State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, August 27, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 27, 2012.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Syrian Opposition / Code of Conduct / Transitional Structures
    • Refugees / Turkish Border Posts
    • MANPADS / Day-After Planning
    • Egypt’s Role
    • Violence in Dariya
  • IRAN
    • Amir Hekmati Case
    • Afghanistan-India-Iran Trilateral / Access to Port for Afghanistan in Iran
    • Ban Ki-moon’s Visit to NAM Summit
    • Representative Rohrabacher’s Letter
  • IRAQ
    • Camp Ashraf and Camp Hurriya
    • Death Row Executions
    • Attack on Japanese Ambassador’s Vehicle
    • Reports of Tibetan Self-Immolations / Representatives McGovern and Wolfs’ Letter
    • Shooting Incident
    • Report on Haqqani Network


12:55 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Monday, everybody. Lots of people here for the dog days of August. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds. Are we going to let Mr. Pennington start or —

QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask about – the French President has called on the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government, and he said that France would recognize that provisional government. I wonder if the U.S. has a position on that? Would you support that move, and do you think it’s a viable endeavor at the moment?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been working with the Syrian opposition for some time as it’s worked through its own code of conduct and its own planning for a transitional government. We have been encouraging the opposition to begin thinking – both the opposition outside Syria, the opposition inside Syria – about the plan that it put forward on July 3rd, and if that were to be implemented, who it might want to have in its transitional government.

But as you know, they are continuing to confer among themselves. What’s most important is that, moving forward, the Syrian opposition outside Syria and the Syrian opposition inside Syria coordinate and collaborate both in terms of the kind of Syria that they want to see – this code of conduct – but also in terms of the transitional structures that they would support and the emerging leaders that they see. But those conversations continue with Syrians inside and outside.


QUESTION: Just to follow-up on that. I wonder, but do you think that the coordination and collaboration that you’ve been encouraging, are they in any way close to a point where you could even talk about forming a provisional government?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think that’s a decision for them to make. What’s important is that this reflect views of the Syrian people and that it be something that is broadly consulted among all of the groups in Syria, that it be broadly representative of the different backgrounds, ethnicities, parts of the country, if and when that time comes, that it reflect the kinds of goals that are in the code of conduct that was put out in Cairo early in July – namely a respect for human rights, a democratic path forward, et cetera.


QUESTION: Toria, with this massive outflow and now Turkey stopping refugees from leaving – coming into Turkey because they simply can’t handle it, doesn’t this now really force the international community to look at some way of protecting – let’s say with a safe zone, perhaps, within Syria – for the people who have nowhere to go?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, just to confirm what you are seeing, that the outflows out of Syria are growing both into Turkey, into Jordan, into all of the neighboring states. As you’ll recall, last week we had bilateral conversations – U.S. and Turkey – led by Assistant Secretary Jones. One of the key topics of conversation there was how our Turkish allies are going to be able to handle the flow coming into Turkey up to some 80,000 now, with an expectation of going well over 100,000 in coming days and weeks. And we worked intensively in those consultations on strengthening the relationship between Turkey and UN agencies to have more UN help for the establishment of camps, the care and feeding, et cetera.

Turkey, as you know, had been quite intent on doing this within its own national resources at the beginning, but now is more open to international help, and particularly to UN help. The U.S., as you know, is the largest donor to the UN appeal both in Turkey and in Jordan. We are encouraging other countries to continue to do the same.

Our understanding today, Jill, is that all the border posts into Turkey are now open. It has been a little bit slow in terms of the registration and the movement. But again, we are working with UN agencies in Turkey to try to encourage the ability to move more people faster, but we don’t have any closed borders at the moment. And the Turkish side is also working with the UN to try to pre-position some supplies right there at the border posts so that people who are waiting to be processed can be served at the same time.

QUESTION: So then the idea still is to have them find some type of refuge within Turkey and not to stop – close the border and keep them in Syria.

MS. NULAND: No, we’ve been strongly encouraging all the border countries to do what they can to keep the border open and that – and to let the UN help them with the flow.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) suggested this will be topic one at the meeting – the UN Security Council meeting, which will involve some foreign ministers but not others later this week. Is that your understanding? Do you think that – and do you think that this grouping, given that several of the key foreign ministers – names you know among them are not going to be there – is this really – is it showing the right kind of international urgency to drive this question forward?

MS. NULAND: I think what you’re talking about, Andy, is that the French, under their presidency of the UN Security Council, are talking about having a session later this week focused on the humanitarian situation. We consider that timely. It’s a good opportunity for Security Council countries to try to broaden what they are doing, coordinate better, and also to try to broaden the group of countries who are responding to the UN’s appeal, to Turkey’s appeal, Jordan’s appeal, et cetera.


