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

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

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Future of NATO Mission
    • Confirmation on Qadhafi Death / Momentous Day for the People of Libya
    • NATO Confirmation of Convoy Strike
    • Controlling and Destroying Conventional Weapons / MANPADS Destruction
    • Road Ahead for TNC needs / Establish Control of Militias / Set up Transitional Govt / Elections
    • Security Situation
    • People’s Request for Democracy Met with Shocking Violence
    • U.S. Supports Turkey’s Right to Self Defense
    • U.S.-Turkey-Iraq Trilateral Security Dialogue
    • Secretary’s Conversation with Foreign Minister Davutoglu
    • U.S. Condolences / PKK Attack in Turkey
    • ETA Ceasefire Announcement
    • Process for Removing Terrorist Organization Designation
    • Arms Sale Assessment
    • Delay of Report by Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry
    • U.S. Concerns About Human Rights in China Raised at Many Levels


TONER: Welcome. Sorry to push this so late in the day. Obviously, given events happening on the ground in Libya, we wanted to first confirm Qadhafi’s death and then, obviously, give the President a chance to speak to the significance of that event. So – but I did want to get down here and respond to some of your questions, so fire away.

QUESTION: What about the NATO mission? What is the legal mechanism for winding that down? And how soon could that actually take place?

MR. TONER: Well, I think it’s safe to say that the end is somewhat in sight. In terms of the NATO mission, I would obviously refer you to NATO for more details on next steps. NATO is a consensus-driven organization. So any decision it makes will have to be in accordance with all member allies, and – but certainly, we’ve reached a turning point. And moving forward, I think NATO will be assessing the future of the mission in the coming days.

QUESTION: But isn’t it – is there an argument for ending this very quickly since the core mission, which was to protect Libyan citizens, has been achieved? Many people have been saying all day that because he is dead, they don’t believe that there’s going to be any more mobilization to try to attack Libyan citizens.

MR. TONER: And that may well be the case. I think they’re going to assess moving forward very carefully whether there’s not any die-hard or continuing resistance among Qadhafi’s followers. So I think that’s something they’ll assess in the coming days. As I said, I think it’s pretty clear that the end is in sight.

QUESTION: Can you speak to the President’s sourcing on his confirmation that the – that Qadhafi’s been killed? Has there been any sight of the body by U.S. officials? Or do you just take the NTC at their word?

MR. TONER: The officials in the Transitional National Council did confirm the death to us. I don’t believe we’ve had any eyes on the body, as you questioned – or as you asked. But we were – we did have confirmation from the TNC.

QUESTION: Is that something you’re seeking?

MR. TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Is that something that would perhaps go towards the U.S.’s national security interest?


QUESTION: To actually confirm it yourselves – DNA testing, blood typing, tissue sampling, anything of that nature?

MR. TONER: I think we have a high degree of confidence that he is indeed dead, clearly, and since we’ve confirmed his death. And as I said, this is a momentous day, and as the President said, this is a momentous day for the people of Libya. It doesn’t mean an end to the challenges that they face, but moving forward, it does relieve a significant challenge.

QUESTION: Why did it take several hours to – for the U.S. and for other western governments to confirm what a military spokesman from the NTC had indicated by – between 8 and 9 a.m. Eastern time today?

MR. TONER: I think precisely – we’ve talked before about the fog of war. It’s a very fluid situation. We’ve seen before where reports of high-ranking members of Qadhafi’s regime have been captured, and it didn’t bear out, including members of his family. And so we obviously wanted to, before we pronounce on something, make certain that it’s, in fact, confirmable and true. And in this case, we wanted to take the extra time to do so.

QUESTION: You took a lot longer than the French and the British, though; I mean, three hours more. Is there any particular –

MR. TONER: No. I really don’t. I think it’s a matter of timing for the President to be able to speak first to it. But I refer you to the White House on that.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the circumstances of his killing, whether or not these were extrajudicial killings and kind of summary executions in the moment?

MR. TONER: I think, again, there’s a lot of details that are still unclear. So moving forward – we’ve said all along that we expect the Transitional National Council as well as the – its fighters to respect human rights, and we certainly hold them to that. We don’t have all the details about the death, frankly, at this point.

QUESTION: So do you have circumstances of his death? You don’t – sorry.

MR. TONER: We don’t know, in fact. We’ll be – we’ll – obviously, I think more details will emerge in the coming days.

