The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:08 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Wednesday, everybody. Before we start, let me welcome a couple of visitors in the back there from the Office of the Spokesperson of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, you are most welcome. If you’d like a job – no. (Laughter.)
All right. The Secretary, as you saw, has been very active out in the press. We had the global town hall yesterday and some TV interviews, and then obviously she had the employee town hall today that all of you were able to see. So I think we’ve taken care of most of the business. Don’t you? We can keep this kind of quick and short?
QUESTION: Well, sure, but there are some other things going on in the world, as the Secretary did note.
MS. NULAND: There are. She did.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any comment for you at all on those reports. I am sorry about that, but I don’t.
Anything else on Syria while we’re on Syria?
QUESTION: Can we talk about the new warnings that have been coming out about the levels of violence in Syria? I think Special Envoy Brahimi yesterday said that the war has reached unprecedented levels of horror, and today the Syrian opposition is actually taking to task global inaction over what’s happening in Syria and basically saying that the international community is giving the regime a license to kill. How would you characterize those comments?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly you know that yesterday UN Joint Special Envoy Brahimi briefed a closed session of the Security Council. I think you saw Ambassador Rice had some comments after that session. And he gave a very frank and very grim assessment of the situation both inside Syria and for the region. He again offered six guiding principles based on Geneva, the Geneva agreement that the Security Council countries and Syria’s neighbors reached way back in June for how a peaceful political transition could go forward if the Security Council countries could unite behind it.
As you know, this is the same basis that we’ve been using for working with the Syrian Opposition Coalition in preparing them for the day after. His assessment underscores what we have long said that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it’s going to be, the more people are going to die, and the more difficult it’s going to be to institute a stable political transition to preserve the institutions of the Syrian state, and the greater potential for regional destabilization. So we share his grim and difficult assessment.
QUESTION: Would you agree with the opposition assessment that there has been global inaction about what’s happening in Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know our view. You know how hard we’ve been working to keep a global coalition of support for the Syrian people together, whether it has been in tightening sanctions that countries have on the Assad regime, which are pinching him and making it harder for him to fuel his military machine. Those sanctions are not complete because there are countries that are still supporting him, and they know who they are. But we are continuing to work across the globe with countries to do what they can to cut off his supply of money and other things.
You know what we are doing to support the Syrian opposition both in terms of training them, helping them to be unified, helping them to represent the broadest possible coalition of Syrians who want change from every walk of life, both inside and outside. And you know what we’ve been doing on the humanitarian side, including the additional assistance that we – that the President announced a couple of days ago. So we are doing what we can, and we will continue to do so with our partners. But there are countries out there that are not leaning on Assad as much they could, and we will continue to try to urge them to use the influence that they have.
QUESTION: Sorry. Those are the usual suspects?
MS. NULAND: The usual suspects.
QUESTION: Can you name them?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re certainly – we remain concerned about, as the Secretary has said and she said quite clearly in her town hall yesterday and in some of her interviews, about the fact that even though we have public statements coming from Moscow that they know Assad is going, they continue to fulfill military contracts, they continue provide him with other kinds of support. So that’s concerning. Obviously we’re all concerned about the fact that Iran is basically his co-fighter now.
QUESTION: Last three Bs' meeting discussed some ideas, and there was – the three Bs' were about to come back after consulting with their governments. Anything new on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, the way we left it was that when Joint Special Envoy Brahimi thought that it was timely for another meeting and when he thought we could make some progress, we were prepared to have another meeting. He hasn’t yet asked for a third session, so we stand ready when he does.
QUESTION: What Brahimi discussed with Burns and Bogdanov were those six guiding principles?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I don’t think it’s helpful to get into the details of the three Bs’ conversation, but you know that essentially his approach has been to try to take the language on the page of Geneva and talk about how it could be implemented and practiced and try to have UN-U.S.-Russian agreement about how to take that forward. So that’s been the vector of work, if you will.
QUESTION: What is the sticking point right now in these discussions to implement the Geneva agreement, the most sticking, pressing issue?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think that Joint Special Envoy Brahimi has been clear that we have to move beyond the words on the page to actually how to implement them, and that’s been something that’s been difficult to agree on.
