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 July 15, 2011
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: On Jordan, actually, to begin with.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: There was some violence there. There are reports that police have cracked down on protests. A number of journalists were among those who were injured. Does the State Department have anything to say about that?
MR. TONER: Well, we do understand these – that these protests did take place in Jordan earlier today, and our Embassy and personnel in Amman are monitoring events and continue to do so, and trying to obtain more information about these protests. But our initial assessment was that they were largely without incident. I did see those reports about journalists being beaten up, and certainly we’re looking into those reports.
QUESTION: So that’s without incident?
MR. TONER: I said largely without incident. There was some – we heard about a few skirmishes. And I think it’s important, as we’ve said consistently throughout recent events in the region and in Jordan, that we support the universal rights of individuals to assemble peacefully and freely express themselves. And that requires restraint on the part of the government as well as on the part of the protesters.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the journalists were roughed up?
MR. TONER: I just don’t know. I guess at this point, we’re trying to – we’ve seen those reports. Our Embassy reporting had not confirmed that, so we’ll seek further information.
QUESTION: Can you walk us through the process by which the U.S. finally decided to officially recognize the TNC as the official representative of the Libyan people, including the decision to make it possible for them to access the 30 billion in funds held in U.S. banks?
MR. TONER: Well, walking you through the process, I think that it really reflects an evolution. This is something that we’ve talked about many times as the situation in Libya has progressed. And we have made preliminary contacts with the Transitional National Council and with the opposition in Libya. We’ve seen over the passage of time the TNC, as it’s called, evolve, send the right kind of signals that it was inclusive and that it respected the human rights of – and rights of all Libyan citizens. And so – and again, we took steps along the way that helped grow our relationship, if you will, such as establishing a representative in Benghazi, Chris Stevens, who remains there.
And so this is, again, an evolutionary process. And just after Chris Stevens, we did declare that we saw the Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people. And so I think today is an additional step in that direction and that in that we’re saying that until an interim authority is in place, we are going to recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority of Libya.
And I think that accomplishes two things. One, it helps us answer or respond to, I guess, one of the major requests that we’ve had from the TNC, which is their request for funding. We all are well aware that they are in need of additional funds. We did establish a temporary financial mechanism which has helped, and this recognition will allow us to access some of the frozen assets and get them to the TNC so that they can pay their bills and have operational – and handle operational costs.
The other message that it clearly sends to Qadhafi and his regime is that we’re looking past him, he’s no longer legitimate, and he should get out of the way and allow for this democratic transition to take place.
QUESTION: Does that mean that the U.S. is no longer dealing with the embassy that is staffed by people who are part of Qadhafi’s government? Is that embassy no longer in --
MR. TONER: I mean, I think that bridge was crossed a while back. We broke off – well, we – sorry, we no longer have contact with the embassy, and we’ve sent those diplomats home.
QUESTION: Mark, can I follow up?
MR. TONER: Sure. Okay. Go ahead, Brad, and then Thom.
QUESTION: Just how many women are now on this TNC? I remember it was a complaint about its inclusiveness, that not one woman was represented. Has that changed or is that issue just pushed aside?
MR. TONER: I don’t know, Brad. I’ll have to get an answer for you. I don’t know. I don’t know if that issue has been pushed aside, and I don’t know what the makeup is with regards to (inaudible).
QUESTION: And on operational costs, what are you talking about exactly? Are you talking about money so they can buy weapons or --
MR. TONER: Well, no. I think we’re talking about money so that they can – part of this is – as we move forward, and part of the goal of the Contact Group meeting was to really almost look beyond Qadhafi and start planning for a post-Qadhafi Libya. And that’s going to involve utilities, basic services to the people. They need funds to exist as a de facto government. Without getting into a civics lesson, any government to exist and to provide services to its people needs financial wherewithal. And so I think that it’s a reflection, and the other big factor is security.
So, I mean, all of these, I think, are things we’re looking at, aspects we’re looking at. And the Transitional National Council, which also kind of delivered its roadmap today – earlier today – that sort of cemented the deal for us, it allowed us to really see their vision for the future, is looking at all these issues and realizing that they’re going to need additional funds to make that happen.
QUESTION: Just one to follow.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, that’s well and good, but they haven’t won yet.
MR. TONER: I agree. I --
QUESTION: There are two sides involved in a war. So to get them past that, they are going to need weapons, I assume – increased weaponry – or pay more people to fight. Are there going to be any restrictions on the money that they now have access to or will have access to on what they can spend that on? Will it be restricted to non-lethal? Does this change that equation somehow?
