12:37 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Just a quick update on the Secretary. She’ll soon wrap up her day in London – I believe the conference has already concluded – and of course, head home. We do expect her to do a press conference before departing sometime, well, very soon. So let’s try to move quickly through this briefing so you can all watch that.
The Secretary, of course, began her day with a bilateral meeting with the representative of the Libyan Transitional National Council, Mr. Jibril, the same person that she met with in Paris, I think, a little more than a week ago. She also met with Foreign Secretary Hague and Prime Minister Cameron prior to the conference, and I believe she had some additional bilats during the day. I don't have any more information on those.
One more thing at the top, and then I’ll take your questions. Today, the United States is taking further action to increase pressure on Iran for its failure to meet its international obligations with regard to its nuclear program. The key element of our strategy focuses on Iran’s oil and gas production capacity, which, as UN Security Council Resolution 1929 recognized, Iran uses to fund its proliferation activities as well as to mask procurement for the importation of dual-use items.
The State Department is sanctioning Belarusneft, a state-owned Belarusian energy company, under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996. As of --
QUESTION: Can you spell that, Mark? Can you spell it?
MR. TONER: Sure. Belarusneft. Belarus, of course, B-e-l-a-r-u-s, neft, n-e-f-t.
QUESTION: One word?
MR. TONER: All one word, according to what I have here.
MR. TONER: I don't know what Chicago Stylebook has for that, but – I apologize. Let me go back. Under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, as amended by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act, so-called CISADA of 2010, for its involvement in the Iranian petroleum sector. In a thorough review, the Department confirmed that Belarusneft entered into a $500 million contract with the NaftIran Intertrade Company – that’s NaftIran Intertrade Company – in 2007 for the development of the Jofeir oil field in Iran.
QUESTION: Can you spell all that --
MR. TONER: Sure, I will.
MS. FULTON: There is going to be a release on this.
QUESTION: Hold on a second. Is there a statement --
MR. TONER: There’s going to be a statement.
MS. FULTON: Yes.
QUESTION: -- right now --
MR. TONER: Probably in your inboxes. Yes. (Laughter.) Thanks, Matt. Do you still want me to spell it?
MR. TONER: Okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Actually, I do, yeah.
MR. TONER: NaftIran is just N-a-f-t-I-r-a-n, Intertrade Company. And it was the – it was developed – in 2007 for the development for the Jofeir – J-o-f-e-i-r – oil field in Iran. I promise that’s the last.
Just finally, this action on Belarusneft is another application of U.S. sanctions on Iran. In September 2010, the State Department announced sanctions on the NaftIran Intertrade Company, and the Department has applied the – quote, unquote – “Special Rule” in CISADA to persuade five multinational energy companies to pledge to end their investments in Iran and provide assurances not to undertake new energy-related activity in Iran. Those companies were Total of France, Statoil of Norway, ENI of Italy, Royal Dutch Shell of the Netherlands, and INPEX of Japan.
QUESTION: One thing?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just what is the practical effect of those sanctions?
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: Does it freeze any assets they might have in the United States or fall that --
MR. TONER: Precisely. They limit the company’s ability to access the U.S. market. And even if they don’t have any U.S. commercial activities at present, they’ll limit their options to operate in the U.S. in the future and they’ll also defer – rather, deter the – any other companies from working in Iran’s energy sector, because they’ll now face a choice between doing business there or doing business in the U.S.
QUESTION: And just to be clear, is it denying them – is it just denying them access to the U.S. market, or is it barring U.S. individuals and entities from financial transactions with them?
MR. TONER: Basically, four sanctions. They’ll be prohibited from receiving export assistance from the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. They’ll be prohibited from obtaining U.S. Government export licenses. They’ll be prohibited from obtaining private U.S. bank loans exceeding 10 million in any 12-month period and also from seeking – securing, rather, any procurement contracts with the U.S. Government.
Good. That’s it, guys.
QUESTION: This company is not under sanctions already?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry? They’re not --
QUESTION: There are no sanctions, Belarus-related sanctions already --
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) this country.
MR. TONER: We’ll check on it, but --
QUESTION: And just on to the actual real impact of this, how many bank loans exceeding $10 million does this company have now?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m aware of none, but it obviously impedes their ability to deal --
QUESTION: Have they sought – have they ever sought a bank loan --
MR. TONER: No, but essentially what this --
QUESTION: -- for one dollar or $10 million?
MR. TONER: What this does is it closes off their ability to access any U.S. market or the U.S. market.
