Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
November 26, 2012
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Index for Today's Briefing
Political Situation in Egypt
Secretary Clinton's Call with Foreign Minister Amr
Egyptian Role in Gaza Situation
International Monetary Fund Loan Agreement
Palestinian Bid for UN Non-Member Observer Status
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO/RWANDA
Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson in the Region
Deteriorating Security and Humanitarian Crisis in Eastern DRC
Ballistic Missile Technology
Chinese Military Developments/South China Sea Dispute
Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill/ Foreign Aid to Uganda
Syrian Regime Resorting to Shelling/ Intensive Aerial Attacks on Homs
Cancellation of the 2012 Conference on a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction
FARC Peace Talks
12:54 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Monday. I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving and a little bit of a rest. We are back. I have nothing at the top. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, following your statement on Egypt the other day, what, if anything, you’ve heard from the Egyptians to ease your concerns and what the U.S. position is currently on the situation?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are following the unfolding political situation in Egypt very closely. The Secretary had a phone call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr this morning, not only to inquire about that situation but also to talk about the follow-up on Gaza. She took that opportunity to reiterate some of the points that you saw in our statement, that we want to see the constitutional process move forward in a way that does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands, that ensures that rule of law, checks and balances, protection of the rights of all groups in Egypt are upheld, et cetera.
Our understanding from the Egyptian side is that there are now discussions ongoing among a number of the stakeholders, that President Morsi is conducting consultations with various groups, including with the judiciary. We had called for that in our statement, and the Secretary underscored that, the importance of settling these disputes in a democratic manner. So we look forward to seeing the outcome of that.
QUESTION: Can you say if your concerns have been at all eased by what the Secretary heard from the Foreign Minister?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we had wanted to see this issue settled through democratic discussion among the various stakeholders in Egypt. Discussions are clearly being held. We await the results of those.
QUESTION: Okay. But I guess, were you concerned that that wouldn’t happen and that this might deteriorate into a – just a permanent power grab? And if those were your fears, have they been eased?
MS. NULAND: We were concerned, not only that there would be concerns out there, we were concerned that there would be violence, that there were competing demonstrations, et cetera. So the fact that the right people are talking to each other is a good step, but obviously we want to see this issue resolved in a way that meets the standards and principles that we’ve been supporting all the way through, since the Egyptian revolution began.
QUESTION: Do you regard President Morsi’s decree as non-democratic?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think our statement speaks for our view on this and the various concerns that we had.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it’s a simple question, though. Is it – did it – do you regard it as non-democratic? I mean, it was a decree issued by a president who operates without a legislature and who was, essentially, putting his actions above review by the courts. So is that non-democratic, in your point of view?
MS. NULAND: Again, we were very clear in the statement that we issued that we want to ensure that, as this governance situation goes forward, that the rights of all Egyptians are protected, that there is a balance of power, that there are checks and balances in the system. As you know, they are operating in a very unclear political environment now, as they try to get a constitution drafted, approved, put forward to referendum. So there are a number of things at play, but our enduring principles on which our support is based haven’t changed through any of this.
QUESTION: And when --
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: Just one --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- one small thing, sorry, Said. When was the conversation with the Foreign Minister?
MS. NULAND: This morning.
QUESTION: This morning?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Victoria, on that (inaudible), you mentioned the rule of law, checks and balances. And on the other hand, Morsi claims that this is temporary. In the absence of any kind of mechanism to ensure that it can be temporary, what is suggested for Morsi? What – when you talk with him, what do you tell him on this whole point?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, as I said, we underscore the principles that we want to see undergird the conversation that they are having. He has made clear, and part of the decree was to give the constituent assembly more time to come up with a constitution. So when he says it’s temporary, our understanding is it’s temporary, until there is a constitution that can be approved. But the concern was that there were various issues that were not well represented in the way he went forward with this.
QUESTION: Do you have enough to take him at his word when he says temporary?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, what is important to us is that these issues be settled through dialogue, that these issues be settled democratically. We are encouraged that the various important stakeholders in Egypt are now talking to each other, that President Morsi is consulting on the way forward, but we’re not going to prejudge where that’s going to go.
QUESTION: And finally, do you consider Morsi to be quite the opportunist who has taken advantage of, let’s say, the Gaza success – he considers it to be a success with the Secretary of State going there – to go ahead and implement these things?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak for the timing of these decisions. I can say that, whereas the Secretary and President Morsi did discuss the importance of getting to a constitution that protected the rights of all Egyptians, that had checks and balances, we did not have any forewarning of this decree, including when she was there.
QUESTION: Toria, have the events of the past few days complicated U.S. support for unlocking that emergency cash that was promised by the President some time ago and U.S. support for the IMF loan that was arranged pre this change in constitutional power?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been strong supporters of Egypt and the IMF coming to an agreement that would support increasing economic reforms in Egypt to get them on a stable footing and then would provide them with some funding, so we were pleased to see that they’ve come to an agreement there. We’ve also been clear with the Congress that we think that the support in the form of economic support funds that we’ve pledged to Egypt should go forward. But obviously, I think everybody’s watching now that this current set of issues has a democratic resolution.
QUESTION: So it has complicated it? Is it fair to say that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think everybody is watching how this goes forward. All of the support that we provide for Egypt, whether it’s political support, economic support, has been in support of an Egypt that is becoming increasingly democratic, that will have a constitution that protects all of these rights. So that’s the trajectory that we want to see Egypt on, so we need to see how this latest round gets resolved.
QUESTION: In that vein, you’ve talked about how they’re in an uncertain period and that a lot of the things that Morsi announced the other day were described as temporary. It seems to me that he’s basically saying, “Trust me; it’ll work out the good way.” And this money and U.S. support would be contingent on that. At heart, do you trust him that it’ll come out the good way?
