Daily Press Briefing - October 26, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • OSCE Election Observers in Texas
    • Afghan Forces Getting Stronger / Combat Operations to End in 2014
    • Condemnation of Mosque Bombing
    • Calls for Ceasefire / Violence from Assad Regime / Car Bomb
    • Ongoing Investigation
    • Secretary's Trip
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 26, 2012


The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

12:40 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Friday. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds,

QUESTION: Really? Okay, well, let’s start with something we talked a little bit about yesterday, which I’ll put under the category of why are you trying to force the great state of Texas to allow foreign electoral monitors into its polling stations? (Laughter.) Specifically, well, I have a bunch of questions about that. But specifically, yesterday you said that the authorities in Texas, in the person of the Attorney General, had been reassured that the OSCE would not do anything that they think – that Texas thinks is – it shouldn’t do. But the Attorney General wrote back to Secretary Clinton late yesterday and said that they have – that he has not received that assurance and that the election code does not authorize OSCE representatives to enter polling places or even go within 100 yards of them. The spokesman for the OSCE observer mission that’s now in Kyiv, I guess, says that they can’t do their job unless they’re allowed to go into the polling places.

So how do you reconcile this situation?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying that the OSCE currently has a team in Texas. They are working with Texas state authorities to try to work through what is appropriate and what is legal under U.S. law, under Texas law, and we very much support that conversation that’s ongoing between them. Let me --

QUESTION: So the invasion has actually begun already?

MS. NULAND: They’ve been there for a while. Let me also say that Texas was one of the proud hosts of OSCE observers back in 2008; they observed in San Antonio. And also to say that if you go up on the OSCE’s website, you can see a list of all of the places in the U.S. that they are hoping to observe, as they have since 2002, and it includes some 40 U.S. states that will proudly host OSCE observers and demonstrate to the world that our elections are of the highest standard.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that’s great, but I’m not sure that “proudly host” is what the Attorney General would say. He seems to have no interest in them being there at all. Be that as it may, whether that’s true or not, how do you reconcile this fact – the idea that he says that these people can be arrested if they go into a polling center or if they come within 100 feet – or yards of one, and the fact that the OSCE says that it can’t do its job unless it’s allowed to do that?

MS. NULAND: Well, the OSCE has reassured us. They have also made commitments to Texas that they have no intention of violating any U.S. laws. They are now talking to Texas authorities about how to proceed here, and that’s the right channel for the conversation to go on.

QUESTION: Well, hold on a second. Did they say that they’re not – they said they’re not going to violate any U.S. laws, but this would be a state law.

MS. NULAND: They have said that they do not intend to violate any laws while in the United States. So we are going to let the conversations go forward between the OSCE and Texas and see what – and see how that goes.

QUESTION: Were you guys involved in those conversations at all, or is this totally their bilateral channel and you haven’t had any contact with them since the letters?

MS. NULAND: Well, we, as I said yesterday, made sure that the right people were talking to each other. It’s our responsibility to hook up the OSCE with local authorities. We have done that. They have a team there and they’re working this out now.

QUESTION: Do you know if there is any State Department representation in Texas helping with this liaison?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, there is not.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Is this the type of situation where, were it not to be resolved, the State Department would somehow mediate – I mean, get more involved in the discussion?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think so.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you also said that these observers would have certain immunities and privileges. Can you elaborate on what those are? Should any one or any of these observers do something that local Texas authorities thinks violates their law and they were to be arrested, would they be immune from prosecution?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into all kinds of hypothetical scenarios. But under --

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s --

MS. NULAND: But under – can I --

QUESTION: You can say it’s hypothetical, Toria, but the problem is, is that they say right now that they can’t do their job unless they do something which is in violation of Texas law, according to the Attorney General.

MS. NULAND: Matt --

QUESTION: So the question of immunity is relevant.

MS. NULAND: Matt, I was on the way to answering your question, but you didn’t allow me to finish my sentence.

QUESTION: Okay, please do.

MS. NULAND: I think we had this conversation yesterday, too --

QUESTION: Please do.

