND: There was a provisional German arrest warrant, and we were working on that case with the Germans.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up --
QUESTION: Still on this?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did either of these two Germans get a visa, or did they enter this country without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to first give our usual disclaimer and then I’m going to tell you what I can, Matt, and you’re going to shake your head before we even start. But first let me tell you that visa confidentiality laws prohibit us from commenting on individual visa cases. That said, I can tell you that at this point we have not been able to locate a visa record on either of these individuals, either the original relative or the suspect who was arrested. I will tell you, as you know --
QUESTION: Which would imply?
MS. NULAND: What I’d like to tell you, though, is that German nationals who meet the standards of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program are not required to have visas --
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: -- it’s conceivable that they came under the Visa Waiver Program.
QUESTION: -- the fact that you have not been able to locate – right, which was I thought all I asked in my question – would imply that they had come into the country under the Visa Waiver Program, correct?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to send you to Customs and Border Protection to finish going through the records. They have the --
QUESTION: No. I just want to you to – I’m just trying to get you to complete the sentence. Because you have not been able to locate a visa record for either of this people, that would imply – no, not definitely confirm, but it would imply – that they entered the country without a visa, which would mean that they had come in legally, but under the Visa Waiver Program, correct?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to say to you that it is possible. I don't want to make any implications because it’s up to Customs and Border to make an exhaustive search of the visa records.
QUESTION: And the Privacy Act applies – does it continue to apply until someone’s convicted of a crime, or do they only have to be accused of setting half of Los Angeles on fire before the U.S. Government is ready to talk about – ready to waive that?
MS. NULAND: I think that was a facetious question.
QUESTION: No, no. I want to know. Does it require a conviction, or do you just – or – because the LAPD didn’t have any problem into giving this guy’s name, date of birth, nationality?
MS. NULAND: No. I don't have any problem talking about Harry Burkhart. It’s the other individual that I think it’s up to LAPD to speak about.
QUESTION: Last question on Libya. There’s been renewed fighting this morning between different militias, Mr. Abd al-Jalil already warning of civil war. How do you assess the process of disarming militias in Tripoli in particularly? And do you believe that the country’s descend into a civil war?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have long supported the plans of the central authorities in Tripoli to create a central security force, a central Libyan army, in which all these militias who wanted to integrate could find a place and otherwise they could have an opportunity to disband. So we obviously support the government’s efforts to continue to do that. And we have said all along that if there are specific requests that the Libyan Government has of the United States, of NATO, et cetera, on how this process could go forward, we’re prepared to support them. We are already giving them some advice. So obviously there’s been some continued fighting. We are concerned about that, but we want to see these issues resolved peacefully and resolved in a way that gives all Libyans confidence that they’ll have a place in the future democratic Libya.
QUESTION: Logistically speaking, do you have any military – U.S. military advisors that advise them of how to get the different militias together or to form them into a central army?
MS. NULAND: We do not have U.S. military advisors in Libya at the moment. We’ve said that we are open to helping support the government-led process, and we are looking for concrete ideas from them of how we can be helpful.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you tell us if Ambassador Jeffrey or anyone is involved in the ongoing reconciliation talks or reconciliation (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: Well, Ambassador Jeffrey has been in and out of Iraq throughout this period. As you know, he’s been talking to all of the major Iraqi leaders. The Vice President as well made some key phone calls in the days before and after Christmas, trying to encourage Iraqis to come together and have a conversation about the issues that divide them, and we remain closely monitoring that situation. But there do seem to be a great number more important voices inside Iraq making the same points, that they need to find a forum, sit down together, and work it through.
QUESTION: Okay. There’s been a – Mr. Maliki’s bloc in parliament are accusing now the Iraqi President Talabani of being a terrorist himself and harboring his vice president, who is also a wanted terrorist. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we don’t think name-calling is the right solution here.
MS. NULAND: We think sitting down, having a dialogue, working through how all sides can support and uphold the key tenets of the Iraq conversation and – constitution and working within it is the way to go.
