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From the Daily Press Briefing of April 14, 2011
1:59 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. It’s a beautiful day, so I say that at the outset with an eye towards completing this as quickly as possible. I don’t have anything to read at the top – with that goal in mind, so anything on your minds, I’m happy to answer.
QUESTION: Can we start on Libya, please?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The French foreign minister has just said that France has asked the United States to reconsider its military plans in Libya. I don’t think this means that they want you to do less. Have – has the U.S. Government gotten any kind of a request from the French to do more in Libya?
MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary is in Berlin, as all of you know, and is having discussions there. I believe she met or has just met with Foreign Minister Juppé in Berlin. Obviously, we’re receptive to the concerns of our allies and partners in this coalition.
However, we continue to believe that NATO’s doing a good job in executing UN Security Council Resolution 1973, as I believe my colleagues over at the Pentagon talked a little bit yesterday about some of the support we continue to provide for that mission in terms of suppressing enemy air defenses and other actions. But we continue to believe that NATO is conducting its operation effectively and has had success.
QUESTION: But Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Kirit.
QUESTION: -- sorry, that doesn’t really answer the question because nobody’s asking NATO to not take the lead. I guess the question is the U.S. role within NATO.
MR. TONER: And I – Kirit, I understand the question, and we do continue to play a supportive role within the operation. And I think, as I said, the Pentagon talked a little bit more about that role in greater detail yesterday.
MR. TONER: But again, the secretary general spoke today about the many sorties that have been flown so far in – and we believe that these have been effective in maintaining the no-fly zone and suppressing Libya’s air defenses.
QUESTION: Two days ago, you said that --
QUESTION: Just --
QUESTION: Hold on. Two days ago, you said that the U.S. felt that its contribution had been adequate and that you were happy to – with the role you’re playing right now. You haven’t said that today. Is that still the case?
MR. TONER: Yes. Again, the Secretary’s having discussions. We’re certainly receptive to the ideas that are being discussed in Berlin, and she’s met with Foreign Minister Juppé, as I said. But we remain confident in NATO’s ability to carry out this operation. We believe it’s been effective and will continue to be effective.
QUESTION: But Mark, if there’s --
QUESTION: What does it mean that you’re receptive?
MR. TONER: Well, we’re certainly receptive in listening to some of the concerns. We would always be receptive in listening to our allies and --
QUESTION: That doesn’t mean that you’re going to do what they ask. I mean, receptive implies – seems to want to imply or you seem to want to imply that, well, maybe you will actually do the stuff they’re asking, but it doesn’t sound that way.
MR. TONER: No. I’ll just be clear, then, in saying that discussions are ongoing in Berlin. Obviously, Libya is top of the agenda there. The United States’s view is that we will continue to support Unified Protector through the means that the Pentagon outlined yesterday – suppression of enemy air defenses, jamming air defense systems as well, those kinds of supporting functions. But overall, we believe that the NATO operation thus far has been successful and we believe that it’s successful in doing its mission, which is implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
QUESTION: But how has it been --
QUESTION: Mark, yesterday, the Secretary released a statement which described a terrible situation in Misrata. I mean, it was one of the strongest things I’ve seen from her. So how does this square with the idea that NATO is doing a good job?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’re mixing apples and oranges. Certainly, we’re very much aware – as you said, the Secretary’s statement yesterday that cited new human rights abuses. And I think one of the things we need to do is to continue to hold the Qadhafi regime accountable for these kinds of actions. But let’s be clear about what UN Security Council Resolution 1973 sets out to do and what it is – has achieved thus far in a relatively short time. It set up a no-fly zone, its attacked Libyan air defenses. Certainly, there are challenges, as I said, I believe the Secretary has said, about Qadhafi’s forces infiltrating behind the lines and continuing to seek ways around some of these – some of the no-fly zone restrictions, but let’s be clear about who’s conducting these human rights abuses. It is Qadhafi and his regime, and we’re going to hold them accountable.
QUESTION: Mark, but there’s no question about that, but, I mean –
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the whole idea of the no-fly zone is to protect civilians from these attacks. And so here are civilians whom the Secretary has described as virtually being starved to death, snipers on rooftops and things like that. So how can you say that NATO is doing a good job if such a terrible situation exists in this very big city?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I think you, in your question, highlighted some of the challenges here. Snipers on rooftops are hard to distinguish out of a civilian population. I don’t want to delve too deeply into operational details because it’s way beyond my expertise, but clearly, there are challenges here. We’ve talked about some of those challenges.
