State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, March 22, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 22, 2012. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
  • MALI
    • Condemnation of Military Seizure of Power / Economic and Financial Support / President Amadou Toumani Toure / Meeting Today on Future Assistance from the U.S.
    • Kofi Annan’s Plan / Friends of Syria Meeting
    • Parliamentary Review
    • Aid to National Security Forces / Shared Responsibility / NATO Summit / Ambassador Grossman Involvement
    • Update on Aid
  • DPRK
    • Possible Satellite Launch / Brookings Institute Article
  • IRAN
    • Sanctions on Iranian Crude Oil / Bilateral Consultations Continue / Imports
    • World Water Day / Israel and Palestinians
    • Exemption Possibility for Sanctions on Iranian Crude Oil
    • Reconciliation Process


1:00 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody, before we start today, a warm welcome to our journalists at the back of the room who are participating in the U.S.-Pakistan journalism exchange. Welcome. All right.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Can we start with Mali?

MS. NULAND: We can.

QUESTION: What – first off, has the Department yet begun the process of making the legal determination of whether this is indeed a coup?

MS. NULAND: Well, first to say, as we said in our statement this morning, that the United States condemns the military seizure of power in Mali. We echo the statements of the African Union, of ECOWAS, and of other international partners in denouncing these actions. We’ve called for calm. We’ve called for restoration of the civilian government under constitutional rule without delay so that the elections can proceed as scheduled. And we stand with the legitimately elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. Mali has been a leading democracy in West Africa, and those institutions must be respected.

Arshad, in response to your question, I think our focus and our hope and expectation is that this military action can be quickly reversed and we can get back to the issue of democratic governance in Mali, which we can all support.

QUESTION: Why is it that your expectation that it can be quickly reversed?

MS. NULAND: Well, our hope is that ECOWAS and the African Union, who we understand are sending a senior delegation in the near future, are going to be able to resolve this, and we won’t get to this issue of whether we’ve had a formal coup, if you may.

QUESTION: But that’s a hope, not an expectation?

MS. NULAND: That is a hope. That is a hope and that is something that we are supporting and working towards.

QUESTION: And is there – I realize that it takes some time to make determinations about whether something is a coup, or at least it takes the State Department some time, but is there any immediate effect in terms of ceasing cooperation with the Government in Mali, particularly on counterterrorism work?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that the United States provides significant security and economic and financial support to the Government of Mali every year, something along the order of $137- $140 million. We are meeting this afternoon. No decisions have been made to look at those assistance problems – programs and to determine what’s appropriate.

QUESTION: And particularly on counterterrorism, which – some of which I imagine is done with the military, do you think it’s possible to continue counterterrorism cooperation with the new authorities?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, our expectation and what we are supporting and working for with our ECOWAS and AU partners is that we can reverse this, that we can get back to good, solid democratic governance in Mali. And with regard to what one would do, could do, should do in this period with the assistance, we’re looking at it this afternoon. So we haven’t done any – made any decisions.

QUESTION: Why do you keep saying expectation when that was your hope? I mean, it makes me think you – there’s something you’re thinking or you know, that maybe this is in the process of being reversed. Is there anything that suggests that?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, there – our hope is that ECOWAS can get in there quickly, can negotiate a resolution of this and can get the president back in the capital and leading the country.


QUESTION: Victoria, do you have any information of the whereabouts of President Toure?

MS. NULAND: Well, there had been some misreporting that he was somehow in or near the U.S. Embassy. That is false. Our understanding is he is still in Mali, but I can’t give you any more detail than that.

QUESTION: In your statement, you did not insist on his physical safety. Does that mean that you don’t have any concern as far as his physical safety is concerned?

MS. NULAND: No, of course we do. Of course we do.

Matt – still on Mali?

QUESTION: I’m – obviously, I missed the beginning of this, so you have not made a determination under the law that you’re required to? Is that correct or —

MS. NULAND: We have not. Yeah.

QUESTION: So we’re looking at a Honduras situation here, where you guys just take your time and —

MS. NULAND: We’re looking at the whole range of issues this afternoon. This has been something that we all woke up to.

QUESTION: And when you say you’re hoping that ECOWAS is – you mean negotiators from ECOWAS; you’re not talking about Nigerian troops, are you?

MS. NULAND: No, no. Our expectation is that ECOWAS and the African Union will be sending some high-level folks in to try to negotiate this through.

QUESTION: And when you say that you’re going to be looking at this this afternoon, does that mean that you’re expecting or you think that there might be some good resolution to this —

MS. NULAND: No. What —

QUESTION: — this afternoon?

MS. NULAND: No, no, no, no.

