Daily Press Briefing - January 30, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Deputy Secretary Burns on His Way Home from Africa
- U.S. Citizens Staying on U.S. Embassy Compound in Cairo / Egyptian Military Delegation Visit
- Secretary Clinton / UN / Russia / A/S Feltman's Meetings / Arab League / Violence / Iranians in Syria
- Status of U.S. Embassy in Damascus / Consultations with the Chinese
- Regime / Massive Offensives / Dialogue Needs to Begin inside Syria
- State Department Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program
- Iraqiya Bloc / End Boycott and Return to the Council of Representatives / Consultations Leading to National Conference
- Process of Reconciliation / Taliban Office in Qatar / Pakistan has Role in Supporting Process / Ambassador Grossman's Visit
- Candidacy of President Wade / Senegalese Democracy Strong Enough to Move to Next Generation
- Gratified that Government of Pakistan has Lifted Travel Ban on Ambassador Haqqani
1:07 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Happy Monday, everybody. Busy week ahead. One small thing at the top, which is to say that Deputy Secretary Burns is on his way home from his three-stop trip to Africa. We will, in a little bit, have a long Media Note outlining all of the meetings that he had while he was there. I was going to read it, but it was three pages, so you’ll get it in a Media Note a little bit later. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Three pages, really?
MS. NULAND: It was at least two and a half.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. And I was afraid I’d –
QUESTION: Impressive. I’m going to defer to Elise.
QUESTION: Could you talk about the three American citizens working for NGOs – I believe it’s IRI – that are currently in the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and under what criteria have you allowed them to stay?
MS. NULAND: Well, I can make some limited comments on this. We can confirm that a handful of U.S. citizens have opted to stay on the Embassy compound in Cairo while awaiting permission to depart Egypt, as many of you reported. We did have some difficulty with some U.S. citizens last week associated with these NGOs who were unable to leave the country. So a handful of these folks are now staying on the Embassy compound. Let me just say that to protect their privacy and in keeping with their wishes, I’m not going to go any further with regard to who they are or the actual affiliations from this podium.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, do you believe they’re in physical – were they in physical danger?
MS. NULAND: We don’t believe that they were in physical danger, but they had concerns, and therefore they were invited by the Embassy –
QUESTION: They were invited by the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: They were invited. This was a unique situation. The decision was made by the mission to allow them to stay.
QUESTION: Now, can you say why they were invited and why this is a unique situation? Because I’m looking at the Foreign Service manual, consular section, and it says the government will not approve requests for temporary refuge if the requesting U.S. citizen would not be in danger of serious harm or only in narrow circumstances – which I guess you’re saying this is a narrow circumstance – the Department will not grant requests for temporary refuge apparently intended to prevent or avoid execution of laws of the host country, even when the application of those laws may appear adverse to the interests of that national. So I’m – what are the criteria that you invited them to stay there?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, it is within the purview of Embassy management to invite guests to stay if they so wish. In this case, there is no expectation that any of these individuals are seeking to avoid any kind of judicial process. In fact, with regard to the larger question of NGO issues in Egypt, as we’ve said many times, these organizations have been endeavoring to cooperate with the judicial process. They have been making themselves available for interviews, as you know their offices were also raided, so the government has all of their information as well. So there’s no effort to circumvent any laws here, but there is, in this unique situation, there is the opportunity – in any situation, frankly - for the Embassy management to make a decision like this, and indeed, in this case.
QUESTION: I’m just confused, though. If you’re saying that they’re not in danger, and they’re not there to avoid execution of any of the laws, then why are they in the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: They’re in the Embassy because they feel that they are more comfortable there, in this circumstance where they had sought to leave the country, and they are unable to do so. So.
QUESTION: But they’re not under arrest and under house arrest. They’re free to roam the country as they like; they’re just not allowed to leave the country. Is –
MS. NULAND: Correct. They’re not allowed the leave the country. Again, this is a unique situation, and this decision was made on that basis.
QUESTION: It’s – one more, one more. It’s our understanding that the decision was made by one of the organizations – if you don’t want to name them, that’s fine – but our understanding is that the decision was made by IRI to ask that these individuals be afforded – I mean, I can’t see of another word other than refuge, but you can use whatever word you like – in the Embassy, because they were afraid that an arrest warrant was coming down for them.
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak for these organizations, I’m not going to get into the individuals and who they are, simply to say that they approached the Embassy staff, and the decision was made to invite them as guests. That’s the term under which they are there, and we are continuing to work through these issues and try to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible. But frankly, these are individuals who we believe ought to be allowed to leave the country. This situation wouldn’t have arisen if they were allowed to leave the country, and that’s the case that we’re making.
QUESTION: Same topic.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: This Egyptian – as I understand it – military delegation that is in town, who are they meeting? Are they meeting anybody at the State Department? Is, from your point of view, part of the discussion going to be about this very situation?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would first say that we do receive Egyptian military delegations to Washington a couple of times a year; that’s pretty routine. My understanding is that this particular visit was planned before we ended up in this particular situation with the NGOs in Cairo. However, you can be assured that in every meeting they have with the Administration, and I would venture to guess in every meeting that they’re going to have with Congress, that this situation will come up. I don’t have – I think we’re still working on the schedule. They will meet people here in the State Department. They’ll also meet people in the Pentagon, and our understanding is that they are seeking meetings with members of Congress.
