Daily Press Briefing - January 5, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Bureau of Counterterrorism
    • Meeting/Quartet
  • IRAN
    • Oil Imports/EU Continuing to Consult
    • Sanctions
    • Bagram/Detention Operations
    • Support Afghan-led Peace Process
  • IRAQ
    • Condemnation of Violence
    • Assistant Secretary Feltman's Meetings in Cairo
    • Judicial Proceedings/International Standards
    • Assistant Secretary Campbell's Meetings
    • U.S. Supports Freedom of Speech
    • Implementation of Commission Report
    • Press Freedom Issues
    • Ambassador Haqqani
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 5, 2012


1:01 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Thursday. I don’t have anything at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: I have three very brief housekeeping items and then, really, nothing else. One is the taken question on the – yesterday’s scintillating briefing on the counterterrorism bureau. The TQ didn’t answer the question, which was whether or not the salary rise – a salary for an assistant secretary is higher than a coordinator for an office.

MS. NULAND: I am told that Ambassador Benjamin, because he’s already a presidential appointee and because he’s already Senate-confirmed for his ambassadorial title, will have an equivalent salary when he becomes an assistant secretary.

QUESTION: So there’s no change in any salary for those --

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Second thing is yesterday, you said that you expected the Israelis and Palestinians would meet again tomorrow --

MS. NULAND: Yes, that --

QUESTION: -- January 6th in Amman. It’s looking like that’s not happening.

MS. NULAND: What --

QUESTION: Why? And is there a new day – is there a date for a next meeting?

MS. NULAND: I’m not sure whether I was incorrect yesterday or whether things have moved so that negotiators have a chance to consult with capitals, but the next meeting is now on Monday the 9th. So the good news here is we do appear to be in a process where the parties will be meeting directly, and we hope that this will continue even beyond Monday the 9th.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is that you were asked a question yesterday about the EU apparently coming to an agreement on a ban on Iranian oil imports. You responded by saying you thought this was a good thing, but haven’t – is it your understanding that the EU has moved beyond where it was on December 1st when it said it was going to do this?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that the EU is continuing to consult, that it has not made final decisions, that it expects to bring these issues forward at its ministerial meetings closer to the end of the month. But you saw the – some of the press reporting out of Brussels that talked about an agreement in principle. So that’s what I was responding to, but you are correct, Matt, that it is not yet completely signed, sealed, and delivered.

QUESTION: Well, but isn’t it your understanding that that agreement in principle was actually reached on in early December, when they said that they were going to do this?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that there were pieces of it that were agreed in early December and that work continued throughout December, and that’s why you’re seeing new press reporting about agreement in principle.

QUESTION: Well, can you describe what your understanding is of what is changed between then and – that and yesterday?

MS. NULAND: Well, there are a lot of details that have to go into this kind of thing when you take 27 countries and try to get them to harmonize their approach. So my understanding is that in early December, they agreed that they would work on this throughout the month of December. They have been working with technical experts, et cetera, to try to put together a package. That’s the package that’ll be finally looked at at the end of the month. But what you saw coming out of Brussels was an effort to say we’re making progress at that level.

QUESTION: But your understanding is that a package – a final package is ready – is now ready for approval at this meeting that could be on January 30th or --

MS. NULAND: I think to get to that level of detail, I’m going to send you to the EU.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up on the earlier one on the Israel-Palestinian meeting. Is that going to be in Amman as we previously understood?

MS. NULAND: I believe so, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And it’ll involve the same interlocutors that we had in the past round?

MS. NULAND: Yes. They’re going to meet directly and they’re going to meet under the sponsorship of the Jordanians and, particularly, Foreign Minister Judeh. So we very much welcome the Jordanian leadership on this issue.

QUESTION: Victoria, what value will these meetings have? The Palestinians issued a statement yesterday that the settlements must stop for them to go back into direct negotiations.

MS. NULAND: Well, you know where we’ve been on this, Said – that we believe that the parties talking directly together is the best way forward. We’ve had one round of that. We’ll have another round next Monday. We’ve called on both sides not to set preconditions, not to negotiate in public. So we – but we are encouraged that they are both coming to the table, that they’re talking directly. We think that’s the best path forward.

QUESTION: Okay. But if there is still the entrenchment of positions, as we have seen, both by the Palestinians and the Israelis, how could you move forward? What kind of incentive can you give them, or, in fact, a threat can be issued to them so they can move the process forward?

