Daily Press Briefing - December 11, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Special Envoy Lyman's Travel / High-Level Meetings
    • Special Envoy Lyman's Travel / Joint Political and Security Mechanisms Meeting
    • Deputy Secretary Burns' Travel / Friends of the Syrian People Meeting / Support for Syrian Opposition / Recognition of Opposition
    • Designation of Syrian Rebel Group as FTO / Isolating Extremist Groups
    • Tightening Pressure on the Assad Regime
    • Social Media and Foreign Terrorist Organizations / Material Support
    • Non-lethal Support for Syrian Opposition
    • Reports of U.S. Citizen Detained
    • Commercial Arrangements with Russia and its Neighbors / U.S.-Russia Relations / Issues of Mutual Concern
  • IRAQ
    • Constitutional Solution to Hydrocarbon Legislation Dispute
  • MALI
    • Prime Minster Diarra Forced to Resign / Call for Free and Fair Elections
    • Renat Kuzmin Visa Revocation
    • Constitutional Referendum
    • IMF / Financial Assistance
  • CUBA
    • Call for Release of Alan Gross
    • Accountability Review Board Report Status
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 11, 2012


The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

12:55 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Tuesday. I have one little thing at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds.

You will have seen, yesterday, a statement from the President on the departure of Special Envoy Princeton Lyman, who is our envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. I just wanted to make clear that before we let Ambassador Lyman go, he’s going to be making another trip in the coming days to Juba, South Sudan today for a series of high-level meetings with government officials, members of civil society, and representatives of international organizations there. He will engage South Sudan on the resolution of outstanding issues such as the disputed area of Abyei, implementation of the crucial agreements, including the creation of a safety militarized border zone. He’ll also be working on our commitment to South Sudan’s economic development and democratic principles underlying the government. He’ll then travel to Addis, Ethiopia to attend the Joint Political and Security Mechanisms meeting on December 15th. And he – we anticipate that the Administration will name a new special envoy soon and that Ambassador Lyman will be around until that time.

So let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Syria. And Deputy Burns is on his way or has arrived?

MS. NULAND: Deputy Secretary Burns, as you know, is covering for the Secretary at the Friends of the Syrian People meeting tomorrow. He is en route today. He’ll arrive later this evening in Marrakesh --


MS. NULAND: -- and will represent us there.

QUESTION: So he’s still en route. Do you know, does he – the Secretary had planned to meet with the King apart from the Syrian People. Is he going to basically be following her exact schedule?

MS. NULAND: I, frankly, don’t know whether he’s going to do the full bilateral program. I would expect that he will see the Moroccan Foreign Minister, but as you know, we had planned to go on Monday and have a separate program in Casablanca, which I don’t think he’s going to have time to do.

QUESTION: Okay. But the rest of it – he will do everything the Secretary was going to do with the Friends of Syria meeting?


QUESTION: Would you like to tell us what that is? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Secretary would – was planning to give a strong statement of support for the Syrian Opposition Council at the Friends of the Syrian People meeting, which is tomorrow morning, I believe, in Marrakesh. I think you will see the exact same statement come from Deputy Secretary Burns tomorrow, as the Secretary foreshadowed when we were on the road last week. We want to do what we can to support the coalition. I think you’ll see that in the form of political support. You’ll obviously see it in the form of increased humanitarian support, with a particular emphasis there on some of the winterization requirements.

I think he’ll also look forward to being able to meet with some of the opposition leaders as well, and hear directly from them, both in the larger meeting and in our bilateral meeting, about how they are doing in terms of organizing themselves. As a general matter, we are pleased with their continued efforts to organize themselves, to form these technical committees, to identify specific needs in terms of assistance, to make stronger linkages on the ground. But he will want to get, for all of us, their assessment of how they are doing and their assessment of where the international community can better support them.

QUESTION: All right. And sorry to bog this down with logistics, but is he then going on to the Global Counterterrorism?

MS. NULAND: That is the current plan. The current plan is for him to follow the Secretary’s schedule.


QUESTION: And in terms of our favorite subject of recognition – however you want to call it – how will that determination to upgrade the way the U.S. deals with these – with the opposition happen? I mean, will there be a determination of timing on the ground? Or does he go there with the idea of some type of timing or even taking a step?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to preempt what may be announced on the road to Marrakesh or at Marrakesh, but as the Secretary has said, we want to continue to support the opposition. So stay tuned. That was a good try, though, Jill. I like that a lot. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Connected with this morning’s announcement on al-Nusrah Front, in the background call officials mentioned that this had been under discussion with some allies and that all partners were clear about our position on this. Is Deputy Secretary Burns going to bring this up specifically in any of his meetings, i.e., say, we’ve identified these guys as an FTO, whoever amongst you may be interested in helping them in the past will – shouldn’t do that anymore?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think he will certainly, both in the multilateral meeting and in any bilateral meetings that he has with any of our other partners who are there, make clear the steps that we’ve taken, not only the steps we took vis-a-vis al-Nusrah, but also the steps that the Treasury Department announced today with regard to the pro-regime militias, the two Shabiha organizations, so that we are encouraging as many partners as possible to take similar steps to isolate any extremist groups, whether they are putatively supporting the opposition but actually trying to exploit the situation or whether they are pro-Iranian forces who are helping the regime. The goal here is not only to take steps ourselves but to encourage anybody else who is working with the opposition to make sure that their assistance doesn’t go to these kinds of groups that are clearly al-Qaida fronts and that we are all calling out the Iranian-backed support for the regime on the other side it.

