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 6, 2011
1:32 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything for the top, so I’ll take your questions.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: If we could begin with that, because the situation looks really bad. I mean, rounding up people, right now going house to house, taking – what is it, people over the age of 15, I believe. It’s really getting bad. What – how does the State Department assess what is going on right now?
MR. TONER: Well, Jill, it’s something we’re very concerned about and obviously are monitoring closely. We continue to – through our ambassador, we continue to press the Syrian Government to cease violence and carrying out violence against innocent citizens who are simply demonstrating and trying to state their aspirations for a more democratic future for Syria and are being met with, as you said, arbitrary arrests and violence.
Go ahead, Lach.
QUESTION: You mentioned the ambassador there --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Posner yesterday talked about the ambassador working with the human rights groups and the families. Has he been able to help locate missing people, for example? Is that part of his duty, and has he done? And more particularly, there’s a missing woman from Al Jazeera TV who has Iranian, Canadian, and U.S. citizenship. Can you say anything about her?
MR. TONER: Lach, the – your second question first. We are certainly aware of the case of this detained American journalist for Al Jazeera. And as you said, I believe she has – has dual or even triple citizenship. But we are aware of her case and obviously concerned about it. And we’ve asked for, obviously, given that she’s an American citizen, for consular access.
We have pressed our concerns to the Syrian Government about missing individuals, as we often do. The other day we had the UN say that it was going to investigate human rights abuses by the Syrian Government. We are concerned about the situation there and we’re taking steps.
QUESTION: Does the ambassador have a long list of missing people that he presents to his counterparts?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure, in fact, if he’s presenting a list or just inquiring in general about these cases. But obviously, it’s foremost on our agenda.
MR. TONER: Go ahead, Jill.
QUESTION: We talked about this yesterday, but the wife of bin Ladin, one of the wives of bin Ladin is giving some very interesting information about al-Qaida, about bin Ladin himself. What is the status of the U.S. requesting, asking for access to her?
MR. TONER: Sure. Jill, and those are valid questions. I just – I’m – unfortunately, from this podium and – I can’t get into what we may be asking and what we may be – it touches on intelligence issues that I can’t get into here.
QUESTION: Mark, just going back to Pakistan. Many questions are being asked by the Pakistanis here and also back home in Pakistan, questions asked from the United States and also from their government that how come – the same question which everybody been asking – how come their government in their backyard didn’t know such a most-wanted terrorist which has killed thousands in Pakistan and also millions around the globe? And what do you tell them from here from this podium? I mean, what went wrong for 10 years? At least for six years this complex and even General Musharraf used to jog – he was jogging in that area almost every day. And now thousands of people after bin Ladin’s death –
MR. TONER: Well, no, you’re right. I –
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) that area.
MR. TONER: You’re right about the shock of finding out that this individual was hiding in plain sight, as others have said. We’ve been quite clear that these have raised concerns both within the Administration as well as in Congress, and we have conveyed those concerns to the Pakistani Government. Indeed, the Pakistani Government has said this raises concerns about the fact that he was able to, as you said, live in a place that was so close to a military – a large military presence. We’ve asked the Pakistanis to address these concerns, and they’ve told us they will.
QUESTION: Now the Pakistani Government has said that – I don’t know if they have said sorry or not, but they have said that we will make sure that in the future nothing – something like this will not take place on their soil. But this – they have said many times in the past that not terrorism or no Usama bin Ladin, nothing will on their soil.
MR. TONER: Well, Goyal, you raise – you obviously raise important issues. What is also important is that this counterterrorism cooperation that’s been going on since 9/11 has borne fruit and has led to some successes. It has put increased pressure on al-Qaida and other terrorist groups operating within Pakistan. Terrorism is an existential threat for Pakistan. As you said, thousands of Pakistanis have been killed both by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. So we believe it’s important that this kind of cooperation continue, and we’re going to look for concrete actions and concrete signs from the Pakistanis that they’re also committed to this.
QUESTION: One more final if you don’t mind, please.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. From this, whatever happened in Pakistan and then death of bin Ladin, how Afghanistan security or Afghanistan will change because July is coming, and – you think any effect on the situation in Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary said that this is an opportunity, if you will, for the Taliban to recognize that there’s no future in al-Qaida and to cut ties with that organization and to seek reconciliation through this Afghan-led process that we’ve talked about. And in terms of our mission in Afghanistan, that is going to continue because it’s important that we – the basic premise of that mission is to build security, to build governance in Afghanistan so that it never again can become a safe haven for al-Qaida. And that mission is still not complete. We’ve been making progress, but we’re going to continue to pursue that mission; it’s a vital one.
QUESTION: So the fact that there were no bodyguards around Usama bin Ladin suggest that there was complicity? Is that how you view it?
