Daily Press Briefing - January 13, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Background Briefing on Burma
    • Secretary's Conversations with President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu
    • Secretary Travel to Liberia, Togo, Cote d'Ivoire, Cape Verde
    • Alleged Russian Shipment of Ammunition to Syria
  • IRAN
    • Strait of Hormuz/International Waterway
    • U.S. Continues to Encourage Countries to Reduce Dependence on Iranian Oil
    • Update on Amir Hekmati
    • Status of the NATO Supply Lines
    • Ongoing Engagement on Bilateral Issues
  • IRAQ
    • Encourage Open Dialogue between Leaders
  • ASIA
    • Trilateral Consultation with United States, Japan, and South Korea
  • EU
    • Code of Conduct
    • Consulting with Congress
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 13, 2012


1:05 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Apologies for being out so late, colleagues. We had a lot going on this morning. I hope all of you saw the President’s statement and the Secretary’s statement on Burma today. And as you know, we’ll be offering a backgrounder on the Burma situation with a senior State Department official right after we finish here.

A couple of other housekeeping things. Arshad has been asking for days, if not weeks, about secretarial communication with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Prior to this week, the Secretary had spoken to President Abbas on November 10th, to Prime Minister Netanyahu on November 21st. As you know, the President spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. Unbeknownst to your humble servant here, the Secretary spoke to President Abbas on Wednesday. So just to complete your records on that at your request.

And then I have a brief little announcement on secretarial travel. Secretary Clinton will travel to Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Cape Verde January 16-17 – yes, we are going to do all those countries in two and a half days – to demonstrate U.S. commitment to post-conflict return to peace, good governance, economic development, as well as to emphasize the U.S. focus on democratization.

While in Liberia, Secretary Clinton will attend President Sirleaf’s inauguration and preside over the ribbon cutting of our new Embassy compound in Monrovia.

In Cote d’Ivoire, she’ll meet with President Ouattara to showcase our support for national reconciliation and strengthening democratic institutions following the successful legislative elections in December.

In the first visit of a Secretary of State to Togo, the Secretary will meet with President Faure to demonstrate U.S. support for Togo’s democratic progress and economic reforms and to congratulate Togo on its recent election to the UN Security Council, where it holds a non-permanent seat for 2012-2013.

In Cape Verde, Secretary Clinton will meet with Prime Minister Neves to discuss cooperation on regional issues, like counternarcotics, good governance, sound economic policies, and Cape Verde’s second Millennium Challenge Corporation compact.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Thank you for getting the dates. I’m not going to ask about Burma, since we have the background briefing. But we have a story that I think may have been drawn to your attention about a Russian-operated ship that has landed in Syria and that, according to our sources, has four containers of bullets on it. Is this – what’s your view on this? Do you think that Russia should be – or Russian companies should be supplying arms to the Syrian Government now?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve called many times – the Secretary has called, the White House has called, and we’ve called from this podium – for all countries that continue to trade and supply weapons with Syria to stop. With regard to the ship, we have raised our concerns about this, both with Russia and with Cyprus, which was the last port of call for the ship, and we are continuing to seek clarification as to what went down here.

QUESTION: And do you – you raised the concerns with Russia in Moscow or in Washington?

MS. NULAND: In Moscow. This was done earlier today, and the concerns were raised with the ministry of foreign affairs, which obviously is not the controlling ministry, so they need to do a little research there and get back to us, but we’re anticipating that they will get back to us.

QUESTION: And I think our reporting is based primarily – not entirely, but primarily on unnamed sources. Do you have confirmation that the ship was, indeed, carrying munitions?

MS. NULAND: We’ve obviously not seen the cargo of the ship. We have some information from the press, as you do. We also have some information from our contacts with the Government of Cyprus. But I’m not in a position to really say definitively what was aboard.

QUESTION: Has the Government of Cyprus told you that it’s – that it was, indeed, arms?

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the same public announcements that you’ve seen. I think the Embassy of Cyprus put out something from here a couple of days ago with its characterization of what was on the ship.


QUESTION: Syria remains within its right to import ammunition and arms and so on from Russia, correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, in the context of our conversation about a UN Security Council resolution, among the things that we might be seeking would be stronger efforts to control this kind of thing into Syria, because obviously we all have concerns that the Syrian regime is using it against its own people.

QUESTION: Right. But until such a resolution is passed, they are within their right?

