State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, March 17, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 17, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • U.S. Disturbed by Naming of Town Square in West Bank after Dalal Mughrabi
    • U.S. Wants to See Both Parties Return to Negotiations
    • Negotiations ongoing in New York/ Vote Scheduled for this Evening/ Aware it is an Urgent Situation on the Ground/Apply Pressure on Qadhafi and Associates to Step Down/Stop Violence Against Libya Civilians
    • WikiLeaks/U.S. Does Not Comment on Allegedly Classified Documents
    • Looking for Concrete Actions on the Part of North Korea/Show Behavior Has Changed/Six Party Members
    • Freedom of Expression/Access to Information/U.S. Communicates with Azerbaijani Government
    • U.S. Has Communicated to the GCC our Concerns
    • Bilateral Discussions/Ray Davis
    • No Plans to Move the U.S. Embassy from Tokyo/Close Contact with Japanese Authorities
    • President Calderon/U.S. Ambassador to Mexico/Bilateral Relationship Important


2:13 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Quickly at the top, first a quick shout out to a group of New York-based Italian media who have filled up the briefing room and startled me when I walked out here. But anyway, welcome and thanks for coming down and thanks for being with us today.

One thing briefly at the top and then we’ll get to your questions. We are disturbed by reports that a town square in the West Bank has been renamed in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, who was a terrorist responsible for an attack that killed 35 Israelis in 1978. We condemn this commemoration of terrorism and have conveyed our deep concern about this incident to senior officials in the Palestinian Authority and have urged them to address it. We underscore that all parties have an obligation to end any form of incitement.

That’s all I have for the top, so – take your questions.

QUESTION: One on the area: What’s your reaction to Abbas’ initiative to reconcile with Hamas and form a new unity government?

MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t seen those reports yet, but again, our approach is quite clear. Our goal remains trying to get both parties – both the Palestinians and the Israelis – back to the negotiating table. And so the – and by saying that, what I mean is the ultimate goal there is comprehensive peace. And so our efforts remain getting them back to the negotiating table so they can reach that comprehensive peace. But in speaking to – I haven’t seen those reports yet, so I don’t have any reaction yet.

QUESTION: Would a Hamas-Fatah – Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity government advance that goal or would it hinder that?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to comment on something I haven’t seen yet, either in press reports or in any form whatsoever. Obviously, our – what we’ve said publicly is that – and in fact just reiterated is we want to see both parties take steps that advance direct negotiations and advance steps to get back into direct negotiations and avoid incitement or provocation or anything on either side.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: With the UN considering the resolution we’re expecting about this afternoon on Libya, and Qadhafi’s so close to Benghazi right now, even if that resolution were to pass in hours from now, is time not running out for the international community to do anything to stop what’s happening and what could happen in Benghazi?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a good question, and we’re acutely aware. I think the Secretary spoke to the urgency of the situation yesterday. And you’re right; there is negotiations ongoing right now at New York – in New York, rather – and I believe there is even a vote scheduled at – for 6 p.m. Is that right, Julie? That’s what we’ve heard. But we’re very much aware that it’s an urgent situation on the ground. And one of the reasons they’re working so diligently in New York is to look at not just things we’ve had discussed, no-fly zone and et cetera, but other steps that will help alleviate our two fundamental goals, which are to apply pressure so that Qadhafi and his colleagues, his counterparts, his associates step down and out of power, and then also that we, in some way, stop the violence against Libyan civilians.

QUESTION: But with things so close, I mean, that his troops are so close to Benghazi, and the Administration has said it’s concerned with what might happen next – what really can be done to stop it?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to prejudge what or any way preview what might come out of New York later today, but they’re all very much aware of the situation on the ground. And obviously, when they look at the draft resolution, they’re doing so with the situation on the ground in mind. So we’re looking at a number of options, and what we’re trying to do is work in a consensus with the international community in order to find a way forward.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: India and WikiLeaks.

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Apparently, well, the Indian media is in an uproar over a WikiLeaks cable from July 2008 in which it details that a U.S. diplomat was aware of alleged bribery operations ahead of a key confidence vote in the Indian parliament. Does the U.S. condone such open corruption in other governments?

