State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, February 14, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 14, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary Kerry’s First Major Public Address at University of Virginia
    • Secretary Kerry’s Travel Schedule
    • Syrian Opposition Coalition / Increase the Pressure on Assad Regime / Russia
    • Secretary Kerry’s Phone Call to Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Looking for Common Ground on Syria with Moscow
    • Syrian Opposition Coalition Meeting in Cairo
    • President Al-Khatib’s Proposal
    • Benghazi Investigation
    • UN Peacekeeping Missions
  • MALI
    • Discussions of UN Support for Political Track
    • Status of Peacekeeping Mission
    • U.S. Remains Deeply Concerned About Human Rights Situation
    • Working with Security Council / UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon
    • Sanctions
    • Reports of the Death of a Young Man in Bahrain / U.S. Remains Concerned About Continuing Incidents of Violence



1:01 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Valentine’s Day. I don’t see any red out there. I hope all of you are going to get out of here early to spend the evening with those you love.

Let’s go – I’ve got one thing at the top, and then we’ll go to what’s on your minds. And I apologize if we’re going to be relatively brief today because I need to join the Secretary’s meeting with Lady Ashton.

We’ll be putting out a Media Note in just a couple of minutes on the following, but let me give it to you first here at the top:

Secretary of State John Kerry will make his first major public address as Secretary on Wednesday, February 20th at the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, America’s first Secretary of State. He’s making this address at UVA in advance of his first overseas trip so that he can speak directly to the American people about the investment that President Obama has made and that this nation needs to continue to make in a strong foreign policy. In particular, Secretary Kerry will discuss how a relatively small investment in our foreign policy and diplomatic efforts around the world results in big returns for America’s economy, America’s security, American businesses, and American citizens, and that we all have a stake in an ongoing debate about our nation’s budget priorities and how we can be strong at home and strong abroad at the same time. This will be the first address in a series of speeches that the Secretary intends to make in American cities while he is Secretary.

Let’s now go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: I have a question, but it’s not – it’s about sequestration, and I’ll wait until other pressing issues of the day —


QUESTION: On North Korea?

QUESTION: Can we stay with the Secretary’s schedule?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s a report circulating in Europe that he is planning to make a trip to Damascus.

MS. NULAND: Let me address a number of these crazy rumors out there, okay?

The Secretary of State has no intention to go to Damascus, not on this first trip and not until we are in a place where the Syrian people have gotten on the road to meeting their aspirations for a free and democratic country. He also has zero intention to talk to Assad. Okay? So that’s also out there, and let me just say it here flatly.

QUESTION: Victoria?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, do we know which countries he’s visiting, first of all? Then I have a question on Syria.

MS. NULAND: Well, as he said yesterday, he is now thinking about the stops on his first foreign trip, but I don’t have anything to announce for you here today, Said. I think you will see more on this sometime next week, but when we have it, we’ll have it for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Did you discuss with Secretary Ban Ki-moon – Secretary General Ban Ki-moon any kind of a resolution perhaps under Chapter 6 of the United Nations Charter?

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry, what – with regard to what issue?

QUESTION: Chapter 6, with regard to Syria. I’m sorry.

MS. NULAND: With regard to Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah. To what – in – with regard to resolving the Syrian crisis, did they discuss any kind of proposal under Chapter 6 of the United Nations Charter?

MS. NULAND: Without getting into too many specifics of their meeting, it didn’t come up quite that way. As you heard the Secretary say publicly, he is focused, as the President is focused, on doing what we can to help the Syrian Opposition Coalition in their effort to start a sincere transition, to see if Assad will allow any interlocutors that they’re willing to talk to, to begin that conversation, and in the event that he won’t, making sure that we increase the pressure on the regime to support the effort of getting to a political solution.

So the conversation was much more in that vein, talking about the role of Special Envoy Brahimi, talking about our continuing concerns about Russian support for the Assad regime, et cetera, and how we can continue the conversation with the Russians. But right now, we don’t see any point in going back to the Security Council because we don’t have consensus among the Security Council members.

