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 September 14, 2011
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on what you understand about the situation with the hikers?
MR. TONER: Well, Matt, I understand there’s a lot of thirst for information on this issue. I don’t have any further information on their whereabouts, their fate. I can simply reiterate what the Secretary said yesterday, is that we’re encouraged by what we’ve heard out of Tehran, and we hope that they’re back home as soon as possible.
QUESTION: When you say you’re encouraged by what you’ve heard, you’re talking about what Ahmadinejad --
MR. TONER: What – right, what President Ahmadinejad said yesterday in his interview.
QUESTION: Are you encouraged by the – some Iranian judiciary officials saying that they’re going to have to spend more time in jail?
MR. TONER: Again, we remain in touch with our Swiss protecting power on the ground in Tehran and are getting information through them. But we’re hopeful that we’ll see a positive outcome, and we remain hopeful.
QUESTION: What have you heard from the Swiss? Did they have that meeting that they were supposed to have?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m fully aware that there’s a thirst for information on this. I’m just not going to discuss any more details beyond that.
QUESTION: Well, you don’t know whether you’ve been in touch with the Swiss?
MR. TONER: That we’ve been in touch? We have been in touch with the Swiss. We have been in contact with them, but I’m not going to give you a readout of the discussions.
QUESTION: But they have informed you of what they think is – what the status is?
MR. TONER: Again, this is a matter now for the Swiss protecting power to pursue. They’re seeking more information, and we’re in contact with them as they move forward.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about reports in the AP quoting an Omani official saying they’ve sent a plane to Tehran?
MR. TONER: I don’t.
QUESTION: Mark, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. Regarding this Treasury Department list that have been released last week --
MR. TONER: Are we done with Iran hikers?
QUESTION: One more, quickly.
MR. TONER: Sorry. I just need to finish it. Go ahead.
QUESTION: My question is that as far as the release is concerned, announced by the Iranian president before coming to New York, that means Iran is getting paid before these poor people to be released.
MR. TONER: Again, there’s a lot of speculation in your question. At this point, we’re still working through the Swiss protecting power on the ground in Tehran trying to get information. I just would say – I’d reiterate what the Secretary said yesterday, is that we hope we see a positive outcome.
QUESTION: Just one more, quickly. Like in the past, those two – she was released, also was paid somehow, this time also. Is that money going to the Iranian Government or --
MR. TONER: Again, Goyal, you’re way in front of this issue. We are still seeking information, working through the Swiss. And that’s all I’m going to say about it today.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I have one more (inaudible) Iran?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Another Iran, please.
QUESTION: When Ahmadinejad announced that these hikers would be released soon, he also said that he expected the Iranians imprisoned here in the U.S. for violation of U.S. sanctions be released. Any progress on that front, what’s happening there?
MR. TONER: The Iranians have a protecting power here through the Pakistani Embassy. If they’ve got questions about the status of Iranian prisoners who have been convicted in a U.S. court of law, they should raise them through those appropriate channels.
Go ahead, Kirit.
QUESTION: Can we go to Tripoli?
MR. TONER: Tripoli it is.
QUESTION: Any update from your team in – that is assessing the Embassy?
MR. TONER: Well, as you all probably know by now, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman was in Tripoli today. And apologies, but obviously, due to security considerations, we had to keep that very close hold. But he did visit Tripoli and he met with a broad array of Libyans, including the TNC Prime Minister Jibril as well as its Chairman Jalil as well as many civil society representatives. And he gave a press availability there, where he spoke about the United States’ respect for Libya’s sovereignty as well as our respect for what the Libyan opposition has accomplished thus far, and that we seek a broader relationship with Libya moving forward that’s based on mutual respect and shared interests.
He did – to get to the heart of your question, he did survey the chancery building. I think it’s no secret that the building was largely looted and it’s in pretty serious damage, so the assessment is that it’s pretty severely compromised. But no decision’s been made yet on – finally on what we’re going to do moving forward in establishing an embassy there. But suffice it to say that the chancery building’s in pretty poor condition – significant damage.
QUESTION: Would you say that you’re considering whether or not you can actually salvage that building or not?
