1:09 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Happy Friday and welcome to the State Department. Just a couple of things at the top, and then I’ll take your questions.
Briefly noting some travel from senior State Department officials, Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs Reta Jo Lewis will travel to India this weekend to begin a two-week trip to several Indian cities and states, including New Delhi, Assam, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Maharashtra. This trip follows the momentum for bilateral engagement built during the second round of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, and the special representative’s trip will focus on engaging state leaders on – in a discussion of partnership with their U.S. counterparts on topics of mutual interest, such as trade and investment, infrastructure, education, and science and technology.
Also, our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman has left already. He’s traveling to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic. He departed June – or July 28th. Ambassador Grossman will meet with senior government officials in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan as part of ongoing consultations with Afghanistan’s neighbors and international partners. In Pakistan, Ambassador Grossman will meet with senior government officials and will represent the United States at the fourth meeting of the U.S.-Afghanistan-Pakistan Core Group to support the process of Afghan-led reconciliation. With that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Yeah. What is the latest on the talks with the North Koreans in New York? Yesterday’s statement wasn’t particularly enlightening. The talks were serious and business-like was not really a surprise. Have they moved on? Are they now more laid-back and whimsical or are they still serious and business-like, and have they actually accomplished anything, or is it just talking for talk’s sake, which is what you said you didn’t want to --
MR. TONER: Which is what we definitely don’t want to do? Well, you’re right. We did describe yesterday’s talks as serious and business-like. They did meet yesterday. They held – here’s another adjective for you – constructive discussions throughout the day, and that was then followed by a working dinner. And we don’t have a readout of today. They do continue to meet. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth and Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and their respective delegations are – continue to meet today, and they’ll hold a morning session that is now obviously over, and that’s going to be followed by a working lunch.
And again, this is an exploratory meeting. It’s hard to say at this point what conclusions we’ve reached. Hopefully, we’ll get a readout later today, but again, we – I think we described the discussions as constructive.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any more information on the delegation?
MR. TONER: Well, I can tell you that it includes five other interagency participants and also that Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights Robert King joined the delegation today.
QUESTION: All right. So when you say five other interagency participants, that’s five people?
MR. TONER: So five. Yes, exactly.
QUESTION: Does that include King?
MR. TONER: I believe he’s an additional person.
QUESTION: So that would be --
MR. TONER: Six.
QUESTION: -- Bosworth, plus --
MR. TONER: Five. Plus --
QUESTION: -- or Bosworth – is Bosworth included in the five?
MR. TONER: I believe – (laughter) – this is my math facts for the day. I believe he’s part of that grouping.
QUESTION: So today --
MR. TONER: I’ll clarify.
QUESTION: Today total there’s six people on the U.S. side?
MR. TONER: Correct, correct. If that’s wrong, I’ll clarify it to you guys.
QUESTION: What’s going to come at the end of the talks this day? Is it – or are you going to say that it worked or didn’t work? Are you going to come back – is there going to be some way to assess whether it worked?
MR. TONER: Well, again, these were exploratory talks. We were clear-eyed going into them. And I think we’re going to assess – we’re going to consult with our partners, certainly South Korea but also our other Six-Party Talk partners, and I think we’ll assess next steps following these meetings.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. You said that Robert King is in the delegation today.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: So does that mean the food aid issue will be on table today? Or he’s going to focus on human rights issue in general or – would you please give us some information?
MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, I – it’s always difficult for me to predict what may or may not come up in a meeting that’s ongoing. Certainly, he is our special envoy for human rights, and as such always seeks opportunities – we, the United States, always seek opportunities to engage with North Korea on human rights. And I can’t preclude that food aid may come up, but no decisions have been made about food aid.
QUESTION: Just one more on delegation. Clifford Hart is a member of the delegation, right? So has he been formally named as special envoy for Six-Party Talks?
MR. TONER: He was in New York or he is in New York, but nothing to announce in terms of his position.
