Daily Press Briefing - May 25, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

  • IRAN
    • IAEA Report
    • Moscow Talks / E3+3 Talks
    • Annan Plan / Chapter 7 Resolution / UN Monitors
    • China's Presidency of the Security Council
    • Nonlethal Assistance to the Opposition
    • Discussion between Deputy Secretary Burns and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister
    • Accountability Database
    • Directive on Visas / People-to-People Relations are a High Priority
    • Exchange of Letters / Deputy Assistant Secretary David Hale's Trip
    • Nabucco Pipeline
    • Natural Disaster Summit
    • Presidential Elections
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 25, 2012


12:52 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Friday before a long weekend, everybody. Only the hardy need apply today. (Laughter.) I have a – Catherine looks like she’s already at the beach. Look at her in her pink over there. Can we get a close up, please? All right. I have one thing at the top, which is to say that Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will lay a wreath at the Vietnam War Memorial on Monday in connection with the kickoff of the 50th anniversary commemorations. I have nothing else. So let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Can we start with Iran and the IAEA? As I’m sure you’ve seen in the IAEA, at least, the new report that says, among other things, that the Iranians have installed hundreds more centrifuges at Fordo, and that IAEA inspectors found traces of uranium enriched up to 27 percent. Apparently, the Iranians said that that sometimes happens inadvertently. What do you think about the addition of --

MS. NULAND: You look incredulous there, Arshad.

QUESTION: I have no views on this whatsoever. If you would like me to start characterizing your expressions, however, I’m happy to do that. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Excellent.

QUESTION: So the question is, one, what do you think about the addition of centrifuges, and two, what do you think in particular about the traces of uranium – of enriched uranium well above the 20 percent threshold?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all with regard to the content of the report overall, I think you know that it is only been released to the board members at this stage, so I’m not going to comment on it in detail, unless and until the IAEA puts it out publicly. But we, like other board members, are currently reviewing its contents. I’m going to send you to the IAEA for specific questions about it if you’ve already got it.

With regard to the trace elements at 27 percent, we are aware, obviously, of this finding. Our understanding is that the IAEA is following up with Iranian authorities to better understand the origins of these trace uranium particles that seem to have been enriched at a higher level.

There are a number of possible explanations for this, including the one that the Iranians have provided, but we are going to depend on the IAEA to get to the bottom of it.

QUESTION: Do you find it disturbing at all?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, these are trace elements. The IAEA has noted it. They’re going to be following up. So I think until we have a little bit more information in terms of what they think the origin might be, I won’t characterize it one way or the other.

Please. Still on Iran?

QUESTION: Yes, still on Iran.


QUESTION: Does this new discovery – even though it’s trace elements, the answer is still up in the air as to why it’s happened – does this threaten any agreements from the talks in Baghdad?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re going to let the IAEA work with the Iranians to get to the bottom of it before we have any evaluation of it one way or the other.


QUESTION: Yes. Is your assessment – the fact that they are going to Moscow to negotiate – does that mean that they have actually covered some positive steps and agreements?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary spoke to this yesterday on the record. She characterized our view of things that the discussions were serious. I think we’ve also said that they were not easy, that there are significant gaps. But the two sides are committed to continuing to try to work on it, which is why we’re going to go back to Moscow. So I think we have to see what happens.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, this is the thing – serious, because you have all along insisted that Iran must be serious in approaching this negotiation. So do you consider Iran to be serious in these talks?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to throw a lot of adjectives at this. The Secretary threw some adjectives at it yesterday. She did say that we thought that the talks themselves were serious, but she also made clear that we’ve got a long way to go.

QUESTION: Okay. And a couple more things on this issue. Iran wants to make this as part of a bigger package, that’s like a regional issue that includes issues in Bahrain and issues in Syria and so on. Would that be acceptable to the United States or the nuclear issue must be a one dimensional issue and to talk about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve always said that if and when we can get through these nuclear issues, that it would open the door to broader regional discussions. We’ve also said that we were prepared to hear any issues that the Iranians wanted to talk about. I think the Secretary made clear, though, that in terms of this first confidence-building step that we’re hoping to build in this process with the Iranians, our focus is on the 20 percent enrichment and having some concrete steps to address it. So that’s very much our focus. I don’t think that we closed the door on other issues during this round, however.

QUESTION: And lastly, would you care to comment on some reports that say that Israel has withdrawn its promise not to strike Iran before the presidential elections?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new for you on that subject. Either way, I think you know that Under Secretary Sherman went on to Israel for consultations with them, both about these talks and about other security issues. So we will see what she reports when she comes back.

