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 May 4, 2011
1:53 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER The United States condemns the Qadhafi regime’s continued brutal attacks on the Libyan people in violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for a stop to all attacks on civilians and an immediate ceasefire. In particular, we urge the Qadhafi regime to cease hostilities in Misrata port and to allow the International Organization for Migration and other organizations to provide much-needed relief and evacuation services to civilians caught up in the Libyan conflict. This includes taking all measures to facilitate international efforts to evacuate third-country nationals and wounded Libyans from the port city of Misrata.
The International Organization for Migration reports that migrants from Africa and Asia remain stranded in Misrata, including women and children. In addition, many badly wounded civilians currently in Misrata’s overwhelmed hospitals are in need of urgent medical evaluation. The International Organization for Migration’s efforts to deliver relief supplies and to evacuate additional migrants and wounded have been delayed by shelling as well as a threat of anti-shipping mines laid into port. The U.S. is making available an additional $6.5 million for International Organization for Migration Operations in response to the crisis in Libya, including the evacuation from Misrata, and this brings to 53.5 million the total the U.S. Government is providing for emergency assistance.
QUESTION: What’d you make of the Pakistani statement last evening that criticized the unilateral action by the U.S.?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m aware of the statement. We’ve been quite clear why we took the actions we undertook to carry out the operation against bin Ladin. And subsequent to that operation, the first call the President made was to President Zardari. And we’ve been quite clear moving forward why we withheld information and why operational security, even within the U.S. Government, was paramount to the success of the operation.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. consider similar such operations in the future, despite the Pakistani Government’s clear displeasure with this style of procedure?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think it’s important also to stress that we’ve had very successful counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan in years preceding this operation. The Secretary spoke to it, the President spoke to it, and it also highlighted the fact that that counterterrorism cooperation helped in substantial ways to lead us to the events of Sunday night. That said, we recognize that al-Qaida hasn’t abandoned its intent to attack the United States. This is an ongoing armed conflict, and we believe that the United States has authority under international law to use force to defend itself when necessary.
QUESTION: How do you then kind of assuage the Pakistani authorities about this? Because it’s something you’re saying is necessary, but at the same time you have a key partner that’s quite miffed. How do you deal with that?
MR. TONER: Well, again, Brad, I think it’s important that this was a very secret operation that was undertaken, that was a target of opportunity clearly, and operational security as an element to this mission was paramount. And so we – the President made the decision to carry out the operation. It was successful. We immediately notified the Pakistanis of the operation and its success, and we pledged our commitment to work with them on counterterrorism cooperation going forward.
I think we’ll continue to build that cooperation, we’ll continue to build these relationships. I think it’s important to recognize that for both the United States and Pakistan, this kind of cooperation is extremely beneficial. No one suffers more under the scourge of terrorism than Pakistan, where thousands have died as a result of terrorist attacks. So it’s important to recognize, looking in the broader context here, this kind of counterterrorism cooperation is important to – indeed, to the United States, but also to Pakistan.
QUESTION: Then I’ll just ask one more.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Are you worried about the capacity from this event for cooperation to diminish, whether it’s from decreased aid from the U.S. Congress, the Pakistani Government in a nod to some sort of popular anger in Pakistan limiting its cooperation with you? Are you worried about that as a tangible consequence of this event?
MR. TONER: Look, I think we recognize that there were concerns raised and legitimate concerns by Congress about bin Ladin, where he was discovered. We’ve been quite clear in our conversation with Pakistan that we want counterterrorism cooperation to continue. And again, that was in the President’s remarks immediately following this operation on Sunday night, down to Marc Grossman in – who’s been in Pakistan for the last several days. He’s met with President Zardari, he’s met with Prime Minister Gillani as well as General Kayani and in each of those meetings he’s made clear that we want this cooperation to continue, that we believe that it is beneficial to both our countries.
Go ahead. Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: The White House just announced that they will not release a death picture of Usama bin Ladin, and it’s been reported that the Secretary also was against releasing a photograph. What was her specific argument against releasing a photograph?
