The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:03 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Friday. We are late. I apologize for that, but there were more interesting things going on at the White House with personnel announcements today. I have a bunch of things at the top.
I want to start by noting that our Reuters colleague and Arshad’s partner, Andy Quinn, is moving on after 25 years at Reuters and more than three years here at the State Department. He’s heading to the Aspen Institute to lead a new Africa-focused program. Those of you who are briefing regulars know that Andy is an extraordinary colleague, that he was completely committed to the story and to reporting it with integrity and with passion. He was also a joy to travel with and to be with. We’re going to miss you, Andy, but we’re very glad that you’re staying in the foreign policy realm and continuing to contribute internationally.
I have one other thing, which is with regard to the Jordanian parliamentary elections. We want to take this opportunity, since we didn’t brief yesterday right after the elections, to congratulate the people of Jordan on their January 23rd parliamentary elections. We view these elections as an important step in the ongoing reform process initiated by King Abdullah II. We note that international election observers found that the voting process saw an improvement over past elections and that the elections were conducted in a transparent and credible manner. But they also offered recommendations about continuing to improve Jordan’s electoral process going forward.
In particular, the observers praised the work of the independent electoral commission which administered these elections for the first time. We look forward to the Government and people of Jordan building on this milestone and carrying out additional political and economic reforms for the benefit of all Jordanians. Jordan is a vital strategic partner of the United States, and we will continue to support Jordan’s leadership and the Jordanian people in their reform process.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: One quick thing, Toria. Thanks so much for your comments about Andy. Speaking for myself, but I suspect also for my colleagues here and at Reuters, he really is an unusually elegant writer and a decent and thoroughly good-hearted man, and a very wry – with a very wry and gentle wit. And I will miss him.
Maybe we can go to substance, now that we’ve --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) say is that we’re going to miss Andy, I guess.
QUESTION: North Korea threatening to go to war with the South?
MS. NULAND: As you know, my colleague Jay Carney spoke to these issues yesterday. These statements coming out in North Korea are needlessly provocative. Any kind of further test would be another significant violation of UN Security Council resolutions and only will serve to further Pyongyang’s isolation. As you all know, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2087 earlier in the week in response to the December missile launch, and that resolution tightens the sanctions on North Korea and works hard to ensure that it cannot succeed as a proliferator of missile technology, et cetera.
And it’s just – it’s really a pretty sad story because the new North Korean leader has a choice to make, as the Secretary has said so many times. He can serve to focus on the needs of his people, to bring his country out of isolation and back into compliance with international obligations, open it back up to the world, or he can continue to waste what little money the country has on missile technologies and things while his people go hungry. So --
QUESTION: I have a question on that. The new leader is not all that new. I mean, you have a pattern of events that you can look at – the original failed test, the subsequent missile test that was successful, and now the threat to conduct a third nuclear test. Does it seem to you all now that he has made his choice and how – what kind of a strategy, a diplomatic strategy, can you pursue if he is not interested in serious talks about his nuclear and ballistic missile programs?
MS. NULAND: Well, you’re not wrong that the pattern of choices is concerning, which is why we felt very strongly that the international community – oh, we seem to have some guests. Hi, guys. Not sure who they were, but I think they were lost.
So again, the pattern of choices appears to be quite concerning. That’s why it’s been so important to keep the international community united in response to these negative choices, why we took the time we did to get it right with Resolution 2087, to make clear to North Korea that particularly the Six-Party states, including all of North Korea’s neighbors, are united in ensuring that there is a price to say, that there will be increasing sanctions, that we are going to be vigilant about their proliferation activity, the activities of their banks, and that it’s going to take the country in the wrong direction.
I think you know that Ambassador Glyn Davies is out in the region now. He is in Beijing today, had very productive and useful meetings with counterparts there, including Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying, his counterpart Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei, and others. He was in Seoul yesterday and he’s going on to Tokyo tomorrow. So very much a project to stay coordinated with our Six-Party counterparts in watching this and in ensuring that North Korea gets the message that nothing good is going to come from this.
QUESTION: And turn back to the China issue in this whole mix. Today, the Chinese press seemed to be suggesting that they’ve told North Korea that if it goes ahead with its nuclear test that they will actually – Beijing could cut its aid to Pyongyang. That seems to be an interesting move on the part of the Chinese. What would you have to say on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I didn’t see those particular comments. But we have, as you know, regularly encouraged Beijing to use the significant influence that it has with Pyongyang. They have, at various times, been able to make clear that the continued support of Beijing in terms of trade, aid, the energy relationship, et cetera, depends on North Korea making the right choices. Again, China joins strongly with us in Resolution 2087, which was important, and we, as Glyn Davies said – he had a very good visit to Beijing in terms of plotting the course forward together.