QUESTION: When you say, “about these talks,” you’re referring to the Baghdad talks?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. She went from Baghdad, I think we announced that, on to Tel Aviv.

QUESTION: I did notice it. And what I particularly noticed was that there was no reference, unless I’m mistaken, to the Baghdad talks in the note that was put out last night about her trip to Israel, which I thought was odd because I would have thought that that would have been one of the primary subjects that she might wish to discuss with the Israelis given their particular concern about the Iranian nuclear program.

MS. NULAND: I’m pretty confident the note spoke about consulting on Iran, whether it actually made reference to the E3+3 talks, I mean, obviously she’s just come from the talks. So – and you know that her original intention had been to go first to Riyadh to see the GCC and then to go to Iran – then to go to – not to Iran – then to go to Israel. And because of weather in Baghdad and the extension of the Baghdad talks, she is just going to do a debrief on the phone later today, I think, for the Gulf countries.


QUESTION: It did not, just for the record, it’s for consultations on bilateral and regional issues

with senior officials and to reaffirm our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security. But there’s no reference to Iran.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Well obviously, she’s going to be talking about what she’s just been up to in Baghdad.



QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary of UN Ban said that, at this point, we don’t have any Plan B. What’s your assessment of this statement? How do you think this would reflect on the Syrian people – have been slaughtered for about 15 months by now?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know where we are. We have always said that we want to see what we can do to make this Annan plan work. We, however, reserve the right to go back to the Security Council, as the Secretary said in Paris, for Chapter 7 resolution and further steps.

So from – I’m not sure what the Secretary General would consider a Plan B – but very much now the focus in the UN context remains on trying to get the full complement of monitors in and have them do their job in combination with the full range of other steps that all of us are taking with regard to Syria, including, as we’ve talked about, the extreme pressure we’re exacting now on the regime with sanctions, the effort to close all the loopholes in the sanctions, with the Friends of the Syrian People sanctions working group, the accountability efforts that we’re doing, the work we’re doing with the Syrian opposition and all of its components including now with the tribes and with the Kurds to try to bring them together on a concrete plan and our non-lethal assistance.

QUESTION: The number is about 270 as of yesterday of the monitors – UN monitors. Is this the number you are hearing?

MS. NULAND: We have about the same number, but I would refer you to the UN for the precise number today. As you know, they are authorized for some 300. My understanding is that we expecting another periodic update from Kofi Annan to the Security Council; it’s either today or Monday-Tuesday. I’m not sure. So we’ll see what he has to say about how the monitors are doing. There had been some thought that they might ask for even more. We’ll see what happens there.

QUESTION: So it has been about four or five days exact to the half of the 90 days of the first timetable of the Annan plan. There are six points in the Annan plan. Do you think any of these points, at any rate, have been implemented so far?


QUESTION: I understand Kofi Annan is going back to Damascus. Do you see much point in his visit, given that things are not being implemented? What more can he do by returning there?

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the press reports that he’s talking about coming back. I think we’ll wait and see what he says to the Security Council about his trip. But obviously, he’s been empowered by the Security Council to try to get this plan implemented. So if he thinks continued dialogue in Damascus might help, we’re not going to deter him from that. Obviously, we all have the same goal.

QUESTION: But you’re skeptical.

MS. NULAND: I think we have to hear what he has to say about what he thinks he can accomplish on the trip.


QUESTION: I just wonder how realistic you think this Plan B of yours is in going back and getting a Security Council resolution, given that – haven’t been able to yet, and China takes over the presidency of the Security Council on June 1st?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Secretary did have a chance to talk in some detail to the Chinese leadership about how we see things in Syria when we were in Beijing for the Security and Economic Dialogue. We’ve also been talking to the Russians. I think all of us have been in this posture of maximally pushing for implementation of the monitors for Kofi Annan also to join us in working with the opposition on a transition plan, all of these kinds of things.

But we’ve made absolutely clear, we’ve said it publicly, we’ve said it privately to the Russians, to the Chinese, that if we get to the point where we think that more pressure from the Security Council is going to be necessary, that we will be back around talking about a Chapter 7 resolution. We’re not there yet, Michele, but they certainly know that that’s where we will go if we can’t get more progress.


QUESTION: Were you able to confirm reports about the poisoning of the head of Syrian intelligence, the brother-in-law of Assad?