QUESTION: And can you give us – when you know who they’re meeting in this building, can you please let us know in a timely manner?
MS. NULAND: We will.
QUESTION: Toria, the Egyptian media are reporting that this investigation is nearing its end and that the decision to refer to court those involved is a prelude to putting them on trial. Is that your understanding of where we are legally?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to comment on stray media reports out of Egypt. We continue to work with the Egyptian Government. Our view is that these people ought to be able to travel freely, that we need to expedite the process of whatever kind of formal registration is ultimately going to be allowed for them, that their property needs to be returned, and that it is in the interest of Egypt’s democratic transition not only for international democracy NGOs to be able to operate but for Egyptian democracy NGOs to be able to operate, and that they have already played a strong role in supporting the good elections that have already taken place, and there are more elections coming up.
QUESTION: But is the government giving you any indication of where they are, where the situation stands legally?
MS. NULAND: Suffice to say we are not where we want to be in terms of resolving this situation, and the conversations continue with the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: I’m not disputing your premise of what you just said about the investigation and whether they should leave the country, but I am wondering what is so special about these individuals that they’re allowed to take refuge in the U.S. Embassy. Is it because they’re U.S. funded organizations? Is it because there’s a cabinet-level member’s son involved? Did Secretary LaHood ask the Embassy to provide refuge to his son? I just don’t understand what’s different about these individuals and other individuals that are not permitted to leave the country. Are you going to do that for every NGO around the world that’s not allowed to leave the country under investigation?
MS. NULAND: Again, as I’ve said, I don't think we have anything more to add on this particular situation than that we are trying to resolve it in – on an urgent basis so that these folks can travel freely.
QUESTION: Toria, still on that same subject.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are we – following Elise, what she’s asking, are we right to assume that they would be safe from arrest or prosecution while in the Embassy? Is that a given?
MS. NULAND: I think you all are jumping to all kinds of conclusions that we’re not at at the moment. These --
QUESTION: No. I’m not jumping anywhere. I’m asking the question. I don’t think it’s a jump to say the Egyptians might seek out their arrest. I don’t think that’s a jump. So would they be safe in the Embassy? That’s a given, right?
MS. NULAND: Our goal is to ensure that we can resolve this situation as quickly as possible so we don’t come to some of these hypothetical scenarios that you guys are pitching.
QUESTION: Victoria, we believe – aren’t they on U.S. grounds, on U.S. soil, so to speak, when they are in the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: They are. But you’re taking me into all kinds of futures that we are, frankly, seeking to avoid with our diplomacy.
QUESTION: But you’re not explaining why you’ve given them – or invited them, after they asked you to – why you’re giving them special, preferential treatment in the Embassy.
MS. NULAND: Because they had some concerns, given the fact that they wanted to leave the country and were disallowed, and the fact that it’s not terribly transparent exactly what the circumstances of this case is at the moment. And they, therefore, asked to come in, and the Embassy was within its rights to invite them, and that’s what’s happened. So, again, we’re hoping that this is --
QUESTION: So even if you don’t agree with the laws that are taking place of the country, it’s fair to assume that you are helping them skirt Egyptian law.
MS. NULAND: Elise, as I have said, these individuals and the organizations that they work for have been cooperating at every stage over weeks and weeks and weeks with the Egyptian judicial authorities in trying to give them the information that they need --
QUESTION: So you think it’s enough?
MS. NULAND: -- and trying to move this to a normalized situation. That’s the point that we are making, and it ought to be able to be resolved.
QUESTION: Have you requested or received exact wording of the charges levied against them?
MS. NULAND: Again, you all are jumping to all kinds of conclusions, and we are not at that place yet, and it is what we are seeking to avoid.
QUESTION: But you have not received – what are the Egyptians exactly charging them with?
MS. NULAND: Again, to my knowledge, we don’t – we are not at the stage that you are assuming, Said.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, under the Vienna Conventions, U.S. citizens who happen to be at the U.S. Embassy are not – do not have any kind of diplomatic privileges, correct?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So a U.S. Embassy, as a general rule, has to turn over a U.S. citizen who is accused of a crime, correct?
MS. NULAND: Well --
QUESTION: You can’t assert a privilege for them, can you? I mean, they’re not diplomats; they don’t have immunities.
MS. NULAND: You cannot assert diplomatic privilege, no, you cannot. However, as Elise read out, in the case of security and safety, one can give refuge, et cetera. But again, you guys are getting me into all kinds of hypotheticals that we’re not in at the moment.
QUESTION: But you said that there’s no – you said that you’re not aware that they’re in any danger.
MS. NULAND: I said that we do not feel that they are in physical danger at the moment. That is a different matter than whether they are being persecuted in the Egyptian judicial system.