QUESTION: But seeing how he --
MS. NULAND: Are we still on Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Anything else on Iraq? No. Okay. Egypt. Please.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the latest developments, especially after your announcement and what came out of the Pentagon regarding the – if there is promises to stop these raids on the human rights organizations or nonprofit organization or nongovernmental organization? Because it seems that there is a difference, I mean, of explanation. I mean, here it is explained as a political issue. Over there, the official narrative is saying that it’s a legal issue and why it’s those fuss about if they are legal or not legal, so – and that’s – I’m trying to figure out, and there was no any comment from your side as it was reported in New York Times or Washington Post regarding this issue.
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we made strong statements on Thursday and on Friday before the long weekend, statements of concern with regard to the raids on NGO offices. We had been assured by leaders in the Egyptian Government that this issue would be resolved, that harassment would end, that NGOs would be allowed to go back to business as usual and that their property would be returned. It is, frankly, unacceptable to us that that situation has not been returned to normal.
We are concerned not only about international NGOs and the NGOs that the United States Government supports, but we’re also concerned about Egyptian NGOs. And nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that support democracy and a free election process, are a key part of what the transition to democracy is about. These are organizations that train election monitors. These are organizations that train the press in how to cover an election so that it’s free and fair. These are organizations that train candidates in how to run clean, open campaigns. So we are concerned. We remain in touch with key Egyptian authorities to try to resolve this issue.
From our perspective, those NGOs that we are involved with have been completely cooperative with Egyptian judicial authorities and have been cooperating for many months to open their books and try to explain what they do. So we do not think that the harassment is warranted. They’re prepared to continue to be transparent and cooperative within the Egyptian system, so --
QUESTION: Do you still believe that it’s wrong, what was done is wrong, and it’s still going on?
MS. NULAND: Absolutely. Absolutely.
QUESTION: And there is another question regarding this. You are in touch – I mean, we – it was reported that the Ambassador Patterson was in touch with this investigation process going on. Is this part of the Feltman, John Feltman, visit discussions or other things are going on?
MS. NULAND: I have no doubt that Assistant Secretary Feltman will be taking up these issues with Egyptian leaders when he is there, if the issues haven’t been resolved before then. But we hope that they will be resolved before then, because, as I said, we believe that the free operation of these kinds of NGOs, whether they’re international or whether they’re Egyptian, is a key aspect and a key underpinning of the democratic process.
QUESTION: Do you know who --
QUESTION: Toria --
QUESTION: -- exactly made the pledge to Ambassador Patterson that these raids would stop and that the harassment would stop? Secretary Panetta in his phone call with a Field Marshal Tantawi referenced this and said he thanked the – or he expressed his appreciation for this pledge, which now seems to have been just a tissue of lies. Who was it that made this pledge? Was it someone who – I’ll just leave it at that. Who was it that made the pledge to the ambassador?
MS. NULAND: I mean, my understanding and the conversations that we had before New Year’s Eve was that we had had these pledges on all sides, from the head of the SCAF, from the head of the civilian government, the prime minister, from the foreign minister. So that’s why it is concerning, not only that the issue hasn’t been resolved, but that we also seem to have some Mubarak holdovers in the government who don’t seem to understand how these organizations operate in a democratic society –
QUESTION: Well, do you think –
MS. NULAND: -- and are putting out lots of disinformation about them.
QUESTION: So do you think they understand how to tell the truth? Do you think you were just lied to? Or do you think there’s some kind of – there’s not a miscommunication on the Egyptian side between whoever made the pledge and the people who were actually conducting and going out – I mean, what explains this? Or if you don’t have an answer to that, can you trust the interim authorities in Egypt right now?
MS. NULAND: Well, our hope is that the Egyptian authorities are trying to work this through and that they are having the kinds of conversations with their own judicial authorities about what’s appropriate and what isn’t appropriate. But frankly, it’s taking an awfully long time.
QUESTION: Right. So you’re not yet convinced that this is just complete duplicity?
MS. NULAND: Our conversations with the Egyptian authorities are continuing, and we want to see it resolved.
QUESTION: Did you hear from Ambassador Hale about the results of the meeting in Jordan today?
MS. NULAND: Let me just see. Anything else on Egypt?
QUESTION: You mentioned that you are in touch with – and the conversation is going on regarding the legal issue, but it seems that official – semi-official pro-government, pro-system, pro-regime media is trying to give other stories, which is analysis or criticizing United States of interference in, which is politicized the issue now. Is there any talk going on about that, or it’s just leave it to them to do what they want to do?