MS. NULAND: They’re not currently under any UN Security Council restrictions of that kind. Obviously, many individual countries, the United States included, have taken unilateral steps to bar weaponry into Syria.

QUESTION: Can you address just simply why you feel that this is not a good idea now? Does it simply add fuel to the fire?

MS. NULAND: The concern is that the Syrian regime is getting weapons from wherever it can to use against its own people.




QUESTION: There’s a story in The New York Times today about a so-called secret channel, secret diplomatic channel, being used to communicate, get the message across from the United States concerning the Strait of Hormuz. What can you tell us? Obviously, secret is secret, but is it correct that the United States had to go to extraordinary lengths to try to get that message across?

MS. NULAND: No. First of all, let me just say that my colleague, Jay Carney, at the White House spoke to this issue extensively earlier today. First of all, with regard to the Straits of Hormuz, the Secretary has been very clear, the President has been very clear. From every public platform, we’ve been very clear that the United States considers this an international waterway. We and our partners are committed to keeping it open. It’s part of an international lifeline that keeps oil and gas moving around the world. And we will continue to speak as clearly as possible, publicly and through our various channels, to the Government of Iran about this. We have a number of ways that we have historically conveyed our views to the Iranian Government. We’ve used those mechanisms regularly on a range of issues over the years, and we have done so again in this case.

QUESTION: So just to be correct about it, you’re saying that nothing new was used, no back channel that hadn’t existed before was used? You’re using preexisting back channels or other ways of communicating?

MS. NULAND: I think you characterized it correctly.

QUESTION: Okay. And why would you need to do that at this particular point? I mean, I guess the question would be – some people have said, some officials have said, that there’s a chance that Iran could miscalculate, that they won’t get the message, even if it’s out there in public. Is that necessary that you have to really strengthen it behind the scenes?

MS. NULAND: Well, it’s – we had some very strong public statements, as you know, a few days ago, a week ago – I don’t remember – so it was important to make our views known. We were not the only country to make our views known. Many, many European countries, many countries in the region, also expressed strong concerns about this. So we do it publicly, we do it through our regular channels to the Government of Iran, and we’ve been very clear.

QUESTION: But at this point, is there such a high level of concern, I guess, that you had to go to extraordinary lengths?

MS. NULAND: I’ve already spoken to your assertion that there were extraordinary measures here.


QUESTION: Madam, China is one of the major oil buyers from --

QUESTION: On Iran. Do you have an update --

QUESTION: -- Iran. On Iran.



MS. NULAND: Sorry. Goyal. Go --

QUESTION: And so what are the – are you talking with the Chinese? Because they are the major – one of the major buyers of Iranian oil, and that’s what the Iranians also thinking that China will be or is helping them in many ways, including arms and other things. What are the views from China as far as helping Iran?

MS. NULAND: First of all --

QUESTION: Didn’t Geithner just go to China to discuss this?

MS. NULAND: First of all, welcome back, Goyal. As we’ve --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: As we’ve been saying over the last week here, we are talking to countries around the world about the new legislation that the President signed into law and our efforts to encourage countries to reduce their dependence on Iranian crude oil. This includes conversations with Beijing. And as Arshad has pointed out, it included conversations when Secretary Geithner was in Beijing this – earlier this week.

QUESTION: And finally, as far as India is concerned, India was – also had a good relation with Iranian – Iran and also as far as oil is concerned energy with the talks with Iran. Are you in touch with the Indian Government or Indian prime minister? Has the Secretary called anybody?

MS. NULAND: We are. We also spoke to this yesterday. We’re in close contact with India, working on the same issue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Catherine.

QUESTION: Update on Mr. Hekmati – have the Swiss been able to see him? And did she raise this in the other channels that you mentioned previously?

MS. NULAND: The – with regard to Mr. Hekmati, the only update that I can report, with regret, is that the Swiss asked again today or yesterday of the Iranians to be able to see him on our behalf, and were again denied.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Jill’s question, if you don’t mind, about Iran? I mean, I’m – I just feel like I don’t quite understand this. Your point is you’re not saying you didn’t send a secret message to Iran; you’re just saying you didn’t use – that you used an existing channel to do that, correct?

MS. NULAND: We used our regular channels of communication, of which there are several, to make our message known privately in addition to the very strong messages we’re sending publicly.

QUESTION: And was the message sent privately sent directly to the supreme leader, or --

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. I, frankly, don’t have the answer to that.

QUESTION: And just – that channel was not using the Swiss protecting power? Which is what I thought was your normal channel.