MS. NULAND: Again, as I said at the beginning, and as I’ve been saying for the last 10 minutes, these moves raised concerns not only in Egypt, they raised concerns in the international community about the way forward here. We are pleased to see that there now are conversations going on about how to move forward, that the various stakeholders in this conversation are being consulted. So it is a very murky, uncertain period in terms of the legal and constitutional underpinnings, which makes it all the more important that the process proceed on the basis of democratic dialogue and consultation.
QUESTION: Toria, has the Secretary learned about this decision when she was in Cairo last Wednesday?
MS. NULAND: No, she did not. She heard about it when everybody else heard about it, when it was announced publicly.
QUESTION: On the other part of the phone call that didn’t involve this – these changes, one, did – has – did she make any other calls related to Gaza and the ceasefire? And then – well, actually, let’s say one is: What did they discuss about the ceasefire, she and the Egyptian Foreign Minister? And then two, did – has she made any additional – any other calls except to the Egyptians on the ceasefire?
MS. NULAND: She spoke to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday. That was more of a readout on her own visit because they had been together in Israel, but then they had split ways, and about follow-up also following her conversation with President Abbas.
With regard to the Gaza situation, as you know, there was a commitment to the ceasefire and then there was a commitment that conversations would begin some 24 hours later on some of the underlying issues. So obviously, she was eager to touch base on that and get a sense from the Egyptian side of how that is going. Our sense is that discussions are ongoing, that the sides are talking, and we will see what comes of that as well.
QUESTION: And when you say our sense is that, that’s the sense that she got --
MS. NULAND: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: -- from the Foreign Minister?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Toria --
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: -- I just wanted to follow up on Margaret’s point on the IMF loan – $6 billion worth, I think – is there a mechanism to make them contingent or make them conditional on this temporary thing having an actual window, an actual timetable?
MS. NULAND: Well, the IMF makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board then has to meet and decide. I think we’re in that in-between stage. Again, I think we’re all watching how the situation evolves in Egypt.
QUESTION: But could you explain to us or clarify that this actually can be done? Could we say we will give you these loans provided that you do one, two, three?
MS. NULAND: I think I’m going to send you to the IMF on political conditionality.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: In general, IMF conditionality is economically based and is part of a package that is pre-negotiated with the government before it comes forward to the Board.
QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned few times the word watching, we are watching. Is it a status of wait and see what will happen, or you are trying to put some kind of, not condition, at least guidelines to what may take place? Because the concern there is that at a certain point, as before, security will be better deal to have it – security deal then to have a democracy in Egypt?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve been very clear in our public statements and in our private statements about the Egypt that we support, of the trajectory for Egypt that we think is best for the region, best for our relationship, and we were not shy about making those points very clearly in the statement that we released – I think it was on Wednesday or whenever it was, might’ve been Friday – and in the private conversations that we’ve had with Egyptians.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you were asked the question about the IMF loan and U.S. – potential U.S. support for that in the Board, you said we’re in this in-between period between when the staff makes a recommendation and when the Board makes a decision on it. As you well know, the United States has the largest and, effectively, a blocking share on the Board. And your response was, “I think we’re all watching how this unfolds.” Which suggests to me that you are hinting at the possibility that your support is partially contingent on your support for that IMF loan in the Board is partially contingent on how the political situation unfolds.
MS. NULAND: I would not leap to any conclusions about that. We have been very supportive all the way through of Egypt and the IMF coming to agreement. They have now come to agreement. We think that Egypt needs IMF support. It also needs to be on the reform path that it and the IMF have now agreed to.
With regard to U.S. ESF, as we made clear, we support clearing this through the Congress, but the Congress is also watching democratic developments in Egypt. So it’s on this basis that I think all of us want to see the consultations that are ongoing now on a way forward among President Morsi, various other constituencies in Egypt, including the judiciary, go forward in a way that is peaceful, that is democratic, and that reassures everybody about the democratic trajectory that Egypt is on.
QUESTION: So U.S. support for the IMF – U.S. support in the board for the IMF loan is in no way contingent on the resolution of the political disagreements in Egypt?
MS. NULAND: Arshad, I don’t want to prefigure how this is going to come forward to the board, nor do I want to make any definitive statements of – beyond what I’ve already said about what we’re expecting in Egypt.
Please. You are – who do you represent, please?
QUESTION: I’m (inaudible), Al-Ahram newspaper, Al-Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper. Have you discussed the unfolding crisis with the opposition figures in Egypt?
MS. NULAND: Our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has been in contact with all of the different political groups and factions in Egypt. She’s also been trying to get a sense from folks about a way forward here, and been supportive of all of the basic principles that we have been underscoring from the beginning. So yes, we’ve been in consultation with everybody on the Egyptian side.
QUESTION: Change subject?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: The Palestinian Authority will present this week its bid for Palestine to become a UN nonmember observer state. Do you also oppose this step – how will you oppose it in the General Assembly?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know the – we’ve obviously been very clear that we do not think that this step is going to bring the Palestinian people any closer to a state, that we think it is a mistake, that we oppose it, that we will oppose it. The Secretary was very clear with President Abbas when she was in Ramallah last week that our position on this has not changed, and we are continuing to make that clear, not only directly to President Abbas and the Palestinians, but also to all of our UN partners as well.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary discussed this issue with the Israelis when she was in Tel Aviv?
MS. NULAND: Obviously, it was one of the subjects that we discussed when the Secretary was in Egypt. It was in Ramallah – Jerusalem. Let me try a third place. Yeah, Jerusalem.
