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

Wshington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 17, 2011.  

Index for Today’s Briefing
  • IRAQ
    • Troop Presence / Building a Comprehensive Partnership / Strategic Framework Agreement
  • IRAN
    • Terrorist Plot / Briefing Teams / Turkish Government / Violation of International Law / Iranian Response / Vienna Convention on Consular Relations / Swiss and Pakistan Protecting Powers
    • Fuel Swap / Nuclear Ambitions / P5+1 / IAEA
    • Reports of Bilateral Talks
    • Afghanistan-India Relationship / Working Together Productively / Economic Potential of the Region
    • Ambassador Grossman’s Trip / Shared Challenges / Continue to Pursue Interests / Strengthening Pakistani Democracy
    • Quartet Statement / October 26th Meeting in Jerusalem / Making Progress / Timetable / Meeting between Abbas and David Hale / Moving toward Direct Negotiations
    • Syrian Government’s Actions / Threat to Region / Refugees / Ambassador Ford’s Perspective / Democratic Change / Arab League Role
    • Syrian Americans / Actions of Syrian Diplomats in the United States
    • Human Rights Obligations / Reconciliation
    • Opposition Forces / Progress / Qadhafi’s Whereabouts
    • Experience America Trip


1:15 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Sorry, I had to shed my Blackberry. I don’t want it to go off. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything for the top, so I’ll take your questions.

Brad. Arshad. I’m not sure how this works, frankly.

QUESTION: I have a question about Iraq, firstly. There’s been some talk that plans to have U.S. troops beyond this year’s deadline have been dropped. Are you in a position to confirm that to say what the long-term plans are now?

MR. TONER: Brad, I just would say that despite some of the reports that you may have seen over the weekend that no final decisions have been made. We’ve repeatedly said that and made it clear that we’re committed to keeping our agreement with the Iraqi Government to remove all troops by the end of this year while, at the same time, we’re going to strive to build a comprehensive partnership with Iraq under the strategic framework agreement, and that includes a security relationship. And I would just say that discussions with Iraqis about the nature of that relationship are ongoing.

QUESTION: Well, what are you talking about specifically? Is the issue of immunity for American personnel still a stumbling block?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the substance of these discussions. But certainly we’re always going to ensure that we have appropriate protections for our people.

QUESTION: And where are these discussions right now, at what level, and when was the last time these issues were negotiated or were discussed?

MR. TONER: Well, I think they’re ongoing. As I said, these are discussions that we’ve been having, continue to have. No final decisions have been made. And they’re going at, I would say, multiple levels but certainly bilaterally on the ground in Baghdad.

QUESTION: And just lastly, sorry —

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: When do you hope to make a final decision?

MR. TONER: Nothing to announce. When we get there, we’ll let you know.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What is your – I mean, I assume that you’re proceeding now, given that there’s only two and a half months left, on the basis that all U.S. troops other than a handful or a couple of hundred that may be attached to the Embassy will be gone by the end of the year. What is your sort of drop dead date for maintaining an additional presence? And can you decide that on a dime? Can you decide that on New Year’s Eve, that you want to keep several thousand additional troops and make that happen or do you have to have resolved this significantly earlier than that?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a fair question. You’re saying that – do we have to – for planning purposes have to have made this decision, in a sense, somewhat removed from the actual deadline date? That’s probably a better question for the Department of Defense.

But certainly this is something we’re pursuing actively, we’re discussing with our Iraqi counterparts. It’s not a decision clearly that we’re going to make unilaterally or we can make unilaterally. Iraq’s our partner in this and they’re having a democratic process at play, they’re discussing the issue actively, and we continue to negotiate based on that. But in terms of the logistics, your question I think it’d be better posed to the Pentagon.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I had a question just about immunity. What sort of protection would remain for those, like contractors working for, like, the State Department, for example, and staying in Iraq after 2011 if there is not an agreement reached? Or would they be covered under a separate —

MR. TONER: I think they’re covered under the missions but that’s a fair question. I’ll actually take that question and get back to you because I want to get you a very detailed answer.

Go ahead, Ilhan.

QUESTION: Other subject. Iran.

MR. TONER: Good? Iran you said. Unless we’re good? Okay.

QUESTION: My first question is: You sent few special diplomat teams to several capitals. What have you seen as a results, how the governments that received debriefed so far reacted? Have you received any kind of reaction to this assassination plot?

