12:45 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Your usual briefer, P.J., got pulled aside, so it’s my lucky turn today. I just have some – a few things to read at the top, beginning with the Secretary of State’s travel to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar from January 8th through 13th. At each stop, Secretary Clinton will consult with government officials on a full range of regional and bilateral issues and emphasize the importance of government - civil society engagement. In addition to these meetings, the Secretary will engage with civil society and community leaders in each country working to help citizens realize shared aspirations for progress. This engagement underscores the U.S. commitment to support civil society and promote partnerships that lead to prosperity for the people of the region.
In Qatar, the Secretary will participate in the seventh Forum For The Future, which is a joint initiative of the countries of the Broader Middle East and North Africa region and the industrialized countries of the Group of Eight. This ministerial event brings together civil society representatives and government officials to discuss and exchange ideas on how best to work together to foster progress and expand opportunities for the people of the region. And given that she’s leaving on Saturday, we’ll make every effort to try to get a more full briefing for you before she departs that can walk you through some of the details of that trip.
This afternoon, as you know, Secretary Clinton will meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara to discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including regional security and deepening our security alliance, as well as preparations for Prime Minister Kan’s upcoming visit to the United States this spring. As you know, she’s got a press availability with Foreign Minister Maehara following that working lunch, so you’ll get a fuller readout then.
Secretary Clinton also meets today with Belarusian and Belarusian American human rights activists to discuss the repressive situation in Belarus. The Secretary shares their concerns over the recent presidential elections, as well as the government’s disproportionate use of force following those elections, as she continues to call for the immediate release of the remaining detainees and an end to repression of the opposition, the media, and the civil society in Belarus.
Just to note, many of you know who participated in the Sudan briefing yesterday, but U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration departs this evening for Sudan to observe the Southern Sudan Referendum and demonstrate ongoing U.S. support as the parties work to implement this cornerstone of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, along with Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. Senior Advisor for North-South Negotiations, who is currently in Khartoum. Special Envoy Gration will meet with government representatives, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, and United Nations officials. He will then travel to Juba to observe the opening of polling on January 9th for the Southern Sudan Referendum.
Following that, he’ll travel to Darfur with Ambassador Dane Smith, who is the Administration’s newly-appointed Senior Advisor on Darfur to meet with government officials, United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur leadership, as well as civil society groups.
As you know, Acting SRAP Frank Ruggiero is in Pakistan today, where he met with the Pakistani Prime Minister Gillani as well as Minister of Finance Hafeez Shaikh. At the conclusion of their meeting, Acting SRAP Ruggiero announced that the U.S. plans to contribute $190 million from funds authorized by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation to the Government of Pakistan’s Citizens Damage Compensation Fund. This commitment is part of the $500 million in accelerated flood recovery and reconstruction assistance that Ambassador Holbrooke announced during his November visit to Pakistan.
Acting SRAP Ruggiero also urged the Pakistani Government to quickly implement the necessary accountability mechanisms, particularly those already agreed to with the World Bank, in order to enable expeditious release of the U.S. and other donor funds to the Citizens Damage Compensation Fund. And we’ll continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to identify priorities for the remainder of the U.S. commitment to provide up to 500 million of accelerated U.S. assistance from Kerry-Lugar-Berman.
We’ll have a more formal announcement on this later, but Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela mentioned this at a Brookings event earlier today. As agreed by both parties, the fourth round of U.S.-Cuba migration talks are scheduled for January 12th, 2011 in Havana. The U.S. views these migration talks as an important opportunity for both the U.S. and Cuban Governments to discuss policies and procedures that promote safe, legal, and orderly migration. The talks also underscore our commitment to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration.
And also, in anticipation of your question, the United States does remain focused and concerned on the welfare of Alan Gross. We urge his immediate release so that he can return to his family, and we engage in Cuba – and we’re engaged with Cuba to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration and to prevent the dangers and loss of life associated with illegal migration, but the release of Alan Gross remains an important objective that we’ll continue to advance.