QUESTION: Are there specific instances or concerns that you have that other elements of the Friends of Syria may in the past have supported al-Nusrah Front specifically?

MS. NULAND: I think in general, as part of our conversation with all of our partners in the Friends of the Syrian People, there has been a conversation all the way through about knowing who’s who, no matter what kind of support you are providing for the opposition, because we’ve been concerned all the way along that there could be this effort by extremists to exploit the violence that the Assad regime has wrought. So – and in particular, al-Nusrah, as we talked about yesterday, is simply a renamed al-Qaida in Iraq trying to make inroads into Syria, so it’s very important that everybody call it what it is. And as you heard in the background call this morning, we’ve also been very clear about our concerns about this with the Free Syrian Army. Ambassador Ford has had direct contact with them, basically saying watch out for this kind of infiltration.

QUESTION: Toria, today in the background briefing --

QUESTION: There are some --

MS. NULAND: Can I call on Roz?


MS. NULAND: Lady in pink, go for it.

QUESTION: Some of the other armed groups are saying that this designation isn’t helpful because, for better or worse, in the past 13 months al-Nusrah has essentially cleared the way for them to be able to take parts of the Syrian territory, whether it’s in parts of Aleppo, in Latakia, or even in some fringes of Damascus. And they’re saying that this is going to make it much more difficult for them now to actually try to depose the Assad regime. Did the U.S. consider their concerns about their ability to fight, especially given the U.S.’s reluctance to provide them with any sort of weapons itself?

MS. NULAND: I think the concern is as countries provide outside support to the opposition, they need to be providing it to those opposition groups who truly have the best interest of Syria and Syrians in mind – not groups coming from the outside who want to hijack what the Syrian people have started for their own means and have a very different future in mind, a future that is based in al-Qaida-based values and principles, not democratic-based principles and values. So just as we are speaking to those who are supporting and funding the Syrians, we’re also speaking to the Syrian people and saying be sure that those who are fighting in your name have your – have a democratic future in mind and are operating under the principles that we all want to see guide Syria in the future; don’t trade one group of thugs for another group of thugs.

QUESTION: Now given that --

QUESTION: Toria, why now?

QUESTION: Who is --

QUESTION: If I may follow up.

MS. NULAND: Let’s go to Said, who was patient.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I listened in on the background briefing today, and I didn’t get a chance to ask, now, are you placing any other group on the terror list? Because there are like 300 groups. Many of them are self-described jihadists. Many of them espouse al-Qaida dogma and ideology. But it seems that al-Nusrah are the only ones that you are placing. Is it the only group that you’re aware of?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we’ve talked quite a bit here, Said, about the fact that there is a lot of morphing and changing within these militia groups. What we are saying is this is a false flag that we can identify and beware. We are certainly making the broader point, whether it’s to the Free Syrian Army or whether it’s to the Syrian opposition, that there may be other groups who don’t have a democratic Syria in mind, who don’t have the best interest of the Syrian people in mind, and one needs to be aware of them. And we will continue to watch this as we go forward so – and continue to take steps as necessary.

QUESTION: So with that in mind, we are likely to see more groups and you are also sending a message, let’s say, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who have openly supported this group not – to withhold their support, correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re certainly sending a message, both, as I said, to Syrians and to our partners that this is a group that we think does not wish Syria well, does not have the same goals and aspirations that the Syrian people have. They have a very different agenda, and everybody should beware. With regard to our continued review of this situation, we’re going to continue to be vigilant, and we’re going to continue to call it like we see it.

I do want to take this opportunity, though, to make it clear that we are being equal opportunity sanctioners, if you will, of extremists inside Syria. So in addition to the moves that we took with regard to al-Nusrah, which have been broadly covered, you will note that the Treasury Department also issued sanctions today against two pro-regime militias, the two Shabiha militias, and against the two Shabiha leaders who run them, Ayman Jaber and Mohammad Jaber. These militias have been absolutely instrumental in supporting and aiding the Assad regime’s campaign of terror and violence. They are underwritten by Iran and by Hezbollah. They look very much like the Basij in Iran in terms of the tactics and techniques that they employ. And we have also sanctioned them.

Please, Jill.

QUESTION: Toria, also is there a – some (inaudible) say that there’s a political component to this as well, that not only are they terrorists who have carried out suicide attacks, et cetera, but that they also do not support the opposition, the political opposition, that they have a very different viewpoint. Was that determination then by the State Department made on strictly, let’s say, military physical violence as well as a political determination?

