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State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, April 16, 2012

  • Written by Press Release
  • Category: Latest National News

Washington, DC--(ENEWSPF)--April 16, 2012.

Index for Today's Briefing
  • TIMOR-LESTE
    • Presidential Election
  • IRAN
    • Engagement / Meetings / Cathy Ashton / Sanctions
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Sanctions / Satellite Launch / IAEA
    • World Food Program
  • SYRIA
    • UN Monitors / UN Security Council / Annan Plan / Friends of Syria / Turkish Role / Humanitarian Access
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Quartet Meeting / Direct Communication
    • "Flytilla"
  • DEPARTMENT
    • U.S. Diplomats Overseas / Behavior
  • EGYPT
    • Political Process
  • SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
    • Hostilities / Meeting between Special Envoy Lyman and President Kiir
  • PAKISTAN
    • Parliamentary Review Process / U.S.-Pakistani Dialogue
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Attacks in Kabul / Response of Afghan Security Forces
  • PAKISTAN
    • Engagement / Parliamentary Review

TRANSCRIPT:

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Very briefly before getting to your questions, I did want to congratulate the people of Timor-Leste, the institutions of government, and civil society on the successful conduct of a peaceful and orderly presidential election on April 16. So far the information available to us suggests that the elections was free and fair. We understand that Timor-Leste electoral authorities are continuing to tabulate the official results of this second round e

Provisional results should be forthcoming in the next 24 hours or so, but clearly we congratulate the people of Timor-Leste. We strongly support the country in its efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and consolidate peace and security. And of course, this election constitutes a significant step in that process.

That’s all I have for the top. Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wonder if we can start with Iran.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: I realize that there’s been some comment about the results of the meeting on Saturday, including from the President yesterday. But I’m just wondering, what is it that the United States thinks was achieved?

MR. TONER: Well, I think going into this we were looking for, as the Secretary and others said, a sustained process. We’re already looking to a second meeting next month in Baghdad. I think this was – I don’t think anyone’s trying to characterize this as more than a beginning and a first step, if you will. We said that we want to Iran come up with some concrete proposals moving forward, and that if that were to happen, we would look at ways – Cathy Ashton’s statement said as much – to reciprocate. But we view this as a good, positive, initial first step.

QUESTION: She described it – Catherine Ashton described it as constructive and useful. But it seems to me that the only thing that resulted from it is an agreement to meet again. That’s a pretty low bar. We used to kind of make fun of results like that, where the only thing that you can say that they managed to accomplish was they agreed to meet each other again.

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions that we were going to come away from this first meeting advancing the ball far down the field, to use a sports metaphor. We were looking for, as we’ve said all along, the beginning step of a sustained process.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Secretary and President have been very clear that there’s still time for diplomacy. But there is an urgency here, so we want to see it move forward.

QUESTION: All right. So the goal is to have a sustained process?

MR. TONER: Not – no. Ultimately the goal is to have Iran take concrete steps that obviously address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. But we recognize that that’s going to take time.

QUESTION: Can you describe for me where a sustained process has worked in the past to achieve the result that you were looking for? In particular, I think of the sustained processes that I’ve dealt with, and not a single one of them has ever achieved any success.

MR. TONER: Well, I would just – look, this is so apples and oranges to compare one negotiation to another --

QUESTION: No, I don’t know. I mean, if it’s the process --

MR. TONER: -- and one type of engagement to another. We did have a – our engagement and our sanctions – our two-track approach, if you will, to Burma has borne fruit, in the sense that Burma’s really opened up and taken steps. But it’s a completely different issue. Don’t really want to go down there. You asked me for a comparison.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but except that you weren’t talking with the Burmese before. There wasn’t a sustained process at all. The only place you’ve had a sustained process is in the Middle East, and it’s gone absolutely nowhere. So I’m just wondering why you think that the immediate goal – not the end goal, but the immediate goal of getting a sustained – of establishing a sustained process, why you think that that’s the right way to go.

MR. TONER: Well, Matt, no one’s – by sustained process, no one’s trying to downplay the urgency and the need for concrete action.

QUESTION: All right. Well, the problem with --

MR. TONER: So we are moving to another step. This was a beginning meeting. We came away with looking towards Baghdad, but we’re obviously going to look for serious engagement and action on the part of the Iranians.

QUESTION: One last thing, then.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: And that is that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not seem too pleased with this and he said basically you’ve given them another five weeks to keep enriching and to do whatever they want without any pressure at all. Why is he not right?

MR. TONER: Well, the President spoke to this yesterday. It’s – there’s no freebie for Iran.

QUESTION: The President gave --

MR. TONER: We’ve got the strongest sanctions in history against Iran right now, and they’re going to get stronger as we move into the summer. And there’s no sense that Iran’s getting some kind of freebie here.

QUESTION: Well, just – can you say – is it in fact correct that Iran will be able to, until the next meeting at least, continue to do whatever it wants?

MR. TONER: Again, Iran is – and we’ve seen --

QUESTION: Well, isn’t that right or not?