QUESTION: But seeing that there’s plenty of stuff on the internet already, are you concerned that some of those principles that you’ve asked them to live up to weren’t respected in any way?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’ll just continue to talk with the Transitional National Council and I think we’ll have a clearer picture emerge in the coming days. I won’t comment right now.

QUESTION: And could you just say have they spoken to you about the circumstances of his death?

MR. TONER: As – I think I confirmed that they did confirm his death with us. I don’t have any more details beyond that.

QUESTION: They didn’t speak about how he died?

MR. TONER: Again, I just don’t have those details.

QUESTION: Do you know how the confirmation was transmitted? Was it to Ambassador Cretz, was it to the White House, or was it –

MR. TONER: I think it was through our mission on the ground. I’ll try to confirm that.

QUESTION: Do you know of any other high-level contacts between the TNC and the Administration, the Secretary travelling, or anything else?

MR. TONER: (Off mic.)

QUESTION: Has Ambassador Aujali been to the building today to talk? I know he’s been on television.

MR. TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: Can you confirm reports – there were reports that NATO missions bombed the convoy that Qadhafi was in it so –

MR. TONER: Right. We can’t confirm obviously that the NATO – that NATO actually struck a convoy that he was in, or Qadhafi was present. We do know that NATO has confirmed that their aircraft struck a couple of vehicles in a pro-Qadhafi convoy that, I believe, was active around Sirte. But, you know there’s no way we can link that.

QUESTION: Can you —

MR. TONER: I’m referring to NATO going forward on the details on that.

QUESTION: Did you get any confirmation whether the TNC was able to confirm the death of Colonel Qadhafi, were they able to confirm his sons being confirmed?

MR. TONER: No. We’ve not – we haven’t received any information about that.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the concern about any pro-Qadhafi elements that may still be about? There are also a lot of weapons across the country – what is the U.S. Government doing to try to help the NTC bring those weapons under control?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve talked a lot in the past weeks about the number of arms, both conventional, and we’ve also talked about MANPADS and those kinds of weaponry, and trying to bring those under control and destroy them as much as possible. One of the major challenges facing the Transitional National Council is, moving forward, is to establish a command and control over all of these militias, get them to – get them under one, single unified command moving forward. And also, as I said, collect and get a firm number and grasp of the number of weapons that are out there.

Certainly, we’re committed to working with them. Secretary announced more money the other day for this effort. And, frankly, we’ve found our cooperation with the TNC to be quite good in this regard and we’ve destroyed a number of MANPADS, in the hundreds, I think. And we’re going to continue to work with them moving forward.

QUESTION: Generally, what’s your position now on accountability for human rights abuses in Libya? Does the death of Qadhafi in any way change the US opinion on what should be done – need for accountability?

MR. TONER: You mean in terms of the Qadhafi regime?


MR. TONER: I think we’ll continue. Those weren’t, our concerns about abuses that occurred under Qadhafi’s rule weren’t limited just to Qadhafi. So we’ll continue to seek accountability where appropriate.

QUESTION: Were you surprised to find that he was in Sirte? Or did you have the general sense that he was there?

MR. TONER: No. I don’t think that we had any – I was honest when I said the other day when someone asked me, we didn’t have solid information on where he might be. So, I think there was some indications that he may be in Sirte. Clearly, we saw over the last couple of days that, given the level of fighting and resistance that we saw in Sirte, that that might have been an indication. But no, we had no solid evidence that he was there.

QUESTION: How worried are you about the possibility that Qadhafi’s death will not, in fact, herald an end to the violence? And that in this society, which has major divisions and also a tribal structure, that you may see a sort of power vacuum or a fight for supremacy occur among the various actors, particularly, given as you yourself just pointed out, the existence of multiple militias that don’t all answer to a single authority now.

MR. TONER: I mean, look, it remains a significant challenge. The Secretary talked about it when she was there. She mentioned it today in some of her interviews when we had early indications that he may have been captured or killed. She said significant challenges still remain for the Transitional National Council moving forward.

The President spoke about the need for them to move quickly both in the formation of an interim government, as well as kind of clearly setting out a transition to free and fair elections. So we think there’s every – there’s still a very strong sense of urgency that – (phone rings) – boy, that just continues to ring. Sorry. (Laughter.) We think there’s still a very strong sense of urgency that the TNC needs to move forward as quickly as possible both to establish, as I said, that unified control over the military; to establish control throughout the country; to, as I said, set up that transitional – or that interim government; and then to move towards elections. And it’s going to be a challenge, one that we’re very willing to work with them to address on all of those fronts.

QUESTION: Can I ask you —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — does this affect the money situation in any way? You’ve only given some of the money back to the TNC.