MR. TONER: Again, there’s no – been no decision made, but there was significant damage to the chancery building, so I think we’re looking at a number of options going forward.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to get you say it --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- because you’ve said it --
MR. TONER: And I’ve said that there is significant damage to the chancery --
QUESTION: That’s enough that you’re --
MR. TONER: -- that they’re looking at all options. Our goal remains on opening an embassy as soon as possible. And we’ll continue to evaluate that building as well as additional options.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) bring up the Megrahi case with Jibril or Jalil? And --
MR. TONER: I believe he did.
QUESTION: Was there any progress on that? Is there any change --
MR. TONER: I think that the Transitional National Council realizes this is a matter of interest, both in the U.S. as well as internationally, and they’re very sensitive to that level of awareness and level of sensitivity. And they’ve promised action on it. I think they’ve said before that they will take action in looking at this case again, but at this point they’ve got – they have some priorities as well as governance and providing security to more parts of Libya.
QUESTION: And then you’re – and as far as the U.S. is concerned, you’re okay with the fact that that’s not very high on their priority list?
MR. TONER: I don’t think – I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily low on their priority list. Again, we’ve seen over the past week or so security, basic utilities returned to Tripoli. So we’re very encouraged by that. We have raised this at the Secretary level. We’ve now raised it again at the Assistant Secretary Feltman level. They know it’s clearly a priority for us, and they said they’ll take action.
QUESTION: Is there a real way to assessing the actual accurate health of Mr. Megrahi?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. We’ve all seen the CNN report and film out of that, but --
QUESTION: But have you collected information on his --
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. As to his health, we just – we know of his – the diagnosis that led to the Scottish Authorities’ decision to release him on humanitarian grounds. It’s a decision that we disagreed with. But as to his current state of health? No idea.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Matt. And then --
QUESTION: You said – you just said that security and basic services have returned to Tripoli. What was the reason again for Feltman’s stealth visit?
MR. TONER: I – what I said was we’re seeing it return to more parts of Tripoli. What were the reasons behind a stealth visit, you said?
QUESTION: Well, you said that security reasons – there were security considerations and that’s why you kept it secret. And you just said –
MR. TONER: Well, there are still security concerns. There are still security concerns --
QUESTION: And what are some of those?
MR. TONER: -- but we’re seeing the security environment improve in Tripoli.
QUESTION: Are the security concerns you’re not convinced that the TNC has taken full control of Tripoli?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s a very fluid situation.
QUESTION: It is? Because --
MR. TONER: Up until last week, we’ve seen pockets of violence still in Tripoli. We take the safety of our diplomats very seriously, and it was for that reason that we kept it under close wraps. That said, I think from his assessment on the ground, he’s encouraged that security is returning to more parts of Tripoli.
QUESTION: Okay, so –
MR. TONER: I mean it’s not – this isn’t downtown Dayton, but it’s getting better.
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure the good people of Dayton will appreciate that. So, in other words, you’re not meaning to say that security has returned, you’re saying it is --
MR. TONER: It’s improving.
QUESTION: All right. And then what – who exactly –
MR. TONER: In more parts of Libya.
QUESTION: Who did he meet with and where – is he still there? And if not, where has he gone? Or where is he going?
MR. TONER: He’s returned to Malta. I don’t know where he’s going beyond Malta. I don’t know if he’s coming straight back to the U.S. Obviously, he’ll be in New York next week so –
QUESTION: And who did he see?
MR. TONER: He met with both the Transitional National Council’s Prime Minister Jibril as well as Chairman Jalil, and beyond that, a number of civil society representatives. I can try to get a more detailed list for you.
QUESTION: Is he going to Egypt again?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so, not on this trip. But if that’s wrong – if there’s any other additional stops, we’ll get them to you.
QUESTION: Still on Libya?
MR. TONER: Still on Libya.
QUESTION: Whether – well, there’s reports now that Saadi Qadhafi, and a number of top generals will apply for asylum in Niger. Do you think that they should be granted asylum?
