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Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - June 10, 2011

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Washington, DC
June 10, 2011


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 June 10, 2011

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1:59 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Go ahead. Are you first?

QUESTION: Thanks, Mark.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Any comments on the – in Chicago Headley trial, Mr. Tahawwur Rana, a businessman who was running an immigration business and other money laundering, according to officials. He was convicted on two counts. He’s facing 30 years. My questions is here that according law enforcement authorities it’s not only Rana – him, one person in the U.S. – there are many, many people like him --

MR. TONER: You’re saying according to Pakistan --

QUESTION: Law enforcement officials.

MR. TONER: Law enforcement officials.

QUESTION: That like him, there are many, many other people who are engaged in illegal activities – sending money back home and going to the terrorists.

MR. TONER: And just – I don’t mean to cut you off, Goyal, but just to – in answer to that question, I just would echo what Patrick Fitzgerald, who’s the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said, which is that yesterday’s verdict sends a clear message that all those who help terrorists will be brought to justice, and all those who seek to facilitate violence abroad, as Mr. Rana did, will be held accountable.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, on Syria.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any progress in the UN Security Council regarding that resolution?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a progress report for you. I know it continues to be discussed today in New York. We’ve made our views abundantly clear on this that we believe we’re on the right side of history by supporting such a resolution, and we’re going to work to build pressure on Asad and his regime as we move forward, and this is one way to do that.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What kind of cooperation is there between Turkey and the United States, specifically on Syria issue?

MR. TONER: On --

QUESTION: On Syria issue?

MR. TONER: On the Syria issue, right. Yeah. No, thank you for asking. I think you’re talking maybe specifically about some of the influx of refugees that we’ve seen --


MR. TONER: -- in the last several days. We’re obviously closely monitoring the situation along the border, and we condemn the Government of Syria’s use of violence and call on it to respect the universal rights of its people. It’s fundamentally the Syrian Government’s oppression and carrying out abuses against these innocent civilians that’s prompting this refugee flow. We’ve clearly been in close contact with the Government of Turkey as the situation develops. According to the Government of Turkey, there’s been an increasing number of Syrians that have crossed the border in recent days. We’ve seen about a total of approximately 2,500 individuals since April, but about 2,000 of those have crossed in the past 72 hours, so that’s a marked increase.

We’ll – we haven’t been asked by Turkey yet to offer any assistance. But as I said, we’re in close contact with them. We’re – and we stand ready to assist both bilaterally as well as through – of course, we give money to the UNHCR human rights – UN – sorry, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We give money to that and that would be another avenue to help Turkey deal with this influx.

QUESTION: Staying with Syria --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- do you have an expectation of a vote on the resolution today, or do you think this is likely to go on into next week?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Again, I think this is a process that’s continuing. I don’t have a clear sense that this is going to come to a vote in the near future.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: I would just say that we continue to work to build pressure. We’re – we – as I said, we’ve been very clear on where we stand on this resolution, and we’re trying to, again, use it as an opportunity to increase pressure on Asad. It’s one of – as I said, several avenues we’re trying to pursue in isolating Asad and making it abundantly clear that international pressure’s being built on him, and that he needs to stop what he’s doing and – or as the President and others have said, get out of the way.

QUESTION: Mark, you have been using a new word the last two days which is “isolating” Asad. When you say isolating Asad, why don’t you say that he lost his legitimacy?

MR. TONER: Look, it’s – Samir, it’s really Asad that’s been – who’s been shedding his legitimacy through his actions. He has refused to reform, refused to even make any gestures towards reform other than empty rhetoric. We’ve seen in the past 24 hours reports that he’s – that security forces are again – appear to be attacking a town in Syria and – or massing rather outside of town. We’ve seen other credible reports of human rights abuses. The UN Human Rights Commission has taken this up.

But what I think the Secretary and others have spoken to is the need to build international pressure. The U.S. bilaterally has done – has taken steps against Asad, sanctions that have targeted him himself, Asad himself. The EU has taken additional measures. And we’re going to continue to look at ways we can up the pressure on him. What’s important here is that we make it clear to him that there’s growing pressure against his actions, and we’re going to continue to pursue ways to do that.