QUESTION: Has this company ever evinced an interest in getting into the U.S. market?
MR. TONER: No, but it also sends a message. They’ve --
QUESTION: Sorry. No?
MR. TONER: No. But they’ve also – it also sends a message to our partners in Europe as well that this is a company that we’ve decided to sanction. And I’m sure they have access or would seek access into European markets.
QUESTION: What is the effect of the – barring them from getting any U.S. export licenses? Just what does that mean?
MR. TONER: Sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: That’s okay. I mean, essentially, what I think it does is it’s an assistance that we offer. But I’d have to drill down to get you more details on that. I don't have any --
QUESTION: Because normally the United States imposes --
MR. TONER: Right.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- as an exception --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- to the sanctions --
MR. TONER: I think it would limit their ability to do so here, but I’d have to check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you get back to me on that?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: Any questions on that or any other questions?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s obviously very fluid. It’s unclear. I mean, obviously, we’re following events there as they happen. It is unclear, frankly, what has happened. I believe President Asad has also announced that he’ll speak to the Syrian people. But in essence, we believe President Asad is at a crossroads. He’s claimed to be a reformer for over a decade, but he’s made no substantive progress on political reforms, and we urge him to address the needs and the aspirations of the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Hasn’t the State Department, up until this point, taken him pretty seriously as a potential reformer? Secretary Clinton on Sunday on the talk shows talked about how there are many people in Congress who take him seriously. And she – her words seem to suggest that the Administration has too, at least viewed him as a potential reformer.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that he has claimed that mantle of reformer and he has, I think, implemented some economic reforms. But on the political side, he needs to make more progress – frankly, substantive progress. And you’re right. I mean, she did refer to members of Congress (inaudible).
QUESTION: What kinds of things should he do?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s not really for us to – I mean, there’s obviously – lifting the emergency law is something he’s talked about. But it’s not for us to define what the Syrian people are looking for, what they need. But clearly, he needs to address his people’s aspirations. And they’ve been clearly demonstrating because they feel that he’s failed to do so so far.
QUESTION: Well, in the past you have specifically noted cases of the detainment of what you regard as political prisoners and called for their release. Surely, you would say that he should release political prisoners?
MR. TONER: Precisely, yeah. I mean, we would call for the release of political prisoners.
QUESTION: Hey, Mark.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What – which members – or, rather, member of Congress was the Secretary referring to when she talked about --
MR. TONER: I don't know. I have not spoken to her about it. She said members from both parties.
QUESTION: She said members from both parties.
MR. TONER: Right. Right.
QUESTION: So presumably, Kerry, Pelosi, and we don’t know on the Republican side.
MR. TONER: I’m not sure on the other side. She didn’t elaborate.
QUESTION: Mark, which ones was she referring to?
MR. TONER: I said she didn’t elaborate, so I don't know. I didn’t talk to her.
QUESTION: I know. Well, then how do you know that she’s correct in saying that --
MR. TONER: I just said that she had referred to – I was clarifying what Paul had said.
QUESTION: Well, I’m asking you, though: Which members of Congress was she referring to? Are you aware – which members of Congress are you aware of who have called Asad a reformer?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of which members of Congress. I do know that – as I said, that President Asad has made some efforts on the economic front, but he’s lagged on the political front.
QUESTION: So there’s no tension between the Secretary and Senator Kerry about this issue?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: She wasn’t referring to him in particular?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Saying that he’s a reformer, was that intended to be a message of support to Asad?
MR. TONER: I think at the time when she answered the question, she was – again, her words speak for themselves, obviously, but she was attempting to frame the situation in Syria as compared to the situation elsewhere in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the status of American citizens who have – whom we believe have been detained in Syria, whether any have been released, and whether you’ve had consular access to those who remain?
MR. TONER: We can confirm the recent arrests of three U.S. citizens in Damascus, and one of whom has subsequently been released. Our Embassy consular officials have been in contact with Syrian authorities and continue to request consular access to the remaining detained U.S. citizens. They’ve not yet – we’ve not yet had consular access.
QUESTION: When did you – when was the one released?
MR. TONER: Did somebody --
QUESTION: Yeah, why were they arrested?
MR. TONER: We don’t know. We – again, we’ve not gotten consular access. We’ve not gotten clear information from the Syrian authorities.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea who they are?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I can’t get into their identities because of Privacy Act considerations.
