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 16, 2011
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry to start a little bit later on a Friday, but I wanted to give you all the opportunity to watch Secretary Clinton’s keynote remarks at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit, which was livestreamed.
And before beginning, I did want to note that the UN General Assembly, as many of you saw, has voted to give Libya’s seat in the world body, the UN, to the former rebels’ National Transitional Council. We certainly applaud this significant milestone in Libya’s remarkable transition.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Great. Why can’t the Palestinians even get a seat?
Before we get into that, which there’ll be a lot of, I’m sure, today, I just want to very briefly – you all just put out this TQ talking about a threat, an al-Qaida threat in North Africa?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can explain what the threat is exactly if – in the taken question, it says the threat is identified as a threat to shoot down charter – or aircraft chartered by oil companies that operate in North Africa. And the answer to that question says the threat information was received and relayed. Was – does that mean that the threat was to planes chartered by oil companies?
MR. TONER: Matt, I think we have to be somewhat circumspect in what – talking about specific threat information. We did pass that on, as the taken question said, but I don’t know if I can confirm what the details of it was.
QUESTION: Well, it would – it would seem – the question is phrased in such a way, and the answer is phrased in such a way, it would seem to the reader that the threat that is mentioned in the question is, in fact, the threat that was passed and it was the information that that was passed along. Is that the case or not? Or was it a completely different threat? Was it a threat of bad weather or something? What can – I need to understand what exactly --
MR. TONER: Sure. I can try to get you more details on the specific threat, but we’re somewhat limited in what we can say about it except to say that --
QUESTION: Well, then why – okay. The (inaudible) is why --
MR. TONER: -- it wasn’t – because we took the question yesterday, we responded to that question in a way that --
QUESTION: In a way that confuses everybody.
MR. TONER: Not at all, Matt. But we’re limited in what we can talk about. But --
QUESTION: No. I’m sorry. I think that I’m --
MR. TONER: -- my understanding is that this was a threat – the threat that was raised in the question.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right. So you are – so the threat that is in the question is, in fact, the threat --
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: -- answer. All right.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that real quickly?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The – I checked the Embassy’s website. I didn’t see a Warden Message mentioning this threat, but you said you passed it on to the oil companies. Can you explain why there was no need to pass this on to the general public?
MR. TONER: It might’ve been because of the specific nature. I know why you’re asking that. I’ll check and see. I would rather check and see if there was indeed a Warden Message passed on, but somehow didn’t make it up on the website. So let me follow up on that.
QUESTION: Because you have obligation to --
MR. TONER: I understand that, and we take it very seriously, and I’ll find out the specific reason, if there was one issued, in fact, or whether – why there wasn’t one if there was not one.
QUESTION: Okay. And the last one on the Embassy website is from earlier this spring, I think is --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Let me just double check on what the facts are behind that.
QUESTION: Mark, could I follow on Mr. Lee’s initial question? Why couldn’t the Palestinians have a seat at the United Nations, similar to what we have seen happen in Libya and many other places?
MR. TONER: Said, you know our position on this. I can restate it again if you would all like, but again, there’s been no resolution, in fact, put on the table in the UN Security Council. What we are focused on is direct negotiations, getting them back to the table so that they can address the many final status issues and reach a comprehensive peace agreement that results in two states living side by side.
QUESTION: But in principle, you are not adverse to the Palestinians having full membership as a state in the United Nations, much as the President of the United States stated last September 24th, do you?
MR. TONER: Again, we’ve said that we believe that any gesture, any movement in New York to that end, would be counterproductive to what the real focus should be on, which is direct negotiations between the parties. And that remains our goal and our priority.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed in the speech that Mr. Abbas just made saying that he will go to the Security Council, that the Palestinians indeed are the only people without a state, that it is the time for doing that? Would you consider that the efforts by Mr. Hale and Mr. Ross to have failed completely?
MR. TONER: Well, let me just say that, for those of you who may not have been following this day to day, that Special Envoy for Middle East Peace David Hale as well as Special Assistant to the President Dennis Ross have been in the region this week, consulting with the parties on how best to overcome the current impasse and get them back to direct negotiations as envisioned by the President’s remarks last May. They did meet while we were there with, as you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Peres, and President Abbas, which you asked about.