MR. TONER: Brad, that’s a question I’ll probably have to take because I don’t know specifically whether there’s any restrictions on it. My understanding is that this is, again, to help the Transitional National Council meet its immediate financial needs as it’s grappling with the situation of ongoing attacks by Qadhafi’s forces on its – on innocent civilians. But whether there’s any restrictions on that, I’m not aware.
QUESTION: Mark, what can --
MR. TONER: Let me go to Thom and then over – he had his hand up before.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks. It’s a follow-on to that exact question. Beyond money for weapons, now that they are the de facto Government of Libya, are you opening discussions on foreign military assistance? Are there any other concrete ways in which the U.S. Government and the Defense Department can help this new Government of Libya?
MR. TONER: Well, of course, we’ve got the – we have already done the 25 million in material assistance from the Department of Defense, and that was delivered in several tranches. And that included non-lethal military assistance that was helping the opposition and the rebel forces to provide security.
Going forward, I think that we’re looking at all of these aspects, and we’ll have, obviously, a clearer picture. I mean, today, we sent a very clear signal to both – to the TNC that we recognize them as the future of Libya, and until there’s an interim government in place, post-Qadhafi, we recognize them as the legitimate Government of Libya. And so as such, we’re going to take steps to make sure that they’re able to carry out their functions.
As for specifics of what that assistance – how it may be used, I think what’s important is that the Transitional National Council in its discussions today did pledge that this assistance would be delivered in a transparent manner, and that would indeed be inclusive in how it was delivered to the Libyan people. That’s an important element, obviously. And as we move forward, State and Treasury will ensure that that accountability and transparency and monitoring is in place, but as for specifics on how the assistance is going to – where it’s going to go and what it’s going to look like, I would just beg a little bit of time as we flesh this out.
QUESTION: Libya --
QUESTION: Mark, looking beyond Qadhafi, would an international force – let’s say blue-helmeted under the auspices of the United Nations – be something that is being discussed now to provide security?
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I think we’re looking at security as a major issue in post-Qadhafi Libya, but I’m not going to discuss what that may look like. Again, in recognizing the TNC as this legitimate governing body that helps them have the kind of authority that they’ll need to provide security in any kind of post-Qadhafi scenario.
QUESTION: Did TNC request such a thing? Would --
MR. TONER: I’m aware that there’s some ideas out on the table and I think they’re all under discussion.
QUESTION: Okay. One last thing on this issue. I spoke with Fadel Lamen – he’s the head of the Libyan American Council – and he’s saying that the recognition of the TNC gives the United States an opportunity to take the lead once more. Is that – will the United Nations – the United States take the lead once more in this process?
MR. TONER: This has always been, in the truest sense, a strong partnership of likeminded nations who saw what Qadhafi was carrying out against the Libyan people and stood up for it, and – or stood up against it, rather, and stood up for the Libyan people, first to protest them via UN Security Council Resolution 1973, and increasingly through the Contact Group, which is now – I don’t have the exact number in front of me, but over 30 countries, I believe, in – were present in Istanbul and now, I believe, the fourth meeting of this group. So there’s an increasing international cohesion, if you will, against Qadhafi and in favor of the Transitional National Council as the future of Libya.
QUESTION: With your new recognition of the Libyan opposition, are you going to increase your diplomatic presence in Benghazi at this point?
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question, and again, I don’t have a solid answer for you. I think we’re looking at all those kinds of issues as we move forward.
QUESTION: How many people do you have there?
MR. TONER: We’re very, obviously, happy with Chris Stevens and the work that he’s doing. I mean, our focus is both on the security of his contingent there, as well as that they maintain the good access that they have. That’s always more vital than, I think, personnel number.
QUESTION: Does his office get a new name or anything like that? Does his office there get a new name or is it – you don’t know?
MR. TONER: Again, all good – all fair questions.
MR. TONER: I just --
QUESTION: And then who do you have there right now? Is it just him right now or is it --
MR. TONER: It’s him and I think there’s a small contingent. I don’t have exact numbers. I can try to get those for you. Obviously, security but also some folks who support him as well.
