1:17 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Well, welcome to the State Department. Before we get into your questions and my announcements, I just did want to call everyone’s attention to the fact that Ambassador Victoria Nuland, otherwise known as “Toria” Nuland, has joined us as the spokesperson – spokesman here at State Department, and I’ll be remaining as the deputy spokesman. So it’s all good news and we’re looking forward to a new era. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Mark, this is good news, you say? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: It is. It’s very good news. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You won’t have to deal with (inaudible) in Europe.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) graveyard, anyway.
MR. TONER: Thanks. Thanks, Goyal. Thanks. I appreciate your support.
Just very briefly at the top, a few things. First of all, we do want to condemn the attack on UN – the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, otherwise known as UNIFIL. Our condolences go out to the victims of this attack. We continue to work with post and UNIFIL to gather details and to – we call on the Government of Lebanon to conduct a full investigation into incident, the circumstances of the attack, and to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice.
I also wanted to mention that, with humanitarian conditions worsening due to the severe drought and ongoing instability in Somalia, the United States has approved a $14.5 million contribution to the World Food Program to benefit Somalis in need of food assistance. The United States is also staging approximately 19,000 metric tons of food aid in its pre-positioning sites worldwide in order to be prepared for additional emergency food assistance in the weeks and the months to come. The United States Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg led a delegation of U.S. Government officials to Hargeisa, Somalia on May 26th. In addition to this contribution, the United States is providing or has already provided approximately $15 million in food assistance, $23 million in non-food humanitarian aid, and $27 million in development assistance since 2010. And also just to note that the United States has been the largest overall donor of humanitarian and food aid to Somalia. Since 1991, the U.S. has provided more than one billion in humanitarian assistance to Somalia.
Some of you may have seen the announcement of the White House that Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson will travel to Nigeria May 27th through 30th to lead the U.S. presidential delegation to the country’s inauguration ceremony, which is scheduled for Saturday, May 29th.
And then finally, I talked briefly about this yesterday, but you also probably saw the note we put out earlier today about Ambassador Princeton Lyman is being dispatched to ongoing peace talks about Darfur in Doha, Qatar, and he’ll go on to Sudan to address the recent crisis in Abyei as well as outstanding North-South issues. Ambassador Lyman travels tomorrow to Doha, where he’ll join with the U.S. senior adviser on Darfur, Dane Smith, at an all-Darfur stakeholders’ conference. He’ll urge the Sudanese Government and Darfuri armed movements to reach a political agreement, commit to an immediate ceasefire, and take immediate steps to improve security and humanitarian conditions on the ground in Darfur.
From Doha, Ambassador Lyman will travel to Khartoum and Juba. He’ll join Sudan envoys from the other Troika nations, the UK and Norway, to meet with Northern and Southern leaders to address the recent Abyei crisis and as part of a sustained dialogue with Sudanese officials on a wide range of issues, including full and timely implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the resolution of the Darfur conflict.
That’s all I have. I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Question following on that --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: -- did you give the date for when he’s actually going to travel in Khartoum?
MR. TONER: I do not. I believe he’s just in --
QUESTION: He’s going, like, one day?
MR. TONER: No. We don’t have it – I think Doha’s probably one day, so I think he’s onto Khartoum on, probably, Sunday.
QUESTION: When will he be back?
MR. TONER: He returns June 12th, so quite a long trip.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Different topic.
MR. TONER: I do. First of all, we welcome North Korea’s decision to release U.S. citizen Eddie Jun, and we did want to – Ambassador King, who, as you all know, is in North Korea, in Pyongyang, was able to visit Mr. Jun on May 26th, and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang did confirm to us earlier today that the North Korean Government is going to release him.
QUESTION: Is he already released?
MR. TONER: Our understanding is that he’s not yet left the country. I’m not sure what his exact whereabouts are.
QUESTION: He’s not planning to leave with Ambassador King, I’m assuming. Is he coming separately or --
MR. TONER: My understanding is that he’s not, that it’ll be separate.