In the meeting with President Abbas, both sides affirmed the mutual commitment to negotiations as the only way to resolve the differences between the parties and to achieve peace. And beyond that, it was an open and very candid discussion of how best to do that, and all agreed to consult closely moving forward on how to resume talks. I’m well aware of – we’re well aware of the Palestinians’ position on this. As I said, our efforts right now remain on getting them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: To look at it from the other side, there are now several reports coming out of the region suggesting that there may be some movement toward persuading the Palestinians to not introduce anything at the end of next week, as Mr. Abbas said an hour ago. Is that true?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to talk about the substance of our discussions or other countries’ discussions with the Palestinians. We continue to believe that the best interests of the parties is to resume direct negotiations. That’s the only way they’re going to get true – the true result of – rather – excuse me – that’s the only way they’re going to get to a result that is two states living side by side in peace and security. Everything in New York is counterproductive to that.
QUESTION: What about suggestions that the U.S. may be putting a lot of pressure, particularly on European allies, to not vote in favor of a Palestinian bid?
MR. TONER: Rosalind, we’ve been very clear and transparent about our opinion that this is a counterproductive gesture, if indeed it happens, and that we believe the focus should remain on direct negotiations.
QUESTION: And I know that you went over this several times yesterday, but there does seem to be this disconnect. The U.S. is supporting popular movements in other countries in the region. But when it comes to the Palestinians, it doesn’t seem as if they’re getting the same support.
MR. TONER: There’s no disconnect.
QUESTION: But what then – but there is this perception that’s growing. Can you explain that?
MR. TONER: Well, this Administration has been dedicated from day one to finding a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. And we’ve worked diligently to that end. What we’ve said many times is it’s ultimately up to the parties to decide that they can overcome the challenges that remain, overcome this impasse and get back to the negotiating table. And our position all along has been that’s the – that’s where the focus needs to be. They need to make some tough decisions, but ultimately that’s how we’ll end up with the best result for both sides.
QUESTION: One more. Now the Israeli spokesman Mark Regev is suggesting that there will be consequences if the Palestinians go ahead and introduce this bid for statehood. Has Washington said anything to the Netanyahu government about making any sort of threats in order to try to keep the process from completely falling apart?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to talk about the substance of our conversations with the Israeli Government. You’ll have to ask them to explain their comments. I would just say that we’ve said that such a move in the UN could raise tensions in the region. That’s why we called it counterproductive, because it doesn’t help at the end of the day. It will not help in getting them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: But you can’t even say whether you’ve cautioned the Israelis to not do anything to cause (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: I’m just not going to characterize our discussions.
QUESTION: Mark, just a quick follow-up. Mr. Abbas often characterizes himself as a friend and ally of the United States, and the Palestinians are indeed recipients of large sums of American taxpayers’ money. Are you disappointed in the fact that he’s sticking to his guns and wants to go to the UN and the Security Council? And would you consider him, past the submission, as a friend and ally of the United States?
MR. TONER: The last part? Past the – would you consider – I didn’t hear the last part of your question.
QUESTION: I said – the last part of the question – will you continue to consider him as a friend of ally past the submission at the United Nations, if it happens?
MR. TONER: Look, again, as I’ve said, we’re well aware of the Palestinians’ viewpoints – viewpoint on this issue. We have remained engaged to explain why we believe it’s a bad idea, why we believe it’s counterproductive, why we believe it doesn’t, in the end, result in an end state that we want to see achieved, that they want to see achieved, two states living side by side in peace and security. We’ve made that clear, we’re going to continue to make that clear, and we’re going to continue to work today, tomorrow, through New York, to get them back to the negotiating table, but with a full awareness that any actions in New York will hurt that process.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a quick follow-up on the issue of the money, the aid.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida said that continuing aid only aided in keeping the Palestinians’ bad behavior. Do you believe that the continuing aid aids in keeping the Palestinians’ bad behavior?
MR. TONER: Well, we certainly appreciate the congresswoman’s insight and remarks and clearly are consulting closely with Congress as we move forward. But our belief, our position, has been that this money, this assistance, has helped build the kinds of institutions that will help in an eventual Palestinian state. So we believe it’s been very worthwhile and should continue.
