Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
January 6, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing
- Welcome to Students of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces
- 21st Century Statecraft Month
- Department of State Twitter Accounts
- Bombings in Midan / Arab League Monitoring Mission
- Consultations with Arab League and the UN / Arab League Meeting Sunday
- U.S. Navy's Rescue of Iranian Hostages
- Iranian President's Visit to Latin America
- Sanctions / P-5+1
- U.S. Anti-Piracy Efforts
- Inauguration of President Ortega
- Visit of Foreign Minister Davutoglu to Iran
- U.S.-Pakistan Relationship / Arrival of Ambassador Sherry Rehman
- Former Ambassador Haqqani
- Bagram Airbase
- Secretary Clinton's Calls to President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu Last Year
- Arrest of the Former Chief of the Armed Forces of Turkey
- SOUTH SUDAN
- Conversations on Border Security
- Return of U.S. Citizen Teenager Deported to Colombia
- Assistant Secretary Feltman / No Meeting with Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood
Second, as we discussed off camera yesterday, it is 21st Century Statecraft Month here at the State Department. As you know, Secretary Clinton has made the use of new technology and innovation a key part of our foreign policy agenda around the world. So here at State, and at AID, we’re adopting new approaches to meet the diplomatic and development challenges that we see. Part of this effort is making sure that we’re making full use of digital networks and technologies to more quickly and more directly engage people and audiences at home and abroad around the world.
So this month we’ll be showcasing some of the ways that we are using new technology and that our diplomats in Washington and our embassies around the world use technology. For example, we now have more than – we have about 193 social media accounts connected to the State Department, either at home or abroad. We have more than a hundred of our embassies which use social media, have accounts on Facebook or on Twitter.
As some of the examples of our 21st Century Statecraft Month, today and each Friday during the month of January, in a separate and distinct event from this daily press briefing, which is obviously for accredited journalists, we will be having a separate Twitter session, taking questions from the Department of States’ 10 official Twitter feeds from citizens around the world. They can submit their questions directly to us on Twitter using the hashtag #askState.
Next week, we’ll also have the Secretary’s Senior Advisor for Innovation Alec Ross participate in a Live at State video chat with journalists and bloggers from around the world. As another example of the kinds of things we’ll be doing this month, our Embassy in Port-au-Prince is going to hold a Twitter Q&A session on our ongoing partnership with the people and Government of Haiti two years after the January 2010 earthquake. And you can take a look at all of the other events that we have planned for this month by checking out our Facebook page or our @StateDepartment Twitter feed, the DipNote blog, State.gov – our official website. So welcome to the 21st Century Technology Month.
What’s on your minds?
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask all about Baluchistan, but since you seem to – it looks like you’re going to be answering questions about Baluchistan for about a day and a half when this briefing is over, so I won’t ask about that.
MS. NULAND: Excellent.
QUESTION: So then I was going to ask you about the MEK, but I think that might be the same thing. I don’t really have anything to ask.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Amazing. It must be Friday.
QUESTION: The suicide bombing in Syria – any ideas about who might be behind it, what this means for the Arab observer force, what it should be doing?
MS. NULAND: Well, first let me say that we categorically condemn the attack that took place near the police station in Damascus’ neighborhood of Midan today. It was located about three kilometers away from the U.S. Embassy, and apparently about 25 people were killed and at least 46 more were injured. We are unable, though, to directly verify those casualty numbers.
What’s interesting here is that as with previous attacks, the Assad regime has blamed just about everybody. They’ve blamed the opposition, they’ve blamed al-Qaida, they’ve even blamed the United States. Meanwhile, the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, has denied carrying out the attacks, and has itself accused the regime of staging these things. At the present time, we can’t say one way or the other how this happened, but what we can say is that obviously we condemn the attack. We do not think violence of any kind at anybody’s hands is the right answer to the problems in Syria. The right answer is for a democratic transition of power, for Assad to step aside, and for a national dialogue to begin.
QUESTION: Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood called for an international and Arab probe into the attack. Could you see the Arab League playing a role on doing this?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would anticipate that when the Arab League meets on Sunday, it will be evaluating the work of its own monitors. It’ll also be evaluating the situation in Syria writ large. We have called for more international eyes on the street. The Arab League observers, the international press, obviously anything like that that opens up the country would make it more transparent and make it clearer where the violence is coming from.
