Daily Press Briefing - September 10, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Upcoming Travel by Deputy Secretary Burns
- U.S. Congratulates Kosovo on Independence
- Iraqi Court Decision Sentences Vice President Hashemi to Death
- Japanese Government Reaches Deal Regarding Senkaku Islands
- China Announces Territory Baseline
- Secretary's Meeting with Taiwan Senior Representative
- East China Sea Tensions
- Iranian Nuclear Program Redlines
- Ariel Settlement
- UN Secretary General Comments on Lifting the Siege
- Palestinian Bid for UN Recognition
- UNITED NATIONS
- Former UN Secretary General Annan's Comments on Israeli/Palestinian Peace Talks
- Reports Yemen Forces Kill No. 2 Al-Qaida Member
- Hezbollah Member Arrested In Mexico
- East China Sea Dispute
- Ramil Safarov Pardon
- Aung San Suu Kyi Visit
- Senkaku Islands Dispute
- Syria Quartet Meeting/Geneva Document/Syrian Transition Plans
- Jackson-Vanik Trade Sanctions
1:11 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Monday. The Secretary is back in town after her long trip through Asia, which started with the Pacific Island Forum and ended up with her representation of the President at the APEC meetings. I have a couple of things for you at the top. First, a shout-out to Scott, who was with us on the trip and actually showed up today. Hooray. Only the strong survive.
All right, a couple of things. First, a note on upcoming travel by Deputy Secretary Burns. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will travel to Amman, Jordan, Baghdad, and Erbil in Iraq, and then on to Ankara, Turkey, starting this evening and through the 15th of September. He will engage with leaders on a broad cross-section of strategic and regional issues. His visit is going to provide a strong signal of our commitment to the region and enhance international coordination efforts on Syria in particular.
My second note at the top is on Kosovo. The United States congratulates Kosovo for its accomplishment in reaching the end of supervised independence today. We also commend the International Civilian Representative and his office who have worked with the Kosovo Government to achieve this day. While much work remains, this marks an important new phase in Kosovo’s commitment to fulfilling the promise of a democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo with minority rights enshrined in law and respected in practice.
And the third thing I should have started with, welcome to some of our young correspondents who are visiting from Uruguay in the back of the room as part of a week-long media and journalism program here and in Miami. Hola. That’s the extent of my Spanish. We’re done right there. (Laughter.)
All right, let’s go to what’s on your minds. Mr. Mohammed, I haven’t seen you in a long time. Let’s start over here, though. Sorry, Brad.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Arshad, we have discussed the Hashemi case with a number of Iraqis leaders over these many months. Consistent with our prior positions on Iraqi legal and judicial matters, the United States supports a fair and transparent judicial process in accordance with the constitution and the laws of Iraq and its international legal obligations.
We are concerned about the potential for an increase in unhelpful rhetoric and tension on all sides, and we call on all of Iraq’s leaders to continue to try to resolve their disputes consistent with the rule of law and in a manner that’s going to strengthen Iraq’s long-term security, unity, and commitment to democracy.
I would simply add that our understanding is that under Iraqi law, there is an opportunity for Mr. Hashemi to appeal this. We will, obviously, monitor this case and see what happens.
QUESTION: Do you regard this as having been a fair and transparent process?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we’ve said all the way along that we have concerns, and we look forward to seeing where this case goes in the future.
QUESTION: No, no. But you began by saying you reiterated your support for a fair and transparent process. When you say you’ve said all along you’ve had concerns, I mean, are you – now that there’s a verdict and a sentence, can you not say – I mean, do you continue to be concerned that this was not fair nor transparent – the process by which this was arrived at?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think I made clear that it is not clear that this legal process is necessarily over, so I don’t think I want to go any further than I did at this time.
QUESTION: Mr. Hashemi said today from Turkey that his case is political, so he doesn’t really believe it’s a legal issue at all. Do you see it as a political? He’s accusing Prime Minister Maliki of making a case based on allegations mainly politically targeted rather than legal system in the court system, the court.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we’ve said – and I said it again here – that with regard to political disputes, political concerns between figures in Iraq, we want to see those solved through discussion among them, through a political process. I don’t think with regard to this specific case I’m going to go any further than I went in responding to Arshad.
