1:43 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Hey, guys. Apologize for the lateness. Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department.
Just a very quick update on the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue meetings. The U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue meetings continue today with several working group meetings. This morning, the energy, health, and law enforcement working groups met, and this afternoon, the economic and women’s empowerment working groups will meet.
As well, yesterday, Foreign Minister Qureshi, Ambassador Holbrooke, and Administrator Shah participated in a conversation on the U.S. and Pakistan, Partners in Development, which was co-hosted by the Asia Society and the Brookings Institution, as well as moderated by Steve Coll. And I believe we’ll have a transcript on that; is that correct? We’ll –
MR. TONER: I understand we don’t have it yet, but we’ll get one. That’s why I said, “We’ll have a transcript on that,” and asked it in an inquisitive way.
Turning to Uganda, we are concerned about groups in Uganda advocating violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals. We condemn any individual or group advocating violence against others because of their gender, religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This is contrary to fundamental human decency. This issue ties directly into what the Secretary said this week in her video statement on bullying against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Improved respect for human rights which are indivisible is paramount to Uganda’s long-term stability and development, and we must all work harder to overcome bigotry and hatred.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Just on the Uganda thing --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- this refers to this newspaper?
MR. TONER: It does indeed.
QUESTION: Do you know – I mean, is this a group? I mean, this thing was a – it looked like it was not a very serious source.
MR. TONER: It appears to be – again, I think we’re – we, like you, don’t have a --
QUESTION: And this is never – this newspaper – this was its first issue ever?
MR. TONER: It’s a new tabloid, correct.
QUESTION: And it’s only like, four pages? I mean, do you really take this seriously?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of how long it is.
QUESTION: Or – well – I mean --
MR. TONER: Well, yes, we do take it seriously because --
QUESTION: When you say “concerned about groups in Uganda,” are there others?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, there’s been other issues in Uganda. I mean, I’d refer you back to the --
QUESTION: I realize it’s been an issue, but --
MR. TONER: -- draft anti-homosexuality bill.
QUESTION: That was in their parliament.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. But this statement right here --
MR. TONER: We’re concerned about --
QUESTION: This statement right here refers directly to this newspaper?
MR. TONER: Refers principally to the Rolling Stone, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the --
MR. TONER: The Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Ugandan tab – right, as opposed to the magazine --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- which I don’t think would publish something like that.
MR. TONER: Absolutely. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Anyway, on Pakistan talks, are they – the meetings today? Are they really as news-less as you suggested? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Matt, I go out here and I don’t want to bore you with a lot of information at the top, but I can get into greater detail. If you want to know more about the energy working group, they discussed opportunities to support development of policy and plans to put Pakistan’s energy sector on firm financial footing.
QUESTION: In other words, the answer to my question was yes, there was – they are as news-less as you – (laughter) –
MR. TONER: These are all substantive meetings working to address core issues for Pakistan’s long-term economic and political development.
QUESTION: Is it correct that the law enforcement working group also includes counterterrorism?
MR. TONER: That is correct. It addressed law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about what that group talked about and what they achieved or --
MR. TONER: I cannot. We’re going to – the meeting just took place, so I will try to get a readout for you, but of course, there will be a broader, deeper readout tomorrow.
QUESTION: May I just follow up on --
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
QUESTION: Can I just follow on that?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: As far as – like Matt said, these are reports which we don’t get anything – but Mr. – Ambassador Holbrooke has been briefing the – only Pakistani press. He just concluded a meeting. What has – he has been telling the Pakistani press only that we don’t know anything about this meeting going on between the U.S. and Pakistan.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I’ve lost the thread there.
QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke just concluded the --
MR. TONER: I know he did do interviews with Pakistani media today. But I’m not aware of --
QUESTION: I know. Briefing or something – he briefed them.
MR. TONER: He did – I believe it was an interview with Pakistani members of – Pakistani broadcast journalists.
QUESTION: So what I’m asking is, is there anything else that we should be told what is going on other than what you just said?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, we’re going to do some – there is some media at the end of the talks tomorrow scheduled for tomorrow.
QUESTION: Can you get a list of those 13 working groups and a readout of what happened in all those groups, maybe tomorrow?