QUESTION: Some reports say that you actually warned Israel against taking the retaliatory steps against the Palestinian Authority if they go to the United Nation. Could you clarify that for us? Is that true?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into any of the details of our conversation on this, either with the Palestinians or with the Israelis or with any others, other than to say that we continue to try to dissuade the Palestinians from taking this action. We think it’s going to be complicating and potentially a step backwards in terms of the larger goal, which is a negotiated solution.
QUESTION: There have been calls, as a result of the Gaza fighting, that it is really time to put the Palestinian issue back on the front burner. There have been calls by Mr. Hague, the Foreign Minister of England, and others saying that you can only take the lead. Will such a step actually sort of push you forward toward this issue, or sort of take you back from this issue?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve said all the way along that our concern is that this is complicating, that it makes the process of restarting the negotiations potentially harder. And this is among the arguments that we are using in trying to dissuade the Palestinians from this step, that it’s potentially complicating.
QUESTION: So you are not likely to push forward in the next few months for – to restart the negotiation as a result of Palestinian ungratefulness and action at the UN?
MS. NULAND: Again, this doesn’t aid that process at all. Beyond that, I’m not going to predict the future here, Said.
QUESTION: Are there any potential ramifications to the Palestinians seeking nonmember observer status? And as you’re well aware with UNESCO and potentially other UN organizations, actively seeking membership can trigger a cut-off. Does that have any influence here on U.S. funding for the UN?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, there’s no legislative impact that is triggered in the same way that there was with regard to UNESCO. However, as you know, we also have money pending in the Congress for the Palestinian Authority, money that they need to support their regular endeavors and to support administration of the territories. So, obviously, if they take this step, it’s going to complicate the way the Congress looks at the Palestinians, and it’s going to make all of that harder as well.
QUESTION: Would you oppose its disbursement?
MS. NULAND: We have made clear that we think the money should go forward in the interest of the Palestinian people, regardless of whether their leaders make bad decisions. That said, there are folks in Congress who are watching this extremely closely, and we have said to the Palestinians that they should not count on favorable response from the Congress if they go forward with this.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: The Israeli newspaper Maariv claims that both the Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman are quite dissatisfied with the lack of your pressure on the Palestinians to prevent them from going to the United Nations. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS. NULAND: Well, I hadn’t seen that, but the Secretary just had a meeting, just flew from Asia to Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss this issue, among others. So I would, obviously, reject the notion that we’re not paying enough attention.
QUESTION: Do you feel that perhaps Mr. Abbas is a bit panicky, seeing that Gaza came – I mean, Hamas came on top in this Gaza fight, and he’s losing control, and perhaps losing the last vestiges of any two state possibility, and that’s why he’s (inaudible) to the UN?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to his motives. I think that’s a question better directed at him, Said.
QUESTION: And your (inaudible) diplomacy on this extends beyond just telling the Palestinians not to go ahead with it? And by that, I mean: Are you telling other members of the UN that you’re planning to vote against this, and they should too, and this – and here are the reasons why? Or have you basically just resigned yourself to the fact that this vote is going to end up very much like the numbers in the Cuba embargo vote, where you’re going to be in a minority of about three or four who are opposed?
MS. NULAND: I think it’s fair to say that this issue has come up in the Secretary’s diplomacy with virtually every leader she’s seen over the last month, making clear --
MS. NULAND: -- that we think this is a mistake, that we oppose that it, that we will oppose it in the GA, and we encourage others to look hard at the negative implications for the peace process.
QUESTION: Okay. And based on that, do you think anyone has been swayed?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to predict the future in the General Assembly --
QUESTION: Can --
MS. NULAND: -- but we’re making clear our views.
QUESTION: Okay. So can I predict something, then?
MS. NULAND: You’re welcome to make any predictions you want, but --
QUESTION: And let’s come back. I mean, how about this --
MS. NULAND: -- last I looked, Matt, I think this was our briefing, not your briefing, but that’s okay.
QUESTION: Do you think you’re going to win? Do you think – in other words, do you think that the Palestinians will not succeed in their bid at the UN?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to predict how this is going to go. Our view here is to – our point here is to make our view very clear before decisions are made.
QUESTION: Can you say if your – if the talking points have been written for the day after, where you express real disappointment with the General Assembly for voting overwhelmingly to support Palestinian recognition? Have they already been written, or are you really holding on to some slim hope that they’re going to lose?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are continuing to make the point in advance of this move that we think it’s the wrong move.
Said. Said. Said.
QUESTION: Matt did not ask you about the future. He asked you about the past. He asked you if anyone had been dissuaded. So it was not a question about the future.
MS. NULAND: Said.
QUESTION: There are 193 members that are voting on this issue and it’s 50 plus one – or half plus one – so the Palestinians need 98, and they claim that they have a lot more than that. So what is your plan for the day after? Just to follow on Matt’s point.
MS. NULAND: Again, we are not on the day after. We’ll talk about the day after if and when there is a day after. I’m going to talk about where we are today, today.
QUESTION: Does that mean that on other issues that you don’t – that you do not get ready for foregone conclusions when they are already foregone? You don’t prepare for --
MS. NULAND: We are always ready for all contingencies in this Department. Margaret, was there more? Yeah?
QUESTION: The Palestinian leadership’s supposed to be arriving in the U.S. within the next two days.
QUESTION: Are there any plans for anyone in this building to meet with Abu Mazen or to meet with the Prime Minister?
MS. NULAND: I would expect that if we have senior Palestinians here, we will have a chance to meet with them.
QUESTION: And that wouldn’t be contingent on the UN vote, right? I mean, they would – even if they went ahead, regardless of the outcome at the UN, you wouldn’t say, “No, I’m sorry. You went ahead with this, so we can’t meet with you.”