QUESTION: What do you mean by isolating Asad?

MR. TONER: Meaning that he is alone, that the international community finds his actions reprehensible. And again, through sanctions and through other condemnations, he wakes up and realizes that he’s got to, again, either allow for the transition, help the transition take place or get out of the way.

QUESTION: But he’s not isolated because the Security Council cannot make a simple condemnation of him.

MR. TONER: Well, Brad, again, I’m talking about – this is the hard work of diplomacy here. This is about building pressure. I think everyone has seen what’s happened in Syria over the past several weeks and, frankly, has been appalled. You’ve heard the Secretary and others talk about history and being on the right side of it. There’s – I think there’s mounting pressure. I think there’s mounting recognition that what’s going on in Syria cannot continue. But again, this is just – this is what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to build pressure. We’re looking at different avenues. We’re looking at the sanctions route. We’re looking at the UN. We’re going to look at other possibilities. Other options remain on the table.

QUESTION: Do we have any indication from the sanctions, both here and in Europe, of funds that have been blocked that belong to Asad or the Syrian regime?

MR. TONER: It’s --

QUESTION: It’s been a while.

MR. TONER: It has been a while. And I – it’s often hard because, as we said, we don’t have – we have an Embassy in Damascus, but we haven’t been able to contact the government which is perhaps, as I said the other day, a recognition that these – that our public statements as well as our sanctions have begun to bite. But I’ll try to get more information if we can to provide more details on that if there is any.

QUESTION: Because with Qadhafi, we knew within a day or two – 32 billion --

MR. TONER: We did talk about assets seized, yeah. No. It’s a fair question. I’ll see if I can get more information.

QUESTION: How do you view the Arab world silence towards what’s happening in Syria – the Arab League, the GCC?

MR. TONER: Well, again, Michel, it’s – the Secretary was in the UAE yesterday and had the chance there to meet with Arab counterparts, and those were good discussions. We’re trying again to pursue avenues that will increase pressure on Asad, and we’re going to work with our Arab partners to do so. But it’s really up to them to characterize their positions right now. The Arab League has been tremendously helpful in Libya, its support for UN Security Council Resolution 1973. There’s a lot happening in that part of the world now, and – but that doesn’t mean we cannot handle one crisis as we focus on another. And I think we’re trying to bring attention, more attention to what’s happening in Syria.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary got any phone calls with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov lately about Syria? And if she hasn’t, have there been any at sort of slightly lower levels, like Secretary-designate – Deputy Secretary-designate Burns or --

MR. TONER: I’ll try to find out at lower levels. I mean, obviously, we remain in close contact in New York with the Russian delegation there.

QUESTION: But no Secretary to Minister Lavrov’s --

MR. TONER: There’s been no Lavrov – Secretary to Lavrov call, no.


QUESTION: Any update on Ambassador --

MR. TONER: But if there’s anything – just a minute – if I have any, we’ll get that to you. If there’s anything – as you said, at the deputy secretary level or --

QUESTION: Any update on Ambassador Ford’s meetings with --

MR. TONER: He remains in Damascus. He continues to request meetings with the Syrian Government, and those continue to be denied. He continues to meet with other members of Syrian society and trying to strengthen those inroads there.

QUESTION: Have there been significant restrictions or – I believe there have been – there have been in the past restrictions on the ability of the Embassy to actually get out and see what’s going on. Have those continued? In other words, do you really have eyes and ears on the ground outside the capital now?

MR. TONER: Outside the capital, you’re right. It’s – and we’ve said before that it’s also difficult because I think the media’s faced pretty severe restrictions in trying to get the story out. So it’s very difficult a lot of times to get a clear picture of these abuses that we’ve heard so much about.

QUESTION: So you’re not able to travel outside the capital?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we’ve been able to travel outside of Damascus. I’ll try to find out.