QUESTION: Has Ambassador King left already?
MR. TONER: Ambassador King is leaving, I believe, tomorrow.
QUESTION: And you don’t know when he’s going to leave, when the citizen --
MR. TONER: Eddie Jun?
MR. TONER: No. I don’t.
QUESTION: Did you get any updates on his – how he was treated in – while he was incarcerated (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Well, in fact, we did have – or rather our Swedish protecting power did have regular access to him. I believe they saw him eight times since March. And certainly, as I said, we welcome North Korea’s decision to release him on humanitarian grounds. I’m limited to what I can say about his welfare or his condition because of Privacy Act considerations, but I believe he’s in decent health.
QUESTION: So when is he traveling back?
MR. TONER: I don't know, Lach. Again, we’re pleased with the announcement and we want to see him back on U.S. soil as soon as possible, but I don't have dates.
QUESTION: Can you tell us any more about what led to his release? And did it come up – and obviously you mentioned before Ambassador King left that he planned to raise it. Was it at that point that they promised this, or was it passed on through your protecting power?
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. And part of the reason I can’t give you a lot of details is we don’t have a lot of detail to offer at this point with Ambassador King still on the ground. We do know he did raise it with his North Korean interlocutors while he was there, and then we did receive, subsequently, word through our Swedish protecting power that he was going to be released.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just as part of that --
MR. TONER: But the relation and the tick-tock there, I just don’t know.
QUESTION: -- the reporting had indicated that Ambassador King had offered regrets or some – of that sense during the meeting, and then that’s the reason that they are releasing him. Can you tell us if that’s accurate?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don't have a readout of his discussions with North Korean officials surrounding this particular case. I just would say that we’ve been consistent in calling for his release on humanitarian grounds and we’re pleased that he is being released, but I don't have --
QUESTION: You don’t know if that was his intention to do so when he got there, to express his regret over the incident?
MR. TONER: To – well, I think – look, in any situation, he would convey our deep concern about the welfare of an American citizen. I’m sure that was conveyed. Again, he reiterated, I’m certain, our call for him to be released on humanitarian grounds. But beyond that, I just don’t have confirmation of what he may have discussed.
QUESTION: Does this influence your perception of how cooperative Pyongyang is being on a range of issues? Do you think this is an important step, and is it likely to have any bearing on any decision on food aid?
MR. TONER: No. And I’m glad you raised that point, actually, Andy, because it’s important to note and to clearly state that our food aid – any decisions about food aid are not related in any way to any – I don't know – policy-related decisions, if you will. They’re just – it’s a separate process altogether, and we’ve talked a little bit about that over the last several weeks. You know we have the food assessment team there. They’re conducting their mission. When they come back, we’re going to look at their assessment, study it, compare it to some of the other assessments that have been done by various NGOs and the World Food Program, and then make a decision based on that.
Look, to answer your first question, we welcome their decision. It’s certainly a positive step in that we have an American citizen who was being held there who is now going to be released, and we welcome it. But in terms of broader issues, there are a number of things we would like to see North Korea do in improving relations with South Korea, first and foremost, before we see other steps on other issues.
QUESTION: So this didn’t change anything?
MR. TONER: No. I mean, and it’s a separate issue altogether. We’re happy that an American citizen who was being held there has been released, but we’re still going to look for concrete actions in other areas.
Yeah. Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: Mark, on the attack (inaudible), who do you think is behind this attack?
MR. TONER: Look, Michel, we really don’t have any answers. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve called on a full investigation. Right now we’re just strongly condemning the violence, but we simply don’t – we don’t know the details yet.
QUESTION: And why do you think the Italian peacekeepers were targeted?
MR. TONER: Again, we – it was a terrible attack on UN peacekeepers, and we condemn it. But as to why, as to who was behind it, we just don’t have those answers yet. It’s one of the reasons why I said we’re calling for a full investigation.