Finally, a story that many of you have been following this morning about a U.S. female – U.S. citizen possibly detained in Iran for alleged spying. There’s lots of conflicting reports swirling about on this issue. We’ve reached out through our Swiss protectorate to try to ascertain the facts surrounding this incident. And once we get more information, we’ll, obviously, share that with you.
QUESTION: Can you say at this point whether you know she is an American?
MR. TONER: We do not. And I just say we’ve also reached out – given that she reportedly crossed over from Armenia – that we have also made inquiries to our embassy in Yerevan.
QUESTION: So there’s absolutely nothing that you can tell us?
MR. TONER: We really don’t - I mean, what we’ve heard so far is precisely conflicting reports. So frankly, rather than give those any kind of momentum or life, I’d rather just wait until we have the facts.
QUESTION: Conflicting media reports?
MR. TONER: Conflicting media reports.
QUESTION: Can we stay – stick with Americans in distress?
MR. TONER: We can stick – I don’t know; what are you talking about?
MR. TONER: Oh, very good.
QUESTION: What exactly happened, as far as you know, and what are you doing about it?
MR. TONER: Well, as far as I know, there was an incident. There was an incident and our U.S. diplomat, Christian Marchant, was injured – not seriously, but he was injured during that incident. We have officially registered a strong protest with the Vietnamese Government, in Hanoi as well as with the Vietnamese ambassador here in Washington, and we’re waiting for a full explanation of what – frankly, what happened.
QUESTION: This was an incident between Mr. Marchant and Vietnamese police?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re trying – it’s appeared to be – it appeared to be an incident between him and security personnel. It was on his way – he was attending a prearranged meeting with Father Ly in Hue.
QUESTION: It was government security personnel, and he was beaten up, or –
MR. TONER: Again, we’re looking for a full explanation. He was injured. He is up and walking around now, but he was injured during the incident.
QUESTION: Well, what was the extent of his injuries?
MR. TONER: I don’t really want to get into it, but he was – I, frankly, don’t know what the extent of his injuries were. I know that he was limping afterwards.
QUESTION: When was this?
MR. TONER: Good question. January 5th.
QUESTION: And when you say that you’ve registered a strong protest in Hanoi and with the Vietnamese ambassador here, does that mean that Kurt Campbell called him in or that he was called in this building to hear your protest?
MR. TONER: Our U.S. Ambassador in Hanoi issued a strong protest, and it was handled here. It was handled by our DAS, Joseph Yun.
QUESTION: But what does that mean? Does that mean that – does that mean that the Ambassador was summoned here?
MR. TONER: Like I said, he – yes, he was summoned here.
QUESTION: And then the protest was – and then –
MR. TONER: Both – I said, both in Hanoi and – yeah, our Ambassador in Hanoi registered –
QUESTION: Your ambassador in Hanoi is, like, heading to the – he’s on the plane now, right?
MR. TONER: According to this, it says he issued a strong protest.
QUESTION: Okay, but the bottom line is that the Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States was summoned to the State Department today and you lodged a protest with him, and it was DAS Joe Yun who did that.
MR. TONER: Correct.
MR. TONER: I don’t know if it was today.
QUESTION: But you said you don’t have all the details about the injuries, and – do you have the details of the incident?
MR. TONER: Well, I have explained them to the fullest possible extent that I’m going to explain them, but we’re looking to the Government of Vietnam to provide us with an explanation of what exactly happened.
QUESTION: Before lodging the complaint, we need to have the details, or how can we lodge a complaint? This is what I was trying to understand.
MR. TONER: (inaudible) I said there was an incident that took place. He was injured during that incident. He is up and walking around now. That’s the extent of the details I’m going to provide.
QUESTION: Can I go to a –
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s a different subject.
QUESTION: No, I need to stay on this. Are you aware of any similar previous incident to this happening in Vietnam?
MR. TONER: You mean with a U.S. diplomat?
MR. TONER: I am not.
QUESTION: And there are some reports out there that say that Mr. Marchant was – has been given some award for his reporting on human rights. Do you know anything about that?
