State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, August 29, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 29, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • New Government Appointments
    • Yulia Tymoshenko Case / Politically Motivated Persecutions
    • Kachin Refugees / Urge China to Keep Borders Open
  • IRAN
    • Non-Aligned Movement Meeting / Iran’s Role in Syria
    • Russian Arms Supply to Assad Regime
    • Multilateral Meetings in Italy / UN Session in New York
    • Training Programs for Administrators in Civilian Governments
    • Mixed Picture Inside Syria / Liberated Areas / Extreme Fighting / Humanitarian Needs
    • Basma Kodmani Statement / Democratic Transition
    • Syrian Refugees in Turkey / UN Assistance
    • Routine Travel Warning Update
    • GLOCs / Haqqani Network
  • IRAN
    • Statement on Amir Hekmati
    • Need for Talks and Negotiations


12:39 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Wednesday. I have nothing at the top. The crowd seems to be thinning as we head towards the long weekend and the trip.

Mr. Lee, you are back.

QUESTION: I am back. I don’t really have anything big, but do you have – guys have anything to say about President Karzai’s shuffling of – moving people around on the defense and intel side?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the reports that some new appointments are imminent. But as far as I know, he hasn’t actually announced any appointments yet. So I think we will await that. It’s obviously his sovereign right to shuffle his government, and we will look forward to working with whomever is named.

QUESTION: Okay. You don’t have any concerns about people being moved around?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think he’s been in the process of moving folks around for some time, and we’ve been awaiting the new appointments. So we will wait and see who he comes up with.


MS. NULAND: Okay. Jill.

QUESTION: Ukraine?


QUESTION: Tymoshenko?


QUESTION: Turning down her appeal. Any reaction, obviously?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we’re disappointed by this decision. We have, as you know, repeatedly raised our concerns about politically motivated persecutions of opposition leaders and former government officials in Ukraine, including Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. We continue to urge the Government of Ukraine to free Mrs. Tymoshenko and other members of the government and to restore their full political and civil rights.

QUESTION: And just – they would say that that would be interfering in their legal system. Is there any thought that asking them to do something that really would be kind of a political act is inappropriate?

MS. NULAND: Well, all the way through these cases, we have expressed concern about the way they’ve been conducted, about the base of evidence, about the judicial process, about the treatment of the individuals. So we’re not just talking about a singular event here. We’re talking about the whole way justice has been applied in these cases and our concern that they are politically motivated and not rooted firmly in Ukrainian law.

Please. Hey.

QUESTION: Going back to Afghanistan, there are reports that a Taliban negotiating team is in Qatar for talks with the U.S. Do you have any comment on that? Can you confirm that or –

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any particular information on that one way or the other. You know where we have been. We have been supportive of an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, but the Taliban themselves, since March, have not been very forthcoming or interested.

Are we done? No? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: A bit of odd lotting today. On China and Myanmar, there was some back-and-forth earlier this week about human rights groups’ allegations that China had been forcing more Kachin refugees back across the border. The Chinese denied it. But I’m wondering if you guys have any information about this. Is it your view that this is indeed happening, and do you have any comment on it if you think it is happening?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any particular information from the border areas. We have, as you know, been very strong in urging the Government of Burma to continue to work with the groups up on the border to continue to try to reconcile and bring them back into the political process. We’ve also, in our conversations with the Chinese about Burma, urged them to keep the borders open and to support the efforts of the Burmese Government to settle these longstanding ethnic concerns and disputes. But I don’t have anything particular about the situation up there today, Andy.

QUESTION: Okay. But as your – do you have general concerns about the issue of refugees being moved back into – I mean, not specifically perhaps this latest allegation, but more broadly, are you concerned about China’s attitude toward refugees from Myanmar?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have, in our conversations about this, urged them to keep borders open to allow refugees to move as necessary to allow the UN into these areas as we have also urged the Burmese as appropriate to make sure that people who are moving as a result of violence and other circumstances are served by the international community.

QUESTION: Can you check to see afterwards if, in fact, you don’t have new language that maybe just didn’t make it to you in time for the briefing?

MS. NULAND: I’m happy to, but we did talk about Burma today before we came down. I don’t think I have anything new.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was quoted when he arrived to Tehran today. He made a statement kind of contradict the U.S. position. Like he said Iran – he believes Iran can play an important regional role and especially regarding the situation in Syria. Doesn’t this contradict the U.S. position?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we have been saying all along, we are urging Ban Ki-moon to follow through on his pledge to raise all of the difficult issues with Iran’s leaders when he is there; not only the nuclear file, but concerns about terror, concerns about Iran’s support for the Assad regime. So in this case, we would agree with him that Iran has a role to play, and the role it can play is it can break with the Assad regime and stop providing material support and arms and advisors and all of these kinds of things. So that’s the message that we would like to see anybody attending the NAM meeting bring to Iranian officials.

