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 26, 2011
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey, Mark. Do you have any reaction to Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he’s going to run for president next year, in fact swapping places with Medvedev?
MR. TONER: Well, I think what’s ultimately important is that this is a matter, a decision – that is the question of who will be Russia’s next president, that’s a decision for the Russian people to determine. We, for our part, look forward to working with whoever is the next president because we believe, clearly, that’s it in the mutual interest of the United States and Russia, and the world, that we do work closely together.
QUESTION: That – hold on. That doesn’t sound like a huge endorsement for that plan.
MR. TONER: It’s not an endorsement. It’s simply saying that this is a matter for the Russian people. Who is Russia’s next democratically elected leader is a matter for the Russian people to decide.
QUESTION: Are you worried that it could mean any difference in the reset for U.S. – reset of relations with Russia? Are you worried that things could be played differently with him in charge, effectively?
MR. TONER: No. Regardless of who wins the next election, our priorities remain the same. We believe the reset’s been in both of our nations’, and indeed the world’s, best interests. And we’re going to cooperate with Russia in areas where we can cooperate constructively. Looking forward, we want to – we want to try to resume missile defense cooperation, and we’re also seeking to finalize Russia’s accession to the WTO. These are going to be – remain priorities for us. We’re going to continue to work on the reset. We think it’s been valuable so far, and we’re going to continue to work on it.
QUESTION: And you don’t see any of that at risk with Putin at the helm?
MR. TONER: Again, no. Our agenda with Russia --
QUESTION: Not the agenda, but the effectiveness of that cooperation.
MR. TONER: No. We believe that our reset, thus far, has been successful. Obviously, Putin, in his current role, has been a part of those discussions and cooperation. But again, this is a matter for the Russian people to decide. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the attack this morning in Kabul, do you have any more details?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I have much more to add, but let me just go through. There was a shooting incident that took place at an annex of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. That was yesterday evening. And the attack is still clearly under investigation. I can confirm that one U.S. citizen was killed, another was wounded, and the wounded U.S. citizen was evacuated to a military hospital with non-life threatening injuries. We certainly mourn the loss of life in the incident and express our heartfelt condolences to the family.
I’d just add that the Embassy has resumed normal business operations.
QUESTION: Any idea who was behind this attack?
MR. TONER: Let’s go – Lalit.
QUESTION: Any idea who was behind this attack?
MR. TONER: No. Again, the matter is under investigation, and I think we don’t have any clear idea of who was responsible.
QUESTION: Do you – are you confirming the identity, at least, that this non-military civilian was a member of the CIA?
MR. TONER: No. No confirmation of – he was an Embassy personnel, but I don’t have any confirmation of his --
QUESTION: So you’re not denying that, though – those reports?
MR. TONER: We don’t have any information to convey.
QUESTION: But he was an Embassy personnel? He was an Embassy personnel?
MR. TONER: No. He was – sorry – he was – again, I don’t – he was one U.S. citizen killed. I don’t have any specifics about his affiliation.
QUESTION: Could we switch topics?
MR. TONER: Sure. Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In the last week --
MR. TONER: Are we switching to Pakistan now?
QUESTION: Yes, Pakistan.
MR. TONER: Technically, that’s a change. But – well, go ahead, Lalit. I’ll get this.
QUESTION: Last week, Admiral Mullen said in his congressional testimony that Haqqani Network has been involved in several terrorist incidents, but the State Department hasn’t declared yet Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization. What is leaving you (inaudible)? What is it that is taking you from declaring them as a terrorist organization? Or do you have (inaudible) on this issue?
MR. TONER: Well, first of all, just to address your point about why we haven’t designated them, it’s important to state that we have carried out a number of Executive Order 13224 designations that target, essentially the kingpins of the Haqqani Network – financiers, leadership, as well as some of its most dangerous operatives. As you know, in 2008 we targeted Siraj Haqqani, in 2011 Badruddin Haqqani, Sangeen Zadran in 2011, and on the Treasury side, we designated Nasiruddin Haqqani in 2010, Khalil Haqqani in 2011, Ahmed Jan Zadran in 2011, as well as Fazl Rabi in 2011. So certainly FTO designation is something under review, but the idea that we haven’t gone after the Haqqani Network at all, I think, is a mischaracterization. Like I said, we’ve affectively targeted many of the kingpins in the organization.
What was the first part of your question again?
QUESTION: Also, there has been a lot of words between both U.S. and Pakistan, exchange of strong words. How do you describe, explain the relationship with Pakistan as of now?