MR. TONER: Let me get back to you on that. Let me confirm that. I have – I believe I’ve heard something along those lines, but I’ll get back to you and confirm – I’ll confirm to everyone what is --
MR. TONER: Yeah, Pakistan.
QUESTION: Yeah. Listen. The Pakistani Government has said that it plans to roll back the fuel price increases that went into effect on January the 1st. In so doing, it is endangering its ability to continue to receive funds under the IMF’s $11 billion loan program. $11 billion is a lot more than the 190 million that you just mentioned. That’s part of the 500 million that Ambassador Holbrooke announced in November. And I want to know what is the U.S. Government’s view of the Pakistani Government’s decision to roll back those fuel price increases, particularly in the context of Ambassador Holbrooke and Secretary Clinton’s calls for the Pakistani Government to increase its ability to raise revenues?
MR. TONER: Well, precisely. I mean – and we stand by the fact that – what we’ve said all along is that the reforms that the Government of Pakistan is undertaking are difficult, but they’re important for its long-term economic stability.
QUESTION: So it is a bad thing that they’re rolling back these fuel price increases?
MR. TONER: That is our belief and that is our position. I’m not going to weigh into Pakistani domestic politics. But we believe that, again, these reforms, though difficult, are necessary.
QUESTION: So wait, wait, just to make sure – make clear when you say --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- your response to Arshad’s question, which was “So you think it’s a bad thing,” and your response to that was, “That is our position.”
QUESTION: And then you said that is our belief.
QUESTION: Our belief.
MR. TONER: Well, look, our position is that Pakistan needs to undertake difficult economic reforms that are going to require some pain, frankly, politically. But beyond that, I am not going to weigh into what is a domestic, political debate in Pakistan.
QUESTION: But you just did. When you say that Pakistan needs to undertake political reform, difficult political reforms that are going to cause pain --
MR. TONER: But we’ve said that all along. I mean, we realize these are difficult things. We encourage the Pakistani Government to undertake these reforms. But again, I’m going to stop short of --
QUESTION: Well, when we were there with the Secretary on her last trip, she talked about how they – they had to totally fix their tax structure, which seems to me to be an internal domestic thing, that not enough people were paying taxes, that – and that they had to fix it.
MR. TONER: I’m aware of those remarks.
QUESTION: Now, telling them that they need to do that, which is a completely domestic internal or inland revenue matter, depending on which tradition you’re from, that seems to be getting involved in it. So why can’t you say that you think that the fuel price increases are needed, are necessary?
MR. TONER: Well, I think I did say that these reforms that they are now trying to undertake are important and are necessary for the long-term economic stability of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Mark, just to be clear, and this is just so that we don’t misconstrue anything that you said --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: In your response to my question, “Is this a bad thing,” and you said “That’s our position, that’s our belief,” did you mean to refer --
MR. TONER: Our belief is that these --
QUESTION: Did you mean to refer to the bad or did you mean to refer to your previous statement about how the reforms are necessary?
MR. TONER: About the economic – right, exactly, that these are difficult reforms to undertake, but we believe they’re necessary.
QUESTION: Okay. And then did --
MR. TONER: But as to the political process that’s underway right now about enacting those reforms, that’s – and I agree it’s a nebulous line, but we don’t want to weigh into domestic politics.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second thing, you said that Acting Special Representative Ruggiero had met with – his meetings included with the finance minister.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Did he raise this issue with the finance minister and make clear your belief that reforms that run directly counter to the government’s decision are necessary?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll try to find out and clarify that.
QUESTION: Mark, may I just follow?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: A couple of questions just following up. One, as far as this $193 million and more of the 500 million --
MR. TONER: Hundred ninety million, yeah.
QUESTION: Right. Do you think this – because of this visit at this time, the situation in Pakistan has been defused; and second, if Secretary has spoken with anybody in Pakistan; and third, are you concerned about this situation and the nuclear program of the Pakistanis; and also if you are going to reassess any of the U.S. policy because of this ongoing current situation in Pakistan?
