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 April 6, 2011
QUESTION: Yeah. How much of that agenda do you expect to be Libya?
MR. TONER: It’s always difficult to say, but certainly it’ll be one of the topics of conversation. We’ve got, obviously, a strong bilateral and multilateral relationship with Italy that also encompasses Afghanistan, where NATO’s a – or where Italy’s a major contributor to ISAF. But certainly we’ll talk about Libya and the situation there, and I imagine across North Africa and the Middle East.
QUESTION: Well, as you know, Italy is one of the countries that has recognized the opposition, the Transitional Council, as the legitimate –
MR. TONER: I’m aware of that.
QUESTION: -- government of Libya. And I’m wondering if there’s any movement on that or if you would expect that there might be some movement following this meeting.
MR. TONER: I certainly can’t predict and don’t want to speculate. As I – I think what’s relevant to your question is that our envoy, Mr. Stevens, remains on the ground in Benghazi and continues to consult with the opposition there. And again, his stated goal, as we’ve made clear, is to work with the opposition, get a better sense of their needs and how we can best assist them.
QUESTION: Okay. And then, do you have any idea why former Congressman Weldon is in Libya? Did he just decide to up and go on his own, or was this something that was coordinated? And I don’t mean just that he notified you, but was it coordinated? Did you ask him to go?
MR. TONER: All good questions, Matt. He is in Libya. He did inform us of his plans to travel there. We understand he is in Tripoli, in fact, today. This is, as we understand it, a personal visit, and he’s in no way acting on behalf of the United States Government.
QUESTION: Do you know why he felt the need to tell you? I mean, if I go to Libya as a private citizen tomorrow, I’m not really going to call you up. Did he think that because he’s a former congressman that somehow he should let you know that he was going?
MR. TONER: I really can’t speak for why he did do that.
QUESTION: Do you know –
MR. TONER: But I can imagine that that may be a perfectly plausible explanation.
QUESTION: Do you know why he said he said he was going? What did he tell you in terms of his reason?
MR. TONER: I don’t have a readout of that conversation.
QUESTION: Who did he tell?
MR. TONER: I believe he spoke with – I believe it was – I’m not sure, actually. I’m not sure if it was Jeff Feltman or not. I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: He also seems to –
QUESTION: Did you advise him not to go?
MR. TONER: No, we didn’t advise him either way.
QUESTION: Why not, given the travel warnings that exist for Libya?
MR. TONER: Certainly, we conveyed our concerns about traveling to Libya, but we can’t deny anyone travel to Libya.
QUESTION: Also, he seems to be carrying on a conversation which is more political. I mean, he wants to meet with Qadhafi, apparently. He’s talking about – at least a reporter who’s with him was talking about scenarios for Qadhafi stepping aside, et cetera. That’s not exactly what a tourist does, so how do you evaluate what he is up to?
MR. TONER: Look, it’s difficult for me to evaluate what he’s up to. I don’t know him personally. I haven’t spoken with him about the trip. As I said, he informed us that he was traveling to Libya. It was a personal visit. I’m aware that he does have contacts with the Qadhafi regime. I’ve seen press reports that he is – he has proposed some kind of initiative or peace plan. But beyond that, I don’t have many – much more details. He’s not there on our behalf. That’s certainly true.
QUESTION: Is that helpful to have somebody like that go at this particular point?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if it’s helpful or unhelpful. As I said, he’s not representing the U.S. Government, so he’s free to go there.
QUESTION: Mark, could any --
QUESTION: You didn’t advise him not to go, but you did warn him of the risks of going?
MR. TONER: Arshad, I wasn’t privy to the conversation we had with him. I will have to check and make sure that we conveyed. That would be a normal thing for us to do would be to convey that there is a travel warning against Americans – advising Americans against travel there. Whether that came up in the conversation for sure, I don’t know.
QUESTION: But you do know for a fact that you did not advise him not to go?
MR. TONER: I will check. I don’t believe we would have advised him.
QUESTION: Will he be debriefed when he comes back?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Mark, when there is such a clear advisory, unambiguous, not to travel, could any U.S. citizen pick up and go to Libya, to Tripoli? I mean, what is your position on that?
MR. TONER: Well, I believe we have long said that we can’t prevent Americans from traveling to countries. You’ve seen this in places such as North Korea and elsewhere. We advise them strongly not to go there because it’s dangerous and because it could jeopardize their well-being, and – but we don’t have any restrictions on the travel of Americans.
QUESTION: Well, you used to.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea on how could – just to follow up --
QUESTION: It used to be U.S. law that you could not use a U.S. passport to travel to Libya.
MR. TONER: That’s correct.