QUESTION: So he didn’t contradict you?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, it remains to be seen how those conversations go. But certainly, he’s well aware of the international community’s concerns about the role that Iran is playing in fueling the regime’s violence.

QUESTION: You said Iran has a role to play. It can stop – it can break with Syria, stop supplying weapons, and do your list – rest of the list. Does that not apply to Russia as well?

MS. NULAND: We’ve made that point with regard to Russia, that we would like to see Russia firmly say that it is going to break with Assad in terms of its arms supplies.

QUESTION: And then has there been – maybe I missed this while I was away. Has there been a follow-up meeting or another meeting set yet of this working group, the Beth Jones with the Turks?

MS. NULAND: There’s not been a follow-on bilateral meeting set. We’ve moved almost immediately from the meetings in Istanbul to a multilateral setting. I think you know that Assistant Secretary Jones is in Rome today for this meeting that the Italians have called of some 17 key countries who are interested in supporting the Syrian people. So she’s there today representing the U.S.

And my readout from that is that they’ve talked, as we expected, about all three of the lines of work that we’ve been focused on – the support for the opposition to hasten the day when Assad goes, the refugee support and trying to get more countries to support the UN appeal, and then all of the day-after planning that we need to do together. So the Turks are at that meeting is my understanding. And then, as you know, there will be the UN session tomorrow in New York, where Ambassador Rice will represent us, and I think we’ll see Foreign Minister Davutoglu there as well along with other colleagues.

QUESTION: So – but there is no next meeting of that group?

MS. NULAND: We do anticipate we’ll have another bilateral session, but to my knowledge it hasn’t been set yet. But it’s not for a lack of conversation with the Turks, but in a multilateral setting now.


QUESTION: Talking about the day after – you said a few days ago from this podium that the U.S. were involved in training the opposition and circumventing the government, trying to block their communication on the legal matters and everything. Are you also involved in any civilian affairs managing thing with the opposition, helping them to manage the – I don’t know – utilities, the thing – if and when –

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Well, thank you for that question. I was talking to Ambassador Ford before coming down here, and he reminded me that we have recently had a training program for a number of the administrators in the civilian governments that have sprung up in areas of Syria that have now been liberated from the regime. And we have been working with them on issues of civil administration, human rights training, on the kinds of things that they might need from the international community as they begin to rebuild their towns. It also gives us an opportunity to talk to them about inclusion and protection of minorities and all those things.

So we are very much engaged in that dialogue with those that we can reach and those who are interested in our training programs.

QUESTION: With any hands-on training on how to manage cities, how to manage towns?

MS. NULAND: Those are the kinds of things that they are asking for. They’re asking for help in how to budget; they’re asking for help in how to keep utilities running, how to ensure that the institutions of the state that provide services to the population come back up and running. So we are open to supporting all of those kinds of needs.

QUESTION: But not yet providing anything?

MS. NULAND: No. We are working through training programs, and I would guess that they’re going to get more and more detailed as the needs are expressed. But these are our first round of training programs with some of these individuals who are now running newly liberated areas, and among the things we’re doing are assessing the needs.

QUESTION: But there is no Future of Syria Project, much as there was as a Future of Iraq Project for the Administration to look at and then dismiss once it becomes needed, right?

MS. NULAND: As you know, Matt, we are doing a bunch of things. We are —

QUESTION: No. I mean, there’s no formal friend – I mean friends – future of Syria per se, as there was with Iraq.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re doing a very significant day-after set of exercises.

QUESTION: So there is?

MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this before, we talked about it in Istanbul, that we as a government, and now working with other governments, are looking at all of the kinds of things that we think the Syrians may ask for.

QUESTION: Yeah. I understand that.

MS. NULAND: But we are not building it for them, if that’s what you’re asking.

QUESTION: No. I’m asking you if it’s as formalized as the Future of Iraq Project was.

MS. NULAND: That depends on how formalized you think the Future of Iraq Project was, but —

QUESTION: Well, it had meetings of working groups; it drew up huge multi – hundreds if not thousands of pages of plans for —

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re not doing —

QUESTION: You’re not doing that?