Go ahead, Lach.
QUESTION: Do any of your Arab – traditional Arab allies consider this counterproductive, as you do?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask them. I’m not going to attempt to characterize --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to know whether they share that view.
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to characterize any other nation’s position on this. I’m just telling you what our position is.
QUESTION: But you’re talking with them. You --
MR. TONER: We’re – yeah. Obviously, we’re consulting with them. As we’ve talked about, Deputy Secretary Burns was in the region, and while talking about a lot of the issues across the board in the Middle East, he certainly talked about this.
QUESTION: Mark, I’m a bit confused by – how is it that you’re able to come up and say that in a meeting with Hale and Ross, President Abbas or both sides affirmed that negotiations are the only way to achieve peace and to resolve differences when the Palestinians are pursuing a path that you think is going to ruin – it precludes negotiations, in fact?
MR. TONER: We said it’s counterproductive and it hurts what our goal is here, which is to get them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Israelis have said that the threat – and I put that in quotes, because I don’t know if it’s a threat or if it’s just an advice – piece of advice as to the consequences – that if this does happen, that they could start annexing settlement blocs in the West Bank, that they could withhold millions and millions of dollars in tax money that they – tax revenue that they collect for the Palestinians. Is that counterproductive as well?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ve been clear on our position on settlements.
QUESTION: What’s more counterproductive, a symbolic gesture at the UN or actually choking off (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: I’m not going to grade what’s counterproductive --
QUESTION: -- maybe so much (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: -- what may be more counterproductive.
QUESTION: -- actually makes a difference on the ground --
MR. TONER: And Matt – and Matt --
QUESTION: -- and not about whether the Israelis’ feelings --
MR. TONER: Matt, our efforts remain focused on getting the sides back to the negotiating table. We’ve said all along neither side, or both sides, rather, should refrain from any action that impedes that progress. And that remains our position.
QUESTION: Can you answer the question why this Administration is so intent on squandering what little goodwill it might have in the Arab world?
MR. TONER: I disagree with the premise, so that’s my answer.
QUESTION: Mark, in the first place, do you have any idea of where this issue and how it started, who is advising the Palestines on this issue, that their issue will be best resolved at the United Nations General Assembly?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the Palestinians. I’m not going to speak for them.
QUESTION: Mark, are you saying that you disagree with the fact that this position that you’ve taken is unpopular among Arab countries?
MR. TONER: Again, you’ll have to go out and produce your own polling data and ask these Arab countries themselves.
QUESTION: I’m asking you. You said you disagreed with the premise of my question. I’m asking you are you aware of the –
MR. TONER: You ask an extremely leading question. What I’m saying is –
QUESTION: -- are you aware the Turkish Government, the (inaudible) Government, Jordanian Government, the Government of Saudi Arabia, for example?
MR. TONER: Matt –
QUESTION: Are you aware of their feelings about – their statements –
MR. TONER: We can go around and around on this. All I can say is that our position remains that we want to see the parties back into direct negotiations. We’re going to remain focused on that goal. We believe it’s the right path to pursue, regardless of public opinion or opinion elsewhere. We believe it’s the right path to pursue because it’s going to result in two states living side by side in peace and security. Actions in New York aren’t going to result in that. I don’t know how I can be clearer.
QUESTION: But you just said that President Abbas affirmed that negotiations are the only way to achieve peace.
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: He did? So he’s not against negotiations.
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: He’s not saying that there – that this is – that the UN move is gonna stop negotiations, or is a substitute for negotiations.
QUESTION: He repeated that in his speech.
MR. TONER: And he – thank you. He repeated that in his speech. He’s never said that negotiations are shut down.
QUESTION: Right. So – I mean, this –
MR. TONER: The problem is that –
QUESTION: -- isn’t that embarrassing to this administration
MR. TONER: The problem is that --
QUESTION: -- to have this position and to refuse to any kind of concession on it when everybody – virtually every other country in the world, including your closest allies, other Arab allies in the Middle East, are begging you to –
MR. TONER: Matt, is there a question here or is there –
MR. TONER: -- is it basically just you riffing on this? I mean --
MR. TONER: -- we’ve been very clear about our position. I can restate it, but I’m not going to back away from it.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Are you aware of any plans for President Obama to meet with Mr. Netanyahu in the next 48 hours?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry with --
QUESTION: Over the next few days, with Mr. Netanyahu.
