Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 24, 2012.
- 70+ Nations at Talks in Tunis / Humanitarian Crisis is Today’s Concern / Continue Support of Arab League Plan / U.S. Continues to Monitor Syria’s Chemical Stockpile
- Support Kofi Annan as UN Envoy
- Demonstrations / U.S. to Continue Engagement with Civil, Political, and Religious Society
- NORTH KOREA
- Ambassador Glyn Davies’ Meetings
- Continued Concerns on Lack of Compliance on Nuclear Program
- Presidential Election
- Pakistani Parliamentary Review
- Congressional Delegation
- Political Prisoners
- ASIA PACIFIC
- Readout of Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell’s Travels
MR. TONER: Hey, everybody. Happy Friday. I don’t have anything for you at the top, so I’ll go to your questions.
MR. TONER: Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. The Saudi foreign minister and delegation just withdrew from the conference in Tunisia. Does that show that there is a split within at least the Arab League? And what’s your reaction to that? Because there are some proposing a Yemen style, others want to arm the opposition, so Saudi withdrawing —
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’ve seen differing reports on what in fact happened. I saw an additional report that simply said that they – the delegation left the building to attend some bilateral meetings. So it’s unclear to me what exactly happened.
I think what’s more important is that, as I – as we’ve said, 70-plus nations are in Tunis today trying to chart a way forward, working with the Syrian National Council, which is there as a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition, for Syria, for the Syrian people. And again, we’re looking at how to assist them, obviously, in this immediate humanitarian crisis that they’re facing but also in the long term.
But as to the Saudis’ disposition, I don’t know. I mean, I’d have to refer you ultimately to the Saudis. But obviously, they’ve been a leader in – within the Arab League in calling for more action on Syria.
QUESTION: Just to clarify that, so as far as you are concerned, there is no split in opposition —
MR. TONER: Not at all.
QUESTION: — in opinions within the —
MR. TONER: I – well, I mean, look. I simply don’t know. I mean, I saw, in terms of what the Saudis’ actions were, that – again, we saw subsequent reports that said that they’d simply left to attend some bilateral meetings. So I just would refer you to the Saudis for more information.
QUESTION: The Saudi foreign minister also said that he was asked about arming the rebels, and he said it was an excellent idea. Do you share that opinion now?
MR. TONER: Well, Brad, there’s lots of ideas out circulating around in Tunisia today about what we can possibly do, next steps. Look, I’m going to be very circumspect in what I say about the situation in Tunis today. Obviously, the center of gravity is there, and you’re going to have Secretary Clinton out in an hour or so, who’s going to talk about what happened there today and the progress that was made. There’s a lot of —
QUESTION: But you had previously said it was a bad idea.
MR. TONER: There’s a lot of ideas circulating – sorry, just to finish in answering your question, though, there’s a lot of ideas circulating. Again, I think the immediate concern that people are trying to address today in Tunis is this humanitarian crisis.
QUESTION: My question was: Do you share the opinion that it’s an excellent idea to arm the rebels?
MR. TONER: No. We have said and we remain convinced that we don’t want to see a further militarization.
QUESTION: Can I ask you as well about —
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the Secretary’s comments yesterday? She seemed to imply that this militarization will take place. She said somehow, somewhere, they will get – I don’t have the exact words, but it was a very —
MR. TONER: Right. And nor do I in front of me, but I think she was just stating a fact, which is that the longer the assault by the Assad regime on the Syrian people persists, we’re going to see more defections and we’re going to see Syrian people taking up arms to defend themselves, defend their families. We’ve said it before, that Assad, through his brutality and violence, is leading the country down a very dangerous path.
QUESTION: And can I just ask you —
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, go ahead. Finish it. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just lastly, to finish this thought, have you been told by any of your Arab partners that they are now supplying weapons to rebels, or plan to soon?
MR. TONER: Certainly not that I’m aware of, no.
QUESTION: Are you at all concerned that given that it does appear that at least some Arab countries are inclined to supply weapons, that the U.S., through its position, is sort of taking its eye off the ball? If that’s happening and the U.S. isn’t involved, doesn’t that sort of leave the U.S. out of the equation a bit? Wouldn’t it be better for the U.S. to be more directly involved?
