Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 19, 2013.
- Secretary Kerry Speech at University of Virginia
- Secretary Kerry Foreign Travel
- Secretary Kerry Meetings in Italy with Syrian Opposition Council and with Countries Supporting SOC
- U.S. Support to SOC
- President Obama and Secretary Kerry Upcoming Travel to the Region
- Hunger Strike by Palestinian Prisoners
- Secretary Kerry Call with Foreign Minister Lavrov / Staffs Will Schedule a Meeting
- SOC Meetings in Italy
- Magnitsky Retrial
- Death of Adopted Russian Child in Texas / Status of Adoption Ban
- Overview of Current Situation / Complexities
- U.S. Policy Remains Pressure on Assad Regime and Strengthening Opposition / Continue to Look at What More U.S. Can Do
- U.S. is Largest Humanitarian Donor for Syrians / Additional $19 Million Announced
- EU Extension and Amendment of Arms Embargo
- Report on Cyber Attacks / U.S. Actions to Protect Against Cyber Intrusions
- Law of the Sea Third-Party Dispute Settlement / Code of Conduct Negotiations between ASEAN and China
- The Way forward is a Matter for Venezuelans to Decide
- Congressional Delegation Visiting Cuba / Call for Immediate Release of Alan Gross
- Presidential Elections / Support for OSCE ODIHR Observer Mission Conclusions
- SRI LANKA
- Concern about Allegations of Violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights / UNHCR Report
11:59 a.m. EST
First, as we announced last week, tomorrow Secretary Kerry will give his first speech as Secretary at University of Virginia. In light of that, we will not brief here tomorrow. And as you know, we’ve made arrangements for those of you who are interested to go down to UVA for the speech.
I’d then also like to advise that from February 24th to March 6th Secretary Kerry will make his first trip as Secretary. He’ll travel to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. I’m getting tired just thinking about it. (Laughter.)
He will travel first to London, where he’ll meet with British officials. He’ll discuss a range of bilateral and global issues on which we coordinate closely.
He will then visit Berlin, where he’ll also have bilateral meetings on issues of mutual interest with German officials. He’ll also have a chance in Berlin to exchange views with German young people on the state of European-American relations. And his visit to Berlin will also be an opportunity for him to reconnect with the city in which he lived as a child.
He’ll then travel to Paris for meetings with senior French officials on our ongoing regional and global cooperation. And of course, we expect international support for Mali will be a central subject there.
In Rome, Italy, in addition to meeting with senior Italian officials, he’ll have a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings, a multilateral meeting with our European allies to talk about the wider transatlantic relationship. And then we also expect that Italian authorities will invite some of the key supporting countries for the Syrian Opposition Coalition to Italy for a meeting there, and the Secretary will also have a chance to meet with the leadership of the SOC separately.
In Ankara, he’ll meet with Turkish officials to discuss all of our bilateral, multilateral issues that we work on together, notably including ending the crisis in Syria and our ongoing bilateral cooperation, notably in the area of counterterrorism.
In Cairo, Secretary Kerry will meet with senior Egyptian officials, with other key political stakeholders, with civil society leaders, and with the business community. Among the themes will be encouraging greater political consensus and moving forward on economic reforms. While he’s in Cairo, he’ll also take the opportunity to meet with Arab League Secretary Elaraby on our many shared challenges.
In Riyadh, he’ll meet with the senior Saudi leadership to address our ongoing cooperation on a broad range of issues. He’ll also have a chance to have a ministerial meeting in Riyadh with his counterparts from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations.
He’ll then visit Abu Dhabi and the U.A.E. to meet with senior officials there. And he’ll conclude his trip in Doha, Qatar, where he’ll meet with Qatari leadership to discuss all of the many bilateral, regional things that we work on, including Syria, Afghanistan, and Middle East peace.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Just so we’re clear, you said he would meet with senior officials from key countries supporting the opposition?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That meeting presumably will include the opposition too? Or will he meet with the supporters and then he’ll meet separately with the opposition?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Italians are organizing this meeting, so for a precise lay-down of the meeting, I’ll refer you to them. But my understanding is that we’re expecting eight to ten of the countries who have been the biggest supporters of the opposition to be there, and also for the opposition to be in that meeting to present its views on how it’s going and how the international community can continue to support. And then there’ll be a separate meeting that the Secretary will have with the SOC leadership.