MR. TONER: Well, what we’ve said is that we’ve received assurances from the Government of Niger that Saadi Qadhafi will be prevented from travel. That’s in accordance with the travel ban in UN Security Council Resolution 1970. It’s also worth mentioning that the Government of Niger has also assured us that they’ll continue to take necessary steps or necessary measures to try to strengthen the security of their borders going forward. We certainly expect the Nigeriens to cooperate fully with the Transitional National Council in bringing to justice anyone suspected of committing crimes or human rights abuses in Libya. And to that end, I’m aware that the Government of Niger is in touch with the Transitional National Council with regard to this case.
QUESTION: Do you believe that they should be afforded asylum?
MR. TONER: Again, this is a matter that’s being directly worked out between the Transitional National Council and the Government of Niger. The Government of Niger has been cooperative. We believe that he should be held accountable, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1970, and that any human rights allegations against him.
QUESTION: So you have (inaudible) the actual asylum request?
MR. TONER: My understanding is that the Government of Niger is in direct contact with the Transitional National Council and they’re working on this issue.
QUESTION: Anything new on the whereabouts of Muammar Qadhafi himself?
MR. TONER: Nothing to --
QUESTION: Okay. Now that he’s a wanted man without – albeit without a poster, should we assume that there are – there is a stealthy A team in hot pursuit of Mr. Qadhafi that – an American team?
MR. TONER: No. You shouldn’t assume that.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. I’m sorry. I’ve been –
QUESTION: Different subject?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Are we done with Libya? Good.
MR. TONER: Hale and Ross, yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have an update on their –
MR. TONER: Shorthand for – yes. Okay. You’re referring to –
QUESTION: I’m referring to their well-known trip –
MR. TONER: -- Special Envoy for Middle East Peace David Hale as well as –
QUESTION: -- to Madagascar to talk about lemurs.
MR. TONER: -- Special Assistant to the President Dennis Ross who are currently in the region. They’re consulting with the parties on how best to overcome the current impasse. This evening, they’re going to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And then I believe they’ll meet with President – also meet with President Peres as well as President Abbas. But that’s on the plate for tomorrow.
QUESTION: They haven’t actually had any meetings yet? Is that your understanding?
MR. TONER: My understanding is they have not. This says this evening, so –
QUESTION: Well –
MR. TONER: Yes. They’ve not –
QUESTION: This evening – there’s a little bit of a time difference in this –
MR. TONER: Yes. I believe it’s right about now.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. But to make – the long and short of it is you haven’t heard back from them on anything?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: All right. There is a growing –
MR. TONER: Just to answer your – sorry, Matt. You had a question yesterday about follow-ons – a follow-on visit.
MR. TONER: My understanding is that the Quartet – other Quartet envoys are currently in the region as well. So they’re going to meet with them there collectively and also individually, depending on logistics. But there’s no plan to go to (inaudible) to Europe as you had asked yesterday.
QUESTION: All right. There seems to be a growing – growing voices on the Hill that a vote for whatever Palestinian resolution appears in New York is a vote – is an anti-Israel vote. Does the Administration share that view?
MR. TONER: I think our view couldn’t be clearer. The Secretary spoke to it yesterday. We continue to see any kind of effort by the Palestinians in New York as counterproductive and not in the interest of achieving a two-state solution, which is our goal.
QUESTION: I understand that, but –
MR. TONER: And the only way to that is through direct negotiations.
QUESTION: But do –
MR. TONER: We’ve been very clear in that regard that we would veto any.
QUESTION: But do – I understand that, but do you think that a vote for recognition of Palestine as a state is an anti-Israel vote?
MR. TONER: And I will --
QUESTION: Is this – in other words, is this, in fact, a zero-sum game?
MR. TONER: It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s – what it is is it’s not conducive to –
QUESTION: Then the Administration does not agree that it is an anti-Israel –
MR. TONER: It is not – no. What I’m saying is this is not going to lead to progress in peace negotiations, direct negotiations. And so we believe it’s counterproductive, that it’s not in the interest of either of the parties, and our goal, therefore, remains in getting them back to the – into negotiations, and that’s what we’re pursuing on the ground in Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t see this vote – you don’t see a country voting in favor of a Palestinian resolution to be anti-Israel?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to characterize what a –
QUESTION: Well, let me get to the reason why I’m asking the question, which is that there’s legislation that’s been introduced that would require you to stop giving military assistance or assistance in general to countries that do not vote against the Palestinian resolution at the UN. What does the Administration think about that?
