The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
12:57 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Thursday. I have a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds.
The first is with regard to Nepal. The United States congratulates the people of Nepal on reaching agreement for the formation of a new interim council which will take forward the responsibility of overseeing national elections. This has been a complex and challenging process, and we commend the parties for their willingness to make the compromises necessary to achieve this important political milestone.
The next step will be completing and adopting Nepal’s new constitution, and then holding free, fair, and inclusive national elections that reflect the will of the Nepali people. The United States would also welcome further progress by the parties that will continue to safeguard the rights of all citizens and affirm the national commitment to building a democratic, representative, and prosperous Nepal.
I also have something on April travel by the Secretary of State. This is to advise, and we’ll have a more formal announcement closer to the time, that following the G-8 meetings in London on April 10th and 11th, Secretary Kerry will travel on to the Republic of Korea, to Japan, and to China. During his trip to Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing, the Secretary will meet with counterparts and discuss the full range of bilateral, multilateral, and regional issues, as well as our economic cooperation and the environment. And in June, the Secretary looks forward to participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum chaired by Brunei, and also visiting some other Southeast Asian partners.
During these engagements, the Secretary will continue to affirm the Administration’s commitment to further broaden and enhance U.S. economic, security, and strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region. I think you all know that Secretary Kerry has a long history in Asia, from his work with Senator John McCain to fundamentally change our relationship with Vietnam, to his work helping to create the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, to his work with the Chinese on climate and other things. He is very much looking forward to getting back to Asia and to working on these things with counterparts.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can I – just one thing on – why are you compelled to announce travel in June?
MS. NULAND: Well, we were certainly going to announce the April travel, given that the Secretary’s just spoken to Xi Jinping and made clear we’re going to China, so we wanted to put that whole trip out, but because we have to come back for the Secretary’s budget testimony, we wanted to make sure --
QUESTION: Oh, I see. So --
MS. NULAND: -- that our friends in the ASEAN region knew we were also going to Southeast Asia.
QUESTION: Was there some concern? Were you hearing some fret, some concern from Southeast --
MS. NULAND: No, no, no. We just didn’t --
QUESTION: -- from the ASEANs that they were being ignored or something?
MS. NULAND: Not at all. We just didn’t want to announce a trip only to Northeast Asia and not make clear --
QUESTION: Got you.
MS. NULAND: -- that the Secretary intends to go early to Southeast Asia as well.
QUESTION: Can I – moving on, I’m surprised you didn’t have anything to say about the Pope. Do you?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the President put out a statement last night.
MS. NULAND: Secretary Kerry put out a statement last night. I commend both of those to you. We congratulate Pope Francis on his election. We look forward to continuing to deepen and improve our already strong relationship with the Holy See. You know how many things we work on together, particularly in the areas of human rights protections, aid to refugees, those kinds of things.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you: Does the United States regard the election of the Pope to – that election to have met international standards for the election of a world leader? (Laughter.) He is, after all, a head of state, and a head of government. Does it follow? Does it – you routinely criticize countries or governments for having elections where there is not universal suffrage, where there is not any possibility of appealing the results, where there is not – where there were no monitors, for example. I’m wondering if this meets the standard for a free and fair election in your mind.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the world has watched this conclave go forward as it’s gone forward in history down the centuries.
QUESTION: Today, it seems like it would be the – it’s probably the least transparent election. (Laughter.) I mean, it’s more opaque than an election in North Korea or Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
MS. NULAND: But it is, nonetheless, an election with designated balloting and multiple rounds of balloting. But Matt, I could perhaps recommend that the next time they do it, you’re interested in being a monitor? Is that possibly --
QUESTION: Yeah. I’d love that.
MS. NULAND: -- an option? I don’t know if you would meet their standards, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I might not. I might not.
MS. NULAND: Do you --
QUESTION: But I say all this just thinking – I’m just being – and I hope that the Holy See appreciates that I’m just asking because I am a devil’s advocate. So – that’s – so, but you – can you --
MS. NULAND: I think you secretly aspire to some red shoes, maybe.
