The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
12:38 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Friday. As you know, Secretary Kerry departs on his first trip as Secretary on Sunday. You’ll have Patrick Ventrell here next week until we are back.
Yesterday, at the end of the briefing, you all really had me pinned down on the wrestling question, so I spent the last 24 hours working on this. And here’s what I know. You all probably already knew this, but on February 12th, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee voted to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport beginning in 2020. Our understanding is that there is an appeals process available to the athletes, and that there’s going to be another Executive Board meeting in St. Petersburg in May and a final vote on this in September. So we will see how that process goes forward. I’d also refer you to the statement that the U.S. Olympic Committee put out on this one.
I did want to just note, though, that as you know, U.S. – I mean, wrestling teams from all over the world are currently competing in Tehran in the Freestyle World Cup, and they are staging a demonstration today to show their unity and resolve to try to reverse the Executive Board decision. We understood that they were together having a lay-down in the streets of Tehran today.
You know that we support all our American Olympic athletes. I’d just also note that in the context of the match in Tehran, there were many displays of outstanding sportsmanship in the U.S. and Iran match – I guess it must have been today or yesterday. For example, there were lots of handshakes, there were lots of hugs among the athletes. There was a sellout crowd. It was very loud and enthusiastic. Sadly for us, Iran won the gold, but we did get the bronze.
And with that, let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can I ask a wrestling question?
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. NULAND: I may be at the end of my knowledge, though, Said, even though I worked on this for 24 hours.
QUESTION: I mean, do you think that the Europeans are being a bit snobbish to actually eliminate this sport, considering that a great deal of the Third World, and the United States – I’m not – and Russia and others like that sport?
MS. NULAND: Let me just say that we love all of our athletes. The Olympic Committee’s obviously going to have to make a tough decision because there are so many sports that want to compete. So beyond that, I think we’ll let them do their work.
QUESTION: I’m going to ask the question that I think James Rosen would ask if he were here.
MS. NULAND: Oh, here we go. Do your James Rosen impersonation, please.
QUESTION: Do you not regard this as a travesty?
MS. NULAND: Regard what as a travesty?
QUESTION: The elimination of wrestling from the Olympics. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Well, I know, obviously, how strongly wrestlers and many others around the world feel, but I think we have to let the Olympic Committee do its work. As I said, there are tough decisions to be made. As I understand it, only 28 sports can be competed.
QUESTION: Can we do something else on Iran?
MS. NULAND: We can.
QUESTION: Is there any reason to think that the IAEA report that was described in the media yesterday about Iran introducing advanced centrifuges – I know we talked about this at some length yesterday – is there any reason to think that that report might jeopardize the holding of the Almaty talks?
MS. NULAND: Our expectation, standing here today, is that the Almaty talks will go forward. That is certainly our intention. Our team plans to travel this weekend. As we’ve said, unfortunately, it’s not a new phenomenon to have some moves like we saw at Natanz in advance of these rounds. We continue to believe that with seriousness, there is a diplomatic solution to be had here. The question is whether the Iranian delegation will come to Almaty really ready to roll up their sleeves and help the international community be reassured with regard to their nuclear program.
QUESTION: And you just said “moves like we saw at Natanz.” Yesterday, you described this as it would be a provocative action, but you didn’t actually confirm that they have done this. So you actually do believe that they have installed the advanced centrifuges at Natanz?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I won’t go beyond what the IAEA has already said. They were pretty clear about this.
QUESTION: And is the United States seeking a bilateral meeting with the Iranians on the sidelines in Almaty?
MS. NULAND: Our position on this one hasn’t changed either. We have said from the beginning of this in 2009 that we would be open if the Iranians wanted to in the context of being together for the P-5+1 to meet bilaterally with the Iranian side. They have never chosen to take us up on that, but we will renew the offer this time. They have met bilaterally with some of the others.
QUESTION: No, they took you up on it in October of 2009, right? In Geneva?
MS. NULAND: I can’t recall. You’re probably ahead of me on that. There might have been a -
QUESTION: I think they did.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, there was an initial meeting. Yes. Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: I’m certain they did. Okay. But never since then?
MS. NULAND: See? The press corps knows more than I do, as usual.
QUESTION: And there was a report that you were conveying your – I mean, you’ve obviously conveyed it at the podium a great many times, but there was a report that you were going to convey your openness to a bilateral meeting through High Representative Ashton’s office. Have you done that in this case? Do you do that every time, or do you just say it from the podium?
