U.S. Department of State
On-Camera Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, March 28, 2013
1:37 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson
— Calls for Investigation into Deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero
— Inspections of NGOs
— Benefits for Same-Sex Domestic Partners of Department Employees
— Accreditation of Same-Sex Partners of Foreign Diplomats
— Support for Calls for Investigation into Paya and Cepero Deaths
— Amb. McFaul and Under Secretary Sherman Conversations with Counterparts
— NGO Inspections
— Russian Military Exercises in Black Sea / OSCE / Vienna Document
— Special Immigrant Visas
— McFaul and Sherman Meetings with Russian Counterparts
— Max Shatto / Autopsy Report
— Continue to Look at All Available Options for a Peaceful End to the Conflict
— Al-Qaida Affiliates / Concern about Radicalization of Opposition
— Reported Mortar Attack on Damascus University
— UN Chemical Weapons Investigation
— Opposition Leadership
— Stealth Bombers / Missile Defense
— Secretary Kerry’s Diplomacy / Upcoming Trip to Asia
— Acting Assistant Secretary Joseph Yun Trip
— Reports of Incident in South China Sea / Seeking Clarification
— Chinese Naval Exercises
— President Thein Sein’s Speech / Security Measures should Protect Human Rights
— Arrest Warrants Issued for Political Activists / Other Cases of Brutality Not Investigated
— Secretary Will Continue to Work with the Parties
— al-Qaida in North Africa
— Cyber Attacks
— UN Sanctions Monitoring
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 52
THURSDAY, MARCH 28, 2013
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
1:37 p.m. EDT
MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Thursday, everybody. I apologize that we are so late. As you know, I was out for a couple of days and I was a little bit behind. I have a number of things at the top, so please do bear with me as we go through these.
First of all, with regard to Cuba, the United States supports the calls for an investigation with independent international observers into the circumstances leading to the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in Cuba. The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths. The United States will continue to advocate for the rights of all Cubans to speak out in defense of human rights and democracy.
The next is with regard to the unprecedented wave of inspections of NGOs in Russia. The United States is deeply concerned by the unprecedented wave of inspections of nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups across Russia, including now religious and educational organizations. These inspections appear to be aimed at undermining important civil society activities across the country. We’ve shared our concerns with the Government of Russia, and we also remain disturbed by the series of laws that were passed by the Government of Russia in 2012 and that are continuing to be looked at in 2013 which impose harsh restrictions on NGO activity in Russia. The United States will continue voicing our concerns both privately and publicly as we strive for open dialogue on civil society and human rights issues with the Government of Russia and civil society groups, and we continue to support those in Russia who are seeking to strengthen civil society in their country, as we do globally.
The last set of issues goes to some questions that you all were asking of Patrick yesterday, I think in the context of the Supreme Court’s current deliberation on same-sex marriage issues. I think you asked what the Department’s policy is with regard to our own employees and then with regard to the accreditation of foreign diplomats here.
So, first with regard to State Department benefits for same-sex domestic partners of our employees: For a number of years now the State Department has been pleased to extend a full range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of members of the Foreign Service who are sent to serve abroad. We are also – we are able to make them official family members for this purpose. Furthermore, all Department benefits created in the future will be extended to same-sex partners if allowed by law. We are committed to doing everything possible within the law to ensure equality. This includes on overseas postings, issuing diplomatic passports for U.S. citizens, inclusion on employee travel orders to and from post of same-sex partners, use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation services, training at the Foreign Service Institute, and consideration for employment in family member jobs and other jobs available at post for domestic partners.
Domestically, there are a number of benefits where family members of Department employees are already covered. This includes long-term care insurance; regular sick leave, which includes caring for a domestic partner following childbirth; access to information and referral services for things like long-term medical care and Diplotots child care. However, under the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex domestic partners do not have access to federal programs like health insurance.