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR. TONER: We’ve seen the effects that these sanctions are having on Iran. It’s strangling its economy. The rial has fallen in value. So the idea that they’re getting some kind of free pass is not true.

QUESTION: Well, the question is, what is there right now – why is Netanyahu wrong? Why does this not mean that Iran now has another five weeks to do whatever it wants?

MR. TONER: Again, because it’s not as though Iran were free and clear. They are operating under very difficult, if not crippling, international sanctions, and they are aware of that. So they have every motivation to engage constructively and come to the table with concrete proposals.

QUESTION: And why --

QUESTION: Were there any particular --

QUESTION: Why five weeks, not two weeks?

MR. TONER: I don’t know why that time frame. But they’re looking to Baghdad.

Yeah.

QUESTION: As a result of the Istanbul meeting, is Iran really closer to the U.S. or international position on the issue of, let’s say, uranium enrichment?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into those specific discussions, and I’m not going to negotiate this from the podium. I think --

QUESTION: It is your understanding that they are closer, that they have actually moved towards the position of the United States and other international community members?

MR. TONER: I think that they came to the table serious. The talks focused on the nuclear issues of concern here, which has not always been the case in the past. But we’re very much at a beginning stage here. But we feel it was a foundation for next talks.

QUESTION: And that does give you reason to believe that Iran is headed in the right direction as far as coming clean on its nuclear program?

MR. TONER: I think we’re going to wait and see what they actually come to the table with in terms of proposals, and then we’ll be ready to --

QUESTION: So in five weeks, you could say we have another five weeks to meet, let’s say, this time somewhere else?

MR. TONER: I don’t think – I think the Secretary – the President was very clear there is a window that remains open, but that window is closing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, Tehran’s already asking for the West to start canceling the sanctions. Is that where it comes into place before the Baghdad meeting?

MR. TONER: No. We’re not there yet. Sanctions remain in place and – until we – no one’s talking about any sanctions being reversed or canceled at all.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MR. TONER: I think – did you have another question, Shaun, or --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Okay. Do you want to switch? Are we done with Iran?

QUESTION: Just one Iran.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Actually, a follow-up. If there will be a result on the – in negotiation in Baghdad. The sanction regime will be started on June 28th. There will be a change in the sanction regime if – I mean, according to the results of – Baghdad result, in Baghdad conference?

MR. TONER: I think you’re – that’s just a very speculative question. Let’s wait till we get to Baghdad and see.

QUESTION: No, I mean – and to understand the process.

MR. TONER: No. I mean, look, nobody’s talking about ending or suspending the sanctions regime that’s in place.

QUESTION: Except the Iranians.

MR. TONER: Except for the Iranians, but we’re definitely not there.

Yeah, go ahead. North Korea?

QUESTION: On North Korea, regarding North Korean missile launch, does the United States have any additional separate sanctions against North Korea?

MR. TONER: Does the U.S. have --

QUESTION: Any additional separate sanctions against North Korea?

MR. TONER: You mean aside from existing UN sanctions or --

QUESTION: Yeah, U.S. sanctions.

MR. TONER: I believe we do have, clearly, bilateral sanctions against North Korea. We’ve got very strong sanctions in place against North Korea, clearly. But you raise North Korea and I did want to note you’ve obviously all seen reports out of New York that the presidential statement was adopted earlier today that condemns North Korea’s recent attempt to launch a satellite. Ambassador Rice spoke to it more eloquently than I ever could, but she obviously stressed that this was an extremely quick response by the Security Council and a swift and unanimous adoption is what she said, and it’s very true.

QUESTION: Freezing of North Korean financial sanctions against North --

MR. TONER: I think what – again, what this presidential statement referred to is they’re going to refer it to the Sanctions Committee to look at ways that they can tighten – always when there’s sanctions in place – and we do this across the board whether it’s Iran or Syria or indeed North Korea – there’s always ways to look at how to tighten the implementation and strengthen the implementation of the sanctions. So I think that’s one of the things we’re looking at.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea told a State Department official that it will not accept IAEA inspections because those were based on the condition of nutritional assistance. So what is the U.S. view on this?

MR. TONER: I would just refer you to the IAEA. I don’t know. I haven’t seen any of those reports, so it’s really their response that matters here.

Go ahead, Shaun. Okay, Ros.

QUESTION: What’s the sense of whether or not North Korea might still be planning to launch any underground nuclear tests?

MR. TONER: I mean, others have spoken. I had mentioned on Friday there is very often a cycle or a pattern to these kinds of actions. It’s impossible, frankly, for us to say at this point, but we strongly, strongly discourage it from moving down that track.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you want to go down this road, but --

MR. TONER: (Inaudible) not. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not a good preface. But Kim Jong-un, he spoke for the first time in public. Any observations from – from – about the leadership transition, about how it’s going? Maybe give us --

MR. TONER: No. Honestly, it’s a pretty opaque system, so it’s really difficult to make any kind of judgments. He spoke about their further military industrialization, or however you want to term it. What we’ve said before is something I would just say again, which is North Korea needs to focus less on further militarization and more on meeting the needs and aspirations of its people.

QUESTION: Was this a speech his father could have given?

MR. TONER: No idea.