QUESTION: But I mean, can I just say – I mean, you’re saying – you’re saying – in response to these particular questions, you’re saying a very general statement about politically motivated cases. And so it’s unclear whether you think this is a politically motivated case, or you’re just taking the time to remind people that you have a problem with politically motivated cases.
MS. NULAND: I would say what we’ve been saying all along, that we’ve had concerns about the way this has been dealt with. The legal process continues.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on this.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Mr. Hashemi is – of course, Iraq is a close ally of the United States. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort training its judiciary and so on. And he is on the run. He is a fugitive. He also is in a country that is another country that is allied with the United States. So how do you handle this? If they call for his extradition, how do you deal with it? Just to follow up on Nadia’s question, is it a political or is it a judicial --
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’re taking me into hypothetical places having to do with extradition, et cetera.
QUESTION: But they are – I mean, they are asking for him to be turned over.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think I’m not going to go any further than I’ve already gone, Said.
QUESTION: I’m just a little confused on what type of discussion you want to have. You say a discussion that avoids unhelpful rhetoric. But now you have a death penalty against someone. Should they be discussing, what, how to implement his death, or I mean, what’s left to discuss at this point?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said at the beginning here, the Iraqi judicial process provides for appeal. It’s up to Mr. Hashemi how he’s going to proceed there. But given the fact that this – the legal process here may not be over; I don’t think I’m going to go any further than I already have.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: In order for him to appeal, he needs to be physically – according to what legals are saying in Iraq – physically to be present in Iraq. And him and people from his party, Al-Iraqiya, are having fears over his safety, and that’s one of the reasons why he fled from Iraq. So do you think that his concerns and his people’s concerns are legit? And also, I mean, the death penalty seems like, I mean, if he gets there and if those concerns are proven to be true, I mean, that’s really another death penalty. So it’s either – whether he goes or he stays out, he has the penalty, the same verdict.
MS. NULAND: Well, again, this is an issue that is something that’s going to have to be worked out going forward. I think I’m not going to comment any further than I already have.
Moving on to something else? Samir, please.
QUESTION: Was this on the agenda in the U.S.-Iraq talks that Assistant Secretary Jones had last week in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Whether this specific case of Mr. Hashemi came up with Assistant Secretary Jones, I will check on that for you, Samir. I think we’ve been pretty clear and transparent with the Iraqis all the way through about our concerns about all of this.
QUESTION: One more on this?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You, I think, said that you had concerns about the possibility that this could lead to an increase in tensions and heated rhetoric, something like that.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When you say tensions, do you mean violence?
MS. NULAND: I think there’s concern about whether it’s rhetoric, whether it’s violence, whether it is anything that takes us further away from the kind of political dialogue that Iraqis have got to have with each other in order for the country to move forward.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on this. Do you expect with – in the increased sectarian tension, and Mr. Hashemi being the most senior Sunni in Iraq, do you expect that this actually will spill over into a more sectarian strife?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to predict the future here. I think we have concerns, as I said at the beginning, that there will be increased tension going forward.
Please. Moving on? Go ahead.
MS. NULAND: Yep.
QUESTION: Today, the Japanese Government has reached a deal to buy the Senkaku-Diaoyu Island. Do you think this move is illegal and invalid?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know where we have been all the way along on the Senkaku Islands. The Secretary spoke to it on this trip; I don’t have anything new to add here. We want to see this issue settled through dialogue.
QUESTION: But what have you sent a message to your Japanese counterpart? Because in – while you were in China, we haven’t seen any public remarks on this issue. So what did you do in Asia to trying to lower down the tension?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary did make clear that she talked about this issue in both Beijing and when she saw Prime Minister Noda. Our message to both sides is the same: We want to see this handled calmly; we want to see it handled through dialogue.
QUESTION: And one more. To respond to Japan, China today announced territory baseline for the disputed islands. Do you think this move is helpful to lower the tension, resolve the problem?
MS. NULAND: I didn’t see what you are referring to with regard to a Chinese statement. Can you say it again?
QUESTION: China announced a territorial baseline for the disputed island.