MR. TONER: Not at all, Lach. You can read that many different ways. You can read it in the way that he was living there for five years and had become complacent himself. I don’t want to view – read too much into that – those reports.
QUESTION: Are you closer to determining whether it’s complicity or incompetence that –
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. We understand that – we’re asking questions, the Pakistanis are asking questions. I don’t have anything to add to that.
QUESTION: How quick would you – would be realistic to expect answers?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to put a timeline on it. Certainly, we’ve raised these issues with them. The Pakistanis have said they have the same concerns, and they’re looking into it. It’s hard for me to say. These kinds of investigations can take some time.
QUESTION: But would you realistically hope to get some kind of firm answers or some kind of clear results of investigations on their side by – I don’t know – in the coming months or –
MR. TONER: Again, I really don’t want to put a timeline on it, Brad. I think we’re looking for – we’re looking for the Pakistanis to address what we believe are legitimate concerns raised by Congress and raised by this Administration, and indeed, as I said, raised by the government themselves. They recognize that this is – this raises issues, and we’ll seek – we’ll look to them to provide answers to those questions.
QUESTION: Mark, General Kayani has said that if there is another violation of their sovereignty, as he put it, this could have an effect on the ongoing relationship cooperation, militarily and intelligence. Does the U.S. accept that description, that it was a violation of their sovereignty? And are you having any discussions directly – State with the Pakistanis to make your points?
MR. TONER: Well, of course, we’ve been having discussions with Pakistan from the moments after this – for the moments (inaudible) from the moments after this action took place on Sunday. The President’s first call was to the Pakistani president. I think we’ve been as transparent as we can about our actions and why we took them. This was an operation, frankly, that was carried out under a level of operational security that was incredibly stringent, even within the Administration. And so it was done – there was actionable intelligence, the mission was carried out, it was successful. We’ve said that we believe that this was a man who has not only, had killed thousands around the world and Americans, but also posed an imminent threat of future attacks on American citizens, and having actionable intelligence against him, we carried out an operation, and we believe that’s within our right to do so.
QUESTION: Mark –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: You have just announced two things. One is that the – there is a line of communication. And you said that there is a dialogue here going on.
MR. TONER: Of course there’s a line of communication between us and the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: I would like to know if you can pinpoint when, where, who has spoken to whom?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to do that. We never do that.
QUESTION: Have you received any official communication from Pakistan about the event?
MR. TONER: We continue to talk to the Pakistani Government. We’ve done so since the raid was carried out. I’m not going to get into the substance of those discussions.
QUESTION: The Pentagon has denied that they have received any official communication. Has the State Department received any communication?
MR. TONER: I don't know that we’ve received any official communication. We continue to be in a dialogue with the Pakistani Government, and, again, I’m not going to talk about the substance of those --
QUESTION: Now it more than 24 hours since the Pakistani foreign minister spoke.
MR. TONER: It is. Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Have you got any statement, because yesterday you mentioned that byline in The Washington Post. But today, do you have any official comment on the --
MR. TONER: On what specifically? I think I talked about – I mean, I –
QUESTION: The U.S.-Pakistan negotiations, the comments that are going on, the ping-pong ball that you said (inaudible).
MR. TONER: The ping pong – (laughter).
QUESTION: Yesterday, Bashir warned of disastrous consequences. You said you hadn’t – you weren’t familiar with those comments.
MR. TONER: Well, I think – look, I mean, what we’ve tried to make clear is that we believe counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan is in our clear interest as a nation, and it’s in Pakistan’s interest, and we’re committed to working with Pakistan moving forward.
QUESTION: But as to the last –
MR. TONER: But in terms of his comments, I’ll refer you to the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: The way – following up on the Jill’s question --
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- that – do – they are giving you a threatening communication in public. Are you not going to respond to that?
MR. TONER: I think I just did.
QUESTION: I just want to sort of rephrase an earlier question. Are you confident that you’re going to get answers? Not when, not a timeline. Are you confident you’re going to get answers from the Pakistani Government on this?
MR. TONER: I think we’re seeking answers, and we’ve – and we’re – again, we’re mindful that these are not just concerns of a few people, these are concerns raised by Congress, these are concerns raised by this Administration. And as I said, there are concerns within the Pakistani Government. So yes, we do expect answers.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, on the bin Ladin operation, two UN human rights experts are asking the U.S. to present supporting facts that the U.S. did or did not adhere to international standards with regards to human rights. Did the U.S. consider this aspect of this operation?
MR. TONER: In terms of adherence to international --
QUESTION: -- whether it was adherence to international human rights laws.
MR. TONER: I think I’ve said – I’m not going to get into a legal discussion from the podium, but we’ve talked about these operations in the past and the legal justification for them. And again, this was a man who posed a – an individual who posed a threat, an imminent threat to American lives – and indeed, I don’t even want to stop there – to the lives of innocent civilians in Europe and Asia and elsewhere around the globe, and Africa certainly. And we carried out an operation that has brought him to justice.
