State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, July 27, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 27, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Proposed Bill Cutting Spending for State and USAID in House / Secretary Sent Letter Objecting to Proposed Bill
  • DPRK
    • Upcoming Exploratory Meeting in New York / Meeting a Result of the ROK and DPRK Dialogue in Bali
    • Referred Query on Kashmiri American Council/ISI Investigation to Dept of Justice
    • Remain Committed to Working With Pakistan in Addressing Common Threats
    • Pause in Military Aid, But Not Civilian Aid
    • Talks Constructive Between Pakistan and India Governments
    • No Details on Investigation of Embassy Bombing in Tbilisi
    • Department’s Program Involving Visa Ban / Sergei Magnitsky / Commitment of the Administration to Upholding Human Rights Obligations Around the World
    • U.S. Appreciates Russia’s Support / Valuable International Partner on Libya and Afghanistan
    • UK Asked Libyan Ambassador to Leave / U.S. Asked Libyan Ambassador to Leave in March /
    • Received Official Request for TNC to Re-Open Embassy in D.C. / Reviewing Request
    • Death of Mayor / Condemn the Murder and Extend Condolences to Family / No Independent Reports on Responsible Party / Strengthened Resolve to Work Together
    • New Strategic Agreement
    • Support Afghan-led Process on Reconciliation with Taliban / Surge Put Pressure on Taliban
    • Meeting With Turkey / Support Dialogue
    • Desire to Buy Aircraft Carrier / Already Working Together in Military Capacity / Broadens Understanding and Cooperation
    • Meeting With Undersecretary Burns and Assistant Secretary Campbell / No Details


12:52 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Wednesday. Just a brief shout-out, although I’m not sure they actually came in, but I understand there’s a number of Public Affairs officers who are either in the briefing room or watching from a – oh, you’re back there. Okay. Anyway, welcome to the State Department briefing room. These are Public Affairs officers who will go on to overseas postings, and they’re here trying to get a better sense of how we in Public Affairs conduct our business and rely on them for information about events overseas, and obviously work closely with you and your counterparts overseas to be as responsive as possible to your needs.

Anyway, welcome to the State Department. Just briefly at the top, I did want to update you all on the – following on the Secretary’s announcement about talks between the U.S. and North Korea in New York. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth will lead an interagency team to meet with the First Vice Foreign Minister, Kim Kye Gwan, in the – and the DPRK delegation at the U.S. Mission in New York from July 28th to 29th. As the Secretary said, this will be an exploratory meeting to determine if North Korea is prepared to fulfill its commitments under the 2005 joint statement of the Six-Party Talks and its international obligations as well as take concrete and irreversible steps towards denuclearization. As always, we will remain in close coordination with the Republic of Korea and other partners as we move forward.

That’s all I have for the top. Any questions?

QUESTION: Yeah, on North —

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Let’s stay on that.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: So when you say you hope that they will meet their obligations and show that they are willing to commit to denuclearization, do you want some tangible progress from this meeting? So are they supposed to come with some sort of declaration that all previous obligations they will adhere to?

MR. TONER: First of all, just to clarify, I didn’t say we hope. What I tried to say was that these are – that’s okay – that these are – this is, as I said, an exploratory meeting following up on the meeting that was held on the margins of the ASEAN ministerial in Bali between the Republic of South Korea and North Korea. And again, we’ve said many times that we’re not prepared to have talks for talks’ sake, so what we’re looking for in this meeting is to determine if North Korea is in fact ready to fulfill its commitments under that 2005 joint statement.


QUESTION: What is the litmus test of that? Is it by the tone? Is it by the rhetoric? Or is it by concrete plans of action that they are supposed to lay on the table to show you what they will do?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to be in a position to prejudge the meeting. It’s an exploratory meeting. So I think what we’re looking for is, in our mind, a clear indication that North Korea is serious about moving forward.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Also on that, with food aid, is that something that’s going to be coming up again following the —

MR. TONER: I’m not sure that food aid is actually going to be a topic of discussion up there. As you know, that’s kind of a separate conversation, a separate issue – divorced, if you will – from the political side and the policy side of things. All I know is that I believe no decision’s been made on food aid at this time.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: Mark, can you go into a little bit more detail; what shifted? You mentioned the meeting in Bali between the North and the South, but why is the U.S. right at this point willing to have this meeting?