QUESTION: Would you find --
QUESTION: On the $30 billion that’s frozen right now – I know there’s some legal procedures that have to be worked through – but do you have a sense of a timeline of when the --
MR. TONER: I don’t. What was I --
QUESTION: -- TNC might --
MR. TONER: Sure. What I was told was a short timeframe. And I know that there’s – we all recognize there’s a sense of urgency to this, but we don’t have any precise dates.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. follow – like the European Union just opened a bureau in Benghazi. You don’t have a bureau. You just have Mr. Stevens there, right?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we have representation there. What we call it may evolve, but I don’t have any announcements for you today.
QUESTION: Would you support TNC placing Qadhafi regime at the UN?
MR. TONER: Again, all good questions and stuff we’re looking at, but our immediate focus, I think, is – and will all be considered and dealt with down the road. But I think that our immediate focus and the reason why we did this was twofold – was to take steps to support the Transitional National Council in kind of practical, real ways, including financially. And then secondly, to send a message, one more – yet another message to Qadhafi and his regime that we’ve – we’re now focused on the Transitional National Council, and eventually the interim government and the democratic transition that will follow as the future in Libya.
QUESTION: Can I ask you --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible)? The reporting has seemed to say that this would allow some of that money to be accessed by the TNC. Why would they – how much, first of all, would they, I mean, theoretically be allowed to access? And why would they be restricted if they are the legitimate government and that is money from what was once a government sovereign wealth fund?
MR. TONER: Right. And that may, in fact, be a better question directed to Treasury --
MR. TONER: -- because there are specific legal constraints and issues that we need to address, both domestically and internationally. Without getting in --
QUESTION: You don’t --
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You don’t have a breakdown of how much –
MR. TONER: I don’t. I’ve also heard the 30 billion bandied about, but I don’t have a solid figure for you. I’ll try to get that.
QUESTION: Could you talk about the timing, why you choose today to announce the commission, not a week ago, a week later, but today?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think it’s – first of all, it was the Contact Group meeting. It was where – in which the Transitional National Council sort of laid out its vision, which offered us even more assurances that this was an entity that was showing that it had the right vision for the democratic transition that needs to take place in Libya. And certainly, it was a chance for us to touch base with our partners and allies on Libya. And every contact we’ve had with the Transitional Council as we move forward has led to a greater evolution in our relations with them. And I think it’s also part of a recognition that, again, this would allow us to take some steps such as the releasing of these frozen assets that will help them.
QUESTION: Is the situation --
QUESTION: Was (inaudible) taken in – separate from the course of the war right now between the rebels and the Qadhafi regime?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I understand your question.
QUESTION: Was this recognition granted in order to hasten the end of the conflict?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s hard for me to pull one issue out of – they’re all interconnected.
MR. TONER: What we want to see in Libya is a ceasefire, first and foremost. And we’ve been clear on the conditions for those. We want to see Qadhafi pull back his forces from areas where they’ve forcibly entered and we want to see them – we want to see Qadhafi eventually leave power. We believe that’s going to be sooner rather than later.
QUESTION: Does this – did this decision of recognition put more pressure on him to just say, all right, enough?
MR. TONER: Well, I think that was one of our goals was to both support the Transitional National Council but also to send a clear message that we don’t believe he’s – we believe he should step aside.
QUESTION: Could you clarify something?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you – everybody keeps saying we want a ceasefire in place. Now, a ceasefire is normally between combatants to maintain confrontation line. So are you willing to accept a ceasefire where Qadhafi stays where he is and the rebels stay where they are, or do you want Qadhafi to surrender?
MR. TONER: Let’s be clear. We – what we want to see is Qadhafi leave power, but a ceasefire that involves troops, as I said, pulling back from areas where they’ve forcibly entered, stopping their attacks, and then also so that we can – and then facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the supply of basic services to these civilians in these areas that are – that have been under Libyan military control.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout on ISI chief Lieutenant General Pasha meeting with Ambassador Grossman, just –
MR. TONER: I don’t. I can confirm the meeting took place, but I don’t have a readout of the meeting.
QUESTION: What was discussed, nothing (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: I mean, you can imagine that they talked about our relationship going forward, both the challenges that we’re facing but also the cooperation that remains and the importance of that cooperation in terms of counterterrorism assistance but also in terms of civilian assistance. We – I spoke yesterday about – Deputy Secretary Nides called the finance minister, Shaikh – I believe that was yesterday – and again delivered a message that while there’s – while there is this slowdown in security assistance in Pakistan, our civilian assistance does remain flowing, and it’s very important to building the kind of institutions that we believe are both in our long-term national security interest as well as Pakistan’s.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: The statement in – that there wasn’t any plan for anyone from State to meet with General Pasha yesterday, am I mistaken that that was not supposed to happen?
