12:55 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: Happy Monday, everybody. I have just one thing at the top. Today’s journalist for our Free the Press campaign, which, as you know, we are doing every day from now through May 3rd, International Press Freedom Day – today’s journalist is Mazen Darwish, who is a leading human rights defender and proponent of free speech in Syria. Darwish founded the Syrian Center for Media Freedom and Expression in 2000 to monitor threats to freedom of expression in Syria and in the region. The SCM also monitors internet freedom and internet access.
The Syrian Government has held Darwish incommunicado since security forces raided his offices on February 16th, and we are very concerned that he could be the subject of torture, abuse, or other inhumane treatment. We take this opportunity to call on the Syrian Government to release Darwish and other journalists that it has imprisoned, as well as all political prisoners, in keeping with the six-point Annan plan. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Toria, where is Mr. Chen Guangcheng?
MS. NULAND: Where is he?
QUESTION: Can you confirm that Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell is in Beijing?
MS. NULAND: I can confirm that Assistant Secretary Campbell is in Beijing.
QUESTION: What is he doing there?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, it is not uncommon for Assistant Secretary Campbell or other assistant secretaries to travel in advance of the Secretary’s trips. So he is involved in preparing the trip.
QUESTION: Is his – are his – do his preparations, in addition to paving the way to the S&ED, which is scheduled for the end of the week, have anything to do with the case of Mr. Chen?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Why would he not wish – as the senior-most diplomat for East Asia, why would he not wish to try to find a solution to this case, if he is indeed in Beijing?
MS. NULAND: Again, I have nothing for you on anything having to do with that matter.
QUESTION: I just – one item. You probably won’t want to answer this either, but for the Secretary’s trip, will this affair have any impact on her trip?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Secretary is looking forward to her trip to Beijing. We’re leaving this evening. This is the fourth round of the S&ED, and further than that, I don’t have anything for you.
QUESTION: Can you say that the U.S. and Chinese governments are having discussions of any sort regarding Mr. Chen’s matter?
MS. NULAND: I have nothing for you on that subject.
QUESTION: Are you allowed to say his name at all? (Laughter.) Are you under strict instructions to not even mention him in speech?
MS. NULAND: Well, we did say his name last Friday in making clear that we have spoken out about this case in the past.
QUESTION: And are you – at the time on Friday, I think you spoke about it in the past tense. Could you give us a more current assessment of his case and his family’s situation?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think our most eloquent statement on this case was in the Secretary’s speech. I believe it was in Hawaii in November, so I would refer you to that.
QUESTION: Certain events have happened since Hawaii, including some of his family members who’ve been taken into custody. Are you concerned about them?
MS. NULAND: I have nothing further for you on any of this.
QUESTION: On that speech – I just took a look at it – has the Secretary actually personally talked about Mr. Chen’s case with the Chinese? I know she did definitely mention it in that speech.
MS. NULAND: She has raised this case and others in the past, as you know.
QUESTION: Was it recent or --
QUESTION: Does she plan to raise this case during her meetings with her Chinese counterparts this week?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re at the end of what we can say on this subject today. Okay?
QUESTION: Did she raise the raise in the distant past or in the recent past?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that. I frankly don’t know when the last time it was raised.
QUESTION: Why is this such a sensitive matter for the U.S. Government?
MS. NULAND: I have nothing further for you on this subject. I think that was the eighth time I’ve said that. I want to learn how to say it in Chinese, but I couldn’t get a good, clear translation.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that the S&ED will not go forward as planned?
MS. NULAND: The plan is that it will go forward.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MS. NULAND: Yes, please. Can’t wait.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. NULAND: Say again?
QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, gave a press statement today saying that they expect a response from the Netanyahu government next week. Have the Palestinians shared anything with you on that issue?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know --
QUESTION: A response to Abbas’s letter?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, David Hale was recently in the region. He had a chance to talk to the parties. He had a chance to talk to other regional partners in this effort. So obviously the letter and the potential Israeli’s response was one of the subjects that he discussed.