MR. TONER: We can certainly ask for that, Lalit, sure.
QUESTION: Maybe tomorrow?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I was actually going to ask the same thing, but about energy. And is there anything you could say right now about the energy group meeting, especially with reference to the energy projects that the Secretary announced in July?
MR. TONER: I’ll have to get a broader readout. I mean, I know that they talked on – more broadly about opportunities to support the development of policy and plans on Pakistan’s energy sector, but I don’t have a lot of detail. Again, the meeting just took place, so I’d have to get a status.
QUESTION: But it seems they’re talking about terrorism and also, I’m sure, between – regional security between India and Pakistan and all that. Indian army chief, which is Mr. V.K. Singh, he said that like General Musharraf had admitted that 22 terrorist groups are operating in occupied Pakistan and Kashmir, but now army – Indian army chief is saying that there are 42 terrorist camps now operating in occupied Pakistan and Kashmir. Is this going to be discussion – part of the discussion that’s – what’s – or U.S. going to ask more to do Pakistan about tackling down all these terrorist groups?
MR. TONER: In Pakistan or in Kashmir or --
QUESTION: Inside Pakistan (inaudible) Kashmir area.
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, in terms of inside Pakistan, this will be – obviously, they’ll talk about counterterrorism efforts, but I can’t say specifically whether they’ll address these groups.
Go ahead, Courtney.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary attend – has she been attending all the working groups, or any?
MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I don’t believe so. Not today, at least.
QUESTION: Can I change --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. No, I think we have Lalit in the back.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. The defense minister of Afghanistan today said that the security forces in Afghanistan are ready to take over charges from the international forces. So do you agree with his assessment of the progress made by the Afghan Security Forces?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s certainly encouraging words. I think I would defer to my colleagues in the Pentagon and in the Department of Defense and on the ground in Afghanistan for their assessment. But obviously, that’s part of our long-term strategy is to – yes, and --
QUESTION: And secondly --
MR. TONER: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: And secondly, President Karzai today said that the foreign countries are in Afghanistan for their own national interests, security interests, but not – they don’t care for the people of Afghanistan. Do you --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. He said foreign companies?
QUESTION: Foreign countries.
MR. TONER: Countries are there --
QUESTION: Are in Afghanistan because of their own national interest, not – and they don’t care for the people of Afghanistan. Do you agree with his statement?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of his remarks so I don’t know what context, I don’t know what exactly he said. I would just say that the international countries that are in the coalition that is in Afghanistan right now is working both in their national security interest, as is the United States. We all know that Afghanistan provided safe haven for the 9/11 hijackers. But it’s also in the interest of Afghanistan. We want to see a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan emerge. It’s in everyone’s interests, so it’s hard to say it’s in someone’s unique national interests.
QUESTION: But, Mark, (inaudible) July 2011 when some of the changes will take place in Afghanistan, what do report do you think Ambassador Holbrooke privately is bringing if Afghanistan will be ready or is ready to take care of their security needs and if international community still will be needed? Because today, army general was speaking from Afghanistan as far as security and police is concerned. He said that Afghanistan is not ready and may not be ready without NATO and U.S. support.
MR. TONER: Okay, look, Goyal, I just said I’m not in a position here to assess where the Afghan military or police services are at this point in time. Obviously, it’s in our long-term goal to see them take over security operations for Afghanistan. That is what we’re working towards. We’re doing police training. Obviously, military training continues. There are press reports today that indicate that Afghan and U.S. – or NATO forces in Kandahar are making gains. That’s encouraging. But as to when that switch can take place, I really can’t say from here.
QUESTION: Mark, all this is also going as part of the discussion going on down – I mean upstairs or downstairs in this building.
MR. TONER: The discussion about --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- so we can move on.
MR. TONER: This is focused on – this is Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. Go ahead, Andy.
QUESTION: Just another quick one – sorry – on Afghanistan. (Laughter.) I’m just wondering – the Peace Council today saying it’s willing to make concessions to get some of the insurgents to the negotiating table – Afghan Peace Council.
