1:44 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry to do this so late, but obviously, I wanted to give you all a chance to follow the President’s press availability.
QUESTION: Scintillating press (inaudible).
MR. TONER: In any case, just very briefly at the top, I did want to welcome – turning our attention to Bahrain, welcome King Hamad’s announcement today that he is forming an independent committee to investigate the events surrounding recent protests in Bahrain. This decision to appoint a committee of distinguished experts with considerable human rights experience to oversee the investigation process is a step in the right direction. The chairman of this committee, Dr. Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni is internationally recognized for his contributions to international law, and we expect the committee to have broad authority to review events – the events of the past few months.
We’re pleased that the Government of Bahrain is taking significant and positive steps to promote reconciliation, and to ease the path to political accommodation, and we hope that these efforts – the efforts of the investigation committee will help restore confidence and trust as Bahrain moves towards the beginning of a national dialogue on July 3rd. We call on all participants to engage constructively in an effort to produce reforms that will respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Bahraini people. We call on the government to ensure the fullest and most representative participation possible, and as President Obama said, the government must create the conditions for dialogue.
QUESTION: Can I say two things on that? One, is that coming out of the statement?
MR. TONER: We can push it out to you. It wasn’t a statement, per se, but we can push out the text of it so you don’t have to --
QUESTION: So we don’t have to type it all up?
MR. TONER: Exactly.
QUESTION: Okay. Or can you just send it?
MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s what I meant, we’ll send out the points.
QUESTION: And two – and you’ve used the word “expect” again. “We expect the committee to have broad authority.” Does that mean you expect it because the Bahrainis have told you that, or is that what you think that it should have and are looking for it to have?
MR. TONER: I would agree to both of those. I think that from our --
QUESTION: So the Bahrainis have said that this committee will have broad authority?
MR. TONER: I think from our consultations with the Bahraini Government, we believe that this will have the type of broad authority necessary to be legitimate in the eyes of the Bahraini people.
QUESTION: When you say authority, what kind of authority at the end of the process?
MR. TONER: Well, it needs to be --
QUESTION: Do they make recommendations or --
MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. You’re talking about what broad authority they may have within the Bahraini system?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I think it’s – this is an important first step. I think any kind of accountability process needs to be transparent; it needs to have, as I said, this kind of broad authority to be able to look into all matters, talk to all people involved, and to get answers that will have credibility. As to what happens next, let’s look towards the July 3rd – the beginning of the national dialogue and let the committee carry out its report – investigation, rather.
QUESTION: Mark, today, Treasury designated some Syrian – a branch of the Syrian armed forces and some personalities in the security forces of Iran for more sanctions, and this is sort of a perennial question. Since none of these people can be expected to have any U.S. assets or do business with U.S. officials, what good is it?
MR. TONER: Well, again, these also limit the ability for other international companies and investors to do business with them as well, so it does have a broad reach. And more importantly, it sends a message that we’re watching these individuals’ actions, and not only watching them, but we’re taking action against them to prohibit any involvement they may have in the U.S. economic system, which, as you know, reaches worldwide.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Following up on the Iran aspect of the sanctions, Iran’s supreme leader has apparently sent President Obama a letter warning him about pushing Asad and Syria and getting involved in the Syrian and Iraqi issue. What do you have to --
MR. TONER: I actually looked into that. You contacted me this morning about it. We’ve also seen these reports elsewhere. No one in the U.S. Government’s received any letter nor are we aware of any kind of correspondence of this nature.
MR. TONER: The Brits have –
QUESTION: Have put together a report about – it’s not exactly a blueprint, but sort of lays out some principles about what’s being planned. What could you tell us about this report which I’m assuming you must have some inkling of? And one thing that Andrew Mitchell mentioned was that they were seeking to learn some lessons from mistakes made in Iraq and not repeat those, so anything on that?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t think, first of all, we should get too far ahead of ourselves. Of course, any kind of prudent planning means we’re looking at what Libya will look like once Qadhafi heeds the international community and indeed the message of his own people and steps aside so that that democratic transition can take place. Certainly, our Libya team here led by Ambassador Gene Cretz are looking at these issues, but it’s really an interagency process, and one that obviously involves close cooperation with the Transitional National Council.
