12:54 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything at the top, so I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on your – on the diplomacy around Syria, particularly with the Arab League meeting tomorrow, Morocco, what you want to see from them, and what you make of this latest violence?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the – our own mission in Damascus estimates that – (electronic device interruption). That’s okay. (Laughter.) Let it finish. But just to return to your question, Matt, we have it from our Embassy in Damascus that 42 civilians were killed by regime forces on November 14th. We’ve certainly seen reports with estimates that number significantly higher, but that’s what we’ve been able to determine. This goes on top of the 87 civilians that were killed by regime forces between November 11th and 13th. A lot of these were protesters who were out celebrating the Arab League decision and calling for Asad to step down.
You’re right; the Arab League is set to meet tomorrow in Rabat. We were, as I said yesterday, quite pleased with the very strong and forceful statement that came out over the weekend. We look for the Arab League tomorrow to again send a forceful message to Asad that he needs to allow for a democratic transition to take place and to allow – and to end the violence against his people. I’m not going to predetermine what they’re going to discuss and what measures they may take beyond what they’ve already discussed in their meeting on Saturday, which includes suspending Syria.
But what I think we’re seeing from over the weekend and continuing today, we’ve had – since the Arab League’s decision, we’ve seen that the EU has broadened its sanctions to target 18 individuals as well as initiate a new prohibition against the European Investment Bank’s disbursements on Syria. Again, we have the Arab League tomorrow. The king of Jordan came out yesterday and said that Asad should step down. And we also have Turkey coming out today with very forceful statements about the situation in Syria. So I think what we’re seeing here and continue to see is that the drumbeat of international pressure is increasing on Asad.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of King Abdullah’s statement?
MR. TONER: I believe he said if he were Asad, that he would step aside.
QUESTION: Because the Jordanians say he didn’t actually call for him to step down, but your understanding is that he did?
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding from press reports, Matt.
QUESTION: Do you expect other Arab regimes to follow suit with Jordan, to call for Asad to step down?
MR. TONER: I think we expect to see, again, a strong statement and a unified statement against the violence in Syria and calling on the Syrian Government to end that violence against its civilians.
QUESTION: Do you – let me ask it this way.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Have you been told by the United States’ close allies such as Saudi Arabia or the Emirate of Qatar that they would follow suit and call for him to step aside?
MR. TONER: Well, again, you’re asking me to prejudge the outcome of tomorrow’s meeting and I’m not going to do that. We have been in consultation with our Arab League partners, we remain in consultation after Saturday’s meeting and in the run-up to tomorrow, but the Arab League will decide what it’s going to decide, and it’s not – it’s – we’re consulting with them, but we’re certainly not dictating to them. They’re making their own decisions.
QUESTION: Yeah. A quick follow-up on the casualties: You said 42 civilians were killed. How do you determine the veracity of these numbers, and how many – because the Syrians are saying 24 soldiers were killed by armed men. Do you also confirm that?
MR. TONER: We have seen those reports. We’re unable to confirm them. And I agree; it is difficult because these are based on what we’re hearing from credible eyewitnesses on the ground, but it is hard to confirm some of these numbers. But the numbers are so large and compelling that since the Arab League has – that rewinding to last week, since Syria said it was going to comply with the Arab League’s demands, it’s actually increased violence against these protestors.
QUESTION: And lastly --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the United Arab Emirates just issued a statement, or actually the GCC issued a statement saying there is no need for an Arab summit conference. Do you concur?
MR. TONER: Again, that’s a decision for the Arab League to make. We’ve – I said yesterday that it appears in our eyes to be yet another attempt by Syria to buy time.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think there was another statement. I’m sorry I saw it cursorily, but I think it was from the UN, about destruction to diplomatic property.
MR. TONER: There was yesterday, and I spoke to it yesterday.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Okay.
MR. TONER: That’s okay. There was attacks on the Turkish consulate as well as attacks on some embassies in Damascus. I’m just trying to look through here to find the – what those attacks were. But certainly, it’s disconcerting. We’ve been the victim of those attacks, our Embassy, and we – as I said yesterday, we call on Syria to live up to its Vienna Convention responsibilities, as we’ve done, as you know, several times.
