12:58 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Monday, everybody. I don't have anything at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.
I see Matt is still on his extended vacation.
QUESTION: Can I sub for Matt?
MS. NULAND: Andy. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The IAEA has announced that it’s going to be going to Iran in a couple of days to try to work out all of the remaining problems. What is your view of this trip, and do you think it’s likely that they will be able to make progress? And what are your expectations that they’ll come back with?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we call on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA on this trip. They are – the IAEA is going in a constructive spirit, and it’s asking Iran to display the same attitude. There is a lot of work to do. Obviously, one visit by itself to the IAEA – by the IAEA after all this time can’t constitute a complete substantive cooperation and transparency that we, the international community, the IAEA, are calling for. But obviously, the proof will be in the pudding. We’ll have to see whether the IAEA gets into the sites it wants to see, gets the information that it wants to have. You know what we’re still looking for. We’re still looking for real demonstration that Iran’s program is purely peaceful.
QUESTION: Would you see this as, in and of itself, a step forward? I mean, given that they’re going to be going, that must reflect at least some confidence on their part that they will get the access that they need. Is that – do you think that’s an accurate way to read it? Do you have that same confidence?
MS. NULAND: Well, the IAEA has been in and out of Iran for years and has yet to be fully satisfied with regard to Iran’s program. And there were a huge number of questions raised by the November report. They will be seeking to answer those questions, and it’s incumbent on Iran to be supportive.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. New reports that Russia is going to deliver combat jets to Syria – do you have anything, confirmation on that or – and/or reaction?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the same press reports that you’ve seen. Obviously, if it’s accurate, it would be quite concerning. We, as you know, had Deputy Secretary Burns in Moscow about a week ago. Among the issues he talked about was Syria. We have today NEA Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman in Moscow. I think it may be his first visit to Moscow. And issue number one on his agenda there is Syria and our interest in being able to move forward in the UN Security Council and talking about how the situation looks after the Arab League report over the weekend. So I’m sure that Jeff will be raising these concerns as well.
QUESTION: But I mean, this is the second time. We’ve got – the Russian ship recently was delivering munitions, apparently. What – this is – would appear to be a very bad sign, that Russia is simply flouting these international sanctions.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, as you know, with regard to the ship, we did raise our concerns with the Russians at every level. We’ve raised it a number of times. With regard to this latest incident, we’ll obviously be inquiring about it. I don’t think we’ve seen anything but press reports at this moment. But as we’ve been saying for months, our firm belief is that any country that is still trading in weapons and armaments with Syria really needs to think twice, because they are on the wrong side of history and those weapons can be used against innocents, and have been.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, have the Russians given you any clarity on the ship itself? I mean, it’s been, what, about a week now?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We haven’t really gotten much clarity on how that went down.
QUESTION: Victoria, on the same issue?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. You said issue number one on Mr. Feltman’s agenda is to discuss the Security Council. But is discussing the weapons issue number two, or is it inappropriate at this time to discuss the weapons issue short of, let’s say, a UN resolution that is imposing an embargo on the export of arms to Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, every time we talk to the Russians about Syria, we make the point of – about how dangerous we think it is to be continuing to trade in weapons, and encouraging them to do what they can to stop such trade. So with regard to these new reports, they came up today, we’ve sent them on for Ambassador Feltman to raise with the Russians, but I don’t have anything further to report. So obviously, we’re going to talk about that situation.
But we also need to talk about how we move forward in the main organization where Russia has responsibilities, where the United States has responsibilities, where all the permanent members of the Security Council have responsibilities for peace and security. And we’ve felt for some time that the UN has not done enough, so that’ll be a key issue on the agenda.
QUESTION: So in view of the report, the Arab League monitors’ report, where do you stand? How do you see things evolving, and where do you stand? And do you think that it is perhaps time to go to the United Nations to request, let’s say, like, a thousand monitors, to send in a thousand monitors or so, a hefty number of monitors, that are not only Arab monitors but also international monitors?