MR. TONER: I mean, Samir, we can conjecture about a lot of things. And certainly we’ve seen Syria take some actions in the last couple of weeks to try to deflect attention on its own situation. But I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Just a quick question. There’re reports out that American officials have met with senior aides to Mullah Omar over the past couple of months as a way to broach reconciliation talks with the Taliban. Do you have anything on those?
MR. TONER: I don't have any details. I mean, I think the Secretary was pretty clear in her remarks the other day saying we’ve had – we have – continue to have a range of contacts in Afghanistan, but we don’t want to get into any specific details about who those contacts are. We continue to support an Afghan-led reconciliation process, and the Secretary was also quite clear in laying out what we believe are the red lines that the Taliban need to adhere to before we can have any kind of reconciliation.
QUESTION: Any more on the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: No, I don’t. Sorry.
QUESTION: Have some of those contacts taken place outside of Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. But again, I don’t have details.
QUESTION: Can I ask you – the UN Secretary General has sent letters to a number of countries in the eastern Mediterranean urging them not to send these flotillas next month to Gaza. I was curious what you can explain a little bit more about what the U.S. might be doing diplomatically to discourage --
MR. TONER: I know – I don’t know more broadly. I do know that, with respect to Turkey, we have been in contact with the Turkish Government and discussed it. Obviously, no one wants to see anything like what happened previously.
Yeah. Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Sorry. Nobody wants to see what part of it – the fact that they sent them or the fact that there was a response or what?
MR. TONER: No, just an incident, just an incident like previous –
QUESTION: Can we stay on that? Have you spoken to Israel at all in recent times about how they should respond to possible –
MR. TONER: I believe those were addressed in the aftermath of the previous incident. Yeah.
Go ahead, Goyal.
MR. TONER: The Secretary’s visit to Pakistan, sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Admiral Mullen and the Secretary was in Pakistan, and what I’m asking you is that before Admiral Mullen left, that he spoke at the Wilson Center in Washington, where –
MR. TONER: Admiral Mullen?
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: And where he said that he doesn’t see any evidence of high-ranking ISI or Pakistani military officials as far as hiding of Usama concerned. Same thing now the Secretary is saying in Islamabad.
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What I’m asking you: How can they say – how do they – how sure they are that the very long hand of any high officials, because most Pakistanis believe that ISI and military at the top must be knowing or they are hiding from them and from the U.S.? So what I’m asking now: Is there any U.S. policy change in Pakistan or Afghanistan as far as their visit is concerned?
MR. TONER: As far as –
QUESTION: Secretary’s visit is concerned.
MR. TONER: Well, Goyal, as you know, the Secretary, along with Admiral Mullen, gave a press conference earlier today in Islamabad. You’ve all seen the transcript. It’s important to note that she did meet with and had a very frank, open discussion with the leadership of Pakistan, President Zardari, and then Prime Minister Gilani, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khar, Foreign Secretary Bashir, Chief of the Army Staff Kayani, as well as General Pasha.
The Secretary, I think, was very frank in her assessment of those meetings. She thought they were very constructive. She reiterated what we said before, which is that there are challenges in this relationship, and – but we’re committed to working through them because, frankly, it’s in the interests both of the United States and Pakistan to do so.
And with respect to your question, the Secretary – both the Secretary and Admiral Mullen said they see no evidence. They repeated that again today. I think the Secretary spoke of the fact that, with the president, that he may have been behind – that al-Qaida may have been behind the attack on his wife. And so this is – again, it’s worth noting that Pakistan is a country that’s been deeply touched by the scourge of terrorism. It’s had thousands killed by terrorists on its soil, and so they face an existential threat from al-Qaida and other terrorists as well. We’re committed to working with Pakistan moving forward on this.
QUESTION: And finally, is the Secretary asking the Pakistani to do more now, whatever the past is past, but as far as future is concerned for the Pakistanis as far as terrorism concerned, and so they will not train or export any more terrorists around the globe?
