Daily Press Briefing - February 2, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • UN Security Council Resolution / Ambassador Rice
    • Embassy Security / Ambassador Ford
    • Military Transfer to Afghan Lead / NATO
    • Reconciliation
    • Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations
    • Travel Warning
    • Haqqani Network
  • IRAQ
    • U.S.-Iraq Relations
    • Support for Georgia's Sovereignty / Bilateral Defense and Security Cooperation
    • Egyptian Military Delegation in Washington / Meetings with Assistant Secretary's Feltman and Shapiro
    • U.S. Citizens on Embassy Compound
    • Case of U.S. Citizen
    • Change in Consular Fees
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 2, 2012


12:50 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Happy Groundhog Day everybody. I understand he saw his shadow, so six more weeks of winter, huh? Winter like this we can handle though. We haven’t really had much winter, right? But for those of us going off to Bulgaria, I think we are about to get some winter.

QUESTION: Yeah. Doesn’t bode well for the summer though.

MS. NULAND: Okay, I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Are you guys okay with this new draft Syria resolution that removes the explicit call for Assad to turn over power to his vice president?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we said yesterday, we are not going to be litigating the UN Security council resolution here at the podium. That’s the work of our team up in New York, under the able leadership of Ambassador Rice. I do want to push back on your characterization though, a little bit. Our understanding is that consultations on the updated draft pick up at three o’clock today. As the Secretary said when she was in New York, as we have been saying all along, we are looking for a resolution that strongly supports the Arab League plan. Our understanding is that the draft that we’ll see later today is very much in that vein. I think you saw Ambassador Rice’s comments after the session yesterday, where she was cautiously optimistic and, in general, said that everybody had their sleeves rolled up and was working hard to get us to a resolution.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to litigate or negotiate the resolution here. I’m just asking if that’s okay with the U.S. I mean, the draft is -- the new draft -- is out there.

MS. NULAND: Again, Ambassador Rice will, in a closed-door session, be working with their colleagues again at three. When --

QUESTION: Well, it’s a bit disingenuous this closed door session when everyone is – everyone who has an interest in --

MS. NULAND: Matt, can I finish my point? I’d like you to let me finish my point, okay?


MS. NULAND: All right. So these consultations on the new draft will start at three. They are not an open session, they’re a closed session. Ambassador Rice will give our views on that draft in the session and we’ll negotiate from there with our colleagues, but we are not going to negotiate here at the podium. Okay?

QUESTION: Again, can I just ask you – I’m not asking you to negotiate it on the podium. I’m just asking you if you’re okay with that. The draft is out there.

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to predict where our negotiator is going to be at the session, before the session starts.

QUESTION: Okay. Has the Secretary managed to get in touch with Foreign Minister Lavrov yet, or is he still conducting urgent business in the South Pacific. I think he was in Fiji yesterday. The Russians made a big show about how he was there extolling and expanding upon the great Russian-Fijian partnership. Presumably this is the important business which has kept him from the phone. Has she talked with him?

MS. NULAND: She has not spoken to him yet. She’s expecting to soon, but as I said, Ambassador Rice is working well with the Russian perm rep in New York on the resolution, and most of the action’s in New York at the moment.


QUESTION: Does she plan to see Lavrov this weekend when she’s on the road?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that he will be at the Munich security conference, so I don’t have any particular meetings to announce at the moment, but there is a good opportunity there.

QUESTION: What caused the Ambassador Rice’s cautious optimism?

MS. NULAND: Say again?

QUESTION: What caused her to be cautiously optimistic? You said, she was cautiously optimistic. Is there anything in particular?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think if you look at her comments yesterday she was speaking about the workman-like spirit in the Council, that everybody, as she put it, had their sleeves rolled up and were really committed to trying to get a resolution. But she did also make clear that the hard textual work continues today.

QUESTION: But it is not the reflection of, let’s say, the softening of positions by the Russians, is it?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to take you into that negotiating room from this podium.

QUESTION: Some people are suggesting that there are hopes there that they may be able to put it to a vote, maybe tomorrow or over the weekend at some point. Do you have any sense of the potential timing here on any vote?