MS. NULAND: We completely reject any of these –
MS. NULAND: -- accusations. We have said to the Egyptian Government from the beginning – this conversation went back months and months and months ago – as our NGOs and, frankly, as Egyptian NGOs tried to stand up, tried to increase their presence as a way of helping the Egyptian people understand whether their own elections were free and fair, that this was important, that this was something that we do around the world, that the organizations that we work with are prepared to be completely transparent about their activities, that they welcomed appropriate oversight, that they’d even be willing to register if that was going to help in the Egyptian system. But it seems that there are some holdovers in the system who don’t understand the vital role that these kinds of organizations, whether they’re Egyptian or whether they’re international – and frankly, we’re concerned about Egyptian NGOs, too – the role that civil society plays in a democracy, and there’s clearly a very aggressive propaganda effort –
QUESTION: The reason I am asking –
MS. NULAND: -- to scare the Egyptian people, so --
QUESTION: The reason I am asking is because you are talking about the NGOs and the organizations, but the NGO people already saying they are mad at us not because of the legal or political issue; it’s a matter of because they are criticizing the presence of the military rule – rulers and the emergency and all these violations and all these what happened in the last three or four weeks, and they are trying to figure out at the end when there is this kind of – we call it pressure or we call it conversation, whatever you are talking about – is there going to be a – like a common language between them or it’s just like going – ongoing process?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we can’t speak to the motivations on the Egyptian side, and I would guess that there are different motivations. I can only speak to the American position, which is that we believe NGOs that support democratic development, support an election process, are vital to the health and well-being of any new, vibrant, or even ongoing democratic system. We have hundreds of them in the United States as well, and the U.S. Government doesn’t always like what they have to say, but it’s part of the democratic process. So we think it’s – they provide an important set of protections and eyes and ears for the Egyptian people to ensure that what the Egyptian people fought for, which is a clean, fair, transparent election and a transition to a democratic system and civilian rule, is realized. So --
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) You mentioned several – twice, at least, these holdovers to the Mubarak administration. Your information is that it is people from the Mubarak era who are ensconced in these ministries who are behind this, or is it – or are they new people? Are they people who have come in since then that’s behind this?
MS. NULAND: I would simply say, without naming names, that we are concerned that some of the most strident statements, particularly in recent days, made by Egyptian authorities seem to be made by old Mubarak holdover types who clearly are not on the new page with the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: The talks in Jordan today hosted by Jordan for the Quartet and the Israeli and Palestinians, did you hear from Ambassador Hale an update on what happened?
MS. NULAND: Well, first to say, as we – as the Secretary said, I think it was just before the New Year holiday, we are very grateful to Jordan and particularly to Foreign Minister Judeh for bringing these – bringing the parties together not only to meet with the Quartet envoys as they have been doing, but also to meet with each other in a face-to-face meeting. We’ve had some preliminary readouts here, but we also have an agreement among the parties that Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan will lead in giving a press readout on how the last 24 hours have gone in Jordan, and my understanding is that he is going to do that in the next couple of hours. So I don’t want to get ahead of him.
I would say, though, that in addition to participating in this round of meetings, our special envoy David Hale also had his own bilateral meeting with President Abbas, a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and with Foreign Minister Judeh. But we’ll have more for you on our perspective on all of that tomorrow.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) your expectations to mean? What would you like to see come out of it?
MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to –
QUESTION: And your realistic expectations of what you think could actually happen in this?
MS. NULAND: I think, again, we are gratified that this meeting is happening. We’re gratified, among other things, that the parties agreed to meet face to face. We’ve wanted that for some time, as you know. It’s an important part of the roadmap that the Quartet put forward in September. So again, let’s see what the report is from the ground, and then we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: And going in, you have no expectations about what will actually come out of it?
MS. NULAND: Kirit, again, you’re asking me to get into details ahead of the reporting on the ground.
QUESTION: Is the meeting not over?
MS. NULAND: I think the meeting is ending now. I don’t – there may be a dinner ongoing. I think Foreign Minister Judeh was going to close this set of meetings.
QUESTION: Okay. And then he is supposed to – what’s your understanding – he’s supposed to come out and say something public, put a statement out, or –
MS. NULAND: He’s going to give a press conference.
QUESTION: And will it be alone, or do you expect the two sides to be there?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to what the format of the presser will be.