MS. NULAND: Again, you’re putting me into all kinds of sequences that haven’t happened here yet. But when we have senior Palestinians in the United States, we generally tend to meet with them. But I’m not going to predict exactly who and when and where and what.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I missed the top of the briefing, I’m very sorry, but --
MS. NULAND: Let’s do it again.
QUESTION: I’d love to. Then I’d know what’s going on. One question I do have about this story that American troops might be asked – that additional troops might be sent into Sinai. Have you not gotten into that?
MS. NULAND: I have nothing on that.
QUESTION: Okay. You know that they’ve --
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything on a request from the Egyptians. I don’t have anything on consideration of that. If we do, I’ll come back to you, Jill. But I don’t have anything on that.
QUESTION: Would that originate with the Egyptians, or would it originate with the United States that would say, “Can we do this? Do you need help?”
MS. NULAND: Well, in general, we obviously work hand-in-glove with the Egyptians on security in Sinai. I do not have any indications at the moment that additional help has been requested. But if that changes, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Let’s go to Michel and then back to Said.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can we go back to the Palestinian bid to the UN? President Abbas has said that if the bid was successful, he would begin negotiations with Israel the next day. Don’t you think that the recognition will help the resuming the negotiation?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve made clear that we think that this move will be counterproductive with the environment for negotiations. It’s going to be harder to get Israel back to the table if this goes forward. They’ve been very, very clear about that. That is – those are among the reasons why we think this is a bad, shortsighted move. It doesn’t change the situation on the ground for the Palestinians. It doesn’t bring them any closer to a state. It just makes it harder to get back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Hold on. Wait a second. For – you seem to suggest that it is the Israelis who are not going back to the – you said they would – if they’d – if the Palestinians did this, it would make it hard or make it more difficult for – to get the Israelis back to the table.
MS. NULAND: It’s going to set back prospects for restarting talks with Israel.
QUESTION: But in fact, isn’t it the Israelis – isn’t it the Palestinians who are holding out on talks at the moment? It’s not the – the Israelis have they’re ready to sit down at any point.
MS. NULAND: Again, and that dynamic could change if this goes forward.
QUESTION: But – and you don’t buy the argument that this would give the Palestinians a better negotiating hand? So it’s purely in their self-interest, in their interest that you don’t – you think that any recognition that they might get at the UN does not help their cause, despite the fact that it would be – give them – it would give them some additional negotiating leverage?
MS. NULAND: We don’t think it gives them any additional negotiating leverage vis-a-vis the Israelis. On the contrary, it could make it harder.
QUESTION: The Secretary’s involvement – direct involvement, and success in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas generated a great deal of interest and hope. Shouldn’t she sort of push forward and take, actually, advantage of this new feeling to push forward for the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to start again? I mean, directly become – sort of take the bull by the horns, so to speak?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, you know where we are in time and space here, Said. We have an Israeli election in January. We have, obviously, an American aspiration to be helpful to these two parties to try to come back to the table. If there are steps taken between now and when that might be possible but make it harder, then we can’t do more for the parties than they want to do for themselves.
QUESTION: Yeah, but a great many a diplomatic feat occurred actually in this kind of period. I mean, we can go back to the year 2000 where President Clinton himself, when he proposed his 10-points, which were that close to achieving.
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve said now about seven times that we don’t want any steps taken that will make the possibility of getting these parties back to the table harder. This is one such potential step.
QUESTION: But what would change, in fact? The Palestinians are already observers at the UN, through the PLO. So --
MS. NULAND: You mean what changes in terms of their --
QUESTION: Their status.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I’m --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Palestinian Authority --
MS. NULAND: I’m going to send you to our folks at the UN for all of the technical differences here or for even why this might be something that folks would seek.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second. If you can’t explain how this is any different than what it currently is, how are you – how can you be so convinced that it’s the wrong thing to do?
MS. NULAND: I’m just not going to get into all those details from the podium here.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Given the deteriorating humanitarian situation, could you detail what the diplomacy has been?
MS. NULAND: Thank you for that. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson is currently in the region. He is joined there by his UK and his French counterparts. They have met with President Museveni. They are meeting with other regional leaders in an effort to promote a peaceful, sustainable resolution to the conflict. They’re going to be going on later today. They were in Kinshasa today; they’re going on to Kigali. And they will obviously also be in the DRC. They’re going to meet with presidents in all countries and with other senior officials. The goals remains the goal that we outlined last Tuesday or Wednesday. We want to see a ceasefire. We want to see a pullback to July lines. We want to see a sustainable process of negotiation and discussion of the status of the eastern Congo with all the stakeholders – Museveni, Kagame, and Kabila – leading this process together along the lines of the joint communique that they issued on November 21st and the ICGLR’s November 24th call for where to take this. So Assistant Secretary Carson out there working this very hard this week.
QUESTION: Are you in support of changing the mandate of the UN mission (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re at the stage of trying to figure out among the regional leaders what it’s going to take. But clearly, MONUSCO was not able to do what it was mandated to do. So I think among the things we need to understand better is how this relatively modest group of rebels was able to grab and hold territory, so – and what might be needed in terms of security and stabilization going forward.
QUESTION: So given that we give roughly $400 million to MONUSCO or one of the major supporters of the American taxpayer dollars, is there a concern that our – that the dollars that we’re spending are not being used properly?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly, there’s a concern that we’re going to need an effective security force there, that that may require adjustments to the way we’re moving forward, but I just don’t want to predict where we’re going to go with this, but you’re not wrong that we are a major supporter of MONUSCO and it needs to be able to be effective in securing populations, which is not currently the case.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m (inaudible). I’m here for Jo and Nicolas, Agence France Presse. Just on that issue, still on Congo, there’s a perception among many people of Human Rights Watch, the UN experts, some diplomats I’ve spoken to privately, that the U.S. is dragging its feet about blaming Rwanda directly for supporting the M23. Do you think it’s not the case or do you think it’s not helpful to say it so publicly?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve been very clear that we do want to see all outside support for M23 for any of these groups come to an end. That’s among the –
QUESTION: Where is that outside support coming from?