QUESTION: But, so you don’t – you think the election of the Pope was okay? It meets your – the fairness, free and fairness standard?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we have any reason to question the process.
QUESTION: Okay. More generally, what’s your – what does the U.S. think about theocracies?
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, I’m curious. You seem to think – I mean, and with all due respect, I’m not accusing the Vatican of doing anything improper. But you seem to take issue with theocracies in places like Iran, and yet you celebrate the theocracy in the Vatican.
MS. NULAND: Matt, he is the head of the church. And as you know, the amount of --
QUESTION: And so it’s a private club; it’s different than --
MS. NULAND: It is – he is the head of a church, and we will take it on that basis. I think we’re gone beyond our podium here.
Please, go ahead.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you share with us any upcoming or update us on any upcoming three-B meetings between Burns, Brahimi, and Bogdanov to sort of finally agree on a common interpretation of the Geneva points?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, we’ve talked about this pretty much every day for the last three weeks or perhaps month. Where we stand is that when Mr. Brahimi thinks it would be useful for Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov and Deputy Secretary Burns to get together, he’ll call a meeting, and we will certainly be there. In the meantime, our engagement with the Russians on Syria continues. As you know, the Secretary saw Foreign Minister Lavrov in Berlin. They’ve had at least one phone call since, and they continue to stay in close touch.
QUESTION: You don’t expect this to happen next week, because there is a high-level visit of the President to the Middle East (inaudible), do you?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information about Brahimi calling a meeting in the near future, no. But I do expect that Syria will be discussed, obviously, on the President’s trip.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally, yesterday Ambassador Ford spoke about the additional $114 million worth of aid to the opposition. It is all in nonlethal aid, correct?
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the additional 60 million that was announced --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, yeah.
MS. NULAND: -- $60 million that was announced by Secretary Kerry when we were in Rome. Yes, that is all in the category of nonlethal assistance to the Syrian Opposition Coalition. There is also additional assistance that’ll go to the Supreme Military Council, as Secretary Kerry announced in Rome.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, he said that there were $114 million more aid than was previously (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: No, I think that’s a confusion in the way you understood it. It was the original 54 plus the 60 that the Secretary announced in Rome.
QUESTION: There’s a Syrian opposition delegation --
MS. NULAND: (Sneezes.) Excuse me.
QUESTION: Bless you.
QUESTION: Bless you.
QUESTION: -- that will be in town later this week, or maybe next week, with – headed by Mr. Manna. Any meetings they are holding here at this building?
MS. NULAND: This is a different Syrian opposition group, or this is some – or representatives from the SOC? I’m not sure I know which meeting we’re talking about.
QUESTION: He – no, no. Mr. Manna is not with the SOC.
MS. NULAND: I will have to check on that one. I don’t know about that meeting.
QUESTION: Is there a delegation of the SOC?
MS. NULAND: No. We haven’t yet, as we said yesterday, set dates with them for their visit to Washington.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up. Are you in contact with Mr. Haytham Manna? He’s a quite a national figure in Syria – resides in France, I think.
MS. NULAND: I would guess that Ambassador Ford and his team do have contact with him. If that is not the case, we’ll let you know.
Let me just go to something else, which was that yesterday you all asked for a breakdown of the new 60 million. We have been having consultations with the Congress. We have not yet formally notified this money yet. We generally don’t announce until we formally notify, but given that there have been briefings on the Hill and some Hill staffers have been talking about it, let me just make sure that you all have the breakdown here.
