State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, August 22, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 22, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
  • IRAN
    • Non-Aligned Movement Meeting in Tehran / UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Attending
    • IAEA Visit
    • Diplomatic Relations with Egypt
    • Continued Consultations with Israel / Dual-Track Policy toward Iran
    • Iranian Oil Exports
    • Letter from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman / Working Relationship with President Abbas
    • Support for Anti-Corruption Programs
    • Formally Joining WTO
  • DPRK
    • Concern for Nuclear Program Unchanged / Need to Comply with International Obligations
    • U.S.-Turkey Working Group on Syria
    • Spillover of Violence into Lebanon
    • Qadri Jamil’s statements
  • MALI
    • Transitional Government / Interim President Toure
    • U.S. Assistance to Mali



12:33 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. I do not have anything at the top. Let’s go to what is on your minds.

QUESTION: All right. Let’s start with Iran. The UN has just announced that Secretary General Ban will go to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran later this month. And I’m just wondering if you can think of a bigger display of diplomatic impotence than the head of the UN showing up in the capital of a country that has, (a) defied all UN Security Council demands over its nuclear program, and (b) called for the destruction of a UN member – another UN member, and (c) has, according to you guys – or is, according to you guys, the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there, Matt?

QUESTION: Yeah. Is there – can you think of a bigger display of diplomatic impotence than the head of the UN showing up for this meeting?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about our view with regard to the NAM meeting a couple of times here, including earlier this week. I think I even said yesterday that we had concerns that Iran is going to manipulate this opportunity and the attendees, to try to deflect attention from its own failings. And we have the exact same concerns that you articulated, that this is a country that is in violation of all kinds of UN obligations and has been a destabilizing force.

We hope that those who have chosen to attend, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will make very strong points to those Iranians that they meet about their international obligations, about the opportunity that we’ve provided through the P-5+1 talks for them to begin to come clean on their nuclear program and to solve this particular issue diplomatically, and about all the other expectations that we all have of them.

QUESTION: So does that mean you cannot think of a bigger sign of diplomatic impotence?

MS. NULAND: Again, Matt, I don’t think I’m going to rise to your particular –

QUESTION: Well, last week you said that if he went, it wasn’t – I mean, it’s only today that they’ve said that he’s definitely going. He was considering it last week. I mean, you said it would send a strange signal if he showed up.

MS. NULAND: Well, again –

QUESTION: Do you still believe that’s the case?

MS. NULAND: Now that he has decided to go, he needs to use the opportunity to reflect the view of the international community with regard to Iran’s behavior, and we hope he will do that.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t you have preferred if you had not gone?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we made clear our view on this at the beginning. Now that he’s chosen to go, he has an opportunity to say directly to Iran’s leaders what the international community’s concerns are.

QUESTION: So I’m sorry. I just want to make sure. So do you still think that this sends a strange signal?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t need to repeat things that I’ve said before.

QUESTION: Well, is that still operative?

MS. NULAND: Matt, I think we’ve done it. We’ve done it. We really have.

QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to find if you guys still think it would send a strange signal, which you said it would – you said that – last week, you said that him going – Ban Ki-moon going to this conference would send a strange signal. Do you now think, now that he is going to go, that it will send a strange signal?

MS. NULAND: I think that we are all going to watch and see how this proceeds and whether he takes the opportunity to make clear the concerns that the international community has about Iran’s behavior. So he needs to take that opportunity if he’s chosen to go.

QUESTION: Has the mission in New York spoken with the Secretary General’s office about his decision to go and reiterated the points you just made?

MS. NULAND: He’s very clear on our view on this, and we’ve spoken to him about it and to his office about it. With regard to the last 24 hours, I can’t speak to that.

Anybody else today? Andy.

QUESTION: Well, sort of related. On the IAEA and Iran resuming their talks, I think on Friday, what do you anticipate, if anything, out of this next round? And do you share – I presume you do, but – these concerns that any sites that might be under discussion have already been cleaned up and sort of getting access now is sort of a little bit too late?

MS. NULAND: Well, this is the latest effort by the IAEA to get into some of these places that they’ve been promised access to and to have the Iranians fulfill some of the oral commitments that they’ve made to the IAEA director general. So we’ll just have to see how that visit goes forward, but I think the expectations of the IAEA and of its member states haven’t changed with regard to what we’re looking for from Iran.

