State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, July 28, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 28, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Applications Being Accepted from American Citizens for United Nations Young Professionals Program / Important of Young Americans to Apply
    • U.S. Condolences on Death of His Excellency Archbishop Pietro Sambi
    • Debt Ceiling Debate / Debate is a Part of the Democratic Process / Treasury Department
    • Ambassador Bosworth Leading Inter-delegation Meeting in New York with North Korea
    • Talks Characterized as Exploratory / Looking for North Korea to Live Up to their Commitments in 2005 Joint Statement / Recognize Words Are Not Enough
    • No Decisions on Food Aid
    • Transitional National Council / Received Formal Request from TNC on a Number of Issues
    • Working to Address Outstanding Legal Issues
    • Secretary Clinton’s Meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Barak
    • Comprehensive Peace Agreement
    • Secretary Clinton’s Meeting Today with Egyptian General Intelligence Service Director
    • U.S. Stands Ready to Support the Egyptian People / Egyptian Military’s Role
    • Elections / Democratic Change
    • Taliban
    • Missile Defense / U.S. has Long Sought a Cooperative Relationship with Russia
    • Region Undergoing Tremendous Change / Need for Reform and to Work with Their Populations
    • U.S. Continues its Stand for Universal Rights / Path Towards Democratic Transition


12:47 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Just a few things briefly at the top, and then I’ll take your questions.

I do want to note that applications are now being accepted from American citizens for the United Nations Young Professionals Program, a recruitment initiative that brings new talent to the United Nations through an annual entrance examination. So for young, high-caliber American professionals, the examination is a platform for launching an exciting career at the United Nations.

It’s worth noting that Americans have long been insufficiently represented at the UN, and we’re seeking to address that. The United Nations would benefit from a larger cadre of American voices in its ranks, voices that will provide a U.S. perspective where that perspective’s not currently available. So we encourage everyone who is interested to apply. The application period runs until September 10th and the examination will be held on December 7th. And you can learn more by visiting the UN Careers website at

I also want to offer our sincere condolences on the death of His Excellency Archbishop Pietro Sambi. Archbishop Sambi was the papal nuncio in Washington for the past six years, and he was a well-loved colleague in Washington, in the diplomatic corps, as well as a dedicated representative who worked tirelessly to deepen U.S.-Vatican relations. And our thoughts and prayers go out to the Sambi family at this sad and difficult time.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, just one: Who says that the U.S. is insufficiently represented at the UN? And it’s hard for me to understand how anyone, other than the American Government, is complaining that the U.S. voice is not heard loud enough —

MR. TONER: Again, we believe that that —

QUESTION: — considering the rest of the world thinks that it’s completely dominated by the —

MR. TONER: Point taken, Matt. We believe, though, it’s necessary to constantly refresh our cadre of people at the – working within the UN organization.

QUESTION: Percentage? How many people?

MR. TONER: I do not have a percentage figure, but again, what I was speaking about more broadly is the importance of young Americans applying and seeking a career at the UN. It’s a worthwhile opportunity.

QUESTION: Speaking of New York, can you tell us what happened this morning at the meeting with the North Koreans?

MR. TONER: Well, I can only – I don’t have much information to provide since those meetings are ongoing. They did begin this morning. As you know, our Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth is leading our delegation, and as I said, they are meeting with the North Korean delegation led by First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, and that’s taking place at the UN Mission in New York. And we expect that they’ll meet throughout the day, and probably that will continue – or not probably, that will – we expect that to continue through tomorrow.

QUESTION: So did they break for lunch or are they breaking for lunch? Or what exactly are they doing? Sitting around a table?

MR. TONER: As far as atmospherics, I don’t have a sense of how the room is set up or how their actual meetings are taking place. I’ll try to get a readout for you as they break and that readout becomes available. But right now, they continue to meet.

QUESTION: And how about the composition of the U.S. delegation?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a breakdown. I can just say that it’s led by Bosworth, and it’s an interagency delegation. But I’ll try to get more information. I’ve tried and I will try to get more information.

QUESTION: So how many people?

MR. TONER: I’ll try to get that number.

QUESTION: All right. And what are you expecting to hear? Are you expecting the North Koreans to come in with some kind of like a PowerPoint presentation on why this time will be different, how – why they’re taking – why they’re serious about this? Or are you presenting them with some kind of a list of things about —

MR. TONER: Well —

QUESTION: — “This is what you can do to show that you’re serious?” What’s the —

MR. TONER: Again, I want to avoid any talk about lists. What we’re looking for, and what we said, is we’re looking for a concrete indication that they’re going to move forward. And we’re not going to necessarily say what that might look like, but what we have said is that they need to show that they’re willing to comply with their commitments under the 2005 joint statement.

