State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, March 8, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 8, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • D.P.R.K. Nuclear Threats / Provocative Rhetoric / South Korea / Further Sanctions
    • International Sanctions / New Categories of Pressure / Luxury Goods / Illicit Revenues
    • Chinese Aid to North Korea / Working with the Chinese
    • South Korean Concern
    • International Women of Courage Awards / Samira Ibrahim / Review Process
    • Security Situation / Monitoring Unrest / Police Protests Against Government
    • RL330003 Congressional Study / Political and Economic Reform
    • International Women of Courage Awards / Travel Difficulty for Recipients / Tibetan Award Recipient / Chinese
    • Secretary Kerry Meeting with Morsy / Diplomatic Discussions / Reforms
    • International Women of Courage Awards / India Rape Case / Violence Against Women / Malala Yousafzai
    • U.S. Policy
    • Syria / Working with International Community / Geneva Accords / Arms Sales
    • Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov and Deputy Secretary Burns Meeting
    • Syrian Opposition Coalition / Recognition
    • Russian Pressure / Changing Assad’s Calculations
    • UNDOF Staff Held by Regime / Regime in Jamla Hindering Efforts / Contact with Opposition
    • Nonlethal Aid / Lethal Aid
    • FM Davutoglu Comments / Humanitarian Support
  • MALI
    • Reports of Newspaper Editor Detained / U.S. Concern
    • Democratic Process / French Withdrawal / Additional Troop Support in Mali
    • Support of Ties and Communication / High-Level Dialogue
    • Sequestration
    • Preparations of President Obama’s Visit
    • Referendum / Encourage Cooperation



12:37 p.m. EST

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Friday. Happy International Women’s Day. I hope you’re all going to tune in to the awards later this afternoon. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Can we start where we left off yesterday on North Korea? Today, it cancelled its non-aggression pact with the South, and just wanted to ask you how much of an escalation you see this to be. And are you concerned about what it’s now going to do, considering it has nothing that really holds the peace together anymore?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, Brad, we spoke to this yesterday. This kind of provocative rhetoric, these kinds of actions are just not going to improve conditions for the North Korean people. They’re not going to end the isolation. They’re just going to increase tensions and it’s extremely regrettable, obviously.

QUESTION: And have you had any talks with South Korea today? How are you assuaging your ally that this won’t mean greater harm to them?

MS. NULAND: We are obviously talking about this rhetoric in Seoul with the R.O.K. They obviously were pleased to hear the strong statements that we made yesterday, publicly and privately, about our commitment to defense. And obviously, they share our view that this is just taking the D.P.R.K. in the wrong direction.

QUESTION: But despite what North Korea announced today, you don’t have any regrets over the sanctions package that you implemented yesterday, and you’re not worried that they’re going to use that as justification for any further bellicose action?

MS. NULAND: On the contrary. If we don’t, as an international community, meet these provocations firmly, then we’re just giving license for the will of the UN Security Council to be flouted. We’ve got to be firm. When we say there are consequences, there have to be consequences, and there have to be consequences that directly impact those in the D.P.R.K. system who are taking the country in the wrong direction.


QUESTION: If we look back —

MS. NULAND: James, welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you, and to you.

MS. NULAND: Thank you.

QUESTION: If we look back over the period of the President’s first term through the present day, we can see two nuclear tests, a number of missile tests; a steady increase in the bellicosity, such as such things can be measured. Might it not be fair to conclude that this Administration has failed to develop any real new ideas for dealing with North Korea, and in fact, that the record has shown a policy failure here?

MS. NULAND: On the contrary. We can also see an intensive ratcheting up over the period of these bad choices by the D.P.R.K. of international sanctions to an unprecedented level in a unified way, including with the support of China.

As you know, and as Ambassador Rice spoke to, when UN Security Council Resolution 2094 was implemented earlier this week, these sanctions take us into new categories of pressure on the D.P.R.K. It’s obviously regrettable that the opportunities for improving their relationship with the international community, for coming clean about their nuclear program, and improving the lives of their people, have not been taken up by the new leadership. We will continue to be open to change if they’re ready to change, but we’re also going to continue to increase the pressure if they don’t make the right choice.

QUESTION: But I asked about two things. One, I asked if this Administration had developed any new ideas, and you talked about ratcheting up sanctions. Sanctions are obviously not a new idea where North Korea’s concerned. And the second thing I talked about – I asked about was the efficacy of the policy. And as you can see, your ratcheting up of sanctions with the allies has not produced the results you would have wished to see.