QUESTION: Do you think they are being persecuted?
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: In theory, Victoria, if the Egyptian Government requested--
QUESTION: Do you feel they are being persecuted?
MS. NULAND: We have --
QUESTION: You used the word.
MS. NULAND: We have concerns about the fact that we have not been able to resolve this situation, and that is the message that we are giving the Egyptian Government in strongest terms.
QUESTION: So you said that they don’t have immunity. If the Egyptian Government requested that they – the Embassy surrenders them, will they do that?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, I am not going to get into hypotheticals from this podium.
QUESTION: This handful that is at the Embassy now, are they the only ones who this privilege has been extended to? Has anybody else been extended this privilege and said no to it?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, we have not encountered a situation where we’ve had to say no to American citizens.
QUESTION: So on that one response, can one opt out of this guest status if one is uncomfortable at an embassy compound? Because if one can, I’d like to request the next time we’re in Pakistan that I get to stay at the Marriott instead of in the trailer. (Laughter.) Is that possible?
MS. NULAND: You don’t like our facilities in Islamabad?
QUESTION: Well, I think I would be more comfortable at the Marriott.
MS. NULAND: Most ungracious of you.
QUESTION: And if it’s more comfort that’s involved here, I would think that that would be the case.
MS. NULAND: He’s seeking more comfort. Let’s move on, guys. What else is on your minds?
QUESTION: The Serena is actually much better than the Marriott.
QUESTION: No, it doesn’t have a bar.
QUESTION: Yes. I agree.
QUESTION: But it has a much longer setback. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: The priorities of the bullpen are evident.
Okay. Let’s move on, guys. What else is up?
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The Secretary – what’s the Secretary’s goal in going to the United Nations tomorrow?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think if you look at the statement that she has just released, she is very clear that she is going to send a very clear message that we support the Syrian people; we stand with you, we stand with you in your hope and aspiration for a better, more democratic future and, first and foremost, that the violence is going to end.
QUESTION: And what is the UN mission or the Secretary herself doing to get on board those reluctant members of the Security Council?
MS. NULAND: Well, she has been burning up the phone lines, talking to all kinds of counterparts. As you know, a number of foreign ministers have committed already publicly to joining this session. We’re also seeking participation of others. Her – she has been talking to Arab League leaders. She’s had Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman out in the region, on the phones, Deputy Secretary Burns as well, preparing for the resolution that you have now seen the Moroccan delegation put forward with the support of the Arab League, which we have now co-sponsored, many of our allies have co-sponsored.
So our hope and expectation is that tomorrow will be a very strong opening conversation on this draft resolution after hearing the report of the Arab League. And as you’ll see tomorrow, the resolution very much supports the goals that the Arab League has been pushing for some time.
QUESTION: How about the Russians? Has she been in touch with the Russians?
MS. NULAND: We have been in touch with the Russians. As you know, Assistant Secretary Feltman was in Moscow not too long ago. We had Deputy Foreign Minister Riabkov here. He met with Bill Burns. He also met with Ellen Tauscher. The Secretary, frankly, has been trying to get Foreign Minister Lavrov on the phone for about 24 hours. That’s proven difficult. He’s in Australia and apparently unavailable, but she will continue to try to reach out to him in advance of this session.
QUESTION: Australian telecommunications aren’t what they used to be, huh?
MS. NULAND: Refer you to the Russian foreign ministry on that one.
QUESTION: It would sound – well, it sounds as though he’s avoiding her.
MS. NULAND: Can’t speak to that. She’s going to try to reach him between now and the session.
QUESTION: Well, he’s not --
QUESTION: Sorry, he’s not – I guess you don’t know his travel plans, but, I mean, he’s not coming to – he’s not going to New York like she and her European counterparts are.
MS. NULAND: Again, I would refer you to him, but my understanding was, this morning, he was in Australia.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Feltman was supposed to meet with the head of the Arab League. Is that still on or is that now being preempted or superseded by the Secretary of State herself?
MS. NULAND: No. He will have some preparatory meetings tonight in New York. I think he’s on his way there now. The Secretary will also have some bilateral meetings tomorrow. We’re in the process of working through that schedule. And then she will sit the U.S. chair at the session in New York tomorrow.
QUESTION: Toria, will the resolution include, let’s say, a large contingent of monitors, like maybe a thousand or 1,200?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of the resolution. I think it’ll probably be out, if it’s not out already, tomorrow. It focuses, frankly, on the UN Security Council’s insistence that the regime meet the same four conditions that were in the Arab League’s agreement with the regime of November 22nd that it never fulfilled, and just to reiterate what those were: that the violence needs to end, that the heavy weaponry needs to be pulled back, that monitors need to be allowed to operate. As you know, the Arab League’s now given up and shuttered its own mission because of the violence and because it isn’t able to operate – and finally, that the political prisoners be released and that press be allowed in.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up: When the Arab monitors were in Homs, for instance, and there was a call for the Syrian regime to pull out its mechanized units and whatever they’re calling them – militant appearances like half-tracks or whatever – they pulled out. There were actually some militants that attacked very old Christian communities that are in Homs for centuries, and now they are forced to flee because they feel that the government forces are not there to protect them.