So, of the $60 million, $10 million will go to the SOC in the form of small grants that they can give to local councils and other opposition groups to meet the needs of Syrian communities. Thirty million will be given by USAID in the form of material supplies to the SOC to support activities at the local level, including helping local councils to provide services to rebuild civil society, to support professional associations, including some nationwide initiatives and projects. There’ll be $7 million in USAID technical support and advice to repair essential services. You know that in many of these newly liberated areas, there is bad damage to wells, electric infrastructure, that kind of thing. Six million will be used for the training of activists and administrators and providing technical assistance programs, both for the SOC and local councils in civil administration, and strengthening media outreach and their messaging to the Syrian people. An additional $3 million will go for supporting the work of grassroots activists, civil society groups, and key constituencies. These are some of the groups we’ve already been training – women, students, judges, these kinds of groups. And then finally, $7 million in additional assistance will go for education for civilians about mine risk mitigation and to help with public security and transitional justice, and to help document human rights violations for future accountability.
QUESTION: Can I ask a couple things on this?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: One, was this – these amounts, this breakdown was determined in consultation with the SOC, so they said --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- this is what we need? In the first two categories, the $10 million and the $30 million --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- can you give us just a quick couple of examples of what that – some more specifics, specificity as to what small grants --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- for what?
MS. NULAND: Right. So a small grant might be for a local council to rebuild a police station that was damaged.
MS. NULAND: Might be to rebuild a school that no longer exists. The material supplies might be generators to replace electric power while the electric grid is being rebuilt.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, all that sounds a lot like infrastructure, which is what I was – which is kind of what I thought, was that it seems to me unusual that only $7 million is going to go for infrastructure replacement, because it’s pretty bad, and I would think it’s going to take a lot more than just $7 million from the U.S. to repair this stuff. And it sounds like is that the 10 and the 30 go into infrastructure as well.
MS. NULAND: I think we have to see how it moves forward as the SOC identifies projects that need working on. Just to be clear that the $7 million, the third category I mentioned, is specifically to repair essential services. The $30 million could be used for any other kinds of materiel and supplies. Maybe the textbooks need to be updated, maybe the police need uniforms, these kinds of things.
MS. NULAND: The first $10 million would be in the form of grants to communities.
QUESTION: Moving on, I wondered if you’d seen the reports today that the British and French foreign ministers are calling for a lifting of the EU ban on arming the rebels. I wondered if there was any thoughts from the American side on that.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, when we were in Europe with Secretary Kerry on his first trip, the Syria question came up at all of our stops, obviously, in London and Paris and Rome and Berlin. In that context, we heard from some of those governments about their interest in lightening the EU arms embargo. They are having internal discussions to try to work out the details there. We’re obviously not going to get in the middle of their internal discussions, but we certainly want to see as many governments as possible provide appropriate support to the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
QUESTION: Does that include the United States?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve announced an additional $60 million, as you know.
QUESTION: But they’re specifically talking about lifting the arms embargo.
MS. NULAND: They’re talking about lightening the arms embargo was my understanding, but I would refer you to them in terms of what they’re talking about.
QUESTION: Well, whatever it is, whether it’s revising it or --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- lifting it completely, what does the United States think of that? Is that a good idea? It’s something that you can support? I mean, you had opinions about EU arms embargoes on – and EU sanctions on other countries, notably North Korea, notably China after Tiananmen. So, what do you think about – what’s your position on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, our understanding of what they are considering is not a lifting of the arms embargo on the Assad regime.
QUESTION: Okay. So are you --
MS. NULAND: They’re talking about lightening the regime such that they would be allowed to provide additional assistance to the Syrian – the Supreme Military Council, to others as they deem appropriate. This is obviously a decision for the EU to make, but we understand that some governments do want to do more, and we encourage them to continue to have that conversation inside the EU so that they can do more.
QUESTION: Understanding that it’s an EU decision to make, what do you think of it? Is this okay with you, or do you think it’s the right thing to do? I mean, let’s go – there’s a long list of things that you’ve told – you’ve said that are – sorry, things that are EU decisions that you’ve expressed opinions on.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me --
QUESTION: Admitting Turkey, arms sales to China, are two.