And so if you would address those two things: One, there haven’t been any new ideas advanced, and number two, the policy hasn’t been very effective in producing the scenario you wanted to see, has it?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, as I said, with this latest turn in the United Nations, we are now increasing the number of affected categories of society in the D.P.R.K., particularly trying to go after those elites who may be encouraging this negative direction. I would note that we are sanctioning and making it more difficult for elites in the D.P.R.K. now to purchase luxury goods. We are working at capturing illicit revenues that might be moving around the world to enrich individuals in that society at the expense of the people. We are also expanding sanctions against anybody involved in ballistic missile technology, so not just named sanctions, but the entire industry.

So obviously, what we’re trying to do is get their attention and have more people in the system appreciate that this course that they’re taking their country down is not only bad for the North Korean people; it’s also bad for the leadership.

QUESTION: But so far, the sanctions haven’t had the desired effect of curtailing the nuclear and the ballistic weapons programs. They’ve punished them, but they haven’t done what you want them to do, which is reverse the programs; correct?

MS. NULAND: As is clear to everybody, the D.P.R.K. has not yet made the right choice. But what we have been able to do is to work together to try to slow access to the technologies that they need, to dry up the money that they use. This is something that we’re going to have to stay at, and we will.


QUESTION: While looking at the U.S. response for Korea and Iran, I mean, Iran is saying, “I’m not building a bomb,” but there is the toughest sanctions ever. Korea, D.P.R.K., is saying, “I’m going to bomb Washington,” and there is not much.

MS. NULAND: Again, I would reject the premise that there – we have now twice, in the course of three months, tightened the sanctions screws on this regime. We’ve done it in a unified way. We’ve done it with all of the Six-Party countries in unity about it, and we will continue to look at what more we can do if they continue to make the wrong choices.

QUESTION: But there are no planes with crews waiting. I mean, it’s a kind of declaration of war.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak about our contingency planning.

Please, please.

QUESTION: One question regarding Afghanistan, about the —

QUESTION: North Korea, one more.

MS. NULAND: Sorry, still on North Korea. Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s kind of understood now that the sanctions are a means to slow the North Koreans’ approach and their attempts to get the weapons that we want them not to have. But China is still providing a lot of aid, both monetarily, food, oil, all sorts of things like that. Isn’t it time for this Administration or this building to ratchet up pressure on China to cut back their aid to the North beyond just pressuring the Chinese to join in on the new round of sanctions?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, as we’ve been saying for some time, we are working well with the Chinese. We would not have been able to make the advances we’ve made in terms of broadening sanctions, deepening sanctions, both with regard to UN Security Council 2087 or with regard to 2094, without the cooperation of the Chinese Government. They too are seriously concerned about the choices that are being made in Pyongyang. They regularly look at their larger relationship. Those are choices that they have to make.

I won’t speak for them, but obviously, we all know that the D.P.R.K. is dependent on China for about 70 percent of their consumer goods, their energy, et cetera. Some of those things are lifelines for the North Korean people, who are obviously the innocent victims of the bad choices that their regime is making.

QUESTION: And a follow-up, if I may: Has there been – after this latest turn, has there been any discussion, however hypothetical – I know you don’t like that word, but – however potential about the Chinese Government just completely cutting off the North?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not going to get into our private diplomatic conversations with the Chinese beyond saying that we are quite gratified by the cooperation we’ve had over the last three months, and we share a very deep concern.


QUESTION: North Koreans are stepping up their provocations every day. So my question is if you have a new redline against a North Korean nuclear program, because it seems you have one against an Iranian nuclear program.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into telegraphing our policy going forward except to say that we are obviously working very closely with all of our allies and partners in the region about trying to get the attention of this regime, which is moving in the wrong direction.

Samir – Said.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) North Korea. There is also belligerent rhetoric, if you want to term in that way, coming from the South. Do you talk to the South Koreans about toning down so they can defuse tension?

MS. NULAND: There’s obviously great concern within the population in South Korea by the bellicosity of the remarks coming from Pyongyang. Obviously, we’re working with our allies in Seoul on how we can work together on this problem. But in light of some of this very harsh rhetoric that we’ve heard from Pyongyang, it’s quite understandable that the South is responding.

Please, Michel.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) subject?

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Egypt, is Samir Ibrahim still in town? And is she getting any help from the State Department?

MS. NULAND: Let me just go back to where we were yesterday and advise that upon further review, the Department has decided not to present her with the award. Our understanding is that she plans to return home. I think you know that all of these candidates did come initially on U.S. – with U.S. support, and we intend to help her to get home.

