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1:06 p.m. EST
I have one statement at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds. This is with regard to the deadly attack on the University of Aleppo yesterday. The United States is appalled and saddened by the Syrian regime’s deadly attack yesterday on the University of Aleppo, which reportedly killed more than 80 people and injured more than 150. According to eyewitnesses at the scene, regime planes launched aerial strikes on university facilities. We understand that most of the victims of this tragedy were students and refugees who had been housed at the university.
We condemn this despicable attack on unarmed civilians and continue to emphasize that those responsible for unlawful killings and other violations of international law will be identified and held accountable. Our sympathies and condolences go out to all those devastated by this senseless tragedy. The Syrian people have already endured too much loss as a result of the Assad regime’s relentless attacks on its own people.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Before we get back to Syria, as I’m sure you will, can you just address, if you can, these reports about Americans being among the foreigners held hostage in Algeria?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying that we condemn in strongest terms the terrorist attack on British Petroleum personnel and facilities at In Amenas, Algeria earlier today. We are obviously closely monitoring the situation. We’re in contact with Algerian authorities and our diplomatic counterparts in Algiers, as well as with BP’s security office in London.
The best information that we have at this time is that U.S. citizens are among the hostages. I hope you will understand that in order to protect their safety, I’m not going to get into numbers, I’m not going to get into names, I’m not going to get into any further details as we continue to work on this issue with the Algerian authorities and also with their employers.
Let me also say that the Secretary has spoken to our Ambassador in Algiers, Ambassador Ensher today. And as I was coming down here, she was on the phone with Algerian Prime Minister Sellal.
QUESTION: I appreciate you don’t want to get into many details, but other governments don’t seem to have a problem confirming the number of their citizens that they believe to be there, so I’m just curious as to why that would pose – or do they not care about their citizens as much as the U.S. does?
MS. NULAND: We will leave it to other governments to handle their citizens as they see fit. Beyond confirming that there are Americans among the hostages, I will ask you to respect our decision not to get into any further details as we try to secure these people.
QUESTION: What do you understand about the motivations behind the hostage taking? Some of the militants have said that this is in retaliation for the French efforts in Mali, and the U.S. has been supportive of that effort. Are they linked?
MS. NULAND: I wouldn’t presume to get inside the heads of the kind of people who would do this.
QUESTION: So there has been no request made to the U.S.? I mean, the hostages aren’t asking things of the U.S. Government at this time? Or the hostage takers, excuse me.
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into any further details on our efforts with regard to this than I already have.
QUESTION: Victoria, are you enhancing security measures around the Embassy in Algiers?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we always do in these circumstances, our Embassy has issued an emergency message to U.S. citizens, encouraging them to review their personal security. We’re obviously taking the appropriate measures at the Embassy as well.
QUESTION: You mean a Warden Message, or is this something different?
MS. NULAND: It’s an emergency message that goes out in the context of a specific incident.
All right. Moving on.
QUESTION: Going back to Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You did your statement based on the witnesses. Have you been able to confirm with your own intelligence, satellite photos, or any other intelligence about the University of Aleppo bombings?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to get into intelligence information here, but we have complete confidence in the statement that I just made with regard to the regime’s culpability in this act.
QUESTION: You condemn in strong terms these bombings. Obviously, this is the U.S. stance for about two years. These kind of condemnations are usually met by, nowadays, despair or disappointment by the Syrians or activists or others, as you are well aware that the situation is continuing on the ground at a stalemate. My question again, events like this, incidents like this, making you-- urging you to change any kind of policy on the ground right now?
MS. NULAND: We remain committed to the policy we have been pursuing, which, as you know, is a combination of increasing the pressure on the Assad regime with our allies and partners through sanctions as well as supporting the efforts of the opposition, both to unite the country and also to come up with an effective transition plan, even as we provide as much humanitarian aid as we can to those who are suffering, including in the north and in the area of Aleppo.
