State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, December 13, 2010

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–December 13, 2010. 


North American Foreign Ministers Meeting / Mexican and Canadian Counterparts / Trilateral Cooperation
Secretary Clinton’s Call to Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt / Condemnation of Bombing in Stockholm
Update on Ambassador Holbrooke’s Health
Kosovo Elections
Senator Mitchell in Region / Advancing the Process
Afghanistan-Pakistan Review / Interagency Process / Civilian Presence
UN Ambassador Hardeep Puri Checked by TSA / Express Concern / Procedures
Trade Issues
Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s Trip
Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia / Election
Arm’s Purchases
Keystone Oil Pipeline / Under Review


1:46 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: Good afternoon. I apologize for the delay, but obviously I know that many of you were watching the Secretary, along with her Mexican and Canadian counterpart – counterparts in Wakefield, Quebec today. Obviously, they already spoke to probably some of the issues that you have on your mind, but happy to address any other concerns.

Just a few things from the top. As I said, Secretary Clinton is in Wakefield, Quebec today. She’s meeting with her Canadian and Mexican counterpart. Again, they’ve already given the press conference, but just to recap, they’re identifying ways to strengthen trilateral cooperation and economic competiveness, regional security and citizen safety, as well as energy and climate change. They’ll also be discussing ways to bolster North American competitiveness and address problems of citizen security in Central America and the Caribbean, increase financial inclusion in the hemisphere, cooperate more closely on natural disaster preparedness, cyberspace issues and health security, as well as promote energy efficiency and environmental protection. This – today’s meeting builds on the progress made since the 2009 North American Leaders’ Summit in Guadalajara, and obviously helped shape the agenda for the leaders’ summit next year, early next year, in Canada.

The Secretary spoke yesterday with Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt to express the United States’s concern about the explosions in central Stockholm on Saturday. Secretary Clinton condemned the bombing in the strongest possible terms and conveyed a relief that it did not result in more casualties.

We are pleased also to note that the U.S. was able to respond immediately to a request from Swedish authorities for assistance, and that the FBI – and that a team of FBI investigators are now on the ground in Stockholm. Also, just an update, the Embassy in Stockholm convened a meeting of the Emergency Action Committee, as well as issued a Warden Message following that incident.

I don’t have much to add from what the Secretary already said about the status of Ambassador Holbrooke. He does remain in the hospital in critical but stable condition. He’s at George Washington Hospital. I can express that the family is deeply appreciative of the continuing efforts, commitment, and dedication of the entire medical team at George Washington Hospital, as well as for the outpouring of love and support from around the world that they have received.

And just a note about Kosovo’s elections – national elections – which the vote took place yesterday. We congratulate the people of Kosovo on their first post-independence general elections, a significant milestone in the development of their multiethnic democracy. We were heartened to see so many voters cast their ballots from across the country. International and local observers, including Americans, were present at polling locations throughout Kosovo. They observed a process that was largely deemed efficient and effective. The United States urges the Kosovo Elections Commission to address the few serious irregularities that did occur. Overall, however, we congratulate Kosovo – Kosovo’s electoral authorities for the organization of these snap elections under serious time constraints.

Kosovo now faces a test as the votes are counted. Kosovo’s institutions must demonstrate to the public that they’re prepared to defend the integrity of the vote. And we call on Kosovo’s authorities to take the required actions to address irregularities, process complaints and appeals fairly, as well as ensure that the final results of Kosovo’s elections accurately reflect the voters’ intent.

We also deeply regret the atmosphere of threats, intimidation, and violence from Serbian sources directed for weeks against Kosovo Serbs in northern Kosovo, clearly prevented many there from exercising their democratic rights.

That’s all I have for you. We’ll take your questions. Go ahead, Bob.

QUESTION: George Mitchell. Could you give us the latest on his schedule and exactly what is it that he’s supposed to accomplish on this trip?

MR. TONER: Well, Bob, as you saw, the Secretary outlined in fairly specific detail where we see the process going in her speech on Friday night. Obviously, Senator Mitchell is in the region today. I do know he’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu today, and I believe tomorrow he’ll meet with President Abbas. As for – I know he’ll make additional stops in the region as well as in Europe. I don’t have the details. We’ll get those to you as we receive them.