QUESTION: Or you’re looking at simply whether the – you have to, as you are legally bound to, apply the law?

MS. NULAND: No, the question was with regard to U.S. assistance, U.S. support for Mali. We are looking, interagency this afternoon, at the support programs that we have in Mali to make some decisions.

QUESTION: Were you asked the question of how much would be at stake?

MS. NULAND: I mentioned at the top that we annually have about $137- $140 million going to Mali.

QUESTION: Right. And that – some of that is exempted from —

MS. NULAND: Absolutely. Well, that is before you get to some of the humanitarian assistance, which is exacted. Okay?

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So the amount that would be at stake if such a determination were made would be that 130 —

MS. NULAND: About that. But again, there are a number of legal issues here, including how the different pots of money are apportioned.

QUESTION: And just to clarify, because now it’s not perfectly clear to me, is this afternoon’s meeting to discuss and make a decision on whether or not a military coup has occurred, therefore triggering the aid cutoff? Or rather, is it a – or you – are you not considering that for the time being, and it is simply to look at what you can continue to fund while you see if this can be reversed, and therefore it would not be a military coup and not trigger the cutoff?

MS. NULAND: Again, the meeting this afternoon is to look at the entire situation in Mali, what diplomatic initiatives there may be to resolve this quickly, which is what we would like to see happen, but also in the interim to look at the support that we give to Mali and what’s appropriate to give under various different scenarios.

QUESTION: Do you expect any decisions out of the meeting this afternoon?

MS. NULAND: Again, they need to sit down and have the meeting before I can predict, but I think there will be some – certainly some decisions about the kind of diplomacy that we will support and some preliminary thinking about what should be done in the short term with our assistance.

QUESTION: Can you get us a readout after the meeting, since you’ve mentioned it?

MS. NULAND: I think we’ll probably have more to say about this tomorrow because there’ll have to be some reporting up.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) personnel from UN, World Bank, and IMF, many personnel in Mali right now? Do you have any contingency plan to get them out of country, or have you received any kind of request?

MS. NULAND: You’re talking about American citizens, or you’re talking about internationals?

QUESTION: American citizens, yes. And —

MS. NULAND: We’ve done the usual alerts to official Americans, to U.S. citizens, to stay in place, to take precautionary security measures. And I think we issued a public warning to that effect.





MS. NULAND: Still on Mali, Scott? Yeah.

QUESTION: The primary flashpoint here appears to have been the military’s ability to deal with the Tuareg rebellion. Is it the view of the United States that that rebellion has been amplified, revived, by the fall of Qadhafi in Libya and the return of Tuareg fighters from Libya to both Mali and Niger?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think until we have a chance to analyze fully what has happened, I’m not going to be commenting on the causes for this. I think the Tuareg issue has been – is not a new one. Let’s put it that way, Scott. I think you’re – it’s certainly true that there has been increasing concern inside Mali about Tuareg activity over the last number of months, and particularly since the Tuaregs have had less to fight about in Libya and have moved on to Mali. But I don’t think we’re going to be analyzing the situation until we get a chance to look at it internally.




QUESTION: Today it was announced that the new military council in Damascus that will allow defected soldiers to have more coordinated efforts. Is this a step in the right direction? Your reaction to that? Have you heard about it?

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t heard. This is an announcement of —

QUESTION: That it’s going to be a new military council in Damascus and in the rural area.

MS. NULAND: Of the opposition?

QUESTION: Of the opposition, of the Free Syrian Army, the (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: I just can’t speak to that. I haven’t seen what they have announced.

QUESTION: But I mean, if this is the case, do you think this is – because very often, you complain that the opposition is very unorganized. And the fact that they are getting their act together, at least militarily, is this a step in the right direction?

MS. NULAND: I think what we have been calling for is for the peaceful opposition to coordinate better and to make proposals that will be attractive to all Syrians who want change from all groups within the country about how a peaceful transition can go forward.


QUESTION: Yes, Victoria. The Secretary’s statement yesterday and another statement by you and others were interpreted as toning down of the rhetoric, the anti-Assad rhetoric. Should it be interpreted that way?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think that there should be any doubt in anyone’s mind what the Secretary was saying yesterday. She was calling on Assad to accept the Kofi plan, start pulling back the weapons from the cities, start cooperating in humanitarian assistance, and allow a political transition to go forward. There’s no change in our position, so I’m not sure where those sort of analyses came from.

QUESTION: Well, it – I guess it emanates from the sort of played-down rhetoric on calling for him to step aside and that they have not heard that so emphatically as it was in the beginning. And I guess that’s maybe the cause.