QUESTION: On the 42 civilians that you say were killed, do you – does that – I mean, I guess that doesn’t include any that might be former members of the military who have decided not to fight, or can you give any breakdown on the --
MR. TONER: I can’t give a breakdown. I know that – my understanding is that these were civilians, that they weren’t defectors, as what I think you’re referring to.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go – sorry, over here and then --
QUESTION: Are you considering any recognition to the national council? Those guys yesterday were in Moscow.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Is there any plan to visit Washington?
MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. I don’t believe so at this time. We’ve been in contact with them in other places and we do remain in contact with the Syrian National Council. We’ve said before that we don’t believe they’re the sole interlocutor, such as the TNC was in Libya, but we do believe that they’re very much a credible interlocutor in representing the Syrian opposition. And we certainly do consider the Syrian opposition to be developing to becoming more – to be becoming more cohesive as we move forward.
QUESTION: Mark, on the issue of sanctions, there are suggestions from Turkey that they will cut off electricity that flows to Syria. Is that a good idea? Wouldn’t that hurt the average Syrian?
MR. TONER: I think they’ve also said that they’re going to seek – again, I’m just going from press reports, what I’ve seen from various Turkish officials, that they also said they’re going to – they don’t want to certainly harm innocent Syrian civilians. I’ve also seen those reports.
I think more broadly, because I can’t speak to what steps Turkey may or may not take in the coming days and weeks, but I think that this speaks to a growing frustration on the part of Syria’s neighbors, all of whom – many of whom, rather, have approached Asad and his regime in good-faith efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, to withdraw the military from towns and cities where it’s basically occupying the streets, and to attempt some kind of negotiation. And again and again, they’ve been snubbed by Asad, who – and his regime, who seem hell-bent, if you will, on only increasing the violence.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Go ahead. Let’s finish up with Syria.
QUESTION: Just one more. I just wanted to make sure because I wasn’t at the briefing yesterday and I know you --
MR. TONER: We missed you.
QUESTION: I’m sure. I did, too. I just wanted to get a good definition of where we are in terms of putting some type of human rights monitors on the ground. What does the United States believe should happen? How far does that concept go?
MR. TONER: Well, we do want to see human rights monitors, and indeed that was raised by the Arab League leaders when they met on Saturday. And we are working both within the UN to that end, and we still believe that that’s a – what’s critical here is that by putting monitors on the ground, by opening up to international media, you could put witnesses on the ground, and that might at least curb or abate the violence that’s going on, if not stop it altogether. That’s the intent here.
QUESTION: So when they talk about human rights monitors, these would be what? Like NGOs or international bodies that would go in and --
MR. TONER: It could be – frankly, it could be any number of a range of options. I believe the Arab League has talked about human rights monitors from human rights NGOs. Obviously, UN monitors as well would be another possibility. I think we’re somewhat flexible. I think what we want to see are just monitors on the ground who can bear witness to what’s going on there.
Yeah. Go ahead, Camille.
QUESTION: Just what has Ambassador Ford been doing? Has he had contacts with people at the Embassy or within the region or other ambassadors there?
MR. TONER: Well, he does remain in touch with his colleagues, both with – both at the Embassy and his other counterparts, if you will, in Damascus. He did take some leave. He’s back. He’s doing consultations now, and his intention, I believe, is to return next week.
QUESTION: To the best of your --
MR. TONER: But I’ll try to – I’ll get an update for you, hopefully tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Are there any Western diplomats at the level of ambassadors left in Damascus?
MR. TONER: Western – I believe the French ambassador is still on the ground.
QUESTION: The French ambassador still remains in Damascus. Thank you.
MR. TONER: I can’t speak to the others, but I’m pretty sure he is.
MR. TONER: I just know from – I just know what I know, Matt. I don’t know every embassy status, but I’m aware that the French ambassador, I believe. But I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong.
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: Where do you see India’s stand on Syria? Because it’s a democratic country and --
MR. TONER: I didn’t hear the first part of your question.
QUESTION: Where do you see India’s stand on Syria? Because India is a democratic country, and India and U.S. are not on the same page when it comes to Syria.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve seen what we believe is a momentum growing among many nations that grow increasingly frustrated by Asad’s actions. I think it grows – it becomes more and more difficult for nations to stand by and watch what’s going on there on a daily basis and not take action against what’s going on there.