MR. TONER: Sure. And again, I would just refer you to Assistant Secretary Campbell, and others, I think, spoke to this while the party was on the road. But we’ve said very clearly for a long time that we were first looking for improved dialogue between North and South. That was one of the initial steps that we wanted to see take place. And in fact, when that meeting did take place in Bali, it was a constructive meeting. And so we felt it was – that it would be – that the logical next step was to have this exploratory meeting, before we take any more steps, to judge how North Korea is approaching this.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What time is the meeting tomorrow between –

MR. TONER: I don’t have times. I’m sorry, I don’t have specific details like that. I just know the –

QUESTION: How many?

MR. TONER: — where – when is tomorrow, where is at the U.S. Mission in New York.

QUESTION: Just one day? Or it’ll be –

MR. TONER: Two days.

QUESTION: Two days.

MR. TONER: 28th and 29th.

QUESTION: How many delegations on each side?

MR. TONER: How many delegates?


MR. TONER: I don’t have an exact number. It’s an interagency team. I don’t have a sense of the size of that team.

QUESTION: Do – they talking about the ready to – resumption of Six-Party Talks?

MR. TONER: Again, what I think is important is to look at this as a step-by-step process. We had the meeting in Bali between North and South Korea. This meeting that’s going to take place tomorrow, we’ve called it exploratory, but it’s really our – an opportunity to see and to judge whether North Korea, we believe, is serious about addressing its commitments as it – as stated in the 2005 joint statement.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ambassador King is not going to be in the delegation?

MR. TONER: I don’t have – I know that Ambassador Bosworth is leading the delegation, but I don’t have a breakdown for you of who else is in it.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Mr. Kim, North Korean Minister Kim said that he has a very optimistic view on the U.S.-DPRK relation and Six-Party Talks. Is there any response to that?

MR. TONER: Again, we had a – what we believe was a constructive first step in Bali. This is the next logical step, and we’ll wait and see.


MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Are we ready to – are you still on North Korea?

QUESTION: North Korea, one more?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: When you talk about North Korea’s seriousness about talks, what do you mean? What kind of measures do you want North Korea to take?

MR. TONER: I missed the first part of your question. Could you –

QUESTION: When you talk about North Korea’s sincerity or seriousness about discussions, so what do you require?

MR. TONER: Sure. I think Brad asked a similar question. I don’t want to get into what – we don’t have a laundry list except to say that what we’ve said all along is that they’ve made commitments under the 2005 joint statement as well as international obligations. We want to see them begin to take steps toward denuclearization. But as to what those specific things might look like and whether we’re – what exactly we’re looking for, I’m not going to prescribe that or describe that rather.

Go ahead. Are we switching from –


MR. TONER: Then I should start with Goyal. He had his hand up first. I’ll get to you.


MR. TONER: Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thanks. Two questions. One, you must be aware of this case of Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai from American – Kashmiri American Council. Do you believe that he was working for the ISI and the Pakistani Government acting here and what – in the name of Kashmir cause? Because many Kashmiris are very angry that he had used Kashmir to – working for Pakistan. What my question is here: He has admitted that he was getting money from ISI, and some – he was paying to the lawmakers. He had lobbied for Pakistan. But finally, U.S. money was being recycled. U.S. aid –

MR. TONER: Goyal, can I stop you?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR. TONER: I just – I’m aware of the case, and I’m not going to discuss the case. It’s an ongoing legal matter right now. I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

Go ahead, Eli.

QUESTION: Hi. Do you have – can you say anything about some of my recent stories> But specifically, who do you think was responsible for the September 22nd bomb blast at the exterior wall of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi on September 22nd?

MR. TONER: Well, Eli, I’ll just say that it’s – as a matter of long-standing policy, we don’t comment on investigations into intelligence matters.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Without getting into – have you raised the incident with the Russian foreign ministry?

