1:03 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right. We must be very late today because all the staff are already eating their lunch, eating my lunch. (Laughter.)
All right. I have a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds. First, with regard to Iran, we want to take this opportunity to condemn again recent increases in repression with – against journalists, bloggers, and free-speech advocates in Iran. We’re particularly concerned and alarmed by reports that Iranian authorities have now been harassing family members of a BBC reporter. This is actually quite a horrific story of Iranian authorities going into the apartment of the sister of a London-based BBC correspondent, forcing her to Skype with her sister, and then using the Skype opportunity to try to interrogate this BBC reporter in London.
Our concern is that the Iranian regime is putting a further chill on the press environment in advance of their parliamentary elections, their legislative elections on March 2nd, and that they are even trying to reach the arms of the state out to overseas Iranians who work for international press organizations.
So, obviously, we call on Iranian security forces to cease the harassment of those seeking to exercise their universal rights, and we will stand with Iranian journalists and civil society activists in their continuing fight for the ability to express themselves freely.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the use of a new media that you do not approve of?
MS. NULAND: Correct. Second, I think you may have seen reports about a change of station for Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher. Ellen will, effectively today, begin serving as Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense. Our Assistant Secretary for Arms Control and Verification and Compliance, Rose Gottemoeller, will be Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
In her special envoy role, Ellen Tauscher will continue to be responsible for bilateral work with the Russian Federation, and particularly the work that she does with Sergei Ryabkov to try to come to agreement with the Russians on a missile defense cooperation regime, and also co-chairmanship of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Working Group on Arms Control and International Security.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
MS. NULAND: The Secretary sat with Foreign Minister Lieberman this morning. They had a very wide-ranging discussion: U.S.-Israeli relations, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Middle East peace, Turkey, Iraq, just a little bit on each.
First of all, obviously, with regard to U.S.-Israeli relations, the Secretary reconfirmed our unshakable commitment to the relationship, not only to Israel’s security but to Israel’s democracy, based on our shared values and the ties between our people.
With regard to Iran, they talked extensively about the impact that the new sanctions are having and our efforts to work with countries around the world to wean them from Iranian oil, and obviously, our mutual commitment to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and to increase the pressure through these sanctions.
They talked – we talked about the situation in Egypt and our shared support for a democratic transition there and, obviously, the situation with the U.S. NGOs ongoing.
They talked about the situation in Syria in the aftermath of the double veto in the UN.
They – with regard to Middle East peace, the foreign minister reconfirmed Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution, made clear that this is the policy of the entire coalition government, and their interest in continuing the process of trying to get to direct talks. The Secretary again raised the issue of trying to complete the procedures on the Israeli side so that the customs revenues can be released back to Palestinian Authority.
The Secretary, also with regard to Turkey, urged again, as she has with both Turks and Israelis, that the countries work together on rapprochement. Both are allies of the United States – a lot of work to do together.
And with regard to Iraq, they talked about the importance of helping the various political actors in Iraq get back to political dialogue to settle their issues.
So a very wide-ranging meeting, as I said.
QUESTION: On the peace process, did they talk about what the Palestinian leadership decision will mean for that?
MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to our view on this, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. The Secretary reiterated some of the points that were made here yesterday, but just to make clear where we are on this, we’ve seen these reports about what happened in Doha. And as we’ve said many times, our view on Hamas has not changed. Our view is that Hamas needs to – any participants in the Israeli Government – in the Palestinian Government obviously need to recognize Israel’s right to exist, they need to commit themselves to nonviolence, and they need to accept the previous agreements. They did discuss the fact that it’s not particularly clear what this agreement will change in particular. We still have President Abbas at the head of the government, we still have Prime Minister Fayyad responsible, and so, frankly, any impact this may or may not have is unclear.
QUESTION: Well, but the problem is that Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman’s boss, said that the Palestinians had to choose one or the other, Israel or Hamas. So if this doesn’t change anything, is it your view that the Palestinians have, in fact, chosen Hamas over Israel?
MS. NULAND: No. Again, I think our view is that we wait to see whether this arrangement will actually be implemented, whether it will actually change anything. At the moment, the fundamentals have not changed, which is that Abbas remains the president, Fayyad remains the prime minister. That has been important for this process. And our own position with regard to any role that Hamas might play in the government is absolutely clear, and it’s not actually clear what this agreement would result in, in terms of who comes in.
QUESTION: Well, how exactly have Abbas as president and Fayyad as prime minister helped the process, since it’s gone absolutely nowhere?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we would --
QUESTION: It would be worse?
MS. NULAND: I think we would reject that, Matt.
QUESTION: It’s hard to see --
MS. NULAND: We’ve had – as we’ve been saying for a while now, we’ve had a number of good preliminary rounds in Amman under the Jordanian auspices. We’re now having a pause while the parties are home and working. We have David Hale out in the region now consulting with the parties. And our hope and expectation is that the parties will come back to the table soon under the Jordanian auspices, and that’s what we’re working for.
QUESTION: Victoria, the foreign minister has stated very clearly in the past that including Hamas in any government excludes the Palestinian Authority from the peace process as a partner. Did he reiterate this stance today with the Secretary of State?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to characterize his view other than – and I would refer you to him with regard to this – but that’s not the way this conversation went. This conversation was very much about trying to get to a two-state solution, about the importance of trying to maintain the momentum that’s begun, and about the fact that we are continuing to work with the partners that we have on the Palestinian side who have been important to this process.