Clearly, again, what needs to take place once Qadhafi does step down from power and we get to that point is that there needs to be a democratic transition. The Transitional National Council, by its very name, is transitional, right? It wants to move in the direction of democratic elections once we’re at that point. So I think we’re looking at all these issues and trying to chart a path forward, but at the same time, we’re very cognizant of the fact we’re not there yet. We believe that pressure continues to mount on Qadhafi. We’re applying that pressure, but he’s still not going yet.
QUESTION: Mark, can I follow up on that?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, this report – the Brits were mandated by the coalition to draw up, essentially, this report. So one question is: Has that report been submitted to this building, to the Secretary? Do you guys have a copy of it? Have you seen it? And one element of it is a recommendation that Qadhafi’s security forces be maintained, that they’re not disbanded the way that the Iraqi army was disbanded. Is that a conclusion that the U.S. Government feels is acceptable or advisable in this case?
MR. TONER: Well, as you said, this is something that the British Government has drawn up, this report. I’m not aware at what process we’re in looking at the report, looking at the conclusions. And once – but once we have studied it, we’ll be able to answer those kinds of questions and --
QUESTION: Hey, Mark?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are reports that Saudi authorities have detained some of the women who --
QUESTION: Are we okay on --
QUESTION: On Libya, just one left.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: The President said today that he’s willing to accept Qadhafi out of power. What is that mean? How does that impact the status of Qadhafi as being pursued by the ICC?
MR. TONER: Well, I believe the President’s words speak for themselves. I don’t think there’s any change there. He said that he wants to see Qadhafi step aside or step out of power. I’m not sure what you’re --
QUESTION: Does that imply in any way that if he does – if he steps aside then he will – not likely to face any prosecution?
MR. TONER: I think the President, elsewhere in his press conference, talked about the ICC referral, and that it shows what this regime is capable of. So I don’t think anybody is talking about looking away from that.
QUESTION: So the French have sent weapons to the Libyan opposition (inaudible) reports that. Any –
MR. TONER: I’ve seen those, but I haven’t – I don’t have any verification. I mean, look --
QUESTION: No? All right. Is that the right way to go?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’d refer you, first of all, to the French Government. We have not received any kind of verification of those reports. There are – that said, our understanding is that UN Security Council 19 – Resolution 1973 doesn’t prohibit that. We’ve said that before. But I don’t have any independent confirmation on that.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on – UK Foreign Secretary William Hague came out and said that Iran has been carrying out --
MR. TONER: Oh, is this on Iran? Let’s go do his Saudi question. Then we’ll go to Iran.
QUESTION: Just on the reports that some of the women have been rounded up or involved with the driving protest, there are some follow-on reports that may have actually been released – but the fact that they were harassed; do you have anything to say about that? Have you received any confirmation of their release?
MR. TONER: Our Embassy in Riyadh is looking to confirm the reports that they were detained yesterday. Beyond that, I’ll just reiterate what the Secretary said yesterday – or said last week, rather, that this is a grassroots movement by the women of Saudi Arabia to act together on behalf of their individual rights. You said you’ve seen that they’ve been released?
QUESTION: There was something I saw that at least one of them had been released since then, but can you say whether you’re at least troubled by reports that they are being harassed?
MR. TONER: Well, again, let’s confirm the reports that they were, in fact, detained. But this is an issue that we’ve raised at the highest levels with the Saudi Government.
QUESTION: Can you say when was the last time this was raised? I know it was in a call two weeks ago. Has there been any other kind?
MR. TONER: I don't know beyond that when the last – I’ll check into that – if there’s been a more recent time than that.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any kind of schisms within the royal family, the Saudi royal family? It seems that they’ve fired one of the prominent princes. So are you aware of any kind of conflict perhaps connected to succession?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no. I mean, I’d refer you –
QUESTION: If a prince gets fired, is he still a prince?
QUESTION: Yeah. He’s a – (laughter). That comes with (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Brunei (inaudible).
MR. TONER: I can’t answer any royalty questions, but anything else?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- police and protestors?
