State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, March 21, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 21, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • March 19 Constitutional Referendum
    • Secretary Clinton Calls Regarding Libya
    • U.S. Continues to Maintain Contact with Libyan Opposition
    • UNSCR 1973
    • No Fly Zone
    • Colonel Qadhafi and Associates Need to Step Down Having Turned Weapons Against Their Own People/Need to be Held Accountable
    • Arab Support/ Motivating Factor in Passing UNSCR 1973
    • U.S. Monitoring the Situation Closely
    • There Needs to Be an Open and Transparent Process in Place that Addresses the Legitimate Concerns of all Yemeni People
    • U.S. Calls On All Sides to Refrain From Violence
    • Potassium Iodide Tablets/ Should Only Be Consumed After Specific Instructions From the U.S. Government
    • U.S. Working with the Japanese authorities to Confirm That Death
    • Resignation of Ambassador Pascual
    • U.S. Deeply Troubled By the Letter Bangladesh Bank sent to Grameen Bank Concerning the Status of Dr. Yunus as Managing Directorof Grameen Bank / We Continue to Monitor the Situation Closely
    • Condemn Violence in Syria
    • U.S. Calls on the Syrian Government to Exercise Restraint and Refrain from Violence Against Peaceful Protestors
    • Elections Were Largely Peaceful / Tabulation Process is Underway


1:50 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Look, I have nothing to announce at the top, so – nobody has —

QUESTION: Can we – may I ask you, just very quickly, before we get – everyone gets into Libya, just what –

MR. TONER: You think?

QUESTION: As far as I can tell – and I don’t know, because I was gone all weekend – I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that there’s been any reaction to the Egyptian referendum. Does the United States have anything to do –

MR. TONER: We did – I know National Security Advisor Donilon spoke to it a little bit yesterday in Brazil, but we’re obviously – we applaud the March 19th referendum. Egyptians took an important step towards realizing the aspirations of the January 25th revolution. According to preliminary results, about 40 percent of Egypt’s eligible voters participated, and the constitutional referendum passed with 77 percent of the vote. And certainly, the sight of Egyptians coming forward in unprecedented numbers to peacefully exercise their newly won freedoms is cause for great optimism, will continue to – and will provide a foundation for further progress as the Egyptians continue to build on their democratic future.

QUESTION: Does the United States not have any misgivings about the fact that the amendments that were voted on were crafted by a secretive 10-member panel with no women and no significant opposition figures?

MR. TONER: Well – but what’s important to focus on is the substance of the referendum – the reforms, rather. Candidates will now have three ways to get on the presidential ballot, that the president can now only serve two four-year terms, the president’s now obligated to appoint at least one vice president, and the judiciary’s return to active supervision of elections.

These are positive trends. I note your question and some of these misgivings. Certainly, Egypt’s under tremendous pressure right now as they move towards elections, and we feel that this is progress.

QUESTION: And one other thing. I think it’s about a month now since Vice President Biden called for the emergency law to be – the state of emergency to be suspended immediately. Is that still your position, that it should be suspended immediately?

MR. TONER: There’s been no change that I’m aware of in that policy.

QUESTION: On the referendum again, many in the opposition say that they won’t have enough time to prepare for the elections, this is mainly the secular opposition, and it’s noted that the Brotherhood and the remnants of the NDP are for the – were for the amendments. So do you share those concerns that they won’t have enough time to compete against the more established groups?

MR. TONER: I do think we’ve – and we’ve said before that we recognize that there’s a time constraint, and it’s one of the things that we’re committed to helping the Egyptians address in any way we can. But it is – it’s a challenge, and we’re aware of it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) at least —

QUESTION: Any objections to —

MR. TONER: Yeah, one more on Egypt and —

QUESTION: Yeah, one more on Egypt.


MR. TONER: It’s okay. It’s okay, ma’am.

QUESTION: Did you say that you do have some misgivings about the referendum? Like (inaudible) –

MR. TONER: No, I said – I think I was clear in saying that we feel that it accomplished a great deal —


MR. TONER: — and it helped set —

QUESTION: Right, but you have some misgivings. That’s what you said. What are those misgivings?

MR. TONER: I don’t think I did say there were misgivings. I think I said – I acknowledged what Arshad said —

QUESTION: Oh, I must have – oh, I see.

MR. TONER: — but on the whole, we feel that it was – it did a great deal in setting the stage in – for a democratic progress.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Courtney.


MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay, a couple things. Has – what calls has Secretary Clinton made today, if any, specifically regarding Libya? And can you talk about what kind of engagement the U.S. is having with Libyan opposition forces, if any, at this point?

MR. TONER: Sure. In answer to your first question, yesterday she spoke with Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi-Fihiri, and then as well as the Saudi Foreign Minister al-Faysal. That was yesterday. And then also, just note today she’s spoken with the President twice and with other senior national security officials, and she received – has received regular briefings from her team. And she’ll also be making additional calls. And as we get those, I can pass them to you.

We continue to maintain contact, to talk to the Libyan opposition. The Secretary was in Paris on Saturday. Those communications continue. And we’re also, obviously, in touch with them in Benghazi and elsewhere.

QUESTION: And what level is that at right now? I mean, who from the U.S. is in touch with the rebels, opposition – however you want to call –

MR. TONER: Well, to many – clearly, it’s at several different levels, I mean, beginning with the Secretary, obviously, and then down to Chris Stevens, who’s working these issues for us, Ambassador Cretz and others within the NEA Bureau.

QUESTION: Sorry, she’s had those talks since she met with the opposition? She has spoken with the opposition since Tuesday when she met – or Monday, or when she met with them in Paris?

MR. TONER: I don’t believe – I don’t believe there’s been additional meetings, no.

QUESTION: Okay. And can you talk about the nature of these talks? Are they passing or sharing intelligence, kind of figuring out what –

MR. TONER: I’m not going to talk about sharing intelligence with the Libyan opposition. I think we’ve been clear —

QUESTION: No, but can you say what you’re talking to them about?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, first of all, we’re trying to get – we don’t have eyes and ears on the ground in some of these places, so we’re sharing information but also getting their impressions of what’s happening. And obviously, right now the focus is on the military operation underway in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. And the immediate goals of that are to stop the fighting, to force Qadhafi into a ceasefire, and to provide humanitarian assistance. So that’s the focus of our conversations right now.

QUESTION: But you also said that Secretary Clinton has said that Colonel Qadhafi must go. So, obviously, as you’ve said, this – the no-fly zone is to protect the civilians. But what is the larger U.S. goal here? If – how do you square Qadhafi must go with the military action is only to protect civilians? So what are the next steps in terms of after you set up the no-fly zone? What are the next steps in terms of dealing with the opposition? There’s a lot of leeway and wiggle room in this opposition – in this resolution to help the opposition. So what happens after the no-fly zone is imposed?

MR. TONER: Well, I recognize that there’s a lot of steps in front of us, and you’re right to differentiate what we’re doing right now in terms of UNSCR 1973, or – sorry – UN Security Council Resolution – I hate acronyms – 1973 and what we’re doing to implement that and what possible next steps may be. We have been clear that in the long term we don’t see Qadhafi as a legitimate ruler and we believe he should step down. We are going to, in the long term; continue to apply pressure on him and his associates. 1973 does offer some additional added pressure on Qadhafi himself and his regime, but we’re going to continue discussing with the opposition, working with them, trying to get a feel as they develop as well as an opposition. But that’s separate and apart from what’s going on right now with the military operation.

Go ahead, actually – go ahead, Courtney.

QUESTION: Just the last question I was going to ask was: As far as the talks that the U.S. is having with the opposition, are you asking them not to reengage with Qadhafi’s forces at this point? Are you telling them step back, don’t fight, we’re going to keep pushing the regime loyalists back?

MR. TONER: Well, we want to see a cessation of violence, but beyond that, I can’t tell you what operationally we’re advising the —

QUESTION: Which side do you want to see cessation of violence on? From both sides or just —

MR. TONER: Well, yeah, we want to see just a cessation of violence. I mean, we had Qadhafi poised to basically to go in and reduce Benghazi to rubble. I mean, he was issuing threats and warnings that prompted the military action that we’ve seen underway. We’re trying to end the violence. We’ve, I think, made progress to that end. But as to what we’re advising the opposition, I don’t really want to get into it.

QUESTION: But the Pentagon has —

MR. TONER: Yes. Go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: The Pentagon has said that you could end up in a situation where Qadhafi does stay in power. So how do you square that with Secretary Clinton’s statement that Qadhafi must go? And what – you could have a situation where you have an extended no-fly zone and a partition of the country for a long time, like you did in Iraq.