QUESTION: But India is not supporting U.S. on Syria. What’s – what do you think about --
MR. TONER: Well, again, I – we are – our goal remains the same. We are seeking to build international pressure and bring more people on the side of what we believe is very clearly the right side of pressuring Syria, pressuring the government, pressuring Asad to step aside.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. TONER: Sure.
MR. TONER: And then I’ll get – Keystone we can do, and then back to – sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you can characterize the relationship between the U.S. and Canada right now with the proposal rerouting the pipeline.
MR. TONER: Yeah --
QUESTION: As you’re aware, Prime Minister Harper has said over the weekend in his bilat with the President that if there were delays, that they would look to sell elsewhere, specifically to Asia. So I was wondering if you could just characterize.
MR. TONER: Well, I talked a little bit about this yesterday. Speaking more broadly, the United States and Canada enjoy one of the closest and most extensive bilateral relations in the world. It’s reflected in our $1 billion bilateral trade and investment relationship, and we also have extensive people-to-people ties. So it’s an economic partnership. It’s a close cultural partnership.
We said all along that our decision-making process with regard to Keystone was deliberate, was transparent, and ultimately we are making a decision that’s in the national interest of the United States. And that involves looking at a range of issues. Foreign policy is one of those, but also environmental. And that’s what, in fact, triggered our decision to look at a rerouting. And so that’s where we are. I’m aware of what was said after the bilateral meeting, but certainly we believe that the bilateral relationship remains strong and intact.
QUESTION: When you talk about the economic relationship and then, of course, the environmental concerns – but when we take into consideration that business can go from Canada to someone like China where there are – many environmentalists have expressed concerns about the danger of shipping oil to China, the type of environmental – or lax environmental rules that they have over there. So what’s the purpose of the delay if you take into that consideration those potential losses?
MR. TONER: Well again, this is a process and, as I said, it looks at a number of factors. And it would not be responsible for us to simply focus on one area of concern and disregard the others. And we believe we are doing – making – going through this decision-making process in a very deliberate fashion and trying to address all of these issues in our decision-making process. As I said, the decision last week, based on this public discussion period that we went through, raised concerns that we needed to look at a rerouting, and so we proceeded in that direction. But we’re committed to, as I said, to carrying this process out and making a decision and we are confident that it won’t hurt our trading relationship with Canada.
QUESTION: How would you respond to critics who are saying that the President’s actually giving in to part of his constituency of environmentalists?
MR. TONER: I can only say that, as we’ve said repeatedly on the record, that the White House had no bearing on this decision-making process. This was – you know the State Department has the lead on this issue and we’re going about it in a very transparent and apolitical way.
QUESTION: Still on the pipeline --
QUESTION: Doesn’t the fact that you’re considering a rerouting of this, instead of just denying the permit in the first place, mean that you’re inclined to approve it?
MR. TONER: Not necessarily. Again, we’re still in the decision-making process No decision’s been made and --
QUESTION: Yeah, but if you didn’t like the idea in the first place, you would’ve just said no to the permit. You wouldn’t have tried to find a way around to address some of these concerns, which, from – looking at it from the outside, strongly implies that you would like to be able to approve this.
MR. TONER: It doesn’t imply anything. We’re going about this in a deliberate fashion.
QUESTION: Oh? Then why not just say no?
MR. TONER: We’re looking at a range of issues, and we’re trying to make the best decision.
QUESTION: Why just not – why not just say no to the whole thing?
MR. TONER: Because we’ve – we’re basically – I just –
QUESTION: You have done that. Correct?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: You could have not issued the permit. Instead you chose to look at another route –
MR. TONER: Matt, Matt, no decision’s been made. Our process continues. We’re looking at all aspects of the decision. Environmental is one of them. There’s other aspects as well as we move forward.
QUESTION: Well, why didn’t you just say no to the whole thing, then?
MR. TONER: Because we haven’t made a decision yet. We’re – the process is ongoing.
QUESTION: Well – (laughter) – you essentially have. You want to say yes. You’re looking for a way to say yes; that’s the way it looks.
MR. TONER: I disagree.
QUESTION: Last night TransCanada said they were going to reroute the pipeline.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: There’ll be more environmental reviews with the – a Nebraska agency and the State Department. Can you give us a timeline on that?
