1:05 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I’m going to make Matt happy today because I have nothing to read at the top.
MR. TONER: It’s a beautiful day. That’s my only --
QUESTION: It is a beautiful day. Let’s get out of here quickly.
MR. TONER: -- comment.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the indictments in the – by the Hariri tribunal?
MR. TONER: Right. We’ve not actually seen the documents that were reportedly handed over to the Lebanese Government by the Special Tribunal on Lebanon, and so we can’t comment at this point on their substance. But the confirmation of the indictments by the pretrial judge and their delivery by the tribunal to the Lebanese prosecutor general is an important step towards justice and ending impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon.
QUESTION: Well, how can you say that if you haven’t seen what’s in them?
MR. TONER: I just said – I’m talking about process. We haven’t seen the substance of the indictments, but we’ve talked for a long time, from this podium and elsewhere, about the importance of the Special Tribunal, that it be allowed to carry out its mission. And so I’m commenting more on the process now, but of course, as this process moves forward, we’ll obviously have comment on the substance.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but – I mean, what if they – what if the – you’re saying that you don’t know who is named, right?
MR. TONER: Right. I’m just saying that, again --
QUESTION: Well --
MR. TONER: -- we don’t know the substance of what was --
QUESTION: All right. So if you don’t know the substance, what happens if one of the indictments is for Hariri himself --
MR. TONER: Let’s wait and see.
QUESTION: -- and they’re claiming that this is a case of suicide?
MR. TONER: Let’s wait and see. Let’s wait and see.
QUESTION: So how can you say this is a positive step forward if you don’t --
MR. TONER: Let’s wait and see what the – what the substance of them entails. And I’m just commenting right now that the Special Tribunal – the fact that it’s been able to hand its indictments over to the pretrial judge and their delivery shows that this process is moving forward.
QUESTION: All right. And so it is my understanding that the Lebanese Government now either has to arrest them, or there are certain steps that the Lebanese have to do. We – you would encourage them to take whatever steps they need to take in – speedily, I’m assuming?
MR. TONER: Well, look, we – it’s important that the Special Tribunal – that the indictments now handed over to the special prosecutor now be acted upon. Obviously, we want to see this chapter in Lebanon’s history closed, and that closure involves taking the next steps. In terms of the government and what we’re asking it to do, we’ve been clear that we want it to live up to its international obligations, and that includes its obligations to both – to the UN regarding the Special Tribunal.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In the event that orders were given to the Lebanese Government to arrest those who have been indicted and it does not do so, what will then happen with Lebanon?
MR. TONER: Well, again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s let this process play out. The indictments – sealed indictments have been handed over. We’re going to now look to see what the Lebanese Government does next. We’re looking for it to take action, and as I said, it’s about what Lebanon’s commitments – the previous Lebanese Government’s commitments were to the UN. And this new government needs to adhere to those commitments.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. TONER: Sure.
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Aaron Miller, a former colleague of yours in this Department and a negotiator, says that – criticized the United States for not having any strategy in dealing with preventing the Palestinians from going to the Security – or the United Nations. Do you concur with his assessment?
MR. TONER: Well, I certainly disagree with that assessment. The President’s laid out the foundations for moving the talks forward. As a Senior Administration Official talked about, I guess, now over a week ago, they’re moving forward, engaged with the parties. Just to add, you asked me yesterday about any updates on that front, and Acting Special Envoy David Hale did meet with the Israeli negotiator again yesterday – that was in Washington – and is expecting to meet with the Palestinian negotiator Erekat sometime next week. But --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Erekat is coming (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: But we’re – he’s continuing to engage with both parties. Again, based on the foundation, the ideas, the principles that the President laid out in his speech, we believe and are working to engage the parties that it’s clearly in both sides’ interest to get back to the negotiating table and not pursue any action through the UN.
QUESTION: Have the Palestinians shown any willingness or any flexibility on not going to the United Nations?
MR. TONER: There’s obviously challenges that need to be addressed. I’m not going to get into the substance of those negotiations, only in that we continue to talk to both sides. I think our Senior Administration Official, when he talked about it, said there does appear to be a willingness on both sides, but clearly we need to overcome some challenges.
QUESTION: Slightly related, on the Gaza flotilla, are you concerned at all that there seem – that some of these ships appear to be sabotaged?
