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

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–Novmber 17, 2011. 

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Arab League / Increasing International Pressure / U.S. Wants to See an End to Violence / Russia / Syrian Opposition
    • Country Specific Condemnation at UN / EU and Arab Support
    • Turkey
    • Protests
    • Loya Jirga
    • Nuclear Liability Act
    • Extradition
    • Extradition of Former President
    • ASEAN Chair Rotation
    • Investigation in Technology Used in Telecommunications
  • IRAN
    • IAEA Resolution / Board of Governors
  • OAS
    • Effective Multilateral Organization for the Western Hemisphere / Encourage Full Funding


1:06 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Sorry I’m running just a little bit late today, but happy to answer any questions you might have.

Matt, anything?

QUESTION: You have nothing to say?

MR. TONER: Nothing to say at the top, no.


MR. TONER: Why? Is there something I should be aware of?

QUESTION: No, but – well, yeah, I guess there’s plenty you should be aware of.

MR. TONER: There’s plenty I should be aware of, certainly, but I don’t have anything to offer.

QUESTION: Let’s see if you’re aware of what you should be aware of. (Laughter.) Syria.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: What’s the latest – your understanding of the latest developments there, and what exactly did the Arab League do yesterday, and what do you think of what they did?

MR. TONER: Well, first of all, I would certainly leave it to the Arab League to characterize what it did yesterday. We do welcome the fact that they have taken such a leadership position on the issue of Syria. Really, what we have now is increasing international pressure on Asad and his regime, and now with the Arab League, Syria’s neighbors, who are sending a very clear message to Asad that the violence needs to end.

They have apparently given Asad three days to respond to their peace plan, which includes, as we’ve talked about before, allowing Arab League observers into Syria as well as, I believe, international media, or face economic sanctions. We believe this is – these are appropriate next steps. And it’s very clear that it’s time for Asad to put up or shut up.

QUESTION: You said that you welcome the fact that the Arab League has taken a leadership – such a leadership position. Well, I mean, they haven’t – they didn’t do anything for quite – for many months. The death toll has —

MR. TONER: No, Matt, I’m saying since – obviously, since last weekend they’ve moved quite deliberately and —

QUESTION: They’re taking a page from the Administration; they’re leading from behind, as it were?

MR. TONER: I wouldn’t say they’re leading from behind at all. I think what we’ve seen over the past week has been exemplary.

QUESTION: But you’re not disappointed at all that it took them so long? I mean, you’ve been calling for Asad to step down for many – for quite some time now.

MR. TONER: We’ve talked about this chorus of condemnation that’s been building. Asad has done, unfortunately, a very good job, an effective job, at building that chorus, at isolating Syria from the rest of the world and creating a pariah state. Now the Arab League has turned its back against Syria and we’re seeing the results.

QUESTION: And the last one.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You’re not at all concerned that three days, giving him three days, three more days, is just going to amp up the death toll?

MR. TONER: Well, we certainly want to see an end to the violence, an end to the, as you said, the daily death toll. We have reports overnight, in fact, that at least 22 more civilians were killed by security forces. And every day that goes on, that this goes on, is a day too long. We don’t have a lot of faith that Asad or his regime is going to honor any agreement that requires it to end the violence.

Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: How would you characterize Russia’s role in this sort of international discussion now? You had Lavrov today effectively rejecting any thought that Asad’s stepping down should be a part of the discussion, that he thinks that that’s not the right way to go about things or that that torpedoes the Arab League peace plan, such as it is. Is Russia playing a constructive role here, and how do you think the international response can continue to gain steam if Russia digs in its heels, as it appears to be doing?

MR. TONER: Well, we see this as an evolution of pressure that’s been building against Syria. And we’ve seen, as Matt noted, the Arab League has taken some time to come out on this – on the issue of Syria very forcefully. But now that they have, it’s certainly putting pressure on Asad. Russia has met with opposition members yesterday, I believe in Moscow. We would hope that they would join the growing chorus of condemnation against Asad and realize that there’s no way that Asad can ever stay on as a credible leader of his people after he’s put so many of them to death.

