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Middle East Digest - May 25, 2011


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Washington, DC
May 25, 2011

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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 25, 2011

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MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Very briefly at the top, turning our attention to Moscow, the United States is concerned by the May 24th ruling by Moscow City Court upholding the verdict against former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and co-defendant Platon Lebedev.

As Secretary Clinton noted in December, the guilty verdict in the second trial of these two men raise serious questions about the apparent selective application of the law to these individuals. The denial of Khodorkovsky’s and Lebedev’s appeals, upholding long prison terms affirms our concerns about serious due process violations and the use of the legal system for improper ends. Russia cannot nurture a modern economy without also developing an independent judiciary that serves as an instrument for furthering economic growth and modernization, and ensuring equal treatment under the law.

That’s all I have for you at the top. I’ll take your questions. Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, just on that.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: If the situation is as bad as you say it is, how can you continue, in good conscience, to tell or to advise U.S. companies to do any business in Russia?

MR. TONER: Well, Matt, I would just say that I think we’ve been clear in what I just said and what we said in December, that this does raise concerns. And we would ask that U.S. companies, obviously, weigh all the pros and cons in the atmosphere in which they’re going to do business. But this does raise concerns. We’ve been clear on that point.

QUESTION: And are you aware of legislation that’s currently – it’s either pending or it’s about to be proposed on the Hill that would require the Secretary to compile a list of suspect – of Russian officials – I believe judges, lawmakers, other officials – who might be involved in human rights abuses? And the purpose of this list would be for potential sanction, potential punishments such as --

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of that specific legislation. I can follow up on it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, just a quick follow-up. The Secretary this morning in Paris was – said that the U.S. was going to do everything it could to work with Russia to become a full member of the OECD. So how does this – I mean, aren’t you sending them mixed messages? What’s the point of saying you’re going to let them into OECD --

MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t think so, Andy.

QUESTION: -- and yet rap them over their knuckles over this?

MR. TONER: I mean, obviously – sure, I mean, obviously, Russia has made great gains in the past decades to modernize its economy, to become a more modern state. But --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, a second. And how could it not have?

MR. TONER: But, in any case --

QUESTION: I mean, it was a –

MR. TONER: Let me finish. But we’ve always said that human rights issues are part of our bilateral relationship with Russia, and we’re not going to shy away from discussing those.

Yeah. Go ahead, Tejinder.

QUESTION: It’s about allegations of ignorance – ignoring of Vienna Convention at – in New York. A daughter of an Indian diplomat was arrested, harassed, and discriminated before being released. So what is the State Department doing about it? Because you were informed by the consul general from the Indian High Commission in New York.

MR. TONER: Right. This is – I think you’re talking about the --

QUESTION: Krittika Biswas, the daughter of Debashish Biswas.

MR. TONER: All right. We’re aware of this case. Obviously, we don’t have comment on the case itself because it’s a matter of ongoing litigation. But speaking to – I think you talked about the matter of immunity; is that right?

QUESTION: She holds a diplomatic passport. She is the daughter of the vice consulate, the consul general.

MR. TONER: That’s right. Yeah. And again, these kinds of matters are generally worked out on a government-to-government – or through government-to-government channels. But anticipating Matt’s question about her immunity, my understanding is that as the – as a family member of consular officer, rather, she does not enjoy immunity from jurisdiction or inviolability.

QUESTION: And where is – so is it only the consul official enjoys the immunity? Is that clear?

MR. TONER: That’s my understanding. According to the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs, it would be – provides that consular officers are not liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a felony where a court warrant is required. But that provision does not apply to family members.

QUESTION: But you do issue – but they do carry a diplomatic passport.

MR. TONER: They do. But again, our understanding is that these provisions, however, don’t apply to their family members and that this is different for consular officers versus those in the embassy. There’s different categories.

QUESTION: When was this?

QUESTION: And from the earlier patdown or --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. When was the case, you’re talking about?

QUESTION: When was the arrest?

MR. TONER: The arrest --

QUESTION: February 8th.

MR. TONER: February – right. And then it was February 8th, correct.

