State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, April 20, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 20, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Abdullah Abdullah Meetings with State Dept Officials
    • 1000th ISAF Supply Mission Transits Russian Airspace
    • Kabul Bank
    • Release of Lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Liu Xiaoyuan / Human Rights Issues
    • Arrest of Activist Calls Into Question the Syrian Government’s Intentions
    • Military Advisors / UNSCR 1973 / Protection of Civilians
    • Provision of Non-Lethal Commodities and Services to the TNC / Chris Stevens’ Role in Benghazi / Composition and Competency of the TNC / Recognition of Opposition
    • Challenges / NATO Mission
    • Journalists Detained in Libya
    • No Extradition Treaty / New York City Murder Case
  • IRAQ
    • Camp Ashraf


12:41 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Our time here is short, so I just want to say a couple of things at the top and then get to your questions. I just wanted to try to get this out of the way. Obviously, the Secretary is having lunch right now with President-elect Martelly, and she’ll be doing a press avail with him following that lunch.

Just to follow up, very quickly, we had taken a question on Abdullah Abdullah’s meetings with State Department officials, and I can confirm that the former Afghan foreign minister met with Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman, as well as the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner.

Also just wanted to —

QUESTION: When was that?

MR. TONER: — briefly mention – you’ve got me. I’ll check. I’ll get the date for you. I should have had that in here.

QUESTION: Well, was it last year?

MR. TONER: No, no. It was – Abdullah Abdullah is here visiting.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but a date would be helpful.

MR. TONER: I know. But I would assume in the last day or so. But we’ll get the date for you, Matt.

QUESTION: And what was discussed at the meeting between —

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we’re not going to get into the details of our private conversations with Abdullah Abdullah, but you can rest assured that, obviously, there was a human rights angle to his talk with Michael Posner, but also with Marc Grossman. I’m sure it was a wide-ranging discussion about all the issues concerning our relationship with Pakistan.

QUESTION: During his visit here —

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Afghanistan. I apologize.

QUESTION: During his visits here and all the public appearances, he has been really critical of Karzai government, and he’s saying that why U.S. is only supporting one man in Afghanistan. Was this an issue?

MR. TONER: Lalit, I can’t get into the details of the conversation. I wasn’t privy to that conversation. I can imagine it was a frank discussion of the challenges we face there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Very quickly, I wanted to mention the 1,000th ISAF supply mission, Russia and transiting Russian airspace. The United States and Russia have achieved a major milestone in our cooperation on Afghanistan with the 1,000 supply mission transiting Russian airspace. These flights are the result of a bilateral agreement in support of operations in Afghanistan that was announced during the July 2009 United States-Russia summit. These flights to date have resulted in the transfer of over 150,000 personnel in support of international efforts in Afghanistan, and they’ll continue in the weeks and months ahead. And this is just one part of our broader engagement with Russia on Afghanistan, including counternarcotics cooperation, as well as regionally supported diplomatic efforts to facilitate reconciliation in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Mark, on that —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — does the U.S. pay to use Russian airspace?

MR. TONER: I believe we do.

QUESTION: Yeah. So the thousandth mission, what does that bring the check to written —

MR. TONER: I don’t have a dollar amount.

QUESTION: Can we find out?

MR. TONER: Sure. That’s it.


QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Afghanistan Government’s announcement on Kabul Bank – they have resolved the issue dividing the good bank and bad bank?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I mean, obviously, the bank continues to be an issue for that government there and its difficulties several months, I guess, in the late summer of this year. I don’t have any comment or any reaction to that decision.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment —

MR. TONER: Go ahead, John.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the two lawyers that were released in China?

MR. TONER: I do. I think we’ve received credible information that one of the lawyers was released. Lawyer Jiang Tianyong was released from extrajudicial detention according to our sources. And we’re seeking further information on reports that Li Xiaoyuan has also been released. But obviously, we continue to express our deep concern to the Chinese Government over the use of extralegal detention against these and other human rights activists. And we’re going to seek more information on these specific cases and others who’ve gone missing or been detained.

QUESTION: Speaking of detainees, can – the Syrians have arrested yet another activist, blogger/academic. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, after Asad’s speech the other day and the repealing of the emergency law, that this arrest today calls into question the Syrian Government’s intentions with respect to real reform and, indeed, their desire to meet the demands of the Syrian people. And again, it just – to reiterate what we said before, we continue to believe that actions speak louder than words.

