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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 16, 2011

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
    • IAEA / Board of Governors Meeting to Discuss Amano Report
    • U.S. in Consultation with P-5+1
    • Saudi-led Initiative of a Draft Resolution to UN General Assembly on Iranian Plot
    • U.S. Stands by Allegations Leveled Against Iran Regarding to Iranian Plot
    • Ambassador Ford / U.S. Will Evaluate Security Situation Moving Forward
    • Free Syrian Army / U.S. Concern About Crackdown by Syrian Government
    • U.S. Embassy Remains Functioning / Vienna Convention
    • A Number Credible Actors Among Opposition
    • U.S. is Concerned About Attacks Against Consulates and Embassies / Asad Regime
    • Meetings Continue with Members of Syrian Opposition
    • U.S. Policy Towards China Will Remain the Same
    • U.S. - China Has a Strong Multilateral Relationship
    • Secretary Clinton's Motorcade Incident in Manila
    • U.S. is Seeking Stronger Defense Cooperation Towards Asia
    • Meeting of Loya Jirga / U.S. Will Wait and See What Emerges
    • Shared Goals / Afghan Government
    • North Korea's Light Water Reactor / A Violation of UN Security Council Resolutions
    • U.S. has Raised Concerns in Recent Bilateral Meetings


12:55 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: I do not have anything at the top today, so I’ll just open it up to your questions. First of all, welcome to the State Department.

And Matt?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I’m torn between asking you first about Syria or the IAEA, but I’ll go with IAEA. I presume that you’ve now figured out exactly what you want out of the Board of Governors meeting tomorrow?

MR. TONER: Well, as you said, the Board of Governors is going to meet, I believe, tomorrow, and then to Friday, to discuss the Amano Report that came out last week. A number of countries have had a week or so to look at the report, study it. All through the past week, since the report’s release, we’ve been in consultation with our P-5+1 partners. We’ve been working closely and constructively with them, and then as well, reaching out to other members of the Board. Ultimately, I think the result that we’re looking for is one that demonstrates to Iran very clearly and unequivocally that the international community’s resolve, as well as its very serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. So, that’s the outcome we want to see.

QUESTION: Well, that’s great. But what, specifically, would that result be?

MR. TONER: Well, again, there’s a number of different options. We want to let the Board of Governors meet. I said our position is very clear and we’re working closely with the P-5+1 on, as I said, sending a very clear message to Iran that the international community wants to see it address concerns about its nuclear program.

QUESTION: Right. Would you like to see the Board of Governors refer this up to the Security Council? Do you think that there is a need, or a requirement, for that to happen, or can you go just to the Security Council without a referral?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into what we’re – what next steps we want to see. We want to let that discussion take place within the Board of Governors. We’ve been in consultation with the P-5+1, there’s strong unity among its members, and there is, I think, a commitment moving forward to send a clear message.

QUESTION: There is strong unity among the P-5+1?


QUESTION: Or among four --

MR. TONER: Among the P-5+1 in our consultations --

QUESTION: --of the P-5+1?


MR. TONER: E-3+1.

Anyway, any other questions? Or is this a question?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m dubious that there’s strong unity among the P-5+1. I can understand that there might be unity between the Europeans and you, but I am very skeptical that there is a strong unity on the way forward --

MR. TONER: All the members of the P-5+1 share --

QUESTION: Yeah, share the goal that they don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

MR. TONER: --concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: But the problem is that – that’s fine, but they completely disagree – two members of the P-5+1 completely disagree on the means to make sure that that happens. They don’t want more sanctions, they don’t see – I mean, they didn’t even want this report to come out. So when you say there’s strong unity among the P-5+1, and say that that refers only to the ultimate goal, I think that that’s a little bit duplicitous, because it’s not – there isn’t really strong unity. Unless there is. Unless you’ve made some huge – unless they’ve made some huge concession.

MR. TONER: Well, no. I think I just said we’ve been working closely and constructively with the P-5+1 over the course of the past week, and again, we’re looking to the Board of Governors meeting as an opportunity to send a strong message.

Yeah. Go ahead, Cami.


MR. TONER: You want to do Iran?

Yeah, go ahead. Then we’ll switch to --

QUESTION: But in New York, not Vienna. There is a draft resolution at the General Assembly – a collaboration of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on terrorism, and apparently there is some reference to the Saudi terror plot in there. Can you tell us about that draft resolution?