QUESTION: And do you expect – I realize it’s the Italian Government that’s arranging this, but do you expect the people that he is going to meet from the supporting countries to be mostly foreign ministers, as has typically been the case?
MS. NULAND: That is our hope, that they’ll be his counterparts, as many as can make it.
QUESTION: And then is the Administration rethinking its hitherto opposition to having the – to directly providing arms to the Syrian opposition?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new to announce with regard to our posture of support for the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the opposition more broadly. I think you know where we have been, that we provide nonlethal assistance to the opposition, both in the communications gear and the training that we’ve talked about here, but now increasingly support to local coordinating councils, and particularly in liberated areas to help them set up administration and meet the needs of people.
I think one of the things that the Secretary is interested in doing on this trip – he’s characterizing this first trip more broadly as a listening tour, but I think he’ll look forward to hearing from the Syrian Opposition Coalition what more they think we can do, and also to hear from counterparts who are deeply involved in supporting the opposition.
QUESTION: Is where you have been where you still are? In other words —
MS. NULAND: There’s – I don’t have any change in policy to announce for you today.
MS. NULAND: Given the fact that the government coalition negotiations in Israel are still underway, the Secretary will be traveling there with the President when he visits later in the spring in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah.
QUESTION: And what does that have to do with Ramallah?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think generally we go to both when we’re there, and I think there was a sense that the Israelis are still working on their coalition.
QUESTION: One other one on travel if I may. As you will recall, Secretary Clinton made her first trip to Asia, and one of the things that she famously said was America is back. Is there any significance to Secretary Kerry’s decision not to include Asia on his first trip, notwithstanding the pivot or rebalancing toward Asia that the Administration has been talking about?
MS. NULAND: I think were we to add any more stops on this first trip, an already long excursion would be even longer. I think you can certainly expect that Secretary Kerry will visit Asia early in his tenure. I don’t have anything particular to announce.
But you’ve heard him speak about the challenges that we are confronting. He spoke about this a little bit in some of his – in his confirmation and in his swearing-in and in his first press availability with Foreign Minister Baird with regard to challenges of new democracies, fragile democracies, the challenge from extremists seeking to hijack some of the Arab Spring revolutions that we’ve had.
And I think he’s very committed to having good conversations, both with European allies and partners, but also with Middle Eastern partners on how we are approaching that whole complex of issues from Libya to Tunisia to Egypt to Syria, the combined challenge of Iran, all of those things. So I think you’ll hear all of those themes come up on this trip.
QUESTION: Toria —
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: — on Palestinian issue?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Syria? Stay on Syria?
MS. NULAND: Let’s go to the Palestinian issue. We’ll come back to Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. The head of the Palestinian negotiating team Saeb Erekat is coming to Washington as the head of a delegation to meet here at the State Department. Could you tell us when he’s meeting with the Secretary of State, on what issue? Is it regarding just the U.S. aid, or is it regarding the peace process?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to share at this moment on Mr. Erekat’s visit. Let me get something for you, Said. But my understanding is these are consultations very much in keeping with the planning for the President’s trip.
QUESTION: Okay. There’s a hunger strike ongoing by Palestinian prisoners. There’s about 4,500 Palestinian prisoners. Hundreds of them are under the administrative detention, 170 under the age of 18. There are four that are about to die: Ayman Sharawneh, Samer Issawi, Jafar Izzeddin, and Tariq Qadan. And the European Union, or actually Lady Ashton, issued a statement calling on the Israelis to allow them visits from their families and so on. Where do you stand on this issue?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen reports that the Palestinian prisoners are currently on a hunger strike. We urge all sides to refrain from actions that could exacerbate the situation. Obviously the Government of Israel will have more information for you on the situation.
