Briefing From Paris, France
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism
MODERATOR: Well, thank you all for coming. It’s a great honor for us to have Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman with us today. Ambassador Sherman was sworn in as Under Secretary of State in September 2011. She served as Counselor for the Department of State from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Bill Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. We have about 20 minutes and this will be on the record.
QUESTION: On the record?
MODERATOR: On the record.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: So I just wanted to begin with a couple of points and then be glad to take your questions. I won’t eat up all of your 20 minutes with me making my points.
I came here today at the request of the United States Government to represent our country at a meeting called by French President Francois Hollande. And President Hollande, I think, really deserves credit for calling this meeting and doing it so quickly in the wake of this horrific abduction of 200 young women from their school in Nigeria.
But when President Hollande called the meeting with not only Nigeria’s head of state but the head of state of the surrounding countries, he did so to have both the short-term goal of coordinating all of our efforts to, I say these days, bring our girls home, because I think now these young women have become the girls of the world, not just of Nigeria. And – but he also brought everyone together to look at the mid term and the long term to ensure that there was coordination in the region and coordination globally to bring all of the assets to bear to deal with the horrific terror of Boko Haram, to try to secure the borders in the region, to ensure that these kind of acts don’t occur, and to ramp up the development in the sub-region so that there is not a breeding ground for terror.
It was an excellent meeting. I think it’s quite extraordinary that there were five heads of state as well as representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, and it was a very focused meeting. Conclusions of the summit have been published, so I don’t need to run through them for you and take up the time with that. And the United States is very glad to be part of this. As you know, we have deployed assets to Nigeria to help find the girls and to bring them home, and we are also helping the Nigerians out in every way we can. We’ve had a long presence in Nigeria and a very robust, multifaceted engagement with the Nigerians.
So let me stop there.
MODERATOR: Just say your name and your —
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Tell me where you’re from again. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yves-Michel Riols. I work for the French newspaper Le Monde.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Yes.
QUESTION: A couple of questions. Is it true that the Nigerian president first asked the U.S. and then the UK to host this summit before he asked France, and both the U.S. and UK declined?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No, not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. The other question is: There’s been a lot of emphasis during this meeting on coordinating information to localize these girls, but there has also been strong criticism of the Nigerian army and the way they handled the situation in Nigeria. Isn’t there a contradiction in giving information to an army that one does not trust to be able to carry out a job? So does this mean that if and when these girls are located, there will be Western military involvement alongside the Nigerian army?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No decisions have been made yet because first we have to find out where the girls are. And where they are will certainly dictate how, in fact, one can get them home, and there are many ways to do that. This is – if there were to be a rescue operation – there may be other ways to bring them home, but if it were to be a rescue operation, that’s a very specific skill set and not every army in the world has that skill set. I know that there are some training that has been gone on with units of the military in Nigeria to build those skills, in other words special forces skills. Whether they’d be able to attempt a rescue, I think it would just depend on the circumstances.
QUESTION: Patricia Allemoniere from TF1. In the past (inaudible) has released some prisoner in exchange of hostage. Have you speak about this topic during your meeting, and what do you think of this attitude?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: The United States has its own view about ransom, exchanges, things like that, but this is a Nigerian decision. It’s not an American decision. Nigeria is a sovereign country and its government will make what choices it thinks it’s appropriate. Our views on this are well known.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s a way to bring back the girl today?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Do you think it could be a way to bring back the girls?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, it’s certainly a way. As I said, there are many ways.
Tell me your name and where you’re from.
QUESTION: Laurie Hinnant from Associated Press.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: And I should say Linda Thomas-Greenfield is our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, and Ambassador Kaidanow is our Counterterrorism Coordinator. And I want to encourage each of them, if there’s something they need to add because they know a heck of a lot more than I do, to feel free.
QUESTION: The first question I had – it’s two questions that are linked. The French have put a great deal of emphasis on Nigeria’s new openness to UN sanctions against Boko Haram, but those are months away. One of the – it could be quite a long time, according to —
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: It could be very quick, actually. Could be next week.
QUESTION: It could be that quick then?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: It could be that quick, yes.