QUESTION: Do we know – I mean, were they tourists wandering around Damascus or (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Again, I can’t really get into who their identities are. I mean, I can tell you that --
QUESTION: Well, the families of one of the victims – at least one was --
MR. TONER: I do know that the families – and we have been in touch with their families, both our Embassy in Damascus and in Washington has been in touch with the contact – have been in close contact with the families of the two remaining detained U.S. citizens. And I believe they’ve been out in the media, at least, talking about the cases.
QUESTION: Can you tell us which one is the one who has been released? Because all of these names have actually been in the media.
MR. TONER: I’ll see if I can get that for you. I’m not sure I can.
QUESTION: Wait --
MR. TONER: But just to say – just to add to that, that includes our Ambassador. He’s also been in contact with the Syrian Government and specifically the foreign minister regarding the two remaining --
QUESTION: The minister himself?
QUESTION: This sounds suspiciously like what I heard yesterday, isn’t it? Nothing has changed since yesterday?
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) No, we still don’t have consular access.
QUESTION: But nothing --
MR. TONER: But we continue to – again --
QUESTION: But nothing has changed since --
MR. TONER: Nothing has changed in terms of access or greater clarity on why they’re being held. But again, that’s not uncommon in Syria, where I believe our Travel Alert cautions people against – or that the Syrian Government often doesn’t alert us when American citizens are detained.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Now that we don’t have any cameras and things, could you just (inaudible) a little bit more about why the U.S. doesn’t go into Syria in the way that it’s gone into Libya? I mean, I keep hearing that it’s not based on precedent, it’s not based on consistency, that it’s the U.S. interests. Can you just help me a little bit more why there hasn’t been any sort of positioning vis-à-vis any kind of intervention in Syria?
MR. TONER: Well, just a reminder, the ground rules here are on the record, but --
QUESTION: Yeah. Oh, they are on the record?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
MR. TONER: Yes, that’s okay. But it just seemed you were somewhat mistaken, so I wanted to remind folks.
Look, the Secretary has spoken to this and others have spoken to this. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to what’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa. Clearly, we’re appalled by the violence that’s taken place in Syria and we have been very vocal in expressing those concerns with the Syrian Government – or to the Syrian Government, rather. But again, what we have – the situation that we had in Libya was an impending humanitarian crisis. The President spoke about this last night. There was an urgent international consensus that we needed to respond quickly, and we did so to avert what we felt was going to be a humanitarian catastrophe on a large scale, horrific scale.
But that said, we’re going to continue to make our concerns clear to the Syrian Government and to urge them to address their people’s aspirations and to refrain from violence going forward.
QUESTION: Is it – I realize it’s on the record. Is it because they’re not using planes? Is that part of it?
MR. TONER: No. It’s really – it doesn’t have to do with the use of planes versus other weaponry. Again, I think the international community acted quickly in Libya to avert what by all accounts would have been a huge humanitarian catastrophe. And now that we have 1973 in place, we’re going to continue to implement that to protect Libyan civilians, but we’re also going to increase, in the longer term, the political pressure on Qadhafi to step aside.
Anything else, guys?
QUESTION: Mark, anything new on Ivory Coast as far as U.S. diplomacy? This situation seems to be deteriorating into a full-blown civil war. Not to make any analogies with Libya, but anything going on, on the diplomacy front?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any updates beyond what I talked about last week in terms of our efforts in – at the UN, but we obviously remain concerned. I do know there was fighting overnight and yesterday. The rebels associated with President Ouattara, or supporters of President Ouattara, and we did note that President Ouattara issued an order to establish the republican forces of Cote d’Ivoire in an effort to unify the armed forces. We obviously deplore the use of violence in any respect, but we believe he’s making an effort to use his authority over the country’s armed forces
QUESTION: Can we – Mark, can we go back to Libya for a second?
QUESTION: Hold on, we were – just stay on Ivory Coast for a second. So do you regard these gunmen who are running around saying that they are – they support President-elect Ouattara as the – that they are the legitimate authorities? You know, these –
MR. TONER: I didn’t say that, actually. I – what I --
QUESTION: I know you didn’t --
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- but I’m asking if that’s –
MR. TONER: No, what I would – what we believe he’s – President Ouattara is trying to do is to make an effort to unify the armed forces. He issued an order trying to establish a new army that are composed of both the national armed forces as well as the Force Nouvelle. And again, he’s trying to use his powers as the elected leader to create unity and to quell the violence, we believe.
QUESTION: Right. But that hasn’t happened yet.
MR. TONER: It has not.
QUESTION: Right. So are – do you regard the people who are – the gunmen who are his supporters as being the legitimate security forces of the country or are they, as you said at first and then stopped, are they rebels that happen to be backing him?