MS. NULAND: It’s all still quite murky. There have been lots of conflicting reports.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you – in the council – the Security Council discussion or the member – there are – with Kofi Annan, are there any new things, or is it the same six points? Has anything changed in the last few weeks?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think he’s going to report either today, Monday or Tuesday, so let’s let him do his report in terms of how he sees what the monitors have been able to do; how he evaluates implementation, which – we’ve heard him, we’ve all been saying there’s been no implementation of any of the six, but what he wants to do as the next step, and then we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: But ever since his initiative was launched, there has been quite a few weeks that have transpired, what have you learned during that period? What needs to be done immediately? Or is it ceasefire? I mean, do we have something else that we could maybe facilitate (inaudible) for the Syrians to do to bring this about?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think this is rocket science here. We’ve been saying the same thing for a long time. The six points speak directly to what it will take to get to a political transition. He’s got to stop firing on his own people, he’s got to pull his weapons and heavy armor back, he’s got to release political prisoners, he’s got to allow peaceful assembly, he’s got to allow journalists in, and that will create the environment where we can really have a free and open conversation among all Syrians about the future for their country and pave the way for a transition.

But again, that’s not what we have. So what do we have instead? We have the monitors trying to provide space where they are able to deploy. As you know, we see a mixed picture there. We have seen space provided for people to express themselves on the street, to feel more comfortable meeting and organizing for the day when Assad goes, because he will go in places where monitors have been. But we also have seen monitors attacked, we’ve also seen monitors unable, because of numbers, to maintain permanent presence in places where they’re needed. So this is a very mixed picture. As I said, let’s let Kofi Annan report and then we’ll go from there.

Please, Dima. Still on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes. There was a story on the AP yesterday by Matt that was saying that the U.S. basically is about to give green light in terms of allies arming the rebels. Would you be able to give us any update on that? Are you about to give any green light to that kind of policy?

MS. NULAND: As I said to Matt myself, our policy has not changed. He knows what it is, which is that we ourselves are providing nonlethal assistance. Other countries have made other choices. We obviously consult with them. But there were a lot of wild assertions there that are not supportable.

QUESTION: It appears that some Turkish delegation members of Turkish delegation here in

D.C. and having meeting at State Department. Would you be able to tell us or give us any readout – what is the relevant topic discussed regarding Syria?

MS. NULAND: I think you’re referring to the visit of Foreign Secretary – Deputy Foreign Minister Sinirlioglu of – to see Deputy Secretary Burns. My understanding is – I can’t remember if they met last night or this morning. I think they – I guess it was last night. Yeah. They talked about the full range of issues; first of all, debrief on the EU3+3 talks. They obviously talked about Syria, which they always do. They talked about the wider region. They talked about the upcoming conference that the Secretary will attend on the global counterterrorism conference in Turkey, so all of it.

QUESTION: Is there anything on Syria that you can tell us specific –

MS. NULAND: I think this is just further to our regular ongoing consultations with the Turkish Government about Syria, how they see the situation. As you know, from the Secretary’s intersections with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, we maintain extremely close contact with the Turkish Government on these issues.

QUESTION: President Obama told the Atlantic Weekly about two months ago that it’s our estimation that Assad’s days are numbered about two months ago. What does it tell that the President of the United States saying that Assad has numbered days, and after two months, that basically still don’t have a plan B?

MS. NULAND: The president has said for quite some time that Assad will go. The question is: How much bloodshed between now and then? How much time between now and then, which is why we are all working on the Annan track and also increasing the pressure.

QUESTION: One more on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah. Camille.

QUESTION: As we’re waiting for Annan’s report, is there anything happening with the clearinghouse or with the mass atrocities agency dealing with Syria?

MS. NULAND: The accountability? So we’ve had a number of meetings to stand up this accountability clearinghouse that we talked about. I’ll have to get you a precise update, but my understanding is that Turkey has offered to be the host for the brick-and-mortar piece of it, but the database is already being built even before we get to that stage. And we’ve had a couple of organizational meetings about how it will go with the partners there participating.

QUESTION: And once people are able to sort of report human rights abuses, will that be used as, say, evidence or – in the diplomatic talks within the UN or to the ICC? What’s going to happen with the information?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think first and foremost, the idea here is to be able to maintain strong, clear files in a safe and secure environment for the day when Syria has moved on, but justice and accountability need to be pursued so that, in the first instance, to make clear to any of those who will carry out orders to commit atrocities that they will be known, they will be found, they will be held accountable, and that we have international support for Syrians who are trying to create records and for international NGOs who are trying to create records. So that’s one piece of it, sort of the warning shot if you will. But the second piece of it is to be able to begin to build files that have integrity, so when it comes time to bring people to justice, that material is available.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the constitution – Confucius Institute – the talks between Chinese and Americans?