MR. TONER: The President or his Secretary?
QUESTION: No. The President Barack Obama.
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the White House.
QUESTION: You have not heard?
MR. TONER: No. You’ll have to ask the White House.
QUESTION: Excuse me. Well since the negotiations are bogged down for a long time, do you think it’s about time to come up with something like a timetable, a map, a plan, put it on the table so the both sides can come up to, and the United States help, and with United States help and Russia could come up with some form of –
MR. TONER: Well, look, we – sure.
QUESTION: -- would the negotiations be meaningful without such a –
MR. TONER: Well, I think that our envoys who are in the region, as well as the other Quartet envoys, are looking at a variety of ways that we can get them back to the table.
Yeah. In the back. Are we done with – go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Secretary (inaudible) the last (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: She spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I believe that was in – and I believe one of the topics of conversation was, of course, Middle East peace.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: And the Quartet – was it today? Yeah, today.
QUESTION: The Chief Minister of Western Indian State of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, was denied U.S. visa, right around five years ago. Has there been any change in U.S. position on that issue?
MR. TONER: We don’t usually discuss visa cases –
QUESTION: But then Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher had gone on record as saying – giving reasons why he was apparently denied the visa –
MR. TONER: Lalit, can I check on that specific – I don’t know that we’ve had any new development on it but I’ll have to take the question. It may well be that we don’t discuss visa cases, but I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Chinese Government announced that they’re going to have an international seminar to commemorate the Sixth Anniversary of Six-Party Talk joint statement next week. Who is going to be the representative from the U.S. Government?
And also, North Korea and South Korea is going to have a second high-level talk next week in Beijing. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. TONER: Okay, on the first one you’re talking about this Chinese – the China Institute for International Studies Conference? They’re having an academic workshop. Our understanding is that this is an unofficial event. We’re going to send a working-level observer from our Embassy in Beijing to follow the discussions.
And on – your second question was about a possible next round of – or additional North-South meetings in Beijing? We’re aware that there’s been discussions of such a meeting. I don’t know that it’s been confirmed officially. But as you know, we would certainly welcome steps by the North Korean Government to improve inter-Korean relations, and as such, we would welcome a dialogue – further dialogue, rather, between North Korea and South Korea. As you know, they did meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, I think, about a month and a half ago.
MR. TONER: Sure. Same? China.
QUESTION: There’s reports in the Indian media that China has warned India for not entering into any oil exploration agreement with Vietnam in South China Sea. This wasn’t the first time the Chinese have warned other countries about that. What’s your position on the Chinese saying it has –
MR. TONER: You know our position very well on the South China Sea. We support a multilateral mechanism that can allow these – a diplomatic mechanism that can allow all these nations to work through their disputes in a diplomatic way.
QUESTION: Was this issue discussed when Indian officials were here earlier this week, for meeting with Assistant Secretary Campbell on U.S.-India relations in South China Sea?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll ask for – get information on that.
QUESTION: On China, is the U.S. discussing or worried about the disputes and the tensions going on in the international waters, China’s involvement with other neighboring nations?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, what did you – the first part of your question, Goyal? I was looking at this gentleman.
QUESTION: Is U.S. worried or have any concern about the Chinese involvement in the international waters?
MR. TONER: Well, I think I just answered the question about South China Sea. I mean, what we’ve said is we support a mechanism that allows nations to resolve their disputes in a diplomatic fashion and a multilateral fashion.
QUESTION: A question about arm sales to Taiwan. According to Washington Times, the decision of the arms sales to Taiwan has been made. Basically, you just upgrade the F-16s the Taiwanese already have. Could you please tell us, what’s the deal, is that true that there will be no new F-16s for sale to Taiwan? Thank you.
MR. TONER: Well, as you probably know, the U.S. Government doesn’t comment on any possible foreign military sale unless – and until formal congressional notification has taken place. But U.S. arm sales in general to Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act and are, of course, based on our assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs.