QUESTION: Okay. And then there seems to be some disagreement, which is not unusual since they disagree over everything else, about the Quartet deadlines between the Israeli and the Palestinian – the ones – or maybe not deadlines, but the timeline – the timeframe that was laid out on September 26th in New York. According to a – what one might consider just a standard reading of that, the four-month deadline after – timeframe for them –
MS. NULAND: 30 days, 90 days.
QUESTION: Right. But there was – which is 120 days, which is four months, correct?
MS. NULAND: Good (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thank you. So that four months would expire on January 26th, which – and that was for the two sides to have presented security and border – proposals on security and borders. Is that the U.S. position, that it ends on the – that that – that January 26th is the date by which the two sides are supposed to have gotten those things submitted?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the dates in the proposal are the dates in the proposal. One of the issues that was to be discussed in this round of meetings, both with the Quartet envoys and between the parties face to face is where we are in the roadmap now. So I think we need to get the feedback from Amman and then speak to this a little bit more detailed tomorrow.
QUESTION: Well, wait, wait. The –
MS. NULAND: One of the –
QUESTION: You’re bringing the roadmap from 2002 into this?
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. The proposal of the –
QUESTION: There are so many of these. You want to say political horizon? Maybe you can get that one in there, too. Does the –
MS. NULAND: I shouldn’t use the R-word because it takes you back to (inaudible).
QUESTION: Does –
MS. NULAND: The September 26th proposal of the –
QUESTION: Yeah, but is it your understanding that the Quartet still wants those two submissions by January 26th?
MS. NULAND: Again, what is in that proposal stands. We are seeking –
QUESTION: So – okay. So yes? January 26th is the deadline, according to the United States?
MS. NULAND: We were seeking to have them meet face to face, and we were encouraging them to make concrete proposals to each other. I can’t speak standing here today to where we are in that after these Amman meetings until we hear from Amman.
QUESTION: Well, going into the meeting, January 26th is the deadline, is the time by which the two sides are supposed to have submitted these things, correct?
MS. NULAND: The 30 days plus the 90 days under the proposal –
QUESTION: I’m not trying to trick you. There’s not a trick question.
MS. NULAND: I get it, Matt.
QUESTION: I just want to know if the U.S. wants –
MS. NULAND: I get it.
QUESTION: -- if the U.S. still thinks that January 26th is the deadline for this. Is that –
MS. NULAND: What we want to see is where the parties came out after this round. That’s what we want to see.
QUESTION: So in other words, it might not be? In other words, you might – you’re willing to some –
MS. NULAND: We want to be –
QUESTION: You’re open to some interpretation of what the deadline – of what that deadline might be?
MS. NULAND: What’s most important is that these parties are talking. We want to see what the results are before we get ourselves too formalistic here.
QUESTION: Toria, the Israeli authorities bid farewell to the last year with taking some line in Jerusalem. And then they created a new one yesterday by taking an area (inaudible) in Jerusalem that really renders any future Palestinian capital in Jerusalem almost not there. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: You know where we’ve been on settlement activity. You know where we’ve been on housing activity in Jerusalem. None of this is helpful. None of it contributes to peace. That said, the best way to end up with borders that are agreed and understood is for these parties to talk to each other and to come up with a settlement together.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up to Matt’s question on the 26th.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Palestinians are gearing up to submit some sort of an effort at the United Nations or other organization to call the Israeli Government as an apartheid state right after the 26th. Would you support such an effort?
MS. NULAND: You know where we are on these issues, Said –
QUESTION: Where are you on this?
MS. NULAND: -- which is that the only way to settle these issues is face to face between the parties. We do not think that UN action is helpful.
QUESTION: Victoria, I know you are getting very tired, but –
MS. NULAND: I’m doing great. Let’s go for another round.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) ask you a couple of questions on Korea.
MS. NULAND: I just had a long vacation. Go ahead.
MS. NULAND: I don’t think there’s any substantive change from where we were just before the new year, which is that we’re waiting to hear from the North Korean side.