QUESTION: Mr. Erekat also said that the Israelis tried to deceive the international community by dividing settlements into legal and illegal. Do you concur with that assessment?
MS. NULAND: Said, you know where we are on settlements, and you know where we are in our conversations with the Israeli Government on them as well.
QUESTION: And finally, are we – do we – are we to expect some sort of a meeting between Mr. Hale and Mr. Abbas in the next two or three days?
MS. NULAND: Mr. Hale has returned home now. As you know, he did get a chance to see President Abbas on his last trip.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the first topic, just to clarify something?
MS. NULAND: Just for me to say a 15th time that I have nothing further?
QUESTION: Well, first of all, it would be a ninth, not a 15th, but --
MS. NULAND: Are you counting? That’s good.
QUESTION: Well, you were counting. (Laughter.) Perhaps you were wrong in your count.
MS. NULAND: I might have been.
QUESTION: You said it is not unusual for senior officials to travel abroad in advance of high-level consultations between the U.S. Government and another government. Was Assistant Secretary Campbell’s trip previously scheduled in connection with the S&ED?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further for you on his travel, other than to confirm that he is in Beijing.
QUESTION: So it’s possible that it wasn’t previously scheduled? I mean, I know it’s not unusual for people to go, but it’s also not unusual for these things to be so pre-cooked that they don’t need to go.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further on – for you on his travel.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Could you catch us up on the state-of-play right now? It appears that the United States would be willing to accept some enrichment, five percent, with the idea that anything further enriched would be taken out of the country, let’s say 20 percent. Can you just walk us through where we are in talks?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that. (Laughter.) So that poorly reported story.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: But in any case, where are we?
MS. NULAND: I would say that our position remains as it has been, that we are – we want to see Iran live up to its international obligations including the suspension of uranium enrichment as required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: So suspension of uranium enrichment. To what percent, though?
MS. NULAND: Again, Jill, we’re not going to be negotiating this from the podium. What we need to do is continue the conversations that we’re having with Iran and the P-5+1. And as you know, we’re headed to a second round in Baghdad in May.
QUESTION: But is --
QUESTION: Just a quick --
QUESTION: But is this a subject for negotiation? The UN – there’s multiple resolutions that say all enrichment has to stop. Is that not correct?
MS. NULAND: Exactly. That’s what the resolutions say.
QUESTION: So that --
MS. NULAND: So I’m not going to be negotiating this arrangement. What we want to see is Iran come forward with a concrete plan to meet its obligations.
QUESTION: And just to take it one step further --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- to do that, to come into compliance with its obligations, it would need to stop all uranium enrichment. Isn’t that correct?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think you know what the UN Security Council resolutions say. That’s the standard that we will hold Iran to.
QUESTION: On the same topic, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Ambassador – the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, said that their right to enrich uranium is inalienable, much like other countries --
MS. NULAND: Is what, Said?
QUESTION: Is inalienable. It’s a God-given right, as far as he’s concerned. Do you agree with that?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know where we are on this. We want to see them come clean on their nuclear program. We have said all along that we don’t have a problem with a peaceful nuclear energy program once they have come clean with the international community about the full scope of what they’re involved in.
QUESTION: And on Jill’s point --
QUESTION: Do you have --
QUESTION: -- on Jill’s point, would you say that the margin – the – I guess the U.S. requested that it be five percent, and the Iranians are saying 20 percent. So we have a negotiating margin of, let’s say, 15 percent?
MS. NULAND: Said, as I said, I’m not going to be negotiating this deal from here.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) If you’re saying you want them to come clean – so in other words, they theoretically – legally, they have the right to enrich. But at this point, that is in abeyance because they have to come clean, and then, they could possibly enrich?
