12:55 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: I assume everybody’s going to hustle over to the Department of Interior, or no?
MR. TONER: Yes, no, maybe so?
QUESTION: I think you assume incorrectly.
MR. TONER: All right. Well, Matt’s not. But for those of you who are, I’ll try to keep this – who are, I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible. I did want to come down, though, and try to answer some of your questions. Where do I start? Where do I start?
Today, the initial shipment of U.S.-supplied non-lethal aid to Libya’s Transitional National Council was delivered to Benghazi. This shipment, authorized under the President’s April 26th drawdown, consisted of more than 10,000 halal meals ready to eat, so-called MREs, that were transferred from Department of Defense stocks in support of the TNC’s efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under the threat of attack. Other items are en route and include medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, and personal protective gear, and these are also from DOD inventories. We continue to work with the TNC to determine what additional assistance requirements we might be able to support in the coming weeks.
Just very briefly, the Secretary’s day. This morning she delivered remarks at the Signing Ceremony for six new U.S.-China EcoPartnerships. That was here at the Department of State. Also this morning, Deputy Secretary Steinberg led the U.S. delegation in a meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Zhang and PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff General Ma. They had good, constructive discussion on a range of issues. We believe by having these senior officials and military leaders added to this year’s S&ED that it contributes over the long term to building strategic trust between our two countries and our governments writ large, and also between our militaries.
Secretary then welcomed State Councilor Dai to the Department of State, and they led the – and then led the S&ED Strategic Track Small Group Session 2 with State Councilor Dai, where they discussed bilateral issues. She then participated in the inaugural meeting of the Advisory Committee for the 100,000 Strong Initiative. They are now co-hosting – her and Secretary Geithner are now co-hosting a luncheon with Vice Premier Wang, State Councilor Dai, and U.S. and Chinese business leaders. That’s at Blair House.
And then this afternoon, Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner, Vice Premier Wang and State Councilor Dai will deliver joint closing remarks at the Department of the Interior. And then, as you know, Secretary Clinton and Geithner – Secretary Geithner will then hold a joint press avail at the Department of the Interior.
Do you want to go, Matt, or are you okay?
QUESTION: I don’t really have anything that warrants leading off.
MR. TONER: Okay.
MR. TONER: I think it’s – look, we’re continuing to work with Pakistan to make sure that we have access to any information that could contribute to our common goal here, which is continue our counterterrorism cooperation and making progress against extremists on – in Pakistan and elsewhere. And we believe we’re making progress and that we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to work through any obstacles and increase our information sharing.
QUESTION: So have they told you that, yes, you can, or have they given you any conditions for the access?
MR. TONER: I think we – as I said, I think we believe we’re making progress on not just this issue, but on a range of issues in terms of information sharing.
QUESTION: Does that mean you’ve had access to them, or –
MR. TONER: No. As I said, I think we – we’re – we said that we will have access to information that could contribute to our common goal.
QUESTION: Is that –
QUESTION: But not to – but to them? I mean, that was his question.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: You think you will have access to them?
MR. TONER: And I don’t want to respond specifically to his question, but just to say that we’ve – we’re in discussions with the Pakistani authorities. There’s a variety of sources of information that we’re seeking access to related to bin Ladin’s house and the people there. And we believe we’re going to get there and we’re going to – we’re making progress.
QUESTION: So it’s not confirmed that you’ve got access to these three wives?
MR. TONER: As I said, we’re making progress. So –
QUESTION: But Mark, Pakistanis were saying that these women will be deported wherever they belong to, and also one of the wives said that she will not leave the compound and she will live there at least for the next five years.
MR. TONER: Goyal, I don’t – frankly, as National Security Advisor Donilon said the other day, we’re seeking access to these wives because we believe it’s important to our ongoing counterterrorism cooperation and our ongoing counterterrorism efforts that they can provide valuable information. But as to their future, that’s a matter for the Pakistani authorities.
QUESTION: What’s the reluctance to confirm directly –
MR. TONER: I just don’t – I just –
QUESTION: Do you know?
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm.
QUESTION: Because it sounds like you are confirming.
MR. TONER: I’m not – I’m not confirming. What I’m trying to say is that we believe that – and are optimistic that we’ll be able to work through obstacles in terms of information gathering and sharing. And again, I’m talking more broadly, but – obviously about access to the wives.
QUESTION: What makes you optimistic?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we’re in discussions with the Pakistani authorities, and the signals we’re getting are – make us optimistic.