QUESTION: Do you think that the international response can move ahead and tighten sufficiently to get the kind of results you’re looking for in Syria without Russian participation?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re moving in that direction. We’re going to continue to build pressure against Syria. We hope Russia is a part of that process, but we’re certainly moving forward.

Yeah. Christophe and then Jill.

QUESTION: There has been another initiative this morning from Germany, France, and the UK. They would present a resolution to the Human Rights Committee of the General Assembly at the UN. So I’d like to know what do you think of this initiative and whether the U.S. might join.

MR. TONER: Well, the U.S. is, in fact, going to be a co-sponsor of that. And —

QUESTION: Is this the same one we talked about – you talked about yesterday?

MR. TONER: This is actually – this is – as I understand it, this is in the General Assembly and it’s something that’s referred to as a country-specific condemnation. And it’s the first time that such a resolution has been put forward against Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah. There will be a vote on Tuesday, I think.

MR. TONER: Correct. We certainly support it. Obviously, you mentioned there is EU support for it, in fact sponsorship for it. And also I think there’s significant Arab support for it, too. So certainly, we – again, the strategy here, we’ve talked about it a lot. We’re looking at a number of fora, including the UN, where it’s appropriate and where it’s useful, to make statements about Syria.

QUESTION: Is it part of your strategy to try and have Russia and China vote?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: To – is this initiative, is it part of your strategy to put pressure on Russia and China to join for something new at the Security Council?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re going to look at – I believe Ambassador Rice talked about this last night. But we continue to view the Security Council as a possible venue, when it’s appropriate.

QUESTION: So I just want to clear up my confusion here.

MR. TONER: Yeah, that’s okay.

QUESTION: This is something different than the one that you talked about when Samir asked you about yesterday?

MR. TONER: We’re talking about Syria, right? We’re talking about a human rights —

QUESTION: Yeah. In the General Assembly.

MR. TONER: Yeah. In the General Assembly. Yesterday —

QUESTION: That’s what you talked —

MR. TONER: I’m not sure what —

QUESTION: That’s what you were asked about yesterday.

MR. TONER: I’m not sure I remember Samir’s question yesterday. I know we talked about —

QUESTION: Ambassador —

QUESTION: It’s at the Human Rights Committee.

QUESTION: Ambassador Feltman in the Senate last week, he said the U.S. wants to support a resolution in the Third Committee of the General Assembly that the —

MR. TONER: I apologize if I didn’t appropriately answer your question yesterday.

QUESTION: — that the (inaudible) –

MR. TONER: I don’t remember, Samir. So go ahead. I’m sorry. What was your question again?


QUESTION: I’m just wanting to make sure it’s the same thing; it’s not something different.

QUESTION: That’s not my question about this that Christophe is raising now.

MR. TONER: Yeah. I’m talking about that we do support a resolution that’s in the General Assembly right now that would – again, it’s called a country-specific condemnation.

QUESTION: Yeah. That’s what Ambassador Feltman talked about last week in the Senate.

MR. TONER: Well, my apologies if there was any confusion yesterday, Samir.

QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure I knew what you were talking about. That’s all.

MR. TONER: I never want to confuse Samir.

Anyway, go ahead, Jill.

I’m sorry. Were you finished Cristophe?


MR. TONER: Okay. Great.


QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any more clarity about that incident that took place with the armed opposition attacking the intelligence installation? And also there apparently are some reports of more violence, but I just wanted to find out what your clarity is in terms of –

MR. TONER: Your second question was there’s incidents –

QUESTION: Any – some type of armed – I don’t know – violence in the city, especially in the capital. Do you have any more clarity as to what happened, and is that just a one-time thing, do you know? Or have you had any indications that there are other armed uprisings by the opposition?