QUESTION: So what is his status in –
MR. TONER: Well, he’s working on North Korea issues at this point, but – and his status is that he is working on these issues diligently, he is part of the delegation, he was there in New York, and – but nothing to announce.
Yeah. In the – I’m sorry. Jill, and then in the back.
QUESTION: Oh, I was going to ask about –
MR. TONER: You switching?
QUESTION: -- the human rights. But could I switch topics?
MR. TONER: Are we done with North Korea?
QUESTION: Is there any words from U.S. officials, how they now judge about the seriousness from the – of the North Korean delegation? And also will the North Korean delegation travel to Washington, D.C. after New York?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any additional travel by the North Korean delegation. I would just say that – what I tried to describe to Sean is that we’re going to finish today’s discussions – we’ve already said they’re constructive – we’re going to assess next steps, but we’re going to do that in consultation with our partners.
QUESTION: So how long the North Korean official will stay in New York?
MR. TONER: No idea. You’ll have to ask them.
QUESTION: Is there going to be more of this kind of exploratory meeting?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to promise one way or the other. I think we’ll just – we’ll finish today’s discussions, and we’ll consult, we’ll assess, and we’ll reach a decision on next steps.
QUESTION: Just follow-up –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: You’re saying that it’s – we should ask the North Koreans about how long they’re going to stay? I mean, can they stay – I mean, do they have to leave right after these talks? Or can they hit Broadway or whatever they want to do after that? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: I don’t know the answer to that, Sean. I’ll check. I mean, they came specifically for these meetings. I don’t know if they can – if they’re limited in time duration.
MR. TONER: Sure. Well, I would just say that it’s obviously a very fluid situation. Well, first of all, we extend – obviously, we extend our condolences to the family of those who died yesterday and to all the families who have lost loved ones in the course of this ongoing conflict. Such tragedies speak to the situation that’s been created by Qadhafi and his regime, the ongoing violence, the ongoing tensions, the ongoing situation that’s very chaotic, and it underscores why he needs to leave power and do so immediately.
Again, the details surrounding the killing of Transitional National Council’s Chief of Staff Younis as well as two other officers are still unclear. We – our envoy in Benghazi and his team are talking to the Transitional National Council, trying to get a better picture of what exactly happened. We’ve also had reports of additional shooting in Benghazi overnight, but my understanding is – just prior to coming out here is that the situation now appears calm. Again, just – this underscores some of the challenges that the Transitional National Council faces. This is certainly one more of them.
They’ve had to overcome many challenges in their struggle, and I think what’s important is that they work to both diligently and transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition. And it’s important to keep in mind that the objective here is to get Qadhafi to step aside and allow the Transitional National Council to lead this democratic transition. So again, I think they’ve faced significant challenges in the past. This is yet another, and what’s important is that they adhere to their pledges and commitment to unity and representation of all the Libyan people.
QUESTION: But does this give you second thoughts about the TNC? After all, there are charges or at least some people are saying that it might have been internal TNC.
MR. TONER: Jill, it’s just too early. We don’t have all the facts yet. We’ve been trying to assess the situation. We’re talking to senior members of the Transitional National Council. But for us to make a judgment one way or the other about who’s at fault for this, I think it’s just premature.
QUESTION: Right. And could I ask you a broader question?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Anne-Marie Slaughter, in an editorial, was – who was, of course, head of policy planning before she left – is now talking about it’s time to rethink what’s going on in Libya. And the insistence by the United States that Qadhafi not only step down but leave the country, that it might be time to look – relook at all this. Because what she’s saying is this is turning into a civil war with its own power itself. It is now – the very reason that this operation was launched by NATO was to save civilians. And now civilians are dying in even greater numbers. Is there any rethinking right now about what Qadhafi should do?
MR. TONER: Well, again – and I haven’t read her editorial or her op ed, but it’s important to place the blame squarely where it belongs, which is on Qadhafi and his refusal to step aside, to step down, and allow for a democratic transition to take place. Our position hasn’t changed. We want him to step aside.
