The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.
From the Daily Press Briefing of January 11, 2011
1:43 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Welcome to the State Department, as we wait anxiously for whatever snow is going to fall in Washington later this evening. Just very quickly at the – the Secretary was obviously in Yemen today, as many of you know from news reports, where she held a town hall meeting with civil society leaders including parliamentarian students as well as nongovernmental organization representatives. She had a productive meeting with President Saleh – Saleh rather – covering a range of bilateral issues and also met with opposition leaders. She reiterated the U.S. support for a unified, stable, democratic, and prosperous Yemen and called for a comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue between all opposition groups and the ruling party. She’s on her way to Oman, I believe, at present. She also – just to add on, she also met with – I’m going to have difficulty pronouncing the name – Nujood Ali, who was the 2008 Glamour Woman of the Year, while in Yemen as well.
In – now, turning to Afghanistan, acting SRAP Frank Ruggiero and an interagency team traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan following his visit to Pakistan. While in Afghanistan, SRAP – acting SRAP Ruggiero met with President Karzai. They discussed the United States’ long-term commitment to Afghanistan as well as the priorities for 2011. Acting SRAP Ruggiero and his team also met with General Petraeus as well the UN Special Representative in Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura, Afghan Transition Coordinator Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Afghan National Security Advisor Rangin Spanta, Finance Minister Zakhilwal, and Afghan High Peace Council Chairman Rabbani. And just to note, he’s now joined the Vice President’s party in Afghanistan.
I’ll take your questions. I’m done. No questions? Anyone else? Go ahead, (inaudible). Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: When the Secretary of State meets with the President of Yemen Saleh, does she discuss with him possible reforms, the succession of power, and all these issues that are brought to bear on Yemen and that actually cause a great deal of the tension that we can see there?
MR. TONER: Well, sure, Said. I think she said in her public remarks that Yemen has announced a number of reforms, and we in the international community look forward to supporting them in the economic, social, and political sectors. So it’s clear that she’s also raised this in her meetings with the president.
QUESTION: But –
MR. TONER: She says, “I told him that we’re committed to a broad relationship between our two countries.” I think she’s been – she was clear that we are partners with Yemen in building a better stable future for the people of Yemen; that’s our goal. And certainly we’re going to raise reforms in that context.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any concern that the South might split or that Yemen might be headed the way of Sudan?
MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re cognizant of the fact that Yemen faces some serious challenges, not the least of which is the extremists operating on its soil. And – but that just underscores why we need a partnership with Yemen and why we need to focus on building a better, stable future for the country.
QUESTION: If you will allow me one more.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: I mean, we get the impression here in Washington that the bilateral (inaudible) or the concentration of whatever negotiations take place between the United States and Yemen completely focus on security and fighting the extremists that you – or al-Qaida in Yemen that has found a new home there. But does it go beyond that? Does it go into the other issues?
MR. TONER: Well, it does, and I think the Secretary’s visit reflects that it goes beyond just purely security issues. I mean, obviously that’s of tremendous concern to us, but it’s also of great concern to the Yemeni people and the Government of Yemen. But we also recognize that part of addressing, frankly, that situation is by building a better, stable, more prosperous Yemeni economy by building its infrastructure, by – and by engaging with civil society members there. This is all part, I think, of what I just said, which is building a better future for the Yemeni people and thereby offering alternative to these kinds of extremists operating on their soil.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, Secretary Clinton referred to the alleged shooter in the Gabrielle Gifford's assassination attempt as an extremist and compared him directly to extremists in Muslim countries who have committed acts of domestic terrorism in that part of the world. Does the Secretary of State believe that domestic extremists like Jared Lee Loughner should be treated in the same way as – that extremists in other countries, parts of the Muslim world, should be treated, and is she advocating equivalency between these two?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure she said that there should be any equivalency in the way they’re treated. But she was making remarks, obviously in the context of the environment she was in, talking about the parallels. And beyond those obvious parallels, I’m not really going to characterize her comments beyond that. But I don’t think she was talking about some kind of equivalency in terms of how we treat them. Obviously, there’s rule of law and due process here in the terms of the Arizona incident, and that’s under investigation. I’m not going to comment further on that. But her remarks stand for themselves.
QUESTION: Mark, do you have any readout for the Secretary’s meetings on Friday with King Abdullah and Lebanese prime minister? And did she discuss with them the Saudi-Syrian deal regarding Lebanon?
MR. TONER: I did not get a readout of those meetings. I believe P.J. characterized them as, at least with the Saudi king, as more of a visit as he’s recuperating in New York. But beyond that, I don’t have any firm readout.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea about the deal between Saudi Arabia and Syria regarding Lebanon?
MR. TONER: I don’t have specific information on that regarding the special tribunal, regarding --
QUESTION: The whole situation in Lebanon after the --
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, our position on the special tribunal for Lebanon has been clear and stated repeatedly from this podium. We believe it needs to be able to conduct its business in a free and transparent manner, and outside of any foreign interference. But as to your specific question about the Saudi-Syrian deal, I’d have to look into it. I’ll see if I can get more information for you.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have a clearer picture on the mechanism in which these talks will be conducted?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, the Palestinian – American talks and the Israeli-American talk with Mr. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator --
MR. TONER: Yeah, P.J. mentioned yesterday that Saeb Erekat and Molho are coming here this week. I don’t have any more detail on that. I’ll try to get it for you.
QUESTION: And do you have a clear picture of whether Secretary of State will be back by Friday so she would possibly meet with --
MR. TONER: I believe she’s scheduled to be back. I don’t have any clearer picture of what her schedule looks like that day. There’s certainly nothing to announce at this point.
QUESTION: -- meet with the Palestinian negotiator?
MR. TONER: Again, I can’t speak to what her schedule looks like on Friday, so when we have something to announce we’ll share it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have an Iran-related question. For about the past month, the – there’s been construction work underway on the former Iranian embassy here in Washington. And as you know, the embassy is one of the assets of the Iranian Government that was frozen after the hostage taking in Tehran. Can you tell us what’s going on there? Why – who’s paying for it, what do you – what the purpose of that renovation is --
MR. TONER: I’m searching my memory. I remember seeing some information about this. I want to say it had something to do with just maintenance of the property, but I’m unclear. I’ll have to check and get to you, frankly. Take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)