MR. TONER: Well, much of the information that we’ve gleaned about the attack has been through, obviously, press reporting. The Syrian Government has not been very forthcoming about the details of it. We don’t – as I think I said yesterday, we don’t – certainly don’t have any contact with the Free – the Syrian Free Army, so we don’t have any information from that source. It’s – as I said yesterday, we don’t condone any violence and certainly not on the part of any opposition groups. This is – as he said, it’s not surprising that Asad’s campaign of violence against the Syrian people has led to this, but it’s a very dangerous path.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, anything concrete that you can tell us in terms of whether this was one incident or whether we are looking at the beginning of more armed (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Well, we’re certainly concerned that – as I said, that it’s taking the country down a dangerous path, that we don’t want to see any more violence on the part of the opposition – these opposition groups. I don’t have more details beyond that.

QUESTION: Lavrov said that it was taking on the attributes of a civil war. Do you agree that that’s where they are right now?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to attempt to characterize it or qualify it beyond that. We don’t want to see any further escalation of the violence.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Hold on. Just one more on that. Do you see Lavrov’s comment about civil war as Russian reinforcement or Russian encouragement of Asad’s position?

MR. TONER: It’s not for me to characterize Foreign Minister Lavrov’s words from this podium. Where we’re out on this is that clearly the preponderance of violence that’s been carried out against the Syrian people is on the part of the Asad regime.

QUESTION: So there’s no interest in this building in finding out what Lavrov meant by that?

MR. TONER: Again, I think that there has been a concern expressed around the world at the possibility of an escalation in violence. But again, let’s be very clear that the primary author of the violence in Syria is the Asad regime.

QUESTION: Right. But be that as it may, the foreign minister of Russia has said that this appears to him taking on the aspects of a civil war, which is pretty much the way Asad would like people – the rest of the international community to view it, that he’s –

MR. TONER: We think that’s an incorrect assessment. As we’ve said –

QUESTION: Okay. I thought you said it wasn’t for you to characterize what –

MR. TONER: Well, characterize it as a civil war. We believe –

QUESTION: No. I know.

MR. TONER: — this is very much the Asad regime carrying out a campaign of violence, intimidation and repression against innocent protestors.

QUESTION: So in other words, you completely disagree with what Lavrov had to say?

MR. TONER: We don’t view it as a civil war.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Erdogan today made some very strong statements, and he accused the U.S. not doing enough to save Syrians because there is no oil or energy in Syria like it was in Libya. Have you been able to talk to Turkey what exactly Prime Minister Erdogan or Turkey expects at this moment to do?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve remained in close consultation with Turkey throughout, and Turkey’s become an increasingly vocal opponent to what’s going on in Syria and an increasingly powerful voice among the international community in calling for Asad to end the violence and to allow for a democratic transition to take place. As for possible steps that Turkey may take to increase pressure on Asad, we would certainly welcome those kinds of steps, but it’s really for them to clarify what those might be.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Different topic?

QUESTION: No. Just following up on that one, I mean, it seems as though the Turkish part of the puzzle is key if you’re talking about economic sanctions having any real effect on that. So I mean, is it your expectation or hope that Turkey will sign up with the Arab League if they go through with sanctions and others to impose –

MR. TONER: I think – as I just said, I think we’d welcome any steps that would – as we’ve talked about – that tightens that economic noose around Asad’s regime.

QUESTION: Do you regard the Turkish – any Turkish steps as pivotal in this effort?

MR. TONER: I would say any steps that increase that pressure are constructive to what our goal is.

I’m sorry. Who was next? Samir?

QUESTION: On Kuwait, do you have any update on what’s going on in Kuwait? The opposition are calling for the cabinet to resign and threatening —

MR. TONER: I don’t have a great deal of information for you, Samir. What are you asking about specifically?