QUESTION: And you said two other –
QUESTION: Well, the Pakistanis are saying that you can – that the U.S. can have access if you get permission from the countries from which these women come. Is that your understanding?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the – of precisely of what the conditions are. But again, we believe that these can be overcome.
QUESTION: Are you confirming that there are conditions?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: You mentioned something about three wives and others. Can you just give us more detail about – except these three wives, what else?
MR. TONER: By others I meant –
QUESTION: Who else?
MR. TONER: -- other information, other – I mean, obviously, the Seal Team Six that departed with a large cache of information, but there’s other sources of information that remain there, including the wives, and we believe that that’s valuable. I don’t really want to talk about it more than what I’ve said already.
QUESTION: So before you – I’m sorry. So before you get access or information from these wives, then that means that Pakistani authorities already – they are in their custody. They are getting information from them already, right?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Pakistani authorities about that.
QUESTION: Are they sharing with you this?
MR. TONER: Again, I mean, we – our dialogue continues. I’m not going to talk about what information may or may not have been shared so far.
QUESTION: Mark, what’s your concern about the stability of the government now? Not talking about the military, but the actual civilian government in Pakistan.
MR. TONER: In Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Oh, sorry. Well, look, I mean, I think that last week’s events were significant, and it raised questions among the Pakistani public that the government is now trying to address. And we believe that Pakistan has strengthening democratic institutions and can weather this event.
QUESTION: When you say raising questions, are you saying that the Pakistani public – hello, there’s a whole slew of us back here.
MR. TONER: All right. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is that going to the government’s legitimacy or effectiveness? Elaborate on what you mean by that.
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, elaborate only in the sense that these raised questions that we’ve cited here, that his existence in Pakistan for five years raises questions about what kind of support network he had there. And the Pakistani Government’s going to have to answer those questions, going to have to look at its military and its intelligence communities and try to get answers.
QUESTION: Are you seeing any signs that would indicate that perhaps the Zardari government is in jeopardy of survival?
MR. TONER: Again, I think it was – again, last week was a significant event. The government’s trying to address some of the questions that it raised. But we’ve seen no signs of (inaudible).
QUESTION: Is there any timeline for the questions that you have raised with (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: No. I think the President said in his interview the other night – said that we’re not expecting this to be done quickly.
QUESTION: Can you share with us the copy of the agreement that you signed in 2001 with the Pakistani --
MR. TONER: It’s an interestingly phrased question, Tejinder. I’ll just say that we’re not going to comment on any details of our internal deliberations with Pakistan.
QUESTION: So there --
MR. TONER: I have no comment or no awareness --
QUESTION: So there were (inaudible) –
MR. TONER: -- of any kind of agreement, but we don’t really discuss our internal discussions.
QUESTION: Mark, have you had any conversations with Senator Kerry for his trip going to Pakistan this week?
MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I assume we have been talking to him. When does he leave? He --
QUESTION: Well, they haven’t announced, but it’s probably going to be this weekend.
QUESTION: There have been --
MR. TONER: I’ll check. I’ll take that question. Yeah.
QUESTION: There have been pro-Usama rallies in parts – large parts of Pakistan and even in Kashmir. This is the only part of the world where there have been pro-Usama rallies. What do you make of --
MR. TONER: Well, it’s – unfortunately, it’s not the only part. We’ve seen other parts of the world where – I think a Hamas leader came out with some ill-chosen comments last week as well. And the vast majority of citizens around the world view this man as a murderer and a terrorist, and are happy he’s gone, and the fact that he is gone will no doubt make the world a safer place.
QUESTION: There’s a small clip of Obama that has – that is being aired by --
MR. TONER: Usama?
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Usama. And that is being aired, in which he talks about that U.S. will not stay in peace until Palestinians stay in peace or something like that. It’s a very small clip that’s being aired in Asia. Do you have any comments on that clip?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I’m not going to --
QUESTION: It’s a new clip, they are saying.
MR. TONER: Yeah. No. I haven’t heard of that clip. I just know the one that was released over the weekend of him watching video of himself.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: Change of --
QUESTION: And Senator – one more – and Senator Kerry said – has given, it seems, a statement that funds to Pakistan should stop – that is also being aired. I was watching (inaudible).
MR. TONER: I don’t know of any comments by Senator Kerry. I’d just refer you to Senator Kerry’s office. Our position is – remains that counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan is in our national interest. We believe it should continue. We believe its yielded results. But clearly, there are concerns raised both by Congress and within this Administration, and those concerns need to be addressed.