QUESTION: We’re seeing more and more reports about opposition fighters getting their hands on anti-aircraft weapons, mostly being seized from the Syrian army. I know this was a big concern of the U.S. in Libya, and that a lot of effort and a lot of money went into finding out where these weapons were going. Is that possible even in Syria, and how concerned is this Administration about the possibility of those weapons getting out there?

MS. NULAND: Well, if what you’re talking about it MANPADS, Cami, you know that around the world we have been very concerned about the proliferation of MANPADS and about their use in – on conflict and combat.

That said, we have a Syrian opposition that is facing some of the most egregious and horrific violence we’ve seen exacted on a civilian population anywhere. We have reports, as you know, over the weekend of summary executions by the Syrian regime. We have reports of aerial strafing of people lined up waiting for bread outside of Aleppo.

So, while it is difficult, it’s not surprising that unfortunately the opposition is fighting back in whatever way it can to try to protect civilians. And this is a direct result of the fact that the Assad regime is not stopping its assault and, in fact, is continuing its assault and using increasingly horrible and brutal methods.

QUESTION: But this will be a big problem if, as you say, the Assad regime is going eventually, and then you have all of these weapons out there, and not knowing who all the various opposition people are, you’ve got all these weapons again.

MS. NULAND: Right. Well, as we’ve said a number of times here, and as the Secretary said in Istanbul, as we look at what we’re calling day-after planning – planning on the U.S. side but also internationally for how we can support the Syrian people after Assad goes and when they’re in that transition phase – one of the key issues we’re looking at is how we might be able to offer support in securing, safeguarding some of the most dangerous weapons from the Assad era. So it would not only be some of these kinds of things, but also chemical weapons, et cetera. That’ll certainly be a very, very big job for them, and we are looking at how we can be ready to help if we’re asked.


QUESTION: Toria, speaking precisely of that, the French President said this morning that the use of chemical weapons would be a legitimate cause for intervention. Now, I know President Obama has said “redline,” but this is quite specific that if they’re used, we intervene, which seems to be kind of different from sending specialized forces. So does the U.S. support what the French President is saying, that that would be intervention?

MS. NULAND: Well, beyond repeating what the President’s been saying, “redline,” I don’t think I’m going to predict what our course of action would be. Obviously, it would depend on the circumstances, but we’ve been very clear with regard to that redline that the President put down.

Please. Anne.

QUESTION: Following up on the MANPADS question, do you have any indication at this point that the rebels do have MANPADS or surface-to-air missiles of another type? If so, where might they have gotten them? And what is your understanding of what brought down the helicopter today?

MS. NULAND: With regard to the helicopter, we’ve seen the same pictures you have. We, frankly, don’t have any information one way or the other as to how it came down, whether it was shot down, whether it was mechanical, et cetera. We do know that Assad’s army and all of his materiel is quite stressed. He’s having to use the same loyal units around the country because he can’t count on others, and you’ve seen the number of defections go up and up.

With regard to the weaponry that the opposition has, frankly I can’t, with any clarity, speak to what they may have at the moment. But you know where we are globally on MANPADS.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on one other thing?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: On the first question about what Hollande said today, are you endorsing his call for a provisional government or not?

MS. NULAND: Again, our call to the Syrian opposition has been to coordinate more closely the work of those Syrians outside Syria and those Syrians inside Syria, first of all to endorse the transition plan that is already on the table. So that’s a first order of business, for them to all agree on what a transition ought to look like. Obviously, it’s a matter for them to decide if and when they may be prepared to start naming folks. We would want to ensure that that was based on a solid, democratic plan and that it reflected a broad cross section of those in Syria and reflected the values of inclusion, the values of human rights and protections for all groups that the earlier July code of conduct that the opposition put out was very clear about.

Other thoughts? Jill? Oh, sorry, Sean.

QUESTION: On – just briefly, on Syria.


QUESTION: The Egyptian President Morsi has increasingly active on Syria. He’s talked about having more contacts, including with the Iranians, with (inaudible) visit. Do you see his efforts as complementary to what the U.S. is doing? How do you see the potential involvement of Egypt on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, traditionally, Egypt has been a strong regional player. We count on Egypt in the Arab League to be a force for regional security and stability. We’ve welcomed the involvement that they’ve had in the Arab League all the way along, even when they were in the midst of their own transition. As you know, there was some question about a special meeting that involved Iran. Our understanding is that the Egyptians have now called off that proposal because some of the participating countries didn’t agree.