QUESTION: The opposition, they are kind of protesting the –

MR. TONER: Right. I’m aware that there is a – there was some kind of antigovernment protest, and they stormed the Kuwaiti parliament.


MR. TONER: Yeah. Okay. Well, I mean, Kuwait’s obviously long been one of the countries in the region distinguished by political freedom and cooperation, and they’ve got a free and competitive legislative elections and an elected, empowered parliament and a vibrant civil society and open press environment. So we would just ask that any protests – any peaceful protests be respected.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Afghanistan Loya Jirga, two – second day of the Loya Jirga was over yesterday, and the spokeswoman of the Loya Jirga has said that U.S. is not very transparent in revealing the details of the Strategic Partnership with Afghanistan. They have not been – the participants of the Loya Jirga have not been given the full draft of the proposed agreement; only some portions of that have been shared. What is your comment on that?

MR. TONER: You said this is a – the Loya Jirga –

QUESTION: Spokeswoman. Yeah.

MR. TONER: Spokeswoman. Well, we’ve said all along that we consider this an important process. It hasn’t finished yet, so we’re going to wait for it to run its course, the Loya Jirga, before we comment on all the specific outcomes of it. But it is a chance for Afghans to use this traditional forum to discuss the future relationship between our two countries. We believe it’s going – the end result is going to be an affirmation of that partnership.

QUESTION: And do you agree with the conditions set by the Afghan president for permanent military bases in Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: I think we talked a little bit about this yesterday. Again, I don’t want to get out ahead. He made some comments in his speech. That doesn’t necessarily represent the outcome of this Loya Jirga. We – I would just say that U.S. and Afghanistan, in terms of bases, that we share the same goals in that specific regard.

QUESTION: And on neighboring Pakistan, do you have any information on the resignation of the Pak ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I would just refer you to the Pakistani Government on that.

QUESTION: Have you – I’m sorry. Just back on –

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Karzai’s comments, have you sought clarification from the Afghan Government about his comments? Have you sought any more details from them on what exactly he means when he talks about these conditions that he’s setting out?

MR. TONER: I don’t know that, as the Loya Jirga takes place, whether we’re having kind of daily feedback or – obviously, our mission is in close contact with the Afghan Government, but I think our position is let this event run its course and then we’ll assess what the outcomes are.

QUESTION: And do you know if the Afghan Government had given you any sort of preview that he was going to be laying out these conditions in the speech?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we all know what the issues at play are. And I think that, as I said, this is an opportunity for Afghans, using this traditional forum, to discuss them in detail. And as I said, let’s wait to see what the final outcomes are tomorrow.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. TONER: In the back. Oh, why don’t you go?

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. TONER: New topic, or do you want to —


MR. TONER: India? Let’s go India, and then —

QUESTION: The – yesterday, the Indian Government notified some new rules under its Nuclear Liability Act, and the U.S. has been keen to get the IAEA to vet that act. So my question is: Do you view these changes as sufficient to allow nuclear companies in the U.S. to proceed with investment, or what more would you like to see?

MR. TONER: I think we’re aware – you’re talking about the implementing regulations that were published in the Gazette of India November 11th, right? I think we’re still in the process of studying the content. And once we’ve reviewed them thoroughly, then we’ll have comment.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: About Portugal.

MR. TONER: Portugal.

QUESTION: The Portuguese court has denied the return of a fugitive, an American fugitive, George Wright, for the killing in 1962. Are you aware of that ruling? And —

MR. TONER: This is an extradition request?


MR. TONER: We don’t normally comment on extradition requests. Let me take the question and see if we have anything, any details to provide. I’m aware of the case, but I’m not aware of this ruling.

QUESTION: Could I just – there’s another —

QUESTION: You did seek to extradite —

MR. TONER: Yeah, Jill. Go ahead. Jill and then back to. Sorry, Jill had —

QUESTION: Sorry. It’s similar —

MR. TONER: If it’s on this. Is it different? Are you —

QUESTION: No, it’s on this.