QUESTION: How important – if they go ahead and do something like that – how important could such a cut in Chinese aid to North Korea be in changing the calculations of the North Korean leadership?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t want to speculate on scenarios to be determined. But obviously, North Korea remains quite dependent on its aid and trade relationship with Beijing.
Jill, still on this?
QUESTION: Toria, are the Six-Party Talks off, as they seem to be indicating in the North Korean statement?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve made clear for more than a year now that the Six-Party Talks couldn’t go forward to a new round unless we saw real evidence that the DPRK was prepared to meet its obligations. So we’re still in the state that we’ve been for more than a year in terms of not having the kind of intent that we need to go forward.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Still on North Korea?
QUESTION: Still on North Korea.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please, here.
QUESTION: Do you – this time around, do you have any reason to believe the North Koreans will get that message and actually take astep on – well, make the – what you would call the right choice and actually open up to dialogue, or perhaps discontinue their programs or even do anything in the right direction?
MS. NULAND: Well, anybody who endeavored to be predictive about North Korean behavior is probably foolish. But what’s been important to us is strong unity among the Six-Party Talks countries, strong unity in the region about a positive course forward, and the fact that there will be consequences if they keep making bad choices.
QUESTION: One more?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: What types of consequences?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think --
QUESTION: Because there’s been few besides UN resolutions that haven’t changed their behavior. There hasn’t really been any significant consequences otherwise.
MS. NULAND: I would reject that, Brad. If you look at UN Security Council that was just passed, 2087, and go through it, and I would commend to you the fact sheet that USUN put out on this, it imposes new sanctions on North Korean companies and government agencies, including a broad range of sanctions against their space agency, which was responsible for the launch, as well as the Bank of East Land and several individuals in the North Korean system who had previously not been sanctioned. Six entities and four individuals will have their assets frozen and will be prohibited from engaging in financial transactions. This is UN sanctions, not just U.S. sanctions. There’s an updated list of nuclear and ballistic missile technology that’s going to be banned from transfer to or from the DPRK. I could continue. But --
QUESTION: Do you think there’s space to squeeze them further on the sanctions route, that this country which is perhaps the most heavily sanctioned in the world can still be – there’s still consequences along this sanctions route left?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, and we wouldn’t have put new sanctions on them if we didn’t think that they would be effective.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up quickly as far as North Korea’s missile technology or missiles are concerned. Despite UN Security Council resolutions or UN sanctions, international sanctions, still North Korea is continuing and not listening to the international community. So if China is with you, Madam, since China was always helping North Korea. But who else is behind this technology or behind North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think what we just have been through here is the fact that the international community now with this new resolution has spoken with one voice in putting on increasingly tough sanctions on the DPRK, including getting at the space agency, getting at the banks, naming individuals who had not previously been named, as contributing to taking the country in the wrong direction. And we will continue to look for further opportunities to make our views clear in this kind of a way if the DPRK doesn’t change course.
QUESTION: And when this new leader came in North Korea, everybody hoped that things will change to the right direction for the people of North Korea, but still they are going in the worst direction as far as the people are concerned.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we would certainly agree with that. I mean, as you know, we were a year ago engaged in trying to work out some kind of a food assistance deal, but we didn’t get the kind of assurance that we needed from the government that it was going to go to the right place. So it’s very disappointing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Does the United States have any separate plan for additional sanctions toward North Korea for the third nuclear test?
MS. NULAND: In response to the December test, what you will see and what you’ve seen in the last couple of days are U.S. decisions that implement the larger UN Security Council decisions in 2087. So you’re starting to see us put out our own sanctioning information to ensure that we are complying now in our own law with 2087.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The Israeli elections?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. I wonder if you have a reaction to the outcome of the election, the election result, and how is that likely to impact the peace process?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we said, whether it was – I guess it was on Tuesday before the election or on election day that Israel has a vibrant democracy. We are at the stage now, as you know, where we’re going to have to wait and see what the makeup of the Israeli Government is going to be and how it approaches the longstanding critical issues that we share. But we’ve been absolutely clear that as soon as the parties are ready, we want to make a renewed push to try to get them back to the table.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the new coalition is likely to be more inclined towards some sort of a peace resolution?
MS. NULAND: The new coalition which hasn’t yet been decided and announced?