MS. NULAND: We have, as I’ve said. We have that channel. We have a number of channels. I’m not going to get any further into the various channels that we use, except to say that we are not in doubt that the Iranians received our message through our diplomatic channels as well as through public channels.

QUESTION: But it was not through the Swiss channel, then?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, all channels have been used.


QUESTION: Toria, just on this other channel, this – that you --

MS. NULAND: Guys, I really have nothing further on channels. I have nothing further on channels.

QUESTION: I just want you – you said this is a regular channel that’s not new. And I just want to know how often you use this particular channel.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the details of what we use, when we use it, or anything further. As we have said, as Jay said earlier, we have a number of ways to communicate our views to the Iranians. We’ve used these mechanisms regularly over time. We used them again in this case.


QUESTION: How can you – how are you sure that they received the message? You said you were quite sure that they --

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have anything further on this issue.


QUESTION: Still on Iran?


QUESTION: Media reports suggested that Iranians said thank you for rescuing Iranians from the – did you get any thank you note directly or through your channels or through the Swiss?

MS. NULAND: Apart from being thanked profusely by the Iranians themselves who we rescued, both the sailors at sea and then the subsequent ones that we rescued with the Coast Guard, to my knowledge we have not received an Iranian Government thank you note, if that’s what you’re asking.


QUESTION: Can you just tell us, when Secretary Geithner was in China, did he actually talk with Chinese officials about the sanctions you imposed yesterday?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to the Treasury Department for anything further on his consultations.

QUESTION: And also on the company you imposed the sanction, yesterday they released a statement and they said they have never export any gas (inaudible) to Iran. They mainly import Iran’s oil. Do you have any response?

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the sanctions that we put forward that – on --

QUESTION: Chinese (inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I – other than to say that we feel we have a strong basis for the measures that were taken, I don’t have anything further.


QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to either Prime Minister Gilani or President Zardari in the past couple of days?

MS. NULAND: She has not.

QUESTION: Has the ambassador spoken – Ambassador Munter spoken to either of them in the last couple of days?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, he has not. I think he is out of the country at the moment. As you know, the Secretary had her bilateral call with Ambassador Rehman. I think it was either Wednesday or yesterday.

Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Pakistan just for --

MS. NULAND: Yes. Please.

QUESTION: What’s the status of the NATO supply lines? Are they a hundred percent blocked, or are some of them going through via Pakistan? And any indication of when that might come back online?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that the situation has changed. We’re continuing to talk to the Pakistani Government about these issues. You know what we know, that there are some internal discussions within Pakistan, and we are awaiting the conclusion of those so that we can continue consulting.

QUESTION: But are they a hundred percent blocked? There were some news reports that some of them are going – if yes, then what percentage?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to the Pentagon and to ISAF on whether there’s any change, but to my knowledge, there is not any change.

QUESTION: Can I just ask this question --


QUESTION: -- on Prime Minister Gilani? Did he make any calls, or has there been any outreach from him to anybody in the U.S. Government or diplomatic service over the last 24 hours?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no. If that is not accurate, Brad, we will get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.


QUESTION: Toria, could you do a little more about Secretary’s meeting with the ambassador?

MS. NULAND: I want to go over here, because he hasn’t had a chance to --


QUESTION: All right. Thank you. Back to Iran for a moment --

MS. NULAND: Will you remind me who you are? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I’m David Ivanovich with Argus Media.

MS. NULAND: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There are reports that the IEA inspectors might be allowed back into Iran later this month. Is – do you have any information about that at all?

MS. NULAND: On where Iran stands with the IAEA?

QUESTION: There are reports that Iran has tentatively agreed to allow the inspectors to come back into the country later this month.

MS. NULAND: I don’t think I have anything new on that. I would send you to the IAEA for whatever update they might have.

Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) of the situation in Pakistan, which has almost paralyzed the government, is there – has there been any effect on the day-to-day relationship between Pakistan and U.S. and the kind of cooperation that you were receiving on the efforts that were underway after 26/11 to bring the relationship back on track? Has there been any – a discontinuation of that communication?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we continue to work with the Pakistani Government on those aspects of the bilateral relationship that are moving forward. We are in regular contact, as the Secretary was, with Ambassador Rehman a couple of days ago. There are internal discussions going on in Pakistan among political leaders and entities, but there’s also discussion in the parliament on some of the issues that we share. So as I said in answer to the other question, the degree to which the Pakistani Government is not yet ready to engage on where we go next on some of these issues, we are awaiting that consultation that we need to have with Pakistan when it is ready.