MS. NULAND: Well, without getting too deeply into their internal processes, let me simply say that the kinds of support that the U.K. and France have spoken publicly about wanting to provide to the Syrian opposition, we would certainly support.
QUESTION: So you think this is a good thing for them to lighten or ease or revise or whatever it is they’re doing to the arms embargo?
MS. NULAND: Again, we support some of these ideas that are being mooted, and they need to look internally within the EU about how they can do that.
QUESTION: You oppose accelerating violence in Syria, but on the other hand you support your allies to go ahead and send in maybe modern arms to the rebels.
MS. NULAND: Said, as I said, have said many, many times here, we in the United States have made our own decision to provide only nonlethal assistance. Other countries are making other decisions. What we are trying to do is to coordinate well with them. The kinds of things that some of our allies are talking about are still in the nonlethal category at this stage, but I would refer you to them for what they’re talking about.
Please, can we --
QUESTION: Will this (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: Go ahead.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I would like to know how the State Department is monitoring the development of – lack of development in terms of forming a government after – three weeks after the election. We have no coalition in sight. And we would like to know what the State Department thinks of this, and specifically yesterday, Ambassador Thorne had spoken with interest to the youth about some specific political movement, and if there is any encouragement that could come from it.
MS. NULAND: It’s obviously for Italians to come forward with a coalition after the elections. We’re obviously watching with interest. So we had a chance to see a broad cross-section of political actors when the Secretary was in Italy. But once the new Italian Government is formed, we look forward to working with our Italian allies on a wide range of issues, as we always do. Italy is absolutely a critical partner for solving European issues, global issues, regional issues.
With regard to Ambassador Thorne’s comments, I think they were taken out of context a bit in Italy. Let me simply say that Ambassador Thorne was endorsing the idea of grassroots democracy and use of the internet and social media as a tool in politics. He was not endorsing any specific party or movement.
QUESTION: Then you could suggest that the Italians follow the model of the Vatican in selecting their leaders, since that seems to go – you seem to think that that’s such a grand way to go.
MS. NULAND: I think he’s really signing up to be a monitor.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the Secretary had spoken to Xi Jinping today. Could you --
MS. NULAND: No, no, no. The President did, and I think my colleague, Jay Carney, will speak to that.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Hamid Karzai’s recent comments that he might unilaterally take the prison in Bagram, and that earlier link that the U.S. is in collusion with the Taliban, just, I want to get your reaction to that. I mean, is this – it’s clearly not helpful comments to what you guys are trying to achieve. But is there anything more? Has the Ambassador spoken to President Karzai about this? Is there any further reaction on it?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, most of those comments were made – they were comments made before he and Secretary Hagel had a chance to sit down. They had a very long and full meeting, and Secretary Hagel spoke to some of those things. Ambassador Cunningham has also spoken to them and made absolutely clear that we are in no way colluding with the Taliban. That would work exactly against everything that we’ve been doing for a decade in Afghanistan. I would advise that Secretary Kerry has also spoke to President Karzai today, and emphasized the importance of working closely together in this absolutely vital period as we continue to move forward on the transferring of full security responsibility to the Afghans, all the issues that come with that, and as Afghans start thinking about their extremely important elections in 2014.
QUESTION: I have a question about the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: Can we just stay on Afghanistan? I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: The Karzai spokesman today said, in reference to the comments that were made at the weekend, that in fact what President Karzai was – is trying to do is to correct ties with the United States. Is there a sense, here in this building or within the Administration, that ties between Afghanistan and the United States need to be corrected?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would actually refer you to comments that President Karzai himself made – I think it was about an hour ago – in which he reaffirmed the importance of our relationship and the importance of working together not only in the security sphere, but also in the democracy and economic sphere, in the interest of the kind of strong, prosperous, stable Afghanistan we all want to have.
QUESTION: And on the Bagram issue, why has it got --
MS. NULAND: Sorry?
QUESTION: On the Bagram prisoners, the transfer of the prisoners.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I know there was a review that was going on. Where are you on that?
