State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, June 10, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–June 10, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Tahawwur Hussain Rana Guilty Verdict
    • Access to Headley
  • NATO
    • Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates’ Comments / Can’t Become Complacent / Indispensible Alliance
    • Reports of a Letter from Qadhafi to Congress / Increased Isolation / Transitional National Council / Interlocutor for the People of Libya
    • Secretary Clinton Refutes World Bank Rumors
  • CUBA
    • U.S. Delegation Visit / Alan Gross
    • Pursuit of a UN Security Council Resolution / Build Pressure on Asad
    • Refugees along the Border with Turkey / Condemn Syria’s Use of Violence / Arab League / Ambassador Ford Requests for Meetings / Opposition Party
    • Violence in Mexico / Shared Challenge / Working Cooperatively
    • Fast and Furious Program / Investigation
    • Contact with Government of Turkey on Flotilla
    • Weekend Elections
    • South China Sea / Maritime Security Issues
  • IRAQ
    • Moving Forward with Transition / U.S. Troops in Iraq
    • President Saleh Remains in Saudi Arabia / Move Forward on GCC Agreement
    • Assistant Secretary Campbell’s Meetings / Improved Dialogue Between North and South Korea / China Influence
    • No Update on Food Aid / Not Connected to Policy


1:59 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Hey, guys. Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Friday to one and all. I don’t have anything for you at the top. And again, I apologize for the late hour for the start of the briefing. I was called away on a personal event this morning, personal thing, so I didn’t get to – a chance to brief earlier. But you saw the Secretary has given a press avail in Zambia, so –

Go ahead. Are you first?

QUESTION: Thanks, Mark.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Any comments on the – in Chicago Headley trial, Mr. Tahawwur Rana, a businessman who was running an immigration business and other money laundering, according to officials. He was convicted on two counts. He’s facing 30 years. My questions is here that according law enforcement authorities it’s not only Rana – him, one person in the U.S. – there are many, many people like him —

MR. TONER: You’re saying according to Pakistan —

QUESTION: Law enforcement officials.

MR. TONER: Law enforcement officials.

QUESTION: That like him, there are many, many other people who are engaged in illegal activities – sending money back home and going to the terrorists.

MR. TONER: And just – I don’t mean to cut you off, Goyal, but just to – in answer to that question, I just would echo what Patrick Fitzgerald, who’s the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said, which is that yesterday’s verdict sends a clear message that all those who help terrorists will be brought to justice, and all those who seek to facilitate violence abroad, as Mr. Rana did, will be held accountable.

QUESTION: And one more, on third account which his involvement in the Mumbai terror attack or involvement, he was not convicted on this account. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. TONER: I don’t. His – it was clearly a judicial proceeding. The jury announced its verdict. I don’t have any comment on the verdict other than to say he is going to jail for 30 years possibly, and it’s – as I said, it’s an indication that we will hold these people accountable.

QUESTION: Mark, did anybody here get a chance to see Secretary Gates’ speech today in Brussels? And do you here in this building share the view that NATO is in dire, if not dismal, future —

MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary actually just addressed this from – I think she just did a press avail in Zambia. I would just echo what she said and what Secretary Gates said, which is that the NATO alliance can’t afford to become complacent, and we all have to step up and – step up together to share the burden in an increasingly complex world and that we see many members doing just that. It’s important to recognize that NATO is still the indispensible alliance. It’s – it has unique command and control capabilities. It’s carrying those out in Libya right now, and it’s been in Afghanistan for the long haul. It’s the most successful military alliance in history, but it needs to do better. And I think that Secretary Gates’ remarks in Brussels were aimed at exactly those challenges.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: On Libya, has the State Department seen that letter extensively from Muammar Qadhafi to the Congress, this new letter that’s come in?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we have seen the letter.


MR. TONER: I’ll have to check on that.

QUESTION: Are you aware of it?

MR. TONER: I’m aware of the letter, yes.

QUESTION: All right. So you can’t say either way whether it’s legitimate?

MR. TONER: I can’t at this point. I have just seen news reports. I really haven’t seen – I haven’t been able to confirm there’s a letter —

QUESTION: All right.

MR. TONER: — or that we’ve seen it.

