1:22 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a beautiful day, so the sooner we get through this, the sooner we can get out and enjoy it. Absolutely. You’ll get no argument from me, Charlie.
I just wanted to briefly lead off – I know we just released a statement by the Secretary on the retirement of National Security Advisor General Jones. In part, the Secretary has stated that, “General Jim Jones has spent a lifetime serving our country with honor and distinction in war and in peace, from foreign battlefields to the highest levels of our government. He’s exemplified the best traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States. I’ve been honored to serve with him and to call him my friend.”
And then on the new National Security Advisor appointed just now by President Obama, Tom Donilon, the Secretary said that she has known Tom Donilon for many years and, “He brings deep experience and valuable skills to this job. He has proven ability to translate big-picture vision into concrete action, and as Deputy National Security Advisor he has been a trusted member of our team and has contributed to every major policy decision. I appreciate his support for the State Department in our diplomacy and development efforts around the world and look forward to working closely with him to implement the President’s agenda.
We are very saddened to inform you that a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Zinder, Niger has died. The exact cause of her death is still unknown, but it appears to be from natural causes. Stephanie Chance was a native of Phoenix, Arizona and was serving as a municipal development volunteer. Consular and Peace Corps officials are on hand in Zinder to help repatriate Stephanie back to the United States. And our deepest condolences go out to her family and friends. We here in the State Department recognize the tremendous sacrifice that volunteers make every day in helping people around -- throughout the world and across the world to live better lives.
Just a brief statement on the killing of the Kunduz governor. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack on a mosque in Takhar province today that killed Kunduz Governor Mohammad Omar and at least a dozen others. By attacking a place of worship, whoever was responsible has demonstrated a clear lack of disregard – a clear disregard for the Afghan people and for the religion they practice. Our sympathies and our prayers are with those who lost loved ones today. Together with our international partners, we will continue to work with the people of Kunduz and Takhar to build a more secure and prosperous future.
And just a quick travel announcement: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, will travel to Berlin, Paris, Brussels, and Rome on October 9th through 19th. He’ll continue on his trip – he’ll continue his regular and ongoing consultations with partners and allies as well as attend the NATO ministerial, Friends of Democratic Pakistan, and International Contact Group meetings.
QUESTION: Berlin, Paris, Brussels and – he’s really roughing it there, isn’t he? (Laughter.)
Can I ask you about the Jones announcements? Are you meaning to imply by all this praise that there was never any disagreement between the State Department and the NSC under Jones?
MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary’s words stand for themselves.
QUESTION: Right, okay. Well, then maybe the question is: Was there any – was there any ever -- ever any friction between the NSC while General Jones was over there?
MR. TONER: Look, we have a rich interagency dialogue. We talk about all issues frankly and candidly. But we obviously work quite closely on the President’s agenda.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t want – so you don’t want to say that there was any friction? Because if there wasn’t any, I think it would be unprecedented in the history of the U.S. Government.
MR. TONER: It depends on how you define friction. I mean, obviously, we discuss policy with the NSC and in the end of the day, we all move forward to implement the President’s agenda.
QUESTION: All right. Well, I’ll let you off the hook then. Can I ask you about the Nobel Peace Prize? The President has come out with a pretty strong statement about it, telling – saying the Chinese should release this guy as soon as possible. I’m wondering if we can expect to hear the same from the Secretary or from this building, and if there are any concerns that a reaction like this from the U.S. will have any effect on U.S.-Chinese relations, particularly as it relates to cooperation on the currency, economic matters, North Korea.
MR. TONER: Well, I do think we’ll have something from the State Department and possibly from the Secretary in a short time from now. The President’s words stand for themselves. He obviously spoke of Mr. Liu as someone who sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs. He – who has been a spokesman for the advance of universal values through peace and nonviolent means, and he did call for his release as soon as possible.
As to the broader implications on the Chinese-U.S. relations, we’ve got a broad, mature relationship. And as we’ve said many times, it spans many issues – economic issues, trade and currency issues, as well as human rights issues. And we’re able to talk candidly about human rights with China and disagree on human rights with China but still pursue other constructive channels.
QUESTION: Do you disagree with the Chinese foreign ministry’s assessment that the awarding of the Peace Prize for Mr. Liu was an obscenity to the prize itself?
MR. TONER: Well, I think by saying we welcome the Nobel Committee’s decision, that pretty much answers that question.
QUESTION: One small question on Ms. Chance. When did she die?
MR. TONER: That’s a good question, Arshad. October 7th. And she was 26 years old.
