State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, February 11, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 11, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Under Secretary Sherman to Lead Delegation to Libya Ministerial in Paris
    • Bahrain National Dialogue
    • Settlement Approval at Beit El
    • Attack at Border Posts
    • Censorship of YouTube
    • Protests
    • Support to Palestinian Authority / Appropriated Money from Congress
    • Pope Benedict XVI
    • UN Arms Embargo / Security Council Review



1:06 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Happy Monday. Second week of Secretary Kerry’s tenure. I have a couple things at the top, first to advise you that Under Secretary Sherman will lead the U.S. delegation to the Libya ministerial in Paris tomorrow. This meeting is designed to demonstrate the international community’s strong support for the Libyan people and the democratically elected Libyan Government as it works to establish security, to bolster economic development, and to facilitate the next steps of the democratic transition.

This ministerial will bring together representatives from various European and Arab countries as well as the Arab League. We understand that Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Aziz will lead the Libyan delegation. The meeting will address security, rule of law, justice challenges, and other democratic transition challenges that Libya faces. The Government of Libya will outline measures that it’s undertaking in these sectors, and international partners will summarize their ongoing assistance efforts and look at how they can do more to support the Libyan transition.

Next is with regard to the  National Dialogue, which began over the weekend. The United States welcomes the start of Bahrain’s National Dialogue. We’re encouraged by the broad participation of Bahraini political groups in the dialogue. We view the dialogue as a positive step in a broader process that can result in meaningful reform that meets the aspirations of all of Bahrain’s citizens. We believe that efforts to promote engagement and reconciliation among Bahrainis are necessary to long-term stability.

Let’s go to —

QUESTION: Was that put out as a statement?

MS. NULAND: Say again?

QUESTION: Is that going to come out on paper?

MS. NULAND: It was not, but I can put it out on paper if that helps you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I just – I don’t – I’m trying to save ink.

MS. NULAND: Trying to save – (laughter).

QUESTION: Trying to save ink?

MS. NULAND: But now that —

QUESTION: Well, I won’t have to write it.

MS. NULAND: Now that we live-stream, Matt, you can watch it again. How about that?

QUESTION: You’re right, you’re right. Could I just —

MS. NULAND: Exactly.

QUESTION: I don’t have any – at the risk of appearing to be ignorant or not having paid attention over the weekend, I don’t have any real questions to ask. But I do have one on Under Secretary Sherman going to Paris. Is there a reason why it was her and not the Secretary or Burns? Is it a scheduling thing? Are the French okay with this? Is she going to be the only non-foreign minister?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that there may be some European foreign ministers, but this is a mix of political directors, et cetera. It was going to be Assistant Secretary Jones for us, and the decision was made by the Secretary to augment and to ask Under Secretary Sherman to go.

QUESTION: Is this group – is this what happened to the Friends of Libya? Is this basically that same group?

MS. NULAND: The Friends of Libya group that met before the fall —


MS. NULAND: — of Qhadafi has not met in that —

QUESTION: But essentially it’s the same countries?

MS. NULAND: It is many of the same countries who’ve been longtime supporters of a democratic Libya, yes.

QUESTION: Can we go to Israel and Palestine?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There is an announcement out of Israel today that the Israeli Government has given final approval for the construction of 90 new settler homes in an area called Beit El, which is a major Jewish settlement north of Jerusalem. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I have to say that I didn’t see that before coming down. You know where we are on building in Jerusalem, on settler activity. Our position on this has not changed. We don’t think it’s helpful.

QUESTION: So may I follow up on —

MS. NULAND: Please. Cami.

QUESTION: — on the same topic?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Same topic?

QUESTION: No, different topic.

QUESTION: On the same topic. It has also been announced that Defense Minister Barak is coming to Washington. Do you feel – how do you explain the timing between announcing that – in fact, it was the Ministry of Defense that announced the expansion, and his visit to Washington?

MS. NULAND: I also don’t have anything on a Barak visit. I would refer you to the Pentagon since he would be the counterpart there.

QUESTION: Okay. Also Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli newspaper, has said that the Europeans or European foreign ministers are meeting to impose some sort of sanctions on Israel, including economic sanctions and so on, to sort of compel it to stop settlements and in fact they will – whatever agreement they conduct or conclude with Israel – will be restricted to pre-1967 borders. Are you aware of that?

MS. NULAND: It sounds like something you should ask the Europeans about. I haven’t seen them announce anything along those lines.

QUESTION: But are you not aware of these kind of things?

MS. NULAND: Said, it sounds like something you should talk to the Europeans about.


