Excerpts from the United States Department of State daily press briefing:
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Monday. I have nothing at the top, so why don’t we go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Okay, assuming there’s no update on the Secretary’s health, am I correct that everything is the same?
MS. NULAND: Well, other than saying that she is on the mend, we thank all of you for your good wishes, and she’s obviously going to be fine. But as we put out on Saturday, she’s going to be working at home this week.
QUESTION: Okay. Then I just have some logistical questions about the ARB.
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What’s the plan?
MS. NULAND: What’s the plan, how? Would you like to be a little more specific?
QUESTION: Well, when is it going to go up to the Hill? Does – is it – let’s start at the beginning. Is it done? If it is, where is it? Who has seen it? Has it been presented to anybody? When is it going to go to the Hill? When might we expect to see at least the unclassified portion of it?
MS. NULAND: Let me tell you what I can, for the moment. The ARB has completed its work. Its report has gone to the Secretary this morning; she now has it. Our current plan is that we expect that the ARB leads Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mullen will brief the SFRC and the HFAC on Wednesday at their request in closed session. And then the Secretary’s deputies – Deputy Secretary Burns and Deputy Secretary Nides – will brief SFRC and HFAC on Thursday at their request in open session, responding to the report and talking about the path forward.
So that’s our current plan, and obviously, we will give you more as we can.
QUESTION: Okay, well, the most important part about this is when are we going to see it?
MS. NULAND: Is what happens with you all. Well, first of all, my understanding is that the report has both an unclassified and a classified section. The entire report, at the Secretary’s direction, will be made available to the Hill sometime before the classified briefings —
QUESTION: On Wednesday?
MS. NULAND: — on Wednesday, sometime before they do their testimony in closed session, so that the members will have had a chance to look at it. We will make available to you the open parts of the ARB report as soon thereafter as we can.
QUESTION: So you can expect that on Wednesday?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think it’s probably going to be Wednesday when you see it, but I’m just not in a position to completely confirm all those details at the moment.
QUESTION: Toria, can you expand on why Secretary Clinton can’t testify on Thursday about this? It seems that she has not been available to testify on the Benghazi situation on some very key dates, including the Sunday after 9/11 and now this Thursday.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, Justin, let me say again, the Secretary had anticipated testifying; she had committed to do so with the two committee chairs. As we put out on Saturday, she is still under the weather. She was diagnosed as having suffered a concussion, and her doctors have urged her to stay home this week. So it’s on that basis that she’s asked for the committees’ understanding, and the two committees have been very understanding to have her two deputies come up this week to testify in open session as they will on Thursday. But it was her intention to be there. If she had not been ill, she would be there. And she’s also committed, including in a letter today to the committee chairmen, that she looks forward to having an ongoing conversation with them herself.
QUESTION: Can you say why – or when rather – she suffered the concussion and why then on last Friday did this podium say that she was expected to testify on Thursday?
MS. NULAND: Well, without getting into all of the back and forth between her and her doctors, you’ll recall that on Thursday I was trying to make clear here that assuming the ARB was finished – and we weren’t sure then exactly when they were going to be finished – that we expected to be able to meet the committees’ requested dates of testifying on Thursday. Patrick then confirmed on Friday that we did expect the ARB to be delivered in time for the Secretary to testify on Friday. But it was on Saturday morning that we concluded that the Secretary needed to follow doctors’ advice and rest this week. So the committees were made aware and we requested to send the two deputies, they accepted that, and as you know, we put out a statement to that effect in literally hours thereafter.
QUESTION: Okay. My last question on this: Does she want to testify on Benghazi, and will she commit to sliding the date so that she can make herself available at a later date?
MS. NULAND: As I said, she was ready to testify, she very much wanted to, she was preparing to, and except for this illness she would have been up there herself. So her deputies will go up on Thursday and she will —
QUESTION: Let me make it clear. My question is: Does she want to do it later?
MS. NULAND: Can I finish mine? Can I finish mine?
QUESTION: You can start.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. Absolutely. So she has, including in a letter today to the two committees, made clear that she looks forward to continuing to engage them in January, and she will be open to whatever they consider appropriate in that regard.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Hold on.
MS. NULAND: Anything else?
QUESTION: No. What was the purpose of the letter today? What was —
MS. NULAND: Just to say thank you for your understanding, I wish I could have been there myself, my deputies will make this date that we had together on Thursday, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on these very important issues.