QUESTION: Okay. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated time and again, including yesterday, that they should – we – the international community should not allow Syria to collapse or self-destruct. And this is not a workable resolution, he called it. Did they discuss how they can maintain the institutions of the state?

MS. NULAND: I think you heard the Secretary speak to that this morning as well. I mean, we are all on the same page here, that we’re not satisfied with the current state of affairs. We’ve got to continually work together to increase the pressure on Assad, to support the opposition, to try to move this from the battlefield to a political transition process, working together. If Assad will not cooperate in that, we’re going to have to increase the pressure in all of the ways that we can, and we’re continuing to look at how we can do that.

QUESTION: Toria, to follow on that.


QUESTION: Has the Secretary been in touch at all with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the issue of Syria or any other issue for that matter in the last few days?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the subject of Syria did come up in some detail in their introductory conversation. The Secretary placed a call to Foreign Minister Lavrov a couple of days ago, primarily to talk about the D.P.R.K., but we always talk to our Russian counterparts about Syria when we intersect with them, but the Foreign Minister has not yet chosen to return the call.

QUESTION: So that’s three days now.

MS. NULAND: I would say as —

QUESTION: Do they have any explanation for why Mr. Lavrov is unavailable for the Secretary’s of State of the United States for three days?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me say that we are relaxed. The Secretary is relaxed about this, that he is – can I —

QUESTION: Okay. I used the word “frantic” yesterday, and I apologize for using it. Maybe it’s not frantic. But, I mean, have they – do they some kind of explanation or excuse as to why he’s not —

MS. NULAND: Let me just go back to my – from our perspective, the Secretary would like to talk to him. It’s up to him whether he wants to take that opportunity. We are obviously continuing to talk to, and the Secretary’s continuing to talk to many interlocutors around the world on many subjects. I will say also though that it’s not all that unusual in our recent experience that when Foreign Minister Lavrov is traveling he does not always engage in international phone calls on other subjects. So I refer you to the Russians as to why that may be, but we are open to talking when he is.

QUESTION: But they had already spoken once.

MS. NULAND: They spoke – they had their introductory telephone call. I can’t remember whether that was that first Monday, I think, when he was in the office.


QUESTION: On Secretary’s other phone calls, I saw one news report he spoke to the Pakistani’s Foreign Minister —

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?

MS. NULAND: Let’s stay on Syria first. Yeah.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said yesterday he was looking for common grounds with the Russians. Any ideas how it could be found?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, you know that we’ve been looking for common ground with Moscow on Syria for more than a year. I think he is obviously interested in continuing to talk about the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s proposal that they would be willing to talk to individual members of the regime and to encourage Russia to support the SOC in that. You will see that Moscow’s announced that Mr. al-Khatib will go to Moscow, so he’ll presumably be following this up.

I would also note that the Syrian Opposition Coalition itself is meeting in Cairo. I think they started today and they’ll go for the next couple of days. And our understanding is that their goal there is to take this initial proposal for talks that Mr. Khatib’s put on the table and put some more flesh on it, come to some more consensus about how they would take it forward if the offer were to be taken up.


QUESTION: Do you see Mr. Muallem being in Moscow at the same time as Khatib as a good thing?

MS. NULAND: It wasn’t quite clear to me whether they were being invited together or whether these were separate invitations and how they would sequence. I think we didn’t have the impression that Moscow was trying to sit with both of them together.

QUESTION: The Secretary General suggested that the Khatib offer could be construed as an opportunity but should not be missed. And I’m slightly paraphrasing how he put it. Does the Secretary agree and does that imply that there’s some sort of timeline or some sort of window to negotiate an end to Assad’s regime?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think as the Secretary’s been saying, as we’ve been saying here, we very much welcome and support President al-Khatib’s proposal that he would be willing to negotiate with Mr. Al-Sharaa, he might be willing to negotiate with others. Obviously, he’s been pretty clear he – with regard to Assad. But what we want to do is encourage that process to begin so that there is an alternative to the violence, so that there is a path that all Syrians can see and that the international community can see to the end of the Assad regime and the beginning of a democratic transition.