MR. TONER: I think I characterized it, which is the rebel – they’re supporters of Ouattara.
QUESTION: Exactly, as – are supporters of Ouattara with guns the legitimate security forces?
MR. TONER: And we believe that President Ouattara is making an effort to unify the armed forces under one command.
MR. TONER: Yeah, I’m saying under one – he’s trying to unify his forces.
QUESTION: I understand that, but that – but that you just said that that hasn’t happened yet.
MR. TONER: It’s not happened. We urge that to happen --
QUESTION: So – understood.
MR. TONER: -- and we urge an end to violence.
QUESTION: So in the meantime, are you regarding these people with guns, who support Ouatarra as the legitimate security forces of Ivory Coast?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Just going back to Libya. Is there anything new in – there are reports that Chris Stevens, the former DCM at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, will be going to Benghazi. It was my impression that he has already been to Benghazi. Is that not correct?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe that’s true.
MR. TONER: I – we – I’ll double check, but I don’t believe so. The security situation just hasn’t permitted it yet. I know it’s – that we’re – it’s still being discussed and we’re just trying to wait until there’s a more secure environment?
QUESTION: Is he going there? Is he going to Benghazi next?
MR. TONER: I believe that is still the goal, is to send him to Benghazi, but --
QUESTION: But a decision has not been made?
MR. TONER: But again, it’s a matter of the security situation, security environment.
QUESTION: But has a decision been made to send him there?
MR. TONER: I believe so.
QUESTION: It’s in the Burns transcript.
QUESTION: And is there – has there been any change in his status since senior Administration officials identified him on March 14th in Paris as the U.S. representative to the opposition – interim government?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.
QUESTION: Back on Syria, the Administration’s been trying for a couple of years now to talk the Asad government into moving toward changes – for his changes in the policies, including political reform. How well, in the Administration’s judgment, has that gone? Has there been, in the Administration’s view, progress?
MR. TONER: Again, as I said earlier, I think he’s made some – the government’s made some economic reforms but has lagged on the political front. And again, I mean, it’s apparent that he hasn’t gone far enough because you’ve got widespread public demonstrations against the government.
QUESTION: Can you point to anything that he’s done that’s – that shows that there’s – on the political side that he’s done anything to justify the Administration’s hope that he might move in that direction?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t know how hopeful we are that he’ll move in one direction or another. I think that one of the reasons we were supportive of putting an ambassador in Syria was to open up a dialogue with the Syrian Government where we could express our concerns and our candid assessment of the situation there. But clearly, the Syrian Government needs to do more to address the aspirations of its people. I don’t want to necessarily point to a – to what we believe they – what specific measures we believe they should take because that’s a matter for the Syrian people.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, do you have any comment on the United Nations appeals for 430,000 tons of food aid to North Korea to feed 6 million people?
MR. TONER: Well, we remain concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people. Our last program of food assistance was abruptly suspended, as you recall, by the North Koreans in March 2009. Our humanitarian personnel were ordered to leave then, and forced to leave behind 20,000 metric tons of U.S. food items. And just a reminder, our policy on the provision of humanitarian assistance is based on three factors: the level of need in a given country, competing needs in other countries, as well as our ability to ensure that aid is reliably reaching the people in need. But with regards to your specific question, no decisions have been made to provide food aid.
QUESTION: Also, the Chinese foreign ministry said yesterday that North Korea uranium enrichment program should be discussed at this Six-Party Talks, not at the UN Security Council. So you are insisting on putting it – uranium issue to the Security Council?
MR. TONER: The last part of your question?
QUESTION: So Chinese foreign ministry –
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- said North Korea’s uranium enrichment program should be discussed at the Six-Party Talks, not the UN Security Council. So you still insist on bringing the uranium issue with the Security Council?
MR. TONER: Well, right now the Six-Party talks that are – there’s no plans for another round, and so we’ll continue to express our concerns about the uranium enrichment program in North Korea in the appropriate fora.
QUESTION: I understand that China’s position is the United States agreed to hold the Six-Party Talks without any conditions, such as –
MR. TONER: You understand that the Chinese position --
QUESTION: Position is to resume the Six-Party Talks without any conditions, such as the uranium enrichment and apology for Cheonan sinking. So you still think the uranium enrichment and the Cheonan sinking –
MR. TONER: Our position’s clear, and I know others in the room have heard it ad nauseum, that we feel that North Korea needs to take concrete actions before we can begin or talk about Six-Party Talks.
QUESTION: Follow-up question.