Where he ultimately goes is – that’s really a decision for the Libyan people. But what’s paramount is that he step aside, step down from power, and allow for that transition to take place.
QUESTION: So in other words, you would be open – I just want to make sure I understand – obviously he’s to step aside from power, but where he physically goes depends upon the situation?
MR. TONER: Again, I think it’s – that’s – that is ultimately a decision for the Libyan people.
QUESTION: You said that it’s important for the TNC to work transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition. Does that imply that you have some concerns of whether this incident -
MR. TONER: I just think --
QUESTION: -- gives you some concern about the unity of the Libyan opposition? I haven’t heard that phrase before.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I said it to underscore that this is a challenge, and we’re not trying to disguise that --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, what is a challenge?
MR. TONER: -- that Chief of Staff Younis’s death is a challenge for them.
QUESTION: Why is that a challenge?
MR. TONER: Well, because it is – he is a senior figure, and they’ve lost both his military expertise and his leadership, and again, it’s very unclear who was at fault here. We’re looking at – we’ve seen reports that this was an internal matter. We’ve reached no conclusions yet; I don’t think any conclusions have been reached yet. But in this kind of fluid situation, it’s important to keep, if you will, eyes on the prize, which is that – which is the democratic transition for the Libyan people.
QUESTION: So you – but you think or you have concerns that this – that his death or his killing may be indicative of some kind of disunity or discord or disharmony in --
MR. TONER: No. I’m saying in the fluidity and the fluidness of the situation immediately after his death, his killing, it’s just important to keep that unified structure and to remember that they represent the Libyan people and that it’s – the ultimate goal here is to lead a democratic transition and remove Qadhafi from power.
QUESTION: Were you aware of reports that Younis was in contact with the Qadhafi government?
MR. TONER: I’m aware of those reports, but I have no confirmation of those whatsoever.
QUESTION: Yeah. And has the U.S. offered to help with the investigation into his death?
MR. TONER: Good question. I don’t know. I mean, I know that our folks in Benghazi are in touch with the TNC, close contact with them; I don’t know if we’ve formally offered our assistance.
QUESTION: Mark, there also are reports about the TNC that they themselves have carried out human rights abuses against civilians. What does the State Department know about that? What is your view?
MR. TONER: Well, I would just say that we take any credible allegations of human rights abuses very seriously, and we have raised them with the Transitional National Council, and where – when appropriate, called for an investigation.
QUESTION: So you have raised specific incidents or allegations?
MR. TONER: I believe so. I believe we have addressed these allegations – some of these allegations with them, and called for an investigation.
QUESTION: So you believe that some might be credible?
MR. TONER: Again, where we have a credible allegation, we follow up on it.
MR. TONER: On Syria. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Mark, can you tell us what the State Department is doing to protect the families of American Syrians who’s being harassed by the intelligence service in Syria itself? We just got a report that musician Malek Jandali’s parents has been attacked in Hamza after an interview he gave to (inaudible). Is there something that you can do to protect the families? And also we heard that the Syrian embassy here is following anti-Syrian regime demonstrators in America itself.
MR. TONER: Well, and you know we spoke to this I guess now a few weeks ago, that our Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security did raise this with the – the issue of some of the conduct of Syrian diplomats and officials here in the United States. We raised our concerns about these allegations that they were intimidating, harassing some of the Syrian Americans as well as their families in Syria regarding the situation there and these protests. So we take these kinds of situations, these kind of allegations very seriously.
Within – talking about American citizens within Syria, we would offer – clearly offer appropriate consular support if they were to be arrested or detained. We raise these kinds of harassment issues on a regular basis with the Syrian Government. On a broad scale, I’m not sure that this particular individual’s case has come up. I would have to check for you.
QUESTION: And what level do you raise it when you talk you have –
MR. TONER: Well, I would imagine the ambassador would raise it if it’s serious enough.
