1:57 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. I have nothing to announce, so right to your questions.
QUESTION: Nothing at all to announce?
MR. TONER: Nothing at all. (Laughter.) Not yet.
QUESTION: Nothing? Nothing? Maybe later today?
MR. TONER: Perhaps.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, if you having nothing to announce –
MR. TONER: Truly.
QUESTION: -- then I don’t have any questions.
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Great.
Anybody else? Go ahead, Arshad. Sorry.
QUESTION: So can you explain, as you will have noted, when the Secretary was speaking with Foreign Minister Stubb, she listed a series of things that she described as nonnegotiable, and on that list she did not include the departure of Qadhafi from power and from Libya. Was that intentional? I mean, is she trying to sort of keep some flexibility in there to try to keep this AU peace plan alive?
MR. TONER: Look, we want to see the departure of Colonel Qadhafi. We’ve said this from this podium. The Secretary has said it many times. She said it again today. I’m not going to parse where in her remarks that she put it, but that’s clearly still our demand. And in fact, we saw that the TNC opposition also called for his departure.
QUESTION: Is it a nonnegotiable demand?
MR. TONER: We’ve said it’s our bottom line. It’s a nonnegotiable demand.
QUESTION: His departure is a nonnegotiable demand?
MR. TONER: We believe he needs to depart power. He needs to step down. He’s delegitimized as a leader.
Go ahead. Welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you. With the country currently split in half, are you concerned that there’s going to be a sort of Sudan-like secession, that this – that Libya will be split into two? I know that that’s not what anyone wants, but –
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: (inaudible) on the ground.
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s – I think it’s premature to talk about any eventuality. What we’re working for and what we remain focused on is a democratic transition that is, first and foremost, just to reiterate what I just said, founded on Colonel Qadhafi’s departure from power. And then we went to see a credible democratic transition that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people. We believe that’s – that can happen. We believe that we can apply – continue to apply political pressure on Qadhafi and his regime so that he gets the message that it’s time for him to go. But what’s going on right now is you’ve also got UN Security Resolution 1973, which is, again, maintaining the no-fly zone and allowing humanitarian assistance into the opposition areas.
But you’re right. It is a difficult situation. It’s obviously – there is a – there’s an urgent need, I think, to get humanitarian assistance in to the people of Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya, and – but we continue to believe that, through diplomatic pressure, we can end it.
QUESTION: Benghazi, do you have an update on what Chris Stevens is up to?
MR. TONER: I don’t have a lot of detail. I know he’s still in Benghazi. He’s – continues to talk to the TNC leadership. He’s talking about their political structure as well as what other needs they might have. I don’t know if he’s got a set departure date yet. He still remains (inaudible) there. So clearly, his discussions are having value. But obviously, the security situation remains foremost of our --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You believe his discussions are having value --
MR. TONER: No, I mean to the – he’s remaining --
QUESTION: -- why is that clear?
MR. TONER: -- quite clearly, because he’s remaining there to continue these discussions, so they’re having value, and they’re helping us get a better understanding of the opposition.
QUESTION: Yeah. But another way to look at it would be that he’s staying there, that he’s not getting – it’s not clear that he’s making any progress or getting anywhere, that he has to stay longer.
MR. TONER: I guess so, but I would just add that we believe he’s – he has – he is having valuable discussions with the opposition. He is getting a clear understanding of who they are, what they need. Obviously, security concerns are paramount and – but for the time being, he remains there working –
QUESTION: So if he’s --
QUESTION: Who are they and what do they need? (Inaudible) because multiple senior officials have said you don’t know enough about them. And I suppose you never know enough about anybody, but do you feel like you now, for example, know enough about them to give them U.S. funds?
MR. TONER: It’s – that’s an absolutely fair question, Arshad, and I don’t have a terrific answer because Chris is still on the ground. He’s still assessing the situation. I think there is a clearer profile emerging. We can see from their public statements that they’re committed to democracy, they’re committed to human rights, they’re committed to a pluralist system or a pluralist approach to government that takes into account all Libyans, so we’re seeing positive trends. And certainly, there’s a lot of disparate groups that make up the opposition. The Secretary has spoken to this. She talks about the fact that a lot of these people were not politicians or not even soldiers, those who are fighting in the opposition. But now this group is coming together, they’re evolving, and we’re still assessing. I know it seems like I said that a lot, but I think we’re still assessing who they are. We’re getting closer and we’re still trying to figure out how we can best help them.