MS. NULAND: Again, that’s among the issues that’s being discussed in this diplomacy that we’re conducting this week. So I’m going to let Assistant Secretary Carson take that forward, and then we’ll go from there, and we’ll have a better sense when he finishes.
QUESTION: Sorry. A quick follow-up on that, but Kagame didn’t even go to the – Kagame wasn’t even presence in the talks over the course of the weekend. I mean, are there specific conversations that you’re having with Rwanda and Kagame to get Rwanda more engaged?
MS. NULAND: Yes. Assistant Secretary Carson will certainly see him, so that’s part of the plan.
QUESTION: Didn’t you take some step – public step against Rwanda in terms of arms sales a couple weeks or months ago?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, we did.
QUESTION: And has that been rescinded?
MS. NULAND: No. I mean, that’s still –
QUESTION: So you have called the Rwandans out?
MS. NULAND: We had –
QUESTION: I mean, that was over M23.
MS. NULAND: -- suspended some of our support over M23 some time ago, yeah.
QUESTION: And that still exists?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So are you saying that right now you don’t want to call the Rwandans out? Because you have done it in the past publicly.
MS. NULAND: We have done it in the past.
QUESTION: Is there some reason not to do it right now?
MS. NULAND: There is no reason to do anything other than to call on anybody who might be funding any of these guys to stop doing it and to say that we are active now in the region seeing each of these leaders and trying to get them to work together.
QUESTION: Who else do you think is funding them, though – is funding M23? You said that we’re calling on any outside groups. What other outside groups does the United States suspect of funding besides Rwanda?
MS. NULAND: There are many options for outside funding for this kind of stuff. That said, we have been clear about our concerns about neighboring states.
Let’s – here please. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: It is reported North Korea seems to be ready to fire long-range missiles soon. Do you have any information on that?
MS. NULAND: We don’t have anything new at the moment. We’ve seen the same rumblings and press reportings that you’ve seen. We would just take this opportunity to again remind the DPRK that in April of this year, there was a presidential statement from the UN Security Council which demanded that the DPRK not proceed with any further launches using ballistic missile technology. But I don’t have anything specific to –
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any intelligence information on – or –
MS. NULAND: Intelligence that I would share from the podium? I don’t think so. (Laughter.) Good effort, though.
QUESTION: I think there was a report recently about the Japanese stopping some kind of a shipment of aluminum, potentially dual use, headed from North Korea to Burma. Have you seen this report?
MS. NULAND: We saw the – it was a single report in a Japanese newspaper. We have not been able to confirm that report, nor have we been able to confirm that we’ve been notified by the Japanese as the report asserts. So let me see if I can get anymore for you on that overnight.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, when you say that you’re not able to – does that mean that – are you – have you exhausted your question-asking?
MS. NULAND: No, no.
QUESTION: So you’re not 100 percent sure that it’s not correct?
MS. NULAND: There is nobody in this building who has any information about it. The issue came up after our folks in Japan had gone to sleep, so we’re just going to confirm out there before I get too definitive here.
MS. NULAND: Okay? Please.
QUESTION: On China, there’s a video just released recently on the Chinese military has successfully landed its – a fighter jet on its first aircraft carrier. Is there a concern that this would increase the tension in South China Sea and East Sea and other disputed seas?
MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there?
QUESTION: Yeah. Is there a concern?
MS. NULAND: Obviously we continue to monitor all Chinese military developments very carefully. This is another in the category of our regular requests that China be as transparent as it can about its military capabilities and intentions, and we regularly encourage China both privately and publicly to use its military capabilities, including this new aircraft carrier, in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and security and stability in the Asia Pacific region.
QUESTION: Well, just – new passport --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) or more transparent?
MS. NULAND: More transparent than it has been.
QUESTION: China’s new passport has triggered measure of diplomatic disputes in the neighboring area. Because in the new passport they include a map and images from South China Sea, and also the scenery is from Taiwan, which triggered complaints from Vietnamese Government, Philippines Government, India Government, and Taiwanese Government. I wonder, for example, if a Chinese citizen who is holding a new passport coming into U.S. customs, and usually they would get a stamp from U.S. customs, is that an endorsement of the China’s claim, sovereignty claim. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just say yes. (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: No. It is not an endorsement. (Laughter.) Thank you, though, Arshad, for the opportunity there.
Our position, as you know, on the South China Sea remains that these issues need to be negotiated among the stakeholders, among ASEAN and China. And a picture in a passport doesn’t change that.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: Otherwise, the importance of solving this crisis, the importance of solving the disputes, was United States disappointed that a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea was not reached during the latest East Asia Summit?
MS. NULAND: I think as the President said when he was there, as others said in the context of the meetings in Cambodia, we are encouraged that informal dialogue has restarted. As you know, for some time there were no real conversations. And we want to see this continue to build and accelerate into a real negotiation about how to settle these issues over the longer term.
QUESTION: Also, talk about the aircraft carrier, if this landmark development would encourage you to improve the navy capability of your allies in Asia?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we’ve made clear through the various strengthening of our security support throughout the region that we will continue to support our allies as we deem necessary and to take appropriate steps. As I said, it’s incumbent on China as it increases its own military investment that it be more transparent than it has been about what it’s spending the money on and to make sure that its capabilities can clearly be seen as a force for peace.