MS. NULAND: The political agenda is just as important. As you know, we have supported the aspirations of the Syrian people to have a truly pluralistic, unified, democratic state that supports and defends the human rights of all Syrians. These kinds of al-Qaida-affiliated groups have a very, very different vision about how people ought to live, and it’s – certainly, there’s nothing democratic about it.


QUESTION: Victoria, why now? I mean, it took like a year or so to make this determination.

QUESTION: Especially when you consider that the emir who was in charge of both AQI and the al-Nusrah Front was sanctioned a year ago November.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we have to always, in these sanctioning cases, build a case over time. I think the concern has been that their efforts to infiltrate the opposition have accelerated, and we have clear evidence of the violence that they espouse, et cetera. So as we can make a case, we do.

QUESTION: Victoria, just a clarification on the two groups that you sanctioned. I know Jaysh al-Sha’bi is one. And the other group, which is also members of Shabiha. what are they called that are headed by Mohammad Jaber and his brother Ayman Jaber?

MS. NULAND: I’m just trying to find the precise names of these two organizations. So the two militias are called Jaysh al-Sha’bi, and the Shabiha. And then the two brothers are the leaders of these two groups, and they’ve played leading roles in the regime’s violence in Dara’a, in the direct killing of civilians, and they’ve also arranged transportation and other kinds of facilitation for weapons in –

QUESTION: And they take their orders directly from Maher al-Assad; is that what – Assad’s brother?

MS. NULAND: Well, they support the regime forces, but they are very much, in terms of the form that they’ve taken, a reflection of Iranian tactics and Iranian methods and advice to the Syrian regime.


QUESTION: What do you expect for this designation to accomplish?

MS. NULAND: I think I’ve spoken to that. We are –

QUESTION: Will they stop weapons and --

MS. NULAND: -- first and foremost ensuring that nobody in the United States can provide support to these groups, but also it’s designed to send a message to others supporting the opposition that they ought to be aware of them as well.

QUESTION: This one they refer to as minority elements within the opposition rebels, do you have an indication of strength of numbers and where they’re mainly located? And is it the American understanding that most of these – of the rank of Syrians or have they actually been infiltrated by foreign fighters?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly there are foreigners primarily in the forefront of these groups. I think if you listened to the background call that we had this morning, you got a good sense of what we have to share about them, primarily that they are still a minority, a virulent minority, but a minority. And our goal is to call them out, isolate them, and ensure that it stays that way or that they are rolled back.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication of numbers?

MS. NULAND: I don’t, not to share here.


QUESTION: Hey, Toria. Today Secretary Panetta said that there was some dying down of intelligence and concern in the immediate sense around some of the chemical weapons within Syria. Is it this building’s view that there has been a material change or some reaction to events that has caused less concern about a threat?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t think our concern is any less about what a desperate regime might do. I’m not going to speak to the daily tick-tock of intelligence. I think Secretary Panetta spoke to our hope that our message is getting through about the kinds of – about the ramifications and implications of any use of this or any loss of control of it. So I’m going to, beyond that, let Secretary Panetta’s comments stand, obviously.

QUESTION: About – more about Jebhat al-Nusrah, if I may.

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

QUESTION: Fadi Mansour with Al Jazeera channel. Thank you. So is the timing of that designation related in any way to the conference in Morocco? And then on the issue of isolating Jebhat al-Nusrah, is the – is your Administration – would the Administration be happy just by kind of if the opposition, different opposition groups stopped their cooperation with Jebhat al-Nusrah? Or you are encouraging them to maybe deal with them, crack down on them through force?

And the third point, the Treasury today added Mr. Maysar al-Juburi and Anas Khattab to the list of terrorism. Do you know why Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani – he’s the emir of Jebhat al-Nusrah in Syria – was not actually added?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly with regard to your first issue on the timing, yes, we are trying to strengthen the legitimate opposition, the political opposition, the Syrian Opposition Council, and the legitimate political opposition forces inside Syria. We are trying to make the point that those fighting in Syria’s name ought to be doing so in a manner that reflects the Syria that they want to have, not reflecting a terrorist or al-Qaida-shaped future. So obviously, we’re trying to do that.

As I’ve said a number of times here just now, your second point with regard to a message to others, yes, we’re trying to send the message to work with the legitimate opposition in Syria, those who have the best interests of Syria in mind, not those who are seeking to hijack the revolution.

With regard to who we sanctioned, obviously as we can make cases, we do. This is always a rolling process and is not necessarily the end of the line.

QUESTION: My question – my second question wasn’t about partners of the U.S.; it was about opposition groups on the ground, fighting opposition groups on the ground in Syria. Is it enough, from your point of view, to stop cooperating with Jebhat al-Nusrah, or other actions should be taken?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we want to see Syrians isolating these groups, calling them out, ensuring that they’re not making inroads and being very, very careful about any support that they accept from groups that don’t have Syria’s best future in mind.