QUESTION: I mean, there is – okay, let me rephrase that. Do you expect the new coalition to be more engaged in the peace process than the former one?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re not going to be evaluating a coalition that’s still trying to come together, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just – let’s follow up with another point.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I asked a former U.S. ambassador to Israel yesterday what is the overriding message of this Israeli election, and he said that the message to the Palestinians is that you are not on our radar screen. Do you see that as the case?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’ve had any indication from Israel that that is the case. As you know, before these elections there was – there were – there have been public statements from both Israelis and Palestinians that they want to try to get back to the table. And we’re going to try to work on those as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, did you find it reassuring that centrist movement performed better than expected and that parties that seem to be more hostile to the two-state peace solution performed worse than had been prognosticated?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think the wonderful thing about democracy is that the people get to speak, then politicians have to take the lessons from that and move forward. In the case of a system like Israel, they’ve got to form a government, and we’re not going to prejudge how the Israeli – those elected --
QUESTION: I’m not asking about the coalition. I’m just talking about what the Israeli people chose, what they voted for. Do you find that reassuring that they voted primarily for parties that agree or in broad brushstrokes agree with the principles you’ve espoused?
MS. NULAND: I think what we find reassuring is that Israel continues to be a democratic beacon out there in the world and to have a very vibrant system and process for ensuring that the people’s voices are heard in the political process. But how that’s going to translate in terms of either government formation or government policy is to be determined.
QUESTION: All right. But I’m asking you specifically about the peace process --
MS. NULAND: I understand, Brad, and I don’t think --
QUESTION: -- and there was a wide range of views regarding the – how peace should be pursued or not pursued or however. And do you find it reassuring that parties that seem – that want peace and that have publicly called for a two-state peace solution, according to the principles you’ve outlined, are in the driver’s seat?
MS. NULAND: Again, you can ask this question however many ways you want, Brad. I’m not going to comment or opine or speculate as to how the election results are going to --
QUESTION: Speculation? It’s just not even a speculation question.
MS. NULAND: Will you let me finish? How the election results are going to translate into either coalition formulation or the policies of the government, which are what will matter, obviously, until the Israelis have had a chance to make those decisions.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) a renewed push on that. You’re ready to make a – the Administration is ready to make a renewed push in the region for peace. Have you ideas on how to set that forward, where we talk about direct talks between the two sides, are we talking about another exchange of letters? What would it consist of it?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve always favored getting the parties to direct talks, to a table together, as quickly as we can. So we will continue to talk to both sides about what makes most sense and how quickly we can move.
QUESTION: Because I think there might have to be some kind of guarantees on both sides. I mean, obviously the Palestinians have long asked for the settlement building to be halted, and that would bring them back to the table. And on the Israeli side, there are also obviously similar conditions that they’d like to lay down. Do you see some kind of the United States facilitating some kind of conditions? How would it – how would it work?
MS. NULAND: Well, for decades, as you know, we have endeavored to facilitate this process however appears best based on where the parties are at the time. But I think again, at the stage that we’re at, which is three days after an Israeli election and before a new government is formed and we’ve had a chance to talk to them about policies going forward, I’m certainly not going to speculate on the how. We know where we want to go and we know where we believe they also want to go. If we can be helpful, we will continue to try.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Before we go on to Syria, I have one more question. What steps should the Palestinians take as a result of this election right now? What kind of thing do you urge them to do immediately?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to be, from this podium here, giving advice to one side or the other. You know the general principles that we’re speaking of here in terms of undergirding an environment for peace. I think we’ve spoken both in the Israeli context and in the Palestinian context about avoiding unilateral actions that could undercut the environment for peace. That’s still our message for both sides as we get to a place where we’ve got interlocutors who are ready to talk.
QUESTION: And finally, I know the Secretary has been very busy, but did she call Mr. Netanyahu personally to congratulate him?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, she has not made any calls out to Israel at this stage.
QUESTION: On Syria, there was a bit of confusion yesterday about the former spokesman either being in the United States, somebody – the U.S. wanting to give him the visa, et cetera. Can you set the record straight, please?
MS. NULAND: I can. Mr. Makdisi is not in the United States. Ambassador Ford misspoke. He is not here.
QUESTION: Is there any intent to bring him here?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that. I don’t – I also don’t have anything for you on where he actually is.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on where Assad’s mother may be?
MS. NULAND: I do not.
QUESTION: So there was a statement attributed to Ambassador Ford suggesting that Assad’s mother was in the Gulf region. Is that wrong?
MS. NULAND: Again, on that one, I’ll leave Ambassador Ford’s comments where they were.
QUESTION: But you have no reason to doubt them?