Yeah, go ahead, Courtney.
QUESTION: On Gbagbo, can you explain what happens next now that he’s in the custody of Ouattara’s forces? What’s the next step? Is he going to be charged with human rights violations?
MR. TONER: Okay. I’m aware that he is in the custody of – I don't know whether – what will be the follow-on actions. We do, of course, believe he should be held accountable for his actions. But he’s now in the custody of Ouattara – President Ouattara’s government. I mean, what we really want to see happen, first and foremost, is calm return to Abidjan. We’ve turned a corner now, and now we can – it’s the end of the Gbagbo era, and President Ouattara can finally assume power, power that he won through the election box and become the rightful president of Cote d'Ivoire. He has a reconciliation plan. He’s got a plan for the future of Cote d'Ivoire that we believe is a good one. And frankly, it’s satisfying to see that the Ivoirian people can now finally have a peaceful democratic transition that has escaped them thus far.
As for Mr. Gbagbo, as I said, he’s in custody now. We believe he should be held accountable. I know that’s been talked about. I don’t have any information about what might happen next. I’ll try to get that for you.
QUESTION: Are you afraid and is the Secretary afraid of – that some of Gbagbo’s forces will simply not give up, or is she afraid of the possibility of reprisals on the part of Ouattara’s supporters against Gbagbo’s supporters, or both?
MR. TONER: I would just say that I think we’re always concerned in a very volatile situation like that that has, in large part, been stoked by Mr. Gbagbo in his effort to hold onto power, that there are indeed a lot of unknowns right now in terms of his forces on the ground, what they might do. So that’s why we’re appealing for calm and trying to get a sense or trying to convey the message that, indeed, Cote d'Ivoire has now turned the corner; they can – they’ve got a way forward, they have a president who was elected, and now is the time for calm and transition.
Yeah, go ahead, Michel.
MR. TONER: We don’t have very credible information coming from Syria, frankly. It’s very hard to get a clear picture about what’s going on on the ground. We obviously – we’re aware of the continuing protests on a massive scale or a large scale, but we don’t know the numbers, and that’s largely because the situation is so volatile and also government restrictions on media access.
We, however, condemn the violence that we have been able to hear about against peaceful protestors by the Syrian authorities, and we obviously extend our condolences to those who were injured or killed in those – in that violence. We call on Syrian authorities to refrain from any further violence against peaceful protestors as well as arbitrary arrests, and we also urge them to allow this free flow of information that will allow – that will permit the international community to better follow, in fact, what’s going on on the ground there.
QUESTION: Are you in contacts with the government, with President Assad?
MR. TONER: We do remain in contact. I know Ambassador Ford and others have remained in contact with the Syrian Government and continue to convey our concerns.
In the back.
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to announce for you yet, but once we do, we’ll let you know.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Libya for one second?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Two journalists, two U.S. – two American journalists have been detained in Libya, James Foley and Clare Morgana Gillis.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. Government doing to get them released?
MR. TONER: Well, we talked a little bit about this last week, but we continue to work through our contacts on the ground. Obviously, we don’t have a mission there, so that’s a hindrance. But we do work through, I believe, the Turks, for example, but other interlocutors to try to figure out where they are and to work for their release.
QUESTION: There are other foreign journalists in Libya –
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- that have been detained. Al Jazeera has – Ammar Al-Hamdan and Kamel Al Tallou have been detained for several weeks in Libya. What can the U.S. Government do to get the freedom of non-American journalists in Libya, or do you focus only on --
MR. TONER: No. I mean, first and foremost, we do focus on American citizens for obvious reasons. But there have been other cases where we’ve – we’re aware of journalists. We’re obviously – when we do get information that journalists have been detained, we try to monitor where they are and monitor their cases. It is difficult, frankly. We are limited in what we can do in Libya right now except to make public appeals like I’m – I can do right now. But beyond that, we can work through our protecting power there and try to get better information about their whereabouts. But we are limited, unfortunately.
Go ahead, (inaudible).
QUESTION: The Swiss Ambassador to Iran is in Washington today --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- discussing with Secretary Clinton – can you tell us which issues they are going to discuss?
