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1:05 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right, Happy Friday, everybody. I apologize that we are so late today. I don’t know what happened up there. We were messing around. Anyway, here we are. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
MS. NULAND: I don’t yet have a schedule for her for next week. As I said yesterday, she is raring to go and eager to come back to work. When we have precise details and schedule, we’ll get them out to you.
QUESTION: Was she able to put in any more calls yesterday, other than at foreign policy group? Did she speak to anybody else?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, she did talk to her Foreign Policy Advisory Board that was here meeting yesterday, noting that she was sorry she wasn’t here for the meeting but that the subjects were very timely and important, and thanking them for the work that they have done. She has not had any other foreign leader calls yesterday, but she is continuing to receive memos from staff and to work through her papers. So --
QUESTION: Did she stay through the whole advisory board meeting, or did she just sort of speak and then let them proceed?
MS. NULAND: No, that would have been a little awkward to have been on the phone for the day throughout the meeting. She made a phone call into the meeting to thank them for being there and to talk about some of the subjects.
QUESTION: Do you know when she comes back – excuse me – to D.C.?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have a schedule for her yet. As soon as we do, we will put it out to you, as we usually do.
QUESTION: She receive any phone call from any foreign leaders?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said yesterday or the day before, we’ve had a veritable tsunami of goodwill wishes, both folks expressing their views on the phone when they’re talking to other American officials or in writing, et cetera. But she hasn’t been taking any phone calls, other than the ones we’ve talked to you about.
QUESTION: Or even the Secretary-elect Senator John Kerry, if she has spoken with him?
MS. NULAND: She has spoken to Senator Kerry. I think they spoke sometime earlier in the week or over the weekend, and she took that opportunity to reiterate that she wants to help him be as successful as possible and to have as smooth a transition as possible.
QUESTION: Do you have the exact date when she spoke with Kerry?
MS. NULAND: I think it was on Saturday, but I will confirm that for you, Catherine.
QUESTION: And just an update on him. You said he’d be around quite a bit. Was he here – is here today? Is there any particular schedule?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is he is in the building today. Frankly, I didn’t check on his precise schedule, but he is continuing to meet with senior leaders in the building and to prepare for the confirmation hearings.
QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea? As I’m sure you know, former Governor Richardson was on TV this morning talking about his proposed trip to North Korea with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. He said that they postponed their trip from December at the State Department’s behest. Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: Well, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. As I said, they are private citizens. They are undertaking this trip in that capacity. We are not accompanying them. We are not sending any messages with them. I’m not going to get into the details of our discussions with them, except to say that they are well aware of our views that the timing of this is not great from our perspective.
QUESTION: But you didn’t speak yesterday, though, to the question of whether you had dissuaded them from going on a trip in December, which is when the cause of your concern, or the cause of your stated concern, the North Korean rocket launch, occurred. So did you talk them out of it or get them to postpone back then?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t think we’re going to be sharing any further details about our discussion with them, except to make it clear that they are well aware of our views of this.
QUESTION: Why – I mean, the reason that I ask the question is that if you were able to persuade them to postpone it once, I wonder why you weren’t able to persuade them to postpone it again, if the timing is as particularly unhelpful as you – or not particularly helpful, I guess you said. Why not weigh in more strongly with them to try to get them not to do this?
MS. NULAND: Again, they are private citizens. They are making their decision on that basis, but they are well aware of our view of this.
QUESTION: Is it possible – sorry, one more for me on this. Is it possible that there is actually some utility to this trip, unhelpful though it may be from the point of view – from your point of view, so soon after the rocket launch, that former Governor Richardson may be able to secure, as he has multiple times in the past, including in North Korea, the release of a U.S. citizen? So that it may be unhelpful in one way, but it might be very helpful in terms of the cause of this U.S. citizen.
MS. NULAND: Again, I spoke to this issue of how we are working through our Swedish protecting power to try to help our American citizen. Our efforts in that regard will continue, but I don’t have anything further on this visit.
MS. NULAND: Still on --
QUESTION: North Korea?
QUESTION: Sorry. Just following up from what Arshad said, I wonder also if it’s not useful for the United States from another perspective, which is that Kim Jong-un is a new leader and nobody’s really had much contact with him yet. Would the State Department expect to be briefed, perhaps, by Governor Richardson when he’s back, and would it not be helpful to glean some kind of indication from him of where he believes the new Korean leader’s thinking is going?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I spoke to our view about this trip a number of times yesterday and today. If, in fact, we hear about things from Governor Richardson afterwards and we have anything to share, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Regardless of what you discussed with them, you, State Department, already confirmed they have a plan and it is having some discussions.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, I made clear yesterday and I reiterated it today that we have shared our views with them and they know where we stand on this.