QUESTION: And those would be – are those envisioned as a way to cut off funds? How are those envisioned (inaudible)?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: When you have sanctions at the UN, it does do asset freezes, travel freezes, a variety of things. It depends on how the designation is done. But I imagine this will happen rather quickly. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine any country who would not support this designation.
QUESTION: Sorry. Are you optimistic —
MODERATOR: Please say your name and your publication.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I’m Maia de la Baume. I work for The New York Times here. I was wondering: Are you optimistic about finding these girls? I mean, you talked about those specific skills, but I want just for you to tell me (inaudible).
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I don’t – what I can say is that all of the countries that were at the table today are very focused on coordinating all of their information, all of their intelligence, all of their resources. And there are countries like Canada and Israel who weren’t at the meeting today who also are providing assistance. So everybody is focused, and usually when you have that many – you have everybody pulling in the same direction, you can find your way to finding the girls. But I don’t think we know yet.
Anything you want to add on that, Tina?
AMBASSADOR KAIDANOW: No, I think that’s right. I mean, clearly every asset that we can muster is being mustered, and the obvious imperative is to try and find them. Whether and what time frame we would be successful, it’s really hypothetical if we were to speculate.
QUESTION: Jacques Rodier, Les Echos. Can you describe all those asset that the U.S. would deploy? And someone question was it has been mentioned by President Hollande that Boko Haram had links to other terrorist organizations. Which terrorist organization? Can you be a little bit more specific, Shabaab or —
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: So what I would say on the latter question is Boko Haram is its own terrorist group, and the United States has designated Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. In this day and age, there is probably no terror group that does not have some links somehow, even if tenuous, to some other organization. But for the most part, we treat Boko Haram as its own terror organization.
Secondly, in terms of assets, we have a multidisciplinary interagency team that has been deployed to Nigeria. I think you also are aware that we are flying ISR. That’s surveillance reconnaissance. And I met with the national security advisor of Nigeria while we’re here and I’m confident that all of that is proceeding forward as it should.
QUESTION: Hi. Stacey Meichtry from The Wall Street Journal. To follow up on the sanctions issue, you said it’s going – it could come as soon as next week. So was there some sort of progress made today in order to accelerate the timetable?
And the second question: In the conclusions they mentioned this idea of pooling intelligence. My sense is that that intelligence will be pooled at the regional level. To what extent is the U.S. going to participate in that?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: My understanding is out of the meeting today, which is the regional countries, that the U.S. will probably, as the other countries, have a presence there, at least in sort of some liaison status. But I think those details are being worked out.
Is there something – I think that’s where we are.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And on the resolution, they were working fast and furiously last week to get the draft in in final. So it has a 10-day waiting period, and once they get it in final I think it’ll move very, very, very fast. I don’t see it being weeks away. I see it being —
QUESTION: So it’s not something that happened today?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No, no. It was already in train. Already in train.
QUESTION: One more question also sort of related to that. Hollande can talk about the weapons for Boko Haram coming from Libya, in which there’s been a known flight of heavy weaponry. The training, to an extent, came from Mali when Mali was under attack. And then he said it’s still being looked into where the funds are coming from. Does the U.S. have any sense or any particular idea where the funds are coming from?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think some of this information is not information that I would talk about publicly in terms of what we know the connections are, how things get done, where they are today. I think that the arms flow out of Libya is a well-known story. There is nothing secret about that anymore, and if there ever was a secret about the arms flowing out of Libya, and great concern and international attention that’s being focused on Libya as well.
There was a Quint meeting in London this week that Secretary Kerry participated in talking about a number of items. Libya was one of them. And we have a very focused, coordinated effort going on with close allies and the Libyan Government to try to do whatever we can, and with countries in the region to try to deal with border security, which is a constant concern throughout a great deal of the sub-region.
Anything you want to add on that?
AMBASSADOR KAIDANOW: No.
QUESTION: Just to make sure that I understood the answer you gave previously, you were saying that you – at this stage you cannot exclude that there would be a Western and U.S. participation in a military operation to secure the release of —
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No, what I – let me be clear.
QUESTION: Is that what you were saying?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No. What I’m saying is there are many ways to bring this horrific situation to a close. When and if we know where they are, then the Nigerians will have to decide how to proceed. Right now, as our President has said, we are providing intelligence assistance to them. He has said we are not putting boots on the ground.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I just wanted to know what would be the next step. Do you expect a new meeting by – soon?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: There was, in fact, a discussion about a follow-up meeting happening soon, and my guess is that will be worked out in the next days, just as people coordinate schedules.