MS. NULAND: So why don’t I start again here. So under a 1996, I believe it is – yeah – presidential proclamation that’s been upheld by the Congress, members of – official observers for the then-CSCE, now OSCE, are eligible for full immunities in the United States. But as I also said yesterday, we don’t think that it’s going to come to having to invoke these. We have every confidence that OSCE representatives in Texas and any other state where they are observing will be able to work things out.

QUESTION: Okay. But they are eligible for full immunity?

MS. NULAND: They are.

QUESTION: So in other words, that if the state of Texas chose to prosecute one of these observers, they wouldn’t be able to?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into any kind of hypothetical situations or predict where this is going to go other than to say we have every expectation that this will be worked out and to state the fact, which is that under U.S. law they are eligible for immunities.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand. I mean, the Texas Attorney General says that these people will be liable for prosecution if they break the law, and what you’re saying now is that they’re not liable for prosecution because they have diplomatic immunity.

MS. NULAND: I’m saying that we expect that they’re going to be able to work this out and that they have said that they don’t intend to break Texas or any other laws while they’re here. Matt, that’s all I’ve got for you on this. I’m just --

QUESTION: Okay, let me keep going.


QUESTION: The Attorney General is concerned in particular that the OSCE mission may have some kind of political agenda, and he wrote to the Secretary pointing out their discussions with – the OSCE’s discussions with a group called Project Vote, which apparently is affiliated to what was ACORN. He says, “No legitimate international body would affiliate with Project Vote. Consequently OSCE’s affiliation with this dubious organization necessarily undermines its credibility and the independence of its election monitors.”

Do you think that the OSCE – its credibility is undermined and as well as the independence of its election monitors? And if you do believe that, why is the United States a member of this? Why is one of your predecessors now serving as the ambassador to the OSCE?

MS. NULAND: Well, the OSCE’s election observation is designed in any member-state or in anywhere in the world to be completely impartial with no political tinge, no bias of any kind. When we Americans participate in OSCE monitoring missions in other member-states’ countries, as we do all over the Euro-Atlantic area every time there are major elections, we go into it with no political affiliation of any kind.

So obviously, if there are concerns that Texas authorities have, they have an opportunity through the direct dialogue that’s now going on in Texas with OSCE observers to take up their concerns. But the mandate of the OSCE is designed to be absolutely and completely impartial, and that’s what we plan on when we participate and that’s what we’d expect here.

QUESTION: So the short answer to my question is that you do not agree that the OSCE’s credibility with – affiliation with this group undermines its credibility and the independence of its election monitoring? You do not agree with that?

MS. NULAND: Again, Matt, we would like to see Texas raise its concerns directly with the OSCE, but the group is mandated to be impartial.

QUESTION: Okay, and then just one other thing. The Attorney General says that anything that the OSCE may say about the conduct of voting in Texas isn’t binding. That is correct, is it not? This is basically just – I mean, when the OSCE goes in and says that Belarus’s elections are not free and fair, that doesn’t mean that Belarus has to do anything, does it? It’s just basically criticism or praise from this group, correct?

MS. NULAND: Right. The OSCE is not a supranational organization with binding legal authority beyond national jurisdiction in member-states. It is advisory in that sense.

QUESTION: So authorities in Texas shouldn’t worry that this is kind of the advance of some international attempt to assert control of their sovereignty, is that correct?

MS. NULAND: There are no sovereignty issues here.

QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing is that he says – the Attorney General also says that we have no – “While we welcome international visitors who wish to engage in a legitimate information exchange, we have no interest in being lectured by the OSCE.” Is that something that you’re concerned about? Do you think it’s – since you support and go in – you, in fact, participate in OSCE missions in other countries that criticize, or perhaps their leaders might say lecture, is this a legitimate concern by the state of Texas?

MS. NULAND: Again, the OSCE will put out a report at the end of its observance which will cover the full picture that it sees across the United States. As I said, they have asked to observe in some 40 of our 50 states. And when we participate in it in other countries, we don’t consider it lecturing. We consider it impartial observation. And we would expect that, as we have in years past, the U.S. is going to pass this with flying colors across the union.