MR. TONER: I – my best estimate is that the timeline has not changed at all with regard to what we said last week, that based on previous assessments of similar distance, we anticipate the evaluation could conclude as early as the first quarter of 2013. I don’t think that’s changed at all and I think we put out some comment last night that basically tried to address this. We – Nebraska, TransCanada are working together and we’re working to support them, but nothing’s changed with regard to the timeline that we laid out last week.
QUESTION: And finally, has it changed – has the Administration changed its point of view now that TransCanada’s saying we’ll go somewhere else? Has that changed anything with the Administration?
MR. TONER: It – again, I would just characterize it as TransCanada, Nebraska – the State of Nebraska seem to be working together constructively and we’re working as well with them.
Yeah, sure. Go ahead. I’m sorry.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Now some reports in Pakistan suggest that by accepting his asylum application, U.S. has actually accepted the nationalist and separatist movements and legitimized them that are going on in Balujistan. Do you have a comment on that?
MR. TONER: Other than say that we don’t discuss refugee status and asylum cases, but they’re made on a range of criteria. It doesn’t imply anything policy-wise.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Hold on.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Let’s just get – boot this out completely. Who made this decision on asylum?
MR. TONER: It’s the --
QUESTION: It was unconnected with the Administration, right?
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: It was a judge, an immigration judge?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Yeah. Which you had – and the State Department or the Administration had how much to do with his decision? Zero?
MR. TONER: I believe so but – okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Was the State Department not consulted on this decision or --
MR. TONER: Again, we don’t discuss asylum cases – what’s that?
QUESTION: Was the State Department consulted about the situation in Balujistan and --
MR. TONER: I think I said yesterday that we have broader concerns about the situation there and the freedom of the press in Pakistan. And when we do have those concerns, we raise them with the Government of Pakistan.
QUESTION: But what is your view on the nationalist movement and the separatist movement in Balujistan?
MR. TONER: Again, more broadly, we do have concerns about the situation in Balujistan. We’ve addressed those concerns with the Government of Pakistan.
Yeah. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: The (inaudible) Pakistan media is (inaudible) is the U.S. is supporting separatist Balujistan movement. Is that the case?
MR. TONER: That’s not the case.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah, Said.
MR. TONER: Yemen.
QUESTION: They have – first of all, do you have anything new for us on Yemen? And then I’ll ask.
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) First of all, do I have anything new?
MR. TONER: We believe that President Saleh – we’re still waiting – we’ve seen yet more signs that he seems willing to sign the GCC agreement. But to date, we haven’t seen any action.
QUESTION: We have seen a great deal of violence in the last few days --
MR. TONER: We have.
QUESTION: -- and in fact, yesterday artillery was directed against civilians and so on. Why is it so difficult for the Administration to say that it is time for Ali Saleh to step down, rather than they saying he must agree to the terms enunciated in the GCC?
MR. TONER: Well, look, Said, President Saleh himself has said it is time for him to step down; he just hasn’t acted. So I agree. We share your frustration that he has come to the table now several times with the apparent intent of signing this agreement, only to back away. And so we would urge him to do so, so that a political transition can take place.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m not near as frustrated as I am curious as to why you cannot say it is time for him to leave.
MR. TONER: Again, there’s already a mechanism – a glide path, if you will – for that transition to take place. He just needs to sign pen to paper. He’s agreed to do so. We’re looking for him to do so.
QUESTION: Okay. But do you feel that his continued presence will continue to exacerbate the situation and engender a great deal more violence?
MR. TONER: We believe that he should sign the agreement and then – which will allow a transition to take place. And that’s the best way to end the violence in Yemen.
QUESTION: So you do believe that the sooner he steps down, the better?
MR. TONER: We believe the sooner he signs the agreement and a political transition starts, the better, and the better for ending the violence in Yemen.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: How soon, though?
MR. TONER: Hmm?
QUESTION: How soon? There is now call on him to step down while there is a lot of pressure on Syria. There is a lot of complaining in the region about --
MR. TONER: Well, we do --
QUESTION: -- a double standard, they call it.
