State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, January 18, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 18, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Passing of Turkish Broadcast Journalist Mehmet Ali Birand
    • New U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec
    • Hostage Situation / Secretary’s Call with Prime Minister Sellal
    • U.S. Citizen / No Further Contact
  • MALI
    • ACOTA Teams for ECOWAS
    • Free Syrian Army / Vigilant of Extremists Efforts
    • Iran’s Assistance
    • Negotiations
    • Elections in Israel
  • IRAN
    • IAEA Unable to Visit Parchin


12:19 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right, everyone. It is Friday. As you know, the Secretary’s having lunch with Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida in about 45 minutes, and she’ll be available to you with him later this afternoon. So we’re going to be relatively economical here today. I have a couple of little things at the top before we get to what’s on your minds.

First, to say that I want to take a moment to note the passing of Turkish broadcast journalist Mehmet Ali Birand, one of Turkey’s most influential media figures. We salute his lifetime contributions to freedom of the press in his country and beyond. He was known for his penetrating and insightful interviews with leading personalities in Turkey and the international community, including Secretary Clinton. Our condolences obviously go to his family and his colleagues in the Turkish media.

The second thing is to note that a couple of days ago, the Secretary delivered the oath of office to our new Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec. This is important because, as one of our most strategic partners in Africa, Kenya is preparing to hold national elections on March 4th. These are the first national elections under Kenya’s new constitution, and they’re an opportunity for Kenya to show the world that it has moved decisively past the tragic violence following the disputed 2007 elections. Underscoring our commitment to a strong relationship with the people and Government of Kenya and our commitment to support free, fair, and peaceful elections, the Secretary wanted to get Ambassador Godec on his way as quickly as she could.

Let’s go immediately to Algeria. I know this is on your minds. I am going to say, again, as I have for the last three days that the situation remains extremely fluid on the ground. We are continuing our work with the Government of Algeria and with other affected nations to try to resolve this issue. In that context, the Secretary spoke for a third day in a row today with Prime Minister Sellal. But given that this is an ongoing hostage situation, I am still not going to be in a position to get into any details here with regard to the status of Americans or any other hostages out of concern for the safety and security of all of them, and the hope that we can minimize the loss of innocent life here.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: First to clarify: So you won’t speak about any Americans who may have left the country already, even if they’re well out of harm’s way?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak about any Americans, the condition that they find themselves in, until we’re able to speak about the entire situation, which we’re not at this stage.

QUESTION: Okay. On the conversations the Secretary had with the Algerian Prime Minister, can you give us a rundown of what they spoke about? Did she express any concerns about how the Algerians are handling the situation?

MS. NULAND: Well, this was an opportunity again to get his perspective about exactly what’s happening on the ground, how the operation is unfolding. She obviously expressed our concern for our citizens. They had some detailed conversation about that. As we have throughout this, we urged that we minimize loss of civilian life here. They also talked about the challenge that Algeria has had historically with terrorism. She spoke a little bit yesterday when she saw all of you about the work that she has been spearheading here, beginning with her trip to Algeria and then Bill Burns’s follow-up trip and other work to strengthen Algeria’s capacity against terror. And she made clear that even after this incident is over, we want to continue to deepen and strengthen that relationship. I’ll guess that she’ll have more to say about this later this afternoon.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, we missed – we haven’t had a readout on either yesterday’s or today’s. So I think yesterday’s conversation would have been the first they had since the operation was launched. Did she express any concern, considering that there might not have been perfect coordination or consultation ahead of that?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the details in the interest of our effective coordination with our Algerian partners. You’re right that she, yesterday, also had an opportunity to get an update on the operational steps that the Algerians had taken, the concerns that we had going forward, cooperation going forward, et cetera.

QUESTION: And then today, this is – what new happened in the last 24 hours that she needed to speak to him today?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, they had taken some operational steps when she spoke to him yesterday. It’s clear that the situation is ongoing. She was looking to get an update from him today with regard to how they were going to handle things going forward, the various concerns that we had, et cetera.

QUESTION: Did she get an update from him —

MS. NULAND: She did. She did.