MR. TONER: I really don’t have any comment on that. I’ve seen the press reports and haven’t had any other confirmation beyond that.
QUESTION: So it wouldn’t bother you at all if this was happening?
MR. TONER: I just can’t speak to whether – the veracity, I guess, of these claims that they’ve been sabotaged. Our opinion – that’s been stated very clearly from the State Department, both from the Secretary down to this podium – is that these flotillas are a bad idea, and there’s other ways to get this kind of assistance to the people of Gaza.
QUESTION: So preventing the flotilla from leaving by a --
MR. TONER: I didn’t say – I am in no way condoning any sabotage of these vessels.
QUESTION: Well, are --
MR. TONER: But I’m saying these vessels, these flotillas, in and of themselves, are not a good idea.
QUESTION: Well, can you say that you would be opposed to anyone trying to sabotage these – trying to sabotage these ships?
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: It’s my understanding that you’re concerned about the safety of everyone involved --
MR. TONER: Precisely.
QUESTION: -- and that if there’s someone running around and trying to --
MR. TONER: Precisely. We’re concerned. This is about --
QUESTION: -- sabotaging these ships, that’s a safety issue.
MR. TONER: This is about people’s safety. Again, I just – it’s hard for me to speak to because we don’t have any independent confirmation these ships have actually been sabotaged. We’ve just seen press reports and what these flotilla representatives have said. But certainly, we don’t want to see – you’re absolutely right; our emphasis is on the safety of the individuals involved.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Yesterday it was the Greek ship, Giuliano; today it was the Irish ship. So there are more than one incident. And then yesterday, there were fishermans in waters where there are no fish. I mean, I know it is – gasoline and things like this, so they appear suddenly. So you must be keeping tabs on that, or someone must be? Do you --
MR. TONER: I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: Okay. Would you equally also say that it is not a good idea to sabotage these ships in any way?
MR. TONER: I would just reiterate what I just said to Matt, is – our bottom line is we don’t want to see anyone put at risk, and that would include any action to sabotage these boats, but also the boats themselves, the flotillas themselves, will put these individuals at risk.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Libya. Russia’s foreign minister today said that the French airlift of weapons to the Libyan rebels was a crude violation of the UN Security Council resolution. I was wondering, what’s your take on that? Do you think that that resolution allows this kind of transfer?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve talked a little bit about this before, certainly in the hypothetical, when the resolution was just passed way back in – March, was it?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Okay. Thanks. That we believe that UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, read together, didn’t – neither specified nor precluded providing defense material to the Libyan opposition. So your – my bottom line is we would respectfully disagree with the Russian assessment. But as to the details of what you’re talking about, the substance of what you’re talking about, which is reports that the French have provided weapons to the Libyan opposition, I’d refer you to the French Government.
QUESTION: Sure. But, I mean, the fact of the matter is that you have a permanent member of the Security Council questioning another permanent member of the Security Council on ways that they’re handling the resolution and the arms embargo. Does that raise any concern in this building that the unity that you keep on advertising on the approach toward Libya is beginning to slip away?
MR. TONER: I don’t think so. We’ve – taking a step back with regards to Libya, we’ve seen the international community move with incredible speed and clarity and purpose to take action against Qadhafi’s forces to prevent them from carrying out atrocities against civilians there. We’ve been clear all along our viewpoint on arming. While it’s not an option that we have acted on, we’ve said that both these resolutions don’t preclude that action.
QUESTION: Could I just ask, following on that --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- why – given the President’s statement yesterday that it’s very important that Qadhafi step down and we are – this is a narrow, tightly focused mission that we’ve executed in an exemplary fashion, why wouldn’t the U.S. arms transfers to the rebels hasten our movement toward this goal? Why haven’t you taken that --
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’re looking at two different functions. You spoke to it yourself in the question. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was about protecting civilians against armed attacks by Libyan forces. And the other piece to this, which is pressure on Qadhafi to force him to go, we’ve been doing it with these sanctions and other means. But there’s – we – it’s – the pressure that we’re putting on Qadhafi is distinct from carrying out Resolution 1973.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: British Government has released the report about the future of Libya, and according to the reports, they give – they recommend some calls for --
MR. TONER: Right. I was asked about this yesterday. Thanks for actually asking again, because it was preliminary yesterday. But I’ve been able to find out that we have seen a draft copy of the report on post-Qadhafi Libya that was produced by the British Department of International Development. We both reviewed the report and also helped – assisted in even the drafting of some sections. But this report’s not a plan; it’s an assessment of the requirements of what this kind of stabilization might look like. But it – so it’s important to emphasize that this is not a planning document. That actual planning, once we get there, is something that’s going to be undertaken by the Libyan people.