MS. NULAND: Said, nobody said that this was going to be easy. This is hard work. They have to do that hard work primarily together. What the Quartet has tried to do, what the United States has tried to do, what the Jordanian Government is trying to do is provide a positive environment for them to work in to give them some ideas, to be supportive, et cetera. So – but from our perspective, the fact that they are now meeting face to face is a very good thing.


QUESTION: The president of Afghanistan today ordered for – that the U.S. prisoners in Bagram Air Base be transferred to the Afghanistan Government. He’s saying that there have been violation – human rights violation at prison by the U.S. authorities. What do you have to say on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve obviously seen President Karzai’s comments on Bagram. We have been working, as you know, for some time with the Afghan Government on appropriate timing and pace for transfer of the detention facilities. We’re going to continue to work with the Afghan Government to implement the transition that we have both agreed needs to happen of detention operations in Afghanistan. We need to do this in a manner that is maximally responsible. That’s what we want to do, and we’re going to keep working on it.

QUESTION: And what’s the timeline for this transfer?

MS. NULAND: Again, it’s a matter that we have to work on with the Afghan Government as appropriate mechanisms are put in place for the transfer. So those discussions are still ongoing, but when we have something further to announce, we will.

QUESTION: And what about his charges that – violation of human rights in these prisons?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we take seriously any charges or allegations of detainee abuse. We respect the rights of detainees who are in facilities that the United States manages, and we ensure that all detainees in U.S. custody are treated in accordance with international legal obligations, including Geneva Common Article III. Any specific allegations of detainee abuse are investigated fully by the Department of Defense and by ISAF.


QUESTION: Is there a number how many detainees are there in the Bagram --

MS. NULAND: That’s an issue that I would give – ask you to raise with DOD. I don’t have that.

QUESTION: Okay. And Mullah Omar yesterday said that they are negotiating with the United States on the proposed peace deal. So this is the --

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the first word. Afghanistan --

QUESTION: Mullah Omar yesterday said that they are negotiating for a peace deal with the United States. This is the first time he has made this statement, so what have you – do you have some comment on it? What kind of peace deal is being negotiated? Do you think some headway has been made?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further to what we’ve been saying all week, what we’ve been saying for months, which is that we support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation. This is something that the Afghans have to lead. We are pleased to be supportive of that process. We are pleased to participate as appropriate and when necessary, but this has to be an Afghan-led process.

QUESTION: Do you (inaudible) is that they are negotiating with the United States?

MS. NULAND: This is not a peace that can be negotiated by us. It has to be negotiated primarily among Afghans.

QUESTION: And are you considering removing him from the list of Rewards for Justice Program, the 10 million award that he has (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: I certainly don’t have anything to announce on that.


MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. There was a tremendous spike in violence today. There was the killing of 60 mainly pilgrims in Nasiriyah. Another (inaudible) there were several explosions. Are there any particular efforts that Ambassador Jeffrey is going to be doing to sort of bring about positions that are – pulls apart or – in the effort of reconciliation? Are there – are you advising the Government of Iraq or the government of Maliki perhaps to retract some positions taken against the Vice President Hashimi?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, with regard to this latest spate of terrorist violence, we condemn these acts. We consider them acts of terror. They are desperate attempts by the same kind of folk who have been active in Iraq, trying to turn back the clock.

With regard to your larger question about our involvement in trying to support the Iraqis in settling their disputes peacefully through political means, as we’ve said for a number of days now, Ambassador Jeffrey’s been very active, Vice President Biden’s been active, in encouraging Iraqi politicians to talk to each other, to meet. And as I’ve said, we are quite encouraged that a number of Iraqi politicians are also calling for such a meeting which we hope takes place soon.

QUESTION: Another subject? A couple on Egypt: Firstly, do you have any updates on Assistant Secretary Feltman’s meetings there? Who has he talked to, what about? And then I have a couple of follow-on.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. First of all, he is still in Cairo. He has had meetings already with senior Egyptian and Arab League officials, including from the Egyptian ministries of foreign affairs and defense. He did his own press backgrounder in Cairo earlier today, so I call your attention to that, but I believe he has more meetings in Cairo tomorrow and on Saturday. He noted that in addition to discussing U.S.-Egyptian issues, including the situation with the NGOs, he’s also discussed a number of regional issues, including Syria, Israel-Palestinian issues, et cetera, during his meetings.

He has obviously, with regard to the ongoing election season in Egypt, reiterating our support for the Egyptian people’s quest for a democratic transition there, including a peaceful and legitimate transfer to representative government, which is committed to all the universal human rights of their people. He’s also been consulting with other foreign ambassadors in Cairo, taking soundings about the situation there. And he will – I think his next stop is Riyadh, where he goes, I believe, on Sunday.