MS. NULAND: I don’t.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. And also rumors that Mr. Brahimi is submitting a very bleak report on Tuesday, and thereafter he might turn in his resignation that – because he’s meeting a brick wall. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, I think we need to let Mr. Brahimi bring his report forward before we prejudge where it might go. We have, as you know, tried very hard to be supportive of his efforts, to collaborate with him in his work, to flesh out the transitional government idea, to work to bring the Russians in. But we look forward to hearing what he thinks needs to be done now when he reports.
QUESTION: Do you believe that his mission and his effort has run its course?
MS. NULAND: We have not had those indications from him, but we await to hear what he has to say. We continue to believe that the role that he is playing, the facilitation he’s trying to do, can be useful in conjunction with a lot of other things that we’re also working on, as we’ve been clear about.
QUESTION: And finally, in his testimony yesterday, Senator Kerry said that we want to bring in the Russians on the Syria situation. In what ways, what different ways would he do that other than what, let’s say, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done so far with the Russians?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, let me just say, and let me say to everybody for the record, just to remind you how our democratic process works here, as you all saw, Senator Kerry had a chance in his confirmation hearings yesterday to have a really full exchange with the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a huge range of issues, not just Syria but it was really a tour all the way around the world. That is American democracy in action. We want to see his speedy confirmation. But until we have the Senate’s advice and consent, it would not be appropriate for me to speak from this podium for him or to try to parse his words or speculate as to where a secretaryship led by a Secretary Kerry will take us. He obviously spoke extremely eloquently for himself, and I would commend the transcript to you.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Follow up Syria? A U.S. delegation has visited Jordan and Turkey. I don’t know if they are still in the region. Is there any readout or update? We have seen some photo ops. But I’m – what’s your readout on those visits?
MS. NULAND: Well, you are right, Ilhan, that we have a U.S. delegation comprised of our Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg, and Ambassador Ford. They visited the Islahiyah refugee camp in Turkey yesterday. They also had a chance yesterday to be in Ankara to meet with Turkish officials and some of the members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition Assistance Coordination Unit. This is the unit that the SOC created to try to work better with the international community both on humanitarian and on other kinds of assistance to the Syrian people.
Tomorrow, Assistant Secretary Richard and Assistant Administrator Lindborg will go to Amman to continue their consultations on the humanitarian situation. And Ambassador Ford is going to go to Paris to attend a meeting on assistance to the Syrian opposition that the French Government is hosting. It’s a – they’re calling it a partner support meeting on better targeting assistance. I think we’ll have a little bit of a announcement right after the briefing. One of the things that they are announcing on this trip is an additional $10 million from the United States, primarily directed at getting flour into the north of Syria, into bakeries in Aleppo, where there’s a real crying need. And we’ll have more on that for you later in the day. And then from there, Ambassador Ford goes on to Kuwait for the humanitarian assistance meeting.
QUESTION: In recent days, one of the Syrian groups start petition. It’s about this new program by the UN revised Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan launched by the United Nations. And apparently it’s about half a billion dollars, about $519 million. This petition, it says that the plan states that it aims at supporting the Government of Syria. So there’s a partnership with the current Syrian Government to send half a billion humanitarian assistance to Syrians. So there is this apparently the problem that how this, the government is going to help Syrians while they keep bombing across country.
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t – I’m not sure what you are looking at there, Ilhan, as your backdrop, but the humanitarian aid situation has been difficult and complicated for a long time, as you know. UN agencies are required to work with the host government in order to get access in the country. And so the UN doesn’t have any choice but to continue to pound on the Syrian regime to let them get into the most difficult areas. And you know that this is not a new problem, particularly when the regime is conducting military operations. And we’ve seen this for more than a year, whether you’re talking about Homs or Hama or Aleppo or Damascus.
So that is one of the constraints. And as we look – as we work with UN agencies, we are continually urging them to find new and different ways to get assistance into Syria. So that’s one problem. But it also speaks to the need to work with nongovernmental organizations and others who are in the border states who are able to get assistance directly to Syrians who are going back and forth, because sometimes they are able to get access to areas that the UN is not.
QUESTION: I have a bunch of questions on that, but I’m going to – not going to ask today. This apparently raises some questions. First of all, the government doesn’t have control of most of the country. And second, in the past experiences, apparently there is a huge corruption. Even the humanitarian aid goes only to places that the regime has control over.
Yesterday, I believe, the president of Syrian coalition said that they need $3 billion for a transitional government, to create transitional government. Do you have a comment on that? Everybody pressures them to create this transitional government, and they say they – we need $3 billion to do that.
MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that number or those comments either. However, we are in broad consultation with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, including at this meeting that the French are going to host tomorrow, about moving forward on transitional governing structures, about what the needs are going to be, and this is one of the reasons to bring the major donor partners together with the SOC.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I --
MS. NULAND: Still on Syria, Jill? No?
QUESTION: The French also announced that there is a meeting in Paris on the 28th (inaudible). Who’s representing the United States in that meeting?
MS. NULAND: I think I just said Ambassador Ford.
QUESTION: Ambassador Ford – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. On Russia, can you tell us --
MS. NULAND: Still – Scott on Syria.
QUESTION: One on Syria, sorry.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does contact between U.S. officials and the Free Syrian Army include the issue of combat between FSA and Kurds?
MS. NULAND: We are, in our contacts with the FSA, expressing concern about including the Kurds in a broader opposition approach, that when opposition groups are in conflict with each other, it doesn’t help the broader cause of a unified opposition to take the country in another – in a more democratic direction. So one of our messages, both to the Kurds of Syria all the way through and to other groups in Syria in the opposition, whether it’s the FSA or whether it’s the political opposition, is that their cause is better served by unity and common cause. But we are aware of some of these skirmishes that have been going on in the north, and we’re concerned about it.
QUESTION: Can we – can I ask you about Russia?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you explain the U.S. decision to end the Civil Society Working Group, a U.S.-Russian working group?
MS. NULAND: As you know, this is a working group that we set up a couple of years ago in the interest of exploring how we could support civil society as a key underpinning of the U.S.-Russia relationship. We have now decided to withdraw from the Civil Society Working Group of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission in light of recent steps taken by the Russian Government which impose really strong restrictions on civil society. This working group was a bilateral mechanism that was designed to foster the development of civil society, and the United States will continue to work with Russian civil society organizations and to help them in their efforts to support the Russian people and support their full human rights, their access to healthcare, all of these other kinds of things. And we remain committed to a dialogue with the Government of Russia on democracy issues and human rights issues, but this particular working group was not working.
QUESTION: Why is it not better to stay in the working group and try to convince your interlocutors there either to try to reverse some of the recent moves that you oppose or to do other things that would promote civil society? I mean, did you just come to the conclusion that that was never going to happen in this working group?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, the working group was not working. The new restrictions that the Government of Russia was placing on civil society in recent months were increasingly calling into questions whether maintaining this government-to-government mechanism was either useful or appropriate, and it was not advancing the cause of civil society in Russia, so we will do that other ways.
QUESTION: One other thing. Sorry. Just sticking with Russia, I don’t know if you are aware that the Duma today voted – I think it’s 388 to 1 in favor a law that would criminalize what it describes as homosexual propaganda and that would allow for – it would ban the promotion of gay events across Russia, and it would allow fines of up to 500,000 rubles to be imposed on organizers of such events. Do you have any comment on that specifically?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are aware and we are deeply concerned by this draft legislation in Russia that severely restricts freedom of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and indeed for all Russians. This is similar to legislation that already exists in St. Petersburg that we have been expressing our concern about including in the Secretary’s bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov for more than a year and in several other regions of Russia.
We call on Russia as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to meet its obligations to protect its citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression without discrimination. You know how strongly we feel about LGBT rights around the world, how strongly the Secretary of State personally feels, that nobody should be discriminated against for who they love. I would note that Russian citizens are also concerned. I understand that there was a kiss-in outside the Duma today to protest this legislation.
QUESTION: So Toria, on that, in other words, just getting back to that civil society group withdrawal, then we could – from that organization, we can interpret as a protest by the United States?
MS. NULAND: We formed the group in an effort to have government support for the development of civil society. Our concern is that what we’re seeing from the Russian Government is taking the position of civil society in Russia in the wrong direction. So we would rather direct our efforts in other ways and continue to work on our direct support for civil society organizations who want to work with us.
QUESTION: And yet direct support now is more difficult than ever.
MS. NULAND: Absolutely.
QUESTION: So how do you propose to do that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we do continue to work with a broad cross-section of Russian civil society organizations. They obviously have to manage to do that within their own law. I think you know that there are lots of countries where we do this from the United States. We do it from offices in third countries. But as long as there are Russian civil society activists who want our help, who want our support, who want to connect with civil society organizations in the United States, we will help them.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you, these working groups were established as part of the reset, if I remember correctly. And if I remember right, it was this notion that you’d work together where you can and talk through differences where they exist. In this case, you’re now not even going to talk about this central difference of opinion on civil society. So what does that say about the reset three, four years on?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me say that we will obviously continue to talk about human rights, we will continue to talk about civil society issues, we will continue to talk about democracy in Russia in our bilateral conversations with the Russians at every level from the President on down. That’s a different matter than whether it makes sense under the Bilateral Presidential Commission to have a working group when that working group is not advancing the ball. So you’ll remember that as part of the reset we established this Presidential Commission with lots of different working groups on everything from economy to health to nuclear things to many other issues that we work on together. This particular subgroup is not doing what we set it out to do, and so we’ve withdrawn.
