1:08 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. I wasn’t, in fact, sleeping off my turkey hangover. I just got caught up in some things, so I’m sorry to be a little bit late today. But anyway, welcome to the State Department. And I don't have anything for the top, so I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Can we start with Iran please? There is a report on Ha’aretz picking up Iran’s Fars News Agency talking about an explosion in or near the city of Isfahan, where the report says there is some kind of an Iranian uranium facility. Do you have any information about this,
what may have caused the explosion, whether it has anything to do with the nuclear program?
MR. TONER: My apologies. We don’t have any information at this time, other than what we’ve seen in the press as well, but certainly we’re looking into it. As you know, we’re somewhat limited in our ability to glean information on the ground there, but we’re certainly looking into it.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Can we go to --
QUESTION: Follow up on Iran?
MR. TONER: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, air force commander of Iran made a statement, and he said that in case of a attack by U.S. or Israel on Iran the first target will be the new NATO installation in southeast of Turkey. Would you be able to comment on this threat?
MR. TONER: No. I’m not going to comment on the comments of an Iraqi air force general speculating about –
QUESTION: Iranian general.
MR. TONER: Rather Iranian general speculating about a possible attack.
MR. TONER: Sure. Thank you for clarifying, Said.
QUESTION: The Pakistani army today described the incident over the weekend as an unprovoked aggression, described a two-hour fight, if you will. Is that the way you understand it, as an unprovoked aggression, or would you characterize what happened differently?
MR. TONER: Well, Brad, as you know, Secretaries Clinton and Panetta, as well as NATO Secretary General Rasmussen were in touch with their Pakistani counterparts in the aftermath of this incident to express our condolences. As to what happened and how it happened and how it transpired, we’ve seen various comments and press reports, but there’s an investigation under way, and we’ll let that investigation run its course.
QUESTION: Can – and this investigation – it seemed like there’s going to be two investigations. Is that right? An ISAF investigation and then a separate US CENTCOM investigation?
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding. Of course, I’d refer you to the Pentagon for the details.
QUESTION: Do you have any understanding of why there would need to be two investigations for this?
MR. TONER: I’d refer you to the Pentagon for --
QUESTION: Mark, are the Pakistanis cooperating with you in the investigations?
MR. TONER: Are the Pakistanis – again, that’s a – that’s more a question, I think, best directed at Department of Defense.
QUESTION: The prime minister – oh, go ahead.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is it too early to discuss with the Pakistanis what are their conditions for reopening the border? Is that something you – it’s just too early to talk about at this point?
MR. TONER: Well, we’re continuing to talk to the Pakistanis. Obviously, you’ve seen some of the things that they’ve done or actions that they’ve taken in the aftermath of this incident. We’re stressing right now that this relationship is in the national security interest of the U.S. It’s in both our shared national security interest, and we’re committed to work through this incident.
QUESTION: Are you worried about the impact in cooperation, not just on keeping the borders open but also on what Secretary Clinton appears to have achieved during her last visit, which is some commitment to restrict the Haqqani Network on their side of the border and also push the Taliban into negotiations? Are you worried about the impact at this – on this level of cooperation?
MR. TONER: Of course we’re concerned about the impact of this incident on our relations with Pakistan. As I’ve said, we’ve – Secretaries Panetta and Clinton reached out to – immediately to their Pakistani counterparts to express condolences. We’re trying to work through this. There’s an investigation under way. We certainly recognize that our cooperation with Pakistan, as we’ve said many times, has yielded very tangible progress and tangible results, and so we want to see that continue.
QUESTION: Given the rest of the context --
QUESTION: What’s the timeframe for this --
MR. TONER: Going to go Brad, and then you, Rosalind.
QUESTION: What’s the timeframe for this investigation? When do you think you might have some – considering that this is a relationship of incredible strategic importance to the United States and to the stability of Central Asia – South Central Asia --
MR. TONER: Well, it is, and I think it’s important that the investigation be carried out in a way that’s comprehensive and in a way that’s done not necessarily rapidly but completely and so – and comprehensively, as I said, so I’m not going to put any kind of date (inaudible) on it.
