Daily Press Briefing - May 24, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

  • IRAN
    • EU 3 + 3 Meeting
    • Country Reports on Human Rights / Government Involvement
  • IRAN
    • Sanctions
    • Child Citizenship Act February 2001 / Kairi Shepherd
    • People-to-People Exchanges / Confucius Institutes / Visas
    • Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications / Interagency Center / Al-Qaida
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 24, 2012


12:48 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody, and a shout-out to our information officers in the back of the room who are home for training. Welcome. Someday this may be you; may it please be you sooner rather than later, right? (Laughter.)

Okay. I have nothing at the top.

QUESTION: In Matt’s absence, I’m going to --

MS. NULAND: Yes, please assume the mantle there, Arshad.

QUESTION: Well, I don't know about that, but – (laughter) – pick up a lance and tilt at a windmill.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: As you’re, I’m sure, well aware, High Representative Ashton is speaking, even as we are speaking here. And she has announced that the P-5+1 expects to hold – or that they have agreed with the Iranians to hold another round of talks June 18th and 19th in Moscow. Is that, from your point of view, a good sign that at least there is enough to continue the conversation and that the two sides were able to agree to have another meeting?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you said, Arshad, she is speaking even as we are speaking, and so I think it’s probably not appropriate for me to comment on top of her. Why don’t we let her conclude her remarks? I’m sure there will be U.S. officials out in Baghdad who will be commenting to the press, and we’ll continue this tomorrow.

QUESTION: Have you had any kind of a briefing on this?

MS. NULAND: I have.

QUESTION: Does it seem to you that any substantive progress was made?

MS. NULAND: Again, Arshad, she’s in the middle of characterizing the round on behalf of the EU3+3, so I really think it would be highly inappropriate for me in the same time and space to jump on top of her, much as you would like me to.

What else we got? Cami.

QUESTION: Are you pleased or disappointed with what you’ve been briefed on?

MS. NULAND: Again, Cami, I’m not going to comment on the EU3+3 until she’s had a chance to comment and our officials out there have had a chance to comment.

Anything but Iran? Please.

QUESTION: Still on Iran?

MS. NULAND: We’re still on Iran? (Laughter.) Give it a try.

QUESTION: Just one more try.


QUESTION: The European – I think Michael Mann is spokesman for – the Europeans said some – according to Voice of America – some progress has been made but no breakthrough. What kind of – some progress; what did he mean? Do you have any --

MS. NULAND: I think that’s in the category of not going to comment on talks --

QUESTION: I just tried. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: -- that Lady Ashton is commenting on, even as we speak.


MS. NULAND: Any other subjects here?


MS. NULAND: Please, Goyal.

QUESTION: May I go back one more time on Human Rights Report, just general question, Madam? One, I’m sure you talked to NGOs and government officials and others before you even prepare your report. And second, do you inform any country before you release the report that this is what we are going to report about human rights situations in their country?

And finally, do you wait one year – next report to come before you take any action against any country if they don’t improve their situations of their human rights and others which you have told them?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, with regard to the question of whether we pre-clear these reports with governments, we do not. We are, obviously, all the way through the year, in conversations with governments about any concerns that we have about their human rights record. As the Secretary made clear and as Assistant Secretary Posner made clear, in many countries, we have active human rights dialogues. As he mentioned, we have a new one starting with China. And yes, as he said and as the Secretary said, the inputs for the reports come from a broad cross-section of sources in countries including from NGOs and those involved in the processing governments and from witnesses, et cetera. So it’s a broad report in each country.

With regard to any action that we might take, again, it doesn’t await the next year’s report. We continue that conversation all year long and we take action as appropriate in keeping with U.S. law, in keeping with our ongoing dialogue with individual countries.

QUESTION: Is that something you recommend to Congress, or even the State Department can take actions on without congressional approval?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Administration can take actions when it’s concerned, it can speak out, it can talk to governments, it can do – take action with regard to other aspects of our relationship if we so choose. The Congress can also take action. But the report is due to Congress.

QUESTION: And finally, do you also talk to the UN Human Rights Council on this, or Amnesty International, or others?

MS. NULAND: We do, and we share information and data back and forth.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, please. Samir.

QUESTION: Back on Iran --


QUESTION: -- will the U.S. and P-5+1 consider easing sanctions on Iran as part of the step-by-step approach?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to let Lady Ashton speak to where we are, and then our team out there, I think, will also speak to where we are. You know what the Secretary has said on this subject, that we think that the sanctions that we have in place, the increasingly unified international and tight sanctions, are part and parcel of why Iran’s come back to the table.

Please, Tejinder.

 Yes. Without going into details of deportation proceedings or things you – which you cannot talk about, can you please tell us if Indian Embassy or Indian Foreign Ministry has approached you about the case of Kairi Shepherd?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that one, Tejinder. I don’t know whether we’ve been approached by the Indian side. One thing I did want to say about this case, further to what we have said before, is that prior to 2001, U.S. immigration law did not provide for automatic acquisition of U.S. citizenship for an adopted child. The adopting parents had to affirmatively apply or the child had to apply after 18.