Anything else? Said.
QUESTION: Did you --
MS. NULAND: I really have nothing else on this, Jill. Said, shall we move on?
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday the spokesman for Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Martin Nesirky, said that there are plans for a meeting, a trilateral meeting between the UN Brahimi, I mean the Envoy Mr. Brahimi, the Russians, and the Americans, which is something that you alluded to yesterday. Could you tell us about when is the meeting and who’s going to meet – who’s going to represent the United States?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said yesterday, Said, we do stand ready to attend another session of this three Bs group, Mr. Brahimi, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Bogdanov, and Deputy Secretary of State Burns. In fact, Deputy Secretary Burns spoke to Mr. Brahimi about this again today. But our understanding is that Mr. Brahimi has not yet been able to confirm a date or a venue for the meeting. But as soon as we have something agreed among everyone, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: But as far as some sort of a proposal that may come out of that meeting, such as perhaps a list of Syrian officials that are acceptable to everybody to sort of carry on with that transition, do you have any information on that or could you share with us any information that you may possibly have on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think it remains to be seen what Mr. Brahimi proposes as the next step when the meeting happens. But as we’ve talked about here, his approach has been to try to look at how one could implement the transition ideas that are in the Geneva document from late June. So we’ll see how his thinking has progressed when the meeting happens, based on his recent travels, including to Syria.
QUESTION: And finally, just a quick thing. Most experts now are saying that a military solution to this conflict is almost impossible. They’re – we are not likely to see a military winner in this conflict, and in fact, if there is a winner in civil wars, it goes on for a very long time, that there has to be some sort of a negotiated settlement. How do you understand a negotiated settlement to resolve the Syrian problem?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think this goes to the point that the Secretary has been making for many months, and certainly since we were in Geneva at the end of June and again with her trip in Istanbul in August and on throughout the fall, that we want to see progress made by all sides towards a transitional governing structure as the best way to begin a political process and end the bloodshed. So we are working towards that. We are encouraging parties to be serious about that and to create an alternative political reality that has the potential to be democratic, to protect the rights of all Syrians, and that everybody can see is a better alternative for Syria, for the region, and that gets rid of Asad.
QUESTION: Is one of the sticking points, as it appears, in the three B meeting the fact that the opposition are angry at the Russians and don’t want to go to Moscow?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is, in terms of the next three B meeting, it’s simply a scheduling matter. I would note that it’s a holiday week in Russia, among other things, this week.
QUESTION: Hi. With U.S. troops and U.S. missile batteries deployed to Turkey today on the Syrian border, can you update us on any engagement you guys have had with Turkish officials on what else they may need in terms of refugee assistance or any other assistance?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’re noting the fact that the Pentagon has announced and EUCOM has announced that we’ve begun flowing the advance team and some of the equipment for the U.S. commitment to the NATO plan to help Turkey with Patriot missiles, and that deployment started today and will continue into – through the month of January.
On the refugee side, I think you know that Turkey is participating now in the UN appeal for support for countries in the neighborhood. The U.S. has provided some direct support for Turkey, as we have for Jordan and other neighbors who are taking in Syrian refugees. We also have a very active bilateral dialogue on who’s who in the opposition, on the support that we are offering on the nonlethal side in terms of training, et cetera. We do some of that training in Turkey, so it’s a very active and strong diplomatic and political and economic and refugee support relationship that we have with Turkey on Syria.
QUESTION: On refugees, the Lebanese government is asking today for $180 million from the international community to aid in the taking care of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Will the U.S. consider adding more help in this regard?
MS. NULAND: Well, the U.S. has been supporting Lebanon bilaterally in its refugee efforts. We applaud the fact that Lebanon has now come forward with a comprehensive refugee plan, that they are participating actively now in the overall UN appeal.
I would take this opportunity, Samir, to call on as many countries as possible to do what the United States is doing, which is to contribute generously to the revised United Nations appeal for response both inside Syria and for neighboring countries. They have a shortfall of about $1.5 billion right now. So obviously it’s a good thing that Lebanon has a plan, that they’re participating, and we hope countries will be as generous as possible.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just -- I just wanted to --
MS. NULAND: Actually, before we leave Syria, was there anything else on Syria? Sorry.
