State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, May 20, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–May 20, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Robert King and USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Jon Brause Travel to North Korea / Assess Food Security Needs / Meet with North Korean Officials
    • Consular Access to U.S. Citizen Eddie Jun
    • Attack on UN Convoy by Southern Forces in Abyei
    • Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell’s Meetings in Indonesia
    • Attack on U.S. Consulate Personnel in Peshawar / No Serious Injuries to U.S. Personnel / Appreciate Support of Pakistani Authorities
    • Secretary Clinton’s Call to Prime Minister Netanyahu Thursday / Discussed the President’s Speech / Visit to the United States
    • No Confirmation on Reports that Qadhafi’s Wife and Daughter Have Fled to Tunisia
    • War Powers Act
    • Secretary Clinton’s Meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian


2:17 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon. I apologize to all for the delay, but I was made aware that some in our press bullpen wanted to watch what was going on at the White House, obviously. So we delayed because of that. But welcome to the State Department. Just a few things briefly at the top, and then I’ll take your questions.

First, we’d like to announce the – that Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights Ambassador Robert King and the USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Jon Brause will travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on May 24th through 28th. Food security experts will accompany Ambassador King as well as the Deputy Assistant Administrator Brause on this trip.

QUESTION: Can you spell that?

MR. TONER: And the delegation – I’m sorry –


MR. TONER: Brause? It’s B-r-a-u-s-e.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry, the dates again?

MR. TONER: The dates are May 24th through 28th.

QUESTION: Where are they going to be? Pyongyang or –

MR. TONER: Well, let me finish.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: Sure. They’ll conduct a field evaluation of food security needs and will also meet with DPRK Government officials. So I think that speaks to your question, Kirit, which is that obviously to conduct a food assessment, they’ll have to travel regionally, but also that they’ll be meeting with officials in Pyongyang as well.

QUESTION: Also I have another question about North Korea.

MR. TONER: I have a few other things, but if you – yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you explain exactly what an assessment entails? I mean, how does this work? What are they looking for?

MR. TONER: Sure. Well, they do do a field assessment. Again, it’s important to note that the last program of food assistance in North Korea was abruptly suspended, I believe in March of 2009. But this evaluation team will obviously build on the work – the assessments built – already performed by the World Food Program as well as other U.S. nongovernmental organizations.

And this is a part of – as I spoke to the other day, this is a part of our process in providing food aid. We need a thorough needs assessment to be first and foremost, and that’s this element of it, and then adequate program management, monitoring, and access to – once the provisions are in place. So this is the first element of it. It doesn’t necessarily say that – it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will provide food assistance, but it’s the first step in evaluating the need.

QUESTION: And is there anything particular you’re looking for from the North Koreans, for them to show you or say to you or –

MR. TONER: Well, obviously –

QUESTION: — allow anything? I mean –

MR. TONER: I think, again, Kirit, I’m not obviously an expert on these issues, but what the assessment team would do would be to go out into the field to look at various aspects to verify what they’ve already seen in the reports, as I said, conducted by the World Food Program and other organizations, and then obviously, to see if there are ways to set up monitoring systems to make sure that it reaches the proper end uses.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I –

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m going to have to ask you to start from the top.

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: I never heard an announcement. I don’t know if there was one, but –

MR. TONER: We did, but –

QUESTION: Something has got to be done about that system because it – we can’t hear it.

MR. TONER: We can go back to the old – we can go back to the old-fashioned –

QUESTION: Did you give dates for this visit?

MR. TONER: Sure. It’s May 24th through 28th.

QUESTION: And all that time, he’s in Pyongyang? Or in North Korea?

MR. TONER: He’s in North Korea for that entire time. And it’s also – the food assessment team may actually stay a little bit longer depending on how long it takes them to conduct their assessment.

QUESTION: Do you know what – how –

QUESTION: Have you –

MR. TONER: And it’s going to be just – sorry, Matt, just to finish. It’s obviously Human Rights Ambassador Robert King as well as USAID’s deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. And his name is Jon – J-o-n, by the way; Brause, B-r-a-u-s-e.

