12:25 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right. We are up on time today because we are motivated to be upstairs for the Secretary’s bilateral meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Terzi. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.
MS. NULAND: Andy. Anything?
QUESTION: Well, let’s start with Maldives, I’m fine with that.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let’s start with Maldives.
QUESTION: So what is your assessment of the situation there in Maldives?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me say that we did talk about this quite a bit yesterday, that we have been concerned about the fact that it doesn’t appear to have been as peaceful in subsequent days as it was initially.
In that context, Assistant Secretary Blake spoke this morning to former President Nasheed conveying our assurances that the United States supports a peaceful resolution of this, that we are also expressing our views to the government that his security should be protected, but also encouraging him, as we encouraged President Waheed, that this needs to be settled now peaceably through dialogue and through the formation, as the new president has pledged, of a national unity government. And as we said, Assistant Secretary Blake will be there on Saturday. When he is in Male, he’ll have a chance to meet with President Waheed, with former President Nasheed, with civil society, and he will be encouraging this national unity conversation.
QUESTION: So does – the U.S. considers the new government a legitimate government of the Maldives?
MS. NULAND: We do.*
*The United States will work with the new Government of the Maldives but believes that the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power must be clarified, and suggests all parties agree to an independent mechanism to do so.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Well, Jill, as we’ve said, in the context of the legislation that the President signed on December 29th, we are working with countries around the world, including India, that maintain strong oil relationships with Iran, encouraging all of them to reduce their dependence on Iranian crude.
So as you know, we had the foreign secretary here in the Department yesterday. That was an opportunity to continue conversations that we had started in Delhi about how India might be able to wean itself from Iranian oil. Those conversations continue. We’re having similar conversations with countries in Asia, in Europe, in other parts of the world.
QUESTION: So when you say “wean itself,” in other words, you don’t feel that this is a direct attempt to subvert the sanctions? Is it --
MS. NULAND: Well, India has had a trading relationship and oil relationship with Iran. What we are saying to all of our allies and partners around the world is that we are encouraging everybody to buy less Iranian crude – as little as possible – to find alternative sources of supply in the context of the economic squeeze that all of us are trying to put on Iran to encourage Iran to come clean with the international community about its nuclear weapons program.
QUESTION: But is India doing enough? I mean, you’re telling them. Are they --
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’ve said a number of times that in the context of this 180-day period where we’re working with countries as the legislation stipulates, we’re not going to be giving individual countries a grade. We’re simply talking to you about the general message that we’re giving to everybody. In each case, the circumstances are quite specific in terms of the relationships countries have with Iran, in terms of their energy needs, in terms of where and how they might find alternative sources of supply. So we’re working with each country on an individual basis. But we’re not going to be grading them as we go along.
QUESTION: And what are they saying to you?
MS. NULAND: I think in all of these conversations, including with India, everybody shares the goal of getting Iran to wake up, to come back to the table, and come clean about its program. They obviously understand the intent of this legislation. Countries have various different circumstances, as I said, with regard to their contractual obligations, with regard to their energy needs, with regard to their abilities to switch quickly to other suppliers, and we’re trying to work through all of those things.
QUESTION: Okay. And just one thing: Secretary Otero, I believe, is going to be meeting with the ambassador. Is that on this subject, or is that --
MS. NULAND: With our ambassador – with the ambassador --
QUESTION: Otero meeting with --
MS. NULAND: -- of India?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the Otero meeting was in the context of this general interagency session that we’re having with the foreign secretary. So he’s seeing, as I said yesterday, all of our key under secretaries. She generally wouldn’t be leading on this set of issues; she leads on the civil society issues, the justice issues, et cetera. His conversations about oil would have probably taken place with Under Secretary Sherman.
QUESTION: Can we change --
QUESTION: Financial sanctions on Iran are – increasingly seem to affect Iran’s ability to import food; you have reports that grain shipments are being – are channeled away from Iran. Palm oil is drying up for them. Does it concern you at all that this may now begin to hit the Iranian on the street? I mean, you constantly say that you want to put pressure on the government and not necessarily on the average citizen. But it seems like now, if you’re talking about food supplies, things could be getting very dicey. What’s the U.S. view on these – this impact of the sanctions regime?