MS. NULAND: Well, before getting to your precise point about monitors, Said, I think it’s worthwhile stepping back and looking at what the Arab League did over the weekend, which was really quite remarkable. First and foremost, the Arab League has now joined the United States, the European Union, other countries around the world in saying that it is now time for Assad to step aside and allow a peaceful political transition to go forward. They made a concrete proposal, in line with the leadership that they’ve been showing on the Syria issue for many weeks now, about how this could happen. Regrettably, Assad rejected it almost before the ink was dry. And this just speaks, again, to the fact that he’s thinking about himself and his cronies, not about his people. So that was one thing.
The second thing in the Arab League report was that they made absolutely clear that with regard to the four points in the November 2nd agreement between the Assad regime and the Arab League, the regime has yet to fully implement any of them. We still have violence perpetrated by the regime. The Arab League report calls the situation in Syria a state of severe stagnation and oppression and injustice. It also talks about the fact that they were unable to ascertain the precise number of detainees, let alone secure their release, that the media is still restricted, and that the regime tried to control the monitoring mission.
The third important conclusion, which goes to your point, Said, of the Arab League, was that it is now time for the Arab League to become more active, it feels, in consultation with the UN Security Council. So we’re expecting that they will make a report to the Security Council, and from our perspective, we would like to see a Security Council resolution that firmly reflects the conclusions of the Arab League report and reflects the various pieces of unfinished business that the Arab League has highlighted here.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. NULAND: Elise.
QUESTION: -- can we talk a little bit about the Arab League? I’m sorry if you just did this while I was walking in, but the call for them – for him to – for Assad to hand over power to a vice president and basically step down, I mean, do you have any hope that he’ll do that?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve seen, he’s already rejected that out of hand. That would have been one way towards a transition mechanism to a better, more democratic Syria. But as I said, and perhaps you were walking in, the ink was barely dry on the proposal and he rejected it out of hand, so --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any update regarding the closing of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we put out a statement on Friday reflecting the conversation that we’ve been having with the Government of Syria for some days and weeks now, that we have concerns about the security of our facility, about the security of our personnel. We’ve asked them, over a number of days and weeks now, a number of encounters, for some very concrete steps to ensure the security of the Embassy. We have not yet had a complete response from them. They are still thinking about it. But we’ve also made clear, as we said in our statement, that if these security issues are not addressed, we may have no choice but to close our mission.
QUESTION: Is there any deadline?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’d like to see this settled as soon as possible. I’m not going to put a precise deadline on it. The conversation with Syrian authorities continues. But as I said, this has been going on for a couple of weeks now, so as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about, I mean, the magnitude of such a decision? I mean, obviously you would make it for – on the face of security concerns, but that’s a pretty serious threshold to cross, in terms of shuttering your Embassy, withdrawing from the country. You’ve talked about the usefulness of having Ambassador Ford on the ground, not just – obviously he’s working with the opposition, but he also is communicating with the government when they’ll talk to him, so that’s a pretty kind of serious threshold to cross and doesn’t bode well from – if you do that, all other embassies are sure to follow.
MS. NULAND: Well, you’re absolutely right, Elise. This is not something that we want to do. We have worked hard over many months to be able to keep the Embassy open, to persuade the Congress of the good work that Ambassador Ford and his team were doing, to have Robert Ford confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate. We do believe that his contacts with a broad cross-section of Syrians are very helpful to our understanding of the situation and very helpful in conveying the American Government, the American people’s support for democratic change in Syria.
So if we had to do this, it would be a significant step, and that’s why we’ve been trying so hard to negotiate increased security for the mission. I would note that there are a number of other embassies near ours – I’ll let them speak for themselves – but who have similar security concerns. So we’ve also been working with them. So this is why I don’t want to put a deadline on this. We want to be able to maintain the Embassy open, but the President, the Secretary, feel very strongly about the safety and security of our personnel. That obviously has to be a paramount concern.
QUESTION: Just one more. I mean, I know you say there are more steps that the Syrian Government would like to – you would like them to take. But have they taken your concerns seriously? Are they engaging in good faith on this issue?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the precise things we’re asking for.
QUESTION: That’s fine.
MS. NULAND: We have had – they have offered to do some of the things that we’ve asked for, but not enough. Let’s just leave it at that.
