State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, February 23, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 23, 2012.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Talks in Tunis / The Three Pillars / Humanitarian Assistance
    • Friends of Syria Group / China
    • Strong International Pressure / UN / Regional Support
    • U.S. Looking to Collaborate with Afghan Authorities
    • President Karzai / Demonstrations
    • Issue of Reconciliation and Accountability
    • U.S. Welcomes Lessons Learned in Reconciliation Commission Report / Implementation of Recommendations
    • U.S. Engagement with Sri Lankan Government
  • IRAQ
    • U.S. Today Condemns the Acts of Violence / Extends Condolences
    • Iraqi Security Forces
    • Ambassador Glyn Davies’ Meetings
    • Nutritional Assistance
    • U.S. Wants North Korea to Live Up to Its Prior Commitments
    • Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) Designation / JAT
    • Haqqani Network
    • Backgrounder by a Senior State Department Official
    • Pakistani Parliamentary Review
    • Secretary Clinton’s Meeting with Foreign Minister Khar


12:26 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: Hey, folks. Sorry – running just a little bit late. I wanted to get up here before the main event, if you will. The Secretary is due to give a press avail in London in, I think, just a few minutes. So if I can answer your – any other questions on any other things that are going on in the world, I’m happy to do so.

QUESTION: Well, since I assume she’ll speak specifically about Somalia only in London, and not about Syria by any chance, can I ask you about Syria?

MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you explain in any way this notion of an ultimatum that is now going to be posed to Syria that Assad should have 72 hours to initiate a ceasefire and allow humanitarian aid in?

MR. TONER: Well, I can’t speak to an ultimatum beyond the fact that what we’re looking to talk about in Tunis tomorrow is one of the primary focuses – you’ve heard us talk about the three pillars, and one of the primary pillars is the humanitarian assistance, the humanitarian situation there, and the need to get humanitarian assistance into the places where it’s most needed. And I think, as you’ve seen in some of the backgrounding that we’ve done on this, that one of the main issues involved in this is access, and that that access would involve the Syrian Government, the Syrian regime, allowing these humanitarian groups to get – to allow access to these areas that are literally being besieged by Syrian artillery.

QUESTION: Because essentially, humanitarian aid is still conditional on the Syrian Government – the Syrian regime’s acceptance?

MR. TONER: Well, again, there are organizations that are able to have the capability, if you will, to carry out this kind of assistance, to bring it in. But ultimately, they need to have access, yes.

QUESTION: And then just on – the Chinese Government said it’s not going to partake in the festivities. Can you – do you have a reaction to that? Do you think that hurts or helps the Friends of Syria gathering?

MR. TONER: Look, we’re no different than we were after the UN Security Council vote, where two countries isolated themselves and the rest of the world spoke out in support of the Syrian people. After that vote, we stated our intention to move forward with this Friends of Syria group, and that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: But would you have preferred for them to participate?

MR. TONER: Again, that’s ultimately their decision. We would prefer them to side with the Syrian people and to understand the gravity of the situation in Syria and the need for the international community to speak with one voice on Syria, certainly.

QUESTION: Was there communication with the Chinese on this ahead of it?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware —

QUESTION: Because they kept saying they wanted clarity on the meeting.

MR. TONER: I’m not aware. I mean, this was hosted by the Tunisian Government, so I can’t speak to any either Arab League communication or Tunisian – to – or bilateral communication between the Tunisians and the Chinese.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up —

MR. TONER: Yeah, you – are you on – still on Syria?

QUESTION: Without China and Russia’s participation, do you think the message you are going to send Syria regime is still strong enough?

MR. TONER: Absolutely. We’re talking 70-plus countries on the heels of a UN General Assembly vote that was overwhelmingly in support of the Syrian people, the Syrian opposition, so we believe there’s strong international pressure on Assad.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question about Afghanistan?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Yeah, let’s finish up. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Why, when we talk about Iran, you always stress the importance of P-5+1 unity and then when it comes to Syria, when you don’t have that unity, it’s no longer seen as positive or negative, you don’t have a preference one way or another whether they participate?

MR. TONER: I don’t want to imply that we don’t have a preference. Certainly, we would’ve liked to have seen – and I think we recognize as much – a strong UN Security Council resolution come out against the Syrian regime, the Assad regime. But I think in diplomacy, you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off, and you move forward, and you move forward with a clear recognition that the situation in Syria is such that it requires an international response and a concerted international effort. And I also think we recognize, when we’re looking at Syria, that Russia and China aside, you’ve got strong regional support for – and an Arab League proposal, frankly, for a transition on the table that we believe sends a strong message from Assad’s neighbors to Assad that he needs to allow for this transition to take place.