QUESTION: On the monitors --
MS. NULAND: Kirit.
QUESTION: The – some of the monitors appeared to break away from some of their government minders according to one report, and were able to talk to some Syrians individually and they were able to get some accounts of the violence. I mean, does this kind of validate in your mind their mission? Are you more at ease with what they’re doing over there?
MS. NULAND: Look, we really do believe that the monitors are doing their very best. I think the question here is whether the Syrian regime is cooperating fully with the monitors across the broad spectrum of commitments that it made. We see that in places where monitors are present, Syrian activists have been able to hold big rallies. But we also see that in other places, the regime is firing on peaceful protest. It’s not clear to us, and we’ll wait for the Arab League report, whether their various requests to see political prisoners have been granted. Clearly, we don’t have some of the other things that we’re looking for, which is a full withdrawal of Syrian forces from towns and villages around the country, allowing the free press back in, et cetera.
So again, we’re not going to prejudge this except to say that we look forward to the Arab League’s own account of this, and we do have concerns about whether the regime is cooperating fully with the commitments that it made to the Arab League.
QUESTION: Victoria, a spokesman for the Syrian – the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, in fact promised that by the end of the week there will be major operations across the country. So why shouldn’t he or the Syrian Free Army or the opposition be a suspect in this case?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re not in a position to assess who is responsible. What I would reiterate is that we condemn violence of any kind. It’s not the right way forward in Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. Now yesterday, Hamad bin Jasim, the prime minister of Qatar, was at the United Nation and he was exploring and discussed some things with the secretary general of the UN about UN measures. Are you aware of any of these measures? Has he discussed any of these measures or possible measures with you?
MS. NULAND: We have broad consultations with all of the leaders of the Arab League. We also have been talking to the UN about the situation. I think what we are going to await is the conclusion of the Arab League meeting on Sunday. Our understanding is that the consultations you mentioned were preparatory to that Arab League meeting, and then we’ll see where we go. I mean, we continue to believe, and we continue to consult in New York, that a strong UN Security Council resolution could be helpful here, and the Arab League has also been supportive of that. But I think serious consultation will probably await the results of their ministerial on Sunday.
QUESTION: So he talked about some technical support. What kind of technical support, in this case, the UN could provide?
MS. NULAND: Well, the press reports that we saw indicated that the Arab League would like more training for its monitors. The UN has done this kind of monitoring, as have other international organizations and regional organizations like the OSCE around the world before. U.S. also has programs to train these kinds of monitors. So our understanding was that if the Arab League is going to be getting into this kind of business – this is its first, as I understand it, monitoring mission of this kind – that they are open to training from experienced organizations and entities around the world, and that’s a good thing.
QUESTION: And Toria, what do you expect from the UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday? Do you expect any resolution?
MS. NULAND: I think this is going to be the next stage in consultations. I’m not sure that we’re expecting to finalize anything on Tuesday, but we’ll get you more on Monday and Tuesday as those meetings gear up.
QUESTION: Another subject?
QUESTION: No. On Syria.
MS. NULAND: Still Syria?
QUESTION: You said that the blast was, like, three miles away from the Embassy or three blocks?
MS. NULAND: About three kilometers away from the Embassy.
QUESTION: Three kilometers away from the Embassy?
MS. NULAND: Some of our personnel were able to hear it.
QUESTION: Are there any added security measures, like blast walls or other what they call T- walls and so on?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to talk about the specifics at the Embassy as you can imagine, but we have very strict protocol on embassy security around the world, including some of the types of measures you mentioned.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.S. Navy has rescued an Iranian hostage. So are you handing him back to Tehran, or is there an asylum? What is the latest?
MS. NULAND: This is an incredible story. This is a great story. Our brothers at the Pentagon have spoken about this earlier today. George Little and Captain Kirby spoke about it. The very same ship and set of vessels that the Iranians protested on its last voyage through Hormuz, the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, just rescued this Iranian dhow from pirates. There were actually 13 Iranians onboard who claim that they had been held hostage by these pirates for some 40 to 45 days. As our colleagues in the Pentagon advised you earlier today, the U.S. Navy took the Iranians onboard, provided them with food, with water, with medical care – they were obviously very grateful to be rescued by these pirates – and then returned them –
QUESTION: From these pirates. Rescued from.