QUESTION: — on how they’re going to handle things going forward?

MS. NULAND: She did.

QUESTION: So you’re confident you know where the Algerians are and what they’re going to do over the next day or two?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, as we’ve been saying, we’ve been maintaining open lines with the Algerians all the way through at her level, but also at the level of our counterterrorism experts. So this was an opportunity at that political level to compare notes.


QUESTION: Toria, you mentioned the —

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Michael.

QUESTION: — concerns she expressed about going forward. What are those concerns?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into any further details here beyond what I said at the top. You’ll have a chance to talk to her later this afternoon. All of us obviously have to put a premium on the safety and security of those hostages that remain and of the operation that’s going on. So getting into these kinds of details is not helpful, unfortunately, to that end.

QUESTION: And what was the nature of the update? What information did the Algerians convey?

MS. NULAND: They compared notes on our understanding of the situation on the ground; obviously talked about the situation with regard to Americans; talked about plans moving forward. Talked about, also, our commitment to strengthening and deepening our longer-term, broader counterterrorism cooperation with the Algerians.

QUESTION: Did the Algerians explain how long the operation is to last, or how many hostages may have been released? Did they provide those sorts of details? Can you share those with us?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further in terms of the details of the conversation that it would be helpful to share at this point.

QUESTION: But you can confirm that the Algerians have basically, or as they claim, liberated one side, and another operation is undergoing now? Could you confirm —

MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to talk about any operational details. It’s not helpful to the ongoing operation.

QUESTION: Okay. Would you concur with (inaudible) of the British Government that the news is not good?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to go any further than I’ve gone here.

QUESTION: Did the Algerians ask for any specific sort of assistance from the U.S. – intelligence gathering, equipment, personnel? Did the U.S. make any offer of any of those types of assistance to this operation?

And I guess the follow-on is: Is the U.S. Government confident that the Algerians could do this by themselves?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into those kinds of operational details here. It’s just not helpful.


QUESTION: But it’s a confidence question. I mean, that’s – that certainly, if the U.S. is concerned about its citizens’ well-being, other situations, we have seen troops go in. There are these FAST teams that come out of Europe. Is this a situation where there’s no need for that to be brought into play? Can the Algerians liberate all of these hostages without assistance from the U.S. or perhaps from other countries?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to comment on the status of an ongoing hostage situation, other than to say we are, as we’ve made clear here, in intensive consultations with them at her level and at other levels.


QUESTION: Toria, so we understand that you wouldn’t have, like, specific details about the situation on the ground. But what would be the next step for the – fight terrorism in the Sahel and North Africa? So how U.S. Government and especially Algeria will fight terrorism after the end of this crisis?

MS. NULAND: Well, I want to refer you to the remarks that the Secretary made yesterday when she was with the Somali President. She did a really full discussion of the counterterrorism cooperation that we’ve had with Algeria but also our efforts across the region, including the training and capacity-building efforts that we have with 10 countries in the region, the intelligence sharing that we do, et cetera. So obviously, this has to continue and it has to deepen over time.

QUESTION: Madam, can I just follow up quickly?

MS. NULAND: Can I just go to Michel, please, who’s been patient?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. The terrorists are asking for the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and Aafia Siddiqui from the U.S. prisons. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.

QUESTION: That means —

QUESTION: So do you apply that to Algeria? Algeria does not negotiate with terrorists?

MS. NULAND: I’ll say it again. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.

QUESTION: I’m asking, do you expect Algeria to live up to the same model?

MS. NULAND: We do not negotiate with terrorists. We’re obviously in consultations with the Algerians.


QUESTION: Two questions. Just to make sure, so you won’t say —

MS. NULAND: Can you tell me who you are, please?

QUESTION: Mike Levine with Fox.

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Two days ago —

MS. NULAND: Every time I turn around, there’s a new Foxy here.

QUESTION: You said the same thing the last time I was here.

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. I apologize. Which was about two months ago, right? Your cameo. All right.

QUESTION: You said two days ago on – at this podium, I believe, that Americans were being held hostage. Just to make sure, now you won’t say whether Americans still are being held hostage.