MR. TONER: Well, Ilhan, as you mentioned, we have sent some teams out to capitals. We’ve also, on a purely – on our missions in many of these countries have been talking to host governments as well about this. So it’s been a mixture. And then of course at a higher level, certainly the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary have made a series of calls, as I believe has the President, to some allies – key allies and partners to talk about this issue.

We’re still in that stage where we’re having these discussions. I think the President and others have said it’s really important that we hold Iran accountable and we’re going to continue as we move forward to discuss ways to do that.

QUESTION: Turkey, also one of these countries who received the team, after two days, Foreign Minister Davutoglu just yesterday stated that it’s too early to react. Didn’t Ankara or other capitals receive the full briefs and proofs? Why do you think this hesitation on the —

MR. TONER: You’re asking me to give a readout of the Turkish Government’s reaction. That’s something for the Turkish Government to do. But we have been discussing with them. I’m not sure, frankly, what the time frame was, whether they’ve been there and come back already, and I think that’s the case.

But certainly we, moving forward, are going to continue to have these conversations. As I said, we believe it’s very important that for this egregious violation of international law that Iran be held accountable. So we’re going to be working with our allies and partners in ways to both strengthen existing sanctions and also possibly take new steps.

QUESTION: My last question: We have not seen any kind of reaction actually across globe and very little maybe given your accusations are very heavy, very serious accusations. Just one would think that could be more reaction, more condemnation from world. Why do you think is hesitation?

MR. TONER: Well, I think they are very serious allegations. We have – you’ve seen various reports saying that initially they seemed extraordinary even to our law enforcement agencies as they followed up on these, and then they were subsequently substantiated by facts. And so it is an alarming plot that’s come to the surface here so I think governments are rightly trying to digest the enormity of it.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, Iran’s foreign ministry says that it has sent a note for the U.S. via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran saying that they are interested in reviewing the documents and that they would like to see any evidence you might have in this respect. Have you – has the State Department received any such note?

MR. TONER: You know what, I don’t know that we’ve received physically a note like this. I just – we – as Toria said last week, we have approached the Iranians on the matter directly and didn’t receive a very constructive response. You probably saw that the Iranians came out and denied ever having been contacted by us in the press.

The charges in this case are already public, including the one defendant who is an active official of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and he is still at large. And according to the International Convention on Protected Persons, Iran’s Government has a choice to – either to extradite this person, this individual, or submit the case for prosecution on its own. So we leave it to them to take action.

QUESTION: Well, eventually you are going to receive the note. Would you be willing to share the evidence?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’ve been in touch with the Iranians on this. We haven’t received a constructive response. We’ll wait and see – wait until we physically see this note then to make a decision about further.

QUESTION: In theory, you would have to present some detailed evidence in order to secure either an extradition or a prosecution, is that right? It wouldn’t just go simply on the goodwill of, we think he’s bad, you’d have to present evidence to the —

MR. TONER: Again, we’ve already engaged with the Iranians on this matter. It was not a positive response, so we’ll wait and see – until we see the note.

QUESTION: Okay. For an extradition to occur you don’t – it’s not a verbal request. You have to hand in a written extradition file, or to have a government prosecute somebody you have to designate a case for it.

MR. TONER: Correct. And I’m not sure exactly of the legal process involved but we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: Mark, one more on another line.

MR. TONER: Yeah, let’s finish with you then (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yeah. They’ve also requested consular access to the suspect being held in New York.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Have you received that? And what is your response to that?

MR. TONER: Well, in terms of consular access under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, it doesn’t apply necessarily to dual national citizens, and this individual in this case also holds both Iranian and U.S. citizenship. That said, when an individual possessing U.S. citizenship and that of another country is arrested or detained in the U.S., the State Department has long urged responsible authorities to permit, at their decision, visits by consular officers of the other country or nationality, in this case Iran. So we would obviously lobby for that or talk to local authorities to encourage them to allow those visits.

QUESTION: A couple more questions on Iran —

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: — but not this subject. Today, they also announced that they were going to start manufacturing fuel rods. Is the nuclear fuel swap out of the question now?

MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary spoke to this a little bit last week. There was the talk about this fuel swap. Ahmadinejad raised it when he was in New York. High Representative Ashton came back and said, “Sure, come at us with a serious offer. You know our address, you know where to find us.” And up until now, we’ve heard nothing formal through these channels from the Iranians. So we really don’t know what the status is.

QUESTION: Is that another violation of the sanctions, resolutions, et cetera?

MR. TONER: The fuel rods?

QUESTION: Fuel rod manufacturing.

MR. TONER: I’d have to look into it. I’m not sure. But I mean, certainly it just speaks to the ongoing tendency for Iran to flagrantly disregard international regulations involving nuclear ambitions and nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: If they do respond to the P-5+1 note or request for a meeting on the nuclear issue, given the other case of the alleged plot, would the U.S. be willing to sit down and talk?

MR. TONER: You’re saying would we —

QUESTION: On the nuclear issue.

MR. TONER: — willing to just talk on the nuclear issue? Again, we have a mechanism in place, the P-5+1, to address these issues. We’ve said all along that that door remains open. But we’re not going to talk for talk’s sake. We want to see a serious offer on the table.

QUESTION: One last one.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the human rights aspects.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’ve seen the report released by the special rapporteur on Iran.

MR. TONER: My understanding is that that is a leaked report. So we’ll wait until that’s officially published before we react, just on principle. Thanks. I think it’s later this week.

In the back, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry for being late.

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Could we revisit Iraq for a second?

MR. TONER: I can barely see you back there.

QUESTION: I know. I’m afraid that tiles may fall on my head according to the sign.

MR. TONER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: Anyway, to revisit Iraq for a minute.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Could you confirm that there are no negotiations ongoing between the ministry of defense and the Pentagon to have a special arrangement for the continuation of troops in Iraq?

MR. TONER: I’m going to have to send you to the Pentagon for that discussion. I’m not clear whether you’re talking about links for a – about the nature of the relationship after January 1st, or you’re talking about a specific —

QUESTION: Right. After – for the extension of troops after January 1st. As you are aware, there are – I’m sure you have discussed this – they have refused to extend immunity for any troops remaining after January 1.

MR. TONER: Right. Right. We did talk about this.

QUESTION: But I’m told by some Iraqi officials that there are ongoing discussions, ongoing discussions between the ministry of defense and the Pentagon to have special arrangements, because there is apparently – the panic button has been pushed in Iraq.

MR. TONER: All I’ll just say is what I said before, which is that we are – despite some of the reports from this weekend, there has been no final decision. We are obviously going to keep – we remain committed to keeping our agreement with the Iraqi Government to remove all of our troops by the end of the year. But as to what our future security arrangement may look like, those discussions are still ongoing.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. TONER: North Korea and then —

QUESTION: Last week, Secretary Clinton has mentioned about U.S. will hold bilateral talks with North Korea within a couple weeks. Do you —

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You said Secretary Clinton?


MR. TONER: — mentioned that we would be holding —

QUESTION: Mentioned that about bilateral talks with the North Korean —

MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to announce on that.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything on that?


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) reports that are out there, including the latest, that there likely – that Bosworth is likely to meet North Korean officials in Geneva at the end of the month?

MR. TONER: Nothing to announce. Nothing to confirm at this point. And that report, I think, is erroneous.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: How is it erroneous? Sorry. Is it —

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have anything to announce, Brad.

QUESTION: But it’s erroneous in that he’s not going to —

MR. TONER: I’m not going to parse it out any more than that.

QUESTION: He’s not going to —

MR. TONER: I’m not going to parse it out.

QUESTION: Well, you just said something – you said something’s erroneous. So what is erroneous? He’s not going to be —

MR. TONER: He said to wave him off, and I’m waving him off. But when we have more to confirm or talk about, you’ll be the first to know, I promise.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: My question —

QUESTION: Well, actually, I’d like to be the first to know. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: No, I’m sorry. You collectively. You collectively will be the first.

QUESTION: My question is: Assistant Secretary Grossman was in South Asia region last week.

MR. TONER: He was.

QUESTION: India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. My question is also —

MR. TONER: That is correct.

QUESTION: Afghanistan’s President Karzai was in India, and they signed MOUs and also strategic dialogue and strategic agreements and trade and economic and a bunch of other agreements with India. So what – any comments on this – how U.S. sees this relationship between Afghanistan and India since it has been – some neighbors don’t like it, I mean, India’s involvement in Afghanistan.