QUESTION: I’ve got two related, brief. One, in answer to Margaret, you said that this reduction in concern, if there is one, is a sign – I think you said this – that the message is getting through, how that this would be a game-changing, very serious thing. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: I simply repeated what Secretary Panetta had said, that one hopes that our message is getting through. I wasn’t evaluating it one way or the other.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, is there concern at all that message, in fact, isn’t the message that you think it might be, but rather that message – or the message that the Assad regime might be getting is that go ahead, keep on slaughtering your people, we won’t stop – we don’t do anything as long as you use conventional weapons to do it?

MS. NULAND: If that’s the message they’re taking, then they are --

QUESTION: Then they’re wrong?

MS. NULAND: They are vastly mistaken, in the sense that we are on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, working with all of our partners to try to tighten the pressure that this regime is under, whether it’s through sanctions, whether it’s through strengthening the opposition, in the way that we’re talking about.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is on the TQ that just came out, which was a question about social media and the FTO designation, I’d like to give an award for double-speak to whoever came up with that answer.

MS. NULAND: I thought you would enjoy that one, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I mean, it doesn’t even come close to answering the question. So the answer that you give is that the FTO designation makes it illegal for a U.S. entity or entity subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide material support to FTOs, and that’s the extent of it. And then it – so the question, I guess, let me make it perfectly clear so you can go back to the lawyers and tell them that they can’t obfuscate on this. The question is whether giving a platform, a social media platform like a Twitter account, Twitter handle, Facebook account, a YouTube channel, whatever, does that constitute material support. I hope that is clear to whoever is listening in the legal world. And trying to brush it off and saying go ask Treasury how these things are enforced, or Justice, doesn’t make any sense.

MS. NULAND: Well, I appreciate your frustration with the lawyers. Let me simply say that there – what we tried to do there were to cite the two clearest pieces in statute that are applicable in this case. Precisely how they are enforced are not a matter for this building. They are a matter for the Department of Justice and for the Treasury.


MS. NULAND: So I can’t answer the question with regard to specific cases. I can’t answer it with regard to a general category of Twitter or Facebook. You have to go to Justice with a specific case. I’m sorry, I’m frustrated too, but I can’t --

QUESTION: Well, the State Department doesn’t have any – doesn’t take any position as to what material support constitutes? Surely this is an interagency --

MS. NULAND: To the degree that the Justice Department or the Treasury Department wants to consult with us on specific cases having to do on the foreign policy implications of specific cases, we are available to them. But they are the enforcement agencies, we are not, with regard to U.S. law.

QUESTION: So they’re the ones who decide what material support is, and this building is not involved unless they ask you for your advice?

MS. NULAND: If there are foreign policy issues of interpretation or implication, then we become involved. If there aren’t, then it’s their job to enforce.


QUESTION: All right. Well, can you – can we get an answer from this building? I’ll ask around town as well, but can we – the question would be: Does the State Department consider social media platform or the provision thereof to be material support?

MS. NULAND: And again --

QUESTION: I think that this building will have an opinion. I mean, if the Justice Department came and asked you, “What do you think about this,” you would have an opinion. So --

MS. NULAND: And again --

QUESTION: Pretend that I’m the Justice Department. I’m coming to you and I’m saying, “Do you have an opinion as to whether this social media platform is material support or not?” Thank you.

MS. NULAND: And you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all answer, Matt, which I cannot give you. It’s a case-by-case answer that has to be decided by the enforcement agencies, depending upon what we’re talking about.


QUESTION: I want to go back to a point that you raised, on the foreign fighters, al-Nusrah bring basically from Iraq.


QUESTION: In fact, many of the fighters that are fighting the Syrian regime come from volunteers in the countries of the region, and they are relayed and trained and armed and so on by countries that you are quite allied with. Do you advise these countries not to do so, not to encourage volunteers, especially most of these volunteers are more than likely to be jihadist and Qaida types?

MS. NULAND: Again, without getting too deeply into this, which I’m not going to do here, Said, I think, as we said in the background call, the external element in the fighting corps is relatively modest as compared to other things that we’ve seen. What we are saying here to Syrians and to those providing external support is to know who they are working with.


QUESTION: Can we go back to the question about al-Nusrah and the fighters in particular? The U.S. has said that up until now it is not providing any sort of weapons to the opposition because of its concerns about who makes up the opposition. Has the U.S. ever taken off the table the possibility of ever giving weapons to the Syrian opposition?

MS. NULAND: The President has said on a number of occasions that we don’t take anything off the table in this case or in other cases. But we are where we are right now in terms of our policy, which is to provide only nonlethal support.

QUESTION: Was there any thought in issuing this decision to sanction al-Nusrah and the two Shabiha militias to, in essence, give the U.S. a little bit of breathing room from other countries that have wanted to see the U.S. provide weapons?