QUESTION: Some authorities seem to suggest that they are confident they can put an end to the protest movement. Is that your assessment as well, and do you think that’s --
QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry.
MR. TONER: That’s okay. You’re referring to the piece today?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syria.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So is it your assessment that the protest movement has ended in Syria, that the Syrian Government has kind of won the day?
MR. TONER: Well, I’ve seen the piece and have also been in touch with our mission on the ground in Damascus, which has a different view of what’s going on in Syria. And what we would say is that what’s apparent from events of the past weeks is that the Syrian Government’s repression in towns like Dara’a and Banias simply stirs up new violence and, frankly, strengthens the resolve of the Syrian people’s demands. I would add that false government claims of reforms such as lifting the emergency law while expanding the number of persons arbitrarily arrested is also no answer to Syria’s problems. Today, we just – we’ve seen the extension of Syrian Government security forces to new locales that have been peaceful so far, and this includes Jassem in southern Syria, and we’re aware that protest leaders in Jassem had urged their people to avoid violence and urged the Syrian Government to respect the rights of free expression there.
So, again, we just – we deplore this kind of – these kinds of steps and we urge the Syrian Government to stop shooting protesters, to allow for peaceful marches, and to stop these kinds of arrest campaigns, arbitrary arrests, and to start a serious and meaningful dialogue.
QUESTION: But in the long term, do you expect the Syrian authorities to put an end to the protest movement?
MR. TONER: Again, we believe that the kinds of actions that they’ve undertaken have only strengthened the resolve of the protesters and that using force against peaceful protesters is not a way – not a viable way to respond.
QUESTION: A final question from me: How concerned are you about Syria’s ability to stir trouble in the region if they feel that their regime is under threat? There’s another article quoting a cousin of President Asad, who strongly suggests that Syria is capable of bringing stability to the region and therefore is also able to bring chaos.
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. It’s pretty clear that the Syrian Government has its hands full domestically, but obviously, we would just reiterate our calls on the Syrian Government, as we have in the past, to play a constructive role in the region.
QUESTION: Hey, Mark?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: There are some reports that Syria has dropped its bid for the Human Rights Council. I was curious if you had any confirmation or a comment on that.
MR. TONER: I don’t. Obviously, we oppose their nomination, or their seeking the Human Rights Council – a seat on the Human Rights Council, but I don’t have any confirmation that they have done – that they backed away from it.
QUESTION: Mark, is there any –
QUESTION: Mark – sorry.
QUESTION: -- indication that the Syrians – the Syrian Government is using all of the news about Usama bin Ladin to, kind of under the radar, increase the brutality?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t think anything that they’re doing is under the radar. In fact, as today’s piece in The New York Times that Kim mentioned, it’s seems like they’re being very aboveboard about it, and it’s somewhat shocking to see. But again, there’s no escaping the eventual accountability for their actions.
QUESTION: You said at the beginning –
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- of the spiel that your – the team – your team on the ground has a different impression of the situation?
MR. TONER: Well, I just meant Ambassador Ford and –
QUESTION: And how, exactly, do they have any impression? Where have they been, outside Damascus, in the last month and a half?
MR. TONER: Well, they’ve obviously – they’ve got a range of contacts throughout the country and they’ve been in touch with them and getting as much as they can – as much, Matt, and I agree with your basic point here, which is that movement around Syria is very restricted. And the absence of international media is also a problem, but obviously, our Embassy, our mission, has a range of contacts. I don’t want to really comment beyond that, but they are able to get information.
QUESTION: You just said something about accountability. Is it the first time that the U.S. Administration calls for the Syrian –
MR. TONER: No, we’ve – the UN Human Rights Council said they’re going to investigate –
QUESTION: That’s different, investigating and held accountable.
MR. TONER: -- human rights abuses, and we are – we’ve said all along that we believe that, as elsewhere, that these governments will be held accountable for their actions.
QUESTION: Mark, you and – the U.S. and the EU –
MR. TONER: Why don’t I stand up; this is really awkward.
QUESTION: No problem. You’ve imposed sanctions on Syria, and all these sanctions do not include President Asad. Is he untouchable, do you think?
MR. TONER: Untouchable for our sanctions, or –
QUESTION: That means why all these sanctions didn’t include Asad?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think those – the initial tranche of sanctions, again, were targeting what we believe were individuals at the operational level carrying out some of these operations that I’ve cited. But we’ve also said that we’re going to continue to evaluate and assess as we move forward, and other options, including sanctions, remain on the table.
QUESTION: Now it’s been two weeks --
MR. TONER: I know it’s been two weeks.