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: And they’ve mentioned housing, jobs, cash, which seem to have been on the table already. But in any event, I’m wondering if the U.S. is aware of this offer, if you think it’s a good idea for them to make concessions to get the Taliban in. And they’ve also said that they want to see a greater role for Saudi Arabia. This is the Afghan Peace Council.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia in this process. Have you been in touch with the Saudis about what role they are or might be playing here?
MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. I’m not aware that we have been in touch with the Saudis beyond our regular bilateral discussions. We have consistently stated that we support an Afghan-led process and the Afghan Government is allowed to come forth with their ideas and proposals on how to move this process forward. We’re supporting the process more than these initiatives. We support the overall process and the fact that it’s Afghan-led.
QUESTION: Mark, would you have any concerns about the Saudi brand of Wahhabi Islam if Saudi takes a greater role?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to – I mean, from what I’ve seen, it’s really speculative at this point. I don’t know that they’ve been asked to play a role in this process.
QUESTION: Change of region?
MR. TONER: Sure, Christophe.
QUESTION: There have been reports in South Korea about the North preparing a new nuclear test. So do you have any comment on that, anything?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m aware of the reports and I have to say that they obviously touch on intelligence matters, so I can’t really go into any detail or comment on them. But it really hasn’t changed our position vis-à-vis North Korea. We’ve said that all along that they need to adhere to their commitments and they also need to refrain from provocative actions. And another nuclear test would certainly fall under the rubric of provocative actions.
QUESTION: Does this change your policy at all?
MR. TONER: Change our policy? No. I mean, no, absolutely not. It’s – we’ve been clear on what we want to see from North Korea. And again, I just said this would fall under the rubric of refraining from any provocative actions on the peninsula.
QUESTION: Just so I’m clear, you’re not saying that you have any information that supports this evidence – or I guess these reports?
MR. TONER: No. Go ahead, Lauren.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything from the Chinese about this blast in Beijing? It supposedly injured an American citizen that was nearby.
MR. TONER: I have not. We will look into it. It’s the first I’ve heard of it.
Sure, Michele in the back. Way in the back.
QUESTION: A Russian official who co-chairs the U.S.-Russia Counternarcotics Working Group is here in town and he wants the U.S. to do more to do – to do something to eradicate poppy fields in Afghanistan. And I wonder if you’re at all considering his request.
MR. TONER: Well, this is the – you’re referring to the Viktor Ivanov? Well, obviously, we understand that – why this is an important issue for Russia, which is clearly touched by the drug trade from Afghanistan. We share their assessment of the grave threat that’s posed by the regional drug trade, and we’re expanding our cooperation and to discuss it at the most senior levels. And I believe Ambassador Holbrooke was there just a few months ago to talk about cooperation on the drug trade in Afghanistan.
Again, we’re in close consultations. We’re sharing intelligence. I believe the Ivanov piece speaks to that. But we believe that a combination of enhanced interdiction and long-term agricultural development is the right approach. Our counternarcotics strategy is based on events on the ground, lessons learned over seven years of efforts. We believe large-scale eradication has not been effective in reducing funding to the Taliban, and in fact, has become a recruitment tool by driving farmers into the hands of the insurgency. Again, we believe that – we continue to work closely with the Government of Afghanistan and we want a strategy that focuses and supports the people of Afghanistan and targets those who undermine legitimate government and – the legitimate government and economy of Afghanistan. So again, our focus is more on interdiction and long-term agricultural and economic development.
QUESTION: And did he meet with Holbrooke as well? I know he came here to meet with --
MR. TONER: I’ll have to check, Michele. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I have one quick question about – going back to the Pakistan story? Are you expecting an announcement by tomorrow on this multi-year security assistance package?
MR. TONER: We do expect some announcement tomorrow that addresses security and across-the-board cooperation and progress made – and assessing* the progress made at this meeting.
QUESTION: One question.
MR. TONER: Sure thing.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary said that there was not a magic formula to break the impasse between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiations. I want to know, is the U.S. disappointed at this moment about the situation? How is the negotiations will continue or the process has – is a failure in this moment?
