12:55 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Happy Tuesday, everyone. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: I guess we could start with Syria. You have seen the report of Kofi Annan or the letter that he has sent to the Security Council and the report of his aide. So I’m wondering what you make of it, and are you okay with him sticking to this timeline, with the regime not withdrawing its forces as best you can tell, but staying with the timeline? In other words, another 48 hours until there’s a ceasefire? Is that okay with you guys?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the letter that Joint Envoy Kofi Annan has submitted to the council. I think you know that the council is still in session as we speak asking questions of his deputy, talking about the letter and thinking about next steps. My understanding is that, in her capacity as president of the council this month, Ambassador Rice will have some comments to the press after that session breaks. So I don’t think I will comment from here ahead of the council finishing its consultations.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re basically deferring to Susan Rice.
MS. NULAND: I am.
QUESTION: Victoria –
QUESTION: There was – sorry. There was talks that this deadline is extended till April 12th. Are you – what is this all about?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’m not going to speak to the contents of the report by the special envoy. The – as you remember, the initial – the proposal in the six-point plan was that the Syrian regime would begin or complete, depending upon how you interpret their pull-back, by April 10th, and then the opposition would complete its ceasefire by April 12th. That’s why you have a little bit of confusion here about this delta. So –
QUESTION: So you are comfortable with the 48 hours? Apparently the Syrians had asked for 48 hours to complete the pullout. Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to comment on the substance of any of this until the council finishes deliberating and Susan has a chance to – Ambassador Rice has a chance to speak for the council and us.
QUESTION: Just to quickly follow up, the Syrians are asking for some sort of guarantees or – that the opposition will cease its attacks and so on. And they’re also saying that there is an increased flow of arms into the opposition, apparently by countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, which at the time of the conference, apparently the Secretary of State said it’s okay for others to go ahead and give aid. Now, are the Syrians principally correct in demanding that arms stop flowing to the opposition and they cease whatever attacks they’re conducting against government sources?
MS. NULAND: Well, starting with where I started before, which is, I’m not going to wade into any of this while the council is deliberating. I’m going to let Ambassador Rice come out and speak for the council as a whole and then speak for the United States in her national capacity. We know who bears the brunt of the responsibility for the violence in Syria. We also know, as we discussed yesterday, that there has been no evidence at all that the Assad regime is complying with the six-point plan, and in fact, the violence has gotten worse as we discussed at some length yesterday.
QUESTION: Yeah. But forgive me; principally, does the Syrian regime have the right or is it within its right to request that the flow of arms stop going to the opposition?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to any of these issues until we have a chance to hear from Ambassador Rice.
QUESTION: Toria, you just pointed out that there has been no action by the regime so far. So isn’t it time, if you stand back and look at this, to say that the whole UN approach, Kofi Annan’s plan, really isn’t working? Nothing has indicated that that regime is going to anything.
MS. NULAND: Again, Jill, I don’t think it’s appropriate in the middle of a council deliberation for me to be opining on what’s going on in the council.
QUESTION: Would you respond to a statement from Senators McCain and Lieberman who were in the region today that said, “Diplomacy with Assad has failed”?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we have two senators in the region. Our understanding is that they are touring the refugee camps in Turkey today, and they are obviously speaking to what they are seeing. But I don’t think I’m going to comment on any of this while the council is deliberating.
QUESTION: Will you intensify your efforts to find a solution for Syria in UN Security Council? I mean, is there any –
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’m going to speak to next steps after the council has finished hearing the report.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Annan carries the last chance for President Assad?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to put time tables on any of this at the moment.
QUESTION: But you keep asking him to step down. I mean, we’ve been hearing this for so long. I mean, are you asking him to step down now? Is this – the time has come? Or is it you’re talking about giving him more chances? Or when he’s going to step down?
MS. NULAND: Well, our view is that he has lost his legitimacy. The Syrian people appear to be saying the same thing.
QUESTION: Victoria, do you think that the Russians are sending conflicting signals regarding Syria? On the one hand receiving Muallem and on the other saying that the Syrians should have acted quicker?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the Russians joined us in supporting the Annan plan, in making clear that it was time for the violence to stop, that the Assad regime had to lead the way in that, and our expectation and understanding is that they used the opportunity of Foreign Minister Muallem’s visit to make those same points.
Please. In the back.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.
QUESTION: No. One –
MS. NULAND: You can keep trying, but I think we’re not going to do a lot of Syria today.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the Russian part.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: So would you – do you perceive any type of movement perhaps then on the part of the Russians?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the Russians are represented in the Security Council. They’re receiving the report. We’re having a chance to talk to them there today. As you know, we have the G-8 foreign ministers in town starting tomorrow. So the Secretary will have a chance to consult with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow and Thursday. So we’ll have a chance to compare notes then.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Still Syria.
