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From the Daily Press Briefing of March 22, 2011
1:45 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Mark, on Libya and the diplomatic – the diplomatic side of it. One, I understand that the agreement with the Turks was signed late yesterday for the protecting power. And two, can you bring us up to date on what’s going on at NATO, and why it is that the French seem to want to create some new board to oversee the coalition’s activities?
MR. TONER: In answer to your first question, Matt, that is indeed true that Turkey has agreed to be our protecting power in Libya, and we’re indeed very grateful for Turkey for accepting that role. We’re also – I didn’t get a chance to say it on the record yesterday, but we’re also extremely grateful for Turkey’s efforts to get four missing New York Times journalists safely out of the country.
On your second question regarding NATO, and regarding France’s role, France is obviously working as an integral member of the current coalition that’s conducting military operations carrying out UN Security Council Resolution 1973. They also, at their initiative, held the Paris Summit that you, of course, were at, and they’ve worked from the outset together with the United States, the United Kingdom, and other allies as an integral member of the current coalition.
In terms of what’s going on vis-à-vis NATO, we have said that we believe NATO has certain command and control capabilities as this coalition moves forward, as we move into a different phase, that are indeed very useful. I know that discussions are going on via the North Atlantic Council. As you know, that’s a forum for frank exchanges, candid exchanges, but they are confidential exchanges. I can say that they are meeting today, and as well as the fact that NATO has drawn up plans for a no-fly zone – enforcing a no-fly zone as well as enforcing, I believe, an arms embargo.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to tell me about confidential discussions. The French foreign minister came out and said that they didn’t want this in NATO, and they wanted their own – or they wanted a separate oversight panel to coordinate the operations. What does the U.S. think about that?
MR. TONER: Again, I would just say that we believe the discussions are ongoing at NATO to address some of these concerns, and I don’t want to prejudge those conversations. Just to say that, what we’ve said –
QUESTION: Knowing –
MR. TONER: -- what we’ve said previously which is that NATO has certain command and control capabilities that are useful.
QUESTION: Well, if you’re – if the discussions are ongoing, you wouldn’t be prejudging them now would you? They’ve already begun. So what does the U.S. think –
MR. TONER: Matt, you do such a good job at correcting my grammar. I do appreciate it.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying to figure – I mean, does the U.S. have no opinion on this at all?
MR. TONER: I just said what our opinion was is that we thought that – we believe that NATO has certain command and control capabilities. That said, we’re deeply appreciative of the leading role that France has played in enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
QUESTION: I understand, but what do you think of the French idea that there should be this separate –
MR. TONER: I’m not going to discuss it here. That’s for discussions that take place at NATO.
QUESTION: But just a follow-on on what Matt’s asking. Aside from telling us that frank and candid exchanges are going on, are you willing at least to confirm and acknowledge that there are some serious disagreements between the allied parties here about how to proceed as a logistical matter?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to talk in substance about what may be being discussed at the North Atlantic Council at this time beyond saying that there’s – NATO is a consensus-driven organization. It is also the most powerful military alliance and successful military alliance in history. But it is a consensus-driven organization of democracies. And so there are candid and frank exchanges, and there will be a clear hearing of everyone’s views. But really, I’d refer you to NATO for more details.
QUESTION: No one asked you to – for a substantive readout of those discussions. I’m just asking you to confirm that there are, in fact, disagreements. You don’t have to get into the substance of the disagreements.
MR. TONER: I would say there’s always concerns and different – from different allies within the – within the North Atlantic Council, and those concerns will be held, but I don’t want to go beyond there.
QUESTION: To draw a distinction that I think might be helpful, on the question of NATO’s command and control capabilities separately from the question of who has political responsibility for that, does the U.S. Government see an alternative to using NATO’s command and control capabilities?
MR. TONER: Thanks, Arshad. It’s a good question. We’ve – we’re in the middle of this operation, or we’ve begun an operation over the weekend designed to, obviously, implement UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The U.S. up front, along with other key allies, brought certain capabilities to bear. We’ve said all along that we’re going to transition into a broader coalition. I think what the coalition looks like, and including its structure, is still being discussed and evaluated, but I don’t want to go beyond what I’ve just said.