What he hopes to accomplish is basically what the Secretary said, which is we’re continuing to work hard on the issues, and we want to make progress. We’re going to continue to work with the two parties. The Secretary was fairly candid in her assessment that we can’t impose a solution to this situation – to the situation, but we need to work with both parties and they need to address the core issues.

QUESTION: Is he offering proposals of any kind?

MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary said we’re going to offer bridging proposals as we deem necessary. I don’t know that he’s specifically going to come with anything or arrive with anything, but we’re willing to do that. But again, we can’t impose a solution. This is something that both parties have to want and work towards.

QUESTION: Mark, so is it fair to describe that as shuttle diplomacy by Mitchell?

MR. TONER: I think P.J. was reluctant to get into any details about how – or any characterizations of this current stage we’re in. I would just say that – on Friday – but I would just say that we’re going to remain hard at work. The Secretary underscored our resolve. We’re not discouraged. We realize that when one way is blocked, we’re going to seek another, and we’re not going to lose hope. Neither should the people of the region. We’re going to continue to advance this process any way possible.

Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details on Ambassador Holbrooke’s exact medical condition at this point? There’s been various reporting and I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page. And are there any plans for an interim replacement as he recovers?

MR. TONER: I really can’t give you any more detail on his condition beyond what the Secretary just said in Canada and beyond what we’ve said in statements yesterday and over the weekend. He is in critical but stable condition. Obviously, the medical team worked extensively on him, I believe 20 hours of surgery. But beyond that, I really don’t have any more details.

I can say that in terms of successor, the SRAP team here at State remains hard at work. Obviously, there’s an Afghanistan-Pakistan review process under way led by the White House. That proceeds, and Frank Ruggiero in that office remains hard at work on that process. And beyond that —

QUESTION: Is he the acting head, Ruggiero?

MR. TONER: I believe so.


QUESTION: And speaking of that, can you give us an update on how – what kind of contributions specifically has come from the State Department on that review and how you intend to deal with it Friday? I know we were talking that maybe some briefings coming out of here or Defense, or certainly the White House.

MR. TONER: Right. I mean I don’t have much to say in terms of – stay tuned, essentially, Jill, on whether we’re going to do any briefings as the week proceeds. Obviously, this is an NSC conducted review, but also it’s an interagency process, and they’re getting everyone’s input. It’s essentially diagnostic in nature. We’re trying to determine how we’re doing on our core objective, which is essentially to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, as well as build a viable and prosperous Afghan Government. On timing though, I refer to my – and defer to my colleagues at the White House. And also in terms of any public comments or events, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And just to make crystal clear, as you’re saying, would –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: — will the illness of Ambassador Holbrooke have any influence on the way this would be carried out on Thursday or the participation of the State Department?

MR. TONER: Well, clearly someone with Ambassador Holbrooke’s intellect, his experience – we’ll miss his input. Obviously, he’s been closely involved in this process all along, and we want him to be back healthy and back at work as soon as he’s physically able to be. We miss him, and we miss his input. But we’re going to remain hard at work. He’s built a very strong team in SRAP and they’re going to, obviously, continue to advance the ball.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: You can go.

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know has he regained consciousness at all over the weekend?

MR. TONER: I really don’t know, and I really can’t comment on his current status, beyond what I’ve said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just one more on the review. Do you know if this will involve an actual, a tangible report, and are there any plans to make that, even an executive summary, available to the public?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I’d probably refer you to the White House for what might be published in terms of a report or any other kind of executive summary. I frankly don’t know.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Persian News Network, Voice of America. You must be aware that Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has replaced Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister with one of the high-ranking atomic energy organization in Iran. Do you think it has any effect on the 5+1 negotiation, having an atomic expert authority —

MR. TONER: Sure. The Secretary already spoke to this in Quebec, but just to reiterate what she said, our focus is, obviously, not on personalities; it’s policy-driven. We’re going to continue to urge Iran to adopt constructive polices in the region as well as comply with their international obligations regarding their nuclear program. If they do so, they’ll find that we, the United States and the P-5+1, that its neighbors and the broader international community are prepared to move forward on a new and constructive way with Iran. But frankly, our policy of the dual-track approach has not changed, and we’re just hopeful that Iran will address in a serious and constructive way the international community’s very real concerns about its nuclear program.