MS. NULAND: The Iranians are well aware, both publicly and through private messages that others send, that we’re open to this if they want it. I don’t think it’s a secret.
QUESTION: And have they yet said whether they’re interested?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t heard anything in particular about this particular upcoming Almaty meeting. We’ll see what happens.
Are you going, Arshad?
QUESTION: I’m going to be with the Secretary.
MS. NULAND: Oh, that’s right. You’re going to be with the Secretary.
QUESTION: Would that I would be in Almaty on Tuesday.
MS. NULAND: You chose – yes. All right.
MS. NULAND: I think Brad’s referring to the fact that the Egyptian Government has put forward a calendar for the parliamentary elections to take place. This is obviously going to be an Egyptian process, so we refer you to them with regard to the dates and the logistics and how this is going to work.
As we have throughout this process, we encourage the Egyptian Government to carry out the upcoming parliamentary elections in a transparent, free, and fair manner. That includes allowing independent domestic and international organizations to monitor the process, in keeping with standard practices. The Egyptian people have every right to expect that the highest international standards will be met in the way these elections are conducted, and to be assured that their government is going to ensure a safe and secure environment for them.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to urge all Egyptians to get out and vote, express yourself through democratic mechanisms and at the polls.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Stay on --
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In the recent elections, there was kind of ban of not – it was not permitted for the international observers to attend, especially the American ones. How do you – is this issue solved or somehow raised with the Egyptian Government?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I just said, we would hope that the Egyptian people would have the benefit of a full of range of domestic and international observers on these elections to validate the free, fair, and transparent nature of them. Let me also say that we’re encouraging all political parties and individuals with an interest in representing the Egyptian people to participate, to put themselves forward. This is democracy in action and it needs to be a vibrant and fully participatory process.
QUESTION: Can I just, because you mentioned this additional point, because as the people who are following what’s going on in Egypt, the opposition, or let’s say the secular or non-Islamist forces, they propose some ideas or thoughts in the mechanism of these democratic process, and all of them were rejected by the Morsi and his brothers. And that’s the whole idea. I mean, how you can solve this thing? I mean, especially the time is like next month, I mean, within a month or so. Do you have any suggestion? Do you have any raising issue? Of course the Secretary may raise this issue in his coming trip. I don’t know.
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, we want to see these elections be free, fair, and transparent. We want to see a level playing field. We want to see anybody who chooses to participate be able to do so. We want to see a strong turnout. We want to see any concerns about the process settled by dialogue and through consensus, as we’ve been saying all the way along.
QUESTION: Yes. Can I change topics?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The meeting between Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Secretary Kerry. I spoke with Mr. Erekat today, and he basically cordially wouldn’t answer.
MS. NULAND: Imagine that, Said. Imagine that.
QUESTION: He actually says to defer to you. He’s saying that you will say whatever you want to say. So could you share some of the substance of the meeting with us?
MS. NULAND: I think I’ll decline that generous offer that you’ve given me, Said. I think, as you know, this – cordially, in fact – as you know, this diplomacy depends on it being handled diplomatically.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’ll tell you I also spoke with other Palestinian officials and they say that the prisoner issue, for instance, is paramount among their agenda at the present time, and of course the settlements and so on. Could you tell us whether this topic – how far did it get along in the discussion between Secretary Kerry and his guest?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to share on the topics, on the specifics of the discussion. You know the general frame that we’re working in. That hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Will there be a statement issued on this meeting at all?
MS. NULAND: No. I think we talked about it yesterday in the context of all of the meetings that the Secretary’s having. I think that’s as far as we want to go at this stage.
QUESTION: How long was that meeting?
MS. NULAND: I believe it was about half an hour. We’ll let you know if that’s not correct. Yeah.
Anything else? Flat Friday? No. I thought I was getting out of here. Go ahead.
MS. NULAND: Yes, please.
QUESTION: He’s very well-traveled, obviously, in his former role as a foreign relations chairman, and many of the people that he’ll be – his interlocutors on this trip he’s met with before. How do see his first trip as Secretary, how do you see him as having to engage differently from his prior role as foreign relations chairman, now as Secretary? How will that be different?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously he’s no longer representing simply the committee and the people of Massachusetts, he’s representing the United States as Secretary of State. That’s obviously a change. And it’s going to be a great trip, I think.
QUESTION: The Secretary was very quick in making his tweets yesterday after his meeting with the Indians. Is he going to tweet very regularly, or is once in a while?