MR. TONER: Again, we don’t – we also don’t really talk about the substance of our diplomatic exchanges with any other country. I can say that we discuss with all parties in the region issues affecting regional security and stability, but I’m not going to get into specifics.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Speaking of Russia –

MR. TONER: Sure, Jill.

QUESTION: — this visa ban on Russian officials, who are connected – allegedly connected with the killing – the death of Sergei Magnitsky, is it correct that the U.S. did not give any notice to the Russians that this was going to happen?

MR. TONER: Well, again, as you know, this case – it’s important to see it in the broader context of our overall commitment of this Administration to upholding human rights obligations around the world. And certainly in the Magnitsky case, since his death in 2009, we’ve taken this matter very seriously and spoken both publicly and privately about the case. This specific program is a broader program, and it does seek to, where we have credible evidence of association or culpability, we do provide or we do issue visa restrictions on individuals around the world. In this specific case, it was the individuals that we believe are responsible for his death. As far as – so this is – the Magnitsky case has long been an issue of concern between us and Russia, and we’ve raised it with them many times.

QUESTION: So in other words, that – those restrictions or the program – I didn’t realize it was a program under which they were being restricted. This preexists –

MR. TONER: It does. It’s a specific program that looks at visa cases around the world or individuals, rather, around the world who we believe are guilty of human rights abuses. And under that program, it refuses them visas or denies them the capacity to get a visa.

QUESTION: And what do you think the affect will be on the so-called reset?

MR. TONER: Well, Jill, the reset has always been about working constructively with Russia in those areas where we share common concerns, and we’ve always said that that’s not going to be done at the expense of our basic principles, including human rights.

QUESTION: Are there other countries in which the program – are there other countries whose officials would be subject to visa bans based on human rights concerns?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I apologize. I don’t have a breakdown, but it’s a fairly broad list of individuals and countries around the world. I can get more information for you.

QUESTION: Sure. And following up, I mean, the Russians put out a very – the Russian foreign ministry put out a statement that was quite strong. Where do we go from here? Is there going to be some sort of communication between the U.S. and Russia about – specifically about this issue and how to move forward with the position?

MR. TONER: Well, again, this is an issue that, as I said, we have taken very seriously since 2009, since Sergei Magnitsky’s death. We’ve raised it many times, our concerns both on Magnitsky’s case, but also on other cases, on human rights cases with the Russian Government. I’m aware that there have been some statements from Russia, but we conducted an independent investigation on these individuals, and we believe we had credible information to move forward.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Following on that, can you comment on – I guess it’s an internal note that was reported in The Washington Post and then also The Cable blog that suggested that there – if the U.S. went forward with this program on the visas that there would be a consequence for Russian participation in Afghanistan and other areas?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. One more time, the question. I apologize.

QUESTION: I guess that there was some sort of internal communication where the Russians had said or threatened that if you went forward with this visa program that there would be consequences in terms of their participation in Afghanistan. This is reported by The Washington Post and Josh Rogin’s Cable blog.

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to talk about any internal communications that we may have had. I’m just going to say what I just said, which is that this is a program that’s conducted worldwide, and we stand by our findings.

QUESTION: Can I ask it another way? Have the Russians threatened you in terms of their work, cooperation in Afghanistan, and linking it to this visa issue?

MR. TONER: Again, our relationship with Russia, the so-called reset, is based on areas where we can cooperate productively together. One of those areas is, in fact, Afghanistan, where we have seen a lot of progress, and we certainly appreciate the – Russia’s support for our efforts in Afghanistan, transportation over flights, and other capabilities they’ve allowed us to carry out. And we’re appreciative of that, but it’s certainly something that’s in Russia’s interest as well.

QUESTION: So are you saying that the United States and Russia can’t work together well on human rights?

MR. TONER: That’s not at all what I’m saying. What I’m saying is we are always going to work productively with Russia where we can, and that’s on a broad range of issues. And certainly, they’ve been a valuable international partner on issues like Libya and elsewhere, and – but that’s not ever going to be done at the expense of principles that we hold dear.

QUESTION: Are you going to continue the engagement on this issue with Russia? I think that’s what he asked, but you didn’t —

MR. TONER: Sure. I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to continue to raise human rights cases and issues where we deem appropriate.