QUESTION: And so does the Secretary of State and the foreign minister see eye to eye if Hamas agrees to these three things that you always say over and over again, that in this case it can be a partner in the peace negotiations?
MS. NULAND: They didn’t get into hypothetical scenarios. Our redlines about Hamas are the same redlines that the Israelis have: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and agreeing to all of the past Palestinian agreements. So that hasn’t changed on either side.
QUESTION: And finally, has he – did he discuss with the Secretary of State any kind of Israeli proposal with borders?
MS. NULAND: It was not that kind of discussion. As I said, in the course of half an hour, 40 minutes, they covered all of these subjects. So obviously, this was not a negotiation of those issues that we were having.
QUESTION: A question on Syria, if I may?
MS. NULAND: Jill.
MS. NULAND: Jill.
QUESTION: Syria, in fact. Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead --
QUESTION: Change subject?
QUESTION: If I could just ask a quick question on – yeah.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you.
MS. NULAND: Was there anything --
QUESTION: Please go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Same subject.
MS. NULAND: Anything else on this subject before we move on?
MS. NULAND: Okay. Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: On Israel, right?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Jill, Israel?
QUESTION: No, Syria.
QUESTION: Oh. No, on Israel.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did – you said that they – the meeting was only 40 minutes long?
MS. NULAND: Actually, it was – it might have been half an hour. Half an hour, 40 minutes.
QUESTION: Thirty minutes? And they talked about one, two, three, four, five, six, seven subjects?
MS. NULAND: Highly efficient humans, both of them.
QUESTION: Amazing. It doesn’t sound like they got into very much detail on any of them, did they?
MS. NULAND: It was a solid exchange on all the issues that I cited.
QUESTION: For four minutes each?
MS. NULAND: Matt --
QUESTION: We go on here for what – they must have – this was an interesting – an interesting meeting.
MS. NULAND: We’re obviously highly less efficient than they are.
QUESTION: Apparently so. I hope that his questions were answered better than the one – than ours are here.
MS. NULAND: Didn’t we miss him yesterday?
QUESTION: Do you know if – since those are all the subjects they discussed, they didn’t talk anything about internal Israeli – things going on inside Israel, in specific, the treatment of prisoners, that kind of thing? I realize that’s not really in the foreign minster’s --
MS. NULAND: They did not. They did not.
QUESTION: One last thing on this issue. Did they discuss the future of the Amman talks? Was the foreign minister aware of the resumption?
MS. NULAND: I think I spoke to that, that there is an interest in maintaining this so that we can get to a real dialogue.
QUESTION: But the actual status, what is going on now with the Amman talks?
MS. NULAND: Are you asking me what’s going on with the Amman talks?
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m asking you, yes. Yeah, what is happening as far as the talks are concerned that are either on hold or in the offing?
MS. NULAND: So as we’ve discussed, under the Jordanian host’s auspices, there have been a number of rounds. They’ve now been in a pause for about a week or week and a half. Our envoy David Hale is out in the region. He’s been in Jordan, he’s been in Israel, he’s been in Ramallah, talking to all the parties. They are also taking stock at home. And our expectation is that this process will resume back in Jordan, and we hope that will be as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Have you seen any of the comments coming out of Syria in connection with Lavrov’s meeting?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the press reporting. We obviously haven’t heard from the Russians directly yet.
QUESTION: What’s your opinion?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen some of this press reporting with regard to Assad making yet another proposal on new constitutional amendments, new elections, sounding an awful lot like proposals he’s been making for months and months.
Let me just say that with regard to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s mission, the Secretary and the Department will obviously reserve judgment until the Secretary has a chance to consult with Foreign Minister Lavrov after he gets back to Moscow on his conclusions from the visit. We obviously owe him that, and that will happen.
That said, with regard to this press reporting, you can understand that the international community as a whole would be pretty skeptical if, instead of focusing on ending the violence, what we seem to have is a re-upping of this same offer that Assad has been making for months and months and months that he would put forward some sort of constitutional referendum and have people vote on it. It sounds like another promise by the Assad regime to put forward a piece of paper that they control for a vote that they can control. And frankly, how that gets us to the kind of peaceful national dialogue about a democratic future for Syria that we all want to see is not very clear.
QUESTION: There are two points also that came out in the Syrian media. One is that the – that President Assad assures them that he fully supports the ending of violence wherever it comes from, and that the observer mission should continue and expand the team.
MS. NULAND: Well, if, in fact, Assad supports the end of violence, he knows what he can do today, which he has neglected to do for these 11 months. He can stop the attacks by his forces on innocents in cities across Syria. And the violence continues in Homs, in Hama, around the outskirts of Damascus, et cetera, as so many of you are now able to report.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a question on Syria as well? Given the limitations of diplomacy that were obvious at the United Nations at the weekend, and despite the strong rhetoric coming out of the Administration, what is your government willing and able to do to actually change the situation in Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary spoke to this quite clearly in Sofia, and the President spoke to it last night. In the absence of being able to get the kind of action that so much of the world – Europeans, the Arab League, countries ranging from India to South Africa – wanted to see the United Nations take and it was unwilling to take, unable to take because of the double veto, we want to support those Syrians who want a peaceful, democratic process.
What is that going to involve? As the Secretary said in Sofia, it’s going to involve, first and foremost, working with as many countries as we can to strengthen regional sanctions, strengthen unilateral sanctions against the Assad regime, to squeeze the money that he gets to continue to fuel his war machine. We’re going to work with countries around the world to call out those who are still sending him weapons and expose that. We are going to – we’re talking, as we said yesterday, as the Secretary said in Sofia, about working together as the friends of a democratic Syria to support the democratic movement, to help them to plot a way forward, and also to do what we can about the humanitarian situation. It’s frankly not clear how much we’re going to be able to do, but we want to help.