QUESTION: Right. What you’ve said for —

MR. TONER: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — ad nauseam —

MR. TONER: We have, and —

QUESTION: — forever. It’s not words; it’s actions. So what actions do you expect Kim Kye Gwan to take? Do you want him to get up and dance on the table? What are you – I mean, it seems to me that all he’s going to be able to offer is words, so how is that —

MR. TONER: I’m not sure that would show their commitment to the joint statement.

QUESTION: Well, it’s an action. Because if words aren’t good enough – you want to see actions – what exactly —

MR. TONER: We do.

QUESTION: — does he have to do?


QUESTION: What does he have to do at this meeting to show you that they’re serious?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we have characterized these talks as exploratory. There was the meeting in Bali between North and South Korea. It was constructive. You know – well know; you were there. It was – and now we’ve embarked on these exploratory discussions. We’re quite clear, broadly, what we’re looking at, which – or what we’re looking for, which is for North Korea to live up to its commitments in the 2005 joint statement. That includes – and as well as its international obligations. And it needs to take concrete steps towards denuclearization. I think it’s premature to say what those steps are going to look like. I think we’ll let the meeting take place and then —

QUESTION: Right, fair enough, and I’ll drop it after this. But what exactly is Kim Kye Gwan – what exactly can he do at this meeting to convince you that they’re serious, seeing as the only thing he really can do is offer more words? And you’ve said in the past that words are not enough.

MR. TONER: Well, certainly, we recognize that words are not enough, that we need action. But this is a chance for us to sound out the North Koreans and to – these are experienced diplomats going into this – these talks. They’ve been down this road before, as you noted, and it’s a chance for us to gauge their seriousness.

QUESTION: What was it – for those of us who weren’t on the trip, what was it about Bali that made the U.S. decide to move ahead with this phase?

MR. TONER: Well, we had – we talked in months previous that we wanted to see, as an initial step, North-South dialogue. Bali constituted – the Bali meeting, rather, constituted a step in that direction. We felt it was then worthwhile to pursue, as I said, these exploratory talks.

QUESTION: And there wasn’t anything that the U.S. said that North Korea needed to be ready to present for New York?

MR. TONER: Well, I think I’ve talked about what we’re looking for from them, without getting into specifics, which I can’t do.

Go ahead. Jill and then in the back

QUESTION: Okay. Other subject?

MR. TONER: Do you want to finish up on North Korea? I think you probably –

QUESTION: When U.S. and North Korea meeting New York in today and tomorrow, will the United States raise on North Korean human rights issues (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s – these talks are focused on North Korea’s commitments and living up to them, the joint statement and its other international obligations, including relevant UN Security Council resolutions. I can’t preclude that human rights, of course, will be on the agenda or discussed at some point. Again, these meetings are ongoing, so it’s hard to predict what issues exactly will be raised, but it’s possible.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Yesterday North Korean UN ambassador said that the U.S. has no moral justification to lecture other countries about proliferation. Any comment on that?

MR. TONER: This Administration, working with like-minded countries around the world, has made nonproliferation a priority, and we’re going to continue to pursue that. No other comment beyond that.

Is this on North Korea?


MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead. David and then Michel.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s being reported that when Ambassador King went to North Korea he basically was told that they’re not ready to agree to the kind of on-the-ground monitoring of food aid to justify the United States resuming. Is that the case?

MR. TONER: Again, we’ve made no decisions on food aid, and we continue to evaluate the findings of the teams that went to North Korea. I don’t want to comment on press reports, except to say that monitoring is an important element of – important criteria to us providing food assistance to North Korea. Excuse me.

Go ahead, Michele.

QUESTION: My question was on the food aid as well, but just following up on human rights. Was the human rights envoy on North Korea in this meeting today?

MR. TONER: I do not know. I’ll try to confirm that.

Sure. I’m sorry. Jill, actually.

QUESTION: Debt crisis, debt ceiling.

MR. TONER: Debt ceiling debate. Yes.

QUESTION: Well, it’s – I think it’s a crisis. It feels like one. We’ve got five – less than five days left before this deadline. How is the State Department preparing for this? How could it – what comes on Tuesday, if the U.S. were to default, what’s the planning here, in terms of your operations and staff? And also, how could this affect things that the United States does around the world: programs, embassies, even loan guarantees for other countries?

