1:38 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Welcome to the State Department. Good afternoon. I feel kind of bad actually holding this indoors in a windowless room today, but maybe we can all go down to the Mall. I don’t know. I’ll answer your questions in a moment on Bahrain. I’m sure you still have them. Obviously, the Secretary spoke to it from Capitol Hill.
But just briefly at the top, turning to Belarus, the United States deeply regrets that the Government of Belarus has begun the first trial of those detained for their involvement in the December 19th protest. We and many others in the international community have called for the immediate, unconditional release of all detainees and urged a halt to the crackdown on civil society, independent media, and the political opposition, and we reiterate that call today. The beginning of these trials is clearly another negative step on the part of the government.
While we’re in the region, very quickly, I just wanted to mention that the Secretary had an opportunity to engage with the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Azubalis yesterday and to welcome him as chairman of the Community of Democracies to the launch of the strategic dialogue with civil society. In a subsequent detailed discussion, Deputy Secretary Steinberg underscored strong U.S. support for Lithuania’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as for Lithuania’s multifaceted efforts to promote energy security, including the development of a nuclear power plant for the Baltic region.
And then very quickly, we are deeply saddened by the apparent sinking of a tourist boat in Halong Bay in northern Vietnam today. We can confirm that there were three American citizens who were on board, two of whom are among the deceased. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi is providing assistance to their families as well as to the surviving U.S. citizen. Because of privacy concerns, we’re not able to provide additional information on the survivor of that sinking.
QUESTION: Sorry, you said apparently sank?
MR. TONER: It sank, okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, it either did or didn’t.
MR. TONER: It did sink. I’m confirming that it sank. And tragically, as I said, two American citizens were lost in that.
That’s all I have for the top.
QUESTION: All right, Bahrain. Are there any developments post the Secretary’s call to the foreign minister, and what did the foreign minister say to her in response to her calls?
MR. TONER: Well, again, the Secretary, obviously spoke to this up on the Hill. But just kind of reiterating what happened, we’ve got – we have reports that as many as five protestors were killed in the incident overnight, many more wounded. We’re obviously deeply concerned by the actions of the Bahraini security forces and are seeking additional information surrounding these events. And obviously, we extend our condolences to the families and friends of those killed.
And as you said, she did speak to the Bahraini foreign minister earlier today. And our chargé d'affaires has also reached out to senior Bahraini officials to deliver the same message.
QUESTION: And their response?
MR. TONER: I don’t have their immediate response. But again, we would just call on them – there were some welcoming – or there were some statements, rather, made by the Bahraini King and interior minister the other day promising investigations into earlier deaths, as well as possible legal action against the unjustified use of force, and we urge similar action be taken in the case of today’s events.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean, are those statements really statements that are made in good faith? I mean, if he said – made these statements and then this morning launched another crackdown, so is that just basically for consumption of people like you that they are going to look into when they’re continuing to do it?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t think that they would – that would be the height of irresponsibility to make statements like that publicly or otherwise and not have them meant in good faith. Again, we are urging an investigation into what happened last night and trying to get to the bottom of it.
Go ahead, James.
QUESTION: What does it say for the fact that Secretary Clinton herself was in Manama ten weeks ago and said before assembled news media that she’s impressed with the efforts toward democracy on the part of Bahrain?
MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary was speaking, obviously, several weeks ago and was talking about some efforts that were made by the Bahraini Government towards political reform and to address some of the concerns that we’re now seeing expressed on the Pearl roundabout by the Bahraini people. But clearly, this is something that the Bahraini Government needs to address in a greater fashion. Again, just to reiterate what we’re calling for here: restraint by the government; restraint as well by the protestors, but by the government; and expressing our full support for the right of these people to express themselves. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, these are all essential rights that should be respected.
QUESTION: We’re led to understand that Presidential Study Directive 11 was informing the views and actions of top U.S. officials from August to the present. And yet in that time, we’ve seen Secretary Clinton say how impressed she is with Bahrain’s pathway toward democracy, and we’ve seen her say, at the outset of the Egyptian revolution, that she sees the Mubarak regime as stable. Was she not one of those who had this report circulated to her?