QUESTION: So U.S. options on the table for sanctions against North Korea?

MR. TONER: Yes. I mean, we’re always looking at – I’m not sure what the – you’re saying --

QUESTION: Any particular options do you have it? I mean, U.S. have --

MR. TONER: I mean, we’re always looking at ways to strengthen our sanctions regime, whether it’s bilateral or multilateral through the UN, especially in light of North Korea’s actions.

Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: No. Let’s stay here.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Do – are there any plans to talk to the North Koreans, to tell them what, if anything, they could do to get – to revive the February 29th agreement? Is there anything that they can do to revive that?

MR. TONER: Well, I think it’s pretty clear with the satellite launch that they’ve dug themselves into a hole, if you will, of further isolation. They’ve walked away from the statements or the commitments that they made on Leap Day that you just mentioned. I’m not aware that there’s going to be any further engagement with the North Koreans moving forward. Nothing is certainly planned. The President said the other day that if they do come back and appear to engage or are willing to engage constructively, then we can move forward down that track. But again, we’ve not seen any indication that they’re going to do that.

QUESTION: You and numerous other officials have constantly been referring to North Korea and have used the phrase, “We’re not going to – we’ve seen that movie once; we’re not going to watch it again.”

MR. TONER: We have a lot of --

QUESTION: Yeah. Why are you willing --

MR. TONER: A lot of cliches flying around.

QUESTION: Why are you willing to watch the movie again still?

MR. TONER: Well, you were – you’re saying that we are, in fact, watching this movie again.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering. I mean, if – are they irredeemable? And if they’re not irredeemable, why not? And how can you ever trust anything that they say again?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question, Matt. I mean, and one I frankly can’t answer. I think all we can do is offer a different path, the opportunity for North Korea to engage constructively with the rest of the world. That opportunity is clearly in their interest. We can see it. They for some reason cannot. But they have to, again, cease, come in line with existing UN Security Council resolutions. That’s the bare minimum. They’ve been unable to do that.

QUESTION: The U.S. had essentially conceded that there was some sort of food emergency inside North Korea. Now, with this attempted missile launch and the suspension of the food aid, how serious does the U.S., does the World Food Program, judge what’s happening inside North Korea right now?

MR. TONER: I mean, I frankly don’t have the latest assessments in front of me. We are moving into the growing season, but really, I’d have to refer you to the experts in Rome or the World Food Program, who can give you a better judge of that. It’s unfortunate that we no longer can move forward with this program. Our hearts go out to the North Korean people who are suffering, but it’s clear that we can’t have any confidence that this program will be implemented in the way that we want to see it implemented.

QUESTION: Campbell mentioned that the trilateral meeting between U.S., Japan, and South Korea will happen sometime after --

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- next month. Is there any update as to where this will happen, or the when?

MR. TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Just stay tuned, but no, I don’t have any further information.

Are we ready to move on from North Korea?

QUESTION: I think the North – North Korea doesn’t care about the sanctions against North Korea, the UN Resolution 1780 – 1718 or 1874, whatever. They don’t care about – they ignore their sanctions. How can, continually, North Koreans ignore it?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, they – it’s their own – it’s – you’re saying that they simply ignore these existing resolutions --

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR. TONER: And as long as they continue to do so, the door for further engagement will remain shut and they’ll remain under sanctions. And it’s clearly not in their interest, as I said to Matt. We can all see that, but they cannot. But we do remain ready to engage them. But again, at the bare minimum, they need to come in line with existing UN Security Council resolutions.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MR. TONER: Let’s go to Syria, then I’ll get over to you guys.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask if you have any update on the conduct or the ability of the UN observers with a blue cap --

MR. TONER: Right. My understanding in terms of – that there are – there is an advance group of monitors there on the ground now, I believe six monitors. Obviously, the full complement, I think, is 31, so we’re looking at another 25 remaining in the next couple of days.

But overall, the news has not been good. We’ve seen sporadic fighting continuing in parts of Syria. I think we’ve all seen reports out of Homs that the government forces continue to shell parts of the city. So it’s very clear that Assad has not complied with the six points in terms of allowing democratic or peaceful demonstrations to take place, releasing political prisoners. There’s no movement on any of the other five points, and it appears that the fragile ceasefire is eroding as well.

QUESTION: Didn’t you say last week that --

QUESTION: So once it’s completely eroded, once it’s --

MR. TONER: I don’t know that you can say it’s completely eroded. I can say that the Syrian opposition --

QUESTION: No, no. I said “once,” once this happens, if you are saying that it’s eroding quickly, so we are going to get to a point where it is completely eroded. So what is the next step?

MR. TONER: Well, I do think that we’re looking at the advance team of monitors’ deployment as an important test of the Syrian Government’s intentions going forward. These individuals, as – sorry, but these individuals, as they get on the ground, as we’ve said, need to be out and have access to all parts of Syria.