QUESTION: And we’re talking about this now because there’s been some --

MR. TONER: It’s an ongoing – she’s filed a lawsuit, I believe. But again, I don’t want to --

QUESTION: If you don’t know, let me answer the question. (Laughter.) From the patdown of the Indian diplomats at the U.S. airports, the U.S. – the Indian ambassador to the U.S., the Indian ambassador to the UN – do you see this as a negative, or has a negative followed on the U.S.-Indian relationship? Have you heard from --

MR. TONER: First of all, Tejinder, the U.S.-Indian relationship, I would counter, has never been stronger. We’ve got a strategic partnership in place. We’re cooperating at an unprecedented level on education and science and technology, as well as economics, trade, health, agriculture. You name it – the sector – we’re cooperating with India well in it. And this is obviously to the benefit of both – the citizens of both our countries, rather.

Regarding those incidents by the TSA, the pat downs, we’ve said in the past that we have the utmost respect for Ambassador Shankar as well as Permanent Representative Puri and the tremendous work that they’re doing in support of U.S.-Indian relations. And we obviously, at the time, regretted any inconvenience that Ambassador Shankar had to endure.

QUESTION: Have you received any communication from Delhi on this?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. But again, this is a matter of ongoing litigation, so I’m limited --

QUESTION: Change topics?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Michelle.

QUESTION: I would like – I have a couple questions about IAEA reports. There’s – according to the IAEA, Iran has been continuing to enrich low-enriched uranium, and there’s – also seems to be studying nuclear triggers, and I wonder how worried you are about this new information.

MR. TONER: Well, it – you’re right, Michelle. It underscores Iran’s continued failure to comply with its international obligations and clearly illustrates its sustained lack of full cooperation with the IAEA. It demonstrates Iran’s continued noncompliance with international obligations and shows that Iran continues not to take any meaningful action or steps required of it by the UN Security Council or called on by the IAEA’s Board of Governors.

QUESTION: And is the nuclear trigger particularly serious? I mean, how do you explain –

MR. TONER: Again, I mean, these are all – I would say these are all matters of serious concern. And again, what’s troubling is that Iran continues to show – make no effort to comply with its obligations under the IAEA to be fully transparent about its nuclear program. These are all serious questions that continue to be raised, and we call on Iran to engage with the international community. We’ve offered that open door many, many times. But until that, we’re going to continue to apply sanctions.

QUESTION: One other about –

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Michelle.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. One other about Syria because the –

MR. TONER: Yeah. You want to do both IAEA reports together?

QUESTION: Yeah. The – because the IAEA report on Syria said that this – it was very likely that this was as nuclear plant that Iran – that Israel bombed in 2007, and I wonder if this serves as a basis now to bring this up to the UN Security Council for sanctions on Syria.

MR. TONER: Sure. Well, you’re right, it does confirm our longstanding concerns about Syria and its – again, its lack of compliance with its international nuclear obligations. The actual – or the attempt by Syria to construct a clandestine nuclear reactor site is obviously a matter of concern, and we fully expect that the IAEA board will address this issue when it meets, I believe, next week. And I believe that’s also the next – natural next step. The IAEA board will meet and then decide whether to advance it to the UN Security Council.

QUESTION: But is it the U.S. policy to take it all the way to the Security Council? Is that what you would like to do?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to preview how we will, but you can guess at how we’ll vote. But you can guess that we view this as a matter – or you don’t even need to guess; we view this is a matter of tremendous concern, and we’ll make our views clear at the board meeting.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There was an Israeli shipping company that apparently was listed as one of the companies that were sanctioned yesterday for violating the embargo on business with Iran –

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- and they say they should be removed. Are you aware of this, and is the U.S. doing anything to investigate this claim?

MR. TONER: The claim – I’m sorry – about the sanctions yesterday?

QUESTION: Right. Exactly. They claim that they don’t do any business with Iran and it’s just a misunderstanding.

MR. TONER: Well, yeah. I mean, I’m limited to how much detail I can get about these sanctionable acts, but again, we did considerable due diligence in checking out these claims. And what we found is that Ofer Holdings Group is the parent of a company called Tanker Pacific, and that’s the company that actually sold this tanker to the Iranians. And the company and its subsidiary, frankly, has failed to do proper due diligence and to prevent this transaction. So they’re responsible – I guess my point is that they’d be responsible for the conduct of their subsidiary.

QUESTION: Another on Iran.