QUESTION: You mentioned the opposition working on a code of conduct. Is that any different from the July code of conduct?

MS. NULAND: No. My point was that we had the external opposition put forward this code of conduct. They need to increasingly ventilate it inside. We have seen some of the inside groups – whether it’s the FSA or some of the local coordinating councils – adopting similar principles. But again, this is what we want to see. We want to see inside and outside begin to come together around basic standards for their democracy going forward, that everybody will ascribe to, including inclusion, including tolerance, including a Syria for all Syrians, justice, accountability, et cetera. And then we want to see this transition plan – whether it’s the July 3rd one, whether it’s a further iteration of that – move forward, reflecting the views of Syrians inside Syria, and then it will obviously be up to them whether they want to move forward with a transitional government.

QUESTION: So getting to a common ground is a condition for something more to come?

MS. NULAND: Again, this is a decision that –

QUESTION: I mean, a condition for –

MS. NULAND: — that Syrians have to make, but it has to be Syrians inside Syria and not just Syrians outside Syria.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Morsi proposal? I mean, is it your view that his suggestion that Iran be included in this regional meeting torpedoed the proposal, or should it? Is that why it fell apart, and do you think that’s the right thing? And also if you have any comment or confirmation on the allegations yesterday on this new massacre outside of Damascus, I’d be interested.

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the proposal that a number of – a handful of countries get together, I won’t speak for those countries who were initially included in that group and said that they weren’t comfortable. I do think that some of those countries see what we see, which is that meeting with Iran at this point when Iran is materially aiding, abetting, training, funding the Assad regime is not going to lead to peace, is not going to lead to stability. But I’ll let them speak to their own decision.

In terms of the violence in the Damascus suburbs, particularly the suburb of Daria, what we have is that over 300 people were killed there over the weekend, 150 in one location. We’ve seen the same reports that you’ve seen from these human rights activists and the local coordinating committees that a number of them appear to have been killed at point-blank range and in the most brutal way at the hands of the regime.

QUESTION: And is your information based on the reporting of the human rights groups, not any other sources of information?

MS. NULAND: And obviously our own contacts inside Syria.

Please, Jill.



QUESTION: A question about the American, Amir Hekmati, sentenced to death. Obviously, reaction to that, but also is – what can the State Department or the U.S. do to engage, given the fact that we’re back to that situation where they don’t recognize him as an American citizen?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve been very clear about where we stand on the Hekmati case. All along, we never thought he should have been arrested. We’ve been trying – because he’s a dual U.S.-Iranian national, we’ve been trying to get access to him since he was originally locked up, appealing through the Swiss protecting power to the Iranians. The Iranians have never allowed us to go to see him. It’s frankly not clear to me whether the Swiss have even gotten in. But we think this is a gross miscarriage of justice.

QUESTION: What are you doing at this point? Any negotiations, even something behind the scenes?

MS. NULAND: Well, beyond speaking about what I’ve just said with regard to the Swiss protecting power, which has been something that has not been successful, traditionally the Iranians have never recognized dual citizenship, so it’s always been extremely difficult to get access to Americans who are also citizens of Iran, which is unfortunate and something that we warn about when – in our Travel Warnings to American citizens and particularly dual nationals traveling to Iran.


QUESTION: Afghanistan?


QUESTION: Over the weekend, India, Afghanistan, and Iran reached an agreement on the use of Chabahar port as an alternative to the Karachi port. How do you see the agreement between the three countries?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, this happened on the margins of the NAM meeting. We’ve been pretty clear about how we feel about anybody participating in the NAM meeting. That said, these three countries are neighbors; they have to get along. We are obviously interested in increased trade and commerce back and forth there, so anything that ameliorates that situation is something that we would support.

QUESTION: Do you think the development of this port is going to further help Afghanistan in trade and commerce?

MS. NULAND: Well, that would be the hope, if they’re going to move forward, that it will further embed Afghanistan in a positive, growing region along the lines of the Silk Road initiative that we’ve been supporting.

QUESTION: And the Indian Prime Minister visiting Iran tomorrow – have you conveyed to the Indians specifically on this issue?

MS. NULAND: On the issue of the NAM meeting?

QUESTION: No, not on NAM. Iranians issue.

MS. NULAND: With regard to the port?


MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that one way or the other.