Senator Lieberman and McCain have called for vigorous American leadership on this question. How does sort of saying, well, we don’t support this and stepping away equate into vigorous leadership?
MR. TONER: Well, I think vigorous leadership is working within the international community following the UN Security Council failure to bring this group together, working with regional organizations to build more pressure on Assad. As I said, there’s lots of ideas floating around in the ether in Tunis. I think the immediate concern is to do something to address the horrific humanitarian crisis. But again, I’ll just leave it for the Secretary to address what’s going to come out of this meeting. I think there’s lots of ideas floating, there’s lots of urgency that people are feeling, and there’s also a sense that more needs to be done. We certainly feel that we don’t want to see more violence in Syria. We want to see less violence. That’s why we’re supporting the Arab League transition plan.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: And Mark, would you say that with this Saudi foreign minister walking out – on the one hand, they’re saying that arming the rebels is a good idea, and on the other, they’re walking out, there may be – while there may be agreement in principle, there is a clash on how we implement these things?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s really hard for me, if I didn’t convey that. I don’t know what was the reason for their walkout. I’ve seen differing news reports about it. But I would just say that there’s a broad consensus within that meeting to do something immediately for the people of Syria, the people in Homs who are under a daily barrage from Syrian artillery, but also to begin to look for the future, how we’re working with the Syrian opposition. We had the Syrian – the – one of the main opposition groups there at the table to talk about that transition. So I think this is an important gathering, and I think there’s broad consensus that more needs to be done.
QUESTION: Now, would it be – would it safe to – be safe to assume that as a result of this meeting, we are likely to see a recognition of the Syrian National Council as the entity representing Syria?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. I just think that we – as we said, they are one of the most credible voices of the Syrian opposition. And we want to see that Syrian opposition coalesce and come together, and that’s one of the reasons they were invited today, so we can help them in that process.
QUESTION: On the topic of the opposition – and you said the Secretary talked about the increasing credibility of the opposition – but in recent weeks, we’ve heard from James Clapper and others talking about the concerns about the fragmented nature of the opposition. I think even Clapper talked about possibility of it being infiltrated by elements of al-Qaida. What assurances do you have that this is going to be a credible opposition going forward?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that you’ve seen – you go to a multifaceted – I think you talked about al-Qaida elements as well. Is that what you just said? Again, it’s very unclear. We don’t have eyes and ears on the ground anymore in Syria. There is a credible opposition. That opposition needs to grow itself. It needs to become more coherent. It needs to become more broadly representative of the Syrian people. So I think that’s one area where this Friends of Syria working with the Syrian National Council needs to work and make progress. And I think we all recognize that, because that’s the path towards ultimately a democratic transition here, which we all support.
In terms of al-Qaida and possible al-Qaida activity, Assad’s done a really good job at sowing chaos within his country, and we all know that al-Qaida feeds off chaos, so —
QUESTION: I have a follow-up. I think you said in your intro that you – that the U.S. sees the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Is that a new thing or has that been the line all along?
MR. TONER: I think it’s been the line – again, I think it’s been our understanding – I mean, we’ve had contacts with the Syrian National Council for many, many months. We’ve met with them here as well as in Europe, and now in Tunis.
QUESTION: But, I mean, this official designation as a legitimate representative, that sounds sort of like officialese that was moving along the lines of the TNC.
MR. TONER: No, I think that we’re just – a credible voice of the opposition – I think they are a coherent representation of the Syrian opposition now. They’re not the only one.
QUESTION: And what are you basing that on? I mean, you think – they don’t have much contact with the people on the ground in Syria at all, according to our reports.
MR. TONER: Well, we’re trying to build those relationships and those – or we’re trying to facilitate in how they can – that’s – you’re right, that is a challenge here – is how they reach within Syria, which has limited communications, limited ability to reach the outside world, and how they – we connect the opposition on the ground in Syria with the Syrian National Council. That’s a challenge.