I would note, Said, as we have before, that in our annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices, we address the issue of administrative detention in Israeli prisons. So I would refer you to those comments that we’ve made in the past.
QUESTION: So do you stand against administrative detention of Palestinians in Israeli prisons?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think you’ll get a full sense of where we are on this from the Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: On this same topic.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you – have you had any talks with the Israelis about an activist with, I think it was Stop the Wall, who’s been in detention since January 23rd?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that, Brad. I’ll see if we have anything to share.
QUESTION: Could you —
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on reports that apparently Israeli police went to Samer Issawi’s family’s home, questioned his mother and his brothers in the middle of the night, and then arrested one of his brothers and perhaps another relative? Is that an aggravation of the situation surrounding the hunger strikers?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything at that level of granularity. I’d refer you to the Israelis.
QUESTION: Does the United States consider those Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikes as one of those provocative actions that doesn’t help either side?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’ve spoken to where we are on this. We’re urging that all sides refrain from actions that could exacerbate things.
QUESTION: I have a question about Russia. First of all, with the trip, is there any indication whether Lavrov might be in any of those stops? Are there any chances to meet him? Would he be invited to Italy, for instance, since Russia is a key factor in any diplomacy on Syria?
And then also, what your thoughts are on Magnitsky going back on trial from the dead?
MS. NULAND: First of all, with regard to Foreign Minister Lavrov, you’ll note that we put out a note over the weekend that he and Secretary Kerry were able to connect. They had almost a half-an-hour conversation. Key subjects were both the situation in Syria and responding to the D.P.R.K.’s provocations. We also noted in that statement that Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Secretary are looking for an early opportunity to meet. It’s possible that one of the stops on the trips might – on the trip might work, but we’re still trying to get the calendars together.
With regard to the Italian meeting with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, as you know, Michele, in the past we have been open to including Russia in these meetings, but Russia has declined to participate. So I would refer you to the Russians for where they are this week on that particular —
QUESTION: Well, did Kerry encourage him – did Kerry encourage Lavrov to go to that meeting?
MS. NULAND: I’ll simply say that the subject of the meeting came up, and the Russians will have to make their own decision, but I wouldn’t expect that their position on these meetings is going to change.
QUESTION: And what —
QUESTION: Toria, just on the call —
QUESTION: And just on the —
QUESTION: Just on the call —
QUESTION: And just on the —
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — did he call you, or did you reach out to him again?
MS. NULAND: I think there was a sense on both sides that after he returned to Moscow that we needed to get this done. And I think he got back Thursday night Moscow time, and Friday was jammed for both guys, so they committed to do it on the weekend.
QUESTION: So it was a mutual calling? You called each other at the same time? (Laughter.) Who called the other person?
MS. NULAND: Suffice to say that staffs worked out an appropriate time for both guys.
QUESTION: On Syria.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: One other on Russia, please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said that it was possible that Secretary Kerry might meet Foreign Minister Lavrov on the upcoming trip and that you were trying to get their schedules to mesh. So is it fair to say that you are trying to arrange a meeting?
MS. NULAND: They have agreed that they want to meet, and it’s now up to staffs to find a place and a time for them to meet. If it works on the trip, that’s great. If not, then we’ll keep working for soon thereafter, as we said at the end.
First of all, Michele asked about Magnitsky.
QUESTION: Magnitsky trial.
MS. NULAND: I had, frankly, not seen that it started again today. But I think you —
QUESTION: Today they set the date, but it is going to go ahead, and it’s going to go ahead next week.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, you know where we’ve been on this, that instead of wasting time and resources retrying this poor man who has already passed, the Russian Government ought to put its energy into investigating how he died. That’s been our view.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: Russian adoption?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. When did the State Department —
MS. NULAND: Can you tell me who you are, please?
QUESTION: Excuse me?
MS. NULAND: Tell me who you are, please.
