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 March 21, 2011
1:50 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Look, I have nothing to announce at the top, so – nobody has --
QUESTION: Can we – may I ask you, just very quickly, before we get – everyone gets into Libya, just what –
MR. TONER: You think?
QUESTION: As far as I can tell – and I don’t know, because I was gone all weekend – I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that there’s been any reaction to the Egyptian referendum. Does the United States have anything to do –
MR. TONER: We did – I know National Security Advisor Donilon spoke to it a little bit yesterday in Brazil, but we’re obviously – we applaud the March 19th referendum. Egyptians took an important step towards realizing the aspirations of the January 25th revolution. According to preliminary results, about 40 percent of Egypt’s eligible voters participated, and the constitutional referendum passed with 77 percent of the vote. And certainly, the sight of Egyptians coming forward in unprecedented numbers to peacefully exercise their newly won freedoms is cause for great optimism, will continue to – and will provide a foundation for further progress as the Egyptians continue to build on their democratic future.
QUESTION: Does the United States not have any misgivings about the fact that the amendments that were voted on were crafted by a secretive 10-member panel with no women and no significant opposition figures?
MR. TONER: Well – but what’s important to focus on is the substance of the referendum – the reforms, rather. Candidates will now have three ways to get on the presidential ballot, that the president can now only serve two four-year terms, the president’s now obligated to appoint at least one vice president, and the judiciary’s return to active supervision of elections.
These are positive trends. I note your question and some of these misgivings. Certainly, Egypt’s under tremendous pressure right now as they move towards elections, and we feel that this is progress.
QUESTION: And one other thing. I think it’s about a month now since Vice President Biden called for the emergency law to be – the state of emergency to be suspended immediately. Is that still your position, that it should be suspended immediately?
MR. TONER: There’s been no change that I’m aware of in that policy.
QUESTION: On the referendum again, many in the opposition say that they won’t have enough time to prepare for the elections, this is mainly the secular opposition, and it’s noted that the Brotherhood and the remnants of the NDP are for the – were for the amendments. So do you share those concerns that they won’t have enough time to compete against the more established groups?
MR. TONER: I do think we’ve – and we’ve said before that we recognize that there’s a time constraint, and it’s one of the things that we’re committed to helping the Egyptians address in any way we can. But it is – it’s a challenge, and we’re aware of it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) at least --
QUESTION: Any objections to --
MR. TONER: Yeah, one more on Egypt and --
QUESTION: Yeah, one more on Egypt.
MR. TONER: It’s okay. It’s okay, ma’am.
QUESTION: Did you say that you do have some misgivings about the referendum? Like (inaudible) –
MR. TONER: No, I said – I think I was clear in saying that we feel that it accomplished a great deal --
MR. TONER: -- and it helped set --
QUESTION: Right, but you have some misgivings. That’s what you said. What are those misgivings?
MR. TONER: I don’t think I did say there were misgivings. I think I said – I acknowledged what Arshad said --
QUESTION: Oh, I must have – oh, I see.
MR. TONER: -- but on the whole, we feel that it was – it did a great deal in setting the stage in – for a democratic progress.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Courtney.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay, a couple things. Has – what calls has Secretary Clinton made today, if any, specifically regarding Libya? And can you talk about what kind of engagement the U.S. is having with Libyan opposition forces, if any, at this point?
MR. TONER: Sure. In answer to your first question, yesterday she spoke with Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi-Fihiri, and then as well as the Saudi Foreign Minister al-Faysal. That was yesterday. And then also, just note today she’s spoken with the President twice and with other senior national security officials, and she received – has received regular briefings from her team. And she’ll also be making additional calls. And as we get those, I can pass them to you.
We continue to maintain contact, to talk to the Libyan opposition. The Secretary was in Paris on Saturday. Those communications continue. And we’re also, obviously, in touch with them in Benghazi and elsewhere.
QUESTION: And what level is that at right now? I mean, who from the U.S. is in touch with the rebels, opposition – however you want to call –
MR. TONER: Well, to many – clearly, it’s at several different levels, I mean, beginning with the Secretary, obviously, and then down to Chris Stevens, who’s working these issues for us, Ambassador Cretz and others within the NEA Bureau.