QUESTION: But so --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I’m not sure I understand. The planning once you get there? I mean --
MR. TONER: Well, we’re not there yet. We’ve – Qadhafi’s still there, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Well, it was our understanding, going back to Abu Dhabi and the Contact Group meeting, that the TNC was engaged with its friends, international friends, in the planning for how – what the post-Qadhafi government will look like.
MR. TONER: Right, Matt. I think you’re – this is all going on. I’m saying that this document, this assessment of what post-Qadhafi Libya might look like, what it might entail, it’s – what it is, is, it’s a summary of – well, it’s our assessment rather, and the actual planning for that is something that the Libyan people – I’m delineating between. It’s not something for us to impose a plan on Libya. It’s just for the Transitional National Council and other members of the opposition to carry out.
QUESTION: So it’s --
MR. TONER: So I wasn’t trying to --
QUESTION: -- distinct from Iraq, then? So do you agree with the British assessment?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we are – this isn’t really the focus right now. This is an assessment. We’re taking those recommendations and assessments in stride. But it’s all rather – it’s all speculative right now. Once we get Qadhafi – once we’ve achieved the goal of getting Qadhafi to step down, then it’s up to the Libyan people to decide what next steps are. We’re going to be there to support them.
QUESTION: Right. But if you participated in drafting some of this, I mean --
MR. TONER: Some of the sections, right.
QUESTION: -- do you agree with it?
MR. TONER: I wouldn’t say we necessarily agree with it. We’re looking at the full --
QUESTION: Is it wrong?
MR. TONER: No. I’m just saying that it’s an assessment of the situation. It’s something that will help us moving forward in supporting the Transitional National Council and the Libyan people.
QUESTION: I understand this – well, that implies that you agree with the assessment that the Brits have come up with?
MR. TONER: I think we look at it as a useful document.
QUESTION: Well, for instance, to follow on that --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I mean, the point on their recommendation or the suggestion that Qadhafi security forces should remain intact after he leaves, is that something that the United States – is that an assessment the United States agrees with?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into whether we support or affirm every assessment that’s in there. It’s a – it is what it is. It is an assessment document. It’s a planning document, and it’s something that we’re going to hopefully use. It will be a useful document moving forward. But to be frank, this is something – this is a process that the Libyan people need to carry out and the Transitional National Council needs to carry out.
QUESTION: I guess the --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, if the assessment says that we think that Libya should be split up into 18 different countries, would you agree with that?
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) No, we would not agree with that, but --
QUESTION: Okay. So why can’t you say whether you agree with this assessment, which obviously doesn’t say that? I just – I fail to see why you can’t --
MR. TONER: I just – all I’m saying is that it is a useful document to help us plan. But we’re getting – I’m not putting the cart before the horse here. I mean, we’ve still got Qadhafi in power. And post-Qadhafi planning is something that’s ongoing and something that we’re doing both within the interagency process here, but also with our international partners of the Contact Group, and this is a document that will be useful to that end.
QUESTION: But I don’t know, when you first – when they came up with their first document several months ago --
MR. TONER: Welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you. When they came out with their first document several months ago about how they were going to set up and what they wanted to do to start representing the Libyan people, you were talking about that it’s very much in line with your vision of what you would like to see, and it had struck all the right notes and things like that, so --
MR. TONER: But we’re talking about now – what I’m talking about right now is this British report or assessment of post-Qadhafi and Libya and what it might look like.
QUESTION: No, no, but this is not the first – what I’m saying is, like this is – I’m not saying who drafted it. I’m just saying that you seem to be selective about when you’re willing to talk about what you think of certain reports about Libya.
MR. TONER: I’m just – I’m selective in this case because, frankly, this is an important document. But ultimately, the hard work of moving Libya from Qadhafi’s departure to a democratic transition is something that needs to be done by the Libyan people. It’s not something for us to necessarily impose. We’re there to play a supportive role.