MR. TONER: And you also heard her in Doha speak quite eloquently and forcefully about the need for governments across the region to address their societies, their youthful demographics – their young people’s, rather, legitimate concerns for political reform, for social reform, for economic opportunity. And so she was quite clear in her message to the region.
QUESTION: It seems she misread both situations, didn’t she?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, both situations – Egypt and Bahrain?
MR. TONER: Again, I would just say – go back to her message. Couldn’t have been clearer in Doha.
QUESTION: Yeah, but she also --
MR. TONER: And --
QUESTION: Again, just to finish the point, I mean, but she also said that she was impressed. So is she saying – is the message now that it doesn’t matter what the U.S. thinks in terms of what these efforts are if the people on the street don’t think that they’re – they’re not enough?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, your words, Elise, but we’ve said that throughout the Egyptian process, it’s a matter for the Bahraini people, it’s a matter for the Egyptian people. Going back to last week and continuing, obviously, in Cairo, the United States is obviously engaged and monitoring the situations, is delivering, we believe, a tough and consistent message to the governments in the region. But ultimately, it’s for the people of these countries --
QUESTION: So just to kind of make – just so that I can be clear, so, basically, the United States feels that any – if any of these people in any of these countries feel – if the majority of the people feel that their leader should step down, they should step down?
MR. TONER: That’s not what we’re saying at all. Again, these people do have the right, though, to freedom of assembly, and that the government should allow them to exercise that right.
QUESTION: I understand. But they’re also calling for the end of the monarchy.
MR. TONER: And as well – as well as addressing the underlying concerns. It’s incumbent on any government – in a democracy certainly, but incumbent on any government when you see those concerns addressed, or concerns expressed, by the population to take steps in some way to engage them.
QUESTION: I don’t remember a very tough message after the election. I mean, one of the things is that the people are kind of upset about the recent election there in Bahrain. I don’t remember a very tough message from the United States in terms of the results of the election and the lack of monitors involved. I mean, how much do you think this is a reaction to the election?
MR. TONER: I honestly don’t know, Elise. But as I said, clearly there are concerns on the part of the people, the protestors, towards their government, towards their political system. And insofar as the government can address those concerns, we think it’s right to do so.
QUESTION: Was Secretary Clinton a recipient of or even consulted on this presidential study directive?
MR. TONER: James, I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you explain what this reprogramming of $150 million --
MR. TONER: I don’t have a lot of details for you, Matt. Just in terms of --
QUESTION: Really? So the Secretary goes up to the Hill and makes an announcement about this, and you don’t have anything about it?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I don’t. I mean, obviously, these are fast-moving events. What we’re trying to do here is free up funding that will allow us to address Egypt’s needs going forward. And I think the Secretary spoke to the fact that Under Secretary Burns and David Lipton from the White House are going to go out to the region and talk to the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: Where is the money being taken from?
MR. TONER: Those details I’ll have to find out for you. I don’t know at this point.
QUESTION: $150 million is not an insignificant amount of money.
MR. TONER: I understand that.
QUESTION: You don’t know where it’s coming from?
MR. TONER: I understand that.
QUESTION: Or what it’s being reprogrammed to?
MR. TONER: Well, again --
QUESTION: How do you know you need $150 million?
MR. TONER: Again, the idea here is that we’re trying to make funds available, a sum of money available, assistance money, because we have pledged --
QUESTION: Right. I understand that --
MR. TONER: -- our willingness to help Egypt during this transition period. We’re dispatching Under Secretary Burns, David Lipton to Cairo. They’re going to talk to the Egyptian Government, Egyptian authorities, Egyptian political groups, trying to get a better assessment. So the Secretary’s announcement today, but we’ll provide more details as they become available.
QUESTION: It’s of less concern to me exactly where the money is going to go in Egypt now. I want to know where it’s coming from, and I think members of Congress do, too.
MR. TONER: I agree with you.
QUESTION: You might be familiar with a budget – a little budget battle going on right now. So where is the money coming from?
MR. TONER: I’ll find out for you, Matt.
MR. TONER: I really can’t, Elise. I mean, I don’t know – I mean, I know that they withdrew that request or that they did not ever file a request. But as to what their intent was, I don’t know.