Anyway, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — President Karzai has issued a statement just a short time ago saying that he wants NATO to hold a fair and public trial, is what he said, for those who burn copies of the Qu’ran. Are you aware of these reports, and would the United States support such a trial?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m not sure, frankly, what he’s referring to. I do know that we are looking to collaborate with Afghan authorities as we look at – as we do a careful examination of the facts pertinent to the – this incident. And we’re certainly – as Secretary Panetta and others have said, we’re certainly going to seek full accountability for the actions of those individuals in burning the Qu’ran.

QUESTION: And Afghanistan seems to have erupted into violent demonstrations. You had two U.S. service members killed today. The President has called and apologized to President Karzai. But do you see these demonstrations as the Taliban sort of taking advantage of the situation, and do you feel that President Karzai is doing enough to —

MR. TONER: Well, President Karzai has come out with – and I think I said this yesterday – has come out with some very positive statements recognizing, obviously, the gravity of this incident, but also calling for calm. We understand that emotions are running extremely high. We have seen demonstrations throughout the country, and there’s no indication that these are anything other than popular expressions of outrage over this incident. So I think fully recognizing that emotions are running high, we also again offer our apologies and our pledge that we’re going to get to the bottom of this.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, the ISAF actually yesterday said that there was a team of investigators who visited the facility, and in that there was an Afghan delegation which participated, so —

MR. TONER: You’re talking post-incident now?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR. TONER: Well, I think we have, from the very – the early aftermath of the incident, we’ve said we want to work with Afghan authorities as we move forward, and I think we’re just reiterating that pledge today, so —

QUESTION: Different topic? On Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Government has called for protests over what it says is the U.S. position on the UN Human Rights Council. That’s with regard to the events of 2009, the end of the civil war. Does the U.S. have anything to say either about Sri Lanka’s call for protests over this, or more broadly, about the U.S. position on the UN Human Rights Council?

MR. TONER: Well, we think – sure, Shaun. We think we’ve been very consistent in our dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka regarding the issue of reconciliation and accountability. We long publicly supported the idea of the Government of Sri Lanka having the time and space for this domestic Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission to carry out its work, and believed that an action plan would be announced when that report was made public. And then subsequent to the report’s publication, we wanted the Government of Sri Lanka to follow up on some of the recommendations from the report.

Again, we welcome the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission’s report. It was a Sri Lankan undertaking, which includes many strong recommendations that, when implemented, could help improve and contribute to genuine reconciliation and strengthening of democratic institutions and practices in Sri Lanka. But to date, frankly, we’ve not seen a detailed action plan from the Government of Sri Lanka on how it’s going to implement these recommendations. So I think we still encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to move forward to take concrete steps on this implementation plan. And at the same time, we’re working with our partners in Geneva on a resolution within the UNHRC that calls for actions on important steps towards reconciliation. But I think our goal ultimately is the same here: We want to see these recommendations implemented and so that they can help lead towards reconciliation.

QUESTION: Just following up, on the Human Rights Council, in previous years, it’s fallen short regarding Sri Lanka. Is there – how concerted is the effort by the United States? Is there a desire to really pass something in the Human Rights Council on —

MR. TONER: Well, we wouldn’t be pursuing it if there wasn’t a desire. We’re also – obviously continue to be engaged with the Sri Lankan Government. But we’ve long said that we would support local efforts and want to see local efforts to address these issues, but we would also engage international mechanisms if appropriate.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the violence in Iraq today?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Sri Lanka?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: After the visit of Indian foreign minister to Sri Lanka and then the U.S. diplomats, has there been any —

MR. TONER: Additional follow-up?

QUESTION: — diplomatic follow-through between U.S. and India on —

MR. TONER: Well, through our Embassy, of course, and I’m sure almost on a daily basis, there is engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka. Maybe not always on this particular issue, but certainly I’m sure this is —

QUESTION: No. After the Indian foreign minister’s visit, did you have anything to do with India?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure. I’ll have to take that question, Tejinder.


MR. TONER: On Iraq, yeah.