Then with regard to visas for same-sex partners of foreign diplomats, same-sex domestic partners may now qualify as an immediate family member of a foreign government official who is going to be posted in the United States for the purposes of either an A diplomatic visa or a G visa for services at an international organization in the United States. The sending state has to recognize the same-sex domestic partner as an immediate family member, and the sending state also has to provide reciprocal treatment for our same-sex domestic partners in their country. So those are the terms under which we offer A and G visas for same-sex partners of diplomats serving here and those going to international organizations.
QUESTION: You say “may now qualify.” That means that this is the current state, not as in as of now?
MS. NULAND: Right. This is how we currently – it has been going on for some time.
QUESTION: Can I check one thing on that --
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- just to make sure I understood it right? With regard to the provision of benefits to the same-sex partners of Department of State employees, the phrase you used was, “For a number of years, we have provided a full range” --
MS. NULAND: Should’ve been “the full range.”
QUESTION: The full range.
MS. NULAND: The full range. I apologize. Should’ve been “the.”
QUESTION: So – and --
MS. NULAND: Central article.
QUESTION: Yeah. And just as a general principle, is it correct – would it be correct to understand that essentially you provide all the benefits that you can that are permissible under U.S. law?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Great. And then one other thing. On Cuba, is this a new policy, that you support an investigation into the deaths of Mr. Paya and the other gentleman, or is that a longstanding position?
(Audio feedback interruption.)
MS. NULAND: Are we okay? All right. Yeah, that was maybe the ghost of, right?
We have been supporting this privately. It had been an – we had not had a chance to make a public statement that we are supportive of this. As you know, a number of human rights groups are coming out publicly. We thought we should add our voice to it as loudly and clearly as possible.
QUESTION: Before we go on, can I ask about Russia?
MS. NULAND: Yes, please.
QUESTION: How would you share your concerns with the Russians? Is it at the ambassadorial level or higher or –
MS. NULAND: Ambassador McFaul has been in to see Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov in Moscow. Under Secretary Sherman has also raised our concerns directly with her Russian counterparts, and we will continue to look at other opportunities to make our views known.
QUESTION: So you reject outright this notion that these investigations are looking into extremism or money laundering, as the Russians have claimed?
MS. NULAND: The sheer scope of these inspections now, which are now, as I said, targeting not just NGOs who are subject to the changes under Russian law but also targeting civil organizations that are not subject to those laws like religious organizations, educational organizations, really gives us concern that this is some kind of a witch hunt.
QUESTION: And how do you – you said you still support these civil society groups. How are you doing that in light of all the restrictions now for any group that receives financial support from the United States or from U.S.-funded aid organizations?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the Russians have put considerable restrictions on our ability to provide direct funding in Russia, particularly by their decision to close down our AID operation. However, we are providing funding through platforms outside of Russia for those organizations that continue to want to work with us, understanding that they have to report that work now to their own government. We have – but I don’t want to get into too many details about how we do that, because it will only endanger the programs and the receiving organizations.
QUESTION: But as egregious as this law is in your eyes, you think they should still report --
MS. NULAND: They have a --
QUESTION: -- this money?
MS. NULAND: I mean, we think that these laws are extremely restrictive, that they are chilling the environment for civil society, which is taking Russian democracy in the wrong direction. As we talk about all around the world, civil society is an essential component of a vibrant democracy. They are now required, because these laws have passed, to report their earnings. So that is – from outside sources – so that is now a Russian law. As I said, we have concerns about the law. If they choose to work with us anyway, we are able to do that through other means now, and we are quite active in making that understood and known to these organizations if they want to continue to have support.
QUESTION: But you don’t have a sense of how much money this is, do you?
MS. NULAND: I think in our budget statement it’s pretty clear how much we still put into civil society. I don’t have the numbers here. But again, I want to protect how we do it to protect those organizations.
QUESTION: And Toria, just to be clear –
MS. NULAND: Jill.
QUESTION: -- are there any strictly American NGOs left that might not be (inaudible)? I know there are Russian ones and some international ones, but anything American specifically?
MS. NULAND: There are some American registered NGOs that still operate. They’re largely in the human rights area. I’ll let them speak for themselves about – if they choose to draw attention to themselves. And there are a number of international and global NGOs who have been subject to these inspections over recent days and weeks.