MS. NULAND: Well, there’s no change in our view that a democratic, peaceful Syria cannot be led by Assad, no change in our view that he has lost legitimacy with his people.

QUESTION: So finally, one last thing.


QUESTION: Do you see that this new closeness with Russia as an impetus, perhaps, to convince Assad that he must begin immediately with what has been required of him?

MS. NULAND: I think the point here, Said, is that there was concern that Assad and his regime were taking advantage of the apparent divisions on the Security Council not to do what needed to be done. So you now have the Security Council speaking very clearly with one voice in support of the kinds of change that we’ve been calling for for months and months and months and months.


QUESTION: You stated that you —

MS. NULAND: We missed you. Where you been? You’ve been home?


MS. NULAND: In Syria? That’s where we got the beard.

QUESTION: You stated that you continue to call on Assad to step down, but the Annan mission that you are endorsing does not call Assad to step down, neither it foresees any kind of time restraint or it proposes any kind of credible threat of force, right? I mean, how both reconciled? Could you elaborate on that?

MS. NULAND: We don’t see any irreconcilable elements here. The Assad[1] six points are focused on getting an immediate ceasefire and immediate humanitarian relief process underway and an immediate political transition dialogue ongoing. That doesn’t change the fact that we don’t think that Assad is the guy that can lead his country into a democratic future.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t call specifically Assad to step down or there is no timeframe for these dialogues.

MS. NULAND: Again, these are the kinds of things that the Kofi Annan technical team that’s in Damascus is working on. But we can’t get – we have to get this started and it has to start with an end to the violence and humanitarian relief for the people.

QUESTION: Today Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu said that in addition to common message, we also have to develop a joint plan of action. And also there are some commentaries today that Foreign Minister Davutoglu, when he was here having meeting with Secretary Clinton, U.S. position was to tell Turkey not to create buffer zone or any kind of humanitarian corridor. Can you tell us that – do you have the position to oppose Turkish Government to create any kind of action inside Syria?

MS. NULAND: First of all, I’m not going to discuss the Secretary’s private diplomacy with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, except to say that the way you’ve characterized that is not the way that conversation went.

Turkey is going to host the next Friends of the Syrian People meeting, which will be quite large again. It’ll be on April 1st. From our perspective, the first meeting laid out a very clear agenda, which the Annan six points also support, talking about the importance of ending the violence, getting humanitarian going, getting a political process underway.

So we look forward to the agenda that the Turkish Government will establish to deepen and broaden the consensus about the way forward, and we expect that the UN will also be represented in those meetings.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary be at that meeting for sure?


QUESTION: You say that your position hasn’t changed, but some will argue that the Syrian Government position hasn’t changed either. What indication do you have that will lead you to believe that the Syrian Government will cooperate at least on humanitarian issues and stopping the ceasefire for whatever, two hours or —

MS. NULAND: Well, this was the challenge that the Secretary put to the regime yesterday, that now that we have a united Security Council, it is important that the regime take action. And if it doesn’t, it’s going to face increasing pressure and increasing isolation.

QUESTION: What’s the alternative sanction if such regime doesn’t comply with the mission? What’s your alternative plan?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into all kinds of hypotheticals going forward. You’ve seen over these months that the economic sanctions on the regime have grown tighter and tighter, more and more countries participating. There is plenty of support still flowing to the Assad regime that could be cut off. We will continue to, using the Friends of the Syrian People and other fora that we have, encourage as many countries as possible not to trade with them, not to trade weapons, not to support him economically, and to ensure that he and his supporters face very, very tough choices.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Can we go to Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: We can.

QUESTION: The foreign ministry in Islamabad today said that once the parliament completes its review and comes up with an advice on future cooperation with U.S. and agreements will be in writing, Pakistan and U.S. will be cooperating only after agreements in writing, not verbal. What are your comments on that?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to say the same thing that we’ve been saying for weeks and months, which is that we are going to wait until the parliament has had a chance to look at all these recommendations, to debate them, and to see the outcome of that very democratic process, as the Secretary made clear yesterday. And when the Government of Pakistan is prepared to reengage with us on its conclusions as a result of that process, we stand ready to do it.

QUESTION: And also, as you quoted the Secretary yesterday, she said that it’s a good sign for Pakistan’s democratic development that a debate is taking place in the parliament, and you have counterterrorism concerns and interests there. How do you look forward? How do you look to banish those – your concerns in Pakistan’s democratic development after the review is complete?

MS. NULAND: Again, you’re asking me to preview where we’re going to go after a review is completed that is ongoing, so I think we will wait and see how our dialogue with Pakistan goes, but the Secretary, as you heard, really laid out the interests that we share yesterday.