MS. NULAND: Rescued from. What did I say?
MS. NULAND: Rescued from. (Laughter.) Rescued from. Sorry, crew of the Stennis. Rescued from these pirates. And then they returned them – they returned the Iranians to their fishing vessel, and they went on their way. With regard to the pirates, they are still onboard the Stennis. We are reviewing the options for prosecution. We’re consulting with international partners. Sadly, this is not a new thing. We have more than a thousand pirates who have been picked up at sea who are under prosecution in some 20 countries. So this – it’s always a questions of where to send them and who will do the prosecution.
QUESTION: So this serendipitous incident should be like an opening, perhaps, for the Iranians to thaw whatever tensions or lower the tension and so on?
MS. NULAND: Well, you have to speak to the Iranians about that, but this is – it was obviously a humanitarian gesture on the part of the crew of the Stennis to take them onboard and to feed them and to ensure that they were in good health before setting them off. So –
QUESTION: Where did this happen?
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the Iranian officials? Sorry.
MS. NULAND: When did this happen?
QUESTION: No, no. Where – the location?
MS. NULAND: Where did it happen? I’m going to – let’s see. Do I have it precisely?
QUESTION: North of (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have it precisely here, but I think the Pentagon briefed on this quite extensively earlier today. We have not been in direct contact with the Iranian Government on this. These are private citizens.
QUESTION: Okay. A follow-up on that? How did –
QUESTION: Are the Swiss (inaudible)?
MS. NULAND: I don’t – we don’t --
QUESTION: How did you decide that these are Iranians? From any papers they had? You contacted Tehran? How was it decided that these are Iranians?
MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speak to that precisely. I don’t have the details, but my expectation would be that they declared themselves to be citizens of Iran, and they may have been carrying Iranian travel documents.
QUESTION: But they – your understanding is they didn’t know when they went to go rescue them what nationality these people were. Correct?
MS. NULAND: I think that they anticipated that they were intercepting a pirate vessel. I don’t think that they thought that there were hostages aboard.
QUESTION: But they weren’t rescued because they were Iranians?
MS. NULAND: We –
QUESTION: They were rescued because they were in distress.
MS. NULAND: They were rescued because they were in distress, as we and our allies and partners involved in these anti-piracy missions always take care of innocent civilians who’ve been victims of piracy.
QUESTION: Could you update us a little bit more on the anti-piracy efforts since the Maersk Alabama incident? I know you – that the Department has made some efforts, but what’s the status of them?
MS. NULAND: You mean, in general what are we up to and what do we do? Well, since 2009, we have worked with some 70 nations and international organizations as part of the International Contact Group on Piracy off the coast of Somalia. Some of those accomplishments include facilitating the coordination of international naval patrols. Currently, we have more than 30 countries working together to protect transit vessels. We coordinate closely with other multilateral coalitions. We work, obviously, in the NATO effort through Operation Ocean Shield and the European Union’s Operation ATALANTA, and we coordinate with others in that regard. China, India, Russia also participate in these international efforts.
We are also promoting shipping self protection so that ships going through can be better defended. We are partnering with the shipping industry to improve the practical steps that merchant ships and crews can take to avoid, to deter, to delay and counter pirate attacks, including when and how to use private security in this regard. We’re also working with the shipping industry on its best practices, management practices, et cetera. We’re also championing regional capacity building. We’re strengthening the capacity of Somalia and other countries in the region to combat piracy, to prosecute suspected pirates through the UN Trust Fund Supporting the Initiatives of States Countering Piracy.
And finally, we’re also – we’ve also tried to target the business model of the pirates, if you will. We’ve launched a new initiative aimed at disrupting their enterprises ashore, including their financial networks through their – through the banking systems of organized crime, et cetera. So we’re trying to do all of these things, and I think it’s been one of the under-sung success stories of international cooperation, as you can see, involving a huge number of countries and a huge number of navies around the world.