QUESTION: Just a clarification. You mentioned that the Patriots would be deployed today and through the month of January. Is there any indication they might stay longer, beyond – into February and March? Is there a time limit?
MS. NULAND: No. My point, Jo, was that when you deploy missile batteries you have to have a site survey team, you have to bring the pieces in, they have to be assembled, all that kind of thing. So this deployment phase takes some time. So the deployment has begun. They’ll obviously stay as long as NATO nations and Turkey think is necessary against the scenario that we face.
Let me just, before we leave Syria, call to your attention that we learned recently of the imprisonment of four prominent peaceful Alawi activists in Damascus and Latakia, including one female human rights lawyer, by the regime. We’re obviously deeply concerned about their safety. We call for their immediate release. I’d also note that this gives the lie to the Asad regime’s narrative which, as you know, has been that they are fighting some kind of a externally-fueled Sunni extremists rather than a very broad-based movement for change from across Syria.
QUESTION: Can you read the names?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have all the names here with me, but let – we will get them to you.
QUESTION: Is there any update on the American freelance journalist Foley?
MS. NULAND: There is not, unfortunately, nor is there any update on Austin Tice.
QUESTION: The Patriots are still on schedule?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: By end of January?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Nothing changed.
MS. NULAND: That’s my understanding, and EUCOM had a statement today I would call your attention to.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in response to Jo’s follow-up, what you meant – or if I understood it correctly, the deployment phase will take January.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Will take a number of weeks.
MS. NULAND: And the Pentagon spoke to that yesterday, and EUCOM has spoken to it.
QUESTION: So on Venezuela?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you were talking about the fact that the U.S. is talking with everyone. But I just wanted to make sure – is that – people are coming to the State Department and talking to the State Department, or is it – are you reaching out to people actively at this particular point? Or is it just run-of-the-mill type of –
MS. NULAND: No, I think this is part of our routine diplomacy in Venezuela that the embassy conducts, that we are in contact with government officials. We’re also in contact with a broad cross-section of the Venezuelan opposition. This is normal diplomatic activity.
QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Miami – a Miami Herald columnist wrote earlier this week in an article in which he, I believe, quoted the Assistant Secretary Jacobson that Jacobson had had direct contacts with Maduro about the U.S.-Venezuelan relationship, and that article – and again, she was quoted in this, although I don’t think she confirmed these specific things – said that Kevin Whitaker, who I think is either a PDAS or a DAS in the WHA bureau, had also had follow-up conversations. So that’s well above the ordinary embassy contacts. Did those contacts not happen?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to exactly when Assistant Secretary Jacobson last saw Mr. Maduro, but she and her Deputy maintain contacts both with the government and with the opposition as we do as well from our embassy.
QUESTION: Right. But your comment just now, in response to Jill’s question, suggested that the contacts that you were referring to were only at the embassy level. And I want to know if it’s correct that this report, at least, about the contacts being at the assistant secretary and PDAS or DAS level, is also right.
MS. NULAND: But again, I don’t know what the precise timing was, so I don’t want to imply that she’s had meetings in the last couple of days or some such. So let me get a little bit more detail.
QUESTION: Okay. But your prior answer implied that there had been nothing beyond the embassy level, and the report would suggest that there has been stuff.
MS. NULAND: I think you over-read my prior answer. But we do maintain normal --
QUESTION: We can read the transcript. But your prior answer was in response --
MS. NULAND: Okay, Arshad.
QUESTION: -- to what contacts they were, and you said they were at the embassy level.
MS. NULAND: Okay. I did not mean to imply that we don’t see – have broad contacts from Washington as well.
QUESTION: Can we go to Gaza?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what angle your question is coming at us from. You know that our view on Hamas hasn’t changed, which is that any Palestinian reconciliation has to meet the conditions that we’ve all put forward, and that the Quartet has put forward for some time. There has to be a commitment to non-violence. There has to be a willingness to recognize the state of Israel, and there has to be an acceptance of previous obligations. So the fact that they were allowed to go celebrate their birthday in Gaza doesn’t change our view on whether or not and under what conditions we would see Hamas able to play a positive role in the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: Staying on to Gaza.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. On the Quartet meeting, the upcoming Quartet meeting in Cairo. I wonder if you could comment on that. Was it decided upon – the venue, that is, Cairo – because Morsi and others have called for the Quartet to dissolve?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to why they chose Cairo --
MS. NULAND: -- versus Amman, or as you know, they regularly meet in the region. I wouldn’t over-read that precise choice of venue. But it does give an opportunity for all of them to also consult with Egyptian authorities, obviously.
