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Middle East Digest - September 15, 2011


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Washington, DC
September 15, 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 September 15, 2011

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MR. TONER: Matt, anything?

QUESTION: The Palestinians said this morning that they are going to go to the Security Council regardless of whether you plan to veto it or not. They said this even before Dennis and David got to the meetings. I’m wondering what you think of that.

MR. TONER: Well, first of all, just to give you an update on David Hale and Dennis Ross’ meetings and engagement today in the region, they did meet with – both with Peres as well as Catherine Ashton this – today. They also met with – rather, President Peres. Excuse me. They also are meeting, I believe right now, with President Abbas. And yesterday, they met with, as you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak. They’re also consulting closely with the other Quartet envoys who are in the region. And those meetings were described to me as constructive and reflecting the Quartet’s ongoing determination to get the parties back to the negotiating table.

Again, moving forward, they’re going to remain in touch – they being David Hale and Dennis Ross, as well as the other Quartet envoys – are going to meet again in New York on Sunday and remain in touch throughout the day today and tomorrow, and Saturday, of course.

In terms of whether – the statements that they’re going to submit something to the Security Council, we have not – nothing’s been done to this point. And our position remains unchanged, that we think it’s a bad idea.

QUESTION: But they said that they would. I’m not asking about the statement that they – the exact statement that they actually present to the Security Council.

MR. TONER: I’d just say --

QUESTION: But they said that their --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- the statement from today was that they were going to. Does that alter or in any way --

MR. TONER: It does not alter our position in any way.

QUESTION: Well, not --

MR. TONER: There’s been no – as I said, no resolution has been submitted and --

QUESTION: No, does it – I’m not asking if you changed your position because I – we all know that that can’t happen. I’m asking if it’s changed your approach.

MR. TONER: Our approach is to get the sides back to the negotiating table. As I said, we’re engaged very intensively on the ground. I just ran through the meetings. And our approach has not changed.

QUESTION: But do you see going to the UN as anathema to an approach in getting them – why can’t it be embraced as part of an approach to get them back to the table instead of being viewed as an enemy of getting them back to the table?

MR. TONER: Well, Matt, again, what we’ve tried to be clear all along here is that our focus, and we believe the parties’ focus, should be in direct negotiations because it’s only by dealing with these issues through direct negotiations that they’re going to reach a settlement. So one-off actions in New York don’t accomplish anything at the end of the day.

QUESTION: But why can’t you --

MR. TONER: We’re going to continue to work today, tomorrow, through New York to get the parties back to the negotiating table. But our position all along – I don’t know how it could be more clear – is that we think these --

QUESTION: It can’t be any more clear. I’m not asking you what your position is.

MR. TONER: We think these --

QUESTION: I’m asking why you lack the creativity to use this as leverage to get them back to the negotiating table, instead of trying to fight a losing battle in which you’re going to be the only – you’re going to be isolated, the Israelis are going to be isolated, because if they go to the General Assembly, they’re going to win.

MR. TONER: Precisely because --

QUESTION: So why don’t --

MR. TONER: -- because we think it’s --

QUESTION: Why isn’t there anyone in this Administration that has the brainpower, the creativity, to use this as a positive thing to build momentum instead of regarding it as completely a negative thing?

MR. TONER: Because it’s counterproductive.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: But that’s --

QUESTION: Why is it – it’s counterproductive to you. To the Palestinians, it gives them some kind of hope, some kind of confidence, that when they do sit down – let me finish – when they do sit down at the negotiating table, that they have more leverage than some kind of nonentity that they’re treated as now.

MR. TONER: But this doesn’t – again, we’re talking past each other to a certain extent. It’s – at the end of the day, it doesn’t get them anything at all. It doesn’t resolve any of the core issues that need to be resolved in order for a two-state solution, two states living side by side in peace and security.

QUESTION: What you’re --

MR. TONER: That’s our goal. That’s the goal of the Palestinians.

QUESTION: But you’re --

MR. TONER: That’s the goal of the Israelis. That’s what we want to see here.

QUESTION: But I think what --

MR. TONER: So – sorry – action in New York doesn’t get us there.

QUESTION: Okay. But what you’re doing isn’t getting them there any closer either, and they feel if they could get --

MR. TONER: Well, you’re right. We can’t – at the end of the day, as we’ve said many times, it’s up to the parties to make the hard choices and get back to the negotiating table. Our envoys are there to try to help that process move forward, but ultimately, it’s up to them.

