Daily Press Briefing - January 9, 2013
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Deputy Burns' Meeting in Geneva
- Syrian National Council
- Prisoner Swap
- Inauguration Delay of Hugo Chavez
- Secretary Testimony on Benghazi
- Violence Along Line of Control in Kashmir
- Convictions of Supreme People's Court of Nghe An Province
- NORTH KOREA
- Richardson/Schmidt Visit
- SOUTH KOREA/JAPAN
- Assistant Secretary Campbell's Visit
- U.S. Relationship with Russia
- Pending Adoption Statistics
- SRI LANKA
- Impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake
- Alan Gross / UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Report
- Robert Levinson
- Ambassador Hale's Meetings
- UNITED NATIONS
- U.S. Support for UN Proposal on Unarmed UAVs
- Tensions / U.S. Ambassadors Working with Both Governments
- CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
- Continue to Evaluate Situation
- Kachin Rebels / Burmese Government
- U.S. Military Engagement / Drones
This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.
12:48 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Wednesday, everybody. Matt, I saw you had a chance to have a few words with the boss today.
QUESTION: I did. I did.
MS. NULAND: It looked very good.
QUESTION: I almost – she looked good.
MS. NULAND: Yep? I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: I don’t really have a lot either, but I just want to – just on Libya, because the Russians are saying that the three Bs are going to be meeting on Friday, I think. Is this correct?
QUESTION: Maybe you --
MS. NULAND: On Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MS. NULAND: Or are we back to the future, Matt?
QUESTION: Sorry, did I say something else?
MS. NULAND: Oh, yeah. Sorry, Syria, not Libya. Maybe – I wasn’t here yesterday, so did you talk about this then? If you did, then don’t worry about it.
MS. NULAND: This time yesterday, we didn’t yet have the meeting scheduled.
MS. NULAND: So we do now have the meeting with Special Envoy Brahimi, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov and Deputy Secretary Burns scheduled for Geneva on Friday. This is Special Envoy Brahimi’s meeting, as we’ve been talking about. He’s been working on how to take the Geneva agreement from last June and try to put some flesh on those bones and help the Syrians with a real transition strategy. So we’ll see what comes there.
QUESTION: I mean, what are the – what is the Administration hoping will come out of this? Is this something that won’t necessarily or won’t definitely produce some kind of a plan to go forward? I mean, is this a meeting that would then have to – that whatever happens at this meeting would then get shifted up to the – to secretary level, whether that is Secretary Clinton or Secretary Kerry? I mean, what do you expect? What are you hoping to get from this meeting?
MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of what Mr. Brahimi might propose. This is – we’ve always considered this three Bs group part of a larger process. So, as you know, since they last met, Joint Special Enjoy Brahimi has been out in the region. He got a chance to talk to Assad. He’s talked to the opposition. He now will refine, presumably, some of the ideas that he had about how a transitional government based on the Geneva framework could go forward. We – as you know, the United States and Russia both supported that framework in June. The question is how you can implement it.
So I think we’ll look forward to hearing what his latest proposal is. Presumably if they are able to come to some sort of an agreement in this meeting, and it may take further meetings of this group, that would have to then – on a way forward, then that would have to be ventilated with various stakeholders on the Syrian side, with the opposition, and to see whether there was any interest in moving forward. So I don’t want to get ahead of it, Matt, but certainly that’s the framework.
QUESTION: All right. Ventilated? That’s an interesting choice of --
MS. NULAND: You like that word?
QUESTION: -- gangster-type word. Just, is it still the U.S. position --
MS. NULAND: Ventilated is a gangster word?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, if you ventilate someone, it means you put holes in them, you know? (Laughter.) Kill them.
MS. NULAND: He’s gone to the extreme (inaudible) --
QUESTION: Am I the only person who watched a little gangster movies?
MS. NULAND: -- perfectly good English word. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Then, just, is it the U.S. position still that you need a Security Council with sanctions, or at least the threat of sanctions, to get whatever transition plan moving?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’re going back to the question of whether it would make sense to take the Geneva framework and ask the UN Security Council to formally bless it in a resolution. Our view is that it only makes sense to take that step if it is accompanied in the same resolution by real consequences for noncompliance on the actors, and we have not yet had any indication from the Russians they would be inclined to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. But does that mean that, then, you don’t think that a resolution with those teeth is absolutely necessary for the transition plan to be implemented successfully?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, you’re talking about two different things. We take the six-month-old Geneva framework and try to get it endorsed --
QUESTION: Right, or whatever comes out of the three Bs or subsequent meetings. Does that – does whatever transition that is arrived at between the – in this meeting, presumably – presuming that it has support, broader support, obviously, does that – does the U.S. view that that needs to be enshrined in a Security Council resolution that has teeth?