QUESTION: And Mark, just on another subject, the Secretary did give a briefing, and one of the things she talked about was this continuing rumor about going to the World Bank or looking for a job at the World Bank. She answered it. But in a broader sense, when you have questions like this that constantly come up about her future, how does that affect her work here, would you say, this constant din of questions, what will she do, what will her future —

MR. TONER: Sure. Well, you’re right she did absolutely refute that rumor. Speaking more broadly, I do have contact with the Secretary. I know all of those who work with her and for her are absolutely sure that she’s where – exactly where she wants to be, and she makes that message abundantly clear that she’s the Secretary of State and carrying out her duties is the most important thing she’s doing.

Yeah. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: I’ve got two questions related to Cuba. One is that the mother of the deceased Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo arrived last night. And I was wondering if there’s any reaction to that, and also if you have any updates or information about the U.S. delegation that met with Alan Gross.

MR. TONER: Your second question first, we are aware that a delegation organized by the Center for Democracy in the Americas did visit Cuba and also was able to visit our imprisoned American citizen there, Alan Gross. This was a private initiative. And just to add a little context, visiting groups from the United States, both official and private, often request permission to visit Mr. Gross, and we also – we, of course, support these requests.

Our representatives from the U.S. Interests Section last visited him on May 31st, 2011. And of course, it goes without saying that we want to – we believe that Mr. Gross has been unjustly jailed for far too long, and we’re – we remain deeply concerned about his and his family’s well-being and believe he should be reunited with his family.

Oh, I’m sorry, the second question. I’ll try to see. I’ll try to get more information about that. I don’t know that we have a reaction yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, on Syria.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any progress in the UN Security Council regarding that resolution?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a progress report for you. I know it continues to be discussed today in New York. We’ve made our views abundantly clear on this that we believe we’re on the right side of history by supporting such a resolution, and we’re going to work to build pressure on Asad and his regime as we move forward, and this is one way to do that.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What kind of cooperation is there between Turkey and the United States, specifically on Syria issue?


QUESTION: On Syria issue?

MR. TONER: On the Syria issue, right. Yeah. No, thank you for asking. I think you’re talking maybe specifically about some of the influx of refugees that we’ve seen —


MR. TONER: — in the last several days. We’re obviously closely monitoring the situation along the border, and we condemn the Government of Syria’s use of violence and call on it to respect the universal rights of its people. It’s fundamentally the Syrian Government’s oppression and carrying out abuses against these innocent civilians that’s prompting this refugee flow. We’ve clearly been in close contact with the Government of Turkey as the situation develops. According to the Government of Turkey, there’s been an increasing number of Syrians that have crossed the border in recent days. We’ve seen about a total of approximately 2,500 individuals since April, but about 2,000 of those have crossed in the past 72 hours, so that’s a marked increase.

We’ll – we haven’t been asked by Turkey yet to offer any assistance. But as I said, we’re in close contact with them. We’re – and we stand ready to assist both bilaterally as well as through – of course, we give money to the UNHCR human rights – UN – sorry, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We give money to that and that would be another avenue to help Turkey deal with this influx.

QUESTION: Staying with Syria —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — do you have an expectation of a vote on the resolution today, or do you think this is likely to go on into next week?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Again, I think this is a process that’s continuing. I don’t have a clear sense that this is going to come to a vote in the near future.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: I would just say that we continue to work to build pressure. We’re – we – as I said, we’ve been very clear on where we stand on this resolution, and we’re trying to, again, use it as an opportunity to increase pressure on Asad. It’s one of – as I said, several avenues we’re trying to pursue in isolating Asad and making it abundantly clear that international pressure’s being built on him, and that he needs to stop what he’s doing and – or as the President and others have said, get out of the way.

QUESTION: Mark, you have been using a new word the last two days which is “isolating” Asad. When you say isolating Asad, why don’t you say that he lost his legitimacy?

MR. TONER: Look, it’s – Samir, it’s really Asad that’s been – who’s been shedding his legitimacy through his actions. He has refused to reform, refused to even make any gestures towards reform other than empty rhetoric. We’ve seen in the past 24 hours reports that he’s – that security forces are again – appear to be attacking a town in Syria and – or massing rather outside of town. We’ve seen other credible reports of human rights abuses. The UN Human Rights Commission has taken this up.

But what I think the Secretary and others have spoken to is the need to build international pressure. The U.S. bilaterally has done – has taken steps against Asad, sanctions that have targeted him himself, Asad himself. The EU has taken additional measures. And we’re going to continue to look at ways we can up the pressure on him. What’s important here is that we make it clear to him that there’s growing pressure against his actions, and we’re going to continue to pursue ways to do that.