QUESTION: Yeah. Syria’s opposition leader, Moaz al-Khatib, has offered today to hold talks with Assad regime if the government releases political prisoners. Do you encourage him to do so?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, in the context of the Geneva framework, that does envision a broad group of Syrians from all walks of life, from all political streams to sit down together assuming that the group was mutually agreed on. So what he’s proposing is certainly consistent with what’s in the Geneva document. As you know, we have long called for and long supported UN and Arab League and international calls for all political prisoners to be released. So let’s what – how the regime responds.
QUESTION: But the national – Syrian National Council has rejected the move, and they said that negotiating – or he refused to negotiate with a criminal regime, as they said.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, the Syrian opposition is itself going to have to continue to articulate how it sees taking forward a transition and who it would be willing to work with. We have continued to call on them to be as united and as broad-based as possible. But we’re obviously not going to get in the middle of conversations that Syrians are having with each other about how to move forward.
QUESTION: One of the part of the transition process for Syrian coalition to create transition government, does the U.S. Government support creation of a government by the Syrian coalition?
MS. NULAND: Again, it’s up to the Syrian Opposition Coalition to come up with its own roadmap for getting to the political transition that it has called for, that it envisions. So I’m not going to get into Step A should be this and Step B should be that. What we’re interested in seeing is maximum unity, maximum inclusiveness including across the ethnic and regional spectrum in Syria, and a guarantee that we are all working for, that they are working for, a Syria that is democratic, that is inclusive, that is pluralistic, where there will be no reprisals, where the human rights of all Syrians are going to be protected, because it’s the best way to pull off people who are continuing to support Assad.
QUESTION: Do you think Syrian opposition on the ground still have the momentum? How do you assess the situation on the ground militarily fight?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have been clear that we have seen gains from the Syrian opposition. You know how much territory they now control. But clearly the fighting remains pitched, particularly in and around Damascus and some of the outlying towns, and concerns obviously about Aleppo and other big population centers.
QUESTION: Is it still – could you explain what the reluctance is still to perhaps try and tip the balance on the ground and give weapons directly to the Syrian opposition? I mean, this is nearly two years of war, 60,000 people dead. Every day we’re seeing horrible images of bodies being dragged out of rivers. I mean, if you – if the United States could help tip the balance, why won’t it do it?
MS. NULAND: Jo, I’m going to send you back to some of the comments that the Secretary made yesterday both in her town hall interview, in her global town hall, and on some of the TV stations that she sat with yesterday, as well as the comments that the President made in his interview with the New Republic. In these situations we always have to weigh whether U.S. action is going to lead to peace or is going to lead to an exacerbation of the violence. And these are the things that we have to weigh, and it’s in that context that we continue to provide nonlethal support. But we are staying in that category now.
QUESTION: But of course, don’t you also have to weigh the consequences of inaction?
MS. NULAND: Obviously. But I think if you look at the Secretary’s comments, she gives a sense of the balance there.
QUESTION: Well, I just want to go back to – well, if it’s still on Syria.
QUESTION: No, no.
QUESTION: This is just briefly just back to my first question, and it’s not directly related to any strikes that may have happened or not. But are you – does the Administration – is the Administration concerned that even as this – even as the government was basically imploding that it is still shipping materiel, arms, ammunition to Hezbollah?
MS. NULAND: We have been concerned about that relationship between Syria and Iran for a long time, between Syria and Hezbollah for a long time. It’s clearly a co-dependent relationship. I’m not going to get into the details of what we’re seeing --
QUESTION: But even in these dire – even if the straits that the government, the Syrian Government finds itself in now fighting this rebellion, essentially collapsing, as people thing, are you still concerned that they are supplying or helping to facilitate supplies to Hezbollah?
MS. NULAND: Matt, I don’t think I can get into that level of detail without being taken into intelligence. Let me simply say that we remain concerned about this relationship, about the relationship of the Syrian regime not only to Iran but also to Hezbollah, and we have for some time.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the U.S.-Russian thing, the bilateral agreement on counternarcotics cooperation? There is some kind of ambiguity about all this. The Russian Government announced pulling out of it, saying that it’s essentially outdated and no longer needed because Russia is switching from being the aid recipient to the donor state. The Federal – the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, the FSKN, announced – further announced that there is actually a new agreement in the works and that the bilateral relationship in this sphere is, quote/unquote, “on the rise.” I wanted to hear your take on that. What’s going on?
MS. NULAND: Dima, I couldn’t quite hear you. So the Russian entity that’s announcing a new agreement was whom?