QUESTION: It seems that the safe-zone option along the Turkish border is (inaudible). So – and according to news report, Turkey has hinted that it will go along if it get the support of U.S. If Kofi Annan plan fail, are you ready to consider that kind of support?
MS. NULAND: You’re taking me into all kinds of hypotheticals. We talked about this a little bit yesterday. We talked about the several Turkish statements to the effect that they were studying this. We obviously haven’t had the results of their study.
QUESTION: The Indian Embassy this morning received a bomb threat call. Do you have any information on that and who were behind this?
MS. NULAND: I can confirm that there was a bomb threat at the Indian Embassy in Washington earlier today. Appropriate law enforcement personnel responded immediately. All three of the Indian official locations in Washington have now been cleared – the chancery, the ambassador’s residence, and the visa office, and no device was located.
QUESTION: When you say “cleared,” you mean evacuated? Or “cleared,” you mean checked?
MS. NULAND: Both evacuated and checked for bombs.
QUESTION: And now people have come back to them?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know if they’ve gone back to work, but security officials have declared them clear.
QUESTION: So do you think at this point that it’s probably a hoax, then?
MS. NULAND: I think there’ll be an investigation, obviously, and we’ll see what that leads to.
QUESTION: And where was this call from? Have you been able to trace the call back?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information as to who called. I would guess that that’ll be part of the investigative steps that go on.
QUESTION: Does this lead to any kind of increase in security or --
MS. NULAND: Say again?
QUESTION: Does this lead to any kind of increase in security presence outside the Indian embassies or the ambassador’s residence?
MS. NULAND: I would guess that part of our evaluation going forward in terms of what happened will be to determine whether the security posture is adequate.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry. Can I just clarify one thing? You guys – someone called here to tell you that there was a bomb at the Indian Embassy?
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I don’t know whether the Indian Embassy was notified that there might be a threat and then they notified law enforcement and us, or whether we were notified and --
QUESTION: Can we move --
MS. NULAND: I don’t know. Yeah. Please.
QUESTION: Move on?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: North Korea.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: I realize that you said probably as much as you’re going to say yesterday, but I’m going to try again.
MS. NULAND: It’s one of those kind of days. Yeah.
QUESTION: Weeks, maybe.
MS. NULAND: Weeks. I’m sorry, sir. Although we were up here for an hour and 10 minutes yesterday.
QUESTION: Well, let me try and go to it at a different angle. The White House yesterday seemed to take alert when you mentioned something about reporting from North Korea yesterday. And I asked you about it, and you seemed to suggest that there wasn’t any problem. But then, now there are White House officials coming out on the record telling news organizations not to be sucked in by this North Korea propaganda campaign. Is this the – does the State Department share those concerns?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t actually seen what White House colleagues have said. Was that something that --
QUESTION: Tommy Vietor.
MS. NULAND: -- that Tommy said? Well, look, I mean, obviously freedom of the press – you all will cover this as you see fit. Our concern obviously would be that the North Koreans would use this for propaganda purposes and that news organizations that cover it extensively might be playing into that. But it’s obviously your call how to cover this story.
QUESTION: You don’t think that North Korea would be using it for propaganda purposes without any – I mean, in the absence of inviting people in to cover it?
MS. NULAND: Well, it obviously has propaganda value. But the more that it is covered and spread and the more stories about it, it just keeps them on the front page in a way that does not enhance peace and security. But you’ll obviously all make your own decisions.
QUESTION: Understood. But I’m just curious about that, because I mean, it’s going to be on the front page whether there are news – Western news organizations there or not. Right? It’s a matter of concern. It’s a newsworthy event if they launch a missile, is it not?
MS. NULAND: It’s obviously a newsworthy event. I think that --
QUESTION: So what’s the concern?
MS. NULAND: If – again, having not seen what Tommy had to say, I would guess that the sentiment expressed was simply that if you have lots of nightly news coverage and long pieces climbing up and down the rocket and all that stuff, it just is free publicity for this --
QUESTION: But doesn’t that illustrate the problem?
MS. NULAND: Well --
QUESTION: And shouldn’t that make people – I mean, increase the concern? I mean, it seems to me that this is a problem for – the idea of the launch is a problem, correct? Yes.
MS. NULAND: We’ve been clear about that.
QUESTION: So the more attention that’s paid to that, the greater understanding there is of this problem, no?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that it is a matter of the issue going unreported. It’s simply, I would guess, the sense that the more coverage of this, the more long pieces about North Korea, all this kind of stuff, they get exactly what they want. They get lots of attention from all of you about their situation.