MR. TONER: Okay, specifically about WikiLeaks —


MR. TONER: Our policy throughout has been not to comment on the substance of allegedly classified material. And —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) classified (inaudible) leaked?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s allegedly classified. We don’t – we’re not – I’m not going to say it’s classified or not. But it certainly – if it is classified, we wouldn’t speak about it, and we’re not going to speak about it in any way, shape, or form.

To your broader question about corruption in government, of course the United States is always for greater transparency in governments throughout the world because transparency in governments leads to better political systems that are able to help the people that they represent. So, I mean, more broadly, we deal with corruption issues throughout – in many countries throughout the world. And that’s an important part of our assistance efforts to many countries in the world. But specifically, what pertains to India, I really can’t speak to that.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark do you have any comment on North Korea’s proposal to discuss this uranium enrichment program at Six-Party Talks, not at the UN Security Council?

MR. TONER: That’s from several days ago, the story?

QUESTION: Yeah, you are right.

MR. TONER: Right. Nothing beyond saying that we’ve been clear that we want to see North Korea take concrete steps, including denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and living up to its commitments to do so, and also to work – to take active steps to improve bilateral relationship with South Korea. All those are important steps that we want to see North Korea take. We don’t want to have talks, as we’ve said many times, just for talks’ sake. We want to have a concrete path before us where we can actually make progress. And before we get there, we feel there’s things that North Korea has to do.

Go ahead. Yeah, you.


MR. TONER: Then Sean.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Toner, recently, opposition people were arrested in Azerbaijan, and also the government limited the access to the Facebook. And so the reason for this was that lots of analysts think also in the U.S. that Azerbaijan can become a new Bahrain or a new Libya. I mean, in fact, there already arrest of opposition people, and the Facebook, as I said, is restricted because it’s treated as to – that may facilitate the unrest as it happened in Egypt. I was wondering if State Department is following these —

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of these recent reports, but I know we’ve spoken to the need for freedom of expression and the protection of freedom of expression, access to information in Azerbaijan. It’s important. Again, these speak to the broader issues, these universal rights that people have, including access to information that we certainly support.

QUESTION: You communicate with the Azerbaijani Government about this?

MR. TONER: We certainly do. I don’t know if we’ve spoken to them about this. I would imagine we have.

Go ahead. Oh, I’m sorry, Sean.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton – sorry.

MR. TONER: You and then Sean. I apologize.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said that four GCC countries are in Bahrain currently. Can you – do you know which four, I mean, apart from Saudi?

MR. TONER: I don’t know the other three, but we’ve been in – I don’t have an answer for you. But we’ve been quite clear in communicating to the GCC our concerns and our belief that there’s no security solution to what’s going on in Bahrain right now. They need a political dialogue. But I don’t have the other three. I can certainly check. I’m sorry, did she list them or –

QUESTION: She just said four in an interview. She said four countries were there. It wasn’t clear, either, if they were – if they had deployed troops or not.

MR. TONER: I mean, I would just refer you to the GCC. I mean, I know that they are there in a mutual assistance agreement, but I don’t have any details of the other countries.

Sean, yeah, sorry.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the North Korea question. Are you – at least would you be able to say that you’re encouraged by these comments because – I mean, there haven’t been any provocations recently, and the Koreas have been talking on an on-and-off basis. I mean, saying that they’re willing to sit down and talk about their nuclear program, I mean, that’s a good, positive development. Is it not?

MR. TONER: Following on the steps of some pretty belligerent behavior over the past year or so, so there are steps; we encourage more steps. We want to see an improvement in the dialogue between South Korea and North Korea. And then as we move forward, we can begin to address other issues. But I think there are – as I said before, there’s – we’re still looking for concrete actions on the part of North Korea that they can take to basically address their previous behavior and show that their behavior has changed.

QUESTION: On North Korea —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: There was a G-8 foreign ministers meeting a couple of days ago.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And we had a chairman’s summary which also includes North Korea issue also. And obviously, Russia agreed on the document – the wording on the UEP issue. And I was wondering how much significance the State Department put on the fact that Russia agreed on the specific wording on North Korean-UAP – UEP issues.

MR. TONER: Well, again, we work constructively with Russia and all the Six-Party members. There is – there are obviously strong international concerns about the uranium enrichment program in North Korea. And we will continue to work that dialogue.

Yeah, go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Yes, Secretary Clinton and President Obama have both stated that Qadhafi has to go, going back to the question of Libya and the resolution. In not uncertain terms, is that still the position that Qadhafi has to go today in –


QUESTION: — waiting for this resolution?