QUESTION: Well, but --

QUESTION: Can I clarify something?

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Can I --

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So for the last X many years, you’ve been trying to get these negotiations back on track. They’re not getting back on track. They see this as an alternative to moving closer towards recognition of a Palestinian state. I mean, why should they be penalized for taking steps that are – they feel are in their national interest, just as --

MR. TONER: Well, I’m not sure anybody is penalizing them. Again, what we’re trying to say is – the President stated this, I believe, yesterday – is anything that helps create an atmosphere for direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, we’re for.

QUESTION: Well, the Palestinians --

MR. TONER: Anything that prevents that from happening, we oppose.

QUESTION: Okay. But in your view, it prevents it. But the Palestinians --

MR. TONER: In our view, we believe this is not a good idea. Yes.

QUESTION: As Matt said, the Palestinians want to use this as a pretext for negotiations.

There is talk about the Palestinians, any resolution that they introduce would talk about this as a kind of pretext to negotiations.

MR. TONER: And we disagree. We think it’s counterproductive.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Can I ask you this? You said that your position has not changed. With it now out publically that they plan to go to the UN Security Council, would you say that the United States still plans to veto?

MR. TONER: We’ve been very clear on that issue. Yes.

QUESTION: Are you against –

QUESTION: Is that still –

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR. TONER: No. I’m sorry, Kirit. Yeah, we’ve been very clear, yes.

QUESTION: Are you against all resolutions introduced by the Palestinians at the UN, or just the full seeking of statehood?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going get out in front of the process –

QUESTION: Well, there are a lot of alternatives –

MR. TONER: David Hale and Dennis Ross are in the region. Our focus remains on getting them back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR. TONER: Yeah?

QUESTION: And you see – you think that’s possible before next Thursday?

MR. TONER: We remain hopeful.

QUESTION: Mark, the language that we’re hearing is saying that you want to encourage the sovereignty process, the sovereign democratic process. But –

MR. TONER: We want to see two states living side by side in a negotiated settlement.

QUESTION: You want to see – I understand, but their – from the Palestinian standpoint, this is an act of sovereignty, this is an act to get them to the status they want – a self-actualization of their – of them as a state, as an eventual part of that two-state solution. So why can’t the United States see fit to support that aspiration that would – they see would be wind in their sails as opposed to being pushed back at every step on this particular resolution?

MR. TONER: Jeff, I’m well aware of the Palestinian arguments. Again, we respectfully disagree. We think it’s counterproductive. We don’t think it helps move this process forward in any significant or profound way.

QUESTION: So you said that you’re trying – you’re hopeful that you can re-launch negotiations before Thursday. The leaders will be here in New York next Thursday. Do you – is Secretary Clinton willing to restart negotiations on Thursday and moderate them herself if the parties were to agree?

MR. TONER: Look –

QUESTION: Well, you said you want to re-launch them next – by – before the Palestinians would declare. Everyone’s going to be in New York next week. The Secretary will be in New York next week, and so will the (inaudible).

MR. TONER: What I said, Elise, is our focus remains on re-launching direct negotiations. We’re going to work today, tomorrow, through next week, the following week, and on-going. We believe action in New York is going to be detrimental to those efforts.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Did the Israeli Government accept the principles that President Obama outlined in his May speech on how the resumption of negotiations should be based on –

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Samir. One more time, the question?

QUESTION: Did the Israeli Government accept the principles that President Obama outlined in this May speech that negotiations should start – resume on the basis of the ’67 borders?

MR. TONER: The ’67 borders? Again, the President was very clear on what our – what we believe are the foundation or – the elements for peace talks to begin again in a meaningful way. We continue to talk to both of the parties to overcome the challenges and obstacles that remain.

QUESTION: But how are they going to resume negotiations if Israel does not accept the outlines?

MR. TONER: We’re working to that end on both fronts.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Saudis have made their displeasure quite known, as to the position the United States is taking vis-à-vis the Palestine vote. So is that a cause of concern for you or do you think this could jeopardize your relations with Saudi Arabia?

MR. TONER: Look, as you know, Deputy Secretary Burns was just in Saudi Arabia. They talked about regional issues, including Middle East peace. They’re quite aware of our position on this.