QUESTION: It was actually the only country in the world, I think where that’s –
QUESTION: Could you tell us, if you know, how could an American citizen get a visa, considering that the Embassy in Washington is closed on Saturday. Do they go to a foreign like –
MR. TONER: He may have had an existing visa. I simply don’t know how he was able to travel there.
QUESTION: But you are not aware of what a U.S. citizen must do to get into the country?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of what – I mean, look, there’s other embassies. He may have had an existing visa. I simply don’t know what he did to facilitate his travel there. He is someone with – I believe – with contacts with the Libyan Government. But again, the important thing to focus on here is that he’s not traveling on our behalf. He did inform us of his trip, but he’s carrying no message from us.
QUESTION: Are you having any communication with him --
MR. TONER: While he’s there?
QUESTION: -- as he’s on the ground?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary know about his plans and – personally?
MR. TONER: Well, he did inform us. I don't know if she personally knows about it. I’m fairly certain that she was informed.
QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that the work going on there is going to eclipse what Chris Stevens is doing?
MR. TONER: No, not at all. It’s – Mr. Stevens is in Benghazi. He’s working with the opposition there. As I said, he’s – it’s a completely different mission, obviously, where he’s trying to get a better feel for the opposition and how they’re evolving on the ground and look for concrete ways that we can assist them.
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) in connection --
MR. TONER: Yeah, Jill.
QUESTION: -- with that, with this idea of recognizing the opposition, is that specifically one of the tasks that he has, to size them up for the possibility of being recognized?
MR. TONER: I think that one of his – one of the objectives there is to get a better sense of both their cohesion and their goals and their makeup. That’s long been our goal with our contacts with the opposition.
QUESTION: Have you received any letter from Colonel Qadhafi?
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Good question, Michel. We did, in fact, receive a letter to the President – addressed to the President of the United States that was transmitted through the State Department specifically, I believe, through Assistant Secretary Feltman. And we then transmitted it to the White House since it was for the President.
QUESTION: Was it today or yesterday? When was it?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure.
QUESTION: Was it a fax?
MR. TONER: I can’t give you details.
QUESTION: What did he say?
MR. TONER: I don’t know the content. I haven’t seen the contents. I believe we transmitted it to the White House. I’d refer you to them first.
QUESTION: Instead of --
QUESTION: How was it transmitted, though? I mean, did they send a fax or --
MR. TONER: That’s an excellent question. I --
QUESTION: -- did they hand it over and --
MR. TONER: I’ll find out. That’s a good detail. I don’t know.
QUESTION: On the issue --
MR. TONER: It may have been by fax. We --
QUESTION: Who delivered --
QUESTION: Who did --
QUESTION: Who delivered the message to Assistant Secretary Feltman?
MR. TONER: I think that’s what she just asked. How was it transmitted?
QUESTION: Yeah. How?
MR. TONER: I think that’s --
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Are you sure it was a (inaudible) letter (inaudible) from Colonel Qadhafi or something else? Because earlier, there were some faxes coming up to the State Department about the change of ambassador and --
MR. TONER: Right. How did we ascertain whether it was authentic?
MR. TONER: I assume that our analysts looked at it and were able to confirm that it was authentic. I’m not sure, frankly.
QUESTION: So that brings us to the question that she asked, that – how it was delivered.
MR. TONER: Yeah, I told you I’d try to find out. That’s a --
QUESTION: Also, our intrepid reporter here, Matt Lee, does – is informing --
MR. TONER: He is intrepid.
QUESTION: He is, that and more. He --
MR. TONER: Especially about the Sabres. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And more.
QUESTION: He has --
MR. TONER: We digress.
QUESTION: He has some details, three-page rambling, “Stop the war,” and we – and, “Would be nice to have Obama reelected,” even. Can you give us anything on the substance of this?
MR. TONER: I really can’t. This is a letter to the President and we just don’t get into the business of revealing the contents of those kinds of letters.
QUESTION: Have there been previous letters, though?
MR. TONER: I understand there have been previous letters.
QUESTION: Can you give us --
MR. TONER: I don’t know how many.
QUESTION: Have you answered them?
QUESTION: Some multiples or --
MR. TONER: I don’t have a number, but I understand there have been previous letters.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: On recognizing the opposition --
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- the message that is coming from Benghazi and other places under rebel control is a very desperate one, and the situation is quite abysmal. And they all say that recognition will help propel them in the direction – into the direction of “victory,” quote/unquote. That – those were their words. Why is it so difficult to recognize the opposition as the legitimate representatives of Libya?
MR. TONER: Well, we had Ambassador Cretz talk about some of the legal processes, but – and again, I’m aware that I’m repeating myself when I talk about this issue, but one of the reasons why we have an envoy on the ground in Benghazi is to get that kind of firsthand information. We realize, certainly, that the – that there – the situation is urgent, and we’re trying to examine how we can best help them and best facilitate in helping their – them meet their needs. Recognition would be one of those options, but there’s another variety of options, including forms of nonlethal assistance.