MS. NULAND: I don’t, and I don’t think we will until we see how today’s session goes.

QUESTION: Just on the Lavrov thing again. And has it been suggested by anyone or to anyone in the Russian foreign ministry that a meeting in Munich might be desirable? And if it has, have they gotten back to you? Have they said, “Well, Munich is a big city. We might not be in the same place, be able to be at the same place, at the same time”?

MS. NULAND: Again, when we have her bilateral schedule in Munich to announce, we will announce it.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, would she like to see him there?

MS. NULAND: Again, when we have a bilateral schedule to announce in Munich we’ll announce it.

QUESTION: Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, his statement yesterday was a bit confusing. On the one hand, he was talking about perhaps some flexibility. On the other, he was accusing the Arab League of being biased against the regime and all these things and they will stand by Syria, come what may. So what is your interpretation of that?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to be parsing the work in New York from here. Okay.


QUESTION: I just want to try one more. It’s not to get you to parse it, but just so we may understand. Do you take the Russians at their word, that they believe that this really ultimately is an attempt to pull a Libya, to, under the guise of doing something else, to really overthrow Assad?

MS. NULAND: We -- I think the Secretary, other members of the Council who supported the original Moroccan draft, who are continuing to want to keep it as strong as possible, did our utmost in that session on Wednesday and are continuing to do so in sessions today to make it clear, as the Secretary said unequivocally, “This is not Libya. The situation is different.” What we are looking to do is to support the plan of the Arab League, which is quite clear on how a peaceful Syrian-led transition could go forward.


QUESTION: He also, the Russian ambassador, also made the claim that their position was almost identical to the Chinese position, to the Indian position, to the Brazilian position, and other members, non permanent members, on the Council. Is it your understanding that they do have similar positions?

MS. NULAND: Again, I am not in that negotiating room. We’re not, all of us, in that negotiating room. We’re not, all of us, in that negotiating room. We do have nine, ten countries strongly supporting the Moroccan draft. Other countries are looking at it, we’re working from it, and we just need to see where this goes.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly – now, since you already said that the situation is different than Libya, why couldn’t the resolution include language that actually speaks very clearly and unequivocally about, let’s say, rejecting any kind of military interference for now and for the future in Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think as a general matter, whether you’re talking about the United States or whether you’re talking about many of the other countries around that table, while we have said extremely clearly that adding foreign military forces to this situation is not the direction to go, that we want the violence to end, we want a peaceful solution, we never take any option off the table. And it’s simply not the way one does business because you do not know where events are going to take us. And the fundamental issue here is to stop the violence.


QUESTION: Given the Secretary’s comments yesterday that each member of the Security Council will have to decide where it stands, either with the Syrian people or with the regime, is the goal right now of the U.S. and others who support the Moroccan draft to try to get Russia and China to abstain on whatever the final draft is?

MS. NULAND: Ros, we are trying to get today to a resolution that as many council members as possible can support because that is the best way to send a message to the Assad regime about its behavior, about how the international community feels about this, and to stand with the Syrian people.

QUESTION: So – but again, given the Russians in particular, given their strong concerns so far that this is, in essence, an establishment of another slippery slope, why won’t you say that the U.S. is trying to get Moscow and Beijing to not cast vetoes on this?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’re looking for something that can get through, so we wouldn’t be doing all of this if we weren’t looking for something that can get through. We obviously would like to see as many countries as possible on as strong a draft as possible. But again, this is live diplomacy – negotiations going on today – so I can’t predict, sitting here, where this is going to go.

QUESTION: Just one more on Syria.

MS. NULAND: Andy, did you have something?


QUESTION: Have you had any update on the security of the Embassy?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Oh, sorry – the security of the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: The situation has not changed. We continue to be dissatisfied with the security situation around the Embassy. We continue to try to work with the Syrian Government to remediate the problem, but we have not settled it yet.

QUESTION: Is there a fish-or-cut-bait moment where you simply say this is not going anyplace and --

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, there will be at some point a fish-or-cut-bait moment. I’m not prepared to predict when that will be, but our discussions continue.