QUESTION: But however much the United States squeezes, if Russia and China are still doing business with the government in Damascus, it’s not going to make any difference, is it?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve made absolutely clear how we feel both bilaterally and publicly about regimes that continue to trade arms with the Syrian Government. They’re simply fueling the violence. How --
QUESTION: You’re trying to shame the Russians into stopping their current policy?
MS. NULAND: We have made absolutely clear that we think that this is wrong, that it’s dangerous, that it’s fueling the cycle of violence. Now, I would disagree with you that the question of sanctions isn’t an important one. We’ve already seen the Syrian regime increasingly squeezed. It’s starting to run through national reserves that are better spent on the good of the people to fuel its weapons. It is having a harder and harder time trading with countries around the world. So the sanctions are having an effect, and we’ll continue to use them.
QUESTION: A follow-on, if I may. Senator John McCain yet again this morning called for the United States to help arm the rebels, the insurgents, against the Assad government. Have you ruled that out?
MS. NULAND: Well, we never take anything off the table. The President does – doesn’t. However, as the President himself made absolutely clear, and as the Secretary has continued to say, we don’t think more arms into Syria is the answer. We think the answer is to get to a national democratic dialogue, for the violence to stop, for the regime’s tanks to come out of the cities, and then for monitors to be able to go back in.
QUESTION: But they were the answer in Libya, weren’t they?
MS. NULAND: Libya was a completely different situation.
QUESTION: Also one more on that, please. The humanitarian corridors, the idea of the humanitarian corridors or safe zones – would the U.S. support that idea?
MS. NULAND: That is not the stage that we are at, at the moment. We are trying to work as friends of Syria to see what might be necessary. Frankly, Jill, some of these proposals that people are brooding about could not be done without foreign military intervention, which, again, as we have said, we don’t think more arms into Syria is the right answer.
QUESTION: Victoria, could you explain to us how the friends of Syria would work? Is it the coalition? There’s a group? How does it meet? Does it have representatives of certain governments?
MS. NULAND: Said, we talked about this quite extensively yesterday. I can’t expand on that any further than to say that the idea here is to gather those countries who are interested in supporting a democratic Syria, many of whom made their views known in the UN, but there’s also a broader group of them in the Arab League and in Europe to work together to do what we can. And we are consulting now on how this might work. I think if you see some of the comments coming out of Arab League countries, some of the comments coming out of Turkey, some of the comments coming out of European leaders, we’re all talking in the same vein about forming a group of friends who can do more together in the absence of being able to do more in the UN.
QUESTION: My apology about the Embassy. Maybe you addressed this before. But now with the Embassy completely closed and the lights are shut off and so on, what happens to the local employees, the locally employed Syrians that worked at the Embassy? Do they still have a job? Are they safe? Do you have any kind of guarantees to maintain their safety and security?
MS. NULAND: Well, the situation for the local employees is similar to the situation in other places where we’ve had to suspend operations like in Libya. We continue to pay them. They stay in our employ. Generally, if the Embassy itself is closed, they don’t obviously show up to work. But we would expect that when that happy day comes, that we can reopen that they will be fully back to work. And in the meantime, we make sure they don’t suffer economically.
QUESTION: So, how do you ensure their safety, that they are not subject to interrogation or even more severe measures by the Syrian Government? Is there such a thing?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we have a number of ways to stay in touch with them, including through the Polish protecting power, but also through our direct contacts so that we can advocate for them if there are difficulties.
QUESTION: And lastly on the Embassy, the Syrian Embassy in Washington – it continues to operate as normal, correct?
MS. NULAND: It does. They don’t have an ambassador present there, under the management of a chargé.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: You’d have to ask them about that. You mean about how are our employees --
QUESTION: No, no. How do you get the money to them?
MS. NULAND: How our employees get paid?
MS. NULAND: I can take that question if you want to know, Matt.
QUESTION: Sure. And then you mentioned some of these ideas that have been brooded about – can you – which ideas are you talking about?
MS. NULAND: Well, Jill –Jill was – what Jill was talking about, corridors and things here.
QUESTION: Well this is – are you talking about what Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote about today?
MS. NULAND: I’m not talking to anybody’s specific proposal.
QUESTION: Well what is – okay.
MS. NULAND: I’m simply saying that some of the issues that Jill raised would raise a lot of questions about how one would do that.
QUESTION: Well, what was raised by the former policy planning director was the – who was also very early in coming out for NATO intervention in Libya, was the idea of these zones or corridors that could be protected by Arab troops. Is that something that you’re familiar with or is that something that you were referring to when you were talking about these ideas that are percolating?
MS. NULAND: I have to admit, I haven’t read the piece yet, so let me do that.
QUESTION: Another subject?
QUESTION: No. Turkish prime minister has said today that Turkey will launch a new international initiative on Syria and his foreign minister is coming to Washington tomorrow. Will you discuss this initiative with the Turkish --
MS. NULAND: Well, we always talk about Syria with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. As you know, the Secretary had a brief meeting with him also in Munich, and Syria was very much a topic. So I think we do look forward to hearing the ideas from the Turkish side going forward.
QUESTION: And do you know about this initiative?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously they’ve been talking about it in public, so I would expect they’ll also want to talk about it tomorrow.