And so that’s why Chris Stevens is on the ground and why he’s – what we hope to get out – sorry, we hope that he’ll come away with a clear picture of the opposition and --
MR. TONER: -- so we can make decisions going forward.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: As far as this letter is concerned and also Qadhafi’s son made some offers, what the Secretary or the State Department or U.S. Government think? Are you aware of these offers? And also, are you giving some kind of exit if there – Qadhafi feels that he’s ready to live somewhere?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s a good question. We talked a little bit about it yesterday. There’s certain redlines or requirements that the international community and the U.S. have stated. We want to see an immediate end to the violence per UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and a ceasefire put in place. We also believe that Colonel Qadhafi has lost his legitimacy to lead the country and should step aside and allow for a peaceful, democratic transition to take place. And ultimately, though, it’s up to the Libyan people to decide the – how that process looks, how that transition looks. But we support, obviously, a transition to a better democratic future for them.
QUESTION: And are you --
MR. TONER: But it’s not our decision to make on the various plans floating out there.
QUESTION: And are you satisfied the way NATO is conducting its business as far as comparing in the part – U.S.?
MR. TONER: Compared to?
QUESTION: What – U.S. had a mission.
MR. TONER: Sure, another good question. We believe NATO allies, also with their Arab partners, have provided the resources needed for carrying out the mission to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973. They’ve been putting out fact sheets and I encourage you to look at those. It’s launched 851 sorties, the NATO coalition, including 334 strike sorties. Just yesterday, NATO launched 150 sorties, including 58 strike sorties. So we’re confident that they’re meeting the needs of and enforcing the ceasefire.
Yeah, go ahead, Kirit.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about – back to Weldon for a second.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: In his op-ed this morning, he outlines a series of steps that he’d like to see take place and kind of a vision or a plan. Can you say whether that’s compatible with the Administration’s policy or views on how this conflict should be resolved?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s not really our place to decide how any transition would take place. That’s really for the Libyan people to decide. So I don’t want to go through. I’m aware of the plan that he put forward. He does not represent the U.S. Government. He’s not carrying any plan from the U.S. Government. So that in and of itself is telling. But we’ve been very clear in saying that one of our redlines is that Colonel Qadhafi is no longer a legitimate leader, he needs to step aside. He and his colleagues -- his compatriots need to be held accountable for their actions, and in fact, 1970 – UN Security Council Resolution 1970 referred --
QUESTION: Isn’t it 73?
MR. TONER: 70 – referred it to the ICC – I’m talking about the ICC referral.
QUESTION: The ICC, yeah.
MR. TONER: So there are certain elements that we need to see happen and the international community, frankly, needs to see happen. But beyond that, it’s really something that the Libyan people need to --
QUESTION: So you can’t say whether the ideas that he put forth in there are something that you would support or not? I mean, is – do you disagree with the plan that he puts forward?
MR. TONER: I’ll just stay with what I’ve said, which is that he wasn’t representing the U.S. Government, he didn’t carry a U.S. Government plan.
QUESTION: And, Mark, when you say --
QUESTION: When you say that the last time – the last time you said that in response to Kirit’s first question, you said – you followed it up with the line, “That in itself is telling.”
MR. TONER: It’s just that --
QUESTION: What exactly is that – what is that supposed to tell us?
MR. TONER: I just said it wasn’t endorsed by --
QUESTION: That you disapprove of his mission?
MR. TONER: Well, it wasn’t endorsed by the U.S. Government. It wasn’t a U.S. Government plan. That’s all. I was --
QUESTION: And that this is not particularly a helpful mission that you see, correct? When you say, “That in itself is telling” --
MR. TONER: I think that --
QUESTION: -- that he does not represent the U.S. Government --
MR. TONER: It is a personal – it’s a personal trip. It was not sanctioned by the U.S. Government. He’s there on his own behalf. He does indeed have a peace initiative.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. TONER: It’s not ours and --
QUESTION: Would you have preferred that he not insert himself into this situation?
MR. TONER: He is able to do what he – are willing – or let me jump back. Let me reverse, rather. He’s an individual acting in a private capacity. He traveled to Libya. He informed us of his trip. I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: The Libyan former UN ambassador who defected – Shalgham – said on BBC yesterday that Musa Kusa is under arrest in Britain. Is this the case? Is he under arrest?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to – I’ll refer you to the British authorities for his exact status. But we’ve said that he’s going to be held accountable for his actions. But I don’t know if he’s under arrest. I know he’s talking to Brits.