MR. TONER: You know, where we stand on this – we need good, solid, constructive relations between all the countries of that region, all of them pulling in the same direction so that all countries can reap the economic benefits that good, sound relations will yield. That’s certainly been the focus of some of our initiatives, including the New Silk Road. But also it’s important to emphasize that there’s – this is not a zero-sum game. We need all the countries of the region to work productively to harness the economic potential of that region.

QUESTION: Do you think this new agreement between Afghanistan and India will bring some kind of stability, peace, or more freedom in Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Again, we – these kinds of economic partnerships and the building of relations between these countries of the region we view as constructive.

QUESTION: And finally, Mark, one quickly.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sorry.

QUESTION: Just if U.S. had played any role in this agreement between India and Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: You know, I don’t have specifics on any role we might have played, except to say that, again, we – from our senior officials, including Marc Grossman who was just in the region down to our ambassadors in these embassies and missions, we’re trying to promote a more constructive dialogue between these countries in the region. Again, it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s important that they all pull in the same direction.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Action against Haqqani Network was one of the central agendas of Ambassador Grossman’s visit. He discussed it with the civilian leadership and the military leadership, but it seems no constructive headway has been made on that and the deadlock remains. What are your impressions from the visit?

MR. TONER: Well, I certainly haven’t received a readout from Ambassador Grossman’s trip. I would just say that, as he has said multiple times, that we’re working together with Pakistan. We want to find ways that we can act jointly on our shared challenges. We continue to pursue those interests. We’re obviously – as we’ve said many times, Pakistan is under enormous threat from extremist groups. We want to find ways to work constructively with them to address these challenges.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton is now believed to be reaching Islamabad on 20th for a two-day visit. Do you have something on that?

MR. TONER: No. I don’t have anything.

QUESTION: Pakistani side is confirming that, so why this reluctance?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to confirm it. I have nothing to announce.

QUESTION: Different topic?

QUESTION: Just one more. Just one more if I may. There is a report in Pakistan saying that U.S. initially supported the democratic regime in Pakistan with an effort to sort of normalize the civilian-military relationship in Pakistan, which has not always been so – but it is now losing confidence in the civilian leadership in Pakistan, that it will be able to do that. Do you have a comment on that?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure I know what this report is, or I have – I certainly haven’t seen it. I can only say that much of our work in Pakistan is geared towards building the kind of institutions that will strengthen Pakistani democracy. So we’re clearly – we want to see a strong democracy emerge in Pakistan that works side by side with the military, and that’s to the benefit of the Pakistani people moving forward.

QUESTION: And do you have the confidence that the current Pakistani regime has the capacity and the intent to meet all those challenges that you want them to?

MR. TONER: We do believe they’re capable of it, and certainly for our part, we’re willing to work with them to address those shared challenges.


MR. TONER: Let’s go to Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Mark, change topics? Are we still – on Palestinian issue?

MR. TONER: Palestinian issue.

QUESTION: Anything new on the Quartet meeting?

MR. TONER: Anything anything, just in general?


MR. TONER: I do.

QUESTION: On the Quartet meeting? The Palestinians are saying that —

MR. TONER: I do, believe it or not, have a bit of news. I can just say that in accordance with the timetable established by the September 23rd Quartet statement, the Quartet envoys will be meeting with the parties in Jerusalem on October 26th and with the aim to begin preparations and develop an agenda for proceeding in the negotiations.

QUESTION: For the record, that’s not in accordance with the timetable. The timetable said within a month. A month is not —

MR. TONER: It’s three days off. Yes, you’re right.

QUESTION: Yeah. So don’t – but don’t claim it is when it’s not.

MR. TONER: Point taken, Arshad.

QUESTION: Okay. So would you – so does that mean that the positions are getting closer between the American position and that of the PA?

MR. TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Are we seeing closer positions between the PA and the American administration?

MR. TONER: Look, I think that we’re making progress. This is an important step. While Arshad would argue that it’s not within the timetable, it’s pretty darn close, and we believe it’s going to be productive and that – again, it’s a stepping stone along that timetable that was laid out by the Quartet that will hopefully lead back to direct negotiations. We’re going to continue working along that framework.

QUESTION: Okay. So would you say that the agreement on the date came as a result of the meeting between Abbas and David Hale?