QUESTION: A question about Iran, actually. I know we talked earlier this week about Ahmadinejad’s upcoming trip to Latin America next week. But just wanted to – as he goes there and these relationships on defense and economic cooperation expand with these countries, does the U.S. Government view this trip and these relationships as really nothing more than just a provocative thumbing your nose at the United States, since it’s in the U.S.’s backyard? How do you view this coming trip?
MS. NULAND: Well, as the regime feels increasing pressure, it is desperate for friends and flailing around in interesting places to find new friends. We are making absolutely clear to countries around the world that now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties with Iran. Rather, it’s in the entire international community’s interest to make clear to Iran that it’s got a choice. It can remain in international isolation or it can comply with its obligations and start cooperating and rejoin the community of nations.
QUESTION: And you made that clear to who in Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think if anybody here listens to the statements from the U.S. Government, whether they are at the top level, whether they’re at the secretarial level, or whether they’re from this podium, they know exactly where we stand.
QUESTION: So you haven’t made – you’re not aware of any specific and separate entreaties made to President Chavez, President Ortega --
MS. NULAND: With regard to this particular --
QUESTION: -- Castro?
MS. NULAND: With regard to this particular --
QUESTION: We’re making it clear to countries that now is not the time to be deepening ties with Iran. Have you made those specific points to senior officials in Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and – where is the other one – Venezuela?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to Cuba and Venezuela, but we’re obviously in close touch with the other two governments about the upcoming trips.
QUESTION: And what about – the European Union has already put the sanctions. Have you got any success with India and these other countries which are still dealing with Iran?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we discussed yesterday, the European Union is in the process of looking at tightening its own sanctions. It’s made some decisions in principle, hasn’t made final moves yet. We expect those at the end of the month. We are also in close consultation with India, with China, with Russia, with countries around the world about strengthening their implementation of the international sanctions regime and about curbing, curtailing their dependence on Iranian crude oil.
QUESTION: Any particular – like, the last time, when was the Indians consulted or this topic was brought up?
MS. NULAND: Well, since the new legislation is passed in the Congress, our Embassy has been quite active with the Indian Government. I would anticipate we’re going to have some more intensive consultations in the weeks and months ahead.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up: Turkish foreign minister was --
QUESTION: No, hold on. Why don’t we stay with Iran and Latin America to --
QUESTION: No, I am – it’s Iran.
QUESTION: And Latin America or Iran and Turkey? Can we – I just – I know this is a White House thing, but can you say if you expect a high-level U.S. delegation to attend President Ortega’s inauguration on the 10th or --
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that until the White House makes an announcement one way or the other.
QUESTION: Well, given the fact that President Ahmadinejad is going to be a guest there --
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce at this point. If we have something to announce, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: You do not expect a – will the Secretary of State go?
MS. NULAND: I would strongly doubt that the Secretary of State would go.
QUESTION: Okay. So you wouldn’t expect a high-level, cabinet-level delegation to go to be there at his nomination?
MS. NULAND: Again, as you said, this is a White House decision, so let’s await their announcement.
QUESTION: The specifics of it I know, but the level as well? You can’t --
MS. NULAND: Again, it’s a White House decision what the level is. I think – I can simply tell you that our own boss, I don’t think, will be going.
QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu was in Tehran yesterday. A couple of questions: They stated – Irani foreign minister state that their goal is to double the trade between Turkey and Iran between – foreseeable future. How do you assess these new goals in terms of isolation of Iran, just the context you described earlier?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen some of the announcements primarily from the Iranian side of the results of this visit. We have begun consultations with the Turkish side on what it gleaned, what its messages were, and what it learned when it was – when Minister Davutoglu was in Tehran. Our Ambassador in Ankara was in to see the minister today. I frankly don’t have a report on that meeting, but one of the subjects that they were discussing was a debrief on this trip.
There is no question that the United States and Turkey share the goal of bringing Iran back to the table and back into compliance with its international obligations. We don’t always have an identical view on tactics, but the strategic goal is the same, so I – that’s why it’s so important that we consult on what the minister saw on his trip and next steps that he sees.