QUESTION: What kind of assurances do you have from the North Koreans that they will have sort of freedom of access when they go outside of Pyongyang –

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — and they’ll actually be able to see what’s really on the ground?

MR. TONER: I mean, that’s obviously a big concern and one of the reasons why we’ve – frankly, we’ve waited this long to get a team in there, because we needed those assurances.

QUESTION: And so how have those assurances been made? I mean, through what channels and how confident are you?

MR. TONER: Well, we don’t normally talk about what channels those are conveyed through, but we are assured that they will have the proper access.

QUESTION: And well, what’s their – how are they coming in and out? Do you know?

MR. TONER: I believe they’re going to Beijing first, but beyond that, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Will Mr. King discuss also the important policies like human rights issues, some other than the food assessment things?

MR. TONER: I think I’d just say that obviously, given his capacity as human rights ambassador, he will raise appropriate human rights issues. And I can also imagine, just to answer your next question, that he’ll raise the issue of our American citizen who is currently held in North Korea.

QUESTION: And do you know if there are any scheduled meetings with senior North Korean officials? Is that on the menu as well?

MR. TONER: He did say that – I did say that he would meet with –

QUESTION: Do you know – can you say –

MR. TONER: I don’t know.


QUESTION: Is he going to seek – sorry. Is he going to seek a consular visit or something like that with your American citizen?

MR. TONER: We’ve had pretty regular consular visits with the American citizen, so I’m unclear whether he’ll actually ask to see him or not. I just don’t have that information for you, Kirit.

QUESTION: And with something like this, when it’s a needs assessment trip, how long – I mean roughly speaking, what would be the timeline for a decision on aid itself?

MR. TONER: Well, they would conduct the assessment, and then there will obviously be a period where we’ll – I don’t have a clear idea of the timeline. But obviously, when the team gets back, then there will be a – they’ll assess what they found and make a decision based on that. We’ll review the team’s findings upon their return. And obviously, part of this involves coordinating with our other partners both in the donor community, but also the Republic of Korea.

QUESTION: Sorry, would this be more like days or more like weeks? Do you have that kind of an idea?

MR. TONER: Again, I’ll try to get a more accurate timeline, but I hesitate to do that. It will take as long as it takes for them to feel comfortable.

QUESTION: It is reported North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is now on a visit China. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. TONER: I don’t, but I did want to just – I mean, I don’t have much comment. But just to answer – I think Kirit was asking about – or somebody was asking back there, maybe, about the visit to the – whether he would ask to visit detained U.S. citizen Eddie Jun. And I just wanted to add that they’ve – the Swedes have already visited him seven times since he’s been held.

On the issue of the North Korean officials traveling to Beijing, I just would refer you to the Chinese Government for details. We don’t have any confirmation.

QUESTION: Do you know the —

QUESTION: And what do you think the odds are of getting any information from Chinese officials about this visit?

MR. TONER: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So basically —

MR. TONER: I can’t begin to predict.

QUESTION: Then why – (laughter) – why even bother referring us to Chinese officials when you know that they —

MR. TONER: We have no information.

QUESTION: Sorry, just a point of clarification —

MR. TONER: But you – given your – I don’t want to squelch your journalistic desire to find information.

QUESTION: So King himself will be part of the needs assessment team but then they may stay on later —

MR. TONER: Correct, that’s right. That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: — so that he’ll be part of that process?

MR. TONER: Right, that’s my understanding.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know – I mean, I’m sure it’s in everybody’s memory bank somewhere, but when the last sort of sitting officials visited on a trip like this?

MR. TONER: It was – on this kind of trip? I mean, Bosworth, I believe, was the last – I don’t know why I’m looking – (laughter) – but the institutional knowledge in the briefing room – Bosworth was, I believe, the last visit, and I want to say it was more than a year ago (inaudible) that precise date.



MR. TONER: I’ll get that for you.

QUESTION: Forgive me for being kind of somewhat ignorant about Ambassador King’s background. What kind of qualifications does he have in terms of assessing the food need situation?

