1:43 p.m. EDTMR. TONER:
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the State Department. Sorry for the late start, but I wanted to let the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu speak.
Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell attended President Obama’s meeting today with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House. They’ll also – in fact – sorry – Secretary Clinton will also meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu later this afternoon at Blair House, where they’ll be joined by Special Envoy Mitchell, Under Secretary William Burns, and Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, as well as Ambassador James Cunningham.
As you know, Secretary Clinton spoke with
Israeli Defense Minister Barak this morning prior to her participation in a meeting between the President – between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the two discussed preparations for the meetings – for the meeting and reviewed the current state of affairs, including efforts to ease restrictions on goods to
Gaza. Minister Barak mentioned he would try to travel to Washington soon, and the Secretary welcomed his visit.
Secretary Clinton also spoke to Quartet Representative Tony Blair, a phone call in which they reviewed the current state of affairs, including efforts to ease restrictions on goods to Gaza. They also discussed Israel’s announcement today of a controlled items list pertaining to goods entering Gaza and also reconfirmed their commitment to continue working closely with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to implement the new Gaza policy. This new policy is helping to improve the quality of life for the people of Gaza while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns. They also reconfirmed our commitment to moving forward with state building and institutional reform efforts in the West Bank.
And then just one more item before taking your questions. The United States is disturbed by Dr. Feng Xue’s eight-year sentence and 2,000rmb 
fine. That’s U.S. dollars $29,500. We remain extremely concerned about his rights to due process under Chinese law. We call on China to grant Dr. Xue humanitarian release and immediately deport him back to the United States. The protection of U.S. citizens overseas is our highest priority. The U.S. Government is deeply concerned for Dr. Xue’s well-being.
With that, I’ll take your questions.QUESTION:
Can I just ask you on that -- MR. TONER:
The Chinese this morning, our time, I guess, say that this is none of your business and this is an internal affair. They were reacting to the statement yesterday from the Embassy. I’m wondering if you care to respond to that, and also to the timing of the whole sentence. Do you read anything into it, considering it came over a holiday weekend? This building has, in the past, noticed – noted that the Chinese, when there are controversial things involving Americans, tend to do things over time periods where the country may be distracted. MR. TONER:
Well, I can assure you we weren’t distracted over the weekend. In fact, Ambassador Huntsman was at the courthouse and, as you noted, responded to the sentencing. The Embassy in Beijing has been closely involved with this case since he was detained nearly three years ago and the Embassy has conducted nearly 30 consular visits to Dr. Xue to monitor his welfare and deliver messages to his family. I think the most recent one was on June 17th
. But – and we’ve also consistently and will continue to raise his case at the highest levels.
In terms of response, I would just say the protection of U.S. citizens overseas is our highest priority and we’re going to continue to raise this issue with Chinese authorities.
Can I – I’m not sure if it’s the State Department or Department of Justice issue. Do you know if you granted the consular access to those 10 alleged Russian spies? MR. TONER:
What I can say is that the defendants in custody have been notified of their right to consular access and that the consulates have also been notified of their right to contact or visit each of the defendants. So just in general, proper procedures regarding consular notification have been followed.QUESTION:
What nationality do you believe – or what do you recognize these people’s nationality as?MR. TONER:
I believe Russian since some of them are Russian citizens. I’m not clear on that. You’ll have to -- QUESTION:
Well -- MR. TONER:
-- talk to the Department of Justice.QUESTION:
Why can’t – I mean, some of them were naturalized Americans, or at least claimed to be naturalized Americans.MR. TONER:
I believe so.QUESTION:
So does consular access apply in that case even if it’s fraudulent – even if they’re fraudulently American citizens?MR. TONER:
Again, this is really something for the Department of Justice to sort out. We’re just -- QUESTION:
Well, does anyone – is anyone who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, whether they’re legally or illegally – or whether they come to that status illegally or legally, are – I mean, it would seem to be that if you’re an American citizen, consular access wouldn't apply. They’re not a foreign citizen.MR. TONER:
I’m not sure if it applies to dual citizenship in the kind of case you’re describing there. I could certainly check into it, Matt. Just – and that concept writ large I’m happy to check into it, but in terms of details in the case, just refer you to the Department of Justice.