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve been clear that we have American hostages. We’ve been clear about that.

QUESTION: And that’s still the case?


QUESTION: Okay. One other question: How confident are you that the U.S. Government has a good grasp of what’s actually taking place on the ground there?

MS. NULAND: As I said, we are in constant communication with the Algerian Government, the third day in a row. The Secretary has talked to the Prime Minister, and we have an open channel in the counterterrorism chain.

QUESTION: But in terms of what’s transpiring, you think the – that you guys have a good understanding of what’s happening there?

MS. NULAND: I think I’ve spoken to the efforts we’re making to try to be coordinated.


QUESTION: Victoria, have you been in this building surprised by the boldness and the large scale of this hostage-taking operation, given the fact the Algerians have announced, few days before, that they have sealed the borders in the aftermath of the military intervention of the French?

MS. NULAND: Look, I think we all recognize that this is a ruthless terrorist attack. Algeria has a very long history of dealing with terrorism. This is an extremely remote area of the country and an extremely large facility. So they are dealing with people who have no respect for human life, and it is obviously in our interest to see them successfully bring this situation to a conclusion.

QUESTION: Well, how do you know they have no respect? I mean, there’s a lot of hostages who are still alive. It’s not like they’ve killed everyone. This notion that they have no respect, do you have indications that they’re executing people or something?

MS. NULAND: We don’t have indications of anything new to report on that front, but this is a group that has ruthlessly taken a large group of people hostage. They have no respect for human life.


QUESTION: Victoria —


QUESTION: When you say that Algeria has had a long history in dealing with terrorists, is that a vote of confidence in their capability?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’ve done what we can do here in the middle of an ongoing situation.


QUESTION: Just following, this hostage, I agree what you said, Madam, but my question is that – do you agree that even though United States got Usama bin Ladin from Pakistan, and now he has still his military force or these terrorists around the globe, do you – can you say that now they are moving from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border or from inside Pakistan, they are moving around the globe to terrorize people?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary also spoke to this a little bit yesterday when she was standing with the Somali President. She made the point that even though we have greatly degraded al-Qaida in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, that the organization is turning its sights to its far-flung affiliates, trying to help them with their level of capacity, with their level of ambition, and we’re seeing that reflected in what’s going on with al-Qaida in the Maghreb, with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Let’s go to Nicolas. I want to – because we’re not up here very long, I want to make sure everybody gets —

QUESTION: Just a detail. There are reports that the U.S. has sent a plane to evacuate hostages to – they have sent a plane to Algeria. Is it correct?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any comment on that one way or the other.


QUESTION: Just one more. What was behind the conflicting reports about the end of the operation between yesterday and today?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think any American made reference to an end of an operation. You need to talk to the Algerians.

QUESTION: How many sites are there that are under hostage control? Is it just – I mean, one site or —

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to send you to the Algerians for the precise details, but my understanding is it’s a large complex with various sites.

QUESTION: Just one complex, not —

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to send you to the Algerians for precise details.

QUESTION: Can we move to a new topic?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It was reported that the U.S. – since this week, the U.S. has deployed an aircraft to join Japan’s air force monitoring the airspace over Diaoyu Island. Can you confirm that?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to the Pentagon on that particular report. My understanding is that we had some kind of routine exercising going on with Japan that was scheduled, that is normal. But again, I’m going to send you to the guys at the Pentagon because they’ll be able to give you details.

QUESTION: Do you think – is it wise for Japan to fire the warning shots if China’s – Chinese aircraft coming to Diaoyu Island airspace?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into those issues at all. You know where we stand on this whole set of issues, that we want to see Japan and China sit down, talk it through, solve these issues through dialogue.

QUESTION: If Japan request military assistance —

MS. NULAND: Now you’re getting me into all kinds of layers of hypotheticals.

QUESTION: Still on Asia.

MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any information yet on the American held in North Korea on the charges that are going to be brought against him?

