Daily Press Briefing- August 28, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Secretary's Upcoming Travel
    • South China Sea Dispute / Military Buildup in South China Sea
    • Human Rights Issues in China
    • Possible Chen Guangcheng to visit Taiwan
    • Secretary's Meetings with Foreign Minister regarding Syria
    • Putin's Comments on Missile Defense / Arms Control
    • Violence in Russian Provinces
    • U.S.-Philippine Relationship
    • Rachel Corrie Trial
    • Senkaku Islands Dispute
    • President Santos' Intentions to talk with FARC
    • Refugee situation at Syria-Turkey Border
    • Syrian Opposition
    • President Morsi's comments on Syria
  • IRAN
    • Ongoing NAM Meetings
    • U.S.-India Relationship
    • Mohammed Yunus Nobel Prize issue
    • Shooting Incident
    • Oil Refinery Fire
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 28, 2012


12:39 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Tuesday. We will – let me just start with a recap of the Secretary’s trip announcement, which we just put out on paper. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton departs on Thursday for the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia.

In the Cook Islands, the Secretary will attend the Pacific Islands Forum post-forum dialogue. That will be on the 31st. She’s going to lead the highest level U.S. interagency delegation in 41 years to the forum.

She then goes onto Jakarta, where she’ll be on September 3rd for the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership talks and will also be talking about regional and global issues there.

Then she’ll be in Beijing on September 4th and 5th to meet with her counterparts and also to talk about preparations for the APEC meetings in November.

And on September 6th, she’ll be the first Secretary of State ever to go to Timor-Leste. She’ll be in Dili, and she will also – in addition to meeting with senior officials, she will be looking to support the new democracy there.

And then she’ll be in Brunei for – where she will highlight the U.S.-Brunei ASEAN English Language Initiative, something that she talked about when we were in Cambodia as well.

And then finally she’ll represent the President in Vladivostok at the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting September 8th and 9th. And the key issues for that APEC meeting are going to be trade liberalization, food security, green growth, and initiatives to fight wildlife trafficking at the head of state level.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds. Jill, you’re so far forward. Hello. (Laughter.) It’s bizarre.

QUESTION: Following up on those travel plans, I mean, this is obviously going to be portrayed by some in the commentariat as another effort to put the squeeze on China. You’ve got another sort of – with Beijing, you’re doing the Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. To what extent is the South China Sea element going to be a part of the Secretary’s discussions? And is that also – is the China element part of her trip to the Pacific Islands Forum?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been emphasizing the pivot to Asia for some time now. The Secretary is personally very invested in that. This is the second or perhaps third trip already this year to Asia. The Pacific Islands grouping has been one that she has been working with and nurturing all the way through. As you remember, she met with the Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers at the UN General Assembly last year. They invited her to be the first Secretary in some years to come to this forum, and she accepted.

With regard to the South China Sea, I think it’s going to come up first on the ASEAN stops – in Jakarta, probably in Brunei. We have been encouraging, as you’ll recall, ASEAN to have a unified position and to work from a position of unity with China, and obviously it will come up in China as well. We are continuing to urge a multilateral conversation about a code of conduct in the South China Sea that is in keeping with international law and the Law of the Sea Treaty. We continue to think that that’s the best way to address these disputes. So I think you will see it come up on many of these stops.

Please. Stay --

QUESTION: On East China Sea issue, like the tensions with Japan, will this issue also be on the table?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve been urging Japan to work with South Korea on its disputes, to work with China on its disputes. So the degree to which those are still issues as we go out there, I’m sure that we’ll be discussing them as well.

QUESTION: Is she going to meet the Chinese president on this trip?

MS. NULAND: We haven’t yet finished our schedule for Beijing, but we’ll let you know when we have it all set.

QUESTION: On China –

QUESTION: Just to follow, are you worried about China’s, madam, build-up of navy and the military in the area? Like, some smaller nations or nations around the Chinese, they’ve been complaining for some time.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve been saying consistently, and the Secretary was very clear about it when we were in Cambodia earlier in the summer, that we don’t want to see the disputes in the South China Sea or anywhere else settled by intimidation, by force. We want to see them settled at the negotiating table, and we have also consistently been calling for increasing transparency in the Chinese military posture.

QUESTION: Is that issue going to come again during this visit of the Secretary’s in China?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we just – yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, particularly this particular that military build-up and the intimidation of the other nations.

MS. NULAND: Well, we always encourage transparency. In regard to military posture in specifics, that’s usually the purview of the Secretary of Defense, of course. Anything else on Asia before we move on?



MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: When the Secretary’s in Vladivostok, is she also going to talk with anyone from Russia about Syria? Is that going to be on the agenda?

MS. NULAND: Well, she’ll certainly see Foreign Minister Lavrov. Syria has come up in every one of their conversations over the last year. So I would expect it will come up again in this one.


QUESTION: One more on China, please.


QUESTION: Chinese arms are now been flooding in parts of Africa. Are you worried or concerned about that?

MS. NULAND: Well, we always are concerned about proliferation of weapons, wherever they are, but I don’t have anything particular on that issue today.


QUESTION: Will the Tibetan issues come up during her meetings with the Chinese leaders?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t hear the –

QUESTION: Will the Tibetan issue come up during her meetings with the Chinese leaders?

MS. NULAND: Human rights issues almost always come up. I think they virtually always come up when she meets with Chinese leaders. So I would expect that they’ll come up again in this round.

QUESTION: And secondly, today China test-fired a nuclear-capable ICBM. How do you think – is it going to increase the instability or the concerns of the neighboring countries in the region?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we are well aware of China’s extensive military modernization efforts. We continue to monitor them closely, and as I said before, we continue to urge the Chinese Government to be more transparent about what it’s doing.

Please, Andy.

QUESTION: Still on Asia. In the Philippines, one of your closest allies, Philippine Airlines yesterday granted a large aircraft contract to Airbus, seven billion, that was one that Boeing would hope to get. And we’re quoting some unnamed officials as saying that they’ve come under significant political and diplomatic pressure to go with Boeing in part to sort of cement their new alignment with the United States. Can you say did the U.S. lobby them hard to take the Boeing contract over Airbus?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we always advocate for U.S. companies, particularly when there’s a big contract at stake. And in keeping with the Secretary’s economic statecraft agenda, these kinds of things are always raised and we always believe that our companies have the best option, but nations make sovereign decisions and they make them based on their own set of criteria.

QUESTION: And by going with Airbus, did the Philippines in any way undercutting or watering down the U.S. diplomatic relationship?

MS. NULAND: We have a very long, deep, broad relationship with the Philippines. As you know, we are doing more now in the area of security support than we’ve been able to do in a long time, and I think that relationship is extremely strong.


QUESTION: I just want to – on arms control, I don’t know whether this came up previous briefings, but Mr. Putin has made this recent statement that – seeming to indicate that they would be willing to go for smaller numbers of nuclear weapons if the United States gave up missile defense. Now, I mean, we’ve heard this before – we all know that debate – but some have read into it that there may be more openness to some type of cuts, which would be in keeping with what President Obama wants. Does State Department read the tealeaves? I mean, do you see anything – a cause for hope that maybe Mr. Putin is more open to that type of thing?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously the stop in Vladivostok, where we’ll get a chance to see a Russian leaders will get a – give us an opportunity to explore in a little bit more detail what might have been behind those comments. As you know, we are interested in continuing arms control talks going forward. That said, we reject any linkage with missile defense. As we always say, these are defensive systems; they are not directed at Russia; they’re primarily directed at the threat from Iran and from rogues, et cetera. And we want – and we will continue to say this when we’re in Russia, I’m sure – to have a cooperative relationship with Russia on missile defense and to be able to, ideally, get to the point where we can have a system of systems and we can use these defensive systems to meet the threats that we share, including potentially from Iran. So that’s our set of points, and we’ll continue to try to encourage Russia to be more open-minded about missile defense cooperation, not only with us but with NATO as well.

QUESTION: So just to make sure, this subject being on the agenda – I know it often is, but specifically was this raised because of the statements of Mr. Putin, or is it just that previously, as usual, you wanted to talk some arms control?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we’re always open to talking about these issues, and missile defense has come up in almost every meeting that the Secretary has had with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I don’t think that we were particularly seeing the Vladivostok meeting in arms control terms. As I said, we are focused primarily on the APEC agenda and then with Russia on Iran, Syria, some of the issues that we’re working intensively. But with Mr. Putin having made these comments, I’m sure we’ll be interested in hearing what they have to say about them.


QUESTION: Yeah. Now that an Israeli court has ruled against --

MS. NULAND: Can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: Sure. Josh Lederman with AP.

MS. NULAND: Nice to see you, Josh.

QUESTION: Nice to see you.

MS. NULAND: So we’re double-teamed here on the AP. Welcome.

