This video has closed captioning available on YouTube.
1:04 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right, Happy Thursday, everybody. A couple of announcements at the top. First, a hearty welcome to our diplomats from Afghanistan in the back of the room. You are most welcome. And also I want to take this opportunity to extend a very happy birthday to George Shultz. He was my very first boss in this building, and we wish him the very best today.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can we start with Syria and comments made both in Moscow and in Brussels about – from the Russians and from NATO about the end is nigh kind of thing? I presume you agree with them, but is there evidence that this is really now kind of a matter of days?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve been saying for some time that we are seeing the opposition make significant gains on the ground. I don’t think any of us has a crystal ball as to exactly how this is going to go, but we do believe that the Assad regime’s days are numbered. The opposition, in recent days and weeks, has made a number of significant captures, in particular a major military facility outside of Aleppo, the large Sheik Suleiman base, and other important military installations. And you can see what the regime is doing in its desperate efforts to forestall the inevitable. It is using increasingly lethal weapons and indiscriminate violence against its people.
So obviously, the fighting continues. There’s still fighting in Damascus. There’s fighting in Aleppo. But it is clear that the regime’s efforts to defeat the opposition militarily are clearly failing.
QUESTION: And do you have anything to add to what you said yesterday about deployment of missiles?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to add, other than to say again what we said yesterday, that we are seeing use of missiles. I’m not in a position to confirm specific types. And we are also seeing these really horrific barrel bombs as well.
QUESTION: Okay, hold on. You just said “use of missiles.” So they’ve gone from deploy to use?
MS. NULAND: We did, I thought, confirm use of missiles yesterday.
QUESTION: Well, you didn’t, but --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Victoria, on the issue of the use of missiles, since you spoke yesterday, there has been reports actually confirming the use of SCUD missiles. So you cannot confirm that they have been used?
MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position here to confirm types of missiles, but obviously, we’ve seen missiles in the field, as we’ve said for a couple of days.
QUESTION: Although as spokesman for NATO basically said that they have used them, and he said that the trajectory and the so on indicate that it is a SCUD.
MS. NULAND: Again, if you have that from NATO, you can run it from NATO. I’m not in a position to confirm types here.
QUESTION: Toria, if you look at those comments by the Russian – by Mr. Bogdanov, he goes further and he says the end is nigh. But he also says, at this point, it’s going to be even worse because there is no prospect for any type of negotiated settlement because, he would argue, the SOC will not negotiate. They simply won’t. And by acknowledging them or recognizing them as the legitimate representatives of the people, the U.S. essentially is throwing its cards on the table and saying there’s going to be a military fighting decision or conclusion to this rather than a diplomatic one. What do you say to that?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me start with regard to the first set of comments by Mr. Bogdanov that the Assad regime’s days are numbered. I think we want to commend the Russian Government for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime’s days are numbered. I think the question now is: Will the Russian Government join those of us in the international community who are working with the opposition to try to have a smooth democratic transition here, to take the blueprint that we all agreed on in Geneva and form a transitional government and have a transition that is as smooth, as democratic, as protective of the patrimony of the Syrian people, if you will, as possible?
Our concern is that if we do not all use our influence with those in Syria, we will have a further ripping of the fabric of the country, we will have further destruction to important infrastructure, important communities, we will have more tension between communities, which are just going to make it harder to rebuild Syria in a democratic, unified, peaceful, stable direction later.
So we call on Russia to work with us. We have this channel, the Brahimi-Burns-Bogdanov channel, to look at how we can take the work that we did in Geneva, work with the various stakeholders in Syria to start moving towards transitional structures, and we would like to have their help in doing that.
QUESTION: But if you look at this, I mean, essentially they agree with a lot of what you’re saying, except that Assad has to go. And Mr. Putin is making it clear he is not going to say that publicly, that Assad has to go. So what specifically do you think that they can do to bring about some type of smooth end to this?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, they can withdraw any residual support for the Assad regime, whether it’s material support, financial support. They can continue to make the kinds of comments that they’ve been making that the regime’s days are numbered and it’s time to work on a transition. That’s what they can do publicly. That’s what they can do in terms of their policy towards the Assad regime.
But they can also help us to identify people who might be willing, inside of Syria, to work on a transitional structure. We are obviously encouraging the Syrian Opposition Coalition to work with us on a transition to have its own structure. They have a lot of contacts in Syria, and they ought to be working and helping publicly in forming this transitional governing structure that can take Syria forward and make the transition as smooth as possible.
QUESTION: Toria, you mentioned that one thing they could do is withdraw any residual support they might have for the Assad regime. That makes it sound as though you guys think that their support is already on a downward slope. Do you have any indication that they are in any way decreasing their material support for Assad and company?
And secondly, we’ve had two meetings now of the Brahimi channel, as you call it. Do you have any reason to believe that there is hope that the Russians will sign on? I mean, have they given you indications that, yes, in fact, we are ready to play ball?
MS. NULAND: With regard to your first question, you know that some months ago the Russian Federation themselves made clear that on the military side there would be no new contracts. We continue to believe that existing contracts should not be fulfilled, and we remain concerned about economic support, other kinds of support. We’d like to see the Russian Federation join our model, the European Union’s model, the Arab League’s model, of increasingly cutting off economic ties as well with the regime. That would have a material impact on the ground.
With regard to the sessions in the Brahimi-Bogdanov-Burns channel, I think we expect to have another meeting when Mr. Brahimi is ready. And our hope would be that with these public comments that the Russians see the writing on the wall, we will be able to really bear down now and work on what a transitional governing structure might look like.
