Spokesperson Victoria Nuland Takes Questions From Twitter for 21st Century Statecraft Month

Special Briefing
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 6, 2012

MS. NULAND: Welcome to the State Department. Welcome to our first Twitter briefing of 2012.

As you may know, the Secretary has declared January 21st Century Statecraft Month here at the State Department. The Secretary is encouraging all of us to use new technology and innovation as a key part of our foreign policy agenda. So here at State and at USAID, we’re adopting new approaches to meet diplomatic and development challenges around the globe.

Part of this effort is making sure that we are using full use of digital networks and social technologies to more quickly and directly engage audiences around the world. Throughout this month, we’ll be showcasing some of the ways that the State Department uses new technology and that our diplomats, both in Washington and abroad, make direct contact with citizens. Today, we have more than 193 social media accounts associated with the State Department, and more than 100 of our embassies have Facebook or Twitter accounts, or sometimes both.

As an example of some of the things we’re going to be doing here in 21st Century Statecraft Month, today and each Friday during the month of January, I’ll be taking direct questions from some of the 10 official Twitter feeds that we have here at the State Department. Citizens from around the world can ask questions directly of us, using the hashtag #AskState.

Next week, the Secretary’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Alec Ross, will participate in a LiveAtState video chat with journalists and bloggers from around the world. Our U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince will also hold a Twitter Q & A on our ongoing partnership with the people and the Government of Haiti, two years after the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

So we look forward to answering your questions and hope you’ll check out the Department’s Facebook page, our @Department Twitter feed, our DipNote blog, our State.gov to learn more about what we are up to. So let’s get on to the questions.

We’re going to start today with our first question, which comes from our Arabic language feed @USAbilAraby. @Justicefinally1 asks about the U.S. refusal to intervene militarily to stop the massacre against Syrian civilians, and wants to know why not.

Well, first of all, the vast majority of those in the Syrian opposition want to resolve their situation with their government through peaceful means and are asking that foreign forces not intervene. And we share their aspirations to have a peaceful transition to a democratic Syria. So not only with respect to foreign military forces but also with respect to violent acts within Syria, we are calling for a peaceful solution. And we are condemning violence from any quarter because, frankly, given the kind of brutality that we’ve seen from the Syrian regime, we believe that answering that kind of violence with more violence is not the right direction for Syria, that those who want a better future for Syria have so much more power and so much more moral authority when they reject violence and push their own government to do the same.

Our next question comes from our Chinese language feed, @USA_Zhongwen. This is actually not a Twitter feed. This is – comes through our U.S. Embassy Sina Weibo account in China. Anakin asks: Which one do you think is more important for the U.S., to keep its global leadership, to improve America’s human rights status in order to occupy the moral high ground, or to maintain America’s wide military existence in the world, and why?

Well, Anakin, we would say to you that, from an American perspective, all of these issues are interlinked. It is vital to our interests around the world and those of our friends and partners that we are able to simultaneously promote our interests and values, defend our security, enhance the prosperity of America and our friends and partners, and that requires that we continue to maintain our global leadership, work with countries around the world who want to maintain open political systems, peace and prosperity in the global commons, particularly freedom of navigation and things like that, and who also support open markets, free trade, commerce.

So from an American perspective, we will never stop speaking out in defense of our values. We believe that our leadership plays a vital role in ensuring peace and security around the world. And our military undergirds that defense of our values and our defense – and our security of our people and of friends and allies.

The next question comes from our English language feed, @StateDepartment. @ObSilence asks: Why doesn't the State Department support regime change in Sudan where government-led genocide continues?  Why Syria and Libya, but not Sudan? Well, first of all, ObSilence, each country and each situation is different. Each country, each situation has to be dealt with differently. But I will say that in Sudan, for many years, we have continued to press for concrete, meaningful, democratic reforms and accountability and an end to the violence. We have pushed hard for an end to the fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and a full resolution of the Darfur conflict. Those responsible for crimes and crimes against humanity have to be held accountable.

We’ve also made clear that it’s going to be impossible for the United States to move forward in improving its relationship with the Government of Sudan and to implement some of the key elements of the roadmap for normalization that we have together until the violence ends there. This includes our ability to take steps like lifting Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism designation or the easing of sanctions as long as the deplorable human rights conditions and unacceptable practices of bombing innocent civilians and denying humanitarian access continue in Blue Nile and in Southern Kordofan.