The Secretary also said we had a good start last week in Europe and we’re going to meet again in Istanbul next month, and we’re hopeful that this is the beginning of a process that will yield tangible results.

QUESTION: Mark, I’m sorry —

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: Back on that review.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The State Department participation, what it has given to that review – could you characterize that? I mean, obviously it’s the surge, how it’s working, which is a lot of DOD.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But you’ve got the civilian side of it. So what has the State Department contributed?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously — I mean you’ve characterized it pretty well already. We’re obviously overseeing the civilian part of this effort, and obviously this is going to be an interagency process with Department of Defense, Department of State, as well as the NSC all contributing to this process of review. Again here, I don’t want to begin to characterize something that’s still in process and frankly is an NSC-led operation. I think it’s an assessment of where we’re at. I would refer to them really to give greater detail. We’re obviously working hard at expanding our civilian presence in Afghanistan. We’ve made great strides this past year, and we’re going to continue to work towards that, obviously with the ultimate goal of extending the governance, the reach of the Afghan Government, of growing Afghanistan’s security forces, and ultimately therein lies the solution to Afghanistan.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s been described as a report card. Can you say, at least on the civilian side, that the State Department will be giving itself a passing grade? Just, if anything, can you give us that?

MR. TONER: Obviously, the challenges in Afghanistan are considerable, but I would say that working under difficult circumstances in this last year, we have made great strides, and we’ve — I think we have had success in extending that civilian reach to more areas of the country and really – we’ve long said — every expert on Afghanistan has long said this can’t be won through military means alone. That’s been a common refrain. And so when we – when this Administration took on the Afghanistan issue, problem, challenge, it really tried to build up that civilian side because that’s ultimately what’s going to create the capacity and the capability of the Afghan Government. And so we’ve worked hard at that. And again, we have made progress, I think.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The – India’s UN Ambassador Hardeep Puri is in town, in Washington today. Have you discussed the issue of his turban being checked at an airport in Houston? Has this complaint come up? Are you concerned given that there are sensitivities there?

MR. TONER: Well, again, the Secretary was quite clear in expressing our concern last week. And we have received a diplomatic note regarding the search of the Indian Ambassador to the United States last week. However, I would defer any questions regarding the actual procedures to the TSA. They do have their standard operating procedures, and as I think P.J. said last week, the ultimate goal here is security. And no one is exempt from those searches, but clearly, we’re sensitive and concerned about what’s taken place.

QUESTION: So would it be wrong to say —

MR. TONER: I don’t know specifically that – by the way, sorry, just to answer your question, your specific question, I don’t know that it’s come up in our discussions with the Indian ambassador.

QUESTION: But you’ve – have you received —

QUESTION: (Inaudible), right?

MR. TONER: Yes, I do.

QUESTION: It’s the second one.

MR. TONER: I do know that, Kirit, and I don’t have details on the second event.

QUESTION: But it would be wrong, then, to say that there are protocols in place for senior diplomats in terms of these searches, because they were apparently referred to in – when the incident took place and he said, “You have your rules, you have your protocols. You don’t need – I don’t need to have my turban touched because I’m a senior diplomat.” So are there protocols like that?

MR. TONER: Are there protocols that exempt other diplomats or foreign diplomats from those searches?


MR. TONER: I think we said that there – last week that there weren’t any protocols, that everyone was – that frankly, no one was exempt from these kinds of searches.

QUESTION: So does that put you in a pretty difficult position, then, if on the one hand, you’re getting a lot of diplomatic concern on these issues, and on the other hand, you’ve got to deal with security?