QUESTION: Toria, there was a news report the other day about an alleged chemical weapons attack in late December in Homs. The White House put out a statement saying that the information it had gathered wasn’t consistent with the analysis that it was a chemical weapons attack. What is your understanding of what occurred in Homs in late December?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me be a little bit more definitive in the light of day here than we were able to be yesterday. Let me start by setting a frame here, first that our embassies and our consulates in the region routinely receive information from third parties about activities in Syria. This information is obviously reported back to Washington.
With regard to the way Foreign Policy reported this, without getting into classified cables, let me simply say it did not – that report from Foreign Policy did not accurately convey the anecdotal information that we had received from a third party regarding an alleged incident in Syria in December. At the time, we looked into the allegations that were made and the information that we had received, and we found no credible evidence to corroborate or to confirm that chemical weapons were used.
We obviously will continue to monitor Syria’s proliferation-sensitive materials and facilities, and we have been absolutely consistent and clear, from the President on down, that our redlines – we have a redline with regard to use of chemical weapons or their proliferation. If the Assad regime makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons or fails to meet its obligations to secure them, there will be consequences and the regime will be held accountable.
QUESTION: Was riot gas or some other agent used that might not constitute chemical weapons but was something that people might have seen as – experienced as a chemical attack?
MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to speculate whether tear gas might have been mistaken for something else. I, frankly, can’t do that. But I can confirm that, when we looked into this, we found no credible evidence to corroborate or confirm chemical weapons.
QUESTION: When the report came out yesterday, unless I’m mistaken, I don’t believe there was a U.S. Government comment included in it. I mean, if – when Foreign Policy came to you, as I imagine they did, and asked you about this, did you not see fit to try to knock it down before it exploded?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know --
QUESTION: Who was up last night dealing with this? I know I wasn’t.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, exactly. Let me just say that when the report first started circulating, first of all, it was based on a classified cable. The White House did put out some information that was endeavoring to knock it down. As you know, sometimes it takes us a little bit of time to assemble all of the information that we had at the time. So that is allowing us to be even more definitive today than we were last night with regard to the backdrop for this.
But it is a responsibility of our embassies and consulates around the world, no matter what kind of anecdotal information you have, to report it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that either at the time or over the longer term it is considered credible by us.
QUESTION: Just two brief ones on this. One, when you said, “At the time, we looked into the allegations,” this is in the – before the cable arrived? Or if you don’t even want to say – admit the existence of the cable, was it contemporaneous with the public reports that were coming out shortly after Christmas? Is that when it was looked into? Or was it looked into, again, last week?
MS. NULAND: Without getting too much into classified detail, suffice to say that we are permanently monitoring the situation with regard to chemical weapons in Syria. When this particular message came in from Consulate Istanbul, we took it seriously, as we do with all such anecdotal reporting, and concluded at the time that we couldn’t corroborate it. We haven’t been able to corroborate it since, either.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: And can you say – the second – the reason that you’re able to be more definitive today than last night is that – I’m asking this – but is it because things have been declassified that you’re now able to talk about that you – the Administration might not have been able to talk about publicly last night?
MS. NULAND: Suffice it to say that there was intelligence involved here, and that always takes us some time to work through when it has to come to the podium.
QUESTION: All right. And then my third one is: Do you have any reason to believe – forget about this incident – that the regime has used chemical weapons?
MS. NULAND: No.
QUESTION: Here or – none?
MS. NULAND: None.
QUESTION: Victoria, my question is that: It was asserted time and again in the past that when the regime uses chemical weapons, you will know for sure, you have your ways, and so on, whether from this podium, or others. Why would something come out on the basis of anecdotal information and then be pulled out as evidence in this case?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to A) who would’ve spoken to a journalist about a classified cable, and B) why the journalist would’ve printed something that was three removes away from us and anecdotal. You’ll have to talk to him.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Just follow-up again. Last week the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said, quote, “U.S. can’t stop Syrian chemical weapon attack, or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons will be almost unachievable.” Is this your stance, that there is nothing basically you can do to stop using chemical weapons by the regime?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen the quote that you’re citing, so I’m not sure about its accuracy. We have made absolutely clear, in a deterrent capacity, that there will be consequences if this is either used or if control of it is lost by the regime. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into intelligence information here.