MR. TONER: There’s no --
QUESTION: Why --
MR. TONER: There’s no double standard, and in fact, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to any of these situations. We are deeply concerned, as we’ve said many, many times, about the ongoing situation in Yemen and the ongoing violence between various factions and between the government and the opposition. We want to see this agreement go forward. We’ve called on Saleh to sign it many, many times. He has indicated that he will, but has yet, as I said, to put pen to paper. I agree; it’s frustrating.
QUESTION: So Asad repeatedly says he’s going to stop the violence but then he doesn’t do it, and he’s strongly condemned here. Saleh says he’s – repeatedly – going to sign the GCC agreement and he doesn’t do it, and there are just more calls from this building for him to sign it, not strong condemnation, and --
MR. TONER: We condemn the violence that’s happening in Yemen, and in part that is exacerbated by the fact that Saleh – President Saleh has not signed this GCC agreement, and we urge him to do so.
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have anything to announce. You’re talking about, again, the strategic --
QUESTION: Strategic partnership, yes, yeah.
MR. TONER: Between?
QUESTION: U.S. and Afghanistan.
MR. TONER: Oh, Afghanistan. I’m sorry. I thought you said Pakistan; I apologize. I was momentarily confused. As I think we’ve said before, we continue to talk to the Afghan Government. As you know, there’s a loya jirga that’s scheduled for tomorrow. And as we’ve said many times, we want an agreement that’s in the best interest of both our countries, and so we’re not going to put a timeline on that.
QUESTION: There’s a --
MR. TONER: It’s better to get it right rather than fast, I guess, is what I would say.
QUESTION: There’s an increasing view in Afghanistan among the parliamentarians there that when they have MPs elected from the (inaudible), what’s the need of the loya jirga endorsing or supporting U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership. Doesn’t it undermine the democratic institutions of Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: You’re saying what? Look, the loya jirga, as I said yesterday, is a traditional way for the Afghans to talk about many issues, and we support it. And we believe that it’s going to lead to an affirmation – a reaffirmation of our strong alliance with Afghanistan.
QUESTION: But you already have a parliament where members are elected from the (inaudible) and they have their own decision on this. So what’s the need of the final (inaudible) there, or --
MR. TONER: We believe both systems have validity.
QUESTION: Mark, also on Afghanistan, the International Monetary Fund approved a loan to Afghanistan for the first time in more than a year since the collapse of the Kabul bank. I wonder if you have a reaction to that, and whether the United States now advises countries that had withheld the delivery of aid to Afghanistan because of the bank issue. Does the United States advise them now that it’s okay to --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, the last part of your question again?
QUESTION: A number of countries, because of concerns about the banking system there, have been withholding aid. Given that the IMF has now --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- started sending money, does the United States advise countries that have withheld aid to deliver --
MR. TONER: Well, sure. We certainly support the International Monetary Fund’s executive board decision to approve a country program for Afghanistan. We do believe that there’s more work that needs to be done to reform and modernize Afghanistan’s banking and financial system. But we are encouraged by the Afghan Government’s actions over the past year to deal with – in a proactive way, to deal with the Kabul bank crisis, as well as to respond to the International Monetary Fund’s recommendations. These are – these actions include enforcing accountability, safeguarding financial and economic stability, and building a strong banking sector – or a stronger banking sector.
So we believe that this shows that the Afghan Government is able to address serious reform issues. We do think, as I said, that more steps are needed, but – and we’re going to continue to urge the Afghan Government to implement reforms that are necessary for meeting all of the IMF’s recommendations.
QUESTION: But those responsible for the collapse of the Kabul bank, no action has been taken against them. Aren’t you pushing Afghanistan to take --
MR. TONER: That’s really an internal matter for the Afghan Government and the Afghan judicial system.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Iran. There’s been a series of things that are happening. The explosion at the missile base, reports of spyware against their computers and other countries, assassinations, (inaudible), a lot of things. So experts are saying now that we’re witnessing a covert war against Iran. I mean, how would you characterize it?
MR. TONER: You’re asking me to talk about --
QUESTION: Yes, I am. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: -- possible covert action against --
MR. TONER: -- Iran? Forgive me, Jill, if I take a pass. I can’t --
QUESTION: I mean just in general. I’m not saying the – who’s doing it, is the U.S. involved. I’m just saying --
MR. TONER: Jill, frankly speaking, I have nothing, I know nothing to say on this matter. We have been very public about our position that we believe that Iran needs to come clean about its nuclear program, and the way to do that is through the IAEA. The P-5+1 – excuse me – the P-5+1 process offers them a way to engage with the international community and address these concerns, the concerns that were solidified in the IAEA’s report from last week. But as to covert action, I can’t comment and I don’t know enough to comment.