But overall, we feel that NATO and – I mean, NATO is the command and control aspect of it, but the partners in the coalition who are carrying out these air strikes are doing a capable and successful job in shutting down Libya’s air defenses and establishing this no-fly zone. We are constantly looking at ways that we can do more to provide that humanitarian assistance and to protect civilians, but again, there are challenges. We’ve been clear about those. But we believe NATO is, overall, doing a good job.
QUESTION: Qadhafi’s riding around today in an open-top car, fist pumping as air strikes are going on. And we keep hearing that Qadhafi must go. That’s the end thing, even though that’s not the military operation. He doesn’t seem any closer to going.
MR. TONER: Well, look, Cami. You know as well as I do that it’s hard to separate the optics of Qadhafi riding around fist pumping, as you say, with the reality of what may be going on inside his regime. Obviously, we saw some key defections, I guess a couple weeks ago now. We may see more. We believe they’re continuing to feel pressure. But I don’t want to in any way equate air strikes going on in the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 with an effort to remove Qadhafi. The two are completely separate.
QUESTION: Okay. But you did say that – and the Secretary and others have said that there is other – you’re pursuing other nonlethal means to get rid of Qadhafi. And so on that vein today in Doha, there was some discussion about trying to set up some kind of mechanism where you would unfreeze some of the Libyans’ assets and give them to the rebels. Has the – could you talk a little bit about that? And is the United States on board with that, or is this just in its infancy of discussions?
MR. TONER: Well, we are on board. We – God bless you, sorry. We are on board. In fact, all the participants agreed that this was something we needed to explore. I don’t have a lot of details because this was something that they agreed upon and agreed to work urgently with the Transitional National Council to explore. And again, it’s something along the lines of what you just described, which is a mechanism that would be able to provide a method for the Transitional National Council – or the TNC, so I don’t have to keep reading – giving the full name – and the international community to be able to provide revenue with short-term – to meet the TNC’s short-term financial requirements.
QUESTION: So under – so given that, I mean, the United States has said – this Administration has said that it didn’t really know the rebels enough and whether they represented, like, a wide enough swath of the Libyan people to be able to be considered the legitimate representative of the people. Now, if you’re giving frozen assets directly to this group, does that mean that the U.S. is on its way to recognizing this group as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people? And is the U.S. going to unfreeze the assets that it has to give to the Libyan people? I mean, it does – such a move would signal some sort of tacit recognition.
MR. TONER: Well, we – our envoy remains on the ground in Benghazi. We are getting a clearer picture of the TNC, both through his meetings on the ground as well as high-level meetings elsewhere in Doha, including Doha. But I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here. What we talked about in Doha, what was agreed upon by the parties there, was to explore this type of mechanism. Certainly, I think this is borne out of a recognition that the Transitional National Council does need financial wherewithal if it’s going to operate and sustain itself.
QUESTION: So when you said – no, just one more on this – when you say that you’re willing to explore a mechanism, does that include the assets that the United – is the U.S. prepared to use the assets that it has frozen to put in this mechanism?
MR. TONER: And I think I’d just say that we’re exploring all options, and including those assets that we said we’d safeguard for the Libyan people.
Go ahead, Brad, and then Paul.
QUESTION: Back to the NATO operation?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: When you talk about its success, you aren’t talking about the protection of civilians. And this might sound similar to her question, but in light of last night’s statement, how is NATO successfully protecting civilians in Libya?
MR. TONER: Sure. Look, it’s a fair question, and I think I tried to address it at least when I spoke – when I responded to Jill’s question. We recognize that there are challenges and – but Qadhafi’s forces have in many ways adapted to the environment, have infiltrated – have sent in snipers, among other tactics, to try to make it harder for us to conduct that operation for NATO, rather. But NATO continues to fly an increased number of sorties every day to suppress Libya’s air defenses and to attack targets on the ground that we believe are threatening civilians. We’re going to continue to keep that tempo, and we believe it is having an effect. But certainly, Qadhafi’s regime is also bent on oppressing, killing, carrying out violent attacks against civilians of Benghazi and elsewhere, and that’s a challenge we’re trying to face.
QUESTION: That said, at the current moment, are civilians in Libya adequately protected and satisfactorily protected?