QUESTION: Toria, I just --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- wanted to follow-up a little bit. The Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Lavrov, said that they are confident whatever weapons are in two locations. Do you concur? Do you share information with them on the storage facilities of chemical weapons?
MS. NULAND: Well, I will say that we do work with a number of countries around the world to compare information and monitor the stockpiles in Syria. We obviously have had conversations with the Russians and others on this issue in the past, and we will continue to do so. I’m not going to get into the details of intelligence information here.
QUESTION: Okay. If I may --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: If I may follow up on this point.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Like the Iranian nuclear program, it is alleged to be split over dozens and dozens of sites. Do you feel that the chemical weapons in Syria are also spread over dozens of sites?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into classified information with regard to the chemical weapons program in Syria here.
QUESTION: Yeah. Syria and Iran have agreed a one billion credit facility between their banks. How do you view this agreement?
MS. NULAND: Well, you can imagine how we view it, Michel. We’ve been concerned for more than a year now about the Iranian regime’s aiding and abetting of the Assad regime, whether it’s in financial terms, whether it’s in terms of military training, whether it’s in terms of material support. The Iranian Government’s position has showed its complete disregard for the lives and the well being of the Syrian people, and they are continuing to pursue this bankrupt policy that is endangering not only the Syrian people but the region as a whole.
Before we leave Syria --
QUESTION: I have one.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I just want to go back to Arshad’s point for a second, because I am a little confused, because it does appear that there were several hours where this report was allowed to fester, kind of – well, fester might be the wrong word. It was allowed to circulate and continue to be unchallenged. If, in fact, it was the opinion of the Administration, why did you not get in touch with the people who published this and tell them that it was wrong and that they needed to fix it, and have you since?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think --
QUESTION: Because it – the story continues to exist without – as far as I know, without any appended – any changes to it.
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into how we work with individual journalists. I don’t think if you were on the receiving end of that, you would want it sprayed out from the podium here. But as we have often said in working with --
QUESTION: No, well --
MS. NULAND: Can I finish?
MS. NULAND: --with various of you, sometimes we ask for more time to get our ducks in a row, and sometimes we are granted that by members of the fourth estate, and sometimes we are not. So we were able to give the response that we had last night, but I am able to give a more full answer here today. And had the journalist waited for a more full answer, he would have had it.
QUESTION: Well, but that would have entailed waiting until today, correct?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Well, that’s not really an – why couldn’t you have gotten your – and I’m – I don’t want to get into your personal or whoever’s personal dealings with the reporter or the publication in question, but it just seems to me if they weren’t told, if you weren’t able to tell them what the actual truth about it was, I’m not sure why you singled them out. The publication wasn’t named by – in the original question. You brought it up and you seem to be trying to cast --
MS. NULAND: I think you’re --
QUESTION: -- some kind of – (laughter). Well, I’m just trying to figure out why the Administration, on something as sensitive as this, and which would have such profound foreign policy and military implications, wouldn’t make the strongest cases possible – i.e. the case that you’re making this afternoon – last night.
QUESTION: Or even the line that you guys put out last night, which was something of a knockdown, although not as definitive as the one that you’ve given.
MS. NULAND: Guys, I think you put your finger on it earlier. Sometimes, there is classified information involved that has to be worked through before we can talk about things publicly. We had asked for some time. We didn’t get that time. We were able to do what we could last night, and we are doing more today. That’s all I’ve got on this one.