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The letter that the Iranians sent to the EU. Have you –

MR. TONER: A couple weeks ago.

QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of weeks ago. Was there ever any decision from the P-5+1 on what to do about that letter, where to go? Do you have any reaction?

MR. TONER: Well, right. I believe High Representative Ashton came out publicly and said that it’s necessary for Iran to come to the table next time willing to talk about its nuclear program and that we just didn’t see that level of seriousness and commitment in the letter.

QUESTION: What did you see in the letter?

MR. TONER: But we continue to consult among – obviously, among our P-5+1 colleagues and to continue to assess next steps. But we would call on Iran to reconsider and to come back to the table willing to talk about its nuclear program.

QUESTION: But what was in the letter? Can you describe what was in it and why it doesn’t meet the standard for restarting talks?

MR. TONER: Again, I think it didn’t meet the standards in the respect that there was no serious discussion on its – about its nuclear program and its commitments to the international community to discuss and address its concerns about – it being the international community’s concerns – about Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: And just back on the Syria sanctions for a second.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Not on the Iran-specific – although it might be involving Iran, but there was that second group. There were the seven –

MR. TONER: I think now, right.

QUESTION: -- and then there was the 16?

MR. TONER: I think so. Right.

QUESTION: And in that group of 16, there was a Venezuelan military entity listed.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Is that correct?

MR. TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: What exactly did this Venezuelan entity – military entity do to get to these sanctions?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have the details on – but these were obviously – their actions were investigated and found in violation of the so-called INKSNA. Again, I’m limited in how – to what detail I can discuss it, but I’ll see what – if I can find --

QUESTION: Well, with the Israeli shipping firm just a second ago, you were able to explain --

MR. TONER: No. I’ll find out if there’s more I can --

QUESTION: -- what they did or what you think they did.

MR. TONER: I’ll find out if there’s I can say about it, okay, Matt.

QUESTION: First, just a follow on the sanctions.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I was just wondering if – Chavez has been saying some things on his Twitter feed about gringo imperialism and so on. I’m wondering if you’ve had any official communication with the Venezuelan Government about that. Have they complained to you?

MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. I mean, clearly, we’re limited in our ability to communicate with the Venezuelan Government, but I’m not – I’ll have to double check on that.

QUESTION: Wait what? Why are you limited in your ability?

MR. TONER: Just because we don’t have an ambassador there.

QUESTION: I mean, the Embassy is still open, right?

MR. TONER: I know.

QUESTION: And they have an --

MR. TONER: They have a chargé.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could yesterday’s sanctions and also the U.S. sanctions be a response to the Iran letter or was it just a coincidence to come after that?

MR. TONER: Well, again, their – I mean, it’s all part of our broader policy that’s at play here, which is this dual-track approach. As I think I just said in answer to Michel’s question, the door remains open for Iran to engage with the international community, come clean about its nuclear program, address the international community’s concerns. The P-5+1 process is in place for precisely that goal. But until it does that, we’re going to continue to apply sanctions where appropriate.

But as the timing – sorry, Kirit – as the timing, those things tend to run on a time – or on a clock all their own. As we investigate these claims, do due diligence, and then announce.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Libya --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and Feltman’s trip there? He – during his presser mentioned – presser yesterday mentioned that the U.S. had offered for the Libyan opposition to open up a representative office here in Washington.

MR. TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: Can you clarify exactly what was new about that and how Ambassador Aujali had been operating in the U.S. prior to that? I mean, what was new yesterday?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: And how does that affect how that office is already going to be working?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a fair question. This was, I think, an opportunity for – the trip as a whole was an opportunity for Assistant Secretary Feltman to get for himself a better understanding of the Transitional National Council and, obviously, assess their needs and meet a broader range of their leadership, and again, hopefully come away with a clearer understanding of how they function and how we can help them. And I think, as part of that, he felt it was important that we formalize in that way a relationship with the TNC through an office here. I’m aware that we have had contacts, obviously, throughout with Mr. Aujali.

But this is another chance to, again, to just clarify and to take our relationship and formalize it a bit more in that we have an office in Washington where we can contact them and work with them.

QUESTION: So that was not a formal – what was it before two days ago?

