The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:06 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Happy Monday, everyone. I am sorry we are so late again. We have a New Year’s resolution to try to be on time, which we are already failing miserably at. I hope other people are doing better at their New Year’s resolutions. I have nothing at the top; let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can we start with Mali? I think last Friday you said that neither the Malians nor the French had asked for any assistance and that the U.S. – you didn’t outline any American assistance at that point. Can you update us on any conversations that have taken place and any assistance that is now being provided?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just say that with regard to the action that the French are now taking in response to a Malian Government request, we share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven. We are in consultation with the French now on a number of requests that they have made for support. We are reviewing the requests that they have made. But I don’t have any decisions to announce yet today.
QUESTION: Okay, because we’ve heard about various things that have already been decided. I think the French have even said communications assistance is being provided. Are you saying that that isn’t being provided yet?
MS. NULAND: At this stage, I think what we have to say is that we’ve had a number of requests; we’re looking at all of them. But I don’t have anything to announce yet.
What I would say though is we are also working with ECOWAS to encourage them to accelerate the deployment of their troops. There are a number of African countries who are starting to express a willingness to go. We’ve also made clear that we’re prepared to use our ACOTA support – this is our Africa Contingency Operations Training – to urgently get trainers out to those countries who might be ready to deploy, including getting trainers out to them this week. There is an ECOWAS summit meeting on Wednesday where we’re hopeful that they’ll make some deployment decisions as well.
QUESTION: So are these conversations strictly between you and the French, or are you having discussions with the Malians as well about any support they want?
MS. NULAND: With regard to support for the military operation that the French are undergoing, obviously we’re having those consultations with the French. We’re having separate consultations with ECOWAS with regard to supporting the deployment of African troops to support the Malian military. But as you know, we are not in a position to support the Malian military directly until we have democratic processes restored by way of an election in Mali.
QUESTION: You said that they’re going to have a foreign ministers meeting on Thursday about the situation in Mali, which will look specifically at things that the EU can do including accelerating training for Mali’s military. Is the U.S. going to be working in concert with the EU here, or are they going to be working on parallel tracks? How’s this going to work?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re always working in concert with the EU on these kinds of things, and obviously with France being a prime member in the EU, the idea is to have this fully coordinated. But we have three tracks, obviously. We have the Malian military’s own efforts, which as you’ve said the EU is looking at supporting with training. That corresponds with the UN Security Council resolution. We are not in a position to train the Malian military until we have democracy restored.
We also have the ECOWAS deployment of African troops in support of the Malian military. As I said, our goal there would be to help with the training of those troops and to provide financial support once the arrangements can be made through the UN.
And then the third track is obviously the invited support that the French are now providing and what the French might need from us in terms of support for their military operation. So all three of those are moving together, and we’re working with everybody to try to keep them coordinated.
QUESTION: The U.S. position on this has been – at least up until this past weekend – was that there were sort of political improvements in the Malian political situation had to go in concert with any thought of military intervention. What is the U.S. doing to hasten the political solution to the problem there?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Andy, our Embassy remains open in Bamako. We are in concert with the security track, pushing hard on all stakeholders in Mali to commit to and begin preparing for the elections that are supposed to take place by April of this year. That’s going to require a free, fair, transparent electoral process. So those conversations are ongoing, and we very much believe that there is no purely security solution to the problems in Mali. There has to be obviously a restoration of democracy. There has to be an inclusive conversation with stakeholders in the north who are willing to renounce terrorism. And there has to be an economic program as well to address some of the grievances of the have-nots, if you will, in the north.
QUESTION: You still see that as a realistic timeframe for the elections if this intervention and what might – could be a continuing conflict in the country? Wouldn’t that potentially delay any sort of elections that they might have?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we want to see democracy restored as soon as possible. The constitutional goal is April. I think we have to see how things move forward. But obviously it’s in the interest of Mali if we can hold to that timetable.
QUESTION: The French are saying that they – that the forces they’ve encountered on the ground are actually better trained and better armed and organized than had originally been thought. Does that surprise you?
MS. NULAND: You mean that the rebel forces are better --
QUESTION: The rebel forces on the ground. Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve been, as you know, concerned about infiltration of al-Qaida in the Maghreb, in Mali, and across that belt for some time. The Secretary’s been expressing those views publicly for many months. This is one of the hallmarks of AQIM is that they are generally quite well trained and quite effective, particularly if there’s no counter pressure on them, which there hadn’t been until the French launched their military action over the weekend.