Yeah, go ahead Cami.


MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: With Britain and France sending in military advisors, how would you characterize this type of assistance? If it’s not aimed at toppling Muammar Qadhafi, then what is its purpose?

MR. TONER: Well, again, you’re talking – I’m sorry, what are – what kind of assistance? We’re talking about the UK —

QUESTION: The military advisors going in —

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: — from Britain and France.

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to delve too deeply in operational details. I would refer you to NATO operations to get more into the specifics here. But this is in – is designed to support our efforts to implement and sustain UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We’re obviously aware that places like Misrata and other areas have posed challenges in trying to protect the civilian populations. My understanding is that these advisors would play a role in better coordination and also help those efforts to – both to enforce the no-fly zone as well as protect civilian populations.

QUESTION: So the military advisors are going in to help protect civilians?

MR. TONER: Well, they’re going in to help the opposition run themselves better or better organize themselves in order to defend themselves against Qadhafi and his regime’s attacks.

QUESTION: But isn’t that then – isn’t the final aim of that then to topple Qadhafi? I mean, if they’re —

MR. TONER: I don’t necessarily see that as a final aim. These people are protecting themselves and their families and loved ones against an attack on their cities, on their homes, and we’re trying to help them better protect those people.

Yeah. Go ahead in the back, David.

QUESTION: There’s a report out there that the United States has decided to give $25 million worth of, I guess, nonlethal aid, that you’re informing Congress about it. This is to the opposition.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Anything to that?

MR. TONER: It’s not exactly – I mean, just to clarify, Secretary Clinton, in consultations with her interagency counterparts, has recommended the President authorize up to $25 million in nonlethal commodities and services. And that would go to support the TNC, the Transitional National Council, and their efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya.

So just to understand it, this is not a blank check. This is not $25 million in actual cash or money. It’s actually in goods and services that would be drawn down from items already in government stocks that correspond with the needs of the TNC.

QUESTION: How’s it going to get there?

MR. TONER: You know what? That’s – I think – we’ll figure that out. I mean, there are ways to do that. But the President has yet to authorize this, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process here.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: How did you arrive at the number 25? Does that have any connection to the frozen assets in Libya? Is there any —

MR. TONER: It really doesn’t. There’s no connection on this. As I said, this is just a drawdown. I have no idea, frankly, how they reached that figure. But again, this is looking at existing stocks of equipment and how that can be utilized to support the TNC.


MR. TONER: Go ahead, Matt. Or do you have a follow-up? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I was going to ask who would train the people for the goods that are being shipped over there (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. I’m not sure if they would require this type of equipment, which is, we’re talking about things like radios, non-secure radios, body armor – what else? Halal MREs. I’m not sure that would require any – or much training.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Can you explain what led to this recommendation? I mean, for days now, and including yesterday when we were – I was, in particular, pestering you about —

MR. TONER: I think it was you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — why you hadn’t done anything directly outside of NATO, you said that you’re still assessing the opposition and what their needs and capabilities and intentions are. And so this – what was the trigger for this recommendation?

MR. TONER: Well, again —

QUESTION: How far —

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: What do you know now that makes – about the opposition that allows you to be confident about this recommendation?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we’re getting a clearer picture of the opposition. And perhaps it’s – I haven’t explained Chris Stevens’ role well enough, but his being on the ground there, talking to the opposition, assessing their needs, and then relaying that information back to us here has allowed us to get a better sense of what kind of nonlethal assistance we can provide to them and provide them in a relatively quick fashion. So I mean, it’s not – I guess I don’t want the sense that he’s there, he leaves, and then stuff happens. We’re always – he’s always relaying information back to us, assessing their needs, what we can do to help them in a more urgent fashion.

QUESTION: So this was his recommendation?

MR. TONER: Well, I think it’s in part. I mean, obviously, the Secretary and others have throughout this continued to meet with the opposition.

QUESTION: What is it now – what do you know now that you didn’t know, say, a week ago that leads you – that led you to make this decision?