QUESTION: What do you mean by isolating Asad?

MR. TONER: Meaning that he is alone, that the international community finds his actions reprehensible. And again, through sanctions and through other condemnations, he wakes up and realizes that he’s got to, again, either allow for the transition, help the transition take place or get out of the way.

QUESTION: But he’s not isolated because the Security Council cannot make a simple condemnation of him.

MR. TONER: Well, Brad, again, I’m talking about – this is the hard work of diplomacy here. This is about building pressure. I think everyone has seen what’s happened in Syria over the past several weeks and, frankly, has been appalled. You’ve heard the Secretary and others talk about history and being on the right side of it. There’s – I think there’s mounting pressure. I think there’s mounting recognition that what’s going on in Syria cannot continue. But again, this is just – this is what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to build pressure. We’re looking at different avenues. We’re looking at the sanctions route. We’re looking at the UN. We’re going to look at other possibilities. Other options remain on the table.

QUESTION: Do we have any indication from the sanctions, both here and in Europe, of funds that have been blocked that belong to Asad or the Syrian regime?

MR. TONER: It’s —

QUESTION: It’s been a while.

MR. TONER: It has been a while. And I – it’s often hard because, as we said, we don’t have – we have an Embassy in Damascus, but we haven’t been able to contact the government which is perhaps, as I said the other day, a recognition that these – that our public statements as well as our sanctions have begun to bite. But I’ll try to get more information if we can to provide more details on that if there is any.

QUESTION: Because with Qadhafi, we knew within a day or two – 32 billion —

MR. TONER: We did talk about assets seized, yeah. No. It’s a fair question. I’ll see if I can get more information.

QUESTION: How do you view the Arab world silence towards what’s happening in Syria – the Arab League, the GCC?

MR. TONER: Well, again, Michel, it’s – the Secretary was in the UAE yesterday and had the chance there to meet with Arab counterparts, and those were good discussions. We’re trying again to pursue avenues that will increase pressure on Asad, and we’re going to work with our Arab partners to do so. But it’s really up to them to characterize their positions right now. The Arab League has been tremendously helpful in Libya, its support for UN Security Council Resolution 1973. There’s a lot happening in that part of the world now, and – but that doesn’t mean we cannot handle one crisis as we focus on another. And I think we’re trying to bring attention, more attention to what’s happening in Syria.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary got any phone calls with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov lately about Syria? And if she hasn’t, have there been any at sort of slightly lower levels, like Secretary-designate – Deputy Secretary-designate Burns or —

MR. TONER: I’ll try to find out at lower levels. I mean, obviously, we remain in close contact in New York with the Russian delegation there.

QUESTION: But no Secretary to Minister Lavrov’s —

MR. TONER: There’s been no Lavrov – Secretary to Lavrov call, no.


QUESTION: Any update on Ambassador —

MR. TONER: But if there’s anything – just a minute – if I have any, we’ll get that to you. If there’s anything – as you said, at the deputy secretary level or —

QUESTION: Any update on Ambassador Ford’s meetings with —

MR. TONER: He remains in Damascus. He continues to request meetings with the Syrian Government, and those continue to be denied. He continues to meet with other members of Syrian society and trying to strengthen those inroads there.

QUESTION: Have there been significant restrictions or – I believe there have been – there have been in the past restrictions on the ability of the Embassy to actually get out and see what’s going on. Have those continued? In other words, do you really have eyes and ears on the ground outside the capital now?

MR. TONER: Outside the capital, you’re right. It’s – and we’ve said before that it’s also difficult because I think the media’s faced pretty severe restrictions in trying to get the story out. So it’s very difficult a lot of times to get a clear picture of these abuses that we’ve heard so much about.

QUESTION: So you’re not able to travel outside the capital?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we’ve been able to travel outside of Damascus. I’ll try to find out.

QUESTION: Okay. And are there restrictions even inside Damascus? That would be interesting, too.

MR. TONER: Yeah.


QUESTION: A different topic. It’s on Mexico. This week there has been a major civil society mobilization against violence in Mexico. The U.S. has invested a lot of resources in building civil society and being – so that it is resilient towards drug violence and so on. How do you see this mobilization? How do you see – do you welcome the civil society asking for peace?