QUESTION: Victoria, just a quick follow-up on the Geneva thing that you mentioned. I know yesterday you contradicted the Russian Foreign Minister when he said that recognizing the council does not comport to the Geneva point. You said to the contrary. Where in the Geneva points does it explicitly state or exclude the regime or the regime elements from being part of the transitions?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into the letter and spirit here. We can have a separate discussion without wasting the whole room’s time. But in the Geneva document, when it talks about how the transitional governing structure might be formed, it talks about members of that structure being named by mutual consent. As the Secretary said in Geneva right afterwards, we don’t see anybody consenting to Assad being part of it given the role that he has played. So from our perspective, he’s explicitly – implicitly if not explicitly precluded in that document.
QUESTION: Hey, Toria. So in light of the comments from the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, are there any indications that the Russians are trying to broker a safe exit for Assad either somewhere in the Middle East or in Russia? Is that – are we not there yet, or have you gotten any indications that that could happen or that they’re working on that?
MS. NULAND: Sounds like a question for them rather than a question for us in terms of what they may or may not be brokering. You know our view that accountability is important for anybody who is responsible for atrocities or who has blood on their hands, and the Syrian people are going to have to conclude how that should go forward. I think we’ve said in the past that we’ve had indications that a number of countries – and I’ll let them speak for themselves – but that a number of countries have made overtures to the Assad family and have offered safe haven if he would end this and leave. So far, he hasn’t shown any interest in taking them up on that.
QUESTION: Toria, just going to the second – what Jill talked about, the second part of the Deputy Foreign Minister’s comments, there seems to be this feeling in Russia that you are conspiring against them. There was an editorial – there was an opinion piece yesterday in Pravda, which was called “The Stupidity of U.S. Foreign Policy,” which said that you, the Brits, and the French have combined in an axis of what they – the acronym they used was FUKUS, that F being France, U-K, and then U-S – (laughter) – which seems to be rather pointed. And I’m just wondering if, one, this – you see this axis of this triumvirate of France, UK, U.S. as existing, and two –
MS. NULAND: Can you say the name of the acronym again? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: FUKUS. (Laughter.) But I think you could have an alternate pronunciation if you wanted to. (Laughter.) But using my pronunciation, the second part of the question is whether you think that there is any merit from the Russian perspective that FUKUS is precisely what that is intended to do. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: First, Matt, let me just say that I clearly owe you at least two if not three rounds of drinks for yourself and all your friends for you candor here in my briefing room. Look, frankly, that article, which we did see, speaks to what passes for news in Pravda. Right? For those of you who have been reading Pravda recently, whenever I take a look at it, I really hear the Beatles in my head, “Back in the USSR.” But there you go. Look –
QUESTION: Well, can you address the point –
MS. NULAND: The broader question –
QUESTION: -- or the idea that this, that you, the Brits, the French, and the Turks and everyone else who’s in the Friends of Syria are really conspiring against the Russians and Russian interests in Syria, and also the point of the Deputy Foreign Minister that Jill was talking about that this really doesn’t help the Syrian people either?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let’s just look at the numbers here. I think we talked yesterday about 114 countries coming to the Friends of the Syrian People. If you look at the final declaration from that conference, it comes very close to the precise words that the President used in our recognition of the Syrian Opposition Coalition as representing the Syrian people now. So it has been Russia that’s been out of step with the international consensus with regard to who really speaks for the Syrian people, what their aspirations are going forward. So that’s one thing.
So I would simply ask Russia who they do think represents the Syrian people if not this group that has endorsed these declarations that came forward in July expressing a desire for a peaceful, unified, stable Syria that protects the rights of all its people and to be released from the tyranny that they have been living under. So that’s one thing.
With regard to the path going forward, we’ve said all along to the Russians that we are concerned that the longer this goes on and the longer it takes us to get to an alternative political path for Syria, the only path is going to be the military one; and that’s just going to bring more violence, more destruction, more disruption and death inside Syria, and the Syrian people are going to suffer, and that we all ought to be working together.
We’ve been making this point for arguably a year, but certainly, it was the basis of the work that we thought we were doing in Geneva in June, that we needed to rally around the concept similar to the way that the international community did in Yemen and, frankly, in Libya that these guys’ days are over. We need a group that can take Syria forward in a democratic direction. And we still want to work with Russia in that regard, and we urge them to get to know the Syrian Opposition Coalition, to talk to them, to talk to their leaders and get a sense for how they see taking the country forward, because we think it’s a better path than what we’re doing now.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the discussions that some states like Russia, Iraq, Algeria are engaged with President Assad to find a safe haven for him?
MS. NULAND: I think I just answered that in relation to – I think Justin just asked the exact question. We are aware that there are countries out there that have made overtures. To our knowledge, those have not been successful. We’ll let those countries speak for themselves. We continue to be concerned that anybody with blood on their hands in Syria needs to be held to account.
QUESTION: You just talk about recent captures of the rebels in Syria as a momentum. Just to be clear, are you viewing this as a positive development to the solution in Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, the most positive development would be for the violence to end, for a transition to begin, for Assad to be gone. But as I said, there was a time there where it wasn’t clear what the balance of forces was going to be. Increasingly, we see that the regime is failing in its efforts to defeat this opposition militarily. So we hope that those around Assad who are still supporting him, whether it’s political support or whether it’s military support, will also see the writing on the wall and peel off from him, split from him, refuse orders, and make their views clear that it’s time for a new Syria as well.