MS. NULAND: Not necessarily, but you’re way ahead of where we are. I mean, the first step is, can we all agree how to take the document we’ve already got and actually begin to implement it, to actualize it? If we, the three – the UN, the U.S. and Russia – have an idea how this can go forward, then we have to obviously talk to the parties and see where we go. So we’ve got a number of steps to go through to get to where you are.
QUESTION: Well, isn’t it – isn’t he – shouldn’t he kind of sell it to the parties first? I mean, who – does it really matter if the U.S. and Russia agree if the parties don’t?
MS. NULAND: Well, the point here is that on the Syrian opposition side, the Syrian opposition coalition has already endorsed in its founding documents the basic Geneva framework. But from their perspective, the question is how you would implement it. It calls for transitional governing structures – who would be in those structures? How would you actually come up with the group? Can you actually get the regime to be willing to move forward, to get out of the way, whatever it takes?
So, yes, the question is if you can move from the basic outline to some implementing steps, and those implementing steps are accepted by the opposition, that increases the conversation you can have with the regime.
QUESTION: And then, also, even if the opposition group, the council, or the coalition, accepts it, I mean, what – how are you able to then make sure that the rebels on the ground, not all of which are sewn up with the coalition, are willing to put down their arms so that both parties --
MS. NULAND: Well, again, you’re about seven steps ahead of where we are and speculating into hypotheticals. But obviously what – among the things we have been encouraging among the Syrian opposition council group – coalition group is that they continue to deepen and broaden their own contacts on the ground, which they have been working on.
So step one, do we have our own ideas about how this can be implemented supporting Joint Special Envoy Brahimi’s ideas? Then, is this something that the opposition in its various forms thinks is worth working on. So that will be how we have to go. Then the question will be, what are the steps in it that would be required, and since we’re so far from that right now let’s not get ourselves ahead of it.
QUESTION: I want to ask about the Syrian National Council today is saying that the Syrian national coalition should go ahead and start setting up a transitional government in those areas that have been liberated from the regime. According to your – what you just outlined, that would be too far ahead of anything yet.
MS. NULAND: So you’re – what you have is that the SNC --
QUESTION: SNC --
MS. NULAND: -- is calling on the SOC to – (laughter) --
QUESTION: It’s complicated, yes, to start setting up a transitional government. Now, I suppose their idea is that you start having structures in place that can then be built on once a final agreement is reached.
MS. NULAND: Well, our understanding is that in a number of these towns and localities where the regime is no longer managing the area, that local coordinating councils, local leaders are beginning to form local governing structures to administrate, to provide basic services, to keep civil order, this kind of thing. So this is obviously a bottom-up effort that could be built on and could be joined with a transitioning governing effort. But again, we just have to see how this goes forward.
QUESTION: Do you see even a scintilla of evidence to suggest that Assad and his coterie are willing to give up power?
MS. NULAND: Based on the speech that he gave over the weekend, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it, Arshad.
But that doesn’t change the fact that an agreed plan about how to move forward, putting some concrete ideas forward, that a broad cross-section of Syrians represented in the opposition, represented on the ground, thought made sense, that the international community could get behind, does, in and of itself, increase the pressure on Assad and the regime on the one hand, potentially split people off from the regime who are still clinging to it when they can see a better and different path forward with a lot of support, and help all of us organize ourselves, the opposition in the first instance, along the lines of what Jo was talking about, from the bottom up, from leadership structures, to be ready for that day, but also the international community to support that day.
So all of it is in service of the same end, which is Assad’s eventually going to go; we need to be maximally ready.
QUESTION: I don’t fully understand how it increases the pressure on Assad, particularly if it is his intention, as the last 21 months or so would suggest, to fight it out. I mean, why does this add pressure to him, when presumably he looks at this mostly as a military matter?
MS. NULAND: Well, there are a number of ways conceivably. First of all, he has been taking comfort in the support that the Russian Federation has been providing. So if we are able to get the Russian Federation behind a concrete plan that moves past Assad, then obviously he will see that support strip away. That’ll have both a psychological impact and it may have a material impact. And as I said, those who are still supporting him within the regime may begin to see that there is (a) a better way forward for Syria, (b) something that they can get behind individually, and (c) that his days are numbered, so now is the time to jump.