MS. NULAND: Also on Senkakus or on South China Sea?
QUESTION: Right. On Senkaku Island.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I didn’t that in particular, so I don’t know what it specifically refers to. But again, the Secretary’s message to both sides was very clear: We want to see them work through this.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Because the Chinese Government have a very strong response to the Japanese government – finish the deal purchasing the Diaoyu Islands from the private owner. Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affair, last night, released a very strong statement about that. So the tension between these two countries seems to be escalating. Are you concerned about the new development around the Diaoyu Island? I know you have said the U.S. won’t take position on the sovereignty issue, but are you concerned at escalation around the Diaoyu Island?
MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary, again, she was clear throughout her trip through south – through Asia – that we are concerned about tension in the South China Sea, we’re concerned about tensions in the East China Sea. We want to see with regard to the Senkakus, Japan and China work together. Good relations between them are important for each of them. They’re also important for the region and important for our interests.
QUESTION: So what should they do? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Again, they should work together to work through these issues.
QUESTION: Talking about APEC –
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton meeting a Taiwan representative in the bilateral meeting for the very first time. So what’s the purpose of the meeting, and would it be okay for a U.S. top officer to talk to the political leaders at international location?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, this wasn’t the first time. Traditionally, we always see the senior representative from Taiwan at the time of the APEC meeting. The Secretary also met the senior Taiwan representative at last year’s APEC in Bali. We issued a statement about this from our interests section in Taiwan. I would refer you to that; it’s relatively detailed about what they discussed. I can give you some of the high points.
They talked, obviously, about the full spectrum of economic issues between us, including the beef issue. The Secretary said that the United States looks forward to Taiwan making the regulatory changes necessary to implement the new beef regulation. And they also agreed to begin exploratory work to prepare for a full experts-level engagement under the umbrella of our trade and investment framework agreement. So I would refer you to the statement from AIT, which gives you a more full readout.
QUESTION: May I please have a follow-up, please?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton mentioned during her press opportunity in Russia after APEC, saying that after she met with the Japan and Korea high-level officials regarding Senkaku Island, and she believed the U.S. urge was heard. So does that indicate that both Japan and Korea will back down, or is there any indication of a reduction of tension in the future?
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about Liancourt Rocks now, right? Japan-Korea, not Japan-China, right? Am I on the right set of disputes, yes?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. And there again, as I said, she was also – we’re also concerned about tensions in the East China Sea, so she did talk to both Japanese Prime Minister Noda and President Lee about those issues. And their message was the same: to encourage dialogue. These are strong allies of the United States, both of them, and we want to see this settled calmly.
QUESTION: Toria, your closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, is quite upset with a interview that the Secretary gave, particularly when she was asked about redlines or deadlines for Iran’s nuclear program. Do you have positions or levels in Iran’s nuclear enrichment that you consider unacceptable and that would force some sort of change to the current stalemate, let’s say?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we have been saying for many months, and as was clear when the Secretary was in Jerusalem earlier this summer, we have extensive and ongoing contacts with our close ally Israel to discuss the full range of security issues, but obviously to compare notes on the challenge posed by Iran, and we will continue to do that.
QUESTION: Do you have specific Israeli officials visiting Washington this week in that regard?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know the answer to that. Let me take that one.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: But usually we see very senior Israelis in the context of the UN General Assembly in New York –
QUESTION: No, I understand, but there are some reports that there are some officials speaking specifically about these Iran –
MS. NULAND: Here in the Department, Elise, or at other –
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, around – throughout the interagency–
MS. NULAND: Let me take it. I’m not aware.
QUESTION: Can I ask –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) specific, just to get back to this redlines – I mean, it’s been clear and an ongoing line from the Prime Minister’s office and others in Jerusalem – or Israel, let’s say – that the United States needs to put out a redline and clearly say what it’s not going to allow. But the Secretary dodged that when she had that chance. Why won’t you kind of lay that out?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just start by saying, again, as we always say, the President has said, again and again, unequivocally, that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. There shouldn’t be any doubt about that. With regard to our conversations with the Israelis and our unwavering commitment to their security, I will say, as I said at the beginning, we talk to them constantly, we’re continuing to talk to them constantly, including about Iran. That’s not going to change. But I’m not going to get into the details of those conversations. It’s not helpful, and it’s not helpful to the diplomacy.