MR. TONER: I think it was just a pragmatic assessment of the situation right now. But also, an affirmation that we’re not going to back away any time soon from this process. In fact, we’re wholly committed to direct negotiations, because as the Secretary also made clear in her remarks last night, it’s the only way that any of these issues can be resolved.
QUESTION: Mark –
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Has it gotten to – has reality set in to this building here that it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to be able to meet your now 11-month, less than 11-month deadline for –
MR. TONER: No, but we’re grateful that we have your ticker keeping us apprised of how many months remain. We’re going to stick with our timeline.
QUESTION: Your time – so you’re still confident that –
MR. TONER: We’re committed in 11 months.
QUESTION: Are you confident that you can meet that deadline?
MR. TONER: We are committed to meeting that deadline.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but the Secretary – one of the other things the Secretary said last night was she spoke about progress being made and she said she hoped it would be in her lifetime, and if – but if not, in our childrens’ lifetime. Is that suggesting that perhaps a year is not – the now 11-month deadline is not -- is no longer necessarily a deadline, a firm deadline?
MR. TONER: Not at all. I think she’s talking about not just the progress and success and direct negotiations, but also regional peace and long-term peace, stability, and development in the region. It’s going to be a long process, but we’re fully focused on returning to direct negotiations, addressing these hard issues, and meeting the deadline of one year.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last thing on this – she also said that Mitchell was going to be returning soon.
MR. TONER: I don’t have – I also checked on that. I don’t have a date or a timeline for when he’s going back, but –
QUESTION: Okay. Well, is this soon like, you hope Viktor Bout will be in a U.S. jail soon, or this soon like it could happen tomorrow?
MR. TONER: Are we on Bout time now? Is that the –
QUESTION: No, well, I’m just curious. I mean, are we talking –
MR. TONER: I understand.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) week?
MR. TONER: I understand. He’s currently here in the U.S. and I just know that he’ll return soon. We’ll provide more information when available.
Yeah, go ahead, Sean.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Hormats met with the vice minister of trade for Japan this morning. Do you know what they discussed?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I can try to get a readout for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: And he also met with the Algerian minister of water. Do you have any readout on this?
MR. TONER: I should have been more up to speed on Mr. Hormats’s schedule. I’ll – we’ll try to get you something on that as well.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Yes, we can confirm that Singapore authorities have arrested and detained a U.S. citizen, Kamari Charlton, for an immigration violation. He has not been convicted, and in fact, the case is still in pretrial status. The U.S. Embassy is closely monitoring his case and Embassy officials have provided consular assistance to the individual, including regular visits. And it’s our hope that a resolution can be reached in the case.
QUESTION: Caning, in general?
MR. TONER: Caning, in general –
QUESTION: Good thing, bad thing?
MR. TONER: Well, we feel it’s not an appropriate form of punishment. This is something we’ve made clear in our human rights report and also something we’ve conveyed to the Government of Singapore in our bilateral discussions.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Blake met with deputy – former deputy prime minister of Nepal and also the Communist Party of Nepal chief, here in the State Department. What he was saying in a briefing at the – held at the SAIS, that Nepal is in turmoil and the Maoist government is no longer in power and that Nepal has no government and they are having a hard time to write a constitution even. What kind of help – or he’s asked the U.S. now to help Nepal?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, what kind of –
QUESTION: Any kind of help me might have asked the U.S.?
MR. TONER: I’ll have to get a better readout. I don’t have a clear readout of what he asked specifically for – whether he’s asked for any U.S. assistance.
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, if U.S. is helping in any way Nepal as far as writing the constitution or to help them to form the new government in any way, or tackle down the Maoist – or the hurdle now as far as a new government is concerned.
MR. TONER: Goyal, rather than just give you some – something off the top of my head, I’ll try to get some firmer details about what exactly we’re providing in terms of assistance.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the visit of Assistant Secretary Blake and Under Secretary Burns to India right now, (inaudible) traveling?
MR. TONER: I do not, no. I’ll find out more.
QUESTION: Mark, there’s a press report today that Iran is trying to set up banks in Muslim countries that are – that would be unlikely to heed UN sanctions and U.S. pressure to shut them down. Is that a trend that you’ve observed?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s not a surprise, frankly. We’ve seen them try to do this before, and in fact, it’s something that’s a topic of discussions with our allies and partners in the region and around the world, frankly. And to us, it’s an indication, frankly, that the sanctions are having some effect.