MR. TONER: We could have a lot of different scenarios play out, and that’s why I don’t really want to get into conjecturing or speculating about each one. Again, our immediate goal is the no-fly zone, our piece of that, and then going forward, continuing to apply pressure on Qadhafi and his regime.

Nicole and then Jim.

QUESTION: So would you say that your policy towards Libya is ad-hoc? I mean, it seems – what is the grand – what is —

QUESTION: Can I ask (inaudible) question instead of that?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Sorry. (Laughter.) When you —

MR. TONER: I’m not going to – I’m certainly not going to embrace your characterization of it though, no.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

QUESTION: Can you explain what you mean when you talk about the opposition? Are you talking about one group informally led by Mahmoud Jibril or are you talking to different groups? What do you mean by that word?

MR. TONER: I think at this point it’s more broad-based, and we’re trying to get a sense of how the opposition – I mean, the opposition has been coming together to some extent, but obviously it’s been under tremendous duress. But we’re talking to many different elements, and I don’t want to really characterize it beyond that. But we’re —

QUESTION: — one single group, but —

QUESTION: Mark, just a —

MR. TONER: James, sorry.

QUESTION: That’s all right. Thanks, Mark. A couple of things. First, would you just lay out for us what you believe to be the status of the campaign right now. Have we effectively established the no-fly zone we were seeking to establish?

MR. TONER: Well, boy, that’s a better question directed to the Pentagon. And I know they’ve given operational briefs that have, I think, positively assessed where we’re at so far and talked about what’s going to now be a transition into a broad-based coalition, perhaps led by NATO command and control that’s going to then enforce a no-fly zone. But I think early assessments – and again, I’m just going by what I’ve seen from the Pentagon – is that it’s been moderately – it’s been successful.

QUESTION: Two more questions.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Since the military action is authorized by a UN resolution that provides only for the protection of civilians as its primary goal, are we to infer that the successful attack on Qadhafi’s compound was either a mistake or collateral damage?

MR. TONER: I’m aware of what you’re talking about. In terms of targeting, I really do have to refer you to the Pentagon and DOD, Department of Defense. I just don’t want to attempt to characterize that. However, they have said that they will go after command and control aspects of Qadhafi’s forces, and that may have been the case here. I just simply don’t know.

QUESTION: Last thing, if I may. Last one.

MR. TONER: Go ahead, finish up.

QUESTION: The last one.

MR. TONER: Then I’ll get to —

QUESTION: Tom Donilon in his briefing repeatedly made reference to how it is the goal of the United States, pursuing its own unilateral policy, separate and aside from the UN actions, to present Qadhafi with choices. And pursuant to Qadhafi leaving is that way that Donilon put it. Just for the sake of clarity, for Colonel Qadhafi’s clarity, for my clarity, for the world’s clarity, what are the choices that you want Qadhafi to be able to see that he has?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s – there are a series of choices. And again, this is not – and the President and Secretary made this clear. This is not the outcome of the United States or any of our partners in this action sought. But what we’ve made clear is we’ve called on – after UN Security Council Resolution 1973 passed, we gave the Qadhafi regime an opportunity to declare a cease fire. They did, but then they didn’t. They declared it, but then we saw actions on the ground that belied that statement. And so, again, there was another opportunity for him to – where he had a choice, and he made the wrong choice. He chose poorly, to quote a famous movie.

But in any case, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to convince Colonel Qadhafi and his regime and his associates that they need to step down from power, that they’re delegitimized as the leaders of their country, having turned weapons against their own people, and that remains our ultimate goal here.

QUESTION: But as a practical matter, how are you driving Qadhafi to make the right choice when you have also made it unmistakably clear that the moment he steps down, he will be treated as a war criminal? How are you helping him go make the decision you want him to make?

MR. TONER: Well, James, what we’re trying to do is —

QUESTION: His choices are down to staying in power or being treated like a war criminal, correct?

MR. TONER: Well, again —

QUESTION: Are those his choices?

MR. TONER: — it is not for us to present him with some kind of golden parachute after what he’s done against his own people.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said that – wait, I forgot my question.

MR. TONER: That’s okay. We’ll come back to it.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Wait, can I give you two really easy ones? And I think —

QUESTION: Yeah, I remember. I think I remember. Can I just – before I forget it, Matt? (Laughter.) Everybody said that Arab support was critical for this coalition – not only Arab support, but leadership and participation. So far, we only have one Arab country, Qatar, that’s taking part in this coalition. You expected several others such as the UAE, possibly Kuwait, Jordan, Algeria. Where is all this Arab support? There’s also been kind of inconsistent statements coming from the Arab League about whether this is what they signed up for.