MS. NULAND: What I said --
QUESTION: Because you can’t have it --
MS. NULAND: -- is they have the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program. There are many ways that that could be achieved, but not before we’ve come to an agreement and they have met their international obligations.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: Is the agenda for the Baghdad talks set yet? Do you know what they’re going to be talking about there, starting over there?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve said that we’re expecting to have some preparatory meetings at a lower level. Those have not begun yet, but I think that’ll help flesh out where we are. But as we’ve – as our negotiator and as the EU said at the time after the Istanbul round, after – sort of these – this first opening round, now we want to see some concrete proposals, and we would be prepared to respond to those.
QUESTION: So there’s the preparatory meeting before that? (Inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: As we’ve said, we expect that there will be some preparatory meetings. They haven’t been announced yet or set, so --
QUESTION: They’re talking about asking the West to lift the sanctions – to talk about lifting sanctions in Baghdad. Is the world ready?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this around the time of the Istanbul meeting. We’re not at that stage. They have got to come forward with a plan. We would be prepared to respond to real concrete steps, but we have to agree on what those are going to be. And then we have to go from there.
QUESTION: Another one, Toria?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Iran also but regarding Pastor Terry Jones, who burned some Qu’ran and a picture of Prophet Mohammed over the weekend. Was the Administration aware of this? Do you have anything to say about it?
MS. NULAND: Well, beyond saying that you know where we are on the desecration of holy texts of any kind, we find such action deplorable. We find it disrespectful. I frankly don’t want to give this issue or that individual any more air time here.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. Administration apologize for this act? The Iranian Government is asking for an apology.
MS. NULAND: This is the act of one individual and in no way reflects the values of the American people or of the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: Toria, it’s unclear – going back to the Iran nuclear issue – the preparatory conversations, which you said have not yet been announced as yet, those are to be between the office of Lady Ashton – correct – and the Iranians? Will they involve U.S. officials as well?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re still talking about what makes sense. As you know, the EU High Rep’s staff has been talking to the Iranians. So I think if lower level technical meetings at the P-5+1 and Iran level would be helpful in preparing the Baghdad round, we’re not closed to that idea, but we’re not at the point of making any decisions yet.
QUESTION: Egyptian election?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. As the frontrunner in the Egyptian election, Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, gave a statement yesterday saying that the Camp David Accords were dead and buried. He made a difference between --
MS. NULAND: Were --
QUESTION: Were dead and buried. They were dead, because they called for a Palestinian state and that Palestinian state has never been accomplished. But he differentiates between the Camp David Accord and the peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel. Is that something that you have discussed with any Egyptian Government in the past, that there is a difference?
MS. NULAND: -- to individual statements made in the Egyptian electoral campaign as we head towards the date in May. What I will say is what we continue to say, which is we want to see free, fair, transparent elections, and we want to see those who are elected uphold the democratic processes, principles, and human rights standards that allowed them to get to the day of the election.
QUESTION: So do you consider his statement to be a part of the campaign rhetoric, no more?
MS. NULAND: Again, I haven’t seen it, Said. But even so, we’re not going to get --
QUESTION: But is this an issue that the State Department will be ready to, sort of, tackle? Because I’ve never heard there was a difference between the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and the Camp David Accords.
MS. NULAND: I’m just not going to comment on something I haven’t seen.
QUESTION: Just one more on China, but it’s quoting John Brennan, who was on TV. And he said the, “Chinese-U.S. relationship is important, so we’re going to make sure we do this in the appropriate way.” He was asked, of course, about the subject that we can’t discuss. But “make sure we do this in an appropriate way and that appropriate balance is struck.” What exactly does he mean by that, “the appropriate balance”?
QUESTION: Can I just try that question again? Mitt Romney yesterday made a statement. Mitt Romney made a statement yesterday that – he asked U.S. officials to take every measure to protect him. Do you have any response?
MS. NULAND: Well, let also just remind you that this is the State Department’s podium and we speak here about the foreign policy of the United States. We don’t comment on the campaign either.
