1:00 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I realize some of you, or many of you, are still trickling back from New York, or some of you never went to New York, like me. But anyway, we thought it was important to try to get back up and running here in Washington with the daily press briefing, so away we go.
Just one thing at the top. We do want to applaud the people of Zambia for conducting credible and orderly local parliamentary and presidential elections on September 20th. These successful elections deepen Zambia’s already strong democratic tradition. We commend former President Banda for his three years of distinguished leadership as well as his acceptance of the will of Zambia’s people. The United States Government congratulates President Sata on his inauguration last Friday, and we look forward to further developing our partnership with the new government in the spirit of mutual respect and responsibility.
That’s all I have at the top, so I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Hey, Mark. Do you have any reaction to Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he’s going to run for president next year, in fact swapping places with Medvedev?
MR. TONER: Well, I think what’s ultimately important is that this is a matter, a decision – that is the question of who will be Russia’s next president, that’s a decision for the Russian people to determine. We, for our part, look forward to working with whoever is the next president because we believe, clearly, that’s it in the mutual interest of the United States and Russia, and the world, that we do work closely together.
QUESTION: That – hold on. That doesn’t sound like a huge endorsement for that plan.
MR. TONER: It’s not an endorsement. It’s simply saying that this is a matter for the Russian people. Who is Russia’s next democratically elected leader is a matter for the Russian people to decide.
QUESTION: Are you worried that it could mean any difference in the reset for U.S. – reset of relations with Russia? Are you worried that things could be played differently with him in charge, effectively?
MR. TONER: No. Regardless of who wins the next election, our priorities remain the same. We believe the reset’s been in both of our nations’, and indeed the world’s, best interests. And we’re going to cooperate with Russia in areas where we can cooperate constructively. Looking forward, we want to – we want to try to resume missile defense cooperation, and we’re also seeking to finalize Russia’s accession to the WTO. These are going to be – remain priorities for us. We’re going to continue to work on the reset. We think it’s been valuable so far, and we’re going to continue to work on it.
QUESTION: And you don’t see any of that at risk with Putin at the helm?
MR. TONER: Again, no. Our agenda with Russia --
QUESTION: Not the agenda, but the effectiveness of that cooperation.
MR. TONER: No. We believe that our reset, thus far, has been successful. Obviously, Putin, in his current role, has been a part of those discussions and cooperation. But again, this is a matter for the Russian people to decide. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the attack this morning in Kabul, do you have any more details?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I have much more to add, but let me just go through. There was a shooting incident that took place at an annex of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. That was yesterday evening. And the attack is still clearly under investigation. I can confirm that one U.S. citizen was killed, another was wounded, and the wounded U.S. citizen was evacuated to a military hospital with non-life threatening injuries. We certainly mourn the loss of life in the incident and express our heartfelt condolences to the family.
I’d just add that the Embassy has resumed normal business operations.
QUESTION: Any idea who was behind this attack?
MR. TONER: Let’s go – Lalit.
QUESTION: Any idea who was behind this attack?
MR. TONER: No. Again, the matter is under investigation, and I think we don’t have any clear idea of who was responsible.
QUESTION: Do you – are you confirming the identity, at least, that this non-military civilian was a member of the CIA?
MR. TONER: No. No confirmation of – he was an Embassy personnel, but I don’t have any confirmation of his --
QUESTION: So you’re not denying that, though – those reports?
MR. TONER: We don’t have any information to convey.
QUESTION: But he was an Embassy personnel? He was an Embassy personnel?
MR. TONER: No. He was – sorry – he was – again, I don’t – he was one U.S. citizen killed. I don’t have any specifics about his affiliation.
QUESTION: Could we switch topics?
MR. TONER: Sure. Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In the last week --
QUESTION: Yes, Pakistan.
MR. TONER: Technically, that’s a change. But – well, go ahead, Lalit. I’ll get this.
QUESTION: Last week, Admiral Mullen said in his congressional testimony that Haqqani Network has been involved in several terrorist incidents, but the State Department hasn’t declared yet Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization. What is leaving you (inaudible)? What is it that is taking you from declaring them as a terrorist organization? Or do you have (inaudible) on this issue?
MR. TONER: Well, first of all, just to address your point about why we haven’t designated them, it’s important to state that we have carried out a number of Executive Order 13224 designations that target, essentially the kingpins of the Haqqani Network – financiers, leadership, as well as some of its most dangerous operatives. As you know, in 2008 we targeted Siraj Haqqani, in 2011 Badruddin Haqqani, Sangeen Zadran in 2011, and on the Treasury side, we designated Nasiruddin Haqqani in 2010, Khalil Haqqani in 2011, Ahmed Jan Zadran in 2011, as well as Fazl Rabi in 2011. So certainly FTO designation is something under review, but the idea that we haven’t gone after the Haqqani Network at all, I think, is a mischaracterization. Like I said, we’ve affectively targeted many of the kingpins in the organization.