MR. TONER: Well, as the Secretary discussed and made clear last week in her speech in Hong Kong, this debate, however difficult, is a part of the democratic process here, and she expressed her confidence that Congress, as she said, will do the right thing and secure a deal on the debt ceiling and work with this Administration and the President to take the steps to – necessary to improve our long-term fiscal outlook. And that’s important to recognize. I mean, we’ve all seen these kinds of debates. They’re very important. They’re done in a very transparent way, clearly, as in keeping with our system. But in the end, most times we do reach a satisfactory consensus and conclusion, and I think we’re confident that this is going to be yet another case of that.

In terms of contingency planning, I think Jay Carney and others have spoken to the fact that it’s really the Department of Treasury, as this deadline does get closer, that’s looking at a lot of these issues. I’d have to refer you to them.

QUESTION: You mean where the money would come from or how much money would come —

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not an expert, financial expert, by any stretch of the imagination, but I think Treasury would have the purview, if you will, of looking at how this might affect – if we get to that point – all operations, all loans, but I’d refer you to them.


QUESTION: At this point —

QUESTION: Could I just —

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: So no instructions, even very broad instructions, have been given to the staff here that this could happen if —

MR. TONER: Again, we are – we’ve been down this road on other fronts before on other issues, important issues, dealing with fiscal matters. It’s really – in this particular case, it’s really the Treasury Department that does have the lead in looking at the ramifications. But again, important to stress that this is an issue that’s still being worked furiously in the halls of Congress, and we’re confident that they’ll reach a successful consensus.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What about foreign aid?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I’ll – no. Go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTION: How about – how is foreign aid is impacted? In this case in particular, let’s say foreign aid to Israel and the Palestinians. Does the State Department have a recommendation or a policy to cut or how much to cut or not to cut?

MR. TONER: Again, I think these are all issues that, as we do get closer, if it does look like that we are headed down this path, we’ll look at all of these issues. But at this point, I don’t want to really discuss it.

QUESTION: What sort of information is State giving proactively to Treasury. I know that the Pentagon is doing this already, particularly when it comes to contracts with outside vendors, the loan programs. What sort of information is coming out of this building to help Treasury?

MR. TONER: To help Treasury?


MR. TONER: That’s a fair question, Rosalind. I’ll take it. I can’t give you a full answer right now.



MR. TONER: Libya, sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I listened to a – the Libyan ambassador or the former Libyan ambassador, and he’s saying that it’s getting really very difficult for him to operate in Washington.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: He stated that he’s looking at a short period of time before the embassy is reopened. Do you have any idea when the embassy, now that you recognize the Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, when are you likely to allow the reopening of the embassy?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a hard date. What I said yesterday is we – this is something that we’ve been discussing since Istanbul with the TNC, with the Transitional National Council. Indeed, it’s part of a number of issues that have been opened, if you will, upon recognition of them as the legitimate representation of Libya or recognition of them as the legitimate representation of Libya. And we’re addressing these issues. We did receive a formal request from the TNC, and we’re working hard and diligently to resolve these issues. But I can’t say tomorrow, next week; it’s impossible for me to say.

QUESTION: Is it safe to assume that the embassy will be reopened before the General Assembly meeting in September?

MR. TONER: I don’t think I can promise that. I just would say that we are addressing – working to address some of the outstanding legal issues. As we’ve seen in terms of unfreezing frozen assets, these are often difficult challenges to overcome legally. But we’ve got to take those steps.

QUESTION: Is Turkey still the protecting power of U.S. in Libya?

MR. TONER: No. I believe it’s the Government of Hungary that’s the protecting power in Libya. Yeah.

QUESTION: What was the Secretary talking to Defense Minister Barak about this morning?

MR. TONER: She did meet with him this morning. I guess that meeting is over now. Well, he’s here on a Washington visit. It’s always an opportunity to reiterate our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our support for Israel’s military and maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. It’s also a chance to talk about security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel, especially given the amount of change going on in the region. They’ll also discuss, I imagine, larger regional issues given the extent of – the continuation of the Arab Spring and its impact on all countries of the region.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that their conversation had anything to do with the peace process and lack thereof?

MR. TONER: I would imagine that the peace process was discussed.


MR. TONER: I just don’t know. I haven’t got –

QUESTION: — strategy ahead of the Palestinians’ UN move?

MR. TONER: I would imagine that they discussed the peace process, but I don’t have a clear readout.

QUESTION: Is it – can you get – can you try to get one?

MR. TONER: I will try to get one.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: On Tuesday, there was a UN Security Council meeting, and the Palestinian observer Riyad Mansour argued that actually going for full recognition at the UN is a multilateral action since 122 countries already recognize ’67 lines, not a unilateral action as you usually describe it. Would you comment on that?

