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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Mark C. Toner
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 24, 2010

Index for Today's Briefing
    • US Pakistan Strategic Dialog Underway/ Intensification of Partnership/ Joint Press Availability This Afternoon
    • Secretary Chaired Millennium Challenge Corporation Meeting/ Board Reviewed Priority Global Funding Issues
    • Secretary Will be on the Hill Tomorrow for the 30th Anniversary of the Women's History Project and Senate Testimony with Secretary Gates
    • US Wrapped up Oman Gulf Security Dialog/ Wide Range of Issues Discussed
    • Senator Mitchell Meeting with PM Netanyahu/ President's Meeting Discussed a Full-Range of Issues/ Conversations Ongoing/ Jerusalem Should Be a Final Status Issue/ Senator Mitchell had Returned from the Region/ He Had Meetings with Israelis and Palestinians/ Evaluating What We Have Heard/ Senator Mitchell to Return to the Region/ Discussions Frank and Candid/ US Positions Clear/ US Looking for Steps and Commitment to the Peace Process
  • IRAN
    • Working with Congress on Our Shared Goals on Iran's Nuclear Program
    • Many Issues Under Discussion/ US Welcomes Better Dialog between India and Pakistan on Kashmir
    • Very Close to Agreement/ Technical Details Remain/ Negotiations Continue in Geneva/ Steady Progress Toward the Agreement
    • Serious Concern Regarding the Arrest of Oswaldo Paz/ Urge Venezuela to Uphold Freedom of Expression
    • Seen Reports of Arrests/ Saudis Resolute in Their Work against Terrorists
    • No Update on Secretary's Schedule
    • Burma Should Begin a Genuine Dialog on Democracy
    • We Do Not Speculate on Internal Developments in North Korea
    • No Comment Regarding Expulsion of Israeli Diplomat from the United Kingdom


1:15 p.m. EST (Off-camera)

MR. TONER: Very good. As you all know Secretary of State Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi kicked off the first United States-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue at the ministerial level earlier today, and that will continue through tomorrow. This Strategic Dialogue marks a major intensification of our partnership and represents the shared commitment of both nations to strengthening the bilateral relationship. And as you know, there’ll be a joint press avail this afternoon with Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Qureshi. I believe the time’s at 3:05 – everybody – 3:15, sounds good.

She also chaired the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation Board of Directors meeting earlier today, and that met to discuss progress on its poverty reduction programs worldwide. The board reviewed how Millennium Challenge Corporation investments and programs are helping address priority global issues, such as long-term economic growth, global food security, maternal and child health and safety, transportation, infrastructure improvements, as well as environment protection.

Just also a brief summary of her day tomorrow: At noon tomorrow, she’ll head to the U.S. Capitol where she’ll be honored and deliver brief remarks at a reception celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Women’s History Project. From there, she’ll stay on the Hill for joint testimony later with Secretary of Defense Gates, and that will be before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

QUESTION: What time is that?

MR. TONER: I’ll try to get that for you.

QUESTION: Is it supposed to be in the afternoon?

MR. TONER: I think, yeah, it’s afternoon.

QUESTION: You sure it’s still on after 2 o’clock?

MR. TONER: I will check, Matt.


QUESTION: Because the Republicans are refusing to do any business after 2 o’clock right now.

MR. TONER: I don’t know. We’ll see.

QUESTION: They’ve canceled already two – Senate Foreign Relations – or Senate Armed Services this afternoon.

MR. TONER: I’ll have to double-check on it – as far as I know.

And also, Assistant Secretary Andrew Shapiro and the Department of Defense Assistant Secretary Vershbow, they wrapped up the U.S.-Oman Security Dialogue, which is an important component of their – our overall Gulf security dialogue, which is the U.S. Government principal security coordination mechanism with the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council. They also met with Secretary General of the Omani Foreign Ministry Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud Al Busaidi – and it was more than I expected – and had productive talks with Omani officials on a wide range of political-military issues from shared strategic challenges in the region to enhancing partnerships in the areas of security cooperation, and maritime security.

That’s all I have for you.

QUESTION: What time is Netanyahu meeting with Senator Mitchell?

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t have a time for that. I know he’s meeting with him this afternoon.


MR. TONER: I don’t have a location either.

QUESTION: I mean, is it in New York or here?

MR. TONER: No, he’s here.


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Mark, there’s a report that the P-5+1 political directors held a conference call on Iran. I’m wondering if that indicates any movement by China to agree to sanctions or what it does indicate. Can you confirm that the call happened and what –

MR. TONER: I can confirm the call happened, and I don’t have details on the substance of the conversation. I know it was part of our regular consultation with our P-5+1 partners about the importance of holding Iran accountable and including how that translates in concrete terms, all part of the ongoing dual-track approach.