MS. NULAND: And frankly, this is publicity that --
QUESTION: But here’s the thing. They’re going to get all this attention from you regardless, right? So I don’t get – what difference does it make?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’ll refer you to the White House on what they were thinking. Thanks.
QUESTION: A follow-up on a question about the U.S. team that was sent to Pakistan to help in the avalanche. Are they still in Islamabad?
QUESTION: Any word on when they might move? Are they going to move? Are they just going to sit in Islamabad?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we responded to the request for help. They went to Islamabad to coordinate with Pakistani officials. I really can’t speak to either what the conditions on the mountain are, whether there are issues having to do with getting in, or whether, several days having gone by, there is sort of rethinking about whether the international teams can and should be deployed. I’m just going to send you to the Pakistanis on that. But we are making them available so that they can help in whatever way the Pakistanis might find helpful.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, the White House at its press gaggle in Palm Beach and the comments just said that it would be, quote, “hard to imagine” that the food aid would still be delivered if this launch goes ahead. Is that a statement of policy now that if this launch goes ahead, the food aid will be retracted?
MS. NULAND: We’ve been clear about where we are on this for weeks and weeks, and I think the White House statement reflected that, obviously.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria just for a minute?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Nadia’s question on the issue of stepping down, Bashar al-Assad to step down, would that be a requirement that he must do immediately, or are you willing to consider – not you but the international community – giving him like maybe a two-year period until the next election? I mean, what is the deal here? What is the demand?
MS. NULAND: You’re getting me into negotiations with Assad now?
QUESTION: I mean, what is your principle position? That he must immediately step down?
MS. NULAND: Our view is that Syria cannot move forward with Assad in power. The President has been clear about that for months and months and months. We had supported the Arab League plan, which gives a detailed roadmap for how this could proceed, looks similar to some of the other situations we’ve seen in the region. Again, this is an issue for the Syrian people to settle. We want to see the fighting stop so we can get to that conversation about how a transition should go forward.
QUESTION: Okay. So your support for the Arab League plan has not changed at all?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Speaking of roadmaps, I understand the Quartet envoys are meeting today to try and come up with some kind of statement that suggests that there is progress being made when, in fact, there isn’t. Is that correct? And what can you do to – tell us to preview tomorrow’s Quartet meeting, principals meeting?
MS. NULAND: The Quartet envoys are meeting later this afternoon to prepare the meeting at the level of ministers and principals tomorrow. They – so tomorrow the Quartet will meet at the level of principals, which is Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, EU High Representative Ashton, UN Secretary General Ban, and obviously Secretary Clinton. Quartet Representative Tony Blair will also join that meeting.
We do anticipate that there will be a Quartet statement at the conclusion of that meeting tomorrow about midday. The envoys are working on it today, and it’ll be concluded by principals tomorrow.
The focus of the Quartet meetings tomorrow won’t surprise you, will continue to be trying to support the parties and move them closer to dialogue and creating the context for dialogue between them. They will also be looking at how they can build on the work that was done by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee when it met in Brussels last week, emphasizing the need for robust international support for the Palestinian Authority and institution building. But obviously, we have to see to what the results of the meeting are tomorrow.
QUESTION: Are you still pushing for the Jordan – the Jordanian-sponsored talks to resume? Or is that now a dead duck?
MS. NULAND: Well, we obviously think that the talks that were conducted in Jordan were very useful in January, that they began a process that we would be prepared to see built on. But there are other ways for the parties to reengage with each other, and we would be supportive of any means of reengagement that would be helpful.
QUESTION: So you moved beyond the Jordan --
MS. NULAND: Again, if the parties are ready to go back to Jordan, we continue to support that process. But we also would support other ways that reengagement can happen.
QUESTION: There’s no participation --
QUESTION: They are meeting in the Blair House?
MS. NULAND: Blair House tomorrow. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. And just a quick follow-up. There’s also a meeting tomorrow between Fayyad and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding a letter that the Palestinian Authority has submitted. Will that statement in any way reflect what is in the letter or what is being discussed or what comes out of that meeting between Fayyad and Netanyahu?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to Fayyad, Netanyahu meeting tomorrow. We’ll have to see if, in fact, the meeting is tomorrow, and if, in fact, there is a letter. I think our goals are obviously all the same, which is how we can get these parties to continue to work together and work on stability and security in the Palestinian territories.
QUESTION: And finally, you keep insisting that the proper venue is the resumption of the talks. Now, on the other hand, the Palestinian Authority is planning some sort of a campaign to reach out to the Israeli public, like YouTube and messages and advertisements and all these things. Is that a good thing or is that in contradiction with what you want them to do?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think all of the parties engaged in this, whether they’re Quartet parties or whether they’re the Israelis and Palestinians, engage in public diplomacy in any way that they deem appropriate. What’s most important is that we all be seeking a negotiated solution.