QUESTION: In the past, there were similar goals stated by both countries, and at the time you stated from this podium that it is not a problem, obstacle, whether Turkey’s increasing its trade with Iran. In general, if this is the case, do you think it’s a problem now?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we wanted to consult with the Turkish side on its intentions. If we’re talking about baby food, it’s not a problem, but – there could be other issues, but I don’t want to prejudge Turkish intentions before we’ve had a chance to consult with Turkey.
QUESTION: Iran foreign minister yesterday also said Turkey could be the best venue for the next round of talks on the nuclear program. Do you have a view on this?
MS. NULAND: Well, let’s start with the fact that public statements notwithstanding, the Iranian side has not yet formally advised us that it is ready for the next round of P-5+1 talks.
QUESTION: Although, they have not formally advised you, but the Iranian foreign minister yesterday did say that they are ready, and I guess they might in due time (inaudible) notify Catherine Ashton’s office. But in the meantime, during the past few years, the West has come to realize that this is – every time Iran’s come to talks, it’s been a delay tactic, and the talks have never really gotten anywhere. How can you ensure that this is not another one of those attempts?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we haven’t seen the commitment in writing, so until we see the commitment in writing, we don’t have the next round of discussions. What we have said is that we are prepared for another meeting of the P-5+1 if Iran is prepared to seriously discuss its nuclear program without preconditions. So we need to see where Iran is if, in fact, it accepts our invitation to talk. That doesn’t change the fact that we’ve always said we have a two-track policy: We are prepared to talk if the Iranians are prepared to be serious, but at the same time, we’re going to maintain the pressure on the regime until the issues are resolved.
QUESTION: Is the suspension of enrichment a precondition for the start of talks?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of our private discussions with Iran, just to say that they know there’s an offer on the table to talk, they know that we would be prepared to do so if they were serious and if they were not setting preconditions for coming to the table. But we haven’t had them formally come across and say they’re ready.
QUESTION: The Parliamentary Committee on National Security in Pakistan has finalized recommendations on strategic review for relationship with the United States. Are you aware of the process that is going on in Pakistani parliament? Have they shared anything with you officially? What kind of demands are they making?
MS. NULAND: We’re – obviously, we’re aware that there was quite a bit of discussion ongoing in the Pakistani parliament. As of coming down here, I was not aware that they had reached any conclusions. Our understanding was that, at the appropriate moment, we would hear from the Pakistani Government about these things. Unless it happened in recent hours, I don’t think we’ve yet had consultations of that kind.
QUESTION: Ambassador Sherry Rehman is expected to reach Washington this weekend. What kind of challenges do you think she will be facing? Because she comes at an important time when there is a sort of deadlock.
MS. NULAND: She does indeed come at an important time. We’re looking forward to having her here in the United States. We will, obviously, make clear to her that we consider this relationship extremely important. And although it is challenging, although it is difficult, we continue to believe that the United States and Pakistan and citizens throughout the region have an interest in the closer cooperation of our countries, and particularly in defeating the threats that challenge us both, and particularly the threat from terrorism.
QUESTION: Any updates on the supply routes?
MS. NULAND: Any – I don’t have anything for you today, no.
QUESTION: On the subject of Pakistani ambassadors to the U.S., is there anything more than the very little that you’ve had to say this week about former Ambassador Haqqani?
MS. NULAND: Well, just to say again what we’ve been saying, but perhaps a little bit more clearly, while it’s obviously an internal matter for Pakistan and we respect Pakistan’s constitutional and legal processes, we expect that any process for resolving the matter of Ambassador Haqqani will proceed in a way that is fair, that’s transparent, that is as expeditious as possible. We also expect that Ambassador Haqqani will be accorded all due consideration under Pakistani law and in conformity with international legal standards. And we will be watching and monitoring the situation closely.
QUESTION: Could I ask why the change in tone? When I first asked about it this week, you – there was no answer at all. And then it shifted a little bit to we hope that he gets a fair trial, basically. And now, why the amplification today? Pressure from the Hill?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, I think we’ve been watching the situation evolve in Pakistan. We didn’t want to prejudge what the legal situation for him would be. As we’ve watched the situation, we have concluded that it is important for us to speak out, as we do around the world, about the – an appropriate constitutional and legal process for him and to make clear that we’re watching.