QUESTION: Did he or will he have any meetings with any representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood given the (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything specific on that. I think his meetings today were with the government, but as I said, he’s got meetings tomorrow and on Saturday.

QUESTION: Okay. We have the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in an interview with Al Hayat saying that they don’t regard the peace treaty with Israel as binding, that they didn’t sign it, and if they come to power, they might put it to a referendum. Do you have any reaction to that? Are you – is this something that you’re trying to seek more clarification on from them?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen this press report. I would say that it is one member of the MB. We have had other assurances from the party with regard to their commitment not only to universal human rights, but to the international obligations that the Government of Egypt has undertaken. As we’ve said again and again, not only with regard to Egypt but with regard to other states in that region in transition, we expect that legitimate parties will not only support universal human rights, but will also (inaudible) continue to support international obligations made by their governments.

QUESTION: So as far as you understand, this isn’t officially the Muslim Brotherhood position that was reflected in that interview. You still think that they are bound to uphold the treaty?

MS. NULAND: We – they have made commitments to us along those regards, and as I said, we will judge these parties by what they do.

QUESTION: Can you give us a bit of flavor from the meeting? I mean, did – from Feltman’s meetings? Did he – what – particularly with the Egyptian officials at the defense and foreign ministries, did he hear – what did he hear from them? Did they renew their pledge, which apparently wasn’t very serious, that was made to Ambassador Patterson last week on the crackdown of the NGOs? What was the other side of the conversation like?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get too much into details other than to say that he is continuing to work, as is Ambassador Patterson, to resolve these issues. Our perspective remains that these NGOs have cooperated fully with Egyptian judicial authorities. They continue to do so. He made the point that all of these parties are committed to – all of these organizations are committed to democratic principles, and they have been willing to register, et cetera, and it’s the Egyptian Government that hasn’t made a decision whether it wants to register them.

With regard to the assurances that he heard back, my understanding is that that conversation is ongoing.

QUESTION: So in other words, your concerns of yesterday or the day before earlier this week still exist and still --

MS. NULAND: This issue has not yet been resolved.


QUESTION: Just curious: Was Assistant Secretary Feltman planning to meet with any representatives from the NGOs themselves while he was on the ground in Cairo?

MS. NULAND: I don’t believe he’s done that yet. I know that our Ambassador Anne Patterson did meet with representatives earlier in the week. I don’t know whether Assistant Secretary Feltman also plans to do that, but I’m sure she’s heard from our Embassy folks and –

QUESTION: Can I ask a question about Iran? I mean –

MS. NULAND: Let’s just stay on Egypt.


QUESTION: As you’ve no doubt seen that the prosecutor in the trial of former President Mubarak has said that they’re seeking the death penalty, and I’m just wondering if you have any comment on that. Do you think that’s an appropriate punishment to be looking for in this case?

MS. NULAND: Not going to comment specifically on that issue. I think you know where we have been, that we want to see this judicial proceeding and any judicial proceedings go forward in conformity with Egyptian law and with international jurisprudence standards.

QUESTION: Victoria, a follow-up on Andy’s question on the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, they gave you these assurances in casual conversations, or are they stated policy – the party policy line, or how did they give you their assurances to abide by internationally agreed –

MS. NULAND: Well, let me say that among the reasons that we are trying to meet with different political actors in Egypt, including with the Muslim Brotherhood, is that this isn’t a monolithic organization. None of these groups are monolithic. We want to make sure that we have an open dialogue where we are being clear publicly, but we’re also being clear privately about our hopes and expectations for Egypt’s future, our hopes and expectations that any political actors will respect human rights and will uphold the international obligations of the Egyptian Government. So we have, in that context, had some good reassurances from different interlocutors, and we will continue to seek those kinds of reassurances going forward.

Let’s go to Iran in the –

QUESTION: I just want to go back to your answer on the Mubarak question.


QUESTION: You said you want to see this judicial proceeding as well as any other judicial proceeding go forward in accordance with – what’s your – with dot, dot, dot. What’s your opinion of the Egyptian judicial system at the moment? Is it capable of meeting these standards?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the international community is looking to Egypt to set a high standard with this trial and with other procedures going forward now.

QUESTION: But – yeah, but right now do you have confidence –

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to give them a report card, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, in general, what’s your feeling about the Egyptian judicial system? Is it capable of delivering a just and fair and – verdict?

MS. NULAND: It is our expectation that they will meet international standards, and that’s what we’ll be looking for.