QUESTION: You mentioned Mazen Darwish. Other than the statement you’ve just made about Mazen Darwish, the Syrian journalist, how do you keep – or how do you know about his status? What happened to him? What kind of conditions is he imprisoned under, and so on?
MS. NULAND: We stay in touch with those who are close to him and with human rights groups who monitor his case and others. And we are quite concerned about how he is being treated and, frankly, about the fact that he was arrested at all.
QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge, has any of the human rights groups been in touch with him and actually can give a status report on his health?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think so, and that’s one of the issues of concern that he’s been held incommunicado. His family hasn’t been able to see him and nor has anybody else.
QUESTION: Okay, and one last thing related to Syria. Opposition groups are saying that the violence – there is a lull in the violence, that the violence has regressed somewhat. Do you concur with that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think you can look at the news today and say that violence has abated in Syria. We have reports of some 27 people killed throughout the country on April 29th. We have violence continuing today, including in Idlib. We do have some slightly better news on the monitors side. I think you know that the Norwegian head of the UN observer mission, General Robert Mood, has arrived in Norway and we now are up to full strength on the monitor advance team. We’re up to some 30 monitors, and they expect to be at 51 monitors by the end of the week.
We also saw some press reporting over the weekend that indicated that in Homs and in a couple of other places where monitors have set up a permanent shop, that that has had a positive effect, according to activists, on the level of violence. So that’s what we would hope to see.
QUESTION: Government personnel and institutions were the target of attacks this morning in Idlib and in Damascus. Do you have a comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have said all along that the longer this violence goes on, not only are you going to see Syrians who are otherwise civilian and peaceful in their normal life trying to defend themselves, but you could see efforts by extremists to exploit the instability, which is further to why we continue to put the onus on the Assad regime to silence its own guns and maintain a ceasefire.
QUESTION: You’re giving credence to the government’s assertion that, in at least one of the bombings today, that this was the work of outside groups who are trying to manipulate the situation for their own advantage?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to who did this at all, Ros. I don’t think that any of us actually can speak to that in the absence of being able to get monitors in there and independent investigators, and frankly, in the absence of journalists. So this is part and parcel of the problem that we confront in Syria: we can’t evaluate who’s fully responsible for some of these things unless and until we have a fully-observed situation. But we have been concerned that as this goes on and as the Assad regime refuses to set its own example of silencing its guns, that there could be exploitation of the violence.
QUESTION: Just a clarification. You said he had arrived in Norway. You meant in Damascus?
MS. NULAND: I meant in Damascus. I’m sorry, Jill. Yeah, that General Robert Mood of Norway has arrived in Damascus and taken up his post. We’re also hoping that’ll give us a little bit more information from the ground of what the observers are up to.
QUESTION: They just (inaudible) UN nuclear (inaudible), some have been arguing that U.S. policy regarding Syria is widely affected by the nuclear talks with Iran. Would you be able to comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what linkage is made. Can you be a little clearer?
QUESTION: Sure. Some argue that – just to give more time to Iran and not push it further or not to impede the talks with Iran; U.S. just giving more time to this Annan plan.
Yeah, okay. In the back.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are media reports stating that the U.S. Government communicated to the South Korean Government that it believes a third nuclear test could occur as early as this week. Is that accurate?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have anything for you on our internal discussions with the South Korean Government. I can’t actually even confirm the assertion that you are making. But you know where we are on the test. We think it would be a very bad idea, further provocation, and will only serve to further isolate the DPRK.
QUESTION: So you’re willing to talk about a possible nuclear test but not about one human rights activist in China?
MS. NULAND: I have nothing for you on that, Brad.
QUESTION: So the sensitivity of a nuclear test is less than a human rights activist?
MS. NULAND: I think you’re drawing a connection that doesn’t exist.
Thanks very much, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)
DPB # 78