QUESTION: Can I ask about a report in the – in a Saudi newspaper, the Al Sharq Al Awsat, which is saying it’s obtained a copy of a draft plan that’s doing the rounds at the United Nations, which has been drafted by the United Nations with the opposition for the creation of a 140-seat senate to oversee some kind of transition committee in Syria. Is this – can you talk to us about this? Is this something that the United States has been involved with?

MS. NULAND: I have no information on that. Sounds like you may have your hands on some sort of internal UN thinking. I would send you to the UN. I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: Toria, also the Secretary yesterday alluded to other means to convince Mr. Assad. I know we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but has there been any new ideas on how we can convince Mr. Assad – because we had a very long discussion yesterday – absolutely.

MS. NULAND: You mean since we had a long discussion of 45 minutes here yesterday, and we went through all of those things? Said, as I said yesterday, there are a number of pressure points on the Assad regime. We’re continuing to look at all of them. None of us is satisfied with the situation as it stands.


QUESTION: Can I go just for a second back to the Secretary’s first trip overseas?

MS. NULAND: You may.

QUESTION: Can you give us a time frame for that, if it’s possible?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’re not yet at the stage where we’re ready to announce it. I think you’ll see some further elaboration next week.

Please, can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: On Azerbaijan.


QUESTION: I’m Nikki Kazimova from Azerbaijan (inaudible) news agency (inaudible) newspaper. I was wondering with the new Secretary, do you expect any time soon an appointment of a permanent representative for the U.S. co-chair to the Minsk Group, because right now Ian Kelly is a temporary appointment. And do you have any likely candidates in mind?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to share on that. The Secretary, as you can imagine, is looking at a full slate of personnel decisions that he has to make, and he has to make them in consultation with the White House. So when we have something to announce, we will. But I don’t have anything for you today.

QUESTION: And another quick question. About a week ago, an Azerbaijani satellite built by an American company, Orbital, was launched. And do you know whether U.S. Government was involved in the negotiations on this contract at any point, or in other words, do you have any comment on that or any thoughts on this?

MS. NULAND: You’re beyond my knowledge. We’ll look into that and get back to you.

Please, can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: My name’s Jake Gibson, I’m with Fox News. Is the State Department receiving regular updates from the Tunisians on the Benghazi suspect al-Harzi?

MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that the FBI has the lead in the Benghazi investigation, I don’t have anything to share and I will send you to the FBI.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton has testified that he is being monitored. Do you know if he’s even still in Tunisia?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to send you to the FBI on all of these things.

QUESTION: Another issue?

MS. NULAND: Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: Madam, first of all, Happy Valentine’s Day.

MS. NULAND: Thank you. (Laughter.) Goyal very sweetly gives us fruit every week, so —

QUESTION: Thank you. My question is two questions on South Asia. One, as far as U.S.-India delegations meeting in Washington, as far as UN peacekeepings and all – is that UN or U.S. is seeking India to send more troops as far as peacekeeping fightings around the globe, or in Afghanistan or other places?

MS. NULAND: Well, I believe we put out a note, and if we didn’t yesterday, then we intended to today, about the U.S.-Indian discussion of peacekeeping issues that was led on our side by Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer. As you know, India is one of the largest, if not the largest, providers of peacekeeping forces for UN operations, so we always like to share experience. With regard to the number and the missions that India chooses to participate in, that’s obviously a sovereign decision for India to make.

QUESTION: Is that issue also came between – this morning between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary John Kerry when they met this morning?

MS. NULAND: The general issue of UN peacekeeping missions around the world and some discussion of specific missions certainly came up, but not contributing countries, if you will.

QUESTION: One on Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Let’s just, because we’re going to be brief today, make sure we’ve gone around the room.