MR. TONER: Wind chime in here?
The Secretary was clear to say that we’re at a pivotal moment in the relationship, certainly with the death of bin Ladin, but there’s other important aspects of the relationship that are in motion. We’ve been applying – next door in Afghanistan; we’ve been applying steady pressure on the Taliban. We want to see also, concurrent with that, the reconciliation – Afghan-led reconciliation process move forward. So there’s clearly a lot on the table here. This is not a time for inaction – this is – inaction at all. This is a time for greater action and consolidated effort, I think, is what the Secretary was trying to say.
QUESTION: Continuing on the same –
MR. TONER: Okay. I was going to go – but Tejinder, then –
QUESTION: The Secretary seems to have given a clean chit to Pakistan. On what basis this is being given while the Chicago court is listening to all what Headley has to say against the ISI? And also that – does this mean that we have evaluated all the material that we took from bin Ladin compound?
MR. TONER: I think the Secretary acknowledged that – in her press availability that – and we’re appreciative of the Government of Pakistan giving us access to bin Ladin’s compound.
In relation to your other question, I don’t think she gave them a free chit, if you will. We acknowledge that there are difficulties in the relationship, but the bottom line is that this is a relationship that’s in our interest and in Pakistan’s interest, and so we need to work through these challenges moving forward.
QUESTION: So we cannot conclude that Pakistan’s hand is not in the attacks?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You’re talking about the Mumbai attacks?
QUESTION: In the Mumbai attacks and also in hiding bin Ladin.
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the Headley trial that’s playing out in Chicago. We’ve talked about it before. But I’m restricted in what I can comment on it while it’s an ongoing legal process.
QUESTION: And you mention about the transcript. In her transcript she says many of the leaders of the Taliban continue to live in Pakistan. So on what basis she says that and did she meet any of them or --
MR. TONER: Well, Tejinder, we’ve – it’s widely known that in some of the FATA areas of Pakistan that there are Taliban leaders, that the borders are very porous and they move freely across them, and that’s a challenge that we need to confront in – we can’t put pressure on Afghanistan and not apply that same pressure within Pakistan. And it’s something frankly that – something that the Pakistan armed forces have taken on. They have made progress in that area.
QUESTION: Just another one on Headley. Secretary Napolitano is in India today and she said that India would be getting more access to David Headley, so what is the State Department take on it? When is it going to happen?
MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t seen her remarks. I’ve just – I have your questions, as well as I’ve seen press reports, so I’m not informed totally on what she said. We’ve given access to Indian authorities to Mr. Headley in the past. Right now there’s a trial going on in Chicago and – but we’re going to continue close counterterrorism cooperation with India moving forward.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to ask about the Caucasus. The parliament of Armenia yesterday ratified offer of the president about the general amnesty, which means a lot of people that were imprisoned, including those that were in prison due to political internal clashes in 2008 most likely will be released soon. Why I’m asking the question because this was one of the requirements of the international community, including the United States, to release these people that got jailed due to political crisis. So if – I was wondering if you could – if you can comment on the --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Just go back on your question a little bit, it was one of the requirements in terms of --
QUESTION: To release the --
MR. TONER: In terms of – you’re talking about Nagorno-Karabakh?
QUESTION: No, no. That was the requirement of the international community, to release the people that were imprisoned --
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- in Armenia in 2008 due to internal political problems.
MR. TONER: Okay. Sorry.
QUESTION: So I was wondering if you could comment on the initiative of the government about this general amnesty.
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t have all the details. Certainly, we would view the release of any political prisoners as a welcome sign. But I’d have to look into it more to give a broader response, because I’m not aware of the details of the action.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on a question earlier this week about the Saudi woman, Manal al-Sharif, who was arrested after posting a YouTube video driving in Khobar. Any update on her status? And has the United States expressed concern to the Saudi Government over her detention?
