State Department Briefing by Victoria Nuland, September 21, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 21, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
  • IRAN
    • P-5+1 Meetings at UNGA
    • Investigations of Attacks in Benghazi
    • Possible Meetings at UNGA
    • Process of Accountability Review Board
  • IRAN
    • IAEA Concerns / Dual-track policy
    • Concern Over Violence / Security Efforts to Maintain Order
    • Public Condemnation of Violence By Senior Pakistani Officials
    • Response to Embassy Video
    • MEK Designation


12:51 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right. So that’s a rundown of what you can expect on our side up at the UN General Assembly. Just to remind you all that because U.S. diplomacy effectively moves to New York next week, we will not be doing the daily press briefing here. Instead, as you know, we’re running our usual press room up there and we will keep you fed with on-the-record and background briefings throughout the week, in addition to all of the Secretary and the President’s public remarks.

I don’t have anything else at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.


QUESTION: I just have a quick one on the Secretary’s schedule, and maybe this is one of those things that remains TBD, but I was wondering if – there’s been some suggestion the P-5+1 might be gathering or discussing this, either formally or informally, on the Iran issue. Do you know if that’s on the cards?

MS. NULAND: Well, as Esther said, we’re still working on the Secretary’s schedule. I think we do intend that P-5+1 countries will get together, minus Iran, next week. We are not yet at the point where we know whether this will be at Under Secretary Sherman’s level or whether it’ll be at the Secretary’s level, so stay tuned on that one. But again, it’s going to be minus Iran, to take a look at where we are.


QUESTION: Victoria —

QUESTION: Victoria, on —

MS. NULAND: Is Mr. Lee ready to assume his usual —

QUESTION: No, no. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the schedule —

QUESTION: Did the White House drop the ball in terms of —

QUESTION: Excuse me —

QUESTION: — not demanding – one second, sir – not demanding security at the facilities in Benghazi? Did the White House drop the ball? There were so many warnings weeks ahead of time. Ambassador Stevens had himself declared that he probably was a target for al-Qaida. There was a story in The Independent two days ahead of time that there were warnings put out of the situation in Benghazi, and nothing was done.

Who was responsible? Was it the Commander-in-Chief or was it something else?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on rumors; I’m not going to comment on other people’s press reporting. We have, over the course of the last 10 days, given you as much as we can at the moment. We said that those were interim reports based on the information that we have. As you know, various members of the government, including the intelligence community, have spoken on the record about what they know at the moment. However, we now have an FBI investigation. We now have an Accountability Review Board established by the Secretary, as she’s required to do by law, which will also do a full investigation, including of all of the questions that you are asking as to how we were postured ahead of time, how the reaction went after, and whether we are in the right place now.

So I am not going to comment on any of these things until we have the results of those investigations, which will tell us the answers to many of these questions that you’re asking.

QUESTION: Does the State Department feel that we’re maybe facing something like a 9/11 chapter two, and that what happened in Benghazi was the beginning of another offensive against the United States?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into characterizing this until we see what these investigations lead to. I think you have seen that – this week, we have seen peaceful protests in a lot of countries. We’ve seen a few of those turn violent. But we’ve also seen very good reaction around the world from government security forces to ensure that even in those places where they’ve become violent, they haven’t gotten out of hand in terms of destroying diplomatic facilities or diplomatic property. We are very appreciative of that, including, as you know, in Pakistan today, where there were relatively large demonstrations around the country – Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar – that have now been dispersed.

So we are obviously going to wait for the results of the investigations – the FBI investigation, the result of the Accountability Review Board. This is the appropriate and normal way to review the situation and to learn whatever lessons there are to be learned. But as the President, as the Secretary, as all of us have said, security of our people, of our facilities around the world is of utmost importance.

QUESTION: Victoria, can I just —

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: On the schedule, please.


QUESTION: Okay. Now, you said that Friday, she’s – or she said that on Friday, she will deal with the Middle Eastern issues. She’s going to have a meeting on Syria, the Gulf Cooperation Council. Is there anything on the peace process for that day —

MS. NULAND: There will be, obviously, a variety of bilateral meetings with various stakeholders. There will be a Quartet-level meeting at David Hale’s level – our Special Envoy David Hale. She’ll have an opportunity to see various people, including EU High Representative Ashton, et cetera. But I don’t have any particular Middle East-focused meeting at her level besides the broader one that Assistant Secretary Brimmer discussed, which is not strictly on the peace process; it’s on —

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. NULAND: — the entire set of events in the region.