QUESTION: Federal Service on Drug Control, the FSKN.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me first confirm what Dima has, which is that the Russian Government has notified us of their decision to terminate our agreement on law enforcement cooperation and narcotics control. We are seeking more clarification from the Russian Government at the moment with regard to what they see this covering.
We obviously regret this decision because under our agreement we’ve had very fruitful cooperation with Russia on rule of law, countercorruption efforts, preventing trafficking in persons, counternarcotics, and strengthening our mutual legal assistance cooperation. We obviously remain committed to working on these and other mutually beneficial law enforcement issues with the Russian Federation, for example on interdicting narcotics. I can say that we do still have in force a mutual legal assistance treaty. We have cooperation in DEA channels. So perhaps that’s what your authorities were – Russian authorities were referring to.
QUESTION: You still have in place at this moment. At the rate the Russians are pulling out of agreements with you guys, it might not be too long before there are none. This is the third, yeah, in less than a year?
MS. NULAND: It is. And I would say that from our perspective, the Secretary spoke about how self-defeating we thought it was to end the AID cooperation agreement because the AID programs in Russia did things like help tackle the tuberculosis problem, help tackle AIDS, helped with public health, all these kinds of things. I think from our perspective, this is also self-defeating because most of the work we were doing under this agreement was also involved in training Russians, training them on trafficking in persons, interdiction; training them on implementation of the mutual legal assistance treaty that we have; training them in implementation of their own new criminal procedures code, which was something that they sought our help on and we helped them work on. So how to implement that was something that we were working on, but it’s obviously a Russian decision if they don’t feel they need that help anymore.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, this is – so you got AID, you got the adoptions, now you have this. How’s that reset going?
MS. NULAND: Well, look, I mean, I think the Secretary also spoke to this yesterday that we have a range of challenging issues here and we’re going to have to continue to work through them. But that doesn’t change the fact that when we do work together, when we can cooperate, whether it’s bilaterally or whether it’s in the international realm, it helps both of us and is in our mutual interest, as it has been in concluding the New START Treaty, as it has been when we worked together on Afghanistan, as it has been in our P-5+1 work on Iran. So we have to --
QUESTION: On Syria.
MS. NULAND: And – but --
QUESTION: Not on Syria.
MS. NULAND: But where we have differences, we’re going to be straight up about them. We’ve been straight up about them with regard to Syria, with regard to territorial integrity of --
QUESTION: Okay. On this specific – the law enforcement thing, you said you were – I think you said, and I just want to make sure, you were looking for some clarity on why? Was that --
MS. NULAND: No, we were looking for some clarity on what they consider covered by this and what they are actually looking to turning --
QUESTION: So what would remain?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: What areas of cooperation and --
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Toria, a short follow-up to that?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Was it something completely unexpected to you, or they told you some time ago that, guys, you’d better be aware that we’re going to do that?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is this came up just in this – just this week, yeah.
QUESTION: What would be helpful if maybe someone could find – the Russia desk or whoever handles these things – to see how many agreements there are with Russia that they have the ability to unilaterally withdraw from.
MS. NULAND: You mean how many of these kinds of bilateral agreements and --
MS. NULAND: Let us do a little bit more work on all of the – we have quite a web of things --
QUESTION: I know there are a lot, but --
MS. NULAND: -- under the Bilateral Presidential Commission so --
QUESTION: Is that affecting a number of staff? Do you have staff who are actually deployed for this in Moscow, for this particular program?
MS. NULAND: I’m sure that we have trainers under this program who will be affected. It’s about $2 million worth of training.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Secretary Clinton has announced that Friday will be her last day. We also understand that Secretary-Designate Kerry will be sworn in on Friday afternoon. My understanding is that he has asked Justice Kagan to swear him in. He knew her well from the Clinton White House and from Massachusetts. And that his first day here in the mother ship, State Department Main, will be on Monday.
QUESTION: And do you know what he’ll be doing for his first week yet?
MS. NULAND: I’m sure when we have schedule information to share, we will share it, as we usually do.
QUESTION: A slightly offhand question, but what if some – and God forbid, but what if some huge crisis erupts over the weekend?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, he is expected to be sworn in on Friday afternoon.
QUESTION: So he would deal --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: He would deal with it? He would be briefed?
