State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, March 13, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 13, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Import of Fuel / Sanctions
    • Transitional Government / Geneva Framework
    • Humanitarian Aid
    • Getting Parties Back to the Table
    • The President’s Upcoming Trip
    • FY 2013 Continuing Resolution / Funding for Diplomatic Security
    • Claims of Cyber Espionage



12:18 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Busy Wednesday here today. As you know, the Secretary has just seen the Singaporean Foreign Minister. And he will see the Libyan Prime Minister at 12:45, so we’re out a little early with that in mind. I have nothing in particular at the top, so let’s start with what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on what I’d asked you about yesterday on the gas-oil shipments to Syria. Did you eventually get anything on that and whether it’s a concern to you and whether you’re looking for ways to cut off those shipments?

MS. NULAND: We did look into it. Thank you for the time to do that, Arshad. We have seen these reports that foreign firms are delivering fuel to Syria. What I need to do is clarify what the U.S. sanctions on Syria are about. What we are sanctioning is the sale of Syrian fuel on the open market. U.S. sanctions are designed to avoid putting further suffering on the Syrian people so we don’t target the import of Syrian fuel products from non-U.S. persons.

So what we’re sanctioning is the ability of the Syrian regime to sell its own product on the open market and thereby put the money into its coffers and fuel its military machine.

QUESTION: Okay. But don’t you – I thought you also prohibited dealings with the state-owned companies, which previously had imported this stuff. Is that not the case?

MS. NULAND: It’s dealings with the state-owned companies for the sale of their product internationally.

QUESTION: Solely for export. Okay.


QUESTION: My mistake then.


QUESTION: Can we just stay on that because —

MS. NULAND: Double teamed by AP.

QUESTION: — your use of the word sanction is confusing, because to sanction something means you allow it. So can you say – it does, if you look in the dictionary. So if you say you’re sanctioning Syrian —

MS. NULAND: All these years we’ve been talking about U.S. sanctions, Matt, and this first time it’s —

QUESTION: Sanctions as a noun is fine.


QUESTION: But when you say you’re sanctioning the sale of Syrian oil on the open market that means that you’re allowing it.

MS. NULAND: Let me try this again as a noun. U.S. sanctions on Syria are aimed at the export of Syrian fuel to the international market. They are not aimed at the import of fuel by Syria.

QUESTION: There you go.


QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: On that very point, on the issue of sanctions, is there anything – any room to allow for something like what Iraq had – oil for food, or anything like this? So you can help the Syrian people that are, in many ways, under siege.

MS. NULAND: As I said, what Syria largely imports, as I understand it, has to do with heating oil, cooking oil, this kind of thing. What they export is heavy fuel. So what we have done is to try to ensure that our sanctions, as much as possible, are not hurting the Syrian people. So that the situation is not equivalent to what was going on in Iraq, as you can imagine.

QUESTION: If this is a humanitarian trade, this oil import, why would you even ban U.S. persons from sending fuel to Syria, or U.S. companies?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve banned U.S. companies from doing virtually anything with Syria. There are other ways for Syria to get what it needs on the humanitarian note. It’s a separate issue from the humanitarian assistance that we’re obviously sending to those who are in need.

QUESTION: Right, right. But if this is purely a humanitarian importation, I don’t understand the sanction – the sanctions against American people and American companies. Because it’s not helping the regime, as you just —

MS. NULAND: Well, let’s start by – let’s start with the fact that Syria was not primarily importing cooking oil from the United States. It was – it does that from its neighbors, which would be more efficient. Okay.

QUESTION: All right. And just separately on Syria, there was an amnesty report that said – that talked about the arbitrary killings of people by the opposition. And it also called for pressure from the countries that are aiding the opposition. Since you are one of them now, what could you say you’re doing in that regard?