That has now changed. As of February 27th, 2001, the Child Citizenship Act provides that a foreign-born child of a U.S. citizen, including an adopted child, acquires U.S. citizenship automatically if, before reaching the age of 18, they are admitted as a lawful permanent resident of the United States and they are residing with and in the physical custody of that adopting parent.

So this case unfortunately arose before that stipulation, but it wouldn’t be the case were the child to have been adopted since February 27th, 2001.

QUESTION: So are you working on finding a solution to this, or you leave it to the legal procedures?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, this is not a State Department matter at this stage. It’s a DHS matter, so I will send you to them.


MS. NULAND: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: On China, you must have heard the new State Department directive to the Confucius Institute in the U.S. Could you explain to us, what is the purpose of this new directive?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me say that, as you know, the U.S. greatly values its people-to-people exchange with China. This was one of the centerpieces of the Secretary’s participation in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. She had a separate people-to-people exchange with State Councilor Liu and they got a chance to meet some American students and some Chinese students, and it was a great event.

This is also not about the Confucius Institutes themselves. It is simply about whether the right visa status was applied in these cases. When you have a J-1 education visa, there are two categories. There are J-1 visas if you are in kindergarten through high school, and there is a different category of J-1 visas if you are at university.

And there was some muddling and messing up, so – in these cases – so we’re going to sort these out. Nobody’s going to have to leave the country. It’s all going to get cleared up. But there was some confusion on the front end, so we’re going to fix it.

QUESTION: But in the directive, it said on all the current affected exchange visitors, they have to leave before June 30 this year. Is that the case?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we’re going to do our best to fix this without having anybody have to leave.

QUESTION: And finally --

MS. NULAND: That is my understanding.

QUESTION: -- are you concerned about the Confucius Institute’s expansion in the U.S. as the --

MS. NULAND: Are we concerned about?

QUESTION: The Confucius Institute’s expansion in the U.S. as the strongest Chinese soft power?

MS. NULAND: No. This is something that we support. It’s part of the people-to-people understanding. We just want to make sure that the visa categories are correct.


QUESTION: Can you speak to the timing of why now? Was it – was that in conjunction to this problem being across all of the Confucius Institutes, the J-1 confusion?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to why this came up now. I think that we – as I understood it this morning, we became aware that this wasn’t just one case or two cases, that there was a – sort of a mess-up in the processing in general. So we need to fix that.

QUESTION: What was the mess-up?

QUESTION: Can you characterize the mess-up? Yeah.

MS. NULAND: That in fact, folks who are participating and teaching in programs that were K-12 were given university-style J-1s, and the other way around.


QUESTION: And whose problem with that?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to how the mess-up occurred, but we’re going to fix it.

QUESTION: Well, who issues the visas? I mean, it’s – the State Department issues visas, right?

MS. NULAND: Right. So whether there was some confusion on the front end with the sponsors as to which programs individual teachers were being brought for, or whether there was some changing after they arrived, I really can’t speak to that. But we’re going to clean it up so that everybody’s in the right visa category.

QUESTION: So you --

QUESTION: You don’t expect anyone to have to leave the country?

MS. NULAND: My understanding was we’re going to do our best to fix this so that nobody has to leave.

QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, you don’t think, then, that the mistake was on the State Department’s end? Do you think it’s possible that it was on the end of the people who applied or the intermediaries?

MS. NULAND: I just can’t speak to that, and I can’t speak to whether this was uniform in any way or whether there were various problems.

QUESTION: And you can’t speak to it because you don’t know --

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: -- or because you know and you don’t want to say?

MS. NULAND: Because we have to investigate it and figure it out.


QUESTION: Can you talk about how many visas were impacted by the problem?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have that either.


QUESTION: May I ask you for what kind of meetings, when you say that you are working on this issue? I heard that some of the Confucius Institutions have come and had meetings with the assistant secretary already talking about this. So could you tell us more about what kind of works has been doing to avoid – make sure people don’t have to leave the country by the end of June?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. My understanding is that at the current moment, we’re trying to size the problem, we’re trying to figure out how many people are affected, and then we’re going to – and we’re in the process of reissuing instructions that are a little bit clearer and a little bit more easy to manage. Let’s put it that way.

QUESTION: Okay. And may I also say that we know that in the past couple of months, a few members in the Congress expressed their dissatisfaction and question about the operation of Confucius Institutes in the U.S. So I wonder, when you were doing this – before you released this direction about the J-1 visa, did you have any contact with those members in the Congress?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m sure that, as we always do on all matters, we’re in dialogue with Congress. But this is a matter not about any of that; it’s a matter about whether people are in the right visa category for where they are teaching.