MS. NULAND: Seamless transition.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MS. NULAND: Please, Mr. Lee.
QUESTION: He will swear in here in the building?
MS. NULAND: He’s going to be sworn in in a private, small swearing-in ceremony that Justice Kagan will preside over.
QUESTION: I want to continue to see you at the podium. Is that going to be possible? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can we stick with that just for one second --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- in terms of the – just the mechanics of the transition?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: As soon as he’s sworn in, does that mean he has DS protection?
MS. NULAND: I don't know the answer to that, Matt. I would assume so, but I will check on that for you if it’s an interest.
QUESTION: And then over the – just over the weekend, I mean, even if he --
MS. NULAND: In case you need to call him or something?
QUESTION: Even – yeah – no. (Laughter.) Well, should I call him or Bill Burns? That’s my question. I mean, even if he hadn’t been sworn in over the weekend, it’s not as if there’s – it’s rudderless in this building. I mean, there are people who are in senior positions who are staying.
MS. NULAND: No, obviously, there’s a lot of continuity, but my understanding is that he will be sworn in on Friday afternoon and will thereafter be the Secretary of State.
QUESTION: You said it was a private ceremony on Friday?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Us folks in the media who are interested in – will we be seeing that or will there be a more public swearing-in?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any more information on that. If we get it, we will share it.
Please, Mr. Lee.
QUESTION: Actually, I was going to ask you about Korea. South Korea succeeded in its space rocket launch. There is some concern that it may add fuel to regional arms race. In that regard, do you have any response to South Korea’s move?
MS. NULAND: Well, we can confirm, because we were observers, that the Republic of Korea has successfully launched a research satellite on January 30th from its Naro Space Center. You know our view that there is no basis for comparing the behavior of the ROK in space with the behavior of the DPRK. DPRK obviously is completely proscribed under binding UN Security Council resolutions from – based on its ballistic missile activity from any kind of launching, whereas the ROK has developed its space launch program completely responsibly. It’s an active member of international nonproliferation agreements and regimes, and it has implemented broad guidelines on the possession and development of missile and rocket technology.
QUESTION: So, Toria, does the State Department regard North Korea as a member of global space club?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know what the definition of that is, but you know how concerned we are about any launch or any activity that involves ballistic missile technology.
QUESTION: Well, this launch did – the South Korean launch did involve ballistic missile technology, correct?
MS. NULAND: Again, but as I --
QUESTION: No, I understand. I understand that it’s – that the North Koreans aren’t allowed to do it because of the UN restrictions, and I understand that the South Koreans are. But my question is: If you see, and the South and Japanese and everyone else or almost everyone else sees a North Korean ballistic missile activity as a threat, why shouldn’t the North Koreans see ballistic missile activity by the South as a threat?
MS. NULAND: Well, without getting into all of the technical details here, which I’m not equipped to do, suffice to say that, as I said at the outset, the ROK participates actively in the full range of international nonproliferation activities so that everybody knows exactly what they’re doing with the technology that they have, they follow very clear protocols for safeguarding it, for ensuring it’s not proliferated, and for making sure that the world can see the way they deal with it, and that there’s no military intent or military program. So that is completely different than the way the DPRK behaves.
QUESTION: Well, my question is not the difference in how they behave; it’s why the North shouldn’t see this as a threat.
MS. NULAND: The North shouldn’t see it as a threat because they too can enjoy the same transparency with regard to the program that the rest of us have, which is a far cry from the way the DPRK itself behaves.
MS. NULAND: Okay?
QUESTION: All right. So it’s a transparency issue. And then again, in the beginning you said it was a successful launch.
MS. NULAND: That is our understanding.
QUESTION: And the North Koreans’ last launch was successful or not, by your --
MS. NULAND: I don’t actually have an evaluation on that one way or the other.
QUESTION: All right. But I --
MS. NULAND: I’ll send you to NASA.
QUESTION: Well, it turns out that it was – it looks like the satellite died up in space and then --
MS. NULAND: I frankly don’t think I ever saw a final determination, but NASA has the best --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, anyway, but – well, every time the North has tried to do this, they’ve failed, which means that any threat that there might have been has diminished, right, because they’re not very good at what they are trying to do. And so --
MS. NULAND: I think we would reject that, Matt. They are continuing to pursue and try to perfect their ability to use this stuff, which they shouldn’t be involved in at all, given the sanctions.