QUESTION: But isn’t that, I mean, concerning to you right now, given all the unrest in the region, that Iran would want to send two warships through the Suez?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have all the --
QUESTION: Why would they need to do that?
MR. TONER: I don’t have all the details, frankly. You’ll have to ask the Iranian Government. But my understanding is that they never actually filed a request, and it’s unclear what their intent was.
QUESTION: Mark, is there any evidence that the --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- of a – some kind of split within the Iranian regime about the wisdom of proceeding forward with its nuclear program – the impact of economic sanctions, et cetera – is there any evidence of a schism within the regime?
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I don’t know or can’t speak to it authoritatively today. We’ve seen some signs that the sanctions have had some impact, and the best we can do is offer Iran a clear path forward and one that involves coming clean with the international community about its nuclear program, which would then lead to greater engagement and easing of sanctions.
QUESTION: Has the Department observed any slowdown on the part of the Iranians’ efforts to achieve a nuclear weapons capability?
MR. TONER: I can’t speak to that.
QUESTION: So in – do you have any assessment as to the desire of the Iranians to pursue a nuclear weapons capability? Does it remain your view that they are determined to achieve a nuclear weapons capability? That is the still the U.S. view, correct?
MR. TONER: The U.S. view is that Iran – that the international community has serious questions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and has asked repeatedly, through the IAEA, through the P-5+1, for Iran to come clean, to address those concerns in a transparent way. And we continue to call on them to --
QUESTION: You don’t affirmatively believe that they are seeking a nuclear weapon?
MR. TONER: We are asking them to – again, to address the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program, about the intention of their nuclear program. But I’m not going to go beyond that.
QUESTION: Do they want a bomb or not? Do they want a bomb?
MR. TONER: Ask Ahmadinejad.
QUESTION: Another subject, Venezuela?
QUESTION: No, can we stay in the region?
MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: For the last – well, for the life of this Administration so far, and again today when the Secretary reaffirmed this, it has been the U.S. position that the issue of Israeli settlements should not – that the UN Security Council is not an appropriate forum for the issue of settlements to be raised, criticized, or condemned. I’m wondering, then, how it is consistent – how it is consistent that the U.S. would propose a presidential statement at the Security Council instead of a resolution. That would seem to indicate that you do, in fact, believe the Security Council is an appropriate forum for such a statement.
MR. TONER: Well, Matt, the Secretary obviously reiterated just now on Capitol Hill our longstanding position on this. I can --
QUESTION: I know. That was part of my question.
MR. TONER: -- state it again. I can state it again. However --
QUESTION: No, please don’t. Tell me why it’s not inconsistent to propose a presidential statement.
MR. TONER: However, what I can tell you is that private diplomatic discussions are ongoing in New York, and I’m not going to get into the details of those discussions. And I feel like what you’re asking me is to talk about something that is not in the public domain. I’m not going to get into discussions that are going on in New York, except to say that we continue to make our position, the position iterated by the Secretary on the Hill – we continue to convey that to the --
QUESTION: Look, your statement that this is not in the public domain might have been true about 24 hours ago. But it is certainly in the public domain --
MR. TONER: There’s a lot of rumors, and there’s stories circulating about this. But I’m not going --
QUESTION: No, there’s a lot of named – there are a lot of named officials, Palestinians and others, who are talking about this --
MR. TONER: They may well be, but --
QUESTION: -- and who said that Susan Rice proposed a presidential statement as a compromise to avoid having a resolution.
MR. TONER: And --
QUESTION: You’ve been saying for weeks that you didn’t want this resolution to go through and that you didn’t think it was the right forum. So you can’t say that something else instead of a resolution would be better?
MR. TONER: I can say that I’m not going to get into the details of discussions that are going in New York right now.
QUESTION: Why are we here?
MR. TONER: That’s a question you ask, Elise. I don't know.
QUESTION: Mark, are you saying that the Palestinians and the Arabs who are talking about this are just making this up?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to characterize what they’re saying. I’m not going to characterize their motivation. But I’m going to say that I’m not going to discuss from this podium what our discussions may or may not entail.