MR. TONER: Sure. There’s – there were, in fact, protests. We’re aware of those reports of the violence. We’re trying to look into the details. We understand through our Embassy in Cairo that Prime Minister Sharaf is – has announced this morning that there will be an investigation into last night’s events in Tahrir Square, and just – broadly than that, it just underscores the fact that this is a very difficult period for Egypt, it’s a period of transition, and we remain committed to assisting the people of Egypt as they make their way through this period of transition, democratic transition, and also to underscore the fact that transparency and rule of law is absolutely crucial, and violence by any party will not help achieve the goals of the January 25th revolution.
Just – also just an update: Under Secretary Burns is wrapping up his visit. I don’t believe he returns until tomorrow. Had a number of meetings with – hold on – I believe he met with – thanks. Well, he met with the deputy foreign minister, he met with Amr Moussa, he met with Field Marshal Tantawi, as well as other members of civil society and activists. He does head home tomorrow. His – he did give a press availability earlier today in Cairo – I believe it was a roundtable – stressed – talked about how to apply some of the proposals on the economic front that were detailed in the President’s speech of several weeks ago, and that’s about it.
QUESTION: In what capacity did they meet Amr Moussa? Moussa departed and –
MR. TONER: It’s a good question. Yeah. He’s – right, he’s obviously no longer the Arab League president. I think he just met with a broad range of civil society leaders, and that was just the one that was mentioned to me over the phone.
QUESTION: Mark, how –
MR. TONER: It was very bad connection, I might add.
QUESTION: How do you view the Egyptian military’s handling of this period that you just described – this period –
MR. TONER: The Egyptian handling of the –
QUESTION: The military has been handling this transition.
MR. TONER: Oh, this period.
MR. TONER: Okay. Again, I think that the Egyptian military really set itself apart as sort of a paragon of professionalism during the events of Tahrir Square, then we saw Mubarak leave power, and it’s incumbent on them now to carry that spirit forward in a transparent manner to adhere to rule of law. This is a – as you said, this is a difficult period for Egypt, difficult economically as well as politically. And so they just need to continue to uphold the –
QUESTION: Military just used yesterday teargas and all that – this –
MR. TONER: Again, there’s – you’re talking about the reports from last night and the violence?
QUESTION: Yes. Yes.
MR. TONER: There is a – our Embassy is trying to ascertain all the details. The prime minister has also called for an investigation, so we’ll look to that for details.
QUESTION: Just quickly on Iran?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Any comment on William Hague saying that they had covert tests able to deliver a nuclear payload?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I’ll refer you to – obviously to the UK for more details of what he said. Our concerns with Iran’s efforts regarding its – well, its program to improve its own ballistic military or missile capabilities is well known. We believe Iran has an active missile development program, and its missile inventory is one of the largest in the Middle East, and that includes systems that are inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons. But I don’t want to get into it beyond that.
QUESTION: Mark, Colombia extradited a major drug figure to the United States yesterday. I just wondered if you had any reaction to that.
MR. TONER: Yeah. And at the risk of getting Matt riled up, we don’t talk about extradition cases.
QUESTION: Except when you –
MR. TONER: See? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Except when it suits your interests.
QUESTION: Can you recall – can you remind me what happened when – yeah, Heide. Can you – do you remember what happened when we agreed to extradite Manuel Noriega to France? It was not a secret; it was an on-the-record statement. So just –
MR. TONER: Thank you, Matt.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Syria –
MR. TONER: Can we just – go ahead.
MR. TONER: I don’t, actually. I mean, I know he wrapped up yesterday. I thought you did get a readout yesterday. Did you not at the briefing? I apologize. I thought she gave –
MS. RESIDE: She did – she talked about what meetings he was having – he had had.
MR. TONER: Anyway, we can get that for you. That’s an easy enough thing to push out to you guys. Anything more on Afghanistan since we’re there?
QUESTION: Anything more that – the embassies talked about two (inaudible) that were injured.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Actually, thanks for –
MR. TONER: It turns out that three private American citizens were at the hotel – we’ve confirmed that – during the attack, and our consular officers made contact with two and the family of the third, who is apparently receiving medical care.