QUESTION: Sorry, but –

MR. TONER: I don’t have any details for you today.

QUESTION: Anything on China? Any sense on whether the Chinese are actually going to support sanctions?

MR. TONER: No sense of that. I know all the parties reaffirmed their commitment to the dual-track approach. But again, this is going to be a long process and it’s going to be ongoing consultations as we move forward.

QUESTION: How long had you been trying to get China to participate in this call, and why did they finally come along?

MR. TONER: I mean, as you know, Lach, we’ve been doing these calls on a pretty regular basis. I forget when the last one was exactly, but it was fairly recent. So --

QUESTION: And they’re going to meet next week as well? They’re going to call – have another call next week as well?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I could check on that.

QUESTION: The Brits are saying that.

MR. TONER: I’ll check, Kirit.

QUESTION: Were there any new ideas as to any – in terms of sanctions, anything new on the petroleum –

MR. TONER: Nothing in terms of sort of concrete details. I know that --

QUESTION: So there’s no agreement yet basically. The Chinese don’t seem to be on board, otherwise you’d come away with a different statement.

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think you need to put it in perspective. There’s been a number of calls. There’ll be a number of calls going forward. What’s important is that all the parties are committed to the dual-track approach and that we’re in the midst of discussing next steps, and that’s going to take some time.

QUESTION: Can you please speak for the State Department in regards to what senators and congresspeople are saying yesterday? They were being pushed very hard by Netanyahu to move the congressional reconcile bill as fast as possible to --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: To the President’s desk.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, on what?

QUESTION: They want Congress to move the reconciled Iran sanctions bill as fast as possible to the President’s desk.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The Administration’s been trying to slow it down.

MR. TONER: Sure. What I can say is that we’re working on – working with Congress to ensure the President’s flexibility to conduct foreign policy, especially to advance our shared goals related to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability is preserved. And we’ll continue to consult with Congress about its legislation.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Pakistan, on what agreements are going to be signed?

MR. TONER: I’m really going to let the Secretary address all of that at 3:15 today.

QUESTION: Are you looking at the vision statement or whatever, that 56-page vision statement that they have sent you?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Has that been part of the discussions?

MR. TONER: Well, look. I mean, it’s going to be a – obviously, I haven’t been in on any of the meetings. I don’t know any of the substance that’s being discussed. Obviously, there’s a lot of issues on the table, but I’ll let them both address that later on today.

QUESTION: And what’s the official stand on the nuclear cooperation arrangement? This – Ambassador Holbrooke last night seemed to say that they – you were prepared to listen to any questions about nuclear cooperation. Anything more to --

MR. TONER: I think I’ll let Ambassador Holbrooke’s words stand on that. Again, I haven’t been in any of the meetings, so I really don’t know the topics.


QUESTION: On the same issue, on Pakistan, Foreign Minister Qureshi in his remarks this morning seemed to be calling for a more active U.S. role in Kashmir. Is that something that’s on the table in any way for the U.S.?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve always welcomed dialogue and better relations between India and Pakistan, including on the issue of Kashmir. But the pace, scope, and character of that dialogue are really something for the Indian and Pakistani leaders to decide.

QUESTION: What about the teams on START? It seems like it’s moving quite quickly and --

MR. TONER: It does. There’s a lot out there, obviously. I don’t have anything, clearly, to announce. I doubt I would. But all I can say is that we are very close. But they’re still working through technical details. I think Robert Gibbs at the White House just spoke to the same issue.

QUESTION: When you say “technical details,” you’re not referring to items of substance that need to be negotiated but just written down, completed --

MR. TONER: Well, there’s actually – the Secretary said – Secretary Clinton said the – much the same thing last week – was it last week – when she said that there’s broad agreement but we’re still working through some of the details. We’re very close. I don’t know how to describe the metaphor any better than to say they’re almost to the finish line.

QUESTION: Are we talking (inaudible) now? Is there still negotiating happening in Geneva?

MR. TONER: They’re still there in Geneva, absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you know who is there?

MR. TONER: Rose Gottemoeller and – as well as Under Secretary Tauscher.

QUESTION: Do you know how long? I mean, is she going to – schedule (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: I don’t ever – ETA. I don’t know, Robert. It’s a good question.

QUESTION: Well, what about the --

MR. TONER: If I have anything, I’ll obviously share it.

QUESTION: What about – specifically about the reports that there’s been a breakthrough in the talks?

MR. TONER: I wouldn’t – I would describe it as steady progress towards the end goal, which is an agreement that’s in the best --

QUESTION: Mark, they --

MR. TONER: -- I’m sorry, best interests of the --

QUESTION: They announced this morning --

MR. TONER: -- United States security, national security.

QUESTION: -- that all the details were almost clarified. And --

MR. TONER: We are extremely close. We’re very close. But I’m not going to characterize it beyond that.