QUESTION: Are you able --

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Ford still able to conduct any sort of normal business there, given the security concerns?

MS. NULAND: Well, he’s had constraints for quite some time. We’ve talked about the fact that he hasn’t been able to travel out of Damascus in many months. But he does maintain broad contacts with a lot of folks, whether he’s doing it in person, whether he’s doing it on the phone, whether he’s doing it through some of these new media techniques, and he will continue to do that.

QUESTION: And any with senior government officials?

MS. NULAND: He has been in and out of the foreign ministry trying to work on the security situation in particular. That’s been his top issue with the government in the short term.

QUESTION: What is happening physically in the neighborhood around the Embassy? Are they burning bonfires? Are they blocking entrances around the Embassy? What exactly is going on that is giving DS a lot of concern here?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of our concerns except to say that if you look at the physical placement of the Embassy, it’s in a very, very busy section of Damascus. Canadians had some of the same concerns before they decided to suspend their operations. So as we see the city become more and more violent, we are concerned.

QUESTION: Victoria, some Syrian sources claim that one of your requirements is to close off some major thoroughfares around the Embassy, including al-Maliki Square, which is really like Dupont Circle kind of a thing. Is that one of the stuff that you guys are asking?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of what we’re asking for. It’s not appropriate.


QUESTION: Can I ask you, what was the U.S. Government’s rationale for not endorsing the idea of discussing the Arab observers report at the UN Security Council?

MS. NULAND: We did --

QUESTION: I mean the Syrian --

MS. NULAND: We all talked about the Arab observers report. Every person’s comment at that table made direct reference to the report.

QUESTION: Well, the document, as far as I understand, was not the official part of the – part and parcel of the agenda. Was it?

MS. NULAND: I mean, I can’t speak to the agenda that was set for that session, but every single member of the council spoke about the contents of the report and welcomed the very full review that was given by both the Qatari prime minister and Mr. Elaraby.

QUESTION: Just back on the security – well, first of all, is “remediate” even a word? Is it? Well, okay. I assume you mean --

MS. NULAND: Was there a question there, Matt?

QUESTION: Well, yeah. Is “remediate” a word is one. But the second one is: On the security – actual security measures that you don’t want to talk about, is that because you’re negotiating with the Syrians about this?

MS. NULAND: Well, there are two --

QUESTION: Because if you – if one of the things you want, and they eventually agree to it, is closing down a road, it ain’t going to be a secret.

MS. NULAND: First of all --

QUESTION: And so the argument that we don’t talk about security measures, I mean, it doesn’t work then. If there’s going to be a physical closure of road, it’s – that’s not going to be a secret. So is it a question of the negotiating, you don’t want to say publicly what you’re asking the Syrians to do?

MS. NULAND: There are two things here. As a general matter, we don’t talk about our specific concerns, and as you said, we are trying to negotiate our way through this. If we have a resolution with the Syrian Government that allows us to keep the Embassy open, we’ll obviously be in a position, as will the Syrians, to discuss what we agreed to. But right now, it would be inappropriate.


QUESTION: Another subject?


QUESTION: Afghanistan?


QUESTION: Secretary Panetta gave kind of a different timeline, an earlier timeline of transition over to the Afghans. Could you, from the State Department’s perspective, just kind of clarify where we stand and when this transition begins?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me say, first and foremost, that our colleagues at the Pentagon – Captain John Kirby, who speaks for the Secretary of Defense, just had an extensive press gaggle this morning expanding on the Secretary of Defense’s remarks. The Secretary himself, I believe, is going to have more to say when he completes his consultations with NATO allies in Brussels later today. So I’m going to leave military things to military folks, because I think they have expanded quite a bit on the Secretary’s remarks.

Let me just say in general terms that we all remain, from President Obama all the way down, committed to the Lisbon agreement, that our goal is to complete this transition to Afghan lead by the end of 2014. It is obviously the Secretary of Defense’s responsibility, working with NATO-ISAF colleagues, working with the Government of Afghanistan, to figure out how we execute that transition between now and the end of 2014 - based on conditions on the ground, based on security requirements, based on capability of Afghan National Security Forces, based on contributions of other international contributors.