QUESTION: And how is America going to back up that statement?

MR. TONER: How is America going to back up?


MR. TONER: Oh, okay. I didn’t hear it. Well, as I said, we’re – this is not about America versus Libya. This is about the international community looking at what is happening, transpiring in Libya right now, and frankly, being appalled by what’s going on there, and recognizing that Qadhafi and his associates have lost all legitimacy to govern and demanding that they step down. This is not a U.S. opinion/position. This is an international position against Libya.

Yeah, go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Just about Pakistan.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Have there been any conversations today regarding this drone strike?

MR. TONER: We don’t discuss drones, any of that, but —

QUESTION: No, I mean between you and the Pakistanis.

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that it’s come up in our bilateral discussions. I’ve seen press reports. But as a matter, we don’t – as a rule here, we don’t talk about that.

QUESTION: I know that you’re probably going to say this is a CIA issue, but do you know if Ray Davis is back in the U.S. yet?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I said yesterday he’s out of –

QUESTION: He is out of Pakistan, yeah.

MR. TONER: – he’s out of Pakistan, obviously. And he was put in the care of an American health practitioner immediately after his release, and seemed in good spirits and good condition. He’ll undergo further medical testing, but I don’t know if he’s back in the U.S. or not.

QUESTION: On Japan again?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: In case of a sudden urgency, does the U.S. have – willing to move U.S. Embassy from Tokyo to another location?

MR. TONER: Trying to – a second bite at that apple. There’s no plans to move the Embassy. There’s no consideration of moving the Embassy in – from Tokyo.

Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Is there any sense within the Administration that Japan asked for help too late in containing this nuclear situation, that had anything been done earlier as the United States initially offered to, it would have –

MR. TONER: Right, right. I’m aware. We’ve been in good, close contact with the Japanese authorities throughout this crisis. It is – it’s really an unprecedented series of events that led us to where we’re at today. With the earthquake – 8.9 magnitude earthquake – followed by a tsunami, and now the nuclear crisis, any government would be hard pressed to deal with these kinds of circumstances.

But, throughout, we felt that the communications have been good. And as I said, information is always a struggle – good information, solid information, reliable information is always a struggle to get in any of these kinds of fluid situations. But I wouldn’t say there’s a feeling that the Japanese moved too slow. I wouldn’t say that at all. And we’ve been quite forthcoming, as you said, in offering our assistance, so —

QUESTION: Why would – why did they deny assistance in the first place?

MR. TONER: I don’t know that we – they ever denied. We’ve sent experts who have been helping them as they dealt with the – are you referring – I’m not sure what incidents you’re referring to where they didn’t – they —

QUESTION: Yes, I think right when the earthquake took place, the – Hillary Clinton said they were going to send some –

MR. TONER: Yeah, my understanding was – though, was that the Japanese felt that they had the situation under control. And I think at the time, that was true. So, it just – again, it’s a series of events that have unfolded that have led us to where we’re at today, but I don’t think there’s a sense that they reacted too slowly or anything like that.

Yeah, Charley, what’s up?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Please, any comment on the worsening rift, the public rift between the president of Mexico and the U.S. Ambassador?

MR. TONER: Nothing beyond – I mean, I know this was addressed from the podium a couple weeks ago when the Mexican president was here, President Calderon. We believe our Ambassador and our mission to Mexico have done and are doing stellar work. The U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship is probably the – one of the most important in our foreign relations. They are a close neighbor. And we share a lot of issues, among which are concerns about security within Mexico and how that affects us, and also our shared responsibility to Mexico to address that. But our Embassy in Mexico is, we believe, doing a great job advancing that bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: But because of this personal rift, does there come a point when a change has to be contemplated?

MR. TONER: Not at this moment. As I said, we have full confidence in our Ambassador.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Next week is the first anniversary of the Cheonan sinking. And so do you have any comment on that? Because some people still don’t believe the criminal is North Korea or —

MR. TONER: At the time, there was a very solid investigation that took place and a report was done that found North Korea culpable. We supported the findings of that report and that investigation. It was a terrible tragedy. Our sympathy goes out to the Korean people. And, again, it was just – as Sean was asking me, it’s another sign of the belligerent behavior that we want to see addressed by North Korea.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)