QUESTION: And is there a consensus on defensive and defensive weapons (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: I’ll just – I’ll wait for the parties that are negotiating to come out to announce and then to describe what it entails.

QUESTION: Because White House this morning announced that it’s going to be Prague, almost certainly if the place is clear, then appropriate technical details are clear, too.

MR. TONER: Well, I can say that there have been discussions with Czech allies as well as Russians about a signing in Prague when completed. And as you know, that’s where President Obama delivered his arms control and nonproliferation speech in the spring of last year.

QUESTION: Right. But it’s going to be the fifth or eighth or seventh --

MR. TONER: Nothing to say. I’m sorry. I really don’t have any more details than what I’ve said so far.


MR. TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: To go back to the Middle East --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to the Israeli-Palestinian thing, I mean, we get this – Mrs. Clinton saying that everything’s rosy, Mr. Netanyahu is doing everything he can to move this forward. And then we have what appears to be Mr. Netanyahu absolutely not agreeing with President Obama on how they’re going to move this forward and no sign now that there is any room for this to move forward towards proximity talks at all. I mean, it sounds like there’s, like, a dozen eggs on the face of the American side. I mean, what’s your count? How many eggs? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: I’m not sure I understand that metaphor, but what I can say is that they met, obviously, last night, had a full discussion about all the issues related to the U.S-Israel relationship, and that included regional security and peace efforts. The President asked the prime minister to take steps to build confidence for proximity talks so that progress can be made towards peace. There are areas of agreement, there are some areas of disagreement, but the conversation is ongoing.

QUESTION: Can you speak about the Sheikh Jarrah and the Shepherd Hotel and the U.S. response to the reports yesterday that there was approval last week for (inaudible).

MR. TONER: This is about the --

QUESTION: The 20 apartments --

MR. TONER: The 20 – okay, sorry.


MR. TONER: That’s okay. We’ve made our position on Jerusalem clear on many occasions. We believe this is a final status issue and that both sides should refrain from acts that could undermine trust or prejudge the outcome of the negotiations. And we’re seeking clarification on this and other issues from the Israelis.

QUESTION: Isn’t this another one in your face? I mean --

MR. TONER: Again, it’s all part of the ongoing discussion.

QUESTION: Can you talk more about what steps President Obama is (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: I can’t. I really don’t.

QUESTION: Are you sure?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I’m positive.

QUESTION: We’re not on camera. (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: No, but we’re on the record. And plus, we’ve been pretty clear about saying – about not getting into the details but being adamant about we’re looking for steps to build confidence and show commitment to the process.

QUESTION: Are any State Department officials talking with Prime Minister Netanyahu or his delegation today? I know there are talks scheduled today.

MR. TONER: I believe Special Envoy – Senator Mitchell’s going to meet with Netanyahu later today.

QUESTION: Are you expecting a statement to come out?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I can try to get a readout. I frankly don’t know the time; I’m sorry. But we’ll try to figure out what – if we can get a readout, just a couple lines, and just – I mean, Senator Mitchell’s returning from the region, where he had meetings. Obviously, he hasn’t had a chance to sit down with Prime Minister Netanyahu, so this is an opportunity to do that.

QUESTION: Okay. But I understand the U.S. and Israel are working together to try and come up with some sort of statement about this direction.

MR. TONER: I can certainly check.

QUESTION: And are you hearing anything from the Palestinians?

MR. TONER: Well, again, Senator Mitchell was just in the region, where he had meetings with Palestinians. We expect some meetings later in the week at the lower level. Our CG – our Consul General, rather, in Jerusalem, as well as Deputy Special Envoy Hale will also be having meetings with Palestinian officials. And obviously, we’ve had a lot of dialogue with both parties the last few days, including today’s meeting and the meetings later on in the week. We’re going to be evaluating what we’ve heard. We’re going to be following up with both parties. And the plan is eventually for Senator Mitchell to return to the region, but probably after the Passover holiday.

QUESTION: So that means proximity talks not before then?

QUESTION: Not before (inaudible).

QUESTION: Not before Easter.

QUESTION: What is the purpose of --

MR. TONER: I think he’ll go back to the region after – yeah, after Passover. I don’t know.

QUESTION: What is the purpose of --

QUESTION: You don’t want to use Easter as a reference? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: What’s the purpose of Ambassador David Hale to meet with the Palestinians?

MR. TONER: Ongoing discussions at various levels, which is what we’ve been pursuing all along.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s fair to contrast these discussions as more tense than usual?

MR. TONER: Frank, candid, open.


QUESTION: Livid? (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Different subject --

QUESTION: Were you guys surprised yesterday by the reports that the Shepherd Hotel thing was moving along last week the same day that Netanyahu called Clinton with his response to her request?