QUESTION: But that Quartet at the David Hale-level meeting, is that on Friday as well?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know the answer to that, Said. I think it’s earlier in the week. I think it’s Thursday, probably.

QUESTION: Can we go back to —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Libya?

QUESTION: Yeah, Libya first, and —


QUESTION: Can we start with Libya?


QUESTION: After the – I mean —

QUESTION: Please, just go around.

QUESTION: I came in late. I don’t really care what you guys want to talk about. If you want to go to Pakistan —

QUESTION: Go, go, go, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I wanted to go to Libya, but I just (inaudible).

QUESTION: On the ARB, I just want to make one thing – the – they are – are they going to incorporate the FBI report into their report? They’re not going to do a separate report on the actual incident, are they? As I understand, the ARB is – will look at and make recommendations for how something like this could be – might be able to be prevented in the future. And that is – that’s their mandate, in addition to investigating the actual – what happened. But I’m curious; I mean, are they really going to waste their time doing a – their own report, their own – sorry, their own investigation, interviewing witnesses, et cetera, after the FBI has already talked to these people and reached their own conclusions?

MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speak to how the ARB will decide to proceed with its mandate, whether it will decide it needs to call people in, who, how extensive. I would guess, obviously, they’ll want to talk to people. But you are right in the sense that the mandate of the FBI investigation is to respond to the fact that we have Americans killed overseas. They have to investigate all of the circumstances under which that happened. They have to then determine whether there are judicial follow-on steps that need to be taken in the United States or in collaboration with our partners.

With regard to the mandate of the Accountability Review Board, we put a little information out last night, but let me just repeat it here on the record. The ARB, under statute, is responsible for making written findings determining the extent to which the incident was security-related; whether security systems and security procedures at the mission were adequate; whether the security systems and security procedures were properly implemented; the impact of intelligence and available information; and any other facts or circumstances which can be relevant to the appropriate security management of U.S. missions abroad.

So further to the question you asked, all of those things will be looked at in the ARB context. The FBI will look at many of the same things, but in the context of a criminal case.

QUESTION: All right. Is it still the Administration’s position, at least publicly, that the information you have suggests that this was a protest, or a somewhat peaceful protest, that got hijacked by militants? Was that –

MS. NULAND: Well, we —

QUESTION: That’s what Secretary – or Ambassador Rice said on Sunday. That’s what people have said. And I’m just wondering, is that – are you sticking with that or is that changing? Is that position evolving?

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have any update to the public statements that have been made by many Administration principals over the course of the week. Some of them have been updated, particularly on the intelligence side, as more information has become available. From this podium, we are simply going to say that we now have an FBI investigation, we have the ARB, and we don’t anticipate having further information to share until those two come forward.

QUESTION: Well, can I just follow up? Two things.


QUESTION: First of all, people that were at the scene on the ground – and Libyans in particular – are saying that they didn’t see anything around the Embassy until these people stormed the Embassy. So that would contradict with your assessment that this was a planned protest, was – sorry, was a peaceful protest gone astray.

And then also, there is a – there are some reports that the compound – the building – certain buildings of the compound were – that diesel fuel was poured around the compound and set afire. And that would also indicate that it was preplanned, because I’m not sure that people just walk around with cans of diesel fuel. I mean, I just – it’s not about, like, little details. It’s about the picture, that you say this isn’t preplanned. Some of the things that are coming out of the scene directly contradict that.

MS. NULAND: Elise, as everybody who has spoken to any of these details has said, starting with what we said here, what everybody along the way has said, the information we’ve given to date is based on initial assessments. We’ve given you all kinds of caveats, including from here, that the investigation was going to have to tell us the complete and final story. So I can’t speak to whether there will ultimately – it will ultimately prove out that some of the initial information that some of us had wasn’t accurate. We’re going to have to wait now.

And with regard to diesel fuel, without being able to speak directly to whether that assertion is right, diesel —

QUESTION: Do you not know?

MS. NULAND: Can I just finish my —


MS. NULAND: Yeah. Diesel is the – one of the main fuels that goes into Libyan cars, and most Libyans have it in the back – in the trunk of their car. So it is broadly available, but again, I can’t speak to the veracity of the report, okay?

QUESTION: So on that point, has it been determined whether it was actually arson, the fire was caused by arson, or firing?

MS. NULAND: None of this has been determined, as I’ve said about four times already.

QUESTION: Is there a time limit under which the ARB has to prepare its report?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is under statute, there’s no time limit, but as we said last night, historically ARBs have completed their work in an average of about 65 days.