QUESTION: But do you have any concerns that even if they do get access it’s too late because there was already ample time for the Iranians to fix things that might have been suspect?

MS. NULAND: Well, that was a concern, obviously, with regard to the delay. I think if they do get in, we’ll have to see what they report in terms of what they see and whether they have concerns that exactly that may have happened.




QUESTION: The Iranian Foreign Minister was quoted that he was highlighting the importance of the visit of the Egyptian President and saying that Iran is intending to resume diplomatic relations with Egypt. Do you have any reaction to this?

MS. NULAND: Well, we spoke about that as well earlier in the week. Again, our message to any leaders who are going to Tehran for the NAM meeting is that they should use this opportunity to express to the Iranians all of our concerns about the trajectory that they are on and about the opportunity that the international community has given them on their nuclear program and that they should use the time well and all the other issues. So that would go for any of the heads of state going.


QUESTION: Was that – I think his question was a little bit broader, talking about the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran, not just about the NAM meeting. Do you have any concerns about Egypt normalizing its relations with Iran, or is that their right as a sovereign state?

MS. NULAND: Well, it’s obviously their national decision to make. Many countries have relations with Iran, including a number of our treaty allies, and use those opportunities to make strong points to the Iranians.


QUESTION: Yes. It’s related to what you say at the beginning of the week. Today’s publish is – quoted the spokesperson of the presidential palace in Egypt regarding especially to you what said in saying Egypt can – they want to make their decision by their own way without any interference. Even they name your name as a person with – like you said this point. Do you have anything to say about this? Attending the meeting and restoring relations?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’ve already covered our views with regard to both the meeting and relations.

QUESTION: So you mean there is a problem not attending or saying their point of view?

MS. NULAND: This is with regard to Egypt attending the NAM meeting?


MS. NULAND: Yeah. In response to Ros’s point, as I said a couple of days ago, we would hope that all countries that choose to go make strong points to the Iranians when they’re there.

Please, Nicolas.

QUESTION: This is a question on Iran and Israel. As you know, there is a public debate in Israel apparently designed to pressure the U.S. and to convince Washington to speak out maybe strongly against Iran and to make sure that the U.S. would support a strike against – an Israeli strike against Iran. General Dempsey said earlier this week in Afghanistan that the U.S. does not feel any pressure from Israel. Does the State Department feel pressure from Israel?

MS. NULAND: Well, our consultations with Israel with regard to Iran and a whole host of security issues continue. As you know, the Secretary was there not too long ago earlier in the summer. Our view on the situation with Iran is not changed today, Nicolas, which is that we believe there is still time for diplomacy to work, but we need to see a better effort from the Iranians to answer the concerns that we’ve had. So, we are focused on trying to have this dual-track policy of diplomacy backed by pressure work, and we are still focused on that.


QUESTION: Can I follow on that?


QUESTION: Did the U.S., given the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu still is insisting that there is a redline beyond which the Israelis will attack, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t have support from most of the intelligence establishment in Israel, has the U.S. made it very clear that if Israel would, on its own, decide to attack, that they would be on their own?

MS. NULAND: Okay. You’re getting me into seven layers of hypotheticals here, which I’m not going to walk down. As we’ve said —

QUESTION: One is not so hypothetical. This is what they’re saying they’re going to do.

MS. NULAND: As we’ve said from all of our platforms, we are focused on combining diplomacy and pressure, trying to get Iran to be serious at the negotiating table, and we are in full consultations with the Israelis about the picture that we see, and we will continue to make those points clear. But we’re not going to get into if X, then Y, et cetera from here.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever indicated that were the Israelis in the situation to decide that they must strike, that we would have their backs?

MS. NULAND: Again, the security of our Israeli ally is of paramount concern to us. We continue to have intensive consultations about all aspects of that and to support their requirements, but we have made absolutely clear to them that our view is that there’s still time for diplomacy to work.


QUESTION: Can we change topics?


QUESTION: No. I just have – I have one last Iran thing.


