Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 20, 2012.
- Offensive Comments Against Israel
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
- David Hale’s Meetings
- SANCTIONS / IRAN / IRAQ
- U.S. Sanctions / Abuse Iraqi Territory to Circumvent Sanctions
- Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran
- Special Envoy Brahimi
- Continue to Pursue Political Transition Strategy / End Bloodshed
- Discussions with Egyptian President Morsi
- Nonlethal Assistance Designed to Help Opposition Communicate, Train Others
- Case of Mohammed Yunus / Grameen Bank
- UNITED KINGDOM / SWEDEN / ECUADOR
- Julian Assange
- NORTH KOREA
- Statements Regarding Foreign Military Exercises
- Announcement Pertaining to Journalists / Ministry of Information Censor Board
- Arrest of Young Girl on Blasphemy Charges / Call for Transparent Investigation
- Oil Exploration / Contracts / Approval from Federal Iraqi Authorities
- Pussy Riot Rock Band Case / Freedom of Expression
1:04 p.m. EDT
We strongly condemn the hateful remarks made over the past few days and weeks by senior Iranian officials against Israel. These remarks are offensive and reprehensible, and the entire international community should condemn such rhetoric. These threats are not new, and they demonstrate that Iran continues to be a threat to the region and the world, and we must continue to pressure Iran until it resolves international concerns about its nuclear program and other issues.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: I guess we could kind of stay on the Israel theme. I’m wondering if the – your travel advice, your Travel Warning, or your Consular Information Sheets for Israel have a section on skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee – (laughter) – and if not, whether you might be willing to add such a section for certain members of Congress.
MS. NULAND: I think I’m not going to wade into that one at all, Matt. (Laughter.) Thank you for the opportunity, however.
QUESTION: Are you wading (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s move on to something else, but I don’t have anything else. (Laughter.) So —
MS. NULAND: Well, I think, as I mentioned last week, you know that he did a round of consultations out in the region last week concluding with Quartet meetings – I believe it was in Geneva – at the end of the week. I don’t have anything terribly new to report out of those, other than that he continues to do his quiet diplomatic work to try to get the parties back to the table.
QUESTION: So what was the purpose of the meeting with the Quartet? I mean, did it have, like, an agenda? And what was hoped to arrive at, and did he arrive at it?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, he saw Prime Minister Netanyahu, he saw President Abbas, he saw many members of their governments, he saw the negotiators. So we always – at the end of those kinds of rounds of intensive dialogue, he generally meets with the Quartet to read them out, to compare notes on what they’ve got from their own meetings, so further coordination with the Quartet.
QUESTION: And finally – I know you guys issued a statement regarding the money on Friday; you responded to the question that was asked by Mr. Matt Lee the day before. I wanted to ask whether you also made conditional on the judicial process in the West Bank. Because as it seems, honor killing is on the rise, and there is a loophole in the law that basically allows the killers to go free. Do you ever make – like, reforming the law to tackle this issue that is becoming a real problem?
MS. NULAND: You mean linking money to this particular —
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you linked it to other aspects, to other good behaviors by the Palestinians, but do you ever link it to such things?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything particular on that. If we have something – I mean, in general, as you know, this money is designed to support strong institutions of the Palestinian Authority, democratic institutions increasing their services to the Palestinian people. So the degree to which we have issues there and the way governance is handled, we obviously are clear with the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: Is this an issue that the State Department would raise – the rise of honor killing?
MS. NULAND: Obviously, it sounds like the kind of issue we would generally raise in the context of our human rights discussion, yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. The scarf is the color of your eyes, my dear.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. They’re – actually, they’re red, but –
MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) We won’t ask about your Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
QUESTION: There is a report in The New York Times about Iraq supposedly skirting sanctions with help for Iran. And I don’t know whether you saw that, but in essence, what they are saying is Iraq is turning a blind eye to financial flows to Iran. Some of them are longstanding, but nevertheless, the U.S., after all, did spend a lot of money fighting the conflict in Iraq, and that these – in spite of the sanctions, these contacts – some of which are legal, some of which are illegal – continue. And just wondering whether you have seen that report, whether there is concern, and whether – the story says that they’ve – that the Administration has had private talks with Iraqi officials to complain about some of these things; if you can confirm that.