QUESTION: Is Mr. Hale likely to sort of deliver some good news about the release of the money that is being held up?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re continuing to work with the Congress on this. I don’t want to predict timing on that at this site.
QUESTION: And lastly, in the last couple days, Israeli settlers have taken over like 4,000 dunums, which is about 1,000 acres, in the northern Jordan Valley. Have you had any contacts with the Israelis on this particular settlement activity?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure about this particular settlement activity, Said, but you know that our settlement policy remains unchanged, and we are concerned about any kind of provocative actions.
Please. Still on --
QUESTION: Is there anything new David Hale is taking to the Middle East? Are there any new ideas (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think as he always does, his first mission, along with that of his Quartet counterparts, is to try to hear from the parties how they see things going forward. So that’s obviously his first mission. But we are in a relatively delicate period, so as we’ve said before, from his perspective, to be able to go out regularly and talk to folks, it’s part of our effort to nurture a better environment, to do the hard gardening, if you will.
QUESTION: But there’s not really something new?
MS. NULAND: Again, if we’ve got something to report about – off of the visit, we will share it with you.
QUESTION: Why is this a particularly delicate period?
MS. NULAND: Because we’ve had a very rough patch, as you know, in November, December. We’ve got upcoming elections, we’ve had rhetoric on all sides, we’ve had provocative action on both sides. I mean, I don’t think there’s any secret to that, Arshad.
Please, Goyal. Please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Madam, Pakistan is still not happy as far as drone attacks are concerned, because what they are saying is they are killing innocent people also among others. And I understand when Ambassador Sherry Rehman – she wanted to come here to file a protest as far as drone attacks are concerned. But rather she would asked to talk on the phone. So – does this need a clarification? Was she coming for to file a protest against these drone attacks?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the encounter between Ambassador Rehman and Deputy Secretary Nides happened on the phone because the Ambassador is in Pakistan. She’s not actually in the States this week.
QUESTION: Just on Iraq.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: We have had contacts with the Iraqi government. We’ve had contacts with all of the stakeholders in Iraq along the lines of the comments that I made yesterday calling for peaceful protesters to be allowed to protest peacefully, but that also for restraint on all sides, including on the part of protesters and on the part of security forces. Our understanding is that they were relatively big protests today but that they were somewhat more peaceful than they had been in previous days, which is a good thing.
QUESTION: Victoria, are you involved directly in mediating, like at the Embassy level or perhaps at the “someone from the building level” between the different parties in Iraq? Because Allawi, the Iraqiya – the head of the Iraqiya – today called on Maliki to resign. Are you mediating any kind of talks between the two?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, I wouldn’t use that word. We’ve talked about this before here. You know that on a weekly basis, sometimes on a daily basis, our Ambassador in Iraq has meetings with all of the key leaders, encouraging them to work with each other to settle issues that they have through dialogue, to protect and preserve the basic tenets of the Iraqi constitution. He regularly sees the Prime Minister, the deputy prime ministers, the Vice President, cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, parliamentarians. So we try to use our good offices with all of the groups to encourage them to participate actively in dialogue with each other.
QUESTION: Okay. And Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Shia leader who heads Jaish al-Mahdi – the Mahdi Army is also is threatening to sort of break away with Malaki. Do you see this as a good sign as breaking away from Iran’s hold?
MS. NULAND: Again, what we want to see is the major stakeholders in Iraq, political leaders, work through their issues through dialogue in consultation with each other. I’m obviously not going to comment on specific political moves by one player or another, except to say that when there are grievances, we don’t want them settled through violence. We don’t want to see them settled through moves that will hurt innocents. We want to see conversation, we want to see dialogue, we want to see protection of the constitution.
Still on Iraq? No?
MS. NULAND: Yes on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah. One of the issues that the protesters are angry about is the prisoners. They say that up to 50,000 people are being imprisoned in Iraq just because of their – this sectarian reasons. And the government is denying that number, and they’re saying there are 900 women, and they didn’t provide the number of male prisoners. Between those numbers of the government and the protesters’ numbers, from your people on the ground during those meetings, do they have an idea? I mean, can they – do they have anything solid regarding the number of prisoners? Because this is one of the main issues that the people are protesting against in Iraq.