QUESTION: There is no representation of either the Palestinians or the Israelis in tomorrow’s meeting. Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: Is that normal for them not to be represented?
MS. NULAND: Actually, usually when the Quartet meets, they meet on their own, and then the envoys go off and see the parties. That’s generally the way it happens, yeah.
QUESTION: Just to stay on this --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- with Israel just for one second. And that is – and I realize this is a White House thing, so you’re probably going to send me there, but the Pollard case. Do you – did you at all – are you aware of a letter that was sent by the Israeli president to President Obama asking for Pollard’s release?
QUESTION: Okay. Because that’s more than Jay Carney said earlier this morning. They have gotten it?
MS. NULAND: I understand. They have now received it, yep. And that the President obviously appreciates hearing the views, but I’m going to send you to the White House for more on that.
QUESTION: Does the State Department take any position in this?
MS. NULAND: I think the entire Administration’s position on the Pollard case has not changed.
QUESTION: Can we switch to China?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are reports that – there’s a report, excuse me, singular, on Xinhua that Bo Xilai’s wife is under suspicion of having murdered the British businessman, Neil Heywood. I realize this is a Chinese investigation regarding the murder or death of a British citizen, but does it strike you as a step forward that the Chinese at least appear to be investigating the circumstances of his death, which I think were originally attributed to excessive alcohol consumption?
MS. NULAND: We’re aware of these reports. I think we are going to decline to comment on them one way or the other.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the investigators in Russia dropping the charges against a nurse who was implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky?
MS. NULAND: We were waiting for you yesterday, Jill.
QUESTION: I know. I wasn’t here. But I saved it up.
MS. NULAND: Look, you know our view, that the investigation into the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death has been inadequate and has failed to produce justice. We continue to call on Russian authorities to conduct a genuine investigation, to prosecute and punish those responsible for Magnitsky’s death. So obviously we’re not moving in that direction.
QUESTION: On Libya, the apparent attack today on the head of the UN mission there. Someone apparently threw an explosive device at the convoy. Just wondering how concerned you are about the continuing violence there and the prospects for Libya making some sort of economic recovery if these sorts of attacks are going to go on against Western or international targets.
MS. NULAND: Well, we strongly condemn today’s attack on the UN convoy travelling through Benghazi. We call for a full investigation, the Libyans cooperating with UN authorities on that. We are, again, taking this opportunity to call on all armed groups in Libya to exercise restraint, to refrain from violence, to work through their issues through dialogue. But I have to tell you, Cami, we don’t have a lot of information as to who was responsible, or what the circumstances of this were. But it’s absolutely unacceptable. We are just thankful that nobody was hurt.
QUESTION: Yeah. I have one more.
MS. NULAND: Please, Matt?
QUESTION: Two more, actually.
MS. NULAND: Yep.
QUESTION: Bahrain. Yesterday, you said that there were going to be more calls made about this hunger striker? Were those calls made?
QUESTION: No one else?
MS. NULAND: No.
QUESTION: And you’re aware of the latest today on this case? I mean, there was – again, the other day, there was the Bahrainis refusing to release them and now that – is it the Danish or the Norwegian, I can’t --
MS. NULAND: Danish.
QUESTION: Danish. The Danish have reupped their – resubmitted their appeal for his release, and apparently it’s been rejected again. So we can be clear: Your – the Administration’s position on this is that he should be allowed to go to Denmark, or what is it that these calls are being made to --
MS. NULAND: We are not – yeah. We are not dictating any particular solution. We are just asking for a humanitarian resolution of this case.
QUESTION: Toria, have you raised concern about the deteriorating health of Al-Khawaja in prison?
MS. NULAND: This is the case – this is the – yeah. This is case that we talked about it yesterday, and I’ve just responded.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about his daughter? Yesterday, all you said was that you were aware of her arrest.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new on his daughter. I understood that she was arrested – she was detained temporarily and that she’s been released. But if that’s not accurate, we’ll get back to you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please, Nadia. Nadia, and then --
QUESTION: Do you have any position on whether former regime – former Mubarak regime’s official should stand in election – presidential election or not? Because there is a committee in the parliament now approved the banning of Omar Suleiman from nominating himself for the presidential election.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think we’re not going to comment on these individual issues inside of Egypt other than to say we want to see the election procedures followed. We want to see a transparent, open process with clear rules of the road.
QUESTION: Afghanistan? Afghanistan interior ministers are here in town. Are they having any meetings in this building?
MS. NULAND: I don’t believe so. I don’t believe so. Okay? Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)