QUESTION: But, I mean, you’ve – in the past, you’ve accused the government of perpetuating violence, particularly against Ambassador Ford in terms of some of this government-sponsored media. And I’m just wondering of the – maybe not of the actual steps, but if you see the government engaging with you on this issue in a sort of – meaningful way.
MS. NULAND: We’re still trying to work it through. Those meetings continue. So from that point of view, I would say that we are engaged in a dialogue about what’s necessary.
QUESTION: Have you seen the alternative report coming out of several of the Arab League observers, mostly Iraqi observers, that has a different take on what’s going on inside of Syria? And what’s your reaction to that?
MS. NULAND: You mean the Iraqi observers who’ve declined to continue to participate? I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.
QUESTION: On Sunday, there were a group of observers, mostly Iraqis, who released a counter report to the Arab League report.
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure that I’ve seen it. What does it say, Josh? Maybe I’ve seen it.
QUESTION: It had – draws less critical conclusions of the Assad regime, so --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, we’re only going to comment, obviously, on the formal conclusions of the meeting, as I just did.
QUESTION: And one more. It’s conventional wisdom that the Syrians want our Embassy to close, because it’s a way for us, as you said, to maintain links with the democratic activists and the opposition. Why do you think that they don’t want it to close if – I mean, that seems what the negotiations are based on. Isn’t it to their advantage to have us leave?
MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speak to their motivations. I wouldn’t speak to their motivations. We have been talking about this for a little bit of time with them. We have asked them for some steps. They’ve offered about half of what we’ve asked for, so I don't want to foreclose where this conversation is going to go right now, nor am I going to speak to their motivations. But at the moment, we’re trying to keep the Embassy open.
QUESTION: Was there any particular development that has drastically compromised the safety and security of the Embassy or any of its personnel that caused you to issue that statement?
MS. NULAND: Well again, I’m not going to go too deeply into our security analysis here. I don’t think that’s helpful in terms of the safety and security of our personnel, except to say that you’ve all seen what we’ve seen, which is that security in general in and around Damascus is deteriorating. You know there are some who assert that this speaks to the fraying of the regime, that they are not in control of what’s going on in their – on their streets and that they’ve got too much of their normal security presence devoted to peaceful protesters and not enough to the security of the state.
But I – we – they know what we’re looking for and we hope that we’re able to work this out.
QUESTION: So are you keeping track of this spike in belligerent comments against Ambassador Ford and the United States?
MS. NULAND: I mean, are we keeping a --
QUESTION: No. I’m saying there has been an increased kind of – there has been a spike in the belligerent comments on different blogs and websites and so on, including Facebook, against the United States and Ambassador Ford. Was that a cause for you to express that concern?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we were concerned about free speech per se; I think we’re concerned about the physical security of the Embassy and of our personnel. There is – you could argue if you’re looking at the totality of cyberspace, there’s also a very vigorous conversation going on on Syrian blogs in support of the international community’s position of support for their interest in change.
QUESTION: On the question of the monitors themselves, I’m wondering what your view is of the part of the League decision which decided to keep the monitors there for another month. Given that the Secretary has said, that this can’t go on forever --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- this does seem to be playing out the monitor side of the game for a while longer now. Is that a useful exercise, or do you think that a country like Saudi Arabia, which has said it won’t keep its monitors on the ground there, is taking the right stance, that they should stop?
MS. NULAND: Well, Andy, we’ve talked about this over the last week to 10 days. You know it has been a mixed picture in the sense that there have been a number of instances where, because monitors were on site, demonstrations were able to happen, people felt comfortable coming out of their houses, they were able to express their views, they also were able to be interviewed by the monitors and their story was able to get out, they were able to support an effort to pull together a list of political prisoners, those kinds of things. And the minute the monitors left the scene, violence resumed.
So one of the things that we take note of in the Arab League’s conclusions is a concern, that if they were to simply withdraw all their monitors they would be increasing the danger and the harm to peaceful protesters. So this was a decision they’ve made. They’re talking about trying to augment the presence so they can be in more places. They’re also asking the international community for enhanced training and support so monitors can be more effective.