Go ahead, Jim.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the efforts of David Hale and Dennis Ross that you laid out in detail? Does – do you see that their efforts might be in vain with all these calls and these meetings, all these consultations, if they’re coming with what the Palestinians might see as a stick in terms of this veto threat?

MR. TONER: Again –

QUESTION: Getting the parties back to the table?

MR. TONER: Again, we’re – I’m not going to get into the substance of our discussion with either of the parties. We’re quite clear. We’re trying to be very transparent in our feelings, our belief, in that this is not a productive path to pursue. The Secretary put it in a very powerful way the other day that the path to peace doesn’t lie through New York. It lies through Ramallah, it lies through Jerusalem, it lies through the region. And that’s why we feel that we’ve got to get them back into direct negotiations. I don’t know how we can be any clearer to that. I wouldn’t call it a stick necessarily. I would just call it our position.

QUESTION: Then why would they go?

QUESTION: Who’s going to be leading these negotiations? I mean, you said you’re going to continue these talks in New York next week. Who’s going to be doing the –

MR. TONER: David Hale, Dennis Ross, other senior officials.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to be able to lead them (inaudible).

MR. TONER: The Secretary’s been engaged on this issue. She hasn’t made any calls, I think, since I briefed you guys yesterday, but –

QUESTION: Okay. Well, is she going to have – is she going to be meeting the leaders in New York next week or those – these –

MR. TONER: Elise, I – I mean, you know how UNGA is. I don’t have any final rundown of her meetings yet.

QUESTION: So you can’t say that the Secretary is going to pick up the efforts from Dennis Ross and obviously they’ll still (inaudible) can’t say.

MR. TONER: What I can say is the Secretary will remain intensively engaged on the issue.

QUESTION: In your view –

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: – in the Administration’s view, Mark, does the Palestinians going to the UN, even if it is – even if their attempt, their bid, is defeated by a U.S. veto, does that preclude talks from happening? Does that mean – or is it just a difficulty that you have to overcome?

MR. TONER: I think it’s a difficulty we have to overcome. I think our –

QUESTION: Even if you –

MR. TONER: I think our intent –

QUESTION: Even if you vote for the veto.

MR. TONER: Our intent remains to get them back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: But so even as – so whether or not a Palestinian bid passes or not at the UN Security Council or General Assembly, it isn’t a – it doesn’t mean that talks aren’t possible, right?

MR. TONER: Well, what – the Secretary said there’s going to be a day after New York –

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR. TONER: -- where we’re all going to have pick ourselves up and move forward. We just think it makes it harder.

QUESTION: And is it your position also that continued settlement construction makes it harder as well?

MR. TONER: You know our position on settlement construction.

QUESTION: Yeah. On –

MR. TONER: It’s counterproductive.

QUESTION: It’s counterproductive –

MR. TONER: It’s not helpful.

QUESTION: -- just as the same way as this is here, right?

MR. TONER: Again –

QUESTION: And yet, the Israelis continue to do that, and you don’t do anything.

MR. TONER: We’re very – publicly and privately we convey our position on settlements.

QUESTION: Well, then why – you’re publicly and privately telling the Palestinians not to go to the UN. They say they’re going to do it anyway. And you’re going to knock it down. You’ve promised that you’re going to veto it at the Security Council. I don’t see – there seems to be a lack of consistency here.

MR. TONER: Again –

QUESTION: If both things are counterproductive, and yet you allow one side to do something that’s counterproductive without doing anything in response, why are you going to – why do you risk isolating yourself and the Israelis by vetoing it?

MR. TONER: Again, we are for action that will move the peace process forward.

QUESTION: Yeah. But as you said, this won’t change anything on the ground –

MR. TONER: We don’t –

QUESTION: -- and it’s a symbolic resolution; it’s a resolution in symbolism only.

MR. TONER: Look, first of all there’s nothing – there’s no resolution –

QUESTION: The only action that’s counterproductive here, the only actual action, movement, bricks and mortar that is counterproductive right now is the building of – is construction of settlements.