QUESTION: On Russia but not NGO related, today the Russians began a major exercise on the Black Sea. It was unannounced. It was on Putin’s trip back from the BRICS meeting in Durbin. But it is interpreted as a provocative by Ukraine and Georgia. Do you have any comment?
MS. NULAND: Well, Russia has exercised in the Black Sea before. That is not particularly new. We have under the OSCE a document called the Vienna Document, which is a security transparency document among all of the OSCE countries. So what we look for when we see exercises in the Black Sea, frankly by any state, is that they conform with Vienna Document procedures.
QUESTION: So you have no problem with that as long it does conform to –
MS. NULAND: If they conform with Vienna Document, we’re fine with it.
Please, can you tell me who you are.
QUESTION: Yes. Hillery Gallasch with German television. The United States has a special immigrant visa program for Afghans that worked on behalf of the U.S. Government –
MS. NULAND: For Afghans?
QUESTION: Yes, that worked on behalf of the U.S. Government in Afghanistan. Can you tell us why?
MS. NULAND: We have such a program for Afghanistan. We have such a program for Iraq. This speaks to the issue that there have been occasions, particularly in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, where individuals who worked with us either working with the military or working with the civilians have faced hardship, difficulty, persecution as a result of their affiliation with us. They have been able to document their concerns for their own safety, the safety of their family; and we, because of their service to us, provide this special opportunity for them to apply to come to the United States, to document that they won’t be safe in their home country, and then we adjudicate on that basis.
QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Russia thing for just one moment?
MS. NULAND: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: When did Ambassador McFaul meet – I think you said it was Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov?
MS. NULAND: Ryabkov, yeah.
QUESTION: Ryabkov. And then when did Under Secretary Sherman raise this with her counterpart?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is Under Secretary Sherman’s conversation was on Monday. I think Ambassador McFaul has raised this with a number of officials. I know that his – I believe his conversation with Ryabkov was on Tuesday, but I can check the detail for you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Another Russia question, please.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The obituary of the young boy who died, the adopted boy, has come out.
MS. NULAND: The Max – Max Shatto?
QUESTION: Max, yeah. And I believe –
QUESTION: You mean the autopsy?
QUESTION: The autopsy. I’m sorry.
MS. NULAND: The autopsy?
QUESTION: Yes. The obituary. Yes, the autopsy officially came out. We understand the Russians got a copy of that. Was there a role of the State Department since it was given to one of their diplomats? What’s the role that the State Department played, if any, and have you had any reaction from the Russian Government?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that the autopsy report, the full report, became public as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request by a U.S. news organization, and when they got hold of it, somebody there passed it onto Russian officials. It’s possible – and I’ll check on this, Jill – that we got it at the same time as a result of the FOIA and that we did facilitate giving it to the Russian side. I just don’t know. But I know that it was originally FOIA’d by a U.S. news organization.
QUESTION: So you can check that and –
MS. NULAND: Yeah --
QUESTION: -- any type of role that the U.S. Government –
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, and as a general matter, whether it was in this case or any other adoption cases, we do try to facilitate contact between Russian officials and the family, if that is desired on both sides.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Norwegian General Robert Mood, the last high UN official to serve as a monitor in Syria, is calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone. Are you aware of his call, and do you support that?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen these press reports. As we have said for a number of weeks, if not months, here, Said, we continue to look at all available options – I think we said this, Secretary Clinton said this way back in August – to support a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria. We always are looking to see whether this – steps like this are both feasible, practical, and will save more lives than they hurt.
QUESTION: He said that such a no-fly zone would provide a level playing field for the opposition. Is that the kind of thinking that you – that be prevailing in this building?
MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about here, Secretary Kerry’s talked about it, Secretary Clinton before him talked about it. There are a number of considerations that go into how you do this, and a lot of it goes to the actual details of how you implement it. But we continue to look at all options.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) refugees?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you have seen the reports that Turkey’s apparently deporting some Syrian refugees after there were clashes in the camp which were triggered by a fire in which a child was killed. Have you seen the reports, and what is the reaction?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen press reporting. I’m not in a position here to confirm these reports. I would send you to the Turkish side.