MS. NULAND: We’re not doing hundreds of thousands of pages. We are working through what we think the Syrians may need from the international community, thinking about what we could support if the request came, and working with our international partners on other things that other countries might support.


QUESTION: So those training programs – are they done by phone? Or, I mean, how are you training them?

MS. NULAND: Well, you can understand that to protect the individuals that we’re training, I will be a little bit opaque here. We do training programs outside of Syria for those who can come back and forth, and we also have pretty extensive contacts with those who are inside Syria. So we mix and match, but I’m not going to give too much more detail to project those who are participating.

QUESTION: Do you know how many people are involved or who are going through that training?

MS. NULAND: Well, there are those programs, and I can get the number of the folks who went through our regional administrators course, if that’s of interest. But as you know, when the Secretary was in Istanbul, she also met with some of the folks who are participating in other kinds of training, our justice and accountability training, our training for student leaders, for women leaders, for media. All told, I don’t have a figure, but it’s certainly in the hundreds now.


QUESTION: And just one other thing on the opposition. You’ve frequently said that the idea is to get the coordination between those who are outside of the country and those who are inside the country. But just speaking about within the country, we keep hearing reports that they are getting their act together and they have some type of plan for what they want to do on the day after. But what’s your realistic assessment of how ready they are right now, the people within the country?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think it’s a mixed picture, Jill, and it depends very much on where they are in Syria. You have, as I said, great swaths of the country that have now been liberated from the regime, in the north and the east and increasingly between some of the major towns, where you have local coordinating councils beginning to reestablish civilian authority and getting their cities and towns back up and running, villages. And in those places, they are looking at local – they’re establishing local leadership; they are thinking about the future.

But then you have still very extreme fighting in Aleppo, Damascus, some of the major population centers, so obviously folks who are concentrated there, in addition to trying to take care of people and provide for urgent humanitarian needs – and you’ve seen some of the reporting about making sure bread and water and other things get to the people – they’re very much focused on the daily battle because of the violence of the regime. So I think it’s a very mixed picture.

QUESTION: If we can stay on that, that opposition theme for a minute, on the SNC, there was – been another sort of defection of a very high-profile member yesterday, Basma Kodmani. Does that in itself concern you? And do you – are you – you’ve said that you keep on urging them to get their act together, but it sounds like their act is increasingly falling apart. What’s your strategy for helping them to get their horse on the bit?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve said for a number of months, in addition to the SNC, there are a number of external opposition groups, and then, of course, there are those, as we’ve just talked about, working inside Syria. So I’m not going to speak to individual Syrians’ decisions whether to stay affiliated with one group or another group.

I would say that if you’d looked at the statement from Basma Kodmani, who’s somebody that we know well and who’s met the Secretary a couple of times, she made absolutely clear that she intends to remain committed to the cause of a new day, a democratic day, in Syria. So how she chooses to do that is obviously her decision.

But we have supported this work that the Arab League has done in Cairo, as you know, to help the external groups, no matter how they label themselves, come up with this code of conduct, come up with a transition strategy. That is now being aired inside Syria and helping those groups inside Syria also come to a common plan. Obviously, we want to see groups coalesce around these kinds of principles, that it’ll be a democratic transition, that it’ll protect the rights of all Syrians, that it’ll be a pluralistic system, that whether you are Sunni or Alawi or Druze or Christian or Kurd or anybody else, man, woman, you will feel safe, you will feel part of the new Syria. So that’s job one as we see it, to ensure that we all talking about a democratic Syria before they get to the point of picking leaders.

QUESTION: Would you say that it’s fair to say that the SNC has – is of diminishing importance in this array of groups that you’re talking to? I mean, has their relative dysfunction meant that you’re placing more emphasis or would – are having more dealings with other groups?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve said from the beginning that we see them as a legitimate representative, but we never embraced them as the sole representative because Syrians themselves had a number of other groups. So I think what’s most important here is, again, not what group folks label themselves as being affiliated with, but that increasingly opposition inside Syria, outside Syria, are all talking about the same kind of democratic future with basic democratic principles and rights assured, et cetera, and that we’re moving forward in that spirit.


QUESTION: In terms of safe zones, Turkish officials have been talking about it recently, and they pointed out that 100,000 refugees is the red line for Turkey to set up. In the past, you stated that you have not seen any kind of studies by the Turkish Government. Have you seen any studies, any proposals, by Turkish Government?

