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

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

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • NATO / Protection of Civilians / Operation Unified Protector
    • Drawdown Assistance
    • Misrata / Two Photojournalists Killed/Rebel Forces / Need Better Training and to be Better Equipped
    • International Coalition / Pressure on Qadhafi / UNSCR 1973 / Chris Stevens
    • Broad Consensus that Qadhafi Needs to Step Aside
    • Secretary’s Meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister/Sanctions
    • President Asad / Aspirations of the Syrian People


1:29 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have anything to say at the top of the briefing other than to congratulate the Buffalo Sabres on a hard-fought victory last night.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: And to dispel any myth that Philadelphia fans are in any way, shape, or form, anything but gracious in defeat. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Wow, thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Your questions?

QUESTION: Well, you know what? Other than to say thank you, I don’t have any questions.

MR. TONER: Great.

QUESTION: I’m speechless.

MR. TONER: You’ll over – get over it, I’m sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Philly fans.

QUESTION: Shocked and horrified.

Mark, NATO is warning Libyan civilians to stay away from military areas and they’re talking about some type of maintaining the pressure on the front line troops in Libya. Are we – what are we looking at here? Is this a new stage in the operation?

MR. TONER: Look, I mean, I certainly don’t want to talk about operational details that are better addressed by NATO generals who are leading this effort, but I think NATO has been quite clear all along to say that it’s going to keep the pressure up, that it’s going to keep attacking where it can attack, and that includes targets on the ground and the protection of civilians. I mean, that is the mandate of a Unified Protector.

I’m not aware of the specific – I don’t know – report that you’re referring to, but NATO has been flying numerous sorties. They’ve been hitting targets on the ground. They’re working better to coordinate and locate targets where they can be effective, and I think this is in keeping with that effort.

Go ahead – sorry, go ahead, and then Josh.

QUESTION: Do you have any better idea today when the U.S. aid might actually reach the rebels?

MR. TONER: I mean, I don’t because, really, that – the story was – or the – yesterday’s announcement of the 25 million in drawdown assistance was not fully cooked, as we say, that that still needs to head to the White House, is my understanding, be confirmed or ratified by the President, and then we can begin implementing it.

QUESTION: And one more. Secretary Clinton today said that she believes that the rebels are holding their own against Qadhafi’s forces. I mean, it doesn’t really sound like that from the reports on the ground over there, so what makes her think that the rebels are holding their own?

MR. TONER: Well, look, I mean, it’s a very fluid situation, obviously, and certainly the fighting around Misrata is intense. Yesterday we had the tragic incident where two respected photojournalists were killed, and certainly, as the Secretary said, our condolences go out to their families and loved ones. But we’re seeing a resilient, I think, opposition there – rebel force that are pushing back, they’re defending their homes and their loved ones.

I think the Secretary also spoke candidly about their lack of training and the fact that they need to get better training, they need to be better equipped, in order to become a more effective fighting force. It’s a very fluid situation, as I said. NATO is going to keep up its efforts from the air. But the Secretary also talked about a certain degree of patience in this whole process.

Yeah. Go ahead, Josh. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: That’s okay. I had a follow-up to that.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m not sure if you covered this yesterday. I was out. But the 25 million is reported to go to body armor, non-lethal support for the rebel oppositions. How do you square that with the mission of protecting civilians? Is that an expansion of the UN Security Council resolution mandate? And do you see this as the first tranche of several tranches of aid that will go to Libyan rebels? Twenty-five million doesn’t seem to go that far. Are you preparing further congressional notifications to transfer money towards this effort, and where does that money come from? It’s got to be taken from some account.

MR. TONER: Well, and just to answer your last question first, it’s actually drawdown – this is drawdown assistance from items already in government stocks. And these are based on what our special representative on the ground in Benghazi has assessed by talking to the TNC, the Transitional National Council – assessed their needs to be. And we’re trying to meet their needs in a coherent and appropriate way. We don’t want to give them things they don’t necessarily need. We want to try to focus our assistance. And this is the kind of equipment that they identify will be most helpful.