QUESTION: One more thing. The Gulf states have decided today to expel Syrian envoys and recall their own. How do you view this action?
MS. NULAND: Well, a number of countries are making decision about their diplomatic presence. This continues the trend that we’ve seen. We also understand that the British, the French, the Italians, the Belgians, and as you’ve said, a number of GCC countries have, at a minimum, brought their ambassadors home for consultations. In some cases, these -- they have the same kinds of security concerns we have, but in other cases it’s also linked to their dissatisfaction with what happened in the UN.
QUESTION: It wasn’t that long ago that you were encouraging those countries to return their ambassadors to Syria.
MS. NULAND: Listen, it was--
QUESTION: Right? Correct?
MS. NULAND: It was our preference, as you know -- and we spoke to this yesterday -- to have been able to keep the Embassy open and to have been able to keep Robert Ford there. That was our preference. Unfortunately, security conditions did not allow.
QUESTION: No. That’s not the point that I was trying to make. I mean, why is it now you are welcoming these people withdrawing their ambassadors when --
MS. NULAND: I don’t think I qualified it one way or the other. I simply noted it.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. reaction or comments on this Iranian default, financial default, their inability to pay for Indian rice? That’s one. And the second is they are pressing India for a – with a deadline to go for an oil deal, the Farsi offshore block that needs to be developed. In 2010, India had said, okay, we will develop it. But they have given them one month deadline to sign a contract. So --
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to get between – into the middle of an Iranian-Indian discussion. You know that we are working with the Indian Government, as we’re working with governments around the world, to encourage them to reduce their dependence on Iranian oil. Clearly, we have Iran nervous about this and so trying to put pressure on its partners.
With regard to the defaulting on a rice payment, we’ve seen the press reports. We’re not in a position to independently confirm this. Just to make clear that U.S. sanctions on Iran include exceptions for exports of things like food, medicine, medical devices. So from our perspective, this kind of trade would not be sanctioned. That said, if it’s true, that Iran is defaulting, it would simply speak to the financial pressure that they’re feeling around the world, from sanctions I would guess.
QUESTION: If a --
QUESTION: Hold on.
MS. NULAND: Let’s let Tejinder finish, and then we --
QUESTION: But if the Indian companies go in for this contract that will be under the sanctions for the oil development?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to be judging Indian policy before they’ve made it. The Indian Government is absolutely clear about our concern that countries ought to be weaning themselves off Iranian oil, and we are working together on how that might be achieved in – with India and with other countries.
QUESTION: Just staying on Iran --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, even though you note that the latest U.S. sanctions have exceptions for food and medicine and so on, what has already begun to happen -- and we’ve reported on at least two transactions, one involving, I think, India and the other one involving Ukraine grain shipments -- is that companies are not willing to – I mean, they’re just backing out of any dealing through Iran, including on food stuff. And we have reported over the weekend very extensively about the ways in which you’re starting to see almost sort of panic buying in parts of Iran, people stocking up on certain food stuffs. So whether you intend the sanctions to – whether you intend to allow for these exceptions for food and medicines and so on – you’re already seeing effects that clearly hurt the population. How do you address that? I mean, you’ve always said that you have no quarrel with the Iranian people, but is this what you actually want, that you want to see the sanctions squeeze the ordinary people so that they will try to get their government to change its policies?
MS. NULAND: Well, just as you have said, Arshad, we do have no quarrel with the Iranian people. In fact, it is the Iranian people’s future and their hopes and aspirations to live in a freer, more democratic state that actually provides for them rather than siphoning off vital resources of the state into the nuclear program that we are seeking to help them achieve here with these policies. Our sanctions are designed to make it hurt the Iranian regime, that it is making the choice not to come clean on its nuclear program, not to allow the IAEA in to see what it needs to see.
And we frankly do regret the fact that this has begun to have some knock-off effect on the people. And we are trying, through all of our media platforms to the Iranian people, to make clear that this is not directed at them, that our own policies do allow continued trading in food stuffs and medicines and medical supplies. But frankly, the bad choices that their government is making are chilling the international environment for any kind of trade with Iran. But all of this will end -- Iran’s own isolation will end when it comes clean with the international community about its nuclear program and particularly makes clear that it -- and demonstrates that it doesn’t have an intent to build a weapon.
QUESTION: Even if you regret it and even if you have (inaudible) exceptions for food and medicine, one of the clear effects of the sanctions passing or being signed into law on New Year’s Eve has been a depreciation in the Iranian currency. As a result of that – and this is on the front page of The New York Times, we wrote about it over the weekend – there is considerable inflation as people are uncertain whether Iran will be able to continue to import foodstuffs or other essential goods. And it seems like you want to have it both ways: You want to be able to say, well, we regret that this hurts the Iranian people, we’re not really trying to hurt the Iranian people; but you are hurting the Iranian people.
MS. NULAND: Our message to the regime is that they need to look very hard at what their lack of openness, their lack of transparency, the fact that they continue to profess that they don’t have or want a nuclear weapons program but won’t demonstrate that to the world, what the knock-off effect of that is on their own people. These are their bad choices that are resulting in the situation on the ground in Iran.
QUESTION: Toria, the word around town that is used – on Iran, still on Iran – that is used time and time again to describe as an alternative to war is crippling sanctions. How do you define crippling sanctions? What does that mean?
MS. NULAND: Said, I think we’ve made absolutely clear what we are trying to do here is wake up this regime about the cost of the policy path that it’s on.
QUESTION: What does a crippling sanction mean? What is that supposed to mean?