MR. TONER: Obviously, these were horrible, even heinous, acts that took place today. We strongly condemn these acts of violence and obviously offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims. Frankly, we view these as desperate attempts by terrorist groups to sow fear and undermine Iraqi democracy at what everyone recognizes is really a critical juncture in their – in the Iraqi political process. And we’ve said this before, going into this transition period, that we anticipated that there would be groups of individuals who would try to take advantage of – and to (inaudible) this transition period to sow chaos, to sow fear.

But I think we’re confident. The Iraqi security forces have stood up to these kinds of attacks and faced these kinds of threats before, and we’re confident that they can do so again. But it certainly doesn’t mitigate the terrible tragedy of today.

QUESTION: Is it especially disappointing because there seemed to have been a recent lull in the violence and this risks plunging it back in a spiral in the other direction?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s really difficult to talk about trend lines in the wake of such a horrific attack. But again, the trend in Iraq is a good one, is a positive one. These attacks are becoming – have been lessened since they’re – the height of a few years ago. But it doesn’t – as I said, doesn’t mitigate the tragedy and horror of today’s attacks. But I think we’re confident that the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi security forces, can address this and move forward.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: DPRK again, please.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Mark, talks going into the second day. Are you therefore more optimistic than you were yesterday? And also, are there any concrete steps that you’d like the DPRK to take before the possibility of returning to Six-Party Talks?

MR. TONER: Well, you’re right that Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies and – did complete – he’s along – he’s in Beijing, obviously, with an interagency delegation, but they did complete their first day of meetings with First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and the DPRK delegation. He did give a readout, and I would commend to you the transcript of his readout of the first day of meetings. I think he said they were substantive, but they look forward to a second day of talks. Again, as I think Ambassador Davies has said, we’re not going to negotiate in public, but we are fully engaged in talking about all the issues on the table.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I know you can’t get too specific, Mark.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But there was a mention of the U.S. offering food aid. In return, is there anything you can say openly that you’ve asked the DPRK for? Perhaps suspension of uranium enrichments, anything like that?

MR. TONER: No. I can say – and I think he acknowledged as much – that it was brought up in today’s meetings. But again, we’ve been very clear about what we’re looking for in providing this kind of nutritional assistance to North Korea. They need to still come back and answer some of the questions and issues that we’ve raised previously. But again, I – it’s hard for me to say how much of a major topic that is in these discussions. Let’s let the second day take place, and he’ll give a fuller readout.


MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: On North Korea again, it seems that the North Koreans and the Americans are into a catch-22 situation, where the North Koreans insist that you drop hostility and give them food in exchange for the dismantling of its nuclear facilities, and the U.S. insists the other way should be – it should be the other way around. Do you foresee the talks to fall into this kind of conundrum again, or do you think it will break – possibly break new ground?

MR. TONER: With due respect to Joseph Heller, I don’t know if that’s exactly a catch-22 situation. I think that we are cognizant of the challenges that we’re facing in these talks. But we are also steadfast in what we’re asking for North Korea to do, which is live up its prior commitments, and we’re going to continue to talk with them. But I don’t want to, again, get out – first day done. Second day is tomorrow, so let’s not preview this too much.

QUESTION: Mark, one —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did they talk anything about the North-South relationship? I understand that a U.S. position is North Korea have to improve their relationship with South in the first place. But what North Korea has been doing was just harshly criticizing the South Korean Government still.

MR. TONER: Well, we have talked about that in the past as one of the things that we want to see improve. But again, these are all messages that we’re obviously conveying in the framework of these talks. Our positions are quite clear. They’ve been articulated over many months. But I don’t want to get into the discussions that are taking place in Beijing. You know many of these issues, and certainly, better relations with North Korea’s neighbors is one of them.

QUESTION: Is it safe to say that both sides today, when they met and discussed the critical issues, they picked up exactly where they left a couple of months ago, or it was whole new set of discussion?

MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I mean, I haven’t talked to Glyn directly. I think his characterization of them, though, was substantive, and I think that that’s – that speaks to the fact that they were, in essence, able to pick up from where they left off and hopefully advance the ball. But again, let’s let the second day happen.

QUESTION: Earlier today, you issued a statement on the terrorist designation of the JAT, Jemmah Anshorut Tauhid, in Indonesia. The statement explained quite a bit about why it’s being designated, but I’m just wondering about the timing. Is this – was this part of a process and this is when it happened? Or was there something specific that – politically or event-wise that —

MR. TONER: Yeah. No, Shaun, I wouldn’t read too much into the timing aspect of these. These are often – these kinds of designations involve a lengthy legal process, and so they are issued when they’re issued. So there’s not – it’s not tied to any one particular event.