QUESTION: Sorry, she’s had those talks since she met with the opposition? She has spoken with the opposition since Tuesday when she met – or Monday, or when she met with them in Paris?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe – I don’t believe there’s been additional meetings, no.
QUESTION: Okay. And can you talk about the nature of these talks? Are they passing or sharing intelligence, kind of figuring out what –
MR. TONER: I’m not going to talk about sharing intelligence with the Libyan opposition. I think we’ve been clear --
QUESTION: No, but can you say what you’re talking to them about?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, first of all, we’re trying to get – we don’t have eyes and ears on the ground in some of these places, so we’re sharing information but also getting their impressions of what’s happening. And obviously, right now the focus is on the military operation underway in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. And the immediate goals of that are to stop the fighting, to force Qadhafi into a ceasefire, and to provide humanitarian assistance. So that’s the focus of our conversations right now.
QUESTION: But you also said that Secretary Clinton has said that Colonel Qadhafi must go. So, obviously, as you’ve said, this – the no-fly zone is to protect the civilians. But what is the larger U.S. goal here? If – how do you square Qadhafi must go with the military action is only to protect civilians? So what are the next steps in terms of after you set up the no-fly zone? What are the next steps in terms of dealing with the opposition? There’s a lot of leeway and wiggle room in this opposition – in this resolution to help the opposition. So what happens after the no-fly zone is imposed?
MR. TONER: Well, I recognize that there’s a lot of steps in front of us, and you’re right to differentiate what we’re doing right now in terms of UNSCR 1973, or – sorry – UN Security Council Resolution – I hate acronyms – 1973 and what we’re doing to implement that and what possible next steps may be. We have been clear that in the long term we don’t see Qadhafi as a legitimate ruler and we believe he should step down. We are going to, in the long term; continue to apply pressure on him and his associates. 1973 does offer some additional added pressure on Qadhafi himself and his regime, but we’re going to continue discussing with the opposition, working with them, trying to get a feel as they develop as well as an opposition. But that’s separate and apart from what’s going on right now with the military operation.
Go ahead, actually – go ahead, Courtney.
QUESTION: Just the last question I was going to ask was: As far as the talks that the U.S. is having with the opposition, are you asking them not to reengage with Qadhafi’s forces at this point? Are you telling them step back, don’t fight, we’re going to keep pushing the regime loyalists back?
MR. TONER: Well, we want to see a cessation of violence, but beyond that, I can’t tell you what operationally we’re advising the --
QUESTION: Which side do you want to see cessation of violence on? From both sides or just --
MR. TONER: Well, yeah, we want to see just a cessation of violence. I mean, we had Qadhafi poised to basically to go in and reduce Benghazi to rubble. I mean, he was issuing threats and warnings that prompted the military action that we’ve seen underway. We’re trying to end the violence. We’ve, I think, made progress to that end. But as to what we’re advising the opposition, I don’t really want to get into it.
QUESTION: But the Pentagon has --
MR. TONER: Yes. Go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: The Pentagon has said that you could end up in a situation where Qadhafi does stay in power. So how do you square that with Secretary Clinton’s statement that Qadhafi must go? And what – you could have a situation where you have an extended no-fly zone and a partition of the country for a long time, like you did in Iraq.
MR. TONER: We could have a lot of different scenarios play out, and that’s why I don’t really want to get into conjecturing or speculating about each one. Again, our immediate goal is the no-fly zone, our piece of that, and then going forward, continuing to apply pressure on Qadhafi and his regime.
Nicole and then Jim.
QUESTION: So would you say that your policy towards Libya is ad-hoc? I mean, it seems – what is the grand – what is --
QUESTION: Can I ask (inaudible) question instead of that?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Sorry. (Laughter.) When you --
MR. TONER: I’m not going to – I’m certainly not going to embrace your characterization of it though, no.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
QUESTION: Can you explain what you mean when you talk about the opposition? Are you talking about one group informally led by Mahmoud Jibril or are you talking to different groups? What do you mean by that word?
MR. TONER: I think at this point it’s more broad-based, and we’re trying to get a sense of how the opposition – I mean, the opposition has been coming together to some extent, but obviously it’s been under tremendous duress. But we’re talking to many different elements, and I don’t want to really characterize it beyond that. But we’re --
QUESTION: -- one single group, but --
QUESTION: Mark, just a --
MR. TONER: James, sorry.