QUESTION: But shouldn’t you wait until those lines of communication are open before you declare that they’re a legitimate representative of the people on the ground, that they —
MR. TONER: Well, I think – I didn’t say they were “the.” I said they were “a.”
QUESTION: Mark, can you tell us concretely —
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: — what representation do you have of the Alawites in this opposition, the Syrian Christians, possibly even Syrian Jews or Bedouins? Are they represented at all in this opposition, or is it largely a Sunni composition?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of the makeup of this – the SNC. We view them as a credible voice of the Syrian opposition. We certainly recognize that any representative of the Syrian opposition as it grows, as it comes together, as it coalesces, needs to be able to represent all of those different communities.
QUESTION: Well, tell me this, Mark, and to follow-up on that: If you give a backing to this Syrian National Council – and it is primarily a Sunni group – and you try and get rid of Assad, what happens to the Alawites?
MR. TONER: There’s a lot of – no, I mean —
QUESTION: There’s a great fear that this will lead to a Sunni/Shia conflict that will – may not be limited solely to Syria.
MR. TONER: Well, there’s a lot of speculation there in that question. We’re not there yet, but what I think you do speak to is this fear by some Syrians of what would happen after Assad. It’s already, in a certain sense, as the Secretary has said herself, a foregone conclusion that Assad’s going to leave. We, in our conversations with the SNC, are making very clear that they need to be representative of the – of all the Syrian people. So that’s part of this ongoing conversation.
Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: What does it mean to be a representative – indefinite article – of the Syrian opposition? They are somebody —
MR. TONER: I think it just means – what we’re saying here is that we’re not recognizing them as the only, sole representative of the Syrian opposition, and I think it’s in part recognition that there are these challenges, there are opposition groups within Syria, and they need to coalesce. I don’t know how I could be more frank.
QUESTION: Right. But to be a representative – if you Syrian and you declare yourself in the opposition, you are by nature a representative of the Syrian opposition. You’re not giving them any – this is just a rhetorical game, no? Who do they speak for, besides themselves?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is a – your question doesn’t address the fact that this is an organized group of leading opposition figures that has connections both outside of Syria as well as within Syria. But at this point, as I said, they’re not the sole representative.
QUESTION: But do you have any idea of what segment of the opposition – or what segment of Syrians in general they speak for?
MR. TONER: I don’t, at this point, no.
QUESTION: So it’s useless.
QUESTION: Yeah, Mark.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Go ahead, please.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Couple of questions. What is another opposition group, aside from the SNC?
MR. TONER: Well, again, there’s these local coordination committees that exist in most towns and villages that represent local opposition members. And again, I think that what’s important here is that we need to see a Syrian opposition emerge that is more unified.
QUESTION: What can you tell me about efforts to retrieve the injured French journalist from Homs, and the bodies of Marie Colvin and the French photo journalist?
MR. TONER: We do understand that the Syrian Government has authorized access to humanitarian organizations seeking to assist the injured and, of course, retrieve the bodies of foreign nationals in certain areas of Homs. And so we would just ask the Syrian authorities to support the Red Crescent as well as the Red Cross in efforts – their efforts to evacuate the injured and deceased as soon as possible.
QUESTION: You have a timeframe on this?
MR. TONER: I do not. I think that’s – I said as soon as possible. We understand that they’ve been authorized access, but we’re, obviously, urging quicker action on this.
QUESTION: Does it disturb you that they are only authorized to remove foreign – injured foreigners?
MR. TONER: It does. And I would just extend that. Obviously, we want to see full humanitarian access to Homs. Absolutely.
QUESTION: It seems that the French ambassador went back to Damascus basically to – maybe to bring back the injured and so on. Are there any plans to send back Ambassador Ford to do the same thing?
MR. TONER: Not at this time. No.
QUESTION: Okay. A quick follow-up on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. The TASS News Agency is saying that Pentagon sources – they attribute it to – Pentagon sources – that they’re discussing the existence of something like 50 to 55 chemical weapons storage facilities and so on, and the Americans are having contingency plans in case the Assad regime folds. Could you comment on that?
QUESTION: But – yeah, but you are aware of this —
MR. TONER: And we do believe it still remains under government control, but we’re continuing to look at it closely.