MR. TONER: In answer --
QUESTION: Yes, yes, no, no, no. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: How’d you know? The Secretary met with the Pakistani Ambassador here, I think, two days ago.
QUESTION: Did she spoke anybody in Pakistan?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware. I don’t believe so. Now I’ve forgotten everything else you asked. (Laughter.) Do we believe they turned a corner on the domestic political crisis – is that what you asked – or that – Ruggiero’s visit?
QUESTION: I mean, yeah, this – according to --
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, Frank Ruggiero’s visit there is about our strategic partnership with Pakistan in the larger context of our mission to – obviously to bring greater security and stability to that region. I can imagine they discussed the political situation there. But to say that that was the intent of his visit is clearly overstating.
QUESTION: In your opening remarks, you said – and I had to run out because my batteries died – you said something about Belarus and the Secretary meeting.
MR. TONER: I did.
QUESTION: Is it the Secretary or someone else?
MR. TONER: I did. No, it’s the Secretary.
QUESTION: She’s meeting with opposition activists to talk about the wonderfully democratic election they just had? Is that --
MR. TONER: In a nutshell, yes.
QUESTION: All right. Is there any – is this part of the overall response that you’re trying to coordinate with the OSCE and the Europeans on how to deal with the situation there, we’re trying to strengthen the opposition?
MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, I would say that it is one of a variety of elements that we’re looking at. But obviously, yes, the Secretary engaging with human rights activists, both Belarusian and Belarusian American activists is – part of that is (a) showing our engagement and (b) showing our concern and sending a clear signal to the Belarusian Government.
QUESTION: Are you not at all concerned that a high-profile meeting like that with these people might put them at risk given the fact that, as P.J. noted yesterday, every single person that ran against Lukashenko is now in prison. You’re not at all concerned that these people might be put at risk if they’re seen having a high-profile meeting like this?
MR. TONER: Well, we would hope that these individuals meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State would not put them at risk in Belarus.
QUESTION: Well, you might hope that, but realistically, if you think that, I think that’s a bit naïve.
MR. TONER: Well, no. What we’re trying to send here is a signal. We’re trying to show our engagement. We are concerned about the situation in Belarus and we’re going to stay engaged on this issue. And we would just send a clear message that these individuals have the right to meet with whoever they choose to.
QUESTION: Okay. And then --
QUESTION: Just – can we – can I clarify one thing about that?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think in his question, Matt said “opposition,” but I think you had said Belarusian human rights activists --
MR. TONER: Belarusian human rights activists, yes.
QUESTION: -- and Belarusian American human rights.
MR. TONER: Yes, correct.
QUESTION: So it’s not members of the opposition.
MR. TONER: It’s not members of the opposition.
QUESTION: Okay, and then second thing you –
MR. TONER: Thank you for clarifying.
QUESTION: Yeah, you described it as – you described her concern about the elections and the Belarusian authority as disproportionate use of – disproportionate response –
MR. TONER: Disproportionate use of force following elections.
QUESTION: Have you used that word “disproportionate” before? I don’t think so, but I’m – do you know?
MR. TONER: I don’t know.
QUESTION: I think it was in the statement from –
MR. TONER: I think it was in the statement last week.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Then just one more on Belarus. There was – you talked about a review of what you might do in terms of punitive measures, sanctions, et cetera. Has there been any movement on that?
MR. TONER: Matt, I don’t have an update on it, no.
QUESTION: Are you –
MR. TONER: I don’t know – nothing more to add to that.
QUESTION: Okay, the European Union has said that it is considering the possibility of restoring travel sanctions on members of the government and their associates. Is that what you’re considering?
MR. TONER: I think all options remain on the table.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Lithuania is – has issued a statement that they are trying to find a way – how to keep the OSCE who are going on in Belarus. I – is the U.S. in touch with them –
MR. TONER: I would have to check. I could imagine they would – we would be, but I would have to look into that. I’m not aware of the Lithuania statement. All right. Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Can you go back to Pakistan for a minute?
MR. TONER: We can go back to Pakistan.