And he will, with his defense colleagues, all of them together as defense ministers, will be making recommendations to the heads of state as we head towards the NATO summit in Chicago. You’ve heard the President say that the Chicago summit, we expect, will further elaborate the timetable between now and 2014. So that’s what the Secretary of Defense is out there working on with his NATO colleagues, and I’m going to let them speak to the details of that.

QUESTION: Can you talk about any communication you may have had with the Afghan Government prior to this or subsequent to this, these comments from Secretary Panetta? Have there been any communications between this building and the Karzai government about trying to parse out what exactly the Secretary meant and what the policy is? There’s been, we’re reporting, quite a bit of mystification there in Kabul over this, what appears to be a new --

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that Ambassador Crocker has been talking to the Afghans today. He’s also been talking to our team in Brussels to give them a sense of what’s going on. Frankly, it’s often the case that the Afghans participate in NATO meetings, so I actually don’t know whether there are some Afghan representatives in Brussels. There may be.

QUESTION: And just as a follow-up on this one, there was some – concern might be too strong a word, but when President Sarkozy made a similar announcement, this was addressed in this room by this podium that you were looking at it as a national decision and that would work within the sort of broader NATO timeline. But is this – are we to read this as the U.S. falling in step with the Sarkozy view of how the operation should continue?

MS. NULAND: There were two pieces to what was said in Paris a week ago or so. The first had to do with France’s own decisions about when its own combat role would end in the context of the larger NATO plan to transfer to Afghan lead by the end of 2014. From that perspective, we are working with the French; NATO is working with the French. It is a national decision.

The second piece was a musing, a question, put up by President Sarkozy about whether the end of 2014 calendar for NATO as a whole could be accelerated if the Afghans are ready for that and if conditions allow. And it was pitched as a question that he would raise with others. My understanding of the events in Brussels today and other consultations that we’ve had with Afghans and others is that our expectation is that what was agreed at Lisbon, that the Afghan lead will be – the transfer to Afghan lead will be completed by the end of 2014 stands. That is our expectation. That said, we are going to have to work through what happens between now and then, because this is obviously not an on/off switch; it’s a process.

QUESTION: Given the --

QUESTION: I’ll have to go back and check, but I think that what President Sarkozy said, the second part, was that NATO and Afghanistan would ask for this by 2013.

MS. NULAND: Our understanding of what he was talking about was whether, in the context of Chicago, one could talk about accelerating the Lisbon timetable, and it was posed as a question.


QUESTION: But does that mean that you’re willing to talk about that?

MS. NULAND: As I just answered to Andy, our view remains – and I think it’s the conclusion of defense ministers from what I’m understanding, but again, let’s let the Secretary of Defense speak after his consultations – is that the conclusion, after looking at that, is that the Lisbon timetable continues to make sense, which is a different matter about what the benchmarks might be between now and then in this transition process.

QUESTION: Toria, in this context, what does “ready” mean? The Afghans are ready; what does it mean?

MS. NULAND: Well, we already have about 50 percent of the Afghan population living in places where Afghan security forces are in the lead combat role and NATO-ISAF is in a supporting role. So that process of Afghans leading the operations is continuing, and that’s what we’re talking about.

QUESTION: So it’s strictly from a security point of view?

MS. NULAND: It has to do with all kinds of factors – the security conditions, the readiness of the Afghans, et cetera.


QUESTION: I take your point that between now and the end of 2014, things have to be figured out, but this is the first time that we can all point to that Secretary Panetta has actually said here’s a point on the calendar where we’re going to look to making this legal transition to making it an active transition, keeping in mind that we’re still going to keep a lot of our people and equipment there because the Afghans will need it.

Is this a discussion that has been going on in consultation with the State Department, or did he simply get ahead of the process and essentially put the U.S. in a position where now it’s having to try to dial back, in essence, some of what he said overnight?