Will this – issues like this be raised or discussed?
MS. NULAND: Absolutely, and this is the kind of thing – I mean, the session, as I understand it, will begin with a report from senior Arab League representatives on what the mission showed and their view of the situation in Syria and their strong support for the resolution under the – on the table under Moroccan sponsorship, and then there will be a discussion among ministers.
But as you said, Said, and as the Secretary makes clear in the statement that she issued about half an hour ago, we are gravely concerned that as these Arab League monitors have pulled out, the Syrian regime has taken this as an excuse to just let loose in horrific ways against innocents. I mean, we’ve seen a sharp increase in violence, just in recent days. There have been disgusting statements like that of the interior minister announcing plans to cleanse the country. Local coordinating committees and our other contacts report that some 2,000 Syrian military troops carried out operations throughout the Damascus suburbs beginning on Friday, and at least 66 people have died at the hands of the regime yesterday, and estimated a hundred over the weekend in total.
We’re also hearing reports, interestingly, of large-scale defections of Syrian military officers over the weekend, and it is these Syrian – including taking some of their equipment and their heavy equipment – and it’s these defections that are most rattling the government.
QUESTION: Well, my concern is – or everybody’s concerns is that these minority groups – in particular, Christian communities that’s probably the oldest anywhere in the world – is being actually dislodged from Homs that it has occupied for a millennium or longer. So what kind of provision will it have to protect minorities?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, this is of grave concern, that this is a regime composed of a small minority that is now attacking the majority of Syrians, and they are attacking Christians, they’re attacking Druze, they’re attacking Sunnis, they’re even attacking Allawi communities. And --
QUESTION: But (inaudible) Victoria, it’s regime opponents that are attacking these Christian communities.
MS. NULAND: Said, it is the regime that bears responsibility for the violence. There have been efforts by some Syrians to defend themselves from these attacks, but it is Assad and his cronies who started this, and it is Assad and his cronies who are responsible for the vast majority of the violence.
And the blood is on their hands fundamentally. But you are absolutely right – the goal of the Arab League – the goal, frankly, of the Syrian opposition, whether you’re talking about the SNC outside of the country, whether you’re talking about the local coordinating committees, in all of their statements, in all of the work they’ve been doing, is to try to create a chance to have a Syria for all Syrians. And we have been gratified and encouraging that in the opposition statements, they talk explicitly about protecting the rights of all Syrians, including all minorities. And you’ll hear the Secretary speak about this tomorrow as well. It’s been a reoccurring theme of hers in all of her meetings on this subject, that it has become very, very dangerous.
One more point – or two more points on the side – on this subject with regard to the concerns that we have: We are also seeing increasing reports of Iran playing a nefarious role inside Syria. You may have seen some video that circulated of the Free Syrian Army having captured five senior Iranian nationals who admitted that they were firing on Syrian civilians. We are also seeing that the international sanctions that some of the nations – United States, European Union, Jordan, other countries – have begun to put on Syria are having an effect. They’re beginning to pinch. So you now see an Assad regime that increasingly cannot sell its petroleum. It can’t – its banks can’t access the international financial system. Its currency is in freefall.
So what is Assad doing now? He is funding his violence and paying his military off of the nation’s reserves, using the reserves of the Syrian people to fuel the violence against them. So the Security Council has got to act, and that’s the message that the Secretary will take in strongest terms tomorrow.
QUESTION: Have you seen reports that the Syrian opposition prevented Assad’s wife, the first lady, from leaving Damascus?
MS. NULAND: I’ve seen those reports. We don’t have any way to confirm that, Justin.
QUESTION: Can I ask why you bring up a propaganda video shot by – are you confirming the authenticity of what these people say? It seems very easy in situations like this – Qadhafi’s people were doing it themselves in Libya – for them to get some video of some people that they say have been captured, that they have captured, claiming to be al-Qaida. In this case, you say they’re Iranians. Are you confirming the accuracy of this video that you talk about?
MS. NULAND: We are not in a position to confirm --
QUESTION: Why raise it?
MS. NULAND: -- confirm the accuracy. Because it tracks with some of our own reporting about the presence of Iranians in Syria, the efforts that they are making to help the regime in it – with its military tactics, including with equipment.
QUESTION: It doesn’t strike you as at all unusual that five people would admit to being Iranians and say yes, we’re Iranians and we were told to come here and fire on Syrian civilians? That doesn’t strike you at all as suspicious?
MS. NULAND: Suffice it to say that we have our own concerns about Iranian behavior in Syria.
QUESTION: Can you talk about your own concerns and your own evidence and not some propaganda that’s put out by a group that I don’t think that you’ve – you’re not even really supporting them (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: Our concerns include support for training and equipping of Syrian forces. Our concerns include the fact that some of the tactics being used by the Syrian regime mirror tactics used in Iran against their own population and about increasing evidence of numbers of Iranians in and around Syria.