QUESTION: I believe yesterday President of the Syrian National Coalition, Mr. al-Khatib, called on the U.S. Government to reassess its designating of the Jabhat al-Nusrah. (Inaudible) reassess your designation?
MS. NULAND: We had a long discussion of that in this room yesterday. I would refer you to those comments. As I said, Deputy Secretary Burns had a chance to meet with Syrian Opposition Coalition members, including the president of the coalition, Mr. al-Khatib, yesterday. And they had a really candid discussion about this, and it gave Deputy Secretary Burns a chance to directly say that we want to see the Syrian opposition remain unified behind democratic values, behind an open human rights-based future vision for Syria, and groups like al-Nusrah have a very, very different vision. They have a different playbook, and all you need to do is look at what they tried to do in Iraq to understand the dangers.
So it was a good conversation, it was a candid conversation, and we remain concerned that anybody fighting in the name of the Syrian people really needs to isolate these guys, because they are bad guys.
QUESTION: So you want Syria rebels to isolate these extremists?
MS. NULAND: We do.
QUESTION: How you are going to help these rebels to do that?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we are also talking, as I said yesterday – and go back to those comments. I don’t think we need to relitigate it here today. Our message in designating al-Nusrah had two audiences. It had a Syrian audience, but it also had an audience among those who are providing support for the opposition in the international community. As we’ve been saying for quite a long time, one of the focuses of our work with our partners, whether they are working on the nonlethal side or whether they’re providing other kinds of assistance, has been to try to make sure that anybody providing assistance to the opposition is really vetting who they’re providing it to. So again, in designating al-Nusrah, we were also sending a message to our partners to be careful, to watch what al-Nusrah’s up to, and to break ties with them and make sure that none of the support that they’re giving goes to them.
QUESTION: Is the --
MS. NULAND: Jo. Jo.
QUESTION: Can I ask about --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask about – in relation to your relationships with your other allies on this issue of Syria, and notably with France, there’s been some rumblings in the French foreign ministry that Washington didn’t share its knowledge of the chemical weapons movements last week with Paris, and they’re a little bit discontented with that. I just wondered if that’s true, if it’s – and usually you would share such intelligence with allies, and in general, what the relationship has been with France in dealing with Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to talk about intelligence at all, and I’m certainly not going to talk about intelligence sharing with allies. I think you know that we are profoundly committed, particularly with our NATO allies and our other treaty allies around the world, to sharing intelligence at the highest level possible. So – and let me also say that as the Secretary made clear, as Secretary General Rasmussen made clear, there was a good discussion among allies during the NATO ministerial last week about precisely what we’re concerned about, and about the need to send public messages and to be fully prepared in the event that Assad makes a tragic decision.
QUESTION: Can I just make sure I understand that last bit? So you’re saying that the chemical weapon concerns were raised at the NAC meeting?
MS. NULAND: There was a discussion at the dinner among foreign ministers about the chemical weapon – about Syria in general --
MS. NULAND: -- but about the chemical weapon concerns.
QUESTION: And was the French foreign minister privy to this conversation?
MS. NULAND: He was at the dinner, as I recall. Yeah.
QUESTION: So maybe he just missed it?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to – no, he was there. He was --
QUESTION: No, but I mean maybe he wasn’t – maybe he was, I don’t know, not paying attention at that particular moment.
MS. NULAND: I wasn’t in the room.
QUESTION: But in general, have you been on the same page with France and most of your other allies when having to deal with Syria, or have there been sort of tensions about how to deal with some aspects of moving forward in the political transition?
MS. NULAND: Well, this has been – in every meeting we’ve had, with French officials, with UK officials, with German officials, over the last year and a half, Syria has been one of the top three topics, I would say, that we’ve talked about in an effort to maintain coordination. And as you know, we work – we’ve met a number of times in this ad hoc format of those foreign ministers who are providing the bulk of the support to the opposition, and France has been very much a part of that. As you know, one of those meetings took place in Paris back in the spring.
QUESTION: The new developments in regarding Syria, do you still see a need for Mr. Brahimi to continue his mission? And what will he be doing, I mean, after the full collapse of the regime?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, this can happen easily, or it can happen in a very messy way. I’m talking about the political transition. So the degree to which Special Envoy Brahimi can make progress in managing the transition, in coming up with a leadership structure, and in working with the major stakeholders on an agreed plan so we can create a reality that can manage Syria in the post-Assad phase, that’s going to be better for Syria, it’s going to be better for the Syrian people, it’s going to be better for the international community’s ability to help the Syrians recover from the tragedy that they’ve been through.
So he thinks that he may be able, with the support of the U.S. and Russia, to make more progress. And so, as the Secretary said, we’re prepared to support that in the context of a larger policy toward Syria that includes all of these other elements – the recognition, support for the opposition, humanitarian aid, sanctions against Assad, et cetera.
Let me – just before we leave Syria, I have a little bit more information here I want to share with all of you about some of the medical assistance that we’ve been able to provide. We shared some of this with the journalists who were with Deputy Secretary Burns in Marrakesh, but since the majority of you were not able to travel, let me just give it a little bit more lift here.
As you know, we have been concerned, among the horrors that the Assad regime has been perpetrating on its own people, that they have deliberately targeted humanitarian aid workers and locations where humanitarian assistance is being provided. Syrian hospitals have been bombed by the regime. Clinics have been raided. Supplies have been damaged and stolen. Doctors and medical staff have been targeted, intimidated, arrested, et cetera.