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: Yesterday there was a raid by federal authorities at the university in Virginia, University of Northern Virginia, and the university charged of giving admission to foreign students – mostly are from India – much larger than they were given the permission for. But these students came here on the visas issued by the State Department. How come the State Department couldn’t check on issued visas to students going to university which was not allowed to give so many students permission?
MR. TONER: Well, we are looking into this matter, we’re following the case closely, and we’re in communication with the Government of India officials on it. Embassy New Delhi has briefed the Ministry of External Affairs as well as – and our Department of Homeland Security and the Department have been in contact with the Indian Embassy here. This is an investigation that’s ongoing, so I’m limited in what I can give in terms of details. But it’s important to note that a hundred thousand Indians are receiving a good education at certified U.S. institutions each year, and we certainly welcome the contribution of Indian students wishing to study in the United States. And of course, as always, we caution them to be alert to the existence of these so-called predatory visa fraud rings and fraudulent document vendors.
QUESTION: But these visas are issued by the State Department, your consulates or embassies in India. Is there any internal investigation, how come these were issued?
MR. TONER: Again, I’d just say right now it’s – this is an ongoing investigation and we’re certainly aware of it. You’re correct in that this was a – they’ve taken action against this school, and we’re in close coordination with the Indian Government as we move forward. But beyond that, I don’t want to comment on details.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we stay on the visa issue?
MR. TONER: On the Indian visa issue?
MR. TONER: On the visa issue?
QUESTION: Visa issues writ large, or more specifically, why did the – does the State Department deny visas to the Ugandan little league team, which was about to be the first African little league team to ever play in the Little League World Series?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m certainly aware of the story. As you know, we are limited or we cannot, frankly, discuss individual visa cases in public. I would just say in this case that I can assure you that consular officers examined each of these individuals and accorded them every consideration under the law. This is a very difficult situation, and we – but our consular officials are committed to upholding U.S. law. At the same time, they do accord these individuals who are coming in for visa interviews every consideration. And beyond that, I would have to refer you to the Little League officials in Williamsport.
QUESTION: Right. You said you were aware of this story, but you’re aware of the statement that Little League International has put out, correct?
MR. TONER: I am.
QUESTION: Which said that there were some – that there were discrepancies in these applications. What, were they denied en masse?
MR. TONER: I believe no, they were denied on an individual basis.
QUESTION: So none of these kids who are on this little league team qualify – were able to get a visa?
MR. TONER: It’s unclear to me whether it was a preponderance of the kids so that the team was no longer viable, if you will, or whether every individual on the team was denied.
QUESTION: All right. And when you say the consular –
MR. TONER: I could take that question, I think.
QUESTION: -- consular officers examined each of them and –
MR. TONER: Individually.
QUESTION: -- and accorded the – I mean, what does that mean? I mean, these are kids coming to play a baseball game.
MR. TONER: They – it means they adjudicate each of these cases individually. It’s – there’s an interview process, and they look at all appropriate data – place of birth, date of birth, family name, et cetera – and take all that into consideration before making their judgment.
QUESTION: Was there some concern that they might stay, that they might not move back to Uganda?
MR. TONER: I don’t – again, without going too far into this, because I’m not allowed to talk about these cases --
QUESTION: Well, this –
MR. TONER: -- I don’t believe that was an issue.
QUESTION: All right. It just seems to me a little bit odd that this building would give a visa to a guy who puts a bomb in his underwear and flies to the United States and tries to blow up the plane, and a handful of Ugandan teenagers can’t come to play a game of baseball. It would just seem to strike at the very heart of your public diplomacy effort, particularly when baseball is supposed to be America’s game and you’re wanting to expand it and show goodwill. It just mystifies me.
MR. TONER: Well, Matt, it’s – again, it is a difficult situation. I won’t deny that. But these cases are adjudicated by consular officials who look very closely at all the appropriate data and they make their decisions based on that. In this case, these individuals did not receive a visa. Beyond that, I really can’t comment other than to say that I’d refer you to the Little League organizers for more information.
