Entries in Victoria Nuland (9)


State Department 'Strongly Objects' to Iraq's Release of Hezbollah Leader

WATHIQ KHUZAIE/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Friday that the United States “strongly objects” to Iraq’s decision to release Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq. Her remarks followed Senator McCain’s earlier comments, calling the action an “outrage,” and questioning whether the United States needs to rethink its alliance with Iraq.

U.S. officials believe Daqduq played a role in a 2007 kidnapping which resulted in the death of five soldiers. He was under U.S. custody until December of last year, when Iraq refused to extradite him, but gave assurances that he would remain in prison.  Nuland was uncharacteristically blunt about the nature of the conversation between U.S. and Iraqi officials over his release.

“We didn't want it to happen, and we were concerned about it. We said that to the Iraqis. They have said back to us that they didn't have a legal basis to continue to hold him,” she said.

She also had a warning for Daqduq, who is now believed to be heading to Lebanon.

“Let me add to that that as with other terrorists who we believe have committed crimes against Americans, we are going to continue to pursue all legal means to see that Daqduq sees justice for the crimes of which he is accused,” she said refusing to characterize exactly what those “legal means” would entail.

She also did not confirm or deny that the United States would take some type of retaliatory action against Iraq, a country America has spent billions of dollars rebuilding following the fall of Saddam Hussein, for the decision. However, Nuland maintained that despite the administration’s “deep dissatisfaction” with the Daqduq situation, the long-term relationship between the United States and Iraq remains stable.

“There are many, many things that we work together with the Iraqis on, both in terms of the internal situation in Iraq as well as our regional work together, not least being Syria and our efforts to ensure that Iraqi air and land space is not abused to arm the Syrians. There are many things that we work together on. But as I said, you know, we objected very strongly to this particular decision, and we've made that clear to the Iraqis.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Sec. Clinton Says No ‘Actionable Intelligence’ on Benghazi Attack

State Dept(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Tuesday the intelligence surrounding the U.S. consulate in Benghazi did not indicate that the consulate was under a specific threat before it was attacked last week.

“With all of our missions overseas in advance of Sept. 11, as is done every year, we did an evaluation of threat streams,” said Clinton. "The office of the director of National Intelligence has said we have no actionable intelligence that an attack on our post in Benghazi was planned or imminent.”

Clinton’s comments echo what United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice said on ABC’s This Week, where she said all indications were that extremists “hijacked” a “spontaneous” protest.

The secretary said that the attacks are the work of extremists taking advantage of the widespread outrage over the anti-Muslim video being widely circulated on the Internet.

“There are extremists in all of these this societies and on the outside who are working to take advantage of broad outrage in order to incite violence and specifically incite violence against Americans and American facilities,” she said.

Since the attack, which lasted nearly five hours and resulted in the deaths of four diplomats, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, questions have emerged about the security for both the consulate and the ambassador.  Clinton gave further details about the measures taken, including a “robust” security presence inside the compound, which was surrounded by a wall.

“Let me assure our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world,” Clinton told reporters.   

Last Friday, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland emphatically told reporters that none of the security provided at the Benghazi consulate were provided by a private security firm.

“All of the security in Libya has been done by Libyans, by American government personnel, and then to a very limited extent these individual contracts with individual security personnel, but there was never a contract with a company, and there was never a plan to have a contract with a company,” she said.

But Tuesday, Nuland corrected her original statement, telling reporters that in fact the State Department did hire a private security company, a British firm called the Blue Mountain Group, which Nuland said has a permit to operate within Libya to hire local security guards.

“They were hired to provide local Libyan guards who operated inside the gate doing things like operating the security access equipment, screening the cars, that kind of thing,” said Nuland.

Blue Mountain says on its website that it provides both security and training and has recently operated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other dangerous places for clients ranging from Google to Cadburys.

Wired reported that the company signed a six-figure contract with the State Department to protect the consulate four months ago. Nuland said that the company remains on contract, “pending a full assessment of the security situation.”

Clinton didn’t speak specifically to where the guards protecting the consulate in Benghazi were from but did say the State Department is now taking aggressive steps to protect its employees, consulates and embassies around the world, and is reviewing security at every post.

Clinton also confirmed that the FBI is now in Libya, working with local officials on the investigation and stressed that there will be justice for the four murdered diplomats.

“We will not rest until the people who orchestrated this attack are found and punished,” the secretary said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Assad’s Regime 'Cracked,' US No-Fly Zone Unlikely

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As a furious volley of firepower hit the streets of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, the country’s former prime minister spoke out for the first time since his defection.

Ex-Prime Minister Riyad Hijab said that President Bashar al-Assad’s control was crumbling.

“The regime is spiritually, financially and militarily cracked,” ex-Prime Minister Riyad Hijab said. “And it only controls 30 percent of Syrian lands.”