Just one more on Syria before we leave Syria. I just wanted to advise that yesterday, Secretary Clinton had a chance to speak with Syrian Opposition Coalition President Moaz al-Khatib. This was her first conversation with him. As you know, she had hoped to see him at the Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Morocco. Deputy Secretary Burns made that trip in her place, so she wanted to open a channel of direct contact with him.
They obviously discussed the latest developments in Syria. She conveyed our continuing support for the work that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is doing to try to unify the opposition and to work on a transition plan. She particularly commended the work that they’ve done to stand up an assistance coordination unit, which we and other governments are working closely with to try to channel our assistance to better meet the needs of the Syrian people. She also took the opportunity to reiterate her invitation for the SOC leadership to visit Washington in the near future.
Moving on? Yeah. Still on Syria?
QUESTION: Still on Syria.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Following up on Michel’s point on the – apparently the loan, the Iranian loan to the Syrian Government, is that an indication that the Syrian regime is rapidly running out of resources to sustain itself?
MS. NULAND: Well, it is certainly our analysis that they are rapidly running through the reserves of the government to fuel their brutal campaign against their own people, and this is just further theft of the patrimony of the country in a desperate effort to stay in power. So they are reaching out to the few friends they have left, Iran being the main supporter for cash now. And it’s very clear what’s going on financially there.
QUESTION: And lastly, have you had a chance since yesterday to look at the – more clearly at what happened at the University of Aleppo, and who was responsible for the attack on the University of Aleppo?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure which particular incident you’re talking about (inaudible).
QUESTION: There was an attack yesterday at the – on the university, where apparently dozens were killed, and --
MS. NULAND: Did you – were you not here at the top when I read out our statement condemning that attack?
QUESTION: I understand, but have you – do you have clearer picture as to who was responsible for it?
MS. NULAND: We believe the regime was responsible through aerial attack, as I said in the statement.
QUESTION: Although it falls under the regime’s control. I mean, it’s in an area that was under their control.
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the bombing of Aleppo University? Yeah, I think were pretty clear in the statement that I read out.
QUESTION: I just need to clarify two things on the Algeria – this is stuff that you already said.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said that the Secretary was speaking to, as you came down, the prime minister or the foreign minister?
MS. NULAND: The prime minister.
QUESTION: Okay – of Algeria.
MS. NULAND: Mr. Sellal.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. And then when you said that you understand that U.S. citizens are among the hostages, that understanding comes from your conversations with the Algerians and the BP security office? Is that correct?
MS. NULAND: I didn’t actually connect those dots there.
QUESTION: Well, they were right – one right after the other --
MS. NULAND: I understand.
QUESTION: -- so that’s why I want to know.
MS. NULAND: I understand. What I said was that our information is that Americans are among the hostages.
MS. NULAND: And then I went on to say that we are in contact with Algerian authorities, with our diplomatic counterparts in Algiers, as well as with BP’s security office.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, actually, I think that you said you were in contact with Algeria and BP before you said we understand, but I might be wrong. But anyway, I just want clarify, can you say how it is that you understand that Americans are among the hostages?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into any further detail here.
QUESTION: One more quick on Syria. I know you told little bit about the Turkish delegation yesterday (inaudible) meeting. Is there any way you can tell is a little more? We know that Syria was one of the main topics discussed yesterday.
MS. NULAND: Well, Ilhan, I think we did a pretty full readout of that set of meetings.
QUESTION: It was before the meeting.
MS. NULAND: As you know, we spend a lot of time working with our Turkish allies on the situation in Syria. We talk about the full range of issues from the humanitarian situation inside the country, the humanitarian situation in Turkey and the support that Turkey needs. Obviously, we’ve just – we’re in the process of deploying the Patriot batteries in Turkey to protect against missiles from Syria. We obviously are working on assistance to the opposition, on strengthening the opposition’s transition plan, and in supporting Special Envoy Brahimi. So you can be sure that all of those issues came up.