MS. NULAND: He is tweeting regularly. If you follow the State Department Twitter handle, whenever you see a tweet that has the JK initials on it, that comes from him. And so you can follow that. And I think on the trip you’ll see a number of tweets, so follow along with us.
QUESTION: Sorry. Syria?
MS. NULAND: Dana.
QUESTION: We’ve seen the statement that came out from USUN that disputes Russia’s account that claimed that the United States blocked the Security Council press statement condemning the attack, and – because the United States just wanted language added that also condemned the continued assault against civilians by the Assad regime. My question is: How is this – how do you see this as being different from previous accounts where the United States objected to Russia wanting to add language that condemned rebel atrocities when the UN was going to put out a statement condemning whatever the Assad regime had done?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, just to recap what happened in New York yesterday, as our colleagues in New York have already done: The Russians proposed a statement condemning the Damascus bombings. We, the U.S., and other delegations agreed to that language, but we also thought it should be accompanied by language about the rest of the violence ongoing in Syria yesterday and in recent weeks, and that it should have a second paragraph. The Russians were unwilling to include that second paragraph. So our position, as I said here yesterday, Dana, is that any indiscriminate use of force where civilians are involved needs to be condemned by all of us. We did that here yesterday and we will continue to do that on a daily basis if necessary.
QUESTION: So – sorry. So you’re saying that in the past, the United States has not opposed Russia when they wanted to add language condemning atrocities committed by the rebels in previous statements?
MS. NULAND: I’m saying that a year ago, when we went through this before, we’ve had plenty of occasions where we were willing to put in language along the lines of what I just said, that any indiscriminate violence against civilians is unacceptable. We did have some precise difficulties with the Russians when we felt that they wanted an unbalanced statement that would let Assad off the hook, and we will make no secret of that if that happens in the future.
QUESTION: Was there --
MS. NULAND: Said, Said.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow-up on Dana’s issue. Mr. Lavrov, of course, expressed disappointment that you were not on board, but he also – he had a press conference with his Chinese counterpart. But he also said that you have double standards when it comes to Syria. So how do you respond to that?
MS. NULAND: I think we would reject that. As I said yesterday, any indiscriminate violence against civilians by any side needs to be condemned, and we will do that.
QUESTION: Okay. And on Brahimi, just one last thing on Brahimi.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: He’s going to continue apparently on for a few more months and so on. Do you support his mission so far?
MS. NULAND: We do. We’ve supported Brahimi all the way along, and we joined in consensus in the UN that his mission should be extended.
QUESTION: And finally, the Syrians issued quite a severe criticism of Brahimi, saying that he’s interfering in Syria’s affairs and so on. Do you feel that he will be effective although now he’s on the wrong side of the Syrian regime?
MS. NULAND: This is the difficulty of being an international negotiator, obviously, that when you start getting down to the tough brass tacks, you start taking incoming from folks who don’t want change. From our perspective, Brahimi has been one of the strongest champions of a negotiated political solution. He’s been working hard, as you know, to try to implement the Geneva framework that we all agreed to. And we consider that some progress has been made, including having the President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Mr. al-Khatib himself, now ready to have dialogue if only the Assad regime would appoint some people who can talk.
Would you – did you have something?
QUESTION: I do.
MS. NULAND: Arshad.
QUESTION: Just two quick things. Was there actually a vote on the statement?
MS. NULAND: I don’t actually know the answer to that. I don’t think they got to that point.
MS. NULAND: I think they couldn’t agree on a text.
QUESTION: Because one of the things he’s saying is that you – is that the United States blocked it. Do you feel like that’s a fair characterization?
MS. NULAND: No. No. We agreed on their paragraph; we just wanted more language.
QUESTION: Can I --
MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah.
QUESTION: Something yesterday --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you mentioned about the destruction of Palmyra, the cultural heritage site. Doesn’t seem much – any public information on this, so I was wondering if you had any more.
MS. NULAND: We do, and we can share with you some of these videos that have been sent to us. I think our people were planning to do that for you, Brad. We – these – we were sent some videos by the opposition which show damage to the ruins at Palmyra, or Tadmur, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the opposition sent them to us because they’re very concerned about this. The precise circumstances seem to be somewhat murky, but it’s pretty clear from these videos that we’ve seen that there has been damage, and that’s really a tragedy for the Syrian people. We would again take this opportunity to call on all sides to respect the cultural heritage of Syria.
QUESTION: So we don’t know that it was aerial bombardments, as you asserted yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I asserted yesterday that it was a regime attack. That’s what we understood from the information that we had. We’ve not been able to confirm that ourselves independently.