Yeah. Go ahead, Lee.
QUESTION: The Secretary announced $10 million in aid. Can you explain to us how that’s going to get there, what are we talking about? And then she said that there would be more aid in coming days.
MR. TONER: Again, I’m going to let her speak to that in her presser.
QUESTION: Also on this – also on Syria. There are comments by Hamas, today – by Mr. Haniyeh – talking quite favorably about the uprising in Syria. Obviously, the U.S. doesn’t have a good relationship with Hamas, but —
MR. TONER: Obviously. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But what’s your assessment of this? I mean, traditionally, Hamas has been seen as a proxy for Iran. Does this show some sort of division there?
MR. TONER: I think, if anything, it just speaks to how isolated Assad is.
QUESTION: The interim Tunisian president was – country was hosting the conference, said today that perhaps it should be a negotiated settlement whereby President Assad and his family can leave in return for the stop of violence. Do you support this approach at all?
MR. TONER: I think we just – we continue to go back to our support for the Arab League transition plan.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t be – you would not object to, let’s say, a plan similar to the one submitted by the GCC for Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen?
MR. TONER: We want to see Assad go. He’s lost all credibility and – a legitimate transition plan take place.
QUESTION: Would you be agreeable to his departure without any future, let’s say, procedures in the criminal Court of Justice and in the International —
MR. TONER: No. I mean, ultimately, that’s something that the Syrian people themselves are going to have to address. But absolutely, we want to see Assad and anyone else with blood on their hands held accountable.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, does the U.S. have any reaction to Ban Ki Moon’s appointment of Kofi Annan as this joint UN-Arab League envoy?
MR. TONER: I just – I know that Ambassador Rice in New York has already tweeted about it, but we think he’s an outstanding choice to lead these efforts.
QUESTION: Why – based on what? I mean, has he had a huge peacekeeping success track record? What do you think – why do you think he’s the right guy for this? He’s not an Arab, number one.
MR. TONER: Well, again, he is an individual with broad experience on peacekeeping efforts. Obviously, given his background – and, I mean, beyond that, he’s someone who can, we think, credibly represent the Arab League plan and make progress.
QUESTION: But Mark, there was serious criticism of his performance in Rwanda before the genocide.
MR. TONER: I’m aware.
QUESTION: And that – so how can that qualify him to lead the mission in Syria?
MR. TONER: Again, we think he’s an excellent choice. We think he can do the job.
MR. TONER: Yeah, Goyal.
QUESTION: Mark, can you update about ongoing violence – violations – violence about the Qu’ran burning, if it’s going to spread in any neighboring countries?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You’re talking about – you mentioned Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: Okay. Right now, we’ve seen some ongoing demonstrations today in towns and cities across Afghanistan. We’d certainly appreciate efforts by Afghan officials to call for protests to be peaceful, and our understanding is that most of them have been. But we’re obviously very concerned about these pockets of violence and reports of deaths. We’re going to continue to engage with the Afghan political, religious, and civil society in order to call for calm. We’ve seen Afghan leaders from President Karzai on down, while recognizing the severity of the incident that took place, calling for calm, and we’re hopeful that the Afghan people will accept our sincerest apologies for what happened and we can move on.
QUESTION: Do you see any kind of foul play by somebody to bring (inaudible) to the U.S., like anti-U.S. sentiments somewhere?
MR. TONER: I apologize. I didn’t hear the last part of your question.
QUESTION: Any foul play by some groups, anti-U.S. sentiments to – because of U.S. presence in Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: I just think that this is obviously an incident that has stirred up tremendous emotion, and we’re very cognizant of that fact. And again, we’ve just been very measured in our – expressing our sincerest apologies for what happened.
QUESTION: And finally, when Secretary met with the foreign minister of Pakistan, this issue came up or any —
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that it did. I can’t rule it out. I don’t know, frankly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: There have been apologies for this incident from the President on down. Have we heard anything like an apology from President Karzai for the shooting of the two American soldiers by someone dressed in an Afghan soldier’s uniform?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t know if he’s expressed his condolences about that shooting. Our apology regarding the Qu’ran burning, I think, speaks for itself. We recognize that this was an affront not only to Afghans but to Muslims worldwide, and it was in that spirit that this apology was offered.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The – both the State Department and the White House have put out statements on that. But since then, there’s been some calls by the opposition in Senegal saying that the election should not go ahead, saying that the situation is too chaotic. What’s the United States’s take on that? Should the elections go ahead?