QUESTION: Well, can you talk about what that evidence is?
MS. NULAND: I think I will not go any further than I’ve already gone. Thanks.
QUESTION: Well, then – okay, so Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, too. We all believed that one. I don’t understand how you can just – what’s the evidence, other than a Free Syrian Army propaganda video which you have no way of knowing whether it’s accurate or not or whether these people were tortured or whatever into saying that they were Iranian-sent?
MS. NULAND: We have --
QUESTION: What’s the evidence?
MS. NULAND: Evidence includes reporting from a number of our Syrian contacts, plus our own information from a variety of sources that I will not get into here.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: No, whoa, whoa. Syria? Okay. Still Syria?
QUESTION: Can I ask, what’s the status of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus? I mean, is it closed or open?
MS. NULAND: It remains open with limited staff. Ambassador Ford and his staff remain active and we are continuing to press the Syrian regime to provide the kind of security that we need to keep it open.
QUESTION: Are they still talking to you? And – I mean there was a --
MS. NULAND: They are, but we’re not where we need to be.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: One more question: Has the Secretary spoken to her Chinese counterparts today, or is she going to meet with them tomorrow?
MS. NULAND: She has not spoken to Foreign Minister Yang in recent days. We have been in consultations with the Chinese. I think Under Secretary Sherman was the last one to speak with the Chinese on this subject. And obviously, our mission in New York is very active. Ambassador Rice is very active with them.
QUESTION: Yeah. Toria, you mentioned that the regime is trying to finance its activities through tapping into reserves or whatever. Are you aware that last week, or the week before, there were some Iranian ships that would take Syrian oil and sell it on the open market? Do you have any information on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen these reports. I frankly don’t have anything further to --
QUESTION: You have no way to confirm or refute?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. I don’t.
MS. NULAND: Michel. Still Syria?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: How do you view the press reports coming from Syria saying that the Free Syrian Army is gaining grounds in Syria, and especially in the Damascus suburbs?
MS. NULAND: Again, it is the regime that is doing these massive offensives in the Damascus suburbs now. Why are they so aggressive? Because they’re concerned about defections from their army. They’re concerned about their own who no longer want to obey his bloody orders. So this is a dynamic that the regime started. It’s a dynamic that the regime bears fundamental responsibility for.
QUESTION: Do you expect any coup?
MS. NULAND: Again?
QUESTION: Any military coup?
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re asking me to predict such things. What – the message that we are sending, the message that the Secretary will send tomorrow when she goes to New York, is that the Security Council now needs to act because the spiral of violence is dangerous not only for Damascus, not only for Syria and all Syrians, but it’s also dangerous in the region because, obviously, we’ve now got a cycle of violence that is quite worrying.
QUESTION: Do you feel that a military coup might stem the violence?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, you’re taking me into hypotheticals. What we need is for the violence to end. What we need is for the Syrians themselves to be able to begin a process of dialogue leading to a democratic transition. This is what the Arab League plan calls for. They had a very clear plan laid out last week about how this could work, bringing together all strands of Syrian society. And there was a path out. There still is a path out.
QUESTION: You think there is still a path out?
MS. NULAND: Well --
QUESTION: For the regime.
MS. NULAND: -- that’s obviously still on the table. It requires Assad to step aside.
Scott. Still on Syria?
QUESTION: Yes. What are your thoughts on Russia saying it will organize talks in Moscow and that Damascus has agreed to send a delegation? Would you support that process?
MS. NULAND: Again, what we think needs to happen first and foremost is that the violence needs to end and a process of dialogue needs to begin inside Syria. There needs to be peace and security there so that the country can move forward.
QUESTION: So talks outside Syria – not something you support?
MS. NULAND: Again, there have been plenty of talks outside Syria over the last few months. It’s very difficult to see how you address the real dangers and the real concerns unless and until the violence comes to an end.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. ready to receive President Assad as it did with President Saleh?
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) Again, you’re taking me into places where we are not yet.
MS. NULAND: He has not so requested, to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Had medical care --
QUESTION: Can we move on to --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Is there anything else on Syria in the back? No? Okay.
QUESTION: Different subject.
QUESTION: Great. I have that different subject. It was Iraq drones? What can you tell us about that fleet of surveillance drones, small surveillance drones reportedly hovering over Baghdad and in control of the State Department?
MS. NULAND: The State Department run by drones?
MS. NULAND: Is that what you’re getting? (Laughter.) Is there one directing our briefing here?
QUESTION: State Department finally catching on, I think is how you report it. I mean, it’s a good option, so are you using it?
MS. NULAND: I think you are probably picking up on some reporting that The New York Times had over the weekend. Am I right?
QUESTION: Well, but there’s also a report from 2010 that said that you’ve kind of approved or said that you’re going to have these drones operational in 2011, so --
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let me tell you what I can on this situation. First of all, let me say that the State Department has always used a wide variety of security tools and techniques and procedures to ensure the safety of our personnel and our facilities. We do have an unmanned aerial vehicle program used by the State Department. These are tiny little things. They are not armed. They are not capable of being armed. And what they are designed to do is help give us pictures over our facilities to help in their protection.