QUESTION: On a different topic?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Right. Billions of dollars worth. There’s been a deal between India and a bank in Turkey to try to pay back these arrears. Does the U.S. have concerns about this? Obviously, Iran is under quite a few sanctions, the Secretary was just in India.
MR. TONER: Right. And I’m aware that it’s – I’m restricted in what I can really talk about and, frankly, it’s a matter that is – Treasury, I believe, is focused on. But we are working with the Indians to resolve the situation, and there’s – there are, we believe, options available that will help them do that that would not trigger sanctions. But beyond that, I can’t really comment.
QUESTION: Does that mean you oppose?
MR. TONER: Sorry?
QUESTION: Does that mean you would oppose doing it through a bank in Turkey?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into the details. I’m just saying we’re discussing options with India that will help resolve it.
QUESTION: Was it discussed when Secretary Clinton went to India recently last week?
MR. TONER: I didn’t hear the first part of your question.
QUESTION: Was this issue discussed when Secretary Clinton was India recently?
MR. TONER: I wasn’t privy to her discussions there. I wasn’t on the trip, so I don’t know. I can’t confirm.
QUESTION: On Turkey. Today, in Turkey, Turkish chief of general, along with land, sea, and air force commanders, have resigned. First of all, have you heard of it, and do you have any --
MR. TONER: It sounds like an internal Turkish matter. We have confidence in the strength of Turkey’s institutions, both democratic and military, and it’s an internal matter.
QUESTION: The reason of resignations are actually (inaudible) that you raised this issue in the State Department Human Rights Report in terms of the long arrest period without any verdict. Could you comment on that, because as a NATO ally, there is cooperation with Turkey, with Turkish military all around the world, in Afghanistan, in Iraq?
MR. TONER: Obviously, there’s a close cooperation with Turkish military. But again, I haven’t seen the details of the case, of the resignations, so I’m going to withhold commenting until I’ve had a chance to look at it.
QUESTION: On China, could you please share with us some – the meeting Secretary Clinton and Joint Deputy Secretary Burns with – a meeting with the Chinese delegation?
MR. TONER: Well, you’re right, Minister Wang Yi, who’s the director of State Council’s Taiwan affairs office, met with – was meeting with Deputy Secretary Burns today, and Secretary Clinton did join that meeting. And Minister Wang also met with Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell; that was a couple day ago. And he’s just visiting as part of the sustained dialogue with China on a broad range of mutual interests, including cross-strait relations, clearly.
QUESTION: Have they reached --
QUESTION: Did they discuss the arms sales?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not aware. I haven’t gotten a readout of the meeting. Our policy on arms sales is very clear and well-known.
QUESTION: It’s still unchanged – the arms sales policy? Has the Secretary told them about the decision she said that she’s going to make before August --
MR. TONER: There’s no decisions yet on arms sales to Taiwan.
QUESTION: But more broadly, I mean, the fact that he’s invited here for talks, that Taiwan is obviously an issue in which there’s great disagreement between Beijing and Washington, what’s – what is the thinking in terms of why to actually have dialogue with China specifically on Taiwan?
MR. TONER: Well, why have dialogue on Taiwan? I mean, I think it’s important that we have dialogue with China on a range of issues, including, as we said, cross-strait relations. That doesn’t certainly preclude our strong relations with Taiwan. But I think it’s important that we have these kind of positive exchanges and talk about a range of issues.
QUESTION: Mark, just to make sure, my understanding – and I just read it very cursorily, but was it – some sales were approved, but the issue of the F-16s was put off. Is that correct? In other words, what is the Secretary going to be deciding on?
MR. TONER: Again, there’s been no decision about F-16 arms sales. We continue to, as you know, make available to Taiwan defense articles and services to help them maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. But no decisions have been made on potential arms sales.
QUESTION: One more?
MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead, and then we’ll go back here.