MR. TONER: Look, our relationship with Pakistan, we have some very clear challenges. I think it’s clear that terrorism, is a threat to both Pakistan and to the United States, and we’re committed to working with the Pakistani Government to address it. As far as our concerns about the Haqqani Network, that’s been raised at the highest levels. Secretary Clinton has spoken about it, Secretary of Defense Panetta as well as others, Admiral Mullen last week. And it’s certainly a matter of concern, but we’re addressing these concerns by working constructively with the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: Do you have full confidence in the leadership of Pakistan that they will take up action against Haqqani Network?
MR. TONER: We believe that we can work constructively with the Pakistani Government, Pakistani authorities to address these concerns, yes.
QUESTION: On Haqqani.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: If the Haqqani Network is attacking U.S. forces repeatedly and has been doing so, and if they have the support, explicit support of the Pakistan Government, as Admiral Mullen pointed out, how far away are we from saying, “These are acts of war, these are more serious than just what we’ve described them as so far”?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to speculate beyond what I just said, which is that we recognize very clearly that this is an area of concern. We’ve identified that, we’ve raised it at the highest levels with the Pakistanis, we’ve said we need to take action against the Haqqani Network, and we’re committed at this point to working constructively with them to do that. We recognize that this is a clear threat to our security in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Do you believe that what I’m suggesting is far-fetched that you could interpret these acts of terrorism as an act of war considering the support they have from the ISI?
MR. TONER: I would just say that we share a common threat from terrorism with the Pakistani Government, we have worked constructively in the past, we’ve seen that relationship yield tangible results, we have a relationship that is rooted in our candor, and we have expressed our concerns to them about it. But all the while, we’re also committed to working with them to address it.
QUESTION: Right. So you’re not going to go that far?
QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Yeah. But Andy, do you have a question?
QUESTION: No. No. You –
MR. TONER: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan. Pakistan has conveyed to the U.S. that Islamabad is not attacking Haqqani Network. This is a report that has come out after the meeting of Kayani with his generals. Have you received this message from Islamabad?
MR. TONER: That the –
QUESTION: That Pakistan will not attack Haqqani Network.
MR. TONER: I’ve seen some news reports. I haven’t seen the actual statements from any officials. Again, we’re very clear on our position on this. We believe that these kind of safe havens are extremely troubling and indeed a matter of great concern and dangerous development for both the United States and for Pakistan. So we want to see action taken against them.
QUESTION: No. Till – one minute – till today, have you received any communication from Islamabad about – after all these statements flying from this way to that way through media, what is –
MR. TONER: Look, I’m not aware that we’ve received – what our private conversations have been since last week with the Pakistani Government, and indeed, I don’t think I could talk about them from the podium except to say that we are committed to this relationship, we’re going to work constructively with them to address the challenges that we face.
QUESTION: Can we switch?
MR. TONER: Sure. Are we done with Pakistan?
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli –
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- issues? Any reaction or comments or remarks made by former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative basically placing all the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Benjamin Netanyahu?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to respond to that except to say that we’ve got, right now, from Friday a Quartet statement out there publicly. We’ve seen –
QUESTION: I’m not asking (inaudible). I’m saying –
MR. TONER: Let me finish (inaudible). Let me finish – that the Israelis have come out favorably for – the Palestinian Authority is examining it, looking at it closely. It provides an alternative path back to negotiations. That’s the way we believe we should be moving. That’s the direction we believe we should be moving.
QUESTION: But there is no reaction to the former President’s comments on – placing all the blame on Mr. Netanyahu, is there?
MR. TONER: Again, both sides need to look at the challenges that they’re facing and work to get back to the negotiating table. I think everyone is in agreement that that’s how we’re going to resolve this.
QUESTION: Okay. A quick follow-up. There’s also talk that the State Department or the Administration is in the process of changing the team that have been conducting this negotiation – David Hale and Dennis Ross. Is that – any comment on that?
MR. TONER: No. Not that I’m aware of – if we have any announcements to make, but David Hale and Dennis Ross remain our envoys.
QUESTION: What’s your –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) go back to the region? No. Are there any plans for them to go back?
MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you wanted to go back to the region.
MR. TONER: No. I checked this morning. I don’t think there’s any travel plans in the immediate offering, but certainly they remain engaged with the parties.