QUESTION: That’s all right. Thanks, Mark. A couple of things. First, would you just lay out for us what you believe to be the status of the campaign right now. Have we effectively established the no-fly zone we were seeking to establish?
MR. TONER: Well, boy, that’s a better question directed to the Pentagon. And I know they’ve given operational briefs that have, I think, positively assessed where we’re at so far and talked about what’s going to now be a transition into a broad-based coalition, perhaps led by NATO command and control that’s going to then enforce a no-fly zone. But I think early assessments – and again, I’m just going by what I’ve seen from the Pentagon – is that it’s been moderately – it’s been successful.
QUESTION: Two more questions.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Since the military action is authorized by a UN resolution that provides only for the protection of civilians as its primary goal, are we to infer that the successful attack on Qadhafi’s compound was either a mistake or collateral damage?
MR. TONER: I’m aware of what you’re talking about. In terms of targeting, I really do have to refer you to the Pentagon and DOD, Department of Defense. I just don’t want to attempt to characterize that. However, they have said that they will go after command and control aspects of Qadhafi’s forces, and that may have been the case here. I just simply don’t know.
QUESTION: Last thing, if I may. Last one.
MR. TONER: Go ahead, finish up.
QUESTION: The last one.
MR. TONER: Then I’ll get to --
QUESTION: Tom Donilon in his briefing repeatedly made reference to how it is the goal of the United States, pursuing its own unilateral policy, separate and aside from the UN actions, to present Qadhafi with choices. And pursuant to Qadhafi leaving is that way that Donilon put it. Just for the sake of clarity, for Colonel Qadhafi’s clarity, for my clarity, for the world’s clarity, what are the choices that you want Qadhafi to be able to see that he has?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s – there are a series of choices. And again, this is not – and the President and Secretary made this clear. This is not the outcome of the United States or any of our partners in this action sought. But what we’ve made clear is we’ve called on – after UN Security Council Resolution 1973 passed, we gave the Qadhafi regime an opportunity to declare a cease fire. They did, but then they didn’t. They declared it, but then we saw actions on the ground that belied that statement. And so, again, there was another opportunity for him to – where he had a choice, and he made the wrong choice. He chose poorly, to quote a famous movie.
But in any case, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to convince Colonel Qadhafi and his regime and his associates that they need to step down from power, that they’re delegitimized as the leaders of their country, having turned weapons against their own people, and that remains our ultimate goal here.
QUESTION: But as a practical matter, how are you driving Qadhafi to make the right choice when you have also made it unmistakably clear that the moment he steps down, he will be treated as a war criminal? How are you helping him go make the decision you want him to make?
MR. TONER: Well, James, what we’re trying to do is --
QUESTION: His choices are down to staying in power or being treated like a war criminal, correct?
MR. TONER: Well, again --
QUESTION: Are those his choices?
MR. TONER: -- it is not for us to present him with some kind of golden parachute after what he’s done against his own people.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said that – wait, I forgot my question.
MR. TONER: That’s okay. We’ll come back to it.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Wait, can I give you two really easy ones? And I think --
QUESTION: Yeah, I remember. I think I remember. Can I just – before I forget it, Matt? (Laughter.) Everybody said that Arab support was critical for this coalition – not only Arab support, but leadership and participation. So far, we only have one Arab country, Qatar, that’s taking part in this coalition. You expected several others such as the UAE, possibly Kuwait, Jordan, Algeria. Where is all this Arab support? There’s also been kind of inconsistent statements coming from the Arab League about whether this is what they signed up for.
Isn’t this what you were afraid of, that the Arabs would say that they supported it, and then when it came time to show their support, they wouldn’t offer it?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve been very clear, Elise, throughout this process that we are looking for and, in fact, asking for Arab support. And in fact, one of the motivating factors for Security Council Resolution 1973 was that the GCC and the Arab League came out and asked for that kind of assistance for Libya. And you’re right; Qatar has stepped forward as offering their assets. We want to see Arab support. I don’t want to attempt to characterize before – it’s really up to – and I think Admiral Mullen spoke about this yesterday – up to them to characterize what that support will be, but --
QUESTION: But it does seem that Arabs are not as firmly in kind of the leadership and participation role that you were looking for, which is what, as you said, was a motivating factor for passing the resolution and for the United States getting involved. I mean, the United States told these Arab states, “We’re not going to do this unless you’re – you have skin in the game.” So where is the Arab skin in the game?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re at a phase where initially, the U.S. had certain capabilities that were brought to bear in the early stages, and we believe we do have broad support, Arab support, as we move forward in this process.
