State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, June 3, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–June 3, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Twenty-Second Anniversary of Tiananmen Square
    • Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell’s Travel to China, Mongolia, Indonesia, and the Republic of Korea, June 5-10
    • Attack on Presidential Compound
    • GCC Proposal Charts the Best Way Forward / President Saleh Should Sign
    • All U.S. Embassy Personnel Are Safe
    • Food Assessment Team Has Completed its Work / Evaluation Is Ongoing
    • North Korea Should Put Relations with South Korea on a Positive Track
    • U.S. Calls for Cessation of Violence by All Sides / Special Envoy Lyman in Sudan
    • Foreign Minister Juppé Is in the Middle East / Will Meet with Secretary Clinton Next Week
    • Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s Meeting with the Foreign Minister this Week / Working with the Government of Bahrain and the Opposition to Open Dialogue
    • Return of Eman al-Obeidi to Benghazi / Concerned for Her Welfare / Spoken to Transitional National Council / Disappointed with the Government of Qatar for Forcibly Expelling Her / Raised Issue with Qatar
    • U.S. Embassy Defense Attaché’s Comments Reflected His Personal Opinion / Do Not Reflect U.S. Government Policy / U.S. Remains Concerned by Allegations in the Panel of Experts Report / Sri Lanka Must Address these Allegations
    • Senator McCain’s Trip
    • U.S. Express Concerns over the Google Allegations to the Government of China / Asked China to Look into this Report


MR. TONER: Sorry. I wanted to do this a little bit earlier today on a Friday. Happy Friday, first and foremost, of what was a short week, but nevertheless it’s still a Friday. It still counts.

Before taking your questions this morning, just a couple of things. First and foremost, I wanted to announce that – or note that today marks 22 years since the violent suppression of protests in and around Tiananmen Square on June 3rd and 4th, 1989. The United States joins others in the international community in urging China to release all those still serving sentences for participating in the peaceful protests. We ask the Chinese Government to provide the fullest possible accounting of those killed, detained, or missing and to cease the ongoing harassment of those who participated in the demonstrations and the families of the victims. We encourage China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens, including those who peacefully express political views.

We also renew our call for the release of all those detained, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest in recent months as China has taken actions that are inconsistent with universally recognizable rights – recognized rights. As Secretary Clinton has said, when China lives up to its obligations of respecting and protecting universal human rights, it will not only benefit more than one billion people, it will also benefit the long-term peace, stability, and prosperity of China. And then –

QUESTION: Are you putting this is out as a –

MR. TONER: We will issue this as a statement. And then secondly, I did want you to note that Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell will be traveling to China and Mongolia and Indonesia as well as the Republic of Korea June 5th through 10th. In Beijing on June 6th, Assistant Secretary Campbell will meet with senior Chinese officials to discuss areas of cooperation in the Asia Pacific and a range of other issues, including North Korea and Iran. He’ll then travel to Ulaanbaatar on June 7th, where he’ll participate in meetings with senior Mongolian officials to discuss a broad range of bilateral issues. On June 8th, he’ll travel to Surabaya to participate in the senior officials meetings to prepare for the upcoming East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum. In addition, he’ll meet bilaterally with his counterparts from several members of the ASEAN Regional Fora. And then finally, he’ll travel to Seoul on June 10th for meetings with senior Korean officials to discuss a wide range of bilateral regional global affairs, including next steps on the Korean Peninsula, and he’ll head back on June 10th. That’s all I have for you.

Can you close that door?

STAFF: Yeah. I can do that.

MR. TONER: Okay. Thanks. Questions.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Yemen? What’s going on with what you’re –

MR. TONER: Sure. Obviously – thanks Joby. It’s a very fluid situation. Our Embassy staff are reaching to contacts on the ground there. We’ve received conflicting reports regarding the attack on the presidential compound, including who was injured and whether or not anyone was killed. While we have heard that President Saleh was uninjured, we can’t – we cannot yet independently confirm that. We’re still working to establish the facts on the ground, and because of the conflicting nature of the reports, it’s going to take a little bit of time to verify what happened. Before coming down here, I did just see press reports, however, that President Saleh will speak soon.

QUESTION: You said he was – your report was saying he was uninjured?

MR. TONER: We’re saying that we have heard that he was uninjured through our contacts, but we’re still unable to independently confirm it.

QUESTION: You heard it from who or what?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re reaching out to our contacts without specifying who or what.


MR. TONER: Probably who, in this case. We’re reaching out to those various contacts on the ground and, again, we’re trying to establish exactly what happened and who may be injured in the attack.