QUESTION: So I suppose the question is: Are the other groups working? Are the other working groups working on the different issues you –
MS. NULAND: Yeah, and in fact, I would – I can’t remember when we last – I think it was in the context of the President’s meeting in – on the margins of his Asia trip with President Putin that we released a joint statement that went through the work of many of these working groups. I would commend that to you. It was on the White House website.
QUESTION: Do you see – because we’ve got this now, you withdrawing from this group on civil society, there was the decision towards the back end of last year to – by Moscow to kick out USAID. Are these just bumps in the road of your relations with Russia, or is it indicative of something much more serious?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think beyond saying what we’ve been saying, which is that we will continue to work with Russia on as many areas as we can where we see interest in cooperation, whether they are bilateral issues, whether they are regional issues, or whether they are global issues, but we will also speak straight when we have disagreements, as we have, whether it was on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, whether it was on human rights, whether it was on Syria. I don’t think it makes sense to try to give that relationship a grade. It has always been something that we’ve both had to work hard on, and I think we’ll continue to have to do so.
QUESTION: Speaking of USAID, some in Congress now are questioning USAID, demanding information on this investigation into a contract that apparently some would allege was steered toward a former USAID employee. What can you tell us about that, the status of that right now?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me first say that my understanding is that this relates to an investigation that is still ongoing, so I am quite constrained in what I can say in terms of discussing the details. What I will say is from this building, we are confident that the investigation has not been compromised, and that USAID has cooperated with the investigation. But I think we have to wait until it’s completed.
QUESTION: What do you mean you’re confident that the investigation has not been compromised?
MS. NULAND: There were some concerns about that, and I would just like to affirm here that it is our view that it has not been compromised.
QUESTION: And are you confident that the employees that – who are alleged to be under investigation, or are reported to be under investigation, acted properly?
MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to make that judgment in the middle of an investigation. That’s why the investigation is ongoing.
QUESTION: And when you – last thing – when you refer to the investigation, you are indeed referring to the Justice Department investigation into this, correct, not into an IG investigation or a congressional investigation?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is we were talking about an IG investigation. I don’t know what else you would be talking about.
QUESTION: The AP reported yesterday that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into possible contract-rigging by the general counsel at USAID.
MS. NULAND: What I have pertains to an IG investigation. If we have anything more on that or how they might link, I’ll get back to you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said you didn’t want to give the relationship with Russia a grade. I mean, why not? How do you evaluate your relationship with Russia? I mean, the President spoke of a reset policy, I think, at the time, provided that Russia cooperates with you on a number of issues. So when do you know that the situation or the relationship is so tense that you cannot cooperate?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think it’s useful in any context to be giving grades unless you’re in high school or elementary school. I think I have enough of that at home.
QUESTION: No, I don’t mean a grade, per se, but how do you say – how do you put a status on that relationship?
MS. NULAND: Said, I think I spoke to the general principles that undergird the relationship.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Firstly, we had a story a few days ago on Saeed Abedini, this U.S. citizen jailed in Iran, reporting that he might get bail. Do you have any information on that and on his status?
MS. NULAND: We remain very concerned about U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who is detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs. Mr. Abedini’s attorney had only one day to present his defense. And we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and the transparency of his trial. We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal rights of freedom of religion, and we call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini’s human rights and to release him. We are in close contact with his family as well and we’re actively engaged in the case.
QUESTION: So no indication that he was let out on bail as, I think it was, this Iranian news agency seemed to suggest that might be --
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any positive news to report on this, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on another issue, there’s been some reports about a mysterious gold transfer that seemed to have made its way from Ghana to Turkey, had a brief pause there, then to Dubai, and then to Iran. Do you know anything about this, and do you know what it means?
MS. NULAND: I don’t appear to have much on this other than to say that we continue to consult closely with Turkey and on all countries regarding the scope of U.S. sanctions against Iran, and we will pursue any evidence of sanctionable transactions. But I don’t have anything on this particular set of alleged circumstances.
QUESTION: You haven’t had any discussions with Turkey specifically on this?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to share on that one way or the other.