QUESTION: But when you say you won’t allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, I mean, what does that mean? That’s very ambiguous because – does it mean that all the components of a nuclear weapon, or does obtaining a nuclear weapon mean that there is a specific missile with a nuclear weapon miniaturized and on a warhead?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to try to improve on the President’s statement –
QUESTION: Well it’s a very – will you agree that it’s – are you – is there a specific policy of being – of constructive ambiguity here? Because, I mean, not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon means many different things to many different people. As you know, the Israelis have one definition of what it means to have a nuclear weapon, and maybe you have another one. So could you provide any –
MS. NULAND: Among the many reasons, Elise, why these consultations with Israel need to be constant, they need to be detailed, they need to be private.
QUESTION: Well, but why should the Israelis be clear about you – what you would not allow in terms of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, but the American people are not supposed to know what you would allow and not allow, in terms of – if you say that this is a world threat and that this is in U.S. national security interest, why can’t the American people know what you would not allow Iran to obtain or not obtain?
MS. NULAND: The American people know that the President has said, unequivocally, he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. I’m not going to get into how you unpack exactly what, who, how, when. That is the subject of our intense focus on what’s going on in Iran. As you know, the IAEA has just come forward with a report on Iran’s noncompliance, which is being discussed now in the Board of Governors meeting.
So we are absolutely firm about the President’s commitment here, but it is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, redlines. It is most important that we stay intensely focused on the pressure on Iran, the opportunity for Iran to fix this situation through the diplomacy that we’ve offered, and intensive consultations with Israel and all the other regional states, as we are doing.
Please, Said. Said has been patient, here.
QUESTION: It’s okay. I want to – Israel, but not Iran, just one.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Please.
QUESTION: Will you concede, then, that you have a difference of opinion with Israel on this? Because they are publically saying, over and over again, that they need to see a redline from you on how far Iran’s nuclear program can go. You just said it’s not useful to get into redlines.
MS. NULAND: Prime Minister Netanyahu today, or yesterday, made absolutely clear in his own public statements that we are in a constant dialogue. So from that perspective, we are in absolute agreement on the necessity to stay in conversation, to do it constantly going forward. And we will do that.
QUESTION: Even when you disagree?
MS. NULAND: We need to continue to work through these issues, make sure that we are comparing notes on what we are seeing, make sure we are comparing notes on the best way to increase the pressure on Iran to come clean with the international community and come back into compliance. And that is what we are doing.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu authorized the setup of a university in Ariel settlement. This is very controversial, obviously, because it is part of the final status issues when it comes to settlement activities and where is finally they are going to draw the line. First of all, are you concerned about that? And second, have you raised it with the Israelis?
MS. NULAND: This is with regard to a particular set of settlements, Nadia? I missed the beginning –
QUESTION: Yes. Ariel.
MS. NULAND: -- of your sentence.
QUESTION: Ariel, which is one of the largest settlements in the West Bank.
MS. NULAND: Has there been a new announcement on Ariel recently?
QUESTION: No, they have made an announcement that they’re going to have a university, which means it gives it an official status as part of Israel. It’s been a continuous process that basically was very controversial within Israel itself, that if you give it that status, means they recognize the settlement as part of Israel.
MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that, whether we have anything specific to say about this new announcement, because I didn’t see it before I came down here. More broadly, our settlement policy hasn’t changed. We’re very clear about it.
Said, behind --
QUESTION: Yes. Israel?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Secretary General of the United Nations today, Ban Ki-moon, criticized Israel harshly for – and called on it – urged it – to lift the siege of Gaza. He said that keeping – quote, “keeping a large and dense population in unremitting poverty is in nobody’s interest except that of the most extreme radicals in the region.” Do you agree with him that it is only in the interest of the most extreme radicals in the region, keeping the siege on Gaza?
MS. NULAND: Well, I will say that I also hadn’t seen Ban Ki-moon’s statement. You know our view with regard to Gaza. We are supportive of humanitarian assistance to Gaza through appropriate routes. We are also concerned about Israel’s security and about the attacks that it’s seen from Gaza, including relatively recently.