QUESTION: Yes. Regarding Afghanistan, do you have any update about reconciliation with the Taliban and U.S.? And also, some of the U.S. Government recently met with some of the leader of opposition in Afghanistan in Berlin. Do you know about the topic that they discussed about it, and there is any link or connection between that meeting and the currently activities about the reconciliation with the Taliban?

MS. NULAND: On the Berlin meeting, we spoke about this extensively, I think, on Wednesday. I don’t think I have anything further to the exchange of views we had on that on Wednesday from this podium. And with regard to where we’re going in our effort to support Afghan reconciliation, we also had a good discussion of this over the last couple days. I don’t think I have anything further on that either.


QUESTION: Do you have any comments about the apparent backtrack by the Japanese Government on reducing their importation of Iranian oil?

MS. NULAND: Let me just step back a minute and remind you all that in the context of this new legislation, that we have – that we are working with all of our partners and allies to implement, we’re going to be having consultations with a large number of countries. We’ve talked, as I said, to China, to India, to Japan, to Korea, to our European partners – countries in the region. We’re going to have ups and downs in the way this goes. I think with regard to Japan, with regard to China, India, virtually everybody we’re talking about, the international community shares the commitment to increasing the pressure on the Iranian Government to make the right choice here – to come back to the international community and demonstrate the peaceful intent of its program. So we’re not going to comment on every up and down in this except to say that we’re committed to working with our partners, we’re committed to doing it in a phased, timed, managed way as the legislation allows.


QUESTION: Can I just --


QUESTION: We have an interview with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister al-Mutlaq today, where he calls Prime Minister Maliki a tyrant or something. I think it was a dictator, and he talks about getting (inaudible) of Iraq. Do you have a comment on that?

MS. NULAND: We saw the interview, obviously. What we are continuing to do, as we’ve said a number of times in the last few days, is to impress upon senior Iraqi politicians the importance of direct dialogue with each other to resolve their differences and to work towards a solution that represents the interests of all Iraqis for an inclusive government and that’s within the Iraqi constitution.

We don’t think it’s helpful for Iraqi politicians to be hashing out their differences in the media. We’d much rather see them sit down together. In that regard, we are encouraged that Prime Minister Maliki, President Talabani, Speaker Nujaifi have all begun a process of working out the parameters for a national conference that will focus on a political solution that represents the interests of all Iraqis. That’s something that we support. As you may know, Deputy Secretary Burns arrived in Iraq this evening and will have consultations with a broad cross-section of Iraqi leaders tomorrow.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick follow-up?


QUESTION: Do you have any expectation of when this conference might finally take place, and would the U.S. participate in some way either as an observer or as a monitor or facilitator to this?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly, on the latter point, our goal is for Iraqis to talk to each other. There’s no expectation that we would be in the room for that. That said, we have encouraged all parties to get to the table. With regard to the timing, I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that the Iraqis are trying to hash out now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Different topic?


QUESTION: Sort of Iran, but President Ahmadinejad has wrapped up his trip. Forgive me; I know you’ve been asked to address his trip a number of times. Do you think that the countries that he visited are exposing themselves to any greater risk of potential U.S. sanctions by engaging more closely with Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, the U.S. sanctions speak not to meetings with the leader; they speak to engagements with Iranian banks and purchases of Iranian crude oil. So from that perspective, the answer to your question would depend on what was decided behind closed doors. If it’s going to take those countries in the direction of buying more Iranian crude oil and making more use of the banks, then they make themselves vulnerable to U.S. sanctions, obviously.

QUESTION: And do you believe that it is deleterious to these countries’ relations with the United States – some of them have already rather poor relations – that they should engage with Iran in this public manner?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think from our perspective, we’re looking at this more from the perspective of what’s going on in Iran. Here you have a country that, by its own choices – its own bad choices, has taken itself increasingly in the direction of international isolation. So it’s reaching out to those few countries that will still receive the leader. So there’s some sense of desperation there. So I would also say that judging by what we’re seeing from the reporting on these visits, not a lot has come from them. So –

QUESTION: Last one: But do you regard it as intrinsically a bad idea for these countries to receive the head of a state that you regard as a pariah state and pursuing activities from, as the U.S. alleges, state-sponsored terrorism to the possible pursuit of a nuclear weapon – as intrinsically a bad idea to engage in this way?