MR. TONER: Well, I think what we’re – what’s fundamentally important to us is that, as we move forward, that these elections go – or take place in a nonviolent or a calm manner. I can say that our Secretary – our Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson is actually in Senegal, and he is participating as part of the U.S. Government observation team. And as you know, there’s a number of observation teams on the ground, and they’ll, we hope, help instill calm in this election. We want to see free, fair, and transparent elections in Senegal. We believe it’s got the democratic transition – or tradition, rather, to allow these to take place.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, so the timing of it is not a matter of – on which the U.S. has an opinion?
MR. TONER: Well, we obviously want to see calm restored. We want to call on Senegalese security forces as well as any public protestors to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.
QUESTION: Was Assistant Secretary Carson’s trip there, was that long planned or was this a relatively recent development?
MR. TONER: It was – I think it was, I mean, a recent development, I think, in the last several weeks.
QUESTION: So is – I mean, is he going in part because of the violence, that he’s going to try and suss that out, or —
MR. TONER: Well, I think we do have concerns given the recent spate of violence there, and I think he’s there to obviously play a positive role, both conveying to the Senegalese Government our desire to see calm, free, fair elections take place, and as well to the Senegalese public, convey that same message.
QUESTION: Has he had any meetings with President Wade or does he plan on it?
MR. TONER: I’ll find out.
QUESTION: Did he arrive today?
MR. TONER: He arrived yesterday, I believe.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: Can you —
QUESTION: No, continuing on that.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it necessary that calmness be restored for the election to happen?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we always want to see elections take place in an atmosphere of calm, yes.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: I guess —
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: He said he asked you the question a couple times, and I’m trying to understand. It was about the timing. There’s a call for the elections to be delayed and you haven’t said whether they shouldn’t be delayed or should be delayed.
MR. TONER: Again, we believe that the Senegalese Government has the democratic tradition and institutions in place to ensure that these elections happen in a calm, free, fair manner. That’s how we’re going to judge these elections. We have observation teams on the ground. We’re going to keep an eye on things, monitor these elections as they take place. You asked me if we want to see calm restored. We certainly want to see calm restored before our voters go to the polls, but —
QUESTION: Is the current level of calmness sufficient for an election to take place?
MR. TONER: I haven’t gotten a spot report on what today’s – whether there’s any additional violence today. But again, it’s incumbent both on Senegalese security forces as well as Senegalese people who are out there protesting to exercise restraint.
Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TONER: They have wrapped up. They met for an additional two and a half hours today in Beijing. I think Ambassador Davies referred to them as serious and substantive and said that they touched on all the issues. He also described them as useful. I think where we are right now, quite simply, is that he’s going to take what we’ve learned from these discussions and consult with our other Six-Party allies and partners. He did meet with his Chinese counterpart and – earlier today, and now he’s traveling to South Korea and Japan for more consultations, and then, of course, back to Washington.
QUESTION: But no resumption on food aid at this point or —
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Was that discussed?
MR. TONER: It was.
QUESTION: Food aid?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: In depth or just as a —
MR. TONER: I don’t have a sense. I think he said it was raised.
QUESTION: Another one?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Ambassador Davies said there was a little progress, so —
MR. TONER: He did say it was a little progress.
QUESTION: Yes, he said – anyway, it was a progress. So does that mean – but still it was a little, so does that mean we need at least one more round of talks with North Korea before U.S. makes any announcement or a decision?
MR. TONER: I think he also said that we’re going to remain in touch through those known channels, and stay tuned; we don’t have any plans right now.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Palestinian issue?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Andy. You had a new topic or no?
QUESTION: Well, at least he had a new topic before I had a new topic.