MR. TONER: And I was trying to get a better answer for that. If I get a clearer picture, I’ll let you guys know.

QUESTION: Okay. Could you – if you can’t say about the remaining amount, could you just give us an update on how much has been returned —

MR. TONER: I will.

QUESTION: — and the whole tranche?

MR. TONER: I’ll do so. It’s a good question, Brad.

QUESTION: Have you also confirmed —

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you also confirmed death of Saif al-Islam, Qadhafi’s son?

MR. TONER: No; I just said we don’t have any confirmation on that at all.

QUESTION: And one more question.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: What do you think this huge transition, this change is going to play out in terms of Syria and Yemen?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s – as the President noted, it’s the – it’s yet another indication of the rule of an iron fist ends – often comes to a bitter end. Stepping back a little bit from what we’ve seen happen throughout the Arab world, throughout North Africa in the last six months, this is – and it speaks to the fact that people – these leaders need to be responsive to the aspirations of their people. What we’re seeing right now in Syria is shocking, where the Syrian people are trying to, in a peaceful manner, call for democratic change and being met with violence. And we continue to believe that these leaders are on the wrong side of history and that their days are numbered.

QUESTION: Can I go back to something —

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: — Arshad asked about? You responded by saying you want to see – was it – unified control over the military to establish control over the whole country. What control does the TNC political leadership actually exercise over the country and over the military right now?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think they need to very clearly lay out – and they have – to be fair, they have tried to set out a vision for the road ahead. At the same time, they’ve been very clearly dealing with an ongoing security situation. Everybody expected after the fall of Tripoli that we were nearly across the finish line. That didn’t turn out to be the case. There was some hard fighting to liberate Sirte. But we believe, by recognizing the TNC as the credible interim government for Libya, we believe that they do represent the broad wishes of the Libyan people.

QUESTION: But what —

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: But what actual – how do they actually exercise power? Are they actually in control of the governance of the country at this point? Are they actually holding sway on the streets of Tripoli and the other cities?

MR. TONER: Well, I think you’ve seen, in cities like Tripoli, security return, the police and other security forces come back and to maintain security in the areas that have been liberated. Again, I mean, I just think it’s going to be – the tricky part is you’ve got militias, you’ve got units that have been obviously very much involved in the fighting, and you’re going to have to – I mean, it’s a significant challenge how to bring them under a single command and how to perhaps demilitarize aspects of them. And we’re – it’s something we’re very willing to work with them to do.

In terms of, you were asking about the exact political structure, I’d have to refer you to somebody who’s closer to it than I am in terms of what their control is.

QUESTION: Is this validation of what’s been called the President’s lead-from-behind strategy?

MR. TONER: I don’t think the President’s ever called it the lead-from-behind. We don’t —

QUESTION: Well, that’s why I put it in the passive.

MR. TONER: We don’t view it as a lead-from-behind strategy. It’s a story that’s not finished yet. There’s, as I said – I don’t want to sound too optimistic. As I said, there are still a lot of challenges ahead. I think it just speaks to a tremendous victory for the Libyan people, and it’s really their victory. NATO stood ready to help. The UN was ready to help them. And a lot of that was with U.S. leadership, but this was all for the, this was an accomplishment for the Libyan people, first and foremost.

QUESTION: Hey, Mark —

MR. TONER: Yeah —

QUESTION: Now that we’re at this point, is there – does the United States Government have any sort of prescription for a timeline on the political progress in Libya and where they should be going from here?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think interim government formation and then transition to democracy. I don’t know if we have a set timeline for that. I think we’ll wait and hear from the TNC what they – what kind of – how long they think that’s going to take before we have elections.

QUESTION: What can be the structure of NATO in the new period to help Libya? I mean, after this mission, what is the new mission of NATO will be (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: Well, as I said at the beginning, I think that it’s pretty clear that, given today’s events, the liberation of Sirte and Muammar Qadhafi’s death, that Operation Unified Protector is near its end. But that’s really a decision for NATO to make and that’s a – it’s a decision it will make by consensus. So I’d refer you to NATO and what they’re thinking about moving forward, whether there’s some kind of other role training and assisting that’s for the —

QUESTION: What is your proposal to NATO? I mean, it’s a part of the meeting.

MR. TONER: Well, again, there are significant security challenges ahead for Libya. Whether that’s something that NATO can help them with or whether we can help them with or what other countries can help them with, we’ll figure that out in the days ahead.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Different direction?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any —

MR. TONER: More NATO, or more Libya?