QUESTION: If you don’t see that – just one more – if you don’t see that support, if you don’t see more Arab nations taking part in this, is there a possibility that the U.S. will withdraw its support for the no-fly zone?
MR. TONER: I’ll just say that we believe that’s – we have that broad support.
I got to go to --
QUESTION: Sorry, just to follow up on that --
QUESTION: I don’t know what --
QUESTION: -- one Arab country is enough Arab support? I mean, that’s enough for you guys?
MR. TONER: I didn’t say that.
QUESTION: Well, that’s what I’m asking you.
MR. TONER: We’re leaving it for Arab countries themselves to come out and to qualify their support (inaudible) --
QUESTION: But I’m asking you if you – right now, you have --
MR. TONER: We appreciate the fact that Qatar stepped forward, absolutely.
QUESTION: I understand that. Is – but you – right now, you have one. Is that enough to --
MR. TONER: I’m not --
QUESTION: -- fulfill what you have said is your goal of getting Arab support?
MR. TONER: We believe we’ve got Arab support. I don’t know how to --
QUESTION: But not – but you said – you didn’t only say support. You said you wanted Arab participation --
MR. TONER: Support and participation, yeah.
QUESTION: -- participation and leadership.
QUESTION: I mean, is it leadership if they don’t admit what they’re doing, assuming they’re doing anything other than Qatar?
MR. TONER: Again, I just think we need to let this process play out. Let’s move forward. We’re at a stage now where, obviously, as we were quite clear, the U.S. and others, key allies, had certain assets brought to bear. This is going to be an operation moving forward. It’s going to be a short-term operation, but we’re at the very beginning, and I just don’t want to characterize it in one way or another, what that support is.
QUESTION: But do you believe that more Arab countries will come forward, or don’t you have that indication right now?
MR. TONER: I’ll just say that we – we’re doing this in support of the GCC and the Arab League, and beyond that, I’m just not going to qualify it.
QUESTION: But can I ask --
MR. TONER: Matt and then Michel.
QUESTION: Can I ask a small one that’s related to this?
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I believe the UAE has said that it is going to focus only on humanitarian.
MR. TONER: And that’s support.
QUESTION: So that’s good enough in terms of participation and leadership – humanitarian actions on the part of the Arab nations?
MR. TONER: We would qualify that as support, yes.
QUESTION: Now --
MR. TONER: Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: -- two things – these are really two very easy ones that you might actually be able to answer.
MR. TONER: Hey.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask you if you would agree that your policy is a failure and completely ad hoc, but --
MR. TONER: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- I decided against that. The Secretary’s --
MR. TONER: I can’t answer that.
QUESTION: -- talk with the Moroccan yesterday, he is here in town. Was that in person or was that on phone?
MR. TONER: It was on the phone. She was up in New York.
QUESTION: And secondly, as you pointed out --
MR. TONER: That is – that was easy, thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah. And secondly, as you pointed out and others, the UN – the resolution calls for the protection of civilians. Will the coalition act to protect civilians who support Qadhafi?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, you mean – well, I mean, we’re – we always – in what way? I’m unclear about – you’re talking about --
QUESTION: I don’t know, I thought it was pretty direct.
MR. TONER: But you’re talking about --
QUESTION: There is people in Libya right now who, for whatever reason, are – favor – are out demonstrating – civilians – demonstrating in support of Colonel Qadhafi. Will the coalition act to protect them if the opposition forces --
MR. TONER: We don’t want to see violence perpetrated against innocent civilians.
QUESTION: So you will?
QUESTION: Well, are they innocent or --
QUESTION: Hold on a second, let me – will you attack the opposition forces or prevent them from attacking pro-Qadhafi civilians?
MR. TONER: That’s not happening right now, and that – frankly, that’s – I’m just not going to answer a hypothetical.
QUESTION: That’s not a hypothetical.
MR. TONER: Yes, it is.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding of this resolution that it allows for the coalition to protect pro-Qadhafi civilians?
MR. TONER: The UN Security Council resolution authorizes states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians.