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Iran is trying to skirt sanctions wherever it can. It has been working in the neighborhood to try to evade U.S. sanctions and other international sanctions. That’s not new. Whenever we have detected successful efforts by Iran to abuse Iraqi territory to circumvent sanctions, we have been clear and forthright with the Iraqis in trying to work through the issues. So for example, when we found issues of compliance on the Iraqi side with our sanctions regime, as we did in the case of the Elaf Bank, which is a private bank, we’ve raised them with Iraqi officials and tried to work through the issues so that we can close those loopholes, and we will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Do you feel that the Iraqi Government is doing enough in that area to really clamp down on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we certainly feel that we have an open channel, that when we can bring concerns that are detailed and precise, we’ve had good cooperation. But this is something we all have to continue to work on.
QUESTION: I mean, just going back to the Iran or Israel – the comments – does this add any weight to your argument against the possible trip to Iran by Ban Ki-moon? And do you have anything to say? Should – do you think the President of Egypt should be going to Iran now, especially considering that his country is – was the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we said last week, Iran is going to try to manipulate this NAM summit and the attendees to advance its own agenda, and to obscure the fact that it is failing to live up to multiple obligations that it has to the UN Security Council, the IAEA, and other international bodies. So we, frankly, don’t think that Iran is deserving of these high-level presences that are going there.
That said, these individual countries will make their own decisions at what level they choose to be represented. We would hope and expect that those who choose to go will take the opportunity of any meetings that they have with Iran’s leaders to press them to come back into compliance, to use the opportunity of the P-5+1 talks to come clean about their nuclear program, and take up all of the other concerns that the international community has about Iran’s behavior.
QUESTION: Can I —
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Wait. Can —
MS. NULAND: Sorry.
QUESTION: What is that? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Wow. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It just appeared.
MS. NULAND: LiveAtState is one of our other platforms that we use. We’re going to have a briefing on our LiveAtState platform either this afternoon, maybe tomorrow morning, on U.S. humanitarian assistance to Syria. So maybe they are playing with the logo.
Hey guys, you playing with the logo? I don’t know. They’re probably getting it ready for that.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS. NULAND: Anyway, we are live at State today, anyway.
Yes, Said. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi – I know you welcomed his appointment with some enthusiasm, but he made a statement that actually contradicts your position. He was saying that it is a little too early to ask for Assad to step down. Do you have a comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, our position is well known. We don’t think there’s going to be peace in Syria until Assad steps down and the bloodshed ends. We will be clear with Special Envoy Brahimi about our views on this. But I think it’s fair to let him get his feet under him and get started on the job and have the consultations that he needs to have before he makes – draws his own conclusions.
QUESTION: So you have confidence in Mr. Brahimi to be able to talk to all the different groups and actually get their pulse on what they want done?
MS. NULAND: Well, as the Secretary said in her statement, he is a very experienced diplomat. He’s somebody who we’ve worked well with before. This is an extremely difficult job, and we would welcome any support that he can bring to the international community’s efforts to get back to a six-point plan, political transition, et cetera.
That said, you know that we are relatively skeptical at the moment that we’re going to have more success in the Security Council, given the blockages of some of the permanent members. So in the context of that, we will continue to try to pursue the same agenda, that is to get to a political transition strategy, to get to an end to the bloodshed, and to get to a real transition with those countries who are willing to participate, outside the UN if necessary.
QUESTION: And finally, Mr. Morsi, the Egyptian President, is sort of leading an initiative to have the regional powers – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, of course – for – to resolve the Syrian issue. Has he consulted with you on this initiative?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that when the Secretary was in Egypt, we discussed, obviously, all of the Egyptian issues, all of the regional issues, but we certainly had a very thorough discussion both with President Morsi and with other leaders in that government about the situation in Syria. Egypt’s been playing a strong role within the Arab League. It’s also been hosting, I think you know, these conferences of the Syrian opposition where they’ve put forward their code of conduct, they’ve put forward their own transition strategy, and I think they’re continuing to try to be supportive. So we have a very close relationship with Egypt and we welcome their leadership to try to bring peace in Syria.
Please. I’m looking at you. Can you tell me who you are, because I —
QUESTION: Yeah. This is Arshad. A question on Bangladesh.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Following Secretary —
MS. NULAND: Before we go to Bangladesh, anything else on Syria?
QUESTION: Just a quick one.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Sorry.
QUESTION: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister today again said that there’s increasing evidence that the rebels are getting large amounts of Western-made arms, and this seems to be an attempt to build an argument that the West is somehow complicit in directly arming – getting arms to Syria, as you’ve repeatedly said you don’t support. What’s the U.S. position on the fact – or the presumption that they’re getting their hands on Western-made armaments? Is that something you oppose or is that just sort of the way it goes?
