MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Just very briefly at the top, as you know, the Secretary is in New York today at the UN General Assembly, where she is participating in a full day of events and bilateral meetings. Much of today’s focus is on – is highlighting our ongoing commitment to reconstruction efforts in post-earthquake Haiti. She’ll participate in two memorandum of understanding signings today, one to support economic development in Haiti and another to support the reconstruction of the Hopital Universitaire d’Etat d’Haiti. She’ll also attend a special session of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission to review status of recovery efforts.
She participated this morning in a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers. I believe P.J. has already tweeted on it. She’ll also have a series of bilateral meetings with the foreign ministers of Australia, China, Mexico, as well as Israeli defense minister and the EU high representative. I’ll defer, again, to P.J. in New York; he’ll provide readouts of all those meetings, I’m sure. I believe he plans to brief later this afternoon.
Just a word about the car bombings yesterday in Iraq. We’d like to express our strong condemnation in response to the car bombings that took place yesterday in Iraq. Our sympathy goes out to the victims of these cruel and inhuman acts. Attacks by terrorists in recent days have killed scores of defenseless citizens. We support actions by the Iraqi Government to assure security for the Iraqi people, and it’s essential that the current government, which is in transition status until the new government is formed, continues to provide security and other essential services for the Iraqi people.
And then finally, a Media Note, I believe, was released earlier this morning, but just to reiterate, Assistant Secretary for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro will host the U.S.-Australia political-military talks at the Department of State September 20 to 21st. These talks will focus on a wide range of political-military issues, including shared strategic challenges as well as continuing efforts to enhance partnerships and security cooperation, peacekeeping, nonproliferation, and disarmament.
That’s all I have. I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: A couple questions for you, Mark.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The first question is – it has to do with the Afghan parliamentary election. Some number of the candidates are – represent a party that’s connected to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, as you know, the United States considers to be a terrorist. I’m wondering if the – does the Administration have a concern about these folks, if they win seats, having power that could undermine the effectiveness of the central government?
MR. TONER: Well, first of all, just on the elections writ large, we congratulate the people of Afghanistan for carrying out what were fully Afghan-led parliamentary elections under extremely difficult circumstances. We believe the Afghan people can be proud that millions of their citizens, courageous men and women, went to the polls, exercised their democratic right to vote, despite repeated threats and intimidation by the Taliban.
And we also want to recognize the excellent performance of the Afghan national security services in protecting yesterday’s elections. This election saw significantly fewer security incidents than last year’s presidential elections, and that’s important.
As to your specific question, we had elections yesterday – or over the weekend, and we’re going to wait and see how the results play out. I think we’re looking at, for preliminary results, in early October. About that party, I’ll have to take the question as to any specific concerns we might have about them.
QUESTION: So what message you think this election sends to the Taliban and those who are halting or trying to disrupt the democracy in Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: Well, I think it sent a very clear signal that the Afghan people are not backing down. It wasn’t under perfect security conditions, but the security forces did perform admirably and people got out and voted. I believe somewhere between 3.5 and 4 million citizens went out and voted. That’s a significant turnout, and we believe really speaks to their thirst for democracy and democratic change.
QUESTION: And finally, you think Karzai government is now in control or they can – Karzai government is now, you think, in control and they can run the country? Like, Karzai government was saying that – let us rule our own country and our own future.
MR. TONER: Well, obviously, the long-term goal in everyone’s interest is to have Afghan governance throughout Afghanistan, to extend that governance, to provide stability and security for the Afghan people. It means our troops can go home. It means the Afghan people can enjoy the real fruits of democracy. Yesterday was another step in that direction. I don’t want to overplay it, but – or overstate it, rather, but the fact that violence, although terrible and tragic for the victims, was less than last year’s presidential elections, is significant. And again, the security forces did a good job.