MS. NULAND: I do not. We had – as we said about three or four weeks ago, we had contact through our Swedish protecting power. We have not been able to have another contact since then. We continue to ask.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Madam, yesterday had a report in Chicago had a verdict and sentenced Mr. Tahawwur Rana in connection with the – providing support in Mumbai attacks to the Lashkar or LET in Pakistan, and 14 years in jail. And what he also said that he was trying also to kill all the newspaper people in Denmark through this immigration office in Chicago. So my question is: Do you have any comments? All these people are on U.S. soil and running all these terror businesses against the U.S. and India.

MS. NULAND: This is a classic example of U.S. justice working. He was brought to trial, he was convicted. So I would send you to the Department of Justice for details.

Scott, please.

QUESTION: On Mali, please.


QUESTION: Do you have anything more that you can tell us about consideration of French requests? You said that – intelligence, lifting, and you were looking at some other things.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, we are continuing to look at other things. I’m going to send you to the Pentagon for the details. They have the lead on that particular thing.

You all did ask me yesterday about the scope of the ACOTA training that we’re doing for ECOWAS forces. Let me share a little bit more information there. We have deployed a hundred-ish, about a hundred trainers, to Africa. They’re traveling to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, and Ghana to discuss training and equipping and deployment needs of those countries in the interest of getting them ready to go into Mali.


QUESTION: More on Mali?


QUESTION: There’s talk that Kona was recaptured today. Do you know anything about this? And also there’s been, I guess, continuing air strikes in Diabali. Do you have any status update in either city?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a ground update here. I apologize for that, Brad. We will endeavor to be a little bit more clear. But again, I’ve seen the same press reporting you have that things have gone well in Kona and that fighting continued in Diabali.



QUESTION: The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov disputed your assertion that the attack on the Aleppo University was conducted by the regime and he’s saying that it actually came from the militant groups. Did you see that, and what is your response to that?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t see what Foreign Minister Lavrov had to say. As I’ve been saying for a number of days here, we feel quite confident in our concern that this was a regime attack.


QUESTION: Another one on Syria?


QUESTION: In Idlib province, residents are saying that they’ve been attacked by government forces not with regular mortar shells but by SCUD-like missiles known as Fateh 110s. Does the U.S. have any evidence that these missiles, which are made by Iran, are being given to Syria in its efforts to keep Assad in power?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we’ve been concerned about Syrian regime use of SCUDs. I don’t have any more detail that I can share here, I’m afraid.


MS. NULAND: Please, Goyal, can you wait for me to call on you? Please, Said.

QUESTION: Yes. There have been a lot of allegations made against the Free Syria Army in the Aleppo area, and in fact there are transgressions against the public in the distribution of bread and other things and so on, and allowed Jabhat al-Nusrah, whom you placed on the terror list, to come in and actually exert control and distribution and open clinics and so on. Are you aware of these reports?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’ve obviously seen some of these reports. As you know, throughout our dialogue with the Syrian opposition and since we have opened channels at Robert Ford’s level and other levels with the Free Syrian Army, we have been stressing and urging that they be extremely vigilant about efforts of extremists to hijack the Syrian people’s future, their revolution.

As you know, the FSA itself has put out very strong statements to its own fighters against reprisal, to protect the human rights of citizens, to ensure safety and security of all. And we will continue to urge them to be vigilant in this regard.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.


QUESTION: Going back to my question about possible Iranian assistance, what is the U.S.’s position on any state that may be assisting the Assad regime in its efforts to put down the rebellion or to try to overcome the FSA?

MS. NULAND: We’ve been extremely clear about how we feel about Iranian efforts to prop up the Assad regime. They’re ultimately going to fail, but it’s very, very important that all of us continue to shed a light on what Iran is doing. It’s not just provision of money and trainers. It’s provision of weapons and tactics and techniques for trying to keep him in power.

QUESTION: How can they be held accountable?

MS. NULAND: I think they will be held accountable when this is over and the Syrian people begin the kind of accountability and justice process that is always necessary after these things. They’re not winning themselves any friends among all these Syrian victims.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the reported suicide attacks, I think in Damascus?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on that. Let me see if we can get something later in the day.


QUESTION: There was a report by one of the wires about a Russian ship getting weapons to Syria. Are you aware of that?

