Daily Press Briefing - May 18, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

  • CUBA
    • Visa Processing of Cubans to Attend 2012 Latin American Studies Association International Congress
    • Violence Led by Assad Regime / Continue to Condemn Bombings
    • Secretary's Meeting with Foreign Minister Peiris
    • Defense Minister Barak Meetings
  • IRAN
    • IAEA Talks in Vienna
    • Technical Discussions Continuing
    • DEA Incident Investigation
    • Budget Challenges / FY2013 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill / Unprecedented Challenges Worldwide
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 18, 2012


11:44 a.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Friday, everyone. Thanks for coming early and for agreeing to gaggle. I know we’ve got a lot going on in the city today as we begin the G-8, so I thought we’d just do a quickie – I’m hopeful.

Matt, what’s on your mind?

QUESTION: Actually, just something from – to follow up on from yesterday on the visa issue for Raul Castro’s daughter. We understand that there were Cubans who – scholars and such who also applied for – to go to either this conference in San Francisco or something related to it, and that those were – some of them, at least, were rejected. The applications were rejected.

I’m wondering if you can say how many were not approved or were rejected, and if – some of the people who are talking – some of these people, apparently, have come out said that they were rejected. And these – some of them are people who have advocated for greater engagement and openness both in Cuba – within Cuba and also with the United States. And I’m just wondering if you could comment on why these visas might have been – what was the reason for their rejection?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, thank you, Matt, for the opportunity to put this in a little bit of context. First and foremost, as we said yesterday, all visas anywhere in the world are processed in accordance with the Immigration and Naturalization Act[1]. We understand that there were about a hundred Cuban academics who were invited to this conference. It’s the 2012 Latin American Studies Association International Congress, which is taking place in San Francisco from May 23rd to the 26th.

Our Interests Section in Havana received 77 applications from Cubans to attend the conference. To date, we have issued visas for 60 Cubans to participate in this conference, 11 have been denied, and six are still pending processing. So 77 received, 60 issued, 11 denied, six pending processing.

You can imagine that under the law, I can’t speak to the various grounds under which visas might have been denied, but they were all in accordance with law. But do understand that of the 77, 60 have already been issued and we still have six to look at.

QUESTION: And do you know how long that takes or how long does that – when you say they’re still being processed --

MS. NULAND: Well, I would assume that the expectation would be in time for them to travel if we’re going to be able to issue.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I’m not asking for the reason for denial for specific instances, but can you, in general, talk about why a visa or a Cuban academic would be denied?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have the full INA here in front of me, but there are all kinds of reasons that visas can be denied, as you know, can range from concern that the visa is being applied for not for the purpose stated, can be a matter of security concern about the individual, can be a matter of any other derogatory information that we may have with regard to their intent in the United States. There are all kinds of reasons why they might be able to – might be denied under the law.

QUESTION: Really, at your discretion, at the Department’s discretion, whether to grant the visa or not?

MS. NULAND: The Department looks at each application individually, evaluates each one individually, as it applies – as they qualify under the law, and makes the determination as to whether they are eligible.

QUESTION: But what I – I guess what I’m getting at is, if there isn’t a derogatory information that is in the – as defined by what the law is, and you just don’t happen to like someone for some particular reason, you can still deny that visa, correct?


QUESTION: So you’re --

MS. NULAND: Visas --

QUESTION: Even for Cuban Government officials?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, let me go through this. So every visa anywhere in the world, right, is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, goes through an interagency review, if necessary. With regard to Cubans, there was the presidential proclamation of 1985. That’s Presidential Proclamation 5379[2]. It suspends entry into the United States of high-level employees and officers of the Government of Cuba and the Communist Party. However, that itself was modified in 1999 by the Secretary of State that allows us to make exceptions to that in certain cases.

So there are – there is the INA. There is the presidential proclamation with regard to high-level Cubans; there’s some ability to suspend that. And as I said, like anywhere else in the world, we have to evaluate each case case-by-case.

QUESTION: Are you required to tell someone why they have been denied?

MS. NULAND: We do give them a citation under U.S. law as to why they’re denied, yes.

QUESTION: And – but you’re saying, though, that you cannot deny – if someone doesn’t – isn’t disqualified under the law, there’s no other reason you can deny the visa?

MS. NULAND: There’s no “we don’t like you, therefore you’re not getting a visa” stipulation.

QUESTION: You can’t do that?