MS. NULAND: It is twofold. It is first designed to cripple the flow of revenue that the regime can use to fund its nuclear ambitions. And secondly, it’s designed to make the choice for Iran crystal clear.
MS. NULAND: Goyal.
QUESTION: Foreign Secretary of India, Mr. Ranjan Mathai, is in town and he has met some high-level officials here in the building. What he was telling yesterday that India has no alternative as far as Iranian oil is concerned because of India’s energy needs. And my question is same thing was made by the foreign minister of India in India. Do you have any alternative that as far as oil India is buying from Iran? Because India is saying they will continue to have relations with Iran as far as sanctions are concerned. They will support the sanctions against nuclear will of Iran, but as far as buying oil, they will continue. So as far as his meeting in the building is concerned, this issue came up?
MS. NULAND: Well, I guess I would fully expect that the Iran issue will be discussed at length. As you know, Under Secretary Sherman is hosting this Indian delegation today. Secretary Clinton – and as is Deputy Secretary Burns, Secretary Clinton dropped by the meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Mathai this morning to make clear that we support these consultations on the full range of issues including – and that she’s looking forward to the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue later this year.
Our conversation with Iran does continue – with India on Iran does continue – I think the jet lag’s catching up with me today – including how India might find alternative sources. As we’ve said many times, this is a two-track policy both to encourage countries to wean themselves from Iranian oil but also to work with suppliers around the world to help countries find alternative sources of supply. This includes working with Libya, working with Iraq, working with other countries in the Gulf, to increase the supply and create alternatives for countries.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Iran and that the Pakistani and Iranian authorities met yesterday and they decided to go ahead with the gas pipeline project despite the U.S. opposition, do you have a comment on that? And if they do go ahead with it, will the U.S. sanctions affect the assistance to Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re also talking to Pakistan about these issues, and our view with regard to this pipeline hasn’t changed. We think it’s a bad idea and we’re continuing to talk to Pakistan about that.
QUESTION: And have you also – are you also giving them some alternative options?
MS. NULAND: We are working with Pakistan as we’re working with countries around the world on other ways to meet their energy needs.
QUESTION: Do you have any news for us on Egypt and the NGOs? Are there any new developments?
MS. NULAND: I wish I did, Nicole. I don’t. We are basically where we were yesterday, where we have information about recommendations of charges. Formal charges have not yet been filed. We are continuing our efforts to try to settle this issue as quickly as possible with the Egyptians.
QUESTION: When was the last time the Secretary made a call on this issue or reached out in any way to Egyptian officials?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary saw Foreign Minister Amr in Munich. They had a bilateral meeting on Saturday, which did not resolve the issue.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) haven’t had anything since then, that you’re aware?
MS. NULAND: Well, Anne Patterson’s been in every day, obviously.
QUESTION: Well, I mean with the Secretary.
MS. NULAND: Not from the Secretary, no.
QUESTION: On Iraq?
QUESTION: Wait, wait. Hold on. Just on Egypt again. Are there now definitive numbers that you have on the terms of --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We had – I mean, I can’t speak to what the Iranians are putting out --
QUESTION: No, not the Iranians. The Egyptians.
MS. NULAND: I really – I need more sleep, I think.
QUESTION: Maybe you should have taken yesterday off. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: All right. Here we go. Here we go. Here we go. (Laughter.)
Some of you are reporting numbers of 19. I think those came from Egyptian sources. As I said yesterday, we were endeavoring to make a count of affected Americans based on our conversations with individual Americans or with their organizations or lawyers. Yesterday our count was – the count I gave you was 17; that was not accurate. Our today count is 16 affected Americans of whom less than half are actually currently resident in Egypt. And some of them haven’t been resident in Egypt for quite a while – a number of years. So a little bit unclear how the Egyptians came up with this list.
QUESTION: Less than half – meaning seven?
MS. NULAND: I think, given the fact that numbers are changing, I don’t have a precise figure, but it’s definitely less than half.
QUESTION: You say not actually resident. You mean they’re not actually there?
MS. NULAND: They’re not in the country.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to Iraq?
MS. NULAND: And some of them have not been resident in Egypt for a while.
QUESTION: Are you aware if all of the ones who are in the country are at the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: What we have done is made clear that Ambassador Patterson’s invitation to stay on the compound is open to any Americans who have heard that they may be charged and are not able to leave the country. So this is open to all of those. Some of them have chosen to accept her hospitality. Some of them have not. Some of them have been coming and going.
QUESTION: On Iraq?
QUESTION: How many are there now?
MS. NULAND: I think I’m not going to get into the numbers in the interest of protecting the privacy of those people and also because the numbers are changing, as I said. Some of them come for a couple of nights and then go do other things. Some of them are still deciding what they want to do.
QUESTION: No, wait. Just on this then. How does it square now with the foreign affairs manual and the official policy of giving shelter if these people are now being protected from a legal process of a sovereign country?
MS. NULAND: We – well, first of all, with regard to the judicial process that’s been going on for some weeks and months, as we said yesterday, all of these organizations, all of these Americans, have been cooperating fully. They’ve been in for hours and hours of questioning --
QUESTION: They have. But now they’re going to be charged with something, so --
MS. NULAND: They have not been charged, so --
QUESTION: Well, once they have been charged, will that change? Let me put it this way – it’s a hypothetical question – but if they are charged, will that change their status vis-a-vis the refuge in the Embassy and your policy?
MS. NULAND: We will speak to that if we come to it. At the moment --
QUESTION: Well, you have to be making preparations for it.