QUESTION: Right. But his statement is very clear, and he calls to lift the siege immediately. Do you agree that the siege is causing unremitting conditions and poverty and so on?
MS. NULAND: Again, there are appropriate routes for relieving the humanitarian concerns in Gaza, and we have been supportive of full use of those, but we’ve also been concerned about the security threats to Israel that have emanated from Gaza.
QUESTION: So you disagree that the siege should be lifted?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, I think I’ve said what I have to say on this one.
QUESTION: Just one more on the Israeli and Palestinians. Palestinian President Abbas is suggesting that he might make another play for UN recognition, or non – an observer – some kind of larger status at the United Nations. Are you in touch with the Palestinians, trying to dissuade them from doing that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen these reports. We are obviously in touch with President Abbas. We continue to make clear that we believe that the only realistic path for the Palestinians to achieve statehood is through direct negotiations as called for by the Quartet, and we will continue to make that case as we head towards the UN General Assembly.
QUESTION: Well, who was the last person to make that case to President Abbas?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary, as you know, spoke to him when she was in Paris over the course of the summer. David Hale saw him about three weeks ago. And our consul general is in touch with him this week as well.
QUESTION: If I may follow up –
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Said, we believe that we are working intensively through the Quartet and directly with Israelis and Palestinians to continue to encourage them to come back to the table. It is – all we can do is push them. We cannot force them. They’ve got to make the decision for peace. They’ve got to make the decision to come back to the table.
QUESTION: Back to these –
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Let’s do Yemen and then we’ll go back to Asia friends.
MS. NULAND: I saw those reports before coming down. I’m not in a position to confirm them, though, Roz.
QUESTION: On Hezbollah?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are some reports that an American member of Hezbollah was arrested in Mexico as part of an operation. This gentleman, Rafik Mohammad, has been wanted by the U.S. Government for many other things. Can you confirm that he’s been arrested in Mexico?
MS. NULAND: I’ve seen the reports. We are now seeking more information from Mexican authorities, so I don’t have anything further for you, Elise.
QUESTION: Could you take it?
MS. NULAND: I think – if we have anything further, we’ll get it to you. We checked before we came down. I think we’re at the stage of checking with the Mexicans.
QUESTION: Going back to East China Sea, will U.S. Government, to show both parties – apparently they are old allies and partner – to settle the dispute, establish sort of code of conduct to avoid tension or conflict in the short period of time?
MS. NULAND: Are you on South China Sea now or East China Sea?
QUESTION: East China Sea.
MS. NULAND: You said East China Sea.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we spoke to both of those issues earlier. We spoke to the Liancourt Rocks issue and we spoke to the Senkakus issue. So in both cases, we’re urging dialogue, we’re urging negotiation.
QUESTION: Toria, when you mentioned you want China and Japan to work together, are you saying China and Japan, they are working together now? If they were now, what are you going to do?
MS. NULAND: Well, we certainly saw that on the margins of the APEC meeting, there were high-level meetings between Japan and China. I would refer you to both of those governments, but we did see them talking to each other.
MS. NULAND: Well, we, as you know, issued a statement about this after the Hungarians released him back to Azerbaijan, and we have been in touch with the Azerbaijanis and urging them to meet commitments that they reportedly made to the Hungarians in advance of the release.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that they’re meeting those commitments?
MS. NULAND: Our – we have some concerns, as we said at the beginning, about that issue in particular.
Please. Let’s go back to Asia and finish up here.
QUESTION: That was just a follow-up.
QUESTION: Do you have more --
MS. NULAND: Oh, sorry. Sorry. A follow-up here.
QUESTION: Yeah, just – I think at the time, you said that you had asked for more information from Hungary as well on the conditions or reasons for his transfer, and I was wondering if you got that, because then you wouldn’t need to say the promises that reportedly were made. You should know them, I would think.
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything about whether we’ve gotten further clarification from the Government of Hungary. If we have anything to share on that, I will.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. NULAND: Okay?
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have more details --
QUESTION: Follow-up, the Diaoyu Island issues.