QUESTION: Okay. And are there restrictions even inside Damascus? That would be interesting, too.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I wanted to see to what extent the State Department’s been engaged with Turkish officials ahead of the elections this weekend, and also on the upcoming Gaza flotilla.

MR. TONER: On the Gaza flotilla, we’ve certainly been in touch with Turkish officials. And on the elections, it’s – I’m not quite sure what your – I mean, we maintain robust contacts with the Turkish Government. Our interest is always in seeing free and fair elections. And Turkey has a strong democratic tradition, so we – we’re respectful of that and hope they have a good election.

QUESTION: Has (inaudible) been finalized for the next round of strategic dialogue between Pakistan and United States?

MR. TONER: Don’t believe so. Once we have something to announce, we’ll let you know.

MR. TONER: Yeah, Lauren and then I’ll go --

QUESTION: Yeah. Let me go ask the question to the – regarding Syria. So do you think the U.S. Government will be able to find a reliable opposition party, like in Syria, like --

MR. TONER: Oh, a reliable opposition party.

QUESTION: -- opposition party which you’ll be able to discuss about the future of Syria, like TNC in Libya?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. There was actually a meeting, I think, last week in Turkey where some of the opposition parties came together in trying to meet, obviously, outside of Syria because they can’t do that inside the country. What that speaks to is the fact that the Syrian people have already, in essence, turned the corner or turned the page, however you want to put it. The government’s oppression, it’s carrying out this – its campaign against innocent protesters, innocent civilians has only made them stronger, and they’re trying to, as you said, trying to coalesce, become a more coherent body. As we’ve seen in Libya, that’s a long process and it’s an evolution.

I know we maintain contacts. I don’t want to get into too much detail because these people are clearly under tremendous danger in Syria, but at the Embassy we do have contacts with members of the opposition as well as civil society members, and we do try to build that sense of what the opposition is, how it – where it’s gelling around. But ultimately, building a credible opposition is going to be a hard task but a necessary task for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Mr. Panetta said yesterday that the Iraqi Government on the verge of asking the U.S. to keep a portion of U.S. troops in Iraq. Do you have any --

MR. TONER: I don’t have any updates. As we’ve said all along, we’re moving forward towards the transition. Any decision about troop numbers or troops remaining, it’s really an issue for the Iraqi Government.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, as far as Bangladesh is concerned, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was in Washington. I understand she met with Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, and the only --

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll try to get a readout for you, Goyal. I don’t – when was that, today? Or was that yesterday?

QUESTION: It’s a few days ago, last weekend.

MR. TONER: A few days ago? I don’t. I’ll try to get a readout of what they discussed.

QUESTION: And one more quick on India. India is seeking another access to Hadley in Chicago – if request has come up or if you are proceeding this request from India?

MR. TONER: Right. But I think – we’ve said in the past we’ve granted that access and, obviously, there was the trial that took place. But in the future we would consider those – providing that access again.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Any update on President Saleh is out of the intensive care and --

MR. TONER: No update. Obviously he’s in – he remains in Saudi Arabia. He continues to receive treatment as far as we can tell. But this isn’t a time for any kind of stasis. The government in Yemen needs to – in Sana’a needs to move forward with – along the lines of the GCC agreement and start this reconciliation process.


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Secretary Clinton said yesterday on Libya that Qadhafi’s days are numbered. How many days do you think does he still have? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: I think, look, what she’s talking about and what others have referred to is the sense that he’s increasingly isolated, he’s had some – he’s had a number of defections in recent days. There have been a number of – or there’s been an intensification, if you will, of NATO airstrikes both within in Tripoli and elsewhere that’s increasing pressure on his forces. So all of this, and you’ve got diplomatic pressure, you’ve got NATO pursuing the implementation of UN Security Council 1973. We believe this is beginning to have an effect on him, and the international community’s resolve on this is unshakable. The TNC is becoming the interlocutor for the Libyan people, it’s becoming more cohesive. And so really the tides have shifted, we believe.

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