MR. TONER: Yep. Who’s that? Oh, Ben. We’ll get to everybody.
QUESTION: Reuters reported this morning that notification was going to be given to Congress today on Taiwan arms sales, so I was wondering --
MR. TONER: I have nothing to announce. I would just say if a sale is notified that it’ll be – it’ll appear on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency website.
QUESTION: Based on your briefing (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not – I have nothing to announce, nothing to say from here, except what I’ve just said.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to Congress this afternoon on arms sales to Taiwan?
MR. TONER: I cannot confirm, no.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Mr. Sung Kim going to Korea? Do you have anything on (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: I don’t. On Sung Kim going to Korea? I’m not aware of any travel plans, I’ll have to double-check.
MR. TONER: Oh, you’re talking about when he’s confirmed?
MR. TONER: I don’t, actually. I’d have to check and see when that’s going to happen.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: The articles say the Russians, they are going to go along with supplying Iran with S-300 missiles. Did the Secretary discuss this issue today with Lavrov and their intention to have military exercises also with North Korea?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to get into all the substance of the conversation. My understanding is that it was mostly focused on Middle East peace process. But you know our position on missile sales to Iran. They did announce that they had canceled plans – they announced in September 2010 that they’d canceled plans to transfer these S-300s to Iran. We viewed that as very positive steps and appreciated then their restraint in transferring arms sale – arms to Iran. So I’ll leave it there.
David and then here.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on reported rise of tensions in Kosovo? Apparently ethnic Serbs in the northern part of the country are resisting the idea of the Kosovo Government running the border posts up there.
MR. TONER: Sure. There have been – there has been a rise in tensions recently, and we’re certainly concerned about the situation there. We simply call on all parties to maintain calm and to avoid precipitous actions and also to refrain from any kind of inflammatory rhetoric.
We’d also commend the efforts both of KFOR and of EULEX. To ensure a safe and secure environment and to enable the free movement of both goods and people in both directions over the Kosovo and Serbia border. It goes without saying that the free movement of people and goods over the border is in both Kosovo’s and Serbia’s interests here and is certainly keeping with each country’s EU aspirations. So in that regard, any roadblocks and barricades only serve to impair and restrict the daily lives of the people of Kosovo and Serbia.
Yeah. Do you – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Do you think the situation in Kosovo right now could harm the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina?
MR. TONER: Anything that raises tensions between them, I think, could harm the dialogue, and that’s something we believe very strongly that the dialogue should continue, that it’s a positive development, and again, that it’s in keeping with the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of both countries.
Yeah. Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: New subject. Any update on Mr. Blake’s visit to Sri Lanka and India?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I will try to get you one. Sorry.
QUESTION: Second, if I may. There was a U.S. delegation to Pakistan on energy –
MR. TONER: There was.
QUESTION: And one, update on that. And second, if that delegation has issued any statement or any discussion on the ongoing floodings in Sindh, because Sindh province was also part of the energy corporation because since now is under water?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about where the flooding took place?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Okay.
QUESTION: And the energy corporation.
MR. TONER: And the energy.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR. TONER: Well, I can confirm that Ambassador Carlos Pascual, who’s our U.S. special envoy for international energy affairs, and Pakistani minister of water and power, Naveed Qamar, co-hosted the latest Pakistan-U.S. Energy Dialogue that took place in Islamabad September 14th through 15th. This was an opportunity to review ongoing energy programs. Both sides recommitted themselves to pursuing practical solutions to Pakistan’s energy needs, and Ambassador Pascual reaffirmed the United States’s long-term commitment to working with Pakistan to establish a commercially viable and sustainable power sector.
I’ve got a lot more information. I know the Embassy actually put out quite a lengthy statement that we can share with you. I don’t necessarily want to – I don’t know how much interest there is in the room. But certainly – I can give you some of the key topics of the discussion, which were an overview of the power sector and challenges it faces, current policy and regulatory framework and possible reforms, as well as the availability of primary fuels and the role of the private sector and regional energy initiatives.
In terms of your final question, we obviously remain engaged – I don’t have the current figures with me in providing assistance to the victims of the latest flooding in Pakistan.
QUESTION: Was nuclear energy considered an option for resolving Pakistan’s energy issues? Pakistan has been asking for quite some time now for (inaudible).