QUESTION: Go – please go ahead.

QUESTION: I was just going to ask about Turkey and the PKK, whether the U.S. has any comment. Turkey has sent a relatively large force against the PKK. Does the U.S. have any comment about it, about whether – how you feel about —

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, a large force —

QUESTION: Into Iraq.

MR. TONER: Into Iraq. Well —

QUESTION: Ten thousand.

MR. TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Ten thousand troops.

MR. TONER: Ten thousand – no, I talked a little bit about this yesterday. We very clearly support Turkey’s right for self defense. At the same time, there needs to be cooperation between Turkey and Iraq. And there is, in fact, a mechanism in place for that cooperation to occur. The Trilateral Security Dialogue is in existence, and that’s a venue for the U.S. and Iraqi and Turkish officials to meet and consult on border issues. So we would just encourage that that cooperation continue, but, as I said, clearly recognizing, given yesterday’s attacks, that Turkey needs to defend itself.

QUESTION: This dialogue mechanism is about to end at the end of the year, right?

MR. TONER: I think so, but —

QUESTION: So how would —

MR. TONER: We would like it to continue. We think it’s a useful mechanism.

QUESTION: Yeah. I had this question yesterday, too. What kind of new mechanism are you modeling in – for the new period regarding U.S. troops presence in the area?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I’ll take it and see if we have any – I mean, I don’t think we’re considering – right now, we think that this is a useful mechanism. We can still be a part of that dialogue, even if our troop presence is finished in Iraq.

QUESTION: So yesterday, Secretary Clinton had a meeting – phone conversation with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. So have the Turkish Government not still notified you what was going on in Northern Iraq right now, how long it’s going to stay, or what are the goals?

MR. TONER: Well, my understanding of the call was, first and foremost, it was to express our condolences on the terrible attack that took so many lives yesterday in Turkey, and also to pledge our support against the PKK. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into the – in operational aspects.

QUESTION: Other topics?

QUESTION: Regarding Spain and the fact that the ETA group has put an end to violence there? It’s a U.S.-designated terrorist group?

MR. TONER: Absolutely. You’re talking about the Basque Fatherland and Liberty group? Yeah. Well, it’s – as you said, it’s a terrorist organization that’s been active in Spain for over 50 years, during which time it’s killed over 850 people and injured more than 1,000. We’re not in a position at this time to determine the validity or seriousness, or frankly, the intent of the ETA announcement, today’s ETA announcement. I defer to the Government of Spain for a reaction.

QUESTION: Are you going to talk with them?

MR. TONER: To the Government of Spain?

QUESTION: About this matter?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re going to evaluate, to look to them to really evaluate and judge the seriousness of this announcement, and we’re supportive of their efforts to combat terrorism, the terrorism of ETA, and we’re going to continue to be supportive of their efforts.

QUESTION: But usually when a foreign group makes an announcement like this –

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — and it’s designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization, so what is the procedure now? Like there has to be an audit from here, or did you rely on what the Spanish Government —

MR. TONER: There is a very – sure. There’s a very deliberate process for lifting that kind of designation, and I’m not saying that we’re even at that point with ETA. Again, we’ve had one announcement from this organization with no idea how serious it is or how – what the intent of it is. We’ve seen similar announcements in the past. I think we’re going to wait and see what the reaction of the Spanish Government is. We’re going to work closely with the Spanish Government, in any respect, moving forward as we evaluate.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Bahrain?


MR. TONER: Bahrain. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The – this long-awaited commission —

MR. TONER: It’s going to be – yeah.

QUESTION: — will be longer awaited.

MR. TONER: Longer-awaited, sure.

QUESTION: Does this affect in any way the arms sale that you had hoped to —

MR. TONER: No. I don’t think so. I mean, look, the arms sale is still out there on the horizon as well. I mean, I’ve worked hard the last couple of days to leave you with the impression that this, by no means, something that’s immediate. There’s still procedural steps that need to be taken before this arms sale is completed. So – and as we said, as we move along in the process, we’re going to assess human rights in Bahrain.

QUESTION: But you will wait for this report still?

MR. TONER: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And I – I mean, I think they talked about —

QUESTION: The 23rd of November.

MR. TONER: Yeah. The 23rd of November. It’s a moderate delay. And we certainly support the Government of Bahrain decision to accept the Bahrain Independent Commission’s request for a delay. The stated reason was that it requires more time to gather the facts, and what we want in the end is a very comprehensive report that address alleged human rights violations in Bahrain so we can make – so that’s it’s the best report possible.