MS. NULAND: This decision was not about our conversation with other partners about those issues. It was much more about trying to be clear about the dangers that we saw of infiltration by these al-Qaida-based groups.

QUESTION: But couldn’t you go back and say, “See, we told you so”?

MS. NULAND: I’m not sure where you’re going with that one. But we obviously, as I have said a number of times here, are trying to help both Syrians and those supporting Syrians from the outside be clear about who’s who.


QUESTION: Change for North Korea?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah. South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang daily has reported that U.S. citizen, a U.S. citizen named Kenneth Bae has been detained for over one month in North Korea and the negotiation to release him is going on. Could you confirm that?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously aware of these reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea. We obviously have no higher priority than the welfare of our citizens. As you may know, we have no representation in Pyongyang. The Embassy of Sweden acts as our protecting power for issues involving U.S. citizens in North Korea. I, frankly, can’t comment any further than that due to privacy considerations.

QUESTION: A follow-up?


QUESTION: Let me ask this way. So did this building know about the case before those media reports?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think, Mr. Lee, I can go any further than I just have, given privacy considerations with regard to U.S. citizens.


QUESTION: Is the U.S. Embassy in Beijing involved in all of this?

MS. NULAND: Again, Sweden is our protecting power. To the degree that we have issues with regard to U.S. citizens, we do it that way.

QUESTION: Can I ask --


QUESTION: -- and this doesn’t have to do with Privacy Act, I promise. I just – this is --

MS. NULAND: I’d be disappointed if it didn’t, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, you’re going to be disappointed because it doesn’t have to do with that. But it does have to do with protecting powers. It’s a much broader question; maybe you can take it. Is there any – in like Iran or in North Korea with the Swiss and the Swedes, is there a payment made by the government to these countries for the service of being a protecting power?

MS. NULAND: I will take it to be sure that I get it right, but my understanding is that, in general, these are reciprocal arrangements that are done gratis. There are sometimes occasions where our allies and partners incur unique costs as a result of having to support us, whether it’s having to have extra staff, having to have a bigger building, et cetera, and there are occasions when accommodations are made in those cases. But in general, this is something that’s done as a matter of diplomatic comity, and we try to be supportive where we can in exchange.

QUESTION: Toria --


QUESTION: -- President Putin yesterday responded to Secretary Clinton’s comments that were quoted in the Financial Times, I guess last week, about dangers of Sovietization in the moves that were made to create among the (inaudible) countries economic cooperation, defense cooperation. He reiterated the right of Russia to deal with the countries in the region for common concerns. What do you say about the response, and what did the Secretary mean with the Sovietization? Putin said: We’re not trying to recreate the Soviet Union, but we reserve the right to act in our own interest to bring together countries in the region around various issues. Why doesn’t he have the right to do that?

MS. NULAND: Well, frankly, I didn’t see President Putin’s comment. I did see something from his spokesperson. Nobody is taking issue with any legitimate commercial arrangements between Russia and neighbors. I think the concern is – simply goes to the issue of coercion. The Secretary’s been clear all the way through that when we talk about the reset in U.S.-Russian relations, we see two sides of that, both the ability to cooperate as much as we can on issues of mutual concern, but also the ability to call it straight when we don’t necessarily agree.

I would note that those particular comments were made in a private setting with some NGOs. They were not public comments. There did happen to be some reporting off of that meeting, but we are not going to be shy, whether it’s directly with the Russians or in other settings, about expressing concerns when we have them.

QUESTION: Was there anything in particular that set off the comments?

MS. NULAND: She was clear about other concerns that she had in the remarks that she made at the OSCE. If you take a look at those, they were plenty hard-hitting.


QUESTION: Was there any particular concern that she – that set off that comment? Was there something specific that she was referring to?

MS. NULAND: I think the comments speak very clearly for themselves.


QUESTION: Yes. Turkey is negotiating, or already finished an oil deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Are you encouraging Turkey not to go along with this, since it will be a provocation to the central government in Baghdad?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me say as a general matter, once again, Samir, that the United States supports a constitutional solution to the dispute over the management of Iraq’s hydrocarbon resources. This is our longstanding position. We are continuing to urge the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reach an agreement over legislation so that they can enhance investment so that everybody knows what the fair legal basis is for this.

We don’t support oil exports from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the Iraqi Government, and we’re calling on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to continue to try to work through their differences. We also call on neighboring states to similarly avoid any action or comment that can contribute in any way to increasing tensions.




QUESTION: The interim Prime Minister is resigned after being picked up by some soldiers. Give us your thoughts about that and what it speaks to the political process in Mali right now.

MS. NULAND: Well, as Scott has – guys? Are we back on North Korea over there? Can we just keep on Mali for the moment? Yeah.