MR. TONER: Sure. I’d just say we recognize that Pakistan does have significant energy requirements, and we’re working to find effective ways to help them address those needs. But I can’t say specifically whether nuclear energy was discussed.
Yeah. Go ahead, David.
QUESTION: Yeah. Mark, last night there was a handout about the drug majors report. Bolivia, Burma, Venezuela have failed demonstrably in their responsibilities to combat drugs. In the case of Bolivia and Venezuela, the President waived sanctions. So I’m just asking: Is there any real practical impact on these two countries of getting that listing?
MR. TONER: I think that I’ll have to check, David. I think the idea being waiving those sanctions was so that our – so that some of our programs and cooperation could continue. But – so I’ll have to get more information for you on that.
QUESTION: And why was --
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: And why was Burma not waived out of this? Why was Burma not waived by – from these sanctions?
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: The fact that two more countries joined the list, does that give the Administration any pause about the extent of drug trafficking and the extent of criminality, particularly in the Americas?
MR. TONER: I think we’re under no illusions that this remains a challenge. It’s a shared challenge. We’ve talked about that in terms of Mexico, certainly. But in other countries there’s a certain demand here that this market fuels, and – or that fuels this market, rather. And we’re going to continue to work in interdiction efforts as well as other strengthening rule of law, strengthening institutions in these countries, as ways to counter that problem.
QUESTION: Also, that memo doesn't say anything about why Burma was not – has been included in that list in the three countries, except for saying that Burma failed considerably in meeting its international obligations. Can you give us some details?
MR. TONER: As I said, I’ll try to get you a little bit more detail on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yemen.
QUESTION: Anything new on Yemen? We understand that the president of Yemen may be close to acquiescing to the GCC proposal.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’ve seen some encouraging signs in recent days from the government and the opposition in Yemen. We’ve said all along that this shouldn’t be about whether Saleh decides to stay or to come back to Yemen. What we want to see right now – in fact, it should have started days and weeks ago – is the signing of the GCC agreement and putting the country on a path towards a transition.
QUESTION: But is there anything new? Any new development --
MR. TONER: Again, we put out a statement the other day.
QUESTION: I saw that.
MR. TONER: We continue to believe that a GCC-brokered agreement is the way to move forward, and we’re encouraged that we’ve seen within the government a willingness to move forward on that and not be consumed with whether Saleh stays or comes back.
QUESTION: Okay. But through your direct talks or negotiations with the Yemeni Government, do you feel that this is imminent that he would --
MR. TONER: I’ve said “encouraged.” I think that we’ll stay there.
Matt, and then Goyal. Goyal has a lot of questions, as has Matt, but we’ll let Matt have it.
QUESTION: I haven’t asked one for a very long time now. (Laughter.) Yesterday’s Travel Warning on Syria was the third or fourth, I think, or maybe even the fifth, since the situation there – the uprising began, to tell Americans to leave immediately. I’m wondering, since people – since you keep putting messages out, are people not listening to these – this advice? Or do you have any idea of how many Americans who are not dual nationals still remain in Syria? And if you don’t, is there a way to find out if large numbers of people are just ignoring your advice?
MR. TONER: It’s – I don’t know your last question, but your first question was how many – the number of U.S.-Syrian dual nationals?
QUESTION: No, I don’t want to know the number because I don’t expect you to know, but I want to know if there are any.
MR. TONER: Who are still in Syria?
QUESTION: Who are non-Syrian – who are non-dual nationals.
MR. TONER: Non-dual national Americans who are still in Syria?
QUESTION: Who are still in Syria. And why do you keep issuing the same warning over and over again? I mean, I understand that the sanctions – that it was updated because there were sanctions that had been put in place since the last warning was issued.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: But most of those sanctions --
MR. TONER: And that’s right.
QUESTION: -- were already covered by licenses that were – OFAC licenses which allowed people to spend money for the rent and for public utilities and things like that. So I’m just curious why you feel the need to keep saying – telling people to leave immediately when you’ve been doing so for six months now.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we --
QUESTION: Is there anyone left to tell this to?