MS. NULAND: As you know, General Dunford has spoken to this a couple of times. We have a few more issues that we still need to work through. We fully intend to keep our commitments, but we need to make sure that we do it in a safe and secure way. So we’re working closely with the Afghans to try to resolve this issue very, very soon.
QUESTION: Do you have a time frame?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to ISAF. I think they’re hopeful that it’ll be very soon.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Kerry speak to President Karzai before or after his comments today?
MS. NULAND: They speak regularly. This was the latest phone call that they had planned to speak.
QUESTION: So it was already --
MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether the phone call happened – I think the phone call happened – I don’t know what the sequence was between his public statements and the phone call, frankly.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Madam, as far as the situation in Afghanistan is concerned, and also the U.S. withdrawal, now Talibans in Afghanistan are giving warning to India that once the U.S. and NATO leaves Afghanistan, they will continue to war against India. Is Indian Government is in touch with the U.S. on this issue, that threats are going to be against India and other countries once the U.S. leaves Afghanistan?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that in our dialogue with India, our work together in support of a peaceful, stable, secure Afghanistan always comes up. India is providing a lot of support for police and other economic assistance to Afghanistan. We certainly have the same goal, which is an Afghanistan that can secure itself and that can have a prosperous, stable future, can be a good neighbor to India and everybody else in its region. So that’s very much a central focus of what we do with India.
QUESTION: What do you think, as far as development is concerned after the withdrawal, will continue Afghanistan – because as Taliban are saying that they will not allow anybody in Afghanistan to – as far as developments are concerned, any country or any contractors?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that our shared goal is that as Afghans take the lead for their own security, they are fully capable of doing so, that they are armed, trained, equipped, supported. That equipping and training will obviously continue. We’re in discussions with the Afghans about what else they might need, but our civilian support will also remain. We’ve made a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. The President’s been very, very clear about this, and that has not changed.
QUESTION: My question is about the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and recently on March 12th, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he told the legislature that the Tokyo war crimes trials following the Second World War were no longer – were no more than an exercise in victors’ justice. And he emphasized that the view of the war was not formed by the Japanese themselves but rather by the victorious allies, and it’s by their judgment only that have been condemned. What do you think of these comments?
MS. NULAND: I frankly didn’t see Prime Minister Abe’s statement. If we have anything to share on that, we will.
QUESTION: Yes. Israel?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Staying on Asia.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, I --
MS. NULAND: That was a stretch. Anyway. All right. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Not that much of a stretch. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I really just want to ask my North Korea more than anything.
MS. NULAND: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The South Korean Government shows all signs of continuing their plans to extend a hand across the border to their neighbors and continue humanitarian aid, which seems to kind of run counter to the idea of sanctions starving the regime of its resources. I’m just wondering if you support the South Koreans’ decision or if in private you’ve asked them to hold off or stop or anything like that.
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure what decisions you’re specifically referring to. We are obviously in very close contact with our allies in the Republic of Korea, as we are with Japan and with China, on a common approach to the D.P.R.K. You’ve seen the two rounds of sanctions in the UN Security Council. At the same time as National Security Advisor Donilon made clear, if the D.P.R.K. is prepared to make different choices, we are prepared to meet them in positive steps. But unfortunately, we’ve only seen them move in the wrong direction.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: At the end of the trip of – Secretary’s trip to Egypt it was announced that there’s – money is coming to Egypt, $250 million, let’s say 190 plus 60.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What’s the process of this? It’s done or it has to be approved or how it’s – what is the fate of that announcement?
MS. NULAND: That money has already been approved by the Congress for disbursement, as we said in the statement that Secretary Kerry issued as we were leaving Cairo. A hundred and ninety of that is direct budget support for the Egyptian budget, and the other 60 is for kick-starting the enterprise fund. So we will – that money’s obviously flowing out.
QUESTION: Is there a breakdown of those money, or just like urgent needs of the Egyptian budget?