QUESTION: One other question. I mean, you’ve spoken several times about the utility of NATO’s command and control capabilities. The other question is: Is it conceivable to you that those command and control capabilities could be deployed, made use of, under any kind of controlling authority other than the North Atlantic Council itself?
MR. TONER: Conceivable, yes. But again, what this finally looks like is really for the North Atlantic Council and others at NATO to decide.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean to – I’m sorry, that sounds like you’re willing to consider the French –
MR. TONER: I just can’t. I am just saying --
QUESTION: -- option, which was my question in the first place.
MR. TONER: I’m just saying right now that we’re not – this is an ongoing process. We’re moving into a different phase of operations, and they’re discussing what that’s going to look like.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary talked to her French counterpart about this problem (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Not that – no, her calls – no, no calls to her French counterpart.
QUESTION: Can you tell us who she called?
MR. TONER: She spoke yesterday with the president of Gabon, Bongo, President Bongo.
QUESTION: About Libya?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into the substance, but --
QUESTION: Did she call anyone in the –
MR. TONER: I mean, I can’t get into the substance, Arshad. You know that.
QUESTION: Did she talk to him about anything that happens to do with the massive amount of crises that are going on around the world right now, none of which are centered on Gabon?
MR. TONER: I imagine their conversation touched upon current events.
QUESTION: The massive number of crises?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure, Paul.
QUESTION: Is the discussion of alternate command-and-control arrangements, is that going to delay the handoff that the U.S. has been looking for?
MR. TONER: That’s really a question better directed to the Pentagon, but we’re moving forward with implementing Security Council Resolution 1973. We believe it’s had initial success, and I don’t believe there’s any concerns about that. But again, that’s probably a question for the Pentagon.
Yeah, go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that Mr. Qadhafi is still receiving outside military help and also still killing his own people on the ground, if not from the air? And finally, how many more nations do you think – especially from the Middle – I mean from the Arab nations and African nations are going to join?
MR. TONER: Well, actually good questions, Goyal.
QUESTION: Well, you don’t have to laugh.
MR. TONER: No, I’m not laughing at him at him. I know those are good questions. What I’m – beginning with your first question, we are actually – U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 does allow for a broader enforcement of the arms embargo against Libya, and so they’re taking steps. And those include, obviously, boarding ships and cutting off that mercenary supply and that arms supply that’s been fueling the Libyan army.
Your next question was about – remind me now.
QUESTION: Killing his own people on the ground still.
MR. TONER: Yeah, we’re still seeing reports of some fighting. I believe around Benghazi it’s better, but there is sporadic fighting in some of the other cities in eastern Libya.
And your last question?
QUESTION: And finally, let’s say --
MR. TONER: Oh, Arab support and other support partners.
QUESTION: Yeah, and Saudi Arabia is now in supporting in Yemen, but why not in –
MR. TONER: Well, again, as I said yesterday, we’re really looking to – it’s not for us to characterize what support some of the partners within the Arab League and the GCC and elsewhere have been – have come forward to offer. Some have been public about that support, and that’s fine. I know Qatar has offered support, as well as the UAE has also offered humanitarian assistance. We continue to talk to our partners, and that will evolve moving forward.
Yeah, go ahead, Nicole.
QUESTION: Two questions, and I realize that this is probably better oriented towards or better asked at the Pentagon, but what you can answer – a) have the rebels begun getting arms from the U.S. and the coalition yet? And b) is there an agreed upon point where they will start to press the offensive and the coalition will step back, or –
MR. TONER: I appreciate the questions, and they’re indeed valid questions. I’m just going to go back to say that we’re taking this one step at a time. The immediate goal is the no-fly zone and providing humanitarian assistance and really ending the violence. We continue our discussions with the Libyan opposition and those are ongoing, obviously, but I don’t want to get into speculating about whether they might then go on the offensive. That’s really --
QUESTION: Beyond that, just the concrete fact of – I believe the resolution allows you to arm them, help them with material?
MR. TONER: It does.
QUESTION: Has that begun to happen?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Mark, is it safe to say that there will be a no-fly zone in place as long as Qadhafi remains in place?