MR. TONER: Again, any congressional legislation, draft legislation, we’ll consult on and consider and work closely with Congress on. Our goal on this issue remains the same, which is that we are working hard to get both parties back to the negotiating table and avert any sideshow in New York on statehood.
QUESTION: Is the Administration willing to go as far as this legislation proposes in terms of threatening countries or telling countries – forget about the word “threat” – telling countries that vote for a resolution, that somehow their relations with the United States could be compromised because of that?
MR. TONER: Our argument conveyed –
QUESTION: No. No. I already –
MR. TONER: Our argument conveyed to countries around the world is that this is a counterproductive measure by the Palestinians, and because of that, it doesn’t get anybody any closer to a comprehensive peace settlement, and that’s why we’ve got to remain focused on getting them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Will a vote for a Palestinian resolution at the UN compromise U.S. – will the Administration take steps against countries that vote in favor of a Palestinian resolution?
MR. TONER: And again, we’re not there yet. I’m aware this is legislation that’s out there. We’re working to see what Congress –
QUESTION: Well, forget about the legislation. I mean, you’ve been – you’ve been very open about lobbying the international --
MR. TONER: No. Our argument has been to allies and partners around the world is that this is counterproductive to what we’re all trying to accomplish here, which is a comprehensive peace settlement.
QUESTION: Is there a consequence to voting for --
MR. TONER: I think I’ve said what I’ve said.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, you’ve said what you’ve said. I mean --
MR. TONER: I mean, I’ve said all I can say on that.
QUESTION: Do you not know if that’s something that the U.S. would compel countries –
MR. TONER: I just think you’re getting ahead of the process here. The process remains focused on getting them back to the negotiating table. There’s still time here, and that’s what our focus remains.
QUESTION: With four days to go before this thing comes to a head at the United Nations, are you aware of a threat or a made threat or an unveiled threat by the United States Government to leverage against those that will support this effort at the United Nations?
MR. TONER: Look, we, the United States, is not going to rely on threats. We’re going to rely on the force of the very strong argument that these kinds of efforts in New York don’t get us any closer to where we need to ultimately be, which is both parties returning to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Okay. Will the Department consider that issuing a fact sheet or talking point or whatever you want to call it to explain why one, this effort is not the proper effort, this forum is not the proper forum? And third, why is this an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel?
MR. TONER: Again, Said, we’ve been over and over on this issue. We’ve explained from this podium many times and we’ve conveyed to many countries around the world our position on this.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, the statements have been made, but no explanation really has come forward. Could you explain? Because people want to understand as to why this is the case.
MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, the Secretary explained it yesterday. It’s not going to – whatever happens or doesn’t happen in the UN isn’t going to result in the kind of changes that we need to see on the ground. And she talked about action in New York is not going to get us action on the ground in the region that leads to a comprehensive settlement. It’s – as I just said, it’s – we believe it’s counterproductive at the end of the day.
QUESTION: But you do accept that the Palestinians think this will be a good idea and that it’s good for them, right?
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the arguments for doing this.
MR. TONER: We disagree.
QUESTION: You disagree that it would not – that it would – you disagree with the Palestinian position. But if – okay. If it makes the Palestinians – if it’s not going to change anything on the ground, as you and others have said, ad infinitum, it’s not going to change, the only thing it’s going to do is make the Palestinians feel better about themselves. What’s wrong with it?
MR. TONER: We’ve talked about, all along in the peace process, refraining from measures that will add to tensions and to act against what our ultimate goal here is, which is direct negotiations. So as I’ve said repeatedly, we believe that action in New York is counterproductive to the ultimate goal here.