QUESTION: Just back on that passport issue?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you care what China has – what they print inside of their passports? Does this raise any concern at all with you, because is it simply their business and they can do – they can put whatever they want in their passport?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we – and I looked into this a little bit and didn’t get a complete sort of brief on this – but my understanding is that we have certain basic international standards that have to be met in a passport in the way it’s presented --
QUESTION: Decorations are not part of --
MS. NULAND: -- for us to honor it. And stray maps that they include aren’t part of it, so --
QUESTION: Okay. And does that – that would go for any country?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: So then, I mean, if Mexico put a new passport with a map that had Texas and New Mexico on it – (laughter) – that wouldn’t be a problem?
MS. NULAND: Again, that’s a hypothetical we’re hoping not confront, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But in terms of this, and I realize we’re talking about it lightheartedly, but I mean, that would be something that I think the government would probably object to in the Mexican case. So I just want to make clear or understand: The appearance of this map in the Chinese passport doesn’t really – does it raise concerns for you or not?
MS. NULAND: As a technical legal matter, that map doesn’t have any bearing on whether the passport is valid for U.S. visa issuance or for entry into the United States. There are a bunch of other issues --
QUESTION: No, I understand that. But the broader issue of whether this symbolizes a claim that you think should be worked out in negotiation, do you have any concerns about that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not sure whether we’ve had a chance to have that discussion with the Chinese. Frankly, the first time this issue came to the attention of some of us was over the weekend when the passports started being rejected in various countries. So presumably, from the perspective that it is considered provocative by some of those countries, we’ll have a conversation about it. But in terms of the technical issue of whether the passport is --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Quite apart from the – and when you say that you’ll have a conversation about it, that means that you’ll have a conversation about it with the Chinese or you’ll have a conversation about it with the countries that are refusing to accept them?
MS. NULAND: No, I would expect that we’ll probably have a conversation about the fact that this is considered difficult by some of the countries.
QUESTION: Okay. Could you, when that does happen, when that conversation --
MS. NULAND: We’ll come back to you, yes.
QUESTION: Yes. And --
QUESTION: No. China. Can we stay in China?
MS. NULAND: Still China, and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you consider --
MS. NULAND: You guys really had too much of a rest, I think.
QUESTION: Do you consider this as a provocative on the behalf of China because it involves a number of neighboring countries, including India and other countries in the region?
MS. NULAND: Again, let me get a better sense of whether we’ve had any conversation with China about it or what the content of that might be before I go forward.
QUESTION: And also if you can consider --
MS. NULAND: Our own views on how the South China Sea issues ought to be resolved, our own position on the South China Sea issues, are not changed in any way by this.
QUESTION: And also if you can consider taking question if this such a move increases tension in the region, which you are trying to avoid for long time.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: On Europe?
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a question on Uganda, actually. There’s an anti-homosexuality bill that’s making its way through the legislature right there. What is the State Department’s current assessment of where that bill is and if that’s going to be headed toward a vote anytime soon?
MS. NULAND: Again, Assistant Secretary Carson was also in Uganda over the weekend. He had a chance to raise again our concerns about this issue, which we’ve been very vocal about. Our understanding is that a version of the bill has now passed a committee in Uganda. As we have regularly said, we call on the parliament in Uganda to look very carefully at this, because Uganda’s own human rights council has made clear that if this were to pass, it would put the country out of compliance with its own international human rights obligations. And so Assistant Secretary Carson had a chance to make that point again and our strong opposition to this, to the president, to the parliament, and to key decision makers in Uganda.
QUESTION: And there was – and once the bill had a provision that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts. As far as the State Department knows, has that provision been removed or is it still in the bill?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t know that we have actually seen the version that passed committee. They’ve been a little bit close hold about this, partly because there’s been so much controversy in the international community. So our concern is about any criminalization of homosexuality, obviously.
QUESTION: And one last question. Some countries, Britain and Sweden, have threatened to cut foreign aid to Uganda if this bill becomes law. Is there any consideration in the U.S. Administration to cut foreign aid to Uganda if that bill becomes law?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into any hypothetical situations. Our focus now is on raising awareness of the concerns within Uganda about this bill so that we don’t get to that stage.
MS. NULAND: Still on --
QUESTION: Wait, wait one second. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t – don’t you think that would be a pretty strong point to make to the Ugandans if you think this is a bad idea that you would say, hey, you can go ahead and do this, but it’s not only going to not only violate your international commitments but it’s also going to jeopardize American assistance? Why would you --
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not to make --
QUESTION: That suggests --
MS. NULAND: -- prospective points from the podium here about where we might go if this bill passes. I think there is a very intense conversation going on inside Uganda about this, and the far better course of action would be for the bill not to pass.
QUESTION: And isn’t that what happened a couple of years ago when the harsh bill was put up and there were active threats from not just the UK but also the United States that if this bill were to pass, aid would be cut? And that was part of why the bill was tabled, no?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re at a relatively preliminary stage here where you’ve had one committee pass this. There is room for those kinds of conversations. Our first focus at the moment is on getting reconsideration of this.
QUESTION: On this, Toria. Did Secretary Carson meet with the speaker of the parliament?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is he did see the speaker of the parliament, whether it was in a larger group or whether it was a distinct meeting that he did, yes.
QUESTION: But he – so he made that point directly to her?
MS. NULAND: Yes, he did.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you – do you have in your guidance there the ability to deny the reports that built up over the long weekend that the United States had denied her a visa?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we don’t talk about visa issuance one way or the other, so I don’t have any information about it one way or the other. But I frankly hadn’t heard that there was a visa question involved in this at all.