QUESTION: So the Secretary hasn’t actually set a time limit when she —

MS. NULAND: It’s not her place to set a time limit. It’s the board’s place to tell her and the Congress when they are ready.

QUESTION: Toria, the – some of the legislators who met with the Secretary and others from the Executive Branch yesterday said that they found their explanations wanting – that they wanted more information, and some have repeated a call for an independent commission to look into what happened last week. Would this building oppose that, support that? And has there been any discussion about participating in an independent probe?

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the ARB, that is an independent group that is – it’s established, obviously, by the government, but the expectation is that they will make an independent set of judgments based on what they find.

QUESTION: New topic?


QUESTION: This is in the probably blatantly understating the obvious category, but there are reports —

MS. NULAND: What country, Elise?

QUESTION: This is on Iran. Apparently, the head of the Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency told a reporter for the Arabic newspaper Al Hayat that he sometimes lies about the country’s nuclear capabilities in order to evade espionage by the West. And I was wondering if you’ve seen this report and what your response to it would be.

MS. NULAND: Imagine that, Iran lying. It’s telling that Iran is finally admitting in public that it lies about its nuclear program. This just further increases the international community’s concern about what the real story is in Iran. And as you know, the Board of Governors of the IAEA issued a very strong resolution yesterday calling on Iran to come clean with the IAEA and with the international community.

QUESTION: But on a more serious note, though, if they’re admitting that they’re lying, then what is the kind of futility of working through the IAEA on this process if they’re blatantly admitting that they’re not being upfront about it? I mean, how relevant is – are these inspections or the information that they’re providing to the IAEA if they’re saying publicly that they’re lying?

MS. NULAND: Well, Elise, as you know, we are pursuing a dual-track policy here. We’ve got diplomacy going, we’ve got pressure going. On the diplomacy side, that involves not only the P-5+1 process, where we’re giving them an opportunity to come clean, to answer our questions, to engage in a step-by-step process of solving this set of issues and the international community’s concerns, and it also involves continuing to encourage the IAEA to get what it needs to answer the questions that it has, and encouraging Iran to consider finally complying with their requests, including getting into facilities.

But in the meantime, and as they continue to stall and waste the time that they’ve been given, the international community is upping the pressure, and we’re increasing the pressure through sanctions and through the tightening of them on a weekly/monthly basis.

So we’re going to continue to work that way. We think, as you know, that they would never have come back to the P-5+1 table at all if there weren’t the kind of sanctions that we’re seeing now. And we think the sanctions are having an effect, and we’ll just have to see where this goes.

QUESTION: So are you —

QUESTION: Can we go back to Pakistan?

QUESTION: Hold on. Did they waste the time that they’ve been given?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, they —

QUESTION: I mean, I think that they haven’t wasted the time at all. They’ve used the time to plunge further ahead with their program and with enrichment, right?

MS. NULAND: My point was that they have been given a lot of opportunity to come clean, to engage with the international community through the diplomatic track, and they have so far squandered that.

QUESTION: Pakistan?


QUESTION: Can we go back? Because I think we skipped over it a bit. There’s actually – demonstrations today have been very violent in Pakistan. I think we have up to something like 50 people dead and more than 200 people injured on a day that was called by the Government in Pakistan as a holiday to honor the Prophet Mohammed. I wonder if there’s a sense that maybe these are spiraling out of control, and is it perhaps the U.S. position that this could have been avoided if there hadn’t been a national holiday?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to speak to Pakistani decision about whether to have a holiday or not to have a holiday. You are right that the demonstrations were very large in many cities, that there was some violence, that people lost their lives. This speaks to our continuing concern that everybody needs to speak out in support of expressing concern about these videos or any other issues that they have through peaceful means and not through violence.

But what we’ve also seen in Pakistan today is that security forces, police, riot police, even the military, mounted a very serious effort to do what they could to keep these under control, that they were able to protect diplomatic facilities throughout the day, and that they have now been able to disperse the crowd, but regrettably, there were acts of violence.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. been satisfied with the level of public, high-level Pakistani official pronouncements on this issue? I mean, would it be useful, do you think, for President Zardari to get on the television and to make the same points that President Obama made in his ad, that this isn’t a U.S. Government effort to denigrate Muslims and so on and calling for people to protest peacefully? That doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have his statement in front of me, but my understanding is that President Zardari has made statements against violence and in support of tolerance, in support of democratic values. He did that last week, has continued to do that. We’re going to have Foreign Minister Khar in the building shortly. She’s going to be making public statements. So I think that —

QUESTION: Well, is she (inaudible) making public statements?