QUESTION: Thank you. Now that an Israeli court has --

MS. NULAND: It takes two of you to cover for Matt and for – (laughter) – anyway, sorry.

QUESTION: No problem.

MS. NULAND: I couldn’t resist.

QUESTION: An Israeli court today ruled against the family of Rachel Corrie, the American who was killed by a bulldozer in Gaza. Is the U.S. satisfied with that investigation, and is the U.S. disappointed that the Israeli military hasn’t taken responsibility for her death?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, we reiterate our condolences to the Corrie family on the tragic death of their daughter, Rachel. As you know, we’ve worked with the family all through this process, and we will continue to provide consular support. We understand the family’s disappointment with the outcome of the trial. Under Israeli law, the family has the right to appeal the verdict, and we’ve seen reports that they are considering doing that. So we will see how this proceeds going forward.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: There are reports that her family at a press conference said that Ambassador Dan Shapiro told them that he found the – he was finding the investigation not to be transparent. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I was asked this question earlier this week. Beyond saying that we have met with the family regularly, that we have provided consular support, I’m not going to get into our private discussions with the family.


QUESTION: What is the official name for the Senkaku Islands for the United States? Is it Diaoyu Islands or Senkaku Islands, or both are okay?

MS. NULAND: Our – I’m going to go to my special little rocks cheat sheet here, because this is getting quite complicated with lots of --

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have one?

MS. NULAND: -- different things here. So let me make sure I get it right here. So the one – yeah. So as we’ve said, we call them the Senkakus, so if that’s the question that you’re asking. We don’t take a position on them, though, as I’ve said all the way through.

QUESTION: So you don’t take a position on them, but on the other hand you think the islands is covered by the Defense Treaty between Japan and the United States, right? Is that correct? Do you think that those two things are contradictory, because --

MS. NULAND: Yes. We’ve consistently said that we see them falling under the scope of Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty.

QUESTION: Do you think that is contradictory? Because for me, it sounds like contradictory. You said you don’t have a position on the sovereignty of the islands, but on the other hand you said it’s covered by the treaty, which only protects Japanese territories.

MS. NULAND: But this is because the Senkakus have been under the administrative control of the Government of Japan since they were returned as part of the reversion of Okinawa since 1972.

QUESTION: So let me rephrase my question. Do you regard the islands as Japanese territory?

MS. NULAND: Again, we don’t take a position on the islands, but we do assert that they are covered under the treaty.

QUESTION: So you think these islands is under the administration of --

MS. NULAND: I think I’ve answered the question. Let’s move on.

QUESTION: No. You don’t have --

MS. NULAND: Nicole. Nicole.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to go back to Rachel Corrie.


QUESTION: You said that you understand the family’s disappointment. I’m wondering if you also, meaning the State Department, the Administration, share the family’s disappointment in the verdict.

MS. NULAND: I think beyond saying that they have the right of appeal and we have to see where that goes, it’s probably not productive to get into the middle of a legal process that may be ongoing.




QUESTION: Let me make sure what kind of message the Secretary is going to send against China in this trip. Earlier this month, you released a statement regarding the South China Sea. Is she going to send the same kind of message, not to take aggressive action regarding the South China Sea and the East China Sea?

MS. NULAND: Her message is going to be consistent with where she’s been for some time, including the statement that she issued, that we want to see the countries affected in the South China Sea dispute sit down in a consensual way and solve this through negotiation without any kind of coercion or intimidation, economic, military, et cetera.

QUESTION: Is that going to be including not only South China Sea, but also the East China Sea this time?

MS. NULAND: Our position on that’s been consistent, too. We want to see it negotiated.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTION: Colombia?

MS. NULAND: Change of part of the world, let me guess?

QUESTION: Colombia?


QUESTION: This is regarding the announcement of Colombian President Santos saying he’s willing to talk to the FARC, to the guerilla. What is your reaction on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you said, President Santos has spoken to his intentions, the government’s intentions, going forward. We would, of course, welcome any efforts to end the hemisphere’s longest-running conflict and to bring about lasting peace in Colombia. You know that we’ve been a very strong and unwavering partner of Colombia and its people in this struggle, and we hope that its citizens will find peace and security.

QUESTION: Do you think this is not a contradiction considering that the – in the past, the U.S. and Colombian were, in a way, fighting the guerillas, so now it’s – they change – it is like the past politics didn’t work at all, or --

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, in any kind of a conflict, one always hopes that there’s a moment when one can get to the peace table, so we defer to the Colombian Government on whether – on how it wants to proceed. But obviously, we’ve been partners in trying to bring peace for a long, long time, and that’s what we hope out of any process in this regard.