QUESTION: Oh. Okay, please —

MR. TONER: Go ahead, and then —

QUESTION: This is related.

QUESTION: Well, I was just going to say you may not normally comment on extradition requests, but when you have actively sought the extradition of someone and then that extradition is denied, I would expect that there might be some kind of a reaction.

MR. TONER: I will see. I will —

QUESTION: You actually welcomed the extradition of a man named Viktor Bout from Thailand, so let’s make sure that you have done your due diligence on —

MR. TONER: I appreciate your comprehensive knowledge of what we’ve said publicly on various extradition requests, but let me take the question and see what I can get back for you.

QUESTION: This is another extradition.

MR. TONER: Oh, my goodness.

QUESTION: This time Guatemala.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The Guatemalan president said that he is going to allow the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo on money laundering charges in the U.S. And just wondering whether you have any reaction and when that extradition might take place, if that’s the case.

MR. TONER: Yeah. You’re talking about – I’m sorry, you’re talking about, again, the former president is what you’re —


MR. TONER: Okay. We do have something, but let me get the right information for you. Okay? I’m aware of the – again, I’m aware of the case, but I’ll get – I’ll put something out later today.

QUESTION: And you – really? After just saying that you never comment on extradition requests?

MR. TONER: I said we may have comment on this extradition request. I said that to her as well.

QUESTION: Consistency is the hobgoblin. (Laughter.)


MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The foreign ministers of ASEAN countries today agreed that Burma be given the chairmanship of the group in 2014. What’s your reaction to it? Do you welcome it?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure that they’ve come out publicly and said that.

QUESTION: Yes. It was today.

MR. TONER: But we’ve always stated that the rotation of the ASEAN chairmanship is a decision for the ASEAN members to make. For our part, we’ve urged that ASEAN members consider a chair that can effectively advance the organization’s ideals, including democracy, human rights, regional peace, and stability.

QUESTION: Is that the case with Burma?

MR. TONER: Again, if they’d come out and formally announced it – because my understanding was that they had not, that it had been discussed. Look, we – because, again, my understanding is that they’re still discussing the chair rotation issue. But we have said publicly that while we’re encouraged by some of the signs we’ve seen initially in Burma, we want to see more.

Go ahead, Jill.


QUESTION: Can I just make sure – so, once they – once you’re satisfied that they have come out and publicly made a decision or announced a decision on this, you will have something to say, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing?


QUESTION: Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing?


QUESTION: Mark, there’s a report – in fact, it’s (inaudible) – that Congress is launching an investigation into the – a Chinese company that’s called Huawei Technologies, and it’s concerning this worry by some about technology companies from China posing a national security threat to the United States. Are you aware of that case? Does the —

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the case. Obviously, as you cited, the larger issue that’s raised by these kinds of allegations is something of concern.

QUESTION: They shared a – is it – then you do you share that concern?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about technology used —

QUESTION: It’s technology that is used in telecommunications here in the United States and around the world. And there’s concern on Capitol Hill that if you start getting Chinese technology into the telecommunications system of the United States, then it could be a security threat, it could open up the possibility that they would look at emails and tap phones, whatever.

MR. TONER: Okay. Look, that’s probably more of an issue for USTR, but we can look into it. I don’t know whether we’ll have any comment on it.


QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So your draft resolution of the IAEA is making the rounds. And I’m just wondering – having looked at it, I’m wondering this is the best you could do? It’s – in diplomatic terms, I think it’s kind of – it’s pretty wimpy. It stresses once again its serious concern that Iran continues to defy the requirements —

MR. TONER: Well, Matt, I’m not going to —

QUESTION: — expresses deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues, and that’s it.

MR. TONER: I’m not going to talk about —

QUESTION: What happened to the strong reaction?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to talk about the contents of a resolution that has not yet been formally voted on and passed.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well —

MR. TONER: But we’re – as I said yesterday and continue to say, we’re optimistic that the Board of Governors is going to send a very strong and unified message to Iran that it needs to come clean about its nuclear program.