QUESTION: There was one. And the parliament then issued its own statement which was slightly ambiguous, but it sounded like they were trying to say that, no, you guys had not denied her a visa.
MS. NULAND: I’m not aware of any visa issues. But in general, as you know, we can’t talk about these things.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, is getting ready to submit his plan – it is called a plan – on Thursday. Are you aware of that plan, whether it’s contingent on the Geneva points or any other?
MS. NULAND: I had not heard that he was definitively coming forward with something on Thursday. I know that he’s consulting with various UNSC member-states. I don’t want to preempt anything that he might come forward with, but if we become aware of more information on this, we’ll let you know, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. There are also reports that the rebels have taken over large swaths of areas, including military bases and some other areas outside, and that the regime is withdrawing its forces into Damascus, into Damascus. Are you aware of that, or could you share something with us on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are aware of reports that the armed opposition has seized in recent days a number of important regime facilities. This speaks, obviously, to the growing strength of the armed opposition as they continue to lay the groundwork for the fall of the Assad regime.
We would also note the regime’s increasing brutality as it tries to cling to power. We’ve seen this just in the last few days the regime resorting to shelling a refugee camp near the Turkish border as well as some very deadly air strikes on the Dar Al-Shifa hospital right outside Aleppo. So shelling of hospitals now by the Syrian regime.
At the same time, let me take this opportunity to draw your attention to the fact that the Syrian Opposition Council meanwhile, the SOC, has formed its assistance committee now. And that assistance committee is meeting today and tomorrow in Cairo, with working-level representatives from the international community, to better hone and direct the nonlethal assistance requests that they are making and to begin to do what we had hoped they would do, which is to help all of us to have the clearest, most up-to-date sense of what is needed and to provide better channels for ensuring that it gets to the right people. So we have some representatives at that meeting. This is further to our hope that they would really begin to take on this organizing role of the international community on the political side and begin to represent the Syrian people in that way.
QUESTION: Does that bring you closer to recognizing the coalition council as a representative of Syria?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new to announce today. But these are the kinds of steps, both organizationally and in terms of assuming political responsibility, that we are hoping to see continue.
Still on Syria, Jill?
QUESTION: Iran, Turkey?
MS. NULAND: Anything else on Syria?
QUESTION: I have Syria.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to the reports that Russia has sent over 200 banknotes of cash to Syria over the last few months?
MS. NULAND: Two hundred physical pieces of paper, or --
QUESTION: Banknotes --
QUESTION: Tons, sorry. (Laughter.) Two hundred tons, sorry. (Laughter.) Two hundred tons of banknotes, moving currency cash.
MS. NULAND: Let me take that one and see if we have anything for you on it tomorrow.
QUESTION: Hey, Toria, one other one on Syria. There were – there was a report suggesting that the Syrian Government might have been using a particular kind of SCUD missiles on civilian targets last week. Do you have anything on that?
MS. NULAND: We do have folks on the ground in Syria reporting intensive attacks on the Old City of Homs. But we don’t think that what was used were SCUDs. We’re not exactly sure what was used, but we’re pretty sure they were not SCUDs.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. NULAND: But nonetheless, they were intensive aerial attacks.
QUESTION: Who do you have on the ground in Homs?
MS. NULAND: We have Syrian opposition figures who we’re in touch with.
QUESTION: Oh, not U.S. officials.
MS. NULAND: No, no, no.
QUESTION: You said, “We have folks on the ground.” With just that --
MS. NULAND: “We have contacts on the ground,” I think I said, but --
QUESTION: And is it your understanding that those, whatever it was, was fired at civilian targets? Or do you not know?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know what they fired at, but obviously civilians were caught in the crossfire.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the nature of the currency that is being exchanged. The largest U.S. currency is actually outside the United States, and much of it is in the Middle East. And it gets used for buying things in cash and so on. Does that fall under the sanctions in any way? I’m not saying that it’s counterfeit. It’s legal, it’s a legal tender. But how does that fall under the sanctions regime?
MS. NULAND: You mean the use of dollars --
QUESTION: Of U.S. dollars, yeah. Right.
MS. NULAND: -- or the export of U.S. dollars into Syria? I don’t have any background on that. Perhaps our friends at Treasury might. But if we have anything to share on that, we’ll come back to you, Said.
QUESTION: Toria --
MS. NULAND: Please, yeah.
QUESTION: On the conference on Middle East Nuclear-Free Summit, Secretary General of the Arab League has said that it’s regrettable the U.S. has decided to cancel the conference, because only Israel is against the conference. So what is your response? And have you got any consensus among the co-sponsors for the cancelation?
MS. NULAND: We issued a statement --
QUESTION: Yeah, I read it. Yes?
MS. NULAND: -- regretting that this wasn’t able to go forward. I think we issued it on Friday.
QUESTION: Yeah. I read it, yes.
MS. NULAND: I don’t think I have anything to add to what we have there, which is that our hope that conditions can come together for it in the future, but without making any firm predictions as to when.
QUESTION: Is that the darkest news hole in the world, late Friday afternoon of Thanksgiving? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, they spent --
QUESTION: It could have been 2 o’clock Thanksgiving Day.
MS. NULAND: They spent – you mean you didn’t rush up and start writing it up, Arshad?
QUESTION: I followed it. I followed it.
MS. NULAND: Excellent. Yeah, there you go.
QUESTION: You said that the conditions were not right.
MS. NULAND: The wires never sleep.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. On this one you said the conditions were not proper to hold the conference. What kind of proper conditions would you want in place?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re pretty clear in the statement we issued, which went on for some five paragraphs. I’m going to send you back to that, Said.
QUESTION: Where was it supposed to be?