MS. NULAND: Well, Andy, I can’t remember if it was you or if it was Arshad, but we had a long discussion of this earlier in the week – I think it was Tuesday, probably. Obviously, we have no beef with the Iranian people. In fact, our intention is to be able to end the isolation of Iran and have it reintegrated into the international community so that the Iranian people can live the way they want to live – in a state that is increasingly democratic and prosperous.
Unfortunately, the Iranian Government has not lived up to its international commitments, has not come clean with us about its nuclear program, and so we are having to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze economically. And we have seen these reports, obviously, about the impact on the Iranian rial, that in general, the chilling of the economic environment around Iran is causing companies and nations that have other forms of trade with Iran to think twice.
I do want to make clear, as we said the other day, that with regard to U.S. sanctions, we do have carve-outs for the provision of food, medical equipment, medicines to the Iranian people because we don’t want to hurt them any more than we need to. But they are living in a state with a government that would rather spend money on a nuclear weapons program than on the welfare of its people, and that’s why we are compelled to increase the pressure and increase the isolation until they see the light.
QUESTION: But on this issue, Victoria, I mean, how would you avoid the situation? I understand that you don’t want to hurt the Iranian people, and that’s quite admirable, but how – what lessons have you learned, let’s say, from the Iraq situation where Iraq was not allowed to have graphite pencils or strings for the musical instrument for the Baghdad Philharmonic or things for medication and so on, where not only people suffer but also their culture suffers a great deal?
MS. NULAND: Again, those are not the kind of sanctions that we’re seeking. We’re seeking sanctions on those things that provide funding for the regime to continue to pursue its nuclear program, and that’s why these sanctions are focused on the government, are focused on crude oil.
QUESTION: But inevitably, you have things that are called dual use or double purpose and so on. How do you deal with that issue?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we don’t have any gripe with the Iranian people at all, and we are doing our best to target this situation so that it is the Iranian regime that has to make the difficult choice ahead of it. And we do regret that this is having an impact on people, but it’s having an impact on people because their government is making a very bad choice for Iran’s future, and frankly, for regional security and global security.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. NULAND: Let’s do – actually, guys, we only have about half an hour, so let’s keep moving.
QUESTION: The Inspector General has come out with a report on Keystone and a finding that the State Department is not at fault in any way, I think, is my understanding. Could you comment on that for us?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you remember before, while we were still in the process of reviewing the Keystone application, we – the way the Department had been handling this was referred to the Inspector General. So the Inspector General did a full inspection, which it has now conveyed to the Congress.
As you point out, Nicole, the OIG found in that report that the State Department conducted a thorough, rigorous, and transparent review of the environmental impact of the proposed project. The OIG also found that our processes were in accordance with applicable regulations and guidance, that the State Department’s contractor did not have a conflict of interest, that there was no improper influence in the – by the applicant in the selection of the contractor, that the Department was responsive to the views of other agencies during the review and then in preparation of the final EIS, and that we were also responsive to FOIA requests.
That said, the OIG does make some recommendations about how we can improve these processes in the future, and we’re going to take all of those on board.
MS. NULAND: Syria, yeah.
QUESTION: Would you be able to tell us what’s the latest on this friends of Syria group that you mentioned?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are continuing to work with allies and partners around the world, particularly in the Arab world and in Europe, and some of our other UN Security Council partners who supported the vetoed resolution, on how this group might come together and what its mandate might be.
The Secretary has sent Assistant Secretary Feltman out to talk to countries. He was in Morocco a couple of days ago. You recall that Morocco was the original sponsor of the UNSC proposal. He’s in Paris today where he’s meeting not only with French leaders, he’s also meeting with Prime Minister of Qatar Hamad bin Jasim, who was also very active in the original resolution and is the Arab League’s representative on Syria. He’ll go tomorrow to Manama to a conference – a previously scheduled conference – where there are lots of Europeans and lots of Arab League representatives to continue to talk about how this group might come together and what its mandate might be.