QUESTION: Okay. Does she say in the letter that Nides and Burns’s testimony doesn’t preclude her from going up? Or is that just understood?
MS. NULAND: I mean, I don’t she gets into that kind of – it’s understood that she remains open thereafter to continuing to work with the committees.
QUESTION: You said in January. To be clear, she’s saying she could testify in January if they want?
MS. NULAND: I don’t – let’s see – yeah, I guess, I mean, this is probably the last week that the committees are going to be working as well. They’re probably not going to work in the Christmas week.
QUESTION: Right. But she set a month to say – she said the following month I could be available to do this, is what you’re saying?
MS. NULAND: She’s making clear in her communication with the committee that she expects that they’re going to have to have ongoing conversation in January, and she’s available for that. Okay?
MS. NULAND: Oh, I thought we were finished here, ladies and gentlemen. Guess not.
QUESTION: Do you have – what is your initial reaction to the first stage of the referendum?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, given the fact that we’ve had half of the polling take place and the second half of the polling is going to take place next weekend, I think it’s probably not too appropriate to be calling this one way or the other in the middle of the voting. Obviously, we welcome the fact that the polling appeared to be largely peaceful over the weekend on Saturday. As you know, that was something that we were concerned about, that Egyptians themselves were concerned about.
I would say that we’ve seen reports of some irregularities in the procedures at some of the polling stations, and we understand that the head of the Higher Electoral Commission has committed to investigate each of these complaints. That will be very, very important for the credibility of the process going forward.
QUESTION: Now, seeing that a constitution is really should be done by consensus and only 33 percent of the public participated and it seems that maybe 50 percent checked yes on the referendum, would that be sufficient to have sort of like the mandate you need with a constitution from your point of view?
MS. NULAND: Again, Said, we are in the middle of a two-stage process of polling, so I think these kinds of questions we’re going to await and see the results of the final round.
QUESTION: So we should expect that after the second stage is completed that the United States will come out and issue a statement on how it saw the whole process?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re not going to opine as a government on the process until the process is completed. Thanks.
QUESTION: You mentioned on Thursday that there was going to be some U.S. Embassy staff planning to monitor, as much as they could, the process. Could you tell us what they reported back?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any details on that, apart from the fact that we had broad reporting that things were peaceful, which is one of the things that we were looking for. Let me see if I’ve got anything more tomorrow to share in terms of the sort of anecdotal reaction that we had to what we saw.
QUESTION: And tomorrow the opposition is calling for large protests again against the referendum. I wondered if you had comment on that.
MS. NULAND: Well, beyond saying what we have always been saying, what we’ve said consistently, which is that we respect the right of Egyptians to protest peacefully, we hope the government will allow peaceful protest, but we also hope that the protestors will conduct themselves peacefully, I think I won’t comment any further.
Yeah, please, Andy.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi today was quoted as saying that it’s time for Iran and the Western powers to resolve this nuclear issue, but at least he didn’t put forward much in the way of new ideas on how to do that. I’m wondering if you can update us really on the status of Iran nuclear diplomacy right now. There was a report on Saturday that there were potentially talks being looked at next week. Is that true? Is the U.S. working on any new initiatives to try and get them back to the table?
MS. NULAND: Well, certainly, Andy, as you know, the P-5+1 remain united in our effort to seek a diplomatic solution. We are continuing to maintain contacts with the Iranians. We did make an offer with regard to venue and timing for another round, but we have yet to hear from the Iranians on this. As you know, that followed a phone conversation that Cathy Ashton’s deputy had with Mr. Jalili’s deputy last week. So really, the ball is in the Iranians’ court. If they want to come back to the table, we are ready to do that, but we want to see them be serious.
QUESTION: Can you give us any details on the venue and timing offer that you guys made?
MS. NULAND: Well, considering the fact that the Iranians haven’t accepted it, I think if we have something to announce, we will. But we’re at a point where we don’t yet have a response from them.
QUESTION: Sorry. The invitation that you just mentioned, that came after the phone call or in the phone call?
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that, Matt. It was either/or. Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s another follow-up on Iran I have —
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: — which is just that it’s being reported that Ayatollah Khamenei has a Facebook page today. I’m just wondering if you guys have seen that.
MS. NULAND: He’s just gone live? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Have you determined that it’s real, and if you have any reaction to him going on Facebook when so many Iranians aren’t allowed to.