QUESTION: She wrote on her Twitter account that she’s under pressure and she needs help from Egyptian Foreign Ministry. Do you have any idea about the pressure that she’s under?

MS. NULAND: I would refer you to her.

QUESTION: When you say that you are not presenting her with the award, yesterday you said you deferred the award. But now is this – you’ve rescinded the award; is that —

MS. NULAND: We never presented it. We’ve decided that we will not present it.


QUESTION: For what reasons?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: For what reasons?

QUESTION: What turned up in the review that made you make this decision?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into details beyond saying that we didn’t consider some of the public statements that she had made appropriate. They didn’t comport with our values.

QUESTION: So you did determine that these were indeed her comments, not the product of a malicious hacker?

MS. NULAND: Let me just say that upon review, we have concluded that we will not give her this award.

QUESTION: Toria, a follow-up. When you nominated Samir Ibrahim, did you have other candidates from Egypt?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know the answer to that, Said. I can look into it. Thanks.

QUESTION: Could you tell us at what point her name was put forward and how long the review process is before you go ahead and name somebody as having received the award?

MS. NULAND: I’ll get you some back story on that. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that this woman wasn’t properly vetted by the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: We made clear yesterday that there were obviously some problems in our review process, and we’re going to do some forensics on how that happened.


MS. NULAND: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Policemen in Egypt have left their posts and they are demonstrating against the Interior Minister there. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are closely monitoring the security situation in Egypt today. There is unrest taking placing in a number of places. We’ve also seen what you’ve made reference to, Michel, with regard to police protests against the government, demanding better equipment, better support, et cetera. We’re also in contact with a broad cross-section of Egyptian officials to ensure the safety and security of our mission and our personnel in this context.

You know where we’ve been on this. We are encouraging all Egyptians to exercise their right to free expression peacefully. We’re also encouraging restraint on the behalf of the government and security forces as these protests go forward.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Sorry, still on Egypt.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Egypt.


QUESTION: There is a congressional study, study RL33003, that was done by Congress right before the Secretary of State made his trip to Egypt, that really draws a very bad, abysmal picture of the political situation, the economic situation. It also draws the conclusion that the Brotherhood is likely to stay in power for a long time to come. How do you – after his visit, what kind of conclusion, or what kind of outcome did he perceive afterwards?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Secretary spoke pretty clearly to our concerns as well as our hopes for Egypt in the statement that he issued at the conclusion of his visit. I would call your attention back to that, Said. It’s really pretty comprehensive in terms of the economic reform required, the political reform required, the need for political consensus to move forward on both tracks, of the need for justice, et cetera.

QUESTION: Did he take a look at the study? Because it was prepared in tandem with his visit, I’ll reckon. (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: I think our people are aware of the study, but I don’t know whether there’s been a thorough review.


QUESTION: Can I ask on the awards ceremony? The Tibetan lady, Tsering Woeser, I think – she’s a poet and an author – has not been given a visa by the Chinese authorities to travel to Washington. Could you give us a comment on that, please?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, there are a number of our awardees today who are not able to attend for various reasons. As you say, our Tibetan awardee, Tsering Woeser, was not granted a passport, so she wasn’t able to travel. Our Syrian awardee is in hiding, in fear for her safety. We also have – our Vietnamese blogger is currently in jail. So this just speaks to the extreme difficulty of the conditions that these women confront, and the courage that they have displayed in speaking out for the things that they think are right and for values in the context of the safety considerations.

QUESTION: And aren’t you worried at all that this – the issue with Ms. Ibrahim will overshadow these very important awards that you’re giving out today?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think if you come to the ceremony this afternoon and see the First Lady and the Secretary speak to the courage of these women, you will certainly be impressed with each of them individually, and we fully expect that they will receive the recognition that they all deserve.

QUESTION: How much of an embarrassment is it for the State Department that you’ve had to rescind this award to Ms. Ibrahim today?

MS. NULAND: We obviously had to do what we considered right under the circumstances. It’s unfortunate, but it was the right thing to do.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Tibetan woman?


QUESTION: Did you intervene with the Chinese at all? Did you try to plead the case to give this woman a passport?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know specifically what conversations we had with the Chinese, but they certainly knew that she was an awardee, that we would like to have her attend. This would not be the first time that a prominent Chinese dissident had been granted an international award and recognition and been unable to travel, as you know.


QUESTION: Just coming back to the Secretary’s dealings with President Morsy in Egypt, which you just referenced. In receiving these assurances from President Morsy that he would undertake certain reforms and outreach and in – thereafter making the determination that certain funds could be unlocked, was there any discussion – was anything sought or anything provided in terms of the timetable for the reforms?