MR. TONER: That’s probably a better question for the Department of Defense. I mean, I can’t say. I note --
QUESTION: It’s a policy question, not a military question.
MR. TONER: Well, not really. I mean, it’s – the goal of the no-fly zone is an operational one. It’s to end the violence that was being perpetrated by Qadhafi and his forces on several cities, but including most, I think, urgently Benghazi. And so that’s the immediate mission, and once that’s been accomplished, then I think it’ll be assessed, it’s future.
QUESTION: No, that was to establish a no-fly zone.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: So the no-fly zone will remain in place as long as Qadhafi --
MR. TONER: I can’t predict a duration. I just can’t.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to get a sense how the U.S. policy makers are making calculations about what their end game should be and how to plan for it accordingly. What is the end game, and how long does it take us to get there? I mean, you must have some notional ideas about that.
MR. TONER: James, again, let’s look at how we got there and where we’re at now. We didn’t ask for this current role. We indeed, through our international partners within the UN Security Council, moved to enact a resolution, frankly, to address urgent humanitarian concerns that there was going to be a bloodbath in Benghazi and other places and --
QUESTION: This is well known.
MR. TONER: And – let me finish, please. We have taken action. That action just began. We’re still establishing the no-fly zone. We’ve had success, we believe, so far in at least quelling the violence. Moving forward, we’ve said that – and the President has said this as well – we’re going to seek to apply – we’ve got other forms of pressure that we can apply on Qadhafi, and we’re going to continue to push for our overarching or our long-term goal, that we believe he is delegitimized as a leader and must step down – he and his regime, his associates. How we get there is, of course, being evaluated and discussed. But again, there’s other forms of pressure that we’re going to keep applying on Qadhafi to get to that point.
QUESTION: So allow me to re-try it one more – one other way, and then I’ll relent. But you will know when you have transferred control of the military campaign to some other entity. How will you know when you have reached your end game in your larger policy, which you just identified as a long-term mission?
MR. TONER: How will we know when we get – reach our end game? I mean --
QUESTION: Your benchmarks for determining success in your long-term policy goals.
MR. TONER: I believe our benchmarks are, again, ending the humanitarian situation that was occurring in Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya. And we’ve done that and we believe – or we’re taking steps towards doing that. That’s ongoing. But we believe that it has had some success. And we did this, let’s all recall, in unified fashion, in coherent fashion. We’re working with our partners. Moving forward, as I’ve said, we’re clear that we believe Qadhafi ultimately needs to step down. And we’re going to seek to apply other forms of pressure.
As far as benchmarks, I guess those are two of them right there.
QUESTION: There is no end in sight, really?
MR. TONER: There is – again, this is – we’re talking about steps along the way, and I can’t predict an end date right now.
QUESTION: Well, I’ll let Nicole go first --
MR. TONER: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you take my question about arming the rebels?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the UAE?
MR. TONER: I can’t say I’m going to get you a very fulsome answer, but – (laughter).
QUESTION: Very honest.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the UAE? Today the --
MR. TONER: Okay, I apologize. I was – for their support. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. The former commander of the armed forces, who’s still a top general in the armed forces, said that the UAE was prepared to deploy military assets to the no-fly campaign but that the criticism of the United States and the European Union over their actions in Bahrain prevented them from doing so, and that they’re – they don’t plan on contributing any military assets until you clarify your position. They say that you don’t understand what they’re doing in Bahrain. They think it’s very serious that Iran is involved and they think your position on this is not something that makes them want to support the no-fly zone.
MR. TONER: Okay. I was unaware of those remarks, but let me try to address them. In terms of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s support, the GCC’s support for what they’re doing, we recognize that that’s a sovereign decision that they are able to make. But what we were clear about is that there is no security solution to the situation in Bahrain. What we’ve said about Bahrain is that there needs to be a credible political process that addresses the aspirations of the Bahraini people. And we similarly call on all the parties to join in a national dialogue with – proposed by Crown Prince Salman. But again, we want to see an end to the violence there and a political dialogue that addresses the Bahraini people’s concerns and, again, a political process that moves forward and towards a resolution.
