State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, December 4, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 4, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Wildlife Conservation Day
    • Chemical Weapons / U.S. Contact with Allies and Partners
    • Demonstrations / Situation Around Tahrir Square / Constitution Process
    • Cooperative Threat Reduction
    • Israeli Passport Procedures
    • Recent Israeli Announcements on Settlements / Contact with Israeli Government
    • Peace Process / Want to See Negotiated Settlement
    • U.S. to host Japan and ROK Trilateral Dialogue, Focus on North Korea
    • Oil Sanctions
    • Friends of Syria Meeting
  • IRAQ
    • Tensions between Kurdish Regional and Iraqi Governments
    • Protests / Tension in Cairo


12:11 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: Very briefly at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions, I did want to note that Secretary of State Clinton today joins U.S. embassies around the globe in marking December 4th as Wildlife Conservation Day. As many of you know, wildlife trafficking has serious implications for people around the world, it robs local communities of their economic base, it spreads disease, it lends to the corruption of government officials, and it fuels rebel militias. It affects countries and people all over the world.

And today, the United States is launching a global outreach campaign to help U.S. embassies increase wildlife conservation awareness. Embassies around the globe are hosting speaking engagements and using English language classes, film presentations, webchats, Facebook, and Twitter to spread the word that the purchase of products sourced from endangered species is unacceptable. So I would just encourage all of you, and you the public, to visit to take the pledge to respect and protect the world’s wildlife.

Matt, I know you —

QUESTION: I’ve already done it.

MR. TONER: — pledge and respect to protect the world’s wildlife, but anything else on your mind?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I just want to know briefly if there’s any updates on the situation as it relates to the possible preparation of chemical weapons in Syria.

MR. TONER: I don’t have anything in particular to add beyond what the President said yesterday at National Defense University and the Secretary said earlier today.

QUESTION: Did you get an answer to my – the question about whether you have asked the Czechs, your protecting power, to raise this with the Syrian Government?

MR. TONER: Well, I can say that we’ve been in contact with our allies and partners who obviously share our concern about this issue. And in response to your question, I would say that obviously some of these people are talking – some of these governments are in contact with Syria. So we expect that our message was conveyed both privately as well as publicly.

Is that it?

QUESTION: On Egypt, how do you view the situation there, especially the demonstrations that are going on now?

MR. TONER: You mean the demonstrations scheduled for today?


MR. TONER: Yeah. Well, I haven’t got an update in a few hours. My understanding is that the situation was calm at least around Tahrir Square. Obviously —

QUESTION: Ten people got injured.

MR. TONER: I’m aware of the injuries, but I haven’t gotten a recent update. We’ve – we are where we are, where we were yesterday, that it’s very important now that the Egyptian people feel that the process to ratify and approve this constitution is credible.

QUESTION: And can you confirm that President Morsi is coming to Washington on the 17th?

MR. TONER: I cannot.


MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to announce one way or the other.

Yeah. Dmitry.

QUESTION: One quick Russian thing: Getting back to the issue of yesterday’s President’s speech at the NDU and the President Obama acknowledged that the Russians are not happy with the current CTR agreement and said that – I just want to quote him – ‘Let’s update it – Russia has said that our current agreement hasn’t kept pace with the changing relationship, to which we say let’s update it.’*

I just wanted to ask you if —

MR. TONER: If I stand by the President’s words? Yes, I do. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, no. Slightly different than that. Do you know if there has been an exchange of drafts between the two sides, or, I assume —

MR. TONER: If there’s been an exchange of drafts, you said?

QUESTION: Drafts, yeah, of a new agreement or something to that extent.

MR. TONER: We did – in July 2012, because, obviously, this kind of cooperation requires a legal basis, we did propose a simple approach to extending the current agreement before it expires next year. I would just say that our discussions with the Russians are ongoing, but I don’t have any other specifics in terms of drafts to add to that.

QUESTION: This approach was rejected by the Foreign Ministry —

MR. TONER: I’m aware. I think the President was quite clear that the Russians have said that the current agreement doesn’t keep pace with the changing relationship, so let’s update it. So I think we very clearly laid out that we’re willing to work with Russia on this.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. On the settlement activities —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry for being a little bit late, I’m impressed you’re early.

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Yeah, I’ve got a hot date in Baltimore.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, great. The interior – the Israeli Interior Ministry today announced that they’re also – they approved, or they are about to build 1,600 units. It’s the Ramat Shlomo settlement. It was actually launched during the Vice President’s visit to Jerusalem back in 2010 and you guys stopped it. Today, they – so do you have a comment on that?

MR. TONER: Well, you won’t be surprised if – I’d just refer you to our statement yesterday, which is that these kinds of actions are unproductive and don’t help get the parties back to the negotiating table, which is our ultimate goal.

QUESTION: Okay, but this seems to be like a daily event now. We might expect tomorrow there’s going to be another settlement and so on, and you will continue to refer to your statement of the day before yesterday?