QUESTION: Okay. But you also believe that settlement construction is counterproductive, and the Israelis continue to do that, and they completely ignore you with no consequence at all. So why – I just don’t understand why something that is purely symbolic, as you admit, is only going to make one side feel better about itself in the best case scenario, is so horrible that you would go to the extent to veto it, when the other side continues to do exactly the – doesn’t – isn’t doing what you want them to do either, and yet you don’t do anything about it.
MR. TONER: And we very clearly – our position on settlements is very clear and very well known.
QUESTION: So but if the Israelis can ignore your concerns about settlements, and can (inaudible) to announce them and construct them, why – with no consequence, why is there somehow – why does there have to – why is there a consequence for the Palestinians when they do exactly the same thing?
MR. TONER: Look, we’re not talking about consequences.
QUESTION: Yes. Well, you might not be, but –
MR. TONER: What we’re talking about, Matt, is --
QUESTION: There’s legislation on the Hill which is going to cut all aid to the Palestinian Authority if – and you have told the Palestinians, “Look, this is what’s going to happen.” At the same time on the Hill, there’s legislation that says that the only foreign aid that’s not going to be cut, no matter what happens, is to Israel.
MR. TONER: And our focus is on getting them back to the negotiating table. That’s why David Hale and Dennis Ross are in the region today. We believe there’s still a way forward here that leads to our ultimate goal, which is a comprehensive settlement and direct negotiations so all these issues can be addressed. And symbolic action in New York doesn’t help us get there.
QUESTION: Well, but --
QUESTION: Are you at all concerned about these reports that two of your closest allies on the Security Council, being France and Britain, are likely not to take the same position as the United States, should a vote come up there?
MR. TONER: Our views are well known on this. I’d refer you to them to – for them to share their views.
QUESTION: So that prospect doesn’t worry you? Are you doing anything to try and get everybody on board? How confident are you that the Western powers on the Security Council will speak with one voice on this issue?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we remain very active working with the Quartet in trying to get the parties back to the negotiating table so we don’t have to have this – as I said, the sideshow in New York, that we can get to the real crux here, which is direct negotiations.
QUESTION: Do you feel that the U.S. is a little bit alone in this proposal of veto? Are you receiving any comments from other superpowers that have veto power in the Council that are --
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any. Again, we don’t believe we’re alone at all in trying to get Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table.
Go ahead, Catherine.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any calls on this since she told us about her calls yesterday?
MR. TONER: She has. Thank you. She did speak with both Catherine Ashton as well as Tony Blair earlier today.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the aid issue? On the --
MR. TONER: On the – I mean, I don’t have a full readout. They obviously talked about efforts – I believe Tony Blair is actually in the region.
QUESTION: I think, so is Ashton.
MR. TONER: And Ashton is as well. She’s extended her stay, I believe. So they’re – this is part of our intensive effort here to find a way forward.
QUESTION: The second portion of aid issue that is given by the United States Government to the Palestinian Authority goes to the security services, which have been acknowledged as good and effective and cooperating with Israel and so on. Will you make a case to at least separate that part of the aid package to the Palestinians because of its importance?
MR. TONER: Again, I truly think we’re getting ahead of events here. We’re talking about draft legislation on the Hill that would propose doing something or taking some kind of action.
QUESTION: Right. In the event that aid is completely cut off --
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to – that’s highly speculative at this point. You’re absolutely right; we do believe that our aid, our assistance for building the kind of institutions, state institutions in Palestine, is extremely worthwhile. But again, our goal here, as evidenced by the Secretary’s phone calls and our intensive engagement on the ground, is to get the parties back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Have you made the case to members of Congress that, in fact, cutting aid to the Palestinians, if it includes this money for their institutions, is actually a – actually threatens the security of Israel? Has that case been made to anybody?
MR. TONER: Matt, I don’t have a readout of what – who’s talked to who. But we remain intensively engaged with Congress. Who talked to whom, excuse me.
QUESTION: We’re looking at just – it’s – today is Wednesday.
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the date.
QUESTION: This is going to hit the fan starting on Tuesday, and there are going to be votes and – there are going to be votes happening --
MR. TONER: And, Matt, we remain engaged --
QUESTION: -- not just at the UN but --
MR. TONER: -- with Congress. I just don’t have a play-by-play with who’s been talking to whom. But I’ll try to get that for you if we can.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: No, I need to stay on Israel. Not this.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: If anyone else has this, then – I need – is it --
MR. TONER: Are you on Israel? Peace process? Okay.