QUESTION: So you think some of the rebels that they’re fighting are actually AQM as opposed – AQIM as opposed to just the local Islamist groups?
MS. NULAND: We’ve been clear about that all along that we think AQIM is playing a significant role in this.
QUESTION: And now it seems to be that the – I think – the Malian officials are saying themselves that this is not just an offensive to push them back north. They’re actually now trying to root them out to make it a final kind of push then get them out of the country. Does that not – does the fighting on the ground not really change the logic of a UN resolution? Because if the idea is to go in and train Malian forces who are already fighting, doesn’t – isn’t there some kind of dichotomy there?
MS. NULAND: Well, I mean, there are a number of things that are now happening simultaneously, as we said in response to Andy’s question. The UN Security Council resolution, first of all, speaks of all three tracks: the security track, a political track, and an economic track.
On the security track, there are the two pieces of it that are represented. The first is strengthening the Malian military so even as the Malian military works with France and eventually with ECOWAS to try to rout out these havens where the rebels have taken root, they’re still going to have to be strong enough to hold that territory once they reclaim it to be good representatives of the best democratic values of Mali when they are there. That means no reprisals, et cetera. They’re going to have to be able to handle population security, et cetera, going forward. We think they’re going to need not just the support from France that’s ongoing now but that they’re going to need some long-term support from African forces to get themselves reestablished as we deepen and strengthen the ranks of Mali military that can hold territory by themselves.
So we see this French effort supported by the Malian military, then the ECOWAS effort, and then ideally you’d get to a point where Malian military can be clean, democratically led, and can hold territory by themselves. But that’s some time out in the future, so that means we have to also focus on training for them.
QUESTION: And there have been some threats now made against France as well with the rebels saying that they’ll strike back at the heart of France. And I believe there’s been some security measures that the French have taken in various places, not just in France, to try and mitigate any such threat. Do you believe this is a threat that could also come against other actors such as the United States as they become more gradually involved?
MS. NULAND: Well, it’s obviously not surprising. This is the MO of these – the modus operandi, if you will, of these kinds of transnational terrorist groups that if they face significant opposition then they threaten to come after you in other ways. I think we are all well aware of the requirement to be vigilant about our own security including in the homeland. But that’s why it’s so important to get this operation done and get it done right, because they have been able to develop another safe haven across that region that needs to be routed now.
QUESTION: Are the French doing it right by that – by what you’ve just put forward?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we are in close consultation with the French. I think it would be inappropriate a couple of days in to be giving this operation a grade. But obviously we were in consultation with them before it started and we are working very closely to monitor the situation going forward.
QUESTION: You’re not worried about being dragged into a war by the French, like sort of what happened a couple of years ago in Libya?
MS. NULAND: We’re going to make – first of all, we made our own decisions with regard to Libya. It was a shared, NATO-led operation under a UN Security Council resolution, so I would reject the premise that anybody dragged us in. We’ll make our own national decisions now with regard to the kinds of support that France may need that we’d be willing to offer.
QUESTION: But you’re comfortable with them playing the leadership role on this?
MS. NULAND: You know the longstanding relationship between France and Mali. The request of the Malian Government went to France. It didn’t come to a larger international contingent. And obviously, as allies and as long-term partners in these kinds of efforts, we are looking at what the French might need in terms of support.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up, and sort of the same question but in a different way. Why does it make sense for the United States and for the Obama Administration to have France be out in front and leading on this?
MS. NULAND: Again, it was France who was requested to help by the Malians. They had the assets to do it. They were willing to do it. They are asking us to help them in a number of ways that we are now reviewing. But we have traditionally had relationships of burden sharing when we embark on global security operations. You’ll recall when we had the Cote d’Ivoire situation where France also had long-term historic ties, when UN forces got bogged down, the French were willing to give it a push and they were able to do so. So the situation is somewhat similar, but it speaks to the strength of our allies and our ability to share burden around the world with them. It’s a good thing.
QUESTION: Does it seem like the Malians went to the French because of those historic ties to you? Is that the view of this Department?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to parse how that came about one way or the other.
QUESTION: Have you gotten assurances from French leadership right now that the French Government is in tune with the United States’ goals in Mali in terms of restoring a democracy?
MS. NULAND: Well, if you look at the Security Council resolution that we passed and the various statements that we’ve made since, France and the United States are joined in all of the goals and objectives that we have there, which start with restoring democratic governance to Mali. So yes, and obviously we’re in consultations as allies about the way forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Last week the holdup for this ECOWAS force was because you were waiting to hear back from them about some of the things about who was going to deploy and the long-term financing.