MR. TONER: Again, I believe it was an informal relationship with Mr. Aujali as their acting representative here. This is, again, an official office in Washington, and they obviously accepted the offer, and again, it’s just a step, we believe, in the positive direction that we’re moving in in our relationship with TNC.

QUESTION: And what about creating some sort of reciprocal office in Benghazi? Is that under consideration? You’ve had Chris Stevens in for a while --

MR. TONER: Well, we have Chris Stevens on the ground. I’m not sure where we’re at with – in terms of setting up some kind of office or diplomatic – I mean, we clearly have a diplomatic presence in Chris Stevens. But I’m not aware that there’s any steps that are going to be taken to formalize that.

QUESTION: Also on Libya?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you if you’re aware of this – the case of this missing American, Mr. VanDyke --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- from Baltimore, and what’s being done to try and find out what his whereabouts or fate are, is?

MR. TONER: Sure. Well, we are aware of Mr. VanDyke’s case. We’re in contact with the family and providing them with all appropriate assistance. And we call on the Libyan Government to immediately release all U.S. citizens who are being unjustly detained and provide information on those missing. Obviously, this is something we continue to work. We did have some success last week with the two journalists who were freed, and we continue to work for the liberation of the other individuals, other American citizens who are still being held in Libya. And Mr. VanDyke was among those referred to in the statement last week.

QUESTION: Do you know how many Americans are being held there?

MR. TONER: I hesitated. I think it’s six who are still being held that we’re aware of (inaudible).

QUESTION: How about missing and unaccounted for? Do you have a number on --

MR. TONER: I don’t.

QUESTION: Do you not – do you know that they’re being – sorry, I didn’t know you just answered that. Are they missing or detained or you don’t know either --

MR. TONER: Some are detained and we are aware of that, others are missing.

QUESTION: All right. And when you say that you’re in touch with the family and offering all possible assistance, what kind of assistance is that? I mean, you don’t have anyone on the ground, at least in Qadhafi-held territory. The Turks, who were your protecting power --

MR. TONER: Well, I think this was cited last week, certain entities on the ground, such as the Hungarian Embassy, was helpful to us. And we remain – we continue to have contacts in the ground in Tripoli, but granted they’re very spotty.

Yeah. Go ahead, Andy. I’ll get back.

QUESTION: Follow-on. The South Africans said today that President Zuma’s going to go to Tripoli next week to meet with Qadhafi personally. I’m wondering if they let you know about that in advance, if you think that’s a good idea at this stage?

MR. TONER: Well, again, provided they deliver the clear message to him that the international community is unified in its belief that Mr. Qadhafi needs to step away from power and leave the country in order for a democratic transition to take place. As to whether they notified us, I don’t have an answer for that. I’ll check.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on Sudan, because Ambassador Lyman said he was planning to travel there, and now apparently --

MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t. I’ll check on that. My understanding is that we’re – the situation remains, obviously, very fluid, but there’s been no violence in the last 24 hours or no serious uptick in violence. But again, our – we call on – obviously, just echo Ambassador Lyman’s urging of both sides to forego any further violence and to get back to negotiations on Abyei’s future.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) armies are just moving further and further to the south.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And tens of thousands of people are fleeing.

MR. TONER: I’m aware. I mean –

QUESTION: So I mean, the situation is definitely getting worse.

MR. TONER: It’s – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that it was not getting worse. I’m just saying I don’t have any updates on his travel to the region. Sorry, Andy.

QUESTION: Can I switch to Yemen?

MR. TONER: Sure. You can switch to Yemen.

QUESTION: Yeah. The President said today we call upon President Saleh to move immediately on his commitment to transfer power. It doesn’t sound like an unequivocal statement calling him for to leave and step down and leave the country the way you do for Qadhafi. I mean, are you following the Gulf lead?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a different situation.

QUESTION: You’re following the Gulf lead, it seems. You’re not really getting out there on your own limb.

MR. TONER: Well, that’s – I mean, look. We’ve been quite clear in saying that we support the Gulf Cooperation Council’s efforts to resolve the situation in Yemen. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts and despite repeated assurances that President Saleh would indeed sign this agreement to which the opposition agreed to as well, he’s backed away from those promises, and we would urge him – again, this is a path forward for Yemen that will resolve the current political crises and put them on a positive path towards a more democratic future. He’s agreed to sign it, we believe he should, and so again, it’s – I don’t like to apply the same – we certainly don’t apply the same strategy and the same policy to every country. We believe that the Gulf Cooperation Council has played a productive role.