MS. NULAND: Well, Andy, our position on this one hasn’t changed. We are providing nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, as the Secretary has spoken about, as the President’s spoken about – communications gear but also, increasingly, training for those future leaders of the NGO sector, some of the types of groups that the Secretary met with when she was in Istanbul.
Other countries have made other decisions about how to support them. I’m going to refer you to those countries with regard to the decisions that they have made. But again, I think Russia is deflecting attention from the fact that it has been unwilling to use Security Council mechanisms to try to hold Assad’s feet to the fire on implementing agreements that he made with Kofi Annan to end the violence and proceed to a political transition, nor have they been willing to put any teeth behind the transition strategy that we all came up with in Geneva. So again, there are very important things that Russia could do if it wants to help hasten the day, as we are all trying to do.
QUESTION: Sorry —
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Which countries would you refer us to, to ask about their support for the rebels, support – the countries that have made a different decision? Which ones? Could you list a couple of them —
MS. NULAND: Again —
QUESTION: — so that we can call —
MS. NULAND: — some of those countries have been quite clear about who they are. I will let them speak for themselves.
QUESTION: On the issue with arms, there is also increasing evidence the flow of the most extremist of elements into Syria. I mean, there are all kinds of reports that al-Qaida types and even more extremist groups, a new – sort of a new genre of extremist groups are going into Syria. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this regularly here, Said, including last week. We do have concerns, and we’ve had concerns that extremist elements will try to exploit the violence, will try to pursue their own agenda inside Syria. This is why we’ve got to end the violence, because the longer it goes on, the more scope there will be for these kinds of groups to abuse Syrian territory, abuse the situation for their own agendas which have nothing to do with peace or democracy or a positive future for the people of Syria. That’s why, in all of our interactions with the opposition, whether it’s the political opposition, et cetera, we have stressed the importance of renouncing extremism, renouncing terrorism, refusing to work with these kinds of groups.
You’ve seen a number of Syrian opposition groups, whether it is the group working in Cairo and their own code of conduct or whether it’s the FSA now, with the advice that it’s giving to its fighters, also calling on its people to renounce terrorism, refuse to work with these kinds of groups, and to protect the Syrian people from being abused by groups who don’t share their goal of a peaceful, democratic Syria.
QUESTION: Just one last one on Syria. When you say there are very important things that Russia could do, do you think that Russia could actually induce Assad to step down?
MS. NULAND: Again, they can speak to their own influence, but we still are in a situation where they have refused to cut off the arms flow definitively. They have refused to implement other kinds of sanctions that the U.S., the EU, the Arab League are now instituting against Syria. And they also blocked the effort to have a sanctions penalty if the Geneva transition plan was not implemented, let alone the Annan six points. So we’ll see how they proceed going forward.
QUESTION: Do you have any update, Toria, about the operation and command center, which will be formed between Turkey and the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, remember what the Secretary committed to when she was in Istanbul, which was an interagency conversation, U.S. and Turkey sitting down together to share operational picture, to talk about the effectiveness of what we’re doing now, and about what more we can do. So this was not a bricks-and-mortar center. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. This is a bilateral conversation across the interagency.
And yes, we do anticipate taking this forward this week. Acting Assistant Secretary Jones will take a U.S. interagency delegation to Istanbul – I think it’s Wednesday – to continue discussions with Turkey.
QUESTION: You think it’s Wednesday or is it Wednesday?
MS. NULAND: It is Wednesday. She’s leaving tomorrow and the meetings are Wednesday.
QUESTION: And how long are they expected —
MS. NULAND: I think they’re scheduled to be daylong consultations, but I’ll check with her.
QUESTION: And when you say interagency, could you be specific about the agencies, other —
MS. NULAND: On our side, we will have State Department, we’ll have DOD, and we’ll have intelligence representatives.
QUESTION: How many people?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a final count for you. I think that’s probably as much specificity as we’re going to give at this stage.
QUESTION: But when you say intel representatives, from which intel? Do you know? All of them, or is it DIA?
MS. NULAND: I think the community will be represented.
QUESTION: By one – it’s not going to be, like, separate agents like the CIA, the DIA?
MS. NULAND: My understanding it there’ll be one representative reflecting the entire community.
QUESTION: So this will be someone from the D – whatever director —
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to who it will be —
QUESTION: So DNI.
