Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 17, 2012.
- Secretary Travel
- Ambassador Grossman Travel, Meetings
- Strong Partner/Stalwart Ally
- Military Cooperation
- Legislation on Central Bank of Iran/Ties to Iranian Petroleum
- Essential Partner to Afghan-led Reconciliation Process
- Government of Jordan Venue for Face-to-Face Talks/ U.S. Stands Ready to Support
- Ambassador Rice /Ongoing Consultations on Draft Resolution/Russia/Arab League/Assad
- Free and Fair Elections
- Continue to Seek Cross-Strait Peace and Stability
- U.S. Government Employed Contractors
- Working through Political Tensions
- Calls with Government and Aung San Suu Kyi
- Will Consult Closely with Senators McConnell and McCain
- U.S. Takes Security Concerns of Foreign Missions Seriously
1:17 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: My goodness, a surly bunch. Anyway, welcome to the State Department. Nothing to announce at the top. As you know, the Secretary was in Lome earlier today. Well, actually, she started her day in Cote d’Ivoire, went on to Togo, where she had meetings there, and is now en route to Cape Verde. And they return to tonight. But I don’t have anything else to add, so I’ll just take your questions.
MR. TONER: You can start with Turkey.
QUESTION: As I’m sure you are aware, Governor Perry suggested that a lot of people would look at Turkey as a country that’s run by terrorists, to use his words. And as you may know, the Turkish foreign ministry and the ambassador here have both reacted quite strongly to this. I know that you, as a general rule, try to avoid getting embroiled in domestic – U.S. domestic politics, but this is a case where one of your allies, a fellow NATO member, feels that it has been insulted and mischaracterized by an American politician. Does this make your dealings with Turkey more difficult?
MR. TONER: It’s true, Arshad, that we’re not going to get into the substance of campaign politics. We’ve been very clear from this podium about that said. That said, rest assured that we believe that Turkey is a stalwart ally in – within NATO as well as bilaterally, and we have a strong partnership with Turkey in addressing issues of regional and global security, as I said, both bilaterally and within NATO. So —
QUESTION: Did the Turkish Government contact the U.S. Government to protest against this?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware, Arshad, if that’s – if I find out differently, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Mark, is this – don’t you worry about, like, campaign-driven foreign policy?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we can only be consistent and clear on what our policy is from this Administration and from the U.S. Government from this podium. And again, just speaking to Turkey, Turkey’s one of the oldest members of NATO, and it’s been a stalwart member of NATO and a strong ally of the United States, and we stand by our relationship.
QUESTION: But, I mean —
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — just in terms of, like, what they’re saying about the Islamics, that is – that it’s run by Islamic terrorists, you don’t —
MR. TONER: We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion. Turkey, as I said, is a strong partner in the region. We’ve seen it make a very courageous stand against what’s going on in Syria, for example. It continues to play a very positive and constructive role in the region. And it is, as often cited, an example of so-called Islamic democracy in action.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you confirm if the U.S. has received any confirmation about – from Pakistan on two points? One is they are demanding a apology, not a regret. And the second is they are specifically going to put some new taxes and custom clearance mechanism in Peshawar for NATO supplies. This was decided at the Defense Coordination Committee of the – attended by General Kayani and chaired by Prime Minister Gilani.
MR. TONER: Tejinder, as far as I’m aware, this so-called parliamentary review is still underway. I can’t really speak to any of the assertions that you’ve just raised about – you said new customs?
QUESTION: Yeah. The Defense Coordination Committee of the Pakistani cabinet attended by General Kayani and chaired by Prime Gilani on Saturday approved a parliamentary committee recommendation for these two points.
MR. TONER: And this involves, I’m sorry —
QUESTION: The first is that they are specifically demanding an apology for the November 26th NATO strike, and they said that regret is not enough. And the second is they are asking – they are going to put new taxes and custom clearance mechanism in Peshawar for NATO supplies to Pakistan.
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the customs regulations regarding NATO supplies. I believe that the parliamentary review is still ongoing, so we’ll wait and see the outcome of that.
With regard to the first part of your question, we’ve been very clear since this report was done following the November 26th incident, expressing our regret, our condolences, our sympathies to the Pakistani people, pledging to work more cooperatively with the Pakistani military to ensure that these kinds of incidents don’t happen in the future.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Turkey?