What was the first part of your question again?
QUESTION: Also, there has been a lot of words between both U.S. and Pakistan, exchange of strong words. How do you describe, explain the relationship with Pakistan as of now?
MR. TONER: Look, our relationship with Pakistan, we have some very clear challenges. I think it’s clear that terrorism, is a threat to both Pakistan and to the United States, and we’re committed to working with the Pakistani Government to address it. As far as our concerns about the Haqqani Network, that’s been raised at the highest levels. Secretary Clinton has spoken about it, Secretary of Defense Panetta as well as others, Admiral Mullen last week. And it’s certainly a matter of concern, but we’re addressing these concerns by working constructively with the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: Do you have full confidence in the leadership of Pakistan that they will take up action against Haqqani Network?
MR. TONER: We believe that we can work constructively with the Pakistani Government, Pakistani authorities to address these concerns, yes.
QUESTION: On Haqqani.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: If the Haqqani Network is attacking U.S. forces repeatedly and has been doing so, and if they have the support, explicit support of the Pakistan Government, as Admiral Mullen pointed out, how far away are we from saying, “These are acts of war, these are more serious than just what we’ve described them as so far”?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to speculate beyond what I just said, which is that we recognize very clearly that this is an area of concern. We’ve identified that, we’ve raised it at the highest levels with the Pakistanis, we’ve said we need to take action against the Haqqani Network, and we’re committed at this point to working constructively with them to do that. We recognize that this is a clear threat to our security in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Do you believe that what I’m suggesting is far-fetched that you could interpret these acts of terrorism as an act of war considering the support they have from the ISI?
MR. TONER: I would just say that we share a common threat from terrorism with the Pakistani Government, we have worked constructively in the past, we’ve seen that relationship yield tangible results, we have a relationship that is rooted in our candor, and we have expressed our concerns to them about it. But all the while, we’re also committed to working with them to address it.
QUESTION: Right. So you’re not going to go that far?
QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Yeah. But Andy, do you have a question?
QUESTION: No. No. You –
MR. TONER: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan. Pakistan has conveyed to the U.S. that Islamabad is not attacking Haqqani Network. This is a report that has come out after the meeting of Kayani with his generals. Have you received this message from Islamabad?
MR. TONER: That the –
QUESTION: That Pakistan will not attack Haqqani Network.
MR. TONER: I’ve seen some news reports. I haven’t seen the actual statements from any officials. Again, we’re very clear on our position on this. We believe that these kind of safe havens are extremely troubling and indeed a matter of great concern and dangerous development for both the United States and for Pakistan. So we want to see action taken against them.
QUESTION: No. Till – one minute – till today, have you received any communication from Islamabad about – after all these statements flying from this way to that way through media, what is –
MR. TONER: Look, I’m not aware that we’ve received – what our private conversations have been since last week with the Pakistani Government, and indeed, I don’t think I could talk about them from the podium except to say that we are committed to this relationship, we’re going to work constructively with them to address the challenges that we face.
QUESTION: Can we switch?
MR. TONER: Sure. Are we done with Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- issues? Any reaction or comments or remarks made by former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative basically placing all the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Benjamin Netanyahu?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to respond to that except to say that we’ve got, right now, from Friday a Quartet statement out there publicly. We’ve seen –
QUESTION: I’m not asking (inaudible). I’m saying –
MR. TONER: Let me finish (inaudible). Let me finish – that the Israelis have come out favorably for – the Palestinian Authority is examining it, looking at it closely. It provides an alternative path back to negotiations. That’s the way we believe we should be moving. That’s the direction we believe we should be moving.
QUESTION: But there is no reaction to the former President’s comments on – placing all the blame on Mr. Netanyahu, is there?
MR. TONER: Again, both sides need to look at the challenges that they’re facing and work to get back to the negotiating table. I think everyone is in agreement that that’s how we’re going to resolve this.
QUESTION: Okay. A quick follow-up. There’s also talk that the State Department or the Administration is in the process of changing the team that have been conducting this negotiation – David Hale and Dennis Ross. Is that – any comment on that?
MR. TONER: No. Not that I’m aware of – if we have any announcements to make, but David Hale and Dennis Ross remain our envoys.
QUESTION: What’s your –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) go back to the region? No. Are there any plans for them to go back?
MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you wanted to go back to the region.
MR. TONER: No. I checked this morning. I don’t think there’s any travel plans in the immediate offering, but certainly they remain engaged with the parties.
QUESTION: How do you read President Abbas’s statements made in a couple of speeches since he returned to Ramallah from the UN where he was, again, sort of underscoring the fact that a settlement freeze is absolutely essential to any restart of talks? And the Quartet statement doesn’t seem to cover that. So –
MR. TONER: It’s hard – what I think we just would say at this point, it’s hard for us to read what might be behind those statements. We’re still waiting to hear officially what the response is. Until we hear that official response, we’re going to refrain from trying to characterize what his public comments might mean. Again, we believe that the Quartet statement lays out a way for both sides to get back to the negotiating table. Both sides acknowledged last week that’s where they ultimately need to be, and it does present a timeline, which is a sign of its seriousness of purpose, and it sets out clear frames of reference on moving forward. So we think it provides a good way to get the process back on track.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Today, the Lebanese Ambassador to the United Nations who is also chair of the Security Council, gave the application to the other members. Any comment as to when the process might be voted upon?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I tried to find an update for that, but it’s still in the UN Security Council but I don’t have any update or – on how – what the next movement will be.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Mark, still on –
MR. TONER: Over here, yeah. And then back to you.
QUESTION: Same issue.
QUESTION: In the – sorry, (inaudible) – can you explain more about the U.S. efforts to lobby other members of the Security Council trying to abstain or to block the Palestinian membership?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the details of our private conversations, but we’re pretty transparent on where we stand about – on this issue. Our public comments reflect what our private conversations are, which is that we’re not for anything that we believe is going to impede our ultimate goal here, which is, again, both sides back to the negotiating table. That’s been our fundamental stance for weeks now and we believe that we need to work away from the UN at getting both sides back to the negotiating table. We had a Quartet statement that lays out a track to do so and that’s where we’re focusing our efforts on.
QUESTION: But you’re transparent in your position – public position of using a veto, but are you transparent of trying to put any pressure on other countries to block it?
MR. TONER: Well again, you talk about pressure. I mean certainly we talk to other members of the Security Council, but our position is very clear. Certainly, we’re going to argue forcefully our position. That’s what diplomats do.
Go ahead Lalit?
QUESTION: What do you say about India’s decision to support the resolution in the Security Council for the Palestinians?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask India to explain its position. Our – I can only justify ours.
QUESTION: They’re a key ally, but they’re not supporting you in the Security Council.
MR. TONER: Again, that’s for India to explain its decision. We’re very clear on our position which is that we want to get them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed or did you get disappointed?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s – talk to the Indian Government.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: Yeah, excuse me, I was trying to get a read out. I know they’re going to be backgrounding up in New York shortly about – we try to do them in chunks because she has such a significant number of bilats today. So I’m not aware – they’re probably going to shortly give a read out.
QUESTION: They’re giving it now.
MR. TONER: Are they giving it right now?
QUESTION: Right now.
MR. TONER: See, and you’re here. (Laughter.) Anyway, thanks. So Andy said, they’re giving it right now and that’s the way it is. I don’t have any more details to provide.
QUESTION: All right. Couple of more on Korea.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: There’s a report that acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Edgard Kagan, he visited Korea over the last weekend and discussed with his counterpart on the recent North-South Talks in Beijing and possible talks between U.S. and North Korea. Can you confirm that?
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the trip, but I don’t have a readout of his meetings, so I’ll try to get that for you.
QUESTION: One more on –
MR. TONER: I’m not sure how much we can – I can give you broad areas of conversation. I can’t get into the details, obviously, of those private meetings.
QUESTION: One last one.
MR. TONER: One more and then back to you, sir.
QUESTION: I promise one more.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: There is also report – actually South Korean official told South Korean media last weekend that the U.S. and North Korea are discussing plan to have another talks, most likely early next month.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Go back to – who said this?
QUESTION: A South Korean official talked to South Korean media.
MR. TONER: Ok. Go ahead.
QUESTION: What he said is that U.S. and North Korea are discussing a plan to have another talks, most likely early next month in a third country. Is that what you have in mind?
MR. TONER: No. We don’t have anything to announce. We’ve obviously – we did have the meetings in – a couple months ago, but no further – nothing further to announce on those.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, sir. Syria’s fine.
QUESTION: Yeah. Could you update us on the activities of Ambassador Ford and what is the situation there?
MR. TONER: I don’t have an update on Ambassador Ford’s whereabouts or his activities. I do – sorry about it. I mean, I don’t have – I don’t know what his most recent activities have been. He obviously remains engaged on the ground. I don’t know that he’s traveled recently. We’ll try to get you an update on that.