MR. TONER: Again, it is an action that is not going to get this issue – this longstanding conflict to resolution. The only way to do that, to reach a comprehensive peace agreement is for the Palestinians and for the Israelis to sit down and tackle the tough issues through negotiation. Action at the UN doesn’t achieve that end.

QUESTION: Mark, there’s a group of seven Israeli former generals and statesmen that are going around town, they’re speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center, at Brookings, they’re making trips to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco urging the United States Government to push through with the President’s points that he made on May 19th for a state on the basis of the 1967 borders. Are you meeting with them? Are you – are they –

MR. TONER: I will check. That’s a fair question. I’ll – I don’t know. I haven’t seen anything, but we’ll check and see if we’re meeting with that group.

QUESTION: They also suggest that actually the Palestinians getting recognition of the United Nations might help the peace process rather than stagnate it. Do you concur?

MR. TONER: I think I just stated our position.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region for a second?

QUESTION: Stay in the same –

MR. TONER: Sure. And then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: There was an announcement by the Israeli minister of housing and construction. Again, there is new housing permits, about 336. Have you had the chance to raise with this issue whether with the Minister Barak meeting or with the –

MR. TONER: I will – I can check on that. I’m not sure if we have raised it or not. Our position on new construction settlements is pretty well known, but I’ll check.

Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what the meeting with – her meeting with the new Omar Suleiman is supposed to be about?

MR. TONER: You mean the Egyptian?


MR. TONER: It’s just – it’s an opportunity for her to – again, that’s this afternoon, I believe.

QUESTION: To restate your unshakable commitment to Egypt –

MR. TONER: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — and talk about how you want to keep their military less powerful than the Israelis?

MR. TONER: We’ve missed you, Matt. (Laughter.) No, this is a chance, obviously, for her to talk about Egypt’s ongoing democratic transition, as well as talk about regional issues. And that meeting, I think, is later today.

QUESTION: Does she expect to deliver the sense in the building that the U.S. is concerned about the military’s reluctance to embrace U.S. democracy-building programs in Egypt?

MR. TONER: Look, the U.S. stands ready to support the Egyptian people. They’re undergoing a very difficult, challenging democratic transition, but one clearly that’s full of hope and promise. And I think she will continue to offer that support for the Egyptian people as they move towards elections, and we’re – again, we stand ready to help them as —

QUESTION: Yeah. But when you consider that some of the programs that the U.S. has been conducting have been not accepted since the military took over in this interim role, it does raise some questions about whether or not the military is fully committed to realizing the Egyptian people’s aspirations.

MR. TONER: And as I said, this is – and the military did play a very inspiring, inspirational role in the events in Tahrir Square, showed professionalism and restraint. They are, in fact, leading this transition towards a democratic change and elections. And it’s clearly important within that context that they continue to uphold the principles of – that they upheld so clearly in Tahrir Square. Our position is that we offer – continue to offer our assistance as they – both in terms of the Egyptian economy but also other facets of this transition.

QUESTION: And how does she plan to address the question of lack of foreign observers for the election in September?

MR. TONER: How does she plan to address that?

QUESTION: How does she plan to raise that with them since they have said, “We don’t want any outside observers”?

MR. TONER: I mean, ultimately, that’s a decision for the Egyptian people to make, but we believe in transparent elections and —

QUESTION: But doesn’t that —

MR. TONER: — the more transparency, the better. But I’m not going to preview what she may or may not say in this meeting.

QUESTION: Does she think that the intel chief has a direct line to the military?

MR. TONER: Again, I think it’s important that – this is an important opportunity for her to stress broadly our feelings about democratic change underway in Egypt.

QUESTION: But certainly you have a view how the Egyptian military has been managing this difficult process you are talking about. Would you be able to share it with us?

MR. TONER: I think I just did. They were – they played a very powerful, inspirational role in Tahrir Square, showed restraint, showed professionalism. Clearly, this is a difficult period. They need to maintain order, but also allow this change – this transition to move forward. And they need to uphold the standards that they showed then.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Afghanistan.

QUESTION: There are reports this morning that there were attacks by some militants on the – I think it was a governor’s office in Uruzgan, and wondering if you have any comment about that because it follows the killing of the mayor in Kandahar. And speaking of that, is there any clarification on whether it was the Taliban? I think that was one of the questions —

MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t have – I still don’t have confirmation. That’s often difficult, to obtain clear confirmation of a Taliban responsibility in the attack. I mean, it bears all the hallmarks of a Taliban assassination, and certainly they performed these kinds of heinous acts before, and they continue to target government leaders and innocent civilians. But broadly, I don’t have any information and a confirmation of the attack in Uruzgan, I’ll look into it.