MR. TONER: Sure. Well, I think we know what they need, what can be helpful, what we might have that —

QUESTION: You didn’t know that a week ago?

MR. TONER: But – well, these things also take some time, Matt. Even – I don’t want to have to cite again how, in fact, quickly both the international community and the United States have worked to get things done in Libya. But indeed, if you compare it to past crises, it’s been pretty quick.

But this is partly getting a better understanding of what materials we might be able to provide to them to help them in the immediate term. And then also, we are getting a better sense of their command structure, of their coherence as an entity, and that’s helping us make better decisions about how we can help them.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not suggesting or accusing —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — you of being slow. I’m just wondering what it is that you know today that you didn’t know —

MR. TONER: But I don’t think this is necessarily —

QUESTION: — last week.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Well, then why didn’t you do this last week or —

MR. TONER: Well, again, this is – he’s been there for, what, two weeks. He’s been talking to people. He’s been assessing the situation. He’s been, obviously, communicating back to Washington. And we’ve been meeting with them in Doha and elsewhere, and I think this is the culmination of that period.

QUESTION: And the initial letter that was transmitted to the Hill last Friday, it mentioned some of – the list of potential items could include vehicles and fuel, refueling vehicles and fuel bladders.

MR. TONER: I’m not sure that’s under consideration.

QUESTION: That – yeah, exactly. That seems to have dropped off the list between the briefing that people on the Hill got yesterday and today. Can you explain why you’re not – no longer considering vehicles, fuel bladders, and fuel – and refueling vehicles?

MR. TONER: Well, again, it might have to do with the stocks on hand, it might have to do with the difficulty in transporting them quickly. I’ll try to get a better answer for you. I’m not sure why those dropped off.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: So this then sounds – if it’s going to the TNC, then it sounds like it’s an endorsement of that group. Is that correct?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve said all along that we’re looking at – there’s no big surprise here. I mean, we’ve said all along for the past weeks, and in fact, you guys called me out on it yesterday and said, “What are you going to do to for the TNC, for the opposition?” There’s an urgent situation here and they need our help. And so this is part of what we’ve been talking about. This is action. This is us looking – but again, I don’t want to get too far in front. There needs to be a presidential decision on this. So –

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, just for the record, the TNC is now the group that you are dealing with that you trust more than any other group? Because there are some other groups there.

MR. TONER: There are other groups. We’ve got contacts with them as well. The TNC is clearly one of the more predominant groups, and we’re working very closely with them.

QUESTION: And there’s kind of an interesting article in The New York Times today detailing the divisions among the military leaders who supposedly report to the TNC. Did you see that? Do you – are you –

MR. TONER: I did see the article. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. You’re aware. Is that your understanding that there are quite strong divisions among those military –

MR. TONER: I, frankly, from this podium, am not well informed enough to – I mean, in all honesty, to talk about their command structure. I know that Chris Stevens continues to talk with members of the TNC and assess their command structure. These may be growing pains, personality issues. I simply don’t know.

QUESTION: Can you just say whether – you’re about to provide them with some assistance now. That would stand to believe that you have some confidence in their ability to work cohesively. Is it –

MR. TONER: I think –

QUESTION: Or not. I mean, you tell me.

MR. TONER: I mean, I think we have some confidence, but clearly, this is a group that’s continuing to evolve.

QUESTION: Can you say – speaking specifically to their cohesiveness, can you speak at all to any concerns you may have about that?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we’ve said all along, these are not trained military professionals. And so there’s – it’s been difficult for them to – I mean, we’re all well aware of the fact that they have trouble with their – handling some of the equipment, some of their military assets that they do have. These are doctors, lawyers, people from civil society who have now taken up arms to protect their homes.

QUESTION: I don’t think that’s what I was asking about. I was speaking more to the cohesiveness of the group in terms of their ability to work together. I mean, when you talk about providing help to groups, it sounds like there are factions within the TNC and the rebel forces. I mean, who exactly do you plan to give these things to, and are you concerned about –

MR. TONER: Well, there is clearly –

QUESTION: — the fact that they don’t appear to be working together in many cases?

MR. TONER: Well, look, I mean, I’ve seen some of the reporting you’re talking about. There is a cohesive leadership structure to the TNC. We’ve been dealing with them. There is a leadership there that we believe can properly utilize this equipment.