In terms of Iran’s influence, of course, Iran has a long history of destabilizing activities in the region, and we recognize that. We have, however, seen no evidence to suggest this is happening in Bahrain. And again, just to go back to my original point, there’s no security solution for what’s going on there. We feel that the only real solution there is a political one.
QUESTION: So do you think that the UAE is putting you in a difficult political decision by trying to get you to soften your position or basically blackmailing you on your position on Bahrain in order to get them to cooperate on the no-fly zone?
MR. TONER: I think our position towards Bahrain is crystal clear. We’re going to continue to work with the Bahraini Government. But we also appreciate the support that the UAE has offered in terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
QUESTION: But are you hoping that --
MR. TONER: And we certainly would hope for more. Sure.
QUESTION: But (inaudible) just to – you may not – you’re not aware of the general’s remarks?
MR. TONER: I haven’t seen them.
QUESTION: Are you aware of concern from the UAE in general – forgetting about him – that this is --
MR. TONER: I am not.
QUESTION: -- problematic?
MR. TONER: I am not aware --
QUESTION: Because you’ll recall that the Secretary on Saturday in Paris, in her statement that she led her – the press conference with, made unprompted reference to the Gulf, to Bahrain, and to Iran meddling, which was seen by many as a signal toward the UAE or as a gesture of support toward them. And it would appear now that that wasn’t good enough. You haven’t heard from the UAE at all that they’re unhappy with --
MR. TONER: I would have to look and see what our conversations have entailed with the – or what our conversations have been with the UAE since Saturday. Our position on Bahrain remains what I just told you. I don’t have much beyond that.
QUESTION: All right. And then I just want to get back – this phone call that the Secretary had is puzzling to me. Does Gabon as a country or President Bongo personally have any --
MR. TONER: It’s --
QUESTION: Do they have a leadership role in the AU?
MR. TONER: It’s a member of the African Union. Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, but just --
MR. TONER: I don't know what its – I don't know if it has a leadership role, but it’s certainly a member.
QUESTION: Well, yes, it would stand to reason, since it is in Africa, so it a member of the African Union.
MR. TONER: Yeah, that’s right.
QUESTION: But do they have any kind of a leadership role in the AU at the moment? I mean, I’m just curious as to why she would take this time yesterday to call the president of Gabon.
MR. TONER: It was certainly to discuss Libya and to recognize their help.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on James’s question about what the end game is in Libya? Yesterday, General Ham was quite explicit in saying he had no directive whatsoever to pursue regime change in Libya. Well, how do you judge then that if you wanted to end the no-fly zone that Qadhafi no longer poses a threat to citizens, especially those opposed to his rule?
MR. TONER: And again, I would say that’s a military assessment that looks at the ability of his forces to carry out further offenses against the Libyan civilians.
QUESTION: But are the members --
MR. TONER: I can’t answer that from a policy perspective. It’s a military assessment.
QUESTION: Well, but the military is only doing what the policy makers in this building and at the White House are directing.
MR. TONER: Great. That’s a part of a functioning democracy. Yes.
QUESTION: So – yeah. So is that really – so is that then basically you’re now engaged in this open-ended mission over another country?
MR. TONER: Not at all. We can’t be more clear about what we’re seeking to achieve through the current no-fly zone and UN Security Council 1973. And I really don’t want to reiterate what I’ve already just said to people who’ve heard it umpteen times. But no, there are several stages here. There are several steps that we’re looking at. And we’re going to continue to apply pressure on Qadhafi, on his regime. Our ultimate goal is to see him step down and to see a democratic transformation take place in Libya.
QUESTION: But why wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that the no-fly zone is simply going to continue unless and until the sanctions, the arms embargo, whatever other diplomatic measures actually take effect?
MR. TONER: I believe that’s a military assessment. That’s just my judgment.
Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Is part of the end game to install a democratic system? And I ask because both the White House and the State Department sent out a readout of President Obama’s phone call with the prime minister of Turkey and it said, “The prime minister and President underscored their shared commitment to the goal of helping provide the Libyan people an opportunity to transform their country by installing a democratic system that respects the people’s will.” So are we prompting up a democracy? Is that the end game?