MR. TONER: Yeah, let’s go ahead. Turkey, sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just small ones. You said in response to Elise’s question – Elise asked you about the suggestion that Turkey is run by terrorists, and you replied, I think, we absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion. That assertion, of course, is the assertion that was made by Governor Perry. So you are referring, indeed, to what he said, correct?
MR. TONER: I’m referring to the assertion, whoever made it, that Elise cited.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we come back to Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. We’re still in Pakistan, I believe.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you confirm that the special envoy, Marc Grossman, wanted to go to Islamabad, but the Pakistani side declined?
MR. TONER: I think we talked about that even on Friday, that we received word that the Pakistanis felt – the Pakistani Government felt it would be best to wait until this parliamentary review is concluded.
QUESTION: Okay. And a couple of other questions. Can you also confirm that Pakistan – well, not confirm, but Pakistan has said that it’ll abide by the UN sanctions on Iran but that the EU and the U.S. sanctions are not binding on it, that it’s going forward with the gas pipeline with Iran completed by 2014. So what’s your reaction on that?
MR. TONER: Our reaction is that, as I think we said last week, we’re engaged with all our partners and allies about this new legislation regarding the Central Bank of Iran. We’re going to continue to talk to folks as we move forward. This is a process. We’re trying to encourage governments around the world to decrease their ties to Iranian petroleum and to the Central Bank of Iran, and those talks are ongoing.
QUESTION: Are we still on Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Let’s stay on Pakistan.
QUESTION: One small question, then, going back to Ambassador Grossman. There’s a report that a Voice of America journalist Mukarrum Khan Atif may have been killed in northwestern Pakistan by two gunmen. Do you have any more about that?
MR. TONER: I don’t, Rosalind. I’m aware of the reports. We’re looking into them, obviously. I would also refer you to Voice of America directly, but we don’t have any other information. I found out just moments before coming down here.
QUESTION: Okay. And then going back to Ambassador Grossman’s travels, does he have any plans to meet with anyone in Pakistan or in Afghanistan about efforts to deal with the Taliban, given the U.S.’s interest in trying to move this reconciliation process along?
MR. TONER: Well, yeah. He’s actually – was in Ankara yesterday, and he was in Riyadh today, and I believe he’ll be in Abu Dhabi tomorrow. In Turkey, he met with the minister of foreign affairs under secretary as well as the deputy under secretary and Turkey’s – his counterpart in Turkey, the special representative for Afghanistan. Ambassador Grossman expressed appreciation for Turkey’s strong support for Afghanistan, including the hosting of the Istanbul conference in November – November 2nd, I believe, and their efforts to achieve a secure and stable Afghanistan within a secure and stable region.
In Riyadh, he held meetings at the Saudi ministry of foreign affairs with various officials, also expressed our appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s efforts to also build a better, stronger, more stable Afghanistan. And of course, in all these meetings, he did reaffirm our support for an Afghan-owned and an Afghan-led reconciliation process. And he also promised, of course, to consult closely with Turkey and Saudi Arabia going forward.
QUESTION: Could you say when he’ll be in Qatar and when he’ll – other stops?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I’m sorry these dates are so squishy, but I think it’s still being –
QUESTION: Could you please take them?
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: May I –
MR. TONER: Sorry, just – no, I don’t have any specific dates; just that he’s going to go to Qatar.
QUESTION: Well, if f you could provide them, it’s –
MR. TONER: I will. I know, Elise. Sorry. I think it was – the schedule is still in flux a little bit, but we should have the dates nailed down by now, so we’ll get them to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I just –
MR. TONER: Can we go in the back, and then – or are you still – we’re still on –
QUESTION: Just one more on the Taliban. Could you rule out that he’s going to be meeting with any Taliban representatives during this trip, depending on how his other meetings go with President Karzai next week?
MR. TONER: I don’t think I want to rule it in or out. I just don’t want to – I mean, I don’t know that we’re going to be discussing those kinds of meetings going forward. I think we’ve been very clear that we want to – that we support this Afghan-led process. The Secretary spoke to this very plainly, but I don’t know – and very clearly last week. But I don’t know if we want to be giving a kind of a play by play of who he’s meeting with when as these –
QUESTION: Well, you just gave a play by play about some of the other meetings that he had, so –
MR. TONER: I understand that, but let me see what I can get for you.