QUESTION: Why don’t you take a more forward-leaning position?

MR. TONER: We have – well, look –

QUESTION: I mean, you have aid -- $300 million in aid –

MR. TONER: We’ve been engaged throughout – obviously the – our Ambassador Feierstein’s been actively involved in this process. We believe that the GCC proposal is a good one and that Saleh should sign it.

QUESTION: Are the Yemenis cooperating in counterterrorism at this point or are they so distracted by the events on the ground there that they can’t?

MR. TONER: Well, my understanding is that our counterterrorism cooperation does continue.

QUESTION: Can we move a bit north?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I didn’t hear what you –

QUESTION: North. I want to go north.

MR. TONER: Are we done with Yemen?

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one just a quick follow-up –

MR. TONER: Sorry. Do you mind if I just finish with him?

QUESTION: -- on Yemen. There were reports yesterday that the U.S. and UK were thinking about pulling their diplomats out of Sana’a because of the –

MR. TONER: Right. No – nothing to announce. As you know, we’re – we’ve been on voluntary authorized departure since March 6th, and that meant that family members of Embassy staff as well as nonessential personnel could choose to leave the country. But obviously we continue, given the very fluid situation in Sana’a and elsewhere, to evaluate the security situation and if we’ll make any adjustments, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So is the security situation –

MR. TONER: Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: -- regarding AQAP more risky? I mean, is there a risk the AQAP can slip into Sana’a right now because of the chaos?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we’ve said that the current chaos does pose problems, that we’re concerned about this ongoing insecurity and the effect that it could have on AQAP’s ability to interfere. But that again just reinforces the fact that President Saleh should indeed sign this agreement and put Yemen on a path towards political resolution.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the prime minister of Israel got quite a rousing reception up on the Hill from Congress. I’m wondering what the Administration thinks about the tenor of and the content and tone of his speech as well as perhaps the reaction that it got.

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, Israel is a close partner with the United States and the rousing reception that Prime Minister Netanyahu received in addressing Congress was in keeping with the strong relationship that many in this government, in this Administration and in the – and on the Hill, feel towards Israel. In terms of the way forward, the President’s been clear that we’ve outlined certain principles that we believe provide a foundation for negotiations going forward, and we’re going to continue to make efforts to get the parties back to the table to discuss those.

QUESTION: Well, you’re not at all concerned that the rousing – that the applause given to the prime minister as he struck down one by one each of the Palestinians’ negotiating positions might complicate your job as trying to be a mediator?

MR. TONER: It’s always a complicated process, Matt. I don’t think any of us are Pollyannaish about the challenges and what it’s going to take to address them. But as the President spoke earlier today in London and both President and Prime Minister Cameron talked about the achievements of Northern Ireland in overcoming years of strife, and that this is something that you have to keep hard at work at and continue to lay the foundation for negotiations moving forward.

QUESTION: Well, that’s great, except the last person that made that analogy, we all know what happened to him; he just quit.

MR. TONER: I don't think he just quit at all. I think he resigned after two years of hard work, and he was always very clear that he would serve for two years.

QUESTION: Well, good. I wanted to ask this at the time, actually. When he – last September, when he --

MR. TONER: I’ve missed you, by the way, the last couple of days.

QUESTION: When he – when – last September, when he came out with the President and they announced that a deal would be – they believed a deal could be done within a year – i.e., by this September – you’re telling me that Mitchell would have quit anyway, even if there was some progress toward getting an agreement by this September?

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask Senator Mitchell what his plans were at the time. Again, it’s pure speculation.

QUESTION: But I think it’s – I think that a person who had championed the idea of however many days of failure and one day of success in Northern Ireland --

MR. TONER: That’s your opinion.

QUESTION: -- had he seen any light at the end of the tunnel would have stayed on to complete what he had announced was a big –

MR. TONER: That’s your opinion, Matt. Thanks.

QUESTION: -- project.

QUESTION: Could I --

QUESTION: Hold on. I need to keep up on this. On the – on Netanyahu, does the Administration agree with Netanyahu that the idea of the right of return is an absolute non-starter, even for potentially one Palestinian refugee or the descendant of one Palestinian refugee to return to Israeli land?