MS. NULAND: I think you’re putting words in my mouth. I don’t remember saying those words. What we did say earlier in the week and last week in discussing the bilateral conversations that we had with the Turkish Government – and I think I went into this in some detail on Monday – is that we are very much focused on supporting Turkey, in keeping the borders open, and in being able to handle this increased refugee load. As you know, the Turkish Government was focused early on on trying to do all this itself. It’s now more open and accepting to UN help and we’ve been trying to facilitate the UN helping Turkey with the surge, keeping the border open, smoothing the processing and all of those things, because we think that’s the best way to provide refuge at the moment.

QUESTION: So it’s about almost 90,000 right now, and Turkey says it is maximum capacity is 100,000 can be reached within days. What is your stance regarding Turkish proposal to create safe zone within Turkey right now?

MS. NULAND: Again, as I – within Turkey?

QUESTION: Within Syria.

MS. NULAND: Again, our focus has been on helping and supporting Turkey to be able to expand the number of refugees that it can handle on its side of the border, to getting more UN help for Turkey. That’s what we’ve been focused on. That’s what we think is going to be the best way to ensure safety and security in the short run.

QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu is coming to New York tomorrow, and he stated just yesterday to the Financial Times that he wants to bring the safe zone within Syria proposal to the special convened UN Security Council meeting. Do you have any information on that? Have you been updated on this request so far?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we’ve had extensive conversations with the Turkish Government when Beth Jones was there, when the Secretary was there. We continue to talk to Foreign Minister Davutoglu about this, but we are, as I said, focused on helping Turkey handle a surge inside Turkey.

Please. Yes.

QUESTION: Another subject?


QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any comment on the very strong letter that Congressman Dennis Kucinich sent to the President of Lithuania protesting what he described as the political persecution and undemocratic actions against Algirdas Paleckis? That’s (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: Is this the same guy that you raised yesterday?

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, I don’t have anything further on that one way or the other, and I certainly don’t have any information about a letter a member of Congress sent to a foreign government.


QUESTION: On Pakistan?


QUESTION: As far as your fighting against terrorism and recent murder or killing of this Haqqani Network chief, my question is, one, there’s a warning – Travel Warning to Pakistan. And second, is Pakistan now helping the U.S. fighting against terrorism? Because they’ve been complaining now drone attacks must be stopped and so forth. Is Pakistan with the U.S. as far as against Haqqani Network in Waziristan?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, Goyal, you are correct that we recently updated our Travel Warning for Pakistan. We do this on a routine basis as events happen on the ground. The latest update, which I think was yesterday or the day before, includes information about some of the attacks that we’ve seen, including the April explosion in Lahore and the suicide attack in Karachi. So it’s just appropriate that we would keep that up-to-date based on events.

With regard to our larger counterterrorism work with the Government of Pakistan, we, as you know, are encouraged that the GLOCs are now open, that we are able to work well together on moving cargo. We continue to try to strengthen the work we do together against the Haqqani Network. Our view remains that we can and should be doing more together, and we are looking forward to being able to do that.

QUESTION: And as far as this Travel Warning is concerned, Madam, is this in connection with the, one, 9/11 coming up? And second, is some – is there some kind of warning came up for the U.S. citizens traveling to Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: It doesn’t have anything to do with September 11th. It just has to do with regular updating based on information on the ground, as I stated.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure I understood the announcement today about the Iranian American – excuse me.

MS. NULAND: About Hekmati?

QUESTION: Correct, Mr. Hekmati. Because now, why was this announced at this particular point? Because didn’t the court – was that in March that it actually didn’t annul the death sentence, or —

MS. NULAND: We spoke about it in March. But as we traditionally do when we have an American locked up unjustly, this is the one-year anniversary since they detained him, so that’s why we put out the statement today, just to mark the anniversary.

QUESTION: Okay. Just wanted to make sure.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. No.

Anything else? Great. Thanks, everybody. Oh, sorry. Nicolas, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, last one on Arafat. Does the State Department has any – do you welcome the opinion in France of an investigation in the death of Yasser Arafat in Paris in 2004?

MS. NULAND: I have no comment on that at all, Nicolas.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Palestinians (inaudible). Do you have anything to say about the Palestinians saying that they will not submit a formal request for recognition at the General Assembly this year?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen those reports, and obviously it’s in line with what we’ve been saying for some time, which is that the only realistic path is for these two countries – these two – for Israelis and Palestinians to sit down and talk and negotiate their way through. So it’s in line with comments that we’ve been making for some time and work that we’ve been doing to try to get Israelis and Palestinians together.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, so you think it’s a good thing then?

MS. NULAND: Certainly it’s – can only improve the environment.

Okay. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:03 p.m.)