QUESTION: And lots of things happened --
MR. TONER: I agree.
QUESTION: -- in these last days.
MR. TONER: Yeah. I think we continue to assess, and obviously it’s a developing situation. We’re concerned. We’re monitoring it closely.
QUESTION: But you do not yet believe that Asad has lost his legitimacy?
MR. TONER: We believe that he needs to take concrete steps to cease violence against innocent protesters and civilians, and he needs to address their legitimate aspirations.
QUESTION: But you do not yet think he has lost his legitimacy?
MR. TONER: I’ll just --
QUESTION: You’re not – but I haven’t heard the word “democratic transition” or “transition” out of your mouth as it relates to Syria, whereas I have heard that as it --
MR. TONER: Right, right.
QUESTION: -- relates to Libya and --
MR. TONER: No, I know. And --
QUESTION: -- Egypt.
MR. TONER: -- obviously we don’t have a single approach to any of these countries except to say that these governments need to respect the rights of their citizens to protest peacefully and then they need to address their aspirations and not answer it with violence.
QUESTION: So why does Asad still get a chance?
MR. TONER: Again, he is – his government or his regime we have called on countless times to take concrete action and --
QUESTION: Exactly, and they’ve ignored you countless times just as the Qadhafi regime has.
MR. TONER: -- Matt, we continue – we’ve --
QUESTION: I understand that. Why, though? Why do you continue to call? Why do you continue to think that there is a window for him to – or for the regime to change?
MR. TONER: I agree that that window is narrowing, but our position remains the same.
QUESTION: But right this minute, do you think that the Asad regime is still a regime that you can work with towards reform?
MR. TONER: Again, I would shift the onus here to the Asad regime in that they have talked a lot about reform. They have claimed to have lifted the emergency law only to have arbitrarily arrested people and taken violent action against peaceful protesters. They’ve now moved into other parts of the country to quell these protests. And the onus is on them to take significant steps to show that they can address these concerns peacefully.
QUESTION: Can we expect sanctions on President Asad soon?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any to announce. But as I’ve said, everything remains on the table. All options remain on the table.
QUESTION: Are you discussing Syria with the Arab League, why the Arab League is not taking a strong position on what’s happening in Syria?
MR. TONER: I’ll see when the last time we’ve discussed this with the Arab League. I mean, I know it’s a topic of discussion. I don’t know if we discussed it in the past days or whether it was last week.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Burma, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today announced that he is sending in the special envoy, Vijay Nambiar, to Burma this week for five days. What are the expectations from his visit?
MR. TONER: For the UN special envoy?
QUESTION: Yeah, Vijay to Burma.
MR. TONER: I’d refer you to the UN for their expectations. I mean, we --
QUESTION: What is the U.S. expectations here?
MR. TONER: We obviously – I mean, look, we’ve – our position on Burma hasn’t changed. We want to see an opening for a democratic reform there. We’ve been pretty consistent in our – again, we have a two-track approach there, but obviously, it hasn’t yielded much results. But we would certainly welcome any visit by the UN special rapporteur to increase access, increase democratic reform, even though we’re skeptical.
QUESTION: Mark, anything --
QUESTION: Do you have any idea --
MR. TONER: Yeah. I can – thanks, David. I can confirm that we’ve received – or rather High Representative Ashton did receive a letter from the Iranians, a response, if you will, to her February 11th letter to Dr. Jalili, and we are consulting with her officer and our P-5+1 partners, studying the contents of the letter, and obviously, considering next steps. But we, obviously, stand by the unified P-5+1 position that High Representative Ashton expressed in her letter after what we would consider the disappointing meetings in Istanbul, and that’s that we believe Iran should be prepared to negotiate seriously on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: Is there anything in the letter to her?
QUESTION: It’s safe to assume that in the letter they’re proposing another meeting, right?
MR. TONER: I haven’t seen the contents of the letter. I haven’t read them yet. But I believe that’s the case.
QUESTION: Well, if they are proposing another meeting what – is there anything in the letter that you’ve heard of that would make you inclined to have another meeting given what you yourself described as the disappointing results in Istanbul?
MR. TONER: Again, everybody is studying the letter right now and, well, obviously, this is a consultative process. But again, our bottom line is that we believe that Iran needs to come ready for serious discussions if they take place.
QUESTION: When was the letter received, do you know?
MR. TONER: I want to say yesterday, but don’t hold me to that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On Iran.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The hikers’ trial.