So in response to this and the real need for medical care inside Syria and humanitarian relief, we have targeted a lot of the assistance – humanitarian assistance that we’ve been providing, some $210 million to date – on medical needs. During this time, an estimated 410,000 patients in Syria have been reached through field hospitals and medical points by U.S. Government-trained medical workers. And USAID-funded field hospitals inside Syria have performed some 22,370 surgeries, helping a wide range of Syrians who have suffered as a result of the regime’s brutality.
Our partner in Syria, who will go unnamed to protect security, has set up some 20 field hospitals inside the country, many in discreet locations such as in basements and in old warehouses to avoid their being identified, to avoid their becoming the subject of attack. At these hospitals, as well as at aid points and clinics, we’re providing a wide range of material supplies as well – surgical beds, x-ray machines, defibrillators, gauze, bandages, medicines to help with complex injuries and wounds.
We’re also providing training to Syrian doctors in emergency field medicine because medical staff is stretched to capacity, so sometimes nurses and lesser-trained people are called on to deal with very complex situations. And we’re also training a number of healthcare workers and first responders.
As of the end of November, we’ve trained over 500 medical volunteers and personnel who are helping to save lives in Syria. So that’s just a little bit more detail than we’ve been able to pull together to date on where the U.S. taxpayers’ humanitarian support for the people of Syria is going.
QUESTION: Just if --
QUESTION: Victoria, is this the only channel, through the Office of the Coordinator for Middle East Transition, of this aid, the $210 million?
MS. NULAND: And USAID, yes.
QUESTION: And USAID?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And where are doing that training, inside or --
MS. NULAND: All of the detail that I just gave you is happening inside Syria – inside Syria.
QUESTION: Is that what you call the inter-agency coordination effort?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Wait, the training of Syrians is being done inside Syria?
MS. NULAND: We do train the trainer programs, and then they go inside and train again.
QUESTION: Just follow up humanitarian aid situation, in Aleppo there have been many reports that there’s a lack of bread, oil, and heat, and all these basic needs for people. There are warnings that that could be some deaths in result of hunger. Have you been contacted by other – maybe Turkey or other countries to do – supply these basic needs in Syria as well?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are working through our nonlethal support offices with a large number of folks in Aleppo. Aleppo has been one of the areas that we have been focusing on, giving them the humanitarian needs, et cetera.
As you know, we’ve been working with those who’ve been trying to provide services in those parts of the country where the regime is no longer able to provide for people, so some of these kinds of things. I’m not going to get into any more specifics, to protect those people that we’re working with.
QUESTION: But apparently, it is not working now, because there are many credible reports coming from Aleppo, the place that you have been saying that you have been doing all the work.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Aleppo is the site of extremely fierce fighting, and has been for months, so again, responsibility, first and foremost at the doorstep of Assad and his regime. But we are working, and the Turks are working, and other partners are working very much to help try to relieve suffering in Aleppo and help them survive the onslaught.
Can we move on to another country – subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- do you have any particular security concerns for your people in Egypt this weekend?
MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to – I think it’s less a matter of our people; I think it’s simply a question of wanting to see this referendum, assuming --
QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine, but wait, wait. No, my question was --
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about Americans?
QUESTION: -- specifically about Americans and U.S. officials in Egypt this weekend. You can get into the broader referendum thing. I’m just wondering if there are any specific concerns about possible violence --
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we have concerns about violence and we would take appropriate precautions with regard to Americans. But why don’t I make the broader point? Is that that --
QUESTION: Yeah, you can, but my question was (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: I don’t – I mean, we have concerns that the procedure goes forward peacefully. We will obviously be monitoring that. But we – I don’t have any particular information about Americans being targeted, if that’s what you’re concerned about, Matt.
QUESTION: Are you planning to send monitors to monitor the referendum?
MS. NULAND: My expectation is that the Embassy will be out and about trying to watch the polling, as we always do in countries around the world. But I don’t know of any U.S. NGOs who are fielding teams, if that’s what you’re asking.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s kind of what I was getting at. I mean, you are – there are people from the Embassy who are going to be going out to gauge the mood. You’re not telling them all to stay home.
MS. NULAND: I think the Embassy will be performing the function that it usually performs at these kinds of times. But more broadly on Egypt, just to make the point that if and as this referendum goes forward as planned – this will be an opportunity for Egyptians to exercise their democratic rights and to do so peacefully and to participate in the future of their country.
It’s also the responsibility of the government to provide a safe, transparent, and fair environment for voting, assuming that it goes forward. So we call on Egyptians – Egypt’s political leaders of all stripes to make clear to their supporters that violence of any kind during this polling is unacceptable. And we call on the Egyptian people to take all possible measures to avoid confrontation and violence.
At the same time, we call on President Morsi, as the first democratically elected leader of Egypt, to lead the effort before, during, and after the voting to continue to try to build a national consensus, because otherwise, we’re just going to see a repeat of the kinds of tensions that we’ve seen over the last months.
QUESTION: Victoria --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Now, you said, “if” it goes forward. Do you have any doubt that it might not?
MS. NULAND: Well, the government has made clear that it’s going forward. The opposition has made clear that it intends to participate. Again, this is a key democratic moment for Egypt. So all Egyptian citizens should participate and they should do so peacefully.