QUESTION: Can I just ask, like, do you have any – you want to offer right now, in light of these stories that are coming out, a general statement – the State Department’s view of the health of the reset right now? Is it strong?

MR. TONER: I think – and I’ve tried to say that – that we believe the reset has yielded results for both countries, that it has been productive, that we’ve sought and received cooperation on a broad range of issues. You mentioned Afghanistan, of course. But our goal has always been to cooperate, as I said, where we’ve got these common interests. But that’s never going to be done at the expense of our principles or our friends.

QUESTION: But has it yielded results in terms of human rights, or is that proving not to be a common interest?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that we are concerned about some human rights issues with respect to Russia, and as such, that’s part of our dialogue. That’s part of our conversation with them.

QUESTION: But can you point to any results that the reset policy has derived for human rights in Russia?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question, Brad. I think it’s – I think I would reframe it to say that we continue to take human rights concerns very seriously in any relationship we have with any country, but certainly with Russia, and that we’re never going to shy away from addressing those issues.


MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Dmitry.

QUESTION: To get back for a second to Jill’s question, just to be clear, do you mean to tell that the Russians read about it from the – in The Washington Post? You haven’t even informed Foreign Minister Lavrov when he was here?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to address what we may or may not have discussed with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We just don’t discuss the contents of our diplomatic exchanges.

Yeah. Go ahead. Are we done with – let’s finish off with —


QUESTION: I have another question similar to that. Have the Russian – has the Russian ambassador, has the Russian foreign ministry, directly told the United States that it is not happy with this? Have they expressed their concern not just in a general statement?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m aware of public statements. I’m not aware of any private diplomatic exchanges. I can certainly see if they’ve done that. I’ll take that question.

QUESTION: My question is regarding a new strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan. Do —

MR. TONER: Are we done with the Magnitsky? Okay. Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. A new —

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: A new strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. It didn’t produce any result, and Afghanistan Government has their own conditions. Do you think that Obama’s Administration accepted those conditions of President Karzai?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the —

QUESTION: New strategic agreement that they are talking about it. Yeah.

MR. TONER: Agreement – again, I think we remain committed to working with Afghanistan very broadly across a range of issues – economic, political, security – in trying to build up its institutions but also trying to build that kind of prosperity and the capabilities that we believe are necessary for Afghanistan to succeed on its own. Ultimately, our goal here is to create an Afghanistan that can stand on its own feet, both in terms of security but also economically. I’m not aware of the conditions that you mentioned. I could certainly try to get an update for you on that. But more broadly, that’s what – where we want to see the relationship go forward.


QUESTION: And what stage these talks on a strategic agreement with Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: As I said, I’ll get that (inaudible) for you.

QUESTION: Do you have any timeline for that?

MR. TONER: No. I’ll get an update for you.

QUESTION: It just – it was supposed to be last year, like you said.

MR. TONER: I’ll get an update for you.

QUESTION: May I just follow up quickly? As far as security is concerned, Mark, in Afghanistan, according to The Washington Post annual report, al-Qaida may be going down or going to be end of al-Qaida in Afghanistan around the globe. But my question is here: Can you really have end of terrorism and al-Qaida without Pakistan’s cooperation? My question is: How much Pakistan’s cooperation is now more or less, comparing last year or —

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The last nugget of your question was?

QUESTION: I mean, how much now U.S. is getting cooperation from Pakistan as far as security in Afghanistan or terrorism is concerned, according to this report?

MR. TONER: Right. Yeah. I mean, your – look, we believe that we have – we and our international partners have put considerable pressure on al-Qaida and degraded much of its abilities, its capabilities, including its capacity to train and raise money, train recruits, plan attacks outside the region. That said, it still remains a threat, and in terms of Pakistan, it’s clearly an existential threat for Pakistan. These terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, have been responsible for thousands of deaths within Pakistan. And as we have said many times, that we remain committed to working with Pakistan in addressing these common issues and these common – threats, rather. And we’re seeking a productive relationship with Pakistan. We’ve made certain requests of them, and we’re – but we’re fundamentally committed to that cooperation.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: After the President announced the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, there have been several high-profile killings in Afghanistan. Today, the mayor of Kandahar was also killed. How do you view the security situation in Afghanistan? What is your assessment of it?