QUESTION: But it’s about oil. Does the Administration have any concerns that countries that had reduced their imports of Iranian oil are now – and thus got the exemption from the sanctions — are backsliding at all? The South Koreans have said that they’re going to start – or they’re going to resume importing Iranian oil. There’s some indication that the Chinese are now increasing imports. And then there’s also the question about Iraq and if it is facilitating exports of Iranian oil. Does the Administration have concerns that people are – kind of lost the thread here?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the legislation gave the Secretary the ability to give a 180-day exemption to countries that we thought had made progress. She did that, but those have – those exemptions are going to have to be renewed again after 180 days. So with that in mind, we are maintaining strong consultations with many of these countries, including the countries that you mentioned, about the trajectory that they are on. In some cases, some of the market data that we are now seeing is actually catching up. These are decisions that were made back in the spring that are now being publicly available.

So what’s important to us is, over this whole 180-day period and as we get ready to have to address this issue again, that the net flow is continuing to decrease, and those are the points that we are making to these individual countries.

QUESTION: But surely the fact that it – that this may be an indication of deals that were done during the spring, that doesn’t matter, does it?


QUESTION: In terms of the sanctions.

MS. NULAND: In terms of the way the legislation is written, what we’re looking for is for countries to continue to reduce their dependence on Iranian oil. So as we come back and have to recertify at the end of a 180-day period, we’ll be looking at the full trajectory and with the expectation that, overall, the flow has gone down. But there’s some.

QUESTION: Okay, understood. But are there any concerns that countries are back – countries which had received waivers or exemptions from the sanctions are now backsliding?

MS. NULAND: I think we are continuing to work with individual countries who have individual issues in the way their contracts were done, et cetera, but we are a long way from having to make new judgments. So we will just continue to have those conversations as countries work through their next 180-day plan.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just the last one.


QUESTION: You said you’ve been in touch with the countries that I mentioned. Is it fair – and I mentioned South Korea, China, Iraq. Is it fair to say that you have been in touch with all of the countries that have gotten waivers or exemptions so far, to remind them or to say, hey, look, the 180 days is going to be up on whatever date and we’re going to have to do this again?

MS. NULAND: It’s certainly fair to say that all of the countries that received waivers, exemptions, over the period, we are continuing to work with them as we look for the next 180-day period, yeah.

QUESTION: All right. And then are there any specific concerns about any specific country?

MS. NULAND: Nothing that I have to report here, no.


QUESTION: A point of clarification. When you said strong consultations, is that code for warning or is that just standard? Are all of your consultations strong?

MS. NULAND: Boy, it is August if we’re parsing adjectives. (Laughter.) I would not over-read that, Andy.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. Do you have any reaction to the letter that was submitted by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calling on the Quartet members and which a copy was sent, of course, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to pressure Abbas to step aside? Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve obviously seen the letter. We’ve also seen comments in the last few hours from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has clarified that the Foreign Minister’s letter doesn’t reflect his position and that he has responsibility for these issues. I think you know that we have a good working relationship with President Abbas. The Secretary has seen him recently. And so we expect to be able to continue to work well with him.

QUESTION: But aside from the source of the letter, don’t you agree that perhaps it is time for a Palestinian election to be held and a new leadership chosen?

MS. NULAND: Well, we frequently discuss all of these issues with the Palestinian Authority, but it’s not for us to be making decisions about those kinds of things. And as I said, we continue to work well with Prime Minister – with President Abbas.

QUESTION: And finally, on the issue of corruption, certainly the Palestinian Authority has its share of corruption. Do you bring this issue with them? Do you talk to them about more transparency? Do you feel that they have made strides or they are stuck exactly where they are in terms of fighting corruption?

MS. NULAND: Well, in the context of the support that we give to the Palestinian Authority for essential services, all those kinds of things, of course corruption is one of the issues that we encourage them to continue to make progress on. We’ve supported anti-corruption programs in the past, as we do all around the world. So we will continue to do that.


QUESTION: Given that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are somewhere out there when it comes to the peace process, is it right or fair for one side to be saying that we don’t like the person who’s sitting on the other side of the table and we want someone else at the table?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think that the Prime Minister has now clarified the position of the Israeli Government, so I’m not going to get into that one any deeper.

QUESTION: Does it concern you at all that your great ally in the Middle East has a government that doesn’t seem to be able to speak with a unified voice, or is this just what you would consider typical of an Israeli coalition government?

MS. NULAND: Around the world, there are governments where their multiple voices come out. We ourselves are not always unified on all kinds of issues.


QUESTION: But is it safe to assume, though, that you’re going to take the Prime Minister’s word as the word of the government and not his Foreign Minister?