QUESTION: Can we do one more just on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Let’s finish Syria, and then we’ll come back to this. Yeah.

QUESTION: Al Arabiya has a report in Arabic saying that a Russian cargo ship carrying a large amount of weapons plans to unload in the Syrian port of Tartus. It’s supposed to dock on Saturday and unload weapons for the Assad government. Do you know if that is true? Are you aware of such a ship and such a shipment due this weekend?

MS. NULAND: I had not seen that report. You know how strongly we feel that no country should be delivering weapons to the Assad regime now.

QUESTION: Just one more in relation to that. Going back to an earlier question about going back to the Security Council to try to get a resolution, given that the Russians are, by their acts – and I don’t think there’s – regardless of whether this particular report is true or not, I don’t think there’s a lot of dispute about their having continued arms shipments to the Syrian Government – by their acts are showing that they disagree fundamentally with your position, at least with regard to arming Assad. What does that say about the odds of getting some kind of a resolution through the Security Council given their veto?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, the Russian Federation has been fully supportive of the Annan plan. They supported the resolution authorizing the mission. They supported the resolution fleshing out the mission. We have been saying from the beginning to our partners in Moscow, to our partners in Beijing, yes, we need to give this time to work, but if it doesn’t work, we’re all going to be back in the Security Council. So I’m not going to get ahead of ourselves as to how Moscow might evaluate the situation or Beijing might evaluate the situation when we get to that point. But we’ve made absolutely clear that this can’t – this is not an infinite amount of time here that we’re going to give this plan not to work.

QUESTION: What is the time? Is it 90 days still? If – this is same –

MS. NULAND: Yeah. The Security Council authorized the mission for 90 days. And again, we’re going to see what Kofi Annan himself has to say.

QUESTION: So you are going to go back – do you – basically Security Council again. And it looks like it’s not going to – happening anything at the Security Council. What is your –

MS. NULAND: Again, we’re going round and round here. As I said –

QUESTION: Because there is no answer.

MS. NULAND: -- we’re going to let Annan report; we’re going to work together on what comes next. If and when we determine that it’s time, the Secretary’s made clear it’s going to be Chapter 7 next.

QUESTION: At the same time, every day dozens of people are getting killed.

MS. NULAND: Absolutely.

QUESTION: I just wanted to revisit the case of the Russian national Konstantin Yaroshenko who was tried and convicted several months ago here in the United States on drug conspiracy charges. The Russian justice minister, Mr. Konovalov, announced yesterday that Russia sent a request to the U.S. Government for the transfer of Mr. Yaroshenko to serve his sentence in Russia. I was wondering if you a) received this request and b) would you be willing to grant it?

MS. NULAND: Again, it’s a subject for the Justice Department. It’s now a law enforcement matter, Dima, so I’m going to send you to them.


QUESTION: On the visa issue that (inaudible).


QUESTION: Will the revised directive come out today?

MS. NULAND: It did. It’s out.


MS. NULAND: It is out.

QUESTION: In terms of the – one of the big parts that you corrected was the accredited – what he’s talking about, that not all Confucius Institutes were U.S. accredited. Why – if that’s not true, as I’ve been told by people at the State Department that it’s not true that not all U.S. – not all Confucius Institutes are U.S. accredited, why was it in the directive?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t understand your question. I’m going to let you go look at the directive. Let me just start at the beginning. The original directive that we issued a couple of days ago was, frankly, sloppy and not complete. That’s what caused all this confusion. So we now have a new directive. It was issued May 17th, the first one; this new one is today, May 25th. It is four pages long. It encourages any schools who have questions about either their accreditation or people who are visaed under their programs to call the program number or to go to the website, which is evpadministration@state.gov, between now and June 8th and get our help with what they need, whether it’s accreditation, whether it’s change of visa status.

But we regret the fact that the first notice was not our best work – let’s put it that way – and we’ve now endeavored to fix this. And as I said yesterday, our goal is to ensure that anybody who needs a change of visa status, that we help them with that. So we are asking either schools or individuals who think that they might come under this new directive to please contact us so we can work with them.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up on that, does it mean nobody have to leave the U.S. in order to apply for the right J-1 or other category visas?

MS. NULAND: Correct. I said that yesterday, that we are endeavoring to fix this in a manner that doesn’t require anybody who is still within status to leave.