QUESTION: Victoria, there are incessant reports that al-Nusrah, Jabhat al-Nusrah, which you have listed on the terrorist list, is actually becoming the largest – attracting more fighters, more foreign fighters, is being financed and supplied with arms more than anybody else. Does that pose a real problem for you in terms of providing aid to the opposition?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, I would take issue with your characterization that they are the largest organization. I would remind that we have been concerned for a very long time about efforts by al-Qaida affiliated extremists, including that group, to try to infiltrate the legitimate opposition and try to radicalize it. We’ve also talked here about liberated towns, particularly in the north of Syria where al-Qaida affiliates have tried to become the lead administrator, have tried to impose foreign imams, have tried to impose very harsh systems of the justice, and the local population has been rejecting it.
So in all of our work with the opposition, whether it’s on the political side, whether it’s on the military side, we are urging extreme vigilance with regard to these efforts to radicalize the legitimate opposition. And we are trying to help those who are looking at this to be sure that they are appropriately vetting folks that they are working with.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the mortar that hit Damascus University?
MS. NULAND: Thank you for that, Brad. We are very concerned about the increased tempo in clashes in the Damascus area, and particularly this reported mortar attack on Damascus University’s faculty of architecture building earlier today, which reportedly resulted in some 10 dead. We don’t have any information to confirm who may be responsible. We would say once again that all sides need to be absolutely vigilant in avoiding attacks on civilians and to ensure that their actions are in accordance with international law.
QUESTION: Are you worried that the rebel attacks are increasingly – seem to be in a trajectory where they’re increasingly targeting innocent civilians as well?
MS. NULAND: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I would say that all the way along we’ve been concerned about indiscriminate use of force, about civilians in the crossfire, whether it’s from the regime side or whether it’s on the opposition side. This again speaks to what we were talking about, about the effort of al-Qaida extremists to infiltrate the legitimate opposition. And we know that they have very little interest in human life or civilian life.
So this is further to the message that we give the Free Syrian Army and others, that not only do they need to ensure that their own actions comport with international law, whether it’s in the way they try to defend the Syrian people or whether it’s in the way they treat areas that are liberated or their own prisoners, but they also need to be extremely concerned about those who come offering them weapons and support who don’t have the best interests of the Syrian people at heart.
QUESTION: Victoria --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) chemical weapon investigation by the UN, there are reports that the Syrian Government does not give the full access the UN investigation mission wants it. Is – you have same information, or what is your stance on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, as Patrick said a couple of days ago, you note now that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has announced a couple of days ago that he was appointing Ake Sellstrom of Sweden to head the fact-finding mission. Our understanding from our UN contacts is that they intend to try to make their way into Syria within the next week. It is incumbent on the Assad regime, who we would remind initially said that they wanted this investigation, to allow the group in on the timetable that it wants, to allow them access to any site in Syria that they want, to any individual that they want to interview, and to be able to pursue their work fully, clearly, thoroughly, transparently, and in a manner that gives the international community and the Syrian people confidence that this investigation is complete and is accurate.
QUESTION: So what you hear would confirm these reports that the Syrian Government does not give the access, or you don’t have that kind of information?
MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to advise whether visas have been applied for or what that conversation between the UN and Syria is like. I’ll send you to the UN. We will be watching that they not be restricted in any way.
QUESTION: And this no-fly zone issue, what not only General Mood but also there was a report on The Washington Post that President Obama is considering this more seriously. Is there any way that you can give us more that – the recent discussions on the no-fly zone are in any way changing?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of our internal discussions. The President said when he was on his trip to the Middle East, the Secretary has said virtually every day that he’s been asked about Syria, that we continue to look at what more we can and should do.
QUESTION: I wonder if I can take you back a little bit through the mortar issue and the identity of the perpetrators, because this is a favorite weapon of al-Qaida. They have done it in Iraq. Now they’re coming into Syria. It has all the fingerprints of the opposition. So can you talk a little more about the perpetrators in this case?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, I said that I wasn’t in a position to say anything about who did it. We, frankly, don’t have that information.