MS. NULAND: Well, without going too deeply into our private diplomatic discussions, as James makes reference to, when the Secretary sat down with President Morsy – which he did for more than two hours, some of it in delegation, some of it one on one – the Secretary was able to talk to him about the concerns that he’d heard in the meetings the previous day from a broad cross-section of Egyptian society. By the time the Secretary came to the Morsy meeting, he had already seen, as you know, a broad cross-section of political opposition; he’d seen NGO representatives; he’d seen members of the business community. So the message was very much there are concerns across society here; you need to reach out and you need both political consensus and economic consensus about the way forward.

So that was the tenor of the conversation. As we made clear in the statement that the Secretary put forward, he did feel like he had enough assurance from President Morsy that he would take forward seriously both the economic reform agenda and the political reform agenda for the Secretary to give, as he put it, a good faith $190 million in budget support funds. But we also made clear that without those reforms it would be difficult to continue to support.

QUESTION: But was there a discussion as to timetable?

MS. NULAND: They did discuss a general framework, but I’m not going to share it here.



QUESTION: Going back —

QUESTION: Going back to the —


QUESTION: Now just to follow-up on Elise’s question, when these candidates are nominated, what kind of vetting – and how are they nominated and how are they vetted?

MS. NULAND: We talked about this a little bit, Said. I would refer you to that, what we said yesterday about this.


QUESTION: Going back to awards, first of all, happy International Women’s Day yourself.

MS. NULAND: Thank you. I was waiting for you to wish me that. I knew you would.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madam, since Indian gang-raped girl Nirbhaya is also going to be awarded, and of course she’s no more here, she is dead, and during the gang rape. But I understand her parents will receive the award on her behalf. Some people in India are asking, mostly awards are given for bravery, somebody had done something, extraordinary work or something. This is shame on India actually for gang rapes in India, and Indian Government has not done anything, and the gang rapes are still going on. But at the same time, this girl is getting award today. What message you think U.S. is sending to India by awarding her gang-raped award?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, she became a national symbol, and in fact an international symbol, of the importance of confronting violence against women. And so it’s in that context that we underscore that today. We’ve talked here before, as you know, Goyal, about the efforts that we have ongoing bilaterally in India and around the world to combat this kind of violence.

QUESTION: And just to follow, don’t you think that Malala, who stood against international terrorism and Taliban and Usama bin Ladin, and she’s still saying that she will continue to work for the education of girls and women in Pakistan, around the globe – don’t you think she should have been awarded and she should be recognized for her courage and still standing against the Taliban?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know how much we admire Malala, her bravery in the face of adversity. I will say the following, which is that in consultation with her family, in the context of deciding on these awards, our understanding was that they preferred to focus on her recovery.

QUESTION: And finally, I hope that U.S. will enforce the Indian Government to go after those whilst violence going on against the women on this day.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, as I said, we have a number of bilateral programs that we work on in India to address these issues together with the Indian Government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Change subject?


QUESTION: I know this was addressed with Patrick Ventrell during the briefing that took place while we were traveling —

MS. NULAND: But you’re going to do it again?

QUESTION: But I’m going to do it again —

MS. NULAND: All right.

QUESTION: — with the supposition that you might bring to the answering of the question certain experiences that Mr. Ventrell might not have had. And that has to do with the charges that Vali Nasr has put forward in his book, which is soon to be released but a preview of which appeared in, and in which he essentially charges that the White House almost systematically cut out the State Department from Af-Pak policy while Richard Holbrooke was here working on that subject matter. And I just wonder if, from your experiences, which are high-level, you might be able to address that.

MS. NULAND: With regard to the broad premise that you put forward, that the State Department was cut out of Af-Pak policy —

QUESTION: That Mr. Nasr has put forward in his book.

MS. NULAND: — I would reject that completely. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t want to comment further.


QUESTION: Can you speak to the level of input that the State Department had in the first term on Af-Pak policy?

MS. NULAND: I don’t want to go backwards, except to say that if you know Richard Holbrooke at all you know that he was a formidable force in that job, as he had been in all previous jobs.


QUESTION: Toria, on Syria?


QUESTION: Russian Foreign Minister was asked yesterday if there was any chance of Russia urging President Assad to stand aside. He said absolutely not, you know that we are not in the regime change game, we are against interference in domestic conflicts. How do you view his statement?