MR. TONER: I think what we’re – look, I’m certainly not going to – (laughter) – refute the readout of the President’s call. It’s absolutely our policy. What we really want to see here is a delegitimized leader who has turned weapons against his own people step aside. He will be held accountable, he and his regime. We’ve been clear on that. But ultimately, to see some kind of democratic transformation emerge. But that obviously –that is in keeping or with the will of the – and the wishes and the desires and the aspirations of the Libyan people.
QUESTION: What if they don’t want a democracy? What if they don’t want a democratic transformation? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Again, this is about the Libyan people’s desires and aspirations.
QUESTION: On that readout, which – I noticed the same thing, but I also noticed that there’s a – in keeping with the – diplomatic negotiations often come down to placements of commas and things like that in statements. And there happens to be a comma before the word “install.” And I’m wondering if the Administration is, as one interpretation could make it, trying to, with its partners, install some kind of democratic institutions, or if, in fact, the comma before the word “install” means that you are just trying to help the Libyan opposition install this. So if someone could pull out their Warriners’s grammatical textbooks or something like that and tell me --
MR. TONER: I just covered this with my seventh-grader, but – (laughter).
QUESTION: All right. So can you – maybe it’s more of a question for the White House, but you might want to ask --
MR. TONER: I think it is more of a question for the White House.
QUESTION: But you might want to ask your colleagues over there if --
MR. TONER: Sure. Thanks, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, just to --
MR. TONER: We’ll review some basic --
QUESTION: -- close out the point, is the installation of some kind of democratic government in Libya part of either the UN objectives or our own unilateral policy?
MR. TONER: Again, this was a White House statement and so it’s really for the White House to address it. However, we want to see, again, Qadhafi and his regime step down. There is a Transitional National Council in the east that represents, we believe, the opposition’s aspirations. And we ultimately want to see a democratic process take place that, again, recognizes the aspirations of all the Libyan people.
QUESTION: So that’s an objective of our policy?
MR. TONER: It’s – sure.
QUESTION: But I mean, wait. Just, I mean --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: You said it represents all Libyans’ aspirations. I mean, Qadhafi, even though there are --
MR. TONER: Well, we all know that a – I mean, a political process takes into account all people’s aspirations. I don’t --
QUESTION: Because Qadhafi still does enjoy a modicum of support.
MR. TONER: I understand that. I understand that. No, but I mean, we have different people who – I mean, look at our own democracy. It’s – I’m not going to say that everyone is necessarily on board, but I’m just saying that a credible – or a democratic process that leads to a transition.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: No, on Libya. How many countries are part of the coalition now? Do you have any list of those countries?
MR. TONER: I can get that for you. I’ll take that question. I didn’t see it, but I think we can get you that number.
QUESTION: And secondly, China and Russia have called for a ceasefire. India has said it is against any external interference in regime change in Libya. Are these countries on the same page with the U.S. on Libya?
MR. TONER: It’s up for them to express their views. They’re certainly able to do that. I’ve seen conflicting public statements out of Russia, but it’s not for me to characterize them.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. TONER: Sure. Oh, I’m sorry. Well, Nicole asked first. But go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Whatever is going on around the globe, Libya and Middle East and all these problems, now many terrorists are or may take advantage of these troubles going on because many experts, including at Stimson Center and Heritage Foundation, Pakistan’s nuclear program may be in danger because of terrorism. Is there any protection?
MR. TONER: I mean, speaking specifically to Libya or are you talking about worldwide?
QUESTION: Pakistanis are now stockpiling and in this, taking advantage from this troubles going all around the globe. More and more weapons they are building but --
MR. TONER: We’re always concerned about nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. It’s an issue we take deadly seriously, obviously.
QUESTION: If India has spoken anything about this issue?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Paul. Nicole, I keep forgetting.
QUESTION: Sorry. A Libya question, yes.
MR. TONER: So we can close the book on Libya.
QUESTION: Does the Department see any signs that any part of Qadhafi’s tribal support is peeling off or that there’s been any important members of his government that have left him because of the bombing campaign?