Yeah. In the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Pakistan. In the past U.S. officials have said that Pakistan has a stake and important role to play in – toward reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan. What is your current thinking, given the state of relations between two countries – U.S. and Pakistan?
MR. TONER: And the first part of your question was Pakistan’s role in –
QUESTION: Reconciliation and peace and stability in Afghanistan.
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t think it’s changed. We’ve said that this is a – we’ve said all along that despite the challenges that we’ve faced in this relationship – and they’ve been significant over the past months – that this is an absolutely essential partnership going forward. The Secretary herself spoke to it last week when she met with the new ambassador here. So there’s no other solution here other than to work through our differences. We absolutely view Pakistan as an essential partner to these – to this Afghan-led reconciliation process.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the Secretary of State talked to the Pakistani former minister – foreign minister, I’m sorry. When did they talk, and were any redlines discussed during their conversation, particularly Pakistani foreign minister telling Secretary Clinton that any unauthorized flight into its airspace will be shot down?
MR. TONER: Again, I can confirm that they did speak. I don’t, in fact, have a date to give you for the last conversation. I’ll try to get that for you. But I’m not going to get into the substance of that conversation.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: The Jordanian monarch’s visit to Washington?
MR. TONER: First of all, is he going to be – considering that the Secretary of State is not in town, and Mr. Burns is not in town, is he meeting with anyone in this building?
MR. TONER: I think he plans – he’s going to be here tomorrow is my understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Now, on the substance of the meeting, will they focus on Jordan hosting the talks between Israel and the Palestinians?
MR. TONER: Well, I think anytime we sit down with a Jordanian leader, it’s always a broad array of issues that are discussed – regional issues, but certainly I can imagine that these fledgling talks is going to be one of the topics.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a quick follow-up.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Considering that the deadline is on Thursday, the day after tomorrow – I mean, no, a week from Thursday. I’m sorry.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: A week from Thursday, the 26th. And Victoria called it– that we should not be straitjacketed into that date.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Is that a priority at the present time? Will you focus on extending these talks beyond the 26th?
MR. TONER: Well, I think certainly what Toria was saying is that we don’t want any date to arbitrarily end or hinder these nascent talks. It’s really important that these dates serve as a guideline, as references, as milestones, if you will, and help, if you will, define or delineate this process going forward. But they shouldn’t be a hindrance to progress. And so these talks are ongoing. The king himself mentioned that he saw glimmers of hope or promise here. We want to see the parties build on these initial talks and have them ongoing, and ultimately it’s only through those direct negotiations that they’re going to reach a solution.
QUESTION: But it’s also interesting that in the same interview with The Washington Post, the king felt that this wasn’t perhaps the best time for the U.S. to be taking an active leadership role in these discussions. What is this building’s reaction to that?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t think our position has ever changed on this, where if we feel a time comes when the U.S. can provide ideas or fresh thinking about the peace process, we certainly stand ready to support that. But ultimately, it’s up to these two parties to hash out their differences and find concessions where they can and to ultimately reach a comprehensive settlement. So that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: But what does it mean, “fresh thinking”?
MR. TONER: Again, I think this is – in this long process, and it has indeed been long and with many ups and downs, we’ve always stood ready to support the parties as they move forward in any way or fashion. And if that includes fresh thinking on some of these issues, we’ll certainly provide that. But again, I don’t – that’s a long-standing thought there.
QUESTION: If I may continue what they have —
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The king’s position is that the Palestinians have submitted a substantive proposal on how to resolve it, while the Israelis – claiming otherwise anyway – but while the Israelis have submitted points, these points do not talk about Jerusalem as a capital for the Palestinians, it does not talk about the settlements, and so on. So how do you see these talks going forward when you have this kind of entrenchment?
MR. TONER: Well Said, I just would note that we’re at the very preliminary stage here. It’s taken us some time to get these two parties back into face-to-face talks. That, in and of itself, is a positive sign, we think. The Government of Jordan is leading these talks, offering a venue, and is the main conduit, we think, to the press and to the public on these talks going forward. So I don’t want to get into too many details, except to say that we believe that there’s a good initial – or a good start to these, and we want to see them continue.