MS. NULAND: We will speak to that if we come to it. Our goal is to try to solve it so it doesn’t come to that. We – at the moment, these people are guests of Ambassador Patterson. They are not in formal refuge status. They are her guests, and that is – and as we said yesterday, this is a highly unique situation. It is engaging the highest levels of both governments.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Toria, do you have faith in the Egyptian judicial system?
MS. NULAND: I have said many times I’m not giving a grade to the Egyptian judicial system from this podium.
QUESTION: So the official status of these people is basically they’ve just been like invited over for dinner and they can – and then they can stay?
MS. NULAND: They are guests of the ambassador. Given this unique situation, that is her right to invite them as guests.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean what you’re seeming to suggest is that they could be invited like guests, but just like a guest who shows up for a dinner party --
MS. NULAND: Again, Matt --
QUESTION: -- that that’s the kind – they’re not – that they don’t have any protected status at all and they’re just there for --
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously the territory of the Embassy compound, as we said yesterday, is inviolable.
MS. NULAND: So – but from that – from the perspective that I gave you before, these people have not been formally charged. So the circumstance that you’re alluding to has not arisen as of yet.
QUESTION: Yeah. But surely someone has thought about – given the fact that the Egyptians say that they’re going to be charged, the great legal minds at the State Department I’m sure are – they’re thinking about what this will mean in terms of --
MS. NULAND: I’m sure they are.
QUESTION: And you don’t know if they’ve reached a conclusion --
MS. NULAND: I --
QUESTION: -- about whether they would be allowed to stay.
MS. NULAND: If we come to that issue, we will speak to it.
I neglected to advise you of one other thing. We did, today, send Assistant Legal Adviser of the Department Linda Jacobson to Cairo. She’s been sent to reinforce our Embassy in the legal support that we are able to give these individuals and the affected organizations. So she’s on her way to Cairo. She is Harold Koh’s deputy for this part of the world and very experienced in these matters.
QUESTION: Has she been – was she told before she went that she might have a problem coming back?
QUESTION: Surely she has diplomatic immunity.
MS. NULAND: She’s on a diplomatic passport.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq, please?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one small question?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is the size of the legal team working on this issue in Cairo?
MS. NULAND: In the mission?
MS. NULAND: The U.S. Government legal team, or are you talking about the legal team for the individuals? I mean, the individuals have --
QUESTION: The U.S. Government legal team.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. The individuals have obviously retained their own counsel, some in Egypt, some in the States. The – we have the Department of Justice’s Defense Legal Attache Office – I don't have the numbers on that office, but as I said, Assistant Legal Adviser Jacobson’s gone out. Whether she’s taken a couple of people with her, I don’t know. I – we will try to size it for you, Nicole. I’m not sure. But I can --
QUESTION: To Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Iraq.
QUESTION: The New York Times is reporting that – quoting U.S. officials as saying that the State Department is considering slashing the number of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq from what it says is about 16,000, including contractors, by as much as a half. Is that true?
MS. NULAND: Well, we saw this reporting just as we were preparing to come down today. First, let me say that with regard to our diplomatic presence, there is no consideration being given to slashing our diplomats by half. What we are doing – and Deputy Secretary Nides is leading this process – is looking at how we can right-size our Embassy in Iraq and particularly how we can do more for that mission through the hiring of local employees rather than having to be as dependent as we’ve been in the past on very expensive contractors. So we’re trying to do our best to save the American taxpayer money in the way we support our diplomatic personnel.
We’re also looking to acquire more of the supporting things for the Embassy, including food supplies, et cetera, from the local economy, so trying to do more locally with local Iraqis and on the local economy and save the taxpayer money. So what ultimate numbers will result from this in reductions in contractors, we don’t know yet. This process has just begun, but we are trying to ensure that it is rigorous and that it gets us to a much more normal embassy, like some of our big embassies around the world.
QUESTION: So just talking about the diplomats for a moment, so you’re not considering slashing their numbers by a half?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Are you considering slashing their numbers by 40 percent, by 30 percent, by 20 percent, by 2 percent, by zero? I mean --
MS. NULAND: Again, if we can find efficiencies, we will. Obviously we’re still working with the Iraqis on some of the programming that these diplomats are charged with managing. So with regard to whether we may be able to reduce some of the diplomatic staff, we will look at that. But I just wanted to make clear that we have a lot to do in Iraq, so some of these reportings about the level of diplomats is – were exaggerated.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the number of contractors – are you looking to slash those by as much as a half?
MS. NULAND: We’re looking to save the taxpayer money and do the same work as efficiently as we can. I can’t predict where this review will come out, but obviously we will brief you fully on it when we get to the end of it.
QUESTION: I can’t predict where the review will come out either, but the report is that you’re looking to cut the number of contractors by as much as a half. I mean, is that right?
MS. NULAND: Again, we --
QUESTION: That would save the U.S. Government a lot of money. It would cut the amount presumably you’re paying for contractors in half.
MS. NULAND: We want to save as much money as we can without sacrificing the quality of the work or our support for our people. So that’s what Deputy Secretary Nides is looking at now. It’s going to be a bottom-up review. And I can’t tell you where it’s going to come out, because it’s really just started, okay?
QUESTION: Is it not – does the fact that you are considering this not suggest that the U.S. Government grossly overestimated how many people it would need in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think what we have here is an embassy structure that was built for a different time and that relied a lot on expensive contracting for a whole range of reasons, some of them historic, some of them security-related. Our judgment now is that we can adapt that for today’s Iraq, do our diplomatic business just as well and just as rigorously, but far more efficiently. So that’s the task that Deputy Secretary Nides has been tasked with. I don’t want to get ahead of what he’s going to conclude as he looks at this and as he works with our mission out there.