QUESTION: I’m Carl Schreck from RIA Global. When did the State Department learn about the death of the adopted Russian boy in Texas? The Russian officials have criticized the United States for not informing them of this, the boy named Max Shatto, I think in Midland, Texas.
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I can’t speak to when we were first notified. What I will say is that we are aware of the death of Max Shatto in Texas. We have also been in communication for some number of days now with the Russian consulate in Houston, with the embassy here in Washington, to facilitate Russian Government communication with appropriate Texas officials. This is obviously a terrible tragedy, and it’s our understanding that Texas authorities are still investigating the cause of death and that they themselves have not yet made any determination as to how the child dies – died.
We obviously take very seriously the welfare of children, particularly children who have been adopted from other countries. And we support appropriate access for concerned foreign officials to children who have dual or foreign citizenship. But I want to just underscore that nobody should jump to any conclusions about how this child died until Texas authorities have had the opportunity to investigate.
QUESTION: Well, Child Protective Services is involved, and they have said that they are investigating possible —
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: — bodily harm in the – no conclusions. But they are working on the assumption that there was some kind of abuse involved. And I’m just wondering, the Russians are making some pretty strong claims about this is yet another case of a Russian child that was – that died under abuse of his parents. And at a time where you’re trying to work through the Russians on this measure that will ban all adoptions from Russia, I mean, this certainly doesn’t strengthen your case.
MS. NULAND: Again, Elise, let me underscore that it is a terrible tragedy that this child has died. But none of us, not here, not anywhere in the world, should jump to a conclusion about the circumstances until the police have had a chance to investigate. There have been very strong assertions made from Moscow. We are going to wait until the investigation is complete. It’s obviously a tragedy that this child has passed.
QUESTION: Well, the governor of the region where this boy was adopted has banned all adoptions from that region. Do you think that’s a reasonable measure?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we are already working under terms of a new Russian federal law that [has] put a halt to adoptions. So we are, as we have said for quite some time, trying to work through – work with Russian authorities to ensure that those cases that had legal approval before this law went into effect can proceed, and all of those children can come to loving homes in America. But it doesn’t sound like what this guy has done is any different than what’s been done on a federal level in Russia.
QUESTION: How many cases – you were talking a few – a couple of months ago about there were cases that were already in the pipeline. I think there were a couple, maybe 50 that were in some stage of adoption but maybe a smaller number that had already gone through significant amount of hurdles and were kind of close to adoption. Do you have those numbers?
MS. NULAND: As you know, the Russian authorities have said publicly, they’ve said to us as well, that Russian courts will continue to process adoptions for those U.S. families who had had their court hearing and were in the 30 day waiting period for being able to take their child home as of January 1st, when the law was passed.
By our current count, that applies to about 50 children. Some of those children have already been allowed to leave, and we’ve been processing visas for them. But I don’t have a final count on how many of those there are. But the total number that ought to be in that category is about 50.
QUESTION: Can I just address this? The Russians specifically said that the State Department wasn’t helping them investigate the death. Do you have a legal requirement under any of the agreements you have with them to help them on their – in their own investigation, or are you simply facilitating contact with local authorities?
MS. NULAND: Thank you for that, Brad. Under American law and also under our bilateral understandings, it is local law enforcement, state and local law enforcement that has the responsibility for investigating these cases. Our responsibility here at the State Department is to facilitate appropriate access for concerned foreign officials – in this case, the Russian consulate in Houston, the Russian Embassy here in Washington – to children who have dual citizenship and to appropriate local and state authorities with the responsibility for the investigation. And that’s what we have done.
QUESTION: So it’s not to allow the Russian equivalent of the FBI to come in and conduct their own —
MS. NULAND: Correct, it is not.
QUESTION: — investigation to see what this is?
MS. NULAND: It is not.
QUESTION: Is it Russian policy that all children who are adopted in another country retain their Russian citizenship? Is that why they have standing in this matter?