So we are prepared to support them in their decision to do this for another month, but we would, obviously, make clear that the job of the monitors is to bear witness to what is happening. It is not the job of the monitors to stop the violence. It is the job of the Assad regime to stop the violence. It’s the job of the Assad regime to pull back its tanks to allow journalists in, to release people from prison. So what the role of the monitor is to give us all as much of a picture as possible and to bear witness where they can. So from that perspective, if another month can give us – can give the opposition more support, more space to work and to get its views across and to try to create this national dialogue for change, we don’t see any harm in that.
QUESTION: Toria, which country will be the protective power of U.S. interests in Syria once you close the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: You’re taking me into places where we are not. So there you go. Are you volunteering? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: If you want to, I’ll be there.
MS. NULAND: All right.
QUESTION: I have another question.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: If you close the Embassy, is this going to have any implication whatsoever for the Syrian Embassy here in Washington?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are not to that point. No decisions have been made. We’ll obviously talk about those things if we have to, but as I said, we’re trying to work this out.
QUESTION: From a protocol point of view, there is not tit for tat, it’s not quid pro quo. I mean, you’re closing the Embassy in Syria, if it happens, because of security concerns. There are no security concerns that are threatening the Syrian Embassy in Washington. So in this case, would it continue to operate?
MS. NULAND: Said, I’m not going to get into decisions that we haven’t made and what their repercussions might be. Okay?
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t under take the – just to confirm that you wouldn’t undertake the Embassy to PNG them, they would be free to operate the Embassy here if you decide to close yours?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into what the ramifications here might be if, in fact, we’re not able to work through with the Syrian Government an effective implementation of their Vienna Convention obligations to protect our Embassy. I just – I can’t predict at the moment.
Jill. Did – were you still on Syria?
QUESTION: No. Another subject.
MS. NULAND: Still Syria? Yeah? No. Anybody else on Syria? In – no. Okay. Jill.
QUESTION: Sounds like an auction. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Yeah. It does.
QUESTION: Okay. I did – I did Saleh --
MS. NULAND: I just didn’t like it when we ended up going back last week. Yeah. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So I did Saleh. He is supposed to be coming to the United States this week. Do you have a little tighter schedule for the arrival of the president? And also, some of the thinking again – I mean, it feels like deja vu because we’ve done this before but --
MS. NULAND: Deja vu all over again?
QUESTION: This time – yeah. This time, why let him in? What is – isn’t it kind of a dilemma in a way for the U.S. to allow this?
MS. NULAND: Well, first just to make clear that we have issued a visa for Ali Abdullah Saleh. He had applied to come to the United States to have some medical treatment. Our understanding is that he is considering coming later in the week; I really don’t have a precise schedule here. I would refer you to the Yemeni Embassy or the Yemeni Government for what his travel plans are.
With regard to – as we have said, though, and as we said in our statement over the weekend, if he comes here, it is strictly for medical treatment, and our expectation is that he will leave the United States when his medical treatment is complete.
With regard to the situation in Yemen, as you know, we have been working closely to try to support the people of Yemen in implementing the GCC agreement, the agreement they’ve made with each other. I think you heard that John Brennan at the White House talked to the Yemeni VP, Mr. Hadi, over the weekend, encouraging him to continue the dialogue he has going now with the Yemeni opposition on a concrete transition plan to a more democratic Yemen. And frankly, we do believe that Saleh’s absence from Yemen at this critical juncture might, in fact, facilitate that dialogue and facilitate the transition process.
QUESTION: So can I just --
QUESTION: He’s what – just one more. He’s talking about going back, I believe, for the inauguration of the – a new president. Is that helpful for him to go back and --
MS. NULAND: Look, I think the first instance, now he is out of the country; I’m not going to get into at what point he might go back and whether it’s helpful or not helpful. We do think that the – having some time and space for VP Hadi and the opposition to work together and try to chart forward a transition is a good thing, and getting to all of those steps in the agreement that they’ve reached with each other is a good thing for Yemen.
