State Department Briefing by Mark C. Toner, May 24, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–May 24, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • U.S. Calls for President Saleh to Sign the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) Agreement / U.S. Will Continue to Support the Efforts Led by the GCC
    • Syria’s Current Behavior / Syrian Government Needs to Take Steps to Address Aspirations of the Syrian People
    • Meetings Today in Pyongyang / North Korea’s Food Shortages / Human Rights Issues
    • Prime Minister Netanyahu / ’67 Borders Based on Agreed Swaps / U.S. Urges Parties to Get Back to the Negotiating Table
    • David Hale and His Team Remain Engaged / President Obama Outlined Principles That Can Provide the Basis for a Way Forward
    • Assistant Secretary Feltman’s Visit to Benghazi / Schedule of Meetings


10:17 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Hey, folks. I thought since we had the Deputy Secretary up here at such an early hour and given that there’s some other events going on the Hill today, that we’d try to knock out any briefings early in the day and let you guys concentrate on other things. I don’t really have anything to announce at the top, but I’ll certainly answer any questions you might – you guys might have.

Anything? I’ll let you digest the fact sheets. Any questions at all?

QUESTION: Anything new (inaudible) in Yemen? Have you decided —

MR. TONER: Well, obviously we continue to watch the situation closely, Michel. The Secretary was quite clear in her remarks in London yesterday and in her statement issued on Sunday, May 22nd, that really, there’s an opportunity in front of President Saleh and he needs to seize that opportunity. And we continue to support the efforts led by the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and we call on President Saleh to – again, to step-up to do what he’s committed to do and sign the agreement.

QUESTION: The Washington Post reported this morning that the U.S. and other countries were considering withdrawing some aid to Yemen as a result of President Saleh’s refusal to step down, or to sign the deal, at least. Can you say anything about that? Is that under consideration and —

MR. TONER: Well, Kirit —

QUESTION: — how much are we talking about?

MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, I don’t want to get into specifics yet, but I think I said yesterday that there’s a number of options in front of us as the situation continues to fester, and we’re looking at all options. But what’s important, really, now is that President Saleh has an agreement in front of him. He needs to sign it and put Yemen on a positive path so that they can resolve the current situation.

QUESTION: The GCC, it says they were walking away from that deal, it’s no longer on the table. Is it your understanding that it is still on the table?

MR. TONER: Our understanding is that it remains on the table. That he just needs to sign it.

Yeah. Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Syrian foreign minister has said today that Syria will emerge more powerful after the demonstrations. Do you agree on this evaluation?

MR. TONER: I couldn’t disagree more, frankly. The President and others have said that Syria’s current behavior is only going to harden the protestors’ beliefs and desires to see democratic change there, and that the Syrian Government needs to wake up to that reality and needs to take steps to address their aspirations.

Yeah. David, you had a question in the back, you said?

QUESTION: I was wondering if there was any news from the contingent in North Korea.

MR. TONER: Oh, just that they’re in – hold on, let me check. I think they’re in – on the ground. They’ll have meetings in Pyongyang today. And I also believe that the evaluation team will begin its assessment by traveling outside of Pyongyang to different regions. I tried to get a better breakdown on that, but I just don’t have that kind of detailed information. But again, they’ll be carrying out their needs assessment in the next week or so.

QUESTION: And since King is the human rights envoy, is he going to discuss human rights with anybody in North Korea?

MR. TONER: Obviously, the trip is about assessing North Korea’s food shortages and food needs, but those are all issues that he covers in his portfolio, and he will raise human rights issues. As I think I said, he’ll also raise the status of our American citizen who is currently being held in a North Korean jail and reiterate our desire to see him released immediately on humanitarian grounds.

Yeah. Go ahead, Kirit.

QUESTION: Last night, Prime Minister Netanyahu was rather defiant, reiterating again that he didn’t think that the ’67 borders should be the basis for – or the lines, rather, should be the basis for future negotiations. Is that somewhat discouraging, given just a few days after the President announced that policy?

MR. TONER: Again, I’ll let the prime minister reiterate or express his views when he speaks to Congress. But from our side, we’ve been very clear, the President’s been clear, spoken to this, obviously, last week and again on Sunday, that what we talked about, which is ’67 borders based on agreed swaps, is a well-known formula to all who have worked this issue for a generation. We’ve outlined principles that we believe provide a foundation for negotiations to resolve the core issues, and we urge the parties to get back to the negotiating table.

But what’s fundamental here is that – again, that the President – what the President talked about, which is these ’67 borders based on agreed swaps, recognizes the fact that both sides will have to assess the realities of post-’67 situation and take steps accordingly.

QUESTION: But you don’t find —

MR. TONER: But all that needs to be worked out – sorry – within the framework of direct negotiations. That’s what’s important here.

QUESTION: And you don’t find it at all disheartening that the – one of those parties appears to have dismissed this out of hand immediately?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ll let him outline his vision for the way forward. What was important for us is to lay out some principles that we hope will get the sides talking about these core issues, and again, get them back to the negotiating table.

Yeah. Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Are there plans for David Hale to go soon to the region, and what will be the next step?

MR. TONER: No, my understanding is that he’s heading to Europe – to Paris, I believe – on Wednesday, where he’ll meet with the envoys and consult with French and British and Norwegian partners. But he’s not planning to go to the region as part of this specific trip.

QUESTION: What will be the next steps for the Administration?

MR. TONER: Well, again, there’s – this is a constant process, and David Hale and his team remain engaged. As I said, he’s going to Europe, he’s going to consult with the envoys in Paris, and then we’ll assess next steps from there. He remains in contact with both parties. Obviously, there are clear challenges ahead of us, but again, what the President did in his speech last week was to lay out what we believe are some principles that can provide the basis for a way forward.


QUESTION: Just on the Palestinian prime minister having a heart attack, anybody in here been in touch with –

MR. TONER: We have, actually. I believe our consul general in – reached out – in Jerusalem reached out to him and spoke to him yesterday. And I – again, I don’t want to speak for him. I believe he’s doing okay, though, and certainly, our best wishes go out to his well-being.

QUESTION: Any update on Assistant Secretary Feltman’s visit to Benghazi?

MR. TONER: No, I understand he gave a press conference earlier today in Benghazi and he’ll continue to have meetings throughout the day with the Transitional National Council as well as meeting with other members of the opposition there.

Is that it? Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:25 a.m.)