QUESTION: Victoria, just to make sure then, the default position would be if they were members of the government, high officials, or of the Communist Party, the default position would be you don’t get it unless we give them an exception. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Let me just give you the relevant statutes again. So the Immigration and Naturalization Act [3]is binding around the world. There is an addition to that with regard to Cubans: Presidential Proclamation 5377, dated October 4th, 1985, as modified in 1999. So this presidential proclamation, just to read it again, “suspends entry into the United States of high-level employees and officers of the Government of Cuba and the Communist Party.” But as a result of this modification made in 1999, the proclamation operates mainly to suspend entry of high-level government and Communist Party officials, military, police, and intelligence officers.


QUESTION: So – but somebody could be a member of the Communist Party or an official, let’s say working for a university, which is considered government, I would presume, who then could, even if they were a member of the Communist Party, could get an exception?

MS. NULAND: There is the ability to do that under the right circumstances. And then of course, as the host nation for the UN, we obviously grant UN visas as well.

QUESTION: Has there been exceptions, and can you give an example?

MS. NULAND: There have been. I’m obviously not going to talk to – speak to anybody’s individual visa.

QUESTION: But I mean, the –I was just thinking, if these are academics, and probably most of them work for government universities – right?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to let them speak for themselves. The bottom line is --

QUESTION: No, but I mean, just so I understand.

MS. NULAND: -- we had 77 apply and 60 already issued. Right?



QUESTION: Which sounds like everybody basically, except for the people who were turned down, got an exception. Because wouldn’t they pretty much fall into --

MS. NULAND: Again, the law was applied. The cases were reviewed. My assumption, although I can’t speak to the individual cases, is that for these 60 who were issued – I can’t speak to their individual backgrounds – we considered the reason for applying was legitimate. We thought that they – if they were applying to come to this congress, that they were appropriate and invited participants in the congress, and we didn’t have any reason to have concerns about how they would conduct themselves in the United States, or any security concerns.

QUESTION: Change topics?


QUESTION: Can we talk about Syria?


QUESTION: Yes. In the last 24 hours, there has been a great deal of acknowledgement almost worldwide, the UN, that there’s terror violence in Syria perpetrated by al-Qaida and the likes, and aided and abetted by the flow of arms perhaps from countries that are allied with the United States of America. Do you have a comment?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to join in your assertions the way you’ve put them forward, Said. I think we talked about this on Monday. We talked about it on Wednesday. We have the same concerns that everybody else has, that as a result of the climate of violence, led by the Assad regime, we have a number of things happening. We have individuals who began in a – on a peaceful path who’ve taken up arms to defend themselves. We also have spoilers and nefarious forces who are exploiting the instability in general in Syria, not for the good of anybody on the Syrian side.

QUESTION: I understand. I mean, we – everybody recognizes the excessive use of force by the regime in quelling peaceful demonstrations and so on early on, but now it seems to have taken on a different thing altogether with the increase of the flow of arms and the United Nations secretary general acknowledging that the latest explosions and bombings – suicide bombings – were perpetrated by al-Qaida and so on. And I wonder if they United States Government would condemn such acts.

MS. NULAND: We have condemned any – we have condemned the bombings on the days they happened regularly and we will continue to do so. I think the concern here is that we still have the regime, on a daily basis, firing on innocents. So they are leading in creating this climate that is enabling other kinds of violence as well.

QUESTION: Right. And I know that you’ve addressed this issue before, that whenever the monitors are present, there seems to be an ebbing of violence. Do you still – are your reports or your reading of the situation that wherever the monitors are present, violence tends to be ebbing and so on?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me tell you that we are working to get a better picture of some of these things so that we can paint the story better for you. But in general terms, with the exception of those deplorable instances where monitors have been fired on, where we have now these semi-permanent posts of the UN where they’re able to show presence on a regular basis, we’ve had a general quieting; we’ve had an increase in positive political activity; we’ve had an increase in folks being able to express their will. But it is not a uniform picture in part because the UN monitors are having to move around to cover the country, et cetera.

So, please.


MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.



QUESTION: The head of the Syrian National Council, Dr. Ghalioun, offered to resign, I think has signaled a growing division and disagreement among the opposition factions. Are you concerned, especially that it’s taking place now while the U.S. step in support with (inaudible) to the opposition?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ll let Mr. Ghalioun speak for himself. As you know, he’s somebody that we have worked well with. Our understanding is that he’s now expressed his interest in stepping aside when a new leader of the organization can be named. There are many, many capable people in the SNC who we’ve worked with, and we know many of them – many of the current leaders, so we look forward to whomever they choose. But our focus remains on working with all opposition groups to try to encourage them to work together in a common direction and present a real viable alternative for a peaceful democratic transition.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTION: Do you have a readout on Secretary’s meeting with the Sri Lankan foreign minister this morning?