MS. NULAND: Well, it certainly reflects the choices that those governments are making about who they welcome and who they don’t welcome. These countries can make their own sovereign decisions. I don’t think they have any doubt that this is not something that the U.S. would think was helpful to the overall global policy.

QUESTION: Is it going to hurt their ties with the U.S.?

MS. NULAND: We have, as you said – with a number of these countries, we have difficulties that go well beyond this that need to be worked through.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: You’ve been very patient.

QUESTION: U.S. and South Korea, Japan --


QUESTION: -- trilateral meeting will hold on January 17th?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any information for contents of the meeting and how long will take at that meeting?

MS. NULAND: I think we did put out a Media Note yesterday, or the day before yesterday, which gave the names of the participants. This is the latest round of trilateral consultations at the level of Assistant Secretary Campbell and with his Japanese counterpart. And in the South Korean case, I think the interlocutor is their head guy for North Korea policy. We anticipate that these consultations will, for about half the day, focus on broader regional issues writ large, and the second half of the day will focus on ensuring that we’re well coordinated on our policy towards North Korea.

QUESTION: And how long will it be?

MS. NULAND: It’s a day-long meeting. It’s a day-long meeting here in Washington, and obviously, we’ll read you out on that afterwards.

QUESTION: Can I ask you an arms control question?

MS. NULAND: An arms control question?


MS. NULAND: I love arms control questions.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Under Secretary Tauscher said that the U.S. will not go along with an EU space conduct code. And that sounded like something new and I was wondering if that’s now official policy.

MS. NULAND: Well, first, let me say that the EU has put out this EU code of conduct. We want to ensure that as we move from regional codes of conduct to a broader international code of conduct that the interests of a broad number of stakeholders are taken into account. So this is the message that we’re passing back to the EU, that we want to talk to them about these issues, but we’ve got more work to do together. Under Secretary Tauscher made a call yesterday to the EU’s ambassador here, Ambassador Vimont, to talk further about this. So we look forward to further work together.

QUESTION: Just that the quote she gave was “We’ve made very definitive that we’re not going to go along with the European code of conduct.” And now you’re saying that it’s subject to negotiation and there’s some minor things you might want to change? It’s quite a different statement.

MS. NULAND: Well, she was asked a different question. She was asked whether the United States intends to join the EU code of conduct. So her --

QUESTION: If it was (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: So her answer was, as written now, no. Our answer more broadly is we want to talk to countries about these issues, the EU included, but we want to have a broader conversation. So she started that with the EU, and we’ll see where that goes.

QUESTION: Do you see the EU code of conduct as a good basis point for which broader discussions should jump off from? Or do you see an alternative approach would be necessary?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’ve just begun serious consultations about this, so let us do a little bit more work and then we’ll come back to you.




QUESTION: As far as political things are changing in Burma, according to many leaders in Burma and Burmese people here in this area – but what they are saying is that they want to see that one day, someday, Burmese people will see free and fair elections of 1990s, of that – (inaudible) Suu Kyi. Now today, President declared 2012 as religious freedom year. And many religious freedom leaders in Burma are saying that their leaders are still in jails because they were protesting against the military government. So what they’re asking is that they are seeking more help from the United States, from the Secretary. So where do we stand as far as those prisoners are still in Burmese jails, monks and religious --

MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, I think you might have been a little bit late. At the top of the briefing, I called everybody’s attention to the statement made by the President this morning, the statement made by the Secretary on Burma and on the very substantial prisoner release that we had today. If you look at those statements, they speak very clearly about the continued work that needs to be done, including in the area of human rights, religious freedom, et cetera. And we invite you and any of your other colleagues who want to join our background briefing on these issues right after this.

Let me also say in this context, while we are on the subject of Burma – I should have said this at the top – the Secretary makes clear in her statement that we are consulting closely with the Congress on issues having to do with Burma. We’ve had many rounds of consultation with those members who are particularly interested in Burma. But the Secretary made a couple of phone calls today to two members who – two senators who are planning to lead congressional delegations to Burma in the coming days. She spoke to Senator McConnell and she also spoke to Senator McCain to share our views about what we’re seeing and to make clear that we look forward to hearing from both of them when they come back from their own consultations there, and to continuing to talk about where we go.

Thank you very much, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Have a nice weekend.

QUESTION: She also spoke to Webb, I just got that.

MS. NULAND: Oh, Senator Webb too. There you go.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)

DPB # 9