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve talked about many times here, Brad, we are, in our conversations with the opposition, both with the political opposition and with the military opposition, making absolutely clear our expectation, and frankly the Syrian people’s expectation, that they will abide by the highest human rights standards, that they will follow international humanitarian law in the way they perform and the way they deal with prisoners and other such things. We have protested and made clear from this podium and elsewhere when we see violations of human rights abuses by the opposition, and we’ve also made that a condition of our support.


QUESTION: Could you explain to us what exactly the Secretary meant by saying we want Assad and the opposition to sit together, to form, somehow, to arrive at a transitional government?

MS. NULAND: There was nothing new here from what the Secretary said throughout his trip, which is that we want to see the Geneva framework now be turned into a real implemented plan, namely that folks would sit down both from the opposition and those who don’t have blood on their hands from the regime and begin working on who could compose a transitional government that would have full executive authority, that those people would be agreed by mutual consent, and then Assad will step aside.

QUESTION: Would, in this case, someone like Farouk al-Shara, the Vice President, be brought back into the picture as a possible interlocutor?

MS. NULAND: Again, it’s not for us to be picking who would be acceptable in terms of the first conversation, let alone in the transitional government. That would have to be something that Syrians would decide, and the Geneva framework speaks very specifically to the mutual consent clause.

QUESTION: And finally on the issue of the sanctions of heavy oil products as you suggested, it is conceivable as this conflict goes on or drags on for months, maybe years more, that some sort of international arrangement or international supervision could be imposed on the export of Syrian heavy oil to sort of alleviate commodities and so on, bring in food stuff, and medicines, and so on?

MS. NULAND: Again, Said, as you know, we have a massive international humanitarian effort underway, not only for Syrians who have already left the country, but for Syrians inside the country. That’s being led by the UN NGOs. What we are now focused on is trying to deal with the fact that the Syrian regime is doing its utmost to block humanitarian aid from getting to opposition-held areas now. So we’re working very hard with the UN and international partners to ensure that appropriate amounts of humanitarian aid are also getting to liberated areas of Syria. And that’s been a complex task, but something that we’re making more progress on.

QUESTION: So speaking of that aid, you’re aware that Under Secretary Sherman and Ambassador Ford were up on the Hill talking about the aid package, the 60 million, what was in it, can you tell us what they told the members of Congress or their staffers?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that those were classified briefings. I don’t have any detail about what they specifically said, beyond what the Secretary said when he was in Rome. Let me see if I can get you some more. But as you know, the additional 60 million would go for a number of tasks, as the Secretary outlined them in Rome, to help support the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s office in Cairo, to help them get direct support into local coordinating councils, particularly focused on liberated areas so that they could meet civilian security needs, so that they could meet education needs, so that they could meet other infrastructural needs in those towns, including bread for people. So that’s the primary focus of the 60 million.

QUESTION: Right. But can you break down the 60 million, what it’s for? And also the question that I asked yesterday —

MS. NULAND: An actual breakdown of how we’ll budget it? I’m not sure we’ve done that yet.

QUESTION: An actual breakdown on what the American people are paying for to go to the – to go to the Syrian opposition. And also, was there an answer to the question yesterday about the MREs and the nonlethal stuff that’s going to the Free Syrian Army? Has that stuff been shipped yet? Is it already there? Or is it still sometime in the future?

MS. NULAND: On the 60 million, as I said, the categories are those that I just explained. Let me look and see whether we, either in our consultations with the Hill or yet with the Syrians, have broken down in dollar amounts the different categories. I’m not sure we’re there yet.

QUESTION: Well, I believe that you have, and I believe that the briefing up on the Hill today covered all of these. So I’d be very interested —

MS. NULAND: Excellent. You may well be ahead of me.

QUESTION: — very interested to know what the Department is going to say publicly, since this is a semi-significant chunk of money.

MS. NULAND: Again, we may be at the stage where we’re consulting with the Hill before we make final decisions, but let me get more on that for you.

And with regard to the support that we’re giving to the Syrian military group, my understanding is that we’re still in discussions about exactly how we will get this in. It’ll come from DOD drawdown when we do it. So when we have more to give you on that, we will.