Elise, way in the back.
QUESTION: Can we move on to North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Let’s just finish Syria.
QUESTION: Syria, one last one.
MS. NULAND: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: What is the Administration’s objection to imposing a no-fly zone over Syria? Is it that you do not have UN authorization to do that? Is it that imposing a no-fly zone would inevitably require attacking – taking out their air defense systems? I mean, what is the nub of the U.S. Government’s opposition to this?
MS. NULAND: Arshad, I’m going to respectfully decline to give you details of our internal deliberations, except to say again what I have said before, what the Secretary said, what the President has said, is that we continue to look at all appropriate options.
QUESTION: But I’m not looking for --
MS. NULAND: I understand.
QUESTION: -- details of your internal deliberations, right? I mean, it’s a fact that the Administration, since it has not imposed a no-fly zone lo these two years, this is not a new idea, that you don’t want to do this. And I don’t want to – I’m not interested in hearing what Tom Donilon – well, I am, actually, but I don’t expect you to tell me what Donilon said and what --
MS. NULAND: Oh, good.
QUESTION: -- Panetta said, and so on.
MS. NULAND: Oh, good.
QUESTION: But I think it’s reasonable to ask as a matter of public record why you oppose this.
MS. NULAND: And again, Arshad, I am going to first take issue with your premise. I don’t think that we’ve made a determination one way or the other. We’re continuing to look at all options. I’m not going to get into any further details.
QUESTION: Can I ask about what your understanding is of the position of Mr. Khatib following his announcement earlier this week that he was going to resign and which then he seemed to go back on?
MS. NULAND: Patrick talked about this a little bit over the course of the week. And obviously I would refer you to President Khatib. Our understanding is that he has now said that he will fulfill his responsibilities. He was named president for six months. That takes you a little while longer. Our understanding is that he and PM Hitto and various other members of the opposition remain in dialogue with each other about the best way forward.
As Patrick said earlier in the week, as the Secretary has said, our emphasis with all of them is on unity, is on effectiveness, and on their continuing to be able to demonstrate to the Syrian people both by the way they support those Syrians who are now in liberated areas in terms of their humanitarian need, their administrative need, their security needs, et cetera, but also in terms of the vision that they put forward of a better, different, more democratic political future for their country, that they continue to demonstrate their ability to lead well, their organizational skills, their responsiveness to the Syrian people. And that’s what we’re emphasizing in our discussions with all of them.
QUESTION: Is there a danger that he might then be seen as a lame duck leader, if we know that he’s going to be leaving at the end of – well, it’d be about four months now, I would think?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think these terms were set at six months so that there could be – so that they could continue to work on what the transitional – formal transitional structures would look like, what the permanent structures that they would propose to the Syrian people would look like. Again, I’m not going to get into their internal discussion, except to say that we value our relationship with al-Khatib, we value our relationship with Hitto. We are emphasizing to all of them to remain unified, remain effective, and to keep their eye on the ball, which is to help the Syrian people now and to demonstrate how they can continue to help them achieve their aspirations in the future.
QUESTION: But given how difficult it was to actually get Mr. al-Khatib appointed, isn’t the danger more that instead of focusing on all the things that you mentioned about unity and helping the people on the ground that it just becomes another prolonged kind of leadership battle in some ways?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would note that all of them were in Doha together, including Mr. Hitto and the three vice presidents. Al-Khatib was also there. So what’s important to us is that they continue working together on a better future for Syria.
Okay. Was there something on your side? No?
QUESTION: Yeah. On North Korea --
MS. NULAND: Let’s let Elise take the first one on North Korea since she --
QUESTION: On North Korea, in response to kind of these – now the U.S. stealth bombers are there, I’m wondering if that’s an action that is kind of going to provoke North Korea more. Because you’ve talked about some of the actions that they’ve taken, cut off communications, having their forces at the ready; you call those provocative actions. I’m wondering if you’re kind of raising to their rhetoric and are going to get into some kind of cycle where neither one of you is able to get out of it.