MR. TONER: Look, our position’s been out there, Laura, so, I mean, we’ve been clear. I don’t want to characterize our response to it beyond the fact that we’ve made our position clear. The Israelis know it, so -- sorry, do you want to --

QUESTION: A political opponent of Hugo Chavez has been thrown in the poky for a list of charges including spreading false information. Of course, a slippery slope. Do you have anything on that?

MR. TONER: Sure. I sure do. We are seriously concerned about the arrests of former Governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz for simply expressing his views on a TV talk show. It is unfortunately the latest example of the government’s continuing assault on freedom of expression. We urge the Venezuelan Government to honor its commitment under the Inter-American Democratic Charter to uphold the principle that respect for human rights, including freedom of expression, is essential for representative democracies.

QUESTION: Anything on Saudi arrests?

MR. TONER: Also to call to your attention, the Human Rights Watch has also called it a major setback for freedom of expression.


MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Matt.

QUESTION: The Saudi arrests?

MR. TONER: Very little, Matt. We’re just obviously looking at press reports.

QUESTION: Very little, not enough? You didn’t do enough? (Laughter.) Saudi Arabia is no longer an ally in the war on terrorism? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: We’ve seen – we’ve obviously seen press reports, just speaking globally about our relationship with the Saudis. They’ve been resolute in their pursuit of terrorists and we commend their law enforcement for its hard work to uproot destructive al-Qaida elements in the kingdom.

QUESTION: Do you get the sense they’ve got any big fish in this (inaudible) or is it just a “Let’s arrest them all now and figure it out later,” (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: I don’t have a really clear readout. Again, we were just kind of getting press reports, so I’d be purely speculating.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, Ben.

QUESTION: Any updates on the Secretary’s schedule in Canada?

MR. TONER: Nothing yet, nothing to announce.

QUESTION: I think we forgot to ask about Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday.

MR. TONER: About what specifically?

QUESTION: About her lawyer saying she said that they’re going to boycott the election.

MR. TONER: Okay. Well, I think we just would reiterate our call for the authorities in Burma to begin a genuine political dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority leaders as a first step towards national reconciliation.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything specific on that decision?

MR. TONER: (Shaking head.)

QUESTION: Hey Mark, could – I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Just one point of clarification.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The Israeli leaders here now are saying that on the one hand, they don’t know when different municipalities make housing decisions. So they seem to – and then on the other hand – you know, and then on the other hand, seem to be asserting that they never said they wouldn’t build in any place in Jerusalem anyhow. So can I just – a response to whether they are – whether they’ve made assurances to U.S. officials about their efforts to try to stay on top of the housing construction (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: And to that excuse --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- in general that they’re not – they just don’t know when --

MR. TONER: I can only really – I mean, look, you’ll have to ask the Israelis about how they want to characterize. I mean, what we’ve been clear about in our position – I mean, I can reiterate it, but again, we’re looking for steps that show commitment to the peace process and to negotiations. And so we’ve called on both sides that they should refrain from acts that could undermine that trust and possibly prejudge the outcomes of negotiations. But to parse out their explanations, I think, is something that they need to do – not for us.

Yeah. Sure, Lach.

QUESTION: Yeah. On the East-West Center report about North Koreans showing less support for the regime, more disaffection, do you have anything? Have you been studying these reports? And what’s your – have you been making conclusions yourselves?

MR. TONER: We don’t speculate on internal political – on the internal political situation in North Korea.

QUESTION: What? (Laughter.) No, no, no, that’s not true. Maybe you don’t. The Secretary does.

MR. TONER: This spokesman does not. In any case, no, we don’t really have any comment on it.

QUESTION: You haven’t even looked at it?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve looked at the overall report and President Carter’s comments.

QUESTION: Hey, Mark, does the U.S. have a response to the UK – I’m sorry if this is (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Sure, sure. That’s okay.

QUESTION: -- following an Israeli official yesterday?

MR. TONER: I think nothing more than – beyond the fact that it’s an ongoing legal matter, so we don’t really comment on it.

QUESTION: What about my question yesterday to P.J. about whether you’re reviewing your travel advice to Israel on the basis of passport fraud?

MR. TONER: I don’t believe there are any U.S. passports involved in it. However --

QUESTION: You know what? That’s not the question.

MR. TONER: However, I’ll check with Consular Affairs. I don’t have an answer for you.

QUESTION: It’s not the fact – it’s not that there were U.S. passports involved, because we all know that there weren’t. But the question is: Is it a concern that they could be used? And since the Brits have gone ahead and amended their travel advice for British citizens to be wary of this kind of thing, will you do the same thing?

MR. TONER: It’s a legitimate question, Matt, and I will check with Consular Affairs to see where we’re at. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. TONER: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:36 p.m.)

DPB # 43

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