MR. TONER: Well, I would just like to comment on the assassination. Obviously, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the murder of Kandahar Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi and extend our deepest condolences to his family. As you mentioned, we’ve seen media reports that the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. We have no independent confirmation of those reports. As you know, they do this quite often. It’s very unclear whether they actually are responsible for it.

I can’t really talk to you about what it means in terms of the Taliban’s capabilities. What we have said is that we believe the surge has clearly put pressure on them, militarily, and that they are feeling the heat. And what I can also say is that these kinds of actions, these kinds of heinous acts really, only strengthen our resolve, as I just mentioned, to work with Afghanistan, the Government of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan, to address these fundamental issues of security, stability, and to help kind of – help create, rather, the institutions that will lead to a more successful, prosperous, and peaceful future for Pakistan – or for Afghanistan.

Yeah. Go ahead. Go ahead, Sean. Okay.

QUESTION: Just briefly, I was wondering if you had anything to say about the talks between India and Pakistan, the foreign ministers. Is it a positive step that it went ahead, despite the Mumbai —

MR. TONER: Always a positive step, always a productive or constructive in our view to see the two countries talking. And it’s constructive for the region, it’s constructive for both those countries. I’m not aware of what came out of them specifically, but more broadly, I can say that we always view that kind of dialogue as constructive.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. had any role to play in bringing the two countries together for dialogue?

MR. TONER: Did the —

QUESTION: Did the U.S. had any role to play in bringing the two countries for peace dialogues?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any direct or indirect role.

Yeah, go ahead. No, I apologize. Jill had a longstanding question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Libya, but —

MR. TONER: Are we off of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or a couple more?

QUESTION: I just had a supplemental question on –

MR. TONER: No worries. We’ll finish with the region, then we’ll move to Libya.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, you said that some specific demands are being made to Pakistan with regards to Afghanistan. That’s something you have said earlier as well and some of these demands are already known. So if you would just tell us if you’re satisfied with the cooperation coming through from Pakistan on these issues, or there are still problems that need to be tackled.

MR. TONER: Well, no, I wouldn’t say we’re there yet. I think we’re continuing to work through some of these issues. Again, I’m not going to be specific about what we’re looking for, except to say that after the Abbottabad raid, the questions it raised about support networks, we had serious questions about Pakistan, both this Administration as well as on the Hill, and we’re seeking to address those questions, and we’re working with the Pakistani Government to do so. But at the same time, our message is clear, that we want to build a stronger long-term relationship with Pakistan, counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan.

QUESTION: Where does this relationship stand today? Hundred percent, 50 percent? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: We’re working through our issues.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: One more question. It says that U.S. officials start to discuss with the Taliban elements. Is that true, and what topic they start to discuss with –

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, more broadly – I certainly don’t have any updates for you. We support an Afghan-led process on reconciliation, provided that these Taliban adhere to the Afghan constitution and renounce violence and renounce ties with al-Qaida. I don’t have any progress report. As the Secretary alluded to in her – in remarks about a month ago, it’s hard work, it’s necessary work. But again, we have certain redlines that we adhere to, but we do support this Afghan-led process.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, one more.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Last week, over the weekend, the Pakistani Government issued a press release saying that there’s a slander campaign against Pakistan going on inside the U.S. after Dr. Fai of Kashmiri American Council was arrested here. I’m not talking about that case —

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: — but the slander campaign, do you agree with their view that there’s a campaign against Pakistan going on inside this country?

MR. TONER: Inside this country? A slander campaign?

QUESTION: In the United States. Yeah.

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t know exactly what he was referring to. I think, just speaking on behalf of the American Government, we believe our relationship with Pakistan is in both our national security interests, and we’re committed to moving that forward in a positive direction.

QUESTION: And has the visa issue been resolved? The lot of visas pending U.S. – by Pakistan; has that been —

MR. TONER: We’ve raised those concerns about visas with the Pakistani Government. I’m not – I’ll try to see if I can get an update for you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Pakistani people that —

MR. TONER: A lot of pent up questions, Calit? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: After Kayani’s visit – after General Pasha’s visit to U.S., Pakistan has issued 84 – 87 visas to the U.S. persons here. Can you confirm that?