So all of this is part of the larger pressure strategy, in addition to whatever we can pull together.
QUESTION: And have you perceived any movement on the Russian side to suggest that they can be peeled away from their support?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, back in June they supported this Geneva outline. They have now agreed to support Brahimi in his effort to come to some sort of a further elaboration of how to implement the Geneva plan. So I think we have to see. We have to go to this meeting in Geneva, see how the Russian thinking has evolved. You’ve seen Putin say publicly that he has no particular love for Assad, so I think we have to see what we can work out.
QUESTION: And last one for me on this. I presume you’ve had a chance to see some of Brahimi’s comments in his BBC interview. Although he didn’t explicitly call for there to be no role for Assad or his associates in a transition, it seemed as if he edged closer toward that position than he has in public. Is that how you read those comments?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly we saw him reflecting the views of the vast majority of Syrians that we talk to, that 40 years is more than enough for the Assad family. So we obviously weren’t surprised, based on what we’ve been hearing from him, that he was willing to say that in public.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the prisoner releases today? The 48 Iranians who were abducted in the summer last year were freed today by the rebels, in exchange for over 2,000 prisoners that were held by regime forces in Syria. I wondered if you had any reaction to this news. And also, those – of the 2,000 who were released, I believe there were Syrians and other nationalities, and I just wondered if you had a breakdown and if you knew who the others were.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the same reports that you’ve seen, that the Syrian regime has now freed some 2,000-plus civilians in exchange for the release of 48 Iranians who had been held by the opposition. We note that most of the Iranians who had been captive – held captive are members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, just another example of how Iran continues to provide guidance, expertise, personnel, technical capabilities to the Syrian regime.
Perhaps more interestingly, the regime chose to swap people that it was holding not for Syrian citizens primarily, not for Alawi primarily, but instead for Iranians, further indicating how much they value the life of their own citizens versus the surrogates who are propping them up.
QUESTION: But what about on the Syrians – of the 2,000-odd who were released, I just wondered if there’s any indication that there might be any of the American hostages, the journalists, within that group.
MS. NULAND: We don’t have any new information, unfortunately, about any of the Americans that we’ve been concerned about having been released.
QUESTION: New topic, not on Syria.
MS. NULAND: Still on Syria, anybody else? Okay. Moving on, Indira.
QUESTION: So I’m sure you’ve seen the reports in the last few hours that the Venezuelan Supreme Court has ruled that it is constitutional to delay the inauguration of President Chavez. So I want to get your reaction to whether the U.S. is going to intervene or make any comment on this regard. The opposition has been saying all along that this is unconstitutional. So does the supreme court decision clarify that, or is there still a possibility that this is being done illegally, against the constitution?
MS. NULAND: Well, we did see that report just before coming out to see all of you, Indira. I think our basic underlying principles for this are unchanged, that this is a decision that has to be made by Venezuelans, for Venezuelans, that it has to involve and take into account the views of a broad cross-section of stakeholders. So we will be, obviously, interested in the broader Venezuelan reaction and the conversation that ensues following the supreme court’s pronouncements. But this is something that very much has to be consensual, has to be agreed, has to be transparent, as it moves forward. But it’s not a decision for us to make. It’s for Venezuelans to make.
QUESTION: And do we regard the Supreme Court of Venezuela as fair and balanced and not politically motivated in this?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve had plenty to say about the Venezuelan Supreme Court in the past. What’s more important is how Venezuelans see this decision of the court, and we’re going to see what kind of reaction comes. And they deserve and need to have the conversation among themselves.
QUESTION: Well, along those lines, are you looking towards a post-Chavez Venezuela and possible improvement in ties should he no longer be on the scene?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we have for some time made clear that we were willing and open to trying to improve our ties with Venezuela. We’ve put a number of ideas forward to the government. We’ve been in conversation about it. I think we said here earlier in the week, including directly at the level of Assistant Secretary Jacobson with Mr. Maduro way back in November.
So regardless of what happens politically in Venezuela, if the Venezuelan Government and if the Venezuelan people want to move forward with us, we think there is a path that’s possible. It’s just going to take two to tango.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean – you don’t regard this as a question of personality, one personality? I mean, it’s long been said that U.S. policy towards Cuba will never change as long as there’s someone named Castro in power. I mean, do you see an equivalent here? As long as Chavez is running the show, there is – it’s not possible to improve relations?