QUESTION: But, I mean, why are you playing this game with him? I mean, he said, “I’m leaving,” for the specific reason of allowing some breathing room into the political process so that the elections can happen, which is what you said that you want. So you get into this game with him where he doesn’t want to say that he’s coming for medical treatment because he – you’ve asked him and the Yemenis have asked him to leave Yemen for this specific purpose.
So why are you insisting to say that it’s for medical treatment? I mean, you approved a visa for him to come to the country for – he is going to have medical treatment. Clearly, he needs it. But why are you playing this game with him on semantics? I mean, he’s doing what you want him to do.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you said, we do consider it might be helpful to the transition process that he’s out of the country now. However, his visa application was for medical treatment. It was approved for medical treatment. It was not approved for political purposes. It was approved for medical treatment. The timing, we think, is fortuitous, however, and we hope that the Yemenis will use the time well.
QUESTION: Is it a one-entry visa or a multiple-entries visa?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the details of his visa. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: So – (laughter) – you sound like a man who’s had an American visa.
QUESTION: Yeah. But Toria, the time period for the visa, is it six months, one year, 10 years, indefinite?
MS. NULAND: Again, he’s got a visa for the period that he anticipated the medical treatment would last. If the treatment goes on longer and he needs to apply for an extension, he would do that with Homeland Security.
QUESTION: Palestinian issue?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. Victoria, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas boasted about the state of excellence in U.S.-Palestinian relations. On the other hand, the Palestinians are fixing to go to the Security Council to raise the issue of settlements again. Do you see that this relationship is headed towards a confrontation?
MS. NULAND: Said, I think, from our perspective, we remain encouraged that this conversation that’s happening between Israelis and Palestinians under the Jordanian auspices in Amman is continuing. We think that’s a good thing. They’re starting to work through some of the more concrete issues. We are focused primarily on trying to support and encourage that process and encourage the parties to take it to the next step, to put concrete proposals before each other, and really commit to a formal negotiation. So from that perspective, we are cautiously optimistic; why don’t I put it that way.
QUESTION: Yeah. But it was almost a year ago when the United States cast a veto against a Security Council resolution on the settlements, and the settlement activities have increased by 20 percent since then. So it is quite alarming, and the Palestinians see no alternative except to go to the UN. Will you veto such a measure if it comes up again at the Security Council?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to predict the future in the UN, but you know where we are on these issues, that this is not – that they cannot, will not, be solved in the UN. They will be solved by direct negotiations through – between the parties. And as we’ve said many times from this podium, as my boss has said, as her boss has said, the best way to deal with the settlement issue is for these parties to come up with a lasting agreement on territory that makes clear where the boundaries of these two states living side by side are.
QUESTION: And lastly, the congressional law states that if the Palestinians go to the UN or further their activity – their pursuits of the UN for a state, then they will cut off all relations with the PLO. Will you, in this case, close the PLO office in Washington?
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re getting me into all kinds of hypotheticals. You do know where we are with regard to U.S. legislation. We are required to cut off funding for any UN agency that accepts the Palestinians as full members. That was where we ended up with the observer status with – in UNESCO, and we don’t want to see that repeated.
QUESTION: Can I change the region?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Can you tell us who you are? I don’t know.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. So Croatia had the referendum on the EU membership yesterday and has voted in favor of it; however, the turnout was pretty low, no strong love for European Union among Croatian people anymore. Can you make a comment on it?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think it was about 66 percent. Am I right, something like --
QUESTION: It was, but less than 50 people voted. Forty-three percent of people voted.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we congratulate Croatia on the January 22nd vote. Our understanding is that this does allow Croatia to move forward and ratify the European Union accession treaty of December 9th, 2011. So it does mark the next step in Croatia’s successful bid to join the European Union. Croatia has done a lot of hard work over recent years to successfully implement the reforms and satisfy the criteria for membership. So we commend Croatians for this success and look forward to the full ratification in the parliament of the agreement.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Josh.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. Still on Croatia?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, go ahead. Sorry. Sorry, Josh.
QUESTION: My name is Ivo Pukanic. I am with Al Jazeera Balkans, correspondent here.