QUESTION: Staying in the region?

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Lalit.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, the president today said that U.S. would be giving Afghanistan four billion U.S. dollars every year for the next 10 years to support its army. Has (inaudible) engaged on this issue, or what?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that in the context of the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago, we are working with Afghanistan, we are working with all of the ISAF partners on a long-term program of support for the Afghan National Security Forces. Some of the money to support the Afghan security forces is going to come from Afghanistan. Afghanistan will support from its own budget its security forces. But I think we all expect that there will have to be sizable international contributions as well.

So Marc Grossman is in Europe now, as you know, talking to allies about what they might be able to do. We are looking, obviously, at what we might be able to do. There is money in our 2013 budget and onward budgets to look at this. But obviously, this is going to have to be a shared responsibility, which also includes Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But is the figure of $4 billion – is the U.S. contribution going to be for Afghan —

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak about overall numbers at the moment. It’s all being worked out.


QUESTION: And is Ambassador Grossman going to South Asia after the end of his visit?

MS. NULAND: He still has not made decisions about the back end of his trip. At the moment, he is focused on his European stops. He may have more to say about this tomorrow or on Saturday.

QUESTION: Can you stay in the region, Sri Lanka?

QUESTION: No, just stay on (inaudible).


QUESTION: And this – just yesterday, both the foreign minister and the Secretary were – expressed hope that the final elements of the (inaudible) on the strategic partnership deal could be done before or at the NATO Summit. And I’m just – because I can’t remember what it was with Iraq, but who actually signs those agreements? Is it heads of state or is it foreign ministers or is it – who?

MS. NULAND: On the SPD, I don’t know how we’re going to do this one. Traditionally, it would be either head of state or foreign minister, but I frankly haven’t looked into what the draft says at the moment.


QUESTION: Last week, you said you expected the Secretary to decide this week about the aids to Egypt, to inform Congress. Any update on this?

MS. NULAND: We’re still expecting a decision this week but she hasn’t made it yet, so stay tuned.


QUESTION: On North Korea?


QUESTION: Evans Revere, a former State Department official, he posted an article on the Brookings Institution, and here he said he first became aware of the possibility of North Korea launching satellite on December 15th, three days – of last year, I mean – three days before the death of Kim Jong-il during his exchange with a North Korean official. And he also said, quote, that “Obama Administration had already heard similar statements from North Korean counterparts and had already delivered a strong warning” to them.

Is it true that the U.S. was told by North Korea even before Kim Jong-il’s death that they’re going to launch satellite?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to speak to the details of the discussion that we had in the three bilateral sessions from August onward with the North Koreans leading to the Leap Day deal, except to repeat what we’ve said last week, which was that the issue of whether we would consider a satellite launch a violation did come up in those talks. And we were extremely clear when that subject came up that we would consider the launch of anything using ballistic missile technology to be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874. So the North Koreans should not have been in any doubt before or after the death of the leader of what our position was.

QUESTION: The only remaining point here is how soon did the United States warn North Korea of the (inaudible).

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the details of who said what to whom when during these negotiations, except to tell you that at no time should there have been any expectation on the part of the North Koreans that a satellite launch using ballistic missile technology would be acceptable to us or anybody else in the international community.


QUESTION: Are you aware of the case of Walid Abu Al-Khair, who’s a Saudi human rights activist and a lawyer who was prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia to participate in a State Department-sponsored conference that’s supposed to take place in the next few days?

MS. NULAND: And he was prohibited in some manner by?

QUESTION: By the Saudi authority from coming to the U.S.

MS. NULAND: Is this – is he the – no, he’s not the – I think I don’t have this case, Nadia, so we will —

QUESTION: Can you look up – please look into it?

MS. NULAND: — look into it, yeah, absolutely, if you can give our guys —


MS. NULAND: — the correct spelling of the name, yeah.


QUESTION: Now that you have a list of countries who are exempted from sanctions for deals with Iran, what are the next steps you’re taking against India and other countries who are still dealing with Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this a couple of times this week. As you know, Tejinder, our conversations continue with all the other countries that want to talk to us who continue to have issues with the amount of Iranian crude that they import. India is one of those countries. And we are working hard with India to see if we can help with regard to reducing India’s dependence and the dependence of any of the other countries on Iranian crude, and looking at alternative sources of supply as well.

QUESTION: As it stands today, you are not contemplating any action?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce, and our bilateral consultations continue with a whole raft of countries that have not yet been exempted.


QUESTION: Just following on that, you said that you were in consultations with all the countries that want to talk to you about this. Are there countries among the 12 that don’t want to talk to you?

