State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, March 18, 2013

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

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • St. Patrick’s Day events at White House and Department of State
    • Bosco Ntaganda at Embassy Kigali
    • Pakistani Parliament Completes its Term / Importance of Elections
    • U.S. Support to Pakistan
    • SOC Conversations about Interim Government / Important that Opposition Maintains Unity and Democratic Trajectory / Geneva Process
    • Violence Needs to Stop / Support for Opposition
    • Syrian Regime Fires Rockets into Northern Lebanon
    • Regime’s Use of Scuds
    • NATO Assets in Turkey Designed for Defense of Turkey
    • Support for Assad Regime from Iran / Hezbollah / Russia
    • al-Qaida Affiliates Infiltrating Syrian Opposition
    • U.S. Rejects Allegations of Involvement in Plots to Destabilize Venezuelan Government
    • U.S. Sponsoring Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka
    • National Dialogue Begins
    • Gas Pipeline
    • Human Rights Council Resolution



1:38 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: Happy Monday, everyone. We are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Washington one day late here. As you know, there are events at the White House, and the Secretary has some events today as well. I have nothing at the top, so let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Two things, please. One, if you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, why are you not wearing anything green?

MS. NULAND: It’s – I would call this green. Maybe you —

QUESTION: Looks yellow to me.

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. It must be our lighting, our extreme lighting. It is green.

QUESTION: Okay. More importantly, there are reports that a Rwandan-born, former Congolese general, Bosco Ntaganda, has turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy in Kigali. Is there any truth to that?

MS. NULAND: I can confirm that this morning Bosco Ntaganda, an ICC indictee and leader of one of the M23 factions walked into U.S. Embassy Kigali. He specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague. We’re currently consulting with a number of governments, including the Rwandan government, in order to facilitate his request.



QUESTION: Another —

MS. NULAND: Sorry. Still on this?

QUESTION: Whoa, slow down.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Still on this?

QUESTION: Did you have contact with General Ntaganda before this? I mean, can you explain in any manner how this process came about, or was it just a complete surprise to you that he showed up at the Embassy today?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that we had any advance notice that he would plan to walk in. It sounds like it was something that happened this morning, and we are endeavoring to meet his request.

QUESTION: And had you been in discussions with this general?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: And why is he – did he say he went to the U.S. – I mean, to me that’s not the natural place to go, the U.S. Embassy in Kigali. Why didn’t he go to the Rwandan government or anyone else? I mean, the United States is not even an ICC member?

MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to speak for him as to why he chose us to facilitate his passage to The Hague. Presumably, when we complete this process, he’ll be in a position to speak for himself.

QUESTION: Is it your anticipation then, following his request, that he will, indeed, be transferred to the ICC?

MS. NULAND: Again, that’s what he’s asked for. We want to facilitate that request. As you know, we strongly support the work that the ICC is doing to investigate the atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we are going to continue to work with the ICC in this matter.

QUESTION: There’d be no obstacle from your side then to transferring him to the ICC?

MS. NULAND: As I said, we’re working to facilitate the request that he has made.

QUESTION: Any idea how long that might take?

MS. NULAND: We’re working on it in real-time here. We’ll let you know what we can as things go.

Scott, still on this?

QUESTION: Has the government in Kinshasa asked for him to be transferred to their authority?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. NULAND: Goyal, yeah.

QUESTION: Pakistan.

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, Pakistan government completes five full years in government, and this may be the first time ever in the Pakistan history. But somehow, many Pakistanis are not happy the way that five years completes this government because of poverty and a lot of terrorism attacks and not much development for the people, and so much money had been coming there, and so much a rift going on in the country. So Secretary John Kerry had been in the region and also in Pakistan numerous times and he knows and has the knowledge of the country and the region. What do you think the Secretary feels now after five years of this government and still they do not have the government now, which will be over soon, the election, they’re still waiting for the government to form?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just say again, as we said on Friday in anticipation of this move, the United States congratulates the Pakistani parliament on the completion of its term. This is truly historic. As you know, there’s a period of time now where a transitional government will be formed in order to take the elections forward.