MR. TONER: And I would answer that we’ve established a no-fly zone, we’ve improved the situation, but obviously, this is a continuing ongoing operation, and we’re very mindful of the fluidity of the situation and that we need to continue to do more.
QUESTION: But Mark, that’s --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: That’s not yes.
MR. TONER: Well, look, first of all, it is hard for me here at the podium to assess what’s going on on the ground in Libya, but I am mindful of the fact that Qadhafi’s forces have changed their tactics, and as the Secretary’s statement said last night, continue to carry out human rights abuses. So have we been 100 percent successful so far? No, but we continue to make efforts.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? You said “We need to do more.” That was the very end of your answer, I think, to Brad’s question.
MR. TONER: “We” being the international coalition.
QUESTION: Right. Yeah.
MR. TONER: And --
QUESTION: But what I – the question I wanted to ask is: If the coalition needs to do more, and if other countries – for example, some that have similar capabilities, right, like the Italians – are not stepping forward to make those – to make those aircraft available, why shouldn’t the United States sort of step into the breach?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is a coalition effort. I think that the United States’s role thus far has been to provide what unique capabilities it can provide to help this mission succeed up front and ongoing. And some of those, as I said, include suppression of enemy air defenses, but jamming, refueling those kinds of supportive mechanisms that, frankly, the U.S. Air Force does exceedingly well. We’re providing support through our base in Aviano to this operation. We feel we’re contributing to this mission.
QUESTION: And do you wish that others might step up more, then?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to in any way slight the significant contributions that we’ve seen so far, but certainly we would appreciate all and – or greater participation. But we’ve seen our European allies and, indeed, the UAE, Qatar as well have stepped up significantly to help this operation.
QUESTION: Can we move onto another topic in the Middle East?
QUESTION: Also Libya –
QUESTION: No. No. Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- I have a question. You said that the U.S. and allies are exploring this idea of unfreezing assets. Can you say what some of the – what needs to be explored there? I mean, what are the potential obstacles there? And there’s also been this idea of the Qataris selling Libyan oil. Isn’t that generating a lot of revenue, as it is for the opposition?
MR. TONER: Well, in answer to your second question, we talked a little bit about this the other day, and we were supportive of that sale of oil through the Qataris. I don’t believe it’s gone beyond that, but certainly we would be receptive to that operation ongoing. Again, we recognize that the TNC, that the opposition forces, that they need financial wherewithal if they’re going to continue to survive.
Your first question, again, was talking about –
QUESTION: In terms of the –
MR. TONER: -- some of the obstacles.
MR. TONER: I don’t have a lot of detail, but I do know that they’re looking at some kind of mechanism, again, that would allow the unfreezing of assets and getting those assets to the TNC, and this would be both the international community, how to manage this revenue stream. There’s all kinds of aspects to this, accountability and otherwise, that would be brought to bear, but I don’t have a lot more –
QUESTION: So it sounds like –
MR. TONER: -- beyond that.
QUESTION: -- a decision has been made, and you’re just exploring the –
MR. TONER: Well, they are exploring the – yeah. I mean, that was what was agreed upon in Doha, that they would look into a mechanism that could provide a way to manage revenue that would assist the TNC.
QUESTION: Can I ask one follow-up to the follow-up question? Do you believe --
MR. TONER: If I can answer it.
QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: I mean, I don’t have a lot of details here.
QUESTION: No, no, I know. But you were very clear today, as you were the other day, saying that the United States supported the Qatari marketing of the Libyan oil.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: And I don’t think there’s been a lot of kind of lucid disclosure of exactly how this transaction was structured, and I know that – I believe the Qataris also delivered a significant amount of refined petroleum products to the rebels. So I don’t know if they did a – sort of a swap or what. But the question that I have is: Does the U.S. Government – and I assume this is the case because you support it – believe that Qatar acted legally and in consonance with the UN Security Council resolutions in undertaking this transaction? Do you believe it has some kind of a legal authority under which it was able to do this given the sanctions that are in place?
MR. TONER: We believe that – our understanding of the sanctions and what was prohibited, that this was – this action was legal, that it was lawful.
QUESTION: How about the arms embargo? How does – I mean, if this – both revenue streams, do you feel that the arms embargo under Resolution 1970, which is a total arms embargo on the country, is this something that you would be discussing with (inaudible)? Do you think – you keep saying that the revenue stream is only for the operation of the government.