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to let the Pentagon speak to the bomber issue, but just to confirm what they’ve confirmed already that we are flying these aircraft, just as we are also looking at strengthening missile defenses in the United States against the DPRK threat. When a country says the kinds of things that the DPRK is saying, you have to take it seriously and you have to take steps to ensure that when we say in response we can and will defend our own nation and we can and will defend our allies, that that is credible.
So it just continues this pattern that we’ve had that the North Koreans, by these provocative actions they’re taking, by their rhetoric, are only isolating themselves. They are the ones that are causing us to have to ensure that our defenses are appropriate and strong both for ourselves and for our allies. But as the President has said, it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a different way to proceed. North Korea can come out of its isolation if it is willing to meet its international obligations, if it’s willing to fulfill its commitments, including on denuclearization. But in the meantime, we’re going to do what we need to do to defend ourselves and our allies.
QUESTION: But North Korea has made these kind of threats all through the years. I mean, there’s nothing really more provocative about some of the other threats that they’ve made over the years, and it seems that this is a much more robust kind of U.S. response to these threats.
MS. NULAND: Because they’re continuing to test and they’re continuing to try to extend the length of their own weaponry. I would also say, as you know, that Secretary Kerry is planning to visit Northeast Asia in about a week and a half. He’ll be in Seoul, he’ll be in Tokyo, and he’ll be in Beijing, and all of those – these stops we expect that discussions about the DPRK will be very much front and center in his conversations with leaders.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about (inaudible)?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on North Korea?
QUESTION: Just one quick thing on the question. What else is he doing right now in terms – I know he’s been traveling, but his personal diplomacy at this point or
MS. NULAND: On the DPRK?
QUESTION: On the DPRK.
MS. NULAND: He’s maintained regular contact with counterparts. As you know, he had a phone call not too long ago with his South Korean counterpart. We expect them – the new South Korean Foreign Minister to visit here and have a bilateral meeting with him sometime next week. He’s had regular phone calls with his Chinese counterpart and with State Councilor Yang, and we obviously have been in close contact with our Japanese allies as well.
QUESTION: Acting Assistant Secretary Joseph Yun, he is on a visit to Korea and China and Japan. Do you have anything on that, as to what he --
MS. NULAND: His visit is primarily to prepare the way for the Secretary’s trip and to talk about all the issues we want to ensure are on the agenda for that trip.
QUESTION: On North Korea again, North Korea announced yesterday the number one (inaudible) combat readiness.
MS. NULAND: The number one?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) combat readiness. What do you think the North Korean security crisis solution is?
MS. NULAND: You’ll have to ask them, but that’s a decision that they’ve made.
QUESTION: Since we’re in Asia --
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and you outlined some conversations that are going on with the Chinese and others, do you have any more clarification on this flare incident that occurred between China and Vietnam and the South China Sea?
MS. NULAND: You’re talking about the Chinese --
QUESTION: The Chinese naval --
MS. NULAND: -- fishing vessel that appears --
QUESTION: No, Chinese --
MS. NULAND: -- vessel that appears to have fired on a --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: But the question, I think, at the time, was whether it had actually fired on it or passed it, whether it had set it on fire or not.
MS. NULAND: We are concerned about these reports that there was an incident between a Chinese vessel and a Vietnamese fishing boat that resulted in the Vietnamese boat catching on fire. We are asking for clarification from both the Chinese side and the Vietnamese side. You know how strongly we oppose the threat or use of force or coercion by any claimant in the South China Sea.
MS. NULAND: And we are ensuring all parties to ensure maritime safety and to refrain from actions that undermine the prospect that these issues can be settled diplomatically.
QUESTION: And it’s been a couple days now. Do you have any clarification on how that fishing vessel ended up on fire? I noticed you used a passive voice, “It resulted in a -- ”
MS. NULAND: Suffice to say that there is a discrepancy in the tale told by the two sides.