MR. TONER: Oh, sure. We understand from our Swiss protecting power that Iranian authorities have confirmed May 11th as the new trial date. We urge Iran to resolve this case as soon as possible. Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have been in prison for almost two years, and it’s time to reunite them with their families.
Just in answer to your likely follow-up questions, we did have a – the last visit by the Swiss protecting power was in – on October 26th in 2010.
QUESTION: That’s a long time ago.
MR. TONER: It is a long time ago.
QUESTION: Have you – have they sought it?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure, Matt. But we, obviously, urge Iran to permit Josh and Shane unfettered access to legal counsel and immediate consular access by the Swiss protecting power, and we remain in close contact with the Swiss protecting power, as well as with the hikers’ family.
QUESTION: To your knowledge, do they have access to legal counsel? Do you have any way of knowing given that --
MR. TONER: We don’t. We don’t have any way of knowing. I can certainly ask.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: I don’t know if this has been asked already during the week, but different country, detained American citizens. Al Jazeera journalist detained --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- allegedly, reportedly, detained in Damascus. The Syrians seemed to have confirmed that they have her. I mean, what has been done about it?
MR. TONER: Sure. Thanks, Kim. I talked a little bit about it last week, but we continue to press the Syrian authorities who, as you said, have taken responsibility for detaining her, for more information. We’ve not received any information beyond what I had last week, but we’re obviously very concerned about her well-being and we don’t have much additional detail beyond that, except that we continue to inquire for – and ask for --
QUESTION: Has the Embassy been trying to get access?
MR. TONER: Yeah. As we would with any American citizen.
QUESTION: Is it your belief that she is in Damascus?
MR. TONER: We just don’t have any way to confirm where her whereabouts are. That’s part of the problem --
QUESTION: When you say the U.S. is trying to --
MR. TONER: -- and frankly, a pattern we see a lot with Syria.
QUESTION: When you say the U.S. is trying to see Dorothy, have they been rejected? Have they just been put in limbo?
MR. TONER: I’ve said this in the past about – often when there’s – I think when we had some American citizens detained about a month or so ago in Syria, is that there’s a pattern of not a lot of information flowing from Syrian authorities about these individuals.
QUESTION: Mark, on North Korea, South Korean President Lee in Berlin offered to invite Kim Jong-il to next year’s Nuclear Security Summit if North Korea make a strong commitment to give up their nuclear programs. I wonder if there was any close consultation between the U.S. and South Korea before President Lee make those remarks in Berlin.
MR. TONER: Well, we, of course, always consult closely with our ally South Korea. We’re not going to speculate on what may happen, but our position’s always been that we believe that these kind – that North-South talks are an important opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity and to take some steps to improve relations.
QUESTION: Same topic?
QUESTION: Kim Jong-il, he – one more quick follow-up. Kim Jong-il made an offer to have a summit with President Lee without any precondition on any issues when Carter visits Pyongyang. And that was followed by President Lee’s remarks. Do we see any progress here?
MR. TONER: Again, I --
QUESTION: Are we going backward?
MR. TONER: It’s really – I mean, it’s a question I think better posed to the Government of South Korea, or really, the most important part of this, because it most – the relationship with North Korea obviously affects them the most. And that’s why we’re saying that it’s important that they take steps to improve relations, the bilateral relationship. We still – I’ve seen these reports, I’ve seen the comments and proposals. But we’re looking, again, for concrete actions that show that North Korea is willing to change its belligerent behavior.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: During this S&ED, have you made any progress on the issue of North Korea? Have you –
MR. TONER: You know what? I’ll try to get a better readout. I haven’t been in the discussions themselves. Obviously, it’s been a topic, but I don’t have any specific details. They’re also going to talk – I do think they’re going to put out an outcomes document later, so perhaps it’ll be addressed in that.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to Pakistan? Pakistani press is reporting that Secretary Clinton has postponed the trip. Was there a trip and --
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to add or announce to that. I just don’t have any details.
QUESTION: But was there a trip on the cards?
MR. TONER: We don’t – as you know, we don’t confirm until we announce something. So --
QUESTION: Mark, do you have anything on the Mexican president being in town tomorrow with – meeting Secretary Clinton?
MR. TONER: I don’t. We’ll take the question, though.
QUESTION: Does Secretary Clinton have any plans to go to Haiti to attend the inauguration?
MR. TONER: Good question. I will check to see --
QUESTION: Or who will represent –
MR. TONER: Yeah. That – I’ll take that question as well.
Great. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks a lot.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:24 p.m.)
DPB # 63