And as you know, Turkey is very much interested in this group as well, and the Secretary will have a chance to discuss how this can come together when she sees Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu on Monday.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Feltman, on the Hill, while he was testifying about three months ago, he mentioned this friends of Syria contact group kind of thing. So is it fair to say that the last three months, you have not taken any kind of steps to create this group, but waited till the UNSC – failure at the UN?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think a lot of countries and a lot of the countries that have expressed interest in participating have been talking about this kind of an idea over the last couple of months, and certainly, recent weeks. I think the original expectation and hope was that we would have this Security Council resolution, and then countries would be able to help implement it in the context of a friends group, and that was the sequence we envisioned.
But as I said yesterday and as the Secretary has said in Sofia, now that the UN Security Council action has been blocked by the double-veto, we are compelled to work outside the UN system, and so that’s why you see this sort of groundswell of work now to get this friends group together.
QUESTION: When Feltman was on the Hill three months ago as well, he spoke about Syrians taking up arms against Assad, and at that time, he said that it was a bad idea and that it should be discouraged because it plays directly into Assad’s hands. Does that remain this Administration’s position that people who take up weapons and fight Assad – this is something that should be discouraged?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said many times, we think the best solution in Syria is a peaceful solution, a negotiated conversation about a democratic transition. We have discouraged violence on any side throughout this 11-month conflict.
First and foremost, as we continue to say, responsibility for the violence, responsibility for the bloodshed is at the feet of Assad and his regime, and they are the ones who are keeping it going. What we do have, sadly, is that in the context of the relentless assault, particularly in places like Homs and Hama that the regime is exacting on its people, you have people taking up arms to defend themselves. This is exactly the situation that the Secretary’s been warning about, that the White House has been warning about. This is unfortunate, but this is the way it goes when you’re trying to defend your hearth and home and children in a situation like this.
QUESTION: So is it fair to say that, over time, there’s become – there has been a greater acceptance of this activity as somehow a legitimate defensive effort, considering the Assad attacks.
MS. NULAND: Our position remains that the international community needs to come together to support those who want change in Syria, and that we need to accelerate those efforts even as – after the UN Security Council failure so that the situation doesn’t spiral down into the kind of civil war that we’ve all been worried about. So we want to help the people of Syria have a peaceful alternative, a peaceful way through this, and for Assad to understand that not only does the violence need to end, but that he’s lost his right to govern his country, from our perspective.
QUESTION: But in lieu of a peaceful solution that’s out there right now – and it’s hard to see one, considering the Syrian regime’s attitude – is there a growing sense that armed defense, some sort of armed struggle, is legitimate, considering the level of atrocities now?
MS. NULAND: I think what we’ve said, again and again and again, is we don’t condone violence on any side, but what we are seeing now is self defense in light of the absolute horrors that Assad is exacting on his own people. That is why we are redoubling our efforts to help the – those Syrians who want to live in a better way, increasing the pressure, increasing the isolation on Assad until he stops or – and leaves power.
QUESTION: Does this understanding of the people and the need of the people to defend themselves factor in in sort of devising a strategy of the friends of Syria group?
MS. NULAND: As we look – as the Secretary said when she was in Sofia, as we look at what a friends of Syria group could do, we see three fundamental tracks. The first is the sanctions/economic pressure track. We’ve obviously been working for many months in the international community to pass national sanctions, regional sanctions. The EU, as you know, is on its way to taking more moves. The Arab League has taken some moves, and could take more. So – and first and foremost, to look at how we can increase the economic pressure, working together, close the loopholes in the funding to him.