QUESTION: So you don’t see that – I mean, in other words, you no longer are convinced that it’s a regime attack?
MS. NULAND: What I’m saying is that the opposition is convinced that it was a regime attack, but we haven’t been able to independently verify it, so I was a little further out on that yesterday than I might have been.
QUESTION: I have --
MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah, Samir.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the reports of Nigeria arrested a terrorist working for Iran trying to target U.S. interests?
MS. NULAND: I do have something on that. Let me just – before we leave Syria, I wanted to make one more point. I don’t know whether Said was still on Syria. But you know that we’ve talked a lot here about our concerns about al-Nusrah and its infiltration of the opposition in Syria. We’ve seen an interesting trend that I wanted to call to your attention.
Just in the last couple of weeks we’re continuing to hear reports about local backlash on the ground against al-Nusrah when it has tried to impose its beliefs on the local population, specifically in towns like Atmeh where residents there reportedly challenged al-Nusrah’s attempt to install a foreign imam in the local mosque, and in Saraqeb, where we understand that violence broke out between factions who were demanding a civil state versus an extremist state, and it resulted in the destruction of lots of al-Nusrah flags. And in al-Qah, an armed activist group reportedly intercepted and arrested a Nusrah leader who tried to take a local man to an Islamic court.
So the point here is these and other incidents underscore that the more the Syrian people see of al-Nusrah, the less they like them, and speaks to the concerns that we’ve been expressing for some time.
Now on to the --
QUESTION: Wait, but that’s still – I mean, that may be a positive if you look at it that way. But if you have internal fighting among the opposition ranks, and whether you like it or not, al-Nusrah is part of that opposition, that can hardly be good for building cohesiveness and trying to bring national unity behind this group.
MS. NULAND: But that’s not a new point either, Brad. We’ve been talking about the concern for some time that extremists with their own agendas would try to hijack this opposition movement, and it speaks to the necessity of the opposition, political and military, being unified and being unified in the message that they send to the Syrian people that they represent a better future, a democratic future, an integrated future, a unified future, not an extremist future.
QUESTION: Isn’t the fact that they’re coming to actual violence between groups within the opposition, that must be a highly negative fact, in your opinion?
MS. NULAND: Obviously, we’ve been --
QUESTION: Shouldn’t they have some sort of political negotiation or something like that?
MS. NULAND: It --
QUESTION: It doesn’t mean they’re on the same side.
MS. NULAND: I think it speaks to the fact that al-Nusrah is taking advantage of the vulnerability of Syria to try to make local inroads, and the local population is fighting back against it.
QUESTION: But al-Nusrah – do you see no role for groups like al-Nusrah in the opposition?
MS. NULAND: Again, we want to see a peaceful, stable, unified, democratic state where the Syrian people’s right to their own views are protected no matter what part of the country they come from, no matter what background they come from, and where you don’t have the agenda of a single minority group dominating the rights of all.
QUESTION: At the same time, it must be very difficult, I imagine, to convince the opposition to kind of discard these fighters or these groups with these ideologies, at the same time you’re pushing them into a negotiation with the Assad regime, which is the worst of the worst in their eyes, right?
MS. NULAND: We’re encouraging them to pursue a political solution to this because we think it’s the fastest way to end the violence. They’ve taken some very strong and good steps. It’s the Assad regime that hasn’t met them.
The point that I was trying to make here, Brad, was that al-Nusrah, because it was able to provide fighters quickly, made inroads in some of these local populations; but as I said, the more the Syrian people see of them, the more they are rejecting them. And we’re starting to see this. It is obviously regrettable that they’re having to use violence in some cases to extract them to get their point that this is not the Syria that they want, but to stand up to this kind of effort to hijack their revolution is important.
So let’s go on to Nigeria and Iran.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You said yesterday that you are talking to the Free Syrian Army.
MS. NULAND: We are.
QUESTION: You are. Are you aware of some statements, bellicose statements that they made against Hezbollah and threatening to strike in Lebanon and how that may actually help ignite a sectarian war? Do you talk with them about sort of refraining from these things?
MS. NULAND: We have talked to all sides about the dangers of any kind of cross-border escalation of the conflict, and we are certainly talking to the opposition about the dangers of escalating into Lebanon. That said, we know what Hezbollah is up to, that they are supporting the Assad regime, that they are providing fighters and materiel, and they themselves have already taken the fight across the border into Syria.