MS. NULAND: Yeah – that she and the Secretary are going to meet in a few minutes. I think the plan is – in fact I’m about to be handed a note, I think. No? No. The plan is for she and the Secretary, before they sit down for their meeting, to come out and speak to all of you today in separate statements.

QUESTION: There’s also —

QUESTION: In terms of the ad that Andy mentioned, what’s the initial feedback you’ve gotten from the airing of this PSA?

MS. NULAND: I think it’s – I mentioned to you yesterday that we were only beginning to be able to measure metrics. I don’t think it’s going to be realistic to give you kind of a metric report on our efforts in this week or next.

QUESTION: Well, you’re aware that the Embassy posted a link to this ad on its Facebook page?


QUESTION: Are you aware of what the Embassy says about the comments that have been posted?

MS. NULAND: Why don’t you —

QUESTION: Overwhelmingly negative. And, in fact, I went on and looked at some of these comments, a lot of which couldn’t be repeated publicly in this forum. It was a hundred – they say they had at least 155,000 views of this ad and that the response, the comments that they have gotten are, quote, “overwhelmingly negative.” And I’m just wondering if you’ve taken a look at that. And that would seem to be a pretty early metric, although obviously it’s – I guess it’s limited in what you can actually tell from it – who is actually responding to it, and it’s a self-selecting group of response. But that would seem to be an early metric that you can judge the effectiveness by.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I haven’t looked at what you’re looking at. I will —

QUESTION: Okay, well, it’s on Facebook.

MS. NULAND: — I will do a little bit of research on that. I haven’t been on Facebook, let’s see, since breakfast. (Laughter.) But what I will say is that what we’re seeing throughout this is that we have a lot of – we have the people who are most vocal are on the most extreme side of it. And we have these silent majorities who are staying home, not participating, and not getting on Facebook and putting up negative comments, but also not associating themselves with these things.

So it’s obviously early to look at whether the methods that we’ve used to try to reach Pakistanis have been effective, but we’ll have to look at this going forward.

QUESTION: All right. So you’re looking at – then you would look at the protests not as several hundred thousand people gathered, but that several million people decided to stay home.

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I think your numbers are off. We’ve seen about – I think the largest protest today was something like 80,000. But the issue is —

QUESTION: Well, that’s one of four or five.

MS. NULAND: Obviously, look, we’re going to have to look at this whole thing going forward, but what’s most important is that people who support democratic values in their country, understand that in a democracy – and speak out for the fact that in a democracy, if you are aggrieved, if you are insulted, if you don’t agree with policy, you have all kinds of mechanisms, whether it’s the ballot box, whether it’s joining a party, whether it is a peaceful protest to express your views, but in a democracy there are also responsibilities, and those include respecting law and order and not resorting to violence to express yourself.

QUESTION: But to take Matt’s point – yes, you have the video that was circulating on the TV stations, and yes, many people may have watched the video and may have been persuaded between that and the government’s decision to declare a holiday to do something else. But isn’t that, in a way, preaching to the choir? What about trying to reach the people whom some analysts have suggested are being motivated by imams with their own political agendas? How do you reach them, since they’re the ones who are going out into the streets, have set things on fire, and as Jo mentioned, there have been deaths today. How do you reach those people?

MS. NULAND: Well, we obviously have – from all of our embassy platforms reach out to as many people as we can, even people who don’t agree with us. It doesn’t always change their view, but we’re going to continue to do that.

I’m getting the one minute signal here because I have to go upstairs for the Khar meeting. Can we just go over here? Yep, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask what you could say about the MEK and the de-listing.

MS. NULAND: I cannot say a lot at the moment, but what I can say is as part of the review process that we have made clear has been ongoing here for some time, the Department is now in the process of sending a classified communication from the Secretary to the Congress today regarding the designation of the MEK. I’m not in a position to confirm the contents of this because it’s classified, but we anticipate being able to make a public announcement about it sometime before October 1st.

So with that, I’m going to have to excuse –

QUESTION: October 1st.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: What’s today?

QUESTION: It’s September 21st.

QUESTION: The 21st?

MS. NULAND: Exactly.

QUESTION: Sometime in the next ten days?

MS. NULAND: Correct.


MS. NULAND: I apologize, I’ve got to go upstairs and be with the Secretary and Foreign Minister Khar. Thanks very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)