Your first part of your question again was talking about – is this the first – I mean, I don’t want to get out ahead of what we – what else we may be doing. We’ve said a lot of different options remain on the table. And obviously, there’s what the U.S. is working at, but there’s also the Contact Group and the broader international coalition that’s looking at a variety of ways both to put more pressure on Qadhafi’s regime but also to look at better ways to both to provide that humanitarian assistance to civilians in the conflict area as well as – as well as find ways to help the opposition support itself, give it the financial wherewithal. I talked a little bit about the temporary financial mechanism. That’s still being worked out, but that’s one of the ways that’s being discussed.

QUESTION: The other question was how does that – if you’re giving body armor and military aid to the rebels, how does that square with the UN mandate to protect civilians, no more, no less?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we think it is in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and it’s within its mandate. It is about protecting civilian populations, because these are the forces that are trying to defend against Qadhafi’s onslaught.

QUESTION: Is it true that there’s exactly three State Department personnel on the ground in Benghazi?

MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I’m not sure how big the DART team is there. Is that what you’re talking about in addition to Chris Stevens?


MR. TONER: I’ll have to confirm that figure. Sorry, I’ll get back to you, Josh.

Yeah. Go ahead, and then —

QUESTION: As far as putting pressure on Mr. Qadhafi, more pressure than what you have —

MR. TONER: Oh, the mic. Thanks. It’s much better. Thanks.

QUESTION: — more pressure what you have, where do the Chinese and Russians stand today as far as U.S. support is concerned from them?

MR. TONER: You’ll have – I mean, you’ll have to – I mean, you’ll have to really get those kinds of views from the Chinese and the Russian Government. But we continue to believe that there’s a broad international support for our efforts in Libya and we’re working within – this has always been an international multilateral effort, continues to be so. And there’s also a broad consensus that Qadhafi needs to step aside.

QUESTION: What I mean is really is there change in their behavior as far as their support from the beginning now and today?

MR. TONER: Again, I mean, you’ll have to ask them. I don’t want to speak for either government.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A couple of additional questions on the aid package. When it was announced, it was mentioned that there were $25 million in goods and services. Can you tell us what the services are? We know that the goods are such things as boots and uniforms and bulletproof vests.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And the second question would be: How does this American contribution help the insurgent or rebel forces, or whatever you want to call them?

MR. TONER: How does it help them?

QUESTION: How does it – how does it help them? Because most of what they’ve been saying is that they need more air support from NATO and such things. How —

MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, this is – (cell phone rings). I’m sorry. Somebody got a phone call? (Laughter.) That’s okay. Look, this is something that’s being worked on on several different fronts. We’re talking about non-lethal aid. The British and others have put military advisors on the ground to help the opposition forces direct themselves better and to defend themselves better. There’s a lot of different things in train. This is just one aspect of that.

In terms of services, I mean, I don’t have an in-depth list and, in fact, I don’t want to talk about it too much beyond what I’ve already said because, again, this is something that still needs to be approved by the White House.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) at that meeting today with the Dutch foreign minister and then he came out with the Secretary, he was very strong about talking about sanctions. And of course, Dutch, we think of oil. So did he have any new ideas about how they can put the squeeze, as he put it, on the – on Qadhafi?

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t want to get into the specifics of our discussions with the Dutch foreign minister today, but, indeed, they did talk about ways to put more of a financial pressure on Qadhafi’s regime, and –

QUESTION: The area of oil?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we can all extrapolate what those areas might be, but I think the idea is that there’s – and as we’ve said all along, this is not necessarily something that’s going to be accomplished through military power. Indeed, that’s not even the aim of Operation Unified Protector. But the longer-term aim of getting Qadhafi to step aside is – there’s many ways to do that, one of which is to really put a financial squeeze on him and his cronies.

I mean, I don’t want to get into too much of what they’re talking about, but, indeed, he talked about a stronger set of sanctions and a stronger – I think he was talking as well – again, I don’t want to speak for the Dutch Government or the Dutch foreign minister, but I think what he was referring to today is stronger enforcement of existing sanctions as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic, on Syria?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: A former Syrian official has said that it’s likely Asad will be overthrown. Do you have any comment on that? Is it at all likely, or do you think it would have any impact on foreign relations?

MR. TONER: Look, I can’t even begin to guess about Asad’s future. He’s certainly facing a serious challenge, he and his government, from the Syrian people. They’ve expressed their aspirations, they want to see change, and so far it appears that he’s not met that – those aspirations, so – but as to his future, it’s pretty clear that he needs to either do more or allow others to do more.

That’s it? Thank – oh, now it’s – we’ll talk off-record.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)