MS. NULAND: Well, without commenting directly on what Foreign Minister Lavrov had to say, let me just repeat what the Secretary said to him when we met him in Berlin and again in the phone call that they had yesterday, that we want to see Russia work with us, work with the international community, on the transition to a different, better, democratic future for Syria, based on the Geneva Accords that we all agreed to at the end of June. We also very much hope that Russia will reconsider its continuing arm sales and support for the Assad regime. That would make a manifest difference in Assad’s calculation, and we will continue to work with the Russians and urge them to move in that direction.

QUESTION: Any outcomes from Deputy Burns meeting with Bogdanov?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, both Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov and Deputy Secretary Burns were in London for a conference on Yemen. So their meeting was a target of opportunity to talk about the full range of issues in the U.S.- Russian relationship. But obviously Syria came up, as it always does when they meet. It was as chance to follow up on the conversation that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov had had and to continue to work at how we might be able to implement Geneva. But I wouldn’t say that there were any breakthroughs in that meeting.

QUESTION: Was there a three-Bs meeting?

MS. NULAND: No. I mean, as I said, this was not a special trip to see Mr. Bogdanov. They were both at the Yemen meeting, so they had a bilateral. But we’ll obviously await a decision by Mr. Brahimi when he thinks it would be helpful to have a three-Bs meeting. That hasn’t happened yet.



QUESTION: The opposition are saying that they are postponing their trip to Washington. Could you tell us anything that you know about that?

MS. NULAND: We did hear this from SOC President al-Khatib when the Secretary saw him in Rome, that while he very much appreciated the invitation, he wanted to focus his energy now on strengthening the moderate opposition and continuing to make common cause with the moderate fighting force as well, and that he didn’t want to make long trips right now. We – the invitation is open, and we obviously will do it when it makes sense for the SOC.

QUESTION: Do you think he’s waiting until after the Arab Summit meeting on the 26th and the 27th of this month?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to his timing except that his focus was very much on strengthening his efforts.

QUESTION: And finally, after the summit meeting, if they do give officially the seat of – the Arab League seat of Syria to the opposition, will you follow suit and recognize the opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syrians?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve already said that we consider the SOC the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Legally. (Inaudible) politically, though.

MS. NULAND: We’ve also talked about the various legal hurdles and other things with regard to formal recognition as a government, if that’s what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Okay, so that’s actually the point, because you did explain very thoroughly in the past that it’s a political recognition, but then, legally, there are some hurdles. How these hurdles will be overcome?

MS. NULAND: There are a number of legal things that come into play here when you go to formal recognition of a government. Some of it has to do with territory control. Some of it has to do with other factors. We can give you a separate briefing if that’s of interest.


QUESTION: Did you comment on the Arab League announcement that they made it legitimate for countries that wish to arm the Syrian opposition to go ahead?

MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that specifically from the Arab League, but it is very much in keeping with some of the things that the Secretary heard when he had a chance to talk with Gulf countries and with Mr. Elaraby.

As you know, different countries have made different decisions about how to support the opposition. What’s important to us is that we all stay coordinated in how we look at that and that we continue to vet well so that we are supporting the moderate opposition and isolating extremists.

QUESTION: And you have no problem with this decision?

MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary spoke to that in his press conference in Qatar, Doha, less than a week ago.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on question Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Victoria, after two years that this Administration saying that the Russians are the key, the quote again, is “absolutely no chance,” by the Foreign Minister Lavrov, that we will tell Assad to step down. How do you think it’s possible to work with the Russians under such a clear message that they are not going to abide by the Geneva Convention that you just made reference to?

MS. NULAND: The Geneva documents, as you know, call for the naming of people who could participate in a transitional governing structure, to be agreed by mutual consent, to have full executive powers. We’ve made clear that we don’t read that to include Assad; the Russians have their own view. But there’s nothing that Mr. Lavrov said yesterday that precludes them from encouraging the Assad regime to participate in the naming of individuals to start working on a transitional governing structure. That’s what we are encouraging. So unfortunately we’re not there yet, but we’re going to continue to make the point to the Russians that if they were willing to put more pressure on this, the Assad regime, this would obviously go faster.

QUESTION: But we also know that Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem was in Moscow last week, and it’s clear that his position is that – until 2014 spring elections, Assad is not going to step down, and he’s going to stand in the presidential elections, which the Iranians also have this position. So it’s kind of clear that they are going to stand until 2014 spring.

MS. NULAND: Well, as we’ve – as the Secretary made clear on every stop on his trip, what we’ve got to do in the international community, and what we’ve particularly got to do as friends of the Syrian people, is to change Assad’s calculation because he’s got to go. That’s the only way for this to move forward.