MR. TONER: Sure. Just to clarify, this is actually a Saudi-led initiative. And the Saudi delegation to the United Nations is essentially – my understanding is they circulated a draft resolution to the General Assembly on the Iranian plot to assassinate their ambassador – Saudi ambassador to the United States. And we certainly welcome Saudi leadership on this – on marshalling international recognition and condemnation of Iran’s – the threat posed by Iran’s actions in this regard.

QUESTION: The Iranian ambassador to the UN has sent a letter, apparently, both to the UN secretary general and the General Assembly president. Seems like he has made some threats that the passage of this resolution would have, quote/unquote, “heavy consequences” and it would affect international security and the Persian Gulf. Any comments on that?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I really would direct you to the Saudis to talk about this draft resolution. However, I would just say that I would agree in that we do think it will have a serious effect, because it will send a strong message to Iran and a strong condemnation of its – of this plot.

QUESTION: Well, they are condemning this draft resolution. They are making the threat apparently against international security and the situation in the Persian Gulf, not that they are the threat.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You’re – one more time.

QUESTION: The UN – the Iranian ambassador’s letter is – sounds like he is making the threat to the international security and not that Iran itself is a threat to international security or the region.

MR. TONER: Well, again, consider the source. We stand by the very serious allegations that were leveled against Iran regarding this plot, and we’re gratified and certainly welcome the – Saudi Arabia’s initiative to move forward to the General Assembly, as I said, to send a very clear message to Iran that its actions are in direct contravention of the international community’s standards of protecting diplomats.

QUESTION: So this has nothing to do, in general, with terrorism, this draft resolution?

MR. TONER: Well, it speaks to the – the draft resolution, as I understand it, speaks to this, the plot against the Saudi ambassador here in Washington, D.C. and the fact that in carrying out this plot and conceiving it, Iran basically flew in the face of international protection for its – for diplomats.

Yeah. Go ahead, Kim.

QUESTION: Speaking of ambassadors, France – there’s a report France has withdrawn its ambassador from Damascus. Do you have any reaction to that? And are Ambassador Ford’s plans still go?

MR. TONER: At this point, we’ve just seen the press reports that he was going to return to Paris. I don’t know exactly what the specifics are of the decision. So I would refer you, obviously, to the Government of France for more detail. In terms of our ambassador, we certainly always put safety concerns first, and we’re certainly going to evaluate the security situation moving forward, but at this point, there’s no change in our position that he’ll return next week.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday you were pretty firm and convinced on the fact that the French ambassador was still in Damascus.

MR. TONER: I was correct, I believe.

QUESTION: Yeah. You were. Did you know that he was going to be yanked today?

MR. TONER: I did not.

QUESTION: Is that why –

MR. TONER: I did not, and I don’t know that he was yanked. I mean, I know he’s returning to Paris. As I say, I’m –

QUESTION: Well, recalled, whatever.

MR. TONER: I don’t know what the terminology is and –

QUESTION: Then can you explain exactly how you knew he was in Damascus yesterday?

MR. TONER: Because, I mean, I know that Ambassador Ford is in contact with him as well as his other diplomatic colleagues on the ground. But no, don’t read anything into that. I just know he’s been a very forceful voice as well on behalf of the Syrian opposition.


QUESTION: Did you say Ford still plans to return to Damascus?

MR. TONER: I did.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Mark, this Free Syrian Army attack on one of the bases, I guess, Secret Service Department, what can you tell us about this? And I think that so many times here at the podium, you’ve talked about the peaceful nature of the demonstrators as being a very important factor. If this is not peaceful, if there’s part of the opposition now that has turned to an uprising of some – an armed uprising, what does that mean? What’s the significance for that? And does it undercut the – your – the message that this is truly peaceful?