QUESTION: Well, the regime has already suggested that it has the right to turn back any monitor whose nationality it has a problem with, and it also says that it’s going to put in whatever restrictions it feels are necessary on the team’s movements. Is that already a capitulation that they’re not going along with this? I mean, how effective can these monitors be if they’re already walking into these roadblocks?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, clearly if they can’t get out to see the parts of the country that they need to see, then they’re not going to be very effective. So let’s let them get the full complement on the ground and look at it from there. But at the same time, we’re under no illusions that the Syrian Government has time and time again said it was complying with the Assad plan, with the peace plan set out by the Arab League, with the Turkish initiative, and has only used it to stall for time.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I realize this is a UN operation, but since you are the president of the Security Council – not you personally, but the United States is the president of the Security Council this month – I figure you have something to do with it. Are 31 monitors enough to do the job? And who came up with this idea? Why not 33? Why not 37?

MR. TONER: I stopped short of that. I think that’s right and not a typo that I’m not – it’s not 30 monitors. I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Well still, who came up with it?

MR. TONER: I don’t know and I don’t – I mean, the Secretary has called for a robust mission --

QUESTION: Thirty-one?

MR. TONER: I think we’d like to see more monitors on the ground and going forward --

QUESTION: Can you ask --

MR. TONER: I’ll take the question behind the number.

QUESTION: I think it’s somewhere around like 250.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Is that sufficient, in your view?

MR. TONER: I mean, again, we want to see as many – I think it’s a better number, certainly, than 30. But again, we’re going to let this mission move forward --

QUESTION: But --

MR. TONER: -- and we’re going to – again, the proof here is whether these individuals can actually get out and are not thwarted in their attempt to view different parts of Syria and really to be able to guarantee or to certify that the ceasefire is, in fact, in place.

QUESTION: How do you determine – how do you determine how many you need? Like you look at the Kosovo or the Balkans example back in the ‘90s and so on. How do you decide that we need X number of monitors in Syria or in the very – in Homs or Daraa and Deir al-Zour and so on? How do you decide that?

MR. TONER: That’s probably a better question for the UN, even though Matt correctly points out we’re the president of the Security Council. But I’d really have to refer you to the experts. I think what we’ve been on the record saying is we want as robust a mission as possible, so we would rather see more rather than fewer.

Yeah. Go ahead, Ros.

QUESTION: Where’s the deterrence effect in all this in terms of keeping the regime from continuing to attack people in areas where they feel that they need to be put down, for lack of a better expression?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think the idea behind monitors is you can actually get them out into all areas of the country, then they do become a deterrence factor insofar as their eyes and ears on the ground bearing witness to what’s going on. The other deterrence factor is we’ve not let up, if you will, on the gas on increased sanctions, on increased political pressure. And that’s going to stay absolutely in place until we see Syria take – the Syrian Government take concrete steps to implement the Annan plan.

QUESTION: But isn’t that ascribing these monitors a level of moral authority that somehow the intrinsic dignity of the people themselves don’t seem to have on the regime?

MR. TONER: Not at all. Not at all. It’s simply providing, as we would with – we’ve advocated for as robust as possible an international media presence on the ground, because we recognize that these so-called impartial observers can add a measure of credibility to reports that we’re already well aware of that are happening, of the atrocities that are happening on the ground. And it’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to – out of the last Friends of Syria meeting, this group that – accountability group that’s going to take – that’s going to begin compiling evidence of these atrocities, because as we’ve said many times, the Syrian Government – those officials who have been – are implicit – or complicit, rather, in this – in the regime’s abuses are going to be held accountable.

QUESTION: There are some activists who have argued that sending in the monitors is all well and fine, but what they really need are weapons to fight back against the regime.

MR. TONER: Well look, as I noted earlier, it’s the – the Syrian opposition has courageously refrained, in large part, from engaging in this latest assault by the government’s forces, by Assad’s regime’s artillery shells. And that, I think, speaks to their commitment to a peaceful way forward.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Ambassador Ford. Is he in any way in touch with the internal opposition?

MR. TONER: Yes. He still maintains contact. He obviously has a Facebook page that’s still seen throughout Syria, and he uses that as a platform to show, as you’ve seen, satellite photos and other imagery --

QUESTION: So he only communicates --

MR. TONER: -- that shows some of the regime’s abuses.

QUESTION: -- through that medium, through Facebook?

MR. TONER: He can. And we’ve also got, obviously, other – I mean, as much as – clearly communication is an issue here. That’s some of the things we’ve talked about before. But he does remain in contact with members of the opposition.

QUESTION: How long will they stay this time – monitors in Syrian cities?

MR. TONER: You know what? I don’t – I apologize. I don’t have the – I mean, I think they’ll stay as long as they can to ensure that the Annan plan is indeed being implemented. I don’t have a timeframe.

QUESTION: Long way to go. So will there be any Americans within the group?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. We are obviously supporting this – supporting the mission financially, but we don’t expect to deploy U.S. monitors.

QUESTION: About the buffer zone, there’s some circles they discussed this buffer zone option on Syria in the – over the weekend, including the spokesman of Kofi Annan. Have you started to discuss with allies the buffer zone option in Syria?