MS. NULAND: — and frankly, I don’t have it here.
QUESTION: And based on informed State Department nominate a representative with Acting Assistant Secretary? I mean —
MS. NULAND: Yeah. She leads the delegation and she leads for us as well. Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Hello. This is Arshad with The Daily (inaudible). A question on Bangladesh. Following Secretary Clinton’s visit to Bangladesh, it appears and it is visible that Professor Mohammed Yunus of Grameen Bank is still under further investigation. Now, what is the current position of the State Department on such a vital issue, where the millions of women who are a subscriber to Grameen Bank are concerned that this bank may – somehow this is going to be the end of Grameen Bank? So it’s a matter of great concern. And would you please highlight this issue, or could you please take this question so that we can have a detailed response to this real battle? Because things are getting very, very murky in Bangladesh on this issue.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. As you know, when the Secretary was there in May, this was a intense subject of discussion with the government. And she also had a chance to meet with Mr. Yunus as well, and she was very straightforward in her public comments about our concerns here. So – and we also put a statement of concern on August 3rd. So further to that, we remain deeply concerned about recent actions by the Government of Bangladesh to give the government-appointed chairman of the bank control over the selection of the new managing director. We are continuing to urge the Government of Bangladesh not to take any actions that would reduce the integrity or efficacy of the bank, and we are calling on the government to ensure transparency in the selection of the new managing director. This has been a very vibrant part of Bangladeshi society and has, in fact, been a model for other parts of the world. So we’re watching closely.
QUESTION: Well, thank you so much.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Yeah, sorry, there was —
MS. NULAND: Go ahead, Shaun.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Of course there is – you spoke about this a little bit last week. Over the weekend, Julian Assange has made a somewhat public appearance. WikiLeaks has been calling for the U.S. to make assurances that he wouldn’t be extradited or prosecuted here. I know you spoke a little bit to that last week, but is there something clearer? Is there something more that the U.S. can say about the possibility of prosecution of Julian Assange here?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me start with the fact that he is making all kinds of wild assertions about us, when, in fact, his issue with the Government of the United Kingdom has to do with whether he’s going to go stand – face justice in Sweden for something that has nothing to do with WikiLeaks. It has to do with charges of sexual misconduct. So he is clearly trying to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden, which is the immediate issue. So that case has nothing to do with us. It’s a matter between the U.K., Sweden, and now Ecuador has inserted itself.
With regard to where we are in our own judicial issues following the WikiLeaks incident, I’m going to send you to the Department of Justice. I don’t have anything new to add from here.
QUESTION: Can I just – you’re – you want to go back and qualify something, I think, because otherwise the WikiLeaks people are going to come down on you like a pound of – many pounds of bricks.
MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for protecting me, Matt. I depend on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. Which is that you said that he faces charges in Sweden, when he hasn’t been charged.
MS. NULAND: Well, he’s being investigated in Sweden. Right.
QUESTION: Right. So, I mean, the issue is not whether he is going to go to face charges in Sweden. The issue is whether he’s going to be extradited for questioning, at the moment, correct?
MS. NULAND: Excellent. Thank you, Matt. Yes.
QUESTION: And now, have you had any – considering you think that his claim of fear – the claim that he fears persecution in the U.S. is completely bogus, have you had any conversations with the Ecuadorians about this?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, we have not, beyond what we’ve said at the OAS, which is that we don’t think that this is an appropriate issue for the OAS to be taking up. But I don’t think we’ve been trying to negotiate this with them bilaterally, because there’s really nothing to say.
QUESTION: No, I know. But, I mean, have you gone into them and said, “Hey, listen, this is ridiculous. He’s not going to be persecuted. People aren’t persecuted in the United States in perhaps the same way that they might be in a country like Ecuador or Venezuela”?
MS. NULAND: Well, I certainly said that he didn’t face any persecution here, thanks to your question on Thursday. But to my knowledge, we’ve not had bilateral consultations. But we have said at the OAS, where Ecuador is trying to gin up trouble, that we don’t think that’s an appropriate forum.
QUESTION: Well, in fact, what was going on at the OAS wasn’t really trying to – I don’t – not sure it was trying to gin up trouble. It really didn’t have anything to do with the particulars of the Assange case. It had to do with the threat that was made – the apparent threat that was made about revoking the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and for – and entering it. You don’t think that the OAS – that a multilateral diplomatic body is the appropriate place to bring up a question that deals intrinsically with diplomatic status and diplomatic immunity?