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: Now that has accelerated, so have you heard from them about these – to answer these questions, or have – the situation just been overtaken and it’s necessary to get troops there now and the rest will just be figured out?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we had on the Security Council, all of us, been warning that the situation was urgent, that the pace of action was too leisurely, if you will. And clearly, when the rebels started moving south, that was a wakeup call to everybody. And now with the urgent Malian call for outside help, I think it was not just to the French but it was also to ECOWAS to please speed it up. So we’re all focused on that as well.
So our sense from our ECOWAS contacts is that they are rolling up their sleeves now to try to get in as quickly as they can and that this summit on Wednesday is very much focused on that.
QUESTION: You’re saying the situation was urgent and you shared that. That was your belief. And yet it feels as if the French are way out ahead of the United States, and I guess it raises that issue of is the United States actually as actively engaged as it could be under the circumstances if you believe that al-Qaida – AQIM is there and that it’s an urgent situation.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me remind that we were in full consultation with the French on Mali for a number of weeks before they decided to deploy. When they were invited to deploy and before they made those decisions, we were in consultation with them. So this has been very much an allied effort to support Mali, but the division of labor has been that the French would begin the military support while we focused on trying to get ECOWAS ready and going to come in behind them. And that’s been the way we’ve moved forward, but we do now have a number of requests for support from the French which we’re looking at as well.
So this speaks to the kind of partnership that we’ve had not just with France but with other allied countries when emergent situations have developed. And we’ve done this kind of partnership before. Sometimes we’re in the lead with allied support; sometimes an ally is in the lead with U.S. support. So I don’t think this is all that unusual, frankly.
QUESTION: Do you have a sense of the size of the rebel force on the ground?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a sort of a lay-down here that I’m able to share. I think there’ve been a number of estimates, including UN estimates, over time, but I don’t have anything to share at the moment.
QUESTION: And are there fears that this could turn out to be quite a prolonged kind of engagement?
MS. NULAND: I think it remains to be seen. In so many of these situations, you have hardcore fighters, whether they’re from the outside or whether they are local rebels committed to a violent resolution of their grievances. You have other actors in the community who are dissatisfied with the government but – and therefore may be attracted to an extremist course of action if they don’t feel like they’re – they have any other alternatives. So it’s hard, often, to get numbers about hardcore fighters versus those who are piling on because they think that their grievances might be better addressed to the barrel of a gun after they haven’t seen them addressed politically. This speaks to why you have to not only have a security strategy; you also have to have a political strategy and an economic strategy, ideally going hand in hand.
QUESTION: Going back to the ECOWAS force, in terms of the trainers that you said may be going, can you give an indication of what countries they may be going to?
MS. NULAND: Well, Dana, we looked at this before we came down. We have indications from ECOWAS itself and from a number of African countries within ECOWAS bilaterally, that they are looking at deploying, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to be naming them before they name themselves. So I think we’ll wait and see who comes forward, ideally on Wednesday at the summit.
QUESTION: And going back to the division of labor, will the United States be the primary funders of this force?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’re still trying to work out the funding mechanism. But I think, as you know, from a U.S. perspective we think the best way to fund the UN-covered operation would be the same way we covered the Somalia operation, which was voluntary contributions. We think that’ll be most efficient. But we haven’t got --
QUESTION: But we were the primary funders of that (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: We were the primary funders. Again, we need to agree on the mechanism before we can agree on the shares. We’re looking at all of it, with our partners.
QUESTION: Just to clarify something, so still in consultations with France. So does that mean that no support has yet been given?
MS. NULAND: Again, we don’t have anything to announce yet on decisions to support this mission. When we do, it’ll be out there for all of you, probably coming from either the White House or the Pentagon, I would guess.
QUESTION: What is the official position on the Malian Government from this government? Do you still see them as illegitimate, as a ad-hoc junta that doesn’t have legitimate authority?
MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this a little bit. We have a transitional governing structure now. As you know, it went through one change sometime in December. We do support that transitional structure in the interim, but we see them as having the primary focus of preparing for broad-based, legitimate elections in April.
We also have been concerned about Colonel Sanogo and his continuing influence, both politically and in security terms, in Bamako. We’ve been urging the transitional government to marginalize him, et cetera, and for the Mali military to marginalize him. So until we get to an elected structure, we haven’t restored democracy, obviously, in Mali.
QUESTION: But you’re recognizing this transitional structure’s authority --
MS. NULAND: We are.
QUESTION: -- for the country right now.
MS. NULAND: We are. Yeah.