MS. NULAND: Okay. We’re going to do one more round back here on all of the East China/South China Sea issues and then we’re going to stop.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m the last one.
MS. NULAND: This woman was first, I think. Please.
MS. NULAND: I’m going to refer you to her office for the details on her schedule. We obviously know that she’s coming to the States, and we’re looking forward to that very much.
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syria.
QUESTION: No, I –
MS. NULAND: Let’s finish on –
QUESTION: No, the last question on the –
MS. NULAND: You promise it’s the last one?
MS. NULAND: Excellent.
QUESTION: Of course.
MS. NULAND: Excellent. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Because the – yesterday, the – on the statement of Chinese foreign ministry, it says if the Japanese side clings obstinately to its own course, all serious consequences from this can only be borne by the Japanese side. So from the U.S. view, what role the United States will play to persuade both side to back down from the current position to calm down the situation over there?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, among the reasons that the Secretary was glad she made the trip to Asia last week, she had the chance to talk to leaders around the region, and particularly leaders where we’ve seen these territorial tensions increase, about the need for calm, about the need for them to work this out diplomatically. That was her message to both sides with regard to the Senkakus.
QUESTION: On Syria and the quartet, there’s apparently –
MS. NULAND: Yeah. On Syria, the –
QUESTION: A quartet meeting on Syria. There has been a quartet formulated – it’s the – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt, and there is supposedly an upcoming meeting between those representatives from those four countries. The date has not been set, but that’s the understanding, and Iran apparently is going to send a deputy foreign minister to that meeting.
With the huge differences in positions between Iran and the other three countries over Syria, do you think anything is going to come out of meetings like those?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you may know, on the margins of the NAM meeting in Tehran, there was an effort to pull this particular set of nations together, and it fell apart. I would let those countries speak to why it fell apart, but I think it – from our perspective, it appeared to have to do with the extreme differences of views among those particular countries.
So I’m not going to speculate as to whether they’re going to successfully pull this off at a lower level, but from what we see – for example, just two states – Iran is doing all it can to support the Assad regime materially and with its forces, and is on an extreme side of that issue and playing an extremely unhelpful role as compared to a country like Turkey, which is making extraordinary sacrifices to handle and welcome and support the huge refugee flow, et cetera, that has resulted from this conflict.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, first of all, what do you think of the validity of such a group? And second of all, you – I mean, you had Russia as part of this contact group on Syria, yet you’ve said from this podium, and Secretary Clinton and others have said, that Russia is doing all it can to support the Syrian regime. So what’s the difference?
MS. NULAND: Well, first, on this quad group, it did fall apart once. We’ll see if it comes back together.
QUESTION: No, I’m not asking about whether you think it can get it together. I’m asking whether you think this grouping of countries has an important role to play in helping solve the solution in Iran.
MS. NULAND: Well, let’s go back to where we’ve been on Iran, which frankly we think is manifestly different than where the Russians have been.
QUESTION: How so?
MS. NULAND: And I’ve spoken to this before; I’ll say it again. Iran is actively, materially supporting the fight on Assad’s side, including with personnel, with materiel, with money, and it is implacably seeking the survival of the Assad regime. So it’s very hard to see that they can play any kind of a useful role in getting Assad to stop the violence when they’re actually helping him in the fight.
Now on the Russian side, the Russians did join with us in the Geneva document, which calls to – for an end to the violence, and the six points of Annan, calls for an end to the violence, calls for a transition. They have said that they have no love lost for Assad. They have not been willing to renounce further military support, but they also have not signed any new contracts. So it’s a manifestly different situation.
As the Secretary said pretty clearly when we were in Vladivostok, we’re going to continue to see whether we can do anything with the Geneva document that gives real consequences, but she was straight up as well that we’ve had differences with Russia too. But from our perspective, it’s fundamentally different than what Iran is doing, which is essentially aiding and abetting the survival of the Assad regime.
QUESTION: So – but in principle, you don’t really support such efforts like (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: Again, we just don’t see that Iran is a country that can play a helpful role in this at all –
QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up –
MS. NULAND: – given where they are right now.
QUESTION: On the Geneva issue, you don’t see that this really can formulate the basis for a resolution to the Syrian conflict, do you?