Well, as Scott has made clear, last night Malian interim Prime Minister Diarra was abducted by security forces loyal to the junta leader, Captain Sanogo. He was forced to resign and to dissolve the cabinet. We understand that he has now been released and is currently with his family. We condemn this act by the military junta and insist that it halt its continued interference in Malian political affairs and government. We view this event as a setback for Mali’s transition and its efforts to try to restore constitutional order and democratic government. The events of last night reinforce the need to get as quickly as possible to free and fair elections, ideally by April 23rd or as soon as it’s technically feasible.

A popularly elected Government of Mali is critical to restoring that country’s ability to control and defend its territory. So that is a matter of extreme concern, and it speaks to why we’ve got to have a political solution in Mali going hand-in-hand with increased security.

QUESTION: As you know, it took quite a while to come up with this interim government. So do you want Mr. Diarra reappointed, or do you say that someone else should take his place quickly?

MS. NULAND: Well, that’s a call for the interim President to make. He can either reinstate Mr. Diarra, or he can appoint a new prime minister and government. But there has to be an interim set of political authorities. And first and foremost, we need Sanogo and his brothers in arms to stay out of politics, because it’s not helping.

QUESTION: Do you think that this event may mean that any discussion that’s underway on planning for potential intervention in the north should be frozen until this political situation in Bamako is resolved?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we see them as mutually reinforcing. We need to continue to move forward on what the security arrangements are going to be to enforce – to reinforce the legitimate military authorities in Mali who clearly are going to need more help. I think the UNSC conversations probably will go into tomorrow now, as folks look to sort this through. But we also need to see the political track reinstated in an interim way. But the two things have to go hand-in-hand, as we’ve been saying for some time.

QUESTION: The French appear to have a quite a bit quicker timeline in mind than the U.S. does as far as intervention plan goes, and they’re saying that this arrest shows that the intervention should take place sooner rather than later. Do you agree? Are you at odds with France on a timeline here?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think so. We’re working well in the Security Council now, and I think you’ll see some decisions this week, probably.

QUESTION: Decisions --

MS. NULAND: Still on Mali?

QUESTION: Decisions on --

MS. NULAND: In New York.

QUESTION: -- in the intervention – on the intervention?

MS. NULAND: Decisions in terms of the Council coming together on what needs to happen next.

QUESTION: Because the French have been pretty vocal in saying that you’re not on the same page on this, so I don’t --

MS. NULAND: We’ve had very good discussions over the last 24 hours, Matt. I think we’re coming --

QUESTION: So in other words, the differences that existed you think are now --

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve been able to work things through, yeah. That’s my --

QUESTION: So there were differences?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to send you to New York for details. But my understanding from New York today is that we are working things through today; that obviously, given the events of last night, you may not see action today, but you’ll probably see action this week.

Still on Mali? No. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I change the topic? Thank you. Ukraine. I know you can never comment --

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

QUESTION: Dmitry Anopchenko, Inter Television channel, chief correspondent. I know you never comment on the U.S. entry visa issues on respect of individuals, however, I’d like to ask you about the (inaudible). First of all, following of the cancellation of the U.S. entry visa to First Deputy Prosecutor General of the Ukraine, is there any list of the Ukrainian officials whose entry visa has already been cancelled or whose entry visa application will be rejected?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know that I completely understood the question. As you know, we don’t comment on individual visa cases. In the case of Mr. Kuzmin, he commented first, so we were able to confirm what he had to say. But I --

QUESTION: Absolutely. And the question is: Do you generally have the list of the Ukrainian politicians whose U.S. entry visa has been already rejected or canceled?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have the Immigration and Nationalization Act, which guides when we can issue visas and when we can’t issue visas, but we don’t keep lists of blacklisted people, if that’s what you’re talking about. It is purely, as it is around the world, a matter of whether they are eligible under U.S. law for a visa.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Maybe talk here about the --

MS. NULAND: And we now have the Magnitsky legislation. That’s right.

QUESTION: Pardon me. Yeah, maybe talk here about the (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Hold on, hold on --

QUESTION: -- for the Ukraine.

QUESTION: Hold on one second. That’s not correct. There are lists of people who are not eligible for visas.

MS. NULAND: Well, they’re not eligible for visas because they don’t meet the criteria of the INA, but --

QUESTION: Yes, but there are lists of people, lists of names of people who say – that it says that the consular officer, with some – that person comes in, they check the list.

MS. NULAND: Right. But that it’s – if you’re asking whether everybody applying for a visa has to be checked against whether they meet the criteria, the answer is yes. And I think the implication here was that we sort of arbitrarily say we don’t like this person, we like this person. It’s completely a matter of whether they meet the legal requirements for a visa.

QUESTION: But taking into consideration the situation with Ms. Tymoshenko, might it be principally possible that the visa sanctions can be taken against the Ukraine? Has this issue discussed on the level of the U.S. Department of State?

MS. NULAND: Well, our efforts to date with the Government of Ukraine have been to use our diplomatic engagement with them to urge them to change course, to stop political prosecutions, to release former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, and to better protect the democratic reputation of Ukraine, if you will. So that’s the policy that we are following at the moment. Obviously, the kind of measures that you’re proposing are possible, but that’s not where we are right now.