Can we go to the back there? Lady in turquoise.
QUESTION: On North Korea and fears that a nuclear test is imminent, is it too early to find out what the State Department is looking to do in response to a nuclear test which looks increasingly likely, new sanctions at the Security Council, new domestic sanctions? What kind of things are going on there?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary spoke to this one as well yesterday. I don’t have anything further to say than what she said, which was we made clear in Resolution 2087 that there’d be further consequences, and we fully intend to keep to that.
QUESTION: Related to Latin America?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.S. is following this harsh exchange between Israel and Argentina – it happened yesterday – where the Israelis called the Argentina Ambassador in Israel to give explanations, and the Argentineans gave statements saying that this is an intermission of Israel in their foreign affairs related to their agreement with Iran.
MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there somewhere?
QUESTION: The question is: The U.S. is following this harsh exchange between Israel and Argentina yesterday?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously watching it, if that’s what you’re asking.
QUESTION: And so the question is: Are you also having the same and you’re sharing the same concerns that the Israelis saying this is – all this commission will finalize in a trap that finally will wash Iran – imagine this is not going to go anywhere, that – how would you say the U.S. view on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, I spoke to this a little bit on – what day was it, would have been Monday – and I don’t think I have anything further on it.
QUESTION: You don’t?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. Dima.
QUESTION: Hold on. Wait, wait, wait.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israelis were – at least some Israelis have told me that they were not too happy with the response that you gave on Monday. They thought that you actually left the door open to saying that this might actually be a good idea, this truth commission that --
MS. NULAND: I didn’t speak to the truth commission at all. I simply said that we believe the Iranian Government has a responsibility to cooperate fully with Argentine authorities in seeing that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, if you didn’t --
MS. NULAND: I didn’t comment either way on the truth commission.
QUESTION: Okay, well then if you – could you comment on the truth commission and what the U.S. thinks about it?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’re going to have any comment on the particular vehicle, but I will take it and see if anybody wants to come back on it.
QUESTION: I have a question.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: If in this international truth commission, imagine that the U.S. is called to cooperate. Do you think the U.S. can cooperate also in this international commission?
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re taking me into all kinds of hypotheticals about something that’s been announced but we haven’t seen it implemented.
QUESTION: I think you said – sorry, on the truth commission, I think you said you will have – if the Argentinians think it’s a good idea, you have to see where it will go.
MS. NULAND: I will go back and look and see what I have, but I will also see if we have any further to say to Matt’s question.
QUESTION: Because there seems to be an issue of very big concern in Israel, and the suggestion was being made that somehow the Administration wasn’t standing by its ally by not taking a strong position against the formation of this truth commission. Is that --
MS. NULAND: Well, let me see if we have anything further to say, but it’s certainly our view and it has been our view since this bombing 18 years ago that the Iranians ought to be brought to account.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about press reports about the appointment of Ambassador Dan Fried, new sanctions coordinator for the State Department. Should it be seen as a new focus on sanctions as one tool of the foreign policy in the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we have --
QUESTION: -- to create this post?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly you know that whether they are multilateral sanctions under the UN Security Council or whether they are national sanctions, we have for decades employed sanctions where we think they can be helpful in pursuit of our policy goals, usually in conjunction with other tools of diplomacy.
I think, without getting too far into it, the concern was that we’ve got pieces of sanctions in many different pieces of legislation, they affect many different relationships around the world, and that it was time, rather than doing this on a regional basis, to centralize the way we looked at how we implement sanctions. There’s not only the question of ensuring that we are following the letter and the spirit of international law and American law; there’s also the question of when it’s time to retire sanctions that are no longer useful, to look again at policies that may not be working. You’ll recall that in the context of our step-by-step approach to Burma, a number of U.S. sanctions have been suspended.
So the idea here was to create a single office with maximum experience on sanctions and to follow both implementation of sanctions, new sanctions, and relief of sanctions.
QUESTION: A follow-up question, please.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: So is Dan Fried handling sanctions on North Korea, too, like Bob Einhorn did?