MS. NULAND: We hadn’t personalized it that way. We had been saying for some time that if the Venezuelans were willing to work with us, we were willing to consider what might be possible, but there have just been difficulties.
So again, from our perspective, it need not be personality-based, but it’s going to take action on the Venezuelan side as well as our willingness in order to improve relations.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Benghazi – excuse me – the Secretary’s testimony? There was a date floated out yesterday by Senator Corker. I think it was January 22nd, if I’m correct. Has that been confirmed?
MS. NULAND: It is not yet. We are continuing to work with both the House and the Senate. As I said, we can’t do it before that week, obviously, because they are out of session. But we have to – we have not yet closed with the committees on the precise date.
QUESTION: But you could do the House the week earlier? Do you anticipate it would be the same day?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, I mean --
QUESTION: Like how it usually is?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, that she would go up once, she would do the House and the Senate is usually the way we do it. Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: I was just asking, recent incident on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir, if this Department has been informed or worried about that serious incident took place between India and Pakistan in many, many years after talking peace and stability and on many issues? And I understand that Pakistanis got into India, about 500, 600 meters inside India, and they had killed at least two Indian soldiers and they took the head of at least one soldier in Pakistan, and they are celebrating.
MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this a couple of times over the last couple of days here, Goyal. We are concerned about reports of violence along the Line of Control in Kashmir. It’s our understanding that the governments of India and Pakistan are now talking and trying to work through these issues at a high level. We’re urging both sides to take steps to end the violence. We continue to strongly support any efforts to improve relations between the two countries. We’ve also discussed these latest incidents with both governments, urged them to talk to each other, and urged calm.
QUESTION: And one more, quick. There is anger inside India, all over India, about this incident, and also they are demanding that the Indian Government should take steps, and now India has said that they will take action at the appropriate time when time comes. Are you worried about this, that there may be a escalation of war like Kargil 10 years ago?
MS. NULAND: We’ve been counseling both governments to deescalate, to work through this issue, to continue the consultations between them at a high level that we understand are ongoing now. Violence is not the answer for either country.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Where were the – was that done through the embassies, counseling them to avoid violence and work this out, or were there calls made from here? And if so, do you know who made them?
MS. NULAND: Oh. There were calls at the ambassadorial level in both countries.
MS. NULAND: Please, Lalit.
QUESTION: Pakistan has denied that it was involved in this incident, and Pakistani Foreign Minister has said Pakistan is open to a third party or investigation by the United Nations in this regard. Does the U.S. support that move?
MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, our view is that India and Pakistan have made pretty good progress in recent years in working through a number of difficult issues, including opening of the trade relations, et cetera, that they are now engaged at a high level on these recent incidents. If they can work it out themselves, that’s obviously best. If both parties were interested in support from the UN, et cetera, we’d obviously support that as well. But at the moment, we’re urging them to talk to each other.
QUESTION: And how do you see the beheading of two Indian soldiers? Is this an act of war, act of terror? How do you see that?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the specifics here. I think we’ve spoken to the general principles we want to see here.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Any comment on the prison sentences handed down today on the group of bloggers and students who were on trial?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are deeply troubled by reports that the Supreme People’s Court of Nghe An Province has now convicted 14 Catholic Redemptorist activists on charges related to their exercise of their right of free expression. These activists were convicted of subversion of the Administration and sentenced to prison terms of somewhere between three and thirteen years apiece.
These convictions, along with recent other detentions of a human rights lawyer and other bloggers since December 27th, are part of a very disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam and raise serious questions regarding Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its commitment reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We’ve been raising these cases with the government in recent days. Let me just name some of the people that we are concerned about: blogger Nguyen Van Hai, also known as Dieu Cay, blogger Ta Phong, and Phan Thanh Hai, in addition to the 14 Catholic Redemptorists.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout of the Secretary’s conversation with the Emir of Qatar today?
MS. NULAND: She was on the phone as I was coming down here, so we’ll have something for you later today.
QUESTION: On North Korea --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Governor Richardson made some statements today talking about what he’s been talking to the North Koreans about in terms of some of the things that you’ve been calling for from the podium, such as improved human rights, improved freedom of movement and assembly for North Koreans, treating the American detainee well. Do you think that this is – now that you hear what he’s saying, do you think that perhaps it was a good idea for anybody to go there and be preaching these same messages that you’re talking about?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve all been preaching the same messages. We’ve been preaching them from here. We continue to have the same view about this visit that we’ve had all the way along, that the timing is not great.