QUESTION: You released a fact sheet last week about your humanitarian aid. A report released by the Migration Policy Institute a couple days ago was also arguing on this point about the humanitarian situation. One of the responsible people from this institute, Ambassador Abramowitz, was talking about that the U.S. spent about 200 million, and country like Turkey spent about 1 billion U.S. dollars. Do you think 200 millions over this kind of misery about millions of people is – lives up to the U.S. Government humanitarian aid?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we’re over 200 million now. It’s close to 220. We are the largest international donor to the UN effort. We are continuing to look at how we can continue to support the UN going forward. We are obviously all, in the international community, enormously grateful to Turkey, to Jordan, to other countries that are providing refuge for those fleeing the conflict in Syria. We have, throughout this, been working with Turkey bilaterally as well to provide all support that they may need, and we will continue to be prepared to do that.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. Were you still, Samir, on Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: On the Secretary’s meeting with the Saudi Minister of Interior, did you talk about it earlier?
MS. NULAND: I did not.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout, please, about the talks?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have much beyond saying that His Royal Highness was here for a round of meetings in Washington, he comes regularly, that it was a good opportunity for the two of them to discuss all of the hot issues in the region, as they always do.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Madam, there is still anger on the streets of India and also in the Indian military as far as the tension between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir border. What military is saying now, enough is enough, and they have given last and final warning to Pakistan, but also they are demanding the remains or the heads of those Indian soldiers.
But what people are saying, and political system in India is now under pressure for the first time in 63 years since it’s independent, that, again, enough is enough with Pakistan, and India should have the right and should go inside Pakistan against those terrorists who are hurting and killing Indians inside India, and those terrorists are wanted for a long time – they are inside Pakistan – as far as Mumbai attacks and on-the-border attacks.
Is U.S. – what is the U.S. reaction on this if India has to go and attack those terrorist sites inside Pakistan?
MS. NULAND: Our view on this, Goyal, has not changed. We’ve talked about this a number of times over the past week. We are concerned about the spate of violence along the Line of Control. We are encouraged, though, that senior levels in the Indian and Pakistani Government have been talking directly about how to calm the situation and how to address the concerns. We were happy, just in the last 24 hours, to see both governments recommit to dialogue as the right way forward on this, and that’s what we support.
QUESTION: Pakistan Foreign Minister Madam Khar was or is still in New York. If anybody had any talk with her as far as this situation is concerned?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I mentioned yesterday that her senior meeting with U.S. Government officials was with Ambassador Rice at the UN yesterday, so I’ll refer you to USUN for a readout on that.
Going to --
QUESTION: And one on Pakistan, if you don’t mind, please?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, last one. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The situation is very bad in Pakistan, and what people are saying in Pakistan, the news media and the analysis, that the situation goes back to during General Musharraf’s takeover and military rule in Pakistan. Also, many people say in Pakistan that it may be linked to 1971 when Bangladesh was created. The situation is so bad that – and Prime Minister of Pakistan is going to be arrested by the Supreme – I mean, on the order of Supreme Court.
What do you think – what is the future of political system in Pakistan? And now, for the last five years or more, this government has been going on as a democracy in Pakistan.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Goyal, we had quite a bit to say about this situation yesterday. Fundamentally, this is an issue for Pakistanis to resolve. They’ve got to resolve their internal political issues in a just and transparent way. Just to say again, Pakistan has an established electoral process; it’s outlined in the constitution. That needs to be respected. And we support civilian democracy in Pakistan going forward.
QUESTION: And finally, just quick one, because of this --
MS. NULAND: Goyal, you really got a lot today. We need to let some of your colleagues have an opportunity here.
QUESTION: I’m so sorry. Just a quick one. Because of this strange situation, because I’m worried about Pakistan because of – I talked to the people there and here. What I’m asking you: Do you fear another military coup because of this ongoing situation and demonstrations?
MS. NULAND: I think I just stated our view that this needs to be solved democratically and under the constitution.
QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.