MR. TONER: Well, first of all, we have seen reports from our Embassy about this attack. We have very few details as to what happened, and we’re certainly trying to get more information. We’ve seen press reports that there was, apparently, some sort of attack on behalf of the – as you mentioned,– this Free Syrian Army. And – but we have no direct confirmation of that incident. It’s not surprising that we are now seeing this kind of violence. We don’t condone it in any way, shape, or form. But, let’s be very clear that it is the brutal tactics of Asad and his regime in dealing with what began as a nonviolent movement, is now taking Syria down a very dangerous path. And we have said all along about our concerns about the brutal crackdown by the Syrian Government would engender this kind of reaction. So we are concerned about it. We certainly don’t condone this kind of violence, but let’s be very clear about where the responsibility lies.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any contact with this organization, the Free Syrian Army?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I don’t believe we do at all. No. We do have contact, obviously, among the opposition, but –

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, too, with – you talked about assessing the security situation and sending Ambassador Ford back. Is this the type of security situation you’re talking about versus the smear campaign?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, frankly speaking, there’s been ongoing violence against embassies and consulates throughout Syria. The Qatari and the Saudi embassies have been attacked, and now we’ve heard that the Moroccan and United Arab Emirates have also been reportedly attacked. And as we said the other day, the Turkish and French consulates in Latakia were also attacked. So there is a very clear reaction on the part of the government or its thugs, its rent-a-mobs, as we’ve said before, to carry out these kinds of attacks on diplomatic missions. So – and frankly, our own Embassy has been the target of these kinds of attacks, and our ambassador. So we’re always – clearly, we’re assessing the security situation based on that.

QUESTION: Are you worried about your staff there?

MR. TONER: They remain – the Embassy remains functioning. We’ve repeatedly sent very clear messages to the Government of Syria that we expect them to live up to their obligations under the Vienna Convention.

QUESTION: President Asad’s uncle has now emerged as one of his biggest critics and has called on him to step down. Have you been in touch with him at all, and if so, what sort of support are you providing to him?

MR. TONER: I don’t know, Kirit. I’ll take the question about whether we’ve had contacts with him and whether we’re, in fact, offering any kind of support. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. And if you consider him any sort of credible actor that could play any sort of role.

MR. TONER: There’s a number of very credible actors among the opposition that we’ve seen emerging. We want to see them continue to coalesce, and we’re working with them to – as they find their voice in an environment that was basically in a political stranglehold for 40-odd years. But to your specific question, I’ll try to get you an answer.

QUESTION: You said there are a number of critical actors? Can you name one?

MR. TONER: Well, there’s the Syrian National Council.

QUESTION: Well, individuals.

MR. TONER: I’ve got a number. I don’t want to necessarily name them from the podium.

QUESTION: Yeah. For the Syria Free Army, can you provide an assessment of the military strength of this group, and --

MR. TONER: I really don’t have that kind of --

QUESTION: -- about its popular support --

MR. TONER: I truly don’t have those kinds of details for you.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – when Ambassador Ford left, you cited the security threats against him and the general security situation. And in that time, there’s been more and more attacks on diplomatic presences, and the situation has actually gotten more violent. So what has happened that now it is – presumably, it should be okay for him to go back next week.

MR. TONER: Well, I think we’ve said all along that he came back to Washington, but it was always our intention to send him back. We continue to believe that he is playing a useful role there, with the caveat that we’re always going to assess and reassess the security situation on the ground. But it was always our intention to send him back. That remains our intention. But, of course, we’ll evaluate the situation as it evolves.

QUESTION: Has the situation improved in any way for him or for diplomats in general in Syria since his --

MR. TONER: I would leave that to someone with a better sense than I about the situation on the ground in Damascus. But clearly, Brad, we are very concerned about the spate of attacks against consulates and embassies. And the fact that it’s growing, I think, more largely speaks to the fact that the critics of Asad and his regime are growing. I mean, it’s no – there’s – you read through this list and it’s like a who’s who on who’s speaking out against Asad, and then suddenly the next day, their consulate’s attacked.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Mark, do you consider the attacks, the military attacks against the military bases, acts of terrorism or resistance or kind of resistance?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into, like, legalistic definitions of what we consider these attacks. What I think is important is that we said we don’t condone violence, neither on the part of the Syrian military or the Syrian regime, nor on the part of the opposition.


MR. TONER: Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: -- a quick follow-up on that. You don’t condone it, but would you urge them not to do what they are doing?

MR. TONER: We think that this kind of violence – and we’ve said before and Assistant Secretary Feltman said as much in his testimony last week, that it really plays into Asad’s and his regime’s hands when this becomes violent. But again, I just want to reiterate, this was a peaceful movement from its inception. And it was – it’s only because of the regime’s repeated and brutal campaign of violence against innocent protesters that we’ve seen the country move down this very dangerous path.

QUESTION: Have you got any update from the Arab League?