QUESTION: One more. I’m sorry, one more, if I may. As far as telling in advance that U.S. and NATO will withdraw from Afghanistan by next year, July 2011, one, what kind of message you think you are sending to the terrorists? And second, many regional governments, including India, it may have come – this issue – here at the State Department – India is asking that it’s not time for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan next year because it will send a wrong signal and those terrorists will come back, and you are telling them that just wait, we are leaving. So you --
MR. TONER: Well, Goyal, I think we’ve said repeatedly both here and in Afghanistan that no one is talking about the U.S. leaving next summer, and any kind of assessment would be based on conditions on the ground. I believe General Petraeus has said that repeatedly. But – and in terms of a broader commitment, the U.S. is obviously engaged in Afghanistan for many years to come, as is the international community.
I’m sorry, did – you had one other question?
QUESTION: I had a question on a different subject, but --
MR. TONER: Afghanistan?
QUESTION: The Venezuelan ambassador in Washington apparently said this morning that he has sent a letter to the State Department saying that they won’t accept Larry Palmer as the U.S. ambassador in Caracas. Do you know about that and do you know whether they have withdrawn their agrément? And will you retaliate in some way if that happens?
MR. TONER: Sure. Well, as you know, Larry Palmer remains our nominee. He’s uniquely qualified, we believe, to serve as ambassador to Venezuela. And we’re just in constant communication with the Venezuelan Government and have been throughout the course of this matter.
We have received a communication from the Venezuelan Government, but I don’t want to enter into the substance of that. Just to confirm that we have received a communication.
QUESTION: Why wouldn’t you say what --
MR. TONER: We don’t talk about our diplomatic communications between governments, generally speaking. But I will just reiterate that Palmer – Larry Palmer does remain our nominee for ambassador.
QUESTION: And whether they’ve withdrawn their agrément, is that the case?
MR. TONER: I’ll leave that for them to (inaudible).
QUESTION: Still on Venezuela?
MR. TONER: Sure, Joel. Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: Have you received any message from the Venezuelan Government, criticism that Raul Diaz was granted a visa to come to the United States? The Venezuelans claim that he was responsible for bombings in 2003 of diplomatic missions.
MR. TONER: We did receive the diplomatic note; however, regarding his presence or his legal status in the United States, I have to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: They seem to be referring it to your broad shoulders.
MR. TONER: They, being the Venezuelan Government?
QUESTION: No, the – Homeland Security seems to be referring questions to you about this issue.
MR. TONER: About the – again, I acknowledge that we did receive a diplomatic note, but just in terms of his status, I think that’s really a case for – I mean, he’s here, I believe, in the United States, so that’s really a case for them to – but we can hash it out afterwards. I believe it is a DHS matter, though.
QUESTION: On a different issue?
MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Japan and China. There’s – there have been some developments between the two countries, specifically China cutting bilateral exchanges with Japan. How does the U.S. feel overall about this, and specifically the Japanese decision to keep in detention the Chinese captain? Does the U.S. have any position on the – whether that was a correct decision?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is ultimately an issue between these two governments, these two countries, and one that we expect will be resolved through appropriate diplomatic means. I think the Secretary spoke about the importance of stability and peace in the region and again reiterated our strong desire to see this worked out between the two countries. But I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can we go to the peace talks?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Mark, there was a report in the Los Angeles Times saying that the Secretary of State is quite frustrated with last week’s results of the talks, that they really achieved no progress whatsoever and there’s more intransigence and there seemed to be no flexibility. Could you share with us how the Secretary feels about her effort this week?
MR. TONER: Well, I think the Secretary remains upbeat in the sense that we’ve got both sides in direct negotiations, which was a longstanding goal. Are there going to be frustrating moments? Most likely. These are tough issues, and they’re issues that need to be discussed. But we remain optimistic because we believe that both parties talking will lead to progress, eventually. So I don’t want to get into any of the details, but –
QUESTION: Well, some of the details are out. It seems that the Secretary of State offered or made some offers last week: one, to stop the – I mean, to continue with the settlement freeze; second, to extend it for three months; and third, if it goes on, that the negotiations go on, and once the borders of the Palestinian state are determined, then the Israelis would roll back whatever settlements they did or quit building settlements altogether. But it seems that the Israelis are not too enthusiastic about any of these offers. Could you share with us some of the --
MR. TONER: It really isn’t for me from this podium to get into the substance of the negotiations. I believe Senator Mitchell has been quite clear that we’re not going to do that. We know what all the issues are; you’ve mentioned just a few of them in your question. We are – we had good talks last week. Those talks will continue. I believe Senator Mitchell is in New York this week. And we’re not going to prejudge anything. All the issues are on the table; we’re just going to let them run their course.