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I’ll have to look into it. I’m not aware that – I don’t know that there’s been direct contact with the Saudi Government. I think we expressed pretty clearly from the podium earlier this week that there’s obviously an ongoing social debate within Saudi Arabia and that those voices need to be respected and heard on a variety of issues. I’m not aware that we’ve raised this particular case with the Saudi Government. I’ll check on that.
Go ahead, Andy.
QUESTION: On Syria, the Russian deputy foreign minister today said that they wouldn’t even look at any draft resolution on Syria that might come before the UN Security Council. I’m wondering if you have reaction to that statement, number one. And number two, what the U.S. feels is the next appropriate step now. If the UN Security Council is just off limits because the Russians won’t even consider it, where does the international community go now?
MR. TONER: Well, the international community, in answer to your second question, has been applying broad pressure on the Syrian regime through a variety of mechanisms. You’ve seen the EU take action. The United States has certainly taken action, taken actions through the UN Human Rights Commission. So we’re going to continue to apply those pressures and to augment them as we can. But in terms of the Security Council, I mean, obviously, we’ve been in discussions with our partners there about the most appropriate approach to condemning the ongoing violence in Syria. We support pursuing a Security Council resolution. But beyond that, I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: Do you have any concern – I mean, on the one hand, the Russians seems to be very cooperative when it comes to international efforts on Libya, or increasingly cooperative, but on Syria it seems that they’re just determined to stonewall the process. Does that divide in policy bother you at all?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to get out – I just don’t want to get out in front of the process that’s going on at the UN now. The Russians have been constructive on Libya. We feel that the international community is increasingly concerned by the ongoing violence in Syria. We’re working through a variety of forums to apply pressure on the Asad regime and we’re going to continue to do that.
QUESTION: Mark, has the U.S. asked Russia to mediate in the Libyan crisis?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we’ve asked them formally to mediate. There’s been a variety of mediation efforts. We saw President Zuma just recently conduct a trip to Tripoli.
QUESTION: On Monday. He’s going on Monday.
MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Right. Thank you. Thanks, Andy. Sorry – is going on Monday to Tripoli. And all of these efforts are constructive, but they need to make clear our bottom line, the international community’s bottom lines which is that Qadhafi is no longer the legitimate leader and must step down, and that once he does depart, a democratic – a peaceful democratic transition can take place.
QUESTION: Do you support any Russian mediation?
MR. TONER: Again, there’s a variety of mediation efforts. The UN obviously has appointed someone to lead that mediation as well. We believe that that’s – also should be the focus, but our bottom lines our very clear on this. We want Qadhafi to step aside and for a peaceful democratic transition to take place.
QUESTION: So where would be the points of flexibility if you’re stating clearly that he has to go and he has to leave and there are bottom lines? What points can you be flexible with in order to –
MR. TONER: Well, again, I said this before. I don’t know if it’s up to the international community given what Qadhafi’s done against his own people to prepare him any kind of easy exit or in any way some kind of golden parachute to leave Libya. We’re consistent in calling for his accountability for human rights abuses and that he is delegitimized as a leader for having used violence against his own people, and those are clear.
QUESTION: So then what could be the – what’s the use of mediation effort then if –
MR. TONER: Well, I think – frankly, I think that it’s – what’s useful is that any efforts to make him or his regime see clearly the writing on the wall, it would be constructive.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on that?
MR. TONER: And also to realize ultimately – I’m sorry, to finish it – that there’s no way out, there’s no solution to this, he’s no longer the legitimate leader in the eyes of the international community, in the eyes of his own people, and the sooner he accepts that and moves on, the better.
QUESTION: But if you’re saying that there’s no way out, what possible incentive is there for him to do anything that you want? That’s the definition of being backed into a corner, isn’t it?
MR. TONER: Well, again – but Andy, you can’t just simply not respond in any way to the gross human rights violations that his regime is responsible for and ultimately he’s responsible for. You can’t just simply brush those aside and ignore them. What’s important is that both he and the people around him realize that it’s a dead end.