Go ahead in the back.QUESTION:
I want to go back – a little back to China. China have – Chinese officials have claimed that South China Sea is of their national core interest. Do you have any comment on that, that statement? They say -- MR. TONER:
I’m unaware of the statement. I’d have to -- QUESTION:
It’s on the Kyodo News over the weekend. It says that some Chinese official have said – claimed that South China Sea is of Chinese national core interest and probably they would claim all the South China Sea as their territory, and that would be some conflict of territorial claims. MR. TONER:
I’ll look into it and see if we have any response to that. I haven’t seen the actual report, so -- QUESTION:
Iran -- MR. TONER:
The Iranian nuclear negotiator, he made a response to Ashton, saying that perhaps that talks could get underway from September 1st
, but there are some conditions involved that Iran has to talk about broader issues as well with the Middle East. Is this a step forward or not? MR. TONER:
Well, I’m always wary of characterizing anything that comes out on this, because what I would just stress is that, as I think the P-5+1 spoke in one voice last Friday, which is the door definitely remains open. So if Iran is serious about talking to the P-5+1, then I think we’re willing to meet.QUESTION:
If there are some conditions attached to what the discussions would be about besides the nuclear issue?MR. TONER:
Well, I mean, obviously, we’d have to evaluate that – the Iranian offer. And I assume we are. But again, it’s a two-track approach and that engagement track always remains open.
Hi, on the Mideast. That list of easing goods for Gaza, has the U.S. had an opportunity to really study that? Does it go far enough in terms of providing goods that the people in Gaza need?MR. TONER:
Mm-hmm. Well, first off -- QUESTION:
Hold on. Can I -- MR. TONER:
Sure, go ahead.QUESTION:
You’re “mm-hmm,” does that mean yes? You’re answering affirmatively? MR. TONER:
No, it means I’m listening, Matt. (Laughter.)QUESTION:
Well -- MR. TONER:
And getting – and preparing to respond. But thank you for clarifying that.
Just when the U.S. – when the Government of Israel announced its new approach, we obviously welcomed it, noticed that – noted, however, that implementation is critical. Obviously, you saw the President welcoming it just a few minutes ago. It’s an important step towards successful implementation of Israel’s new Gaza policy. The list indicates that the flow of goods and material into Gaza and the access that the people of Gaza have to those items should significantly improve. We’ve worked closely with the Israeli Government as it developed the list, and we, along with the Quartet, Quartet Representative, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and other concerned parties, will continue to work with Israel to help ensure implementation of these new policies. We believe that it’ll help improve the quality of life for the people of Gaza, while still addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
So in answer to your question, “Does it go far enough,” it’s a great step forward. We think it’s very positive, constructive. But we’re going to continue to work with Israel as we move forward, and, obviously, with an emphasis on implementation.
Can you speak to why the
NASA administrator was doing outreach to the Muslim community? There was an article over the weekend.MR. TONER:
It’s an excellent question. I do not have an answer for you on that. I can try to – or I encourage you to talk to our NASA colleagues. I mean, obviously, the new space policy has a more international approach, and we unveiled that, I believe, from the White House last week or a week ago – yeah, a week ago Monday, today. Today’s Tuesday.QUESTION:
Isn’t that the role of the State Department and not the space agency, obviously?MR. TONER:
Well, I mean, I think it’s an interagency cooperative effort. And so obviously – but I – as to specific comments today, I think I saw it on TV, I didn’t listen to them closely enough to have any response for you. I can just say that part of the new approach to space – this Administration’s new approach to space is to engage in international partners and that would – obviously, that would include in the Muslim world.
Sorry, go ahead.QUESTION:
Mark, is there any new UN Security Council sanctions on
North Korea?MR. TONER:
Not that I’m aware of. You’re talking about – I think the question is the South Korea Cheonan
I believe that’s still being addressed, but I don’t have any updates on it.QUESTION:
No (inaudible) talk about sanctions against the North Koreans?MR. TONER:
Well, I’d refer you to the U.S. – or UN mission in New York. But as far as I’m aware, they’re still continuing to discuss the issue. Obviously, we support Korea’s efforts to hold North Korea accountable.QUESTION:
I’m sorry, in the back and then back to you.QUESTION:
Thank you. Secretary Clinton was on foreign trip last week and she visited also South Caucasia. Can you provide some information about her meetings in
Azerbaijan, I am most interested? Thank you.MR. TONER:
Well, there’s ample press statements and other information out there, so I hesitated to do a travel log of her trip that concluded. Obviously, it was very successful. She did do a broad tour, beginning, I believe, in Kyiv, traveling to Krakow where she participated in the Alliance for Democracies, and then went to Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then to Georgia before she returned home yesterday.
In Ukraine, she took part in the second meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission, met with Ukrainian civil society groups, held a town meeting with students at Kyiv Polytechnic University, gave a speech in Krakow on civil society supporting democracy in the 21st
century at the Community of Democracies – I said Alliance of Democracies, I was strong. I was actually there are the inception in Gdansk many years ago.QUESTION:
It was in Warsaw.MR. TONER:
It was in Gdansk is the --QUESTION:
I thought you said you weren’t going to do a travel –MR. TONER:
I thought you said you weren’t going to do a travel log.MR. TONER:
(Laughter.) Well, he asked the question.QUESTION:
It was in Krakow.MR. TONER:
In Ukraine – the meeting was Krakow. Anyway, the first meeting was in Gdansk. I was there. Ukraine, Poland, and the Caucasus – Secretary Clinton had good discussions on regional bilateral issues. And obviously, there’s statements posted on all of these meetings. And that’s precisely why I didn’t do a travel log at the top.