QUESTION: Okay. Does that mean --
QUESTION: Has anybody --
QUESTION: Excuse me. Does that mean that you are now more concerned about his case and his position than you were, say, several days ago? That there have been developments which lead you to believe that some – that he might not get a fair, transparent, and expeditious process?
MS. NULAND: The situation is obviously evolving in Pakistan, so we want to see it evolve in a manner that meets the highest international legal standards.
QUESTION: I understand that, but are you more concerned today than you were two days ago about this?
MS. NULAND: I think we’ve always wanted to see this process handled properly. I think there’s a question simply about whether these messages were conveyed privately or whether it wasn’t also appropriate to convey them publicly.
QUESTION: But I guess I’m going to – I’m asking you is – has there been some development to this that has --
MS. NULAND: No. There’s nothing.
QUESTION: -- led you – your concern to grow?
MS. NULAND: There’s nothing in particular.
QUESTION: Has anybody from this Department spoken to Ambassador Haqqani since that meeting in this Department before he left?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think we’ve had any official contact with him, no.
MS. NULAND: I can’t answer that.
QUESTION: What you’re saying from this podium, has this message been conveyed to the Pakistani officials as well?
MS. NULAND: It has, of course, yes.
QUESTION: His wife is in Washington, and she is reaching out to the officials and people, expressing concern for his life in Pakistan. Has she met anybody in this building? Has there been any kind of communication?
MS. NULAND: She has. We have regular contact with her, and we have since he went home.
QUESTION: A new topic? I should have asked it when we were on Syria, but just to go back there, the Arab League chair said today that he was going to ask Hamas to do what they can to get the Assad regime to back down. I’m wondering if you think that’s a viable proposition.
MS. NULAND: It’s an interesting choice. Hamas itself has been an instrument of violence in the past. Frankly, the Syrian people deserve any opportunity for the violence to end.
QUESTION: So in that –
QUESTION: Including from Hamas? Encouragement from Hamas?
MS. NULAND: Look, I’m not going to – we’re not going to get into the middle of the Arab League’s diplomacy. The Arab League’s goals and our goals are the same, which is for the violence to end and for the Syrian people to have the future that they deserve. It is a strange choice, but it’s their choice.
QUESTION: But when you say the Syrian people deserve any opportunity, and we’re talking about Hamas, you’re essentially saying that even having a group that you have formally designated as a terrorist – foreign terrorist organization encourage the Syrians to stop doing violence to their people would be a good thing?
MS. NULAND: If you’re asking, Arshad, whether we think Hamas talking to Assad is going to be the silver bullet that changes the situation in Syria, I would have to say no. That said, we’d like to see as many voices as possible calling for the violence to end.
QUESTION: The silver bullet? Really?
MS. NULAND: You don’t like that – its sense?
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. It just would lead one to believe that you’re encouraging Hamas to assassinate --
MS. NULAND: Oh, my goodness. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- President Assad.
MS. NULAND: Oh, my goodness. All right. Wrong metaphor. Is going to be the golden parachute that is going to – thank you, Matt, for my way out of that misstep.
QUESTION: A quick clarification. You said that Ambassador Haqqani’s wife has reached out to this building. What exactly – has she expressed her apprehension about his safety, about – what --
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak for Mrs. Haqqani. I think you can contact her yourself.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria? The Syrian interior minister has threatened that Syria would strike with iron fist after the attacks in Damascus. What do you expect?
MS. NULAND: Well, as far as we’re concerned, the iron fist has never let up from the Assad regime. So our concern is that matching violence with violence on any side by anyone is not the answer.
QUESTION: But do you actually agree with the – with Syria’s right or with the Syrian regime’s right to go after terrorists, in this case, that have exploded bombs and killed innocent people?
MS. NULAND: In the past, we had quite – we had appropriate counterterrorism cooperation with the Government of Syria. As I said at the top, when we first started talking about Syria, we don’t know who did this. The accusations are flying in all directions from all types.
QUESTION: But Syria does have a right – I mean, to exercise that right in pursuit of such terrorists, correct?