MR. TONER: It’s a good question. Not that I’m aware of, no. That we certainly are targeting his regime and hoping that he will lose support and that his associates will recognize that they’re on a futile path. But I haven’t – I don’t have any clear indications that that’s happened. I mean, again, we’re extremely limited. No, Nicole. We’re extremely limited. We have no eyes and ears in Tripoli. I mean, we now have a protecting power, but we don’t have a mission there.
QUESTION: I just wanted to know if State has anything to say about the violence going on the Gaza Strip?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any reaction. I’m – the – you’re talking about the --
QUESTION: Planes, bombs, the Palestinians --
MR. TONER: We would ask all – we would ask restraint. And I’m not aware of --
QUESTION: Restraint from the Israelis?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure what you’re referring to specifically.
QUESTION: In their strikes against Gaza?
MR. TONER: We’ll see if we have anything for you on it, Nicole.
QUESTION: Well, no, I mean, the Israelis have launched airstrikes against militants in Gaza, so are you asking them for restraint?
MR. TONER: I’ll see what we have to say.
QUESTION: Just a change of topic. Did you ever get an answer to my question as to whether World – former World Bank president James Wolfensohn went to --
MR. TONER: He did. He was there in a private capacity.
QUESTION: So it was not at the Secretary’s behest, not at the behest of the U.S. Government?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about President Saleh saying that he will step down by the end of the year, or at the end of the year?
MR. TONER: Well, we’re aware of that statement and we’re obviously seeking clarity on it. It’s a very fluid situation on the ground that we’re monitoring closely and evaluating. I thought James was attacking me there.
QUESTION: Only verbally. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: That’s right. That’s allowed.
QUESTION: You’re seeking clarity on it? What – how --
MR. TONER: We’re monitoring the – no, we’re seeking clarity on his announcement, absolutely. I mean, we’re still trying to evaluate it.
QUESTION: How clear can it be: “I will step down at the end of the year”?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is – what we’re looking for is a path to – or rather dialogue that leads to a peaceful solution. We’re not going to make any predictions about what may happen in Yemen or the results of that political dialogue. We just continue to call on all sides and all parties to demonstrate restraint and use dialogue to work for a peaceful resolution.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t see this as something that the opposition should take --
MR. TONER: We --
QUESTION: -- should take --
MR. TONER: Insofar --
QUESTION: Does the U.S. see this as something that the opposition should be happy with?
MR. TONER: We believe that the opposition should indeed engage with the government on a political dialogue, so yes.
QUESTION: Is this – this is a positive step from the president?
MR. TONER: If it – look, it’s not for us to necessarily do a play-by-play. If this is something that the Yemeni people respond to and meets their aspirations, then certainly they can engage in a dialogue. It’s not for us to impose our views necessarily on this beyond what we’ve already said, which is an end to violence, political dialogue that leads to a political process that leads to a political resolution, and no violence.
QUESTION: Can I just suggest that if you don’t want to get into a play-by-play on different countries, you don’t do it like you have been doing in past? I mean, this building, this Administration was pretty specific and play by play about what was happening in Egypt. So if you –
MR. TONER: That was –
QUESTION: If you don’t want to –
MR. TONER: There was a different man at the podium. So –
QUESTION: Would you like to see a swift and orderly transition to democracy in Yemen as you talked about in Egypt?
MR. TONER: We want to see a political dialogue, first and foremost, where the opposition or the – is speaking with the government. And certainly, we want to see a political resolution that leads to the – that leads to – a solution that leads – that meets the aspirations, rather, of the Yemeni people. And –
QUESTION: Well, but President Saleh is offering like this whole transition plan, and he is offering specific things and saying he’s going to step out by the end of the year and help put the transition in place, and the opposition is saying, “No, you have to go tonight.” I mean, is – should they be taking his seriously on – is step down tonight a reasonable demand?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t mean to – to go back to what I just said to Matt, it’s not really for us to say what they should do or shouldn’t do. Both sides, obviously, need to come together and work to resolve the ongoing crisis there. But it’s not for us to say, “Yes, you should take President Saleh at his word,” or, “President Saleh should do more.” Both are going to have to meet in the middle; that’s how consensus is forged.