QUESTION: Does that mean that it hasn’t gone yet, that you’re aware of?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is it has not yet shipped.


QUESTION: Still on —

QUESTION: What do you mean military drawdown? Just so I understand, that means it’s coming from DOD or —

MS. NULAND: From DOD stocks. Yes.


QUESTION: On the aid situation, there was a conference call this morning between some of the big aid agencies saying that they’re completely swamped and that the amount of support they’re getting is just nowhere near enough to match the need on the ground. In reference to that, the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs says that only about 20 percent of the money that was pledged in Kuwait at the pledging conference has been received of about $1.5 billion.

Can you tell us if the amount so far of humanitarian aid from the Americans, $385 million, has actually already been spent? And also, what would you say to those governments who really haven’t stumped up yet to the amount that they pledged in January?

MS. NULAND: I like your verb, stumped up. Let me just say, in terms of the stumped up issue, that was – that’s been one of the themes that we were very strong on, both in Kuwait and when the Secretary was in Rome, that the UN needs this money, that everybody needs to dig deep and not just make the promise but deliver on the promise. It was also the subject of conversation at virtually every stop on the Secretary’s trip.

With regard to our own assistance, my understanding is that it is flowing, and that’s why we keep putting more into the fund, because the UN is drawing on it at a very good clip, not only for Syria, but for the countries surrounding Syria who are hosting refugees. But I can get you a little better breakdown, or we can see if our folks have it for you.

QUESTION: Did – in the conversations between the Secretary and his counterparts during his trip, were they receptive to the idea that they needed to pay up this cash, that it was urgent?

MS. NULAND: I think everybody understands the urgency of the need. I mean, all you need to do is turn on your televisions.

QUESTION: So what was the – why the delay?

MS. NULAND: Again, a lot – it often has to do with countries’ budgeting processes, that they can make a promise, but they can’t – then they have to go to their legislature and get the money. I would refer you to individual countries. But as you know, the United States remains the biggest humanitarian donor for Syria, and our money is very much flowing.


QUESTION: Clarification for the record. When the Secretary yesterday said Assad and the opposition, he means the regime?

MS. NULAND: He meant the regime.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Toria, French Foreign Minister has —

QUESTION: One small one on that. Can you take and try to get an answer to this – to Matt’s specific question of how much of the 385 – and I know there’s obligated, disbursed, there are lots of different verbs – but actually get us a sense of how much has actually gone out the door?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think I just pledged to Jo to try to do that. The issue for us is that often we put money into UN accounts and then it’s for the UN to draw them down. So I’m not sure how much granularity we’ll be able to get you. We may have to send you to the UN, but we’ll see what we can do.

QUESTION: But even knowing what you’ve given to the UN would, itself, be helpful.

MS. NULAND: Of course, of course.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Yeah. That was the same —

MS. NULAND: Of course.


QUESTION: French Foreign Minister has said yesterday that France, Russia, and the U.S. are trying to draw up a list of Syrian officials with whom the opposition can negotiate. Can you – do you know anything about the list? Can you tell us anything about the list?

MS. NULAND: This was a comment made by Foreign Minister Fabius or made by the —


MS. NULAND: I didn’t see what the Foreign Minister specifically said. I don’t think it’s any secret, based on the public comments that the Secretary made on the road, that we are trying to see whether we can implement this Geneva agreement, which would entail having at least a preliminary conversation among Syrians as to how you would begin to name the figures in a transitional government.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any name yet?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the back and forth of our diplomacy. But obviously you’ve got to have individuals who could meet this mutual consent standard, so it’s something that we’re looking at with the Syrians, obviously.

QUESTION: So you are looking at names that you would propose – that the Syrian opposition would propose to the regime? It’s not for the actual interim government. Is that correct? Because the mutual consent still implies that the regime, whoever negotiates for the regime, has to accept these people.