QUESTION: Do you think this latest aid package that was announced by the Secretary Kerry is going to change this calculations? At the time, just yesterday, there were four SCUD type missiles again fired upon in the north of Syria from Damascus.

MS. NULAND: Well, Ilhan, as the Secretary himself made clear, we made our contribution. Other countries within the Friends of Syria who attended the Rome meeting also made contributions, the totality of which we believe do ratchet up the pressure on the Assad regime, and we’ll continue to look at what more we can do.

In that context though, I do want to make a comment. Yesterday, we talked about the fact that we have staff from UNDOF who are being held by rebel forces. We made clear that we condemn this holding of any UN staff in any way. Today, we actually have the situation that is markedly worse, which is that we now have the regime, which is well aware of the UN’s position in Jamla, which is starting to actually hinder the retrieving of these peacekeepers by UN forces, by shelling the positions, et cetera. So we strongly condemn not only the taking of the UNDOF personnel in the first place, but now the regime’s endangerment of UN staff as well as the collective punishment that it’s trying to exact against the local population in an attempt to root out the opposition forces that are holding the UNDOF personnel.

QUESTION: But do you – but when you say that the regime is shelling the area where these peacekeepers are, presumably the United Nations is in contact with the regime that the peacekeepers are there. Is that right?

MS. NULAND: Absolutely. They know very well. So first you had a situation where in a rebel controlled area they took these UNDOF personnel hostage, which was completely unacceptable, and we’ve been condemning that for a couple of days. But now on top of that, we have the regime shelling this rebel-held position, further endangering the peacekeepers and making it impossible for UN negotiators to get in there and try to resolve it.

QUESTION: I don’t quite understand. They’re shelling the area. Shouldn’t that be more of an incentive for the rebels to let them leave the area? Why do then more have to come into this area of active conflict?

MS. NULAND: The UN was trying to send in negotiators to try to secure the release, but it’s become too dangerous to do that as a result of regime activity, regime piling on now to a very dangerous situation.

QUESTION: Right. But there should be nothing to negotiate. They have no right to be held —

MS. NULAND: Of course.

QUESTION: — so the rebels are still at fault because they’re holding them. They’re continuing to hold them, regardless of whether these positions are being bombed. Is that right?

MS. NULAND: I don’t dispute that at all.

QUESTION: Have you talked to the opposition?

MS. NULAND: We have. We’ve been in contact with the opposition, that this is not good for them, it’s not good for their reputation, and that they need to immediately release these people.

QUESTION: And what’s their response?

QUESTION: You don’t like —

QUESTION: What’s their response?

MS. NULAND: There are varying responses from various opposition leaders, and they are trying to get themselves together.

QUESTION: But I mean, also it seems as if the opposition, and I think Mr. al-Khatib might be one of the people saying this, that they’ll be let go if, in fact, if the Red Cross comes and picks them up and transports some of the wounded out of the area?

MS. NULAND: Again, this was one of the ideas that was put forward, but now with the regime piling on and shelling the area, that’s become impossible.

QUESTION: But that —

QUESTION: Well, but wait a minute.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Calm down, calm down.

QUESTION: Do you think that they should – should they be putting conditions on letting these guys go?

MS. NULAND: As we’ve said, they should never have been taken in the first place by the rebels, but now we have an even more dangerous situation.

QUESTION: So some of the wounded are the peacekeepers?

QUESTION: Isn’t there any similarity to the issue with the Algerians —

MS. NULAND: Sorry?

QUESTION: — when they overtook the – when the rebel – when terrorists overtook that gas facility in Algeria, and the Algerian army went in to free them? Is there any similarity between the two? Could the Syrians, considering that they are the government, could the Syrians go in and attempt to free them?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly the Syrian regime, if it had chosen to, could act on the side of trying to facilitate the ending of this situation. But instead, they’ve made it worse.

QUESTION: To go back to the Lavrov call for a moment —


QUESTION: — and forgive me if this was read out and I missed it, but do we know how long the call was and who initiated it?

MS. NULAND: They had agreed that they would speak after the Secretary finished his trip, which was the plan all along. I think they had agreed it would be the day after the trip, which it was. They spoke – I think it was about 20 minutes. There were two subjects, both Syria and adoptions.

QUESTION: And can I just ask about the Secretary’s interactions with Mr. Lavrov? When we discuss Syria and when we try to change the calculations of the Russians on Syria, as you’ve made clear many times we’re trying to do, has the Secretary ever framed this case in distinctly moral terms to Mr. Lavrov?