I think, in response to your question, what’s most important is that the Pakistani people are now going to be afforded an opportunity, we all hope, through free, fair, and transparent elections, to express their will about the political future that they want to have. That’s what’s most important, is that we get to elections in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up, madam. In the future, whoever, whatever government comes in Pakistan, and I wish them all the best for I’m sure there will be another democracy not military anymore. My question, madam, again, to follow that, you think U.S. will, under Secretary John Kerry, will change policy that more development for the people or people to people rather than government money or the help to the government, but focus more on the people’s development in Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, I’m going to take issue with the premise of your question. As you know, about a year and a half ago, the U.S. did some work with the Congress to restructure the support that we provide to Pakistan to enable us to do more support at the grassroots level for economic empowerment, for the nongovernmental sector, for energy needs of Pakistan. We still, obviously, work with the government on their development needs, but we also work extensively directly with the people of Pakistan, and we can get you more information about that going forward.

QUESTION: All I said was this talking to many Pakistanis here in this area. What they said if U.S. shift its position of policy in Pakistan, focus more on the people, then U.S. will gain much respect from the people of Pakistan in the future.

MS. NULAND: I think one of the difficulties we have – and we’ve talked about this before here, and we talked about it when former Secretary Clinton was in Pakistan, and I’m sure Secretary Kerry will talk about it when he is able to make a trip – is that the Pakistani people don’t have good information about how much we are doing at the people-to-people level and the grassroots level, and we need to work harder to get that message out.

Brad, you wanted to go to Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, please. Can we —

QUESTION: Can we go back to Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: You want to let Lalit finish here on Pakistan? Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: Given that Pakistan has a history of army’s coup several times in the past, do you think over the past five years the development that has taken place, the democratic system, is irreversible? Or do you still fear that there might be some chance in the future that Pakistan army could – there be coup also.

MS. NULAND: Well, none of us have a crystal ball, and I certainly wouldn’t answer a hypothetical. I think what we consider extremely positive is that we have, for the first time in history, a democratic government able to complete its term. And now we look forward to the next step, which is free, fair elections.


QUESTION: And since U.S. has a very important relationship with Pakistan and with 2014 drawdown line looming, what kind of relationship are you looking to have with Pakistan in the next coming years?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we need to have the transitional government formed. We then need to have elections and have a permanent government. But I think our expectation is that we will be able to work well with whomever the Pakistani people elect on the full range of things that we work on, security and counterterrorism, economic development, regional integration, strong support for the development of democracy, the NGO sector, human rights, all of those things. So that’s what we would hope to be able to continue and to grow even stronger in the future.


QUESTION: Syria. How do you feel about this interim government that’s taking shape in Turkey? And is it something that the United States would be willing to recognize?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s conversations are still going on about precisely what they want to have come out of these meetings in Istanbul. So I don’t think we want to get ahead of that, Brad. I think you know what we’ve been focused on, which is, in ensuring that the opposition maintains unity, that it maintains a pluralistic, open approach, and is inclusive of all of the major groups in Syria, that it maintains its democratic trajectory, that it is supporting the best standards of justice, human rights, democracy for a future Syria.

So we are obviously watching the proceedings with care, but we are most interested in ensuring that the opposition remains unified, that they remain effective in representing the best of a future Syria and in providing services increasingly to Syrians in the liberated areas.

QUESTION: But on the actual step of creating an interim government, you don’t have a position, per se? It’s not something you support or caution against at this point?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re interested in the principles of unity and a democratic trajectory. We need to see where this goes going forward.

QUESTION: And then just one more. I noticed in the last week – I think you last week and Secretary Kerry today both stressed the point that the Russians haven’t put forward people for the Geneva plan to kind of go forward. Is this —

MS. NULAND: Brad, I think that’s a misreading of both what I said and what Secretary Kerry said. It’s not for any outside power to put forward names for the Geneva process. What we’ve been trying to encourage is that countries like Russia, who have influence with Assad, would encourage him to allow the Geneva process to go forward. And that would mean to allow some participation by those in the regime without blood on their hands to sit with the opposition and look at how one could implement this transitional government.

QUESTION: Sorry if I said Russia. I meant to say that you both pointed out that the Assad regime hasn’t put forward people to represent them in these talks, which has sort of prevented this plan from really getting off the ground. Is that why this interim government, kind of on the opposition side, is not provoking stronger objections from your part?