QUESTION: Okay. Even though there are elements of Texas voter laws that are currently under review by authorities in the United States?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to what’s going on inside Texas, but --

QUESTION: Okay. When the OSCE report comes out the state of Texas is – I just want make this absolutely clear for me. When the OSCE report about the election comes out, the United States or the states that are mentioned in it are or are not required to do anything about what it has – what it says in its findings?

MS. NULAND: There is no legal obligation encumbered by an OSCE report. It is an observation.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that this is a big deal?

MS. NULAND: Let me say first and foremost that the U.S. benefits enormously by participating in OSCE missions in other member-states. As you know, it is the only way that we have eyes on elections in places where we’ve had concerns in the past, including Belarus and Russia and Ukraine and other places. So from that perspective, the example that the United States can set of clean, free, fair elections observed by the OSCE is a very powerful one.

QUESTION: So are you concerned at all that the apparent hostility of local authorities in Texas might hurt the OSCE in other places around the world, that the governments in Belarus or Ukraine or Russia might say hey, well, in Texas they wouldn’t let them do what is their mandate; why can’t we?

MS. NULAND: Again, the OSCE has observed successfully in Texas in the past, has observed successfully in the United States since 2002, and we have every expectation it’s going to go fine this time as well.

Please, in the back. That would be you. Can you tell me who you are, please?

QUESTION: Leyla Aliyeva from Azerbaijan TV. I have a question with respect to the military escalation in the context of the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Following the Armenian military exercises in the occupied Azerbaijani territories, on October 15 Armenian Major General Artak Davtyan stated that Armenian forces also simulated attack on oil and gas infrastructures built through the region, which actually provide crucial energy transportation link from the Caspian Basin toward Europe and beyond.

MS. NULAND: Again, do you have – is there a question here rather than a statement?

QUESTION: No – yeah, yeah.

MS. NULAND: Thank you.

QUESTION: I’d like to know if this issue of military threat against major Western investment in the region was raised by the United States with official Yerevan, and how the United States intends to react to this threat.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything particular for you on that today. If we have anything to share, we’ll get back to you.

Please, Lalit.

QUESTION: Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Yesterday the Taliban leader Mullah Omar said – spoke about increasing insider attacks and also increasing suicide attacks, and today there was a major attack inside Farah province in Afghanistan, 40 people who have died. How do you assess the security situation inside Afghanistan at a time when Afghan forces are increasingly taking over the security for themselves?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we’ve been concerned about this recent spate of incidents, but it doesn’t change our overall view that Afghan forces are getting stronger month on month and that we remain committed to the timetable we have set out for them to lead increasingly in Afghanistan and to be able to manage the combat operations by the end of 2014.

But thank you for the opportunity to speak about the bombing of the mosque in Maimana City in Faryab Province today. As you say, at least 36 people were reportedly killed and 30 were injured as they left the mosques – the mosque after opening prayers of the Eid holiday today. We obviously condemn this bombing and this attack on innocent worshippers, which further demonstrates the insurgents’ lack of respect for religion, for faith, and its disregard for the safety and the security of the Afghan people.

Please, Andy.

QUESTION: Syria. Just – we’ve had this sort of putative ceasefire now for about 24 hours and it seems like there’s been sporadic reports of violence and a fairly large car bomb in a Damascus suburb, which the government is calling a terrorist attack. I’m just wondering if you, at the moment, feel you can make any kind of assessment about how viable this ceasefire is or whether it’s being – who’s upholding it more than (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: Well, let me confirm what you are seeing, that there are reports of violence in Syria today despite calls for a ceasefire, but despite pledges of a ceasefire, including shelling ongoing in Idlib, Aleppo, and Damascus. We had reports early this morning of helicopter and tank shelling. These are weapons, obviously, that the opposition doesn’t have. And as you said, at least 30 people have been killed throughout Syria today.

So we are again calling on both sides not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk, and we have seen some violations on both sides.

QUESTION: Have you had any – are you able to make any sorts of determination on the car bomb itself? Because that certainly counts for the majority of the deaths in the last 12 hours.