In general terms, we’ve seen continued oppression by the Syrian Government, including credible reports that Syrian intelligence services are imprisoning and torturing and killing relatives of dissidents inside Syria as a means of forcing activists to give themselves up. We’ve seen increased violence over the weekend in other parts of Syria, and we just reiterate our call for the Syrian Government to stop the violence.
QUESTION: Okay. There has been reports that Jandali is an American Syrian musician and his parents were smuggled out of Syria, that this was done in coordination with the American Embassy. Do you have any more information on that?
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the individual, I’m aware of the case. I don’t know that I can comment beyond that, no.
QUESTION: And lastly, there has been reports that (inaudible), volatile times ahead with a grouped – military groups congregating outside the Syrian army. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. TONER: Again, one more time the question.
QUESTION: There is apparently some arms being sent to the opposition and a group that –people that have defected from the army, members of the armed forces have formed their own units. Would you, at this point, give them aid?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I think it’s not surprising, given the level of violence over the past months, that we’re now seeing members of the military – or, rather, members of the opposition begin to turn violent, or, rather, begin to use violence against the military as an act of self-preservation. I would say that the opposition’s shown extraordinary restraint in the face of the regime’s brutality and demanding their rights through peaceful unarmed demonstrations.
It goes without saying that the longer the regime continues to repress, kill, and jail these peaceful activists, the more likely that this peaceful movement’s going to become violent. And we would – the onus for this remains on the Syrian Government and the Syrian regime that continues to use violence against innocent civilians.
So think what you’re saying is, unfortunately, a natural development.
QUESTION: Well, do you urge the opposition to not –
MR. TONER: It’s not really for us, frankly, to urge the opposition to do anything. They are – clearly, it’s a matter of self-defense. Again, we just – we’ve seen – what we’ve seen so far in the struggle, this largely nonviolent struggle, is extraordinary restraint on the part of the opposition.
QUESTION: A lot of your expressions of support for the opposition have been grounded in part on the fact that they have been nonviolent and peaceful. Are you saying that you would continue to support them if they actively took up arms and essentially became an armed insurrection that you would – they would receive the full backing from you? If the movement loses its nonviolent character, does that change, in any way, U.S. support for its goal?
MR. TONER: I think what remains unchanged is that Asad is no longer the legitimate leader of that country. He, by using violence against his people, has created the present situation. These are unarmed protestors. They remain unarmed, for the large part. But the dynamic is changing because – due to this continued violence by Asad and his regime.
So the responsibility, the onus, is on Asad. We’re calling for him to step down so that a democratic transition can take place. That’s what our focus is.
QUESTION: But what’s your reaction to reports that elements in the military are defecting and threatening to use force against the regime?
MR. TONER: Well, I – just what I said, which is that you’re seeing this dynamic --
MR. TONER: -- you’re seeing this shift because average Syrians, who have thus far been nonviolent, are trying to take action against this continued violence, this continued repression, the deaths, the mounting death toll of innocent Syrian civilians. And so it’s not surprising that we’re seeing this happen.
But again, let’s be clear. The responsibility lies with Asad and his regime that continue to use violence against innocent, peaceful demonstrators. And they need to step aside and allow a democratic transition. That call remains crystal clear: Asad needs to step down.
QUESTION: But to follow up on Andy’s point, there are elements, in Dara’a in particular, that are issuing statements saying that if we take up arms, if we form our own basis and so on, then the U.S. will come and support us, as happened in Libya. Wouldn’t it be, in fact, in the interest of the United States to caution against the use of violence on the premise that this will engender U.S. aid?
MR. TONER: Well, I think from our understanding, the vast majority of the Syrian people are adamant that they don’t want any kind of military intervention, and this does remain a largely peaceful opposition movement. But as I said, the government’s continued use of violence against innocent civilians, I think, is engendering the opposition to use violence back at the Syrian authorities.
QUESTION: And then just so we’re clear on this, and you condone the use of that violence by the opposition to defend themselves? You think that’s perfectly okay?
MR. TONER: I just think that it is a dynamic that has been borne of this ongoing repression and violence against them. It’s a matter of self-defense.
Yeah. Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Can I go back to North Korea for a second?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Actually, when the United States had high-level talks in July in New York, you said the talks were aimed at testing whether North Korea is serious about denuclearization or further talk. So at this point, do you think North Korea is serious about talks?