MR. TONER: I have not, no, not before coming down here.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Going to yesterday question, do you have any plan to invite some people from the National Council to visit Washington?

MR. TONER: I know that we’ve continued to meet with members of the Syrian opposition and the SNC in Europe and elsewhere. I don’t know if there are any plans for them to come to Washington at this time. I didn’t get an answer for you on that.

QUESTION: Did they request --

MR. TONER: But we continue to --

QUESTION: Did they request a meeting?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.


QUESTION: A couple things on China.

MR. TONER: Sure. Are we okay to move to China? Good.

QUESTION: Okay. First, today the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released its annual report on China. It says that China has weakened the pressure on Iran and North Korea. Do you agree?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about China with regard to our --

QUESTION: China has weakened the pressure on Iran and North Korea – do you agree?

MR. TONER: On Iran and North Korea?


MR. TONER: I think I just said at the top here that we’re consulting with China as a member of the P-5+1 on next steps regarding Iran and the Amano report, so we consider them to be a valuable partner in that regard, and also on North Korea.

QUESTION: And it also urged a review of U.S. policies towards China. Will you study this report and also take its suggestion into consideration?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. What’s the report again? I apologize.

QUESTION: It’s the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which is --

MR. TONER: I’m not aware, so I would have to look into whether we’re going to look into the report. I imagine we – our China experts read a variety of reports about China and our relationship with them, but our policy towards China will remain the same.

Go ahead, Lauren. Yeah.

QUESTION: Under Secretary Sherman is going to Asia. It was in the schedule today. Can you tell us what the purpose of that trip is?

MR. TONER: I’ll try to get you more details on the trip, Lauren. Sorry.

QUESTION: Still on the region?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details about the incident in Manila today with the – involving the Secretary and the convoy, what exactly happened?

MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, I don’t know if everybody’s aware, but at 2:45, 1445 in military time, local time in the Philippines, which was, I believe, around 1:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, while en route to the presidential palace for a scheduled meeting in Manila, the Secretary’s motorcade ran into a crowd of approximately 40 to 50 people, protesters. They threw objects at the lead vehicle. I believe it was eggs and paintballs, maybe a few rocks. And the motorcade pulled out of that area and went to its scheduled location – sorry, the next schedule meeting place, which was the presidential palace. I’m sorry -they were en route from the presidential palace onto the next scheduled meeting place. And they pulled out of there and they went on to their next stop, and – without incident. And there were no reports of any injuries.

QUESTION: And just on the paintball issue, my understanding is that it was a balloon filled with paint.

MR. TONER: It might’ve been balloons filled with – yeah.

QUESTION: Just because paintballs would imply some sort of gun-looking device that was far more concerning.

MR. TONER: No, no. I think it was balloons filled with paint. Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And just – you said it was only the lead vehicle that was hit. Were there – was the vehicle that the Secretary was in – was that --

MR. TONER: No, I don’t believe – the vehicle in which the Secretary was sitting was not struck.

QUESTION: There were some reports that the protesters were able to make it up to the vehicles themselves, including being able to kick some of them. Were they able to get that close, in your understanding?

MR. TONER: It’s a good question. I think they – maybe to the lead vehicles, but I think that they – again, they were able to get out of there without any incident, and clearly, without any injuries. So that implies that they weren’t in close contact.

QUESTION: And then my last question: Was the assessment that at any time the Secretary was in danger, or --


QUESTION: -- any concern about that?


QUESTION: What was the reason for this?

MR. TONER: I believe it was to – it was a protest against the visiting forces agreement, which is a longstanding partnership with the Philippines.

Let’s – I’m sorry. You had a lot of questions. Let me go to Brad and then I’ll come back to you. Unless it’s about the Philippines.

QUESTION: Yeah. It is.

MR. TONER: Oh. Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. So the Secretary, when (inaudible) she reaffirms military ties with Philippines. And meanwhile, President Obama expands the military ties with Australia. What’s your response to those reports saying this move is to overweigh China’s presence in the region? Or do you think the media has overreacted?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You said – the first part of your question, I didn’t – you talked about the Secretary --

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton in Philippines, the reporter said she reaffirms the military ties with the Philippines.

MR. TONER: Okay. Sorry. And then your last question was how does this – what does this say about --

QUESTION: The media report that indicates that U.S. – this move is to overweigh China’s presence in the region.