QUESTION: One short question: Speaking about the U.S. visa regulations, without any connection with the Ukraine, how often are the U.S. using such instrument as entry visa as sanctions toward officials in certain country to give a signal to a country?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a sort of a scorecard for you on that. You’ve seen the recent legislation here.

QUESTION: Belarus, Zimbabwe --

MS. NULAND: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Matt can probably give you a full briefing on that.

QUESTION: On this, though, you said that because the prosecutor general or whoever this guy is spoke, you had something to say about it. Can you --

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Our --

QUESTION: What is it that you have to say about it?

MS. NULAND: We confirmed, as he himself had publicly --


MS. NULAND: -- that Mr. Kuzmin’s visa was revoked. That was about all we had to say.

QUESTION: But it was a revocation; it wasn’t a denial?

MS. NULAND: Correct.


MS. NULAND: Okay. Please.


MS. NULAND: Egypt, yeah.

QUESTION: The referendum is set to start tomorrow morning. Any worries and/or concerns that it’s going to inflame the situation more?

MS. NULAND: Tomorrow morning?

QUESTION: Saturday.

MS. NULAND: December 15th.

QUESTION: Well, for the Egyptians that are abroad, it starts on Wednesday. Anyway, it’s still – I mean, without the judiciary supervising and everything.

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we spoke about this quite a bit yesterday. We continue to have deep concerns about the situation in Egypt. Our Ambassador and our other officials there are talking to all of the different stakeholders. We again call on those who are demonstrating to do so peacefully. We call on Egypt’s leaders and security forces to respect the right of peaceful expression and to exercise restraints.

Look, as we’ve said for a number of days now, key stakeholders in Egypt are raising real and legitimate questions, both about the substance and about the process for moving to a constitutional referendum this weekend. And there are also concerns about public order surrounding the polling. So we want to see these issues resolved democratically, we want to see them resolved consensually, we want to see them resolved through a process of consultation without any preconditions that results in more national unity in Egypt, more democracy in Egypt, and a sense of belonging for all Egyptians. That said, we can’t make these decisions for Egyptians. They’re going to have to figure this out themselves.

QUESTION: Toria, there is --

QUESTION: You don’t think the referendum should be postponed until some – I see, just as we were coming in, there was – there’s – they’re going to have talks tomorrow. Would that not be perhaps an occasion to delay the referendum until some of these issues can be sorted out?

MS. NULAND: Again, there are plenty of people on one side or the other that want the U.S. to declare itself. These are decisions that Egyptians have to make. We’re setting forward the principles that are guiding our approach to this.

QUESTION: But let me ask you on the role of the military. I mean, Mr. Morsi made statements in the last 24 hours that in essence allow the military far more latitude than it did, let’s say, before this crisis. So are you concerned that the military may be garnering more power than it should?

MS. NULAND: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday, too. We want to see security forces, in implementing and supporting public order, to exercise restraint, to respect the right of peaceful protest. I also made the comment yesterday that we don’t want to see any return to the bad old days of the Mubarak era in terms of security practices. So those are the principles, again, that guide our approach to this.

QUESTION: I know you keep saying that this is an Egyptian thing, but as an ally – Egypt is an ally – don’t you advise them that perhaps it is best for the country and the future of the country to postpone the referendum and actually (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: Again, what we are saying is this is a decision that they have to make. But clearly, there are concerns. There are concerns on all sides.

QUESTION: The IMF said that it’s delaying its financial assistance package due to events on the ground and this change in promises on tax collection and so on. Do you have any view on whether or not that’s a good thing, given Egypt’s precarious financial situation? And secondly, does that – in itself or separately – is there any change in your attempts to push through more U.S. aid for Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Well, we understand that Egypt and the IMF are talking now about resuming discussions about a standby agreement. They’ve obviously got to work this out together before the IMF can put anything forward to the board. We, as you know, continue to want to see economic reform in Egypt. It’s standard when the IMF is in negotiation about these kinds of agreements with countries that they have a clear, agreed horizon with regard to the financial underpinnings of the country, with regard to the reform steps that are going to take place. And those conversations, as we understand it, continue and they’re not yet finished.

QUESTION: Could U.S. aid continue if there was no such agreement between the IMF and Egypt? Is the IMF package sort of essential to creating a viable economy that the U.S. can then assist with more help?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly, we want to see them come to agreement. Certainly, we want to be in a position to support an agreement. There are aspects of the U.S. support for Egypt that are tied to the IMF coming to agreement. We’ve talked about this before, Andy. And there are parts that aren’t tied. So obviously, those parts that depend on the reform standards that the IMF and Egypt agree to can’t move forward till after.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that this sort of impasse of the IMF or the slowdown in their talks is going to affect the receptivity on the Hill for more U.S. aid?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Hill is obviously, as they have been saying, are looking at lots of factors in Egypt before moving forward with the money that is pending up there. So again, this speaks to the whole democratic trajectory of Egypt both on the political front and on the economic front.