MR. TONER: I cannot confirm that.

QUESTION: Admiral – Joint – Admiral said in a press conference at the Foreign Press Center that the aid —

MR. TONER: Who did?

QUESTION: Admiral Mullen.

MR. TONER: Admiral Mullen, thank you.

QUESTION: He said that the aid of $800 million to Pakistan was stopped because of two reasons: One was that they threw out our trainers, and the second was they are not issuing visas to us. So what is the State Department —

MR. TONER: I’ll – as I said, I’ll – I’m aware that there have been delays in the visa issuance process. We’ve raised those concerns with Pakistan. I’m not aware – or I’m not – I don’t have an update for you today on where that issue – that specific issues stands. I’ll try to get you one. Admiral Mullen did speak about this pause in military assistance. On the civilian side, our assistance cooperation – our assistance and cooperation does continue.

Can we move on?

QUESTION: Yeah, move on.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Okay. Let’s go to Libya.

QUESTION: Libya? The UK —

MR. TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: — now recognizes the TNC as the legitimate representative of the – of Libya, and they are kicking out the government ambassador.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to do the same?

MR. TONER: Well, you might remember we did do pretty much that in March, when we did declare – or we did ask the Libyan embassy to cease its operations here or suspend its operations. And we asked – I believe we gave the diplomats affiliated with the embassy a certain time period to return to Libya or to leave the country. As you know, Ambassador Adjali had stepped down as ambassador for the Qadhafi government – or Qadhafi regime prior to that, and he remains as the representative of the Transitional National Council here. So that’s where we’re at.

QUESTION: But it’s not – I mean, is he considered now the official representative, the ambassador from Libya?

MR. TONER: Where we’re at with this is, obviously, we have the recognition of the Transitional National Council that took place in Istanbul two weeks ago. And so we’re consulting with the Transitional National Council on a broad range of issues, and that includes diplomatic accreditation and representation. Legally, they are able to appoint diplomats and reopen their embassy in Washington with our consent, of course. And just an update on that, we did yesterday receive an official request from the Transitional National Council regarding the reopening of the Libyan embassy here in Washington, and we’re reviewing that request.

QUESTION: So they’re saying that they want to send out —

MR. TONER: They want to reopen their embassy – or they want to open an embassy – reopen the – their embassy here – and as the Transitional National Council as the recognized Government of Libya.

QUESTION: All right. And just to make sure, so you are looking at that request because of legal issues? Is that —

MR. TONER: There’s just a number – this is – again, we just had the recognition a little under two weeks ago, I believe. This is obviously, as we talked about that – that that puts a large block of issues that we need to discuss on the table – diplomatic status accreditation, representation are among those issues. And we’re looking at them, we’re talking with the TNC about them, and they did finally send in – not finally, but they did send an official request regarding the reopening of their embassy, and we’re reviewing that request. And we’ll work through these issues.


QUESTION: Just – what’s the status of the property that the Libyan embassy would have? Would that be handed over to the TNC?

MR. TONER: That’s a very good question. I’m not sure. It’s got diplomatic status, but I’m not sure whether they would be able to occupy that specific property. I think it is considered the Government of Libya’s property. But I’m not —

QUESTION: You mean the Qadhafi —

MR. TONER: Right. So I’ll have to see if there’s any legal constraints. That is likely amongst some of the issues that they’re looking at.

QUESTION: The British have decided to unfreeze all revenue for – so what is the U.S. doing about it?

MR. TONER: Again, we – by recognizing the TNC, the Transitional National Council, we are able to unfreeze some – not all, I understand – of their frozen assets. And we’re working through the many legal issues that we have to work through in order for that to happen.

QUESTION: I think I asked a couple weeks ago: Do we know how much money would be unfreezed?

MR. TONER: You remember well. Yeah.

QUESTION: Or could be unfreezed?

MR. TONER: And then we never got back with a dollar figure. I’m not sure we have an exact dollar figure. I’ll ask again.