QUESTION: Okay. And then I asked also – and this was more a principle question on Chinese naval exercises near Malaysia, and whether the U.S. has any problems with naval exercises in international waters, but in waters that one country claims as its exclusive economic zone.
MS. NULAND: Well, first, with regard to the Malaysian exercise, and then we’ll go on to naval activity in EEZs, if that is all right, Brad.
MS. NULAND: So we’ve seen these reports that the Chinese navy is conducting military operations near disputed islands in the South China Sea along the Malaysian coast. Until the region develops a common strategy for managing and preventing disputes, assertive actions by claimants could raise the risk of tensions, or the risk of conflict. So we urge claimants to take that into account when they plan their military operations in disputed and currently occupied – currently unoccupied land features, that this could cause contention, there could be unexpected consequences, there could, in fact, be conflict, and we urge all claimants to avoid taking provocative actions.
That said, under international law, all states enjoy the freedom of navigation and overflight as well as other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to those freedoms in the exclusive economic zone of a coastal state. And these activities do include military activity. So the concern is about the existing political tensions, exercises looking provocative or incidents being sparked unintentionally, but as a legal matter, the – I spoke to the actual legal situation in EEZs.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Please.
QUESTION: Can I ask, what is this whole thing about this – just – you used the word – you talked about your concerns about coercion. Are you meaning to imply that the flare incident you regard as an act of coercion?
MS. NULAND: Two different things. That was with regard to Vietnam. We’re now talking about Chinese military exercises in --
QUESTION: I have one.
MS. NULAND: Please, here.
QUESTION: Just briefly, going back to North Korea, do you have – at this point, do you have any reason to believe they will abide by their international obligations and come into line, or do any of your counterparts in South Korea or Japan have any optimism?
MS. NULAND: We haven’t seen any positive steps in recent weeks. That’s why we are continuing to work with our partners on how we can get our message across.
QUESTION: Can I ask on Myanmar?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I wondered if the State Department had seen today the speech by President Thein Sein, in which he said that he rejected all forms of religious extremism, but as a last resort, if needed to be, he would put down the unrest with force.
MS. NULAND: Thank you for that, Jo. We are aware of President Thein Sein’s speech today, which was televised across Burma. We support his call for tolerance and mutual respect, for democracy, for religious pluralism and transparency. These were messages that his country did need to hear from their president. We also continue to encourage the government, in its efforts to restore calm, to do so in a manner that respects human rights and due process of law. We note that he did say that he would use force as a last resort if it was necessary to protect citizens. We underscore, once again, that security measures should protect human rights, not violate them.
MS. NULAND: Please, yeah.
QUESTION: Egypt? Egypt?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Egypt. Do you have any update on the arrest or investigations with the political activists in Egypt?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have too much of an update, Samir, but let me say that we are concerned by reports that arrest warrants were issued for Egyptian political activists. We urge the Egyptian authorities to release information concerning the charges and the evidence against these activists. It’s our understanding that no actual arrests have been made at this time.
We are also concerned that this case is being investigated while other cases, including cases where demonstrators were attacked outside of the presidential palace in December or where there were cases of extreme police brutality, have not been appropriately investigated, or the cases of the illegal blocking of entry by journalists to Media City. So we urge that all investigations be done evenhandedly and that this be conducted transparently. And obviously, we urge the Government of Egypt, once again, to take all measures to prevent violence and to protect people who are trying to protest peacefully.
QUESTION: The Middle East peace process?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Now that Secretary Kerry is back and after all the talks with President Obama there, is there any ideas on the way forward?
MS. NULAND: Well, as he said at the time when he was having his meetings and before, Secretary Kerry was asked to follow up on the President’s meeting. He did so with both President Abbas and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s just gotten back. He actually landed last night. He’s now got to consult interagency, and he will continue to take soundings with the parties. So I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to continue to work with the parties to develop some concrete ideas about how to proceed.
QUESTION: But there’s nothing yet?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce here today. As you can tell, the Secretary is very much trying to work with everybody to figure out the best way forward, as the President asked him to do.
QUESTION: So are there any plans to, let’s say, start talks at the envoy level?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything to announce at this point, Said.