QUESTION: On Syria, Mark? Have you read the draft resolutions that the Russians have presented to the UN Security Council, and what’s your reaction to it?
MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t personally read through them, or read through it, rather. I’m aware that Ambassador Rice spoke to this just moments ago up in New York. And I think she’s talked about ongoing negotiations or consultations on this draft resolution even this afternoon, that – we should try to talk to the Russians a little bit more about this draft.
It’s evident, obviously, that more work needs to be done from what we’ve seen so far. We’re going to stay engaged on this, and I think Ambassador Rice said as much. And we’re going to work to realize a draft resolution that holds the Assad regime accountable, but also, obviously, supports the Arab League efforts in this regard.
QUESTION: But what do you think about the new language?
MR. TONER: Again I – there’s – this is still being negotiated. I said there’s still work needs to be done.
QUESTION: Would you say at least that the ball is moving in the right direction with this new draft compared to their previous draft? And does this show any goodwill on the part of the Russians to engage?
MR. TONER: I think, to a certain extent, we’re pleased that the Russians have shown a willingness to discuss this, to work with us on this. But as I said, work needs to be done.
QUESTION: And what about —
QUESTION: Russian —
QUESTION: — vis-a-vis their previous draft, where does this one stand? I mean, is this an improvement?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to judge these. I just want to stay where I’m at, which is it’s – we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: So will you support a resolution that does not include sanctions?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to prejudge anything right now. Negotiation’s ongoing in New York.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a sense of where those interest groups inside Syria, mainly the merchant class – is their support still strong for the Assad regime? Is it crumbling in any way? What have you been able to learn about that facet? Because it seems without that changing in any substantial way, Assad could basically continue to do what he’s been doing, which is murdering people.
MR. TONER: Yeah, no, I mean you’re – it’s an astute observation. We’ve seen that, obviously, expressed in some of the reporting elsewhere in the media. But what’s very clear overall is that the tide has turned against the Assad regime, and certainly it’s incumbent on the opposition as it comes together to make the case and convince Syrian citizens of all stripes that they represent all of Syria, and that’s certainly something in terms of their political evolution that they’re going to have address moving forward. But what’s very clear though is that Assad’s legitimacy has run out.
QUESTION: What —
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, one more on Syria.
QUESTION: No. I want to talk about Iran.
QUESTION: Can we do —
MR. TONER: Can we just turn to Syria and then go to you, Elise? Is that okay?
QUESTION: On Syria, the Syrians today said that they are open to having the Arab League observer mission continue, having its mandate extended, but not having it – sorry, having it’s time in Syria extended, but not having its mandate widened. They also said that they are unwilling for the observer mission to go into military or other sensitive sites. What is the U.S. Government’s view on this? I know it’s an Arab League decision, but you guys made no secret of your favoring the Arab League mission going in. Do you think it’s good for them to extend their time there?
MR. TONER: Well, you’re right that it is up to the Arab League to decide some next steps with – regarding this mission. My understanding is that they’re going to meet on January 21st and 22nd with the focus on reviewing the monitoring mission’s —
MR. TONER: — effectiveness, thank you – and also to consider next steps. So we’re going to continue to work closely with them moving forward. There’s been talk about them continuing the mission in some fashion. Really, they’re going to issue a report, and obviously that report’s going to be very important in kind of assessing what comes next.
QUESTION: So you guys don’t have an opinion until the report is released?
MR. TONER: Well again, I think that everyone’s aware that there’s been some limitations to this mission thus far. But that’s not due to the diligent efforts, we believe, of the Arab League, it’s due to the Assad’s regime continuing efforts to evade, to set up smoke screens, and to not really comply with any of the elements of the agreement that they made with the Arab League.
QUESTION: So, Mark —
QUESTION: One more from me.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: The Secretary, a couple of – I can’t remember exactly when but I think it was last week – said —
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: — this can’t be open-ended. This can’t go on forever.
MR. TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: I forget the exact turn of phrase. That to me suggests that you guys are not looking for this to go on much longer because, as you just suggested, the Syrian Government has obstructed its work to such degree that there isn’t a whole lot of point.
MR. TONER: Well, that’s correct. I mean I think, as I said, we’re going to look to this Arab League meeting next week – or the 21st and 22nd – as a chance to kind of assess where we’re at and consider next steps. I think, obviously, the Secretary’s words speak for themselves, but we don’t want to see – if the Syrian Government’s not going to play ball, so to speak, then we don’t see any benefit to it continuing indefinitely.