QUESTION: So I mean, recently there’s a congressional letter requesting that the State Department to investigate Chinese company, Huawei, still in Iran, and this letter came at a time when the U.S. Government is working very hard to try to talk with the Chinese Government and get their support on the new rounds of sanctions on Iran. So the question is that: Do you think the release of this congressional letter at this time would add up to the U.S. negotiation power when dealing with – or when the U.S. is talking with the Chinese?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, you’re right. We are talking to China. We’re talking to other countries around the world about the importance of strengthening sanctions against Iran, which we think is important for all of us as we try to bring Iran back into compliance with its international obligations and truly ready to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its program. These are goals that we share with China.

Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell was just in Beijing earlier this week. Among a broad range of other things, he certainly talked about Iran, and he talked about the implications for our partners and friends of the new legislation. That said, we already have legislation on the books, which the Chinese Government is well aware of, which could come into force in this case. We’ve received the letter from the Congress. We are looking at it. We have been aware for some time of these kinds of allegations, and we are following up on this. This is a complex issue. It’s going to take time. And as we have already explained to the Chinese Government, if we assess that the company involved was engaged in sanctionable activity involving the export of technology to Iran that was used specifically to disrupt, monitor, or suppress communications with the people of Iran, we will have to take appropriate action under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, Divestment Act of 2010.

So we’ve been through these cases before with China, with other partners. I think what’s important in this case is that we maintain strong communication about our shared bilateral goals, our shared multinational goals with regard to Iran, but that we’re also clear about how U.S. law binds us in certain specific cases of – as I said, this one is under review. We’ll have to see where it goes.

QUESTION: That action that you –

QUESTION: May I do a follow-up on this? Because –

MS. NULAND: Say again.

QUESTION: May I do a follow-up on this?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: I noticed that recently there are some former senior advisors from the State Department actually also raised concerns regarding the new rounds of sanctions, because the concerns basically think that this sanction might escalate the retaliation action from the Iranian side and also claims that the first casualty, if such escalation were to happen, would actually be the U.S. and European’s economic recovery. So I wonder – what’s your comment on this?

MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this a little bit here. You’re talking about the – with regard to sanctions on companies that engage with Iran’s oil sector. We believe that it is important for countries around the world to look hard at their dependence on Iranian oil and to do what they can to diversify and to cut their ties. These are steps that we have taken; these are steps that we are encouraging of our partners around the world. This is not going to be easy; it’s not necessarily going to be quick, but it’s important, because this sector is a lifeline for the regime that is pursuing policies that are dangerous to all of us.

So this is a conversation that we’re having with our partners, including with China. But we believe that if we work together and if we also work to increase global supply generally that this will be an important next step in the global effort to tighten the noose on their regime.

QUESTION: You talked about that you would have to take appropriate action under the law. That would apply to China the country or the company?

MS. NULAND: The company.

QUESTION: So it would not apply to – and it’s not --

MS. NULAND: These are sanctions – these are company-designated sanctions. This is the CISADA legislation.

Yeah. Andy.

QUESTION: A follow-up just on China and Assistant Secretary Campbell’s trip. I know he’s been speaking out there and in Seoul about discussions on North Korea. But I’m wondering if the Taiwan election came up in his discussions with the Chinese? The Chinese Government has made some fairly strong pronouncements about how it wants to see the election turn out, calling the opposition a threat to peace and so on. And I’m wondering if – how the U.S. and China are squaring their positions on Taiwan’s upcoming election.

MS. NULAND: Well, we generally talk about cross-strait relations when we have these kinds of reviews at the level of Assistant Secretary Campbell. I don't have any specifics from those conversations. I think we’ve all seen the public statements from the Chinese Government. You know where we are, and I’m confident that he made clear our view that we want to see – we strongly support the – Taiwan’s democratic system and the will of the Taiwanese people to make their own choice in their upcoming election, that we’re not planning to interfere in it, we want to see it be free, fair, and open, we don’t take sides, and that we’ll continue to work with whomever the people of Taiwan elect within the current construct.

QUESTION: Does that – did that – did those conversations you mentioned this time around, where – that Assistant Secretary Campbell had with the Chinese – were they – did they go beyond the – what they usually are, which is the Chinese basically laying out the – laying out their objections to arm sales, to – and basically everything else and asking for a commitment to the one China policy?

MS. NULAND: I don't have any more details to share publicly --

QUESTION: I’m curious if your guidance, that the guidance there, that strongly supporting Taiwan’s democratic aspirations and that kind of thing, is related to his meetings or if that was just – if that was prepared just for the election and not having anything to do with --

MS. NULAND: No. I didn’t mean to imply that I was giving you the gist of his conversation with the Chinese. I’m --

QUESTION: Okay. This is just generally what you think about the Taiwan election?