MS. NULAND: With the caveats that I gave you.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka., the Chief Justice --
QUESTION: If we could stay in Africa (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: You want to stay in Africa --
MS. NULAND: -- and we’ll come back to you, Lalit? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Contingent with this, or contiguous, rather, with this – the launch of this offensive by the French at the weekend, they also went into Somalia to try and free a French agent who is being held by the al-Shabaab. I saw on the Secretary’s schedule that the Somali president is going to be in town later on this week. Could you explain what issues are going to be raised between the Secretary and the Somali president, or whether you had any information about what happened at the weekend with this offensive which went wrong, basically?
MS. NULAND: Well, first with regard to the hostage rescue effort, the U.S. did provide some limited support to France in that hostage rescue effort. As you know, I think it was yesterday evening, the President submitted a letter to Congress under the War Powers resolution which is required 48 hours after any U.S. military action, which outlined the limited technical support that we provided to French forces in an effort to be helpful. So I don’t have anything further on the specifics of that.
With regard to the visit of the new Somali President, as you know, the Secretary throughout her tenure has been deeply engaged in Somalia, from 2009 to the present, through the period of the transitional government getting to this permanent democratic structure. So she’s very much looking forward to welcoming the permanent, now, Government of Somalia and celebrating the progress that they’ve made.
I think we’ll probably have – we’re planning now to have a background briefing for you all on Wednesday, talking about the last four years of effort in Somalia to set up that visit, and to the Secretary and the President, and we’ll see you as well.
QUESTION: This will be their first meeting, though, won’t it – official meeting since he came to power?
MS. NULAND: Since he came to power, yes. I think he was among the leaders who we met on one of our trips in the fall who was contesting in the elections. I’m pretty sure he was in the room for that visit.
QUESTION: Were the planes that went into Somali airspace – did they have approval from the Somali Government?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any further details beyond what was in the War Powers resolution requirement. I’m going to send you to the Pentagon for any further details.
QUESTION: Al-Shabaab is saying that they are going to be displaying the bodies of these French hostages that were killed. Are you concerned that this botched or that this failed rescue attempt will be a boon to them when they’ve been weakened?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think they are already significantly weakened, and that’s evident by the increasing amounts of territory that the government is able to manage with some of the leaders in the tribal areas as well, and I think you’ll see that when Hassan Sheikh is here and has a chance to talk about what’s happening in his country. Look, al-Shabaab is on its heels and it’s desperate to try to continue to maintain its influence, but it’s not going to be successful.
QUESTION: Yes. Any comment on the recent terrorist attacks against journalists in Greece? I’m sure, as you know, today they attacked the offices of the New Democracy Party, the governing party of Greece.
MS. NULAND: Well, we obviously condemn the recent violence in Greece. We urge Greek citizens to exercise their right of protest peacefully. There’s never an excuse to resort to violence.
Anything else? Lalit, please.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Now that the Sri Lankan chief justice has been removed by the President following her impeachment, what do you have to say now on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are deeply concerned about the impeachment of Sri Lankan Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The impeachment proceedings against her were conducted, as you know, in defiance of the Supreme Court order. And from our perspective, this impeachment raises serious questions about the separation of powers in Sri Lanka, which is a fundamental tenet of a healthy democracy. Throughout these proceedings, we’ve repeatedly conveyed to the Government of Sri Lanka our concern that there was a lack of due process, and we’ve also made very clear our view that actions undermining an independent judiciary would impact on Sri Lanka’s ability to attract foreign investment.
I would also note that we weren’t alone in our concern. The United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, and the United Nations have all issued statements expressing strong concerns about this process.
QUESTION: Do you believe, by such measures, you think Sri Lanka is moving towards an authoritarian regime kind of thing?
MS. NULAND: Look, we think that there are serious questions about the health and future of Sri Lanka’s democracy and that they really need to roll up their sleeves and work on it.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on when the Secretary might testify? And could you also tell us how her preparation is going, what she’s doing to prepare for that testimony on Capitol Hill?
MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the consultations that we’ve had with the Congress on the timing, I’m going to defer to the two committees to announce the hearings when they’re ready to do so. But we did talk about these happening after both houses come back into session next week. So we will defer to them on any formal announcements.
Secretary is doing what she always does. She is going through all the steps that this Department is taking to implement the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board. I think you’re aware that – well, first and foremost, as you know, she’s made a commitment that all 29 recommendations will be implemented and that the implementation should be well in train before she finishes here. So I think she’ll want to update the committees on implementation.