QUESTION: A spokesman for the –

MR. TONER: I just want to continue to say, look, what’s important is that we strongly condemn all of these senseless acts of violence that have taken place in the last 24 hours. We call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities. All parties must end these attacks and avoid any further escalation or any further casualties in the days ahead. Clearly, the deteriorating situation in Yemen can only be addressed through a peaceful and orderly transfer of power. And so we, again, call on President Saleh to move immediately to heed the calls of the Yemeni people.

QUESTION: The spokes –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) civil war?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Let me get to you –

QUESTION: A spokesman for the Yemeni Government just appeared on Al Hurra TV and accused Secretary Clinton and President Obama of inciting assassinations in Yemen.

MR. TONER: That’s absurd. Again, our focus has been in working with the government and with President Saleh in support of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s proposal. And again, that, we believe, charts the best way forward into something that President Saleh, as we’ve said repeatedly over the past week or so, should live up to his commitment and sign.

On your question about civil war, clearly there’s a level of fighting that’s escalating, and the level of violence that we’ve seen escalate in the past days – I don’t want to try to characterize it beyond saying that it’s clearly concerning. And we call on all sides who are engaging in this violence to step back and to cease the violence. And again, this is – there needs to be an orderly transition here, and that can only be – the first step needs to be President Saleh actually signing the GCC agreement. And then that would put the country on a way forward out of this crisis.

QUESTION: Is the violence such that the U.S. is now thinking about pulling out essential personnel?

MR. TONER: No. No decisions have been made. I did want to say that, just in addition to the – what I just said about the – in and around the presidential compound, all Embassy personnel are safe and accounted for. And no decisions – we’re constantly reevaluating our security posture there, but –

QUESTION: You said the Kurt Campbell will travel to South Korea.


QUESTION: So what’s going to be a –

MR. TONER: He is returning –

QUESTION: — the main agenda item there?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, look, it’s going to be any number of bilateral and regional issues, and I think he talked about next steps on the peninsula as well. We’re going to talk – it’s – South Korea’s obviously a very close ally in the region, and we’re going to talk about a lot of things. But it’s including —

QUESTION: Are you talking about food aid, too, for North Korea?

MR. TONER: I would imagine it’s going to be on the agenda. Yeah.

QUESTION: So you don’t think there’s going to be a decision on that before he goes, or before he gets back?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to put a timeline where we’re at with this, as the food assessment team has, I believe, finished their work and now there’ll be a period where we evaluate what their findings were. But again, equally essential to this –

QUESTION: Do you have an idea (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I’ll try to get a better understanding of how long that process will take. But what’s essential here is, again, trying to make clear is that making sure that this reaches the people who actually need it is another important component, and that was one of the things that Ambassador King stressed in his meetings in North Korea.


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — he’s going to Seoul on the 10th and coming back the same day?

MR. TONER: He’ll be on Seoul – in Seoul on the 10th for meetings, and then he’ll depart for Washington, D.C. on the 10th.

QUESTION: Just a one-day trip?

MR. TONER: It looks like one day.

QUESTION: One-day trip.

QUESTION: And what’s going to be the main topic in China?

MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry, in China. Well, again, I don’t want to get out in front of this trip. Obviously, it will be following up on a lot of the issues that were discussed at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that took place a couple weeks ago, as well as the full breadth of issues that we are in constant conversation with the Chinese.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Sudan or —


MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Last time when Kurt – Assistant Secretary Campbell was in Tokyo, he mentioned that he’ll be back in Tokyo within two or three weeks. But is there a specific reason why he won’t go to Tokyo?

MR. TONER: No specific reason. As you know, he spends a lot of time on the road, and I don’t have anything to announce, but I’m sure he’ll be back in Japan very soon.

QUESTION: One more – I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One more on China. The Dalai Lama is coming to the U.S. next month. Is there any plan for the Secretary or anyone from this building to meet with him?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. Obviously, he’s an important cultural figure, but I don’t have anything to announce in terms of meetings. Not yet.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the Dalai Lama himself. Yesterday in the congressional hearing, one of the congressmen asked the State Department not to give permission to China to open new additional consulates in the U.S., like Atlanta and Houston, till the time U.S. gets to open a consulate in Tibet.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You – he raised this in a hearing?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah.

MR. TONER: What’s your question?

QUESTION: The question is: Are you considering that, not to let China open a new consulate in the time you get to open a new mission in Tibet?

MR. TONER: Again, we’ll – as we do with all congressional legislation, we’ll consult with Congress and appreciate hearing their views.

QUESTION: Where in the status is your opening of diplomatic mission in Tibet?

MR. TONER: When is – there’s no plans that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: No plans?

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Bret.

QUESTION: There’s three UN reports that talk about SPLA attacks in Sudan.