QUESTION: But this --
QUESTION: So why participate in the drafting of the report, then?
MR. TONER: Well, because it’s prudent to look at all the options and to consider ideas.
QUESTION: But this report will be discussed on the meeting at – in a few weeks?
MR. TONER: I would assume it would be, yes.
QUESTION: So you will have an assessment about this assessment?
MR. TONER: We will probably have a better idea moving forward of what parts we find useful.
QUESTION: So everybody --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Move on?
MR. TONER: Move on.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you were asked about the reports that these Saudi – more Saudi women drivers had been --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- arrested. You said the Embassy in Riyadh was checking into it. Twenty-four hours have passed. I’m sure that they’ve looked into it now, given you – reported back to you with the –
MR. TONER: They have, right.
QUESTION: What did they find out?
MR. TONER: Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. Finish your – (laughter) --
QUESTION: What did they say? And given the Secretary’s personal interest in this issue, what do you have to say about it?
MR. TONER: Well, our Embassy did look into it. Apparently, these individuals, these women were detained but not ever charged, and later released. And my understanding as well is that this is something that was done by the Saudi religious police and not the regular or national police force. And --
QUESTION: So that makes it --
MR. TONER: No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that they were never formally charged. That’s our understanding. And just – the Secretary spoke to this, I guess, last week, and subsequently, we’ve reiterated her essential point that this is something that is homegrown, if you will. This is the women of Saudi Arabia speaking up for their rights, and as such, it’s an important thing.
QUESTION: Well, what do you make of the fact that the Saudi religious police are running around, plucking women out of cars?
MR. TONER: Look, this is an internal matter for Saudi Arabia, but this is something that we’ve expressed solidarity with, the Secretary’s expressed solidarity with these women who are standing up for their rights. It’s something we have raised with the Saudi Government as well.
QUESTION: Yeah, and you raised it more than two weeks ago, and just – and after you raised it, they started arresting people again, whether or not they were --
MR. TONER: There’s --
QUESTION: -- charged or detained, so is that a good thing or is it --
MR. TONER: And there’s clearly a debate within Saudi Arabia, within Saudi Arabian society about --
QUESTION: Well, do you think that it --
MR. TONER: -- this issue among other issues as well.
QUESTION: Do you think that it’s a good thing that the Saudi religious police are taking women out of cars when they’re driving and arresting them?
MR. TONER: Again, this is an issue that Saudi Arabians are grappling with. This – it’s important to note that this is not about the U.S. or the West imposing their values on Saudi Arabia. This is about Saudi Arabian women, Saudi women, standing up for their rights, asking to be heard, asking for this fundamental right. And this isn’t necessarily going to be an easy process. We’re supportive of this. But this is essentially a Saudi process.
QUESTION: Well, Mark, when police in countries around the world go around and arrest people that you don’t think should be arrested --
MR. TONER: Again, they weren’t formally arrested or – they were detained.
QUESTION: Well, they were detained.
MR. TONER: They were then released, so let’s not --
QUESTION: So then what’s your – when other countries’ authorities, whether it’s the religious police or the regular police, arrest people or detain people for things that you don’t think they should be detained for, you speak out about it.
MR. TONER: And again, in this case, we would – I would just say that these women are standing up for their rights, and this is a debate that’s going on in Saudi Arabia right now. These – there’s going to be these kinds of events that take place along the way, but clearly, these women have embarked on a path here for greater rights, and we support that.
QUESTION: I guess I don’t understand – I guess – as you say, you support it, but you won’t come out and say that it’s a bad thing for the religious police to be detaining women who are driving?
MR. TONER: Again, I’ve given you the details as I know them, which is that they were detained and then later released. They were never formally charged. So I don’t want to pump too much air into this.
QUESTION: Well, you may have – (laughter) – by your answer.
QUESTION: Can we talk about --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask about the Muslim --
MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to – did you have a new topic or did you --
QUESTION: Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: A new topic, so --
QUESTION: New topic.
MR. TONER: Okay. Syria and then --
QUESTION: New topic, Syria. Very quickly, on Monday, the government allowed the opposition conference. Last night, they allowed a candlelight vigil which was clearly anti-government. Does that – and they pulled out troops from many towns in which they have stormed over the past few days. Does that tell you that the Government of Syria is showing flexibility on the issue of reform?