QUESTION: But did it abide by international laws?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into a discussion here. That’s – that can be debated elsewhere.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you one more (inaudible). As far as India is concerned, have anybody spoken with the Indian officials? Because what India is saying now that India was attacked by at least three people who are hiding in Pakistan, and Pakistani officials do know them, that India should carry the same kind of operation like U.S. did. Is there any cooperation now between India and U.S. to bring those who are responsible to kill hundreds in Mumbai?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m certainly aware of the tragedy of Mumbai. We continue to cooperate closely on counterterrorism issues with India, but I’m not going to get into the specifics.
QUESTION: Mark, could you give us a little bit more detail on the Secretary’s statement yesterday about disbursing – finding a way of disbursing the money that was frozen by the Treasury Department to the opposition in Libya?
MR. TONER: I don’t have a tremendous amount of detail about this. I mean, we’ve talked all along about there’s this temporary financial mechanism, and of course, we’ve talked all along about the fact that the Libyan opposition needs financial wherewithal in order to carry out its operations. And it’s vital; it’s something we – the Contact Group addressed head-on in Rome. And to that end, we are looking at ways now, exploring ways that we can take some of these frozen assets that – from the Qadhafi regime and use them for the benefit of the Libyan people.
Now there are, as I understand it – this is going to require a legal review, and obviously work with Congress on ways that we can do this in a legal fashion. And I don’t have – it’s obviously a complex thing, but indeed, there are – they’ve begun work on how to address some of these legal issues.
QUESTION: But the Secretary --
QUESTION: Okay. What are these legal issues?
MR. TONER: Well, again, these are – this is – again, I’m by no means a lawyer or an expert on this, but there are certain legal considerations here because of these frozen assets and how they – how they’re affected by the current sanctions regime and whether they can be then given to another section of Libyan society. I mean, I don't know much beyond that. We’ll try to get you more details as they emerge.
QUESTION: But just so I understand --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I thought that process was already underway, that they would be looking at the legality of doing that. Is the Secretary saying we’re looking at more of that or we’re --
MR. TONER: Well, I think we’re looking at now – I think we’ve agreed that these funds now should be looked at in a serious and expedient way to somehow make them available to the Libyan people.
QUESTION: Is there any precedent --
MR. TONER: I mean, I know it was discussed a lot before, but I think now there’s clear-cut action underway.
QUESTION: Is there any precedent for taking funds that belong to a government, when that government is still in power, and giving it to somebody else?
MR. TONER: And I think those are some of the legal considerations we need to – even though we believe that Qadhafi’s regime is delegitimized, these are some of the legal questions that need to be addressed. I don't know. I can certainly ask. We’ll ask the question from our good people in L.
QUESTION: Mark, Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the TNC, yesterday, said that just the fact that the countries – the representative of countries that were there at the meeting yesterday, or the – even the previous one, the first one, and pledging support in every way itself meant recognition of the council. Is that the Administration’s sentiments as well?
MR. TONER: Look, every time we interact with the TNC, we get a better sense of who they are and what they need. We’ve said all along that recognition is not a means in – or not an end in and of itself, that there’s many ways we can help the Transitional National Council and the Libyan people in finding – in addressing, again, their immediate needs, financial needs, but also in their longer-term aspirations.
And again, we’ve provided the 25 million in nonlethal assistance. We’re looking at ways to unfreeze some of these assets. But we’re very much proactive in looking for ways that we can assist them. We’re getting a better sense of who they are as an entity. And again, none of this is totally contingent on recognition.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to meet with Jibril next week?
MR. TONER: I don’t know yet. I mean, obviously, she met with him in Rome. But he is – you’re talking about – he is coming – yeah, he’s coming to Washington next week. I know he’s got meetings on the Hill. He’ll be meeting with various members of Congress – I just said that – officials at the Department of Defense, as well as with – actually, here, it says he’ll meet with Deputy Secretary Steinberg.
QUESTION: But not with the Secretary?
MR. TONER: There’s nothing at this point.
QUESTION: Nothing yet.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on Pakistan again?
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Can you give us a breakdown of the money that is going to go to Pakistan since Sunday, since the –
MR. TONER: Well, there’s lots of pots of money that are in play, in train. There is the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds that are in the process of being disbursed and programmed. I don’t have a – I don’t, frankly, have an overall picture to give you, so --
QUESTION: Well, if you can take the question, please.
MR. TONER: Oh, I can take the question, certainly. Yeah.
QUESTION: President Obama talks about transparency, so will you --
MR. TONER: No, no, no, I can certainly take the question. I just don’t have it up here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Great.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Oh, in the back. Sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, last question about the S&ED. The State Department hasn’t released the schedule for the S&ED, so --
MR. TONER: We’re working on it. We’ll get that out.
QUESTION: All right.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)