MS. NULAND: Budget support is a direct transfer to budget to ensure that the budget stays solvent. We have done this in countries around the world when they are in extremis, which has been the case --
QUESTION: Which you might have to do to your own government now as well.
QUESTION: It’s – the other question is related to – on that trip, at the end of that, a statement came out and – later last week you talk about the political situation and the security situation in Egypt. And it seems that – I’m not saying non-development is happening, but at least opposite of development, which is I don’t know how to phrase it. It’s like worsening of the situation is taking place. And none of this – the suggested coalition or just, let’s say, common ground is there regarding the political process. Do you have any comment on that or have any observation on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you make clear, there is a huge amount at stake in Egypt and there’s a huge amount of ferment, both on the political side and on the economic side, as Secretary Kerry made clear when he was there.
As you know, since our visit, the Egyptian Government has welcomed the IMF back. They are getting ready to make a visit now. We’ll see if they are able to do better on this round in terms of coming up with an agreement on how IMF support could go forward. So that’s one thing.
On the electoral side, as you know, there was quite a bit of concern about how the elections were planning to go forward. We now have a judicial process underway to review that and to try to build more legal consensus about the right way forward. That is a good thing, that there is a chance for a review of that, and we’ll have to see where it goes. But as the Secretary made clear when he was there, we also think it’s absolutely essential that the government reach out to a broad cross-section of Egyptian citizens, both on political side and on the economic side, because there has to be more unity if the country’s going to move forward.
QUESTION: So on the IMF --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- did you see – and if you did, do you have any reaction to them – their rejection of this smaller short-term emergency, I guess what you could call a bridge loan?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the IMF has a number of different facilities that it can offer. The original conversation had been about a full IMF plan. When those negotiations became difficult, the IMF made a suggestion to Egypt that they might want to consider what they call a rapid financing instrument, which is a smaller package. The Egyptian Government has now, as you say, expressed its preference to have a full standby arrangement if they can work it out. So the IMF team is obviously going back in to see.
QUESTION: Well, that’s a very interesting way – (laughter) – has expressed its preference. They rejected it.
MS. NULAND: Well, they said they didn’t want to do the little deal.
MS. NULAND: They want to do the big deal. So now they have to bear down the two sides, Egypt and the IMF, and do it.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But what’s your – exactly. So what’s your view of that? Should they have – do you think that they should have gone ahead with the little one in the interim before they --
MS. NULAND: This is something for the IMF and Egypt to work out. The IMF, I think, was concerned that it would take more time for Egypt to be able to take the difficult steps. If the Egyptians think they can do them now and they can come up with an agreement, then obviously getting the full agreement done is a good thing too, so –
QUESTION: Well, yeah. But you’re a major lender, creditor, or donor to the Egyptian Government. I mean, you just gave away $190 million of tax – U.S. taxpayer money to the – in cash to the Egyptian Government. You don’t have a view as to whether they should accept or should go for an interim IMF agreement in the – while they’re still negotiating the larger one, which you say is so critically important to them recovering?
MS. NULAND: We will be guided by the IMF in this. The IMF is headed back in. If the Egyptians want to bear down and try to do the full standby and they can meet the terms that the IMF feels are necessary, then we will applaud that. But if they can’t and they get stuck again, then we’ll obviously encourage them to look at other ways forward.
QUESTION: Zimbabwe. There’s a constitutional referendum on Saturday. Civil society groups are threatening to boycott monitoring of that referendum because the electoral commission has refused to accredit members of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association as election monitors. Do you have a view to what’s going on there?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, let me say that we welcome the fact that there is a referendum going forward in Zimbabwe, this was on their referendum, and that that will ultimately lead to elections later in the year. That’s a very, very big step for Zimbabwe. We obviously would like to see the Government of Zimbabwe welcome, both for the referendum and for the elections, the broadest possible monitoring, Zimbabwean monitors and international monitors. That’s the best way to ensure the integrity of the process for the Zimbabwean people, who’ve been waiting a very, very long time to have more democracy. So we urge that this system be opened up.