MR. TONER: No, I think we said we referred you to the Pakistani delegation or Pakistani Embassy for specifics on his schedule, but I believe that was a planned meeting.
QUESTION: But if Secretary Grossman was on – did have this meeting –
MR. TONER: Ambassador Grossman, or --
QUESTION: Yeah. Ambassador Grossman. Why wasn’t it announced to –
MR. TONER: We don’t necessarily announce his meetings or everyone’s meetings with everyone. But it was, I believe, long scheduled.
QUESTION: Are there plans for other people at State to meet with ISI chief Pasha?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: Mark --
QUESTION: On Iraq?
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t tell us anyway. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Mark, do you see any --
MR. TONER: Lalit, go ahead, and then we’ll take --
MR. TONER: No, no. You’re still on Pakistan, I believe.
QUESTION: Do you see, Mark, any change as far as the mission between the U.S. and Pakistan is concerned? So General Pasha was – I mean, he headed to Washington because of the – is any connection as far as the U.S. aid to Pakistan is concerned?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think any conversation we’re having with Pakistan right now is in the context of the fact that, while our military assistance, security assistance, has slowed down, our civilian assistance does remain intact. So I’m sure that they talked about that, talked about ways to improve that assistance and make sure that it’s getting to the right kinds of programs.
QUESTION: One more. There are some reports in Pakistan press that if this aid, military aid, is not restored by the U.S., the military and ISI may get into the civilian aid and civilians may affect, I mean.
MR. TONER: That --
QUESTION: The civilian aid may affect.
MR. TONER: Well, again, our civilian assistance is delivered under certain constraints and that allow it to – that ensure that it goes to the kinds of projects that would preclude it being used for security assistance.
QUESTION: Somewhat similar, just very briefly, is there any update on the attacks in India, whether there’s been any request for assistance?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any update.
QUESTION: Any specific details from –
MR. TONER: He did ask – sorry, can I just – are you still on Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Okay. Let’s finish with Pakistan. Then I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Are there any details from ISI chief’s meeting with Ambassador Grossman?
MR. TONER: He just asked; I don’t have a readout.
QUESTION: And there are reports that both parties are sort of trying to reach a deal that is a give-and-take type of situation. Do you have any comment?
MR. TONER: Well, I just would say what we’ve said, which – many times before, which is that we’re looking for certain actions from Pakistan and that dialogue continues.
Go ahead, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask about Iraq.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. The United States handed over a number of former Iraqi regime officials to be executed to the Iraqi Government. Does the United States ever counsel against carrying out these executions because of the delicate balance, the delicate ethnic balance in Iraq and its likely impact on reconciliation?
MR. TONER: So you’re talking about --
QUESTION: A number of –
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the handover of --
MR. TONER: -- these prisoners?
MR. TONER: And whether we raise our human rights concerns or whether we raise --
QUESTION: Well, it’s as if – it does involve (inaudible).
MR. TONER: I mean, I think what we would counsel is that, as we would advocate anywhere, is that there needs to be – in any kind of proceeding, there needs to be – any kind of legal proceeding, that there needs to be accountability and transparency and due process.
QUESTION: Yeah. But considering that this has been done, I mean, the process – the legal process has taken place –
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: I’m saying in terms of the impact of carrying out these executions that it’s likely to have on reconciliation effort, does the United States have a position, say, well, don’t do it, commute the sentence, or anything like this?
MR. TONER: I think we would respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: Okay. One last question on Iraq. Can you share with us the status of the – of renegotiating the Status of Forces Agreement?
MR. TONER: I think we’ve said all along that we’re committed to our withdrawal date. And if the Iraqi Government decides they want troops to stay longer, then we’re under – we’ll discuss it.
QUESTION: On Syria? A pretty bloody day over in Syria again, so do you have anything to say about the government crackdown?
MR. TONER: Well, and then this – I’m aware that the Secretary spoke to it in Istanbul, but it’s not surprising what we’ve seen today. We’ve seen it every Friday over the last several months. And yet more deaths, reports of deaths, today. And what is also significant is I believe there were really record numbers that turned out in protest of the Asad regime.
QUESTION: An opposition group says that this – well, they predicted the ambassador would travel today, but they did say he was planning to visit another region soon.
MR. TONER: He does plan to travel. I just don’t have dates or any announcement.