QUESTION: Switch to Turkey?

MS. NULAND: Cami, good to see you. Haven’t seen you in a while.

QUESTION: Good to see you, too. Thank you. The apparent car bombing along the Turkish-Syrian border today, it may or may not have been targeting humanitarian vehicles. I’m just wondering how concerned you are about that. That’s obviously not something Patriots can protect against.

MS. NULAND: Right. Ambassador Ricciardone, our ambassador in Ankara, has just put out a statement. But just to summarize here, we’re obviously saddened by the loss of life. There is no justification on any side for attacking peaceful border posts, which is what this appears to have been. We don’t have any information yet on perpetrators, though, Cami. It’s obviously concerning.

QUESTION: Do you know for a fact that it was a car bombing?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any more detail besides what was put out by Embassy Ankara. I think they’re seeking more information from the Turkish side.

QUESTION: It appears that the car was part of a convoy that was taking aid to Syria, to the Syrian side of the border. Are you aware of that?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have very many details. This obviously happened relatively recently. But as we get more information, we’ll have more to say about it, I’m sure.

Please, Ms. Margaret.

QUESTION: We’re on the two-year anniversary of Hosni Mubarak stepping down in Egypt. There was some violence, some protests over the past few days. Can you give us an assessment of what the U.S. sees happening on the ground there?

And forgive me if you’d spoke to this on Friday, I wasn’t here, but the Egyptian court’s decision to block YouTube because of the American-made anti-Islam film that was linked to the violent protest that broached the U.S. Embassy last September, whether that was an appropriate decision.

MS. NULAND: Well, first on YouTube. It’s – we’ve seen the reports about censorship of YouTube. It’s actually not quite clear to us at this moment how and whether that’s going to be enforced across Egypt. But as a general matter, you know that we reject censorship as a response to offensive speech. That kind of action violates the universal rights of citizens to exercise their freedom of expression, association, and assembly. We would rather see these kinds of concerns settled through dialogue.

With regard to the situation in Egypt in general, as we’ve been saying for 10 days – two weeks now, we are concerned that as Egyptian citizens express their frustrations with the pace of reform that they do so peacefully and as Egyptian security forces respond to those protests that they also exercise restraint. We continue to support a broad dialogue between Egypt’s leaders and the various political stakeholders to work through the various issues of concern, because there needs to be a strong national consensus in Egypt about the way forward, whether we’re talking about the economic way forward, whether we’re talking about support for universal human rights as protected in the constitution, or rule of law issues, et cetera.

QUESTION: But there’s not a heightened concern because of the anniversary necessarily?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’re all watching the anniversary. We want to see peace on the streets.

Please, Scott.

QUESTION: You had a statement late Friday on fighting in Sudan, specifically North Darfur. Can you tell us if the United States is – what the United States is doing to try to resolve that fighting and address some of the humanitarian issues in that area?

MS. NULAND: With regard to the details on the humanitarian, let me get back to you, Scott. I think you know that we’ve been big supporters through UN agencies. The issue has been access, as you know. Ambassador Princeton Lyman has been very active with the parties, trying to encourage implementation of past agreements, to encourage access for humanitarian organizations, to discourage further violence. As you know, it’s been quite difficult over these last months, but we stay on the job.


QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Israel-Palestinian issue?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You put out a Taken Question recently on the aid to the Palestinians. Can you just give us a sense of where things are with Congress? I know the White House put out something on Friday, late, and I didn’t really understand what that was, some sort of executive order on aid to the Palestinians?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we said in our Taken Question – and I apologize it took us so long to wash through that – we are continuing to work with the Congress to get appropriated money released for the Palestinian Authority because we think it’s very, very important that they remain effective in supporting the needs of the Palestinian people. Specifically, we’re talking about 495.7 million in fiscal year 2012 assistance and 200 million in direct budget support that was notified last week. We’ve had sort of a rolling hold situation, if you will, in the Congress, some – one set of holds released, others not. So we’re continuing to work through this. I would simply say that the Secretary feels extremely strongly that it is time now to get this support to the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Has he been calling his old colleagues in the Senate? Can you talk a little bit about what role he’s playing in trying to get this money released?

MS. NULAND: I will simply say that he has raised this in every conversation that he’s had with colleagues. He has been active. If I have more specifics to share with you over the coming week, I will.

QUESTION: So does that mean that the money hasn’t been freed up?

MS. NULAND: Has not. The – what has been freed up is the 100 million in international narcotics control and law enforcement funds. But that money can only be used on those specific things.

QUESTION: And you said the 495 point whatever million —

MS. NULAND: Point seven.