MS. NULAND: I do. Secretary met this morning for about 45 minutes with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Peiris. The foreign minister presented a very serious and comprehensive approach to the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission’s implementation and the plans that the government has, including plans to make it more public and accessible both to Sri Lankans and to those outside Sri Lanka, what the government intends to do in the implementation realm.

The Secretary encouraged a really transparent, open, public process, not only on the LLRC specifically and its implementation, but also with regard to accountability; to strengthen reconciliation, public confidence inside and outside Sri Lanka in the process; and frankly, to speed the healing of the country. So she really – she said good plan, now you really need to make it public; now you really need to show your people, the world, the concrete implementation steps going forward.

She also stressed the importance, as she always does, of demilitarizing the north; of getting to the provincial elections in the north; protection of human rights, including protection of the press; and generally the creation of an environment that’s inclusive; engagement and the creation of space for civil society along the lines of what she talked about globally earlier in the week.

They also had an exchange on Sri Lanka’s efforts to reduce its dependence on Iranian crude, and we are encouraged by the steps that Sri Lanka has taken.

QUESTION: Can we follow up there?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Did – on accountability, did she refer specifically to prosecuting war crimes at the end of the war – the 40,000 civilians who died?

MS. NULAND: This is precisely what we mean when we talk about accountability in all of it.

QUESTION: I know, but how specific did she get about that? I mean, did she ask for --

MS. NULAND: She’s spoken in general terms, and then there were separate meetings with the delegation that Bob Blake had, that Mike Posner had, to go through the details.

QUESTION: Would you say that the percentage of time they spent speaking is roughly the same as their public appearance – in the private meeting?


QUESTION: So it was roughly equal?

MS. NULAND: They were in public about 10 minutes and then they were in private about 35 minutes.

QUESTION: Well, of that – no I understand that.


QUESTION: But of that 10 minutes that they were in public, about eight and a half minutes was this foreign minister. Would you say that he dominated the private schedule?

MS. NULAND: No, no, no. It was a balanced conversation. No.


QUESTION: Can we move to the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Yes. I know that the Israeli – the minister of defense, Mr. Barak, is in town on different issues, but have you had a chance to discuss with him the progress on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating prospects?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said before the meeting, they did have a – first of all, a discussion of the new unity government, its commitment to continuing to work hard on peace process issues, the prospect for building on the exchange of letters, et cetera. So it was a good exchange on those issues.

QUESTION: And do you feel that the new government and the new Palestinian Government have more elbow room than before, let’s say, to get the – to kick off the talks once again maybe in the near future?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think I spoke to this, maybe it was Wednesday, after the Secretary had had phone calls both with the prime minister and with President Abbas, that that is – that is our hope that we can use this time, we can use the exchange of letters, and keep building.

QUESTION: Well, but the Secretary did meet with the minister of defense, correct?

MS. NULAND: She did.

QUESTION: Okay. And did she discuss these issues with him?

MS. NULAND: I think I said that she did, yeah.

QUESTION: Well, what do you make of the news out of Vienna on the IAEA’s deal with Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, my understanding is that they had talks in Vienna – IAEA and Iran – earlier this week, that those talks needed to continue, and the decision was made that they would continue in Tehran, so the IAEA director general is headed to Iran. So I don’t think we have a conclusion yet.

QUESTION: Would granting access to this site be a valuable, an important move by Iran ahead of next week’s Baghdad talks?

MS. NULAND: It would certainly be valuable. Any positive step that Iran makes to implement its international obligations would be a good step.

QUESTION: And what are you looking for precisely in these Baghdad talks? I know the last ones we kind of defined as preliminary, ahead of these talks. I hope these talks aren’t preliminary to future talks again, so it’s – what more concretely are you hoping to get to in this second round?

MS. NULAND: Well, beyond saying that in general terms, we want to see a really concrete, serious discussion about steps that will demonstrate that we are moving in the right direction, I think we will have more to say about this next week when we start going down the road towards Baghdad. The Secretary spoke to this a little bit – I guess it was last week, right?

QUESTION: But you had this first round and I guess you saw enough of a really serious discussion to kind of enable a second round. So what, that went – that goes beyond the – no, you had the – you had a serious discussion the first round, I would hope. But you’ve now announced a second round, so what would you want that goes --

MS. NULAND: Well, I think – yeah. I mean, we said in the first round that we really needed to know that Iran was prepared to talk about the nuclear file, prepared to talk about its program, prepared to roll up its sleeves with us and demonstrate its peaceful intent. So now we need to talk about the concrete steps that are going to be taken, so we’ll see how we go.