QUESTION: On Secretary’s remarks yesterday and her – on defacing al-Qaida advertisements on Yemeni websites, was it done by the State Department or the cyber command of Department of Defense?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary, as you know, was at Special Operations Command yesterday, and she gave a speech which I commend to all of you about combating terrorism in the 21st century. In the context of that speech, she talked about an initiative that’s housed here in the State Department, but it’s actually an interagency center which we’ve had going for some months now – I think probably more than six months. It’s called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, the CSCC. As I said, it’s an interagency center. It’s housed under the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Under Secretary Sonenshine’s department, and it coordinates the government’s foreign public communications efforts that are targeted against violent extremism and terrorist organizations, especially al-Qaida and its affiliates.

So the specific case that the Secretary mentioned was a case where there was a nasty piece of al-Qaida propaganda, and we did our own counter-spoof of that as an effort to try to get our own message across. Whenever we do this, we make clear that we identify ourselves clearly as part of the State Department’s digital outreach team, so it’s always clear who the sponsors of the alternative posts are.

And let me also just make clear that we don’t hack. We don’t engage in covert activities. All of the work is attributed, as I said. In general, we usually do it on free sites and we do it in a free manner. Obviously, if we use YouTube, everybody pays on YouTube, so we do that, too.

QUESTION: So this was not hacking as such?

MS. NULAND: Correct. It was not. It was an alternative.

QUESTION: And was this for the first time – this kind of thing was used with the State Department? Or this has been going on for some time now?

MS. NULAND: I think the center has been up now for about six months. It’s something that we had worked on for a while to stand up. And as I said, it’s interagency so many agencies of the U.S. Government are housed there and work together on it.

QUESTION: And can you describe a little bit more, I mean, what – in the timeframe, when this was happening? Was it only Yemen or are there other places?

MS. NULAND: No, the center operates anywhere that – in cyberspaces in particular, where we see propaganda that is put up by al-Qaida, by its affiliates. It posts on any sites where it finds this stuff. In this case, it was countering a site that was based or affiliated with Yemeni terrorists. But it does that anywhere in the world where it finds this kind of thing.

QUESTION: Can you just describe a little bit about what kind of – what your posts look like, what they said, versus what people were reading there?

MS. NULAND: My understanding of this particular post that the Secretary shouted out, the Yemeni site had put up pictures of coffins draped in American flags. We put up a counter-post of coffins draped in Yemeni flags to indicate that it is Yemenis who are dying at the hands of al-Qaida terrorists in Yemen.

QUESTION: Is that in good taste?

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to --

MS. NULAND: This is a matter of countering propaganda that is in the absolute worst taste.

QUESTION: But that’s – but my question is: Why is putting up what you described as a spoof with flags of – with Yemeni flags on top of coffins to try to make the point that it is Yemenis who are dying? You could easily look at that and think, well god, we’re – they’re just talking about killing Yemenis for example. So --

MS. NULAND: No, I appreciate your question, Arshad. The original post took pride in the killing of Americans. The point that we were trying to make in parallel was that, in fact, through this kind of activity, through this kind of propagation of violent extremism, through the kind of violent acts that groups like this are engaged in, it is actually more Yemenis who are meeting their death.

QUESTION: And do you regard it as a tasteful and proper use of U.S. Government funds to – just because somebody else puts out an image that you find offensive doesn’t necessarily mean that you should put up an image to make a point that others may find or may interpret offensively. And I just wonder if a lot of thought was given to the appropriateness and tastefulness for the U.S. Government to be putting up a photograph of coffins with Yemeni flags up.

MS. NULAND: Again Arshad, this is a site that is endeavoring to incite violence. We are simply making the point that the violence that they are inciting is ricocheting back against the local population and is not in service to a strong, stable, peaceful Yemen, but in fact is having the opposite effect.

So we are countering propaganda with a counter-narrative that we believe is closer to the truth of the situation.


QUESTION: I want to clarify: So in this instance, these – posting of these alternative ads was free and you could just post them up on the website, or was this an instance where they were paid for to be posted?

MS. NULAND: The information that I have at the moment is that particular one was one that was – that we did not have to – that was not paid for.


MS. NULAND: There are instances where we do have to pay for it.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, in those instances where you do have to pay for them, what kind of vetting goes into these websites in terms of where those funds for the ads would go?

MS. NULAND: Well again, you are talking about putting up a counter-ad in – on a paid site like YouTube. So something has been paid for by the extremists, and we are paying for the counter.

QUESTION: Okay. So you wouldn’t put it up on the extremist site, I guess is what my question is. Is there like a conscious thought process?

MS. NULAND: There is a full vetting; there is a whole team that does these things. We’re not, sort of, out there.

Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: Can you tell me how many people – do you know how many clicked on the spoof, or I’m sorry – yes, the counter-spoof website? And what, I mean, were there comments posted on what you guys put up? And back to the question on the timing. Do you know when this went up?

MS. NULAND: Let me get a little bit more information, we’ll get it back to you. I don’t have the details on whether we have metrics on it.


QUESTION: Can I just ask a follow-up (inaudible)? Can you say how you discovered the problem? And can you say whether or not it had anything to do with visa overstays in addition?

MS. NULAND: I think I’ll have our people get back to you directly, the people who are working on this. Okay?

Anything else? All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:09 p.m.)