QUESTION: Staying in the region, Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: A very quick question: According to reports, five protestors got killed today in Fallujah, Iraq. Have – are you able to confirm – during protests by the Iraqi security forces.
MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to confirm numbers, but I will say that we are concerned about the use of deadly force during today’s protests in Iraq. We understand that the Iraqi Government has now issued a statement indicating that they are initiating a very prompt investigation into the incidents, and that they have called for restraint by security forces. We obviously stand ready to assist in that investigation if asked, but we would also say that as the government and government forces show restraint, the demonstrators also have a responsibility to exercise their right to protest in a nonviolent manner, as well as to continue to press their demands through the political process.
QUESTION: On Mali?
MS. NULAND: Please. Arshad.
QUESTION: I have two (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: One is: We have a report saying that P-5+1 talks with the Iranians that had hoped to be held next week are actually likely now to slide into February. Do you have anything on that?
MS. NULAND: Other than to say we are continuing to consult with the Iranians to determine dates and a venue, unfortunately I don’t. We’ve been surprised that the Iranians keep coming back again and again with new preconditions, new dates and venues. And we haven’t been able to settle yet, but we’re going to keep trying.
QUESTION: They’ve been coming back with substantive preconditions or with date and venue-related preconditions?
MS. NULAND: They’ve been coming back with preconditions on the modalities for the talks. We’re not to the point of substance yet; we’re still trying to figure out when and where.
QUESTION: And then one other one: We have reported that South Korean petrochemical company Samsung Total Petrochemicals has revived a contract to buy Iranian oil after more than a year of not buying any. And it appears that the reason they have done so is that they’re getting the oil pretty cheaply. I realize that the NDAA sanctions refer to purchases by a country as a whole and not individual companies, but are you troubled by the – by this, by the prospect that one of our ally’s oil companies, after stopping buying Iranian oil, is now starting up again?
MS. NULAND: Arshad, let me take that one because I need to check on whether our facts and yours are the same and how we would react.
QUESTION: On Mali?
MS. NULAND: Mali, yeah.
QUESTION: There have been increasingly harsher tones coming out of Paris both from the President, President Hollande, and the Defense Minister with regard to the determination of the French of going further to clean up this situation in Mali, whereas initially it was seen on the French side as a temporary operation by French troops which would be replaced by these ECOWAS. The French were not so inclined to get deeply involved in Francophone Africa for obvious reasons. They are treated like heroes, people are putting out French flags, but that’s not going to last forever if the French remain a long time.
Now, after the statements of Prime Minister Cameron, the intervention, I think, of the EU is going to get involved in this. This looks like it’s going to be a much longer war and more serious operation. What is the U.S. view of the situation as it’s developing in Mali?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just commend to you some of the comments that the Secretary made during her Benghazi hearings with regard to the challenge that we are all having to confront, not only in Mali but in the entire region. I think she obviously spoke quite eloquently about the challenge; that it’s not only a security challenge but it’s also a challenge of governance and democracy and values. Our understanding of the ground situation is that French and Malian forces have been able to have some success in recent days. We talked about Diabali the other day and Kona. They are now taking up positions in the city of Menaka, which is just to the east of Gao, and moving up into Gao and Timbuktu.
But you’re not wrong that the strategy here depends on both Malian and ECOWAS forces being able to come in behind, secure the gains, not only hold them but extend them, and also prepare the country for a restoration of democracy through elections this spring. So in that context, as you know, in addition to supporting some of the French requests, we are focusing our efforts on facilitating the ECOWAS forces, the AFISMA forces to get into Mali. Our understanding is that there are currently some 600 AFISMA troops in Mali, including 44 African staff at ECOWAS headquarters. We’ve got 162 from Nigeria, 50 from Benin, 204 from Togo, 36 from Senegal, 159 from Burkina. And we have some 500-plus Nigerian troops on the Niger border getting ready to go in.
The U.S. is also, as we’ve been talking about, using our ACOTA facility to work with Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Ghana in the coming weeks to ensure that they can sustain and continue these deployments, and with longer-term training in terms of what’ll be necessary to not only come in behind the French, but also to train and support the Malian forces in eventually being able to secure their country themselves.
QUESTION: Your what facility? You said our --
MS. NULAND: Our ACOTA facility, which we’ve talked about before. I’ll see if I’ve got it written out here – the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. I think I’m going to – we’re going to put out a fact sheet shortly on ACOTA. Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s a P missing from the acronym at the end.
MS. NULAND: Is there?
MS. NULAND: African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance, ACOTA.