MS. NULAND: Helsinki was where the meeting --
QUESTION: But you were hosting it, or going to host it?
MS. NULAND: No, we were part of the community of nations encouraging it.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask you – just ask why it was that you guys decided to cancel it? I mean, do you – did you have any – you weren’t the host, you weren’t the organizer, you weren’t -
MS. NULAND: No, no, no. It didn’t go that way. We had a group of international supporters of this event who were meeting Helsinki, or they were meeting somewhere in Europe, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, to try to evaluate whether this could go forward and in what – under what circumstances. I think we were just the first from that meeting to issue our conclusions as to the fact that we didn’t think it was going to be able to go forward. But it was the consensus view of the meeting, so --
QUESTION: But – right, okay. But in fact, you guys did not make the decision to cancel.
MS. NULAND: No, no, no.
QUESTION: It was made at the meeting. And your statement just was --
MS. NULAND: Reflecting --
QUESTION: -- you’re sorry that it couldn’t go through.
QUESTION: You announced it. You used the word, “announced.”
MS. NULAND: Well, we announced the fact that we, as representatives in this group, had all come to this conclusion. There was also an announcement by the head negotiator, Laajava, on the same subject.
QUESTION: Iran sanctions?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There are reports that Turkey has a gold-for-gas and possibly gold-for-oil --
MS. NULAND: Has a what?
QUESTION: That Turkey has a – reportedly has a gold-for-gas and possibly gold-for-oil deal with Iran. And the question is: Does that particular arrangement – if you know about it, or could check into it – does that break the sanctions regime?
MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that particular report. We will catch up on that and see if we have anything to share. But I think you know that Turkey’s one of the countries that we were able to exempt from NDAA sanctions because they have been steadily cutting their dependence on Iranian crude. I can’t speak to what this new prospective idea might be. If we have anything on it, we’ll let you know. But that’s a set of sanctions exemptions that has to be renewed every six months, so we would look at it again in that context.
QUESTION: When you take that question, Toria, can you also take the question as a general principle, whether the U.S. Government believes that barter arrangements – which are not financial transactions, I think, as defined by the law, but I may be wrong – but whether barter transactions do or do not violate the NDAA 1245 sanctions. Is it possible they don’t?
MS. NULAND: We will look at that, obviously, but my understanding is that the law speaks to the necessity of countries decreasing their national dependence on Iranian crude. So how you pay for that would be irrelevant, right? It’s the national usage of Iranian crude.
QUESTION: What would be your reaction to the Catalan elections this weekend, where the parties asking for secession from Spain have won a big, big advantage? And to what extent that, on top of what has happened in Scotland and Belgium, may impact the transatlantic relations?
MS. NULAND: That sounds like an internal political matter for Spain, not for us to comment on.
QUESTION: Just to go back to the previous thing?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, it talks about people reducing their consumption of Iranian crude. But the sanctions apply to non-U.S. financial institutions that deal with the Central Bank of Iran –
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- for purchasing hydrocarbons. So if you are not dealing with the Central Bank of Iran, and if you’re – it’s conceivable that you could have some other entity bartering for this stuff, so maybe you’re not reducing your consumption, or not enough, from your point of view, but how do you then – who do you then sanction if nobody has directly dealt with the Central Bank, which is what the sanction is?
MS. NULAND: In case you were wondering, Arshad’s become a hyper-wonk on all this stuff over the last month. I’m going to come back to you if you have anything on that particular thing, Arshad, okay?
QUESTION: No, wait, wait, very random ones. One, in – you know the Colombia-FARC peace talks that are going on in Cuba.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Apparently, it has come up again, the FARC wants this guy Simon Trinidad to be released, who you – I know that officials have – he’s being held by the Americans, by the U.S. In the past, you’ve said no way, we’re not going to release him. Can you – is that still the position? Has it changed?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, it has not changed.
QUESTION: And then secondly – and this is really kind of bizarre – there’s an entertainer who goes by the name of Andrew W. K., who says that he has been named or appointed by the State Department to be a cultural ambassador to appear at some event in Bahrain. Do you know anything about this?
MS. NULAND: And here I thought we were going to get through this whole briefing without that one coming up.
QUESTION: Oh, you do? You do? Is it true? You have something?
MS. NULAND: I do have a little something on this. So we had a Bahraini entity that approached the Embassy about cosponsoring a visit by this guy, who I take it is pretty popular there in Bahrain. That was initially approved. And then when more senior management at the Embassy took a look at this, the conclusion was that this was not an appropriate use of U.S. Government funds.
QUESTION: Is that – did – and would they – the government would have paid for his trip over there, had it –
MS. NULAND: I don’t know what the details of our sponsorship were to be.
QUESTION: Can you explain why it was – was it – I mean, his – was it that – it was decided that it was inappropriate to send someone over there to Bahrain to represent the United States whose hits include Party Till You Puke and things like that? (Laughter.) Is that why it was decided it was inappropriate?
MS. NULAND: Thank you for sharing that. I think --
QUESTION: Is that why?
MS. NULAND: I think the conclusion was, when they looked at the body of his work, that we didn’t need to be part of this invitation. I’ll leave it --
QUESTION: Got you. And just hold on. And just to make clear, it was – the invitation was actually never extended to him?
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I don’t have the details. There may have been some preliminary conversations with him, but he is not going to be going to Bahrain on the U.S. Government’s dime.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Speaking of U.S. entertainers abroad, the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is in Myanmar, Burma. He tweeted last night that his team rented mobile phones that had previously been rented by U.S. security personnel connected to the recent visits and that the text messages on them ought to have been deleted beforehand. There are references to keg parties. Anything that you’re aware of on that front? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: No, but we will have our Embassy follow up on that one for sure.
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)
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