QUESTION: Same thing. When they get back, do you intend to contact or call them or have them come and speak to you to brief them, or even just to bring them here to wag your finger at them in person, anything like that?
MS. NULAND: We don’t finger-wag.
QUESTION: Or verbally finger-wag them?
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) Fingers tightly --
QUESTION: I think there are certain people out there who might disagree.
MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this a number of times over the last couple of days. Obviously, if they have information to share, we’ll be interested in it, but we continue to have a view about this visit that it’s not helpful.
QUESTION: Have they been in touch with you about any contact they may or may not have had with the American who’s held in North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge, Jo.
QUESTION: Back on China?
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Still on North Korea, yeah. Go ahead.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I said yesterday that Assistant Secretary Campbell is on his way to Seoul and then to Tokyo to consult following the elections in both countries. I hadn’t been aware that there was a trilateral planned. We sometimes do that. I can’t confirm it on this trip. But he is going with an interagency team. I think he’s taking – he’s going with Senior Director Russel from the White House and with Mr. Lippert from the Defense Department. So it’s a good chance for us, in an interagency way, to see both countries after the elections.
QUESTION: Toria, what can you tell us about this reported trip by a number of senior former officials, including former Deputy Secretary Steinberg and former National Security Advisor Hadley and others to China to talk about some of the South China Sea and other territorial disputes?
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the trip way back in December? I think you’re talking about --
QUESTION: Forgive me. Maybe I misread something.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, this was, I think this was on your – when you were on your extended leave, Arshad.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.
MS. NULAND: We’ll get to – we talked about it at the time. It was --
QUESTION: Okay. Maybe I misread something. Sorry.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, sorry.
QUESTION: Toria, on Russia, I know we’ve talked about – a lot about it recently, but I just have more of a general question, or if you could give kind of a overview. In light of the recent events, if you go back to the USAID closing down there and then over the holiday, the adoptions, how would you characterize the state of U.S.-Russia relations now? And is Russia a U.S. ally?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, a U.S. – the word “ally” usually applies to a country with whom you have mutual defense treaty obligations. Russia’s long been a partner of the United States on a number of issues where we can work together. I think our overall approach remains to try to cooperate with Russia as much as we can on as many issues as we can that we share, whether they’re bilateral issues, whether they’re regional issues like Nagorno-Karabakh, or whether they’re global issues like Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, et cetera.
But we’re also going to be very clear and very frank when we disagree, as we do with regard to human rights practices, quality of democracy in Russia, and as we have in the past on Syria and other things, as we have expressed our concerns about the decisions that they’ve made on AID and on adoptions, which, frankly, we think hurt Russians most of all. So we will continue to pursue a path of cooperation where we can, but being very frank when we disagree.
QUESTION: Did you get an update on the numbers that you --
MS. NULAND: Yeah, I think later in the briefing I finally found my --
QUESTION: Oh, never mind, then.
MS. NULAND: -- the number of children who may be in the process of being adopted by Americans. Is that what you were talking about?
QUESTION: Yeah, but if you gave it yesterday --
MS. NULAND: Yeah, it’s between – we think it’s between 500 and 1000.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Also --
MS. NULAND: I’m sorry, 500 to 1000 American families at various stages of trying to adopt Russian children.
QUESTION: As opposed to the 46 that are like – were close to being --
MS. NULAND: There were some press reports of 46 early on. Our numbers, based on our call for information from American families since this began a couple of weeks ago, is that we have some 500 to 1000 families at various stages.
QUESTION: I understand, but the Russians had also spoke about this 46 or 50 or some number like that, and I think that they’re making a distinction between ones that were, like, in the final stages of the process, where maybe – are you talking about a larger number that had even just begun the process?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to where that 46 number came from or how the Russians calculate. The last stage in this process is for the Russians to issue a passport so that the child can travel. So it’s possible that that number reflects that very last thing. When this began to become an issue, we opened, as I mentioned yesterday, a website for Americans to notify us if they were in the process of trying to adopt children. And our numbers are based on the information we’ve received it that way.
QUESTION: Can you (inaudible) be more specific? 500 to a thousand is not --
MS. NULAND: Well, the issue here goes to whether you’re talking about simply intent and some preliminary inquiries versus what is more formally considered an adoption process begun, which generally goes to the question of having started processing in Russia.