MS. NULAND: We’ve said consistently this is a matter for Ecuador and the UK to talk to each other about. That’s what the U.K. Government is also saying. And we have said regularly at the OAS that we don’t see any role for the OAS in this.
QUESTION: But you don’t think that standing up for a fellow member of the OAS, who’s a country – that their diplomatic property may be compromised, that that’s not something – that that is appropriate for the OAS to stick up for?
MS. NULAND: Again, we have —
QUESTION: I mean, I remember you guys were all in favor of the OAS sticking up for you during the Cuban missile crisis.
MS. NULAND: Again, we —
QUESTION: Why is not the appropriate forum to say, no, it’s wrong for a country to threaten to raid a diplomatic property?
MS. NULAND: Again, I would call you to more recent statements from the U.K. Government with regard to its stand with regard to the mission in Ecuador. And again, we’re not going to have an – we don’t see a role for the OAS in a hypothetical situation that doesn’t appear to be imminent anyway.
QUESTION: Okay. So your understanding right now is that there is no threat to raid the Ecuadorian Embassy?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you to what the UK has said in the last couple of days.
QUESTION: So are you not concerned that the Assange issue may be a polarizing issue between countries that are otherwise allies?
MS. NULAND: We have very important business that we do in the OAS that has to do with the strength and health and democracy in the region, and this is, frankly, a sideshow.
Okay. Please, can I get your colleague in the back? Please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: I haven’t watched this particular exercise, but my understanding is that it’s routine and that it is well understood. These kinds of North Korean threats are not uncommon as well, but obviously we would call on them to refrain from those kinds of bellicose statements.
QUESTION: This year the U.S. and South Korea and Japan has conducted a couple of military exercises. And last time they even used North Korea flag as a target. How do you argue that constant military drills would not disturb the peace – the regional peace and stability?
MS. NULAND: Well, we talked about this at the time. I’m going to send you to our colleagues at the Pentagon, who spoke extensively about the exercise schedule, which was absolutely normal and part of our regular effort to maintain peace and security in that part of the world. But I don’t have anything new to say about exercises that happened more than a month ago.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Still on Japan?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Or Japan-related at least. On the most recent flare-up of the dispute over the Senkaku Islands, I know the U.S. isn’t going to take a side and help resolve this issue, but are you at least in touch with both governments to try to discourage this back and forth kind of —
MS. NULAND: We have an interloper. Mr. Radia has come to visit.
QUESTION: Ask your question. I’m sorry.
MS. NULAND: Sorry. Go ahead. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
QUESTION: You get the next one then.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with either government to try to discourage this kind of back and forth, publicity stunts where someone goes to the island or some – another official visits? And there were several people arrested and deported, and now some Japanese people have come to the disputed islands. This back and forth doesn’t seem to be helping anything. So are you at least trying to get them to stop?
MS. NULAND: We have been giving the same messages privately that I’ve been giving here publicly and that the Secretary has been giving, that they need to work this out through consultation and not through provocation.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Japan actually is going to replace ambassadors in South Korea and Japan and U.S. Do you consider this as a good move to ease the tension?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is, at least with regard to the situation here, this is a normal rotation. But I’m going to refer you to the Government of Japan.
QUESTION: Different issue?
MS. NULAND: Please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Burmese authorities announced that they’re going to end prepublication censorship. How does the United States see this? Is this a positive step? There’s obviously still quite a bit of self-censorship. There’s state media that probably isn’t the freest in the world? How does the United States see this step (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: Well, thanks for that, Shaun. Obviously we welcome the announcement to the Burmese – of the Burmese Government that journalists are no longer going to need to pre-submit their articles to the Ministry of Information Censor Board. So that’s positive. That said, the Censor Board itself has not been eradicated, which is obviously a step that we would like to see the Burmese Government take, because they continue to monitor the press.
QUESTION: Can I – just a different topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s a young girl there who has been arrested, charges of blasphemy. Apparently, she has Down’s Syndrome, according to some reports. Does the U.S. have anything to say about this, either more broadly about blasphemy laws there or about this specific case?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. This case is obviously deeply disturbing, the arrest of a young Pakistani girl on blasphemy charges. Our understanding is that President Zardari has now asked the interior ministry to look into the arrest and has underscored that vulnerable populations have to be protected from misuse of the blasphemy law. So whether you’re talking about kids or girls or – in this case, there’s some information that she may be – have some issues.