MR. TONER: Again –

QUESTION: That actually changes things on the ground. The UN resolution –

MR. TONER: Which is –

QUESTION: -- whatever it says doesn’t change anything –

MR. TONER: Which is why, Matt –

QUESTION: -- on the ground –

MR. TONER: Why is why, Matt, both sides have to make the hard choices to get back into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Well, okay. So the Israelis are saying – this compromise that you’re trying to get together, part of the compromise that the Israelis want is this Quartet statement to say that the settlements constitute – if you have some kind of borders and you have land swaps, do the settlements constitute a reality on the ground based on the commitments that President Bush gave to Ariel Sharon? Do you believe that the settlements constitute a reality on the ground, that should be put into these Quartet statement principles?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into –

QUESTION: Why not?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into the substance of –

QUESTION: Okay, well, do you believe that the settlements create a reality on the ground that should be taken into –

MR. TONER: Our position on settlements is very clear.

QUESTION: Well, could you remind me of your position on settlement --

MR. TONER: That we believe that they’re not –

QUESTION: -- whether they create (inaudible) –

MR. TONER: We believe they’re not helpful to the ultimate goal, which is to get the parties back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: No. But specifically, do you believe that the settlements constitute a reality on the ground that should be taken into consideration when you’re putting together these statement of principles?

MR. TONER: And I said we believe that settlements are a counterproductive action, and ultimately what we’re trying to do is get both sides -- they need to overcome these obstacles, get back to the negotiating table. That’s the only way –

QUESTION: So is the settlements are obstacles –

MR. TONER: -- for a comprehensive peace.

QUESTION: -- that have to be overcome a reality on the ground that should be –

MR. TONER: That’s the only way –

QUESTION: -- taken into account?

MR. TONER: There’s a number of obstacles that need to be overcome.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A new subject?

MR. TONER: Tejinder, yeah.

QUESTION: It’s about the designation of the Indian Mujahideen.

MR. TONER: Sure. Are we done with the Middle East?

QUESTION: Well, not – we’re done – not the entire Middle East.

MR. TONER: Sorry. Middle East Peace Process.

QUESTION: The – I guess to put a finer point on it, Mark, what – just one last go-around on the –

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Have at it.

QUESTION: -- on the Peace Process. If the road – if you’re saying the road doesn’t go through New York, yet you’re going anyway, if –

MR. TONER: It’s the UN General Assembly. We generally attend that.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But it’s like – it almost – as it relates to the Peace Process. I know there’s a much larger agenda at UNGA.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: But as far as the Peace Process is concerned, why even continue to engage if you don’t think New York is going to be productive, at least in that sense.

MR. TONER: I just think we’re going to continue to work towards our ultimate goal, which is getting them back into talks because we recognize that that’s really ultimately the only way we’re going to reach what both parties agree is the end state here, which is two states living side by side and peace and security. So we’re going to continue to pursue that.

QUESTION: And one small follow-up on that. Do you see going into UNGA with a strong hand or a weak hand in the Peace Process with these atmospheres that we just spent the last –

MR. TONER: Our envoys who are in the region now have described their talks as constructive and so they’re going to continue to engage, and we believe that engagement is useful.

Tejinder.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The U.S. says that the India-based terrorist group has significant links to Pakistan, but the Indian minister, Chidambaram, in a recent interview said that we shouldn’t look across the border for everything. What are the – what is the proof or what would you like to share about this linkage?

MR. TONER: Well, Tejinder, when we’re talking about foreign terrorist organization designations, a lot of the material is obviously based on intelligence. So I’m limited in what I can say. We do believe, as I believe our Media Note that we released earlier today stated, that the Indian Mujahideen do have links with Pakistan-based terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e Tayyiba, and – but you’re absolutely right. They are a very lethal terrorist group in their own right in India. They’ve carried out a number of attacks within India’s borders on innocent civilians, and although not confirmed, there’s a suspicion that they were responsible for the recent bombings in Mumbai on July 13th.

QUESTION: The Ambassador Benjamin in his statement says that this illustrates our solidarity with the Indian Government. Is the U.S. helping India combat the threat from this Indian Mujahideen, and what kind of cooperation you have since --

MR. TONER: Well – sorry.

QUESTION: -- the Delhi blasts?

MR. TONER: You know we have a robust strategic dialogue with India. They’re a close ally and partner. And one of the elements of that is close counterterrorism cooperation.