MR. TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: SPLA attacks in Sudan. We’ve concentrated a lot on what the North has done, but this talks about indiscriminate killing, shooting at anything that moves in the bush, that type of stuff. Do you have any —

MR. TONER: You’re talking not Abyei right now? You’re talking about —

QUESTION: I’m talking about not Abyei right now. Do you have any knowledge of recent atrocities by SPLA forces?

MR. TONER: I don’t. Obviously, our focus in the recent days has been on the violence occurring in Abyei, but we continue to call for a cessation of violence on all sides in that country.

QUESTION: Have you been in discussions with the South on also maintaining a kind of —

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we — yes, we are in discussion. Princeton Lyman is, in fact, in Sudan now. And part of the – part of his discussions entail or are focused on the South as it prepares for independence. And obviously, foremost in those discussions are the need to respect human rights.

Go ahead, Christophe.

QUESTION: Do you have a more specific answer on the French offer for a peace conference in the Middle East?

MR. TONER: I mean, look, Foreign Minister Juppe is in the region. He’s going to be here next week, and the Secretary looks forward to meeting with him and they’ll discuss ways forward.

QUESTION: When will he be here?

MR. TONER: I think Monday.

QUESTION: On Kurt Campbell’s trip, you said China, Mongolia, Korea, and one more country.

MR. TONER: We’ll put out a Media Note on this, but China, Mongolia, Indonesia, and Korea.


MR. TONER: Sorry, I just kind of highlighted certain points rather than read the entire note.


QUESTION: I think several Bahraini officials have been in town this week. Has the – somebody pointed out to me that Secretary Clinton hasn’t met with them. Is there some issue there?

MR. TONER: Right. No, there’s no issue there. I believe Deputy Steinberg met with the Bahraini foreign minister the other day. And he’s been to Manama several times and – well, several times, I believe at least once, and has taken a leading role in working with the Bahrainis on their own crisis and charting a way forward.

QUESTION: Because there’s some suggestion that this reflects some bad karma between the Secretary and Bahrainis.

MR. TONER: Look, I just think that we’re working at Deputy Steinberg’s level, and as well as Jeff Feltman’s level, to – with the Bahraini Government and as well as with the opposition there to open up a dialogue and to find a way forward. We did have the lifting of the martial law there earlier this week, and that was an encouraging sign. We acknowledge that. But we’ve seen other reports of violence today, and we’re very concerned and watching the situation closely. But at the same time, we’re continuing to encourage that kind of dialogue.

QUESTION: Is the Crown Prince visiting Washington next week?

MR. TONER: I believe so, but I am not sure whether it’s been announced. I’ll have to find out more information on it.

QUESTION: I have a question on Sri Lanka.

MR. TONER: Can I go back to – and then I’ll get back.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on Eman al-Obeidi and Libya.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I guess there were reports. Witnesses saw her arrive back in Libya bruised, I think like a black eye. I’m just curious if there’s any update on U.S. Government efforts to get her resettled to a —

MR. TONER: Right. Thanks for asking. I did dig a little deeper after yesterday’s briefing. We’ve not spoken with Ms. Obeidi since she left Qatar, but we have been in contact with senior officials in the Transitional National Council in Benghazi – excuse me – and we’ve made clear the U.S. interest in her case. My understanding is that UNHCR is in direct contact with her and is working to address any protection issues or concerns that she may have. I believe she’s safe where she’s at right now.

And again, we did – somebody asked me yesterday about our reaction to the Government of Qatar’s sending her back to Libya. And I just wanted to say that we are indeed disappointed. We had spoken repeatedly to the Government of Qatar prior to her expulsion, asking that she be allowed to travel with UNHCR officials to a safe third country. So we were disappointed at her forced return, and we believe it’s a breach of humanitarian norms.

But looking forward, we’re going to continue to work closely with the Transitional National Council as well as UNHCR to ensure she’s accorded necessary protection and is, again, allowed to head to that third country. And her safety is obviously paramount in all of this.

QUESTION: Do you think her life is at risk in Benghazi?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s difficult to say. We believe that her life was clearly at risk in Libya, which is why she was – she left for Qatar. And we’ve expressed our concern to the Transitional National Council that her security be looked after.

QUESTION: Could the UNHCR, like, offer her sanctuary or anything like that?

MR. TONER: Well, again, UNHCR is the mechanism we’re working with right now, and again, we’re working towards giving – towards getting her to a safe third country.

QUESTION: To whom have you told in the Qatari —

MR. TONER: I don’t have anything beyond that.

QUESTION: To whom have you told in the Qatari Government about your disappointment with her transfer? Because it’s my understanding that they’re not a signatory to any of the conventions on refugees.

MR. TONER: I don’t have exact – I’m sure it was conveyed both at the Embassy of our level – at the level of our Embassy. I’m not sure what – at what level it was conveyed from the Department itself.