QUESTION: And when will the State designate Haqqani Network as an FTO that has been – that were announced last year, five, six months ago by Secretary Clinton? That’s on its way?

MR. TONER: I don’t know what the – you’re talking about the —

QUESTION: Haqqani Network. Yeah.

MR. TONER: — designating the Haqqani Network as an FTO?


MR. TONER: As you know, we’ve designated many of the key individuals and leaders within the Haqqani Network. But as to where designation for the Haqqani Network itself stands, I don’t know. I’ll have to look into it. I’m not sure what we – again, these are long processes. They’re lengthy, and I don’t know how much we can talk about them when they’re still in play, but I’ll find out.


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Indian ambassador has been meeting U.S. officials about extradition of Headley in the Mumbai case. It called in – India has asked for the – I know you don’t talk about those requests, but can you update us anything about the status of the case?

MR. TONER: I don’t have any updates. And you’re right, we don’t talk about extradition requests.

QUESTION: But have you received any requests from Indian Embassy or Indian Government on —

MR. TONER: On his extradition?

QUESTION: Not on the extradition, on the request of the Indian court that Headley and Rana be produced in the Indian court on March 13th.

MR. TONER: But that would involve extradition, so —

QUESTION: I don’t – they haven’t used the term “extradition” in that. It’s basically court orders asking them to —

MR. TONER: I’ll see what I can find out for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. TONER: In the back?

QUESTION: Today, Secretary Clinton met Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar. Can you tell us something about that?

MR. TONER: Well, yes, happy to. But also I can point you in the direction of a backgrounder that we just put out from a senior State Department official that walks through that meeting and does give already a very good readout of what was discussed.

Obviously, I think the key message to carry out of that was that it was a very positive meeting, constructive, and it was about looking forward. Obviously, recognition – or recognizing, rather, of the challenges to the relationship, the recent challenges being, of course, the November 24th incident, but also the need that we need to move beyond that, and the ways that we can collaborate with Pakistan moving forward and in essence, reinvigorate the relationship.

QUESTION: And can you say specifically that the U.S. is ready to reset its relationship with Pakistan once the parliament —

MR. TONER: Right. And I think that’s the key point. As we’re – we are, in fact, waiting for the end of this Pakistani parliamentary review. So obviously, once that has occurred, we’ll be able to hopefully address some of their concerns and move forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: I had somebody back here, sorry.

QUESTION: In the transcript, the Senior State Department Official confirmed that the parliamentary review is expected sometime next month or after the senate elections. What kind of effect has it had on relations in terms of tangible cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan in these last two months on a diplomatic level? Because publicly, General Petraeus has announced that intelligence cooperation still continues. So with a new ambassador in town, how does it adversely affect the relationship?

MR. TONER: Well, you’re right in the sense that our assistance and our cooperation on many levels still continues, but I think there’s obviously – there was the case where Ambassador Grossman put off a visit until after the review. And I think that there’s a sense that we need to get this review out and done with and then we can look at it, see what’s on the table, and then move forward.

Yeah, go ahead (inaudible).

QUESTION: The Secretary always seems to have a long meeting with Foreign Minister Khar. Last year in November —

MR. TONER: There’s lots to discuss.

QUESTION: — they were for three and a half hours meeting. Today it was one and a half hour. What kind of chemistry the two leaders have between them?

MR. TONER: I think they have a very good chemistry. They’ve obviously met several times now and there’s just – it’s a – as we’ve said many times, it’s a very complex and wide-ranging relationship so there’s always a great deal to discuss. And obviously, given, as I said, that the events of the past month or so, that there’s a lot to address and also the need for us to try to look forward in the relationship.

QUESTION: Going back to the briefing that was provided, can you give us one – like they met again for one hour fifteen minutes. Can you give us one date, like when something concrete will start like one – when is the next U.S. diplomatic visit to Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think in the briefing they talked about the potential once this parliamentary review has concluded. But I think until that point, we’re going to wait and see.


MR. TONER: Yeah, one more.

QUESTION: Just quickly on Iran, is there any update on a response to the Jalili letter?

MR. TONER: No, no update from yesterday. Yeah. Great, thanks guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:49 p.m.)