MS. NULAND: I hadn’t seen that, but I’m going to go look for it right after we’re finished here. I’m interested to see what portrait he chose for himself and how many likes he has.
QUESTION: An early one.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, exactly. And what his personal status is as well, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m not on Facebook, but does that mean, like, single, in a relationship? (Laughter.) Could you explain to us what exactly – or perhaps to your husband what exactly you mean by wanting to check the —
MS. NULAND: My kids understand this far better than I do, but I understand that there are all manner of things you can put in that category.
Jo, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Japan, please, the elections over the weekend?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I wondered what the U.S. reaction was to the re-election of Shinzo Abe, particularly because —
MS. NULAND: I think it’s Abe, my dear.
QUESTION: Abe. Is that – thank you for that.
MS. NULAND: We’ll make an Asianist of you yet…
QUESTION: I wondered whether this is going to complicate relationships with China at a time where, obviously, things are pretty tense between the two neighbors.
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I would refer you to the statement that the White House issued, I think it was yesterday, congratulating Mr. Abe on his success, congratulating the Japanese people on free, fair elections, making clear that we look forward to working with the new government. It hasn’t yet been – the Diet hasn’t yet sat and called it and all those things – and underscoring again what a bedrock alliance this is for the United States.
QUESTION: So what about the fears that this might actually complicate tensions in the region at the moment at a particularly fraught time?
MS. NULAND: We’ve worked with Japanese governments of both parties for decades and decades, and as the President said, we very much look forward to looking – to working with the next Japanese government as one of our strongest allies in the region.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) topic?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Quartet.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Victoria, Mr. Tony Blair has been in his position for five years, and now the Palestinians are saying that he’s – really has never done anything to help the process. Do you think that he should continue with his job?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we consider that Tony Blair has been an essential partner in the Quartet process. The Secretary has maintained very close relationship with him in this position. She values very much what he does in trying to go out and work with the parties and see where he can try to bring them closer together. So from that perspective, we very much value the role that he’s played and the time that he’s put into this.
QUESTION: So you give him a vote of confidence? You think that he should continue in that position although the parties may not be very happy with him?
MS. NULAND: Again, that’s a call for him to make and a call for the EU to make going forward, not a call for us to make, Said.
QUESTION: You all have seen the announcement by the Israelis that they intend to go ahead with the settlement construction in Ramat Shlomo, the place that – where they first announced it when the Vice President was there and it caused such a big kerfuffle? Will you have anything to say about that?
MS. NULAND: I didn’t see a new announcement today, Matt, but our policy on settlements remains unchanged. We make our views known to the Israelis at every opportunity.
QUESTION: Would you just care to give yourself a grade on effectiveness of your position here? And I just – you keep saying you don’t like it and they keep doing it anyway, and this just doesn’t go for the Israelis; it goes for the Palestinians too. I mean, when is it – is it ever going to be time for you guys to try to come up with a new approach? Because the one you have ain’t working.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know, Matt, that this has not been an easy issue for any administration for decades. That doesn’t change the fact that we have to continue to keep trying, we have to continue to work with both sides to encourage them to avoid provocation, to create an atmosphere conducive to peace. The President, as you know, has absolutely committed to working with them, staying with them going forward. But the parties have to want it as well.
QUESTION: Has there been any movement or any discussion in the last, I don’t know, over the last week, anything of significance in terms of contacts or attempts to try and get things back on track, that you’re aware of?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, David Hale was – met with his Quartet envoy counterparts last week. We obviously, from our Embassy and our consulate, maintain contact with the parties, but it’s a difficult time.
QUESTION: I understand, but as I remember, you said it was a three hour meeting that resulted in them agreeing that they would meet again.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And that was it.
MS. NULAND: Look, we continue to make clear our views. As you know, the Secretary saw everybody on the margins of the Saban conference. But at that level, I wouldn’t say there’ve been contacts since then.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ve remembered my other Syria question, if I could just —
MS. NULAND: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s very brief. Have you noticed any change in the Russian position?
MS. NULAND: Well, we talked quite a bit last week about our —
QUESTION: Since last – since the comments that were made and then retracted.
MS. NULAND: Yeah, I mean, I think we are continuing to try to make clear that if Mr. Brahimi thinks that these consultations that we are having – U.S., Russia, UN – can be helpful to the process, we’re ready to have another round. But I wouldn’t say that, beyond the conversation that we had here last week, we’ve seen much movement one way or the other.