QUESTION: In the old guidance, it said – it asked the Confucius Institute to apply for the accreditation. Is it still the case, or are you still asking them to apply for the new accreditation?

MS. NULAND: No. What – if you look at this new directive, the very first page says the following: When conducting university or college-based activities with Confucius Institutes, a college or university’s sponsor’s accreditation is sufficient to comply with the regulations.

Okay? So I think you’re going to find that a lot of the things that were confusing in the first one are now clarified. And again, any school, any individual with questions, please call us, please get with us on the website. Okay?

QUESTION: As you know, the Chinese press has been pushing forth the narrative that this a U.S. attempt to reign in their cultural expansion and all sorts of other things. What would you say to reassure them in this regard?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not sure what Chinese press you’re looking at. But I saw The Xinhau reporting yesterday was very straight in terms of the clarification that we issued. I thought they were very fair in terms of representing where we are.

As I said yesterday – let me say it again – as the Secretary said when we were in Beijing, people-to-people relations between the U.S. and China are a very high priority for us. She spent personal time on it with the State Councilor Liu when we were there. She was thrilled to have a chance to meet Chinese students with superb English, American students with superb Chinese. This is – we want to get this right. That’s why we’re fixing this guidance.


QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Yes. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, gave a lengthy interview to my newspaper in which he says that he is waiting as – after the exchange of letters, he’s waiting on new ideas from you, from the Americans. Could you tell us what he’s talking about, if he’s talking about anything in particular as far as you’re concerned?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we had the exchange of letters, which we thought was a useful step. We are continuing to talk to both the Israelis and the Palestinians about how we can build on that step. I will say that my understanding is that David Hale and his team will be going back out – I frankly don’t remember if it’s next week or the week after – but to try to see what the ideas are on all sides, and he’ll also be working with his Quartet folks. So again, we’re trying to build on this and build on the fact that we have a new Israeli coalition and see what we can do.

QUESTION: So will Mr. Hale be carrying these new ideas?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into what might be in his briefcase. I think he’ll be doing as much listening as he is talking. But our goal remains to try to get the parties to the table.


QUESTION: The British Petroleum decided to withdrawal from the Nabucco project, I think. And I’m no expert on energy matters, but it looks like it might be a deal breaker, I guess. I was wondering if you have any comment on that, if the U.S. Government is still in support of the Nabucco project.

MS. NULAND: Well, we strongly support Nabucco. We think it’s a very important project. It’s going to bring energy diversification on both sides and market diversification. I hadn’t seen the BP announcement, but as you know, there’s been a lot of company interest as well in Nabucco.


QUESTION: On a new subject?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) reports that North Korea is now building a new missile launch pad in Musudan-ri in near Pyongyang. It can launch a bigger ballistic missile launch in the near future. What is your comment on this?

MS. NULAND: I don't have anything on that particular report. I think you know where we are on any kind of ballistic launch of any kind by North Korea – bad idea, only going to serve to further isolate them.

QUESTION: But do you know that they build a new missile --

MS. NULAND: I’m certainly not going to speak to anything that might derive from intelligence.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Japan. A natural disaster summit is going on in Okinawa right now, a two-day summit. It’s being held – it has been held, rather, in Japan for the last six years, and this year is the first year that the United States is participating. I was wondering if you could speak to kind of why did the U.S. to – choose now to participate. And does it have anything to do with China’s growing assertiveness?

MS. NULAND: Well, frankly, I don’t know about this particular conference, but if it is as you say – that it’s a natural disaster meeting – as you know, we’ve had intensive bilateral support for Japan over the last year since the tsunami. We’ve gained a lot of experience working together. So I would guess that we are building on those relationships to try to work together not only bilaterally, but regionally.

We’ve also expressed our interest with China and all the other countries of the region in working together on natural disaster preparedness, and when we talk about our own improved military footprint throughout the Asia Pacific region, one of the main goals and projects that we speak about is working with all the countries of Asia on natural disaster preparedness. So it would make sense, but I don’t have anything in particular on this conference.

Yeah. Said.

QUESTION: Finally, on the Egyptian elections --


QUESTION: -- and beyond the statement that was issued last night, is there anything new, any comment that you’d like to make on the elections?

MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary spoke to the fact that we were pleased for the Egyptian people that they got to cast their vote. It does appear that there will be a runoff, so we look forward to hearing the results, and to seeing the Egyptian people get to cast another round of vote.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Happy long weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:22 p.m.)

DPB # 96