As you know, Deputy Secretary Nides is leading an implementation process here in the building. I think he’s having his 11th meeting with the various stakeholders this week to get that work – as many of the short-term recommendations completed as possible, the medium-term ones well underway, and the longer-term ones well set up. So I think you’ll hear a good accounting from her on all those things when she testifies.
QUESTION: And this is an important week because it’s the week before the inauguration. I think you were mentioning that perhaps we might see some meetings that she would have with foreign visitors. Can you – is there any schedule information that you can share with us at this point about what the Secretary will do this week?
MS. NULAND: I think we did put out some scheduled things over the course of the week.
QUESTION: Yeah, you did, but I mean anything --
MS. NULAND: She’s going to see Ellen Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia tomorrow. She’s also seeing her Colombian counterpart. I think that one is tomorrow as well. As we said, the Somali President will be here on Thursday. We’ve already announced the visit of the new Foreign Minister – Foreign Secretary of Japan – Mr. Kishida will be here on Friday. So it’s a busy diplomatic week.
QUESTION: So these would be more – let’s call them working on the relationship issues in the relationship, as opposed to farewell, right?
MS. NULAND: Oh, all of these are working visits of foreign ministers or heads of state continuing the bilateral and regional work that we do together, yes.
QUESTION: Another topic? A couple of little, disparate follow-ups, one – first one on Afghanistan. President Karzai, on returning to Kabul, said today that the decision on immunity for any U.S. troops remaining there post-2014 would be made by the end of the year, and that they had been unable to reach an agreement with the U.S. thus far. I’m just wondering if that’s your understanding. And is that timeline sufficient to allow you guys to plan on what you need to plan for any remaining presence after that handover?
MS. NULAND: Well, as was clear from the press conference that the presidents had, that President Obama and President Karzai had on Friday, we are working through the various issues for how U.S. forces and perhaps coalition forces can continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014, first in an advising and equipping capacity, but also in the context of continuing to ensure that the remnants of al-Qaida and other affiliates are gone after.
So as we’ve said before, that’s going to require a bilateral security agreement for the period after 2014. We initiated discussions on that in December and pledged to each other that we would try to complete them in a year. I think if you go back and look at the press conference, both presidents made reference to ensuring that on the one hand, this agreement respects the sovereignty of Afghanistan, but on the other hand, that it provides appropriate protections and immunities for U.S. forces. So that’s something we have to work out in this bilateral security agreement over the course of the year. And we have confidence that we’ll be able to, as we have with so many other countries around the world.
QUESTION: And having his suggestion that any decision wouldn’t be made until the end of the year, that’s perfectly – you’re okay with that timeline?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’ve given ourselves a year to do all of the pieces of this. So we want to do it within that year, which would bring us to the end of 2013. And these agreements tend to take a little time because they’re quite technical.
QUESTION: Okay. And I have another one on Syria.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And on the drawdown of troops, a lot of U.S. civilians are in Afghanistan right now. Will they also be coming back, or they stay in Afghanistan to help the country rebuild the economy and other things like agriculture?
MS. NULAND: Well, in addition to the security commitment that we have to Afghanistan over the long term, we have a political and economic commitment as well. I would refer you to the joint statement that was released at the end of the visit of President Karzai. It goes through in some detail our commitment to support Afghanistan for its elections, continued support of rule of law, the economic support that we’ve provided, trying to move that relationship from aid to trade as much as possible, to have agreement on where the projects are going to be and to put more of the money through the Afghan budget. So obviously, that’s going to require a significant continuing American civilian support contingent that – but I don’t have any particular sizing for you. Obviously, the missions will reflect –
QUESTION: So there will be no significant drop down in the number of civilians in Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: Well, we had a significant civilian surge over the last couple of years. I’m not in a position right now to give you a sense of where we’re going to be after 2014. I think we’re going to continue to have the conversation about what missions and programs we’re going to run before we’re able to size it. But we are committed to Afghanistan’s strength, stability, democracy over the long term, and to the civilian programs that we have together.
QUESTION: And one more on the Taliban office in Doha. Has there been other further development in talks with the Qatari Government on when they’re going to open it, and what’s the process now?
MS. NULAND: You mean has there been any update since Friday, over the last couple of days?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further to share with you, Lalit. We’ll let you know.
MS. NULAND: Anything else? Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Firstly, you had some comments on Friday about Cuba. Do you have anything new to say considering that today the exit visa seems to have been effectively lifted?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we did put out some comments after the briefing because we had a number of questions. The United States welcomes any reforms that allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely, which is obviously a right that’s provided to everyone under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to be able to come and go from your own country or any other country.