MS. NULAND: I think every single American and international interlocutor who speaks to the Russians obviously frames it in moral terms, but we also frame it in strategic terms. As the Secretary has made clear, the concern is that the longer this goes on, not only do we have inhuman levels of bloodshed, but we also have the risk that the only victorious parties in this are extremists of one side or another, whether it’s Assad aided by Iran and Hezbollah or whether it’s extremists on the side of the opposition, which is why if you actually care about peace and security and unity in Syria, you ought to want to hasten the day that this is over.

QUESTION: And have you been able to observe that either the moral case or the strategic case proves more persuasive with the Russians?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into Russian psychology on this one, James. That sounds like a question for them. But we will continue to make our strategic points —

QUESTION: I asked about your observations.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to be giving observations with regard to their – yeah.

QUESTION: Final one on Syria?


QUESTION: Do you have an update on the all-out assault on Homs that you kind of foresaw or predicted yesterday?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have an update on Homs. Let me get that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: I’m just seeking clarification. There was mention of wounded among – in the situation with the hostages, the UN peacekeepers that have been taken hostage.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on the specific status of the hostages, Jo.


MS. NULAND: I don’t think I —

QUESTION: Sorry, Toria, one last one on Syria.


QUESTION: Would you characterize the Secretary’s statement in Doha as a major shift in policy that you no longer support not lethal aid or not support – only nonlethal aid to the rebels? Let me clarify. Do you support lethal aid to the rebels now?

MS. NULAND: Again, Said, we have been talking about this for a long time, which is that we’ve made a decision to provide nonlethal aid. The advance that we made in Rome was that we’re now providing nonlethal assistance directly to the Syrian Military Council and to the fighters. But other countries have made a decision for some months now to provide lethal aid. What we’ve been trying to do, through the group that meet in Rome and in other meetings, is to coordinate and to encourage and cooperate to ensure that those who are being supported on the lethal side are vetted fighters who are moderates in this fight.

QUESTION: But since early on you opposed the supplying Syria with more arms, it’s the last thing you need to —

MS. NULAND: Said, I don’t think our position on this has changed in the last week. We’ve been talking ever since Secretary Clinton was in Istanbul last summer about our effort to coordinate with those who are arming.

Scott, in the back.

QUESTION: Can I ask you one more on Syria?

MS. NULAND: One more. We’ve been doing a lot of Syria today —

QUESTION: During your Turkey visit, Foreign Minister Davutoglu during the press conference mentioned humanitarian corridor and then he said that the parties are going to discuss on it, but we haven’t heard since. Have you discussed on this humanitarian corridor situation on northern Syria? If you did, what was your reaction or position on that?

MS. NULAND: I understood Foreign Minister Davutoglu to be speaking about the reality on the ground now, which is that much of the north of Syria is in opposition hands, it’s in liberated hands, which enables us as friends of the Syrian people now to get our assistance in directly from the north and that we, de facto, have that access now for humanitarian support, for nonlethal support of the kinds that we’ve been talking about, including direct support to local coordinating councils, including those in Aleppo and in the neighborhood that are starting to have elections, et cetera now.

QUESTION: So does it mean there is no need of extra humanitarian corridor or no-fly zone under the circumstances, already de facto is created? Is this the understanding?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think what Foreign Minister Davutoglu was talking about was staying unified in the work that we do to support those liberated areas that already exist.

QUESTION: So Turkey didn’t ask to create such a thing?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything further for you on the conversation that we had with Foreign Minister Davutoglu.


QUESTION: Mali, please.


QUESTION: A newspaper editor in Mali was detained by security forces this week after reporting on what his publication alleged was a financial settlement package for Captain Sanogo, essentially to make him go away. Is the United States aware of any such financial settlement package for the coup leader?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether the reports that the Malian journalist put forward are accurate. What I can say is that we are obviously concerned by arrests of any journalists in Mali and about freedom of expression.

QUESTION: You’ve spoken about the need for the elements of the military who are allied with Captain Sanogo to lower their involvement with the transitional government. Do you believe that that’s happening?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been supportive of the European Union effort to get in now and start training the Malian military and to peel them off the coup plotters and to encourage them to support a democratic process, to support new elections, to break with Sanogo. So we’re very much supportive of that process. It’s going to take some time, I think.