QUESTION: Can’t those be broken down?
MS. NULAND: Let me see if our consular people have more granularity now.
QUESTION: All right. And then just --
QUESTION: One other thing related to that, if I may. You refer to that as the families --
QUESTION: On the (inaudible), on the actual number, I mean, that doesn’t necessarily mean 500 to a thousand children, right? Because --
MS. NULAND: Could actually mean more children.
QUESTION: Be more children?
MS. NULAND: Could be, could be.
QUESTION: If you could try to get clarity on that too? Presumably the people who were hoping to adopt would know whether they were hoping to adopt one or more children.
MS. NULAND: Let me just see what this – our request for information from families has led to in the last couple of days and how we analyze what we’re learning.
Please, in the back. Can you tell me who you are?
QUESTION: Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire. On Russia, can you say where things stand with the summit between Putin and Obama that was – Russia invited earlier last year? Is that going to happen the six months – first six months of the year, do you think?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any information on planned meetings between the Presidents. I would send you to the White House on presidential scheduling.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Sri Lanka.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: A Sri Lankan maid was beheaded in Saudi Arabia this week for killing a baby in 2005. There are lots of human rights bodies which are opposing this. How do you see this beheading of a Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that one way or the other, Lalit. I will check with our folks and see if we have any views to share.
QUESTION: And on the continued impeachment of the Sri Lankan chief justice, now there’s a confrontation between the Sri Lankan parliament and the court, supreme court. One of the courts have said it’s – the decision taken by Sri Lankan parliament is not valid. How do you see this ongoing confrontation between the various wings of the government?
MS. NULAND: Well, I understand the parliament is just back from recess and we are, as we said before, we had serious concerns about the actions that were taken to impeach the chief justice and the timing of the impeachment, and that it raised serious questions about the process and government pressure on the judiciary. With regard to what’s been happening today with the parliament back in session, let me see if we have any further comment for you, Lalit.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen this report of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which has found that Cuba’s imprisonment of Alan Gross is arbitrary and concluded that the Government of Cuba should release him immediately. We obviously applaud this conclusion, which corresponds with our own, and call on the Government of Cuba to release him immediately, allow him to return to his family, and bring an end to the injustice that began more than three years ago.
We have used and continue to use every diplomatic opportunity in every channel to press for his release both publicly and privately. He’s a 63 year-old husband and father, a dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in 50 countries, and they should release him.
QUESTION: Do you still – you don’t have any comment on the lawsuit that his wife has brought against the U.S. Government?
MS. NULAND: I obviously can’t comment on an ongoing judicial procedure.
QUESTION: Okay. And sticking with Americans in distress --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- did you talk about Levinson yesterday at all?
MS. NULAND: I did not.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about these new or at least newly publicized photographs and the suggestions by some, including the family, that not only does Iran know where he is, but he is being held at Iran’s behest?
MS. NULAND: I just want to – I had some – well, first of all, our sympathies go out to members of the Levinson family who’ve now entered their sixth year without their husband or father, grandfather. We are committed to his safe return and will continue to use every available resource until he’s home and reunited with his family.
For – we’ve been working closely, as you know, with the FBI on this case since he went missing in Iran in March 2007. We are frankly here not in a position to evaluate these pictures and even whether it’s him. I’m going to send you to the FBI, because they’re really the experts now.
QUESTION: On the suggestion – well, on the belief by some, including the family, that the Iranians not only know where he is and then lying to you when they say they don’t, but that they’re responsible for him, or they’re at least in touch with the people who are holding him, do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any comment on that. Now that this is a full-up FBI case, we’re going to send you to them for a USG comment.
QUESTION: And then --
QUESTION: Still Levinson?
QUESTION: Not Levinson.
QUESTION: Just quick – Levinson, yesterday I called – or we called the FBI. And they of course had nothing whatsoever to say when you referred us to them regarding the Tunisian – the release of the Tunisian man held in connection with the Benghazi attack. Does the U.S. State Department truly have no opinion as to whether – or does the State Department have no opinion as to whether the photos were bona fide?
MS. NULAND: We are not in a position here to evaluate them. That would be something that the FBI would be in a better position than we to do. And if they don’t care to comment, then that just speaks to their view that it wouldn’t be helpful to the case.
QUESTION: But they have not evaluated and at least privately given you an evaluation as to whether they regard it as bona fide – them as bona fide? Presumably that would help you as you’re trying to find him, right?