QUESTION: Can I just – my original one was: Berlusconi was quoted as saying today that the leaders of the G-8 all agreed that the regime – Qadhafi government was imploding. I’m wondering if you guys share that assessment, and if so, what evidence there is.
MR. TONER: It’s – look, it’s – I would be extremely cautious in characterizing what’s going on within Qadhafi’s inner circle other than to say that they continue to feel the heat of various sanctions. They continue to feel the heat of the NATO campaign to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We saw the recent defection of the oil minister, but beyond that, I don’t have a clear view on what might be happening inside –
QUESTION: Is there a sense that that pace is picking up that –
MR. TONER: Well, I think NATO has been picking up the pace and trying to keep pressure, but again, their efforts are to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and to try to better protect Libyan civilians who are being attacked by Qadhafi’s forces.
QUESTION: Can I ask some more about Libya?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Have you guys given up on this idea of taking – possibly taking money that was seized during the sanctions and using it to potentially –
MR. TONER: Help the TNC?
QUESTION: -- help the TNC?
MR. TONER: No, that’s actually – there’s legislation on the Hill right now that’s being discussed and worked on. We talked a little bit about it a couple weeks ago when Mr. Jibril was here. And that’s still – that legislation is still being discussed and worked on. And that would – the intent of that would be to take some of those frozen assets and use them to help the TNC.
QUESTION: And you’re convinced of the legality of that? There was a time when you said –
MR. TONER: Well, I think they’re looking at – I mean, those are all questions that they’re looking at.
Yeah. Go ahead, Kirit.
QUESTION: Well, I believe the concern from the TNC, though, is –
MR. TONER: Is that there’s an urgency?
QUESTION: Well, no. Well, there was an urgency, but that the quantity of money that was being discussed for that legislation, which was about $150 to $180 million was –
MR. TONER: And that their needs are greater?
QUESTION: -- was insufficient, that they were talking about –
MR. TONER: Well, and –
QUESTION: But they had $100 million in the bank, and it would only last them a couple more weeks. So what is that – I mean, what’s the point of doing something that’s kind of the half measure?
MR. TONER: Well, again, the point is-- is that this is one effort. The Contact Group is looking at other ways to help the TNC through its financial crisis and to keep it operational. There’s this temporary financial mechanism that’s being set up, and there’s other avenues that are being pursued.
QUESTION: But why – I mean, but –
MR. TONER: Why not do more?
QUESTION: Right. Why not do more in the sense that these are a bunch of different avenues, but we don’t know which one will pan out, that kind of thing.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Why not do more?
MR. TONER: You mean within the seized assets?
QUESTION: Right. I mean, why that figure? Was it just sort of arbitrarily chosen? Is there a reason for that –
MR. TONER: I don’t have a clear explanation for why that specific figure. As I said, there are certain legal restrictions and legal challenges that are being looked at in providing these funds. I don’t know if that had any impact on it.
QUESTION: Does –
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. share the concerns that the TNC may be running out of cash soon?
MR. TONER: It was clearly conveyed, both during Mr. Jibril’s visit here and Mr. Feltman’s – or Assistant Secretary Feltman’s visit to Benghazi, that they are growing short on funds, and that needs to be addressed.
QUESTION: Is that of concern?
MR. TONER: I think it is of concern, sure.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Shouldn’t or should?
QUESTION: Should. S-h-o-u-l-d.
MR. TONER: And I think we’ve said the same. (Laughter).
QUESTION: What is your comment?
MR. TONER: I think we – I’ve said pretty much the same thing, that we want to see a better inter-Korean relationships. We want to see a better relationship between South and North Korea before we can talk about broader issues.
In the back.
QUESTION: In Egypt there are more protests today and some call it a second revolution, and mainly it’s dissatisfaction with the military government so far. Do you share or do you see any merit to these protests today in Egypt?