QUESTION: Thank you.



MS. NULAND: Yeah. I thought we were going to spend the whole briefing and not get to Syria.


MS. NULAND: Silly me.

QUESTION: And I just wanted to follow up on yesterday.


QUESTION: When – there was some confusion, at least in my mind, about the border with Turkey --


QUESTION: -- because there had been reports that Turkey actually had closed the border --

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: -- and then yesterday, you said as far as you knew, it was actually open. So is there any update to that? I mean, do we know concretely that the border is open? And then any update on efforts at the United Nations to get some type of international help for refugee camps within Turkey?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that the border is open, that the Turkish Government is processing refugees into the camps, that there is a bit of a backlog, that they are also working with the UN to try to support refugees as they wait for processing, so that they are addressing those urgent humanitarian needs, that they are also preparing new camps and that they are now working well with the UN agencies to be able to expand the refugee operations that they are conducting.

As you know, Jill, there’s going to be on the 30th – I guess Thursday – a meeting at the UN Security Council that the French are hosting as president this month, primarily focused on the humanitarian situation in Syria. And I think there will be a strong call from the nations represented there to other nations around the world to help meet the still unfulfilled gaps in the UN appeal. As you may know, the UN recently increased its appeal for Jordan in particular because the numbers going into Jordan are large, and also to help with Turkey. The U.S., as you know, has given some $82 million, and we continue to look at what more we can do.


QUESTION: I’m sorry. I have to take you back to China for a moment. (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: We’re going all over the place today.

QUESTION: This is just a brief one. The – Mr. Chen Guangcheng, the dissident well known to you, has told us that he is likely to accept an invitation by Taiwan’s opposition party to visit Taiwan in the near future. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on the advisability of a trip like that by somebody who was in the spotlight so recently.

MS. NULAND: I’ve seen the press reports. I don’t know that anybody on our side has had a chance to talk to him, so I don’t have any particular comment.

QUESTION: Is that something that you would talk to him about?

MS. NULAND: He is now here on a student visa. That was something that we worked hard with the Chinese Government to get to. So he will, as a student here, make decisions how to use his time, and we hope he will continue to – he’s pursuing his studies, as you know, which he has said are useful to him in supporting causes inside China.

Please, Scott.

QUESTION: Yes, you’re only sending --

MS. NULAND: Scott, behind you. Scott.

QUESTION: Let me go back to Syria.


QUESTION: The Russian representative to Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran, Konstantin Shuvalov, says the Non-Aligned Movement foreign ministers could lead to a diplomatic solution in Syria. Any optimism about that?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t see Mr. Shuvalov’s comments. You know where we have been, particularly with – vis-a-vis Russia. We’ve been encouraging Russia to use what influence it has with Syria to prevail on the Assad regime to stop the violence, to definitively cut its own support for the regime, so that would be where we would encourage efforts from that quarter.

QUESTION: You had said last week that you thought that Iran might use this NAM meeting to try to manipulate foreign opinion. Do you think that Russia is being manipulated by sending a representative there and deferring to Iran on the Syria issue?

MS. NULAND: Well, the NAM meeting is ongoing. You know where we’ve been; that we have been encouraging countries not only to downgrade their representation, but if they did choose to go, to be strong in the comments that they made to Iranian leaders with regard to Iran’s unfulfilled obligations, their nuclear, their human rights, their – the concerns we have about their support for terror, the concerns we have about what they’re up to in Syria. So we are looking to all of the representatives who are there to make strong comments. Again, we’re – we haven’t been privy to what Russia has been saying directly to Iran, but we hope it would be in line with all of those things.

QUESTION: But Madam, just to follow, don’t you think U.S. representation there could be a strong message for the NAM and also for Iranians and Syrians and others if U.S. is there? I mean, it could be a strong --

MS. NULAND: At the meeting, we were neither invited nor are we members.

Please. Here. Yep.

QUESTION: Yes, on Asia.


QUESTION: On the heel of Secretary of State’s visit to the Asian countries, India could become a centerpiece of discussion, obviously, for (inaudible) reasons. Do you think that your current relation with India would be emboldened and it would come into the parameter of discussion while you are talking with China and the other countries of that region?

MS. NULAND: Well, we generally talk directly with India about our relations with India. As you know, the Secretary was there in May. We had a very good visit. We had Foreign Minister Krishna here as well recently. So I think this is primarily a trip focused on the Asia Pacific at this time.