QUESTION: But also in the tone of what you – follow through – you’re encouraging people to participate in the referendum, and you think it’s a good thing for Egypt?
MS. NULAND: If it goes forward, assuming it goes forward, sitting on the sidelines is not going to have – ensure that voices and concerns are registered.
QUESTION: So the (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: People have to go out and exercise their democratic rights. It’s taken Egypt a long time to have these options, and they should go use them.
QUESTION: So you have faith in those who are actually – who will supervise this effort, or oversee this effort, and they will conduct themselves professionally and in a transparent way and fair and free way?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, that’s what we’ve just called for. Assuming voting goes forward, it needs to be conducted in a fair, transparent, open manner. There needs to be no violence, no intimidation of any kind, no effort to manipulate. It needs to meet international standards.
QUESTION: You have no concern that 40 percent of the public are illiterate and may not understand what is before them?
MS. NULAND: Again, this needs to go forward in a way that builds consensus, that’s perceived as fair, that is comprehensible to the public, et cetera.
QUESTION: So by calling on President Morsi, are you saying that perhaps he hasn’t made enough efforts previously to try to build this national consensus?
MS. NULAND: Look, Jo, we’ve all seen what’s been going on, and we’ve spoken about it here for some time. We’ve spoken about it from – the Secretary’s also raised these concerns, as have others, that there are legitimate questions, both about the process and about the substance. And so there has been a question about whether this is going to build consensus, and we call on the President to continue to try to build that consensus.
QUESTION: But you do seem to be putting a stronger onus today on President Morsi’s responsibilities and role in this issue than you have done in previous weeks.
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve been clear all along that as the democratically elected President of the country, he’s got responsibilities to the Egyptian people and he’s got responsibilities to Egypt’s future.
Moving on? Please.
MS. NULAND: China and Japan.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday the disputes between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Island has entered to a new sphere which involves aircrafts. What is your stance on this disputed airspace?
MS. NULAND: Well, our view on the Senkakus in general hasn’t changed. I don’t have anything new to say there. I would simply say that incidents like the one we’ve seen in the past 24 hours just underscore once again the importance of Japan and China talking to each other, working these issues through consensually.
QUESTION: Are you concerned this incident will escalate?
MS. NULAND: Again, they need to talk to each other to ensure that it doesn’t.
QUESTION: But do you have the concern?
MS. NULAND: Again, they need to talk to each other to ensure that these kinds of things don’t continue and that they don’t escalate.
QUESTION: And do you think this incident, China sends the aircraft to this disputed area, indicate that the Chinese – new China – Chinese leadership’s policy – their determination to protect its soil?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak for the Chinese Government and its motives. You can ask them that question.
QUESTION: Can we --
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Are we all agreeing we’re moving to North Korea?
QUESTION: Yes, yes, yes. I was going to say let’s stay in the region.
QUESTION: North Korea. So has there been any direct contact with the North Korean Government either through New York channel or any other channel?
MS. NULAND: I spoke to this a little bit yesterday, Josh. We have channels to talk to them, as you know, and we use them as we need to. I’m not going to get into specifics here.
QUESTION: What’s your comment on the fact that the U.S. Government was caught off guard by this rocket launch? I mean, usually we have a pretty good idea when these things are going to happen. But DOD, this building, the intel agencies, they were all sort of surprised at the moment of the launch.
MS. NULAND: I would reject that. We’ve been working, as I said yesterday, for weeks and weeks and weeks. We have been warning against this launch, and we’ve been preparing a response if the North Koreans did the wrong thing, as they did.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea why it took so long for the reaction – I mean – to come out, then? If you were anticipating – were you waiting for the --
MS. NULAND: You mean that the launch was at X hour and it took us maybe two and half hours to give you a statement?
MS. NULAND: Is that what you’re – I think that the first question was --
QUESTION: Were you waiting to see whether it was successful or not, or were you --
MS. NULAND: We were evaluating exactly what had happened and trying to gather information.
QUESTION: Wasn’t it – sorry. But wasn’t it the case that the analysis in this building and in DOD the day of the attack, the day of the launch, Tuesday, was that, based in conjunction with North Korean – with South Korean intelligence, that the North Koreans were disassembling the rocket, that there was going to be a delay in the launch, that it was going to happen either next week or the week after? Isn’t that just factually accurate?
MS. NULAND: Josh, I am not going to get into what our intelligence was telling us before, during, or after from this podium.
QUESTION: How’s the satellite doing now? I mean, there’s reports that it’s tumbling and out of control. Do you want to talk about that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to send you to NORAD. They are the experts on what’s happening.
QUESTION: They don’t – that’s – not really. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: I --
QUESTION: Yeah. Again, like I said yesterday, they seem to do a better job of tracking Santa than they do – (laughter) – tracking satellites.
MS. NULAND: I went up on their Santa site. It’s kind of cool. Yeah. I liked it.
QUESTION: Yeah. But, no, in all seriousness, you would think that they would be able to do something. This is actually – well --
MS. NULAND: Well, we don’t have --
QUESTION: -- not to ruin any surprises for anyone, but this is actually not fictional. This is a real satellite or a real rocket that launched something real into orbit. And it’s great that they want to put on a show for the kids every year. But when it comes down to it, this is a national security issue. And if this thing is out of control and potentially could do damage to other satellites that are up there or could fall – could land and do damage, then I think it’s something that the public should know about.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we don’t have the expertise in this building, obviously, to evaluate these kinds of things. It rests elsewhere in the government. I don’t have any new information from those agencies to share. When we do, we will.