QUESTION: All right, let’s talk then – let’s talk more abstractly then. The – in your view, is a presidential statement from the Security Council less powerful than a full-on resolution?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going into hypotheticals as well. We’ve been very clear --
QUESTION: That’s not a hypothetical question, Mark. Forgot about the subject --
MR. TONER: It is a hypothetical, because you’re talking about --
QUESTION: So forgot about the subject of what the statement or resolution would be. Is it the U.S. view that a presidential statement on something, anything, is less strong or less powerful than a resolution?
MR. TONER: Again, our belief is that the best way for the two parties to resolve these differences --
QUESTION: That’s a great answer to a question that I didn’t ask.
MR. TONER: -- is to go back into direct negotiations. But you’re ultimately asking about --
QUESTION: No, I’m not. I’m asking you --
MR. TONER: -- the status of a Palestinian resolution.
QUESTION: I’m not asking if it says – Palestinian resolution at all. I’m asking you if the United States believes that on any subject, the UN Security Council issues – a presidential statement from the Security Council is stronger or more powerful than a UN Security Council resolution.
MR. TONER: Ask a UN official what their --
QUESTION: I’m not asking --
MR. TONER: -- analysis of this abstract --
QUESTION: I’m not asking for the UN position. I’m asking for the U.S. position.
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to get into what we – what may or may not happen in New York. I’m not going to talk about hypothetical situations and possible actions. Sorry, just not going to go there.
QUESTION: But, Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: I’ll stop after this.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: But I’m not asking – what you’re – I’m not asking you a question that you can’t answer. It’s not a hypothetical question. It’s purely about how the U.S. views presidential statements --
MR. TONER: But, Matt --
QUESTION: -- versus resolutions. That’s it.
MR. TONER: But, Matt, you and I both know that this is rooted in something else. And so for me to answer that is leading in a direction that I don't want to go in because I’m not discussing the details of what we’re --
QUESTION: It’s – no, no. I’m not even going to get into that at all. In fact, I was going to – if you could have answered me, I was going to raise another issue entirely where this came at – where this difference between a statement and a resolution came into play, and that’s North Korea.
MR. TONER: I’m aware of that.
QUESTION: And that’s not hypothetical.
MR. TONER: I’m aware of that.
QUESTION: That already happened. It’s history. So when there are active discussions going on about something like this, the broader context of how you view certain instruments that the Security Council could or could not pass is relevant.
MR. TONER: Point taken.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Egypt money, funding for Egypt?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Did Egypt request this financial assistance of the U.S.?
MR. TONER: We’ve – I think in our discussions with the Egyptian Government – the quick answer is I don't know. But we have been forthcoming in saying we stand ready to offer Egypt any assistance as it faces – as the Secretary just said, there’s a great deal of work ahead and there’s some immediate and long-term both political but very real economic challenges. So we just want to be in a position where we can --
QUESTION: Which I understand, and I heard the Secretary’s comments. But what I can’t quite figure out is in, like, a more general sense what Egypt needs right now, what they need tens of millions of dollars for. I know that there’s the potential for elections sooner than expected this year, later this year. But there’s no infrastructure problems. There’s no --
MR. TONER: No, but there was a very real – I mean, again, I mean, there was a very real economic impact on the – that was caused by the protests and this latest period. But also, as I said, we want to be able to, as they move forward into a phase where they’re moving towards, ultimately, free and fair elections, that we’re positioned to bolster those efforts and help in any kind of way.
QUESTION: And it’s fair to --
MR. TONER: But, I mean, again, I’ll leave it to – Under Secretary Burns, David Lipton, a trained economist, is going to go to the region, and he’s going to – they’re going to assess what Egypt’s needs are.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that none of this money will go to any kind of security efforts?
MR. TONER: I simply don’t know, but I would doubt that. But I simply don’t – I can’t answer that categorically.
Sure, go ahead, James. Then to you.
QUESTION: Does Secretary Clinton feel well served by the intelligence community in the period leading up to the unrest in the Middle East?
MR. TONER: I haven’t spoken to her directly about it, but State Department’s intelligence office is – does excellent work, and we stand by their work.
MR. TONER: Well, can I just go to --
QUESTION: Okay, Venezuela.
MR. TONER: Oh, Venezuela.