MR. TONER: We’ve talked about this before, and what we’ve said is that 1970 – taken in totality, 1970 and 1973 – that it is permissible to get arms to the opposition, and that’s something that remains on the table, certainly. We’ve never taken that option away.
QUESTION: And could I ask you about visas, too? So also on Libya, there – I’ve tried to ask this to the mission in New York --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- but there was – there were stories saying that Ali Treki, who is the former foreign minister of Libya, was denied a U.S. visa, more recent stories saying that D’Escoto Brockmann, who was named to represent Libya, couldn’t get a visa. Is that true? And what’s the visa status of the two diplomats who left?
MR. TONER: D’Escoto Brockmann is the Nicaraguan?
QUESTION: Nicaraguan. Absolutely.
MR. TONER: Okay. Yeah. I’m trying to remember, but this is a couple weeks ago, I believe, when this was in the news. But we had very real concerns about his status, and I believe we were looking into it, but at the same time, obviously, complying with our obligations as a host nation for the UN. But we felt that he had – we had concerns – there were concerns about his status here that needed to be addressed. I don’t know what the exact status is today of that, though. I’d have to check.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Nicaraguan? His --
MR. TONER: Yes, the Nicaraguan. As far as the Libyan --
QUESTION: The representatives – yeah, Shalgam and Dabbashi.
MR. TONER: -- representative – I’m not sure what the status of that is. I’ll have to check for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, thanks.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have plans to reconsider your supportive role, given that the killing of civilians is still continue – that’s one of the main part of the UN resolution?
MR. TONER: Sure, Lalit. I tried to answer this and perhaps did it inadequately. Again, we are mindful that Qadhafi’s forces are changing tactics, are trying to infiltrate behind enemy – or behind the lines – opposition lines, rather – and sending in snipers. They continue to carry out human rights abuses. They continue to deny services to cities. And as Jill pointed out, where people are facing food shortages, these are real concerns, and they’re difficult ones to address. But we continue to believe that we need to do more, but we’ve been successful so far in establishing that no-fly zone and stopping the imminent humanitarian crisis that was threatening Benghazi. But also, we continue to – we need to continue to address some of these changing scenarios.
QUESTION: Whatever happened to the visa records being confidential? It seems as if it’s not – it’s only confidential when you want it to be confidential. Is that right?
MR. TONER: I don’t – look, do we really have to have a semantic debate over this today?
QUESTION: No. It’s a very substantive one.
QUESTION: Well, no, but I’m just putting it on the record, so the next time you tell us that visa records are confidential, that we’ll come back to this briefing where they weren’t.
MR. TONER: I don’t believe I necessarily discussed – what I said is – and others have talked about the fact that there are concerns – but I said we will comply with our obligations as the host country to the UN. I don’t know if that was getting into his visa case.
QUESTION: Can we talk about Syria now?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: There have been some reports that Iran is providing material and technical advice, support to Syria to quell the protestors. I was wondering if you believe or have information to suggest that they are, whether it’s internet-blocking technology or --
MR. TONER: I don’t have details about what material assistance they’re providing the Syrian Government. Certainly, we’re troubled by these reports, and we would just say that if Syria is turning to Iran for help, it can’t be very serious about real reform.
QUESTION: You’re troubled by the reports or you have information to suggest that they are? It doesn’t seem as if they’re just reports.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we believe that there is credible information that Iran is assisting Syria. I’m not going to get into details about that material assistance, but it’s of real concern to us.
QUESTION: Well, so --
QUESTION: Assisting them in doing what – I’m sorry?
MR. TONER: In quelling the protestors.
QUESTION: I mean, it seems as if they’re trying to play it both ways, like in Egypt and Bahrain, they’re praising the protestors and, in some cases, even supporting them. But in Syria, they’re trying to stop them.
MR. TONER: You’re talking about Iran?
MR. TONER: Indeed. I mean, it’s somewhat hypocritical. And, I mean, I’d refer you to the Iranian authorities to explain their position. But we believe that they are – they have, obviously, problems with their own human rights record. They continue to play a meddling role in the region, and we encourage them to play a more constructive role and to stay out of the sovereign affairs of other countries.
QUESTION: Are the – do you believe that they are supporting the – helping them in any way in Bahrain?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. We’ve not seen any indications that they’re in any way playing an active role in instigating those protests.