MS. NULAND: Again, we need to see what the Syrian opposition chooses to do in Istanbul before we prejudge it. What the Secretary made clear today is that we still, despite all of our best efforts, have not seen the Assad regime prepared to really engage in allowing a political page to be turned in supporting this concept of a transitional government with Assad getting out of the way. Instead, they’ve responded with more violence against the Syrian people.

QUESTION: But this interim government that the opposition coalition is setting up, that doesn’t act as a replacement to the transitional government that you still maintain is your goal, correct?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of what the opposition chooses to do. The issue would be whether any group of people who comes forward from the opposition can play an appropriate role in the implementation of a transitional government.

QUESTION: So you still – just – sorry, to make the question a lot easier, you still hold out hope of a transitional government that the opposition and the regime, elements within the regime, agree to as part of it?

MS. NULAND: The first-order issue here, Brad, is that the violence needs to stop. The violence is not going to stop unless and until Assad understands that he can’t shoot his way out of this, that the better course of action, if he wants to save his country, is to allow a real negotiation about a transitional government. He hasn’t gotten that message yet, so we’re going to continue to up the pressure by supporting the opposition militarily and politically, even as we leave the door open, as the Secretary made clear today, if he chooses to allow a political path forward.

QUESTION: Support militarily?

MS. NULAND: Materially. Materially. Materially. Good effort.

QUESTION: No. I think you did say that.

MS. NULAND: Materially was what I meant. Apologies.

QUESTION: Okay. Follow-up on —

MS. NULAND: But the Secretary did say today that we don’t have objections if others make a different choice, right.

QUESTION: Got that message.


QUESTION: A follow-up on Brad’s questions. Do you prefer an interim government for the opposition, or the implementation of Geneva communiqué?

MS. NULAND: Again, you guys are making this sound like it’s an either-or. It doesn’t work that way in our view. But again, we’re not going to get ahead of what the opposition chooses to do.

QUESTION: One more on Syria. Two Syrian warplanes hit targets at Lebanon border for the first time today. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: Let me say that we can confirm what you are seeing in the press, that regime jets and helicopters did fire rockets into northern Lebanon, impacting Wadi al-Khayel, near the border town of Arsal. This constitutes a significant escalation in the violations of Lebanese sovereignty that the Syrian regime has been guilty of. These kinds of violations of sovereignty are absolutely unacceptable.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, as we discussed on Friday, and we stand by our own longstanding commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the very strictest respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon. I’d also note that the Lebanese government has taken a strong stand of disassociation from the Syrian crisis, and that also needs to be respected.

QUESTION: Anybody – any official in the building has talked to the Prime Minister, Lebanese Prime Minister, or to the Lebanese government?

MS. NULAND: Our Ambassador in the ground, Maura Connelly, has obviously been in close contact with the Lebanese government. I don’t know whether there have been any calls from this building. I’ll take a check on that.

QUESTION: Can you also confirm that there are about dozens – a dozen Scud-type missiles launch to the north of Syria over the weekend?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything specific on new Scuds over the weekend. But you know we have on and off seen use of Scuds as well as aerial bombardment by the regime for many months now, and particularly in the Aleppo region.

QUESTION: Turkish officials have basically confirmed over the last two months they – there have been about hundred Scud-type missiles launched from Damascus. And as we all know, there are – Patriot missiles are situated in south of Turkey. Have you ever considered intercepting these rockets from these Patriots in Turkey?

MS. NULAND: Ilhan, as we made clear at the time that NATO and the United States deployed those assets in Turkey, they are designed for the defense of Turkey. They are now programmed only to intercept if missiles fly into Turkish territory, and we don’t have any plans to change that.

QUESTION: But it shouldn’t be so difficult to change all those designs to intercept a Scud within Syria that basically wipe out half of villages sometime. And we all know there is no military target on these rockets; they just hit the civilians mostly.

MS. NULAND: Again, the NATO decision was to defend our ally, Turkey, with those assets and not to go further.


QUESTION: I have one more on Turkey.


QUESTION: I mean on Syria. Sorry. Secretary Kerry said today that al-Qaida-related elements are supporting Assad.

MS. NULAND: I think what happened in that exchange was that he – a bunch of things got put together. As you know, our concern has been about Iranian support, Hezbollah support, and continuing Russian support for the Assad regime. We also separately are concerned about al-Qaida-affiliated entities infiltrating the Syrian opposition. We’ve talked about that. So I think he was speaking quickly what —

QUESTION: He misspoke. Okay, fine.