MS. NULAND: Let’s, first of all, back up and remind that this is a Syrian process. So those involved in getting the process started and those who emerge as part of the transitional government have to be Syrian names put forward by Syrians, both from the opposition, and the expectation is if the regime were willing to allow a transition to go forward they would also put forward people who could negotiate. But the expectation – and again, we have to see where this goes – is that you wouldn’t just out of nothing name a transitional government. It would look more like it looked in Yemen, where you had initially some folks empowered to have the conversation and to see if a list of names could be agreed for a transitional government.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I’m confused here. Maybe I misunderstood you. So you are or you are not working on a list of names with the Syrian opposition and with the Russians?

MS. NULAND: The Syrian opposition themselves —


MS. NULAND: — have – in the form of President Khatib, have made clear that they are willing to have this conversation if the regime is willing to have it. So they obviously have ideas about who would initiate the conversation for them. The question is, when the regime says it’s ready, do they have ideas about who would initiative the conversation for them?

QUESTION: Yeah. So are you —

MS. NULAND: So again, in the conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the question was: Can we get down to brass tacks as to whether the regime is serious, and if so, who it might put forward so that one could see whether those people would be acceptable?

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then I’m confused, because I thought the whole point was that you weren’t going to decide who was acceptable and who was not.

MS. NULAND: We are not. We are not going to decide. The Syrians are going to decide.

QUESTION: But if you’re working on a list of names with the Russians, then you are.

MS. NULAND: We are not working on our own list of names. We are encouraging the Russians to see if the Syrian Government can put forward anybody who would be acceptable.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. But if the Russian Government comes out and says, “You know what, we think Bashar Assad should be at the top of that list,” you’re going to say, “No, we’re not going to — ” you’re not going to go for that. So —

MS. NULAND: We’re going to say the Syrians aren’t going to go for it. Right?

QUESTION: Even though it’s also you who aren’t going for it.

MS. NULAND: The Syrians aren’t going to go for it. They’ve been absolutely clear in every single Syrian opposition —

QUESTION: Right. So you are working on a list of names with the Russians, but no, you’re – I mean, you are waiting for the Russians to get back to you with a list of names and —

MS. NULAND: You’re way too far into the weeds. All we are doing here is encouraging those with influence with the Assad regime to encourage the Assad regime to be serious about allowing a transition to go forward by putting forward names that could be considered.

QUESTION: But I think the question and Mr. Fabius’s comment referred to opposition names that were being put forward, and that you were working with the French and Russians on opposition candidates for a potential interim government. Is that incorrect?

MS. NULAND: The opposition will have to name its own candidates, obviously.

QUESTION: But whether the opposition will have to name its own candidates or not is a separate question from whether you are working with whomever on a list of such candidates.

MS. NULAND: What we are working with the opposition on is the notion that if we could actually get into a serious conversation that met the standards that they are seeking on the Syrian regime side, that there were people in power to talk who don’t have blood on their hands, that the opposition would then put forward its own people as well. That’s as far as this goes.

Okay. Please, Said.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

MS. NULAND: Say again. We made it more complicated than it is here today.


QUESTION: The Palestinian issue?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday the Israeli President Peres made a statement in the presence of European parliamentarians that while they agree on the principle of a two-state solution, that does not necessarily mean the dismantling of the settlements. Is that how you see it? Do you see as – the resolution of the two-state solution can include the settlements as part of it?

MS. NULAND: Said, you’re asking me to sit at a table between Israelis and Palestinians that doesn’t currently exist. What we need here is a conversation between Israelis and Palestinians to address all of the issues.

QUESTION: I’m asking you your position, the American, the United States position on the issue of settlements vis-a-vis this two-state solution.

MS. NULAND: Our position is that if you can actually get a conversation going that gets you to borders and security, then the issue of settlements becomes moot because you’ve agreed on borders. Right? So the issue now no longer exists. But we have to get to stage one, which is to get the parties back into a conversation.