MS. NULAND: No. We’ve been talking for some time in the – I think it’s fair to say we’ve been talking since Lisbon, since the target date was set, about how you get to the target. How – all of the elements that go into that, whether you’re talking about strengthening and supporting the Afghans as they transition, whether you’re talking about the training that goes into that, whether you’re talking about the rotation of allies and how they contribute, so – and we had always said that we expected that the Chicago summit in May would put more benchmarks on the calendar.

So it makes sense that in preparation for a summit, when ministers of defense are meeting three months ahead of a summit, that they would begin that conversation about what recommendations they might be able to make to heads, but decisions will be made at Chicago.

QUESTION: But also consider that here in the U.S., it is a political year, the President’s up for reelection, there’s a lot of antipathy toward the war in Afghanistan, and there are also financial considerations. Is there a thought that perhaps announcing an earlier transition from a U.S. lead or a NATO lead might actually be politically advantageous?

MS. NULAND: Ros, we do not do politics from this platform. If you want to talk politics, talk to the White House.


QUESTION: Not domestic politics, but I was just wondering, I mean, given that you are in these sort of preliminary stages of whatever contact may be undergoing with the Taliban – the Karzai government is doing that.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Is there any concern in this building that the takeaway that many people seem to be taking from Secretary Panetta’s comments that the U.S. is ready to think about transitioning sooner than it had earlier, that that’s going to undercut or complicate the Karzai government’s approach to the Taliban, that the Taliban will think, well, look, a year – we’re getting another year, we’ve got a year extra now?

MS. NULAND: As I’ve said, there is no implication here of a year extra, and the Taliban would misread what all of us have been saying – and starting first and foremost with the President – if they thought that our expectation was that this process will be completed before the end of 2014.


QUESTION: New subject?


QUESTION: Still on --

MS. NULAND: Still on this? Okay. Keep going.

QUESTION: Will this transition that you are talking about to Afghan – transition to Afghan security forces that you are talking about, will this take place irrespective of the success or failure of the reconciliation effort? Or if you’re not successful with the reconciliation, or the Afghans are not successful, that would change the equation?

MS. NULAND: The security situation speaks to whether and when the Afghans can manage their own security, leading their own security with NATO and ISAF playing an increasingly supporting role rather than a lead role. So nobody is talking about abandoning the security of Afghanistan. It’s more a question of strengthening Afghan security forces so that they can manage security.

So to the degree that we still have insurgents fighting a democratic Afghanistan and taking up arms against the Afghan people, we all share the goal of ensuring that they are met on the battlefield and met in strongest terms. That’s a different matter than the fact that this pressure that all of us – Afghans, the NATO-ISAF coalition – have been putting on the Taliban is causing them to make some decisions about whether they want to come for talks. So as our boss likes to say in any of these conflicts, at the beginning you just fight, you move into a state where you, one hopes, can fight and talk, but as long as people are fighting, you have to keep fighting.


QUESTION: In the context of Defense Secretary’s statement yesterday, and your own remarks today, the transition depends upon the ground situation, and progress towards 2014 goals also depends. What – at political level, what kind of message are you giving to regional countries about the United States commitment to the region, to Afghanistan, Pakistan, in the long term?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we said at Lisbon, as we said at Bonn, as we said again in Istanbul, all of us are committed to staying with Afghanistan for the long term. We’re committed to staying with Afghanistan in supporting her security, in supporting her economic prosperity, in supporting an increasingly democratic, tolerant society that can live in peace with its neighbors. The precise role we play in that is going to change over time as the Afghan state gets stronger. That’s the point here.


MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Sorry. Second part of my question: Can you, at this point, tell us the civilian presence, the State Department role, when the U.S. military presence is – scales down – is scaled down? What do you envision at this point of time?

MS. NULAND: We are not to the point of talking about those issues yet.


QUESTION: Yesterday, before Secretary Panetta’s statement, Ambassador Sherry Rehman said that Pakistan will be the first casualty of an irresponsible troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. Do you have a comment on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think this simply speaks to the fact that we really have to, all of us – Afghanistan, Pakistan, the NATO-ISAF family – concert our efforts and go after terrorists wherever they are.