QUESTION: And do you have a response to the appearance today of the perpetually-ill, always-on-his-last-days Lockerbie bomber at a rally in Tripoli?

MR. TONER: Well, Brad, we are – our views on Megrahi and his release are well-known. We continue to believe he never should have been released. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment.

Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the meeting tomorrow between Ehud Barak and the Secretary Hillary Clinton, what they’re going to talk about —

MR. TONER: About —

QUESTION: — Israel?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I can imagine they’ll talk about the state of the peace process, but they’ll also talk about regional issues as well. I – let’s let the meeting happen, and we’ll try to get you a readout. But he’s, obviously, someone who’s —

QUESTION: But there were some notes about the position of the U.S. in the next General Assembly in the United Nations in September. Is the U.S. having a position – they’re going to present the position to Barak or that something’s going to be discussed about this situation of the Palestinian state?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve been very clear – our position on Palestinian statehood in the UN General Assembly on that issue. We believe it is not productive and that the only way to resolve these core issues is for the parties to get back to the negotiating table.

In the back.

QUESTION: UN panel has postponed again the release of the report regarding the flotilla incident last year. And there are some reports in Israeli press that United States is pushing Israeli Government for an apology because of this incident. What is your position? Could you –

MR. TONER: Our position on the report, or our position on Turkey —

QUESTION: I’m asking the reports —

MR. TONER: Yeah. I mean, our position —

QUESTION: — about why – whether United States is pushing Israel —

MR. TONER: Well, let’s let the report be released. But in terms of relations between Israel and Turkey, they’re clearly productive for the region and important for the region that these two countries be on a good, solid footing with each other. That relationship in the past has been very productive for regional stability, and we’d like to see the —

QUESTION: Admiral Mullen also said two days ago that the Israeli leadership had – he has been reassured by the Israeli leadership that they are working to strengthening the tie with Turkey. I’m understanding – I’m trying to understand your position —

MR. TONER: Yeah. But you’re asking me to delve into what our interactions might be with either the Israeli Government or the Turkish Government, and I’m – I can only tell you what – more broadly how we feel about Turkey and Israel having good, strong bilateral relations, and we support them very much.

QUESTION: Five senators have sent a letter last week to President Obama regarding the IHH, who is the institution who’s organized this flotilla. And they are asking to designate IHH as a terrorist organization. Did you get this letter?

MR. TONER: I’ll have to check.

QUESTION: Back to Barak.


MR. TONER: She did ask, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: All right. (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Is it the same thing – same question?

QUESTION: It’s on Turkey – Israel, but it’s okay.

MR. TONER: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Back to Barak, the meeting tomorrow. Is there going to be a photo op, Q&A?

MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. Do you know the press arrangements?

STAFF: It’s to be determined.

MR. TONER: It’s closed press or it’s TBD. We’ll get it to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two quick questions. Does the State Department have an independent view of whether this charity IHH is connected to Hamas or should – is a terrorist organization?

MR. TONER: We do not as far as I’m concerned, or as far as I’m aware. What we’ve said all along is that we believe that there are better ways to deliver assistance to the people of Gaza than conducting flotillas. But I’m not aware that we’ve reached any independent judgment. I’ll check.

QUESTION: Can you just say whether – and then I have this follow up –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you say whether or not you think that IHH is involved in terrorism?

MR. TONER: I don’t believe we have any confirmation of that.

QUESTION: And then secondly, does the State Department have a position on whether Israel should apologize publicly for the 2010 flotilla incident?

MR. TONER: Again, what – there’s this UN process, investigation, and let that run its course and let the report be issued. And —

QUESTION: Just a quick one on your earlier statement to his question that —

MR. TONER: But I would just, Eli, that we’ve – as we’ve said all along, Israel does have the right to defend its borders.

QUESTION: — that Secretary Clinton will be talking peace process, do you believe that the peace process is still alive?

MR. TONER: We remain engaged on the peace process. I’m – I don’t have any updates for you today. But we are aware of events in September and are working diligently to get the parties back to the table.

QUESTION: So the deadline of September still stands?

MR. TONER: It’s not – I mean, it’s not our deadline. We’re, obviously, cognizant of the fact that this is an action that Palestinians may take, and we’re trying to dissuade them and – persuade them that the only true way to a comprehensive settlement is through the negotiating table.