MS. NULAND: Al Jazeera Balkans. Wow, it’s really a global world.
QUESTION: It’s new branch, yeah.
MS. NULAND: Fantastic. I love it.
QUESTION: It’s new branch. We are coming. Okay.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: And my question is related with the previous question. What do you think of – what kind of impact will have this Croatia-EU relationship for the whole region, especially if you’re talking about Bosnia and Kosovo and Serbia?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that for arguably decades now the U.S. has supported increasing integration of all of the Balkan states into European institutions. Let’s hope that this gives a great updraft to the other Balkan countries in their aspirations as well to join the EU. But the EU has some pretty tough standards that are, we think, good for the health and strength of democracy, so we encourage those countries also to continue working with the EU to meet their high standards.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on that?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You are welcoming this Croatia joining the European Union.
MS. NULAND: See. Now even the Dawn wants to talk about Croatia. It’s exciting.
QUESTION: I was 20-plus years in Europe.
MS. NULAND: Excellent.
QUESTION: I know European Union very well.
MS. NULAND: Excellent, excellent.
QUESTION: So you are supporting the integration of Croatia into the European Union.
MS. NULAND: We are.
QUESTION: Will you like to comment on in case Croatia wants to join the Eurozone?
MS. NULAND: That is a decision for Croatia to make and for the Eurozone countries to make with Croatia.
QUESTION: And it won’t happen anytime soon.
MS. NULAND: Samir, still on Croatia?
QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Okay, one more on Croatia. Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s on Serbia.
MS. NULAND: On Serbia. Okay.
QUESTION: Yes. I’m Uros Piper. I’m correspondent of Tanjug News Agency from Serbia.
MS. NULAND: Welcome.
QUESTION: And – thank you. We’ve seen yesterday’s statement that Secretary Clinton spoke by phone with Serbian President Tadic.
MS. NULAND: She did.
QUESTION: Yes, about Kosovo situation. Can you tell us what is U.S. position about future dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina? And do you think in this moment that Serbia – is Serbia deserved to get the EU candidacy status in March?
MS. NULAND: Well, as our statement that we released over the weekend with regard to the phone call makes clear, we are continuing to encourage – and the Secretary did in her phone call – normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. We think it’s good for both countries and good for the region, and we are very supportive of the dialogue that’s now ongoing. That is a key component of the path towards EU accession that the EU has put forward. It’s obviously a decision for the EU to make when it meets in March. The Secretary’s intent in her phone call was to try to encourage and support President Tadic in all that he’s doing to try to take Serbia towards the EU.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Please, Josh. Patient here.
QUESTION: No problem. Ambassador Grossman, India, Kabul, Qatar – can you please give us a readout?
MS. NULAND: Well, we talked about Ambassador Grossman’s conversations in India last week, what those were all about, encouraging India to continue to support Afghanistan in its path towards increasing stability, security, prosperity, and also to talk about how India can support reconciliation.
Over the weekend, Ambassador Grossman was in Kabul. I would commend to you the transcript of the press conference that he had with Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin, who is his counterpart. They talked quite a bit about where we are on reconciliation. I think you’ll find it on Embassy Kabul’s website.
In those conversations, he also obviously met with President Karzai, the leadership of the Afghan High Peace Council, and other senior Afghan officials. As both DFM Ludin and Ambassador Grossman made clear in their press conference, both Afghanistan and the United States support a peace process going forward. There’s a lot of work still to be done. Ambassador Grossman, as you said, is now in Doha talking to the Qataris about the office. We’ve also made clear that we think Afghans and Qataris need to talk directly with each other. And Ambassador Grossman also made clear, supported by DFM Ludin, that one of the things that we need to see in addition before such an office could open is a firm statement by the Taliban rejecting violence and making clear that they’re seeking peace.
So he continues this work that we’ve talked about, but there’s a lot of work still to do. He will then go on – I think he’s going to another Gulf country; I can’t remember which one, I have to tell you – and then he’s going up to Rome to consult with the Europeans.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. So has the State Department begun any work to prepare for what it would take to secure the release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, considering that seems to be one of the prominent public demands of the Taliban in order to make this deal that you keep talking about?