MR. TONER: I don’t think we’ve had enough to – enough examples, enough evidence, to make a decision either way. I think we’re still looking for improved dialogue between North and South Korea, and certainly the onus is on North Korea to take steps in that direction. But I think it’s still – the verdict’s still unclear.
QUESTION: So, actually, inter-Korean talks last week in Beijing, people say it is apparently setting the stage for another meeting between Pyongyang and Washington. What do you say about --
MR. TONER: And again, I have nothing to announce about that.
QUESTION: Okay. Just one more.
MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Yeah. If – I say if – you --
MR. TONER: Sounds speculative, but I’ll try.
QUESTION: -- if you decide to hold talks with – another talks meeting in North Korea, Ambassador Bosworth’s trip to Pyongyang is possible? Is it an option?
MR. TONER: Well, that’s a hugely speculative question. Let’s take this as it comes.
Yeah. Go ahead, Andy.
QUESTION: Mark, sorry, I know you were talking about it earlier, but I just want to get back to the incident in Kabul today. I missed a little bit at the top.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. That’s okay.
QUESTION: I just want to get what information you have. Are you confirming the identities of either of these people, either the shooter or the victim?
MR. TONER: What I can say is – you probably saw some of the initial reports and that a – it was a lone gunman and that he was an Afghan Embassy employee and he was killed. But again, this attack is still under investigation, so we’ll likely have more details --
QUESTION: Can you tell us what – in what role her served in the Embassy?
MR. TONER: I can’t, at this point.
QUESTION: And the victim --
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have any information about that.
QUESTION: Can you give any information on the actual sort of mechanics of the attack, where the gunman was standing? There have been reports that it was on top of the roof, firing toward the Embassy. Anything on the actual specific --
MR. TONER: No, I don’t. I’ll try to get you more information about that. Sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. And is this attack going to – does this – have there been any new – anything new put in place to increase Embassy security in the wake of this?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, certainly, as you can imagine, the Embassy security posture already is pretty high. And the Embassy will, no doubt, take steps that it deems prudent to increase that – the security measures. But I can’t, obviously, talk about what those might be.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: When you said – I’m sorry. I’m not that familiar with the story. I should be more familiar.
MR. TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: You said the gunman was an Embassy --
MR. TONER: There was an incident last night, a shooting incident. It was a – it took place at an annex of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
MR. TONER: Again, I stress that everything’s still under investigation here, so we’ve got just a few details, but we may have more in the coming hours or days. But we can confirm that a U.S. citizen was killed, another one was wounded, and the wounded U.S. citizen was evacuated to a military hospital and his injuries are non-life-threatening. The Embassy, I can say, has resumed normal business operations. The motivation for the attack is still unclear. It’s under investigation. And initial reports are that the lone gunman in this incident was an Afghan Embassy employee, who was subsequently killed in the attack. That’s really all the information I have right now.
QUESTION: And do you know if next of kin has been notified?
MR. TONER: I believe so.
QUESTION: So then would you be able to provide anything on the identity then?
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm right now. I said I believe so. I can’t confirm, so I can’t identify now.
MR. TONER: As we get more details, folks, we’ll get them to you.
QUESTION: Before going to Sri Lanka, I’d just like to ask you to – if you can confirm – there’s an AP report which has come that the guy who was killed was a CIA employee in Kabul.
MR. TONER: Again, we’re not – I’m not in a position to confirm where he worked, for whom he worked. I don’t have that information.
QUESTION: Can you --
MR. TONER: He wants to go to Sri Lanka now.
QUESTION: Going to Sri Lanka, the UN Secretary General has referred his UN panel report to UN Human Rights and to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for further action. But also there has been a --
MR. TONER: Sorry. Rewind. I missed the first part. Who referred it to the UN?
QUESTION: Mr. Ban Ki-moon has referred his report on UN panel report of Sri Lanka --
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- which created all the – to UN Human Rights Council and also to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for further action. In all this UN General Assembly, this was not – didn’t get so much. But also there is a court case has been filed in a New York court against the visiting president of Sri Lanka Rajapaksa. So what is the latest update from the U.S.? Are you still pressurizing? Are you – what is the latest from the State Department?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m – our longstanding policy has been – position, rather, has been that the Government of Sri Lanka needs to take steps to credibly address some of these allegations. We urge it to do so. I’ll try to get an update on where the UN action stands at this point, but I don’t have anything beyond that at this point.
QUESTION: Anything on the --
MR. TONER: And nothing on the court case, and I doubt I could comment anyway, since it’s an ongoing legal matter.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Burma?
MR. TONER: On Burma.
MR. TONER: I’ll have to confirm, and I’ll give you a readout.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Is that it? Great. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)
DPB # 141