QUESTION: Just following up on UN peacekeeping missions, were there discussions today about changing the Mali AFISMA force to becoming a UN peacekeeping mission?

MS. NULAND: There was a good, thorough discussion of where we are in Mali as French forces working with the Malian military and now with AFISMA forces continue their work. The conversation began with the discussion of UN support for the political track, and for the elections in July. As you know, the roadmap calls for having elections on July 30.

They did also discuss the question and the proposal that is being worked at the UN about whether AFISMA would move from its current ECOWAS status to being a formal UN peacekeeping mission. There’s some considerable amount of work that the UN needs to do, it says, before it will be ready to move forward with that, but I think they’re obviously working on that. And the Secretary made clear that we would be supportive of making AFISMA a formal UN mission.

QUESTION: And a follow-up on that. Was there also discussion about MONUSCO and how effective it’s been?

MS. NULAND: There was, and the Secretary General had some specific proposals in the context of the Great Lakes conversation and the summit that they’re hoping to hold. But I’ll refer you to the UN for the ideas that they have.

Please, Lalit.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s phone call to the Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Do you have a readout of that?

MS. NULAND: Lalit, I’m going to get that for you separately. I’ve been running around this morning, and I didn’t get a chance to get it.


QUESTION: On North Korea.


QUESTION: First, any update on your efforts to sort of either reinforce existing sanctions or add new sanctions, one, at the UN or unilaterally, and also what are you doing on the human rights front in terms of the endorsement of the Geneva effort to create a commission of inquiry? How does that fit into the overall approach?

MS. NULAND: Right. Well, thank you for that, Paul. I had been wanting for a couple of days to get to the human rights issues in North Korea. Let me say that starting there, the United States remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in the D.P.R.K. We do support the establishment of enhanced mechanisms of inquiry into the D.P.R.K.’s human rights violations at the UN Human Rights Council’s upcoming session.

We continue to work actively with our partners and to work closely with international organizations, including by co-sponsoring resolutions in the Human Rights Council and the GA, to raise attention to and to seek redress with regard to the deplorable human rights conditions in the D.P.R.K. And we also support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the D.P.R.K., whom the D.P.R.K. authorities have continued to deny access into the country.

With regard to our work at the Security Council on measures following up on the North Koreans’ most recent test, those consultations continue. I’m going to refer you to USUN for a specific status; but as you heard the Secretary and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon say this morning, we are seeking swift, firm action in New York.

QUESTION: Victoria —

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: — on Bahrain —

MS. NULAND: Let’s stay on North Korea. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: A follow-up to North Korea.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: What are the level of additional U.S. – their own sanctions against North Korea? Did the U.S. decide yet about their any specific sanctions —

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about whether we’re going to level additional U.S. unilateral sanctions?

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS. NULAND: The D.P.R.K. is pretty significantly sanctioned in a U.S. bilateral context, but we continue to look at that and review it. But the focus right now is multilateral sanctions in the UN because that’s where we think we can get the message across.

I’m going to take one more, and Jonathan’s giving me the high side with regard to —


QUESTION: Bahrain —

MS. NULAND: Let’s go to Bahrain here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. NULAND: Sorry?

QUESTION: It’s the second anniversary of the uprising, and today they shot a youth, killed a youth.

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the reports of the death of a young man in Bahrain. We regret this loss of life, send our condolences to his family. We do remain concerned about continuing incidents of violence between police and demonstrators in Bahrain. We condemn violence in all forms. We urge those demonstrating to do so peacefully and those with security responsibilities to exercise restraint. And we call on the government and the people of Bahrain to do everything in their power to prevent further violence. Anniversaries are always sensitive, as you know.

And I apologize; we’re going to have to call this short. Matt, I know you wanted to talk about sequestration. Let’s make sure we do that tomorrow.

QUESTION: I won’t be here tomorrow.

MS. NULAND: You will not be here tomorrow. All right, with Brad. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)