The United States commends the Government of Nigeria for uncovering a planned attack against U.S. and Israeli targets reportedly by an Iranian-backed terror cell in Lagos. We are working with the Nigerians to learn more about this as their investigation continues, but we commend their law enforcement actions.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The U.S. sanctions against North Korea, U.S. have all kind of options on the table. Does the U.S. have any military options to North Korea? It has military option, military actions to U.S. people?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, as we always say, we don’t take anything off the table. But you know the path that we are pursuing now, which is to work again in the Security Council with our Security Council counterparts to implement the commitment we made in UN Security Council Resolution 2087, that if the North Koreans took another step, that there would be more steps on our part. So that is the primary path that we’re working through right now.
QUESTION: You have diplomatic options and military options for --
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything more for you on that one.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that both the Japanese Foreign Minister and the Secretary are participating in the President’s meetings today with Prime Minister Abe, and then they’ll come back here and have their own meeting together to follow up and continue the conversation that began in the Oval. And I think they’ll also have a chance to see all of you before that meeting starts. So as it always is when you have leaders and then foreign ministers, they’ll presumably be covering any issues that the leaders didn’t have time to cover.
MS. NULAND: You mean before we do it?
QUESTION: Yes, please. Yeah, and tell us the outcome before it happens. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Thank you. Excellent, excellent.
QUESTION: If you would.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, this will be not their first sit-down. As men, obviously, they know each other well from when Secretary Kerry was Senator Kerry, but it’ll be their first opportunity to sit down bilaterally as foreign ministers. They were both sufficiently committed to doing it – to agree to do it in a third country to get it early on the calendar. I would expect they’ll talk about all of the issues, bilateral, regional, global, but with a particular emphasis, I would expect, on Syria, Iran, D.P.R.K., and the bilateral issues of the day. So that’s what you can expect, and we’ll see how it goes.
QUESTION: Wrestling. But before that --
MS. NULAND: More wrestling? I’m wrestled out. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Was it addressed? I came a bit late.
MS. NULAND: Yes. I did wrestling at the top, so go back. Yeah, yeah. We’ve wrestled already.
MS. NULAND: The Indian Government has not yet made any requests of us. As I said yesterday, we’re open to considering requests if any come forward.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more than what the Embassy, the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, has said about its having received information of a bomb threat to the Senegalese capital?
MS. NULAND: I don’t, Arshad. I think you’re referring to a warning we put out to U.S. citizens. As you know, under our No Double Standard policy, if we receive credible information of a security threat that we are taking action on ourselves with regard to the Embassy, we are required to put it forward to U.S. citizens and others in our community as well. But beyond what it says there in our warning, I don’t have any details for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you tell us what steps you are taking? For example, are you going to an authorized departure or anything of that sort?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. I would assume that we are taking precautions at the Embassy. I don’t have any specifics to give you at the moment.
MS. NULAND: I’ll look at that and get back to you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There have been some cryptic comments from Raul Castro about possibly retiring. And you had CODEL there – well, not you, but we had a CODEL there recently. Have you had any indications that Castro may step back from national politics?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, with regard to the CODEL led by Senator Leahy, my understanding is that they went from Cuba on to Haiti. They may be coming home today. But we haven’t had a chance to talk to them about their visit. So whether they got any insight is not yet clear to us. But I don’t have anything particular to share on those reports otherwise, Brad, either.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Egypt for a second?
MS. NULAND: Quickly and then we’ll --
QUESTION: Very quickly. Because Mohamed ElBaradei just issued a statement saying that holding elections, or Morsi’s plan to hold elections, amidst turmoil is a recipe for disaster. How do you see that?
MS. NULAND: Again, we talked quite extensively about this at the top. You know the principles that are going to undergird our approach to this. They’re very much in line with the principles that have applied to our approach all the way through. We want the Egyptian people to have the chance at real democratic choice in a transparent manner, free and fair, that they worked so hard to have the opportunity for.
All right. Thank you all. Whoa – please.
QUESTION: I asked yesterday about if you had any comment about Israel contracting a U.S. company to explore for gas in the Golan Heights.
MS. NULAND: I think we put something out as a taken question on this just before coming out. Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, the thing is, it doesn’t make clear – all it says is you’re aware of the press reports, but you don’t have further information about the license. I mean, do you believe that--
MS. NULAND: And it says that we need to discuss the issue with the Israelis, which we will do.
QUESTION: Right. But you – so you don’t know whether a license has been issued or not?
MS. NULAND: It sounds like we’re still trying to understand the precise status of this.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:09 p.m.)
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