QUESTION: So you don’t – the three Bs are – there is no – there’s nothing definitive coming up? That is, there’s no planned meeting.
MS. NULAND: There’s nothing scheduled. The next planned meeting we expect will be called by Mr. Brahimi when he thinks it’ll be useful, but he hasn’t asked for one yet.
Okay? Please, Jo.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the settlements with you just for a second?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said you always assert your position, that you have had a principled position against the expansion of settlement or a new settlement and so on. Now, do you expect that your position will go – will have merit retroactively? For instance, that from the day one that you said the settlements are not helpful, that the Israelis should actually tear down whatever settlement have done that ever since then? Is that clear, what I’m saying?
MS. NULAND: I think it’s clear. I’m going to respond to you this way, Said. What’s the best way to settle this issue and so many others? For these parties to come up with an agreement on territory and security that will determine borders for the future. And this whole question of a settlement versus a right of land will be over with. So that’s why it is so essential to get these parties back into a real conversation about settling this for all time.
QUESTION: Okay, but your position did not vitiate over time as the settlement process went on and on and on?
MS. NULAND: This is not for us —
QUESTION: Did it maintain the same veracity?
MS. NULAND: Our policy with regard to our opposition to settlement, our concern about settlement, has been consistent across at least three administrations. The issue of where borders are ultimately going to be has to be settled by negotiation, though.
QUESTION: Can I say, just tangentially related to Israel —
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: — which is the meeting in Abu Dhabi, the Global Counterterrorism Forum. I appreciate the answer that I got from Patrick on Friday about this, but I really – I’m wondering if you can – if there’s anything more to it, that – what the answer about – the question, as you may remember, is Israeli participation, and if it’s possible. And we were told by Mark and then by Patrick and then also you, that there would be an agenda item that wasn’t – while not specifically identifying Israel, but it covered that. And the answer that I got on Friday about what happened at the meeting was the GCTF co-chairs agreed to present a proposal clarifying the procedures for participation of non-GCTF members in GCTF activities.
What exactly does that mean?
MS. NULAND: Does that mean?
QUESTION: And does it mean – I mean, this doesn’t address anything about whether there are going to be new members or whether there’s a process for inviting new members, let alone be – and saying anything specific about Israel.
MS. NULAND: I talked to Ambassador Benjamin on precisely this subject this morning because he was out there just to get clarity on what happened. As you know, at the U.S. instigation, this whole question of opening the Global Counterterrorism Forum to more participants, whether they are non-members who have something to offer in working groups, et cetera, or whether they are countries who would eventually like to be participants, was raised at the meeting by the U.S. We had a good conversation of it.
And there was agreement that between now and the next meeting that we needed to work on exactly what you have there, Matt, the rules of the road, both for non-member participation in working groups, in workshops, et cetera – that’s something that Israel has said to us that it would very much like to do – and on keeping the forum open in the future to new members joining.
So that’s where we are. We’ve agreed in principle to do more work on how this would work, and that’s what we’re going to do.
QUESTION: Well, but this doesn’t in itself mean that it will be opened up and that non-members can participate, or that there can be new members; correct? It just —
MS. NULAND: I think that from my understanding —
QUESTION: It sounds like this is some kind of a – it’s basically kicking the can down the road. This is a procedural decision that decided nothing in itself, and we’re just going to look at it before the next meeting in the first quarter of next year.
MS. NULAND: This isn’t uncommon in multilateral fora that —
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Oh, I know.
MS. NULAND: — when there is a question about how that forum or format is going to change, people want to see the details before they make a formal agreement on it.
MS. NULAND: So I think the subject has been opened, the conversation’s going on on the procedure, and we won’t probably have a final decision until it comes with procedures.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you know if Ambassador Benjamin or Deputy Secretary Burns specifically raised Israel in the discussion at the meeting?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I believe Israel was raised affirmatively as one of the countries that had a lot to offer, yes.
QUESTION: All right. And are you aware of any opposition to Israel’s participation?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to let other countries speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you who they are, but I’ll tell you who it is. But —
MS. NULAND: Let me just say that —
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to tell me who it is, but I’m just wondering if the United States is aware that there is opposition.