QUESTION: What about the plot, the --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Sergeant Schultz impersonation did quote – quite well. On Iran, though, and on --
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Thanks for the comparison to Sergeant Schultz.
QUESTION: On the --
MR. TONER: That’s quite an honor.
QUESTION: Well, you were the one that said “I know nothing,” right? The appropriately acronymed Board of Governors of the IAEA meets on Thursday to consider Iran. What are you looking for from the BOG and would you like them to refer this to the Security Council, even if the Russians and the Chinese look like they’re going to – appear likely to veto anything there?
MR. TONER: We remain very concerned about the allegations made by the report last week. It is increasingly apparent that Iran, as the report stated, continues on aspects of its nuclear program, or elements of its nuclear program. Even though the program itself appears to have ended in 2003, this is an issue of great concern to us, as we’ve stated. The Board of Governors is meeting. We’re looking for strong action. We’re also looking at other ways to increase the pressure on Iran, be they multilateral or unilateral.
QUESTION: Right, but when you say you’re looking for strong action on Iran from the Board of Governors, what does that mean?
MR. TONER: Again, you’re asking me to pre-judge the outcome of their meeting --
QUESTION: No, I’m not asking you to prejudge the outcome at all. I’m asking you what you would like to see, not what’s going to happen. Because, as we all know, you don’t always get your way. So I’m certainly not asking you to prejudge what their final decision will be. I’m asking what the U.S. would like to see the Board of Governors do.
MR. TONER: We want to see them take additional action to put the pressure on Iran --
QUESTION: Like what?
MR. TONER: Again, I mean, there’s a variety of mechanisms that they can --
QUESTION: Does that mean referring it to the Security Council?
MR. TONER: There’s a variety of options, including what you just mentioned. But again --
QUESTION: Can you --
MR. TONER: We’re not going to talk about --
QUESTION: Well, can you --
MR. TONER: --What these possible decisions that they may take. They’re consulting right now, they’re looking at the report --
QUESTION: Let’s not talk about the decisions. Let’s talk about the options they have. What would you like – what kind of options, other than going to the Security Council, would you like to see them at least consider, if not approve?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re going to let them consider and we’re not going to get out and negotiate this in public.
QUESTION: You do know – you are aware of what the options are, aren’t you?
MR. TONER: Certainly, but I’m not going to talk about them in public. One of which is referring it to the Security Council, which they did with Syria last year. But again, these are options that are all possible but we’re not going to discuss them now.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on Jill’s question. What about the alleged plot that Iran hatched against – terror plot – in Bahrain? Do you have any information on that?
MR. TONER: Oh, on – wait, what are you referring to? I’m not --
QUESTION: The Qataris have apparently discovered a terror cell that was planning to attack targets in Bahrain. An Iranian cell. Do you have any information – did the Bahrainis or the Qataris share information with you on --
MR. TONER: We’ve certainly – I’m aware – the story – it’s certainly – very serious allegations. As we’ve said many times, Iran is not playing a constructive role in the region, and this would be further indication, if true, that they’re not playing a constructive role. But I’ll try to get more details for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Camille.
QUESTION: New topic. Can you update us on the State Department’s efforts to convince Congress not to stop funding to UNESCO?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, we – to --
QUESTION: To not stop funding for UNESCO.
MR. TONER: On our efforts?
MR. TONER: I just would say that, as we said last week, that we continue to consult with Congress on this matter. We’re not going to get into the substance of this.
QUESTION: On Burma. The National League of Democrats’ leader Aung San Suu Kyi is planning to contest elections in the country, and the new government is trying to remove hurdles in the way. How do you see that development there?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. One more time, you said that she’s – the new government is --
QUESTION: She’s planning to contest elections. Reports coming from the – Burma says --
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve seen some positive developments, or signs, from the government in Burma. We’ve had some good discussions with the government. We have said that we want to see concrete and positive steps, including the release of all political prisoners. And we would also like to see an opening-up of their political system there.