QUESTION: You’ve said in the past – the President has said in the past on Egypt that reform should have started yesterday.
MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into an Egypt versus Yemen –
QUESTION: Wait a minute. Secretary of State Clinton in the early days of the Egyptian revolution stated that it is our view that the Mubarak government is stable and looking for ways to respond to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. Is it the view of this Department now that President Saleh is looking – is actively trying to respond to the appeals of his people?
MR. TONER: We believe he has made efforts to do so. But again, it’s really up to the Yemeni people to respond to that.
QUESTION: Are they commendable, those efforts?
MR. TONER: We believe they’re – that he’s taking steps, that both sides should work towards meeting in the middle to advance the political process there. But again – I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, even though I do – but it’s really not for us to say what the Yemeni people need to do.
QUESTION: Let me ask you this. First, is anyone in the State Department talking to any members of the opposition in Yemen? I mean, it’s one thing to --
MR. TONER: Sure –
QUESTION: It’s one thing to call for dialogue, but is the U.S. actually trying to engage –
MR. TONER: Through our embassy, absolutely we continue – we’re in touch with both the government and the opposition.
QUESTION: Okay. And then Secretary Gates said this a couple of hours ago, and I’ve – it’s slightly paraphrased here. He said, “I don’t think it’s my place to talk about internal affairs in Yemen, but we are concerned about instability in Yemen because we consider AQAP, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to be perhaps one of the most dangerous franchises. Instability and the diversion of attention from AQAP is one of my primary concerns given the political instability inside Yemen.” Is that a reason for this building’s reluctance to be more actively opinionated about what’s happening in Sana’a right now?
MR. TONER: Our cooperation with both counterterrorism as well as our assistance to Yemen is not about one person. It’s more a commitment to the Yemeni Government and the Yemeni people. And so it’s always a concern for us. AQAP is clearly a huge concern for us, and our counterterrorism cooperation is ongoing. But our assistance is also addressing some of the social inequities that exist there and are reflected, I think, in some of the demonstrations that you see in the streets there. So we’re trying to – it’s a two-pronged process.
QUESTION: Mark –
QUESTION: We’re just trying to –
QUESTION: -- but the Arab League in its emergency session today issued a statement condemning the crimes committed against the civilian people in Yemen. You also had, as we talked about yesterday, several military defections. You had several ambassadors stepping down, top officials. It seems as if the president is losing more and more support in the country. So given what the rest of the Arab League is saying and what his own people are doing and kind of releasing their support for him, does he have the authority to lead?
MR. TONER: Again, this is really a matter for Saleh, his government, and the Yemeni people –
QUESTION: Well, why in Egypt and Libya have you said that the president has –
MR. TONER: Well, let me finish.
QUESTION: -- lost authority to lead, and you can’t say whether he has the authority or not in Yemen?
MR. TONER: Again, these are different countries, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We think that there needs to be, certainly, a political dialogue. We have condemned the violence, the violence that was perpetrated on demonstrators last Friday, for example. We condemn that violence. We want to see the violence end, and we want to see a political dialogue take place. But he –
QUESTION: But what’s the tipping point where you say that he doesn’t have authority to lead? I mean, you started off saying the same exact thing that you’re saying now in Egypt and in Libya, and then you kind of moved to he’s lost authority to lead and has to begin a transition. So where’s the tipping point when you’re going to say that about Yemen?
MR. TONER: I can’t answer that question. I just can – all I can say is that we believe that both sides need to come together and create the necessary space and a political dialogue that resolves the situation.
Yeah. Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: On Syria, the Syrian authorities have arrested hundreds of people and human rights activists and bloggers during the last days. Do you have any reaction to that? And have you talked to the government, Syrian Government?
MR. TONER: We are – we continue to talk to the Syrian Government and make our views clear. We have obviously been following news of these arrests. We were quite clear yesterday in calling on the Syrian Government to live up to its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to allow the Syrians to exercise their universal rights of free speech.
QUESTION: Do you know whom Ambassador Ford has spoken to?
MR. TONER: Not specifically. I’ll have to --
QUESTION: Can you find out?
MR. TONER: I can try, sure.