QUESTION: Okay. They – I’m pulling it up right here – they said he was going to Deir ez-Zor in the east (inaudible).
MR. TONER: And I think we talked about that the other day, but I don’t know when that trip will take place.
QUESTION: Okay. And then –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Kirit.
QUESTION: And I was going to go to Yemen, but if you have anything – I know you were asked yesterday. But (inaudible) reports of Saleh planning to return, whether you had anything to say.
MR. TONER: And we don’t have anything to confirm. I’d refer you to the Yemeni Government for his travel plans.
QUESTION: Do you know when the last time anybody from the U.S. side was in touch with him? Was it Brennan’s visit or has there been any touch – any contact since then?
MR. TONER: No. We – I don’t think we’ve had any since Brennan.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria for a second?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) a question on whether Saleh should return or not?
MR TONER: Well, we’ve talked about this ever since he left. I mean, our focus is not on whether he returns, stays, or goes. With regards to his – with regards to the future of Yemen, there’s a path forward. That’s the proposal put out by the Gulf Cooperation Council. He, his acting president, or Saleh should sign it and move the country – put the country squarely on a path that’s going to lead to political and democratic reform.
QUESTION: So I thought your previous position was he shouldn’t undertake any act that would threaten a possible democratic transition at this time.
MR. TONER: Well, again – but his --
QUESTION: And his return would fall under that category.
MR. TONER: His physical whereabouts are not what’s important here. What’s important are – is that Yemen puts itself on a path towards political reform. And we believe the best way to do that is through the Gulf Cooperation Council agreement.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria for a second?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Could you share with us any information about the call that al-Mouallem the foreign minister of Syria, received from Bill Burns?
MR. TONER: I’ll have to find out more about it. I don’t have a readout (inaudible).
QUESTION: What is your assessment of the situation in Kandahar, of Afghanistan after the assassination of Karzai’s half-brother, Wali Ahmed Karzai? And do you have any information who were behind his killing?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the – Ahmed Wali Karzai’s --
MR. TONER: -- assassination? I mean, I – the Afghan Government is investigating the killing, and I’d refer you to them. Clearly, this was – he was a prominent figure in Kandahar. In terms of the U.S. and our position, we’re going to continue to work with the Government of Pakistan as well as provincial and community leaders in Kandahar to advance our objectives.
QUESTION: So you said Government of Pakistan or --
MR. TONER: Did I say Government of Pakistan? I apologize. Afghanistan. Thank you for correcting.
QUESTION: One supplementary to that. Government of Pakistan has also raised some concerns. They have said that NATO has vacated its bases in Afghanistan, provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. And the Taliban are establishing that base in those provinces again. I wonder if you have any contact on that.
MR. TONER: You said that NATO forces have vacated --
QUESTION: And NATO forces have vacated their bases in the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan in Afghanistan, and Pakistan has – was its concern that Taliban in Afghanistan are establishing there again.
MR. TONER: Well, you know that through the surge that began last year, we feel we have made significant security gains in Afghanistan. But with respect to NATO’s operations in terms of placement of its military personnel, I’d have to refer you to NATO.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick question on – MEK has had a protest outside the State Department today that protests the delay from the State Department in determining their status and being delisted from the terror list. Is there a reason why it’s taking --
MR. TONER: Well, yes, and I was asked about an up – for an update for this – about this, I think, yesterday or the day before. As you know, in accordance with the D.C. Circuit’s 2010 ruling, the State Department is undertaking a review of the foreign terrorist organization designation for the MEK, which will eventually be decided upon by the Secretary of State on whether to rescind or maintain that designation.
Now my understanding is that the MEK counsel provided additional information related to this review on June 6th, and we’re currently reviewing this new material. So no decision has been made.
MR. TONER: Go ahead. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Sorry, back to the MEK really fast. Is there any – will the State Department stick to the federal court’s 180-day time limit in this newest round of reviews? Are they going to – is there a time?
MR. TONER: I was not aware of any time limit. I’ll have to check on whether there’s – whether there is indeed a 180-day review limit. Personally, I thought it was open-ended.
QUESTION: Is there any new evidence that they’re going to – to give – to suggest that they’ve had military or any type --
MR. TONER: Again, I think what’s – where we’re at now, as I said, is the counsel for the MEK has provided us with additional information. I’m not certainly going to talk about what that information is about or what it’s – what it might contain, but we’re reviewing it.
Is that it? Thanks, guys.