QUESTION: And in the meantime, how do you deal with a government, a military, and a populous in Pakistan that is largely seething over this incident and which in some ways probably undermined a lot of the recent progress you’ve made in your bilateral relations? What do you tell them?
MR. TONER: Well, again, there is an investigation underway that’s looking into what exactly transpired.
QUESTION: Two investigations.
MR. TONER: Two investigations. Thanks. We’ll wait and see what those investigations yield. We have long said when there have been incidents in this relationship, challenges in this relationship, that we’re going to work through the challenges because this relationship is vitally important to both our countries. We have a – we both face a shared threat from extremists, and so we’re committed to working through these kinds of challenges because the progress that we need to make, that we have made, has to continue.
QUESTION: Given the --
QUESTION: I just have one final one. Do you have any indication from the Pakistanis on whether they still plan to attend the Bonn conference, and is there any suggestion or idea about postponing that event now?
MR. TONER: As far as I’m aware, there’s so suggestion about postponing the event. As far as any kind of definitive answer, no we haven’t received from the Pakistanis. We understand that they are reconsidering.
QUESTION: Going to Bonn?
MR. TONER: Reconsidering Bonn.
QUESTION: Have they told you that directly, even if it’s not definitive?
MR. TONER: I believe so. What’s important here, though – and we hope that they do, in fact, attend this conference, because this is a conference that is about Afghanistan and building a more stable and prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan, and so that is very much in the interest of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Given the breadth of contacts --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Ros.
QUESTION: -- from the U.S. to their Pakistani counterparts over the weekend, from the Secretary on down, how much of a sense does Washington have that the anger is true and fundamental versus simple public displays for political consumption within the Pakistani Government? You have the Zardari/Gilani government that is facing some political challenges leading up to the next elections. How much of their anger is really for domestic political consumption?
MR. TONER: Rosalind, you’re asking me to make an analysis that is inappropriate, really, in – for a country that just lost 24 of its personnel. And as I said, we’ve called – Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta have called and expressed our condolences over their loss.
QUESTION: But you do agree --
QUESTION: Well, then I have another one.
QUESTION: Yeah. Go ahead, Rosalind.
QUESTION: When you also consider that NATO came out very quickly and said we believe it was our airstrike that led to these soldiers deaths, and then you had the Afghan military saying we were fired upon from across the border and we called in this strike, what amount of conversations have been had with our Afghan counterparts about what happened? What sorts of entreaties is Washington making to Kabul to try to mollify the situation?
MR. TONER: I don't have that kind of play-by-play. I’m sure that’s part of the investigations that are ongoing.
QUESTION: But, Mark --
QUESTION: But wouldn’t that be an important part, given that there’s so much concern about the status of the diplomatic relationship between Washington and Kabul – I mean, Washington and Islamabad? Isn’t it worth asking where is Kabul in this to try to tone down some of this anger?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not – I think there are these conversations taking place, certainly in the context of an investigation into the incident. What transpired, how it transpired, that’s – those are going to be crucial questions to answer through this investigation. And again, we want to get those answers.
QUESTION: But do you agree, Mark, that this relationship that you’re trying to nurture has really suffered a tremendous blow in the last 10 days, first with the incident with the ambassador, now with this bombing? And would you characterize it as being in a crisis situation?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is a relationship that’s weathered difficult times, and has, as I said, yielded success in our shared battle against terrorists and extremists. And so we are clear-eyed about where we’re at in the relationship, but I think we’re committed to working through it.
QUESTION: Can I just follow – thank you. As far as two secretaries’ talks with their counterparts in Pakistan, what was the reaction from Pakistan, number one? Number two, when Secretary reached to Pakistan --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Just – reaction to Pakistan to what, again?
QUESTION: From their counterparts from Pakistan.
QUESTION: To the calls.
MR. TONER: Oh, I mean, I honestly – I’m not going to give you the reaction over the phone. I don’t – we don’t get into the contents of our private diplomatic discussions.
QUESTION: And second --
MR. TONER: I’d just point to whatever their public remarks have been.