Yes. In the back.

QUESTION: This is on China. Today, the Chinese official confirms for the first time China is in pursuit of an aircraft carrier, but they said it’s for research and training purpose only. Are you concerned China’s new military development?

MR. TONER: We have military-to-military cooperation and contacts with China that are helpful in broadening our cooperation and our understanding of China and its defenses and its defense needs. I don’t have any specific comment on this carrier. We’ve talked before about China’s emerging power in the region, and we seek a cooperative relationship with China.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question is: Today, the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council in China Wang Yi, today he’s in D.C. and meeting officials in this building. Could you please share, like, whom he’s meeting and what is the focus of his meeting?

MR. TONER: He is – you’re talking about the Director of State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office –


MR. TONER: — Wang Yi, Minister Wang Yi? Yes. He’ll be meeting with Under Secretary Burns on Friday, and I believe he’s also meeting with Assistant Secretary Campbell while he’s here, but I don’t have a list of agenda items.

QUESTION: Will Taiwan – arms sales Taiwan be discussed?

MR. TONER: I do not know.


QUESTION: Wait, wait.


QUESTION: I’m sorry, one more.

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: The budget – this bill that is coming out of the House –

MR. TONER: Ah, okay.

QUESTION: — Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, is it correct that the Secretary is telling them that she will urge the President to veto that bill if it should ever make it that far?

MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary did send a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as well as Ranking Member Howard Berman yesterday objecting to the authorization bill that the House Foreign Affairs panel approved last week on a party line vote. I’m not going to discuss the contents of that letter, but I can say that we believe the funding levels and restrictions that were inherent in the House Appropriations Subcommittee’s markup are not reflective of the current roles played by State and USAID in executing and enhancing our national security. And we believe that the proposed funding level would have serious implications on our operations.

QUESTION: Not reflective in – what does that mean?

MR. TONER: They’re not reflective of our current operations. We’ve got missions in Afghanistan, we’ve got missions in Iraq that require a level of funding, frankly, that reflect the enormity of those missions and trying to build up, for example, in Afghanistan, democratic institutions, economic institutions, enhance security, and build in economic prosperity; and in Iraq, trying to help that fledgling government get on its feet as well as expand our diplomatic presence to other parts of the country. So these are enormous undertakings, not to mention everything else we’re doing in the world, from the Horn of Africa to our – to Asia.

And the Secretary spoke also not about our own security interests but also about economic interests and the importance of them. She spoke about that in her speech in Hong Kong. So we’ve got a full plate, and we’re committed to – if we’re committed to truly carrying out those missions, which, as I say, we believe are in our national interests, we cannot do so at the present funding level – or at the proposed funding level.

QUESTION: On that, is – you mentioned restrictions. Is that, for example, the Pakistan aid or the abortion language? Are those things that she’s concerned about?

MR. TONER: Again, I’ll just stop at what I – those restrictions. I don’t want to expand on it.

But go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you also have a comment on the bill they passed regarding – requiring a certification from the Secretary on cooperation from Pakistan, and if that certification was not coming through, it could be withheld?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a specific comment. I’ll try to get you a reaction to that.

QUESTION: That was part of the (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Right. Right. I’m aware of that, but I don’t – yeah.

QUESTION: Regarding the restrictions also in the bill, they are capping 60 percent of the OAS funding. Is there any position of the Department of State on this?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, this kind of multilateral engagement pays dividends to the United States, both economically and security-wise. And you – this is –

QUESTION: But the (inaudible) their own quota, or their – because it’s not very clear what’s going on, what’s this –

MR. TONER: In terms of the OAS, I don’t have the specific breakdown to that regarding to the OAS commitments, but these – as I said, these multilateral organizations, I think, are – can be very effective. And if we’re not participating, then we’re not part of the process.

Is that it?


QUESTION: Going back to the North Korea talks –

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: — you said there’d be an interagency team. Can you say which agencies will be represented?

MR. TONER: I cannot.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)


Final 2023 Mayoral Forum with Joe Woods

Final Village Trustee Forum – March 19, 2023