MR. TONER: Just a few things at the top and then we’ll get into your questions.
As you know, Secretary Clinton is wheels up en route to Lisbon, Portugal. There, the Secretary will join President Obama in participating in the NATO summit, the NATO-Russia Council summit, and the summit of the ISAF troop-contributing nations and other major economic development donors, as well as the U.S.-European Union summit.
I just want to note the successful completion of the U.S.-Kazakhstan BN-350 Nuclear Spent Fuel Program. The United States congratulates Kazakhstan on this week’s historic completion of the BN-350 Spent Fuel Program. Kazakhstan safely shut down the BN-350 plutonium production reactor in Aktau, secured approximately 100 tons of weapon-grade – weapons-grade spent fuel, and transported the spent fuel to a new secure storage facility in eastern Kazakhstan. In securing enough nuclear material for 800 nuclear weapons, Kazakhstan under the leadership of President Nazarbayev has made a significant contribution to global security and nuclear nonproliferation.
I also want to confirm and welcome news out of Nigeria. Our U.S. mission there was informed late last night that all of the individuals, including U.S. – two U.S. citizens who had been held hostage since November 8th in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria were released unharmed on Wednesday, November 17th. As you know, those freed individuals include two U.S. citizens, two French citizens, two Indonesian citizens, and a Canadian citizen, as well as a number of Nigerians. They were employees of the Swiss-based Transocean Company and were taken hostage after an attack on an oil drilling platform off the coast of Akwa Ibom stat – state, rather, in the Niger Delta. The U.S. Government appreciates the Nigerian Government and all others who contributed to the safe release of the hostages.
And my understanding is that our consul general in Lagos, Ambassador Joe Stafford, is expected to meet with those U.S. citizens before they return to the United States. And obviously, we’ve been in contact with their families throughout this ordeal.
Just last – go ahead, that’s okay.
QUESTION: They are expected to come back to the United States?
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.
Just lastly, today is the second day of a two-day meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. That’s taking place right across the bridge in Crystal City. U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern is leading U.S. participation and the meeting is chaired by the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman. This is the tenth meeting of the Major Economies Forum. It’s taking place at the level of the leaders’ representatives. I understand a Notice to the Press was sent out last night and there will be a press briefing later today at 5:30, and that’s going to take place at the Doubletree Hotel in the Madison Room, 300 Army Navy Drive, in Arlington.
That’s all I have.
QUESTION: Mark, can you tell us how things are going in the drafting of these written assurances to the Israelis to get them to extend the – or to renew the settlement freeze?
MR. TONER: Well, appreciate your question, Matt. As you know, we are not going to get into details. We do remain in close touch with the both the Israelis and the Palestinians on this. We’re working intensively, as the Secretary said yesterday, to create the conditions that lead to the resumption of direct negotiations.
QUESTION: You don’t want – is the status quo acceptable? I’m sorry, I don’t think that I’ve heard whether that’s the case or not over the last couple days.
MR. TONER: Matt, the status quo is unacceptable.
QUESTION: Yeah. So, in other words, you haven’t gotten any new guidance in the past week. You’re saying exactly the same thing, word for word, you and the Secretary, P.J, everyone else out of this. You don’t --
MR. TONER: And a coherent message from all parties involved, is that --
QUESTION: Yeah. Has there been any progress at all?
MR. TONER: Is that alarming to you?
QUESTION: Well, it is because you’ve gone for a week, you seem to be unable to discuss even the minutest of specificity when asked questions which are not asking for details, they’re just asking --
MR. TONER: We’ve said all along that we’re not going to get into the substance of our talks.
QUESTION: What is substantive about writing a written assurance?
MR. TONER: Well, it does speak to the substance of the negotiations.
QUESTION: Exactly how?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into it. But what I am going to say is that we’re obviously engaged, we’re working intensively with both parties --
QUESTION: I have to say, Mark, it’s not obvious that you’re engaged, because no one will say anything about what’s going on.
MR. TONER: Well, David Hale was in the region yesterday and he met with Abbas. I believe the Secretary --
QUESTION: And afterwards, the Palestinians said that he didn’t have anything to tell them.
MR. TONER: The Secretary spoke with Defense Minister Barak, I believe, yesterday.
QUESTION: All right. So that’s something.
MR. TONER: It’s something. I’m just saying that we do remain engaged on this issue.
QUESTION: So Clinton spoke to Barak yesterday?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Has there been any other contact that you’re aware of?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. Obviously, she’s on the plane right now. But no, I think that’s it.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: And she hasn’t spoken to Abbas, for example?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Any travel planned?
MR. TONER: Any travel plans for Mitchell?
MR. TONER: No. Nothing to announce, at least.
QUESTION: Can you --
QUESTION: What is Senator Mitchell doing these days? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Having lunch.
MR. TONER: I believe he is back in New York.