QUESTION: Does it bother you at all that a Pakistani official would make such a comment, that they might be the ones to be hurt by withdrawals, considering the fact that they’re making it so difficult for you to get supplies in and out of Afghanistan and have not proven to be such a reliable ally in this case?

MS. NULAND: I think it speaks to a Pakistani understanding that this region is interconnected and we all have to work together.

QUESTION: And are you following FM Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to Afghanistan and the meetings? If Pakistan and Afghanistan come up with a joint plan as far as reconciliation is concerned and the region is concerned, that may be a bit different than what United States is thinking. Will that be acceptable to you?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we look forward to a debrief from both Afghans and Pakistanis on the visit, but from what we can tell so far, it seems to have been a very good and well-timed visit. As you know, we have always supported good neighborly relations and dialogue and collaboration on the security side, on the political side, on the economic side between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been very positive statements from the visit about Pakistan’s support for an Afghan-owned process of reconciliation. That’s something that the Afghans have wanted to hear, that we think will be helpful to the process. So we need to see where that goes.

QUESTION: And just lastly, you have issued a new Travel Warning to Pakistan this morning. Have you seen any worsening of situation that have prompted this decision?

MS. NULAND: No. I think you know that on any country where we have a Travel Warning, we update those on a regular basis every six months. So every six months, any Travel Warning is updated. So if you go and you look at the changes, essentially what you will see there are an updating of some of the incidents that we’ve seen in Pakistan or with Americans in the last six months which were not in our previous warning. But the general thrust remains the same with regard to our warnings to American travelers, et cetera.

QUESTION: But the situation six months remains the same now, or you think it has worsened?

MS. NULAND: Well, what you’ll see there is you’ll see references to the November 26th incident, which obviously raised tensions. You’ll see references to some of the kidnappings that we’ve seen since the last warning. So this is not a report card. It’s designed to be a factual report of some of the incidences that guide our continued warning to Americans. The fundamental warning hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Khar’s visit – you must mentioned it – to Afghanistan? When she came back to Pakistan and asked if Pakistan will be willing to bring the Haqqani Network to the table, she said Pakistan will do whatever Afghanistan needs and asks. But the U.S. has been asking for the same thing for a while now, so do you see a different level of cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan at this point than what Pakistan offered to the U.S. until now?

MS. NULAND: Look, as you know, when the Secretary was in Pakistan and with the interagency delegation, one of our main asks at that time was that we do more with regard to the Haqqani Network. So positive statements of commitment in that regard, whether they’re made to us, whether they’re made to Afghanistan, that’s a good thing.

Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: One more --

MS. NULAND: One more, yeah.

QUESTION: Was this early – was this decision for early withdrawal was designed in part to impact – positively impact the negotiation taking place in Qatar?

MS. NULAND: I think I --

QUESTION: Specifically in Qatar.

MS. NULAND: I think I have already made clear nobody has changed the Lisbon timetable here, and that this – the fighting aspect of this is separate from the talking aspect.


MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. The drone controversy, the drone controversy in Iraq?

MS. NULAND: Was there a question there, Said?

QUESTION: Yes. I – about the drone controversy, that’s my question. The fiery cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is saying that this is a breach of Iraqi sovereignty, that the U.S. Embassy is, by doing this spy drone thing, is breaching Iraqi sovereignty, and he’s calling on Iraqis to resist and he’s calling on the Iraqi Government to stop the U.S. Embassy from doing that, and in fact given you – gave you a timetable, a deadline timetable. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any comment on that, no.

Please, Dima.

QUESTION: Do you know – actually, do you know – has the Iraqi Government actually complained about this to you?

MS. NULAND: I – given the fact that we are continuing discussion about a whole host of issues having to do with how we manage our very large Embassy presence in Iraq, including aspects of security, I don’t think it’s so much a matter of complaint, as you would say, as an ongoing dialogue about what’s appropriate going forward.