MS. NULAND: The idea here will be that all sanctions policy will come under Ambassador Fried. Bob Einhorn will continue his nonproliferation work. He’ll continue his work on Iran and DPRK and other things in that context. But the sanctions piece will be with Fried.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me say as a general point that we have encouraged the Government of Afghanistan, as we have all of our other partners, to look closely at existing U.S. sanctions and to ensure that any engagement that Afghanistan has with Iran and any activities of Afghan companies doing business with Iran don’t violate them. And that would include, of course, transactions with the Central Bank of Iran or other designated organizations or transactions involving Iran’s energy and petrochemical sectors, which may be sanctionable.
So that’s the conversation that we will continue to have with Afghanistan to be sure that they don’t fall afoul of U.S. or international law.
QUESTION: Is it your assessment at present that they are not falling afoul of --
MS. NULAND: We need to continue to have that conversation before I can make an assessment here.
QUESTION: In North Korea, there was a report that the U.S. citizen detained in North Korea met Swedish diplomat in North Korea. Can you confirm that?
MS. NULAND: I had not heard that. I think you know that we had one visit by our protecting power earlier on. Let me check if we’ve had another one. That would be a good thing.
QUESTION: On Egypt?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, here I’m going to point you back to the extensive comments that the Secretary made yesterday on Egypt. Both in the townterview and in her subsequent TV interviews, she made clear the concerns that we have and our hope and expectation that the various groups in Egypt will come together around a table and talk these things out, and that dialogue will be the answer rather than violence of any kind.
QUESTION: And how do you view ElBaradei call today for talks with the regime?
MS. NULAND: It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing that members of the opposition are agreeing to sit down for talks. Now instead of just talking the talk, everybody’s got to walk the walk and sit around the table.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment regarding the national dialogue? I mean, do you have any new writings on the walls that the people there can read it beside what was said in the last 24 hours?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think if you look back at what the Secretary had to say in the last 24 hours, she’s spoken extensively about our hope to see the wishes of the Egyptian people when they went into the square so long ago fulfilled through the way the government takes the country forward. So we’re looking to all sides to engage in a process of real democratic compromise. The government has a responsibility to help create that process. The opposition has a responsibility to engage in dialogue, that’s what we want to see, so that the people of Egypt really see a future that is truly democratic where there is a lot of consensus about the way forward and where everybody feels like they have a voice and their rights are protected.
QUESTION: So in the last let’s say 24 or 48 hours, is there any phone call was made from Secretary or anybody?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge. I don’t have – I don’t think so.
QUESTION: Regarding the Embassy there. Is it closed, or it’s working?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a today update. I think we mentioned on Monday that we closed early. We will check on that for you, and get back to you.
QUESTION: Last time you were asked, Victoria, you said you did not see the remarks of Prime Minister Erdogan regarding the Shanghai Five. The reason I follow up with this question, the discussion didn’t die down. It is still going on whether Turkey – Prime Minister Erdogan’s statement. What’s your reaction now? I am sure you have seen the remarks by now.
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I didn’t catch up with it. I am sorry there, Johann. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well wait, does that mean that you don’t consider the Shanghai Cooperation Council to be an important – something of importance?
MS. NULAND: I’ve just been --
QUESTION: Especially if that means the Turks are going to turn their backs on Europe? The Europeans have been turning their backs on the Turks for some time now, so --
MS. NULAND: Let me remind that Turkey is a member of NATO, and that is their anchor in the transatlantic community. So I don’t think we have any indication that that’s going to change. But let me see if we have anything to say on that.
QUESTION: On Mali.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today, the French troops have entered Kidal, which was the last stronghold held by the Islamic militants. And they seem to be meeting a fair amount of – a lack of resistance, really. And I wondered if you could talk to us about the situation on the ground, whether there’s a fear that these extremist groups could actually just be dispersing and heading into the hills and regrouping. And that actually it could take a lot longer to get rid of them.
MS. NULAND: Well we, obviously, are pleased by the success that French and Malian forces have had and the retreat of the rebels and the extremists. We understand that French and Malian forces now control Timbuktu and Gao. The mayors of both of those cities who had fled to Bamako have come back to their respective cities and resumed work. And as you say, we understand that French troops are now at the airport in Kidal.
We also understand that Malian officials have sent gendarmes into Gao and into Timbuktu to assure security. They’ve also made strong statements against reprisals, and we echo the calls that Malians are making, that French are making, urging Malian private citizens to refrain from retaliating against Tuaregs or other ethnic minorities. We obviously condemn any attacks on civilians. We also support the calls from Malian officials and civil society leaders appealing for calm and their statements that there will be no impunity for human rights abuses.