MS. NULAND: Actually, I should – the minute that formulation came out of my mouth, I thought I should check. I think we are talking to all, if not most, of the 12.

QUESTION: Can you check that?

MS. NULAND: We will.

QUESTION: Can you also tell us what those 12 countries are?

MS. NULAND: I think as we said when we – when Carlos was on the Hill and when we backgrounded on this issue, it’s pretty clearly readily available in public sources —

QUESTION: Well, actually – but it’s –

MS. NULAND: — who has extensive Iranian crude imports.

QUESTION: It’s really not. And I don’t see why – I don’t see how difficult it is – why it would be so difficult for you all to say which countries, if you are in fact talking to all 12 of them, which ones they are.

And then my second question would be is that – do you consider them all to be countries? Because I believe Taiwan is one, and I hadn’t realized that you had changed your one China policy.

MS. NULAND: Why don’t I take the question, and we’ll get back to it with what we can.

QUESTION: I think it would be helpful to name the 12 because, as Matt suggests, there are in fact different – private-source data has different assessments of what countries imported Iranian crude oil in 2011, which I think is the benchmark that you guys are using. And it took a while to get to the bottom of this. And I think if it truly is publicly available, then I think you guys ought to be able to just say well yeah, these are the 12 even if you have to say if we learn new things, like somebody didn’t really import any or somebody else did and we find out later, that it might change. But I —

MS. NULAND: Well, why don’t I take the question. We’ll see what we can do for you.

QUESTION: Remind them – remind whoever it is you’re going to take it up with that these countries know who they are already. It’s not going to be any great breach of secrecy.


QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. On the occasion of World Water Day —

MS. NULAND: Sorry. Are we still on —

QUESTION: Can I do Iran?

MS. NULAND: Well, let’s do World Water Day and then come back. Yeah.


QUESTION: Very quickly, I just wanted to give you a couple of figures and see your comment. Ninety-five percent of Gaza water is unfit for drinking. Twenty-six percent of all illnesses are caused by waterborne diseases. The Israelis – because of the siege, the Israelis continue to take the majority of water in the West Bank. Forty percent of water designated for farming in the West Bank go through sewage because Israel disallows the Palestinians from repairing or introducing new pipes, and so on. The farming for the settlement is heavily subsidized, which is used for farming and recreation, while the Palestinians are charged heavy fees, and so on.

And I wonder since it’s a basic human right issue – the access to water – I wonder if the United States would make a case that Palestinian farmers and residents be allowed at least the same allocation or the same allotment as the settlements?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know, Said, that water is one of the issues that the United States works with Palestinian Authority representatives on. We also work on regional issues with Israel. So it is certainly a subject that is on our minds and part of our regular efforts with the Palestinians.

QUESTION: I have two questions on Turkey, starting from 2012 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which Turkey is cited as a Country of Particular Concern. But Turkey argues that one of the members of the commission actually did not vote for this classification. Do you have anything on this?

MS. NULAND: I had something on this on the day that it happened, which I think was on Monday.


MS. NULAND: But I don’t think – I’ll have to take it and get back to you, okay?

QUESTION: Okay. On Iran, Turkey is not listed as one of the countries in the waiver list for the sanctions. And Turkish Energy Minister yesterday was saying Turkey is still hoping that it’s going to be one of the countries in the waiver list. Do you have anything on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, just to give you a version of the same answer that we had on India, that Turkey is one of the countries that we are working with to support their efforts to reduce their dependence on Iranian crude, to find alternative sources of supply, and we will continue those discussions.

QUESTION: And that’s (inaudible) exemption (inaudible) waiver (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: This is about the overall effort to try to reduce Turkey’s dependence on Iranian crude.


QUESTION: On Sri Lanka?


QUESTION: Now after this passing of the resolution by UNSCR, what are the options Sri Lanka has? And if it doesn’t implement those recommendations, what it’s going to face now?

MS. NULAND: Well, this is pretty straightforward. It’s not any different than what we’ve been asking for since November, which is for the Government of Sri Lanka to communicate to its own people but also to the international community what it intends to do to implement the LLRC’s recommendations. Specifically, we want to see Sri Lanka take concrete action that brings accountability and reconciliation and to put forward a formal implementation plan on the recommendations.

QUESTION: So do they have any timeline for this? Have they informed you of anything?

MS. NULAND: As soon as possible. We’ve been proposing and urging this kind of action for many months now.

QUESTION: In her statement, Secretary also mentioned that she is looking forward to meet the Sri Lankan foreign minister. Do you know when this is expected – the meeting?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think it’s been scheduled yet.

All right? Thanks everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

[1] Annan