There is no military solution to these problems. Full resolution of the crisis of governance in Sudan will only come when the parties sit down and talk to each other. We have a special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, who coordinates very closely with the AU’s high-level implementation panel to continue to work hard to bring peace, bring security, bring reform to Sudan and to settle their issues together, and we remain deeply focused on trying to finally bring peace and security to all the people of Sudan.

Our next question comes from our Farsi feed, @USAdarFarsi. It’s a two-part question from @Aminlv. #AskState, Iran is about to cut off the internet. What’s the status of the suitcase internet? And what is the U.S. procedure on the new threat to the U.S. Navy? I assume you mean, Aminlv, the threats that the Iranian Government’s been making to U.S. freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz.

First of all, with regard to the internet, I’d like to say that Iran is more adept at blocking the free flow of information to its citizens than almost any other country in the world, and we are deeply concerned about new reports of measures that Iran is taking to curtail internet freedom, including draconian surveillance techniques and the creation of a national internet, which would essentially cut Iran’s citizens off from the global internet conversation. When you create these kinds of national intranets, they generally have pre-cleared information, and they cut people off, and these kinds of efforts at surveillance with cameras and collecting of personal information sort of chill the environment. They discourage people from using the internet at all. And in that – from that perspective, we consider them violations of the spirit of collaboration and the human rights of Iran’s citizens.

As Secretary Clinton said in a speech on internet freedom in The Hague last month, creating digital barriers would be disastrous, not only for Iranians but for the global freedom that the internet represents. She cautioned that breaking the internet into pieces would just create little echo chambers, rather than creating a thriving marketplace of ideas. And we want to see the people of Iran be able to participate fully in that global marketplace of ideas.

So we are working very hard to assist the people of Iran in challenging and bypassing their government’s efforts to draw an electronic curtain down around the Iranian people and to block communication with the outside world; to protect the people who use some of these programs and techniques – I’m not going to get into the specifics here – but, I will tell you that we fund a range of programs and initiatives that empower Iranians to access unfiltered information; to speak freely; and to speak safely online. Nearly – we spend nearly $70 million a year on these programs both in Iran and around the world.

At the same time, we’re also developing and distributing new technologies – more than 20 of them – to empower activists around the globe to access uncensored content on the internet and to communicate with each other and to tell their stories. And to date, we’ve funded the training of more than 7,500 activists around the world in these programs.

With regard to the bellicose rhetoric from the Iranian regime on the Straits of Hormuz, the United States considers that the Straits of Hormuz under international law and long standing international practice, are international waters. As such, vessels of all states enjoy transit passage through the Straits. These rights apply to warships, they apply to merchant ships, so any attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz would be inconsistent with international law and we anticipate that the U.S. Navy will continue to play the important role that it’s played in helping to maintain freedom of navigation around the world, including through the Straits of Hormuz.

And our last question today comes from our French feed, which is @USAenfrancais. @jbhutchinson asks: After the new military strategy announcement by the American president yesterday, what will the effect on NATO be?

Let me reassure you, jbhutchinson, that the United States remains fully committed to a strong Europe, the collective defense of our NATO allies, our Article V obligations to them, and building and maintaining the capacity of our partners to allow us to work together on a global scale. The transatlantic relationship that we have is a source of stability in a very unpredictable world, and Europe remains our partner of choice in addressing security challenges around the world.

So, to that end, we will maintain our strong, robust military presence in Europe; we’re also deploying new capabilities, particularly in the area of missile defenses. As you know, we have recently put missile defense assets in Poland, in Romania, in Turkey. We’re home-porting the U.S. Aegis BMD-capable ships in Spain. And all of this is designed to support missile defense coverage for all of our NATO allies and for – as part of the European Phased Adaptive approach.

We’re also doing other things to strengthen transatlantic security including deploying the Osprey aircraft in the United Kingdom, to increase the responsiveness of our special operations forces in the region, and we’re also establishing an aviation detachment in Poland. We will also maintain our robust schedule of exercises with our European partners, because those military-to-military relationships are absolutely crucial – not only for the defense of NATO territory, transatlantic defense, but also for all the good work that we do together out there in the world to protect peace and security.

And that concludes our Twitter questions for this week. Next week, we’ll be taking another five questions from the other five feeds that we have. Please join us, please ask your questions, and we will do our best to answer them. Thank you.

PRN: 2012/022