MS. NULAND: I frankly don’t know what the precise citizenship status of the child was in this case. But from a Russian perspective, and I would refer you to them, my understanding is that they allow dual citizenship. So even if the child has become a U.S. citizen, unless there’s a renunciation of Russian citizenship, then the Russians consider the child dual. But I would refer you to them for precise —
QUESTION: Toria, this happened on – this boy died on the 21st of January. I’m just wondering, did this come up, or the adoption issue at all come up in the phone call with Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MS. NULAND: This particular case did not. I don’t believe in this last phone call the adoption issue came up. I think it was Syria and D.P.R.K.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The explanation that the Administration has offered for its unwillingness to provide arms directly to the Syrian rebels has always been that we could not determine with precision that these arms would not wind up in the wrong hands. And I just wonder if, over the course of this two-year conflict, our ability to understand who is doing the fighting, what groups are involved, and also how to prevent the arms from getting into the wrong hands has improved at all.
MS. NULAND: James, without getting into a seminar on the situation in Syria, which I would welcome in another venue, and I’m sure others would too, we’ve been clear about how complicated this situation is and how the trajectory of it, in fact, is even more complicated than it was at the beginning. If at the beginning of this conflict you were looking primarily at those in Syria who opposed the policies of their regime, who wanted a more open and democratic Syria, protesting peacefully, then when the government began attacking them, those same forces, forces of political change across the country, taking up arms in self-defense, you now have that. But on top of that, you also have extremists and malign actors who want to hijack what is – what started as a peaceful movement for change and then became a self-defense movement for change. And they’re now involved in this fight with their own agenda, and their agenda does not have the best interest of the Syrian people in mind.
We, as you know, we sanctioned al-Nusrah as one of the groups that we are concerned about. We’re also concerned about other malign actors on the opposition side. We’re concerned about malign actors on the regime side, including Iran, Hezbollah, et cetera. So it is a very, very complicated situation. We’ve also talked here about the fact that within in the Free Syrian Army there are local commanders who change affiliation depending upon what will better support the fight, who make alliances of convenience with extremists at times and then renounce extremism at other times.
So in our communication with the FSA – and as you know Robert Ford and others are now talking to them directly in addition to our outreach to the political opposition – we urge a broad number of things, first and foremost, that anybody fighting in Syria’s name and in the name of the Syrian people reject extremism in any form, speak out and defend the human rights of all Syrians across the spectrum, from all groups, all ethnicities; speak to the importance of a unified Syria, a democratic Syria of the future; and speak about accountability, but not about reprisals. So these are the themes that we are striking in our conversations with the FSA and other fighters because there are folks who are making their way into this fight who don’t have the best interests of the Syrian people and don’t have the best interest of a democratic Syria as the basis of their action.
QUESTION: And is it our understanding that the bulk of the fighting, or the most effective fighting units, are, in fact, associated with elements of which we don’t approve?
MS. NULAND: I think it’s a very, very mixed picture. I think there are – and as I said, some of these alliances among fighters are changing.
QUESTION: Another on Syria and Russia?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: A group of Arab leaders from Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, and Lebanon are meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov today and tomorrow. Is there any plan for Ambassador McFaul to meet with any of these foreign ministers since their agenda has switched from broad issues of concerns to both these countries and to Russia to Syria being at the top of the list?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have the answer to that, whether Ambassador McFaul would meet with visitors to Moscow. As a general matter, he would seek a readout from those embassies, I would guess, and ambassadors, his counterparts, on how the visit went.
QUESTION: On the same topic?
MS. NULAND: Kim, let’s – Kim’s been so patient.
QUESTION: You talk about – and I have a couple – you talk about the trajectory becoming even more complicated. Some people will argue that’s only because the United States isn’t doing anything about the situation on the ground, and everything that you were worried would happen on Syria if you intervened is happening because you’re not doing anything.