QUESTION: So the Administration’s policy is often described as one of strategic patience, waiting for the North Koreans to make the decision to engage in talks in good faith under agreed upon parameters. Meanwhile, their rocket technology continues to advance. Is there any sense that this policy of strategic patience is just biding time for the North Koreans to advance their rocket and uranium programs?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would reject the premise of that question as well. We talked at length here yesterday – I refer you to that conversation, which went on for about half an hour – with regard to our efforts to encourage the North Koreans to take a different path, incentives and pressure combined, encouraging this new leader to make a better choice for his people, for regional security, which unfortunately does not seem to be the path that he has chosen. But – so we are left with continuing to increase the pressure, and that’s what we will do, to try to encourage them to change course, working with our partners.
QUESTION: With regards to that and China’s role, we had a long conversation yesterday about how you believe the Chinese have been appropriate in their position before the launch and since the launch, even tried to pressurize North Korea. But Beijing has come out this morning, and it seems to be against the idea of imposing any kind of further – any further sanctions on North Korea. And actually, there was a comment in one of the state-run media that the Chinese influence on North Korea is much more limited than many people think. What would be your assessment of that?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, as Ambassador Rice said yesterday after the first round of consultations up in New York, we are working with both our Six-Party partners and with our UN Security Council partners – China is in both of those categories – on a clear and credible response to what the North Koreans have done. The action on that has moved to New York. We are working hard with the Chinese and with our other partners to make it clear that the international community is extremely concerned about this flagrant violation of international law.
QUESTION: But is it your sense that the Chinese will actually block any kind of resolution on further sanctions?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to predict how these consultations are going to go in New York. I’m going to send you to our folks in New York for the latest. But the action is up there now.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: North Korea news agency reported that Kim Jong said he will continue to launch satellite.
MS. NULAND: Can you speak up? I can’t hear you.
QUESTION: Okay. North Korea news agency reported that Kim Jong said he would continue to launch satellite from now on. So it seems he doesn’t care about further isolation. Do you have any response to it?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, that also means he doesn’t care about the future of his people, because they’re just going to get poorer and hungrier and suffer more, if that’s the course that he wants to take. He has a chance, as a new leader, to take his country back into the 21st century, to take it back into integration with the region and with the world, but he’s making the wrong choices right now.
QUESTION: And you don’t think he’s blown that chance? This – I mean, he hasn’t blown that chance now?
MS. NULAND: Again, he can still change course. We have seen no evidence that he plans to.
QUESTION: I wanted to change subjects if I could.
QUESTION: One more.
MS. NULAND: One more on North Korea? Yeah.
QUESTION: North Korea (inaudible) announced they are preparing --
MS. NULAND: Who announced, please?
QUESTION: North Korean (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And they are prepared to a third launch nuclear test soon. Would you comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously that would be a grave error that’s just going to isolate them further.
QUESTION: On (inaudible) UN Security Council Resolution 1718 and 1874, sanctions against North Korea, that – does sanctions have any effect on North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you need to ask the North Koreans that, but it’s one of the most isolated countries in the world, in terms of its ability to trade and have normal commerce with other countries around the world in terms of the way we deal with it or don’t deal with it at all, and that North Korean people are suffering the consequences from the bad choices of their leaders over many years.
QUESTION: So as – just to change the subject. As you know, Congress has set a date for Secretary Clinton to testify on Benghazi. So does that mean that the ARB is done now? And has she seen it? Have you seen it?
MS. NULAND: First of all, we talked about this a little bit yesterday. The ARB is continuing to do its work. To my knowledge, it has not yet concluded its work. As you know, it’s decided to keep its deliberations confidential until it is finished. As we’ve been saying, our expectation is that after the ARB reports to the Secretary, then she will have consultations with Congress in terms of the conclusions that she draws about how we need to go forward from there. So obviously, we’re planning ahead, but I don’t have any dates to announce until we have firm dates on when the ARB is coming forward.
QUESTION: Does Congress get a copy of the ARB, and do Mullen and Pickering either brief Congress or brief the press?
MS. NULAND: The ARB’s responsibility is to brief the Secretary. The Secretary has said that she will be transparent and open with Congress. I don’t have anything further to announce. I think we need to let the ARB report come forward, and we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: Do you know if the ARB has reached any conclusions, any significant conclusions thus far? For example, were the deaths avoidable?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re not going to be briefing this report – they are not to the Secretary, nor are we to you – piecemeal. They’re not finished with their work. Presumably, when they are finished, it will become clearer what their conclusions are.
QUESTION: But she does intend to –
QUESTION: On that point –
QUESTION: She does intend to testify next Thursday on the 20th of December?
MS. NULAND: Again, the Hill has talked about a planning date on the calendar. That presumes that the ARB is finished. I don’t have any dates – any schedule of the Secretary’s to announce here. It’s dependent upon events between now and then.
QUESTION: So it was a Congress decision to set the date? There wasn’t any consultation with the Secretary then?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’ve had – I’ve said what I can on the dates. They’ve obviously planned a date on the calendar that is dependent on all of the work getting done between now and then. I really don’t have anything further.
QUESTION: So she hasn’t committed to that date?
QUESTION: She hasn’t committed to testify?
MS. NULAND: Again, it’s dependent on the work being finished. Okay?
QUESTION: Are you aware that Senator Kerry announced that she will testify next Thursday?