MS. NULAND: Clearly, some of the countries who participate in the Global Counterterrorism Forum have complex relations with Israel, and much as we try to say those are bilateral issues which ought to stay bilateral, they bleed into multilateral fora, not just this one, but others. You know of past experiences. So we will continue to advocate for Israel and for other countries that have quite a bit to offer, but it’s going to be a process to get that done.
QUESTION: And then here’s my last one, because I think that having danced around it, I think they deserve to be mentioned. Are you aware of any country other than Turkey that is opposed to Israel being – having anything to do with this conference?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to let other countries speak for themselves. I think that’s not the only issue that we have here, okay?
QUESTION: Apologies, but may I just go back quickly to the ARB? Are you going to be sharing the report with the Libyans? And could you update us on the status of the Libyan authorities’ inquiries into the incident in September?
MS. NULAND: Let me take that with regard to the second half in terms of the conversations we’ve had with the Libyans in the last couple of weeks. Obviously, as I said, there’s a portion of this report that is unclassified, so they’ll be privy to that. With regard to the conversations we’ll have about our process going forward or any classified issues that pertain to our relationship with them, I’m going to take that piece too and get back to you.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: The State Department and the Treasury designated Michel Samaha as a – put him on the terrorist list. Doing so after charges have been – after he has been accused of things, do you have any concern that it may put undue pressure on the judiciary during the trial, the coming trial?
MS. NULAND: The judiciary in Lebanon —
MS. NULAND: — is what you’re concerned about?
MS. NULAND: First of all, just to make sure everybody’s aware of what we’re talking about here, the Department of State has designated Michel Samaha as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224. Concurrently, the Treasury Department has designated him as a Specially Designated National pursuant to Executive Order 13441.
This is on the grounds that he has undermined Lebanon’s democratic process or institutions, contributed to the breakdown in the rule of law of Lebanon, and supporting the reassertion – in trying to support the reassertion of Syrian control or otherwise contributing to Syrian interference in Lebanon. Specifically, on October 12th, 2012,[i] he provided explosives and cash to his paid accomplices at his residence, and on October 9th,[ii] the Lebanese Internal Security Forces arrested him and brought him into the headquarters.
We make, as you know, our designations on the basis of our own inquiry and our own evaluation of the events, and we have made this determination based on the information that is available to us that we believe to be credible and to be legitimate for the purposes of designation, which is separate and apart from what may happen in the Lebanese judicial case.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) consultation with the Lebanese?
MS. NULAND: We do. We do it in consultation with the Lebanese, but we have every reason to be confident in our information here.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: A question about North Korea, Ms. Nuland.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Some Republican lawmakers have recently voiced criticism of the Obama Administration’s North Korea diplomatic approach, and in particular, the gist of it is that the Republicans are saying that the Administration hasn’t been able to prevent North Korea from further developing the nuclear program and missile programs. So the question is: In the second term, what is the Obama Administration going to do, the State Department going to do? To focus now more on sanctions or to continue to focus on dialogue with North Korea? That’s the first one. I have a follow-up.
MS. NULAND: Well, we certainly talked about this quite a bit last week. I went through in some detail the efforts to have a dialogue with the new North Korean leader to make an opening if he was willing. And instead, that was met not only with an abrogation of agreements that had been made by the previous North Korean regime, but by missile activity both in April and in December.
So in the context of the consultations that we’re having now with our Six-Party counterparts and in New York, what’s left to us is to continue to increase the pressure on the North Korean regime. And we’re looking at how best to do that, both bilaterally and with our partners going forward. Until they get the message, we’re going to have to continue to further isolate this regime.
QUESTION: And then also, the DPRK has long wanted direct talks with the United States. Are we going to stick to the Six-Party process or has the events recently, the launch of this missile with a payload from North Korea, maybe caused us to rethink that? Are we going to still stick with the Six-Party Talks process?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, nobody, not we, not anybody in the Six-Party Talks, wants to reward the DPRK for violating its international obligations. So you can be sure —
QUESTION: Well, (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: I’m saying that we and our partners are not in the business of rewarding them, so I would not look for that kind of a move now.
QUESTION: Well, but are Six-Party Talks a reward or are they an effort to get North Korea to stop its nuclear program? I mean, I thought it was an effort to curb its ambitions. It’s not —
MS. NULAND: Well, you have to have a willing partner, and we don’t have a willing partner, as you know.
QUESTION: Any updates on the – what it was that the North Koreans launched into the atmosphere?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have any more technical details to share. I would, again, send you to NORAD. I don’t have anything further from them.