Again, it’s hard for us to say what this points to. I think I talked yesterday a little bit about that the military surge has, in fact, had success in suppressing the Taliban. It’s unclear whether this is some kind of – they’re now moving this kind of action. It only strengthens our resolve, and we believe it strengthens the resolve of the innocent Afghan civilians and people who are subjected to this kind of terrorism.


MR. TONER: Turkey.

QUESTION: Russian envoy to NATO, Mr. Dimitry Rogozin, after meeting with senators here in Washington, next day he was in Ankara and stated that open opposition against the radars, part of the missile system – not the missile system in Turkey. Do you have any view of that? And second is, has Secretary Clinton raised this issue while she was in Turkey? We have not heard.

MR. TONER: Well, I think she’s – she spoke broadly about our consultations with Turkey and other NATO members about this phased adaptive approach —


MR. TONER: — and missile defense system for Europe. In terms of Russia’s opposition to missile defense plans, we’ve sought – long sought a cooperative relationship with Russia on missile defense. We continue to seek to cooperate with them on missile defense. We’ve been clear for many years now that this is not focused on Russia. It’s not a threat to them in any way. It’s based on our assessment of other threats in the region, and we seek a cooperative relationship.

QUESTION: What’s the respond of Turkish administration? It is under the consideration, thinking about it? Any plan?

MR. TONER: I’d just say it’s under – we’re talking to a number of countries in – within NATO about this radar system and when it might be deployed —

QUESTION: Are you talking about the part –

MR. TONER: — but I don’t want to get into the substance of those discussions.

QUESTION: — the part that is going to deploy in Turkey, and I’m asking –

MR. TONER: I know what you’re asking, and I’m going to say I’m not going to get into the substance of our discussions.

QUESTION: Can you go back to money for a second?

MR. TONER: Money.

QUESTION: Yeah. Since the Secretary’s letter to the Hill the other day, or to the House Foreign – do you know if she’s made any calls or had further communication with people on the Hill about the budget and the proposed cuts?

MR. TONER: I will – that’s a fair question. I’ll check. I don’t have that in front of me.

QUESTION: So that’s two debt questions now.

MR. TONER: No, he was talking about the budget.

QUESTION: That has nothing to do with it.

MR. TONER: He was talking about foreign appropriations.


QUESTION: Mark, do you have details – there was a statement by the Treasury, I think, about the fundraising operation in Iran for al-Qaida. What I have is –

MR. TONER: Fundraising —

QUESTION: Fundraising operation for al-Qaida, which was based in Iran. Did you see this?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Christophe. I’ll have to take that question. Are you asking if we have any comment or reaction to it or —

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, yeah, any details.

MR. TONER: I’m – I’ll have to look into it.


QUESTION: There’s a new Zogby poll out, and it shows that the U.S. Administration’s approval rating less than 10 percent in the Middle East, which is basically worse than the previous administration. After two and a half years, how do you view – why do you think that your approach and policies in Middle East –

MR. TONER: I haven’t seen the poll, so it’s difficult for me to comment on its findings. We have – this President, this Administration, the Secretary of State have sought a cooperative relationship with the Middle East. And it is a region clearly undergoing tremendous change, whether it be in Syria, in Egypt, and elsewhere – in Bahrain, other countries, and the Secretary has spoken very clearly about the need for many of these governments to reform and to work with their populations to offer them economic promise and political openness. And we’re going to continue to press those messages. We think that those are the correct messages to send to the Middle East, regardless of poll numbers.

QUESTION: Right. There is not only one poll, actually. There is – there are other polls, like Gallup poll from a couple weeks – a month ago. You obviously – your Administration has been pro-change and, as you describe it, supporting the protesters. So certainly, there should be a reason. I think there is no disagreement about that Middle East has a negative view on your approach. Going forward, do you have any plans to change any policies –

MR. TONER: No. As I said, we’re going to continue to stand for universal rights, as we have thus far in the Arab Spring, and continue to work with these countries that have already, as we say, turned the corner and are on a path towards democratic transition, because we believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for them and it’s the right thing for the world and for the region.

QUESTION: Mine is very brief. I don’t know if I missed it last – while I was gone last week, but did you guys ever rerun the Diversity Visa lottery, and –

MR. TONER: We did.

QUESTION: Oh. There was –

MR. TONER: I think we did. We did.

QUESTION: And you screwed it up again?

MR. TONER: No, we didn’t – no. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: By your – judging by the look on your face.

MR. TONER: It was – no, no, I just was – I also have been out, so I’m not sure – I believe it was rerun, and successfully.

QUESTION: Okay. So the results are out, or –

MR. TONER: Yes, they are.

QUESTION: They are out? Okay. All right.

MR. TONER: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:17 p.m.)


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