QUESTION: And finally, today a prominent columnist based in Washington suggested that there has been a shift from necessity of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli issue, a shift from necessity to a hobby. Do you agree that maybe it has become a hobby?

MS. NULAND: The President is about to make a trip to the region. One doesn’t invest the President’s time in a hobby.

QUESTION: Can I ask about —

QUESTION: Well, the President might invest —

MS. NULAND: If it’s basketball, that’s one thing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: He likes to build model ships in a bottle so he can —

MS. NULAND: If it’s basketball, if it’s beer, yeah. I’ll send you to the White House on the President’s hobbies.

QUESTION: Can I – but just on the President’s trip, and I know you’re going to try and refer me to the White House, but this has to do with the State Department —

MS. NULAND: But you’re going to try anyway.

QUESTION: — and the Embassy in Tel Aviv —


QUESTION: — and these invitations to the President’s speech. Apparently there’s some uproar out in the region because students from a Israeli university in the West Bank, the first and only recognized Israeli university in the West Bank, were not part of the Embassy’s invitation list for the President’s speech. So, if you don’t know anything about this, could you take the question, find out how the Embassy decided to – who and how the decisions were made on invitations for the speech?

MS. NULAND: And I am going to disappoint you and send you to the White House, who is —

QUESTION: No, because the White House is sending people, including me, to the State Department because it was the Embassy. So that’s —

MS. NULAND: Actually, that’s not accurate. Based on the conversation that I had with the White House about an hour ago, they said that they would take these questions. Okay?

QUESTION: They – okay.


QUESTION: Can I ask about, also on the trip, where we are with the Palestinian aid that’s been blocked in Congress? I think the hope might be among Palestinians in the region that, similar to what happened when Secretary Kerry went to Egypt, there might be some movement on money coming forward.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this quite a bit here. I don’t think there’s any change in the last week, but obviously we’re continuing to talk to the Congress about these issues.

Looks like I’m getting the high sign to go up and see the Libyan. Let me take one more here. Can you tell me who you are?

QUESTION: I’m Brian Gottlieb with CBS News.


QUESTION: On congressional funding for Diplomatic Security, you guys had requested 1.4 billion. I wondered what the status was with that.

MS. NULAND: I do have something on that.

As you know, both House and Senate have been working on the FY 2013 Continuing Resolution, and we here at the State Department very much appreciate the efforts of both the House and the Senate to craft a continuing resolution that provides funding for the remainder of the year. And we’re also pleased that that funding includes quite a bit of flexibility for enhanced Diplomatic Security.

These funds were requested by the Department to support implementation of the recommendations made by the Accountability Review Board. Both bills give us $1.4 billion for increased security proposal requirements. Of that, 1.3 is for the – for construction and upgrades to our facilities, and 158 million is for upgrades to Diplomatic Security, both in terms of personnel and their equipment. So, we are pleased by that, and we’re also pleased that the Senate bill gives us the vehicle to transfer the overseas contingency operation money for those purposes.

QUESTION: You’re optimistic that’ll get through, and that’ll get done?

MS. NULAND: We are crossing our fingers and working with the Congress.

QUESTION: One more.

MS. NULAND: I need to do one more, and then I need to go upstairs.


MS. NULAND: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The President has made some comments on China and cyber-espionage. Have you seen those comments in an interview he did? I was just going to ask if you think they help your diplomatic efforts, and how, if so.

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the President’s comments. We’ve also seen the speech by National Security Advisor Donilon. Obviously, this is a complex and difficult issue that we’re working on with China, and we’re going to continue to do it.

QUESTION: Are they still —

MS. NULAND: Forgive me. I’ve got to get upstairs for the Libyan. I apologize.

QUESTION: Are they still denying involvement? Are the Chinese still denying involvement?

MS. NULAND: I think you know that we have a regular dialogue with the Chinese on this, and we will continue to press the importance of coming to common cause with China on these issues along the lines that National Security Advisor Donilon outlined.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:41 p.m.)