So I hope that answers your question.QUESTION:
Can I just –MR. TONER:
Do you have specific follow-ups?QUESTION:
I wonder if she discussed the Armenian-Turkish relations in Azerbaijan, because Baku authorities have some reservations regarding the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement. I’m not sure if you have that. MR. TONER:
Well, I think we’ve always – I mean, certainly our policy hasn’t shifted. We support rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. We also obviously support a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. The two obviously aren’t mutually exclusive, but are mutually supportive.QUESTION:
Wait, I’m sorry, let me just clarify something.MR. TONER:
When she was in Krakow, what – she was there for the 10th
anniversary of the signing of the “what” declaration?MR. TONER:
She signed the protocol amending the ballistic missile defense agreement --QUESTION:
No, no, no, for the Community of Democracies.MR. TONER:
Yeah, Community of Democracy.QUESTION:
What was it? Yeah. What’s the name of the declaration?MR. TONER:
I’ll have to get it for you.QUESTION:
It’s called the Warsaw Declaration, not the Gdansk Declaration.MR. TONER:
(Laughter.) We’ll discuss this offline. QUESTION:
Also, Mark, just technically speaking, she arrived home this morning just after midnight.MR. TONER:
Very good. Thanks, Charlie. Thanks for keeping me honest, guys. Appreciate it.
Chinese foreign ministry yesterday expressed concerns about the joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises in the Yellow Sea scheduled for later this month.MR. TONER:
Any comment on that?MR. TONER:
Well, I would obviously refer you to the Department of Defense, but I believe nothing’s been scheduled at this time.QUESTION:
But the Chinese foreign ministry said about that. You are the –MR. TONER:
Well, I can’t corroborate or vouch for his remarks. All I know is that nothing’s been scheduled at this date.QUESTION:
Sri Lanka. MR. TONER:
There’s relatively large protests outside the UN office, including, I believe, a cabinet minister protesting against the convening of a war – or the call for a war crimes investigation. Is the U.S. concerned about these protests or concerned about the way the UN is being treated in Colombo?MR. TONER:
Well, look, we support people’s right to free expression. We also support a robust accountability process that will provide a durable foundation for national reconciliation and the rule of law in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict.
So, obviously, in that end – to that end, we welcome UN Secretary Ban’s announcement of a panel of experts to provide advice on relevant best practices for investigations into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. So that’s --QUESTION:
Can I go back to the Middle East just for one second?MR. TONER:
The Israelis today announced that a couple – a small number of soldiers will face some kind of punishment, or the possibility of some kind of punishment, for the things done during the Gaza operation. Do you have any comment on that? Is that enough?MR. TONER:
Well, they’ve said they’re investigating and reviewing all the allegations rising out of the fighting in Gaza last winter. We support, obviously, the need for accountability for any violations that may have occurred in relation to the Gaza conflict. Obviously, this is a domestic process, and we believe that Israel’s democratic institutions and processes should be given the opportunity to play themselves out.QUESTION:
And in terms of – are there any new developments on the idea of an international investigatory panel for the flotilla incident?MR. TONER:
Not that I’m aware of. I mean, not beyond what we’ve addressed last week.QUESTION:
Back to Nagorno-Karabakh. There seems to be an impression in Azerbaijan that the U.S. hasn’t really done as much as it could in that area. Now that the Secretary has been to that region – it came up as an issue – will the State Department now be taking any new actions, putting it on the front burner? Do you accept that characterization?MR. TONER:
I don’t accept it. I think we’ve continued to meet through the Minsk process and – or the Minsk Group, rather, continually to work on these issues. Obviously, they’re difficult issues and that requires a great deal of time. But our Ambassador Robert Bradtke is hard at work on these issues and that’s just reinforced by the Secretary’s visit to the region.QUESTION:
I just want to follow up. Radio Liberty and Voice of America were banned in Azerbaijan. Voice of America -- MR. TONER:
Radio Liberty and?QUESTION:
VOA, Voice of America.MR. TONER:
Yeah. I just wondered if this was on agenda of this last trip.MR. TONER:
I can’t say for sure. We always raise freedom of press issues where appropriate.
Way in the back.QUESTION:
Some Israeli supporters here in the United States, including members of Congress, feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu was slighted on his last visit. What signal did the White House hope to send with today’s visit?MR. TONER:
I would just refer you to the rather copious remarks that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama just gave over at the White House in which they – I think Netanyahu – Prime Minister Netanyahu paraphrased Mark Twain to say that the relationship has never been on better, stronger footing. So --
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)