QUESTION: Venezuela.


QUESTION: The Maduro government has made claims that the U.S. is plotting to assassinate the opposition leader Capriles in order to blame it on the Maduro government. Your reaction to that? And secondly, has there been a request, as President Maduro said, for the U.S. to investigate this? And third, has there been any contact between State and former ambassadors Otto Reich and Roger Noriega in terms of working with the opposition?

MS. NULAND: Let me say it here extremely clearly, looking right at you: The United States categorically rejects allegations of any U.S. government involvement in any plots to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela. With regard to our former ambassadors, they have spoken for themselves quite clearly.

Please, Lalit.

QUESTION: If I can check with you on Sri Lanka. The U.S. delegation which is going to – in Geneva right now, the kind of talks you’re having with the Sri Lankan government and also the Indian government on this issue, do you have something to say on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know when we’ve spoken about it here that we are sponsoring a new resolution in the Human Rights Council and we’re working with a lot of governments who share our concerns about the lack of progress in Sri Lanka. It is not a surprise to the Government of Sri Lanka that we are doing this. We made clear publicly and privately that this was a response to the fact that we just didn’t see the kind of movement that was necessary. We didn’t see promises fulfilled. So we’re being very transparent with the Government of Sri Lanka, and we’re expecting strong support for the resolution that we’ve put forward.

QUESTION: But there are sections from the pro-LTT groups which are coming up very strongly in support of the resolutions in Geneva. Do you think that this – there are some critics who say the passing of this resolution will give boost to LTT activities not only in Sri Lanka but world over.

MS. NULAND: Well, the best thing that the Government of Sri Lanka could do for its own people and to undercut the claims of these groups would be to fulfill the obligations that it made to the international community to take the process forward. So that hasn’t happened, and we are taking more measures in the Human Rights Council to make clear that progress has been insufficient.

QUESTION: And then lastly, has the Indian government approached you for any change in the draft resolution?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any details about the discussions that are ongoing. I’ll send you to our mission out there.


QUESTION: Quick follow-up?

MS. NULAND: Michel.

QUESTION: On Yemen. The National Dialogue has started today. What are your expectations?

MS. NULAND: Let me get a little bit more for you on that. I know that we are very pleased that the National Dialogue has begun. This is something that we have long supported as a way of healing the wounds of the past, taking the country forward, ensuring that the best democratic traditions are upheld in the new Yemen and that grievances and frustrations are addressed through dialogue. But let me see if we have any more specific messages with regard to the dialogue today.

QUESTION: Toria, just briefly – pardon me – the Maduro government has not made any requests, right, to investigate this one?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, there haven’t been any requests that are viable in the – within the context of what I said earlier.


QUESTION: Iraq. Iraq government recently authorized its Oil Minister Abdul-Karem Luaibito sign framework agreement with oil ministers of Iran and Syria to build the gas pipeline. And recently, oil minister of Iran spokesman said that next summer, they should be able to start at least the first leg to Iraq, export gas from Iran to Iraq, and then later on is going to be the other parts to Syria. Are you concerned with this, or do you have any stance with the – your Iraqi ally getting this gas project with Iran?

MS. NULAND: Ilhan, I hadn’t seen the comments from today. Let me take that and see if we have anything to share tomorrow. You know as a general matter how concerned we are about any country increasing its energy dependence on Iran. That’s the wrong direction to go, not only because we are all seeking to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime, but also because they’re an unreliable partner.

Anything else? Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Quickly on Sri Lanka?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As far as the human rights in Sri Lanka are concerned, especially for the minorities and this new and old resolution at the United Nations, and Sri Lankan Ambassador also had been talking about this – these resolutions and progress in Sri Lanka. My question is that – have you been talking with the Sri Lankan government or their Ambassador here about these issues before the resolution or during this resolution? And what was their action or reaction?

MS. NULAND: I think I said in response to Lalit’s question that this – the fact that we were going to move forward in Geneva again was no surprise to the Government of Sri Lanka. I remember when the Foreign Minister was here last year and met with Secretary Clinton, she made clear that if we didn’t have progress, we would go forward. And that’s what we’ve done.

Thanks very much, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)