MR. TONER: It’s really a mixed picture. We’ve seen reports that they’re taking steps in some areas to pull back their troops. I think Hama is one place where they’ve done that, while increasing their presence in other places like Jabal al-Zawiya province. We’ve seen also reports of demonstrations in several districts of Aleppo, where demonstrators have been attacked with knives by government-organized groups and security forces. So for us to say one – the permission to hold a candlelight vigil is somehow going to lead to the kind of reform and process – transition process that we’re talking about in Syria is, I think, getting ahead of ourselves.
We want to – we want to see the government do certain things. We condemn its continued, vicious repression of peaceful demonstrators, and we call on them to stop this violence, to release all political prisoners, end torture, and allow humanitarian aid to those in need, and finally, with respect to access to international media so we can get a better picture of what’s going on in Syria.
QUESTION: A follow on that one?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Representative Kucinich has a lengthy statement out today defending his meeting with President Asad and also drawing some sort of link between that meeting and Asad’s decision to pull some of the troops out of the cities. Do you see any link between those two things? And have you had any further briefing from --
MR. TONER: To be frank, Andy, we’ve had no – we’ve gotten no debrief from Representative Kucinich. I think Toria said the other day that Ambassador Ford was able to brief him prior to his meetings, but that’s really been our only contact, so it’s hard to say.
QUESTION: Are you – have you or are you planning to ask him for a debrief or what he --
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we are.
QUESTION: I mean, an American --
MR. TONER: Nor that he’s offered.
QUESTION: -- who goes to the president of Syria --
MR. TONER: Nor that he’s – I mean, I’m not aware. I’ll have to check.
QUESTION: Well, I’d be really surprised if you --
QUESTION: Wait, are you sure --
QUESTION: I’d be really surprised if that’s the case. You don’t – you have no interest in what happened there?
MR. TONER: We would if he were willing to come. He was – he had the opportunity, I think, in Syria as well, and we certainly are open to his views, but we’ve not received any indication that he’s willing to do that.
QUESTION: So he – so did you ask him, and he said no? Or have you just not asked, and he’s not offering?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure of the sequence of events. Ambassador Ford briefed him prior to his meetings, and then afterwards he was in Syria for some time after but then left. So I’m not sure that he was asked to come back and debrief.
QUESTION: Are you saying that there’s been – since that contact with Ambassador Ford, there’s been no contact between Representative Kucinich or his office and this building?
MR. TONER: He did contact us yesterday to clarify, and we put out those remarks or that clarification.
MR. TONER: Whatever you want to call it.
QUESTION: Right. Did he – he contacted – his office contacted – he or his office contacted the building?
MR. TONER: Both he and his office.
QUESTION: And they asked you to clarify what?
MR. TONER: Well, what he said was – or what he asked us to do was just to put out those lines that said he was traveling on his own instance and not on behalf of the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: And that – those were his – that was his – traveling on his own instance --
MR. TONER: I believe so.
QUESTION: -- this archaic legal formulation, which was – which didn’t make any sense --
MR. TONER: Again, I refer you to his office for --
QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any reason to believe that --
MR. TONER: -- his remarks.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that Representative Kucinich has constituents who urged him to go to travel to Syria?
MR. TONER: Again, you really have to talk to Representative Kucinich’s office.
QUESTION: But that was his line?
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: That was his line that he went there at the behest of his constituents?
MR. TONER: That was his clarification of his trip, yes.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government view this as useful that U.S. politicians go and speak with Asad personally – not knowing what was said in the meeting – increasing contacts with the Syrian leadership, exposing them to other views? Is this a good thing, and would you advise other people to do it?
MR. TONER: Well, we say a lot – or we say a lot – we speak frequently and have spoken frequently about the importance of having an ambassador in Damascus who can speak to – at high levels to Syrian Government officials to press our case. Certainly, there are members of Congress who also have that kind of access or might have that kind of access, and might again be able to –
QUESTION: Better access --
MR. TONER: -- drive --
QUESTION: -- some might say.
MR. TONER: -- drive that message to the Syrian officials that they need stop the violence, they need to enact serious reform, and need to take positive steps and release political prisoners – the core messages that we’ve been trying to convey to the Syrian Government. However those are conveyed at high levels, it’s important.
QUESTION: But you’re not communicating with him. So you have no idea if that’s what he’s conveying.