QUESTION: Do you have an --

QUESTION: On the Amano trip, this is the first time the IAEA chief has been going there since 2009, I believe, and some people are interpreting this as sort of a hopeful sign for the Baghdad talks. Do you put any quality read on the fact that he’s going to Iran at this moment?

MS. NULAND: I think we just have to see what comes of the visit, right? It’s premature to judge this whole roundup between the IAEA and Iran until we see – until it’s concluded.

QUESTION: So going to the – Iran in and of itself doesn’t give you any sense of encouragement or --

MS. NULAND: I mean, they’re in the middle of their consultations. I think we need to let them proceed.

I’ve got, unfortunately, time for about three more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there an update on the Pakistan negotiations --

MS. NULAND: They are --

QUESTION: -- considering the NATO summit begins this weekend?

MS. NULAND: They are back at the table today. We don’t – we’re still at it. We do not have anything to report beyond what we had.

QUESTION: Are you still hopeful or optimistic that it will get done by Sunday?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve said that if we can get it done, it would be a positive contribution, but we’re going to keep talking until we get it right.

QUESTION: So what are the sticking points now? You’re having talks the last three weeks with them.

MS. NULAND: I think you’ve been trying to get me to do the sticking points all week. I think I’m going to stay off them.


QUESTION: Okay. One more on Afghanistan?


QUESTION: Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has written a letter to Secretary Clinton requesting her to immediately invite the leaders of Afghanistan National Front for the NATO summit. Has she received this letter, and is he inviting these Afghan leaders for the summit?

MS. NULAND: I will have to take that. I haven’t seen the letter.

Thanks. Please.

QUESTION: On North Korea --


QUESTION: -- there is a media report coming out of South Korea stating that high-level U.S. Government officials visited Pyongyang on April 7th, just about a week before the missile launch. Did any U.S. Government officials go to Pyongyang to visit prior to the satellite launch?

MS. NULAND: I have no comment on that report at all.


QUESTION: Toria, can I ask --


QUESTION: -- about the Honduran foreign minister who’s in town? I was wondering if he had any meetings in this building. And also, Human Rights Watch and other organizations are calling on the U.S. to conduct its own investigation of the incident last week. Is there any consideration on that at all?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think in the first instance, our proposal on the investigation is that the Honduran authorities conduct an investigation, and we will support that to the degree that that is welcome. With regard to the foreign minister, I believe he’s meeting with Assistant Secretary Jacobson. I don't know if there’s a higher meeting. We will get back to you.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Happy Friday. We are dark on Monday because of all the events in Chicago. Okay?

QUESTION: Toria, (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: Oh, sorry. I’m sorry. I have one more. I just want to make a brief statement on the budget. Thank you for reminding me, guys.

So I think we all know that we face unprecedented budget challenges, and we very much appreciate that the House Appropriations Committee has done a lot of work to come up with the FY2013 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill. However, the FY2013 Appropriations bills being considered in the House break the agreement on discretionary spending made in the 2011 Budget Control Act and are therefore unworkable. The resulting funding cuts for diplomacy and development damage our national security and force America to face higher costs over the long term from unresolved conflicts, transnational crime, poverty, and other cross-border threats.

At a time when we’re facing unprecedented challenges worldwide, a decrease of nearly 10 percent from current FY2012 levels will undermine America’s effort to break cycles of violence and conflict and mitigate crises in the darkest corners of the world. We look forward to a constructive and responsible dialogue with Congress about the President’s FY2013 budget request, which provides a blueprint for a balanced deficit reduction package without sacrificing important national security investments. We can help ensure America’s security competitiveness and global influence for generations but only if we work together, because the work we do is critical to the importance – is of critical importance to the security and prosperity of the United States and needs to be protected by the FY2013 budget.

QUESTION: Right. When you say we – when we work together, meaning you and the Congress?

MS. NULAND: We and the Congress.

QUESTION: And what was the very top of that? While we understand these are tough times --

MS. NULAND: We face unprecedented budget challenges and we appreciate the work of the House Appropriations Committee.

QUESTION: Well, so you do? You really appreciate the work? Doesn’t sound like you appreciate it at all. In fact, it sounds quite the opposite. I mean – wait a second, I’m serious. You don’t appreciate it, do you?

MS. NULAND: You’ll have it in transcript. I think --

QUESTION: Do – how can you say that you appreciate their work when you spend the next five – eight sentence – ten sentences just blasting it?

QUESTION: Provided they are --

MS. NULAND: See you later. Happy Friday, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:10 p.m.)

[1] Immigration and Nationality Act

[2] Presidential Proclamation 5377

[3] Immigration and Nationality Act