QUESTION: The French have announced that they will begin withdrawing their troops next month. Do you believe that the African force is in position to take up the slack?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, AFISMA forces as well as Malian forces have been working well with the French. AFISMA forces continue to flow in. There are now some 6,200 troops from AFISMA nations in Mali beginning to backfill so that the French can meet their withdrawal timetables. When we were in Paris, the Secretary spoke quite extensively both with President Hollande and with Foreign Minister Fabius about ensuring that as the French withdraw, both Malian and AFISMA forces are ready. And I think there was very clear agreement that this has to be done in an orderly way so that the gains are maintained and that we have a secure and stable environment for the elections that we all want to see in July.


QUESTION: A new subject, ma’am?


QUESTION: Madam, are you following, or U.S., I mean, as far as Pakistani Prime Minister’s private visit to India? But on the sideline, Indian Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Pakistan, they met. This was the first time they met after the border incident.

MS. NULAND: This was already a month or two ago, was it not, Goyal, I think? There wasn’t a new visit in the last couple of weeks, was there?

QUESTION: Yes, just —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. NULAND: They’re planning a new visit.

QUESTION: Yeah, I think —

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I mean, I think you know as a general matter that we strongly support these ties and communications and high-level dialogue between India and Pakistan, the progress that they’ve made in visa, in travel, in economic warming. So if there’s a new visit coming up that’s a good thing, and we’ll get more on that as that happens.

QUESTION: But is the U.S. Embassy or Ambassador in touch with this private visit on the sideline?

MS. NULAND: We are always encouraging from our – at the ambassadorial level in both Delhi and Islamabad increasing warming in that relationship.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A question on the sequestration.


QUESTION: I just would like to know if they’re having any actual negative impacts on State Department’s daily work because of that.

MS. NULAND: Patrick spoke to this extensively last week or the week before. It does impose a across-the-board 5 percent cut, and we’re having to live with that.


QUESTION: Yes, the Arab Peace Initiative.

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Arab Peace Initiative calls for total withdrawal from areas occupied in 1967, for total normalization between the Arab countries and Israel. The Palestinians are claiming that Secretary Kerry suggested to caveat the clause to allow for the exchange of parcels of land. Is that true?

MS. NULAND: I’m not getting – I think you’re way ahead of all kinds of things, and I don’t anything on that one way or the other.

QUESTION: They made that claim publicly.

MS. NULAND: I am not in a position to confirm that here, and I don’t think it’s accurate.

QUESTION: But, Toria, it’s a 60-something year old conflict. What is he way ahead of?

MS. NULAND: It is inaccurate to say that Secretary Kerry has put forward any concrete proposals. As the Secretary made clear publicly when he was on his visit, he is taking soundings with the parties in preparation for the President’s visit, which will be, as you know, in two weeks, in which he will also be listening and trying to gauge what might be possible.

QUESTION: Who’s the other – I mean, you say “the parties.” But he spoke with Abbas, but has he been talking with Israeli officials?

MS. NULAND: He has been in touch, in regular touch, with Israeli officials, as we’ve been making clear, on the phone.


QUESTION: I have one about Falkland Islands, please.


QUESTION: They’ve organized a referendum this weekend, Sunday and Monday, at which the question is a simple question: Do you want to remain – do you want the Falkland Islands to remain a sovereign overseas territory – an overseas territory of Britain, sorry. And it’s just a yes-or-no answer. It’s been organized at the request of the islanders. They’re doing it themselves and it’s fairly clear, I think, which way the results are going to go, which is that probably overwhelmingly in favor of remaining under – an overseas British territory.

Is the United States – once the results are known, will the United States review its neutral position on the Falkland Islands?

MS. NULAND: Are you asking me to comment on what we’re going to do about the results of a referendum that haven’t taken place yet?

QUESTION: Yes, but, I mean – (laughter) —


QUESTION: I mean, no, I’m asking if you would review it. Once the results are known, would you review it? I mean —

MS. NULAND: I think we’ll let the referendum go forward and then we’ll speak to it.

QUESTION: And do you have a comment about the – some of the actions taken by the Argentineans in recent months which the islanders say has put an economic squeeze on them and is making life quite difficult for them?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on this subject at all beyond what Secretary Kerry said very clearly when we were in the U.K., which is that we encourage the U.K. and Argentina to continue to cooperate on practical matters and we continue to urge a peaceful resolution to the overall issues.

Please, Lalit, and then let’s —

QUESTION: I just wanted to check with you if you have any update on Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. It has been announced that the foundation stone for the project will be laid on March 11.

MS. NULAND: I think I spoke to that —

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

MS. NULAND: — quite extensively yesterday. I don’t think I have anything further since yesterday.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Happy weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:24 p.m.)