MR. TONER: We certainly do support civil society asking for peace, especially in Mexico, where society overall has been so affected by the drug violence. We – I would just say that we recognize that this is a shared challenge with Mexico, and we’re working cooperatively both on the law enforcement side, but as well as with civil society to address this tremendous threat.

QUESTION: It’s a follow-up on Mexico. What is your comments about the media reports about this ATF guns surfacing in Mexico?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the – I think the Fast and Furious program? I’m aware that Attorney General Holder has asked the Justice Department’s Acting Inspector General to investigate those concerns.

QUESTION: Mark, on —

MR. TONER: So there’s an active investigation.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Turkey for a second?

QUESTION: Mark – I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: I’ll get to you, Goyal.

QUESTION: I wanted to see to what extent the State Department’s been engaged with Turkish officials ahead of the elections this weekend, and also on the upcoming Gaza flotilla.

MR. TONER: On the Gaza flotilla, we’ve certainly been in touch with Turkish officials. And on the elections, it’s – I’m not quite sure what your – I mean, we maintain robust contacts with the Turkish Government. Our interest is always in seeing free and fair elections. And Turkey has a strong democratic tradition, so we – we’re respectful of that and hope they have a good election.

QUESTION: Has (inaudible) been finalized for the next round of strategic dialogue between Pakistan and United States?

MR. TONER: Don’t believe so. Once we have something to announce, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: One other thing —

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: One other thing on Mexico, just a small thing.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: There – well, mostly small, but there is a Mexican citizen, I believe named Humberto Garcia, who is on death row in Texas and is slated for execution.

MR. TONER: I’m aware of the case.

QUESTION: Can you check to see if the Department has any new comment regarding his case?

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah, Lauren and then I’ll go —

QUESTION: Yeah. Let me go ask the question to the – regarding Syria. So do you think the U.S. Government will be able to find a reliable opposition party, like in Syria, like —

MR. TONER: Oh, a reliable opposition party.

QUESTION: — opposition party which you’ll be able to discuss about the future of Syria, like TNC in Libya?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. There was actually a meeting, I think, last week in Turkey where some of the opposition parties came together in trying to meet, obviously, outside of Syria because they can’t do that inside the country. What that speaks to is the fact that the Syrian people have already, in essence, turned the corner or turned the page, however you want to put it. The government’s oppression, it’s carrying out this – its campaign against innocent protesters, innocent civilians has only made them stronger, and they’re trying to, as you said, trying to coalesce, become a more coherent body. As we’ve seen in Libya, that’s a long process and it’s an evolution.

I know we maintain contacts. I don’t want to get into too much detail because these people are clearly under tremendous danger in Syria, but at the Embassy we do have contacts with members of the opposition as well as civil society members, and we do try to build that sense of what the opposition is, how it – where it’s gelling around. But ultimately, building a credible opposition is going to be a hard task but a necessary task for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: This week in south China I see there’s been some ramping up between Vietnam and China and now Vietnam has made an announcement that they’re going to have live fire drills on Monday. Have you been in contact with them on this?

MR. TONER: Well, I can just say that we’ve been troubled by some of these reports about the South China Sea and don’t believe they – believe they only serve to raise tensions and don’t help, obviously, with the peace and security of the region. As I think the Secretary said last year in Hanoi, we’ve got a number of national interests that we share with the international community in the South China Sea, and obviously these incidents in the last couple days raise significant maritime security issues, including the international community’s freedom of navigation, unimpeded economic development and commerce, and respect for international law.

Our position remains clear. We want to see – we believe that customary international law provides unambiguous guidance on the appropriate use of the maritime domain and rights of access to it. And we support a collaborative, diplomatic process by all claimants to resolve various territorial disputes without coercion, and call on all claimants to conform all of their claims, both land and maritime, to international law.

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t then support the Vietnamese having —

MR. TONER: We don’t support, I think, anything that adds to the current – raising the current level of tensions we don’t think is helpful.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the live fire exercises are not a great idea?

MR. TONER: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no. I’m sorry, I’m just —

MR. TONER: That’s okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I want to able to – I would like to be able to –

MR. TONER: I realize I just threw a lot of legalese at you.