QUESTION: After Goyal, I just – I have a simple question.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. It’s simple after the complex questions that Goyal put forward? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Very complicated.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The latest is that Pakistani Foreign Minister, who is in New York, she has offered India and she has proposed that foreign ministers of the two countries should talk out this situation and address this latest tension in Kashmir. What is your reaction to that?
MS. NULAND: We favor dialogue between India and Pakistan on this issue in any and all channels that both governments consider appropriate. That’s the right way to work through this.
QUESTION: Has there been any other phone calls from this building beside that being done by the ambassadors?
MS. NULAND: You mean with regard to the Line of Control issues?
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
MS. NULAND: I think I mentioned that both of our ambassadors have been active --
QUESTION: Beyond --
MS. NULAND: -- our Ambassador in Delhi and our Ambassador in Islamabad. I don’t have any further information about phone calls from this building.
Last one on this one, go ahead.
QUESTION: And has – one more. Has Secretary herself reviewed the situation after the last week’s --
MS. NULAND: She is very well aware of the situation.
QUESTION: Has there been a meeting between Pakistani Foreign Minister and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice?
MS. NULAND: I think I just mentioned that they met yesterday, and I refer you to USUN for the readout.
QUESTION: And this particular question of Pakistan-India tensions come up?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to USUN. We were not participating here in that meeting.
Anything else? Please.
QUESTION: Yes, Egypt.
MS. NULAND: Egypt, yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you were pretty clear that you wanted to see President Morsi repudiate his comments himself. You mentioned that there was a CODEL there in town. They met with President Morsi yesterday and they expressed their displeasure, according to the members of the CODEL.
MS. NULAND: I think it was today they’re meeting.
QUESTION: Well, then maybe the meeting was today.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: But they were there yesterday as well. Anyway, apparently there’s an Egyptian presidential spokesman has come out and said that President Morsi’s comments made – when he made them were taken out of context and that he was not referring to individuals or races of people but rather to racist policies of a country. Is that the kind of repudiation you’re looking for?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to say to you, Matt, that I frankly haven’t seen what President Morsi’s spokesperson has said, so let me – nor have I had a readout on the CODEL’s meeting with him.
MS. NULAND: So let us just pledge to you that we’ll get an update on Egypt for tomorrow.
QUESTION: Well, okay, but --
QUESTION: Could you get that one today?
QUESTION: If that’s --
MS. NULAND: Let me see if we have anything further to share today.
QUESTION: If that’s what – I mean, if that’s what they’re going to say and they think that that’s case closed, basically, is that your view? I mean, would that be a sufficient repudiation for you to no longer have concerns about the statements?
MS. NULAND: Again, I haven’t seen it so I can’t evaluate it, nor have I had a chance --
QUESTION: You mean you’re not going to trust me on this one? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: You know, Matt, I generally trust you, but I think I’m going to get a sense of how our Embassy understood it and what follow-up action that they’ve had.
Anything else? All right --
QUESTION: Well, no, wait. There was one – there was a question yesterday about the Palestinian – about some E1 activity, and then I had a question. It was about the South Hebron Hills. Did you – was there an answer to the second part? I know the E1 question was answered yesterday.
MS. NULAND: With regard to Hebron Hills, this is with regard to the hearings --
MS. NULAND: -- that are ongoing at the Israeli High Court of Justice. We’re obviously aware of the hearings. We’re watching that situation closely. The hearings are ongoing, as you know.
QUESTION: And I – okay, understandably, but – and I understand that this is also in the Israeli legal system right now. But do you have any opinion on whether these evictions are legal or even – or do they – would they fall under the category of unilateral action that would be a provocative act?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think it’s going to be appropriate to comment here on an ongoing legal case in Israel while it’s ongoing.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Is there any current engagement for Mr. Hale with the Palestinians at the present time?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, he was out in the region --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. NULAND: -- last week. He had a full round of consultations including having a chance to see President Abbas. He obviously stays in permanent contact with his Palestinian counterpart by phone, but I don’t have anything new to share there, Said.