MR. TONER: Right. I believe she’s actually meeting with Under Secretary Burns, but the Secretary may try to stop by, and I think, in part, just to thank her. We deeply appreciated – appreciate Ambassador Agosti’s dedication and her efforts on behalf of the U.S. citizens who are currently detained in Iran. She’s greatly assisted our government in our efforts to ensure their fair and humane treatment. So we do appreciate what the Swiss have done for us, and I think it’s to thank her for her efforts and to obviously also get her readout of the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: But is there any news about the detained citizens in Iran?
MR. TONER: God bless you. God bless you, sorry. No, it’s part of her regular consultations, so I don't know that she’s bringing any particular news to share. She’s here. We always meet with her when she is here at a high level. We value her work and her insight, and obviously, we deeply appreciate the efforts of the Swiss in trying to secure the freedom of American citizens in Iran.
QUESTION: I just want to ask you about North Korea. I know you’re anxious to get back there. The – there are diplomats in Seoul who are talking about how Kathleen Stephens, the U.S. Ambassador there, is urging them to get back into Six-Party talks in the next one to two months. There’s a State Department official who is quoted as saying he hopes that Jimmy Carter’s visit will help to make progress in getting back there. Is there anything new from the State Department publicly that you’re willing to say? Do you hope to get back into these talks sooner rather than later? Is there anything publicly that you’re willing to say?
MR. TONER: No, I mean, Sean, I’m really hesitant to put any kind of timeline on something that important. We’ve said all along that we don’t want to talk for talk’s sake. We want to see the DPRK, North Korea to improve South – North-South relations and to demonstrate a change in behavior. Last year was marked by a series of provocative actions, and we want to see an end to those actions, and we want to see them take steps toward irreversible denuclearization and as well as complying with their commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement.
So there’s nothing really to report. We’re still looking for those next steps by North Korea denuclearization. And again, I hesitate to put any kind of soon, now, later. That kind of timeline on it, I think, is not helpful.
QUESTION: You have any updates on your plans to provide food aid North Korea?
MR. TONER: No updates.
In the back.
QUESTION: Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong has arrived in the United States. She will co-chair with Secretary Clinton the second round meeting of China-U.S. High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. So how do you comment on this mechanism?
MR. TONER: Well, obviously, you’re absolutely right. You stole my thunder by talking about the event that will take place on April 11th and 12th at the State Department. President Obama has said that the relationship between the United States and China is going to shape the 21st century, and so enhanced opportunities for exchanges between the people of our two countries is incredibly important to both our national and economic security. And we’re very excited about the state councilor’s visit and look forward to the event.
QUESTION: How exactly did her question steal your thunder? And what was –
MR. TONER: She talked about the event.
QUESTION: What was the thunder that – (laughter) – and speaking of this visit –
MR. TONER: Go, Sabres! I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you. No. On this visit, last week we saw the annual ritualistic dance of your release of the Human Rights Report and the Chinese immediate condemnation of it, which, frankly, has gotten a little bit tiring every year. But do you think that that coming so soon after this – after this exchange, the annual exchange of vitriol, that these talks will be as productive as they might otherwise be?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if I agree with your characterization of it as an annual exchange of vitriol. Look, for our part, we are – we do our Human Rights Reports every year. We are candid in our exchanges with China about human rights concerns both from the podium and in our private meetings with them. And certainly, we don’t regard it as an interference in our internal affairs when any foreign government or individual organization monitors our human rights practices. And we are proud to say that our system of government allows for that kind of comment without fear or without fear of recrimination. And it speaks to the value of our system, we feel.
So I wouldn’t describe it as that. Obviously, we’ve got a very broad and complex and varied relationship with China, and as the President said, it’s one of the pivotal relationships of the 21st century, and we feel that these kinds of people-to-people, individual-to-individual exchanges build that relationship and strengthen it going forward.
QUESTION: Can you explain why, if the United States is proud of its human rights record, that the UN special rapporteur has complained that you’re not allowing him independent access to Bradley Manning?