MS. NULAND: I have no information one way or the other. I’m going to send you to the FBI.
QUESTION: Also on Iran and imprisoned Americans, I believe today is the year anniversary of Mr. Hekmati, your --
MS. NULAND: Tomorrow.
QUESTION: Oh, tomorrow is --
MS. NULAND: Tomorrow. We’ll have more to say tomorrow. The 500 days tomorrow.
MS. NULAND: I will. We have no Said today, so it fell to you, Arshad.
Okay. We do have a readout on his travel. So he started his consultations on Tuesday, January 8th, in Jerusalem, where he saw senior Israeli officials, including Israeli negotiator Isaac Molho and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Rafi Barak. He also met with the Norwegian special envoy, who happened to be there at the same time, Hanssen-Bauer.
Today he is visiting Cairo as part of our ongoing consultations with senior Egyptian officials on advancing Middle East peace and security. In Cairo, he met with a broad cross-section of Egyptian officials, including Essam el-Haddad, who’s Assistant to the President on Foreign Relations, the Egyptian General Intelligence Service Director Mohamed Refaat Shehata, with Assistant Foreign Minister for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs, Mr. Zahran, and with Gamal Atta, who also works on Israeli-Palestinian affairs, and with Arab League Secretary General Elaraby.
He also – I’m sorry, I got this sort of upside-down in terms of time and space. So he started in Jerusalem on the 8th, he met with the Israelis. He then went to Amman on the 8th, where we met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh and with President Abbas. And then he went on to Cairo, where he is today, for the Cairo meetings.
With President Abbas, Special Envoy Hale discussed, obviously, a broad range of regional and bilateral issues, including measures necessary to create a positive atmosphere conducive to future negotiations. They were also joined by Consul General Michael Ratney, as well as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and the Presidency Spokesman Abu Rudeineh.
QUESTION: On the Mideast, did any – was anyone able to find out my question from – my offline question yesterday about that federal register notice yet?
MS. NULAND: We’ll get something for you afterwards.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. And I got one more that also may have come up yesterday, apologies if it did – you can ignore it if it did – and that is, I think it was yesterday at the UN Security Council there was some talk and discussion about using drones in Congo --
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and the fact that the UN mission there wants them. Does the U.S. have a position on this, or are you willing to lend them some, if they so wish?
MS. NULAND: We do. First of all, let me just say that at the end of his trip David Hale will – he’s going to end up back in Amman where he’s going to see Quartet and envoys. I bungled that --
MS. NULAND: That’s on – that’s tomorrow. On Thursday.
QUESTION: There’s a Quartet meeting in Amman?
MS. NULAND: In Amman.
QUESTION: Envoy meeting.
MS. NULAND: Envoy meeting at the David Hale level.
So, on the drone issue --
QUESTION: Still on --
MS. NULAND: Sorry?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Quartet?
MS. NULAND: Sorry?
QUESTION: Tomorrow in Amman?
MS. NULAND: Tomorrow in Amman. So I bungled this six-ways from Sunday. We started in Jerusalem, we went to Amman, now he’s in Cairo, and then he goes back to Amman for Quartet tomorrow.
So on to Matt’s question about the drone idea. This is the idea that the UN peacekeeping authorities are putting forward to have unarmed UAVs participate in peacekeeping missions. This would only happen with the consent of the country or the countries where the mission would operate, and their use would not impact in any way on sovereignty. Again, they would be unarmed and they would only be carrying photographic equipment.
The United States does support the UN’s proposal to use unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles, for example in the democratic Republic of Congo to increase the surveillance capacity of the UN peacekeeping operation MONUSCO there. The DRC Government has also welcomed the UN’s request. We’re also looking at other missions where this might be possible. We think that building on MONUSCO’s surveillance capacity will better enable it to protect civilians, and will support the efforts of the DRC to restore stability in the eastern part of the country.
QUESTION: All right. And when we’re talking about – the kind of drones we’re talking about are the kind of drone like the ones that we saw in Uganda, right? When the Secretary was visiting Ghana, they’re not much bigger than a remote control model airplane --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- that someone might have. They’re not – even if they’re unarmed – they’re not these enormous things that people come to think of when they think of drones.
MS. NULAND: Well, the idea from the UN’s perspective obviously is for this to be for photo surveillance, so you want to make it as cost effective --
QUESTION: Right. But I’m talking about these wee, little ones.
MS. NULAND: -- as possible. So you generally go for the small – right. They’re not – maybe not this big but --
QUESTION: Yeah. Right. Okay.