QUESTION: And then the Arab League has begun meeting. Have you seen the comments by Amr Moussa?
MR. TONER: Right. Comments are going to keep coming out over the next couple of days. We’ll obviously need to review the official statement that comes at the conclusion of the weekend before we can really comment on what was said. But as I said yesterday, our fundamental goal remains the same and we look to this meeting to support ongoing direct negotiations.
Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: An Arab diplomat said to the French news agency that the Arab League committee is going to provide, like,one month to the Administration here to give a chance to continue its efforts.
MR. TONER: Again, I’ve seen similar press reports, but I think we’re going to wait until the meeting runs its course and they come with a definitive statement at the end.
Lach, and then in the back.
QUESTION: On North Korea, the ISIS has come out with a report saying the North Koreans are forging ahead in the enrichment of uranium. They believe that it’s moved beyond the laboratory-scale work to the capacity to build at least a pilot-scale gas centrifuge plant.
MR. TONER: We’re absolutely aware of that report. I can’t speak to it in great detail. I don’t want to get into intelligence matters. But it really doesn't change our basic position, which is that we call on North Korea to denuclearize and live up to its international commitments.
QUESTION: Does the fact that it looks like Kim Jong-un has now been coronated or has been identified by the North – by North Korean officialdom as the chosen successor to his father – does that change anything?
MR. TONER: I would say we view that as an internal political matter and it really doesn't change, again, our position, which is North Korea needs to move forward on denuclearization and live up to its international commitments.
QUESTION: A follow-up. The fact that --
MR. TONER: Sure, Lach.
QUESTION: -- a North Korean official, such a high-level official, should speak to foreign media and apparently is going to speak to the BBC after the AP, does that indicate a new openness? Do you see a new openness to discuss what’s going on in the regime?
MR. TONER: I mean, we’ve seen some signals. We’ve seen some signals with – in relations with South Korea. I don’t want to read too much into any one action. North Korea knows what it needs to do to play a more constructive role in the region, and we hope that it takes those steps.
Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Regarding – to go back to the Nobel Peace Prize, is this the first time that the Obama Administration called for the release of Mr. Liu? In other words, back in May, during the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, did U.S. raise this issue, and if so, what was the response from the Chinese Government?
MR. TONER: I don’t know what the response of the Chinese was. Obviously, he remains in prison. But I don’t believe this is the first time we’ve called for his release. I think we’ve been quite adamant about that all along.
QUESTION: Is there any particular significance to the phrase, “as soon as possible”? It implies almost as if it might not be possible for a while and that’s okay.
MR. TONER: I’m not going to parse the President’s words; I’ll let them stand.
QUESTION: And one other small one. Are you aware of the letter that Congresswoman Maxine Waters and more than 40 other members of Congress have sent regarding Haiti? And I’m interested particularly in comment on their request that the U.S. Government should state unequivocally that it will not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum basic democratic requirements and those --
MR. TONER: I got your -- I saw what you forwarded to me. And obviously, we want free, fair, democratic, transparent elections to take place in Haiti as well. And we’ll look into these allegations and the letter and comment later. We just -- I’m sure we’ll review it and respond appropriately.
QUESTION: Well, this isn’t the first time that concerns like this have been raised. And when I asked about them a couple of weeks ago – 10 days, two weeks ago – there wasn’t really a solid answer; it was pretty much the same thing. But the specific problem that these Congress people are citing and that the human rights groups and other groups had before them is the disqualification of certain political parties from running. Do you have –
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: You have no comment on –
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the allegations and the letter. I just – I can state that we want to see free, fair, and transparent elections.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean that –
MR. TONER: So we’ll look into these and I promise we’ll respond.
QUESTION: You promise. Okay.
MR. TONER: I pledge.
QUESTION: I’ll hold you to it.
MR. TONER: Thank you, Matt. I’m sure you will. Anything else?
QUESTION: Viktor Bout.
MR. TONER: Viktor Bout.
QUESTION: So he’s launched --
MR. TONER: Wouldn’t be a Friday without a Viktor Bout question, would it?
QUESTION: He launched – he’s filed another appeal.
MR. TONER: Has he?
MR. TONER: Okay. Well, I don’t think our response or our position has changed one iota. We – look, we look forward to Thailand’s extradition of Mr. Bout. This case is governed by international treaty obligations and it’s not a matter for political negotiation, and I believe he’s exhausted all – I would believe he’s exhausted all his appeals. But again, there’s a legal process, it needs to run its course, and then we hope to see him in a court – a U.S. court very soon.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thank you, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)