QUESTION: Has there – and then you also mentioned that there is a prohibition against – the last paragraph of your note. So has the U.S. identified person or identities engaged in such a transactions in --

MR. TONER: That’s a question – I don't have an answer for you. I’d refer you to the Treasury Department. What this does is it tries to isolate them from the U.S. financial system. It also sends a very clear message to the world that we consider this to be an international terrorist organization, and it kind of puts them on notice if you will. And --

QUESTION: And --

MR. TONER: Sorry. Go ahead. No, I was just going to say I don't know specifically what financial ties they may have to entities within the United States, but certainly that’s something we’ll be looking at going forward.

QUESTION: And here’s the last one. How is this designation you think help on the global war on terrorism that the U.S. is leading?

MR. TONER: Well, look, this is – the battle against extremism and extremist elements that carry out deadly attacks on innocent civilians continues. We’re going to continue to work closely with likeminded nations, such as India. Frankly, India that bears the brunt of these terrorist attacks in order to defeat them.

QUESTION: Just the last one. About this --

MR. TONER: Okay. Really last one, Tejinder.

QUESTION: It’s – you mentioned about the – that they facilitated the attack in Mumbai in which six Americans were killed. And the Pakistan has yet to anything to bring to justice people responsible for that. So where do we stand on that?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we work closely with Pakistan on counterterrorism issues as well. I’m not sure I necessarily see the linkage. But this investigation is ongoing, and we’ll continue to work with both governments. It’s not a zero-sum game. In fact, our cooperation with Pakistan helps yield results that bring greater stability to the region.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just on this designation, I just want to make sure you guys did all your due diligence on this, and you’re not going to come back four months from now and say, “Whoops, oh, we made a mistake. It’s only partly --

MR. TONER: Duly noted, Matt. Duly noted.

QUESTION: -- Indian Mujahideen that was involved in these things.” Right? You’re absolutely sure these people are terrorists and that they’ve all been (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: We’re absolutely certain.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: In response to Secretary Panetta’s comments yesterday about the attack on the Embassy in Kabul, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson has spoken today, and she has said that such statements could affect cooperation in security and other issues. Do you have a comment on that?

MR. TONER: Again, just the last part of your question?

QUESTION: She has said that such statements could affect bilateral cooperation and cooperation in security matters.

MR. TONER: And what statements in particular are you talking about?

QUESTION: Panetta.

MR. TONER: I’m aware of Panetta’s statements. I’m just trying to get – sorry.

QUESTION: Secretary Panetta said that they could launch operations in Pakistan against Haqqani Network.

MR. TONER: Well, again, what I was just saying to Tejinder, we have close cooperation with Pakistan. It’s broad-reaching, but certainly in the counterterrorism field we’re – this is in both our countries’ national security interests and long-term interests to pursue this kind of cooperation, and as such, we consult with them frequently on these kinds of issues. And we’re going to continue to cooperate with them to deny any terrorist group safe haven.

QUESTION: But when one hand there are reports of al-Qaida operatives being arrested and killed in Pakistan with Pakistani cooperation, and then there are statements like these. Do you think this mitigates the relationship in a way?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s – as we’ve said many times, it’s not always an easy relationship, but it’s in both our countries’ interests, and so we pursue it and we seek to overcome the challenges, because at the end of the day cooperation between U.S. and Pakistan has resulted in the deaths of many, many terrorists, and we view that as very positive thing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the chief of al-Qaida in Pakistan, Abu Hafs al-Shahri, has been killed?

MR. TONER: I’ve seen reports on that. I’d refer you to the White House.

Go ahead, Catherine.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the hikers in Iran for us?

MR. TONER: Catherine, I really don’t. We’ve been in touch with the Swiss, ongoing contact. We’re still trying to get solid information about what’s going on on the ground. We remain cautiously optimistic that this ordeal can be over very soon for both of them.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation of the reports that a plane has been sent for them?

MR. TONER: I don’t.

Go ahead, David.

QUESTION: Mark, Venezuelan President Chavez has invited the president of Iran to visit Venezuela after Ahmadinejad speaks at the UN. Are you concerned about Venezuela somehow being a sort of a gateway for Iranian influence in that region?

MR. TONER: Again, Venezuela is a sovereign country. They’re free to pursue bilateral relations as they wish to. So no comment.

Go ahead, Christophe.

QUESTION: Yeah. There are reports in – press reports in Algeria today say that U.S. embassies in the region, Sahel and Maghreb, have received a lot of messages about al-Qaida in the eastern Maghreb planning to attack planes chartered by foreign oil companies.