We are also committed to safe, legal, and orderly migration from Cuba to the U.S. in accordance with our bilateral agreements of 1994 and 1995. We continue to support purposeful travel that enhances contact between the Cuban and the American people. I don’t have anything new to say with regard to trends since we put out these statements on Friday. Obviously, if we start to see changes in patterns, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Can I just – we’ve got some early reaction that seems to say that even opponents of the regime seem to be getting their – this seems to be respectful of them as well. Is that what you guys are seeing as well?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on metrics over the last two days. You’re talking about how many more Cubans are able to travel now?
QUESTION: And just that they don’t seem to be excluding regime opponents as has happened with previous exit requirements.
MS. NULAND: I frankly think it’s too early to tell. This went into effect on the 14th. And then just to remind that even though the exit visa requirement has been lifted, there are still requirements to enable Cuban citizens to get passports. Most of them who had passports were required to renew them in the context of this. So I think it’s – we just have to see how it proceeds. But I don’t think two days is enough of a test, obviously.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? I mean, why can’t you speak to trends? I mean, clearly over the last – during the course of this Administration, you’ve seen, even as slight as it may be, an upward kind of trajectory in terms of some of reforms that are taking place in the country. And don’t you think you should be encouraging these reforms rather than kind of giving them not significant weight? I mean, clearly more needs to be done, but you do seem to be downplaying the trends.
MS. NULAND: I think I started this conversation by saying that we welcome any reform, including this one, that makes it easier for Cubans to travel. But having – this having come into force on the 14th, I’m not in a position here on the 17th to evaluate whether the Cubans – whether the Cuban Government is really honoring its commitment to allow more people to travel.
QUESTION: I’m not talking specifically only about this event. But if you take it in totality with some of the other economic reforms and other types of political reforms that are taking place on the island, I mean, wouldn’t you say that there is an upward trajectory in terms of reforms?
MS. NULAND: I think we would say that it is still one of the most repressive places in terms of its human rights record, in terms of its restrictions on its citizens, in terms of speech, assembly, political rights, et cetera. But we welcome any liberalization and we hope that this will turn out to be one such.
QUESTION: Any reaction to the delay in releasing George Abdallah by France?
MS. NULAND: We spoke to this last week – I don’t think I have anything further – that we had deep concerns about this. You mean – or you’re talking about the release of – you mean, him actually coming out?
QUESTION: They are delaying the release.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any specifics to go through here. You can speak to the French Government. I think there were also some concerns on their side as well.
QUESTION: On Syria. Syria’s prime minister is going to be in Tehran tomorrow for talks. Any reaction to that meeting? Is that any further concern?
MS. NULAND: I wasn’t aware of that visit. But we’ve been saying all along that obviously Iran is actively aiding and abetting the Assad regime and its brutality with advisors, with money, with training, with materiel. So presumably, they’re off to see their last remaining major patron on the planet for more help with their horrific action against their own citizens.
QUESTION: More on --
QUESTION: Syria? I mean --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please, Andy. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick one. Over the weekend, there was more discussion of opposition assertions that Syrians had used Scuds again, and I believe NATO had confirmed this use of Scud-type missiles. I’m wondering if you had any more detailed information on the use of them, and particularly where they might be targeted. It’s suggested this is the first time they’re being used on the outskirts of Damascus.
MS. NULAND: Beyond the NATO statement confirming the use of Scuds, I can’t get into any details here, Andy, without getting into intelligence. What I would say is that over the weekend we saw the regime escalate its brutality against its people, notably with airstrikes in the suburbs of Damascus as well as in Azaz, Daraa, Daraya, Deir-al-Zour, Ghouta, Moadamiyeh. And we have been horrified to learn that many of the Syrians who were killed over the weekend by the regime’s aerial bombardment were children. We were also deeply saddened to hear of the death of one local coordinating committee member and activist Ahmad al Kusa, who was killed by a sniper last week while delivering bread to refugees in Yarmouk. So again, this just speaks to the kinds of tactics and techniques that the Assad regime continues to use against its people.
QUESTION: So while you’re talking about airstrikes on the suburbs of Damascus, we’re not at this point saying whether or not these are Scud – Scuds were aimed at the outskirts of Damascus as well?
MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to say any more on the use of Scuds, beyond that we can confirm them. These strikes I was talking about from Damascus were from helicopters and fixed-wing primarily.
QUESTION: So the ICC --
QUESTION: On India and Pakistan.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. Back here. Still on Syria?
