State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, June 17, 2010

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–June 17, 2010.

1:20 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Let me start with the Secretary’s day. Welcome, by the way. She began her day on the Hill, where she met with Senators Lieberman and McCain prior to appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the new START treaty with the Secretary of Defense – Secretary of Defense Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, as well as Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

While there, the Secretary made the case for how the treaty will make America safer and more secure by limiting U.S. and Russian-deployed strategic weapons, providing transparency of Russia’s strategic forces, and demonstrating U.S. leadership —

QUESTION: We all watched it, you know.

MR. TONER: I know – on the nonproliferation and arms control —

QUESTION: What else? Do you want to read her testimony? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: She also reiterated that the treaty does not constrain U.S. missile defense programs and will not limit the U.S. ability to modernize its nuclear enterprise to maintain safe, secure, and effective nuclear weapons.

Secretary Clinton should be speaking now with Uzbekistan’s President Karimov to discuss the current situation in Kyrgyzstan and the issue of refugees in Uzbekistan. Later this afternoon, she’ll meet with Judy Gross, who is the spouse of Alan Gross, who is the USAID contractor currently jailed in Cuba. We’ll try to get you some kind of readout later in the day on that.

She’ll also be meeting today with Quartet Representative Tony Blair and she has a regular meeting with President Obama at the White House and will meet with Umit Boyner, the president of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association. Finally, she’ll meet with General Petraeus, who obviously is in town to testify before Congress. This meeting will be an opportunity for them to discuss the civilian and military effort in securing the southern part of Afghanistan.

Sorry, guys, let me sort myself out here. Here we go.

The United States is concerned with the continued detention of human rights activist Farai Maguwu in Zimbabwe. He was arrested two weeks ago for meeting with a Kimberley Process monitor and his bail decision has been further delayed. This will prevent him from participating as an observer in the Kimberley Process meetings in Tel Aviv next week. He was a valuable contributor at last year’s meetings because of his rigorous investigation of rights violations in the diamond fields. Civil society participants are critical to ensuring the credibility of individual decisions and the ongoing Kimberley Process. We expect the Government of Zimbabwe to treat him fairly and review his case expeditiously.

QUESTION: Can you spell the gentleman’s name?

MR. TONER: I will do that. M-a – Farai – Farai, excuse me. F-a-r-a-i; Maguwu is M-a-g-u-w-u.

Assistant Secretaries Blake and Posner were in Turkmenistan yesterday. While in Ashgabat, Assistant Secretary Blake spoke to the U.S.-Turkmenistan Business Forum. They also met with OSCE Ambassador Arsim Zekolli to discuss OSCE activities in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.

From Turkmenistan, Assistant Secretaries Blake and Posner will travel to Tashkent Thursday to consult with the Uzbek leadership, and then on to the Ferghana Valley Friday to evaluate the situation of the refugees there. They’ll also meet with Uzbek refugees and explain the support the U.S. is providing. Assistant Secretary Blake will then go to Bishkek on Saturday to meet with the Kyrgyz leadership.

Moving quickly along, Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell was in Seoul today for discussions on the sinking of the Cheonan with South Korean leaders. He was also there in preparation for an upcoming meeting in Canada next week between President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak for the July 2+2 meeting that will be held in Seoul. He will depart Korea and arrive in Tokyo later today, where he’ll consult with senior Japanese officials and return to Washington on June 18th.

NEA Assistant Secretary Feltman has concluded the Iraq portion of his travel to the region and is now in Kuwait, where he’ll meet with key Kuwaiti officials. While in Iraq, he met with Prime Minister Maliki, President Talabani, and Vice President Abd-al-Mahdi as well as Ayad Alawi. While there, he urged Iraqi leaders to intensify their work leading to the formation of an inclusive and representative government to work on behalf of the Iraqi people.

Almost there.

Tomorrow, Eric Schwartz, the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, will open tomorrow’s press briefing. He’ll have just attended a World Refugee Day event co-hosted by the Department of State and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. At that event, the Secretary will give remarks on U.S. support for refugees and vulnerable populations, highlighting the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980.

And with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: What do you have to say about the – Israel’s announcement that they’re easing the blockade?

MR. TONER: Well, we welcome the general principles announced earlier today by the Israeli Government. They reflect the type of changes we’ve been significant with our Israeli friends. And Senator Mitchell, who was in the region, will continue working on them in the coming days.

As the President has said, the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. And as these principles get further developed and implemented, we’re hopeful that the situation in Gaza will improve. Meanwhile, we just would also reiterate our call for the unconditional release of Corporal Shalit.

QUESTION: And what is the – any readout on the meeting with Blair with the Secretary?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, it’s —

QUESTION: It hasn’t happened yet.