MS. NULAND: We have not. No decisions have been made about that. As we’ve said, if we were to go in that direction, we would also have to consult with the Congress. So all of that is premature at the moment.
QUESTION: Do you think that’s possible?
MS. NULAND: What is possible?
QUESTION: Securing congressional cooperation for releasing Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay.
MS. NULAND: This would obviously be dependent on the circumstances in which this were happening, which is part and parcel of why Ambassador Grossman has been very clear publicly now that the Taliban need to make a firm, clear, public statement that they are against international terrorism and that they support a peace process. And absent that, it’s hard to move forward.
QUESTION: But you’re discussing releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay with the Taliban or with the Afghanis before discussing it with Congress. Do you see a sequencing problem there?
MS. NULAND: No, that’s not true. We have been briefing the Congress all the way through. Ambassador Grossman has had many sessions on the whole process here.
I also want to correct what you had said about release. It gives the impression of putting guys who are currently in Guantanamo on the street. I don’t think that’s ever been contemplated. If we get to that stage, the discussion would be about transferring them into some sort of Qatari-secured situation.
But again, we’ve made no decisions. We have been consulting Congress about steps and sequencing and all these things, but we’re not there yet. We’re really not there yet.
QUESTION: Still on the region, on Pakistan. The Pakistan military today fairly categorically rejected the U.S. report on the cross-border incident in November, saying that it was factually inaccurate and accusing the United States of failing to share information. I’m wondering, number one, do you have a response to this? And number two, does this complicate your efforts to right-track the Pakistan relationship?
MS. NULAND: I like that, right-track. I think I might have to steal that. (Laughter.) We stand by the investigation that CENTCOM conducted. We believe it was done in a thorough manner. I would remind that we did offer to the Pakistani Government, to the Pakistani military, that they could participate fully in our investigation and have their own people on our team. They declined to participate. That could have led to more convergence of view, perhaps, but we remain open to continuing to work with the Pakistanis – civilians, military – on the way forward, and we look forward to the completion of their own internal review so that our work can go forward.
QUESTION: So you don’t see in this response from the Pakistan military any sort of qualitatively new example of a lack of – of the trust gap. Doesn’t this fuel – hasn’t made the trust gap even wider or made it more of a difficult issue to overcome?
MS. NULAND: We have work to do. We’re going to have to do it. But I think, first and foremost, we have to let the Pakistanis finish the totality of their own internal review, come to us, and talk to us about what – how they want to take the relationship forward, and then we’ll be able to engage fully on the things that we need to do together.
QUESTION: Well, is this --
MS. NULAND: Still on Pakistan, Tejinder?
QUESTION: No, it’s the region, but --
QUESTION: Pakistan is --
MS. NULAND: Pakistan.
QUESTION: When you talk of the internal review in Pakistan, this – the position they are taking today is, in fact, an illustration of that. This was internally debated, they analyzed the CENTCOM report, then it was approved by the Defense Coordination Committee chaired by the prime minister and with General Kayani, who was also there, and then they have decided to officially convey this message that this is unacceptable and they are rejecting it. So is there any communication on this now?
MS. NULAND: Well, this would be – need to be communicated in military channels. So, presumably, if there are official views of the Pakistani military, they are talking to our brothers and sisters at the Pentagon. So I think probably your question is better directed there.
QUESTION: But does these opposite positions taken by United States and Pakistan on this issue make your job of trying to bring this relationship back on track more difficult?
MS. NULAND: What we want to do is talk through the issues that we don’t agree on so that we can go forward. That’s what we want to do, whether it’s with regard to this incident in military-to-military channels or whether it’s with regard to the broader relationship.
QUESTION: So they’ve rejected it. You stand by the CENTCOM. What’s the next step for this particular report? I mean, that’s it? They’ve rejected it and – where does it go from here?
MS. NULAND: I think I said that we would like to talk about this in military channels, so I think your question with regard to the next step in those channels is better directed to the Pentagon.