QUESTION: Point seven? That was actually supposed to get to them last year?

MS. NULAND: It’s FY2012 money. Yeah.


MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Which has ended in September of —

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And what’s the new money again?

MS. NULAND: And the new money is 200 million in FY2013 direct budget support funds for the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Can you – on the 495.7 —


QUESTION: Do you know what exactly that was for? Or was it just a ESF —

MS. NULAND: It’s ESF primarily.

QUESTION: Well, just a direct – direct money to the Palestinian Authority —

MS. NULAND: My understanding is – and I can get you more on this, Matt —

QUESTION: Well, I’m just saying, have you – do you know exactly what the Palestinians have not been able to do because this money has been held?

MS. NULAND: I will get you a full laydown, but it’s things like security support; it’s things like support for law enforcement; it’s administrative support that we provide to the Palestinian Authority. But let me get you a full laydown.

QUESTION: Can we handle that as a Taken Question so it goes out?

MS. NULAND: I will. I will. I’ll get it for you.

QUESTION: This 100 million for narcotics control, is that part of the 497 million?

MS. NULAND: No. There’s an additional 100 million that has been released.

QUESTION: Victoria, on last week there was talk that Kay Granger may be softening her position or she’s going to push for releasing the money quite quickly. Have you found out anything about this?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to her office for more detail. But as I said, we’ve had one set of holds lifted, another set of holds applied.


QUESTION: Wait. So as soon as she lifted hers, someone else put one on? Or was the other – were the ones that are still in effect, were they in effect before her hold was lifted?

MS. NULAND: Well, there are various committees, as you know, who can place holds on this money, so —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the timing. I’m not asking who but if —

MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether they were —

QUESTION: But was it – well, it was lifted and then it was about to go and someone else put the kibosh on it or —

MS. NULAND: I think there was some overlap there, but I don’t have the specifics. I would refer you to the Hill.



QUESTION: I know that there is an ongoing investigation on the bombing incident at Ankara Embassy.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: But I’m wondering what kind of steps, beyond this investigation, U.S. Government will take on this issue. There are some reports that you will discuss in terms of the members who are living in Europe, members of this outlaw organization who take the responsibility of this attack who lives in Europe for example. And you will discuss this issue with those countries in Europe, according to the same reports.

And then also, it seems there will be lawsuit in New York or in Washington against this organization’s – organization, too, probably. So if we may have a couple of details about what kind of steps will it take on this issue, beyond this investigation, I’d appreciate it.

MS. NULAND: Well, I think until the investigation has been concluded, Tolga, it would be premature to talk about what kinds of steps we would want to take together with our Turkish allies, either in the United States or to encourage our European allies to take steps. So I’m going to hold on that one until we have a little bit more on the investigation.


QUESTION: On Russia.

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The newspaper Kommersant is reporting that Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller will be going to Moscow to propose further cuts in Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Do you have anything to say about that? Is that true?

MS. NULAND: Under Secretary Gottemoeller is on her way to Moscow. My understanding is this is a broad conversation about all of the issues that fall under her portfolio, including implementation of New START. I don’t have anything new to announce to you with regard to further cuts.

Please, can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: Yeah. Zach Biggs, Defense News. On Friday, Secretary Kerry, during his joint press conference with the Canadian Foreign Minister, seemed to suggest that there’s some ongoing conversation about providing lethal versus nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition, or at least he didn’t directly confirm that we’re maintaining the position of only providing nonlethal aid.

Have there been subsequent conversations since Secretary Kerry was sworn in, and is there any movement on that issue?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we always do, I’m going to decline to talk about internal deliberations of the Administration. You know where we have been on the issue of nonlethal assistance, which is what we are providing at the moment. I can’t improve upon what Secretary Kerry had to say on Friday about continuing to look at all appropriate options.

QUESTION: But it seems the Secretary was actually distancing himself from any kind of lethal aid. And in fact, he had pointed out —

MS. NULAND: I wouldn’t draw any conclusions one way or the other. He was simply saying that we have the second term of the Obama Administration, that he was not going to go backwards and comment on things that might have been discussed before he took up his current duties, and that this was an issue. The whole question of Syria policy remains something that we are very much looking at, along the lines that he specified on Friday.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he also expressed concern about the rise of, let’s say, Jebhat al-Nusrah and al-Qaida in Iraq and Mesopotamia and so on —

MS. NULAND: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s not new from us, as you know.

QUESTION: — and the likelihood of arms falling into their hands.

MS. NULAND: It’s not new from us to be concerned about rising extremism in Syria.