MR. TONER: And then to Pakistan, James.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. A group of Venezuelan students are on hunger strike demanding the OAS general secretary to fix position what they consider democracy apparently in Venezuela. I was wondering, since the U.S. is being very supportive of the role of the OAS in the region, if you have any comments on that.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, you’re asking about the position towards the OAS?
QUESTION: Yeah. They haven’t said anything regarding that, the Venezuelan students are on hunger strike since a couple of days demanding a position from the OAS on Venezuela.
MR. TONER: A position on?
QUESTION: The state of democracy in Venezuela.
MR. TONER: I understand, okay. I’m not familiar with the case. I’m not familiar with the protest. And we could certainly –
QUESTION: And with the Venezuelan situation –
MR. TONER: We could certainly take the question and get you an answer. I just – it seems like a serious situation, and I don’t want to speak off the top of my head about it, so we’ll take that.
Go ahead, James.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. Crowley told us yesterday that American lawyers will be appearing in a Pakistani court today on the Davis case, and I wonder if you could just update us as to just what action –
MR. TONER: Sure. There’s a little bit of a clarification needed there. There was actually two separate court actions today in Lahore, as I understand it. One was the Lahore High Court that requested that the Government of Pakistan made a filing on the question of diplomatic immunity, and apparently they kicked that to March 14th. And we’re not a party to that particular case, so we didn’t – we wouldn’t have sent lawyers to that or had any kind of dealings with that case. That’s strictly between the Lahore High Court and the Government of Pakistan.
Now, there was also a Lahore Sessions Court in which Ray Davis was remanded today to judicial custody for an additional 14 days on weapons possession charges. And that’s just – that’s apparently a periodic court hearing during – as the case goes on. And – sorry, just to – just also to finish up – so Mr. Davis did participate in that Lahore Sessions Court hearing via videoconference from his – from where he’s being held and detained. And a representative of the U.S. consulate general in Lahore attended the session in the courtroom.
QUESTION: The weapons charges, is that new or is that the only charge he faces, as far as you understand, or he faces murder charges as well?
MR. TONER: It’s an excellent question. My understanding is that those are the only charges to date, but I will clarify that, okay?
QUESTION: And what kind of consular access have we had to him?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure when the last consular access was, but I believe it’s been pretty steady throughout. Heide, do you know for –
MS. FULTON: No.
MR. TONER: Okay. Yeah, I –
QUESTION: Consisting of what, exactly?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it always consists of consular officers visiting him in his detention facility, speaking with him, making sure that he’s not been abused or beaten or mistreated in any way, and having a conversation with him. I’m not sure when the date of that last visit was, though. I can try to find out.
QUESTION: You said he did – so there was a U.S. lawyer present in the courtroom.
MR. TONER: There was not a U.S. lawyer present in that courtroom.
QUESTION: There was not.
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: The person from – the one representative from the U.S. consular general –
MR. TONER: There was a Consulate General representative in that courtroom.
QUESTION: So basically, it’s your understanding – I mean, or basically you feel as if this was an attempted – according to the police report that this was an attempted robbery and that the evidence shows that he was responding to an attempted robbery; is that correct?
MR. TONER: That is what we have put forward and that he should be released immediately because of his diplomatic immunity, yes.
QUESTION: Mark, could I just follow up –
QUESTION: Well, there’s two different things. I mean, there’s diplomatic immunity and that – and there’s innocence. I mean, are you trying to get him released based on diplomatic immunity or on his innocence?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s a fair question, Elise. Our fundamental argument here remains the fact that, under the Vienna Conventions, he should have full diplomatic immunity and should be released immediately, and we call on the Pakistani Government to do so. That said, we’re also saying that he was obviously innocent of any criminal action and was simply defending himself in a botched robbery.
QUESTION: And your evidence of that is this police report?
MR. TONER: Obviously, our conversations with him, police report, other evidence. I don’t know exactly what all that – all the evidence is.
QUESTION: Mark, you just told us that there were two separate court actions.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: And the first one you mentioned, as I understand it – correct me if I’m wrong –
MR. TONER: Yup.
QUESTION: -- was that the high court in Pakistan –
MR. TONER: In Lahore.