QUESTION: This is not --
MR. TONER: Let’s finish up with Israel and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: I need to go back to this thing about the Ofer Brothers again. The Taken Question that came out yesterday after we had the somewhat lengthy discussion about this at yesterday’s briefing says that the use of the name “Ofer Brothers Group,” a commonly used trade name, caused confusion for some banks and companies that were trying to comply with U.S. sanctions. Is that, in fact, the case, or did it cause anger and upsetness within the company? In other words, who came to you asking for this clarification? Was it, in fact, international banks, or was it the Ofer Brothers conglomerate itself?
MR. TONER: On that – on your second question, I don’t know. I’ll have to --
QUESTION: Okay. Can you --
MR. TONER: -- try and get an answer for you on that.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. TONER: On your first question, the taken question stand – the answer speaks for itself.
QUESTION: Okay. And then it says – the last sentence of it says, “The complex nature of the conglomerate’s business structure necessitated that we take time to look closely at these companies to ensure that we are identifying the precise legal names of the entities directly responsible for the sanctionable transactions.” Can I ask you – I mean, isn’t that supposed to happen the first time around?
MR. TONER: Well, and you’re absolutely right; there is a very long and deliberative process in identifying these companies. And I think --
QUESTION: Obviously not long and deliberative enough.
MR. TONER: And I think that there’s an equally long and deliberative process in trying to get as much clarity as we need to get on identifying these.
QUESTION: All right. And then – if you can get the answer to that one about whether it was the company or, in fact, banks that complained about this.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: In addition to that, can any company – because my understanding is that it was the company that complained and sent its lawyers – sent its lawyers – put its lawyers on you, and that the reason that it took so long for this to get done is not because necessarily it took so long – it required a huge amount of due – extra due diligence, but that the Administration, in fact, fought or tried to fight this legal – potential legal challenge to this.
MR. TONER: Your question?
QUESTION: So my second question is: Can any company – say these North Korean firms or Russian firms or Chinese firms or Iranian firms – can they threaten the State Department or the Treasury Department with legal action and have clarifications like this issued?
MR. TONER: I would just say that we are open – and we’ve said this before – that we’re open to engagement by any company who wants to come clean, if you will, and to work to be as transparent as possible and in accordance with our sanctions.
QUESTION: Okay. So to come clean – so that means that these Ofer Brothers entities or subsidiaries that are still – that are sanctioned came clean and admitted wrongdoing?
MR. TONER: Again, specifically with respect to Ofer Brothers, again, I need to get clarity on what your question – whether it was raised through banks or whether it was raised through the company.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Hale-Ross effort to – I mean, they keep going back and forth and it’s really very difficult for us to imagine that they keep going just to give the same message over and over again – not – I mean, they’re meeting with Netanyahu, they’re meeting with President Peres, they’re meeting with Abbas, time and again. Are they not proposing anything to cajole them, pressure them, do something, something new?
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: And if not, I mean, what is – why would their return bring in anything different?
MR. TONER: At the risk of engendering Matt’s wrath about when we comment on longstanding practices, it is, in fact, longstanding practice for us not to negotiate in public and not to talk about the substance of our negotiations in public. Suffice it to say that we believe there is – that there’s a way forward here. We’ve got Dennis Ross and David Hale in the region. They’re working hard with the parties to try to find a way forward, and we remain hopeful that that can be done.
QUESTION: But forgive me, Mark. I mean, we have gone through this process time and again after it dead-ended. So what has changed in the last few days?
MR. TONER: Again, there’s – as Matt mentioned, there’s the specter of New York next week. We are all aware that – of what may or may not happen there, and we’re working hard in the direction that we believe will bear, ultimately, fruit, which is direct negotiations. And so that remains our focus.
QUESTION: Did --
MR. TONER: Actually, sorry, next to you. Sorry about that. He actually had a question before, and then I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: A U.S. delegation is in Pakistan for the core group meeting on energy sector requirements for Pakistan. Today was the first day. So if you could give us some details? So what kind of financial or technical cooperation is being offered there?