QUESTION: Do you think what I just read to you is a strong message?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to —

QUESTION: Stressing its serious —

MR. TONER: You’re asking me to —

QUESTION: Oh, come on. I mean, it’s –

MR. TONER: — to discuss the contents of a —

QUESTION: I mean, you think – you’re not even sure this will get through?

MR. TONER: Let’s wait for the resolution to pass —

QUESTION: Okay, so tomorrow, when I ask you, you’ll – if – stressing once again a serious concern that Iran continues to defy requirements and then expresses deep and increasing concern about unresolved issues, you’ll actually have an answer?

MR. TONER: Well, what I can say now is that we’re confident that there’s going to be a strong message coming out of the Board of Governors, and a unified message.

QUESTION: Do you think what I just read to you is – would constitute a strong message?

MR. TONER: Again, I – you’re asking me to comment, so —

QUESTION: No, okay – no, I’m saying – all right, so a resolution that said what I’ve said it said – expressing serious concern and expressing deep and increasing concern – do you think – is that – does that constitute a strong message?

MR. TONER: As we’ve said many times, that the international community – the P-5+1 is increasingly concerned about Iran’s inability to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. The IAEA report put out last week solidified many of those concerns. The Board of Governors is meeting. We believe that it’s going to send a very clear message to Iran that the international community – that the Board of Governors and IAEA are very concerned and asking Iran to address those concerns. We’re also looking and consulting with our partners around the world on ways that we can strengthen the existing sanctions against Iran and take additional measures – additional steps to increase pressure.

QUESTION: But you don’t think – you think that a resolution such as the one that – with – that contains the words that I used —


QUESTION: — and that does not refer anything to the Security Council, is a strong and unified message? You think that that’s going to be enough to get Iran to change its course?

MR. TONER: We believe it’s important to send a very strong and unified message to Iran.

Go ahead, Kirit.

QUESTION: To follow up on that, the Director General of the IAEA has said that he’d like to send a high-level delegation to Iran to investigate further into its nuclear activities. Is that something that you’d support, or —

MR. TONER: My understanding is that there was a letter that was sent from Iran, and that this is an effort by Iran that we’ve seen before to, in the 11th hour, to kind of attempt to derail the Board of Governors meeting. So that’s my understanding of this.

QUESTION: Okay. And what do you think about that, then?

MR. TONER: What I just said. We view it as an eleventh hour attempt to derail the process.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) does that mean you don’t think it should go? Or do you think that it should, or what?

MR. TONER: We think there’s a very clear mechanism in place, and venue in place for Iran to address the international community’s concerns. And they know very well Catherine Ashton’s number and address, and they can contact her if they want to.


MR. TONER: So no.

QUESTION: I want to ask you a question regarding the American Organization of States. In the meeting – the OAS, the American Organization of States – two days ago, in the last extraordinary meeting that they had, they were talking that some of the countries are not paying their quota. And I want to know if the U.S. has any position of this. What’s the position of the OAS? If you’re going to also be pushing other countries over to work more with the U.S. in this process, considering that in the next month there’s going to be also a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, where all the Latin countries are going to have like a new organization called CELAC They seem to be competing against the American Organization of States, but without the U.S. and Canada. Do you have any opinion or any position on this?

MR. TONER: Well, starting with your first question about – your first question was involving payment of —

QUESTION: Quotas in the American Organization of States, some crisis they’re having there, financially.


MR. TONER: Dues, okay.

QUESTION: And also that, do you think there is any link of this situation that may be related to the fact that in the next months there going to be a meeting in Caracas, organized by President Chavez —

MR. TONER: Well, I can’t speak to the meeting in Caracas organized by President Chavez. We continue to believe the organization – the OAS, rather – is an effective multilateral organization for the hemisphere and encourage its full funding.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yep. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)