MS. NULAND: All countries have the right to countermand terrorism on their territory, but appropriately and within international law.
QUESTION: A new topic?
MS. NULAND: Please.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the Bagram detention center be closed and the detainees be --
MS. NULAND: We talked about this at length yesterday. We did. So I don’t think we --
QUESTION: Is there anything new for us? No?
MS. NULAND: I don’t think so. We’re going to continue to work with the Afghans on this. We need to do it in a manner that ensures that it’s done right, and that’s our plan.
QUESTION: He asked for one-month deadline in seeking one entire thing (inaudible) one month, and you said you didn’t give us any deadline for the timeline for that.
MS. NULAND: Again, we don’t want to --
QUESTION: Are you meeting that one-month timeline?
MS. NULAND: We’ve been having these consultations for some time. There are a huge number of technical issues that are involved. We’re not going to set an artificial deadline, but we’re obviously as interested as the Afghan side is in doing this right and doing it expeditiously.
QUESTION: The other day on Wednesday, you said that your memory – although you noted you hadn’t checked it – was that the Secretary had spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas in December. Have you now had a chance to check? Do you have the dates on which – can we ask what are the dates when they last spoke?
MS. NULAND: Arshad, I knew you were going to do this at the podium. I should have brought my dates. I don’t have my dates, but I can confirm that she last spoke to President Abbas in November. I believe it was in late November. If you need the date, we’ll get it for you. I misspoke when I said yesterday it was inside December. She has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu more recently. She’s obviously talked to Tony Blair a number of times as well and to Foreign Minister Judeh in the context of the latest round.
QUESTION: My impression was that both those conversations with Abbas and Netanyahu were in – although Netanyahu was indeed after Abbas, that both were November, correct?
MS. NULAND: There were conversations with both Abbas and Netanyahu in November. There were – there was at least one conversation with Netanyahu in December, which was on other subjects.
QUESTION: Can you get us the dates on all those?
MS. NULAND: We will. We will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Turkey quickly, yesterday former Turkish military chief got arrested. Do you have any read on that?
MS. NULAND: On the arrest of the former chief of the armed forces of Turkey?
QUESTION: Yesterday, yes, last night.
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously monitoring developments in this case as well. It’s quite a high-profile case in the ongoing Erdogan case. We have urged the Turkish Government to ensure that the investigations, any prosecutions in this – in these cases proceed in a transparent manner, that all the defendants be assured due process in accordance with international standards, and that should be the case, obviously, with regard to the former chief of staff of the armed forces.
QUESTION: When did you urge them of this? Today?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve been urging it all along since this round of prosecutions began. I don't have specifics, but I’m confident that the Embassy has, again, made those demarches to the Turkish Government in recent days.
QUESTION: Is there any way you can (inaudible) as what kind of respond have you been receiving? It has been about a couple years now that you have been urging Turkish Government.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Turkish Government obviously knows that we’re monitoring this closely and that we want to see the Turkish constitution upheld and international standards upheld.
QUESTION: Just as new one, a quick one on South Sudan: The White House put out a statement today the President has deemed South Sudan eligible to receive defense articles and defense services from the U.S. I’m wondering if you can tell us, does – is there – are there any discussions underway to actually get them defense articles and defense services? Is that something that they have asked for or that we contemplate doing in the near future?
MS. NULAND: For South Sudan?
MS. NULAND: Well, we have, from the beginning and even before we got to statehood, been open to conversations that they wanted to have with us about how they would secure their borders, defend themselves in the future. So those conversations are ongoing. I am not aware that we’ve come to any conclusions about what they might need and about how – what we might be able to provide. They are still, as you know, in the process of looking at their national security forces, et cetera.
QUESTION: And would – I’m sorry. Would those discussions be held through – done through the State Department or be done through the Defense Department?
MS. NULAND: Well, generally, these kinds of military-to-military things are done in both channels. But with regard to acquisition and those kinds of things, it is our officials here who do that.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’ve got one more.
MS. NULAND: One more.
QUESTION: Would you explain what the State Department’s role was in this case of this child who was accidentally or mistakenly deported to Colombia?