MR. TONER: Well, I’ve seen those reports and I would just say – I’d refer you to the White House regarding the decision not to release a photo. And just on the Secretary’s role, I would just say that she conveyed the State Department’s views. This was an interagency discussion, and as Brennan – John Brennan and others have said, there was a very deliberate process on – towards making this decision, and she conveyed the State Department’s views. But I don’t want to get into the substance of those views.
QUESTION: Did she think that was going to be a detriment, then, to future relations with Pakistan and other countries that may still be involved in looking for members of al-Qaida and terrorism?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think my colleagues at the White House have spoken and addressed some of these concerns around the release of – a possible release of a photo. The Secretary was part of this discussion, conveyed the State Department’s views, and I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: And a follow-up.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: With the photograph that was released the other day, with the Secretary obviously in the Situation Room, has she specifically announced what she was looking at, what she was feeling at the time? Has there been any discussion of her feelings at that point?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no. I mean, I think everyone – it was in the room – or John Brennan also spoke to the tenseness of the – the tension in the room, and it was a very riveting, obviously, moment. But beyond that –
QUESTION: She has not really said what that moment was.
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.
QUESTION: Mark, with the people who are being held by the Pakistanis who were picked up at the compound, some children and some other people –
MR. TONER: Right, right, right.
QUESTION: Is the United States going to be given access to them, to talk with them, getting any information?
MR. TONER: Jill, it’s a fair question. I’d have to really refer you to law enforcement agencies to find out if we’ve requested access or to the Government of Pakistan for information about who the individuals are they might be holding. I’m not aware that we’re requested access to them.
QUESTION: Another question. You know, when the Secretary said that – early on, I think it was Monday – when she said that information that the U.S. got, or I should say the cooperation between the United States and Pakistan had led to information that led to Usama bin Ladin and the compound. As I remember back in March, the country stopped cooperating, or at least Pakistan decided to stop cooperating on routine issues because they were angry over the drones and about the CIA agent. So what – do you have any idea when this information might have happened as part of this cooperation?
MR. TONER: Look, again, I – Matt talked about this a little bit or asked about this yesterday, and I certainly can’t get into the substance of these kinds of intelligence discussions and intelligence sharing, but we’ve talked all the time about sort of building this mosaic over many years that led to confirming or getting a good idea that this is where bin Ladin was, and then, of course, carrying out the operation. I think certainly our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped build that mosaic, if you will.
QUESTION: But right now what’s the situation? Is it still in effect that there is no routine cooperation but you would cooperate on major issues?
MR. TONER: I’m actually not – I’m not sure what the status is in terms of routine cooperation. I believe that we continue to interact and to cooperate with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any conversations today with anyone in Pakistan or any –
MR. TONER: No. No calls to Pakistan.
QUESTION: No calls.
MR. TONER: And she’s of course on the airplane now, but no.
QUESTION: Right. She’s had no calls to anybody?
MR. TONER: She has talked to the Norwegian foreign minister as well as the Canadian foreign minister. That would be Foreign Minister Cannon and Foreign Minister Store. And I don’t have a read out of those so, sorry.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, David.
QUESTION: Mark, can you change the subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you – what’s your reaction now to the Palestinian reconciliation? And there are reports that in her call to Abbas, the Secretary didn’t raise any objection to a reconciliation.
MR. TONER: Well, to your first question, look, we understand that there are – they’ve signed, they’ve reached this reconciliation agreement. It’s important now that Palestinians ensure implementation of that agreement in a way that advances the prospects of peace rather than undermines them. And I think we’ll wait to see, as I said yesterday, what the details of this agreement actually mean. We don’t know what this means right now in practical terms.
QUESTION: Is it true that in her call with Abbas, she didn’t express any reservation about Hamas joining --
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into the substance of her private conversations, but we’ve been clear all along the principles to which we think any Hamas element in the government would have to adhere to. And that is recognition of the state of Israel, a commitment to nonviolence, and an acceptance of the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the Roadmap. We’ve been clear about those all along that if Hamas wants to play a meaningful role in the political process there, and indeed in the peace process and – they need to adhere to these principles, these core principles.
QUESTION: Now that the deal is done, any thought about continuing aid to the --
MR. TONER: Well, again, David, you’re right. I mean, this deal has been declared or agreed upon, but again, we will – we’ll wait and see what this looks like in real and practical terms. We still don’t know that. We still don’t know what, if any, changes there will be at the governmental level.