MS. NULAND: (Inaudible)
QUESTION: One more question on Pakistan.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There is an American citizen of Pakistani descent, Mansoor Ijaz – you probably know his name very well by now – who was supposed to travel to Pakistan and did not, in the memogate scandal. He had met American officials in the – in your Embassy in Switzerland. Was he given any advice on whether to travel or not, and he was asking for some kind of protection? I mean, what exactly – was he asking for --
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to private meetings that we had with an American citizen. I’ll leave it to him if he wants to talk about that. But in general, we offer the same kind of services to Americans around the world. They can register with the Embassy if they have any sorts of incidents, whether they are legal, financial, et cetera. We’re prepared to give support, but we are not a physical security protection organization. So I think that the degree to which there are meetings with Americans at third country embassies, they are usually about making clear what an embassy can and cannot do for its citizens who travel abroad, and making clear what kind of warnings we might have – Travel Warnings we might have out to Americans.
QUESTION: Question on Nigera, please.
MS. NULAND: Can we just finish with Pakistan?
QUESTION: The same region.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you got any communication from the Indian Government on the issue of these hurt feelings of Indians, especially Sikhs, over Jay Leno’s show where he showed Golden Temple as the summer house of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney?
MS. NULAND: As of coming down to see all of you, we had not had any communications from the Indian Government on this.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. Government’s stand on it? Will you address this? Will you go along with Jay Leno or will you – (laughter) --
MS. NULAND: Well, I think that Mr. Leno would be appreciative – I hope he’ll be appreciative – if we make the point that his comments are constitutionally protected in the United States under free speech, and frankly, they appear to be satirical in nature.
But from a U.S. official Government perspective, we have absolute respect for all the people of India, including Sikhs here, there. President Obama was the first president ever to host a celebration in honor of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who’s the first Sikh guru, for example. And our view is, obviously, that Sikh Americans have contributed greatly to the United States.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: This weekend’s violence in Kano was the worst so far. We understand that the United States Government is helping the Nigerian Government track potential sources of funding for Boko Haram. Is there anything that this government is doing more actively to help the Nigerian Government combat this growing security threat of Boko Haram?
MS. NULAND: Well, we obviously consult extremely closely with Nigeria on counterterrorism issues. We have a broad and rich counterterrorism dialogue, including, as you said, our efforts to support their work to cut off funding. We have Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs and one of our counterterrorism experts in Nigeria, in fact, this week to talk further about our security dialogue together and to get their assessment about what their needs might be. But we are obviously extremely concerned, and it was a really horrific spate of bombings over the weekend.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about Deputy Burns’ meeting this morning with the Israeli vice premier and minister of strategic affairs, Mr. Moshe Yaalon?
MS. NULAND: I didn’t get a readout before I came down.
QUESTION: On Burma, the EU today lifted some sanctions on Burma, specifically on visa restrictions applied to the president and top cabinet officials. And I’m just wondering, does the U.S. contemplate taking similar moves soon? I know you and the EU often move in tandem on these things.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any new sanctions-easing to announce. I think you know that we have been in very close contact with the EU, as we have with allies and partners in Asia. On our step-by-step approach to Burma, we take action as they take action to create more democratic space, to address national reconciliation, to release prisoners. The U.S. took a number of moves, both when the Secretary was there and just in past weeks. As you know, we’re talking about trying to exchange ambassadors. The EU has a different basket of things that it can do, so you’ve seen it taking some moves. But I think right now, we’ve both made initial moves to support the change underway in Burma.
QUESTION: On China?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: There are reports that security forces opened fire on a large gathering of Tibetan protesters in the southwest of the country. I wondered if you’d heard anything about that, had any comment on it.
MS. NULAND: This was something that went – that happened today in Tibet?
QUESTION: I think so, yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I’m going to take that one. I don't have it. Obviously, we would be concerned if it’s true.
Anything else? All right. There we go.
QUESTION: Just – sorry.
MS. NULAND: Slow off the draw.
QUESTION: My name’s (inaudible) for AFP.
MS. NULAND: Nice to see you.
QUESTION: Just a late follow-up on President Saleh. Do you know where he’s going to stay during – for his medical treatment?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to the Yemenis on his plans.
All right. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)
DPB # 14