MR. TONER: Yeah. No, I apologize. I don’t have anything for you on that. We’ll try to get you a readout.
QUESTION: Okay. And there are also reports that the delegation will try to persuade the Pakistani side to stay away from the gas pipeline project that was inked when the Pakistani PM was in Iran recently. So what are the U.S. reservations on that?
MR. TONER: Again, I’ll try to get you a readout of their consultations with Pakistani officials. I don’t have any readout.
QUESTION: Back to Israel for a moment, back to your question. Sometimes, the State Department talks with the opposition in some countries. And if you read the newspapers of Israel, there is a lot of discussion with the opposition. Tzipi Livni said that in this moment Israel is in the worst diplomatic moment of its history. Is there any contacts also with the opposition in Israel? Are you talking with some of the leaders of the opposition in this moment?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, are you talking about the Israeli opposition?
MR. TONER: Look, I think we have a very close relationship with Israel, and we talk to a broad array of political leadership in Israel.
QUESTION: But during these days, is there any contact with the opposition?
MR. TONER: I’m certain there is at some level.
QUESTION: Mark, another subject?
MR. TONER: Yeah, Goyal.
QUESTION: As a quick one, first it was A.Q. Khan network in the ‘80s stealing and exporting nuclear material for Pakistan from across the world. Now, in Baltimore by the federal judge, a Pakistani national was arrested and also convicted of exporting and stealing U.S. nuclear material and U.S. nuclear technology to Pakistan. Any comments on that --
MR. TONER: I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: -- if U.S. State Department gets any advance information from the courts?
MR. TONER: Again, it sounds like it’s an ongoing legal matter, so I’ll refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Mark, today, security officials from Mali quoted by AFP said that this country has engaged in a military effort to fight drug traffickers from his country, from Mali and Niger, and as well as members from the Polisario Front who are trying right now to control the drug routes in the Sahel. Are you concerned by these reports?
MR. TONER: I’m frankly not aware of these reports. We’re always concerned by cross-border violence, certainly criminal activity. I’d have to try to get more information and get you some more details on that. I’ll go ahead and take the question.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Samir, who has been waiting patiently, and then in the back.
QUESTION: What’s the update on Syria? There are reports today that the military launched a major operation on villages on the border of Turkey.
MR. TONER: From what I know, that there were demonstrations yesterday in Damascus and Idlib, Aleppo, Homs, and Hama. And security forces reportedly killed at least 21 people. Again, I’ve seen some other reports referring to security operations on the border of Turkey.
We remain very, very, very concerned about the ongoing level of violence being carried out by the Syrian Government. We saw the Arab League come out with a statement yesterday calling for an end to the violence in Syria, and we also saw more than 175 nongovernmental organizations from around the world submit a petition to the Arab League demanding that Syria’s membership be revoked until the regime ends its crackdown. Again, we’re – we continue to see this chorus of condemnation, this broad international outrage build against Asad’s regime. But we’re certainly concerned that they continue to carry out abuses on a daily basis and deaths of innocent civilians.
QUESTION: Any – can you update us on Mr. Ford’s latest activities in Damascus?
MR. TONER: He did attend the funeral for Ghayath Mattar.
MR. TONER: He did it with a number of other ambassadors – from France, from Germany, from The Netherlands, from the UK, as well as Japan, Canada, and the EU. And they attended in order – in the – to express their condolences. This was at a gathering in commemoration of his death, or rather to mourn his death. It was a non – Ghayath Mattar, as you will recall, was a nonviolent human rights activist whose mutilated body was returned to his family after he was killed in the custody of security forces. Ambassador Ford’s intent was to show our support for the rights of the Syrian people in the face of this unending violence.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any meetings that may have occurred between Ghayath Mattar and Ambassador Ford in the past, before his arrest and subsequent killing?
MR. TONER: I’m not. I mean, I know that he did reach out to the opposition members. I’m not aware of whether he had a recent meeting with Mr. Mattar.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: I’ll – I can check into it.