MR. TONER: Again, we’ve been pretty clear that it’s – a buffer zone is a pretty complex undertaking, and there’s obviously – it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds to implement. We talked about – I know the Turkish Government officials have made reference to some type of buffer zone. We’d certainly be willing to listen to any ideas that are on the table; but what we want to see, what we’ve been focused on, is a ceasefire and then humanitarian access to those areas that desperately need it.

QUESTION: Humanitarian corridor is an alternative to buffer zone for you?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re always willing to look at various alternatives while recognizing the difficulties inherent in some of these operations. And there are indeed serious challenges. But I think, as we said, our focus right now – we’ve got the Annan plan. Let’s see this ceasefire take hold, strengthen, and then we can get the kind of humanitarian access that’s needed to people --

QUESTION: So you’re expecting this idea from Turks or other neighborhood countries in the region?

MR. TONER: Yes. I mean, that – we certainly would be open to ideas.

QUESTION: And the last question about the refugees in Turkey. Have you offered any aid to Turkish Government for – to handle this refugee problem?

MR. TONER: You know what? I haven’t checked on that lately. I mean, I believe we have, as well as other international organizations. Turkey’s played just a remarkable leadership role in this crisis and especially with regard to hosting these refugees on Turkish soil. I’m not – I do know at the beginning of the crisis when refugees started crossing the border into Turkey that we had offered and Turkey had declined. I’m not sure where we’re at. I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: The Palestinian issue?

QUESTION: No.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: One. Since no matter how imperfect or initial or preliminary this ceasefire is, if it really is even a ceasefire since fighting continues, does the Administration, despite that it was – in fact, that is was signed, is the Administration still planning to ramp up its aid to the Syrian opposition?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the non-lethal?

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

MR. TONER: I think that’s moving forward, yes.

QUESTION: So that’s going to go ahead regardless of whether the ceasefire actually takes hold and --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- whether the regime agrees to all the steps in the Annan plan?

MR. TONER: Well again, right. I mean, this is a way to allow --

QUESTION: It’s going to continue no matter what the government does?

MR. TONER: My understanding is yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Because what we’re trying to do is build --

QUESTION: And then --

MR. TONER: Sorry, just to complete the thought. I mean, what we’re trying to do is help the peaceful opposition coalesce, to be able to communicate and coordinate themselves. And indeed, if they were looking down the road at some kind of democratic transition, that would be useful.

QUESTION: And then the second thing is: What’s your understanding about the next Friends of Syria meeting? Is there one scheduled?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I did check on that. I think we’re still obviously open to it, but we haven’t seen any announcements out of Paris. So we’ll wait and see how that develops, but certainly the Secretary remains ready to go.

QUESTION: One more on that. Ambassador Ford’s engagement with Syrian Government officials – how much has he had --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You said Syrian Government officials?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that he’s had any contacts with Syrian Government officials. I’ll have to check. I don’t think so.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue?

MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Mark, tomorrow the Palestinians are getting ready to hand in a much touted and talked about letter to the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu. And now my question to you (inaudible) from a report from Haaretz. They’re saying that initially the letter had a threat by Abbas that they will dissolve the Authority, but under a great deal of pressure from the Government of the United States, that he backed down. Could you confirm or deny that?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Can you just rewind there? I didn’t get all of it.

QUESTION: Did you exercise a great deal of pressure on Palestinian President – Authority Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw a clause in his letter that threatened to dissolve the Palestinian Authority?

MR. TONER: It’s --

QUESTION: Are you aware of the letter that I’m talking about?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the letter. We had a Quartet meeting here last week. You saw the statement. I can’t confirm any letter, and I’m certainly not going to get into the contents of any letter that I don’t know whether it exists.

QUESTION: Well, because this was also published --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and the full text was --

MR. TONER: The full text of the letter?

QUESTION: -- published by the AFP, I mean, today. It would be a good thing to look at to see what is your response to some of the points that were made in the letter.

My second question on the Palestinian issue: Israel has blocked about 1,500 pro-Palestinian activists, mainly from Europe, to come to the West Bank – Bethlehem and Ramallah and other places. Do you have a position on this issue? Are you aware of it?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the so-called “flytilla?”

QUESTION: Yeah. The international “flytime.” Yeah.

MR. TONER: Well, just to finish on the – speaking more broadly, I mean, obviously I can’t confirm there’s a letter. I can’t – I’m not – and if I was able to, I wouldn’t get into the contents.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: But we do – sorry, just to finish my thought – we do support direct communication between the parties. I mean, we think that’s in and of itself a good thing. In terms of the “flytilla,” I would just say Israel is a sovereign nation like any sovereign nation that has a right to control the flow of people and goods through its ports.

QUESTION: But you do agree that Area A, at least Area A in the Palestinian territory, which includes Bethlehem and Ramallah and so on, is basically a sovereign area. So they can conceivably go visit Palestinian territories, correct?

MR. TONER: You’ve heard our positions.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. Hi, Mark. And with respect to Cartagena, did the Embassy there learn about the alleged conduct of Secret Service agents from the local authorities? And what steps did Embassy personnel take after learning that – those allegations?