Although the State Department did not confirm the 30 percent, its spokeswoman Tuesday agreed with Hijab’s assessment that the regime is weakening.

“As we’ve been saying for a number of weeks now, we do believe that the opposition is gaining control of more and more territory,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “I can’t speak to the precise number that the former prime minister cited.”

On Tuesday, Assad’s forces appeared to move street to street, leaving the dead and wounded in their path -- even as the cracks seemed to grow despite beneath the show of force.

Hijab is among several who have defected, including generals and ambassadors.

While the U.S. has been providing humanitarian aid and non-lethal help, the country is no closer to providing what the rebels desperately want -- help in stopping the regime’s attacks from the air.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the U.S. was not interested in establishing a no-fly zone over the skies of Syria as it did to effectively topple Libya’s Moammar Khadafi.

“With regards to the no-fly zone,” he said, “that is not a front-burner item for us.”

It would be a dangerous mission. Syria has 20 times the number of surface-to-air missiles that Libya did -- 4,707 to 216. Syria has far more combat aircraft than Libya -- 555 to 394 -- and its pilots are far more capable. In addition, the Syrian population is three times that of Libya’s -- 22.5 million to 6.5 million.

“This is a country that we, as a United States is war-weary,” said retired Gen. James Cartwright, an ABC News consultant. “We have fiscal challenges of our own and to get in the middle of a civil war. … I just don’t see it happening.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US: Condolences for Kim Jong Il Not 'Appropriate'; Food Aid Deal Delayed

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hopes the new North Korean leadership will move the country on a path to peace, but she offered no condolences on the death of longtime dictator Kim Jong Il.

“We didn’t consider it appropriate in this case,” Clinton’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland explained Tuesday.

Kim’s death came as the United States was preparing to resume food aid to North Korea. Though officials insist the issues are separate, they say they hope the aid will eventually lead to a resumption of negotiations regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Nuland said Tuesday that it is unlikely the United States would resume food aid to North Korea before next year. The State Department says it still has concerns about monitoring the distribution of the aid and, given the weeks-long mourning period in North Korea following Kim’s death, they believe it’s unlikely those issues will be resolved before the end of the year.

U.S. officials were in touch with North Korean officials Monday at the United Nations, through what’s called the New York channel, to inform them that there is no deal yet on food aid, Nuland said, but she did not know whether there was any mention of Kim’s death during that communication.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tough US Comments About UN Vetoes for Syria Resolution from Victoria Nuland

US Dept of State(WASHINGTON) -- At Wednesday’s State Department briefing, spokesperson Victoria Nuland continued the tough words for Russia and China following their U.N. Security Council vetoes against a resolution calling for an end to the violence in Syria. 

After the vote Tuesday night, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., had stern language about the vetoes. 

“The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security,” Rice said. “Today the courageous people of Syria can now see who on this council supports their yearning for liberty and universal human rights and who does not.”

At Wednesday’s briefing Nuland echoed those comments, saying the Security Council “failed yesterday” in addressing the “urgent moral challenge” in Syria.

She indicated that Secretary of State Clinton would say about Russia and China that “countries have to take responsibility for the decision that they made [Tuesday], and any implications it might have on the ground in Syria.”

Nuland emphasized that the Syrian opposition was “let down” by this vote, and that the U.S. plans to continue to pressure President Assad to step down. 

Nuland acknowledged that the resolution voted on had been watered down too much for the U.S.’s liking, saying,  “It didn't even include the teeth, the sanctions -- and even that proved to be too much. So that was extremely disappointing.”

As for Senator Lieberman’s calls for safe zones to be set up inside Syria, Nuland said that Syrian opposition leaders have said that they don’t want a foreign intervention.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Could the Taliban Open an Office in Qatar with US Permission? 

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Taliban plan to open a diplomatic office in Qatar by the end of the year, and the United States may have given the Qataris the OK to do so, according to the Times of London.
But Tuesday, when pressed repeatedly about the report, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland wouldn’t even comment.
“We have nothing for you on that” is all Nuland would say Tuesday. “I'm not prepared to comment one way or the other on that one.”
Of course, with the large attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Tuesday wasn’t the best day for the U.S. to confirm overtures with the Taliban.
There were talks of a similar office opening up in Turkey about a year ago.  It was said to be part of an effort to reconcile with the Taliban.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Now Says It Is in 'Negotiations' with Iraq over Troops Post-2011