QUESTION: Regarding Iran again and the Non-Allied Movement, you just stated your position, the U.S. position of countries going there, and as you did last week, specifically on Ban Ki-moon, you urged him not to go. He is going now, and some Iranian activists have taken the opportunity to write him and other leaders attending the summit to look into Iran’s human rights situation while there, to demand to see some political prisoners, to visit the prisons themselves. Have you had – has the U.S. had any conversations with Ban Ki-moon or any other leaders going there on this subject of looking into the human rights situation, talking more with the Iranian Government?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have, as we said last week, encouraged him, if he is going to go, to be very strong and very clear on all of the areas of concern that the international community has with Iran. This includes, obviously, its need to abide by its nonproliferation obligations, its ongoing support for terrorism, its disregard for human rights inside Iran, its interference in the domestic conflict in Syria.

As you know, when he announced that he was intending to go, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he would use the opportunity to convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community, and he himself listed human rights as one of the issues that he would be raising. So we look forward to hearing how those conversations go.

QUESTION: Another question on Iran. Apparently, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has sent Secretary Clinton a letter regarding Iran’s Azerbaijan and the Republic of Azerbaijan. He is suggesting that the Republic of Azerbaijan – there is talk about joining the – Iran’s Azerbaijan actually to their territory. He was – that he was encouraging the Secretary to support that idea. Is that something that the Secretary – is that letter something that the Secretary has given any thought to? Has she responded? Where does that come in in the U.S. foreign policy?

MS. NULAND: Well, beyond saying that we received a letter on this subject from Congressman Rohrabacher, that we have now responded to the letter, I think I’m not going to get into the details of our congressional correspondence.

QUESTION: Well, then in your – in general, are you in – is the U.S. Administration in favor of splitting up countries?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know where we generally are on territorial integrity.

QUESTION: But you have responded to Rohrabacher?

MS. NULAND: We have. We have. We have.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: A TV station, pro-Syrian regime, issued a video today about the Al Hurra camera man having confessions, that the Turkish Foreign Minister rejected then. Do you have anything about that?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen those, Samir. I think you know that we are concerned about this individual and we are working through our protecting power for any information that we can get. But we don’t have anything specific and I haven’t seen those particular —

QUESTION: Which may hint that they are arrested with – by the regime forces.

MS. NULAND: This is obviously one of the concerns.

Sorry. Shaun.

QUESTION: The American freelance journalist Mr. Bice —


QUESTION: Tice. Excuse me.


QUESTION: Is there any information that you have at this point on this?

MS. NULAND: Regrettably, there is not. Again, we are working through our Czech protecting power, reaching out to the regime to see if it has any information, but we don’t have anything to share.

QUESTION: Camp Ashraf?


QUESTION: Just before I came in, there was a missive from people who support the people in Camp Ashraf complaining about a number of things. I won’t go into all of them, but a generator not being allowed in, et cetera. Could you just give us a quick update? The last time you spoke, you said that there had been a group that did leave, there was some progress. It seemed a little more positive, I guess, last week. Where are we now, and is this a looming sticking point once again?

MS. NULAND: Well, last time we briefed, which was Thursday, the group in Ashraf was preparing for another tranche of individuals to move to Camp Hurriya. My understanding is that the packing is continuing and that there is a group moving. As we’ve had in the past, there have been some lumps and bumps in the road on that, but we commend the fact that the Iraqis are working well to help move these individuals. We want to see everybody leave Camp Ashraf and take advantage of the opportunity to go to Hurriya and then be processed by the UN for – onward, we have about 1,200 residents remaining in Ashraf, so we look forward – today’s the move – today, tomorrow – to go smoothly.

QUESTION: Do you know how many people are going to move or (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: I think it was – about 400 was the hope and expectation today.

QUESTION: Switch topic?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: On Gambia, the leadership of Gambia has pledged to execute everybody in death row. Amnesty International is saying some executions have already taken place. Does the United States have any comment on this, and has the U.S. been in any touch with the Gambians about this?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have been in touch with the Gambians. We’ve seen these reports that they have already executed nine of these 40, but we’re not in a position to confirm it. We have regularly called on The Gambia to ensure that it fulfills its international obligations, provides for due process throughout its judicial system, and we have expressed our concerns about the way they do that.

QUESTION: To follow on that, the EU in their statement on the situation said that they would have an urgent response, meaning the EU would have an urgent response —


QUESTION: — if The Gambia did not stop these proposed executions. Obviously, the EU has its own policies regarding the death penalty.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Have you told the Gambians that we might also have some sort of response should they not heed these warnings not to proceed?

MS. NULAND: I think we haven’t telegraphed any response at this point. Again, we haven’t been able to confirm that they’ve moved forward with these threats.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: The Palestinians are not happy with an announcement made by the Prime Minister Netanyahu about a settlement bloc in the West Bank, that it should be part of Greater Jerusalem. Do you have any position on this?