QUESTION: And do you feel that the lack of – or, in fact, the absence of Prime Minister Netanyahu from the General Assembly this week, is that --
MR. TONER: Now, we’ve said all along that these talks are going to take place in a number of different levels, and that’s fine.
QUESTION: Okay. But – I’m sorry, but –
MR. TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: Since Abbas is there and he will be meeting with the Secretary of State, meeting with Senator Mitchell, and meeting with President Obama, presumably, on Thursday, how is that – who is going to represent the Israelis?
MR. TONER: Well, the Israeli defense minister is there and he’ll be meeting with the Secretary later today, and I’m sure he can express the views of his government.
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: India’s foreign secretary was here last week and she had a series of meetings over here. Do you have any readout on it? What will the meeting be about?
MR. TONER: I don’t, Lalit. I mean, I know that the Secretary did meet with them briefly, I believe on Friday, late Friday. She had a very full day at the end of a very long trip. But she did meet with them, and obviously they discussed the wide range of issues that are integral to our strategic partnership, but I don’t have a specific readout. I can try to get something for you tomorrow.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: China is going to help Pakistan build another nuclear facility. And I know that there are U.S. objections to – already underway that China is helping Pakistan build. Do you have any comment or concerns about this latest announcement?
MR. TONER: Let me see if I have something here. But just generally speaking, we would ask China, as a member of the Nuclear Supplier Group, to live up to its commitments.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: But I’ll see if I can get more on that for you.
Yeah, go ahead. Sean, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. Just a brief thing. There was apparently some travel advice released on India after the shooting at the mosque, the Jama Masjid. Is that – was it something – are there specific concerns for Americans’ safety there?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of it. You said a travel advice, travel warning, travel alert?
QUESTION: I think it was a travel warning. Maybe it was a warden –
MR. TONER: When was it?
QUESTION: Warden message –
MR. TONER: Might have been a warden message.
MR. TONER: Well, a warden message would be specifically, I think, about a general threat, not necessarily to American citizens, but just to keep American citizens in-country apprised of a possible security incident. So I’m not sure. I’d have to run it to ground on the – what exactly it was that was issued. But it wouldn’t necessarily be a threat to Americans, but just a general matter of concern or issue of concern for – security-wise.
Goyal, just – Charley, and then Lalit.
MR. TONER: Has the U.S. –
MR. TONER: -- reached out? Not that I’m aware of. We’re very, very pleased and happy to have Sarah Shourd home. We also call on the Iranian Government to release the other two hikers who remain in Iran. I think as P.J. expressed last week, they’ve shown they have the capacity to resolve this issue internally, and we hope that they would extend that to the other two hikers who are still there. But I’m not aware of it. We’ve obviously expressed our deep gratitude both to the Swiss protecting power as well as to the people of Oman – the Government of Oman, rather.
QUESTION: Just following that, are you aware of what specific role Mr. Ahmadinejad may have played in the release?
MR. TONER: Frankly, I’m not, no.
QUESTION: And from where you stand, does the release provide some kind of opening, possibly, during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York this week?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, to that regard, I mean, there’s always an opening. That door always remains ajar for us to – part of the essence of the two-track approach that we have towards Iran is to keep that door open to engagement, to discussion. So I mean, absolutely, that’s true.
QUESTION: Did the release nudge that door a little further open?
MR. TONER: We’re just pleased to have her home, but we still are cognizant of the fact that two hikers remain in Iran.
QUESTION: Also related?
MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead. And then –
QUESTION: Ahmadinejad said that a list of Iranians detained here in the U.S. was given to the Omani representative who picked up Sarah Shourd from Tehran. Have you received that list? And they want these people back: Is that something that –
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any list that we’ve received or not received. I’m aware of the comments he made, I believe, in a couple of interviews he gave yesterday in New York. And we would just say that there’s no equivalence between these individuals who have been either charged or tried and given – afforded due process in a court, and these hikers who were –
crossed an unmarked border and have yet to be charged. So I would just call people’s attention to that.