MR. TONER: I’d – first of all, I’d have to refer you to the Secret Service for any details about the investigation into the incident. I don’t have details of how it came to light. But again, the President spoke to this yesterday in Cartagena, saying there’s an investigation underway. Let’s wait for all the details to emerge. I’m not sure, frankly, if the Embassy had any direct role.

QUESTION: Well, Congressman King – I mean, he’s quoted on the record saying that they were brought in by the police. But I’m wondering if that kicked off either an internal investigation within State or them calling the U.S. State Department to inform the status.

MR. TONER: Well, as you know, I mean, very often there’s – in these advance groups that go down or go anywhere for a trip that there are many representatives of the United States there on the scene. I’m not sure what the Embassy’s precise role was, if any. I’ll have to take the question.

But in terms of the investigation, the President spoke to it. It needs to be fully played out. But he also spoke to the need for any American official who’s abroad to recognize the fact that they are representatives of the United States and conduct themselves appropriately.

QUESTION: And just last --

QUESTION: And was a message given to the employees of Diplomatic Security, just as a friendly reminder?

MR. TONER: I don’t know of any updated information. We certainly expect any U.S. diplomat overseas at all times to behave accordingly and behave appropriately, and to recognize that when they are overseas, they are seen as representatives of the United States.

QUESTION: I wasn’t aware that you had moved your Embassy from Bogota to Cartagena.

MR. TONER: I didn’t – did I – I didn’t mean to imply that.

QUESTION: There is a consulate in Cartagena, yeah?

MR. TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: And would they have been the ones who were involved in this?

MR. TONER: That’s what I – I don’t know, Matt. I don’t know. I mean --

QUESTION: Or how much of the Embassy staff was up in Cartagena for --

MR. TONER: That’s what I was trying to get at is that, obviously, for a presidential visit --

QUESTION: Yeah. But there is a consulate --

MR. TONER: -- there would be a detail of Embassy staff as part of the advance team.

QUESTION: There is a consulate in Cartagena, yeah?

MR. TONER: I’ll check. I believe so.

QUESTION: On Turkey? Just one.

MR. TONER: Actually, maybe Patrick. No? No.

QUESTION: There is no embassy. There is no consulate in Cartagena.

MR. TONER: No consulate.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR. TONER: I have no idea.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’re opening them the middle of nowhere Brazil all of the sudden. Why not --

MR. TONER: I mean, very often consulates are based on reciprocity, so it probably has something to do with the number of consulates that we would have in any country would be based on the number of consulates and embassies that that country – given country would have in the United States. That’s often the way it works.

QUESTION: Okay. I --

MR. TONER: But you stumped me on Cartagena, so --

QUESTION: Colombia doesn’t --

MR. TONER: -- you can give me that smug smile. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Colombia has fewer than two consulates in the United States? Somehow I find that hard to believe.

MR. TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Different issue?

QUESTION: Can I follow on that, Mark?

MR. TONER: Sure. Yeah, go ahead. Finish.

QUESTION: Well, just that you’re aware, I’m sure, the Secretary was photographed out having fun in Cartagena. Does – what’s your comment? Some have criticized her for doing that in light of this scandal investigation, that she’s out appearing to be partying. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. TONER: I can confirm that she indeed did have a very good time and was just enjoying some of the nightlife in Cartagena with colleagues. And it’s a – it’s kind of a dog-bite-man story. There’s no – there’s nothing to it.

Yeah. Go ahead. Go ahead. Yeah, you had your hand raised.

QUESTION: On Argentina, it has been announced in the past couple of hours that the Argentinean Government is taking over the country’s top oil producer. It’s controlled by Spain. It’s a privately held company in Spain but there is also American investment in the company, and the Argentinean Government is taking over 51 percent of the company. The European Union has filed complaints, public complaints. And it has been said during the weekend that the American Government was planning to file a complaint against – in front of the World Trade Organization if this happens, so I wanted to ask you about that.

MR. TONER: And I’ll have to take the question. I’m not aware that – of the – in fact that – of the story, so I’ll have to look into that, and we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Egypt?

MR. TONER: Egypt.

QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comment on the panel striking out three candidates? Omar Suleiman, who fell short (inaudible) by 31 out of 30,000 – 31 votes out 30,000 addition – whatever – and Khairat el-Shater and Salah Abu Ismail. Do you have a comment on that?

MR. TONER: Well, this is obviously a very hot issue, if you will, in Egypt. We’ve been very clear all along, as this process moves forward through parliamentary elections, through the constitution writing, and now into the presidential race, our only concern is that this is a free and fair and transparent process, that it move forward in a way that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people. But it’s not for us to comment on the political process itself.

QUESTION: Do you have a first-hand exposure as to the process that they have used to weed out applicants?

MR. TONER: I do not.

QUESTION: You don’t – I mean, the U.S. Government, I’m saying – that --

MR. TONER: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: I’m talking about the vetting process to who qualifies and who does not qualify as a candidate. Does the U.S. in any way through its nongovernment organizations or directly have an exposure or have a window onto this process?