QUESTION: But – I’m sorry – but his funds were released, correct?
MR. TONER: We did lift the sanctions per our – per the law, we did lift the sanctions on him when he no longer was a member of the Qadhafi regime.
QUESTION: So does that mean he stands un-accused?
MR. TONER: No. I went through this yesterday some. He – those Treasury sanctions that were lifted were targeting him as a member of the Qadhafi regime. When he defected, those sanctions were lifted because he was no longer a member of the regime. That’s in no way to imply that he’s not going to be held accountable for other actions he may have been – participated in or owned when he was a member of the regime.
QUESTION: Mark, when you say he – Qadhafi and his compatriots have to be held accountable, does that include his son Saif and his other sons?
MR. TONER: I think that there needs to be an accountability process for human rights abuses. That’s with the ICC. And anybody who may or may not have been – anybody who may have been involved needs to be held accountable, including his relatives.
QUESTION: And also, could I ask you a question about Chris Stevens?
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: You said he’s meeting with the opposition – excuse me. Is that the broadest opposition that you can talk about?
MR. TONER: I mean, there’s also the Transitional --
QUESTION: Or is that the Transitional National --
MR. TONER: -- National Council, but also I believe other members of opposition groups.
QUESTION: Of other opposition groups.
MR. TONER: I’m sure. If that’s different, I’ll let you know. But I believe he’s – we’ve long said that we’ve had outreach to all of the opposition, but certainly the TNC.
QUESTION: Did Stevens come to any other city besides Benghazi?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. And obviously, the security situation is paramount.
MR. TONER: I don't have any information on that. The attack on Sudan is what you’re --
QUESTION: Airstrike, airstrike.
MR. TONER: Airstrike? I don't have any information.
QUESTION: Port Sudan?
QUESTION: In Port Sudan, yeah.
QUESTION: Port Sudan.
QUESTION: Yeah, he’s talking about the attack in Port Sudan, killing two --
MR. TONER: Yeah, no, I don't have – no information on it.
QUESTION: You didn’t hear about it?
MR. TONER: I’ve heard about it.
MR. TONER: I don't have any information about it.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR. TONER: There’s a difference.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about the reports that the British Embassy plans to complain to the State Department about the detention of Bradley Manning? Can you say if that’s actually happened yet or what the --
MR. TONER: I’ll look into that. Certainly, that’s within their rights, but I don't know if there’s anything scheduled or – I’ve seen the story.
QUESTION: It’s within their rights under what? You mean just in general or that --
MR. TONER: Well, I understand he’s a British citizen, so – again, I’ll try to get you more details on that.
QUESTION: I don't think he has a pass – a British passport. I think he’s been clear about that, but I don't know if --
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it, Kirit.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israeli peace talks or lack thereof; there is a new peace plan. Are you aware of the new peace plan?
MR. TONER: The new peace plan on the part of?
QUESTION: Former Israeli chiefs of staff and so on.
MR. TONER: I am. We remain committed to achieving an agreement on two states through good faith negotiations. We also strongly support the goal of fully normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world. We welcome all ideas to achieve those goals, and we look forward to hearing more about the Israel peace initiative and believe it could possibly make a positive contribution.
QUESTION: Will you discard your effort and support or in favor of this peace plan?
MR. TONER: I think it’s too early to say that, but we certainly view it as a constructive contribution.
QUESTION: And lastly, has anything come out of the visit of Mr. Peres yesterday? I know you issued a statement yesterday, but has there been anything after that?
MR. TONER: I don't know that there’s been any additional statements or any additional elements to come out of that.
QUESTION: And are you aware that a visit was extended to the President of the United States, President Barack Obama, to go visit Israel?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I would refer you to the White House for details of that.
QUESTION: Back to Manning real quick?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Just can you – are you sure – a British citizen, do you want to --
MR. TONER: That’s actually – I’m not sure. Let me do it – let me claim a do-over there. My understanding was that he may have citizenship. But look, he’s being held for alleged crimes, and that’s – there’s a legal process underway, and I really can’t speak to it beyond that, so – I can certainly find you – or I could certainly get you relevant details on whether they’ve spoken to us about it.
QUESTION: That would be helpful.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the status of U.S. civilians in Pakistan? Reports of lapsed visas, delayed visas.
MR. TONER: You mean official Americans?
QUESTION: Yes, official Americans.
MR. TONER: I don't have an update. I’m aware that that’s been a problem in the past and one we’ve raised with the Pakistani authorities.
QUESTION: Any update on talking to Musa Kusa, U.S. officials talking to Musa Kusa?
MR. TONER: No. I’ll seek an update on that. I don't have any updates. I know he’s under – he’s with the Brits. I don't know if he’s been arrested or not. I’ll try to clarify that as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.