1:44 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: We’ll also obviously continue to assess the situation throughout the weekend and, if necessary, we can do press calls or do a conference call tomorrow or Sunday as events dictate. I just have a few things at the top and then I’ll take your questions.
Regarding the Cuban plane crash earlier today, first and foremost our condolences go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones in that accident. Initial reports indicate that no U.S. citizens were among the victims. However, we are in contact with Cuban authorities responding to the crash and are working to obtain a flight manifest. We also, of course, extend our condolences. I believe there was a – to the families and loved ones of the victims. I believe there was a plane crash in Pakistan as well and there’s no – we also believe there’s not AMCITS – American citizens, rather, involved in that.
The Secretary has concluded her day in New Zealand where she’ll remain overnight in Wellington. She laid a wreath at the National War Memorial. Later in Christchurch she visited the Antarctic Center to review United States-New Zealand joint scientific cooperation in Antarctica. And later she participated in a Town Hall that paid tribute to the resilience and recovery of the people of Christchurch from the September 4th earthquake. Finally, she attended a trade reception that honored New Zealand’s vibrant American business community and highlighted the Obama Administration’s National Export Initiative. As I said, she’ll remain in Wellington tonight and I believe is on to Australia tomorrow.
The United States condemns today’s two bombings that took place at mosques in Pakistan which brutally targeted innocent people at worship. By attacking places of worship, whoever was responsible has demonstrated a clear lack of – or clear disregard, rather, for the Pakistani people and for the peaceful religion they practice. The United States will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to combat violent extremism and terrorism and our thoughts and our prayers go out with the families and friends of those who were touched by these attacks.
And finally, just an update, the USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is traveling to India as part of President Obama’s delegation to promote U.S.-India strategic – the U.S.-India strategic partnership. Development cooperation obviously forms an important part of their agenda. Their – this is a relationship that’s gone on obviously for nearly 60 years. The U.S. Government, through USAID has supported India’s development and over that time, USAID’s assistance has evolved from humanitarian aid to infrastructure development and institution building to support for economic reforms.
That’s all I have. Do you want to go ahead and – Bob.
QUESTION: Do you have update on the Secretary’s plans to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu next week?
MR. TONER: I don’t. Beyond what P.J. referred to yesterday, which is that they plan to meet certainly, but the time and the date are to be worked out.
QUESTION: Okay. The reporting said it’s Thursday in New York. Is that –
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm that right now. But as the Secretary said yesterday in New Zealand, she very much wants to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and they just need to work out a time and a place.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate there’ll be any media availability with that or we’ll be even go in and get any video of the meetings?
MR. TONER: Well, I’ll have to get back to you. Once we’ve determined where it’s going to take the place, the venue, then we can provide information about media access.
QUESTION: Do you think you’ll know today?
MR. TONER: Well, there – the Secretary’s party’s down for the night, so maybe later today. We’ll try to get you an answer on that. As soon as we have anything to announce, obviously we will.
QUESTION: Is it just a coincidence that Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit from Egypt is coming next week? Is there any possibility that he will meet Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu? Is there any progress in the talks between the two?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that there’s anything planned, that there’s any meetings planned. I’m not, frankly, aware of his schedule or who in the State Department will meet with him. But I can more information on that for you.
QUESTION: Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator was quoted yesterday that the U.S. asked the Palestinians to give them two more weeks to try to convince Israel to freeze settlements. And the Arab League gave the U.S. a one-month period which will end on Monday.
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: And can you comment on this?
MR. TONER: I really can’t. As we’ve said time and time again from this podium as well as Senator Mitchell and Secretary Clinton, we’re not going to talk about the details. They did meet yesterday. He did meet with Senator Mitchell. But I’m not going into what they discussed. But obviously, we remain hard at work and our priority remains getting the two sides back in direct negotiations.
QUESTION: Mind if I have a follow-up?
MR. TONER: Yeah, Michelle.
QUESTION: He also talked about one option that the Palestinians are weighing seriously is going to the United Nations and asking for a UN to declare a Palestinian state.
MR. TONER: And again, we --
QUESTION: What’s your position on that?
MR. TONER: Well, we talked about this yesterday. Our goal remains getting both sides back into direct negotiations. It is ultimately the only that all of these outstanding issues are going to be resolved. And so anything that might affect getting those – getting both parties back into direct negotiations, we would discourage frankly.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: There’s a report on the wires that President Abbas, according to a report on CNN website in Arabic, is saying that the U.S. promised the Palestinians that they will support them when the decide to go to the UN to ask for the declaration of a state if the process didn’t work out. I’m sure you are not getting –
MR. TONER: I haven’t seen his comments, so I can’t give any kind of reaction to them, but I just stated what our position is. We remain convinced that ultimately the only way that we’re going to get a comprehensive peace is through direct negotiations, and anything that might affect those direct negotiations we feel is not helpful and not constructive.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: The International Relations Committee in the House changing hand with Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is taking the presidency of the chairman seat on the committee. This is stirring a lot of worries everywhere in the circles of those people who are looking for realistic peace or efforts, U.S. efforts, to bring peace in the Middle East. How much – how is the State Department going to deal with this problem with Mrs. Ileana Lehtinen is very hardliner, so closely her thoughts, her beliefs, her ideologies is so closely aligned with Netanyahu hard-line kind of policies. Do you see any way that the State Department can actually bring Congresswoman Ileana to a more practical and understanding of the needs for the peace in the Middle East and for the implementation of UN resolutions accordingly?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve talked a lot over the last couple of days about the new Congress and its possible effects on foreign policy and the conduct of foreign policy. The Secretary has, in fact, been reaching out to the new chairwoman. I don’t know if she has already or plans to, but obviously just to extend our good wishes, congratulate her and her other colleagues, and also to pledge our willingness and our commitment to work closely with Congress on a broad range of issues, but including Middle East peace. It is a priority for this Administration. It’s going to remain a priority for this Administration, and obviously we’re going to work hand in glove with Congress to advance direct negotiations and to ultimately reach a settlement.