MR. TONER: We’ve been in contact with the UN special rapporteur. We’ve had conversations with you in terms of access to –
QUESTION: With me?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. We’ve had conversations with the special rapporteur. We’ve discussed Bradley Manning’s case with him. But in terms of visits to PFC Manning, that’s something for the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: And the ICRC with the same problem? You are – the State Department is the direct contact with the ICRC. At least it was for the Guantanamo inmates. Have you had any contact with them?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware. I don’t know. I’d have to look into that. But in terms of the UN special rapporteur, we’ve had conversations with him. We have ongoing conversations with him. But in terms of access to Manning, that’s something for the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: If you welcome scrutiny, where’s the harm?
MR. TONER: I said we’re having conversations with him. We’re trying to work with him to meet his needs. But I don’t understand the question.
QUESTION: Well, you said you welcome scrutiny from outsiders of the United States human rights record –
MR. TONER: Right. We do.
QUESTION: -- that you feel that it speaks to the strength of the U.S. system. So why does it take very lengthy conversations to agree to let a UN special rapporteur have access to an inmate?
MR. TONER: Well, again, for the specific visitation requests, that’s something that Department of Defense would best answer. But look, we’ve been very clear that there’s a legal process underway. We’ve been forthright, I think, in talking about Private – PFC Manning’s situation. We are in conversations, ongoing conversations with the special rapporteur. We have nothing to hide. But in terms of an actual visit to Manning, that’s something that DOD would handle.
QUESTION: Well, but you have conveyed messages from DOD back to the UN on this?
MR. TONER: Well, no. We’re just – look, we’re aware of his requests. We’re working with him.
QUESTION: Can – you said you’ve been forthright in your discussions of his treatment. It seems to me that the only person who was forthright in discussions of his treatment resigned several days after making those comments. What – can you explain what you mean by you’ve been forthright in terms of his treatment?
MR. TONER: He is being held in legal detention. There’s a legal process underway, so I’m not going to discuss in any more detail than what I – beyond what I’ve just said because there’s a legal process underway.
QUESTION: So that’s what you mean by forthright?
MR. TONER: I can’t discuss – I can’t discuss his treatment.
QUESTION: Being forthright is saying nothing because there’s a legal process underway; is that correct?
MR. TONER: That’s not correct at all. And we’ve – we continue to talk to the special rapporteur about his case.
QUESTION: Well, okay. So if you’ve been – what do you talk to him about?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to talk about --
QUESTION: He says, “I’d like to visit him and I need to do it privately,” and you say, “No,” and that’s --
MR. TONER: I’m not going to talk about the substance of those conversations. I’d just say we feel we’ve been --
QUESTION: Well, then I don’t understand how you can say that you’re being forthright about it if you refuse to talk about it. And if you don’t talk about it, at least – forget about what the actual conditions of his treatment are, but if you’re not prepared to talk about your conversations with the special rapporteur, that’s being even less than not being forthright because you’re not telling us what you told him.
MR. TONER: But you understand the legal constraints that I’m operating under because this is an ongoing legal process.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MR. TONER: He is being held --
QUESTION: I understand that you’re put in a difficult position where you say that you’re willing, as Arshad noted when the – that you’re – you don’t understand why China is so upset because the U.S. is willing to open up its human rights situation to all kinds of scrutiny --
MR. TONER: And, Matt --
QUESTION: And then the first example that anyone raises, you’re not.
MR. TONER: And, Matt, I would raise with you the fact that much of China’s report came from open source, which is what an independent media does, and would note that that kind of independent media does serve a function. And there are details about the Manning case and other human rights concerns out there, but I’m not going to talk about it here.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: South Korean chief nuclear envoy recently announced he’s coming here tomorrow --
MR. TONER: He is.
QUESTION: -- to see --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- State Department officials. You have anything on that?
MR. TONER: I do. He is coming here. He’s going to meet with Kurt Campbell on April 12th. He’s also going to meet with North Korea Policy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth and the Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks Ambassador Sung Kim, and also our Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Robert Einhorn. That’s going to be on April 13th. And these meetings are – oh, I’m sorry. He’ll also meet with Deputy Secretary Steinberg on April 14th. And these meetings are part of our ongoing and regular consultations with officials from the Republic of Korea.
QUESTION: I had one other thing.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: There was some hint last week that there might be some movement in the Argentine debacle. No?
MR. TONER: Debacle. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I don’t know what else to call it.
MR. TONER: No. We’ve not reached a resolution in the Argentine issue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)
DPB # 50