MR. TONER: It was a constructive meeting. I don’t know that was the pivotal decision-making point, but we’ve – this is – this has been a process of building towards an agreement.

QUESTION: So the Palestinians insist on ceasing all settlement activities. Would you – do you believe that agreeing on the meeting, on the Quartet meeting to take place in Jerusalem, means that the Israelis are willing to cease all settlement activities?

MR. TONER: Sorry. One last – the last part of your question one more time. The – is that an agreement —

QUESTION: Is that an indication that the Israelis are willing to cease all settlement activities —

MR. TONER: Again —

QUESTION: — at least while the negotiations are ongoing?

MR. TONER: Again, we believe that the quickest way to resolve all of these outstanding issues is for both parties to get back to the negotiating tables. That’s our goal. That’s where our focus remains.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah.


MR. TONER: Syria.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, Washington Post did a editorial that was arguing that Syria’s Asad regime is a threat to the U.S. Do you agree with this?

MR. TONER: Who – I’m sorry. Who said this?

QUESTION: Syria’s – Washington Post editorial. Do you agree that his regime is direct threat to the U.S.?

MR. TONER: The instability created by Syria’s actions, the Syrian government’s actions against its own people, certainly is a threat to the region. We’ve seen Turkey bear the brunt of some of that instability with refugees pouring across its border, and Turkey certainly responded in a very humanitarian way, in a generous way, to these – to this influx of refugees. It is destabilizing to the region, but it’s mostly destabilizing for the country itself and for the innocent civilians who every day are oppressed and hunted and killed by this regime.

QUESTION: Mark, Ambassador Ford likened the situation today as Iraq in 2004 in his Skype appearance on Friday, which is a prelude to a civil war. He also pointed to armed groups, that there are, in fact, antigovernment armed groups that sort of take matters into their own hand. What is the assessment in this building as to what’s going on and the likelihood of civil strife or internecine strife to break out in Syria?

MR. TONER: Well, you’re talking about Ambassador Ford’s Skyped remarks to this conference.

QUESTION: Skype, yeah.

MR. TONER: I mean, certainly Ambassador Ford brings his perspective from his time in Iraq to this – to the situation there. What we have said and what we’ll continue to say is that this has largely been a peaceful movement and continues to be so, and we would urge that it stay so.

Certainly, any time you see violence erupt, that just plays into the Syrian regime’s hands. They lose the moral high ground in a sense if this turns more and more violent. What we have seen, as I said, in large part, is a peaceful attempt to – by the Syrian people to make clear their aspirations for democratic change, and they continue to do so courageously every day.

QUESTION: And lastly, are you disappointed with the statement by the Arab League? The Arab League met this weekend to discuss the situation in Syria —

MR. TONER: Right, right. They met yesterday.

QUESTION: — but it fell much short of what is expected.

MR. TONER: I think we’re – look, I think the – we believe the Arab League is playing a useful role. They – as you may know, they met – they held an emergency meeting in Cairo yesterday and decided to form a committee to forge a dialogue between the government and the opposition, and called on all parties to enact a ceasefire and hold a dialogue within, I think, 15 days. That’s a good thing. We want to see the violence end in Syria. Unfortunately, as is par for the course, the Asad regime was unable to even consent to this modest request, this modest proposal. So we’re not particularly optimistic, but again, we continue to believe that the Arab League plays a positive role.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Just so we’re clear, the meeting on the 26th will be in one room, the Quartet representatives plus an Israeli official plus a Palestinian official?

MR. TONER: It will not. Let me clarify. These are —

QUESTION: Oh, man.

MR. TONER: These are separate, separate meetings.

QUESTION: That’s another thing that would have – first of all, you – what – your first comment was patently false that it was in line with the timetable because it’s not, okay? So a fourth grader makes a statement like that and they should be corrected, let alone a spokesperson for the U.S. Government.

MR. TONER: Listen, Arshad —

QUESTION: Second thing, it would be helpful if you would strive for a level of precision adequate in such statements that would explain whether it’s going to be people together or whether they’re separate meetings. These are important —

MR. TONER: I understand these are important elements of it. First off, you never asked. I gave you a rundown on the meetings, on the dates. We believe it is in line with the timetables set out by the Quartet. I understand that if we’re going to be mathematical about it, yes, it does run on a couple of days over. Secondly, I am clarifying now these are going to be separate meetings.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the issue of consular access with Iran, has the United States received a specific request through its Swiss intermediaries from Iran to visit, to your knowledge?