MR. TONER: On to that vetting process or whatever? Yeah, I mean, look, they’ve come out publicly with their explanation for their decisions. Again, our interest is only seeing that this process move forward towards presidential elections in June in a way that’s perceived by the Egyptian people as free and fair and democratic. But in terms of a window onto their process, I don’t have anything particularly to add to that. And you mentioned NGOs, so I’ll just say we do believe that nongovernment organizations can play a very objective, but important, role in these kinds of political processes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Sudan?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I just wanted to see your assessment about how things stand right now. Obviously, there’s the reported incursion by the south (inaudible) area.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And then following that, the parliament in Khartoum today declared that South Sudan is considered an enemy, an enemy state. What’s your assessment of how things stand now, and is there a risk of all-out war?

MR. TONER: Well, we strongly condemn the bombing by the Sudan armed forces of the UN Mission in South Sudan. They had a community support base in Mayom Unity State, which is located in South Sudan. And of course, we denounce the continued aerial bombardment by the Sudanese armed forces of South Sudan, which includes civilian areas. As we said last week, we strongly condemn the offensive military incursion into Sudan by the SPLA and the seizure of Heglig and we want to see South Sudan to withdraw its forces immediately and unconditionally from Heglig.

So I mean, we want to see bottom line an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities. South Sudan needs to withdraw from Heglig and Sudan needs to stop its aerial bombardments, and both sides need to get back to the AU mechanism for resolving these outstanding issues. The tensions are far too high, the fighting has to cease, and humanitarian access has to be granted.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up on that.

MR. TONER: And just a note – I’m sorry, just to – sorry. I do want to note that our Special Envoy, Princeton Lyman, did meet with South Sudan President Salva Kiir earlier today in Juba and they had a meaningful dialogue about how to deescalate the tensions.

QUESTION: When Sudan has their – during that meeting, were there any discussions about what might happen if they don’t withdraw from Heglig?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, I think our very strong urging here is for both sides to recognize the fact that this is really a no-win situation and the only way to resolve these differences is to get back to the high-level implementation panel process overseen by the AU. I mean, that’s how you’re going to resolve these territorial issues, these border issues, as well as issues of equity in terms of resources.

Right now, both sides are losing as a result of this fighting.

QUESTION: But the U.S. is one of the primary funders of the new Government of South Sudan. So does the U.S. not have undue influence on --

MR. TONER: Well, again, what we’re trying to do here is to move forward. We’ve seen the CPA process stall or break down. We’ve seen a return to fighting. So we need to get both countries back on track.

QUESTION: That was the process I was thinking of earlier – the one that was a success.

MR. TONER: Well --

QUESTION: Yeah. Where’s it gotten you now?

MR. TONER: I mean, we’re still getting through it. But anyway.

QUESTION: Brief follow-up. President Kiir of the South, China has invited him to come to Beijing. China, of course, in the past has faced criticism, particularly on Capitol Hill, over its relationship to Khartoum. Do you have an assessment of the invitation? Is this a positive step? Is it – what role could the Chinese play in this?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, we would want to see them convey the very same message in this regard, that it’s to no one’s gain to continue to fighting. Both sides need to step back and return to the table.

QUESTION: But you don’t think that the Chinese invitation has everything to do with the fact that they’re not getting any oil out of South Sudan because they’re not pumping any of it?

MR. TONER: Well, again, regardless of their motives, what’s important here is --

QUESTION: So you don’t care if the Chinese are acting purely out of self-interest here?

MR. TONER: What is important here is that – the fact that there is no agreement on sharing these resources is hurting both Sudan and South Sudan.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Pakistani parliament has approved its recommendation to reset U.S.-Pakistan relation and looks like they’re willing to restore NATO supply line. But it seems like Islamabad is very clear about telling Washington first stop drone attacks, apology on NATO strike on November 24th. So what is your response on this? It seems like they are very clear about these conditions. So where we go from here now?

MR. TONER: Well, first of all, I think the parliamentary review process, while it has in fact left – parliament is still – has not been approved by the cabinet, I can, I think, confirm that Secretary Clinton spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar a few hours ago, and they did discuss next steps in the U.S.-Pakistani dialogue in light of the conclusion of this parliamentary review. They also, of course, discussed yesterday’s attacks in Afghanistan. But they did raise the parliamentary review process and our willingness to engage in a dialogue with Pakistan.

QUESTION: Speaking of Afghanistan, I know that the Secretary spoke with Ambassador Crocker on Sunday.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And then we have this criticism from President Karzai that essentially it was NATO intelligence failures that led to this sustained attack. I thought the Afghans were in charge of security for Kabul.

MR. TONER: Well, first of all, you’re right that the Secretary did speak to Ambassador Crocker yesterday. Obviously, we condemn the terrible attacks that took place yesterday in Kabul. And we also offer our deepest condolences to all the victims and their families. And I think one of the positive stories, if you can term it that way, out of yesterday’s attacks is a quick response and professionalism of the Afghan security forces. I know General Allen noted that in his statement. They did respond quickly. They required, frankly, little or no ISAF support. So it really showed how far they’ve come in increasing their capabilities and their professionalism.