MR. TONER: Well, again, he’s traveling with a team of food assessors, but that actually – food assessors – USAID experts —

QUESTION: Understood, but what – but he’s leading the —

MR. TONER: — people who can assess the actual needs. But this —

QUESTION: He’s leading a delegation and presumably he would have —

MR. TONER: But this —

QUESTION: — some kind of expertise in that area if he was doing it.

MR. TONER: But this actual issue falls under his dossier, if you will.

QUESTION: And the North Koreans are okay with – they’ve given him a visa, in other words, secure —

MR. TONER: They understand that this —

QUESTION: And they understand that he’s going to be raising human rights issues as well, and that that is his prime portfolio in —

MR. TONER: Well, again, his portfolio is human rights issues, but humanitarian assistance does fall under his portfolio. I think that’s better than dossier.

QUESTION: But – okay, but his background – does he have any background in those kind of —

MR. TONER: I don’t have his CV in front of me, but again, he covers these issues, humanitarian assistance, and – insofar as that when covers them, I’m sure he has developed an expertise.

QUESTION: Was this —

MR. TONER: I have more stuff to go at the top, but we’ll finish with this —

QUESTION: Just one more – last one on this. Was this potential trip – was this sort of cleared by, run past the South Koreans on Bosworth – was that what happened there, is that he —

MR. TONER: That was an element of Bosworth’s trip, to consult on this, but – yes.


QUESTION: Have you ever shared with the Chinese Government the – Kim Jong-il’s visit to China?

MR. TONER: Did we ever?

QUESTION: Do you – have you ever shared with —

MR. TONER: Oh, sure. We consult closely —

QUESTION: Information —

MR. TONER: Obviously, one of our partners in the Six Party, but we haven’t reached out to them on this. We have no confirmation of that visit.

Just let me continue here. I wanted to speak on attacks on UN forces in Abyei. The United States deplores the reported attack yesterday of southern forces on a UN convoy that was transporting a company of Sudanese armed forces joint integrated units in Abyei, an attack that is in direct violation of the recent agreement to remove all unauthorized forces from Abyei. We urge the Government of Southern Sudan to account for this attack, take steps to demonstrate its commitment, to implement the Kadugli agreements, and ensure that its forces demonstrate restraint. At the same time, we’re deeply concerned by reports of retaliatory actions by the Sudanese armed forces, including reports of bombing two villages, and call upon the Sudanese Government and its forces to refrain from any other offensive actions. We call upon both sides to stop all military actions in Abyei and proceed to implementing the Kadugli agreement for the withdrawal of all unauthorized forces in Abyei. Political leaders on both sides must take responsibility now to ensure this situation does not escalate into wider crisis.

And then also, following up on Assistant Secretary Campbell’s trip to the region, he did meet in Indonesia with Foreign Minister Natalegawa as well as the Director General for American and European Affairs Retno Marsudi at the ministry of foreign affairs. He also met with ASEAN permanent representatives and members of the American Chamber of Commerce. They discussed advances in bilateral relations as well as regional topics of mutual interest. They also talked about progress under the U.S.-Indonesia comprehensive partnership and cooperation within regional institutions such as the East Asia Summit. They also discussed preparations for the 24th ASEAN-U.S. dialogue, which is going to be hosted in Washington next week.

That’s all. So any other —

QUESTION: Do you have any update on what happened in Pakistan with the convoy?

MR. TONER: I do. I’m not sure what information everyone has already, but there was an attack on U.S. consulate personnel in Peshawar earlier today that appeared to be caused by an improvised explosive device. It’s unclear whether that was a vehicle-borne or stationary. No U.S. personnel were seriously injured in the attack, and we certainly appreciate the support of Pakistani authorities who responded immediately and are investigating the attack. Obviously, our Diplomatic Security agents are helping in that investigation, and our thoughts are with all the innocent people who were injured in the attack.

QUESTION: (inaudible), — following the bin Ladin raid, that the consulate and all the other diplomatic facilities in Pakistan had increased their security. Can you say if that facility was still at heightened security?

MR. TONER: I can’t say for certain, but you’re correct in that most are in a heightened security posture. I know they convened an emergency action committee following the attack and have adjusted their security posture accordingly. I mean, they’re closed for business, obviously, now. It’s nighttime. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, because it’s night, not because of the attack.