QUESTION: I have another question. In one of the two interviews that he’s done so far, he said that the U.S. should accept Iran as a major player in the world. Is that an idea the U.S. Government is willing – ready to entertain?
MR. TONER: We would like to, as I just said, in response to Charley’s question, we would like to have more engagement with Iran to talk to them about their nuclear program. And from there, seek greater engagement. We’ve always said that door remains open. So we recognize the people of Iran as important to the region. We recognize that they can play an important constructive role, but really that’s a decision for Iran and the Iranian Government to make. They need to live up to their international commitments. It’s really – I hate to use the expression the ball’s in their court, but in fact, it is.
QUESTION: Mark, do you have a figure on the number of Iranians in U.S. custody and the nature of their offenses?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I can try to get that for you, but I don’t have one.
Lalit, go ahead.
MR. TONER: I believe we spoke to that on Friday, Lalit. But in general, I would just say that it’s another discouraging sign from the Government of Burma that – and another discouraging sign that elections will be anything but democratic there.
QUESTION: And when Secretary meets her counterparts in the Asian countries at the UN in New York this week or next week –
MR. TONER: Meet her counterparts with –
QUESTION: From Asian countries. Would Burma be an issue of discussion with them and how it is –
MR. TONER: I can’t predict what’s going to be on every agenda of every conversation she has with Asian leaders, but I can imagine that it’s a matter of concern for us. So I can imagine it could come up.
QUESTION: Mark, before I go my question on India, can I just go back on the China and Japan tension, please?
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: This issue going to discuss during the Secretary’s meeting with Japanese and Chinese officials?
MR. TONER: Sure. As I said – I mean, as I said just a few minutes ago, I can’t predict what’s on her agenda in every meeting – what she’ll discuss and what she won’t discuss. I mean, obviously it’s an issue that we’re watching closely, but as I said, it’s an issue we also believe should be handled between the two countries through appropriate diplomatic means.
QUESTION: The question on India is that just a few weeks ago there was a tension on number of issues like a bill in the Indian parliament and also the increase in the visa and H1-B and L1 visa fees and all those tensions were going on, and still they are on between U.S. and India relations. But now, on Thursday, another hit comes on India, and this is going to air what they call Outsourcing  and targeting only India, not just in general, a new show on NBC, if you are aware of that, because that will – that is causing even more problem between India and U.S. and that Administration.
MR. TONER: You said between the U.S. and –
QUESTION: And India.
MR. TONER: -- the Indian Government?
QUESTION: Yeah, because it’s – this issue is now, again, rising in India and also among Indian Americans here that why this Outsourcing  targeting only India, not in general outsourcing.
MR. TONER: Sure. Goyal, I’m only vaguely aware of the show. I would just say that we have a deep, abiding relationship with India that functions constructively on so many levels, and also a deep, abiding respect for Indian culture and for the Indian people, the world’s largest democracy, an economic powerhouse in South Asia. So I would not read too much into some TV show that – I don’t know who’s airing in the fall lineup. I have no idea. (Laughter.) I need to watch more TV at night, I guess. But anyway, I wouldn’t – I would just encourage the Indian people and the Indian Government not to put too much emphasis on that in the larger scheme.
In the back.
MR. TONER: It was today? Again, this is in Pyongyang?
MR. TONER: I believe our Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell said, “Your guess is as good as mine.” We don’t know what’s – we don’t have any readout from it. You talked about the meeting in Pyongyang, right?
MR. TONER: No, we don’t have any – in the back.
QUESTION: Do you have a schedule for Robert Einhorn’s travel to China?
MR. TONER: Not yet. Nothing to announce yet.
And, Lalit? Or – I’m sorry, Charley. I apologize.
QUESTION: Anything on the United States granting political asylum to a Mexican journalist, Jorge Luis?
MR. TONER: No, but I’ll look into it. I’ve not heard anything about that.
QUESTION: Exiled in 2008.
MR. TONER: Jorge Luis?
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it.
MR. TONER: That’s it?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:47 p.m.)
DPB # 154