QUESTION: But doesn’t it beg the question that you have someone such as the Afghan president basically blaming the West for the second sort of attack of this nature in the last six months when he’s been insisting, “My people should be able to take control”?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think the response of the Afghan security forces showed that they have made great strides in being able to respond to these kinds of attacks. Bottom line, Ros, is that intelligence is great. But you’re never going to be able to prevent every attack. And I think that the fact that they were able to respond so quickly, that they were able to minimize the casualties from this attack and basically thwart the Taliban’s actions very quickly and effectively speaks volumes.

QUESTION: But it does beg the question, though. I mean, these attacks took place in supposedly the safest area of Kabul, where the U.S. and other Western countries have their embassies.

MR. TONER: But again, also --

QUESTION: And for the amount of infiltration that’s alleged to have happened in the past week leading up to Sunday’s attack does raise some questions about whether or not the Afghans can be trusted to actually protect the foreign diplomats and others --

MR. TONER: Look --

QUESTION: -- who were there trying to work with them.

MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, there’s no place that’s immune to the type of attack that took place in Kabul. We’ve seen that in our own country. We can speak to the fact that a lone terrorist or a small group of terrorists hell-bent on violence can attack almost anywhere. What I think is important is that security forces are able to respond quickly, effectively, and to squelch it before it becomes something more deadly than it already has been.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to Pakistan for a moment?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You mentioned that Secretary Clinton’s expressed willingness to discuss the issues with Foreign Minister Khar. What – how specific did it get? I mean, is – I mean, some of the demands that have been issued by the Pakistani parliament include an end to drone attacks, an apology. Did they get into the specifics? Did the Secretary say she’s willing talk about these --

MR. TONER: I can’t get into the specifics of whether they discussed the specifics. I think – look, our posture right now is we recognize that this has been a long and difficult road for Pakistan. It speaks, frankly, to the strength of the – of Pakistan’s democratic institutions that this parliamentary review has taken place, that the civilian government has taken the lead on this issue, has owned it, and has come up with a series of recommendations. I think it’s incumbent on us now to engage with them in a discussion about some of those recommendations.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Khar, that was from Brazil?

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Not from the plane?

MR. TONER: I don’t know, Matt. I’ll find out. I think it was from – no, it was from Brazil, because she’s on the ground in Brazil. Yeah. If that’s different, I’ll let you know. But I’m almost positive it was from Brazil.

QUESTION: And was there any other – was there anything else discussed, other than the attacks on Afghanistan and the parliamentary review?

MR. TONER: The parliamentary review and the attacks on Afghanistan.

QUESTION: That was it? What did the Secretary tell the foreign minister about what the U.S. thinks of the parliamentary review, other than that you respect it and think that the Pakistanis can --

MR. TONER: Well, again, I can’t get into the exact details of the conversation. Frankly, I didn’t get a readout.

QUESTION: Well, we went through this a little bit on Thursday so --

MR. TONER: Sure. What did we get in --

QUESTION: Is everything on – is everything that the Pakistanis raised something that you’re willing to talk about?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to say that we’re going to address every issue on that list. I think, as I said, our posture regarding this review is that we’re willing to listen to the concerns and try to address them as best we can.

QUESTION: Are you willing to listen to their concerns on every issue?

MR. TONER: And again, I know where you’re leaning or getting at on this, and I can’t talk about that.

QUESTION: I’m leaning towards nothing, really.

MR. TONER: Okay. I mean, I think we’re willing to listen, to hear them out on --

QUESTION: So nothing is off the table, right?

MR. TONER: -- all the issues that are – I think we’re willing to listen and to hear them out on all the issues that were raised in this review that are of concern to them. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So nothing is off the table?

MR. TONER: Okay. If that --

QUESTION: Anything that they want to talk about, you’ll talk about?

MR. TONER: No, I think we said that it’s in the parliamentary review. I don’t think we’re going to ask them about --

QUESTION: No, that’s what I mean. Anything in the – no, I’m not expecting you to raise some issue that’s unrelated or them to raise some issue like, I don’t know, Canada about – but everything that they have in the review --

MR. TONER: I think we’re --

QUESTION: -- you’re willing to talk --

MR. TONER: I think we’re willing to listen to their concerns that were raised in the parliamentary review. However, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Are you willing to do anything about them?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re going to listen to them and we’re going to engage in them as any bilateral relationship would, and talk about – talk through these issues.

QUESTION: Is it problematic when the Pakistani parliament publicly – and the cabinet start debating and talking about something that you’re not allowed to talk about because it’s classified; yet everybody and their mother is aware that it’s going on, and it happens virtually every day?

MR. TONER: It’s not problematic, because I’m not going to address it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ambassador Sherry Rehman just returned from Islamabad. Is she going to meet some State Department official to present those recommendation?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Ambassador?

QUESTION: Sherry Rehman, the Pakistan ambassador.

MR. TONER: Oh, sure. Okay.

QUESTION: She’s just --

MR. TONER: Right. I don’t know, frankly. I don’t know if she has any meetings planned. I’ll look into it.

QUESTION: Are any U.S. diplomats traveling to Pakistan or anybody --

MR. TONER: Nothing to announce. That it? Thanks, guys.

Source: state.gov

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