MR. TONER: Rewind just a bit. Has Iran —

QUESTION: Specifically lodged a request for consular access?

MR. TONER: Iran actually needs to go through – the Pakistani is their protecting power here, so we would actually suggest that they operate through the Pakistani Embassy.

QUESTION: But you haven’t received any request for —

MR. TONER: I did not receive that request as far as I know.


MR. TONER: And that’s a bit of confusion, frankly, because I think some of the public statements that we saw referred to through the Swiss – the Swiss are our protecting power within Iran, and certainly they would have to act through their Pakistani Embassy here.

QUESTION: And then just to follow up, there was a report in the New York Times over the weekend that the United States was pushing for the UN, the IAEA, to reveal some of its classified findings on Iran’s nuclear programs as a way to ratchet up pressure. Can you offer any guidance or comment on that?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the report about the IAEA?


MR. TONER: Sure. Just one second. We do know that the IAEA has been investigating Iran’s program and its repeated failures to fulfill its safeguards obligations and comply with the multiple UN Security Council resolutions for almost a decade. We understand the IAEA Director General Amano intends to provide more details about his concerns with Iran’s nuclear weapons-related work. We look forward to seeing those details, as we expect other IAEA members do as well.

Iran has a long history of deception and denial regarding its nuclear program, including hiding some of its enrichment activities. Iran continues to enrich uranium, including at a higher concentration of near 20 percent levels. That’s also in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. So we want to continue to work with our partners within the IAEA. We want to intensify pressure on the Iranian regime to come into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, and that’s going to be our goal working through the IAEA.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of what those details that Director General Amano is going to release and what they —

MR. TONER: I’ll leave it for them to make those clear.

QUESTION: Quick question on Sri Lanka?


QUESTION: Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the U.S. was speaking at John Hopkins University, where he gave a review what’s going on in Sri Lanka now, the rehabilitations and humanitarian aids and now (inaudible) and all kinds of – sort – things. What he said to the group, that everything is now fine and under control as far as human rights are concerned, and within one year, Sri Lanka is the only country that has a foot – hundreds of thousands of people into – from the shelters to their homes and so on.

But Amnesty International people in the same audience, they rejected his proposals and all kind – those things, what he laid down about Sri Lanka’s current situation about refugees and Tamils and others are concerned. So have you heard anything now latest from Sri Lanka, what’s happening, what’s going on? Are you monitoring as far as refugees or Tamils concerns and humanitarian aid and other things?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, so what specifically is your question? Just – are we – is it – you’re talking about investigations into human rights concerns?

QUESTION: Human rights and also humanitarian aid now, which they are – he’s saying that everything is under control and government is doing now more for the people and they are all united, everything is under control in Sri Lanka.

MR. TONER: Well, I think we’ve said many times in the past that the Government of Sri Lanka needs to demonstrate that it’s able to and willing to meet some of these obligations, as you mentioned, to be as transparent as possible, to look into some of these human rights allegations that you raised. It’s important within the country itself as it seeks reconciliation, and we hope that Sri Lankans will be able to do this for themselves. If they don’t, as we’ve said many times, there’s going to be growing international pressure for some other mechanism to look at this.

QUESTION: Mark, finally, are you waiting for the November 15th report by the Sri Lankan special commission appointed by the president which ambassador mentioned? The report is coming on November 15th, but is – this commission only appointed by the president of Sri Lanka.

MR. TONER: Right, right. You know what, Goyal? I’ll have to look into precisely what our opinion is of this report, whether we view it as sufficient. And frankly, we likely wouldn’t have any kind of judgment until it’s released.

Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Just real quick on Libya.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: NTC forces were saying that they have taken or largely taken the town of Bani Walid, I think, last evening. Is that your assessment of the situation, and how do you see it?

MR. TONER: How do we see it? Certainly the TNC, the opposition forces – well, not the opposition forces – the TNC continues to pacify, stabilize more areas of the country. It’s going to take time. Obviously, we’ve seen reports about the ongoing fighting in Sirte, which is – which was a Qadhafi stronghold. But we’re continuing to see them make progress. We call on all the combatants with the Qadhafi regime to lay down their weapons and join the new Libya.