QUESTION: No, but the – when this was first reported on Monday or Tuesday, or sometime earlier this week --


QUESTION: -- or maybe it was last week, I don’t even remember now, but it had been presented that the Iraqis were furious – the Iraqi Government, not a cleric here or there, but that the actual Iraqi Government was upset, was angry and demanding that this not happen. You’re not aware that that’s actually the case though, correct?

MS. NULAND: I am not. But let me take the question. Okay?

Dima. Thanks.

QUESTION: President Saakashvili of Georgia is in town, he was – President Saakashvili of Georgia is in town, he was in the building yesterday, he met President Obama on Monday. It was widely reported couple of months ago that Mr. Saakashvili is going to stay in power after presidential elections of 12 – of the next year in Georgia as a prime minister with broader powers. The process of those reforms are being carried in Georgia right now. I wanted to ask you, how does this possibility sit with the U.S. Government, whether you discussed this idea, that those reports – this possibility with Mr. Saakashvili either here at the State Department or at White House? And I have a follow-up.

MS. NULAND: Well Dima, let me just refer you back to the remarks made by President Obama with President Saakashvili during that Oval Office visit, I think it was Monday, where he made clear that in addition to our strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, our desire to continue to work together to support their economic development, et cetera, we strongly support their continued political development, including as they head into an election season next year – or this year.

QUESTION: But did you discuss this specific case with him?

MS. NULAND: I think the White House made clear that we did. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And a follow-up if I may.


QUESTION: President Saakashvili referred in his remarks yesterday to some kind of new level of military cooperation between Georgia and the United States. I wanted to know, what does it entail? For instance, are you now planning to ship heavy weaponry to Georgia?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I would also refer you back to the President’s comments. The President spoke about this when he was – when he had President Saakashvili into the Oval Office. The United States and Georgia have agreed to continue to develop our bilateral defense and security cooperation. This cooperation is built on the successful programs that we already have to help the Georgian military in its reform effort, something that we do with many militaries around the world, including many of Georgia’s neighbors, and their defense modernization effort to support their self-defense – so we’re talking about defense. And also to sustain the work that Georgian forces do in ISAF in Afghanistan and to help them remain interoperable with NATO. Georgia is one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the ISAF mission.

QUESTION: Do you recall if the United States weighed in all when President Putin decided that he was going to become Prime Minister Putin? I’m wondering why you would weigh in on this case in Georgia if you didn’t --

MS. NULAND: I think we have weighed in regularly on the Russian side in terms of our support for democracy and transparency. I can’t speak --

QUESTION: Well, I think that – I know, but I think that the way the question was phrased was that there might be some specific concern about Saakashvili doing what Putin did. And I don’t recall that there was any expression other than just we would like to see a democratic process --

MS. NULAND: And I think that was --

QUESTION: -- in Russia with the Putin situation. I’m trying to figure out if there’s something more or something related to Saakashvili himself that would be a concern or of more concern with him taking over the prime ministership than it would with Putin taking over the Russian prime ministership.

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to the White House on the specific conversation, but my understanding from the readout that we all saw was that the conversation focused, as it has with Russia in the past, on the importance of democratic institutions and democratic processes.


QUESTION: On Egypt, if you have anything new to report on the folks in the Embassy. Have there been any more letters sent, any phone calls received, what’s going on with them?

MS. NULAND: I don’t Andy. I wish I did. I wish I did.

QUESTION: This Egyptian military delegation apparently is in town. Do you have any information on who they might meet in the State Department?

MS. NULAND: We talked about his yesterday. They see Jeff Feltman, Assistant Secretary Feltman today. They see Assistant Secretary Shapiro tomorrow. I think Mark will be on the podium tomorrow, he’ll have a readout at least on the Feltman meeting for you tomorrow.

QUESTION: And has the NGO issue already been raised in the meeting yesterday?

MS. NULAND: They haven’t seen us yet. They see us today. I have no doubt that Assistant Secretary Feltman will raise it.

QUESTION: Victoria, some North African papers have reported that Hillary Clinton will be visiting the region in February. Is this true?