QUESTION: Can you confirm what the Palestinians are saying publicly, that they want a freeze on settlements also in East Jerusalem, not just in the West Bank? I mean, David Hale has spoken to them. Are they saying the same thing to you?
MR. TONER: Well, look, again, we’re all aware of what’s out in the press and out in the public. We’re trying to create the conditions that get them back into direct negotiations. We are keeping our eyes firmly on that ball. We’re trying to get them back in because we know that that’s the only way that all these issues can be eventually resolved.
Any other questions?
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: All right. You might have to take this one. I was wondering if you had any response to a seeming elevation of the rhetoric for some reason in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue – the president of Armenia, for instance, threatening to resolve the issue once and for all through force. I just wonder if you had any guidance on that or if you could get some.
MR. TONER: David, I’m not up to speed on those comments. I know that we remain engaged in the Minsk process and – but I don’t have the latest on that. I would just urge everyone to – obviously, to remain in dialogue and avoid any rhetoric that would add to tensions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: No, wait, I have several more. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Jeez.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- or whatever talks they’re going to be. Has there been any movement on that at all that you’re aware of?
MR. TONER: No. I mean, as far as I know, High Representative Ashton went back to the Iranians with a venue and a date, but we’ve not heard back from the Iranians.
QUESTION: And what was the venue?
QUESTION: Germany, Austria –
MR. TONER: Austria. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Somewhere in German-speaking Europe. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Sorry. Yes.
QUESTION: Have the – in her letter or --
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- maybe not even in her letter, but in terms of what the U.S. is expecting out of this, the Iranians have talked about wanting to speak about global issues. Have they been told that you expect them to discuss the nuclear program?
MR. TONER: Have they been told that we expect a –
MR. TONER: I think we’ve been clear –
MR. TONER: Yeah, I think we’ve been clear in our – at least our public statements that we’re going to talk about the nuclear program.
QUESTION: Well, what if they just sit there and decide that they want to talk about the price of tea or something and refuse to discuss it? Is that acceptable to you, or will you walk away?
MR. TONER: What we’re trying to do – it’s been a year since we’ve met with the Iranians. We’re trying to get them back to a negotiating table. But we’re going to talk – we’re going to raise the nuclear issue, and I think they’re well aware of that.
QUESTION: And you expect them to respond?
MR. TONER: We want to engage in a dialogue. That’s part of the two-track approach.
QUESTION: Right. But do you have any reason to believe that they will – when you raise the nuclear issue, that they will respond to that or whether – what – will they just –
MR. TONER: I can’t predict the future, Matt, but we’re going to raise it and we would hope that they want to – would want to engage in a good-faith dialogue about it, and be aware and be willing to address the international community’s very real concerns about their nuclear program.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, they have – the Iranians have not said that they will talk about it, right? I mean, at this point, they still have not said that’s on the table for them.
MR. TONER: There’s a lot of Iranian comments out in the public spectrum, but I’m not aware that – I’ve seen both sides of it.
In the back.
MR. TONER: Well, obviously, we can’t talk about those kinds of activities. We don’t get into anything that sort of touches on intelligence. What we would do is just call on North Korea to take concrete, irreversible steps toward the fulfillment of the 2005 joint statement, to comply with international law including UN Security Council’s Resolutions 1718 and 1874, and to cease any provocative behaviors and to engage constructively with other countries in the region.
QUESTION: Are you going to reach out to North Korea in any way if they are really considering to do it, to stop it?
MR. TONER: There is nothing right now that I’m aware of. North Korea knows what it needs to do, and we’ll wait to see positive signs from North Korea.
QUESTION: And you don’t think you’ve seen any positive signs yet?
MR. TONER: As we’ve said before, we’ve seen a couple of events, but we’re looking for a broader trend.
QUESTION: What is the urgency to getting the New START Treaty passed in the next three weeks?
MR. TONER: Why is the – what is the urgency?
MR. TONER: Well, first and foremost, it’s been a year since inspectors have been on the ground in Russia and have been able to actually verify and to engage in this transparent process that helps us move towards fewer nuclear weapons in the world, which is a key priority of this Administration.
QUESTION: But it’s waiting until the next year, to January, February?
MR. TONER: Look, it is urgent. Again, as I said, it’s been a year, a year since we’ve had inspectors on the ground. The President has spoken to this earlier today. The Secretary spoke on the Hill yesterday. It’s also an issue on which there should be bipartisan support for. It’s been so in the past and we believe it should be so this time. And we believe we can get this passed, and there’s no reason to delay.
Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on the terror threat in Germany. Is there any talk about putting out a travel alert to Americans going to Germany in the next day or two?
MR. TONER: Yeah, not that I’m aware of. I’d defer you, obviously, to the Government of Germany, but we don’t – we’re still – we don’t have any additional information.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)