QUESTION: The Secretary said last month that the President is going to give a speech, a major speech --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- on the peace process within weeks, which is supposed to be last week, maybe. Did the President change his mind on --
MR. TONER: He’s been a little busy last weekend at least.
QUESTION: Did he postpone this?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware there’s been any postponement. I really would refer you to the White House for the details on that.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: On the peace deal, are – has anyone from the State Department been in touch with Palestinian officials? Are there plans for Mitchell to go to the region? And if Hamas doesn’t participate in the government, if it’s just a government of technocrats, will the U.S. push the peace process?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think it’s important, as you said, to see what this indeed means in practical terms, and what Hamas’ role will be and whether they, again, would agree to these core principles before we make any judgments or decisions. In terms of Mitchell, I believe he is – I don’t believe he’s planning to travel to the region. He remains in contact with both parties in talking about the Middle East peace process and how to get it going.
QUESTION: Mark, on Afghanistan, maybe I was asleep at the wheel, but – (laughter) – the last time I was – I listened to what the Secretary was saying about what the Taliban had to do, there was the mantra of the three – accept the constitution, no violence --
MR. TONER: Right. This was the Asia Society speech when she talked about --
QUESTION: Yeah. But then in one thing I was reading, they mentioned that she had actually changed that to say that it doesn’t – it has to be a necessary outcome of negotiations. In other words, the three requirements were no longer the requirements; that you could have this interim thing which is a negotiation which would lead to those.
And I’m asking this because with all of the Usama bin Ladin stuff and leading into the – hoping that the Taliban will now come over, this could be an important point. So what’s the latest statement of policy? What do the Taliban have to do in order to be reconciled?
MR. TONER: Well, Jill, I don’t think there was any – I think she was quite clear in her speech at the Asia Society that talked about reconciliation, and that this be an Afghan-led process, and again, that this be – she was clear about what the Taliban, the – whatever you want to call them – the requirements, the redlines, were. And those were a renunciation of violence and ties to al-Qaida, and an adherence to the Afghan constitution, particularly in regards to women, women’s rights and minority rights. That hasn’t changed.
What I think we’re trying to support, though, and what I think she mentioned yesterday in her remarks Monday morning, are that there is an opportunity here, that Taliban should recognize that they can’t wait us out – and I think our actions on Sunday prove that point – and that they should seek reconciliation along those guidelines.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Bahrain, did you find out about the charges the government is putting against the professional medicals?
MR. TONER: Yeah, thanks for raising that again. I appreciate it. I did get more details about that. I’d like to stress that we remain firmly committed to the principle of medical neutrality. While we’re still continuing to gather information about this, we remain deeply concerned by the reports of events that led to injuries and deaths of civilians and the detention of medical facility staff and treatment being denied to those seeking medical care.
We just would urge the Government of Bahrain to ensure the security of all medical personnel charged with offenses and to conduct trials in a fair and transparent manner in full accordance with Bahraini law.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Bahrainis are saying that some of these doctors, medical professionals were arrested because they made wounds far worse than they were or that they used people’s injuries for political reasons, et cetera, et cetera. Do you have any evidence to suggest that these doctors were part of some Iranian-backed --
MR. TONER: We do not --
QUESTION: -- Shia plots to embarrass them?
MR. TONER: We don’t, Brad. As I said, we’re trying to get – we’re trying to gather more information about it. But again, what I think is key here is that any of these allegations or accusations that they ensure both the security of these personnel as well as any trial that might be conducted to be done in a transparent and – manner that’s in accordance with rule of law.
QUESTION: ICC prosecutor Luis Ocampo says he’s going to seek arrest warrants for three senior Libyan officials on charges of crimes against humanity. Any reaction here? Have you guys been in touch with him or --
MR. TONER: I’m not sure we’ve been in touch with him. Obviously, this will – the Secretary is on her way to the Contact Group meeting and will likely be a topic of discussion there. We’ve supported all along the referral to the ICC, so – and we’ve said all along that those who’ve carried out human rights abuses in Libya are going to be held accountable. So we welcome it.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)