MS. NULAND: I have nothing to announce at the moment. We’ll let you know if and when we do.

QUESTION: Just out of – this is somewhat related to Egypt and it revolves around the Embassy refuge again, and then the situation in Angola, which we talked about yesterday. Is it your understanding – I talked to CA this morning – is it your understanding that these people in Angola were not actually abducted at gun point?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know the circumstances --

QUESTION: Because --

MS. NULAND: -- and, frankly, my understanding is that whatever circumstances led them to make this refuge request, they explicitly asked us not to talk about the incident. So even if I knew the details, I couldn’t talk about it.

QUESTION: Well, that’s funny because I was on the phone with a guy from his hotel this morning and he didn’t seem to have a problem talking about it. I’m just --

MS. NULAND: Well, he – it is his right to talk about it. But if he asks us not to talk about it, as an American citizen, we have to respect that, obviously. Right?


QUESTION: Can I ask you about North Korea?


QUESTION: They sent, they call it an open questionnaire for the South Koreans, listing nine conditions to start negotiating again, among them being that U.S. and South Korea should stop doing military exercises, that the South Koreas should apologize for various things, do you have any comment on this?

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve long said no preconditions.

Okay, thanks everybody.

QUESTION: No, no. I have --

MS. NULAND: Oh, there he goes.

QUESTION: No, I have some brief ones just on the --

MS. NULAND: Matt has to do his list from all the AP bureaus around the world.

QUESTION: No, no, no, this isn’t from them. It’s about the new fees for certain passport – certain passport things. The final rule was published today and I realize that there’s been – there’s just three things about it. One is: I’d like to know – I would like to know, and you don’t have to bore us here with the details, but I would like to be bored with it later, the explanation for charging $82 instead of zero to get additional pages in your passport.

MS. NULAND: Takes a lot of trees, you know?

QUESTION: I know – well, I know that the explanation listed in this is that it’s not just the time, which I can’t imagine is very much to slap a couple pages, but also the cost of the paper which I can’t imagine is very much, endorsing the passport, which I don’t think takes very much time, and performing a quality control check on the expanded passport – a quality control check? What does that mean, it doesn’t fall apart? So anyway, if you can get CA or whoever to get me that.

Then the second thing on this is it’s now going to cost 50 to 30 – sorry, $50 to have a document notarized at an Embassy? So, $50? States put limits on the amount that their state notaries can charge and I did a look and it ranges from 50 cents to about $10 is the max. Why is a Federal notary going to cost $50 --

MS. NULAND: I think he’s planning a foreign marriage or an adoption, or something that’s going to require a lot of notarized paper overseas.

QUESTION: And then the last one –


QUESTION: No, you’ll love the last one, which is, it’s now going to cost $450 instead of zero to renounce your citizenship. (Laughter.) Since the vast majority of American citizens don’t pay for their citizenship, they’re born into it, and – which is free except for to the parents, it’s of no cost to the infant getting the citizenship on birth, why do you have to pay $450 to get rid of it, to lose this privilege?

MS. NULAND: Well, we wouldn’t --

QUESTION: Does this mean that you put a price – is citizenship worth $450?

MS. NULAND: We wouldn’t want to lose you, Matt. You know we want to make (inaudible).

QUESTION: Well, I want to know, can I --

MS. NULAND: We’ll get you a full briefing on this issue – set of issues.

QUESTION: Because I’d like to know if you’re setting – if that means the value to the State Department that U.S. citizenship is $450. Why – and can I get it? If I get the Pat Kennedy? Can I get the $450 back?

MS. NULAND: Are you ready to renounce, right here and now?

QUESTION: No, no, no. I want to keep it, and not pay the $450.

MS. NULAND: I see, I see.

QUESTION: So I’d like to know why – I mean it doesn’t explain, it just says that the Department has determined that people should pay $450. Where, what --

MS. NULAND: We’re going to get you a full and personal briefing on all of these issues, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank. Maybe when we get back from Europe.

MS. NULAND: Yes. Good. Thank you all.

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