QUESTION: Would it —
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Probably on the margins of another international meeting that’s taking place so it doesn’t have to be de novo. But yes, I think there is a commitment to this not be a one-off, that this be an ongoing commitment that the international community is making.
QUESTION: Would it be a long time?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Would it be open to Israel —
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: You could ask the foreign secretary. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Would it be open to Israel or Canada (inaudible) this kind of meeting?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: It’s not my decision. This is also really driven by not only the Nigerians but by Benin, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. Really, this is African led. This is not Western, U.S., UK, EU, France led. We have the resources that we can bring to bear, and that’s our responsibility to do so and to support Africa, but this is African led.
QUESTION: Just to connect the dots a bit between my colleague’s question here about whether Western military might be involved, it sounds like Obama has ruled that out for now. So seeing as how that’s not a possibility, how concerned are you about sharing intelligence with the Nigerian army the moment that the girls are located?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: We are all working together, so it’s not like we’re over here and we’d see something and the Nigerians would know at that second and they’d decide what to do. We are working as a team.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: And so decisions are going to be made in a conscious and thoughtful way with all of – we have laws in our country. We have ways that intelligence can be used when we share intelligence with other countries. We – it has to get used in a way that’s consistent with our values and our approach to the use of intelligence. So I think this will be a very thoughtful process.
QUESTION: Is U.S. coordinating the Western groups in Abuja, Western expert (inaudible)?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I don’t know if we’d say we’re coordinating –
AMBASSADOR KAIDANOW: I think the key words is coordinating or coordinating with. Coordinating with, yes, we’re talking to a number of the other —
QUESTION: But do you have a coordinator?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have a coordinator of our team.
AMBASSADOR KAIDANOW: Of our team.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have a head of our team.
AMBASSADOR KAIDANOW: Right.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And we’re coordinating very closely with the other teams. And the Nigerians have assigned a senior person who is their point of contact, and they’re working very, very closely.
QUESTION: So you have (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR KAIDANOW: Our team is multi-agency, mutli-disciplinary, and so you need a coordinator to bring all that together. And so that’s the natural locus. But we’re working very well not only with the Nigerians but with the others who are doing that (inaudible).
QUESTION: Were there any signs coming out of the meeting today that there won’t be any – how do you say? – any commitment on behalf of Cameroon to actually work with Nigeria because these two countries are just not coordinating, speaking to each other, or cooperating in any way?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think if you were there —
QUESTION: I was (inaudible).
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Then you saw that they were (a) sitting next with each other – next to each other. They were very collegial in the meetings we had. They are both committed to doing what is necessary. And it is – it was quite awful, actually, that Cameroon suffered its own attack on the eve of this meeting. And you heard the Cameroon president say we know this is not just a Nigerian problem, and unfortunately they had very fresh evidence of that fact. And so I think we are going to see ever-improving coordination and work together.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I think even President Jonathan has said, and certainly we’ve heard it from people within the Nigerian military, is there are fears that Boko Haram has infiltrated quite high within the Nigerian leadership, possibly as high as the cabinet. How is the U.S. dealing with intelligence sharing, knowing that that’s a concern?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: As I said, we’re very – we have a whole protocol when we share intelligence not only with Nigeria but with any country, and we will follow that protocol.
QUESTION: Were you worried when you heard the President Biya saying that his army generally sleeping the night?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Say that —
QUESTION: Were you worried when you heard that President Biya from Cameroon saying that mentioning that his (inaudible) his army is most of the time sleeping during the night and they (inaudible)?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Oh, when he said that they attack largely between 12 and 1 and —
QUESTION: And what do you think about – what is your assessment about this army, this local army?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, I think he was – the point he was making is that they have a pattern of attack that makes it more difficult. I wouldn’t – I’m not sure I would take that literally. I’m sure that Cameroon’s army is prepared to do whatever it needs to do.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) two more questions.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Or if you have none, that’s okay, too.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: During today’s meetings, were any sort of contingency plans discussed in terms of how a rescue operation might be conducted? One, no?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: It wouldn’t be appropriate for this meeting.