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department Wednesday said it is now engaged in “negotiations” with Iraqi leaders about whether the United States will maintain a troop presence there beyond 2011, something that, until now, the U.S. characterized as informal discussions. The wording is only significant because the Iraqi legislature has yet to formally authorize negotiations -- yet this shows the U.S. is prepared to move ahead anyway as the clock ticks down to the end of the year.
“We are currently in negotiations with the Iraqi government about what that post-2011 relationship might look like. Those discussions are ongoing, and you can understand that I won't comment on the detail,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Wednesday.
Her comment attracted little attention during the briefing, but a senior State Department official later confirmed that this is a new U.S. policy.
In fact, Nuland was asked about this very subject just Tuesday and took a very different line.
“I think our public position and our private position hasn't changed, that our plan is to withdraw by the end of the year. Were the Iraqi government to come -- to come forward and make a request for some continued security assistance, we would be prepared to look at it,” she told reporters at the time.
What changed? One official said this was calling a spade a spade, since “informal” discussions on the matter had been held with Iraqi leaders since early August. A senior official says the U.S. believes there is now enough consensus among Iraqi leaders that they may want some extended U.S. troop presence after a Status of Forces Agreement, which authorizes U.S. troops to operate in Iraq, expires at the end of the year.
The negotiations are being led by Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. U.S. officials have held informal discussions with Iraqi leaders on the matter since Aug. 2, but only Wednesday did the U.S. decide to characterize those talks as “negotiations,” despite the fact that the Iraqi legislature has yet to formally authorize such action.
The official denied that the U.S. has decided to push the issue ahead because the Iraqi political paralysis has shortened the timeline for talks so that a decision can be made by the end of the year. The official didn’t rule out U.S. troops leaving the country and returning again later next year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US: "Inconsistencies" in Reports About Syrian Naval Attack on Port City

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- State Department spokesperson Victorial Nuland said Monday that the U.S. sees a number of "inconsistencies" in reports that the Syrian navy has taken part in the shelling of the port city of Latakia.
"There are some inconsistencies in -- about -- with regard to what Syria actually has," she told reporters. Nuland declined to elaborate on what those discrepancies may be, but only added that the U.S. hasn't seen the firing from the sea itself.
A State Department official, speaking on background, says that the U.S. doesn't believe the Syrian gunboats have the capability to shell the town like reports indicate, hence Nuland's hesitation.
"We have been unable to confirm, actually, the use of naval assets. However, we are able to confirm that there is armor in the city, and that there is firing on innocents again in the pattern of carnage that you have seen in other places.  So we are concerned," she said, describing the violence there and in other parts of Syria as "carnage."
Nuland tried to defend the Obama administration's efforts to halt the Assad regime's crackdown, which have consisted thus far of unilateral sanctions and slowly harsher condemnation of the violence.
"So far they do not appear to be listening.  But we do believe that there is more that can be done. As the secretary said on Thursday, there are countries out there that are still trading oil and gas with Syria.  There are countries out there that have not renounced their willingness to send arms to Syria. So we are working to strengthen that coalition and continue to ensure that the message from the international community has teeth," she said.
Turkey on Monday gave Syrian President Bashar Assad an ultimatum to reform or else -- a follow-up on a visit to Damascus by the Turkish foreign minister last week.
The Obama administration is still planning to call on Assad to step down should the attacks continue, and is hoping to coordinate this with other countries like Turkey. Turkey and others had asked the U.S. to hold off in order for their diplomatic efforts to bear fruit, but Monday's Turkish announcement is a sign they're preparing to take the next step as well. A U.S. official tells ABC News a new executive order has been prepared in order to hit Assad with more sanctions in coordination with the declaration that would come from the president.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US: 30,000 Syrians Detained, Some in Cages

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department Thursday said that some 30,000 Syrians are in detention, “in some cases, in absolutely repulsive, disgusting conditions.”
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that witnesses who have been inside the prisons report that some prisoners are being kept in cages and in the courtyards of prisons and in schools.
Asked about recent comments from Syrian President Bashar Assad that suggested some regret for his regime’s response to the protests, Nuland said, “We are looking for action. We are not looking for words; we're not looking for promises. We're looking for the violence to end, for the forces to go back to barracks and for a real democratic transition to start.”
“The violence continues at extremely horrific levels,” she added.
Also, Ambassador Robert Ford met in Damascus Thursday with the Syrian foreign minister at the American’s request.
“He made clear, as we have publicly, repeatedly, that Syria is going to face increasing pressure if the silence doesn't end, including more economic sanctions from the U.S., and we hope, from others; that empty rhetoric isn't going to suffice. He challenged the regime's lip service about enacting reform, and he called for free and open access for the media and also for strict compliance with Vienna Convention obligations to protect diplomatic personnel,” Nuland said.
“You also won't be surprised that the response from Foreign Minister Muallem was just as defiant and just as unconvincing as President Assad has been in the last couple of days,” she added.
Nuland said Ambassador Ford is planning more travel outside Damascus, but wouldn’t say where or when.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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