MS. NULAND: Well, you’re implying a cause and effect here that is a straight line from decisions that we have made. There have been —
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think I would reject that. You know where we have been for all of this time. First, on the one hand, trying to increase the pressure on the Assad regime through intensive and increasing sanctions on his ability to fund his war machine and to support his continued brutal leadership; trying to strengthen the opposition – not only the – not even the – not – purely the external opposition, but their ability to be connected to the political opposition inside, and to be connected to the fighters inside, so that the principles that the Syrian Opposition Coalition stands for, namely a future Syria that is democratic, that is unitary, that respects and supports and defends the rights of all Syrians, is the prevailing ethos in the opposition; and supporting them with nonlethal assistance of all kinds to allow them to govern well in areas that have been liberated and also to communicate with one another to be – to provide for the Syrian people and offer an alternative to Assad.
All of those efforts will continue, and we continue on a weekly basis, on a regular basis, to look at what more we can do. And as I said, I think this will be one of the themes that the Secretary will pursue during this trip. He’ll be listening to our allies and partners in Europe and the Middle East, but also to the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
QUESTION: You said Ambassador Ford was talking to the FSA directly?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What leverage do you have on them, if you’re trying to convince them to reject extremism and speak for a unified Syria, if they’re not getting that much from you? There are a lot of fighters who were complaining that they were promised repeatedly that they would be getting arms or some kind of assistance or even intelligence sharing, and they’re not getting anything. So they don’t feel any reason why – they don’t feel the need to listen to anything that you have to say.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, from the U.S. perspective, we have been very clear from the beginning that our posture was that we would provide nonlethal assistance, we would listen to them with regard to the kinds of nonlethal assistance that they required. That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s why we started with communications equipment, why we’ve moved now into medical support, moved into training for how to deal with the problems of the population in areas that – where the regime is no longer governing, all of these kinds of things. But we’ve been – we are interested in continuing to understand what kinds of nonlethal needs that they may have.
In terms of the larger question of U.S. involvement and how we are seeking to help the Syrian people, which we would hope would make clear that we have their best interests in mind, as you know, we remain the largest humanitarian donor in the world both for Syrians inside Syria but also for Syrian refugees. In that regard, let me advise that today in Geneva at the Syrian Humanitarian Forum that the UN is running we’re announcing an additional $19 million increase in – $19 million increase in our humanitarian aid, bringing the U.S. total to almost 385 million. And as we said when we made the big additional jump in Kuwait a week and a half ago, what we are seeking to do now is not just support UN agencies, not just support neighboring countries who’ve taken in refugees, but work directly with the SOC on those nongovernmental organizations that can get to the population that is loyal to them, that is working with them on a more democratic future for Syria.
QUESTION: Does intel sharing qualify as nonlethal assistance?
MS. NULAND: I’m obviously not going to talk about intelligence here.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on what Kim just asked. Yesterday the Foreign Minister of the European Union concluded a meeting where they agreed to extend the arms embargo to Syria for an additional three month and increase nonlethal aid, which is consistent with your position. But your allies, the British, had gone in with a position to actually supply the rebels with lethal weapons. Does that indicate that there is a difference between you and your allies, Britain?
MS. NULAND: I think you misunderstand what the EU has just done. Our understanding, and we note the EU’s decision here, is that they, on the one hand, decided to extend the arms embargo for another three months, but they also amended it to allow the provision of greater nonlethal support and technical assistance to – in defense of civilians, so to bring them more in line with where we’ve been, Said.
QUESTION: I perfectly understand that. But the British had gone in – Mr. William Hague had gone in with the predisposition for supplying them with arms.
MS. NULAND: And —
QUESTION: So did you play a role in dissuading the Europeans from supplying arms?
MS. NULAND: The EU made its own decision with regard to this.
QUESTION: Different subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?
MS. NULAND: Let’s do – since James has done this one, then we’ll come back – come back to Syria.
I am assuming, James, that you’re talking about the recent Mandiant Technologies reports. You know that we’ve been very clear here and from the White House that the United States has substantial and growing concerns about the threats to the United States economic and national security interests posed by cyber intrusions, including the threat of commercial information. The President spoke about this very directly in his State of the Union Address. We are working in an interagency way led by the White House to strengthen the defense of U.S. Government networks and to protect our critical infrastructure such as the issuance of the President’s new executive order.