MS. NULAND: Still on Syria? No.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: Sorry. The United – I believe there’s a call at the UN Security Council coming up today to bring Syria before the ICC for – to investigate the regime for possible war crimes. Could you speak to that please? Would that be something Washington would support, even though you’re not a member of the ICC?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we are aware of these calls by a number of countries requesting that the Security Council consider this referral. We share the view, as we’ve said all along, that those who are guilty of atrocities need to face justice, that the Syrian people are going to have to decide when this conflict is over how to take that forward. And we are, as you know, working through the Friends of the Syrian People to strengthen their ability to record atrocities, to create records, so that people can be held accountable later and so that they can document the evidence that’ll be necessary for judicial proceedings in the future.
That said, as a practical matter, given the situation in the Security Council, it’s pretty hard to imagine how a referral’s going to be likely, given that it requires consensus.
QUESTION: Also, Toria, don’t you think – I mean, in the past, like, one of the views has been that a referral from the ICC could possibly dis-incentivize members of his inner circle or even, in fact, him from leaving the country, because they’d be afraid of being indicted.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think, again, as I’ve said, the Security Council would have to be unanimous in its willingness to take this action. We’ve not seen the Security Council unanimous on much with regard to Syria.
Look, he and his inner circle are going to face justice. They’re going to face accountability, assuming that they survive this. It’s just a question of where and how the Syrian people decide to take that forward with the support of the international community. It’s in that context that we have been urging, for more than a year, that those who are still supporting him peel off, abandon him now, if they do not support what’s going on.
QUESTION: So despite all these meetings with the Russians, the three Bs meetings, you still have no hope, essentially, of having any agreement with the Russians on ways forward in Syria?
MS. NULAND: We talked about this yesterday – we talked about this on Friday to some extent. What we are working on in the Brahimi context doesn’t have to do with this accountability track, which is a separate matter. It has to do with trying to take the outlines of the Geneva ideas for a transitional government and actually implement them and support the Syrian opposition in a way forward.
As I said on Friday, we’ll have to see where this goes. We think that having these – continuing to have these meetings with the Russians is worthwhile, in support of Brahimi in the first instance, but also in the hopes of concerting views about how we can get from where we are now, which is an agreement on paper about how this would work, to actually trying to support implementation of it.
QUESTION: But on accountability, between you and the Russians, we can just forget it, essentially?
MS. NULAND: Look, our hope is that we can concert views on the way forward and that’ll positively influence the rest of the scenario. But if you’re asking me whether we’re expecting an ICC referral in the next couple of days, I’m saying I wouldn’t hold my breath based on where we are.
QUESTION: To that, what is happening with the clearinghouse, with the accountability clearinghouse that we’re funding? Are we getting reports in? How is it being categorized? Are you gathering evidence? Will you take it to the UN? What’s the progress with that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have both a bricks and mortar clearinghouse effort based in France, and then we have a virtual effort to establish websites, et cetera, so that Syrians can present evidence into this central file. We also have a quite significant effort to help train Syrians on how to document these kinds of things, what’s necessary for cases.
I can get you a more detailed briefing on the progress that we’ve made over the last nine months if you’d like that, Dana.
QUESTION: That would be helpful.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We’ll get some folks to get you some background on that.
QUESTION: Toria, there is a report – it’s a Saudi report, just one – about Assad supposedly being – operating from a ship offshore. Do you know anything about that? And can you tell us, where do you think he actually – he and his family actually are?
MS. NULAND: We don’t have any information to confirm that report. We continue to believe that they are in Damascus.
QUESTION: On India-Pakistan, what is the Department’s sense of the status of relations between India and Pakistan now? And has there been any further phone calls to officials in both countries from here, from this building?
MS. NULAND: Well, our understanding is that the high-level discussions between India and Pakistan continue to try to work through the violence on the line of control, try to reestablish calm and accountability there. We are continuing, as we have been for the last week, to encourage both sides to talk to each other.
QUESTION: And you are satisfied what the situation is there?
MS. NULAND: We are pleased to see that they are talking to each other at a high level. We think that’s the right way to work it through.
QUESTION: Toria, U.S. Ambassador to Yemen yesterday, Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, said – accused Iran of destabilizing the region by helping the Yemeni separatists in the southern part, and – how long has the Administration known this? How long has this been going on, if known? And what has been done about it?
MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t improve on what Ambassador Feierstein had to say about Iran’s nefarious activities. We’ve been pretty clear here at all levels that Iran is playing a destabilizing role throughout the region. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into details that might take me into intelligence.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about your conversations with the local government? Are they doing anything about it?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we have an intensive effort to stabilize the Government of Yemen. We have an intensive counterterrorist – terrorism effort together. And obviously, we work together on any efforts that we see to destabilize the Hadi government, to take Yemen backwards or to further destabilize it through terrorist activities. But beyond that, I’m not going to get into details here.
QUESTION: I have one last one. I realize you’ve been up there a while. But on Myanmar, there’s been violence and I wanted to get your thoughts. Apparently, civilians were killed when this Kachin rebel town was bombed. And just on – is this a worrying trend for Myanmar, given all the investment you guys have put into their democracy and human rights building effort?
MS. NULAND: Well, we did talk about this a couple of times last week, Brad. We are troubled by the increased violence in Kachin State. We have been working both with the Government of Burma and with the Kachin Independence Organization to encourage both sides to halt the violence, to get into dialogue with each other. As you know, in a number of these other separatist areas, the Government of Burma has had success in getting into a dialogue about grievances and working things politically. That’s what we want to see in Kachin as well.
And as you know, we have consistently raised concerns about human rights violations and other things in minority areas, and we continue to urge the Government of Burma to allow unhindered access to civilians in need of assistance by UN agencies, et cetera.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Burma itself --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- over the weekend, there was a demonstration outside the State Department by people of Kachin Alliance, which is a party of Kachin Americans here. And they have written also a letter to President Obama asking him to review U.S. position on sanctions on Burma. Is the Administration or the Department reviewing its own decision of lifting some of the sanctions against Burma?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any changes to U.S. policy to announce. You know that when we lifted the sanctions that we did lift, we made clear that it was conditional on continued progress. As I said, this is one of the issues that we are working on now, the issue of violence in Kachin State, and frankly, we are trying to urge restraint on both sides in this conflict.
QUESTION: And do you believe this is a step backward by the Burmese Government?
MS. NULAND: Again, there’s been violence on and off in Kachin for a very, very long time. What we want to see is Kachin follow the same model that we’ve seen in other minority areas of Burma where the government and the --
QUESTION: Ethnic groups?
MS. NULAND: -- ethnic groups have been able to get into dialogue about a path forward, about addressing economic and political grievances. That’s what we want to see in Kachin as well, and we’ve been urging an end to the violence on both sides.
QUESTION: About pollution in China, which has reached --
MS. NULAND: Well beyond crazy bad? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- well beyond crazy bad levels. But there’s still a discrepancy. Even though the Chinese have now posted a figure which would put it at an unhealthy level, the air pollution index being operated by the U.S. Embassy is much higher. It’s about – it’s almost not quite double. But I just wondered if there have been any communications between the Chinese authorities and your Embassy because of the differences in figures now, given that there seems to be quite a lively debate in some parts of the Chinese media about this pollution issue.
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’ve been, as you know, monitoring the smog levels in Beijing for some time. We put it out on Twitter. I think one of the things that’s good to see is that as of December, the Chinese Government itself has decided to monitor smog levels and publicize the results in some 74 cities. So that’s a significant start in terms of taking care of the health and welfare of their own people on this issue.
Obviously, we have a broad and deep conversation about environmental issues not only in China and in the U.S., but around the world. So this is something that we will continue to work on, and we are always open to sharing information about how we arrive at our data if we’re interested in it. But just being transparent to their own public is a good step, responding positively to the Chinese people’s request for more information.
QUESTION: They haven’t made any representations to the Embassy to take down their Twitter feed on it?
MS. NULAND: They have asked some questions about how we come up with our number. But we will continue to do what we do.
QUESTION: What do you do for U.S. consular staff or Embassy staff in Beijing when they reach these hazardous levels? What’s your advice to your own citizens?
MS. NULAND: Well, not only to our own government employees, but also to U.S. citizens in China, one of the reasons that we started publicizing these numbers was so people could be aware and so that they could make their own decisions when you were in dangerously high levels about whether to stay home, whether to send their kids to school, et cetera. But now the Chinese Government is also following suit, so that is a positive development, and we’ll see where it goes.
Lalit, last one, and then we’re going to wrap it up here.
QUESTION: Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, is in New York this week to attend a UN Security Council meeting. Are there any plans for her to come here and meet the Secretary?
MS. NULAND: She’s not coming to Washington, to my knowledge. I do believe that one of the deputies is going up to see her. Let – I will check into that. We’ll get back to you.
Okay. Thanks very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)
DPB # 9