QUESTION: Ms. Obeidi, the woman who accused the Libyan military of raping her, is now in the United States. She’s expressing great thankfulness to Secretary Clinton. Is she going to be meeting with the Secretary and what’s your overall reaction to her visit?
MR. TONER: Well, obviously, this is a case that the Secretary has followed very closely, as I think we’ve mentioned before. And without discussing, since I cannot confirm her location, given privacy concerns, but I’m aware that she’s obviously been out there publicly, I believe with CNN. This is a positive development.
QUESTION: Will she meet the Secretary?
MR. TONER: But nothing --
QUESTION: What’s a positive development?
MR. TONER: That she is in a safe place.
QUESTION: And would the Secretary like to meet her?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have anything to announce. But obviously, as I just said, this is a case that she’s followed closely.
MR. TONER: Is that – considering to the Nagasaki commemoration?
QUESTION: Nagasaki – yeah.
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm. I’ll have to take that question and get back to you.
QUESTION: Mark, can you --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, the question was to the --
MR. TONER: To the Nagasaki – whether we’re sending --
QUESTION: The 66th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. There’s a memorial event planned on August 9th.
QUESTION: But I think – believe the ambassador went to it last year.
MR. TONER: He did attend. I don’t – but I don’t know this year. She’s asking about this year.
QUESTION: The ambassador didn’t attend the Nagasaki one. He attended the Hiroshima one.
MR. TONER: Thank you.
QUESTION: So I’m just asking whether --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Let me – it’s the first I’ve heard of it, so let me confirm.
QUESTION: Okay. Great, thanks.
MR. TONER: Catherine.
QUESTION: Sunday is the second anniversary of the Iran hikers’ arrest, and also what is scheduled as their trial. Can you give us an update, and are you confident that that trial will go forward?
MR. TONER: In answer to your last question first, we’ve seen these kinds of announcements, dates set before, and the trials haven’t taken place. We are in regular contact with the family. We are in regular contact with our Swiss protecting power there, and this – their cases, their situation remains a matter of utmost concern for the United States, and we hope that it’s – that it reaches a positive conclusion.
QUESTION: I have two really brief ones.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Last month – the end of last month, actually, the – you – when the Hariri tribunal confirmed its indictments, you said you wouldn’t – didn’t want to talk about it except to say that the process was proceeding. But you said, “As this process moves forward, we’ll obviously have comment on the substance.” So today, the tribunal announced the names – publicly announced the names of the indictees. Has there been enough process moved – moving – has there been enough moving forward of the process for you now to say something now?
MR. TONER: Well, I think our overall message hasn’t changed. This indictment’s an important milestone, and we call on the Government of Lebanon to continue to meet its obligations under international law to support the special tribunal. We have not yet – despite these names being made public, we’ve not yet seen the full indictment that was handed over to the Lebanese Government, so we can’t really comment on its substance. But I’m aware that there is a deadline – I believe August 11th – for authorities in Lebanon to report on progress.
QUESTION: All right. And then my last one is: What can you tell us about negotiations with the Saudis on a nuclear – civil nuclear deal? You seem to have gotten – some people on the Hill are up in arms about this.
MR. TONER: Well, I think it’s – we talk with Saudi officials about civil nuclear issues, but I don’t have any details of any discussions.
QUESTION: Well, supposedly there was someone from the State Department up on the Hill today, who told them – who briefed them and said that this was going to go forward. Is that not true?
MR. TONER: I’ll try to get more information about that. I don’t --
QUESTION: So you don’t know?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Sorry, last quick – my question. On Ergenekon case, 10 percent of the general staff in Turkish army has been jailed during this investigation. I’m wondering whether your cooperation with Turkish army in – all around the world, as I said, has been affected or not?
MR. TONER: Again, we view --
QUESTION: Because some of them are working in NATO, for example.
MR. TONER: Yeah. We view Turkey as a stalwart ally within NATO, and we have strong security cooperation with them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)
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