MS. NULAND: Again, he has made clear that – his view and that he is the leading voice on these issues.


QUESTION: Victoria, just a bit of clarification on this issue. When a letter is received by the Secretary of State, does she formally respond or does she have to respond? Could you share with us how she handles this?

MS. NULAND: Well, this letter, as you know, went to all members of the Quartet and it was actually addressed to Lady Ashton. So I don’t know whether the Quartet will choose to respond to it, given the fact that the Prime Minister has already made his own comments with regard to the letter. But if so, I would guess that Lady Ashton would respond on behalf of all the Quartet members.

QUESTION: So is it fair to assume that the Secretary of State is not responding to this letter?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t say for certain now. We just received it. But I think we’ve spoken about the letter at this point.

QUESTION: Would it be correct to think that once the Prime Minister spoke, the letter got wadded up and tossed in a trash can someplace?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think —

QUESTION: Is that accurate?

MS. NULAND: We don’t put diplomatic correspondence in the trash can. No, we don’t.


QUESTION: Just shredded it.

MS. NULAND: Scott.

QUESTION: Any thoughts about what Russia now formally joining the WTO might mean for the global economy?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we were strong and long champions of Russia coming into the WTO. We worked for many years to work through our issues and to see this day. We think it’s not only good news for Russia; we also think it’s good news for American companies and workers because it’s going to improve our own access to one of the world’s fastest-growing markets. And you’ve heard both President Obama and President Putin, and President Medvedev before him, talk about the fact that we don’t have the volume of trade between our two countries that we should have, given the size of our economies. So we hope this will be a good step, and it also, with regard to Russia, brings Russia into this rules-based organization and helps bring more global standards to the Russian economy, et cetera, and makes it easier for our companies to work with them.



QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Yeah. North Korea?

QUESTION: Yeah. North Korea has put a dome on the light water reactor. Do you feel a sense of urgency to engage the international community in a call for North Korea to live up to its commitment?

MS. NULAND: Well, what we have seen reported in the press doesn’t change our view that North Korea has a choice to make. We want to see the new leader of North Korea come back into compliance, come back to the Six-Party Talks ready to deal with the international community’s concerns.

QUESTION: So does this progress makes you more concerned about its nuclear program?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak about what progress we may or may not see. The concerns with regard to their nuclear program are not changed. They remain as they were. We want to see North Korea comply not only with its 2005 commitments but with all of its obligations to the Security Council.


QUESTION: Any readout on the —

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Just on that, so you’re saying – the non-response that you’re giving is that the new dome or that this – whatever they’ve just done, doesn’t raise your existing concern level?

MS. NULAND: I think our concerns are the same as they have always been.

QUESTION: So they’re – they haven’t increased because of this?

MS. NULAND: And this is not – they need to now – they need to comply with their obligations. This is not something that is consistent with their international obligations.

QUESTION: Well, no, I – well, that’s understood.


QUESTION: But this – you don’t see this as any kind of a ratcheting up, or you don’t see this as something that would make your existing concerns stronger?

MS. NULAND: Our existing concerns are plenty strong.

QUESTION: So this doesn’t make them stronger?

MS. NULAND: Again, our existing concerns are plenty strong.

QUESTION: I understand that. This doesn’t make – does or doesn’t make them —

MS. NULAND: Matt, we’re having quite the August day today.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying to get a straight answer.


QUESTION: Either they – it makes you more concerned or it doesn’t make you more concerned.

MS. NULAND: We are as —

QUESTION: Is your concern level exactly the same as it was?

MS. NULAND: Exact – our concern level is plenty strong.


QUESTION: On the working group between the U.S. and Turkey on —


QUESTION: — Syrian issues, is there a readout from their meetings yet?

MS. NULAND: In fact, I messed this up a couple days ago. They’ve just arrived. The meetings are actually tomorrow, so I would hope tomorrow to have a little bit of a readout for you.


QUESTION: Victoria —


QUESTION: — I have a related – a Syria-related issue. There is more and more danger of the violence spilling over to Lebanon. Are you taking any particular measures, so to speak, emergency measures to sort of help stop that?

MS. NULAND: Well, we talk quite a bit about our concerns about spillover into Lebanon and the situation in Tripoli. We are obviously trying to be supportive of the Lebanese Armed Forces as they try to bring order and consulting with Lebanese colleagues on the situation. But it is extremely concerning.