QUESTION: As you know, North Korea said last week that it will not deal with South Korea anymore. But the United States has been calling for North Korea to improve its relations with South Korea. So do you think North Korea’s tough stance toward South Korea will affect the U.S. decision for further talks with North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that there have been two criteria that we are looking for in particular in terms of getting back to Six-Party Talks. One of them is the continued improvement of DPRK-ROK relations. The other is a commitment and demonstrated willingness by the DPRK to come back into compliance with its international obligations and its commitments from 2005, so both of those are still on the table from our perspective, so our position certainly hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: So what do you think about North Korea’s latest statement against South Korea, which has said it is not going to deal with South Korea anymore? What do you think about that statement?
MS. NULAND: Well, that’s not going to be conducive to getting us back to the table.
QUESTION: Staying in Asia?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, I --
QUESTION: Do you have any – there seems to be some major disappointment in this round of pardons that were announced by the Burmese that don’t include any significant political prisoners. It’s only a couple dozen people. What’s your response to – what’s your reaction, first, to the pardons? And secondly, is this the kind of thing that you had understood was going to happen after the Secretary’s visit, or were you expecting more?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that our view is that even one political prisoner is one political prisoner too many. The Secretary was very clear about that when she was in Nay Pyi Taw and in Rangoon. We have seen this clemency order which has reduced some prison sentences. We understand up to 10 prisoners or so have now been released because, under the reduced sentencing, their sentences are completed. But we remain concerned about the more than a thousand political prisoners that remain in custody. So we will continue to make the case to the government in Nay Pyi Taw that it is a full political prisoner release that the international community wants to see.
QUESTION: So this falls short of what --
MS. NULAND: It does, yes.
QUESTION: -- of what the Secretary and what – not just what you were looking for, but what you expected after her meetings?
MS. NULAND: Look, we wanted to see this as soon as possible. We didn’t set any timeline on it, but we made clear that it was one of the vital steps before which it would be difficult for us to make significantly more steps towards normalization on our own side.
MS. NULAND: So from the perspective of --
QUESTION: But this isn’t even a full step then.
MS. NULAND: Exactly. So from that perspective, it’s not a step that – of the magnitude that we would be interested in matching.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to go to Latin America for a second and Ahmadinejad’s upcoming trip on Thursday. You said that you expect the countries to increase pressure on Iran. I was wondering if you had any specific conversations with any of these countries, or are you talking about possible measures in case they increase their business with Iran?
MS. NULAND: I think all of those countries know very, very well where the United States stands on Iran. They also know very well that we are trying to strengthen the international sanctions regime against Iran, so I don’t think there’s any doubt about where we stand on these issues.
QUESTION: I got one last one.
MS. NULAND: One last one.
MS. NULAND: Matt’s going to close it out.
MS. NULAND: Keystone. You almost forgot till you went through your list there, didn’t you?
QUESTION: Yeah. So presumably by now, you have an idea of what it was that the President signed, and I’d like to know, how do you proceed with the whole Keystone application process now that you have that full understanding of what he put his name to?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you say, the Keystone provisions are included in the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act which the President signed into law on December 23rd. That law gives the Secretary of State 60 days from December 23rd to either grant a permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline or to justify why a permit is not being granted. So we are using our 60 days and we are analyzing the Keystone provisions, and we will make an appropriate decision consistent with relevant law. And you can do your excellent math on the calendar that (inaudible).
QUESTION: Right. Well, when we get to the 60 days, can the State Department come back and say, “Well, the reason we haven’t given the – granted the permit is because the environmental review is still underway”?
MS. NULAND: Again --
QUESTION: Is that a legitimate --
MS. NULAND: -- we are analyzing --
QUESTION: No, I understand, but --
MS. NULAND: -- where we are.
QUESTION: -- according to your lawyers, can you come back and say that we haven’t – and in your justification for not granting the permit, say that, basically, the due diligence hasn’t been finished yet and we need until whenever you said in your last timeline – we need until the end of the year or something to do that? Is that a legitimate justification, by your interpretation, of what you can do under the law?
MS. NULAND: How do you think our lawyers would feel if I gave you their interpretation before they’ve made their interpretation?
QUESTION: Well, because I don’t think that they – I think they have made their interpretation, and I think you guys have come to the decision that you can actually string this out – or maybe not “string it out” is the right word, but you can justify not granting the permit by saying that we’re still studying it. Is that – am I incorrect?
MS. NULAND: When we have something to announce, you’ll be among the first, Matt, if not the first to know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Great to be back.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 p.m.)
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