QUESTION: Whatever happened to the Secretary’s idea that she brought up in Uganda about using U.S. drones possibly to find – to help – try and help find Joseph Kony?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, if we can move forward on this UN proposal to use drones, then that could be another place where they might be useful, the unarmed, unmanned.
QUESTION: Who would be operating them? Who – under whose control would they come?
MS. NULAND: Well, they can be offered by a nation. They can also be contracted services that are paid for through UN voluntary contributions. So there are any number of ways that this can be done and that it has been done in different parts of the world.
QUESTION: But who would actually operate and send them out on missions?
MS. NULAND: Again, it would be under the overall mission control of MONUSCO if you did it in the DRC, but likely the operators would be contracted.
MS. NULAND: Please, yeah.
QUESTION: There are ongoing demonstrations in China for religious freedom and also freedom of the press ongoing. Any comments on that lately?
MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this for the last couple of days, Goyal. I would just refer you to what we’ve said over the last couple of days.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) demonstrations (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: Sorry?
QUESTION: Those demonstrations for fear of freedom of press have ended now. My question was on India and Pakistan. Can we go back to that?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Is she? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Is she aware of the tension between India and Pakistan on this issue?
MS. NULAND: No, of course, yes.
QUESTION: And has she spoken to her – like Assistant Secretary Blake or U.S. ambassadors to New Delhi and Islamabad on this issue?
MS. NULAND: Obviously, she talked to her – our South Asia people about it yesterday and today. But as I said, we are – she’s instructed our ambassadors to work with both governments, which they are doing.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Africa, Central African Republic?
MS. NULAND: You may.
MS. NULAND: We have not made any decisions with regard to our – the reopening of the Embassy. We will continue to evaluate the security situation going forward. My understanding is these talks have just begun in Libreville. We talked a little bit about the goals that we had for them going forward, first and foremost a commitment on both sides to a cessation of hostilities, full participation – that means the government, the rebel alliance, the political opposition, civil society, with the goal of a comprehensive political resolution consistent with the Central African Republic’s constitution, leading to a full implementation of the 2008 agreements and a commitment by all parties to protect the safety and security of the civilian population. So as they’ve just started, I don’t really have any sort of sense yet how they’re moving forward, but we’ll give you more as we evaluate the progress.
QUESTION: The rebels have actually called for the President, Francois Bozize, to be prosecuted by the ICC for war crimes. Would that be something that the United States would support or at this stage is a little bit too extreme?
MS. NULAND: There were – there have been lots of contradictory statements by various different rebel factions, including some that withdrew those claims. What we want to see is everybody at the table in Libreville working through these things.
QUESTION: Okay, so you’re not taking a position --
MS. NULAND: Well, we obviously --
QUESTION: You’re not a member – I’m just waiting to hear the line – you’re not a member of the – you didn’t sign the treaty. Or you signed it but it was then unsigned --
MS. NULAND: Of the 2008 Treaty of --
QUESTION: The Treaty of Rome.
MS. NULAND: Of Rome. Yeah.
QUESTION: You are not a member of the ICC.
MS. NULAND: Well, that is certainly true.
QUESTION: You have no link to it.
MS. NULAND: Well, we certainly don’t, and we certainly have supported the constitutional position of the President.
QUESTION: One on Burma, the Kachin rebels.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There has been influx of refugee camp – Kachin villages and these refugee camps. The war is still – the civil war is still going on with the Kachin rebels, the Burmese army. How do you see this any?
MS. NULAND: Well, we talked a couple of times earlier, whether it was this week or last week, about our efforts to try to encourage both the government and the rebels to end the violence, to commit to a process of compromise, discussion, as has been done in other parts of Burma. That is still what we are working on, obviously.
Anything else? No?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Oh, sorry, poor Guy in the back, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, I just wanted to follow up on the little discussion there about the drones in Africa, and see if you could give a little bit more detail. I think that you said that there are other corners of the world, or there are other countries where this is – this arrangement has already been made, where companies have been contracted to do this. Could you give us an example of where else that’s happening?
MS. NULAND: Well, not as a part of UN peacekeeping, but there are plenty of examples of military engagement where contracted drones have been used to enhance surveillance, particularly these unarmed/unmanned ones. I’ll send you to the Pentagon for any further detail on the kinds of places. But the U.S. military contracts these kinds of things as well as having our own, as do many other countries around the world.
All right. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)