Please, in the back. Can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: Yeah, Malcolm Brown, Feature Story News. On the Alan Gross case, NBC is reporting that a UN working group has concluded that his detention in Cuba is, in fact, arbitrary and is calling for his release. Is that something that you’re aware of, is it something you’ve worked towards, and what’s your general reaction?

MS. NULAND: Well, I hadn’t seen that, but it would comport, if it’s accurate, with our own view that he should never have been picked up in the first place and he should be allowed to come home immediately.

Jill, did you have something?

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to ask about the ARB. Do you have any just kind of an update about how much material they’ve gone through, how much progress they’re making, any type of detail of their actual work?

MS. NULAND: I don’t. I think that they will give a better sense of the process that they went through when they’re finished.

QUESTION: What – Toria, what are the plans for kind of releasing the – are they going to release the report? Is the Department going to release the report? How do you – have you decided how you’re going to handle its publication?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think that’ll be clearer when they are finished. But traditionally, they have – their report is due to the Secretary, so they have to give the report to the Secretary. Whether their chairman speaks to it publicly as well or whether she simply speaks to it publicly, I think we are still working out.

QUESTION: Does it go to the Hill after that or is it --

MS. NULAND: Yes, then she --

QUESTION: So it goes to the Secretary first, then she forwards it?

MS. NULAND: Correct.


QUESTION: So did they jump the gun a little bit last week when they said they were expecting the report this week?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t see them say that. I’m not sure where you saw that, but --

QUESTION: It was a statement from Ros-Lehtinen. She said that she was expecting the report to be out this week.

MS. NULAND: You mean did the Hill jump the gun?

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MS. NULAND: I thought you meant that the ARB had issued such a statement.

QUESTION: No, no, sorry. The Hill. I beg your pardon. Did the Hill jump the gun by saying that they were expecting to see the report this week?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to what motivated that statement, but we need to --

QUESTION: So in other words, it’s not right; we’re not going to see it this week?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have anything to announce. I think when we have something to announce, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Toria, can I just follow up on Andy’s point --


QUESTION: -- about that this – that the Hill will receive the report when the Secretary or the ARB feels that they’re ready to – they’re not obligated to give this report to Congress? Is that – I mean, I’m not saying that you wouldn’t give it to them, but I mean, this isn’t a report for Congress. This is a report for the Secretary, so it’s not any kind of obligation to give the report to Congress before it’s published. Is that right?

MS. NULAND: Frankly, Elise, I don’t know what the statute says about ARBs or – but as the Secretary has made clear from the beginning of this process, she intends to be completely transparent with the Congress and to work with them on any recommendations that the ARB makes going forward.

QUESTION: No, I understand that.

MS. NULAND: So – yeah.

QUESTION: But what I’m saying is Congressman Ros-Lehtinen, others, are saying as if it’s kind of a prerogative of the Congress that they will – that the report is for them. I just want to be clear that this report was commissioned by the Secretary. And I’m not saying that she won’t give it to Congress or that she won’t be completely transparent with the recommendations.

MS. NULAND: Under U.S. law, she is required, whenever we have lost Americans, to form an ARB. They are required then to report to her. It is certainly past practice that those reports go to the Congress and it’s certainly our intention to ensure that this one --

QUESTION: Before they’re publicly released?

MS. NULAND: -- to ensure that this one goes as well. With regard to whether it’s in statute that they go the Congress, I frankly don’t know, Elise. I can pull out the law and check for you, if you’d like.

All right, anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve got a couple brief ones.

MS. NULAND: Yep, thanks.

QUESTION: One, just back to the Ukraine visa thing. What was the reason for the revocation?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t – we never speak to such things.

QUESTION: But you can speak to what the law was.

MS. NULAND: What the --

QUESTION: The provision in the law.

MS. NULAND: It was 212(f), I think, but I can – I’ll look.

QUESTION: Can you translate that into non-members of the --

MS. NULAND: Let me take it and get it for you properly, Matt, so I don’t mess it up legally.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, it’s not necessarily the specific actual thing that he did to make himself ineligible under that section; it is the section that I’m interested in.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Let me see what I can do for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then you may know that the ACLU has petitioning – or is petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to do an investigation to determine whether the Administration or the United States Government violated the human rights or mistreated Jose Padilla. I’m wondering what you think of this, particularly given the fact that you’ve championed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. You’ve been a strong supporter of it, especially when it’s faced attack from Venezuela and another country, Nicaragua, in the hemisphere. So I’m assuming that you’re going to welcome this inquiry or request for an inquiry or request for an inquiry because it will shine the light on the fact that the U.S. Government never mistreats anyone or doesn’t violate their human rights.

But I’m just wondering if we could make sure that this is something that you’re going to welcome or whether it’s something that you think the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights should keep its nose out of.

MS. NULAND: I will check on that one for you, Matt, and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: All right, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)

DPB # 210