QUESTION: Moving to --
MR. TONER: I mean, his counterparts within the Syrian Government, but I can try to get you specific --
QUESTION: I want to move to thorns in the side of the U.S. in another hemisphere. It turns out that Fidel Castro says that he resigned five years ago without anyone noticing from being the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. I’m wondering if his announcement today, or his revelation of this, means anything for U.S. policy, if you care, or if you think it makes any difference.
MR. TONER: I’ll see if we have a reaction for you. I don’t – first time I’m hearing that. I have no idea what he said, so we’ll see what he said.
QUESTION: He said he resigned five years ago.
MR. TONER: I trust you, Matt, but I’ll wait and see his words for myself.
QUESTION: In Afghanistan, President Karzai today announced a transition – a (inaudible) transition in July, seven territories, he said. Do you have anything to say on that?
MR. TONER: We’ll have more to say on that later today, I think.
QUESTION: For the last several years, the Libyan Government has said that they really haven’t seen the benefits of giving up their weapons of mass destruction because the U.S. never made good on its promises. I mean, this military action – the – what’s going on aside, the Libyans have said that they never saw the benefits of giving up their weapons of mass destruction. They never saw the relationship with the U.S. improve. So, I mean, if the Iranians and North Koreans are looking at this --
MR. TONER: There is – if --
QUESTION: -- it doesn’t really look – give them a lot of incentive to give up their nuclear weapons.
MR. TONER: And where they’re at today has absolutely no connection with them renouncing their nuclear program and nuclear weapons. And in fact, it’s – frankly, it’s a good thing that they did, because if they had such weapons of mass destruction and they turn weapons so easily against their own people, then God help us.
QUESTION: Well, but Mark, you have to look at it the – from the other way. And I think that – all joking aside – that the United States – U.S. officials, from President Bush – former President Bush, former Secretary of State Rice, a whole slew of people, and including in this Administration, said to the Iranians and the North Koreans to look to Libya as a model; this is what can happen to you if you --
MR. TONER: Yeah, but Matt --
QUESTION: This is – no, I’m – before --
MR. TONER: I agree with what you’re saying.
QUESTION: That if you do what Libya did, you will get the same benefits that Libya was getting before.
MR. TONER: I agree. I’m not arguing necessarily that point, but Qadhafi made a decision when he turned weapons against his own people and conducted an armed military campaign and vowed to show no mercy on the several hundred thousand residents of Benghazi. The international community – not the United States, not the IAEA, not the P-5+1 – the international community came together to take action to stop that humanitarian disaster. For me to say that that’s some kind of retribution for giving up nuclear weapons is – I don’t see how the argument holds.
QUESTION: Well, no, except for the fact that if he still had them, it would be a little bit more difficult for you guys to be bombing – to be conducting a no-fly zone there, right? So the – a country like North Korea or Iran could look at it very easily and say, “Why should we do this if you guys will just attack us on other – on some other pretext. We’re giving up all of our defense and (inaudible).”
MR. TONER: We don’t – it’s --
QUESTION: Anyway, I think that’s the point, and it shouldn’t be just dismissed.
MR. TONER: I wasn’t trying to be dismissive. I was just --
MR. TONER: -- poking fun at Elise. But look, we’ve made quite clear that North Korea needs to engage in a more constructive way in the region, and it needs to live up to its commitments in the joint communiqué, and it needs to denuclearize. And if it becomes – if it takes those steps, then we can – it can engage with the international community in a more constructive way. And it’s all certainly in the interests of all these countries – North Korea, Iran – to open their doors, to become more transparent societies, and to engage with the international community and the international economy and to – that will lead to greater prosperity and greater stability, frankly.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) pledge that if North Korea gives up its weapons of mass destruction that you won’t attack them?
MR. TONER: We can pledge that we will engage – and we’ve said this before, that if they take those concrete steps, that there can be a dialogue that talks about other issues.
QUESTION: Well can you pledge that they won’t be attacked, though?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to go there.
QUESTION: What happened to P-5+1? I mean, are you still working on that front?
MR. TONER: Last – the last meeting was in Istanbul --
QUESTION: Yeah, I know.
MR. TONER: -- in February. I don't have any updates.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)