Please, Jo.

QUESTION: This might be a little bit off the State Department’s track a bit, but is there any reaction today to the news that the Pope is resigning? And more generally, do you – what are the state of the relationships between the United States and the Vatican, state to state?

MS. NULAND: Well, you will have seen that there was a statement by the President about half an hour ago. I would expect you’ll see a statement as well later today from Secretary Kerry, so I don’t want to get ahead of that. But as you know, we maintain very strong and diverse relations with the Vatican on all of the common interests that we share on advancing peace, justice, and human dignity around the globe. And we regularly coordinate – as you know, we have an embassy to the Vatican, et cetera – on all these issues.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Please. Arshad.

QUESTION: We have a story out of the UN saying that the UN Security Council’s sanctions monitoring team has concerns that armaments – that weapons that are finding their way to Shabaab are originating in – to al-Shabaab, excuse me – are originating in Yemen and Iran, or at least are going through supply networks, supply chains that include Yemen and Iran. Do you have any comment on that, particularly given the U.S. Administration’s position that the arms embargo – the UN arms embargo on Somalia should be dropped?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, given Iran’s track record both with regard to support for terror and with regard to proliferation, it would obviously not surprise us at all if they were now trying to make common cause with al-Shabaab.

More broadly, with regard to the UN arms embargo on Somalia, Somalia itself, countries in the region, and the African Union have now requested that the Security Council review the structure of the current arms embargo. The United States supports that review. This is not an effort, in our view, to end the arms embargo wholesale. Somalia, countries of the region, the AU, want the way the thing is structured to be reviewed in light of the new realities. For example, for the first time in two decades, we now have a legitimate and representative government there.

But we do need to maintain the embargo on non-state actors, on al-Shabaab, et cetera. So we have to look at a more subtle application, and that’s what the process will endeavor to do. And we support the review.

QUESTION: So you, in effect, support allowing arms flows to the Somali authorities while excluding arms flows to al-Shabaab?

MS. NULAND: We support a review to see how it might be done to support strong security, government-led, in Somalia while continuing to keep arms out of the hands of Shabaab or other nefarious actors. There has to be a review as to how that could be done. So that’s what we support.

QUESTION: And you don’t think that trying to partially lift it may not make it easier for arms to flow more generally?

MS. NULAND: Again, this is the question, this is the concern. That’s why it has to be reviewed, why there has to be consultation among us at the UN about how you might do this. And that is just beginning now, so we have to – but we are very conscious of the concern that you raise, Arshad.

QUESTION: Is there any precedent for that, having a partial arms embargo?

MS. NULAND: There is precedent for being able to provide security support for a government at the same time that you work with that government to keep arms out of the hands of designated terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: Right, but that doesn’t come in the form of an embargo. That’s just —

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the UN has the ability to enact the same kinds of sanctions that we enact nationally against designated entities. You’ll remember the Taliban things and all that kind of thing in the old days.


MS. NULAND: So it would be along those lines. But again, this is a work in progress and we’re just at the beginning stage here.

QUESTION: So in other words, it wouldn’t – you would have to, at least the way you’re describing it, you would actually have to lift the embargo and then make sure that Shabaab, al-Shabaab, was on this other list.

MS. NULAND: Lift it on the – lift it on the government but maintain it on entities. And again, this is a work in progress. So, please.

QUESTION: Yeah. Since the radar lock-on issue occurred between the Chinese ship locking on its fire-controlled radar on the Japanese ship, the Chinese Government response has been that they – it is a part of a so-called propaganda war by Japan– that they did not do this, and that in fact their ship had its – was locked onto their Chinese ship. They also apparently released some elaborate evidence of this, which seems to be a forgery.

My question is: The Japanese Government has said this is completely inappropriate and is demanding an apology. What is the position of the U.S. on this?

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the incident, we were briefed by our Japanese allies on the incident and we’ve satisfied ourselves that it does appear to have happened. As you know, I said at the time that we have been quite clear about our concern with regard to this with our Chinese interlocutors.

QUESTION: Well, earlier, if I can follow up, earlier, Secretary Clinton issued a kind of a warning, saying that the Chinese side should do nothing to hamper or to undermine the Japanese administration of the Senkakus. Does this warning carry over now to the Secretary Kerry’s time in office?

MS. NULAND: It does indeed, and let me say it again: We urge all parties to avoid actions that could raise tensions or result in miscalculation that would undermine peace, security, and economic growth of this vital part of the world.

Thank you. Are we all set? Wow, great for a Monday.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:29 p.m.)