QUESTION: My last question.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just – Jill has mentioned that the – The New York Times article, and it did say that one of those key top commanders had not yet met with Chris Stevens. Is there any reason he has not sought – or has he sought a meeting with that person?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have an update. I’ll have to ask Chris, but I haven’t asked him directly.

QUESTION: And, Mark, just to –

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — be precise then, you’re dealing with the political leadership of the TNC as opposed to individual military components of that?

MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s probably fair to say. I mean, we’re dealing with, obviously, the political leadership in Benghazi, but we’re talking to all aspects of the organization.

QUESTION: I mean, to whom will this aid be given?

MR. TONER: Again, we’re – I think we’re a little bit far in front. We’re still waiting to get the final approval from the White House to do this.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, we must know where it’s going to go.

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we’ve got the – we’ve – yes, I mean, we’ve got connections there. We’ve got a relationship with the TNC. So that’s all to be determined.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, let me ask you differently. Are you satisfied with the campaign to be – finish the job with only air strikes, or you need some kind of amendment in the UN resolution that you are working on?

MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s – there are some challenges to an air-only campaign, even enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilian populations. We’ve seen some of those challenges evidenced in the fighting around Misrata. But we continue to believe that NATO is doing a capable job – that it’s carrying out its mission. Clearly, the UK and the EU have taken other steps to help advise and maybe better coordinate between NATO and the opposition. So those are all positive steps.


QUESTION: When are you expecting the White House –

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: When are you expecting the White House to act on this?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. You have to ask the White House.


MR. TONER: I mean, I –

QUESTION: This week?

MR. TONER: I don’t have that –

QUESTION: I mean, he’s on the West Coast. I know that doesn’t really matter, but he is.

MR. TONER: Yeah. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t have a timeline for you.

Go ahead, Paul.

QUESTION: Mark, what does this decision say, if anything, about where the Administration is now on recognition of the opposition?

MR. TONER: I don’t know if it means that we’re further along in the recognition. I think we’re continuing to assess and move along. But I said yesterday that recognition is not necessarily the be all and end all. I mean, we can find ways to constructively help the opposition short of that.

I really need to wrap it up, guys, because we’ve got – yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) journalists being held in Libya. What’s the State Department doing to (inaudible) their release?

MR. TONER: Well, we’re doing quite a lot. I don’t want to get into details, obviously, because of the sensitivity of the issue. But we’re obviously very much aware of their cases – or the case, rather, and are doing our utmost to convey to the Libyan authorities that these are innocent journalists and they should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds.

QUESTION: Mark, just one on —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I don’t know if – I can’t remember if he’s American or not, but Tim Hetherington was killed in Misrata today. He’s a filmmaker who had done a lot war work. And I’m curious if you had anything to say about it or if you knew anything about any of his –

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Kirit. I don’t know anything about it. I’ll try to check into it.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. You were asked yesterday, I think, about U.S.-Russia relations and extradition. I believe their constitution prohibits them from returning a Russian national to the U.S., but is there anything short of that that State is doing to try to get this guy in custody?

MR. TONER: Yeah. No. It’s true. There’s no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia. It’s also true that we haven’t been asked from U.S. law – by U.S. law enforcement agencies to do anything regarding this case yet. I’d refer you to the New York City Police Department. But it’s true that Russian law controls whether an individual located in Russia can be transferred to the United States to face prosecution.

QUESTION: Is that normal that U.S. authorities – that DOJ hasn’t asked you to help out?

MR. TONER: Not necessarily, but we just haven’t received a request to date, so —

QUESTION: Mark, just a quick one on Iran.

MR. TONER: I mean, it’s hard to say. It’s an active investigation. It’s hard to say when that would happen, but certainly, I’ll let you know when that happens.

QUESTION: Just a quick question on Iran.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Many, many Iranians have been demonstrating outside the State Department. What they’re asking – freedom, justice, and human rights. But Iranian Government – what they’re saying – is attacking Iranians inside camps in Iraq, and they’re asking justice from the United States.

MR. TONER: Well, again, I talked about the situation in Camp Ashraf in detail last week and our call on the Iraqi Government to refrain from violence in dealing with the situation there. And that’s it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 01:01 p.m.)