QUESTION: Regardless of who they – regardless of whose side they’re on?
MR. TONER: All civilians, but --
QUESTION: So --
MR. TONER: -- again, you’re asking me to answer a hypothetical that’s not actually occurring right now, so --
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: I know, but --
QUESTION: I don’t think it’s a hypothetical. I think that – I mean, I’m not asking you if it’s going to happen. I’m just saying is it your understanding that the coalition --
MR. TONER: My understanding is that --
QUESTION: -- will act --
MR. TONER: My understanding – and again, I’m just looking at the text and it’s saying it authorizes states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians.
QUESTION: And your understanding is that applies to pro-Qadhafi civilians as well as anti-Qadhafi --
MR. TONER: That applies to --
QUESTION: -- civilians?
MR. TONER: -- Libyan civilians.
QUESTION: Are the rebels civilians?
MR. TONER: We believe that Qadhafi took up arms against his own people and is reaping the consequences of that, which is that he’s now – these people are defending their lives and their livelihood and their families.
QUESTION: So a rebel is an empowered civilian? I mean, are rebel civilians? They bear arms; therefore, it would seem they don’t meet the definition of being a civilian.
MR. TONER: Guys, look, I’m just going to go with what I’ve said from the onset, which is that we are in an operation right now designed to end the violence, protect civilians, bring humanitarian aid to those civilians who’ve been under siege from Qadhafi’s forces, and end the violence. That’s the immediate goal in front of us. I just don’t want to parse out --
QUESTION: Today at the Pentagon in an operational briefing, which – they defined the – and the rebels and the opposition as the civilians who are trying to protect their homes and they’re armed. But whom – with which leaders of these civilians Secretary Clinton is speaking? Is she speaking to the rebels?
MR. TONER: We’re speaking with a variety of people in the opposition, and I don’t really need to characterize it beyond that.
Go ahead. Okay, yeah.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that the extent of this operation is simply to create the space for the people of Libya to work this out with Qadhafi themselves?
MR. TONER: I think what we had with Qadhafi’s forces in Benghazi and elsewhere was an untenable situation, and the international community recognized that and spoke with a very unified voice saying that – is that? We’re done? (Laughter.) Sorry, well, speaking with a very unified voice saying we need to take necessary stops – necessary steps to end the violence that’s being perpetrated. I don’t want to – we’ve said all along that we believe that once Qadhafi took up arms against his people that he and his associates – his regime – lost their legitimacy to govern, and they need to be held accountable. So what you’re suggesting to me it doesn’t sound like that. And I think that we just need to – those are the longer-term goals here that we feel that Qadhafi needs to step down.
QUESTION: I really ask you – let me also ask you this.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Given that the President is in the Southern Hemisphere right now, there’s already a lot of political consternation here within the U.S. about the U.S.’s decision to take the leading edge on establishing this no-fly zone. Is the Secretary going to be acting as the President’s surrogate to talk to members of Congress about why the U.S. is doing this and what it’s planning to do in terms of trying to shift over to a NATO-led, French-led, whatever-led coalition in the coming days?
MR. TONER: Well, certainly, the Secretary is always willing, able, and ready to speak and help inform members of Congress about what we’re doing. And I’m sure the same goes for the Secretary of Defense as well.
Goyal, and then in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Are you looking for Colonel Qadhafi in order to bring him to justice for the crimes he has committed against his own people? And second, how can you protect the civilians when still Colonel Qadhafi’s killing his own people right now because you have only fly – no-fly zone?
MR. TONER: We’ve got, as Matt just characterized it, we’ve – UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes the use of all means to protect civilians, and so we’re focused on that, on ending the violence. On your first question about Qadhafi, this is not directed at him.
Elshon -- or do you want to change the subject, Elshon?
QUESTION: No, no, on Libya and Turkey.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: My question is: Turkey’s opposing the idea of a NATO involvement on – in Libya, and how are you going to manage your differences with the Turkish Government, and what specific role do you think – or do you expect from Turkey?
MR. TONER: Well, Turkey’s a close ally, obviously, and also has considerable military assets within NATO. Again, I don’t want to characterize what their role is, because that’s up for them to define that. And then within NATO, those kinds of consultations are ongoing in Brussels, so I don’t want to get out in front of them. But we obviously consider Turkey to be an invaluable partner in these kinds of situations.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with this?