QUESTION: And any information on where Qadhafi may be?

MR. TONER: We don’t have any reliable information, no.


MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On this Experience America trip for U.S. – for foreign ambassadors and their spouses, between the 19th and the 21st to New Orleans – okay – all foreign ambassadors —

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what are they supposed to do? Sample the food, listen to jazz, or look at the disaster of Katrina and so on? And why? Why is that and who’s financing this?

MR. TONER: Said, in terms of your second question, I’ll have to get back to you with details on that, and I’m happy to do so.


MR. TONER: Your first question is certainly reasonable. This is an effort to expose these individuals to an integral part of American culture. But I’ll try to get back to you with more details about the cost and the breakdown of the trip. So —


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Still on Libya. I’m sorry. One on Libya.

MR. TONER: Let’s go back there and then do —

QUESTION: Do you – I mean, do you have any reason to believe that Qadhafi’s still in Libya and that he has not crossed to any neighboring country?

MR. TONER: I mean, we truly don’t know where he is. We would just urge, wherever he is, that he should give up and give himself up and end the violence once and for all.

QUESTION: So you’re not 100 percent that he’s still in Libya?

MR. TONER: Again, we don’t – are you trying to get me to provide information that I simply don’t have? I don’t know where his whereabouts are.

QUESTION: On Syria, so you don’t see the argument valid, which is the pressure comes from the Syrian diplomats, for example in Washington or in U.S., spying activities of these diplomats, they are threat to the United States Government and the Syrian Americans here in this country. That was the argument used in Washington Post editorial.

MR. TONER: Oh, okay. I’m sorry. Look, there’s a Department of Justice investigation into this matter. We’re going to let that investigation run its course. As you may recall, we talked about this months ago in July, I believe, when our assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security called in the Syrian ambassador and said, “We’re aware of what you’re doing. We don’t like it. Stop it.” And now you have legal action being taken against an individual. So we’re not going to countenance this kind of behavior.

QUESTION: Mark, can I now follow up on the Israeli-Palestinian matter?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So point one of the Quartet statement of September 23, 2011 says, “Within a month, there will be a preparatory meeting between the parties to agree an agenda and a method of proceeding in the negotiation.” So first, although you dismiss it as mathematically, do you expect any meeting to be held between the parties within one month of that statement?

MR. TONER: No. Clearly.

QUESTION: Okay. Great.

MR. TONER: I just announced that it’s going to be on October 26th.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, you – in a follow-up question, you said that the Quartet would meet separately with the Israelis and the Palestinians. The first point here says, “There will be a preparatory meeting between the parties.” Do you expect on the 26th of October there to be a meeting between the parties, or is it only that there will be separate meetings between the Quartet and each individual party?

MR. TONER: The latter, with the idea that we will still work to begin preparations and develop an agenda for proceeding in negotiations.

QUESTION: Okay. Then explain to me how the meeting that is going to be held is in accordance with point one, when it’s not within a month, and it’s not a meeting between the parties.

MR. TONER: Again, the timetable that was laid out in the September 23rd statement has a goal, and that is to get both parties back into negotiations. The idea of the timetable was to set dates and identifiable objectives to move them towards a path towards direct negotiations. We feel that this meeting, on this date, fulfills the letter of that intent and that it is moving them towards those direct negotiations. That is our ultimate goal. Don’t lose sight for the forest for the trees or however you want to spin the analogy, but what’s important is that we’re on a path towards direct negotiations. We feel that we’re making progress, and that’s our goal.

QUESTION: And do you know at what level the Israelis and the Palestinians will be represented?

MR. TONER: I don’t.

QUESTION: I thought that direct negotiations were the process to get to a peace agreement. And now you’re saying that the goal is to get them —

MR. TONER: Brad, okay. Our ultimate goal is – yes – is a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East. Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: So we’re in the process to get to the process essentially, which isn’t a glowing assessment of our post-UN strategy.

MR. TONER: Brad, I mean, if you’re going to – if you want me to say that this is easy, it’s not. We all know that we’ve been at this for a few years here, if not more and longer. We continue to believe that this is in our national security interest, it’s in the interest of our allies and partners in the region, and we’re going to continue to work towards it.


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)