MR. TONER: Now I’m really confused, but —
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. Would you say the two sides, U.S. and North Korea, have come closer than they were in Geneva talks – compared to the Geneva talks last November – October ’05?
MR. TONER: You said have they come – have we come any closer?
MR. TONER: I think Ambassador Davies said anytime we meet and talk, it’s a good thing. But we’re going to obviously consult with our allies and partners on possible next steps.
QUESTION: Just briefly on that please, you mentioned he’s going to South Korea and Japan. Is there – that’s an immediate trip?
MR. TONER: Yes. I think on his way home, yeah.
QUESTION: It’s going to be on his way home? Okay.
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding. If that’s different, I’ll let you know.
One more on that?
QUESTION: Just one more.
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: On the meeting you mentioned on Mr. Davies with a Chinese counterpart, was that scheduled before or it’s just —
MR. TONER: Right. With Special Representative Wu DaWei? I think it was, yeah.
QUESTION: One more?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is it safe to say that verifying the suspension of uranium enrichment program in Yongbyon, that’s one of the major topics discussed?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into it.
Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about the Palestinian issue.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Is there anything new in the last 24 to 48 hours in your discussions with the Palestinian Authority or with David Hale’s discussions?
MR. TONER: I apologize; I haven’t gotten an update from Ambassador Hale in the last 24 hours or so. We are where we are. We wanted to see them get back to the negotiating table. We think that the Jordan talks were a good start. We want to see those continue.
QUESTION: And is that – the fact that you have not gotten in touch, is that a good sign or a bad sign? Does that mean that the talks are ongoing and things are moving?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t want to characterize it either way. Let me check in with Ambassador Hale.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On a report – it’s out in Vienna this morning – saying that Iran has sharply stepped up its enrichments drive, has more than a 100 kgs of 20 percent enriched uranium. What’s the U.S. response to this?
MR. TONER: You know the drill here. But we continue to have serious concerns about Iran’s lack of compliance, lack of willingness to engage with the international community about its nuclear program. Those haven’t changed and they’re quite serious.
QUESTION: So, I mean, you say those haven’t changed. So this report with – you don’t have to go into the specifics, but it does give you new details that it would cause you to increase —
MR. TONER: Well, right. And we’re studying the report obviously. I’m just giving you kind of a response based on the fact that we had the IAEA visit earlier this week that was termed a disappointment. And as we – and we obviously have the report from several months ago. So our – there’s been nothing that has allayed our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Has there been anything that’s increased your concerns about Iran’s nuclear program?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m – let them digest the report in Vienna.
QUESTION: In the – diplomats there are saying that the amount of higher enriched uranium that’s unaccounted for is enough for experiments in nuclear missiles – well, for experiments in arming a nuclear missile. Would this be a worrying development to have this amount of unaccounted uranium?
MR. TONER: I just – Brad, I just said I can’t get into the details, it’s still classified.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to confirm it.
MR. TONER: Yeah. But you’re asking me to comment on an alleged finding in the report.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. You had a question?
QUESTION: Yeah. New topic actually.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Oh good.
QUESTION: Are you going to Iran?
MR. TONER: Oh you want to stay on Iran?
QUESTION: Just one more.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Iran is saying now because of – maybe under pressure from the international sanctions, that they want to the west through UN. Is there any talks going on at the United Nations in back doors or if U.S. is part of it?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, you know there’s this letter that the P-5+1 group is looking at, but there’s been no decision made yet.
QUESTION: Yemen, breaking news that Abd-Rabbu al-Hadi Mansur is becoming the new president now. He won by 99.8 percent. It sounds like the Arab world before the revolutions. Is this a step in the right direction?
MR. TONER: That’s a lot of commentary buried in your question there. (Laughter.) It’s another reason why I don’t like connectivity in the briefing room. But anyway because I’m asked to react to spot reports. Look, we’ve been very clear —
QUESTION: Well, you expect him to win, at least?
MR. TONER: Now, we made very clear – we had – we put out a statement the other day about the presidential election, and I think Toria, on that same day, laid out the next steps in this process. And we do view it as a positive step forward. I think we’ve termed this – it was an election, but it was also a referendum for the GCC plan, and again, of course, it’s one step forward. There are additional steps, including national dialogue, constitution reform, referendum on amendments, reforming the voter list as well, and then, ultimately elections. So this is going to play out in the next couple of years.