QUESTION: But nobody’s been called in for a chat?

MR. TONER: I don’t know, Rosalind.


QUESTION: Did you say anything about Yemen?

MR. TONER: I did say something about Yemen. I just said that, obviously, the situation there is very fluid. We’ve – our Embassy has reached out. We did – well, I don’t need to rehash it, but we’ve seen reports that – through our contacts and also through news reports that President Saleh was not injured in this morning’s attack, but we haven’t been able to confirm that independently.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one on Sri Lanka. The senior defense attaché at the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka went public in the newspapers (inaudible) that he questioned the credibility of surrenders offer made by senior LTTE leaders who was the head of the (inaudible) last year. Does this reflect any change in the U.S. position on the war crime victims?

MR. TONER: Right. You’re talking about remarks that were made at a conference in Colombo?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah.

MR. TONER: Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panelist. My understanding is that the defense attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.

QUESTION: So that was a personal opinion?

MR. TONER: Personal opinion. The United States – and just to reiterate that policy – remains deeply concerned by the allegations in the panel of experts report, and we’re committed to seeing a credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And we believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address these allegations.

QUESTION: Who was the attaché?

MR. TONER: I don’t have his name.

QUESTION: Is he still the attaché? (Laughter.) Was there any discussion —

MR. TONER: I believe he’s still there, but I’ll try to get an update.

QUESTION: One more on Burma. Senator McCain is in Burma these days.

MR. TONER: He is in Burma. I don’t have a lot of details about his trip. I would refer you to his office.

QUESTION: Is he telling anything to the State Department?

MR. TONER: It would be normal. I’m not aware that he talked to us before, but I can imagine he did, but I’m – I would refer you to his office for more details.

QUESTION: Mark, do you have anything more on the Google case? Have you had any more of – have you vetted all of your people and found them clear? And have you had any deep contact with the Chinese about that yet?

MR. TONER: Second question first, we did raise our concerns with the Chinese about the allegations and asked them to take a look into them. And first question —

QUESTION: Have you been through all the of people – I mean, are you now fairly certain that nobody here was —

MR. TONER: That’s what I was going to say – right. First question is we still have no indications that anyone here was targeted.


QUESTION: How would you – how did you raise the issue with the Chinese? Was this here or in Beijing, at what level?

MR. TONER: Again, I’ll just leave it where I said. It was just that we’ve raised our concerns, that we take this issue seriously. I’m not going to get into the details of —

QUESTION: But yesterday you said that you hadn’t made contact because these were allegations only originating somewhere in China, there was no indication that it was state-sponsored.

MR. TONER: Well, no, we said they were serious allegations. I didn’t close the door on raising it with the Chinese, and we did so.

QUESTION: Could you have given some – just to follow on Andy’s question —

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: — I mean, yesterday you seemed to say that there wasn’t – that there needed to be more investigative work done to determine if it was – before you even raised it with the Chinese. Now you have. Is that to say that you find Google’s allegations somewhat credible in that sense?

MR. TONER: I think that it reflects the seriousness of the allegations, and as the Secretary said yesterday, they obviously do raise concern.

QUESTION: But seriousness – no, I mean, does it give credence to the allegations? Do you find them to be credible?

MR. TONER: Again, there’s an ongoing investigation, so I’m not going to attempt to characterize as we move forward, except to say what I just said, which is that we take them seriously and express that concern to the Chinese.

QUESTION: On North Korea —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a few hours ago North Korea issued a strong military threat against South Korea. Actually, the North Korea is shifting back to a provocative act, especially following leader Kim Jong-il’s trip to China and Robert King’s trip to Pyongyang. Do you have any assessment of the situation?

MR. TONER: I’m aware of those reports, and I just would say that it’s obviously not the kind of behavior that we’re looking forward – looking for from North Korea. We’ve said that many times, that we’re looking for a more – we’re looking for North Korea to put its relations with South Korea on a more positive track, and that’s clearly not in keeping with that.

QUESTION: If I could clarify, you said that you had approached the Chinese asking them to look to into it. Was —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was it just looking into it, or was there any sort of complaint that was sent in that?

MR. TONER: I would just say what I – I’d just go back to what I said, which is that we’ve raised our concerns and asked them to look into the allegations.

QUESTION: Mark, this – was this after the Chinese issued a statement that China is not involved, denying the allegations? This was yesterday.

MR. TONER: I believe it was after, if you’re looking for the time order or the tick tock.

QUESTION: So what are your concerns?

MR. TONER: What are our concerns about —

QUESTION: That you raised with the Chinese.

MR. TONER: — the allegations? I’m not going to get into the substance of what our conversation was, other than to say what I just said.

Good? Happy Friday. Have a good weekend everybody.