MR. TONER: Well, our position – as we said, we made it very clear yesterday in our statement, but our position has not changed, and we continue to convey that to the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: Okay. So you have no intention of, let’s say, following suit with the – with your —

MR. TONER: Said, we see you —

QUESTION: — allies, Australia, and others to call the Israeli ambassador and tell him that in person?

MR. TONER: Well, Said, we’re in almost – well, we are in daily contact with the Israeli Government through our mission in Israel, and we’re going to convey what we’ve – privately as well as what we’ve conveyed publicly.

QUESTION: I have one last question on – if you indulge me – on the West Bank. The Israelis now are stamping visitors’ American visitors and others, when they enter the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. Are you concerned about that? Did you express your concern to the Israelis?

MR. TONER: I’ve looked into it. I don’t have much to say about it beyond the fact that it’s really a question better directed to the Israeli Government for their specifics on their border procedures.

My understanding is that this stamp is for – is an entry stamp that permits travel —

QUESTION: Into the West Bank?

MR. TONER: — into the West Bank.

QUESTION: But you do recognize the West Bank as occupied territory; correct?

MR. TONER: Again, this is a question, I think, on the actual stamp and what it says. I think it’s best directed to the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: Well, can’t you see if there is more that you can say about this, considering the fact that you took great pains to say that the Chinese map and their map and the Chinese passport was wrong? And this would seem to follow along the same lines. If the Israelis are now using words that would imply that they’re – that would – that might imply a claim over territory, it would seem to be roughly the same as the Chinese passport issue, which you said you were raising with the Chinese.

MR. TONER: I wouldn’t conflate the two issues. I could look to see if we have anything more to say on it, but I think – the emphasis on the word “might” – I think that this is a stamp that they provide for —

QUESTION: Well, the point is that I don’t think —

MR. TONER: — travelers into Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank.

QUESTION: Well, have you talked —

MR. TONER: I have not. We’ve not sought clarification on it. I’ll check.

QUESTION: You’ve not? Because I would think that you might want to, to make sure that this isn’t – this is not something that prejudges the outcome of a negotiation, which is the same thing as the Chinese passport —

MR. TONER: I’ll look into it. But obviously you know what our position is on that, but I’ll look into it.

QUESTION: Well, then you would have a problem with it if —

MR. TONER: I’ll look into it, Matt.


QUESTION: Would you be concerned that this might be interpreted as creeping annexation?

MR. TONER: Again, I think I just told Matt I don’t have many details, beyond the fact that this is a stamp that their customs and border agency provides stamps on passports for people to go into these Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. I’ll try to get more details if we have any on the actual names that they’re using.

QUESTION: And do you feel – there was an editorial today in The New York Times saying that perhaps it is time for the Administration to retake the lead in sort of reigniting the talks or the peace process. Do you feel that this is the feeling in this building?

MR. TONER: Well, I think, as I said yesterday to Matt, this is a difficult and complex process. I don’t think we’ve ever backed away from our efforts to get the parties back to the negotiating table, but we have had some setbacks. Last week’s vote in the UN was a setback. The Israeli announcement on Friday was a setback. But we continue to work closely with our partners on this to get them back to what we all want to see, which is a negotiated settlement.

Yeah. Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the drone that Iran said that it took down?

MR. TONER: I really don’t have – I think the – this is – those kinds of questions are probably best directed to the Department of Defense. I would just say that we have no evidence that the Iranian claims are true. But for any details about the type of UAV, I would just refer you to the Pentagon.

Yeah. Go ahead, Dmitry.

QUESTION: Do you see any value in arranging the ministerial Quartet meeting at this point of time to address the current —

MR. TONER: I mean, we always see value in the Quartet meeting. As far as I know, there’s no plans for them to meet.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Do you have – I think you have a readout of Ambassador Glyn Davies’ meeting with South Korean and Japanese envoys.

MR. TONER: I don’t think we have a readout. We do – I can announce that on December 4th, we’re going to host Japan and the Republic of Korea in Washington for adialogue on the DPRK, and that will be hosted, as you mentioned, by our Special Representative for North Korea Glyn Davies. The Republic of Korea delegation will be headed by their Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Issues Lim Sung-nam, and the Japanese delegation will be headed by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Asian and Oceanic Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama. So these are part of our regular trilateral meetings on which discuss a wide range of regional and global issues, but certainly the focus here will be on North Korea.

QUESTION: Was this scheduled before the North Korean —

MR. TONER: It was not.

QUESTION: It was not? So this was called in response to that announcement?


QUESTION: Follow up on North Korea?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Follow up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s the purpose of the meeting, so in terms of —

MR. TONER: Well, I think we said in our statement on Saturday, and I reiterated yesterday, that we’re going to consult with our partners and allies on the days ahead on our response, and so that’s in keeping with that.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

QUESTION: Still on North Korea.

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information to add on the Iranian presence in North Korea? I mean, last I heard, you didn’t have anything. You had just heard the reports. And I’m just wondering —

MR. TONER: I didn’t. I don’t have anything beyond my comments yesterday.