MR. TONER: I – frankly, I don’t know if there’s a significant American presence still in Syria. I’ll have to take that question. I don’t know if I can give you an exact figure even if we do.
It is incumbent on our Embassy to – and our Consular Bureau to warn Americans against the dangers of traveling to Syria. Certainly, that’s updated with new information about increased violence, and we’ve seen that violence continue through many weeks and only, frankly, increase in intensity. So as events dictate, we’ll update those.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Yeah. But is there anyone --
MR. TONER: I don’t know, Matt.
QUESTION: Do you know if there are any?
MR. TONER: I don’t.
QUESTION: In the same advisory --
MR. TONER: I told you I’d try to get an update for you.
QUESTION: In the same advisory, you called on Americans to heed the request to depart while transportation in and out of the country are still available. What does that mean? Does that mean that you are going to impose, like, a no-fly zone or anything like this? I mean --
MR. TONER: I wouldn’t read any policy statements into it. It simply means that there continues to be commercial travel in and out of Syria, and we always encourage U.S. citizens to take advantage of that opportunity in a country where political tensions are rising and the government is engaged in an ongoing crackdown against innocent civilians.
QUESTION: So do you expect commercial travel to cease in the near future?
MR. TONER: Again, this is just, in a sense, stating to Americans who may be on the ground there that they should take the opportunity to leave now.
Go ahead, Kirit.
QUESTION: Can I go back to –
QUESTION: One more on Syria?
MR. TONER: Syria, and then I’ll get to you. Sorry.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Did the Secratary talk with Mr. Lavrov about a resolution in the Security Council to sanction Syria?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if that came up specifically. I’ll have to check.
QUESTION: On Libya? There were some reports out on the wires about the State Department boosting the number of contractors it has looking for MANPADS in Libya. Can you confirm that? Do you know how many they’ve found so far and about how many contractors – is this a new contract? Are you putting more contractors on the existing contract?
MR. TONER: Well, as you know – and Toria has mentioned here several times from the podium that we are engaged in – with – and working cooperatively with the Transitional National Council to address some of the proliferation concerns, both of conventional arms as well as chemical weapons. We do have an ongoing contract and programs. I’ll have to get more details for you whether that’s going to be expanded in some fashion, as well as updated figures. I know that they have – we’ve personally – our contractors or our people have destroyed a number of MANPADS – I think under 10 MANPADS, but we have no way of confirming what the TNC and others have – may on the ground have destroyed. So it’s hard to get a solid figure on that. I’ll try to update it.
QUESTION: Aren’t there, like, 20,000 of these things running around?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re focused on working with the Transitional National Council in identifying caches of these weapons and destroying them. I told you I’d try to get you a hard figure. I don’t have it.
QUESTION: What’s the update on when Ambassador Cretz will going to Tripoli? He have some –
MR. TONER: When I have an update, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: He has some important meetings today within the building. Is he preparing for this step?
MR. TONER: We do hope to get Ambassador Cretz back to Tripoli. In the meantime, we have chargé on the ground Joan Polaschik, who continues to work at assessing the Embassy and trying to get that back up and running and – as well as she’s working with a team of diplomats and Diplomatic Security agents. And when we have something to tell you, we’ll tell you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Mr. Tarhouni, the oil minister, this morning said that they will honor all existing oil contracts with all companies. How does that affect American companies? Do you – are you aware?
MR. TONER: I don’t have a rundown in front of me.
So – go ahead.
QUESTION: Question – hundreds of Indian Americans across the country are in town on U.S.-India relations, and they had a briefing yesterday at the White House and also on the Capitol Hill. But my question is that, one, how do you rate today or view U.S.-India relations? And second, Congressman Ed Royce, chairman on terrorism subcommittee, he spoke to the group and he said that he’s worried about the terrorism in the region, in the South Asia region, because of the U.S. aid going to Pakistan for combating terrorism, especially for the educational purposes for those Madrasas. More than 600 Madrasas, he’s saying, are –
MR. TONER: Okay. I haven’t seen –
QUESTION: -- getting misleading information.
MR. TONER: I haven’t seen – Congressman Royce, you say – his remarks so I’m not going to comment on them. U.S.-Indian relations are strong and getting stronger, and our counterterrorism cooperation is excellent.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.