MR. TONER: Correct. That’s correct. Sorry, Matt.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Different issue. There was an account in The New York Times today about the phone call that Secretary Clinton placed to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday before the —

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — President’s speech which described a rather tense conversation. Do you have any readout of that conversation and how that played out?

MR. TONER: Well, I can confirm, as we do, that she did speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu before his trip. Obviously, we don’t get into substance, but clearly, they discussed the President’s speech and his upcoming visit, which is now actually in process, in train. I’d just say it was a frank and cordial exchange reflecting their close relationship.


QUESTION: If you don’t want to get into the substance, do you want to get into the tenor of the conversation?

MR. TONER: I did.


MR. TONER: I just said it was a frank and cordial exchange.

QUESTION: Would you dispute the account that was from the paper?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into what press accounts may have been. They talked. They discussed – as I said, they discussed the speech and his upcoming visit.

QUESTION: Because you said it was cordial, and that’s not the report —

QUESTION: Would you be comfortable saying that it was frank and cordial, specifically cordial, if you were under oath?

MR. TONER: Wait. What, Matt?

QUESTION: If you were under oath in a court of law, would you be comfortable describing this conversation as both frank and cordial?

MR. TONER: I feel I am under oath when I’m up here at the podium, thank you.

QUESTION: You do? So you’re going to say you —

MR. TONER: And I conduct myself accordingly.

QUESTION: So you’re going to stick with —

MR. TONER: And I conduct myself accordingly.

QUESTION: And you’ll stick with cordial?


QUESTION: Can you tell us who initiated that call? Did the Secretary place the call?

MR. TONER: I believe it was the Secretary who placed the call, although – do we have confirmation? I can find out.

QUESTION: And any sense on how long it was?


QUESTION: Was that call specifically to inform the prime minister about the expected change or the planned change in policy regarding ’67 lines?

MR. TONER: Again, it was an opportunity before he boarded a plane to come here to talk about his visit and the speech.

QUESTION: But was that where she first disclosed that to him?

MR. TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that?

MR. TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know if she did, before or after the speech, reach out to President Abbas – or anybody else in the Administration?

MR. TONER: Not – no, she didn’t speak to President Abbas, no.



QUESTION: Has any – or any other Palestinian official, any official other than the Secretary? I mean, I’m trying to get a sense if there was any contact with the Palestinians since – or before the speech.

MR. TONER: No, she – no, no, there’s no – she didn’t contact the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary has any plans over the weekend to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu? He’s around, but – before the speech?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t. I’ll try to find out more.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Sorry —

QUESTION: I’ve got a couple more here, hold on.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday in her interview with CBS, the Secretary said that Colonel Qadhafi’s wife and daughter had left for Tunisia. There had been some press accounts about that in the days before, but the interior minister had shot them down. Do you – was she speaking about press reports or was she speaking about —

MR. TONER: She – yes, her comments reflected the news reports that we’ve all seen that they’ve – that they had fled, as well as the oil minister had fled to Tunisia.

QUESTION: And you have no confirmation of those at this point?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, they’re difficult to confirm. This is a situation in which these individuals may not want to publicize their actions given the possible threat to others that they leave behind, so —


MR. TONER: But we have no confirmation.

QUESTION: And then my last one would be on today being the 60-day mark for the War Powers Act. I was curious if – last week on the Hill, Deputy Secretary Steinberg promised that there would be some – that they would take under advisement – or I can’t remember what exactly he said, but I was curious if there was any follow-up given that today is the deadline.

MR. TONER: Well, I know that the White House is working this issue. I’d refer you to them. But if Deputy Steinberg said that they would be working to conform with the War Powers Act, then would do so.

Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian and Madam Secretary’s meeting, there were no public statements. Do you have anything on that?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I mean, I know it was, obviously, a cordial meeting. It was a chance to review bilateral and regional issues and talk about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as, obviously, rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. But I’ll try to get more of a readout for you.


MR. TONER: Yeah, Sean. In the back. Sorry.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I came late. I don’t know if you already got into details about the food aid.


QUESTION: All right.

MR. TONER: Excruciating detail.


MR. TONER: But yeah, we can talk offline.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)