QUESTION: Yeah, but they are (inaudible) with a legacy of trumped-up legitimacy by these leaders, as we have seen. Aren’t you a little bit wary of this 99 percent figure? I mean, it’s – isn’t it a bit —
MR. TONER: Well, again —
QUESTION: Does it take you back? It’s a throwback —
MR. TONER: I can’t speak to – I can’t speak to the voter tally. I haven’t seen it yet. I can just say that Yemenis were obviously very passionate about this election, this referendum, and that the voting took place in an atmosphere of calm. And I think that, again, it speaks to the fact that Yemenis are ready to move on to their future.
QUESTION: So you have no doubts about that —
MR. TONER: I said – I said I can’t speak to the —
QUESTION: A different – did you confirm President’s Saleh’s departure from the U.S.?
MR. TONER: I can confirm he left. Yes.
QUESTION: Does he have a multiple reentry visa for humanitarian purposes?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: Where did he go?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. You’ll have to – I refer you to the Yemeni Government.
QUESTION: Mark, if we can go back as far as the Secretary’s meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister in London, Secretary was saying that the U.S. is ready to resume talks and have good back relations with Pakistan. But Pakistani foreign minister and also in Pakistan, they are saying that, wait a minute, we – this time the talks and relations will be on our terms and also we are reviewing – the parliament is reviewing the relations now. What I am asking you really, what if something turns out saying this is like Pakistani dictating the U.S. foreign policy? And second, how long can you wait for the review in order to – isn’t some time too late?
MR. TONER: Well, in answer to your first question, this is the Pakistanis exercising their sovereign right to look at this relationship, decide what they want out of this relationship, and make a decision that it’s in their national interest, as is our relationship with the Pakistani Government in the U. S.’s national interest. We’ve long said that we share the same goals and we face the same challenges, and that’s why this relationship is so important.
QUESTION: And finally, finally just want a quick – how can you deal and talk to a prime minister who has been indicted by their own supreme court? Is it – isn’t it difficult really?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe it’s difficult. This is an internal political process that’s being played out in the courts in Pakistan, but he remains the prime minister.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to Senator Leahy’s meetings with Raul Castro and Alan Gross?
MR. TONER: I believe so. Just to confirm your – what you raise in your question, Senator Leahy did, along with several other senators and U.S. representatives, travel to Cuba as a congressional – part of a congressional delegation. I just would refer you to their offices for more details on the trip. But we did brief him prior to his trip and underlined our desire to see Alan Gross released. We did not ask that any particular message be passed on on behalf of the Administration, but we’re certainly, as we’ve said many times, going to use every opportunity and every appropriate channel that we have to press the Cuban Government for Mr. Gross’s release.
QUESTION: Well, if he didn’t pass – if he didn’t ask for any special message to be passed along, you’re not using this opportunity. Why didn’t you tell him —
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. We briefed Senator Leahy about our concerns and asked that he raise it with the Cuban authorities.
QUESTION: Is there a sense that there’s progress from the trip?
MR. TONER: I don’t have a readout yet.
QUESTION: The Cubans seem to link it once again to the case of the Cuban Five in the United States. Has there been any discussion about arranging —
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: — an arrangement that would involve those two —
MR. TONER: No. And we’ve been quite clear on this.
QUESTION: A different topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Burma. The dissident monk Gambira – the U.S. had spoken about him before.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: But state media recently said that he’s going to face trial. I think the charge is squatting.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a reaction on that?
MR. TONER: As you said, there – we have seen reports that authorities plan to charge U Gambira for squatting at a monastery that the government had apparently closed. We were not – and this is – again, the information that I have is a day or so old, but we’re not aware that authorities have detained him physically but that they plan to charge him with this charge.
Our reaction is that we call on Burmese authorities to protect the fundamental freedom of all its citizens, including those political prisoners who have been recently released, and begin a genuine dialogue with these released prisoners, political prisoners and ethnic groups, to promote national reconciliation.