MR. TONER: Can I get back to you?
QUESTION: Turkey and Libya actually – or you willing to – ready to announce your protecting power with Libya?
MR. TONER: Oh, there you go. I’m not ready to. We’re still actively trying to establish a protecting power, and I’ll let you guys know when I have something to announce on that.
QUESTION: I think the Turkish ambassador announced it this morning.
MR. TONER: I’ll let you guys know when I have something to announce.
QUESTION: Can we move on to Yemen?
QUESTION: Musa Kusa.
QUESTION: Can we just – on Libya --
MR. TONER: Yeah, can we wrap up Libya and then go to Yemen?
QUESTION: Libya, right here – Libya. On the 11th of this month, which is almost 10 days ago, both Ali Aujali, the former ambassador to Washington, and Shalgam, the former ambassador to the United Nations, came out and clearly said that after their meeting with Mr. Feltman that they are the entity in which you are interlocutoring with. So are there anybody else, or is there anyone else in Libya that you are in contact with when – besides the National Interim Council?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to attempt to give you a play-by-play about who we’re talking to, but Aujali is among them. Mr. Aujali is one of the people we’re in contact with.
QUESTION: So you recognize the interim council as the legitimate whatever – authority or political party in Libya?
MR. TONER: No, I’m not going to make that --
QUESTION: Interim council?
QUESTION: Just one clarification?
MR. TONER: Go ahead, Lachlan and --
QUESTION: You said earlier that 1973 – Resolution 1973 gives added pressure on Qadhafi. Can you elaborate how it adds pressure?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean – yeah, sure. I mean, obviously it authorizes states to take all necessary measures to enforce the arms embargo. That includes inspection of aircraft vessels of transporting arms or mercenaries, which has been, obviously, a problem, in violation. We can actually board those ships and now we have the legal authority to do that. And we can also – it provides for the freezing of assets of Libyan officials – or Libyan authorities rather – and imposes aviation restrictions, targeted sanctions on other regime figures. So --
QUESTION: But the strikes themselves don’t provide added pressure?
MR. TONER: The – you mean --
QUESTION: The air strikes.
MR. TONER: Well, sure that adds an element as well.
QUESTION: Could we go to Yemen?
QUESTION: Just one last one on Libya.
MR. TONER: I’m ready to go to Yemen. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m sure.
MR. TONER: Yeah, literally.
QUESTION: It sounds better than --
QUESTION: Literally or figuratively?
MR. TONER: Maybe.
QUESTION: So if I understood you correctly, you said that you feel that you have Arab support. Is it then fair to say that you are not making any particular special efforts at this point to increase that support, shore it up, persuade more Arab countries to join you?
MR. TONER: I think it’s ongoing. Again, I don’t see this – I see this as a continuum. So my answer is: Yes, of course we’re going to continue to talk to our Arab partners and obviously seek their support and also seek their guidance as we move forward and their input into this process.
QUESTION: On Yemen.
QUESTION: Yemen --
QUESTION: On Libya.
QUESTION: Quick ones. They’re quick ones.
MR. TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: We have –
QUESTION: Why isn’t Colonel Qadhafi a target?
MR. TONER: Because that’s not the goal of 1973. And then --
QUESTION: Is there a possibility for a diplomatic solution if there is a ceasefire at all with Qadhafi?
MR. TONER: I think only in that he would leave power.
Anyway, go ahead.
QUESTION: On 1973, three countries – Germany, Brazil, and India – abstained. What is the kind of support you are receiving from these three countries on your operation?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, what – I missed the last part.
QUESTION: What’s the level of support you are receiving from these three countries which abstained from 1973 Resolution?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, they’re obviously going to be consulted with moving forward. I’ll ask them to explain their votes. Beyond that, I don’t really have much to say other than that we’ll continue to consult with them.
QUESTION: On those abstentions, are there going to be any repercussions for those non-votes?
QUESTION: Especially India. You said President went to --
QUESTION: I’m sorry. There are three countries, not just India. Are you saying no?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: There won’t be any – there’s no frustration or –
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. No, Matt.
QUESTION: Five countries abstained.
QUESTION: Well, he named three.
MR. TONER: Yemen.