MR. TONER: I think, as I just said, Arshad, and I’ll try to be more plainspoken about it, is that there needs to be – the U.S., like many other nations, has interests in the South China Sea. What there needs to be is a collaborative, diplomatic process, a peaceful process to resolve various territorial disputes and otherwise. Shows of force, other gestures like that just, I think, raise tensions.

QUESTION: Mr. Panetta said yesterday that the Iraqi Government on the verge of asking the U.S. to keep a portion of U.S. troops in Iraq. Do you have any —

MR. TONER: I don’t have any updates. As we’ve said all along, we’re moving forward towards the transition. Any decision about troop numbers or troops remaining, it’s really an issue for the Iraqi Government.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, as far as Bangladesh is concerned, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was in Washington. I understand she met with Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, and the only —

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll try to get a readout for you, Goyal. I don’t – when was that, today? Or was that yesterday?

QUESTION: It’s a few days ago, last weekend.

MR. TONER: A few days ago? I don’t. I’ll try to get a readout of what they discussed.

QUESTION: And one more quick on India. India is seeking another access to Hadley in Chicago – if request has come up or if you are proceeding this request from India?

MR. TONER: Right. But I think – we’ve said in the past we’ve granted that access and, obviously, there was the trial that took place. But in the future we would consider those – providing that access again.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Any update on President Saleh is out of the intensive care and —

MR. TONER: No update. Obviously he’s in – he remains in Saudi Arabia. He continues to receive treatment as far as we can tell. But this isn’t a time for any kind of stasis. The government in Yemen needs to – in Sana’a needs to move forward with – along the lines of the GCC agreement and start this reconciliation process.

Oh, sure. In the back. I apologize.

QUESTION: Korea announced that a U.S.-Korea ministerial would be on the 24th in D.C.

MR. TONER: Korea announced that – I didn’t hear the end of it.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. U.S.-Korea ministerial will be on the 24th?

MR. TONER: Right. I know that Assistant Secretary Campbell was obviously in Korea and he met with the foreign minister, the deputy foreign minister, as well as the special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security issues. They did discuss close coordination between the U.S. and South Korea, on North Korea, and also broadening our alliance, but – and they also discussed the 2012 Yeosu Expo and other regional issues of mutual concern. He did mention also that foreign minister Kim Sung-hwan would travel to the U.S. on June 24th for consultations and on both North Korea as well as the ASEAN regional forum and the upcoming East Asia Summit.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that. In Secretary Campbell’s remarks, he urged China to make the best effort to encourage North Korea and the South talks. Could you please elaborate which kind of effort U.S. is —

MR. TONER: You said he encouraged —

QUESTION: Encouraged

MR. TONER: — China —

QUESTION: — China to do the best effort —

MR. TONER: — to do the best effort? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. To make the best efforts to encourage North and the South.

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve said all along that we believe the next steps need to be improved dialogue between North and South Korea. Obviously, China’s an important interlocutor in this regard, and I think he’s just asking them to use their influence to get his process moving.

QUESTION: Is there a statement on the team that went to North Korea?

MR. TONER: No update on food aid.


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — Secretary Clinton said yesterday on Libya that Qadhafi’s days are numbered. How many days do you think does he still have? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: I think, look, what she’s talking about and what others have referred to is the sense that he’s increasingly isolated, he’s had some – he’s had a number of defections in recent days. There have been a number of – or there’s been an intensification, if you will, of NATO airstrikes both within in Tripoli and elsewhere that’s increasing pressure on his forces. So all of this, and you’ve got diplomatic pressure, you’ve got NATO pursuing the implementation of UN Security Council 1973. We believe this is beginning to have an effect on him, and the international community’s resolve on this is unshakable. The TNC is becoming the interlocutor for the Libyan people, it’s becoming more cohesive. And so really the tides have shifted, we believe.

Yeah. Just one more. Sorry, I’ll get –

QUESTION: Back to North Korea, North Koreans are making new threats against South Korea recently and it seems that it’s trying to raise tension between North and South. And I’m wondering if that’s why – that’s the reason why you haven’t made a decision on —

MR. TONER: Food aid?

QUESTION: — food aid, and could that —

MR. TONER: No. I mean, food aid – I said it many times from here; food aid is really unconnected with anything political or the policy side. Our requirements for food aid are quite clear. We need to both assess the situation on our own to get a sense of whether there is real need, and then we need an end-use mechanism or end-use assurances, I guess, that it’s going to reach the people that it needs to reach.

So, anyway. Is that it? Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)