Isn’t this what you were afraid of, that the Arabs would say that they supported it, and then when it came time to show their support, they wouldn’t offer it?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve been very clear, Elise, throughout this process that we are looking for and, in fact, asking for Arab support. And in fact, one of the motivating factors for Security Council Resolution 1973 was that the GCC and the Arab League came out and asked for that kind of assistance for Libya. And you’re right; Qatar has stepped forward as offering their assets. We want to see Arab support. I don’t want to attempt to characterize before – it’s really up to – and I think Admiral Mullen spoke about this yesterday – up to them to characterize what that support will be, but —

QUESTION: But it does seem that Arabs are not as firmly in kind of the leadership and participation role that you were looking for, which is what, as you said, was a motivating factor for passing the resolution and for the United States getting involved. I mean, the United States told these Arab states, “We’re not going to do this unless you’re – you have skin in the game.” So where is the Arab skin in the game?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re at a phase where initially, the U.S. had certain capabilities that were brought to bear in the early stages, and we believe we do have broad support, Arab support, as we move forward in this process.

QUESTION: If you don’t see that – just one more – if you don’t see that support, if you don’t see more Arab nations taking part in this, is there a possibility that the U.S. will withdraw its support for the no-fly zone?

MR. TONER: I’ll just say that we believe that’s – we have that broad support.

I got to go to —

QUESTION: Sorry, just to follow up on that —

QUESTION: I don’t know what —

QUESTION: — one Arab country is enough Arab support? I mean, that’s enough for you guys?

MR. TONER: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Well, that’s what I’m asking you.

MR. TONER: We’re leaving it for Arab countries themselves to come out and to qualify their support (inaudible) —

QUESTION: But I’m asking you if you – right now, you have —

MR. TONER: We appreciate the fact that Qatar stepped forward, absolutely.

QUESTION: I understand that. Is – but you – right now, you have one. Is that enough to —

MR. TONER: I’m not —

QUESTION: — fulfill what you have said is your goal of getting Arab support?

MR. TONER: We believe we’ve got Arab support. I don’t know how to —

QUESTION: But not – but you said – you didn’t only say support. You said you wanted Arab participation —

MR. TONER: Support and participation, yeah.

QUESTION: — participation and leadership.

QUESTION: I mean, is it leadership if they don’t admit what they’re doing, assuming they’re doing anything other than Qatar?

MR. TONER: Again, I just think we need to let this process play out. Let’s move forward. We’re at a stage now where, obviously, as we were quite clear, the U.S. and others, key allies, had certain assets brought to bear. This is going to be an operation moving forward. It’s going to be a short-term operation, but we’re at the very beginning, and I just don’t want to characterize it in one way or another, what that support is.

QUESTION: But do you believe that more Arab countries will come forward, or don’t you have that indication right now?

MR. TONER: I’ll just say that we – we’re doing this in support of the GCC and the Arab League, and beyond that, I’m just not going to qualify it.

QUESTION: But can I ask —

MR. TONER: Matt and then Michel.

QUESTION: Can I ask a small one that’s related to this?

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I believe the UAE has said that it is going to focus only on humanitarian.

MR. TONER: And that’s support.

QUESTION: So that’s good enough in terms of participation and leadership – humanitarian actions on the part of the Arab nations?

MR. TONER: We would qualify that as support, yes.


MR. TONER: Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: — two things – these are really two very easy ones that you might actually be able to answer.



QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask you if you would agree that your policy is a failure and completely ad hoc, but —

MR. TONER: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — I decided against that. The Secretary’s —

MR. TONER: I can’t answer that.

QUESTION: — talk with the Moroccan yesterday, he is here in town. Was that in person or was that on phone?

MR. TONER: It was on the phone. She was up in New York.

QUESTION: And secondly, as you pointed out —

MR. TONER: That is – that was easy, thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah. And secondly, as you pointed out and others, the UN – the resolution calls for the protection of civilians. Will the coalition act to protect civilians who support Qadhafi?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, you mean – well, I mean, we’re – we always – in what way? I’m unclear about – you’re talking about —

QUESTION: I don’t know, I thought it was pretty direct.