QUESTION: Mark, there is increased evidence of the president’s armed group, by their own claim and so on, the Free Syrian Army – what is your own assessment of the size of, the strength of these armed groups through perhaps Ambassador Ford or other sources?
MR. TONER: Well, it remains a serious concern. We’ve been clear all along that we don’t condone violence on the part of the government, but also on the part of these armed groups. And we’ve also been very clear that it’s been Assad and his regime’s relentless use of violence against peaceful protestors that’s led us down this very dangerous path.
QUESTION: Mark, what do you expect from the negotiations with the Russians in New York?
MR. TONER: Again, Michel, I think our intent here is to reach a resolution that holds Assad accountable and that continues to apply pressure on his regime. But again, because these negotiations are ongoing, I don’t want to tip my hat in any way.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. On Iran, could you speak about the letter that was confirmed by Iran that Ambassador Rice delivered to the perm rep there? Who was it directed to and who was it signed by?
MR. TONER: Well, first of all —
QUESTION: And are his initials BHO?
MR. TONER: First of all, I’m not going to confirm the premise of your question, which is that – which is discussing a specific channel of communications to the Iranians.
QUESTION: Well, are you saying that Iran is lying? I mean, they’re —
MR. TONER: I’m aware of Iran’s press reports regarding this. But as we said on Friday, we have a number of ways to communicate our views to Iran, and we’ve used those mechanisms regularly on a range of issues. But I’m not going to, in this particular case, get into any details.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Just on the Taiwan election?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned that the Chinese mainland government had a level of unfair influence over the election’s outcome, one? And two, are there concerns that the reelection of the Taiwanese president paves the way for Taiwan to achieve closer relations with China and ultimately undercut wider U.S. strategic interests in the region, specifically our arms sales with Taiwan?
MR. TONER: Look, we were very clear in the statement that was issued on Saturday that we believe that this was once again a free and fair election, and that the Taiwanese people should be very proud of this milestone for their democracy. And we’re going to continue to work closely with them moving forward. But —
QUESTION: So my – the other question about the wider implications of Ma’s reelection ultimately undercutting what has been our strategy with Taiwan, using it as a lever with the Chinese and weapons sales for the last 40 years, is it possible that we’ve got some concerns that his election just undercuts that completely?
MR. TONER: Look, I think our relationship with Taiwan remains strong and foremost in our – of course, and our relations are built on the bedrock of the Taiwan Relations Act. And of course, we continue to seek with them, and obviously with China, better communications and cross-strait peace and stability.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Has Russia offered any clarification about their ship, the Chariot?
MR. TONER: Who did?
QUESTION: Russia. Have they offered any clarification about their ship, Chariot?
MR. TONER: We haven’t. I checked just before coming in, and I’ll try to get an update. I am aware that our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Russian Affairs Dan Russell was in Moscow late last week, and he did raise it with the Russians. But I’m not clear what their response was, frankly.
QUESTION: A clarification about what? I didn’t catch the end of the question.
MR. TONER: Oh, on Russia – on the Syrian – the ship that was —
QUESTION: Great, thank you. Ship. Thank you.
QUESTION: On Iraq, could you speak about reports —
MR. TONER: That was what you were asking about, right?
QUESTION: It was.
MR. TONER: Okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Could you speak about reports that several dozen U.S. contractors have been detained by the Iraqis for inadequate paperwork?
MR. TONER: Well, our understanding is there’s been a handful of U.S. contractors that have been involved in this. Apparently, what’s going on here – and obviously, this is a situation that we’re watching closely – but this appears to be nothing more than Iraqi officials who are certainly operating out of an abundance of caution given the recent spate of violence in Baghdad and surroundings in carrying out their duties.
Obviously, the old U.S.-Iraqi security agreement expired on December 31st, so there’s been a number of adjustments in visa accreditation and vehicle registration, weapons permitting, as well as other procedures. So all this is coming into play. But all these people have been released after – or let go or allowed to continue after being detained. So we’re not overly concerned right now. We think this is, again, added bureaucracy coupled with, as I said, an abundance of caution.