The second track is supporting the democratic opposition in its effort to come together. Under the Arab League plan, with the Arab League plan as a signpost, but to come together on its own roadmap of how a democratic transition could go forward, to be unified, to ensure that its plan represents the interests of all Syrians – Sunni, Alawite, Druze, Christians, all minorities, et cetera – in a way that can be unifying, in stark juxtaposition to what Assad is doing, which is dividing his country.
And then the third vector, as we started to talk about more actively now, is this question of how we can provide more humanitarian support to the people. And that’s an issue that’s going to take a – quite a bit of work among us.
So we’re going to – we’re working on the agenda, we’re working on these three tracks, in anticipation of having a meeting at some time in the relatively near future, but we haven’t been able to set that yet, either.
QUESTION: Toria, has the Secretary had a conversation with Lavrov yet about his visit?
MS. NULAND: She has not.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson today is in Argentina, and the president of Argentina mentioned this week that they did a claim that Argentina’s going to go to the Security Council of the United Nations because, in their view, there is a militarization in the South Atlantic. I want to know if there is any advance – any view of the U.S. in this situation.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the remarks by President Kirchner. I’m sure that Assistant Secretary – Acting Assistant Secretary Jacobson will be talking about these issues during her visit today. Our policy is unchanged. We believe that this is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between Argentina and the United Kingdom. That’s what we are encouraging both sides to do as we head towards this anniversary.
QUESTION: So – sorry. So you don’t think that it’s abnormal that a nuclear submarines and destroyers from England are going into the South Atlantic and these may create a security situation there in the south waters?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are encouraging Argentina and the UK to work this out peacefully, to work it out through negotiations.
QUESTION: Hold on a second. But you’re not answering that question. Are you concerned at all about a militarization of the South Atlantic? Regardless of the claims over the islands, what – are you concerned about the deployment, the British deployment of troops? Do you agree with the Argentine president that this is creating tensions?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not in a position to comment one way or the other on what the British may not – may or may not be doing in the oceans. Frankly, I don’t have the information, so I’m going to send you --
QUESTION: You sent the --
MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to the – to DOD on that.
QUESTION: Prince – they sent the heir to the throne there.
MS. NULAND: They did, as part of his normal work --
QUESTION: Right. But I mean – so you don’t have any concerns about the current situation there?
MS. NULAND: I said that I was not in a position to comment on whether this is a change from past practice, et cetera. I, frankly, am not briefed on what the military posture is. Thanks.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Toria, on Tuesday you said that you are not issuing grades to the new agreement between Fatah and Hamas in Doha, that you will wait until you discuss or be clarified on the issue by the Palestinian Authority. Today, The Wall Street Journal took issue with your statement, and they are holding you to the statement made by Secretary Clinton back in 2009 that you will never negotiate with a government that includes Hamas.
First, do you have a comment on this? And second, since Mr. Hale has already met with Mr. Abbas after the agreement, have they clarified their position?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, David Hale remains in the region. He’s talking to all the stakeholders here. He’s been in Amman, he’s been in Jerusalem, he’s been in Ramallah. Obviously, we stand by what we had to say, which is that we are waiting to see whether – how this deal might be implemented if, in fact, it is implemented at all. We’ve seen lots of deals come and go of this kind. What matters to us and what matters, we think, to the process that we are trying to keep on track here is that Abbas remains the president, that Fayyad remains the prime minister. So we’re not going to speculate on what the effect might be.
However, as we’ve said again and again and again with regard to Hamas, any Hamas participants who come into the government, if they want to work with us, have to recognize the state of Israel, have to renounce violence, and have to agree to uphold any past agreements of the PA. That standard does not change. And we’ve said that every time we’ve talked about this subject.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria for a second?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: So it’s fair to say that you do not oppose any country to arm the FSA or other opposition within Syria?
MS. NULAND: What we have said is we want to see this resolved peacefully and that we don’t think more weapons into Syria from the outside is the way to go. The way to go here is to increase the pressure on Assad, to stop the violence, and to help the people of Syria get to a democratic transition.
MS. NULAND: And we have opposed that and we have called out those countries that continue to sell arms.