MR. TONER: I didn’t – I wasn’t speaking about Representative Kucinich.
QUESTION: No, but I’m just saying --
MR. TONER: I don’t.
QUESTION: But I’m just saying, I mean --
MR. TONER: No, I --
QUESTION: If there’s no communication with the guy, you have absolutely no idea what he’s saying. He could be saying --
MR. TONER: Well, which is why I --
QUESTION: -- keep doing what you’re doing. We have absolutely no idea --
MR. TONER: -- which is why I clarified to – again, I wasn’t speaking about Representative Kucinich. He asked me more broadly about members of Congress going to Syria, and that’s why I said it’s important that we all deliver a coherent message.
QUESTION: On the issue of --
QUESTION: You don’t have any reason --
QUESTION: -- congressmen going to --
QUESTION: You don’t have any reason to think that he delivered an opposite message?
MR. TONER: I don’t.
QUESTION: As a matter of protocol --
QUESTION: You don’t know.
QUESTION: -- when congressmen decide to go to visit Syria, especially when there is --
MR. TONER: And I would also add, Elise, my understanding, too, is that he has gone to other places in the Middle East. So he’s still in the region. So that’s another reason why --
QUESTION: I just – I understand that he’s not going on behalf of the Administration, and a lot of times when Senator Kerry goes, while he is not going on behalf, he is going in coordination with or something. But at this precarious time, with what’s going on with Syria right now --
MR. TONER: And I’m --
QUESTION: -- don’t you think it’s a little bit unhelpful for a congressman to be going off around the region and you have absolutely no idea what he is saying to these leaders?
MR. TONER: Well, again, what I – my point for saying he’s still in the region is there – I can’t preclude that there may be a debrief at some point.
QUESTION: I just wanted you to clarify the matter of protocol when a congressman, Kucinich or any other one, decides to go to Syria when there is a travel advisory against traveling to Syria. Do they have to clear this with you? Do they say, we’re going to Syria, or they inform you afterwards?
MR. TONER: It’s a good question. I’ll take the question, because it’s – because my understanding was that we had very little notice about his trip. But I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Are you saying that -- you’re not suggesting that the State Department signs off on the travel of private or --
MR. TONER: I am not.
QUESTION: So the answer to the question should be no.
MR. TONER: No, Matt.
MR. TONER: What I’m saying is did he previously notify us of the trip or at what point did he previously notify us?
QUESTION: Well, the question was does he have to clear it?
MR. TONER: He doesn’t have to clear it, no, of course not.
QUESTION: Right. No American citizen has to clear --
MR. TONER: Absolutely. We don’t --
QUESTION: Very good.
MR. TONER: Thank you. To your broader point, we don’t preclude the travel of any American citizen anywhere. Our travel warnings are meant to be just that, warnings about situations in countries. But any American is free to go anywhere.
MR. TONER: I do – my understanding is that Princeton Lyman is planning to head back out to Addis Ababa over the weekend to continue the talks, the AU-sponsored talks. We do have this agreement on Kordofan. We want to see an equal agreement – I’m sorry, on Abyei rather. We want to see progress made as well on Southern Kordofan. We need to see both the violence end there and both sides to allow humanitarian access.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Earlier today, the Secretary while in Budapest said that it’s in the U.S. – that the U.S. is willing to talk to the Muslim Brotherhood. Have there been contacts with anyone in the Muslim Brotherhood and who, when, where -- details, please?
MR. TONER: Well, you’re right, the Secretary did speak to this in Budapest and talked about the Obama administration continuing the approach of limited contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood. And this has existed on or off for about the past six years or so, since about 2006. Embassy officials and officials from Washington are permitted to engage with Muslim Brotherhood members, and we welcome this contact. It’s – as the Secretary said, it’s in our national interest to do so. We need to get a clear picture of the political situation in Egypt. As to what meetings have taken place, when and where, and at what level, I don’t have the details right now.
QUESTION: Do you think that the Muslim Brotherhood has played a helpful role in Egypt since the – since President Mubarak left the scene?
MR. TONER: Well, again, they are – they are one of the political class now and they’re competing in elections. And so they’re going to have to make their case, really, to the Egyptian people. I mean, that’s --
QUESTION: But do you think that they’re acting responsibly?
MR. TONER: This is a democracy.
QUESTION: Do you think they’re acting responsibly?