MS. NULAND: She has made clear that when the work is ready, she will go consult with Congress on it. And that’s a commitment she’s made, and she intends to keep it.
QUESTION: And it could be later. On the point that he made, under the ARB regulations, the report is required to be given to Congress within 90 days of its completion.
MS. NULAND: No. What is required, Josh, and we’ll get you the statute if you’d like, is that the Secretary’s response to the ARB’s conclusions has to go in writing to the Congress within 90 days of her receiving the report. She obviously will intend to consult with them far earlier than that, as she’s committed.
QUESTION: Does that go to the foreign affairs committee or –
MS. NULAND: It goes to our committees of jurisdiction, HFAC and SFRC, yes.
QUESTION: So you might not share the actual ARB with them*?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have anything to announce one way or the other on that.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.
MS. NULAND: That might have come out of the Quartet meetings?
MS. NULAND: I have a –
QUESTION: I can make this shorter. Can you share with us anything substantive that came out of the Quartet meeting? (Laughter.) And then we can just go to the next question.
MS. NULAND: Let me tell you what Envoy Hale has for me to share with you today. So the Quartet did meet at envoy level, David Hale’s level, in Brussels yesterday for some three hours to discuss the full range of Middle East peace issues facing the parties and facing the international community. They anticipate meeting again in the next few weeks, and they did not – they don’t usually issue a statement at their level, so they didn’t this time.
MS. NULAND: She is still under the weather. She does not have a public schedule today, as you saw.
QUESTION: Let me thank you for that incredibly substantive account –
MS. NULAND: You’re welcome, Matt.
QUESTION: -- of the Quartet meeting.
MS. NULAND: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: For three hours – after a three-hour meeting, the only thing that was accomplished is they decided –
MS. NULAND: To meet again.
QUESTION: -- that they might meet again sometime in an ill-defined near future. That’s it?
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: The Israelis are conducting really – a great many harsh measures in the West Bank in the last few days, destroying wells and water supplies for the Palestinians, arresting people, killing a six-year-old the other day, and so on. Are you concerned about the rise of, let’s say, Israeli occupation and brutality in the West Bank?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we understand that with regard to the question that you asked yesterday about NGOs and actions with regard to NGOs, that the Israeli Government is investigating now certain Palestinian organizations in the West Bank. Frankly, we’re seeking a little bit more information on that. I don’t have any more detail on it.
Obviously, we want to see the parties focused on measures that are going to increase confidence, increase trust, and get them back to the table, and we don’t want to see either party making moves that are considered provocative or hurt the environment for getting back to the table.
QUESTION: It wasn’t me that asked about the NGOs yesterday, just –
MS. NULAND: Anyway, it was Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah. I think it was Matt. But I wanted to ask you –
MS. NULAND: You’re starting to look alike.
QUESTION: Okay. But there is a great deal of concern by Palestinian women. They are raising the issue of honor killing with the Palestinian Authority. And basically, the Palestinian Authority have dismissed it all along. Do you have a position on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know our global position on honor killing, that it’s unacceptable.
QUESTION: I mean, I understand your global position, but in the Palestinian case, you are their benefactors, the Palestinian Authority. So do you bring that issue with them?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we bring up the full spectrum of human rights with Palestinian Authority representatives when we talk to them.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: You are familiar with the Skadden report? I’m wondering if the – this report, as you will know, says that there is no evidence that there was any political motivation in the prosecution of Former Prime Minister Tymoshenko. I’m wondering if you agree with that since it seems to differ with the Administration’s opinion over this, including Secretary Clinton’s. I’m wondering whether you agree with the report or if you think that the Ukrainian Government got what it paid for here.
MS. NULAND: I would tend to side towards toward the latter there. By confining themselves to simply looking at the paper trial records and ignoring the larger political context in which the trial took place, our concern is that Skadden Arps lawyers were obviously not going to find political motivation if they weren’t looking for it. The report also fails to consider the selective nature of the trials, those who were chosen for trials against Tymoshenko and her – and former members of her government.
QUESTION: So your – the Administration’s concerns about this prosecution remain that it --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: And do you think that basically the Ukrainians succeeded in buying a former White House counsel?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the relationship that the Ukrainian Government has with a private law firm in the United States. You can talk to the Ukrainians about that.
QUESTION: Well, no, I’m just wondering if you – but you – when you said at the very beginning that you tended to lean toward the latter, the latter meaning that the Ukrainian Government bought --
MS. NULAND: Frankly I --
QUESTION: -- a positive review from a team of lawyers headed by someone who at least was a very respected member of a previous administration. So I’m just wondering if there’s more you might be able to say about foreign governments purchasing positive reviews from --
MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen the invoices on this. Whomever – whoever commissioned this study, whatever the mandate for the study was, it was incomplete and doesn’t give an accurate picture.
QUESTION: I want to toss a slightly geeky question, if I may.
MS. NULAND: Geeky?
QUESTION: Yeah, which is not me at all, so excuse me if I get some --
MS. NULAND: I was going to say, you’re not a geek.
MS. NULAND: Especially not with that butterfly on you.
QUESTION: There is an International Telecommunications Conference going on in Dubai, which a treaty dated back to 1988, I believe, is being updated. And it’s run into a bit of trouble because by a show of hands, Russia or China is trying – are apparently trying to insert a clause which would basically bring the internet under the governance of – under international governance, much against the recommendations of the United States. I wondered if you could update us on that and talk a little bit about that, please.