MS. NULAND: We’re obviously appalled and saddened by the reported car bomb today in Damascus. It was – it took place right near a children’s playground. We’re obviously seeking more information on the attack, but I don’t have anything for you at the moment on responsibility.

Anything else? Lalit.

QUESTION: India’s Foreign Minister has resigned. Do you have anything on this?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the press reports that he’s offered to resign. To my understanding, there are still ongoing discussions inside India, so we’ll withhold comment until there are decisions.


QUESTION: Do you – there is a report in The Guardian newspaper that the UK has rebuffed a U.S. request for the U.S. to use its bases in the event of a preemptive strike on Iran. Do you have any comment on that? Has the U.S. has been talking to the UK about that?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to get into our bilateral discussions with the UK. I think as partners, though, obviously, in the P-5+1, we share an approach of pressure and diplomacy, our two-track approach. We obviously share the concern about Iran’s noncompliance, and we don’t take any options off the table.

QUESTION: But is --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I mean, is the military option something that has been discussed with the UK as --

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into details of our private discussions with the UK. You can see if our friends at the Pentagon have anything further to say, but I’m going to guess they won’t.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: They referred me, actually, to you.

MS. NULAND: Oh, that’s good.

QUESTION: Do you know --

MS. NULAND: That’s good. I’ll talk to the boys.

QUESTION: Do you know, Toria, strictly as a – taking – removing this from the Iran situation completely, does it require specific permission from the Brits to use a base like Diego Garcia, which is British territory but in an American – actually an American base. Is – does – is that – is it required under treaty obligation for --

MS. NULAND: I’m going to --

QUESTION: -- you to get permission?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to our friends at the Pentagon because for all of these different facilities, there are different status of forces requirements and, frankly, I don’t have them all memorized, Matt. There was a time when I had them closer to the front of my brain, but I don’t at the moment.

QUESTION: Does that mean that some – that in some cases no permission is needed?

MS. NULAND: I frankly do not know what all of these agreements say, so I’m going to send you to the Pentagon.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Secretary voting early or is she planning to vote on (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) I don’t know what her voting plans are.


QUESTION: Benghazi? Defense Department officials say they received no request for help on the night of September 11th. Can you explain why the State Department did not make such a request?

MS. NULAND: Wendell, I think they’ve spoken to this with regard to what we did or didn’t do before, during, and after. As you know, that is the subject of a full investigation by the ARB here, and the FBI has pieces of this as well. So I’m just not going to have anything further on any of that until we have a full picture.

QUESTION: If they’ve spoken to that, by that you mean Secretary Panetta’s comments yesterday?

MS. NULAND: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Thanks.

QUESTION: Just related – this arrest in Tunisia, do you know anything more?

MS. NULAND: Not that we are going to share at the moment.

QUESTION: So you do know more?

MS. NULAND: Do I know more?


MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to share here from the podium.

QUESTION: But you do know more?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to share here from the podium.

QUESTION: I know – you know what? That’s cute. I’m – but I’m not – that’s not what I’m asking.

MS. NULAND: I understand.

QUESTION: You do know more. The government – the U.S. Government is not ignorant about the situation in Tunisia.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve certainly seen the press reporting.

Anything else?


MS. NULAND: Please. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: For the upcoming trip to Algeria next week, will the Secretary of State try to convince the Algerians to support an ECOWAS force? Or more concretely, will she ask them to provide a military assistance with troops and intelligence? And do you believe that the U.S. has more influence and leverage on the Algerians than the French have?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, as I said yesterday, we do expect that the subjects of Mali and AQIM will certainly come up when the Secretary is in Algeria on Monday and Tuesday. We will share further information about our thinking as we get ready to go, but I’m not obviously going to prejudge the conversation before it happens, and I’m also not going to compare influence with an ally. We all have strong relations with Algeria, and it’s important that we all work on these issues together.


QUESTION: I’ve got one last one – one brief one.

MS. NULAND: One more.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary – this is back on the OSCE – do you know if the Secretary has responded to the second letter from the Attorney General?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think so, because I think it came in late last night. But we are, obviously, looking at it.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:03 p.m.)

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