So we would call on the Pakistanis to have that investigation in a transparent way, and we think that the President’s statement is very, very welcome. And we urge the Government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens, but also women and girls.
QUESTION: Is there any correct use of the blasphemy law in Pakistan? You said “misuse.” What would be the correct use?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not in a position here to parse this law and how it might stand up to other laws around the world, but as a general matter, concerns that in this case, what is being touted as an abuse or an intentional act for religious purposes may, in fact, have been something else.
QUESTION: Has the United States been in touch with the Pakistani authorities on this particular case?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether our Embassy has been in on it. I think President Zardari, to his credit, went out very quickly. So conceivably, we have been welcoming of that move in Islamabad as well, but I don’t have any specifics on it.
QUESTION: A different topic. I have a quick question regarding the oil agreements made in Northern Iraq. I had asked this question last week during a panel to Brett McGurk. He is a special advisor to Madam Secretary, probably, as I understand it. There are some American companies who made deals with KRG directly, bypassing Baghdad government, and this is an issue between KRG and Baghdad government right now, these oil agreements. And also, Turkey and KRG – Turkish Government and KRG mad an – agreements between two governments, and the – some trucks started to transfer some oil to Turkey from Northern Iraq.
I’m wondering this – the official position of U.S. Government on this issue, because the Baghdad government is arguing that this is unconstitutional, these kind of agreements, but KRG is arguing that no, they have license to do that. What is the official position of USA – U.S. Government on this issue?
MS. NULAND: I mean, our position on this has not changed. We’ve spoken about it many times here. We speak about it in Iraq. With regard to our own companies, we continue to tell them that signing contracts for oil exploration or production with any region of Iraq without approval from the federal Iraqi authorities exposes them to potential legal risk, and we continue to tell them – obviously, they’ll make their own business decisions, but unless and until we have federal legislation in Iraq governing these things, something that we’ve been urging, that there are risks for them. So that’s our message to our companies.
QUESTION: Did you raise this issue with the companies directly?
MS. NULAND: We do. When they come to us and ask what we think, then we raise this issue with them, yes.
QUESTION: And how about Turkey?
MS. NULAND: What do you mean?
QUESTION: Did you raise this issue with Turkey, I mean, in terms of this agreement made by – between Turkish Government and KRG?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, they know where we are on our view of this issue. When the Secretary was in Istanbul, I think Foreign Minister Davutoglu had just been in Northern Iraq, so obviously, they talked about that trip, and they talked about Iraq as a general matter and our interest in seeing the groups work together and get through some of the political issues that they have so that they can get back to things like working on the oil legislation that is important for everybody.
MS. NULAND: Okay.
QUESTION: Well, so in honor of Kirit’s presence here today —
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: — and to make up for the fact that you missed your opportunity to comment from —
MS. NULAND: I did.
QUESTION: — the podium on this case on Friday because there wasn’t a briefing, do you have anything to say – anything more to say – about developments in the Pussy Riot case, potentially with the involvement now of Mr. Kasparov, who has been taken off and summoned for police questioning?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we issued a statement on Friday expressing concern about both the judicial process and the severity of the sentences against the Russian rock band Pussy Riot for hooliganism, and we expressed concern about what this means about freedom of expression in Russia and abuse of the judicial system. So we are continuing to monitor that, not only in this case, but in other cases where freedom of expression has been squelched.
QUESTION: Do you know if there’s been any communication with the Russian authorities about this?
MS. NULAND: Yes. Well, Wendy Sherman was – Under Secretary Sherman was in Moscow on Thursday —
QUESTION: Oh, that was before, right.
MS. NULAND: — and spoke about this, and I believe that Ambassador McFaul has certainly spoken to Russian authorities about this since Friday.
QUESTION: Right. And so the freedom of – in keeping with the freedom of expression thing, you’ve seen this – these reports that a bunch of activists, some kind of activists, are wanting to sue Madonna for —
MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that, no. I hadn’t seen that.
QUESTION: Well, I’d be interested to know if you – apparently, they’re – they allege that they were offended by the fact that she was sticking up for gay rights at a concert in Moscow. So if you do have anything on it, I’d be eager to hear what it is.
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we’re not shy, in Russia or anywhere in the world, in sticking up for the rights of LGBT people and urging countries around the world to protect their rights and not discriminate against anybody for whom they love.
Okay? Thanks, and welcome, Kirit. We missed you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)