MR. TONER: Christophe, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’ll have to take the question. I’m not sure that I can promise you a response, or a very forthcoming response, given that it’s intelligence-related. But I’ll try to get you what we can.

QUESTION: Actually, I think that the EU coordinator for counterterrorism last week spoke about the same things.

MR. TONER: Okay. I’ll look into it. I’m sorry. I apologize. I’m not briefed up on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I asked this yesterday. I was wondering if you’ve been able to look into the North Korea-Russian military drills.

MR. TONER: Right. I think we put out a --

QUESTION: Was there? Okay. Sorry about that.

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: I didn’t see that.

MR. TONER: We do get back; just not all at once. But – go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you going to read what it was?

MR. TONER: No, no. Go ahead. I was going to switch subjects. I was going to offer something up.

QUESTION: Well, actually, there was another question that you said you had taken yesterday that there wasn’t an answer to, and that was back to this Ofer Brothers thing. Did you get an answer on that?

MR. TONER: Yes. I’m sorry. We’ll get that to you. I believe it was an answer that both through the banks and through the company itself that there was confusion. Was that your question?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, it was --

MR. TONER: Who voiced concern over it, I believe was --

QUESTION: -- whether, in fact, this was done because the company itself complained or because banks were --

MR. TONER: I think we heard from both banks and the company.

I did want to – I apologize. Because of Assistant Secretary Brimmer’s opening, I neglected to mention at the top that Deputy Secretary Burns was in Iraq. He just departed Baghdad after a full day of meetings with senior Iraqi officials. And he had excellent meetings with Prime Minister Malaki, President Talabani, Council of Representatives Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi – excuse me – Foreign Minister Zebari, as well as Iraqiya Bloc Chair Dr. Ayad Allawi.

And in his consultations, the deputy affirmed the United States’ enduring commitment to the U.S.-Iraq partnership. He consulted with Iraqi leaders on a range of critical issues of mutual interest, including regional developments and bolstering our bilateral relationship as envisioned in the Strategic Framework Agreement. He also, of course, expressed deep gratitude and appreciation for the hard work and enormous sacrifice of those diplomats serving at our Embassy in Baghdad and other posts in Iraq.

And I did want to just say that he has departed Iraq and he has now arrived in the United Arab Emirates. And while there, he’ll meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. And following the meeting, he’ll return to Washington.

And I also neglected to do at the top – I wanted to give a shout out to those AU students who are in the back. (Laughter.) Welcome. I’m sure this daily bloodletting is of interest to you. And, Dan, good to see you.

I’m sorry. Any more questions or – just wanted to get that in. Any more questions?

QUESTION: Okay. Syria.

MR. TONER: Just you.

QUESTION: At least some of the Syrian opposition have banded together and put – and formed themselves into a – some kind of group. I don’t know if they’ve graduated – I don’t know if they’re mature enough, to use your words, to call themselves the equivalent of a TNC of sorts. But I’m wondering what you make of this development in Istanbul.

MR. TONER: Right. We certainly applaud the efforts. This is – what you’re talking about is various Syrian opposition groups are attempting to unify. I had talked about it about a week ago or so, that any opposition movement in Syria faces tremendous obstacles. You’ve got people outside the country, individuals who are seeking to unify, as well as folks within the country who, as we detail every day from this podium, are being hunted down and oppressed by the government’s security forces. So it’s very hard for them to organize politically and to draft and communicate a platform while their members and leaders are being hunted down and killed. But we applaud these efforts.

We’re looking forward to – we look forward to the opposition strengthening as it agrees on things like a unified leadership structure, as it builds consensus and articulates a vision for the future of Syria that incorporates rule of law, government by consent of the people, and equal rights as well as economic opportunities for all of Syria’s citizens. It’s certainly not our role to determine what the leadership looks like or what the – what their – or direct its actions or dictate its policies, but we do applaud their efforts under these kinds of conditions.

QUESTION: Are you open to considering working with them as you did work with the TNC, since you have now explicitly called for Asad to go?

MR. TONER: I do think that we’re – as we’ve said all along, we have maintained contacts with the Syrian opposition. The Secretary met with a group of expatriates and activists here at the State Department. It’s – this is still happening, it’s still evolving, they’re still coming together and unifying. And as that happens, we’re going to continue to stay in close coordination with them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Thank you.



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