MR. TONER: Yeah, it hasn’t happened yet. But I mean, obviously —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: I don’t know how much I have for you on that, Samir. Hold on. Just generally, obviously, they’ll be discussing recent developments in Gaza and efforts to improve the situation there. As you know, Blair has been working closely with Israel and Palestinians to try to address the situation in Gaza. We are obviously thankful for his sustained efforts to improve conditions for Palestinians on the ground.

QUESTION: I guess going back to the first statement about it, you said that there’s going to be ongoing back and forth with the Israelis as these ideas are developed. Does the U.S. think that what they’ve announced so far doesn’t go far enough? Are you – is there going to be U.S. input in trying to get them to move forward on other ways of opening, like construction materials?

MR. TONER: Well, I just think, obviously, we view the general announcement as a positive one, but we’re just trying to sort out and get more detail on the – in fact, the details of it.

QUESTION: Do you have specific items that you would like to see go through that are currently not allowed? I mean, is that part of the conversation?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Sure, meaning yes, you do? Or are you just saying sure, you understand the question?

MR. TONER: Sure, I understand the question.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.

MR. TONER: Thank you. We want to see an expansion of the scope and types of goods allowed into Gaza to address the Palestinians’ legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials, while addressing, obviously, Israel’s legitimate security needs.

Anything else? Go ahead.

QUESTION: On settlements, the Peace Now is reporting that settlers in the West Bank are continuing construction of settlements despite the moratorium that even Netanyahu has imposed.

MR. TONER: This is not the same thing that was raised yesterday with East Jerusalem?

QUESTION: No, no, I’m talking about the West Bank, not in East Jerusalem.

MR. TONER: Right, right, right. Well, again, I mean, the Peace Now is discussing settlements in – this is what you’re referring to?

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, I can’t remember where in the West Bank, but it’s violating the moratorium according to Peace Now.

MR. TONER: Right, but –

QUESTION: Would you urge Netanyahu to enforce his own moratorium?

MR. TONER: Well, exactly. I mean, the Israeli Government has announced its moratorium and we believe it’s enforcing it and that these are individual cases.

QUESTION: I’m ready for a thank you.

QUESTION: You met the guy in Pakistan?

MR. TONER: We did. We had consular access to him.


MR. TONER: Not much to say, obviously, because of Privacy Act waiver considerations, but –

QUESTION: Did they ask him to sign a Privacy Act waiver?

MR. TONER: He has not signed one. I don’t know –

QUESTION: Was he asked?

MR. TONER: I do not know the answer to that, Matt.

QUESTION: Can we find out? Because I’m just – every time one of these cases comes up –

MR. TONER: Yeah, I –

QUESTION: — I’m getting really tired of this Privacy Act.

MR. TONER: I recognize that.

QUESTION: And also his brother is, like –

MR. TONER: I agree.

QUESTION: — doesn’t shut up.

MR. TONER: I agree.

QUESTION: And told us basically everything about the consular meeting – about what your consular official told him about the meeting. So he didn’t give us –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: — the name of the person that briefed him, which is fine, but if the family is going to tell us everything that the consular person told you, it might be better for you to tell us so that there’s no game of telephone. You know what I mean?

MR. TONER: Well, Elise, I recognize your concerns, but –

QUESTION: So where are they meeting?

QUESTION: I guess I can watch CNN.

QUESTION: But is it – no, but it is really a Privacy Act waiver if – is it really the Privacy Act if we’re just, like, getting from a third, like — you know what I mean? I’m not sure necessarily that anybody has asked him to sign a waiver, I guess.

MR. TONER: Our understanding is he did not sign the Privacy Act waiver.

QUESTION: Was he asked to?

MR. TONER: Based on that –

QUESTION: Was he given the opportunity to?

QUESTION: Yeah, does he even know what that is? I mean, I think he’s under the impression that –

MR. TONER: I believe that is standard procedure. But I’ll verify.

QUESTION: Mark, do you know if they’re providing him any medical care? They were saying he has kidney problems and he had some medication with him, but there was some concern from the family he didn’t have enough.

MR. TONER: Well, again, I can’t really address those specific questions. I can tell you that three members of our Embassy did meet with him in Islamabad, but beyond that I can’t –

QUESTION: In Islamabad?

QUESTION: Yesterday, we were told the meeting was going to happen in Peshawar.

MR. TONER: That’s what I understand.

QUESTION: Apparently, the guy needs dialysis and the Embassy said that they would arrange that for him.

MR. TONER: Again, I can’t get into specifics like that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Does the United States discourage private citizens from trying to kill bin Laden?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) $25 million bounty (inaudible).


MR. TONER: I think — look, it’s unclear what he was doing in Pakistan and this is a legal matter for the Pakistani authorities to determine.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t it more clear now that you met him?