QUESTION: On Yemen. So is it time for President Salih to step down? He’s –
MR. TONER: I don’t know whether the French –
QUESTION: He’s had numerous – I mean, every minute, it’s another – either a top cabinet official, top military general, ambassadors, everyone is leaving. France said it’s time to go. Is it time?
MR. TONER: We are monitoring the situation closely. We understand that he’s dissolved his cabinet, dismissed his ministers, and then announced a caretaker cabinet or government until new ministers are named. Our position remains that we feel that there needs to be a process in place that leads to a peaceful solution to Yemen’s current political situation, and this needs – this must include genuine participation by all sides. It has to include – be an open and transparent process and one that addresses the legitimate concerns of all Yemeni people.
Beyond that, it’s very fluid right now. I don’t want to – I am aware of the French, but at this point, our focus is on –
QUESTION: Well, are they going through elections, new elections –
QUESTION: Are there any U.S. officials who are directly in touch with the president?
MR. TONER: Let me just – did you have another question, and then I’ll –
QUESTION: Yeah, and then, I mean – and also Nichole’s question as well. I mean, in Egypt, in Libya now, when many people were on the streets and the leader of the country opened violence against the peaceful protestors, you said it was time for them to go, that they lost all authority to lead, and they should step down. So why is the situation different in Yemen? I mean, basically, his whole government has resigned, his top military generals, and he’s opening up force against his people. So why is the situation different?
MR. TONER: Well, again, while we have always, throughout the wave of change that’s taking place in the Middle East and in North Africa – that we support certain universal rights, it’s difficult to compare one country to another and the situation there --
QUESTION: Do you think that universal human rights are being respected in Yemen?
MR. TONER: We believe that they need to be respected and that President Salih needs to take more steps – clearly, what he’s doing and what he’s done so far is not enough to address the concerns of his people. He needs to do more. I understand it’s a very fluid situation as well. I think that General al-Ahmar resigned, announced his support for demonstrators.
What we want and what we hope for is that their actions will encourage President Salih to take the necessary steps to promote a meaningful dialogue that addresses the concerns of his people. We abhor the violence. We want a cessation of all violence against demonstrators. They deserve to peacefully carry out their universal rights. But beyond that, that’s all I can say at this point.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious, though. What is the tipping point when you call for a leader to leave? I mean, what was the tipping – what is the tipping point here? And to Nichole’s point, has anybody in this building reached out to President Salih?
MR. TONER: I think the – I can check on that. I’m not aware that there has been in the past 24 hours, but I can check.
QUESTION: Well, on the – yeah, but what’s the tipping point? I mean, what was the tipping point for President Mubarak or President – or Colonel Qadhafi? It seemed that it was when –
MR. TONER: It is not for us to decide what the tipping point is. It is for the people of that country.
QUESTION: Well, it seems like they’ve decided.
QUESTION: Well, it’s (inaudible). But a couple of points, though --
MR. TONER: Then what we want to see is a Yemeni process and solution to the situation, as we’ve called for elsewhere.
QUESTION: But a couple of points, though, to follow up on Elise – at least three times in the past month, the White House has said – has condemned the violence that the Yemeni Government has exacted against the protestors who have been out on the street. Each time, there’s been a phone call either from the President or from the Vice President to President Salih who has said, “You’re right. I messed up. I’m going to open up the political process. I’m going to make it easier for people to protest. I won’t have my soldiers turn their guns on the people.” And every time, there’s been an escalation in the violence.
As Elise put it, what’s the tipping point? And is the only reason why the U.S. hasn’t gone ahead and called for Mr. Salih to step down is because of Yemen’s cooperation in trying to deal with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula?
MR. TONER: And I’ll just once again say that we are obviously very concerned about the violence in Yemen. The President condemned it on Friday. I believe the White House has spoken to President Salih – not the President – but John Brennan reiterated our views. We’ve made it quite clear that any Yemeni Government needs to refrain from violence against nonviolent, peaceful protestors. And any government has to support political change that meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people. I am aware that President Salih has announced an investigation into the March 18th violence, and we obviously call on him to carry that out in a transparent way. But it’s a very fluid situation and that’s where we are right now.
QUESTION: But why is the U.S. trusting someone who has committed these apparent acts of humanitarian violence against his own people? Does it come down to the assistance which the U.S. is looking to Yemen to provide on AQAP?