QUESTION: But are they – have – are they actually able to open these kind of semi-sham banks in various countries? I mean, are they having real success in doing it?
MR. TONER: I mean, I know that they’re attempting to, and in fact, that’s one of the reasons why we’re engaging with, as I said, partners and allies around the world to try to make them aware of this situation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa. There were some reports yesterday –
MR. TONER: I can hardly wait. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: There were some suggestions in a report yesterday that the Secretary’s going to call the Canadian foreign minister about the Omar Khadr case. Did that call ever happen, and is there any update on that situation?
MR. TONER: Well, as far as I know, there’s been no call to the Canadians.
QUESTION: All right. And then last week, Friday night in fact, in San Francisco, the Secretary made some comments in the question-and-answer portion of her –
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Oh, you already know what I’m going to ask you.
MR. TONER: No, I’m just --
QUESTION: Go ahead, pull it up. Let’s see if you correctly guessed. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s under Viktor Bout. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: I’m returning to – I have my Matt file here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Pennsylvania is the “blank” state.
MR. TONER: Keystone.
QUESTION: Correct. (Laughter.) Can you explain what she meant by saying that it –
MR. TONER: I’m Pennsylvanian.
QUESTION: -- that the Secretary – what she – that the government was going to approve this pipeline project even though – or she said that she was – the Department was inclined to approve it even though the environment – even though the review is not completed?
MR. TONER: Right. There are --
QUESTION: There’s been a lot of concerns expressed –
MR. TONER: There’s three – essentially, three projects: The Alberta Clipper, the Keystone and the Keystone XL. I believe she was asked about the Alberta Clipper. In her response, she reflected the status of the Keystone XL. The Alberta Clipper pipeline has been granted a presidential permit, but the – I believe the Keystone XL is still under deliberation.
QUESTION: So she was not refer – so she answered the wrong question?
MR. TONER: She – again, there’s three pipelines. She was --
QUESTION: This is the tar sands one. It’s got all sorts of environmentalists up in arms.
MR. TONER: Right. Well, your assessment. But --
QUESTION: Well, no.
MR. TONER: But Alberta Clipper --
QUESTION: It’s not my assessment. It’s –
MR. TONER: Alberta Clipper pipeline was what the questioner asked about. She talked about – she – her response reflected the status of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is still under deliberation.
QUESTION: Right, correct. But she said that they were – that the Department is inclined to approve it. Did she not?
MR. TONER: She did.
QUESTION: Yes, okay. Well, there is some concern being expressed by lawmakers, environmentalists, and others that this prejudges the results of the review of – her comments.
MR. TONER: Well, my comments are that she – I think she also followed that with an assessment about the fact that we need cleaner energy sources and referred to the President’s agenda to seek cleaner energy sources, but until that time, we need to – frankly, to find energy sources in other areas as well, be they clean or dirty. And her words obviously stand.
I’m going to – thank you.
QUESTION: Mark, can you comment further on the two air marshals who were on the Houston to Rio flight who detained an unruly passenger, and then they themselves were detained by the Brazilian Government, their passports taken from them? They have since been able to leave the country through other means, but do you have any updates on that or –
MR. TONER: I do not have any updates for you. I can --
QUESTION: Can you talk in general about the U.S.-Brazilian relations? It’s been a little frosty in some instances.
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Look, we’ve got broad, deep relations with Brazil. We have many, many areas of cooperation with Brazil. And on those areas where we have had disagreements or, rather, issues to address and challenges, we’ve worked through them quite effectively.
QUESTION: Mark, I just want –
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure, Andy.
QUESTION: -- to go back to Keystone. Given the Secretary’s comments, “inclined to approve it,” do you have any sense now of what the timeline is for a final decision there?
MR. TONER: I do not.
QUESTION: Is it coming soon? I mean, is that – is this –
MR. TONER: I really don’t have a sense of – I mean, I know it’s still under deliberation. I don’t know the sense of the timeline.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)