Obviously, you point to the right next challenge, Jo, which is not only to ensure that these cities that have been regained and towns can be held, but that the international mission, the AFISMA mission, moves in behind Malian forces and the French to stabilize northern Mali, to go after the rebels where they have fled to and ensure that they can’t come back and regroup. So it’s in that context that we welcome the fact that there are some 1,400 AFISMA country troops now in Mali from Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Chad. There are Nigerians on their way, and we are continuing our efforts through our ACOTA training to ensure sustainment training backfill for those forces as well.
QUESTION: And is there any update on American aid to the ECOWAS forces or to the AFISMA?
MS. NULAND: We announced yesterday that we intend to provide, subject to congressional notification, a total now of $96 million in support for AFISMA troops. I think on Monday I announced 40. We’ve now notified Congress of an addition 50 million. Eight million has already been allocated to provide for basic logistical support for the initial ECOWAS contingence, including immediate transport and equipment. Five million will go to assist formed police units that will start to deploy. These are ECOWAS country police units, not Malian police units. And we’ve notified this additional money that’ll go for equipment, logistical support, and advisory support for AFISMA troops.
I would also note, as you know, that there was a donors conference earlier this week run by the AU. And the total funding pledged was some 455.5 million. So that is an excellent show of resolve by the international community. Big donors were the EU, the AU, Germany, Bahrain.
QUESTION: The Malian President is saying that he hopes to arrange elections by July 31st, which is actually slightly later than the timetable that you guys were hoping for. You were hoping for April. Does – what do you – what’s the U.S. comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we talked about this a little bit on Monday. We all, obviously, want to see these elections as soon as possible so that democracy can be restored. But we also have to appreciate that it – they can’t be held until they are technically feasible. So we do note that the new Malian assembly’s roadmap speaks about July. It’ll be important to meet that target in terms of security, et cetera.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Is there now an agreement with Niger to base U.S. drones in Niger?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you saw some statements that we put out yesterday making clear that after more than a year of work, we have now signed a Status of Forces Agreement with the Government of Niger. I’m obviously not going to get into intelligence issues, but this enables us to work more closely in military-to-military channels and other channels with the Government of Niger on issues that we share concerns about. Obviously Mali is front and center, and we’re working with them on this AFISMA deployment as well.
QUESTION: Was this done in connection with the French, or it’s only the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we coordinate with the French in our approach. The French, as you know, are focused on their activities in Mali and on the EU training mission for Malians, as we and other countries are focused on getting the ECOWAS forces up and in.
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier Nigerian forces. Are they from Nigeria or from Niger?
MS. NULAND: No. We have Nigerien forces there and we have Nigerians on their way. All right?
QUESTION: Toria, American journalist Austin Tice has been missing in Syria for over six months and it has been a while that we have heard from U.S. State Department or – do you have any kind of update or anything that you have heard?
MS. NULAND: Ilhan, unfortunately I do not.
Scott, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thailand.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: I do, I believe. We are deeply concerned by the criminal court’s decision to sentence Mr. Prueksakasemsuk -- I’m sorry, I mangled his name – to 10 years imprisonment for violating article 112 of the criminal code, and an additional year for a sentence that had previously been suspended. Obviously, no one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their views. We regularly urge Thai authorities, both privately and publicly, to ensure that expression is not criminalized and freedom of expression is protected in accordance with Thailand’s international obligations.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the pastor sentenced in Iran?
MS. NULAND: On Abedini and --
MS. NULAND: We spoke to this a little while ago. Let me just see – I thought that I spoke to this yesterday, but – on Monday, did I not? But if not, let me --
QUESTION: If there is anything.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We’re obviously deeply disappointed that Saeed Abedini, who has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs. As we had said before, his attorney had had only one day to present his defense, so we’re deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of the trial. We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal rights of freedom of religion and call on Iranian authorities to respect his human rights and release Mr. Abedini. We remain in close contact with his family.
QUESTION: Vietnam? There was an American released, so we had some good news. Do you have anything about that?
MS. NULAND: I think I do. We’re pleased that U.S. citizen Richard Nguyen has been released. We obviously have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad. As you know, our consulate authorities – officials had visited him monthly, but it is good news that he is now released.
Anything else? Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
DPB # 17