Go ahead, Andy.
QUESTION: Senator Kerry apparently has arrived in Khartoum. I don’t know if this is an unannounced visit, but it’s certainly a second one in recent weeks. Do you know if he’s planning to join with General Gration in the talks that you’re (inaudible) or go on to become a part of the U.S. lobbying effort there?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t have a lot of detail. I have heard he was headed there. I know that Special Envoy Gration remains in Khartoum. Ambassador Lyman left yesterday and is en route to Khartoum and I believe he is there, but I’ll try to get more information about the details of his trip and what he plans to do.
QUESTION: Do you have any updates on any –
MR. TONER: We’ll take that question.
QUESTION: Any updates on any of the calls Secretary Clinton’s made to new members of Congress? Has she made any today?
MR. TONER: I didn’t get a chance to check before walking out there, but I knew she has reached out or intends to reach out to a variety of people up on the Hill just to, again, pledge our willingness to work. Obviously, the President mentioned New START and getting that ratified in the lame duck session to come. That’s priority – one of our main priorities in the coming weeks. But obviously, Middle East peace, as was mentioned there, the transition and building stability in Iraq, all these issues – Afghanistan, Pakistan – we look forward to working with the new Congress on all these issues. I’ll try to get a detailed list for you, though, Courtney.
Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: There are reports that the Chinese embassy has been sending letters to diplomats in Oslo warning them not to attend a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Have you guys received a message and, if so, what’s your response?
MR. TONER: We haven’t received a message that I’m aware of. Our response is, as is traditional in these cases, I believe our ambassador to Norway would attend the Nobel ceremony, so – but we have not received any letter.
Go ahead, Bob.
QUESTION: Mark, you mentioned a minute ago that getting ratification of the New START Treaty is one of your main priorities.
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: If it doesn’t get ratified, what sort of impact would that have on U.S. –
MR. TONER: Well, look, it’s already been almost a year and that’s a year of, we believe, where we’re not able to conduct the kind of transparent surveillance that allows us to keep tabs on what Russia’s doing in terms of nuclear weapons. And again, this is in the national security interests of the United States. It’s got broad bipartisan support. And so we believe – I don’t want to speculate too much if it doesn’t happen. What I’d rather focus on is that we want to make it happen in the coming lame duck session.
QUESTION: Do you have a Plan B? I mean, there’s a possibility that it won’t get ratified since it hasn’t already.
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to talk about Plan Bs right now. We have a Plan A, which is to work with Congress. We believe we’re close. It came out of committee with broad support. And so we believe it can be passed. I don’t want to refer to Plan Bs before a Plan A hasn’t succeeded, and we believe it will succeed.
QUESTION: Do you know if the --
MR. TONER: Yes, Andy.
QUESTION: -- Russians have communicated with you what their thoughts are if it doesn’t – I mean, if it doesn’t pass? We’ve heard that the Duma might reconsider their approval of – their effective ratification of it if it keeps dragging on here, if it doesn’t go through. Have they warned you that this is a potential outcome?
MR. TONER: I don't know that they’ve, as you say, warned us or discussed it through diplomatic channels. I’m aware of the comments of some Duma members. Again, Andy, I don’t want to get ahead of what we’re trying to do right now. The President’s been clear on this, the Secretary’s been clear on this. We want to use the lame duck session to get START – New START over the goal line.
QUESTION: Mark, there was a video leaked yesterday that appears to show the Chinese fishing vessel at the heart of the Senkaku Island dispute, ramming into the Japanese coast guard vessel. Any reaction on that?
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the video. I don’t have any reaction to it beyond the fact that our position regarding the Senkaku dispute hasn’t changed. We urge good relations between China and Japan. We believe they benefit everyone in the region and we hope that they resolve any outstanding differences through appropriate diplomatic channels. But I haven’t seen the video and I don’t have any comment on it.
QUESTION: Does good relations between China and Japan – does that mean Japan paying reparations and offering an apology as China has demanded?
MR. TONER: It means whatever Japan and China work out through appropriate diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Oh, in the back.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear. Who had a news conference?
QUESTION: North Korean Ambassador to Russia had a news conference and said they were nothing to do with the Cheonan incident and it was made up by the States and South Korea. And also today in Beijing, they had a news conference and said if we talk to the States, we’ll get a compelling fact. So do you think we can get something or what’s your comment?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m tempted to make light of it, but actually it’s not a funny situation. We’ve been quite clear on what happened. We believe what happened. There was a report done on the sinking of the Cheonan. An international group did it. It was – it wasn’t subjective at all; it was very objective. We support the findings of that group and we just urge North Korea to move forward in a positive direction and to desist in denying what happened.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)
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