QUESTION: When you say U.S. contractors, do you mean U.S. citizens who are contractors, or do you mean contractors who work for U.S.-based corporations?
MR. TONER: That’s a good detail. I don’t know the answer to that. I think I’m talking about U.S. – contractors for the U.S. Mission in Iraq. And if that’s different, I’ll clarify.
QUESTION: If you could clarify, that would be nice.
MR. TONER: So not necessarily U.S. citizens, but —
MR. TONER: — U.S. Government-employed contractors.
QUESTION: No, but when you say that the majority of them were not U.S., I mean there have been – most of them I think are working for the U.S.; they’re just not necessarily citizens.
MR. TONER: Right. Let me clarify that. Let me clarify that —
MR. TONER: — point, whether they’re – whether we’re talking about American citizens. My understanding, it’s been a handful, but a handful of who, I’m not sure.
QUESTION: But these arrests notwithstanding, Mark, there has been a more belligerent policy by Maliki toward the United States. We have seen it almost in every aspect of the application of policy – by not filling the cabinet seats, by – Allawi came the other day on a program and basically said that Maliki’s driving the country down the abyss of a civil war. And so what is your position on that? What kind of negotiations are you involved in?
MR. TONER: You mean us directly with —
QUESTION: Yes. The United States of America.
MR. TONER: — the Iraqis?
QUESTION: It was there for nine years. It invested $800 billion and so on.
MR. TONER: Look, we are – as of December 31st, we’ve embarked on a new relationship with the Iraqi Government. There are bureaucratic elements of this relationship that need to be refined and worked out and obviously coupled with a very changeable security environment, that these individuals, that – rather the Iraqi officials are trying to maintain security but also make sure that they’re following the letter of the law. So I wouldn’t read too much into these detentions, if you will.
In terms of the broader political situation in Iraq, we’ve continued to press on senior Iraqi politicians the importance of dialogue to work out their differences, and that continues to be our message to them.
QUESTION: But you —
MR. TONER: And we obviously are talking to them on a daily basis. But this is —
QUESTION: Okay. Are you —
MR. TONER: Sorry.
MR. TONER: This is – no, that’s okay. This is an internal political situation. Our concern is that as it – as they work through this process that it be done in a clear and transparent way that makes sense to the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Yeah. But are you more in contact with the president of the country, Jalal Talabani, or with the prime minister of the country, Nuri Maliki? Because Talabani has been in Iraq trying to organize some sort of reconciliation conference, but apparently his sort of suggestions have been sort of dismissed by Maliki.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that we’ve – it’s incumbent on us to remain in close contact with all elements of the political spectrum.
QUESTION: Mark, Iraqi prime minister has decided today suspend the Sunni ministers from the government after boycotting its sessions. And a government spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, has said that the ministers are no longer allowed to manage ministries and all decisions that will be signed by them are invalid. How do you view this step?
MR. TONER: Again, putting it in the broader context here, there’s some very clear tensions underway in Iraq on the political scene. They’re working through these tensions. It’s important that they continue, all sides of the political spectrum talk to each other and work constructively together.
QUESTION: But does this step help?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to – I’m trying to put it in a broader context. This is an internal Iraqi political process, so it’s important that – it’s less important our comment or opining on what’s going on there and more important that they roll up their sleeves, talk to each other, and work through it.
QUESTION: Mark, on Burma, if I may?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: On Friday, the Secretary said that she planned to call President Thein Sein, and I think in the readout that she provided over the weekend she only called the foreign minister.
MR. TONER: Yeah. We probably should just clarify that.
QUESTION: Can you tell us why, if she did speak to him or not?
MR. TONER: My understanding is he just wasn’t – that – and again, if that’s different I’ll let you guys know, but that he just wasn’t available. I don’t know if he was – I don’t, frankly, know what – why he wasn’t available.
QUESTION: Was that a diss?
MR. TONER: It was not a diss.
QUESTION: Do you accept that as kind of a – I mean, he just wasn’t available for a phone call? I mean, that’s —
MR. TONER: Again, I wouldn’t read too much into it. I think she was more – that it was more important to – quickly to make contact with both the government and with Aung San Suu Kyi, both to apprise them of these latest developments and to pledge, as she said, action for action.
QUESTION: Does she plan to —
QUESTION: What —
QUESTION: Sorry. Just one second.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does she plan to follow up with a phone call to the president?