Margaret, did you have something? No? Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just looking at some of the things coming out of Algeria right now, when you confirmed that there were Americans among those taken hostage, there are also reports of fatalities. Do you have any reason to believe that Americans are among those?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information on fatalities at all, Margaret. I’m sorry, and I don’t know what’s happened over the last hour while we’ve been here together.
QUESTION: The chief justice issue, do you have anything to add to it? The new chief justice has taken over. And following from yesterday’s question, would it have any impact on the U.S. aid to Sri Lanka?
MS. NULAND: We talked about the successor yesterday. We did look into the assistance situation. Just for your records, U.S. Government assistance for FY2012 for Sri Lanka was $27 million. This included 13.3 million in bilateral assistance programs which primarily related to peace and security, human rights, economic growth, and democracy programs. We have a 2013 request for 16.5 billion for Sri Lanka in the same – million, million, what did I say?
MS. NULAND: Million. In bilateral assistance for Sri Lanka. Frankly, Lalit, I will say that it is too soon to say what impact the actions will have on our foreign assistance for Sri Lanka going forward.
QUESTION: And have you received any response from the Sri Lankan Government explaining why did it take such a measure?
MS. NULAND: We are obviously in contact with them. I would not say that the explanations are satisfactory in terms of protecting democracy.
QUESTION: Just so we’re clear, when you say the actions, you mean specifically the impeachment of the chief justice?
MS. NULAND: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I just – I had to clarify one more thing, not on Algeria but this one on Syria, the chemical weapons report. You said that at the time of the incident or shortly thereafter, which is roughly the day – the 23rd of December to the end of the year, you – or the Administration concluded that there was not evidence or that there was no reason to think that chemical weapons were used. Was – the cable, as I understand it, the cable in question arrived in Washington after that, much more recently, like last week. Was there a reassessment of the initial finding of your initial judgment after the cable was received?
MS. NULAND: What I have is that we looked into the allegations at the time that we received the information, and the information was received in a number of different ways, including earlier. And at that time we found no credible evidence to corroborate or confirm that chemical weapons were used.
QUESTION: Okay. So just to be clear, when you say – when you first got the information, when this – would that – does that include the time that there were media reports and other things that were --
MS. NULAND: We’re slicing the salami awful thin. If I have anything more on the timeline --
QUESTION: No, I’m just trying to figure out, did the cable – did the cable that you got from Ankara – I mean from Istanbul – did that cause anyone to go back and look again to see whether the original assessment might have been wrong or might have been – whether there might need to be changes to --
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any evidence to indicate that the initial assessment was wrong.
QUESTION: No, no, no, I know.
MS. NULAND: I wouldn’t be using it today if --
QUESTION: Well, I know. I understand. But there’s no – but do you know if it was looked at again? In other words, by the time this cable arrived in Washington, this information – this had already been looked at and dismissed; is that correct?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a precise timeline. I know that there was initially some email information, then there was a formal cable. That happens a lot. How much time elapsed between and when precisely we looked into it, I don’t have a tick-tock on that for you, Matt. I can look into it further if you’d like. What I will tell you is when we received the information, we looked into it, and we determined it was not credible.
QUESTION: Right. No, I got it. I guess the question is, and if you could get an answer to it that would be great, is that when the cable arrived, was it already known – the cable now – this classified cable –
MS. NULAND: Why is the physical cable of that much interest as compared to when the information arrived?
QUESTION: Because that was what was – that was what the report was based on.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let me see what I can --
QUESTION: So I just want to know if – and I don’t know if you can answer it or not. But by the time it arrived, had it already been concluded that what it described, that there was no evidence that this was a chemical weapons attack, or was that conclusion made after the cable?
MS. NULAND: I’ll see how finely I can slice this piece of salami for you, Matt. I don’t make any promises.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Lalit, Goyal, I think we’ve exhausted our topics for the day. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)