MR. TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: About North Korea. A senior South Korean official told to reporters yesterday or a couple of days ago about --
MR. TONER: A senior South Korean official?
QUESTION: Yes. And there was a meeting between the WFP and potential donor countries, including the United States, in Rome last weekend, and that the way the donor countries responded to the WFP report was very cynical. And did they – they pointed out that the WFP overestimated the food shortage in North Korea. Do you agree with him in terms of the way he characterized the donor countries’ response to the report?
MR. TONER: The way the Korean official --
MR. TONER: -- characterized the WFP’s assessment of food needs?
QUESTION: Over-estimating the food shortage in North Korea.
MR. TONER: Yeah, I don’t have any reaction, but we can check on that. I’m not aware that we have any reaction to that. I wasn’t aware of the meeting so --
QUESTION: Mark, do you have anything on this story that Qadhafi’s son – excuse me – we’ve been discussing a little bit about that – being on that internship in the United States?
MR. TONER: Well, sure. First off, this is Qadhafi’s son Khamis?
QUESTION: Yes. And State Department involvement in (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Yeah. No, thanks. And it’s actually helpful for me to clarify on the record. First off, the State Department did not approve any meetings. There’s nothing – there was nothing, in fact, for the State Department to sign off on. This was a private internship. We were aware of his itinerary, but that was the extent of it. And our role was limited to meeting him upon his arrival at the airport, which is not unusual in these kinds of situations. But I don’t know anything beyond that, really.
QUESTION: Just because he’s the son of a leader that --
MR. TONER: Precisely.
QUESTION: -- that even on a private visit --
MR. TONER: It’s a protocol issue. But that was truly the extent of our involvement.
QUESTION: One more (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Just so we’re clear, there was no State Department involvement? I mean, presumably, you issued him a visa, correct?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Unless he already had one?
MR. TONER: He may have already had one. I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And – but the program had nothing to do with the U.S. Government whatsoever?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: When was he here?
QUESTION: Well, he made some visits to government – to military-related places.
MR. TONER: Such as?
QUESTION: Did he not? I mean, he was supposed to go to West Point, but that --
MR. TONER: He never went to West Point.
QUESTION: -- he went to. But he went to other service academies.
MR. TONER: I mean, I’ll refer you to the DOD, but I’m not – I know he didn’t go to West Point.
I’m sorry, North Korea.
QUESTION: Yeah. One short question. There have been a number of nongovernment exchanges between U.S. and North Korea, and I think that it may be more than the official side. How do you characterize?
MR. TONER: Nongovernment exchanges?
QUESTION: Yes. Between the U.S. and NGOs.
MR. TONER: Between NGOs – and what’s our stance or viewpoint?
QUESTION: Yeah. How do you characterize about these nongovernment exchanges?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we don’t have any – we would certainly not prohibit those kinds of exchanges. It’s something that’s – we don’t prohibit interaction with nongovernmental organizations in North Korea.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any organization in North Korea that is actually nongovernmental?
MR. TONER: Matt, no, I’m not, so I would be highly suspect. (Laughter.)
Well, is that it for everybody? We could --
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it. I’m aware of reports. We’ll look into it for you.
QUESTION: On Japan, one of the newly arriving correspondents told me recently that there was about 70,000 still missing in Japan, over 10,000 casualties. I’d just like to get an idea of what is the major thrust of our aid to Japan right now in the wake of the tsunami, in particular.
MR. TONER: Well, it’s been comprehensive and it’s involved both disaster assistance relief teams sent by USAID as well as teams of experts from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who remain on the ground and working with Japanese officials to assess the damage to the power plants there, all the way to the Pacific Command, which has provided both air support and sea support for relief efforts around the tsunami-affected areas and continues to do so. That includes rescuing people from homes and providing – I don’t have all – I don’t have the sheet in front of me, so I can’t tell you how many metric tons of food aid they’ve delivered, but we can get that for you.
And finally, in the early stages at least, there were teams dispatched – search and rescue teams from the United States – to help in searching for survivors. And frankly, that’s all going to continue. We’re committed to helping Japan as we move forward and as it recovers from this triple blow.
QUESTION: Well, just to follow up, the President did say in one of the earlier press conferences that heavy lift was going to be one of the things that they were interested in helping Japan with. Has that been followed through on? In other words – and does that imply that the military is going to be more involved in the future?
MR. TONER: I mean, that would be something that, again, I would refer you to the Pentagon for specifics. But that heavy lift capability is something that would naturally come from the armed forces.
Is that it?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)
DPB # 42