MS. NULAND: I’m not prepared to address here our assessment of what the accurate numbers may or may not be. I will say that this is one of the issues that we have encouraged dialogue and transparency on. It’s important in any democracy for the justice system to be transparent, for there to be fairness and a level playing field, and that’s something that needs to be addressed, obviously.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: In her conversations with the Prime Minister, Secretary Clinton has spoken of the importance of a well-functioning democracy in Cambodia. How does that square with Sam Rainsy, the opposition politician who will now not be eligible to run in elections in July because of a 12 year prison sentence for protests along the Vietnamese border.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know, Scott, that the Secretary has raised this particular case before with the Cambodians, including over the summer when we were there. We are disappointed in the Cambodian national election committee’s announcement recently again reiterating that Sam Rainsy was removed from the official voter list for the July 2013 elections due to criminal convictions, which credible observers believe have been politically motivated. You know how strongly we believe in free and fair elections and that they require a level playing field and unfettered participation of opposition parties. So the exclusion of a leading opposition leader calls into question the legitimacy of the whole democratic process in Cambodia. So we’ll continue raising this and, as I said, we are disappointed.
QUESTION: Do you have – sorry.
MS. NULAND: Sorry.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, I do have something on that, I think, today. So we are aware of reports that indicate that a group of Rohingya that were detained by Thai authorities were not repatriated to Burma as previously reported. We refer you to the Government of Thailand for more information. More broadly, though, we look to the Government of Burma to implement the commitments that it’s made to seek a longer-term solution that’ll include addressing citizenship issues for the Rohingya population and ending racial and religiously motivated discrimination. We remain deeply concerned about the protection of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants found at sea, no matter where they’re found. And we consistently urge countries to cooperate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the exercise of their mandate.
QUESTION: Just one on Burma, if I may?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm. Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: On this use of firepower, the Burmese government today said it used in self defense and it has been restrained in using air power against the Kachin rebels. Are you satisfied with their response?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re concerned about violence by any side in Kachin, as we have said, and we call on both sides to come to the peace table to end efforts to settle this through aggressive means. As you know, the Government of Burma has had good success in many other ethnic areas in getting to a process of dialogue and negotiation, and we want to see the same thing in Kachin.
QUESTION: Another subject. As far as a new secretary is concerned – of course, soon we will have a new secretary – but as far as Secretary Hillary Clinton is concerned, she is well known around the globe and her experience and travel and she will be missed of course by many leaders because of her experience in the region and especially in South Asia. My question is now, as far as Senator John Kerry’s concerned, he is also going to put a new star here in the building in the State Department has had foreign policy and diplomacy is concerned because of his experience, more than 30 years in the Senate.
What I’m asking you: Do we see any change because Secretary – I mean Senator John Kerry is coming at the time of when U.S. is going to withdraw from Afghanistan and the wars going on for the last 20 years? Do we see any change during or – during his presence here or after, I mean, as far as new secretary is concerned, in South Asia?
MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, I think you’re getting us ahead of ourselves. As we always do when we have a new secretary nominee, we will have a confirmation hearing. In that hearing, Senator Kerry will have a chance to express for himself his vision going forward. And I’m sure that he’ll speak to South Asian issues, as he’ll speak to issues around the world. So I don’t want to preempt what he’ll have to say about the priorities that he sees to implement the President’s agenda going forward. So let’s all be patient and wait for that.
QUESTION: And I’m sure Secretary will have her advice or inputs to Senator John Kerry?
MS. NULAND: She will, definitely. She’s already, as I said, started a conversation with him, and she’s committed herself to be maximally available to him to help him with the transition.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam.
MS. NULAND: Scott, yeah.
MS. NULAND: Let me just find what we did with that. Here it is, yeah.
So we are encouraged that all of the Central African Republic parties have agreed to participate in the Libreville talks, which are going to start on January 8th. We encourage them all to use this as an opportunity to really try to negotiate a comprehensive, inclusive political resolution consistent with the Central African Republic’s constitution, and to ensure full implementation of the 2008 peace agreement.
In particular, we hope that the Libreville talks will result in a cessation of hostilities; full participation by the government, the rebel alliance, and political opposition and civil society in the talks; and, as I said, a political solution that’s consistent with the CAR constitution; and a commitment by all parties to protect innocents, to protect the civilian population moving forward.
QUESTION: In India this week, an individual was found with around 5 billion U.S. dollars worth of U.S. Treasury bills. Has the Indian government approached you to find out if they are authentic or real bills, Treasury bills, or they’re fake?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that, Lalit. Let me take it and see if our Embassy in Delhi has had contact with the Indian side on that.
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, our thoughts and prayers remain with her and with her family, and her bravery and courage are just an inspiration for all of us.
Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)