Yeah. Said on North Korea?

QUESTION: May we go back to Syria? I’m sorry for missing —

MR. TONER: That’s okay. Are we done with North Korea? And then I’ll go Syria.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said yesterday that North Korea informed the United States of its rocket launch plan in advance of announcement. I’m not going to ask you about this timing, because you don’t want to talk about it. Instead I’m wondering if —

MR. TONER: I don’t want to talk about it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m wondering if the United States gave an immediate response to North Korea at that time.

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I wasn’t in the room. If we did, it would be to express our disapproval.

QUESTION: A quick one on n

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.


MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry, Said. I’ll get to you after – it’s okay.

QUESTION: Just a very quick one. I mean, there’s been some statements out of Turkey recently that seem to – on Iran oil trade, which question whether or not the U.S. sanctions cover various elements of Turkey’s Iranian oil trade, and I’m just wondering if you can tell us if you have been discussing them with them, this issue, or where are you on talks. Is this a serious disagreement?

MR. TONER: Well, no. I wouldn’t characterize it as such. I just would say that we continue, obviously, to consult closely with Turkey, as we do with all the countries, on the scope of U.S. sanctions against Iran, and certainly we would pursue any evidence of potentially sanctionable transactions, but I don’t have anything further to add to that.

QUESTION: So this is just sort of part of your ongoing conversation? There isn’t any sort of special discussion about this?

MR. TONER: I would say it’s part of our ongoing – I mean, this – because of the nature of these, this is an ongoing process, frankly, the nature of these sanctions, rather.

Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Back to Syria.

MR. TONER: Back to Syria.

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: I don’t know if we covered it, but do you have any comment on Russia’s decision not to participate in the of Syria meeting in Morocco, the upcoming meeting?

MR. TONER: I mean, other than that we want to see, obviously, Russia come around to the point of view of the international community with regard to what’s happening in Syria, we want to work with Russia, as we’ve said many times from this podium, on the basis of the Geneva action group’s communiqué, which we continue to believe offers the best framework for enabling a transition.

I will note that Secretary Clinton’s obviously in Brussels today. They’ve met with the NATO-Russia Council this morning. I know she’s going to have an opportunity in the next couple of days to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I’m certain they’ll discuss Syria.

QUESTION: Will he be able to meet with her? He broke his arm.

MR. TONER: I hope his arm feels better, but I have no doubt he’s a pretty vital man, he’ll soldier on.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Brussels?

MR. TONER: I believe so. There – it’s – because of the – they’re going to have – obviously they have the NATO Ministerial, but then they immediately go to Ireland, where they’re going to have the OSCE Ministerial. So she’ll have successive events, if you will, and opportunities to meet with him. I don’t know precisely when they’ll meet, though.


MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What is your update on the U.S. mediation to defuse the military tensions between the Iraqi Government and Kurdistan Regional Government in North Iraq? Do you have anything new?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I think I would just say at the outset this is obviously an Iraqi process. We’re doing what we can, obviously, to encourage dialogue, and discussions are ongoing. I would refer you to the Government of Iraq for any details, but ultimately improving security in Iraq is in the interests of all parties in Iraq and will benefit all Iraqis. So we want to see this dialogue continue and want to see a resolution.

QUESTION: Okay. Mark, on this point —

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: — a few weeks ago, there was a delegation, a delegation, that went and met with the Ministry of Interior and Armed Forces in Iraq. Are you – did anyone share with you the results of that meeting and —

MR. TONER: I don’t, Said. I can take the question and see what came out of that —

QUESTION: Okay. Sure.

MR. TONER: — specific meeting.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Egypt and —

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) information coming from Cairo saying that police fired tear gas to stop protestors from approaching the presidential palace and that President Morsi has left the palace.

MR. TONER: Well, Michel —

QUESTION: Are you —

MR. TONER: Obviously there’s a lot of tension in Cairo right now. We would simply urge that protesters express their views peacefully and that they be given the environment, if you will, to protest peacefully, in the sense that we want to see them, rather, exercise their right to protest in a safe and secure environment. That’s just generally where we come down on these issues.

QUESTION: And do you have any call for President Morsi?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think it’s important as the process for approving the constitution moves forward that it be viewed as credible to the Egyptian people. It’s really for the Egyptian people to decide what this constitution looks like, and ultimately up to them to approve it. And it’s going to move towards a referendum on December 15th. In the coming days, it’s going to be important that they have an opportunity to express their views, as I said, peacefully, and ultimately that they’re able to express their views in a vote in a peaceful and secure environment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Thanks. Yep. That’s it. I’m sorry. I’ve got to cut it short today. I apologize.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:26 p.m.)

*Following is President Obama’s actual quote:

“We’re joined by some of our Russian friends today. Russia has said that our current agreement hasn’t kept pace with the changing relationship between our countries. To which we say, let’s update it. Let’s work with Russia as an equal partner. Let’s continue the work that’s so important to the security of both our countries. And I’m optimistic that we can.”