QUESTION: -- in Lahore has requested a filing from the Pakistani Government –
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: -- and –
MR. TONER: On his diplomatic immunity.
QUESTION: And – on the subject of his diplomatic immunity, and given the Government of Pakistan until March 14 to admit that filing –
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: So that makes it exceedingly unlikely that Mr. Davis is going to be released anytime before March 14 at a minimum, correct?
MR. TONER: Well, again, and as our – as Ambassador Cameron Munter said earlier today in Islamabad, we’re very disappointed by that news.
QUESTION: Can I ask you –
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- a follow-up on that? That, like, there was an expectation, and P.J. said earlier this week, that the U.S. would be – was putting forth a petition to present the case for diplomatic immunity. Can you give us a sense of exactly what the argument was, what evidence was presented in order to make that case?
MR. TONER: I can’t. I’ll have to refer you to the Department of Justice on that.
MR. TONER: It’s really their bailiwick right now.
QUESTION: No, hold on a second. No, no, no. Okay. So the U.S. was going to present a petition to the Pakistani court –
MR. TONER: No, the Lahore – the Lahore piece of it, the Lahore High Court – we’re not a party to that trial. So we are not –
QUESTION: No, there was supposed to be a petition to that court today.
QUESTION: That the U.S. –
QUESTION: That the U.S. was going to present – they were going to make the case for –
MR. TONER: I don’t believe that’s correct.
QUESTION: Well, either you’re wrong or P.J. is wrong, but one of them –
MR. TONER: Well, that’s why I said at the top that – I mean, I’m trying to clarify. My understanding is that for the Lahore High Court, that is between the Lahore High Court and the Government of Pakistan. We are not a party to that proceeding.
QUESTION: So there –
MR. TONER: And then the other one is the actual criminal trial.
QUESTION: So there was no U.S. Government petition –
MR. TONER: Now, I don’t know if –
QUESTION: -- trying to explain why this individual had diplomatic immunity – trying to make that case.
MR. TONER: I mean, as to what – whether we’re working – I don’t know if we’re engaged with, I mean, the Pakistani Government on how they’re answering that question regarding diplomatic immunity. We’ve made every effort to clarify the status of his diplomatic –
QUESTION: But not during the court proceedings at all?
MR. TONER: -- immunity, but not during court proceedings.
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: On the Vienna Convention, what recourse do you have to get him released immediately? The President has said – Secretary has said –
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. What recourse?
QUESTION: Under Vienna Convention, what –
MR. TONER: Well, the President made the point that if you’re a signatory to the Convention, these things work because everybody complies with the letter of the law. So we – there’s a reciprocity issue. There’s an issue here that the Vienna Conventions allow diplomats all over the world – our diplomats, Pakistani diplomats – to conduct their business free from the fear, threat of criminal prosecution. So that’s how the law works.
QUESTION: And also, can you give us a sense of what Secretary believes now that is the U.S. relationship with Pakistan in view of this Raymond Davis case? What is your relationship with Pakistan now?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it is – I mean, P.J. spoke to this yesterday. The relationship continues. We’ve got a strategic dialogue with Pakistan. It’s a vital relationship for the United States and for Pakistan. We face many of the same threats, and we’re seeking to overcome them and create a Pakistan that has the right kind of democratic institutions and economic stability to – for a bright future, brighter future. And that’s at the core of our relationship with Pakistan. Has this case made that ongoing bilateral relationship more difficult? Probably yes. But we continue to work through this. And we continue to call on his immediate release so we can get back to the business at hand.
QUESTION: And now you are having the bilateral talks with Afghanistan (inaudible) 23 to 25th of February?
MR. TONER: I’m not clear, Lalit.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) was a trilateral dialogue with Pakistan, Afghanistan –
MR. TONER: The trilateral has been put on hold, but I’m not sure if –
QUESTION: At the same time there’s a bilateral with Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: I have to clarify. I’m not sure about that.
QUESTION: Senator Kerry’s visit (inaudible).
MR. TONER: I didn’t hear your question.
QUESTION: Senator Kerry’s visit to Pakistan.
MR. TONER: Was it helpful?