MR. TONER: But you’re talking about —

QUESTION: There is people in Libya right now who, for whatever reason, are – favor – are out demonstrating – civilians – demonstrating in support of Colonel Qadhafi. Will the coalition act to protect them if the opposition forces —

MR. TONER: We don’t want to see violence perpetrated against innocent civilians.

QUESTION: So you will?

QUESTION: Well, are they innocent or —

QUESTION: Hold on a second, let me – will you attack the opposition forces or prevent them from attacking pro-Qadhafi civilians?

MR. TONER: That’s not happening right now, and that – frankly, that’s – I’m just not going to answer a hypothetical.

QUESTION: That’s not a hypothetical.

MR. TONER: Yes, it is.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding of this resolution that it allows for the coalition to protect pro-Qadhafi civilians?

MR. TONER: The UN Security Council resolution authorizes states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians.

QUESTION: Regardless of who they – regardless of whose side they’re on?

MR. TONER: All civilians, but —


MR. TONER: — again, you’re asking me to answer a hypothetical that’s not actually occurring right now, so —


QUESTION: I know, but —

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s a hypothetical. I think that – I mean, I’m not asking you if it’s going to happen. I’m just saying is it your understanding that the coalition —

MR. TONER: My understanding is that —

QUESTION: — will act —

MR. TONER: My understanding – and again, I’m just looking at the text and it’s saying it authorizes states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians.

QUESTION: And your understanding is that applies to pro-Qadhafi civilians as well as anti-Qadhafi —

MR. TONER: That applies to —

QUESTION: — civilians?

MR. TONER: — Libyan civilians.

QUESTION: Are the rebels civilians?

MR. TONER: We believe that Qadhafi took up arms against his own people and is reaping the consequences of that, which is that he’s now – these people are defending their lives and their livelihood and their families.

QUESTION: So a rebel is an empowered civilian? I mean, are rebel civilians? They bear arms; therefore, it would seem they don’t meet the definition of being a civilian.

MR. TONER: Guys, look, I’m just going to go with what I’ve said from the onset, which is that we are in an operation right now designed to end the violence, protect civilians, bring humanitarian aid to those civilians who’ve been under siege from Qadhafi’s forces, and end the violence. That’s the immediate goal in front of us. I just don’t want to parse out —

QUESTION: Today at the Pentagon in an operational briefing, which – they defined the – and the rebels and the opposition as the civilians who are trying to protect their homes and they’re armed. But whom – with which leaders of these civilians Secretary Clinton is speaking? Is she speaking to the rebels?

MR. TONER: We’re speaking with a variety of people in the opposition, and I don’t really need to characterize it beyond that.

Go ahead. Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that the extent of this operation is simply to create the space for the people of Libya to work this out with Qadhafi themselves?

MR. TONER: I think what we had with Qadhafi’s forces in Benghazi and elsewhere was an untenable situation, and the international community recognized that and spoke with a very unified voice saying that – is that? We’re done? (Laughter.) Sorry, well, speaking with a very unified voice saying we need to take necessary stops – necessary steps to end the violence that’s being perpetrated. I don’t want to – we’ve said all along that we believe that once Qadhafi took up arms against his people that he and his associates – his regime – lost their legitimacy to govern, and they need to be held accountable. So what you’re suggesting to me it doesn’t sound like that. And I think that we just need to – those are the longer-term goals here that we feel that Qadhafi needs to step down.

QUESTION: I really ask you – let me also ask you this.

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Given that the President is in the Southern Hemisphere right now, there’s already a lot of political consternation here within the U.S. about the U.S.’s decision to take the leading edge on establishing this no-fly zone. Is the Secretary going to be acting as the President’s surrogate to talk to members of Congress about why the U.S. is doing this and what it’s planning to do in terms of trying to shift over to a NATO-led, French-led, whatever-led coalition in the coming days?

MR. TONER: Well, certainly, the Secretary is always willing, able, and ready to speak and help inform members of Congress about what we’re doing. And I’m sure the same goes for the Secretary of Defense as well.

Goyal, and then in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Are you looking for Colonel Qadhafi in order to bring him to justice for the crimes he has committed against his own people? And second, how can you protect the civilians when still Colonel Qadhafi’s killing his own people right now because you have only fly – no-fly zone?

MR. TONER: We’ve got, as Matt just characterized it, we’ve – UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes the use of all means to protect civilians, and so we’re focused on that, on ending the violence. On your first question about Qadhafi, this is not directed at him.

Elshon — or do you want to change the subject, Elshon?

QUESTION: No, no, on Libya and Turkey.

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