MR. TONER: Well, you’re right. I mean, it is a challenge, and again, I don’t want to get into too many specifics because it’s really the realm of the TSA. But I think I would say that we are certainly sensitive to their concerns. We’re going to work with the TSA as we move forward. But we’re also very aware that – ultimately, that it’s the security of the American people that’s at stake. And frankly, not just the American people, but all international travelers as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, at Friday’s briefing, P.J. took a question about the case of the Palestinian activist.

MR. TONER: And we still don’t have a clear answer. I checked before I came out here. And once we do, we’ll get back to you on that. Thank you.

In the back, in —

QUESTION: Yes. The Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan is arriving in D.C. later this afternoon. He’s leading a senior delegation to attend the annual session of JCCT. Does the Secretary have any plan to meet with him this time, and do you expect to see the two countries resolve some major trade and economic issues this time?

MR. TONER: Do I expect – the last part of your question? Sorry, I didn’t hear.

QUESTION: Do you expect to see the two countries resolve some major trade and economic issues this time?

MR. TONER: I don’t know the details of his visit. I’d have to check with you. I’m not sure that the Secretary will be meeting with him. Obviously, we’re working hard to – with China on trade issues as well as the whole realm of bilateral issues that we have with China. But as for specifics of his visit, who he’s going to meet with and what they’re going to discuss, I’ll have to get back to you on that. I guess we can take that question and get details.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to —

MR. TONER: Oh, I promised him but – sorry.


MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Kosovo —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — do you expect the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia to start soon after these elections?

MR. TONER: We certainly hope so. It’s obviously a priority. But I don’t have any timeline for you. Obviously, what we want to see now is them move through this election period in a stable and peaceful fashion, and achieve results that are transparent and credible for the Kosovo people. But then obviously, those are – those – that dialogue, frankly, is vital to keeping the whole region moving on a track towards European – Euro-Atlantic integration.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Russian arms sales to Venezuela. The UN Register of Conventional Arms showed that 1,800 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles were sent to Venezuela last year alone. Are there concerns in the State Department that these weapons could fall into the wrong hands – a rebel organization, terrorist groups? And was anything done to stop any of those transfers?

MR. TONER: I’m – the second part of your question, I’m not aware. The first part of your question, I think we’ve often stated that we have concerns about Venezuela’s arms purchases versus its legitimate needs for defense. And that’s something we’ve said before from this podium, and I just reiterate that.

QUESTION: Can you expand on that, what those concerns are?

MR. TONER: Well, I just think that there’s a disparity there, so – that we would question the – frankly, their need for legitimate – their need for arms in terms of their legitimate defense needs versus their actual purchases.

Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: Mark, on WikiLeaks, apparently, the grand jury is working on a possible indictment of Assange. And I know it’s a Justice thing, but just from here, has the U.S. filed for extradition, do you know?

MR. TONER: Well, we don’t discuss extradition issues here, but – or anywhere, frankly, but – and I really can’t comment on the grand jury speculation. That’s a question for Justice.

In the back.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on Secretary Steinberg’s visit to Beijing, such as who he’s going to meet in Beijing?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I checked before coming out here. I know he’s due to depart and will be traveling from December 14th through 17th. He’s obviously going to Beijing. And the delegation will include National Security Senior Director for Asian Affairs Jeffrey Bader as well as our Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, and Special Envoy Sung Kim.

I do – just a slight revision, I think our Media Note incorrectly noted that Assistant Secretary Campbell would be returning. He’s going to actually continue on to Tokyo on December 17th for meetings with senior officials on December 18th – just to convey that correction. Anything else?

QUESTION: One more.

MR. TONER: Sure, Jill.

QUESTION: The Canada energy, oddly enough – there is a group, Friends Of The Earth, that is questioning – I think they’ve filed a FOIA request on alleged ties of Secretary Clinton to an oil lobbyist who used to be her – in her campaign, former presidential campaign manager. Do you have anything on this, that alleged connection, and any —

MR. TONER: I don’t, Jill. I’ll have to look into it and —

QUESTION: Okay. It’s the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

MR. TONER: Right, which I believe is still under review.

QUESTION: Yes, right.

MR. TONER: But as for those specific allegations, I don’t have anything.

QUESTION: All right. Could you check into that?

MR. TONER: I will check into that.


MR. TONER: Is that it? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)