MS. NULAND: This – correct.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Did the State Department provide any input to the Defense Strategic Review document, which was released in Pentagon today?

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. One more time, slowly.

QUESTION: Did the State Department provide any input to the Defense Strategic Review document, which was released in the Pentagon today by the President?

MS. NULAND: Well, this was obviously a – primarily a Department of Defense effort to realign its own house to the current realities and to the global situation. Obviously we had input throughout the process. We are partners in implementing the national security strategy, and I would expect that the Secretary may have something further to say on this later in the day.

QUESTION: This document calls for a strong U.S. presence in Asia-Pacific region. What role do you see for India in that part of the world?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve spoken frequently and regularly – the President has, the Secretary has – about our desire for a strong, growing, robust partnership with India. I don't think I have anything particularly new there. I would refer you back to the strong statements that the President’s made and the Secretary’s made.

QUESTION: Right. So you said the Secretary’s going to say something about the --

MS. NULAND: I would expect she’ll have a written statement later today.

QUESTION: -- paper statement.

QUESTION: A question on Congo, if I might. Following last month’s election, you called on authorities in the government of Kabila Joseph to proceed with maximum openness and transparency. Can you give us any reaction to that government suspending broadcasts by RFI, allegedly because of their coverage of the opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi?

MS. NULAND: Well, we support freedom of speech around the world, in Congo included. We are concerned about these reports of Radio France International having been shutdown. We urge the relevant Congolese authorities to reinstate RFI’s frequencies immediately and we continue to advocate to all Congolese political leaders and their supporters to act responsibly and to renounce violence.

QUESTION: Could I question on Bahrain?

MS. NULAND: You may.

QUESTION: There was a very dismal report on the situation of the opposition today, that it was hammered pretty badly by the government. Is Bahrain and what is happening in Bahrain completely off your radar screen?

MS. NULAND: Of course it’s not off our radar screen. We continue to work with Bahraini authorities on the implementation of their own commission report, which calls for a number of significant reforms in the kingdom. We are working closely with them from the Embassy. We’re working with them here in Washington. I haven’t seen this report that you mention, but if we have anything further --

QUESTION: Are you able to meet with opposition figures in Bahrain?

MS. NULAND: We are. We are. Yeah. You know Assistant Secretary Posner for – Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, one of Under Secretary Otero’s bureau’s assistant secretaries, was in Bahrain – I think it was just before Christmas – and had a broad cross-section of meetings.


QUESTION: On the Rewards for Justice program, once a name is included in that list, is there any process to review it or remove it from the list?

MS. NULAND: You mean do we ever go back and take folks off the list?


MS. NULAND: I’m going to have to take that one. I don't know how the process works.

QUESTION: And can you also include in that if any name has been removed from that list so far?

MS. NULAND: If any name has ever been removed from the list? We’ll take that one as well.


QUESTION: Just another freedom of speech question. On the Turkish trial of the journalists – I know the Secretary brought that up in her visit to Turkey and that’s featured in your conversations with the Turkish Government in the past. They’re now going on trial. I’m wondering if you’ve made any new representations to the Turks about this trial. Is there – are you monitoring the process? What’s the story?

MS. NULAND: We are monitoring the process. I don't think the Secretary left the Turkish Government in any doubt about where we stand on the press freedom issues when she was in Istanbul. I think it was in October, November. She made some very strong statements about the ability of Turkey to realize its full potential as a vibrant democracy depending upon its support for openness and full freedoms, including a free exchange of ideas, free press, et cetera. So we are watching this carefully and continuing to make clear our strong concerns about press freedom in Turkey to the Turkish Government.

QUESTION: And are you concerned that the fact that this trial is going forward makes it appear as though the Secretary’s admonitions have fallen on deaf ears there.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we have to see how this – whether this trial goes forward in a manner that is consistent with international standards, consistent with international human rights. So that’s the standard by which we’ll judge it.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the reaction of Turkish officials after you raised this concern with them?

MS. NULAND: This is an ongoing conversation that we are having and that, in fact, Turkish NGOs and Turkish members of the media are also having with their own government. So –

One last. Yeah.

QUESTION: Three U.S. Senators, including Senator John McCain, have issued a statement today saying that they are troubled by the reports of mistreatment of Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Do you share their views, and have they (inaudible) to you on this issue?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen this particular statement. I think we’ve talked about Ambassador Haqqani a number of times, including this week. We want to see any judicial proceedings go forward in a manner that is open, transparent, consistent with the highest standards of international justice.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:31 p.m.)

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