QUESTION: And who is taking the lead in these efforts from the American side? Is it Ambassador Maura Connelly?

MS. NULAND: Obviously, Ambassador is in regular contact, but we also have contact from Washington.

QUESTION: And Mr. Feltman being such a Lebanon expert and now being – having such a high-profile job with the United Nations, does he have any kind of special role to play in this case?

MS. NULAND: Well, now that our friend Mr. Feltman is working for the UN, I’m going to —


MS. NULAND: — refer you to him there.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: More press reports show that – say that the safe zone or the no-fly zone is pretty much on the table now and is probably being discussed as part of the visit of Assistant Secretary Jones. Do you have anything on the —

MS. NULAND: Was there a question there? We’ve talked about this yesterday. I don’t have anything new to report other than these will be broad-ranging consultations. We will talk about all of the ideas that may be out there, and we’ll see where we go from there.

QUESTION: Is this just planned for one day, or is it —

MS. NULAND: It’s planned to be a one-day meeting tomorrow, right.

QUESTION: And then they come back?

MS. NULAND: That’s the plan, yeah.

QUESTION: They’re not going to make any visits to anywhere else? And where – and the meeting’s in Istanbul or Ankara?

MS. NULAND: The meetings are – I don’t recall if it’s Ankara or Istanbul. I think it’s Ankara, actually.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t expect them to, like, go down to the border and take a look at the – in terms of coordinating?

MS. NULAND: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: Is the meeting in Istanbul or Ankara?

MS. NULAND: (Laughter.) I said I was not sure. I believe it’s in Ankara. I believe it’s in Ankara. If not, we will fix that for you.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MS. NULAND: All right. Thanks.


QUESTION: Sorry, ma’am.



QUESTION: — there’s a new transitional —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Syria, sorry. I know I came late. I apologize. Any thoughts about Qadri Jamil’s statements? I mean, I know you spoke about it yesterday, but let’s say, in the past 24 hours, any new development about saying that Assad is maybe amenable to leaving?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further to what we said yesterday, which was that we didn’t see anything new here.

On to Mali.

QUESTION: There is a new transitional government in Mali which is what you had hoped for in keeping with ECOWAS, yet there appear to be no Islamists in that transitional government. Any concern that it can accurately – can it – that it can bring the country together when the northern areas are controlled by Islamists?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, we welcome the fact that interim President Toure has actually formed a government of national unity and that it is the result of this broad and inclusive dialogue that he had. Scott, you know that there are still two vice presidential slots that haven’t been filled in that government, so that is an opportunity to continue to ensure that it is broad-based. However, we have said and we will continue to say that we don’t see any role for Captain Sanogo in this, and he is still, as we understand it, jockeying there. So this is a good first step, but not yet a complete step.

QUESTION: Any concern that friends of Captain Sanogo, to put it perhaps the best way, are part of this transitional government? Five members of the transitional government are said to be his associates.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, this was – the formation of this government was a result of a very broad dialogue that the interim president conducted in an effort supported by ECOWAS, in an effort to try to create a government that’s going to last, that’s going to be able to address Mali’s issues. I’m not in a position from here to parse the individuals, but the proof will be in whether this government can take Mali forward in a democratic, peaceful, stable direction that allows them to address the concerns in the north, including some of the grievances that are fueling the rebellions.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that: With the freeze on non-humanitarian assistance, particularly in military and intelligence, is that dependent – I mean, does that hold until they have a democratic election which puts in a fully formed democratic government? Or is it possible that that would be rescinded, that freeze would be rescinded if you judge the current transitional government as sort of being on the right track?

MS. NULAND: Well, our humanitarian aid to Mali continues, but our security assistance and our assistance to the military won’t be able to be resumed until there is a full-up election.


QUESTION: Sorry, in reference to the two vice presidential spots that are empty, you said that there was still a chance for this government to be truly representative? I think that – something like that? Does that mean that you think that the existing – what there is now is not fully representative?

MS. NULAND: No. I think we – Scott asked about representation from the north in particular, and that is one of the issues that they are discussing in the context of how to fill these VP slots. But in general, this government that we see now reflects the national dialogue that was held, and that process was important to get where we are. But again, we’re going to judge this government by its ability to be effective in addressing Mali’s issues, including in the north.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:02 p.m.)