The operation of this program is extremely limited in scope. It is only going to even be considered in critical threat environments. I’m not going to get into the where for obvious reasons. We don’t get into our precise security posture anywhere around the world. So I’m not going to divulge details. But just to repeat, we are talking about very limited use in critical threat areas of tiny, little, unarmed, unmanned aircraft which cannot shoot anything. They only take pictures to help us with embassy personnel and facility security.
QUESTION: How big is a tiny, little thing?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen them, but I’ve seen pictures of people holding them.
QUESTION: Are we talking about, like, mosquitoes?
MS. NULAND: No, we’re talking about like the size of --
QUESTION: That’s not tiny.
MS. NULAND: -- my podium. Yeah, like that. Like that.
QUESTION: But when you said they are used to give us pictures over our facilities, is that – is it the case that they are only used over U.S. facilities? Or do they also get used, for example, when U.S. officials may travel?
MS. NULAND: They can be used to protect facilities and personnel, personnel who are moving.
QUESTION: So not just over U.S. facilities?
MS. NULAND: They can be used over the facilities or to track personnel who are moving, yes.
QUESTION: Not in the facilities, though, right, who are moving?
MS. NULAND: They can’t see inside walls. No, they cannot. No, they don’t have --
QUESTION: No. But I – it goes to my next – no, but my next question is sort of directly relevant. Either countries that are sovereign – and some of us remember the sort of great enthusiasm with which a former administration talked about how Iraq had regained its sovereignty after the U.S. invasion – either a country that is sovereign has control of its airspace or it doesn’t. And so if you are letting these things not fly just over your embassy or your facilities, as you suggested, but in fact, they can roam elsewhere in the country, do you have any agreement or authorization from the Iraqi or from any government in the world to do that, to essentially give you access to their airspace?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just make a general statement in response to that, Arshad, and I think you will understand that, again, to protect operational security I’m not going to get into details. But we, the State Department, always work closely with host governments on the physical protection of our facilities and our personnel, and this was part and parcel of that.
QUESTION: But you can work closely with somebody and still not have their explicit agreement for you to use their airspace, correct?
MS. NULAND: Suffice to say that this is part and parcel of a larger security program where it is necessary and we do work closely with host governments.
QUESTION: Well, in each instance, and I’m not asking you where these are used and I understand you don’t want to talk about exactly where they’re used, but in each instance when they are used, do you obtain the agreement of the host country for use of their airspace?
MS. NULAND: In the context of our larger security posture, we always work with host governments.
QUESTION: That’s not a yes. I mean, you can work with them. It doesn’t mean you’ve gotten their permission.
MS. NULAND: We are talking about something that started as a pilot program, something that is now being bid out and looked at for broader use. So some of the questions that you are probing for are premature; but in the context of our general consultations with governments on security, those are ongoing and we always consult with hosts.
QUESTION: Does the – consultation is a very different thing from obtaining their permission.
MS. NULAND: I understand. I don’t have anything further on your precise question.
QUESTION: Last one on this for me, if I may.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: What – does the U.S. Government permit any foreign country to use unmanned aerial vehicles over – in its airspace?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, Arshad, we have never received such a request from a foreign country.
QUESTION: Victoria, operationally, are they under the control of the State Department or some other entity like the Pentagon?
MS. NULAND: No, these are – this is a State Department program that Diplomatic Security executes and manages.
QUESTION: And in Baghdad or elsewhere?
MS. NULAND: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Is it from the Embassy in Baghdad or elsewhere?
MS. NULAND: You mean where are the physical operators?
QUESTION: No, I mean – yeah, the physical operation. Yeah, because they could be operating it from Virginia, I mean, so --
MS. NULAND: I do not know the answer to that, Said, nor do I think we would discuss the operational aspects of this.
QUESTION: Can I – no, no – stay on this for just one second? Back on the whole issue of size. I mean, it would seem to me if these things would be held in one’s hand, it’s not much different than a kid’s radio-controlled – size-wise – radio-controlled airplane, right?
MS. NULAND: Big kid, big toy.
QUESTION: Right. I know. But I mean, it’s not like a – it’s not like one of these CIA drones that’s enormous. And I’m thinking – I’m trying to figure out – I mean, there’s no restriction on an Iranian diplomat at the UN going to Central Park and flying one of these things, is there? I mean, it doesn’t require – going to Arshad’s last question, to fly something of this size that may or may not have a camera in it doesn’t require any kind of license in the States, does it, other than what you might get for a child’s or a model airplane enthusiast’s radio-controlled device?
MS. NULAND: I am so, so not competent to speak to the question of licensing in the U.S. of something like this. I just – I’m going to send you to the --
QUESTION: I guess I’m trying to figure out – I’m trying to figure out what the Iraqis’ problem with this is.
MS. NULAND: And again --
QUESTION: And --
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’re implying any problem.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. So the story is wrong when it says that the Iraqis are not happy about this?