MR. TONER: What our – our assistance for Yemen is based on, in some ways – or in many ways in trying to address some of the inequities that exist in trying to build a prosperous economy and to address many of the issues that the Yemeni people are protesting for. But beyond that, I don’t want to – there’s not some kind of quid pro quo or anything like that.
QUESTION: Two quick questions. Are any U.S. officials in touch with some of the cabinet members who have resigned in Yemen? And two, what will it mean for the U.S. if the president goes?
MR. TONER: On the first issue, I’ll have to take that question. I don’t know that there’s been any communication since they resigned. I just don’t know.
And the second question was? I apologize.
QUESTION: It’s another way of asking her question.
MR. TONER: What will --
QUESTION: What does it mean for the U.S. if the president goes? I mean, are you that worried about AQAP?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, obviously our concerns are well known about AQAP and we continue to cooperate with the Yemeni Government. But again, that’s not --
QUESTION: And it seems like --
MR. TONER: This isn’t about --
QUESTION: -- you’d have an opinion on whether Salih --
MR. TONER: This is about the Yemeni people and having their rights and their needs and their desires addressed by the Yemeni Government. It’s not about the U.S. and what we want to see out of this.
QUESTION: But you guys – just to follow up Elise, you guys were calling for Mubarak to go, a 30-year ally, when he started shooting his own people. And yet the silence on Yemen is kind of deafening.
MR. TONER: I don’t think we’ve been silent at all. The President had a very forceful statement.
QUESTION: You haven’t called for him to go.
QUESTION: Once again, you’re taking the presumption of the question and you’re not challenging it. When was it that the U.S. called for Mubarak to step down?
MR. TONER: I don’t remember.
QUESTION: Because you didn’t. That’s why you don’t remember.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the Warden’s Message that you’ve put out to American citizens to stay inside tonight?
MR. TONER: We do have a Warden Message out.
QUESTION: Obviously, you’re very concerned about the situation on the ground.
MR. TONER: Right. And we have issued a Warden Message for U.S. citizens to stay indoors. I’m sorry, you’re – and you’re saying we’re concerned about – we’re obviously concerned. We’re under voluntary – we do take the welfare of American citizens very seriously.
QUESTION: What country are we talking about here?
MR. TONER: Yemen. I’d forgotten, too.
QUESTION: Is the Embassy – is the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a under any kind of extraordinary measures today, under any kind of extraordinary rules of engagement or whatever measures in Yemen?
MR. TONER: We’re still doing the Mubarak --
QUESTION: No, I’m saying --
MR. TONER: These guys are going to chat here about Egypt.
QUESTION: Is there anything extraordinary about the conduct of the Embassy in Sana’a? And conversely, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I understand the question. We’ve obviously --
QUESTION: Okay, let me explain. Is the Embassy conducting its affairs regularly in Sana’a?
MR. TONER: I believe it’s open for business. But obviously, I believe we’re also under voluntary authorized departure --
QUESTION: And conversely, are you in touch with the Yemeni ambassador to Washington?
MR. TONER: I’d have to check. I assume so.
QUESTION: Mark, on Syria, do you have any reaction to the demonstrations? Seven people got killed and hundreds injured during the weekend.
QUESTION: Now, I’m aware of the demonstrations that you’re talking about. Obviously, we abhor the violence – we condemn the violence by the Syrian Government that caused the deaths and injuries of individuals that protested in Syria over the weekend – or over the past week, rather – and we call on the Syrian Government to exercise restraint and refrain from violence against these peaceful protestors. We call on the Syrian Government to live up to its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and allow the Syrian people to exercise their universal rights of assembly and speech.
QUESTION: And if not, a no-fly zone?
MR. TONER: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But you’ll call for him to step down, though?
QUESTION: Do you know when – start with his –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) no-fly zone on a Monday next time, please.
MR. TONER: What’s that?
QUESTION: Start the no-fly zone on a Monday next time. That’s all we ask. (Laughter.) At least --
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) And so – anyway.
QUESTION: Do you know whether Ambassador Ford has communicated the U.S.’s --
MR. TONER: He has. He has, yes. Yes.
MR. TONER: And continues to.
Okay, guys, very quickly. We’re – I think we’re stepping the flight I think – I know I am.
QUESTION: Thank you.