Interview With Nieuwsuur

Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
The Hague, Netherlands
January 8, 2014

Question: First of all could you tell me, why are you in the Netherlands at the moment? What is your mission here?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: I’m here for bilateral consultations on the full range of things that we do together. As you know, the U.S.-Netherland Alliance is deep, it’s rich, it’s long in history. And particularly now to see the Netherlands doing so much with us not just in Europe but globally, we just have a lot of work together. We’re working together in Afghanistan, of course; we’re working together to support humanitarian relief in Syria; we are working together on our Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, our new trade agreement which is going to bring jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic. The Netherlands leads, of course, on rule of law issues. So we have a lot to do.

Question: What has been the highest point on your agenda?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: We were primarily planning for a very busy transatlantic year. I think you know that in the United States we’ve been calling for a transatlantic renaissance in 2014. That it’s not enough for all of us just to recover. We really need to deliver prosperity and security and values not just for our own people but also globally. So we have an opportunity this year, both with the TTIP on the economic side and with the NATO Summit in September on the security side to really reinvest in our future together. So that’s what we’re working on.

Question: I can talk to you about Syria and Iraq too.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Please.

Question: The last few days we had some very serious news from Iraq.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Absolutely.

Question: Anbar Province. And some commentators are now saying it was a mistake for the United States to leave so soon. Iraq was not ready for it. What are your feelings about this?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Obviously we are all watching with concern the situation on the ground in Iraq. I think you know that Vice President Biden was in touch with key Iraqi leaders in the last 36 hours to urge them to work together and to work with tribal leaders and others in the key cities in Fallujah and Ramadi, to say no to terror, to stand up to taking Iraq backwards, and for Iraqis to manage their security together.

I think you know the backdrop of the U.S. decision. It was an Iraqi decision, how we would work with them going forward, and we have in this instance offered certain kinds of support for their security effort and we’ll continue to do that.

Question: The Secretary of State said, Kerry said we might send some more weapons, but there will be no boots on the ground, no new boots on the ground. Is it possible for the United States to stay out if Iraq might become another safe haven for terrorists?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Again, none of us has a crystal ball but we are focused now with the Iraqis on their capacity as citizens of their country to manage their security issues together, to manage it across confessional lines, to manage it across political lines. That’s what they want to do with our support, with the support of European countries as well. So that’s what we should all be pushing for now. Iraqis being able to manage their own security challenges.

Question: Can they?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Again, that is what they want to be able to do. We need to support them in that and we need to work with them to get the kind of progress that they deserve and that the Iraqi people have suffered a lot to have.

Question: Were you shocked that the rebels were able to take control of Fallujah which is so important city politically, symbolically?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: The presence of extremists of this kind, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Syria, whether it’s in Lebanon, is disturbing to all of us. And in fact in the transatlantic security conversation, even as we continue to talk about Afghanistan and our continued support for Afghanistan as they stand up, increasingly our security conversation is about the challenges that we see from the other side of the Mediterranean, literally in Europe’s back yard.

Question: Could Europe do more?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: I think this is the conversation that we’re having together, that as a NATO Alliance in the first instance we have a self-defense mission, but we also have a global security mission. We have done a lot in the past. We rid Libya of a dictator together. All of the decade of work that we’ve done together in Afghanistan. I think if called on, if asked for support, whether it’s security training, whether it’s other kinds of support, we need to have the flexibility to do that and we also have to be invested so that we can do that. And frankly, if we do it together it’s cheaper for all of us than if we each try to do things individually.

So as we plan for our NATO Summit in September we’re very much talking about future NATO and that ability to be flexible and unified in the way we offer support to countries that need it, particularly those struggling with extremism.

Question: About Syria, we had some quite disturbing news last, the fighting’s going on there, especially about an organization called ISIS seem to be very very strong. Could it turn out that we could consider Assad as the lesser of two evils?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: I don’t think that you can look at a guy who has brutalized his own people, hundreds of thousands of them, for more than two years, as anything other than a grave threat to peace and security not just in his own nation but in the region and to all of us.

The problem, of course, is that this war that he’s wrought on his own people has also provided space for extremists of other kinds to enter the battlefield. This was exactly the concern that all of us started raising quite some time ago. So now you have a variety of extremist agendas. Whether it’s his, whether it’s al-Qaida proxies, whether it’s Hezbollah and their proxies. So this is why it is absolutely essential that we get into a political conversation about a different and better alternative for Syria, which is why we’re pushing so hard to get to the Geneva II Conference and start talking about a transitional governing authority that can take Syria forward.

Question: It seems like the radicals are running the show.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: As I said, there are extremists of all kinds and the issue now is to bring together moderates, moderates in the opposition, those in the government who don’t have blood on their hands who conceivably could take this country forward in a transitional way to a more peaceful future. So we’re trying to create space for that kind of a conversation, and to do it as quickly as possible before extremists on all sides completely eradicate that possibility.

Question: It seems to be going that way. We hear horrific stories about what’s happening in parts of Syria. We know rebels, Muslim people went from Europe and Saudi Arabia to rebel side to fight with them. Can you discuss about what’s happening there?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: There are horrific stories in terms of the support that Hezbollah and Iran proxies are also doing to the civilian population. There are horrific stories from the Assad side where he’s now dropping barrel bombs on the people of Aleppo and the people of Homs, innocent civilians.

So again, this is why it is so essential that moderates throughout the country come together behind a political solution, but you’re also seeing the moderate opposition who previously was focused only on the Assad regime now also focused on trying to battle al-Qaida affiliated groups. So it is a very very dangerous situation and it was very much a subject of consultations here in The Hague and we are very grateful for the contribution that the Netherlands is making both in terms of the humanitarian relief it’s providing, the role you play as host to the OPCW and Mrs. Kaag’s role. But also the security you’re providing through the Patriots to our ally Turkey which is on the front line.

Question: What can we do more of?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: I think all of us have to work as strongly as we can to encourage the opposition to come to the Geneva II talks, to be prepared to support those talks as they move forward. If they begin to gain traction, to make it clear that the international community will support a different future.

We’ve also got to be very very strong with countries like Iran, countries like Russia that have influence over this battlefield, and they need to use that influence to get the bombing stopped, to get the weapons reduced, and to push the parties to the peace table.

Question: Is Iran now becoming a partner to the United States?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: As you know, we are, as part of the P5+1 which we do under the auspices of Lady Ashton, we are engaged in a very intensive conversation now about the Iranian nuclear program.

With regard to Syria we’ve made clear that we would be prepared to work with Iran if it would accept the Geneva I document which laid out this road map towards a transitional governing body. Iran has not been willing to do that and as we’ve made clear, Iran is playing a role on the battlefield as well.

Question: Which is very negative.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: It is not a positive role.

Question: A final question, your last few days have you become more optimistic or pessimistic about the Syrian/Iraq region?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: It’s very clear that there are challenges. There are challenges in Iraq, there are challenges in Syria, there are challenges in Libya, in Lebanon, and the concern obviously is the linkages among them. That’s why all of us who value peace, security, freedom, have to use our influence to get this into a political framework.

Thank you very much.

Question: Thank you very much.