QUESTION: To expand on that —
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — I mean, some of the ones – some of the political prisoners who were recently released, they said that their conditions are a bit onerous, that they – it’s basically being – like being out on parole or on bail. What’s the U.S. position on that? Does the U.S. want them (inaudible) unconditionally?
MR. TONER: Well, yeah. I mean, we’ve long called for all political prisoners released and without conditions.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In Egypt, I think there’s some legal proceedings this week – weekend that began on the NGO situation.
MR. TONER: There are. I’m sorry, I don’t have an update for you. I mean, I know that we remain engaged at multiple levels with the Egyptian Government, but – and we’re trying to seek a resolution to this situation. But I don’t have any progress or updates to report.
QUESTION: But is their presence required at this trial, I guess is how some are saying —
MR. TONER: Their physical presence? I’m not frankly sure of that. I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Is the – Sam LaHood still in Egypt, or he came back to the U.S.?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about – oh, Sam LaHood. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. The director of —
MR. TONER: I believe he’s still in Egypt.
QUESTION: He’s still in Egypt?
QUESTION: So this physical presence question —
MR. TONER: I believe so. Yeah, Samir. I’ll double-check on that, but I believe he’s still there.
QUESTION: It’s been a couple days since it’s been asked. And I mean, if you take the question and it’s Monday, the hearing will have already happened. So I’m kind of confused why you – do you not —
MR. TONER: I’ll get back to you today.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government not know if it’s required yet?
MR. TONER: Well, frankly, we continue to work with the Egyptian legal authorities. We’re trying to —
QUESTION: But they haven’t told you?
MR. TONER: — resolve this situation. I’m not going to get into the details of those conversations.
QUESTION: That’s not – that’s just the basic Egyptian law.
MR. TONER: But you’re asking me —
QUESTION: I mean, do you know —
MR. TONER: But you’re asking me to speculate and —
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate. I’m asking you if they’ve been asked to come to the hearing, if they’ve been required to come to the hearing.
MR. TONER: And my question – or my answer to you is I’m not aware, I don’t know.
QUESTION: You don’t know?
MR. TONER: So I’ll go find out.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Campbell, he just came back from a few days in Europe —
MR. TONER: That’s right.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Do you have a readout of his meetings? Who did he meet with and what was the purpose?
MR. TONER: I think I do, but I don’t know where I put it. I have it, yes. He did conclude a visit to London yesterday afternoon. He had several meetings with British officials, including a roundtable meeting with senior officials from across the UK’s interagency, to talk about U.S.-UK cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. He also met with his Quint counterparts, which is the UK, French, German, and Italian officials, to discuss ways to increase U.S. and European joint engagement in the region.
And when he was in Brussels, he met with his European counterparts on a number of Asia Pacific issues, including Burma, North Korea, Vice President – Chinese Vice President Xi’s visit to the United States, as well as the region’s developing multilateral architecture. And then he returned to D.C. last night.
QUESTION: When you talk about joint engagement and cooperation, in what aspects – what aspects are you referring to?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry? What specifically? You mean talking about U.S.-European joint engagement in the region? Is that —
MR. TONER: I think it speaks for itself. The United States is in the midst of its so-called Asian pivot. We are seeking to become more engaged in this region because we are a Pacific nation. And we’re – the European Union is in many ways our essential partner in engaging on many of the issues that confront the world but also the Pacific region, and so we’re going to try to work cooperatively both on the economic front, security front, et cetera.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Isn’t it ironic, though, that the United States – our position in Asia has been relatively independent throughout this century as the only power that didn’t have colonies there, and our policy of returning to Asia is now a policy of working with some of the former colonial powers, bringing France and bringing Great Britain with us into the region? Doesn’t this kind of send a bad signal to some of the countries in the region —
MR. TONER: Not at all.
QUESTION: — including China?
MR. TONER: As I said, the European Union and our European allies and partners remain our essential partners as we address many global challenges. And that speaks for – we are constantly consulting, working together on a variety of issues and approaches, and that also extends to the Pacific region.
Is that it?
(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)