QUESTION: Has Pakistan reached out too?
MS. NULAND: Actually, Ros, did you have something else?
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to go back to Iran very quickly, just one question. A couple of senators are introducing a sense of the Senate resolution essentially calling on the Administration to take containment of a nuclear Iran off the table. Have you heard about this resolution that they’re introducing today? Is there a comment from this Department?
MS. NULAND: We’ll wait and see what this looks like. I don’t have a comment particularly today.
Andy, did you have something?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I was just wondering if you had been able now to go over this charging document and had any clearer read on what it may or may not require.
QUESTION: And whether it was a charging document or not.
MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for the opportunity to fix something that was incorrect yesterday. Yesterday, I implied that we had the document and that we needed to translate it and read it. It turns out that that was inaccurate. I had inaccurate information. I think we were yesterday expecting to see the charging document.
In fact, the situation is – and I talked to our lawyers on the ground there about an hour ago – the investigative magistrate has forwarded a charging document to the public prosecutor. At least that’s what we understand. But we have not seen it. The Embassy has not seen it. And in fact, the attorneys working with our affected Americans and their organizations have not seen it. So we are asking for it and we are still waiting for it, as are the attorneys for the affected Americans. So we haven’t actually been able to get off square one to begin to look at it and evaluate it.
QUESTION: So what was the 175-page document?
MS. NULAND: Well, we understood that it was 100 to 175 pages. I think there was a miscommunication between us here and our folks in Cairo. They were expecting to see it and they didn’t see it yesterday.
QUESTION: And this may be testing your knowledge of the Egyptian judicial processes --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I tried to bone up today.
QUESTION: -- but is it your sense that, given where we think this document is in the process, that that means that charges have not been filed yet? I mean, this is still sort of an internal thing that the Egyptians are trying to figure out how to do, that it hasn’t actually risen to the level of filing charges?
MS. NULAND: My understanding – and if this is not right because this has been pretty fluid and we’re all learning about the Egyptian judicial system here – is that the transferring of the charging document from the investigative magistrate to the public prosecutor, which apparently did happen, is equal to what we would consider charging. That said, further to the difficulty of this situation, since neither we nor those charged have seen this thing, it’s hard to know what to do with it.
QUESTION: American lawyers or –
QUESTION: Toria, you said --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, just a clarification. American lawyers or Egyptian lawyers that you’re talking to?
MS. NULAND: We have – well, we’re working with both Egyptian and American and international lawyers who have been retained by those who might be affected, both the organizations and the individuals.
QUESTION: So was there anything that was being reviewed by the Embassy yesterday?
MS. NULAND: There was not. They were waiting for it. So that was our miscommunication.
QUESTION: There wasn’t anything?
MS. NULAND: Correct. We have had meetings trying to get clarification but have not succeeded yet.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Actually, I had one more question on Egypt. Sorry.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Is that standard – do you know – in the Egyptian system that these charges are being sent to the public prosecutor but not to the people being charged?
MS. NULAND: I frankly don’t know if this is normal procedure that it takes a while to actually get to the affected people. I just don’t know, Nicole.
QUESTION: So it’s not the public prosecutor who then charges? It’s the actual investigative magistrate who doesn't – he doesn’t recommend it, he does the charging? Because I thought you were saying a few days ago that he recommends charges.
MS. NULAND: He recommends charges which then go to the public prosecutor, who accepts them, which is what we understand has happened. But since we haven’t seen them, we can’t speak to them.
QUESTION: So he would – so theoretically, you’d have something as well from the public prosecutor at some point explaining if he’s --
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t know if he does a separate document or if he just says yes to this.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We’re now well beyond my capabilities.
QUESTION: Has Pakistan reached out to you officially on the hearing on the Capitol yesterday on Balochistan? Because their officials have publicly expressed concern about those hearings.
MS. NULAND: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think so, but I don’t know the answer.
Jonathan is giving me the high sign. Let’s take one more.