QUESTION: Have they registered any complaints with you?
MS. NULAND: I think a lot of these questions are premature. We are, as I – as we have said before, there was a pilot program. The story is based on a request for bids for this program, which, as you know, is generally preparatory to actually implementing the program in a serious way.
QUESTION: So you’re not aware that the Iraqis have actually complained about this?
MS. NULAND: I cannot speak to that. I don’t have any information to that effect at the moment.
QUESTION: Okay. And then – and is one to presume that since it was a pilot program that was boasted about in this glossy magazine that DS put out – which, in retrospect, I wonder if they would have done that again – that the pilot program was successful and that’s why it’s being bid out to become a full-bore program?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think if we have a lot of detailed questions about the history of this, I’m going to get you guys a special briefing.
QUESTION: Well, if it were a pilot program and it was not successful – well, I don’t know, maybe this government does a lot of things that mystify people. But I mean, if it had not been – if the pilot program had not been successful, wouldn’t we – shouldn’t we assume that this would not be being bid out for a larger --
MS. NULAND: I think we can presume that we have judged this to be useful.
QUESTION: Stay on Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask on --
QUESTION: Yes. Victoria, Iraqi parliamentarian --
MS. NULAND: Before we leave the small unarmed whatever – Scott?
QUESTION: Iraqi --
QUESTION: You kept – you keep talking about the pilot program in the past tense. Is that safe to assume then that this was conducted before the full transition last December?
MS. NULAND: Again, in the interest of the discretion with which we approach worldwide our security arrangements for our facilities and personnel, I’m not going to confirm the where or the when of the pilot program or of the future program.
QUESTION: These are ongoing, though?
MS. NULAND: The pilot, I think, is completed, is my understanding.
QUESTION: But it – you might not want to confirm it from the podium, but it’s in that glossy DS year-end review.
MS. NULAND: Fabulous. Then you know where to find it.
QUESTION: It says exactly where it was.
MS. NULAND: Fabulous. Okay.
QUESTION: So why – so is that – was that a mistake? That shouldn’t have been printed?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that. I can only say that at the current moment, we are not interested in discussing the locations.
QUESTION: But you don’t believe that that hindered or hurt operational security – the publication of that?
MS. NULAND: I actually haven’t seen this glossy. I’m going to go find it after we finish here.
QUESTION: Victoria, on Iraq still?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: The Sunni parliamentarians returned after – to the parliament after suspending their activities there for a long time. At the same time, all reconciliation talks seem to be collapsing. Could you tell us about the role of the U.S., or the U.S. Embassy in this case, in convincing these Sunni parliamentarians to go back and be a part of the political process?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we are encouraged by the decision of the Iraqiya bloc to end their boycott and to return to work at the Council of Representatives and also by the statements of other key blocs inside Iraq welcoming that decision. We’re also encouraged that President Talabani has pledged to lead a process that’s going to prepare a national conference that’s going to focus on a political solution that protects the interests of all Iraqis within their constitution.
Our understanding is that the consultations leading to that conference are still ongoing. I think we’ve said here and elsewhere that we have been active, whether it’s at the level of Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Jeffrey, in encouraging all of the Iraqi leaders to participate in this dialogue. We’ve been talking to all of them about their interest in preserving a unified Iraq and protecting their hard-fought constitution.
QUESTION: There’s been a horrendous spike in violence in Iraq in the last few days. Does that bring Iraq back into sort the domain of urgency, perhaps to Vice President Biden, who assumed the Iraqi file for a while, where he would have to focus his energies on Iraq again?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think that Vice President Biden has been focused on Iraq throughout the term. I would refer you to his office for what he’s been doing most recently. But obviously we’re concerned, but this is – Iraq has been through these cycles, and we do have confidence in Iraqi security forces to manage these issues.
QUESTION: And lastly, are you aware that the Iraqis are aiding the Syrian regime with a tremendous amount of money on a monthly basis?
MS. NULAND: I think I don’t have anything in particular to say with regard to Iraq and Syria, except that Iraq has participated actively in the Arab League discussions about the way forward on Syria.
In the back.
QUESTION: Didn’t they vote against --
MS. NULAND: In the back.
QUESTION: Didn’t Iraq vote against the Arab League draft?
MS. NULAND: I think it was a little more complicated than that.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, over the weekend, there have been reports coming out of both Kabul and Islamabad that they want to have, as part of reconciliation process, a Taliban office in Saudi Arabia, and there have been reports that --
MS. NULAND: That the Pakistanis do?
QUESTION: Kabul – both Afghans and Pakistanis. There have been media reports suggesting that they are seeking a Taliban office in Saudi Arabia, and they – primarily, they have even said that they were not taken on board, about the negotiations that went on in Qatar. So do you have any reaction? There will be two parallel talks with the Taliban going on now? What’s the way forward?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to speak to ideas that may or may not have come up, been rejected by one party or another or host country or whatever. But I think you do know that the focus of the conversation now is on whether it would make sense in the context of a larger Afghan-Afghan process of reconciliation for the Taliban to have an office in Qatar. This is an issue that has not been decided, and the consultations continue on it.