QUESTION: So is that – so all three were injured?
MR. TONER: It’s three. Yeah. Three were there. We’ve made contact with two, and on the third, he or she – I don’t actually know – is apparently receiving medical care. We’ve made contact with the family, but not the individual.
QUESTION: So one of them was injured?
MR. TONER: Apparently.
QUESTION: So is that –
MR. TONER: Is receiving medical care with --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: A question on –
MR. TONER: Syria and then – sorry, he did have a Syria question.
QUESTION: Very quickly. Two days after the opposition meeting in Damascus, there has been one opposition figure after another from the expatriate opposition on the outside on television criticizing your position that you were a bit too precipitous by saying that this is a good step and so on, that in fact it was no more than just a cover for the regime.
Do you feel that – like that, or were you too precipitous in commenting positively about the meeting that took place in Damascus?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t think anybody has donned rose-colored glasses when they’re looking at the prospects for Asad’s regime to enact meaningful reform. We did, I think, talk about the opposition meeting as a constructive step, but obviously, the regime needs to do a lot more, including allowing peaceful protests to take – I mean, the baseline here is allowing peaceful protestors to demonstrate and not firing on innocent protestors and just to cease all violence against these demonstrators. But I don’t think anybody’s getting too enthusiastic about these initial steps, but just to say that these are the types of things that need to happen. You need to have the opposition be able to meet and have space to organize itself.
QUESTION: Any readout from Representative Kucinich about his meeting with –
MR. TONER: I did not. I refer you to his office here.
QUESTION: But too --
MR. TONER: We didn’t – we got no readout. No.
Yeah – I’m sorry, Matt. Yeah.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The Burmese Government has warned Suu Kyi’s party not to engage in political activities, and the – there was a commentary in the state media, a sort of thinly veiled threat about her traveling up country. I wondered if you --
MR. TONER: This is the comment about that it could –
QUESTION: Cause riots.
MR. TONER: -- cause riots. Yeah. No – well, we would just call on the Burmese authorities to allow – in fact, to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi is free to travel, free to express her views, and to fully participate in political activities, and just that we remain concerned for her safety and security, and it’s the responsibility of the Burmese authorities, in fact, to ensure both her safety and that of Burma’s citizens.
Is that it?
QUESTION: The Arab-Israeli conflict, very quickly? Any status report on what Mr. Hale and (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I’ll try to get a better readout. I didn’t – wasn’t able to get anything before coming out here.
Are we good, guys?
MR. TONER: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: Just one last – on Secretary’s trip to Madrid this weekend, it’s her first official trip to Spain, and I was just wondering why precisely now. And also, she’s meeting with Mariano Rajoy, who is the leader of the opposition, and he’s probably going to be the next prime minister of Spain. So I was wondering if it’s a way to open the relationship with the probable new government.
MR. TONER: Well, you – so your first question is why now?
QUESTION: Why precisely now.
MR. TONER: Spain is a longstanding ally of the United States. It’s been a key partner in NATO and in many of our missions both in Afghanistan as well as in the Balkans. There’s – this is an opportunity for her to physically go there, to visit, to talk to – as you talked about – her meetings on the ground both with the government and with the broad cross section of the political scene, get that understanding, obviously, of Spain’s – of both bilateral issues that we share as well as the many multilateral challenges that we’re trying to address with Spain, both as Spain is a member of the EU, and Spain is an ally in NATO.
QUESTION: And so no comment on her particular meeting with –
MR. TONER: Again, she would normally meet with a broad cross-section of both political and economic and civil societies.
QUESTION: Will you have a more profound agenda of her meetings, or we can get that?
MR. TONER: I will as we – yeah, as we get closer, sure thing.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Abdullah Saleh has – President of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh is expected to speak to tomorrow. Do you expect him to say that he agrees to the GCC proposal?
MR. TONER: Considering that he was supposed to sign it weeks ago and backed away, it’s difficult to predict what he’ll announce tomorrow. What’s important is that Yemen – I also understand there was some violence overnight in Yemen. That’s discouraging news. It’s important that Yemen move forward no matter what President Saleh may say.
MR. TONER: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)
DPB # 96