MS. NULAND: Our position on Jerusalem hasn’t changed, our position on settlements in general hasn’t changed, and we’re very clear about that with all comers.


QUESTION: Senkaku dispute.

MS. NULAND: Again?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Yeah, sorry. In China, in a lot of places, there is an anti-Japanese movement – protest, and the Japanese-made cars toppled down and a lot of protests. And it’s reported that even the Japanese Ambassador’s vehicle has been attacked this morning – or today, yeah. So – and on the other hand, the Japanese Government is raising 2 billion yen to buy the Senkaku Islands from private ownership. So how concerned the U.S. Government about this escalating tension between China and Japan over the Senkaku Island?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are concerned, and if, in fact, these reports about an attack on the vehicle of the Japanese Ambassador are accurate, that would be extremely concerning, particularly given his diplomatic status. We have regularly, including last week – I think every single day of the week – urged these two countries to work this out peacefully. And as you know, we don’t take a position on the sovereignty there.

QUESTION: Have you actually confirmed that there was an incident, that —

MS. NULAND: We haven’t actually been able to confirm it.

QUESTION: And also about – it’s reported by the Tibet Post International saying that two Tibetans – two – there are two Tibetans who put – who set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese repression. So any comment on this?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen reports of new immolations in the last couple of days. You know that whenever we see these tragic incidents, we again call on China to meet the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people within China to protect their human rights, to protect their way of life, and to work on these issues through dialogue. But I don’t have anything particular today.



MS. NULAND: Mexico, yeah.

QUESTION: There have been —

QUESTION: Staying on Tibet, please.

MS. NULAND: Stay on Tibet?



QUESTION: Last week, the chairman and co-chair of Tom Lantos’s Human Rights Committee wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton on this Tibetan issue, increasing (inaudible) self-immolation (inaudible), but seeking – urging her to convene an international meeting on Tibet and also an international working group on Tibet. Has she received the letter? And what’s her thought on those two proposals?

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the letter from Representatives McGovern and Wolf; is that the letter that you’re talking about? Yeah, we have received it. We haven’t responded to it yet. We’re looking at their proposals.


QUESTION: Additionally, there’s been an increasing controversy in Mexico over the incident with the U.S. diplomatic convoy, particularly the firing on the U.S. diplomatic van. The Embassy in Mexico initially classified it as an ambush. The Mexican Government says it was an accident. Which is it? And then can you confirm some of the – what were these two individuals (inaudible) link – to what U.S. agency were they linked?

MS. NULAND: As you know, the Mexican Government is investigating this incident. Our Embassy is cooperating in that investigation and trying to assist it in any way that we can. I’m not going to get ahead of the investigation – I think we’re going to wait and see what that concludes – nor am I going to get into speculating on any of the specifics until we see what the investigation leads to.


QUESTION: Just a follow-up: Have you taken any extra steps to protect U.S. borders in Mexico after this incident?

MS. NULAND: Well, we —

QUESTION: Are you worried about this?

MS. NULAND: We always are in a strong security posture around the world as necessary, but we don’t speak about any of the details of that.

Anything else? Please.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. having any kind of peace talks with the Haqqani Network? There have been some reports in the Pakistani media today.

MS. NULAND: I don’t think we have anything new to report. I think they know exactly where we are; that we encourage reconciliation for those who are reconcilable along the terms that the Afghan Government has put out. But I don’t have anything new to report today.

QUESTION: Any specific talks with only the Haqqani Network —

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: — on Afghanistan?

MS. NULAND: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: How is the study coming on potential terror designation of the Haqqanis? Is that on track for —

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, there is legislation out there that requires the Secretary to make a report. She’ll make a report within the 30 days, I think, that she was given.



MS. NULAND: Kenya, yeah.

QUESTION: There was a militant suspect called Aboud Rogo who was shot in Mombasa, and I wonder if you have any information about that. Apparently, he’s suspected to be a member of al-Shabaab, and his wife is claiming that the Kenyan police shot him.

MS. NULAND: Matt, I don’t have anything on that. Let me take it and see if we have anything to get back to you on.


QUESTION: On the investigation in – by the Mexican Government, do you have any expectations when this will be done, when you expect results?

MS. NULAND: I don’t. They’re in the lead, so I will refer you to the Mexican Government.

QUESTION: Can you report their names, (inaudible) U.S. border? Can you give their names?

MS. NULAND: No. Other than saying that they’re Embassy employees, we’re going to let this investigation go forward.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)