QUESTION: Didn’t help in that sense. He went there to get –
MR. TONER: Well, I mean he said specifically he didn’t go to – necessarily to get his release. He went to listen to the Pakistani Government and to understand the situation, to express our sympathy for those who lost their lives in this incident, and to pledge our commitment to working through this and to keeping the strategic dialogue and the bilateral relationship –
QUESTION: I thought it was because of –
MR. TONER: -- in good stead.
QUESTION: I thought it was in addition – it was a broader trip. I didn’t – I thought that the main reason wasn’t Davis, that the region – that the trip was basically to reaffirm the U.S.-Pakistani partnership.
MR. TONER: That’s what I just said.
QUESTION: No, but in the wake of the Pakistani Government reshuffling and all that stuff.
MR. TONER: Well, there’s that element, too. But, obviously, Davis was a part of that trip.
QUESTION: Sorry, he went to express sympathy for those who lost their lives, these two criminals who tried to rob your diplomat?
MR. TONER: And an additional Pakistani citizen who was also killed.
QUESTION: Mark, given the fact that Mr. Davis is being held against his will, against our wishes, and as you put it, despite the fact that he is utterly innocent of any criminal action, do you regard him as a hostage?
MR. TONER: That is – that’s an extremely loaded term. We are working hard with the Pakistani authorities to have them recognize his diplomatic immunity and release him immediately.
QUESTION: So he’s not a hostage?
MR. TONER: He is a diplomat and subject to full diplomatic immunity, and we call for his release immediately.
MR. TONER: On the –
QUESTION: -- conversation with the Mexican authorities over this – the killing of the two agents?
MR. TONER: Let me see if I have anything. Well, I mean, obviously, you know that U.S. law enforcement agencies are working closely with Mexican authorities. And yesterday, Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder established a joint taskforce between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice which will leverage the investigative capabilities of both agencies, again, to work with the Mexican authorities who have the lead in tracking down the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
QUESTION: But anything on this side of things at all, as Clinton –
MR. TONER: No, not to –
QUESTION: And is there any – and this may be a question for the taskforce, but just in case, is there any answer yet on why these two individuals were on their own out there in that highway?
MR. TONER: Nothing beyond the fact that they were obviously driving from Mexico City – back to Mexico City and were shot in the line of duty, but nothing beyond what their intent was.
MR. TONER: Sure.
MR. TONER: I don’t have new, but I can – sadly, I don’t think there is anything new. But we obviously remain mystified by this entire situation. We believe that this incident can be – could have been and can still be quickly resolved through just bilateral dialogue, through dialogue. My understanding is that the seized items remain in the custody of the Argentine customs officials. Again, mystified by the reaction; this was a training program that had been fully approved, painstakingly coordinated, and we still believe that these items were inappropriately seized.
QUESTION: For the past couple days, the words that people have – the word that you people have used is “puzzled.” Today, it’s “mystified?” Does that --
MR. TONER: It’s my own take on “puzzled.”
QUESTION: Does that represent a ramping up of your rhetoric?
QUESTION: I thought you were puzzled.
QUESTION: I mean --
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) I personally am mystified, but other people --
QUESTION: Can I go back to the Suez --
QUESTION: I mean – hold on a second. I mean, serious – there is a serious element to the – I mean --
MR. TONER: No, I think – puzzled, mystified, I’m not sure --
QUESTION: All right, so it’s basically the same, but you’re – it’s not – you’re not more puzzled now --
MR. TONER: I’m an English Lit major, what can I say.
QUESTION: -- than you were in --
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Suez? Are you sure that the Iranians have withdrew the request? Because the Egyptians --
MR. TONER: It’s my understanding. I’ve seen that from --
QUESTION: And the Egyptians are saying that they’ve received the request and are likely to grant permission. Is that concerning to you?
MR. TONER: My understanding is that they’ve not formally made a request. I mean, it’s just the reporting that I saw --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, wouldn’t the idea of Iranians sending warships to the Suez at this particular time of unrest in the region be of concern to you?
MR. TONER: I think that we’re – as P.J. said yesterday, we’re curious as to what their intent is and to find out more. But I truly believe it’s a nonissue. I don’t believe that they’ve requested that, but we’ll find out, Elise, and get back to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, Mark, with respect to our colleague, Lara Logan, do you have any indications that the Egyptian – that Egyptian authorities are investigating this horrific incident that happened in Cairo?