QUESTION: Staying – just moving slightly in the region, on Algeria, has there been any contact since the end of the hostage crisis between the Algerian authorities and the State Department to update you on how the attack at the oil facility took place, and their subsequent – the subsequent decisions that were made by the Algerian authorities in handling the situation and releasing the hostages?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are, obviously, in close contact with the Algerians, including via Ambassador Ensher on the ground there. I think I mentioned that we have an open FBI investigation now, so I’m not going to get into details, as that moves forward. But we, like the Algerians, are obviously looking to get a full understanding of exactly how this transpired and what the motives were and who was involved so that they can be brought to justice.
QUESTION: So that understanding hasn’t evolved since we spoke on Tuesday?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to share. It certainly has evolved, but you understand that once these things become a matter of investigation, there’s very – not a lot we can say until the investigations are complete.
QUESTION: New subject, ma’am?
MS. NULAND: Goyal quickly, and then we’ll go to Scott, and poor old Dana that was way in the back and I missed her.
Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: My question is the Chicago courts on India. As Indians celebrate the Republic Day of India tomorrow, and India is shocked and Indians are very angry as far as the Chicago court’s outcomes are concerned for Mr. Rana last week, only 14 years, what they are saying, and now yesterday, 35 years for David Coleman Headley.
Now, what they are saying is this is the price of – cost of the 166 people killed in Mumbai attacks, and including six Americans. And what Indians are really saying, that why this has happened – only 35 years, but why he was not extradited to India to face justice, because U.S. and India both believes in – that anyone who – criminals must face justice?
MS. NULAND: Let me just underscore what the Justice Department announced when this trial completed – it was completed. David Headley, a key conspirator in the Mumbai terrorist attacks, has been brought to justice in the United States. He will serve 35 years in prison for his role in these heinous acts that claimed the lives of 166 people, including six Americans. He also gave – the investigation and the prosecution of David Headley stems from the unprecedented and intense collaboration between the United States and Indian authorities in the counterterrorism sphere to bring all the people responsible for Mumbai to justice.
Let me just add, and I would commend to you the fact sheet put out by our Embassy in Delhi and the comments made by the Justice Department yesterday, not only did he stand trial, face conviction, now have to serve 35 years. But in the context of this prosecution, Mr. Headley provided information of substantial value in our efforts against terrorism, including testifying against co-conspirator Mr. Rana, providing extensive detail about accused terrorist Kashmiri and his network, who was indicted in 2009, as you know, and as well as submitting to questions from Indian law enforcement and working with U.S. investigators.
So from our perspective, justice was served, and this is a very positive example of U.S.-Indian collaboration in the counterterrorism realm.
QUESTION: Madam, what message would be from the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the people, or the victims of 166 people and their loved ones, and including six Americans on this day?
MS. NULAND: That we promised that justice would be served, that justice is being served in this case.
QUESTION: On the same subject --
MS. NULAND: Scott. Yeah, sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So the two ministers, Indian ministers, expressed concern that they wanted to keep up the effort to extradite him. Are you continuing to that dialogue, or is this just a matter of – because of the U.S. legal system, this is a closed, locked door that they’re banging at?
MS. NULAND: The Justice Department spoke to this. He’s been tried, convicted, and will serve in the United States.
QUESTION: Well, just quickly --
MS. NULAND: Scott – I think we’re – I think we’ve done this one.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything? There’s been some instability in Ismaili. There was a warning for U.S. citizens. But do you have anything more specific to talk about the violence in Azerbaijan, police response?
MS. NULAND: Let me take that one as well, Scott, and we’ll get to you.
QUESTION: I have two unrelated questions. The first is a follow-up to Mali, and I’m wondering about the funding for ACOTA and these troops. Has the State Department asked Congress for more money beyond the initial $8 million that was allocated, and how much?
MS. NULAND: We have, Dana. We have the 8 million that we already had, and then we’ve just notified Congress either yesterday or today requesting an additional 32 million for the ACOTA effort, and we will continue to evaluate what more we might need as we work with our African partners.
QUESTION: And secondly, I just wondered if you would be able to confirm that the specialty glasses that the Secretary is wearing have a Fresnel prism in them, or how long she’s expected to wear the glasses.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just say in response to lots of speculation, the Secretary is going to be wearing the glasses instead of her contacts for some period of time because of lingering issues that stemmed from her concussion. She sees just fine with them, and she also enjoyed some of the comments she saw in the press about the extra sort of diplomatic lift she gets from gesturing with them. So – all right?
QUESTION: May I just --
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much. I think we’ve gone a long while here, Goyal. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: All right.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)