QUESTION: What is your – speaking of Bahrain, the government there, its decision to dissolve the country’s main Shi’a opposition group?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Well, we’re concerned by it. These were legitimate political societies that were recognized by the Government of Bahrain, especially the mainstream Shi’a opposition group, Al-Wefaq. We call on the Government of Bahrain to support freedom of association and expression and to foster an environment that encourages political pluralism and participation.
QUESTION: Does that mean they should reverse their apparent decision to seek to dissolve that particular party? I mean, are you calling for that?
MR. TONER: Well, we do believe that they should abide by its – their commitment to transparent judicial proceedings, that they should foster an environment that encourages this kind of political participation. And I would add that Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff Feltman is traveling to Bahrain next week and is going to continue to reach out to the Bahrainis across the political spectrum in order to assist them in promoting the kind of peaceful dialogue that we believe is necessary there.
QUESTION: Is there reason why you don’t want to call on them to reverse this particular action?
MR. TONER: No. I think we would welcome them reversing this particular action. I mean, I think that we believe it’s a – it is of concern to us that this is a registered, legitimate political society that has before now been recognized by the Government of Bahrain.
QUESTION: Has Assistant Secretary Feltman been guaranteed that he’ll be able to meet with Bahraini officials this time? Last time, it seems as if he was there for quite an extended period of time and officials wouldn’t meet with him --
MR. TONER: I think he’s --
QUESTION: -- presumably because the U.S. was criticizing Bahrain’s position.
MR. TONER: I think he’s confident that he’ll be able to play a constructive role in the process there.
QUESTION: When did he go, or is he there yet?
MR. TONER: He’s leaving next week.
QUESTION: Mark --
QUESTION: So he’s going next week. Okay, thanks.
QUESTION: Does the Administration have as much confidence as it did a few weeks ago that this dialogue that Bahrain is promising with the opposition is still a legitimate thing? I mean, it appears that they’re doing one thing after another that conflicts with what the U.S. thinks the government ought to stand for. Is there still that level of confidence?
MR. TONER: Well, what – we’re obviously concerned by some of the recent actions, but we continue to believe that the government is willing to take those kinds of steps that you just talked about, and that we believe there’s a peaceful way forward here through dialogue. Obviously, Assistant Secretary Feltman is heading there in part because we believe that we can bridge this gap and we can find a peaceful way forward.
QUESTION: Can I ask you what makes you so confident? You said you were confident that they are willing to engage in dialogue when they’re shutting down opposition parties and intimidating protestors throughout the country. What makes you so confident? I don’t understand that at all.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we continue to have conversations with the Bahraini authorities and across the political spectrum in Bahrain. Certainly, as I said, we’ve been candid in voicing our concerns about some of these recent actions. But we believe that there is a peaceful way forward, and we believe that that can be achieved.
QUESTION: That’s fine. But I was curious why you said you were confident that they’re actually willing to engage in that when they’ve shown absolutely no willingness to do so to date and, in fact, have taken steps that would appear to be contrary to dialogue.
MR. TONER: I – and I think I have stated that we are concerned by these actions. And again, Assistant Secretary Feltman is going to Bahrain expressly to talk to parties on all sides here and try to get the process moving forward. But we believe that there remains a peaceful solution to the situation in Bahrain.
QUESTION: Has anybody from the government told you that they’re willing to solve this through dialogue?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to talk about --
QUESTION: I mean --
MR. TONER: I’m not going to talk about what our private discussions are.
QUESTION: But you said you have confidence, so I’m trying to determine --
MR. TONER: I said we remain --
QUESTION: -- where the genesis of your confidence is.
MR. TONER: No. I understand the question, Kirit. And what I would say is that we continue to be in contact with both the Bahrainian Government as well as the opposition groups there, and we believe that there is a peaceful way forward in this. But I’m not going to talk about the substance of those.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: Did Tom Donilon raise the Bahrain issue in his discussion with King Abdullah --
MR. TONER: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the White House.
Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: In Pakistan, officials are coming out openly against the drone strikes by U.S. How far do you think the drone strikes are a strain or is affecting your diplomatic relations between U.S. and Pakistan?
MR. TONER: I don’t discuss drone strikes.
QUESTION: No, it’s not about drone strikes. It’s about the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.
MR. TONER: I thought you said drone strikes in your question. I’m not going to talk about drone strikes.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)