MR. TONER: I’ll check.
QUESTION: What makes you say it’s not a diss? I mean, how do you know that?
MR. TONER: I simply don’t know it. I just think that – look, we’ve been – embarked on a new path, if you will, with Burma. There’s no reason to believe that there was any other thing behind this besides the fact that he was unavailable. She simply wanted to talk to her counterpart in the government there in order to convey the current state of play because obviously Friday was a big day here in terms of U.S.-Burma relations, and so she wanted to bring them up to speed, if you will.
QUESTION: And you don’t have any reason to believe that he may have objected to the implicit equivalence between himself as president of the country and Aung San Suu Kyi?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: And —
QUESTION: Senator McConnell —
QUESTION: Sorry, I just want to follow up on that real quick. The – can you at least describe the tenor of the conversation she had with the foreign minister? Would you say this is some – were they welcoming of this or —
MR. TONER: I think it was a positive, frank exchange. And as the readout implied, she kind of gave an assessment of where we’re at in this relationship and also asked or urged the government to keep moving forward, and again with the idea that we’ll match action for action.
QUESTION: Senator McConnell made some positive comments about what he has seen during his travels in Burma. Does that portend, a perhaps quick movement to find a candidate to be ambassador and to move the nomination process along before the end of this year?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to try to prejudge what can be a long process. Just to say that we announced that we’re moving forward on the search and that search is ongoing. In terms of Senator McConnell – and I believe also Senator McCain’s on the ground right now in Burma, and we certainly look forward to them returning to Washington, and obviously we’ll consult closely on their impressions and what they’ve learned from the trip.
QUESTION: Are you planning any —
MR. TONER: Excuse me.
QUESTION: — raise in the visa cost from India? And also, do you expect – are you seeing higher applications for visas? Because the Senator Warner and Congressman Crowley this morning spoke on a conference call with journalists and said that, to quote them, “enormous appetite for visas, even with higher costs,” so after their visit there.
MR. TONER: Tejinder, you’re talking specifically about India?
QUESTION: India. They just came back from —
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any plans to raise our visa fees. I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Mark, do you have any readout of a trilateral meeting today?
MR. TONER: I don’t. The trilateral meeting?
MR. TONER: I think we’ll have a Media Note, a kind of a readout, later today. That’s ongoing today, so —
QUESTION: Mark can I just (inaudible) my housekeeping questions?
MR. TONER: Your what? Housekeeping questions.
QUESTION: My two little questions.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Right.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to be funding a humanitarian mission to South Kordofan?
MR. TONER: I’ll have to check on that. I’m not aware of it.
MR. TONER: I know that Princeton Lyman is heading to the region this week, but —
QUESTION: Okay. If you could.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: And then the other question was whether the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is going to be coming in February.
MR. TONER: Also, I’ll have to take the question.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Great. That’s it?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Excuse me. Sorry.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. I have a question on Venezuela.
MR. TONER: Oh, yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday the country recalled its consular staff in Miami, saying they faced grave and imminent danger. So what – do you have a reaction to that?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, obviously we take the security of all foreign missions very, very seriously. This is something, as you’re well aware, that we talk about in terms of other governments around the world, that we ask – urge them to uphold their obligations under the Vienna Conventions. We hold ourselves, obviously, to those same standards. If a Venezuelan official in the U.S. did receive any threats, those threats should be reported to the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, who also works with relevant law enforcement agencies to take appropriate steps to address them.
Obviously, the —
QUESTION: Have you received any reports of threats?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m – let me finish, Kirit.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MR. TONER: The decision on how to manage its consulates and how to provide consular services to Venezuelan citizens is ultimately that of the Venezuelan Government. Now specifically to Kirit’s questions, we did previously assist the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami to address some minor security concerns in December, but since then we’ve not received any reports of any new threats against the consulate or its employees, nor any additional requests for security support.
QUESTION: Can you describe what those threats —
MR. TONER: I can’t. I can’t get into the details.
QUESTION: But you described them as minor. I mean, what is minor?
MR. TONER: Not significant.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Anyway.
QUESTION: Was it against an individual or against the consulate as a —
MR. TONER: My understanding is – again, I – these are security concerns, not threats. So let’s be clear here that these were not threats.
QUESTION: Not threats?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: All right. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)