We’re also trying to strengthen the ability of our private sector to defend against cyber intrusions by releasing more technical data to help them to understand what’s going on and how they can protect themselves, and working to coordinate protection of intellectual property.
We’ve also regularly and repeatedly raised our concerns at the highest level with the Chinese Government about cyber theft, including with senior Chinese officials and the military. We’ll continue to do that. It comes up in virtually every meeting we have with Chinese officials. And I think you know that we have also, in the context of the Strategic Security Dialogue that Deputy Secretary Burns runs with his Chinese counterpart, established a conversation on cyber security.
So we will continue to work on all of these things because it’s a serious concern.
QUESTION: And what is the role of the government? What is our understanding of the role of the Chinese army – excuse me – about its role in these attacks? Do we understand the Chinese army to be engaged in these attacks against us?
MS. NULAND: I think I said that we’ve raised our concern at the highest level about cyber threats from China, including the involvement of the military. I’m not going to go any more than that because it’ll take me into intelligence.
QUESTION: So if a foreign government’s military is waging attacks on us, to a lay person that would seem to raise the question of whether or not we’re at war in some sense. Are we at cyber war with China?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are talking about concerns. I’m not going to go beyond that because it’s going to take me into intelligence, James. Yeah.
QUESTION: The Chinese foreign ministry said that this report was groundless and the defense ministry denied any involvement in hacking. What does that say about how they consider your concerns? It seems like they just blow it off.
MS. NULAND: Again, we do now have this —
QUESTION: Or you’re wrong.
MS. NULAND: We do now have this dialogue on cyber that the State Department runs under our Strategic Security Dialogue. We also talk about this issue at every level, and we’re obviously going to have to continue to do so.
QUESTION: If – unless their public – their private statements are completely different than their public statements, what is the quality if your dialogue if they say, “No, we’re not involved with it in any way. Have a nice day”?
MS. NULAND: Well, it doesn’t change the fact that we have to keep talking about it because we have concerns.
QUESTION: But do you get a different response than that in private? Do you get real engagement, or is it complete rejection of the claim against them?
MS. NULAND: Without getting too deeply into the details of private diplomatic discussions we’re having, what we have been involved with is making clear that we consider this kind of activity a threat not only to our national security but also to our economic interests, and laying out our concerns specifically so that we can see if there’s a path forward.
QUESTION: And do you feel that these dialogues have had any value so far in stemming the flow of – or the tide of cyber attacks from China?
MS. NULAND: I think as recent public reports make clear, we’re obviously going to have to keep working on this. It’s a serious concern.
QUESTION: Does the fact that they own so much of our debt – the Chinese – have any impact on our ability to address these kinds of issues, these other issues?
MS. NULAND: We have to – regardless of the macroeconomic situation, we have to continue to address our own national security and economic interests, and we will continue to do that.
QUESTION: Victoria, one more on this just – or a couple more on this. You began, I think, by saying that you have substantial and growing concerns about this. Is it fair to say that the problem is getting worse; in other words, it hasn’t been constant, that you have been seeing it get worse?
MS. NULAND: I think I said growing, right?
QUESION: Right, okay. Second, you said you had raised this at the highest levels. That means the President has raised it with the President of China, correct?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to let the White House speak to the President’s conversations. I think I’ll just leave it where I left it, Arshad.
QUESTION: But you said the highest levels, correct?
MS. NULAND: I did, I did.
QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly, I didn’t quite understand when you – you said it twice, but you’ve raised it at the highest levels about your concerns about possible Chinese military involvement, correct? Have you raised it in those not very frequent but still occasional contacts that you have with the Chinese military?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to the Department of Defense because they conduct that dialogue. But my expectation is that the answer will be yes.
Guys, I have about five more minutes, so let’s take three more. Yeah.