MR. TONER: Talking about refugees, we’ve said that those are matters to be discussed at the negotiating table.

QUESTION: So you do not agree with him that that’s not out --

MR. TONER: We have said that these are all issues to be addressed at the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Well, but you’ve taken the Palestinian position that the ’67 borders with agreed swaps should be the basis for the borders, right?

MR. TONER: We have laid down --

QUESTION: So are you not taking a position at all?

MR. TONER: We have laid down some principles that we believe provide a foundation for negotiations to move forward, but we also recognize that there are issues that still will need to be worked out.

QUESTION: But do you --

MR. TONER: And in fact, the borders with agreed swaps – as the President and others have made clear, agreed swaps means that the realities of post ’67 will have to be taken into account and addressed at the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Correct.

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Cami.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to know if this Administration is willing to take --

MR. TONER: And I’m not --

QUESTION: -- the Israeli position, as it has taken the Palestinian position, on a negotiating stance, on the borders. Is the Administration willing to take the Israeli position on the – in the --

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t know how I can be clearer --

QUESTION: -- Israeli negotiating stance on the right of return.

MR. TONER: Matt, I don’t know how I can be clearer to say that this is – these are matters that both parties need to address at the negotiating table.

Go ahead, Cami.

QUESTION: The Palestinians came out today and sort of responded to the President’s calling it unilateral that they go to the UN seeking the resolution. I mean, they pointed out that it’s unilateral on Israel’s part to build settlements. Would you – what’s your response to that?

MR. TONER: Our response is just as we say, that we think that taking this kind of resolution to the UN is a very bad idea and that will not create the kind of constructive atmosphere that needs to take – that needs to exist in order for negotiations to restart. We’ve said time and time before that we believe that settlements also don’t add to any kind of positive climate that we believe is necessary, that we – we’ve spoken clearly and coherently from this podium and elsewhere that we believe settlements are not helpful.

QUESTION: I just wonder if there’s anything specific that’s being done to urge both sides to stop taking these unilateral actions.

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, you’ve got our public comments, but also David Hale and others continue to work with the parties to address these issues.

QUESTION: Speaking of which, has he had his meetings in Paris?

MR. TONER: He is in Paris now, I believe.

QUESTION: You don’t know --

MR. TONER: And I don’t have a readout.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. On the U.S. food assistance to --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- North Korea, do you think food aid to North Korea should be a precondition to Six-Party Talks?

MR. TONER: No, we don’t. I’ve said time and time again that food aid is apart from any policy or political decisions and it’s – our humanitarian assistance programs are not connected to any other policy decisions or any other policies in any way.

QUESTION: But what --

MR. TONER: They’re taken in a very subjective –or, I’m sorry – in a very objective manner, and again, we’ve laid out what needs to take place, which is the assessment mission that’s underway right now. And then obviously, looking at that assessment, decisions will be made about whether to move forward and then to ensure that there’s proper monitoring so that it gets to the individuals – the people who need it most.

QUESTION: Does the United States have any intent to send food from – to North Korea?

MR. TONER: Any what?

QUESTION: Instead of your food assistance to North Korea, do you got any intent (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, we did have a food assistance program to North Korea. We were kicked out of North Korea. And we now recognize that we’ve seen the World Food Program and other NGOs’ reports about a food crisis, and we are looking into those. Obviously, we’ve sent Ambassador King and his assessment team to North Korea to look at the situation to evaluate it.

QUESTION: Follow up?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Has the field assessment started yet?

MR. TONER: I assume so, but I don't know.

QUESTION: Do – has there – the field assessment team’s itinerary been finalized yet?

MR. TONER: No. No. I don't know if it’s been finalized, but I don't have any details to share.

In the back.

QUESTION: Do you take any daily report from the – Robert King, Mr. Robert King --

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: -- as to what’s going on? Is there --

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: -- anything new?

MR. TONER: No. Nothing to share.

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Is there any agreement between the U.S. and North Korea on how many provinces the field assessment team will be visiting?

MR. TONER: I truly don’t have that kind of detailed information. They’re on the ground. They’re conducting their assessment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah.



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