QUESTION: Yeah, back to Syria for a minute. Why did the U.S. distance itself so much from the French President’s remarks? I mean, wouldn’t it have been helpful to move the process along to say sure, it’s fine to set up a provisional government even if that’s a little ways down the road, or was there concern about being locked into recognizing that provisional government?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we spoke extensively here yesterday about our hope and expectation that the Syrian opposition will continue to be unified, will continue to take the good work that they did in July on a code of conduct, on a transitional document, to work those proposals strongly with members of the opposition inside Syria to get broad buy-in for the general direction, democratic direction, pluralistic direction, tolerant direction, that the country should go moving forward. But it’s going to be up to Syrians when they make the decision to move forward to the next step.


QUESTION: Would the Egyptian President’s comment on President Assad needing to go for the solution, does it meet your criteria for the Tehran visit? I mean, is it --

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re --

QUESTION: You said to encourage whoever is attending the NAM summit to make clear – to remind Iran of its position towards Syria of the Security Council resolution.

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we were gratified by the reported comments by President Morsi that he thinks time is up for President Assad and making those comments inside Iran clearly breaks with the Iranian position on Syria. So that’s a good thing and in keeping with what we had hoped to see.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: The State Department Human Rights Report lists the case of the Lithuanian journalist and statesman Algirdas Paleckis, who was threatened with jail by the Lithuanian prosecution for having quoted two sentences of a former Lithuanian defense minister on radio. And Mr. Paleckis met with two State Department officials – it was on the 8th of June – I was present – Carol Werner and Brian Beckmann. And when he went back to Lithuania, the court convicted him and fined him 3,000 euros, which is $5,000.

But can you comment upon the fact that Lithuania permits pro-Nazi demonstrations publicly and regularly, and a journalist who has disagreed with Lithuanian official propaganda is – was not only threatened with jail – and I frankly think the U.S. Embassy’s excellent record of monitoring his case kept him out of jail – but is now fined a large fine for simply stating his opinion on a radio broadcast? There seems to be a serious double standard in that country, and they claim to be a democracy.

MS. NULAND: Well, as you say, we’ve been clear about our views on this case in the Human Rights Report and from our Embassy in Vilnius. I don’t have anything new today on this – on what you say here about him having been fined. I’ll take the question. If we have anything to add, we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Bangladesh?


QUESTION: Madam, this drama is going on between the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Muhammad Yunus, the represent – I mean, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics. And this is also hurting the country politically between the two major and opposition parties. My question is here that what government is saying that Muhammad Yunus should not have received the Nobel because it was illegal for him to receive; he was not supposed to. What my question is that are you following this drama going on still on this Nobel Peace – Nobel Prize in economics and the government?

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen those most recent comments from the government with regard to Mr. Yunus. You know that the Secretary has raised the Grameen Bank issue repeatedly and regularly, that she met with Mr. Yunus when we were in Bangladesh in May. And more broadly on that trip and since, she has been – we as a government have been encouraging the leaders of the major parties in Bangladesh to come together to have a dialogue to agree on ground rules to move the country forward, particularly on a way to have free, fair, credible, and participatory elections, because the paralysis is quite concerning.

QUESTION: May I just quickly – has anybody asked any help directly or indirectly in this connection from the U.S.?

MS. NULAND: It’s conceivable that our Embassy in Dhaka has been involved, but I don’t have anything particular.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Mexico, is there any update on the investigation into the shooting of the two Embassy employees? Is the State Department satisfied with the investigation and the arrest of 12 people, and are the names of those employees going to be released?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we said yesterday, this is a Mexican investigation that we are supporting. They have just started, so I’m going to refer you to them in terms of whether there’s any update.

QUESTION: But what about the names of the employees?

MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that they were employees of the Embassy, I’m not going to go any further at the moment.


QUESTION: On the Venezuela oil refinery fire explosion, do you know if there’s been any request for assistance or offer by the United States?

MS. NULAND: There has not been any request for, I think, any outside assistance, and certainly not from us. But obviously quite concerning.

Anything else? In the back, please.

QUESTION: One more question. The Secretary will be in Russia. Has there been any comment on the fact that the moderate Muslim leaders in Tatarstan were murdered several weeks ago by extremists who want jihad in Tatarstan and elsewhere on the Baltic?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have been concerned about escalating violence in some of these provinces in Russia. We condemn all the acts of violent extremism and we continue to do so.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)

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