QUESTION: You’re talking about a different time, but the Embassy only opened, I think, in early 2009 or at the – maybe it was 2008. It’s not that long ago. It’s only three years ago.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve had a diplomatic presence in Iraq all the way through, and it’s waxed and waned. But our view is that it is currently too dependent on contractors. We can do more with Iraqi staff. We can do more on the local economy, and it’ll make it cheaper.
QUESTION: When did this start?
MS. NULAND: Deputy Secretary Nides has been working on it informally for a number of months, but he’s now put together a real bottom-up review team in the last couple of weeks.
QUESTION: Okay. And then when did the magic light bulb go off of somebody’s head that 16,000 contractors might be a few too many?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve been working on rightsizing this mission all the way through as we looked at the transition. Obviously, this is a time of transition for us too.
QUESTION: Where – do you know where the half figure that Arshad kept alluding to, which is actually in the headline of the Times story but never appears in the body of the story -- where would that have come from, if you know?
MS. NULAND: Sounds like a question for The New York Times, not for me.
QUESTION: Well, no. But --
QUESTION: Toria, it’s in the lead of the story, also.
QUESTION: Well, it’s nowhere --
MS. NULAND: Guys, I’m going to leave you to dispute this with the Times.
QUESTION: The lead is part of the story.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no. It’s not about that. It’s just that it came from somewhere. It’s not – but it’s not mentioned again. I mean, is it -- is that the optimal?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’ve spoken to this for about the last 10 minutes. We don’t know yet where this is going to go on the contractor side.
QUESTION: All right. And then –
QUESTION: Different topic.
QUESTION: One simple one on this. How do you tell the American people that you weren’t grossly mistaken here?
MS. NULAND: We have been in the process of transitioning this Embassy from a civilian staff that worked within the context of an entire American footprint that included a very large military footprint, which has been going down. So at a certain point in time, we had diplomatic staff out in many, many parts of Iraq, co-located with our military staff. We have, over the last few months – as you know very well, Arshad – been pulling this staff back to consulates. They continue to cover all of Iraq, but they do it in a different lay down than we did it before. The military has traditionally been dependent on a lot of contractor support, some of which stayed to work with us as we move to a civilian structure. So now in the context of getting ourselves to a purely embassy and consulate structure, we are able to take that next step, which is to look at whether contracting is still as necessary.
QUESTION: It’s not as if this was a great surprise to you that the number of military was going down. I mean, President Obama campaigned on it.
MS. NULAND: That’s right. And this process of looking at the right size of our civilian presence has been going on for many months and this is the stage that we’re at right now.
QUESTION: Quick clarification on this. You said that you want to cut down in the contractors. Many of these contractors provide protection and security and so on. And you say that you want to hire local. So would you rely on Iraqis to provide security for the U.S. Embassy? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into, in advance of Deputy Secretary Nides’s review and his recommendations to the Secretary, what functions might be able to be done locally. But we’re looking at the whole thing.
In the back.
QUESTION: Hold on.
MS. NULAND: Is it still Iraq?
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s different topic. It’s about the Summit of the Americas.
MS. NULAND: Hold on one second. Let me just finish Iraq. I hope finish Iraq.
QUESTION: So, in the story that they’re talking about the examples of hardship faced by people at the Embassy included dwindling lettuce at the salad bar, the cafeteria, and the lack of Splenda sweetener for their coffee. Does the State Department consider not enough arugula to be a hardship in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I saw that story, and it was – looked like some, some wingeing that was inappropriate. Let’s put it that way.
QUESTION: Inappropriate on the part of who? Embassy employees?
MS. NULAND: On the part of Embassy employees, with regard to the quality of the salad bar.
QUESTION: Does -- okay. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Ambassador Jeffrey? The same article mentions that Ambassador Jeffrey is going to be stepping down in a couple of weeks. Has he communicated that intent to the Secretary?
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Jeffrey is on a regular diplomatic assignment. It was of a particular duration. Frankly, I don’t have at my fingertips here when his assignment is completed. But obviously in the context of regular rotation of ambassadors, when his tour is completed or in the context of his tour being completed, the President will nominate a new ambassador for Iraq, who will have to have the consent of the Senate. So we’re not at that stage yet. The President hasn’t put forward a nominee yet, and I can’t actually tell you what the end of tour date for Jim Jeffrey is. But this is normal and in keeping with the commitment that he made when he took the job.
In the back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Summit of the Americas.
QUESTION: This is about the Summit of the Americas.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to get into hypotheticals. Our view on the posture of Cuba has not changed with regard to the Summit of the Americas and we don’t think that the posture of the Summit nations should change either.
QUESTION: Another New York Times story this morning that says that the United States is considering an apology to Pakistan on NATO airstrikes. Do you have a comment on that? The story also says that General Mattis is on his way to Pakistan to meet General Kayani and break some ice?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, with regard to General Mattis’s travel, our brothers at the Pentagon spoke to this today and said that we don’t have any particular travel plans to announce. When we do, we will. As we said here day after day after day, we’re not going to be able to make any decisions about where we might go until Pakistan itself completes its internal review that is still ongoing and until we have a chance to consult directly with Pakistan. So that situation has not changed.
QUESTION: Have they indicated any timeline to you as to when they are going to forward these recommendations to you?