MR. TONER: That’s a fair question, and it indeed was a horrific incident. I will reach out to our Embassy in Cairo and find out what the status of that is.
QUESTION: And do you know specifically – I mean, what elements of the U.S. Government have, at this stage, asked for, in this specific case, an investigation or an examination or getting to the bottom of this? Has anyone in the U.S. Government?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, into her --
QUESTION: Has the Secretary or has the U.S. Government asked --
MR. TONER: I know the Secretary is obviously aware of the case and very concerned by it. Obviously, all of us are troubled by the incident. And I believe our Embassy has reached out to Egyptian authorities. Obviously, the safety and well-being of journalists has been, throughout this entire situation in Egypt, this entire process has been of paramount importance to us. We have engaged with the Egyptian Government and on multiple cases, we’ve tracked the whereabouts and safety of journalists throughout. As to this specific case, I’ll try to find out more information about it.
QUESTION: Do you know, when did the U.S. Government become aware of this?
MR. TONER: I don’t have all the details. I’ll have to find out more. I apologize; I just don’t know the tick tock of it.
QUESTION: Can you explain to me why you would treat this any differently than – this specific case any differently than the case of – other cases of journalists, even those who are lowly enough not to appear on – who don’t --
MR. TONER: I’m not trying to --
QUESTION: I’m just trying to – because your initial answer seemed to suggest that this case was getting some specific extra attention.
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: And I’m curious as to why it would when --
MR. TONER: I am aware that people here in the building are concerned by this particular case and --
QUESTION: Over other cases?
MR. TONER: -- the allegations that she made that what transpired is pretty egregious. But that said, we take the cases of all journalists who have been physically or mentally abused while trying to carry out their work quite seriously.
In the back.
QUESTION: Mark, do you see any signs of North Korea test-firing or not a ballistic missile from its new launch site?
MR. TONER: Testifying – I didn’t hear the –
QUESTION: A ballistic missile from its new --
MR. TONER: Test-firing – we have not. I don’t – that seems in touch on intelligence matters, but I don’t have anything to announce or say on that.
QUESTION: On Burma, Burma has a new parliament now and they have elected a new president and a prime minister. Have you been in touch with them? Have you sent any communications, welcome messages to the new --
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of that, Lalit.
MR. TONER: No passing notes.
QUESTION: -- foreign ministers of two countries have talks over Northern Territories last week, which ended in failure. And today, Russian foreign ministry spokesman said that there is no point in conducting negotiation over this territorial issue because of Japan’s radical position. I’m wondering if you have any --
MR. TONER: Our position on the Northern Territories is clear. I can get it for you. But we just – we would call for dialogue, because obviously, we’re – we want to see regional stability.
QUESTION: And are you concerned that tension between two countries is rising right now?
MR. TONER: Well, I said we just – we would urge, again, for both countries to pursue dialogue.
QUESTION: Can I go back to --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- the Middle East? Earlier this week, the – or over the weekend, the Syrian blogger, this teenage woman, was sentenced to five years for --
MR. TONER: Correct, yeah, I am aware of the case.
QUESTION: The Syrian foreign ministry has spun up a tale that she was a spy for the U.S., particularly the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Do you have any idea about this?
MR. TONER: I do not.
QUESTION: Have you heard – can – is it possible to look into this? They put out some pretty detailed --
MR. TONER: We will look into it, yeah. That’s fair.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Lalit.
QUESTION: On Nepal, in – early this week, the Nepalese police sat down some of the local Tibetan refugee camps where they were having elections, local community elections. Do you have any take on that? Do you have any reaction to it?
MR. TONER: I don’t, Lalit.
QUESTION: It is a big issue for the Tibetan community.
MR. TONER: I’d have to find out more about the situation before I weighed in on it.
Is that it?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah, one last question.
MR. TONER: Oh, sure.
QUESTION: Any reaction to the cyber attacks in Canada?
MR. TONER: No, not yet. I mean, we just don’t have anything on it yet. I’m not aware of it.
QUESTION: No information?
MR. TONER: No information yet.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)
DPB # 23