MS. NULAND: We’ve said from the beginning, and the Secretary said when we were in Geneva, and she said it again in Vladivostok, that we think the principles in the Geneva document, the plan it sets out for transition, could be a helpful input to what the Syrians themselves need to do, and that we would support putting it under a UN Security Council resolution, as we tried to do about a month and a half ago, but only if there are real consequences, if there are teeth. Because otherwise, it’s just another empty effort in the Security Council.
QUESTION: In this case, Victoria, you seem also to disagree with the new envoy to the UN and to the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, because he wants to involve Iran in this, and he just wanted to use Iranians on his list of countries as much as Cairo is today. So why he’s involving Iran in the process?
MS. NULAND: Well, he is a UN envoy. He’s obviously going to take soundings with all affected states, all neighbors. He’s, as I understand it, also on his way to Damascus in the near future. Our message to him is the same, and we would hope that he would give that message when he’s in Tehran, that the role that they’re playing is extremely negative right now, and is not an aid to peace or to moving on.
QUESTION: So you see his role as a mediator more than just opposing the Iranian position? Do you think this is the role that is fit for him to play?
MS. NULAND: Well, he’s going to carve out his own role. He’s on his first orientation trip now to the region, so we look forward to hearing his report when he comes back. It’s not surprising, as a UN envoy, that he’s going to Iran. We hope that one of the things he’ll be saying in Tehran is stop aiding and abetting the Assad regime’s violence.
QUESTION: Victoria, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, in an interview to the French paper Le Figaro, proposed an international conference that will gather all the stakeholders in Syria, including the representatives of the Assad regime and representatives of the opposition to try to find a way out of the current crisis, very much like what happened with the crisis in Lebanon in the Taif conference. Would you support such a move by the Russians?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov did talk about this idea when they saw each other – let’s see, what day was it? Was it yesterday? It was two days ago. I’m a little – my time clock is all upside down now. And the Secretary’s point was how do you hold a conference in the middle of the kind of violence that we are seeing.
So in that context, what we are doing is trying to work with the Syrian opposition inside and outside Syria to unify them, support unity among them, behind a transition plan that can lead a path forward. So we’re not sure what a – whether you could even hold a conference in the conditions that we see in Syria now, but you certainly can continue to work to try to unify Syrians behind a transition plan, and that’s what we’re supporting.
QUESTION: Victoria, you always place the onus, in terms of violence, on the regime. But in fact, you do acknowledge that the opposition is also committing a great deal of violence, correct?
MS. NULAND: We have said for many months now that in the face of the kind of brutality that Assad is responsible for, it is not surprising that people are fighting back, that people have taken up arms. But we put primary responsibility, first for the level of brutality, but second for the ability to stop it, that they’re not using, on the Assad regime.
Anything else? Please, please.
QUESTION: Question. Russia.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think the Secretary said the other day that sanction against Russia will be lifted soon. A) How soon? Will it be before or after the election? Second, does that counts in the course of improving relation with Moscow, or it is a – it fits the part of a larger diplomatic deal with it?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary was referring in her press conference yesterday – and I would refer you to that transcript – to the Jackson-Vanik era restrictions that were placed on the Soviet Union – the then-Soviet Union – as a response to their restrictions on Jewish emigration. So obviously we no longer have a Soviet Union, we no longer have emigration issues.
But these are trade restrictions. And in the context of Russia now having joined the WTO, with the United States’ support, we have an obligation now to be WTO-compliant ourselves. So the point that the Secretary’s been making, that the President’s been making, is that the net effect of retaining these Jackson-Vanik restrictions on Russia is that the U.S. is not compliant with WTO, and therefore our own companies – American companies – don’t get the benefit of WTO with regard to Russia. So we are only hurting ourselves with this, which is why we’ve encouraged the Congress to vote affirmatively in favor of legislation that’s now on the Hill, both on the House and the Senate side, that would lift Jackson-Vanik for Russia.
QUESTION: Do you expect it before or after the election?
MS. NULAND: Again, it’s up to the Congress when they’re going to take up this legislation. Our hope is that it’ll be on the calendar sooner rather than later.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
DPB # 159