MR. TONER: I think that we – looking at the political landscape in Egypt, that’s really going to have to be something that they’re going to have to make the case to the Egyptian people about. This is a democratic transition underway.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) from this podium in the past --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- you’ve said that we hope that the Muslim Brotherhood, should they choose to join the political system or continue in the political system, that they would act responsibly. And so I’m wondering if they’ve fulfilled those wishes?
MR. TONER: Well, I would say we’re still – it’s still evolving, but it is important. The Secretary said that – talked about this earlier today, that they need to be committed to democracy, democratic principles, and they need to be willing to act within the democratic process.
QUESTION: Well, do they appear to be doing that so far?
MR. TONER: I think we’ve had initial contacts, and we’ll wait and see.
QUESTION: Now, initial contacts? I thought you said they’ve been going on since 2006?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s been sporadic.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: I mean, that was in my question too, because --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the Secretary also talked about we had this policy since 2006, but now we’re going to reengage. So what --
MR. TONER: Well, I think given that – first of all, given we had I think our – before it was with certain members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were in the parliament. Obviously, there’s no more – that parliament is no longer in session or no longer exists, but we’re continuing with contacts in the new political landscape in Egypt.
QUESTION: But you said that they are increasing those contacts? I mean, is that – you’re taking a sort of a --
MR. TONER: I don’t have a sense, really. I’ll have to – I’ll have to --
QUESTION: But let me just – I just want to make – these contacts started in 2006?
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Right. Under the Bush Administration.
MR. TONER: They started in 2006, yes.
QUESTION: Well, that was the previous administration, right?
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: And have – then you said they were sporadic. So --
MR. TONER: Well, I just say on and off, sporadic – we’ve had contact. I believe, again, it was with those who were in – serving in parliament at the time, some of those individuals.
QUESTION: But that – I mean, you could say --
MR. TONER: But now, as I said --
QUESTION: -- you could say that for -- you could say on and off, sporadic for contacts with the Egyptian foreign minister as well. I mean, it’s not like you’re --
MR. TONER: I guess so. What I don’t have is a laundry list of who met with whom, when. I just don’t have that level of detail.
QUESTION: Is it a similar strategy that you’re pursuing in Afghanistan, in terms of the reconciliation process with Taliban?
MR. TONER: No. (Laughter.) No, I mean, they’re very – they’re starkly different. And what we’re promoting in Afghanistan is for the Taliban – for an Afghan-led process, but the Taliban have to meet some very clear red lines, renounce violence, renounce ties with al-Qaida, engage with the --
QUESTION: Isn’t that the same conditions that --
MR. TONER: Well, again, as I said with – this is really – this is a reach here, but what we’re doing in Egypt is simply with the new political landscape that exists. Egypt is moving along in its democratic transition. There’s a number of new actors on this political stage. And in our interests, to see this process move forward as Egypt evolves, we’re engaging with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
QUESTION: And when you say – just to clarify this, when you’re saying we’re engaging with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, would you say that the government is engaging with the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization or a political party? Is there a distinction that you’re making here?
MR. TONER: I don’t think so. I think that was a distinction we may have made earlier. I think now, as a political party, we’re open to talking with them.
QUESTION: As a Muslim Brotherhood group?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: You’re saying you’re meeting with all kinds of groups that are emerging, political groups that are emerging in Egypt. Are you meeting with the communists, the Egyptian communist party?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Can we get out of the Middle East for a second?
MR. TONER: Sure.
MR. TONER: I’m not his travel agent.
QUESTION: I wasn’t going to ask you that.
MR. TONER: Okay, sorry.
QUESTION: I was going to ask you if you’ve heard from the Russians anything about this proposed Vladivostok meeting? And also, if you are anywhere near closer to making a decision on food aid?
MR. TONER: No, nothing to – nothing new on food aid. No decisions have been made. We continue to assess. But in terms of Vladivostok, you’re talking about --
QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering if the – if you had heard from the Russians at all? There seems to be quite a lot of contact between you and the Russians on a variety of things, North Korea being one of them, and I’m just wondering if you had heard from them at all about their plans or lack of plans or canceled plans for a meeting?
MR. TONER: No, not that I’m aware of. We’ve been clear that the first step for the DPRK is to improve North-South relations. Is that it?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)
DPB # 97