MR. TONER: Well, I would just refer you to the Secretary’s speech in Honolulu, in Hawaii, as well as her op-ed or opinion piece that was, I believe, published in Foreign Policy, that simply talked about how the United States is in the process of pivoting towards Asia and one of the ways that we’re doing that is seeking stronger defense cooperation where we place our forces throughout the region so that they can help in many ways -humanitarian ways -as they’re doing in Thailand right now.

But this is about force posture, and for specifics on that I would refer to you to the Department of Defense. But the larger part of this is that we are an Asia nation – Pacific nation, and we’re looking to strengthen ties in the region.

QUESTION: And it has nothing to do with China?

MR. TONER: We have a strong bilateral, multilateral relationship with China.

QUESTION: Mark, this may seem like kind of a minor thing. That motorcade reminds me of something that we saw yesterday, which is a very humorous piece of video. The Secretary with this man, I think in a skirt or at least a long shirt running behind her, and she was very funny, the way she laughed about it. But I actually was talking to someone who said, “How did that guy get in there?” So are you absolutely convinced that she is protected at all moments?

MR. TONER: We’re absolutely convinced she is protected.

QUESTION: Do you know who that streaker was?

MR. TONER: I don’t. Frankly, again, I hesitate to speak to it, because I’m not fully informed. I believe it was part of a – something else that was going on, a presentation if you will. But it was certainly a humorous incident. But, I can assure you she was safe at all times.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Afghanistan? What do you hope to see coming out of the next few days of the --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I’m still thinking about the --

QUESTION: You’re still thinking about loin cloths.

MR. TONER: Anyway, go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: The Loya Jirga meeting, what you hope to see out of that over the next few days?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we said for the last couple of days that we want to see reaffirmation of our long-term strategic partnership with – between the United States and Afghanistan. As you correctly noted, the Loya Jirga is ongoing, and I think it’s – it goes on till either Friday or Saturday, so we’re going to wait to see what finally emerges. But it’s a traditional Afghan institution. It’s a way for them to talk about big, strategic issues in a democratic way, and we’re going to wait and see what emerges. But certainly our --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s a traditional mode for doing those kinds of things.

QUESTION: And in actual --

QUESTION: Just a quick follow --

QUESTION: Go ahead then.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, President Karzai is laying down some conditions, and I wanted to know what you think of them. One is he wants the U.S. to stop night raids and stop building parallel institutions.

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve talked a lot about these kinds of issues before, and what I was saying with Brad was that we do want to see the entire thing complete, it’s run its course, before we start commenting on anything that’s said there. I do think that Afghanistan and United States do share – going back to what he did say – share the same goals in this regard. In May 2010, President Obama reaffirmed our commitment to transitioning to – for example, for detention facilities to the Afghan Government. Our goal continues to be, in terms of – with respect to these operations that are carried out -- we want to see them transition to Afghan control. So there is a process under way, and I think we share the same goal.

QUESTION: You said it was a democratic – and as I understand it – or I’m not sure --

MR. TONER: A traditional.

QUESTION: Traditional. Okay. Some in the Afghan parliament are quite miffed that he’s bringing this proposal to the elders and not to them. What does that say about the democratic process, especially on such a (inaudible) decision?

MR. TONER: Well, I don't think they’re necessarily excluded. And again, for how the Loya Jirga and – meshes with the Afghan parliament, that’s a question for the Afghan Government to answer.

QUESTION: That I understand. But this is a decision that really has a lot of importance for the future of Afghanistan. Don’t you think it’s something that needs to have kind of the broadest democratic approach taken?

MR. TONER: Certainly. But, again, it’s up to the Afghan Government to decide how that takes place.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow-up from yesterday about North Korea, on the light water reactor. You mentioned that the U.S. is concerned about it and that you’re urging them to live up to their commitments. But their continued progress on this reactor – does this give any sort of added urgency to sort of strengthening our position or giving more concrete reaction to what’s going on there?

MR. TONER: Well, I would just simply say that we – our concerns about their construction of a light water reactor aren’t new, as I think I said yesterday. They do, in fact, violate UN Security Council resolutions as well as its – North Korea’s commitments under the 2005 joint communiqué or joint statement, rather. And we’ve certainly raised our concerns in our recent bilateral meetings with North Korea.

Is that it? Wow, what a low-key ending.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:22 p.m.)

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