MS. NULAND: This is not geeky at all. This is serious stuff. And our representative out there, Ambassador Kramer, is going to be having a press conference relatively shortly, in about an hour. The United States has consistently outlined our serious concerns about proposals at the ITU conference that would mandate unnecessary international internet regulations, regulations that would add significant cost and could lead to increased censorship.
We’ve made clear that we will not accept any treaty text that includes provisions related to internet regulations, and we’ve – but at the same token, we’ve strongly supported efforts to expand international telecommunication services. So we very much regret that instead of working on that latter dossier, instead of focusing on promoting innovation and market growth in the telecom space, this conference has gone in the wrong direction. And we’ll be making our views clear with regard to the posture we take inside the room in a couple of hours out there.
QUESTION: So is it clear that the United States is threatening to withdraw its support from the treaty, then, from what you’ve just said?
MS. NULAND: I think it’s more a matter of whether these measures will succeed at this conference.
QUESTION: Are you going to put paper out on that, a more specific statement?
MS. NULAND: Why don’t we agree to this, that after the press conference that Ambassador Kramer gives a little bit later, we’ll make sure to circulate his remarks to all of you. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just --
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- on that? I mean, what you said until the very end was, I think, almost word for word what was said before the conference began. Is it – there was a background briefing about it, in which U.S. opposition to these elements, these proposals, was outlined in a pretty strong way as well.
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: Does – what is new seems to be this – the last bit of your statement. And I’m just wondering, does that mean that despite your best efforts to turn back these proposals, that you were unsuccessful?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I don’t want to pre-empt final decisions at the conference. But my understanding is that this conference operates by consensus.
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: And without the United States support, you can’t change the treaty.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) by tomorrow, is that right – by Friday?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on Under Secretary Sherman had a meeting with the Chinese officials today?
MS. NULAND: With Chinese officials --
QUESTION: Chinese defense officials.
MS. NULAND: There was a delegation that was at the Pentagon earlier this week.
MS. NULAND: Under Secretary Sherman was to see them this morning. I don’t have a readout on that. I’ll let you know if we have anything to share tomorrow.
QUESTION: And also there were two reports which came out this week from different think tanks basically arguing that now that the war in Afghanistan is over, there’s no – now that the war in Afghanistan is almost over, there is no need for a special office for representative of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and they should merge with the traditional South and Central Asia Bureau. What is the Secretary’s view on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, Secretary Clinton, I think, has been very satisfied with the structure for handling these issues that she set up when she came into the building. Obviously, her successor will have every right to look at the structure of that office and every other office in this building and make decisions about whether that still makes sense and who ought to lead it, et cetera.
QUESTION: But that office will stay as of now.
MS. NULAND: It will certainly stay for the duration of her tenure, is my understanding. Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) how long? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: She’s spoken to this many, many, many times, Josh, that she has – and I can’t say it better than she has said it.
MS. NULAND: On Bolivia.
QUESTION: Yeah, there seems to be an up-ticking concern about this American who’s been imprisoned there, Mr. Ostreicher. Apologies if I’m pronouncing the name incorrectly. Sean Penn has spoken out about it in the last couple days, and now Congressman Nadler has written a letter to the Secretary about it. So I’m wondering, one, if you’ve all gotten the letter, but more importantly, two, if you are stepping up your diplomacy with regards to his case.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you may know, Mr. Ostreicher had a court hearing in Bolivia on December 11th, so two days ago. Both our charge d’affaires and one of our consular agents attended the hearing. At the hearing, a panel of judges remitted the case back to the judge from the previous bail hearing, instructing him to review the case within five days. We have repeatedly throughout this process urged the Bolivian Government to ensure a fair, transparent, and prompt judicial processing of Mr. Ostreicher’s case. We’ve made this point directly at many, many points. And we continue to visit him regularly --
QUESTION: At many, many points?
MS. NULAND: Many, many points of time. We continue to visit him regularly. Most recently, we had a chance to speak with him on December 11th. He’s also under the care of a physician at a medical clinic, which is something that we worked on, and we continue to monitor his medical condition as well.
QUESTION: And I’m going to assume, given that answer, that he has, in fact, signed a Privacy Act waiver.
MS. NULAND: I think that sounds like he has, yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask --
MS. NULAND: Otherwise I would have had nothing to say, right?
QUESTION: Can I ask for an update on Mr. McAfee, who’s back in the United States?
MS. NULAND: He’s back in the United States, so I don’t think it’s an issue for this podium anymore. I would speak to him directly.
MS. NULAND: Let me see what I have. You’re talking about John Hammer.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I have something from a couple of days ago. This is the U.S. citizen who was arrested in Matamoros on August 15th. He was charged with possession of a deadly weapon. Our consulate was notified immediately thereafter. We’ve been in frequent contact with him. We visited him three times at least – most recently was on November 29th – and we have been in regular phone contact with him. We interceded on his behalf to ask Mexican authorities to separate him from the general prison population, which they did. We later became aware that in the room that they’d put him in, he was chained up. We interceded again and asked that those restraints be taken away, and they were. And we have continued to try to work with Mexican authorities on his case and on his treatment.
QUESTION: What about the American being held in North Korea?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that one way or the other, Josh, for privacy reasons.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I do have --
MS. NULAND: Lalit’s one more.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say on the Indian Government announcement that they will have a judicial probe into Walmart’s lobbying in the U.S. on Indian issues?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that in particular, but I think Walmart has spoken to its view of this.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)
DPB # 212