QUESTION: Victoria, it’s about North Korea.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: I just heard that U.S. and the North Korea direct talk will be held anytime soon. So would you please update the current status of the U.S.-North Korea talk?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any change from what we’ve been reporting over the last month and a half that we had bilateral talks in mid-December before the death of the former leader trying to clarify what it would take to come back to talks, that we were awaiting an updated set of instructions to our interlocutors, that we are still awaiting clarification as to whether North Korea is ready to come to the talks along the lines that we would expect if we’re going to resume them.
QUESTION: Do you have --
QUESTION: Will it be coming – has to come from the North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: So what about the status about the nutritional assistance?
MS. NULAND: And there again, we were in conversations, as we reported to you, about what we might be able to provide, what we thought was appropriate, and about what it would take to monitor that. And we have not been able to have the kind of reassurance that we need from the North Korean side before we can go forward with a decision. So there’s no decision yet.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Russians planning to try Sergei Magnitskiy posthumously?
MS. NULAND: I do.
MS. NULAND: Angola, yeah. I was hoping for Angola today. We’ve seen the press reports about the reopening of the Magnitskiy case. We continue to call for Russian authorities to bring those responsible for Sergei Magnitskiy’s death to justice.
QUESTION: No, this is the case against him.
MS. NULAND: This is the case against –
QUESTION: They’re going to try him.
MS. NULAND: I thought it was – they were reopening the case against some – more found guilty.
QUESTION: No, they’re going to try him. And he’s dead.
MS. NULAND: Are you confident that --
QUESTION: Well, that’s what I was told earlier today.
MS. NULAND: No, I think it’s a reopening of the case against some of those --
QUESTION: And your position on the bill --
MS. NULAND: -- Who should have been accused the first time.
QUESTION: Your position on the Magnitskiy bill on the Hill is the same?
MS. NULAND: It is.
QUESTION: Okay. And then, Angola?
MS. NULAND: On Angola, and then we’ve got to get upstairs. Okay. So we had previously talked about Americans we had on – under investigation in Angola for fraud charges in connection with a concert that they were promoting that didn’t happen. Their name is Alcoa. We --
QUESTION: It’s Allocco, actually.
MS. NULAND: Is it Allocco?
QUESTION: Yeah, Alcoa is a big company in --
MS. NULAND: Apologies to the Alloccos. See, Matt has been in direct contact with them, so – anyway, just to make clear that we do now have a Privacy Act waiver. Embassy officials have been in nearly daily contact with the Alloccos, have visited them at their hotel some seven times. We have been present at all of their legal proceedings. We have also helped them to find English speaking attorneys and other things. We did have an incident with them on January 23rd, where the younger Allocco, the son, Patrick J. Allocco, sought refuge at the Embassy after he was involved in a nightclub altercation. He did not meet the criteria for refuge, but we did keep him at the Embassy until consular officers were able to ensure that he could get back to his hotel safely.
QUESTION: The nightclub altercation wasn’t at all related to the case?
MS. NULAND: Not to our knowledge. However, the police in Angola have now opened a second investigation with regard to the altercation.
QUESTION: Why – is it not correct that both Allocco sought refuge in the – at the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that only the son sought actual refuge. By the way, we did facilitate – we gave him some clean clothes, some medicine, cleaned him up.
QUESTION: They claim that they were abducted at gunpoint and taken away by plain clothes –
MS. NULAND: Abducted from where? From the nightclub?
QUESTION: No, no, no. Abducted –
MS. NULAND: From the Embassy?
QUESTION: No. From their hotel. Taken somewhere and interrogated by thugs and you’ve determined – I think, that is not the case, that in fact, they were not?
MS. NULAND: We don’t have that.
MS. NULAND: What we had was junior Allocco, Patrick Allocco, appearing after this altercation in bad shape, at the Embassy looking for help and looking to ensure that he could get back to the hotel safely, which is what we took care of with our superb consular officers there in Angola.
MS. NULAND: All right. I need to get upstairs. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:57 p.m.)