MS. NULAND: There have – we are continuing to talk about the timelines. But until they complete their process, we can’t be sure when that will be.
QUESTION: Pakistan’s prime minister is in Qatar and he’s talking about Afghanistan. Is he – is it the same track that the U.S. initiated in Qatar? And is he meeting any U.S. officials there?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think he’s meeting any U.S. officials on this trip – not to my knowledge anyway. We have long said that we would hope that Pakistan would continue to support the process of Afghans reconciling with each other. We have kept the Pakistani Government briefed. I can’t, frankly, speak to what kinds of meetings Pakistan and Qatar are having with each other. I would refer you to them.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) kind of a following up on what Mr. – Ambassador Grossman did in Qatar, I mean --
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. I refer you to the Pakistanis.
QUESTION: I missed the first part of the second to last question, which was on the apology issue, and I missed it because I don’t think you answered it.
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re not going to be able to discuss or talk about where we’re going to be able to go with Pakistan until the Pakistanis complete their review until we’ve had a chance to talk about it.
QUESTION: I think we’re talking at cross-purposes here. The story referred to the State Department supporting the U.S. – a formal apology for the airstrike.
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have anything new to announce. You know where we’ve been on this.
QUESTION: No. I understand. Yeah, I understand that. But I don’t understand your response, “We’re not going to be able to do anything until the Pakistanis complete their review.”
MS. NULAND: Well, we --
QUESTION: How does that relate to an apology or not making an apology?
MS. NULAND: Well, what we’ve already said, what we said at the time, what we said for days and days, continues to stand.
QUESTION: But is there some possibility that if – once the review – once the Pakistani review is over that might change?
MS. NULAND: I mean, this was the reporting, but as I said, we will make no decisions until we have a chance to consult with the Pakistanis.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain to me why it would change if the Pakistani’s complete the --
MS. NULAND: I didn’t say it would change.
QUESTION: Well – but you said that it might change.
MS. NULAND: The report – the reporting said it would change.
QUESTION: No. I know, but you’re saying that we’re not going to make – we wouldn’t change --
MS. NULAND: We haven’t – we’re not going to be able to
QUESTION: Why would there be any change? I mean why would you even consider making a change depending on what the Pakistani report review says?
MS. NULAND: I didn’t say that we would. I said that with regard to where we go with Pakistan on the full range of issues, we are not going to be able to be clear about how we’re going to get this relationship back on track until we hear from the Pakistanis what the result of their review is and we have a chance to work with them on where we might go.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: In Maldives, the president of Maldives resigned today off the clashes between the police and the military. Are you following the developments domestically there and what’s a readout on it?
MS. NULAND: We are – Assistant Secretary Blake spoke with the newly sworn in president of the Maldives, President Waheed Hassan, earlier this morning. President Waheed informed of us that the security situation in the Maldives is now under control and generally peaceful. He expressed his strong commitment to a peaceful transition of power, the preservation of democracy going forward. He expressed his intent now to form a national unity government that will include participation from the opposition parties in the lead-up to the regularly scheduled presidential election, which will be in November 2013.
So obviously, Assistant Secretary Blake expressed our appreciation that the situation is now peaceful, that the transition was peaceful, and made a commitment to staying in open communication.
QUESTION: When Assistant Secretary travels to Colombo next week, does he has any plans to go to Maldives also?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, he does not. Some of our Embassy Colombo people who also cover Maldives are traveling there in the next couple of days.
QUESTION: They are already traveling?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Japan, please?
MS. NULAND: Japan.
QUESTION: A readout of the meeting yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I do have something on this. Let me just find it. So yesterday, we had meetings here, as we said, between Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia Pacific Affairs Jim Zumwalt and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer and Japanese counterparts, specifically Deputy Director General for North American Affairs Mr. Akiba and Deputy Director General representing Japan’s Ministry of Defense Tetsuro Kuroe. Their meeting reaffirmed our government’s commitment to maintaining and enhancing robust security alliances.
They also discussed their support for the principles of the 2006 realignment roadmap, as I said yesterday, and they made clear that we all remain fully committed to the implementation of the Futemna replacement facility and the relocation of the air base to Camp Schwab. We made clear that Guam remains an essential part of our larger Asia Pacific strategy, including Guam as a strategic hub, and to establishing operational Marine Corps presence on Guam and relocating some of our Marines from Okinawa to Guam. But with regard to any further details, that’s all I have for you at the moment.
QUESTION: Do you know if any agreements, concrete agreements, were made within this meeting?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce at the moment.
QUESTION: Do you know when announcements will be made? I heard tomorrow, actually, February 8th.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to confirm on that at the moment.
Yeah. In the back.
QUESTION: I’ll just take you back on the Summit of the Americas.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. condition its participation in the summit if Cuba is in attendance?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into any hypotheticals here.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Pakistan. Last week, you have provided some figures about U.S. civilian assistance to Pakistan, and you said that since the passage of Kerry-Lugar bill, the United States Government has distributed 2.2 billion in civilian aid. But on the other hand, the Pakistani officials are saying that they have only received 400 million. Why there is a huge difference in these figures?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. Our figures, as we put them out, speak to what we have allocated. It may be that we have money that has been assigned against projects but hasn’t yet flown into the country. I can’t actually speak to what the differences might be there without seeing how the Pakistanis themselves make their accounting.
Okay. Last one.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. satisfied with the explanation being given by India on its relationship with Iran, in particular the sanctions and the oil imports?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we have U.S.-India consultations going on now, so why don’t we read those out after they’re finished.
Okay? Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)