QUESTION: Your answers to Matt’s and Arshad’s questions. For me, it seems that you are asking Pakistan to increase the gas prices. Isn’t it interference in the internal economic affairs to what to do, what not to do?
MR. TONER: Well, I said I don’t want to weigh into what is a domestic political debate. But what we’ve tried to make clear all along, what the Secretary tried to make clear when she was there recently is that we believe that there’s hard reforms that the Pakistani Government needs to take, and we do recognize that these are difficult, but they’re in the long-term interest of Pakistan’s economic stability and growth.
QUESTION: And secondly, is the acting special representative traveling to India also doing this trip?
MR. TONER: The acting – oh, is traveling to India?
QUESTION: India. Does he have any plans to?
MR. TONER: I will check on that. I’m not aware.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Mark, can I just quickly go into Pakistan one more, please?
MR. TONER: We never left.
QUESTION: Do you – are you thinking of any reassessment of U.S. policy toward Pakistan because of this turmoil going on?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: No, we’ve been clear on that. Yeah, go ahead, Jill.
QUESTION: Mark, there’s this disturbing story about this faked autism study. I don’t know whether you’ve been following it.
MR. TONER: Just briefly saw something on the news about it. What –
QUESTION: Well, the person who – the journalist who did that story is saying that the visa for this guy who did the research, Andrew Wakefield, should be pulled, because he was coming into the United States and deliberately misleading people who needed help with their autistic children, et cetera. Is there any – number one, is there any formal attempt to try to lift this guy’s visa? And in cases like that, when deliberate deception, it appears, is there any way that visas could be pulled for people to come to the states?
MR. TONER: Well, obviously, once they’re in the United States they become – they fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, but I mean, certainly there are always cases whereby – within – whereby actions can be taken to – if laws have been broken or whatnot. But I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for more details on that. And as a general rule, we don’t discuss individual visa cases, but –
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. TONER: Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about Ambassador Bosworth’s meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing?
MR. TONER: We do know that he – Ambassador Bosworth and his delegation did meet with the director of International – of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Minister Wang Jiarui as well as the Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and a Special Representative on the Korean Peninsula Affairs Ambassador Wu Dawei. They had useful consultations on how to coordinate moving forward in dealing with North Korea. That’s all I have. I believe he’s on to Tokyo next.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Just – sorry. It’s just a brief thing. Are you going to convene another trilateral after all his trip is done? I mean, meaning the trilateral between –
MR. TONER: Right, I do know what you’re – (laughter) – like, which trilateral? But, yes, I do know what you’re talking about. I have nothing to announce on that, no. Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Mark, after (inaudible) Bosworth’s meeting with Chinese officials, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman again called for early resumption of the Six-Party Talks. So do you have any comments?
MR. TONER: Look, we’ve been over and over this, so I really don’t want to weigh into this.
QUESTION: Can you tell us exactly what you’re asking North Korea to do? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m writing, please.
MR. TONER: We’ve been --
QUESTION: And then tell us what Richardson had to say about this.
MR. TONER: That’s right. We’ve been – (laughter) – we’ve been clear that North Korea must improve -- or must take irreversible steps to denuclearize, as well as living up to its commitments in the 2005 joint communiqué. We’re not going to have talks for talk’s sake. That’s it.
QUESTION: And you’re not going to reward them for bad behavior.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on Burma, if you don’t mind.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: You issued a statement I was reading the other day congratulating Burma’s (inaudible) government on their independence. One hand – on one hand, you don’t have relations with Burma; on the other hand you are congratulating them. What does it make --
MR. TONER: We have a two-track approach to the --
QUESTION: And you do have relations with --
MR. TONER: -- Burmese Government. Thank you, Matt. And we do – at the same time, we’re seeking engagement, which admittedly hasn’t shown much progress and borne much fruit. But we’re also pushing them hard to release political prisoners and to take clear democratic steps.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry, one last one, easy one. Catherine Ashton calling for a Quartet meeting early next month on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference – do you like that idea?
MR. TONER: I don’t know about that idea. I would assume we would, but I’ll get back to you. I don't know about it yet.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
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