QUESTION: The electoral commission has – gave us its reason to not accredit the Human Rights Association, that that Human Rights Association is involved in a legal case that’s brought by the Zimbabwe security forces. So do you believe that’s proper?
MS. NULAND: I’m obviously not in a position here to evaluate the case one way or the other. We want to speak to the principle, which is that there ought to be the broadest possible monitoring, both the referendum and of the elections later on, so that the Zimbabwean people have confidence that it’s as free and fair and transparent as possible.
QUESTION: But not with the Vatican? No monitoring needed there? Everything is okay?
MS. NULAND: I’m really interested that you’re obsessed with this today.
QUESTION: Yes. Can we go to Israel?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the formation of a new coalition government that includes the Jewish Home, which is led by Naftali Bennett, who has a stated goal of settling one million Jewish settlers in the West Bank?
MS. NULAND: Said, as we were coming down, our understanding was that they are getting closer in Israel to a coalition, but until everybody signs on the dotted line, I think we’ll reserve comment and wait and see what happens.
QUESTION: Maybe I missed it yesterday, but did the White House ever answer that question about the invitations to the President’s speech?
MS. NULAND: So my understanding was, after taking about 400 press calls, they then began referring folks to our embassy in Tel Aviv, who did put out a formal answer. I can get that for you.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: So in fact, the White House did not address this yesterday?
MS. NULAND: They addressed some of the calls, and then they ended up sending the rest of them to Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: Okay. So when you told me though that the White House was going to address them, that was incorrect.
MS. NULAND: No. When I told you that, they were taking the calls, and they subsequently moved the calls to Embassy Tel Aviv.
MS. NULAND: You’ve heard – you saw the speech that National Security Advisor Donilon gave on – which included a big section on cyber security, on our concerns, on our interest in working more closely with China on setting the rules of the road, on transparency, on being good stewards of the internet as we move forward. So we will continue that conversation when the Secretary has a chance to travel. You know that under our security dialogue with China we began a conversation last year on cyber, which we now want to deepen and expand.
QUESTION: And also Senkaku issue?
MS. NULAND: You know our position on the Senkakus. It hasn’t changed. I don’t think it’ll change between now and April either.
QUESTION: So what other topics you are going to talk with China, except cyber and --
MS. NULAND: As I said in my opening statement, we expect we’ll talk about the full range of bilateral issues, our regional security and economic issues, and global issues.
QUESTION: Your counterpart at the Chinese Foreign Ministry today made a suggestion that there should be international talks on cyber hacking. Would that be something that you would welcome?
MS. NULAND: We have participated actively in Internet – international Internet conferences, in UN-sponsored Internet conferences. As you know, what we don’t favor is using such efforts to close, limit, restrict the Internet in a way that would impinge on freedom of expression. So whereas we go into those conferences looking to create openness and fair, level playing field and equal access for citizens across the country – across the world – we sometimes encounter in those fora, efforts to use international mechanisms to actually close the Internet.
So this is one of the things that we’ll talk to the Chinese about, that as major economies we have responsibility as leaders to ensure that international mechanisms are used to protect freedom of expression, not to impinge on it.
QUESTION: So your fear is that Beijing might see talks about hacking as an excuse to impose further restrictions on the Internet?
MS. NULAND: Well, I didn’t see what Hong Lei said, but we want to make sure that we’re on the same page in the way we approach these things, not only bilaterally but also in the international context.
QUESTION: Just saying on China for a – very briefly, is the S&ED going to continue in the second --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Secretary’s trip to – when he goes to China is not – it’s not for that, it’s a separate thing, but the S&ED will still exist?
MS. NULAND: Thank you for that, Matt. Yes. It is our turn here in the States to host the Security and Economic Dialogue with China. So the Secretary will make his trip to China, Korea, and Japan in April. And then sometime in the summer, we will host the Chinese S&ED delegation here. Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew will host them together. We haven’t yet set the dates on that. We have to work it out with the Chinese.