QUESTION: How do you read President Abbas’s statements made in a couple of speeches since he returned to Ramallah from the UN where he was, again, sort of underscoring the fact that a settlement freeze is absolutely essential to any restart of talks? And the Quartet statement doesn’t seem to cover that. So –
MR. TONER: It’s hard – what I think we just would say at this point, it’s hard for us to read what might be behind those statements. We’re still waiting to hear officially what the response is. Until we hear that official response, we’re going to refrain from trying to characterize what his public comments might mean. Again, we believe that the Quartet statement lays out a way for both sides to get back to the negotiating table. Both sides acknowledged last week that’s where they ultimately need to be, and it does present a timeline, which is a sign of its seriousness of purpose, and it sets out clear frames of reference on moving forward. So we think it provides a good way to get the process back on track.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Today, the Lebanese Ambassador to the United Nations who is also chair of the Security Council, gave the application to the other members. Any comment as to when the process might be voted upon?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I tried to find an update for that, but it’s still in the UN Security Council but I don’t have any update or – on how – what the next movement will be.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Mark, still on –
MR. TONER: Over here, yeah. And then back to you.
QUESTION: Same issue.
QUESTION: In the – sorry, (inaudible) – can you explain more about the U.S. efforts to lobby other members of the Security Council trying to abstain or to block the Palestinian membership?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the details of our private conversations, but we’re pretty transparent on where we stand about – on this issue. Our public comments reflect what our private conversations are, which is that we’re not for anything that we believe is going to impede our ultimate goal here, which is, again, both sides back to the negotiating table. That’s been our fundamental stance for weeks now and we believe that we need to work away from the UN at getting both sides back to the negotiating table. We had a Quartet statement that lays out a track to do so and that’s where we’re focusing our efforts on.
QUESTION: But you’re transparent in your position – public position of using a veto, but are you transparent of trying to put any pressure on other countries to block it?
MR. TONER: Well again, you talk about pressure. I mean certainly we talk to other members of the Security Council, but our position is very clear. Certainly, we’re going to argue forcefully our position. That’s what diplomats do.
Go ahead Lalit?
QUESTION: What do you say about India’s decision to support the resolution in the Security Council for the Palestinians?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask India to explain its position. Our – I can only justify ours.
QUESTION: They’re a key ally, but they’re not supporting you in the Security Council.
MR. TONER: Again, that’s for India to explain its decision. We’re very clear on our position which is that we want to get them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed or did you get disappointed?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s – talk to the Indian Government.
Yeah. Go ahead, Andy.
QUESTION: Mark, sorry, I know you were talking about it earlier, but I just want to get back to the incident in Kabul today. I missed a little bit at the top.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. That’s okay.
QUESTION: I just want to get what information you have. Are you confirming the identities of either of these people, either the shooter or the victim?
MR. TONER: What I can say is – you probably saw some of the initial reports and that a – it was a lone gunman and that he was an Afghan Embassy employee and he was killed. But again, this attack is still under investigation, so we’ll likely have more details --
QUESTION: Can you tell us what – in what role her served in the Embassy?
MR. TONER: I can’t, at this point.
QUESTION: And the victim --
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have any information about that.
QUESTION: Can you give any information on the actual sort of mechanics of the attack, where the gunman was standing? There have been reports that it was on top of the roof, firing toward the Embassy. Anything on the actual specific --
MR. TONER: No, I don’t. I’ll try to get you more information about that. Sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. And is this attack going to – does this – have there been any new – anything new put in place to increase Embassy security in the wake of this?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, certainly, as you can imagine, the Embassy security posture already is pretty high. And the Embassy will, no doubt, take steps that it deems prudent to increase that – the security measures. But I can’t, obviously, talk about what those might be.
QUESTION: Sri Lanka?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: When you said – I’m sorry. I’m not that familiar with the story. I should be more familiar.
MR. TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: You said the gunman was an Embassy --
MR. TONER: There was an incident last night, a shooting incident. It was a – it took place at an annex of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
MR. TONER: Again, I stress that everything’s still under investigation here, so we’ve got just a few details, but we may have more in the coming hours or days. But we can confirm that a U.S. citizen was killed, another one was wounded, and the wounded U.S. citizen was evacuated to a military hospital and his injuries are non-life-threatening. The Embassy, I can say, has resumed normal business operations. The motivation for the attack is still unclear. It’s under investigation. And initial reports are that the lone gunman in this incident was an Afghan Embassy employee, who was subsequently killed in the attack. That’s really all the information I have right now.
QUESTION: And do you know if next of kin has been notified?
MR. TONER: I believe so.
QUESTION: So then would you be able to provide anything on the identity then?
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm right now. I said I believe so. I can’t confirm, so I can’t identify now.
MR. TONER: As we get more details, folks, we’ll get them to you.