QUESTION: Can you say why Islamabad?


QUESTION: Is that at your behest or is –

MR. TONER: I have no idea. It’s a – I mean, no idea why he was there or why he’s being held there.

QUESTION: Would you double-check and let us know if it’s not Islamabad?

MR. TONER: Will do.

QUESTION: All right. Can we go to another American detainee? The Rwanda case?

QUESTION: Well, one more question.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Did you say – do we know if he – the weapons that he was carrying, did he get those there? Do we know anything about that or did carry them over?

MR. TONER: Again, I can’t – I don’t have any details. Sorry.

QUESTION: Well, you said it’s unclear what he was doing in Pakistan. But isn’t it clear now that you met with him?

MR. TONER: Again, Elise, I can’t talk about anything –

QUESTION: No, I understand. But is it really unclear now or is it more clear what he was doing in Pakistan? I mean, you can choose not to tell me –

MR. TONER: No, I understand.

QUESTION: — what he was doing.

MR. TONER: I mean, I haven’t gotten a readout from the meeting. I don’t know if they discussed that level of detail. All I know is that the Pakistani Government is investigating the case.

QUESTION: I think that would be the first question one would ask.

QUESTION: What were you doing here with a sword and night-vision goggles?


MR. TONER: All legitimate questions.


QUESTION: And a bin Laden t-shirt with an X through it?


QUESTION: I hope they ask them what he was doing there. The Erlinder?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Please, don’t say you have a Privacy Act waiver –


QUESTION: — problem here.

MR. TONER: We would just like to say we’re pleased with the Rwandan court today – that the Rwandan courts today granted Mr. Erlinder an unconditional release on medical grounds. U.S. Embassy officials were present at the hearing and contacted Mr. Erlinder’s family immediately.

QUESTION: Does that mean that he can leave the country, no problem? Basically they dropped the charges or was this just bail?

MR. TONER: We don’t have all the legal details on today’s rulings. It’s our understanding that he will be able to travel freely once the orders for his release are transmitted to the proper authorities.

QUESTION: Travel, meaning leave the country?


QUESTION: One more.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The Russian foreign ministry said to today that sanctions such as those that the U.S. unveiled yesterday and EU is unveiling today are unacceptable and might affect future cooperation on nuclear issues. Do you have any reaction to that? Do you think – is there any concern that these unilateral steps are going to upset the applecart as far as international unity goes?

MR. TONER: Well, no. I think the Russians have consistently expressed concerns that any sanctions not impact the Iranian people. And obviously, that’s something that – those are concerns that we share. And we agree and we just – we believe that the steps we’ve announced as well as the EU has announced earlier today are targeted against entities and individuals and not the Iranian people, but rather entities and individuals that support Iran’s nuclear and proliferation activity.

QUESTION: It seems as though the Russian position is that they don’t think that countries should, sort of, go beyond what the Security Council called for and that that, in a way, subverts the Security Council mandate there. What’s your reaction to that?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think what we’ve seen is Russians are concerned about – the Russian Government is concerned about any sanctions that might affect the Iranian people. Obviously, we share that concern, but we don’t believe that any of these new additional sanctions really go beyond what the 1929 – well, in terms of affecting the Iranian people, that they’re more targeted against entities and individuals that support nuclear – Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Do you think the comments today were for domestic consumption?

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask him.

QUESTION: (inaudible) Iran or Russia? On Russia?

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The adoption meetings are over. The Russians seem to say, again, that you have an agreement. (Laughter.) Every time they’ve said that, you’ve said no.

MR. TONER: Well, I would just say that we believe that, as evidenced by the talks being extended an extra day, the parties are making steady progress. But we’re not there yet. Obviously –

QUESTION: What do you mean by "extended another day"?

MR. TONER: I believe they were supposed to conclude yesterday; is that right?

QUESTION: So they’re going on today?

MR. TONER: Yeah, going on today. They’re concluding today. Again, clearly there is engagement and a willingness on both sides to reach an agreement and we believe progress has been made, but it’s just going to take some more time to work out the details.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Hold on a second. You put out a very interesting and incomplete taken question –answer to a taken question last night about Dan Benjamin and his meetings in Turkey. Why exactly was it that the U.S. side was unable to attend this meeting?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a solid answer for you. I think it was scheduling, but I’ll try to find out more.

QUESTION: Scheduling? Not U.S. unhappiness with Turkey’s recent stances on various international issues?

MR. TONER: Again, I’ll try to find the answer for you, but I think it was scheduling, not what you just said.

QUESTION: Well, I’ve heard otherwise. I’ve heard it was scheduling, but it was, in fact, that he suddenly became unavailable due to other reasons, not scheduling.

MR. TONER: Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Thank you, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)