QUESTION: Except for one day that we have a Latin American pope and the situation relaxes a little bit in Latin America, especially in Venezuela during the week, both candidates have exchanged insults, very harsh comments, one each to another, Capriles against Maduro. I want to know if the U.S. is following this kind of situation that really is showing that it’s going to be, during this month, a very harsh situation, right, in Venezuela.
MS. NULAND: We’re certainly following the election campaign in Venezuela. You know where we’ve been on this. We want to see the Venezuelan people have a chance to vote in a free, fair, transparent election. We want to see a level playing field, including in terms of press freedom, going into those elections. So it’s some – we’re obviously watching very closely how this goes forward.
QUESTION: You talk about the press freedom. I was going to mention that in this week we learned that one of the media of Venezuela named Globovision also was going to be sold. They say to something (inaudible) official government, that a group of companies (inaudible) official government. I want to know if there is any comment on that, (inaudible) in Venezuela they are losing any chances to have any opposition media or any kind of debate in other kinds of media.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the announcements about the Globovision situation. We’ve also seen what they’ve had to say about why we’re not in a position to evaluate it independently. But as I said, freedom of expression is absolutely essential around the world, but especially in Venezuela at this time for the Venezuelan people to have confidence in their electoral process.
QUESTION: So you think that only the Pope, that is Latin American, will have to work in all these Latin American confrontations, or the U.S. probably will prepare a trip maybe from the Secretary, or any more comments about what’s going on in South America with these kind of problems and fightings between political situations, right?
MS. NULAND: Well, I have full confidence that the Secretary will be traveling to Latin America. I don’t have anything to announce yet, but obviously, working in our own hemisphere is a high priority for all of us, and supporting democracy and prosperity for our own hemisphere is very, very important.
MS. NULAND: We can.
QUESTION: Yes, of course there was a lot of explosions today (inaudible), but on the eve of the war, the Costs of War project by Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University issued an assessment that the war cost $2 trillion – quite staggering – and could conceivably cost $6 billion, with, like, 123,000 civilian Iraqis dead and many, many others.
So I wanted to ask you what – on the 10th anniversary, what are the lessons learned for U.S. foreign policy and indeed, the implications?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ll have more to say as we get closer to the 10th anniversary. But the path to the relationship that the U.S. and Iraq have today has obviously been challenging, but through our sustained efforts, we’ve now forged a strategically important bilateral relationship, one that continues to be a top priority for us, a top priority for Iraq. The challenges are complex. They remain.
But as compared to where we were in the Saddam era, we now have a bilateral security agreement, we have deep economic interests and ties, we have a security relationship, we have a political relationship. Both countries have made enormous sacrifices to get us where we are and to start this new chapter, but we’re committed to Iraq for the long term and we’re committed to its prosperity, its unity and integrity, and to its ability to be a strong democracy in the region.
QUESTION: The Syrian-Iraqi border is becoming a lawless frontier, and in fact, the U.S. is probably aiding the government in trying to control some of the al-Qaida elements that control actually both sides of this frontier. And at the same time, there is a possible breakaway by the KRG, they’re threatening, and so on. I wonder what you’re doing, or if you could share with us some of the things that you are doing, one, to convince the KRG to remain confederated with Iraq, and second, to help the Iraqis control their border?
MS. NULAND: First, with regard to our contacts with the KRG, you know that we maintain a broad and deep relationship with them. We are in constant contact with them, as we are with all of the major leaders and groups in Iraq. And our message to all of them is the same, that the Iraqi constitution calls for a unified country where the groups can coexist, can make political compromises with each other, that there’s a lot of work undone. And we are encouraging all sides to continue the dialogue about how Iraq can move forward, and particularly in the area of completing its work on energy, et cetera, so that all Iraqis can benefit from that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:39 p.m.)
DPB # 44