QUESTION: But are you going to take both Pakistan and Afghanistan along in these talks with the Taliban as part of reconciliation process?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job here. Our goal is to get Afghans talking to Afghans to get a process of reconciliation that is among Afghans. We have said that we believe that Pakistan has a role to play in supporting this process, as we do. Secretary spoke to the Pakistanis about that when she was in Pakistan in October. Pakistan itself has committed to supporting reconciliation and joined in the statements – positive statements made in Istanbul and Bonn in that regard.
QUESTION: So would you follow up --
QUESTION: I thought they weren’t in Bonn.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. In Istanbul. Right. Thank you. Arshad, always keeping me sharp.
QUESTION: And will you follow up Ambassador Grossman’s visit with another conversation with both Kabul and Islamabad on the subject?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Ambassador Grossman was in Kabul, and then he went and saw President Karzai in Rome at the end of his trip. With regard to our consultations with Pakistan, we had offered to send Ambassador Grossman. It wasn’t good timing for them. But the Secretary did see Pakistani Ambassador Rehman, and Ambassador Munter has been in to see Foreign Minister Khar to give an appropriate readout on Ambassador Grossman’s consultations and the next steps. So we are trying to be transparent in terms of our role in trying to get Afghans together.
QUESTION: Just during Ambassador Grossman’s visit, there were reports that Taliban have shared the draft of the negotiations that are going to be held with Pakistan. Because they --
MS. NULAND: Sounds like a question for the Taliban or for Pakistan, not a question for me.
QUESTION: -- want to take Taliban on board. Does this concern United States that it might affect the secrecy of peace talks?
MS. NULAND: Again, as I said, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job, so it’s Afghans taking care of this issue together with themselves. So I’m not going to speak to what Taliban may or may not be doing with Pakistan. I think that’s a question for them.
QUESTION: Okay. And just this morning there were a couple of reports saying that this round of negotiation with Taliban has fallen through because there is a deadlock on the release of prisoners from Guantanamo. Can you confirm or deny that?
MS. NULAND: We talked about this a number of times in that last week. We are not going to get into the back and forth about how this is going. We’re not going to be giving full details. We need to provide some space to work through these issues.
QUESTION: I thought you just said about two minutes ago that you were going to be transparent about this.
MS. NULAND: With the Pakistani Government, not with you guys. Sorry.
QUESTION: Oh, I see. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Sorry.
QUESTION: So you – right now, the Pakistan trust – the Pakistan Government is more trustworthy then the press corps? Is that the idea? That’s a pretty – that’s --
MS. NULAND: We need to give this --
QUESTION: We’re the American public.
QUESTION: That’s pretty impressive.
MS. NULAND: We need to give this some time and space to work.
QUESTION: Do you really – how would you rate the Pakistani Government on its trustworthiness right now?
MS. NULAND: I am not going to be giving a grade of trustworthiness to any government, including my own.
Okay. Anything else, guys?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: One more on Pakistan, in the back.
QUESTION: A Guardian story is saying that United States is trying to secure the release of the doctor in Pakistan who is held by the military and is accused of helping United States.
MS. NULAND: I don't have anything for you on that one way or the other. I have nothing for you.
QUESTION: Can you confirm –
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Senegalese constitutional court has now confirmed the validity of 14 candidates running for president, including President Wade. Our own view, while we respect the process, the political and legal process in Senegal, the fact that he’s now been cleared to run, our message to him remains the same: that the statesmanly-like thing to do would be to cede to the next generation, and we think that would be better.
And with regard to the reference to Museveni last week, Matt, I am reliably told that we did also suggest to him that he allow the next generation to --
QUESTION: Yes. And he didn’t, and now he’s your best friend.
MS. NULAND: Well, we work --
QUESTION: So what’s wrong with – now what’s wrong with it in Senegal?
MS. NULAND: We work with the government the people elect. But again, our view is that Senegalese democracy is strong enough to move to the next generation.
QUESTION: Can you --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: It’s not about the details or – this is: Can you confirm if U.S. diplomats were present at talks with Taliban?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to confirm affirmatively or not. We’re going to allow some space for this to go.
QUESTION: Any comments on Pakistan allowing former Ambassador Haqqani to travel abroad and he’s coming to U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. We are gratified that the Government of Pakistan has lifted the travel ban on Ambassador Haqqani, specifically the supreme court of Pakistan, and that he’s free to travel as he chooses. And we continue to expect that Pakistan will resolve this situation and other internal issues in a transparent manner and upholding Pakistani laws and constitution.
QUESTION: And he’s welcome here?
MS. NULAND: I’m not sure that there is a visa application at the moment, but if there were, it would be a matter of visa confidentiality.
QUESTION: Did United States play a role through some backchannel to get his release?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we necessarily needed a backchannel. I’ve been pretty clear here, as has the Secretary, that we want to see him treated fairly and that we were watching the situation.
Okay. Thanks very much, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)
DPB # 19