QUESTION: Given all these developments, are you reviewing the sanctions that you have on Burma, or trying to lift any one of them as an incentive to the Burmese government?
MR. TONER: I think we’ve – as we’ve said – we believe that our discussions thus far have been positive. They’ve been constructive, but we’re looking for more concrete action.
QUESTION: So these steps are not enough for the Burmese Government, to lift sanctions?
MR. TONER: No, I think I just said that we’re looking for more steps.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jill. Then I’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Just a quick question on foreign aid. It’s not looking good for the State Department up on Capitol Hill. How concerned are you about the potential cutbacks and the fact that it’s become really an issue in the - among the Republican candidates for President?
MR. TONER: Well, Jill, certainly we’re concerned about limiting foreign aid and about the many misperceptions that still exist among the American public about the amount of American tax dollars or the budget that goes to foreign assistance, when it’s, in fact, less than 1 percent of the budget. And it’s less than 1 percent that we believe yields tangible results around the world that advance our national security interests, whether it’s assistance to developing countries throughout the globe or disaster relief. However that assistance is used, it’s always done in a way that tries to promote U.S. national security interests. So certainly we’re concerned, and we’re making that case to Congress every day.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering why those misperceptions continue if you’re making that case. I mean --
MR. TONER: For as long as I’ve been in the Foreign Service, those misperceptions have continued. It’s – we’ve got to continue to – as you said, to make the case publicly as well as privately in our discussions with Congress, but certainly to the American public, that this is a small percentage of the budget, but it yields huge results.
QUESTION: Have you thought about making the case directly to the Republican candidates? Recognizing that you don’t want to get involved in the campaign, have you thought about making the same case that you’re making to Congress to these people, who are wanting to be the next commander-in-chief and who seem to have outrageously misinformed ideas about what they’re talking about?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we’ve had any contacts with any of the candidates.
QUESTION: And is there any reason why not? Is it – are you prohibited from doing so because it’s a – it would – it might be seen as being – getting involved in a political debate? Or is there some other reason?
MR. TONER: Well, I think that our focus remains on working with Congress. I mean, that’s where the --
QUESTION: Yeah. But that’s where the sentiment – that’s where these critics, shall we say, are drawing their opinions from.
MR. TONER: Correct. So that’s the appropriate place to engage and try to change these misperceptions.
Yeah. In the back.
MR. TONER: You said North Korea?
QUESTION: North Korea. Does the Administration have a response or comment in – regarding reports of nearly completed nuclear reactor in DPRK?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the reports of a – progress on a light water reactor? We can’t talk about possible intelligence matters. We just would say that DPRK is – North Korea’s uranium enrichment program and construction of a light water reactor violate UN Security Council resolutions as well as their commitments under the 2005 joint statement.
In the back.
QUESTION: So do you guys have any concern on the situation, LWR construction situation?
MR. TONER: On the – I’m sorry. On the --
QUESTION: Any concern of United States Government on the situation?
MR. TONER: In North Korea?
MR. TONER: Well, certainly we have concerns. As I’ve said, they’re – they appear to be in a violation of – any construction of a light water reactor would violate existing UN Security Council resolutions. So certainly, we’re concerned about the matter and call on them to live up to their commitments in the 2005 joint communiqué.
Is that it?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, Matt.
QUESTION: Just on the Israeli-Palestinian thing, are you aware of the – there were some arrests today, some American citizens in a protest of – a pro-Palestinian protest. Do you – are you aware of that at all?
MR. TONER: Where?
QUESTION: At least two Americans. I don't know exactly where it was, but it was on a bus. There were – people are calling themselves freedom riders.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Matt. Are you talking about in the U.S. or in Israel?
QUESTION: In Israel.
MR. TONER: Okay. No, I’m not aware of it. I’ll --
QUESTION: Can you look into it? Apparently, there were at least two Americans who were arrested.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: And then also on this, any breakthrough from the Quartet meeting? Have the Israelis and Palestinians come back to you with their little plans in hand, ready for this big next meeting in December?
MR. TONER: Again, I think – I don’t have any updates from yesterday. They – we continue to talk about, as we said yesterday, these proposals, but nothing to update. Our – what we want to do is, obviously, work to get these guys back into direct negotiations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)