QUESTION: How credible do you consider this group?

QUESTION: You won’t make any decision on the arms sale? I’m sorry.


QUESTION: You won’t make a decision on the arms sale until after the report, the commission’s report, has been made public?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t think it’s – there’s – as I said, there’s – the arms sale, I think, is still further out on the horizon, the completion of this arms sale. I talked a little bit yesterday about, it’s months, not weeks. So this will be part of our assessment. We’ve talked about human rights being part of our assessment as we move forward, so we’ll have time to digest this report and look at it.

QUESTION: And the commission’s integrity, credibility – does the U.S. have any suspicions or doubts about it, especially now that there is this month-long delay?

MR. TONER: No. I think we do accept their reasoning that they wanted more time to gather the facts. As I said, I think we want as comprehensive and detailed and credible report as possible, so we’ll wait and see what the report says.

QUESTION: Mark, will Secretary Clinton will be in Turkey at the beginning of November for the Afghanistan meeting?

MR. TONER: Correct. I mean, we’re not announcing the trip yet, but yes, she’s talked about it at the meeting, so —

QUESTION: So can we assume that at this time Turkey and U.S. can discuss a new trilateral security agreement for the 2012?

MR. TONER: Let me see what I can get you on the new trilateral security agreement, since there’s clearly interest.

You moved from there to here, didn’t you?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: So at the past – and then another question regarding this cross-border ground operation. At the past, the former Administration had urged Turkey to end this kind of ground operation in a period of time, kind of one week, two weeks, et cetera. Do you have a timeline for this —

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. Again, I think we recognize that they are conducting operations. We just – what we – what I would just reiterate is that it needs to be done in cooperation with the Iraqi Government, in consultation with the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Because the Qandil Mountains, the KRG is evacuating the villages in the region in the Qandil Mountains where is – the compounds of PKK are.

MR. TONER: There’s an excellent map right behind you if you want to just – (laughter).

QUESTION: Yes. If – sorry. If the Turkish military existence is kind of constant in the region, what do you – what is your assessment?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Your specific question is if they remain there? Again, let’s not jump ahead of it. There was an attack yesterday. The Turkish military has taken action against the PKK. We support that action against the PKK. We support Turkey’s right to defend itself. There is this strategic mechanism in place where they can – a consultative body where they can work with us and work with the Iraqi Government on these kinds of operations, these kind of actions against the PKK. We believe that’s a good and valid mechanism, and we would urge that they continue to use that moving forward. But let’s not talk in terms of timelines or anything like that.

QUESTION: What was the reaction from Iraqi Government?

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Is this committee meeting today, the Trilateral Security Dialogue?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll find out.

QUESTION: To your knowledge was there any – you said that it was important that there be cooperation.

MR. TONER: Cooperation and consultation.

QUESTION: Was there in this instance?

MR. TONER: I’ll find out.

QUESTION: A different issue.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday, there was a statement put out in response to a question about Tibet asking whether the U.S. has addressed concerns with China about –

MR. TONER: Sorry. Just to clarify, you’re talking about within the –

QUESTION: Within the Trilateral?

MR. TONER: Within the Trilateral, yeah. I’ll find out.

QUESTION: Just getting back to – that the statement was saying that the U.S. has addressed concerns with China about the self-immolations. I was wondering if you could be more specific about where that’s been addressed, what level it’s been addressed at.

MR. TONER: I mean, “Yes, we have,” wasn’t good enough for you, Sean? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Were you –

MR. TONER: I thought that was pretty forthcoming. My sense is that it’s been on multiple levels. And I don’t know how recent it’s been, but obviously we’ve been concerned about these reports since they first started surfacing last April. So there have been opportunities at multiple levels to have these kinds of conversations. As we’ve said before, we’re not shy about raising our human rights concerns with China in our dialogue with them, and we do so. And I would also imagine that that takes place largely at the – between the Embassy and the Chinese Government, but I would imagine other levels as well.

QUESTION: Just to (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was there a time when the U.S. specifically brought in somebody or specifically talked to somebody about this? Or was this just – are you saying just in the process of bilateral consultations, bilateral meetings, it was addressed?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about somebody bringing somebody in specifically to raise –

QUESTION: Concerns on Tibet and – just on that –

MR. TONER: — concerns about the Tibetan monks? I can try to find out more information. As I said, I think we just raise human rights in almost every – every time we meet with the Chinese, we raise human rights in some way or form or another. So obviously, we do it on a consistent basis.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: That’s it? Great. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)