MS. NULAND: I’ve seen the report. I’m not in a position to confirm it or shoot it down one way or the other.

Please, in the back. In the back.

QUESTION: On Pakistan?


QUESTION: Pakistan seems to have peacefully resolved the political crisis in the face of a massive protest in the capital, and it seems that the parliament will complete its constitutionally mandated term and that the elections will be happen, are being promised in time. How do you see in the context of larger question of democratic development and political stability in Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Well, I have to say I did not get a political update on Pakistan. I hope what you say is true, that we’ve had a good politically based resolution. As you know, we have been very clear here that we wanted to see these issues settled through dialogue and settled democratically. But let me see if we have further comment on the situation now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Victoria, I have a question –

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: I have a question on Greece.


QUESTION: The leader of the opposition party, Mr. Tsipras, is coming to Washington on Monday. I just wanted to know if he asked for any meetings with any official here at the State Department.

MS. NULAND: We’ll get back to you on who’s going to see him. Generally, we see both sides in Greece.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Settlement, very quickly.


QUESTION: An organization called Americans for Peace Now issued an alarming report on the spread of settlement and so on, and they urge you to take some urgent measures to stop the settlement process. My question to you, as the term unwinds and we are headed toward a new administration: Is the Secretary of State in particular doing anything or taking any steps to actually address this issue?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know how intensively the Secretary has worked on these issues throughout her tenure. We now have, obviously, elections in Israel over the weekend. We have all spoken about the importance of getting back to an effort to get to the peace table thereafter, and that’s been our message both to Israelis and to Palestinians, that we have to get back to negotiations. They need to be direct. That’s the way to work through these things. And the President made clear – our President – that he will remain committed to that in his second term.

QUESTION: But are you concerned, much like a lot of people in this town, about the upcoming coalition of the Israeli Government and the shape of that government in – vis-à-vis the peace process?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Israel is a vibrant democracy. We look forward to the results of their elections when they’re available. Obviously, as we always do in these kinds of situations, we’ll have to wait and see the makeup of the next Israeli Government. But our trajectory will remain the same, which is that we want to see Israel and the Palestinians sit down together and work through these issues.

QUESTION: Last one on Iran – sorry, not the last one – on Iran real quick. Do you have anything to say about the latest talks between IAEA inspectors and the Iranian Government?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen the IAEA’s comments that they were once again unable to come to agreement with the IAEA either on a structured approach or on being able to visit Parchin. We’re obviously deeply disappointed that Iran has once again missed an opportunity to cooperate with the IAEA and to provide the international community with the transparency that we’re all seeking in order to resolve our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: What does this say about the possibility of broader P-5+1 negotiations really getting anything done in the near term when basic inspections, which are required by their membership, is being denied?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ll have to see, Brad. As you know, we are continuing to talk to the Iranians about a date and a venue for the next P-5+1 plus Iran. You know that we have been seeking to address this issue on two tracks. There’s the IAEA track, which is designed to give us all transparency about what’s exactly going on, and then the efforts of the P-5+1 to try to get Iran to really roll back whatever may be going on on the military side.

QUESTION: So you would concede that this doesn’t bode well for talks aimed at concessions when basic transparency is being denied?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’re disappointed about what the IAEA encountered in Tehran.

QUESTION: Madam, just quickly going back to Pakistan, as far as India-Pakistan situation is concern, even though Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Madam Khar, offered a resolution to talk with India, but Indian Prime Minister has said just now that business with Pakistan is not going to be as usual as before because Pakistan is not stopping terrorizing India after so many warnings and agreements and meetings. Any comments? What U.S. role is going to play in the future between the two countries?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, as we’ve been saying all week, we think the best way to work through the issues on the Line of Control is for India and Pakistan to work through this directly. They are in direct talks now, and that’s something that we welcome. We very much value the progress that the two countries have made on the economic side, on the visa side, on the trade side, and we would hate to see that jeopardized because it’s in the interest of India and Pakistan and all of us who care about that region.

Thank you all very much. I need to get upstairs, and you’ll see the Secretary later.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:47 p.m.)