QUESTION: Is anyone replacing Mr. David Hale?
MS. NULAND: Say again?
QUESTION: Anyone replacing Mr. David Hale?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make either.
QUESTION: Okay. I want to ask you also on a delegation by the Arab League that is set to travel to Washington to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative. Do you know anything about that?
MS. NULAND: I don’t. When were they due to come?
QUESTION: Well, they will be coming in --
MS. NULAND: Let me see if we have any more information on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And I just have a couple more on the issue of the settlements. Israel announced that it will give the settlers 37 percent of what they call government-owned land in the West Bank, in the occupied West Bank, Israeli control or what’s considered about 400,000 acres of land in the West Bank. It’s there to its own use. It has allocated 37 percent of that to the use of the settlers and .7 percent to the Palestinians, mainly in the Hebron area. It’s like 16 times to the settlers what they have given to the (inaudible). Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that today. Let me see if I can – if there’s anything we want to say on that one.
QUESTION: On Ivory Coast.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You’ll recall that when we were in Abidjan last year, Secretary Clinton and President Ouattara talked about – or agreed, really, that post-electoral crisis justice should be balanced. Human Rights Watch is out with a report today saying that of the 150 people who have been charged in post-electoral violence, the number of people who are Forces Nouvelles or Ouattara supporters is zero. Is that the sort of post-electoral balanced justice that you thought President Ouattara was talking to Secretary Clinton about?
MS. NULAND: I haven’t seen the Human Rights report. Let me take a look at that, and we’ll get you something back on that, Scott.
QUESTION: Something on Tunisia?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you release that generally?
MS. NULAND: Of course, yeah. We’ll put something out.
QUESTION: The U.S. AFRICOM issued a warning that al-Qaida is re-penetrating Tunisia once again. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I also haven’t seen what AFRICOM put out. We’ll take a look at it, but you know our concerns, and we’ve been clear about that in the post-Benghazi period, in the context of the violence in Mali, that we have concerns about efforts of al-Qaida affiliates all across the region to re-infiltrate, to work with each other, to mutually support, et cetera.
QUESTION: Do you feel that maybe some of the governments in the area are helping these elements infiltrate into places like Tunisia and Libya and other places?
MS. NULAND: Our concern, as you know, has been that these new democratic governments don’t have the necessary security capacity to maintain full control of borders, to – and that security is still fragile in a lot of these places. We’ve been very clear about that with regard to Libya, with regard to Tunisia. These are issues that we have offered our support and assistance on, and we will continue to do so.
I got one more in the back. This poor guy’s been patient. Please. Tell me who you are, please.
QUESTION: Zach Biggs, Defense News. Going back to South Korea briefly, have – are there any additional details as far as the South Korean effort to find the source of those cyber attacks from last week that were originally attributed to the North Koreans?
MS. NULAND: Sounds like a question for South Korea, not for us. Okay.
QUESTION: Well, let me just ask, are you concerned at all that that sort of event might trigger greater hostility or really escalate the situation, given the attribution difficulties in any cyber event?
MS. NULAND: As you put it, there are always difficulties in the context of cyber attacks, so this is something that we work on, not just in a Northeast Asia context, but with countries around the world, to try to share best practices, et cetera, going forward, so that we all have a clear picture when something like this happens of what exactly has taken place and what the risks and threats are, not only to us nationally but to partners, et cetera.
And Indira. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you. How are you?
MS. NULAND: Good.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, on North Korea, if there’s an update on the UN – on the effectiveness, how the U.S. sees the effectiveness of the latest UN sanctions, any kind of monitoring of those sanctions or enforcement so far?
MS. NULAND: I don’t know that we have anything that we can share in this format. As you know, the latest round of sanctions passed in – just about two weeks ago, so we’re still in a phase of most nations now ensuring that their national laws conform. Let me see if we have anything that we can share in an unclassified format like this.
QUESTION: I thought since Dan Fried had just come back and David Cohen that maybe you could give us some update on their conversations.
MS. NULAND: Let me see if they have anything that they want to share.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)
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