MR. TONER: Sure. As you know, Assistant Secretary Feltman, I believe, just left Egypt and while he was there had multiple discussions both with civil society members as well as with the Egyptian interim government and also the military. We’ve said before that we believe Egypt is going through a period of remarkable change and its navigating difficult waters, if you will, in terms of democratic transition. We can understand that there’s some frustration, a level of frustration among the Egyptian people as to the pace of that, but we’re supportive of the process and we’re looking for ways that we can be supportive of Egypt and its transition. And as the President spoke last week, one of those focuses is on stabilizing the economy there. So --
QUESTION: This is a follow-up on your answer earlier this week on that New York case.
MR. TONER: Oh, right.
QUESTION: The lawyer is quoting Article 41 and 53 of Vienna Convention about granting the family members of a consul the same rights. Do you have any update on that?
MR. TONER: Nothing beyond what I said the other day, Tejinder, which is that family members of – family members – according to our interpretation of the Vienna Convention, family members of consular officers and employees do not enjoy immunity from jurisdiction or inviolability. The Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs does provide that consular officers are not liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a felony or a court warrant is required, but these provisions don’t apply to family members, who are subject to arrest and to civil and criminal jurisdiction.
QUESTION: Just a quick question on Afghanistan, Mark. According to U.S. and --
MR. TONER: Is there such a thing as a quick question on Afghanistan? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. According to U.S. and Afghan generals, there were about – or more than 25,000 al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan. My question is, as far as Usama bin Ladin’s death, is that number going to reduce? Because only a few hundred have joined the mainstream – the army and police.
MR. TONER: I have no idea what the impact will be on Taliban’s numbers in Afghanistan. The Secretary and others have spoken of the fact that this is an opportunity for the Taliban to cleanly break with al-Qaida, to embrace the Afghan constitution, and to move forward to eschew violence and become involved in the political process. And that’s an Afghan-led process. We support it, we want to see reconciliation, but, in answer to your broader question about numbers, I just don’t have those details.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and I think two or three people got killed?
MR. TONER: We’re aware of those ongoing protests. As we’ve said elsewhere, we believe that the rights to peacefully express the aspirations of the citizens of Georgia, as in any country, should be respected. And we would call on a government investigation into the incidents of the last several days, which I believe – in which several people were killed.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the number of Americans who are trying to get out? And is there a concern that Saleh is now just going to completely dig in and the situation is going to just devolve entirely?
MR. TONER: Sure. Just in terms of the Embassy, non-emergency Embassy personnel have started to depart Yemen, and we’re working to ensure that all non-emergency U.S. Government personnel are evacuated in the coming days. As you know, we don’t talk numbers when we’re talking about the embassy personnel for a variety of security reasons. We also don’t have an accurate number. I know I talked a little bit about trying to get a solid number on how many have registered at the Embassy. The idea is that we just – it’s not an accurate figure, it doesn’t really reflect how many people we believe may or may not be in the country – how many American citizens, rather. So as I said yesterday, we don’t want to be chasing an approximate figure in any way. But the airport does remain open and we encourage American citizens to take advantage of that and to leave Yemen, and also for any American citizens considering to travel there to certainly to defer that travel.
With regard to ongoing fighting, it is certainly – these clashes are troubling. Again, I just would reiterate what I said yesterday, which is that President Saleh has a way forward in the GCC proposal. He said he would sign it; he’s repeatedly said he would sign it; he needs to – and he needs to live up to those commitments. I mean, that is the best way forward for the country right now.
QUESTION: Can he just take --
QUESTION: And if he doesn’t live up to them?
MR. TONER: Well, again, right now our focus is on that agreement and the GCC process here, the government – or the Gulf Cooperation Council’s process. We believe it presents the best way forward for Yemen to resolve this crisis. So that’s our focus right now.
QUESTION: Can you just take that question about security and Napolitano’s comments and what further?
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: That’s your Memorial Day present.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 p.m.)
DPB # 75