MS. NULAND: I can’t do too much on our specific role for the reasons that always drive you crazy, Matt. But we can confirm that Ms. Turner has now departed Colombia. She’s on her way back to the United States. Can also confirm that throughout this incident, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota worked very closely with Colombian authorities and with officials in Dallas on her case. This began, obviously, in mid-December, when the case was first brought to our attention.
QUESTION: How did a mistake like this happen?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not, again, going to get into the details. I can’t get into the details because of some of the Privacy Act considerations. But her family’s had quite a bit to say about how they believe it happened, and we’ll see what the young lady herself has to say when she arrives back in the States.
QUESTION: Can you explain why – can you explain at least a little bit why – what the State Department’s role was outside of the Embassy assisting?
MS. NULAND: You mean what was done here in the Department?
QUESTION: Yeah. Because there seems to be a big blame game going on here between ICE, which refers questions to the State Department, and then the State Department refuses to answer them until you just gave that response just now.
MS. NULAND: I don’t --
QUESTION: I mean, somebody screwed up here big time. And hiding behind the Privacy Act on accountability issues – I don’t know. I mean, whoever is to blame, whether – I find it hard to believe it’s the State Department’s fault because you don’t deport people.
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: But that’s why I want to know what the State Department’s role was outside of the actual Embassy going to find her, make sure she was okay.
MS. NULAND: I mean, my understanding was that we didn’t have any involvement at all in this case until it came to light that there may be a problem with an American minor in Colombia, and that – and then we became involved both with Colombian authorities and with folks in Dallas. With regard to the circumstances of the deportation and all of the events that happened before she arrived in Colombia, we’re going to send you back to the Department of Homeland Security and the Customs Enforcement.
QUESTION: Okay. But you – the – so the first time that this building or the Embassy there became aware of this was when – it was after this person was already in Colombia.
MS. NULAND: That is my understanding. If that turns out to be incorrect, we will fix it.
QUESTION: One on --
MS. NULAND: Lach. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. You – yesterday, you didn’t know if Assistant Secretary Feltman was discuss – was meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood. Do you have any ideas --
MS. NULAND: He did not meet with any party representatives during this trip. Obviously, our Embassy does regularly.
QUESTION: Why not? They’re --
MS. NULAND: Well, we’re in the middle of an election season. I think if he had met with one, he would have had to meet with all of them, so – please.
QUESTION: Yeah. But what does that say about the historic shift?
MS. NULAND: As I said, our Embassy’s in – has got an open door for these parties.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on 21st Century Statecraft before we go on Twitter?
MS. NULAND: Yes, before we go and do our 21st Century Statecraft.
QUESTION: You said you have 193 social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and other things. Does it include the hundred embassies or just the State Department?
MS. NULAND: No. We have 193 total for the Department and its embassies and consulates abroad. About a hundred of our embassies make use of these sites, so some 90-ish on the home front, and some hundred-ish around the world.
QUESTION: And you have invited these Twitter questions in 10 different languages. In how many languages do you have these social media accounts? Do you have any --
MS. NULAND: Well, the Department manages Twitter feeds in these 10 languages. In addition to that – and I can give you the languages. It’s English, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu at the moment, and we’re looking to expand. This means that when I come and see all of you, the key interesting nuggets from this briefing get translated by the Department and sent out in the languages on our Twitter feed. When the Secretary speaks, when our principals speak, the same thing, and we take questions back in those languages.
But in addition to that, a number of our embassies – not all of them with Twitter and Facebook, but a number of them – also have national language accounts and use their local embassy staff to support those.
QUESTION: And can you also give us the kind of feedback that you give – get of the response in terms of the number of followers you have both on Twitter and Facebook, all clumped together?
MS. NULAND: We tried to look at some of the numbers. We’ve got more than 200,000 here on the Department’s accounts. Just in the last 24 hours, since we announced this Ask State initiative and the Twitter briefing, we’ve had more than 500 tweets using the #askState hashtag, and we’ve generated more than 4.4 million impressions, and we’ve reached, we believe, about 3.7 million people.
QUESTION: How many of those tweets are asking about Baluchistan?
MS. NULAND: They’re all asking about Matt Lee and when his vacation begins. We wish you a great vacation, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)