QUESTION: One more on a separate China one?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Philippines – there was a report about China rejecting Philippines request for international arbitration in the South China Sea. Are you disappointed with this, and does this kind of go against all the types of mediation efforts that you’ve been talking about previously?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Brad, the United States supports the use of diplomatic and other peaceful means to manage and resolve these kinds of disagreements, including the use of arbitration or other international legal mechanisms. The Law of the Sea Convention contains procedures under which parties can seek third-party dispute settlement with regard to certain disputes involving the interpretation or application of the convention. We continue to encourage ASEAN and China at the same time to also make rapid progress on a meaningful code of conduct.
We don’t believe that the pursuit of dispute settlement procedures set forth in the Law of the Sea Convention should preclude or hinder the code of conduct negotiations. So we see value to both.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Chavez is back. Do you have any message for him? Is there – what’s the general sense of how things are going there? What’s your assessment of the stability in Venezuela at this point?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve obviously seen the press reports about his return. It’s obviously a matter for Venezuelans to decide how the transition is going to take place. As you know, there was an election but there hasn’t been a swearing-in. Should President Chavez become permanently unavailable to serve, our understanding is that the Venezuelan constitution requires that there be an election to seek a new president. And at that point, we would hope that that election would be free and fair and balanced, open access to the media, et cetera. But we await Venezuelan decisions about the way forward here.
QUESTION: On Latin America, Toria?
MS. NULAND: Yes, Guy.
QUESTION: There’s a congressional delegation in Cuba today apparently attempting to secure the release of American Alan Gross. How closely is this Department working with this delegation? Is the Administration aware that they’re there? This involves Senator Patrick Leahy and other lawmakers. Are you working with them? Do you support the meetings?
MS. NULAND: Well, Guy, just to confirm what you have, Senator Leahy, along with several other senators and representatives, is in Cuba today. The Department briefed Senator Leahy’s staff and some of the members before the trip, and we expressed our desire to see Alan Gross released. Our understanding from the CODEL is that they have been told that they will have an opportunity to see Alan Gross. You know where we’ve been, where we expect the CODEL will be, which is to call for his immediate release. And we will look forward to the results of their diplomacy on his behalf and more broadly with regard to all of our concerns about Cuba human rights and other things.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. I mean, just regardless of whether or not Mr. Gross is able to leave Cuba with this delegation or not, there’s a group in New York called the Council of the Americas that has put out a paper or they’re just about to put out a paper that is calling on President Obama to use presidential powers to loosen up the embargo rather than trying to push something through Congress that would change American laws so that embargo restrictions could be lifted. Have you seen this report? Are you aware of it and do you have a comment on it?
MS. NULAND: I think you noted that it’s something in the works, right? So I think if we have a comment, we’ll wait and see it released.
MS. NULAND: On Armenia?
QUESTION: Armenia held presidential elections. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. According to the preliminary results from the Central Election Commission, incumbent President Sargsian has won these elections by 58.64 percent. We support the conclusions of the OSCE ODIHR observer mission in their preliminary conclusions that the elections were generally well administered and characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms, including those of assembly and expression.
We do note that ODIHR also noted that the media fulfilled their legal obligation to provide balanced coverage and all contestants made use of their free air time. ODIHR was concerned about some lack of impartiality on the part of public administration officials and the misuse of administrative resources that resulted in a blurred distinction between the activities of the state and those of the ruling party. But in general, election day was calm and orderly and it was marked by undue – that in general, it was marked by a calm process. But there was some undue interference in the process, including by proxies representing the incumbent. And there were some serious violations that obviously need to be investigated, as ODIHR has called for.
Let me take one more, Lalit.
MS. NULAND: We continue to be deeply concerned by allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Sri Lanka. At the end of this conflict, we support a full accounting for all who are engaged in acts of violated international humanitarian law. We also welcome the report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, noting the strong concern about the Government of Sri Lanka’s lack of action to address these longstanding issues of reconciliation and accountability. And as you know, we plan to introduce our own resolution on this into the Human Rights Council.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:43 p.m.)