QUESTION: Thank you. When – and second, when Secretary visited Pakistan, she repaired some of the damages to relations between Pakistan and U.S., and there was a positive reaction in Pakistan about her visit, (inaudible) U.S. is considering some kind of (inaudible). But now, how much damage do you think has been done? Or, another thing, that as far as Pakistan’s warning to U.S. that 15 days only U.S. has to do this or close the doors of supply doors and also military and all kind – those things Pakistan has given warning to U.S.?
MR. TONER: Well, again, Goyal, I think I’ve been pretty clear that these kinds of incidents do create significant challenges in the relationship, and, as I said, that’s why we’re investigating them. That’s why we’ve called and reached out immediately to the Pakistani Government to express our sincere condolences over what happened. And then we’re going to try to work through this and forge ahead.
QUESTION: One --
QUESTION: Just for the --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) for the relationship? Sorry. For the relationship or something stronger than that?
MR. TONER: No. I mean, again, this is a relationship that has weathered significant setbacks. I don’t think anyone can deny that. But it’s one that’s also, through every challenge and through every setback, has moved forward because it’s so vitally important to both our countries.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just for the record, can we just --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- clarify one thing? Thanks. Goyal’s question, I mean, it is my understanding – is it not yours – that the ground supply routes have already been cut off and immediately cut off, correct?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: And that the 15-day --
MR. TONER: Yeah. There are – the supply routes are stopped.
QUESTION: The ground ones?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Correct. Okay. And then secondly, the 15-day warning referred, as I understood it, solely to the use of a particular airbase that is said to be used for drone attacks inside Pakistan. Is that correct, if you are able to address that?
MR. TONER: I am not able to address that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly, has there been any effect on the so-called air line of – air lines of communication? In other words, air --
MR. TONER: Transport.
QUESTION: -- transport, exactly – overflight, to your knowledge?
MR. TONER: I can take the question. I may have to refer you to the Department of Defense. I’m not aware of it.
QUESTION: Mark --
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: I meant you. Sorry, Charley.
QUESTION: The Pakistani side has said, as you said, several years, officials have reached out and offered condolences. Pakistan has said that mere apology and condolences are not enough. They are particularly outraged that – the fact that there is no clear condemnation of this incident from the United States. So what is the reason for that?
MR. TONER: That there’s not a condemnation of the --
QUESTION: Of this incident from the United States.
MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re at a stage now where we’re trying to figure out the facts of what transpired. I think that’s why we’ve continually pointed to these investigations that are underway. Once we find out the facts, then we can make a determination.
QUESTION: Okay. And if Pakistan eventually doesn’t participate in the Bonn conference, what kind of setback will it be for the peace negotiations that are underway for a settlement in Afghanistan, on which we have seen Pakistan sort of assuming an active role over the last few weeks?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we believe it’s very much in Pakistan’s interest to attend the Bonn conference because that – the focus of that is all about trying to build a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan. And as to your second question, I’m not going to comment.
QUESTION: One question: The Secretary’s last trip to Pakistan, as you recall, was – it was a major high-level, top-level, interagency delegation. And I thought one of the purposes of that – it included the Director of Central Intelligence, it included, I think, General Dempsey, right? I mean, one of the purposes of this was to try to make sure that there would be appropriate coordination between forces.
And what I find hard to understand is how, a decade after the United States forged this alliance with Pakistan over Afghanistan, that the communications are so bad that nobody, at least at the ground or tactical level, seems to be able to communicate with one another, so that you don’t end up having forces which are ostensibly allied attacking and killing one another, and not just one or two people, but two dozen. I mean, how can the communications be this bad a decade into this?
MR. TONER: Well, I think you’re right that this is not the first time we’ve had miscommunications over the border – we being ISAF – with the Pakistan military. And this has been an issue that we have engaged on and attempted to address and work through with Pakistani counterparts.
As to the precise details of this incident, it’s really impossible for me to say at this point. I can refer you to the fog of war, but I think what’s important is that there’s an investigation that’s going to take place that’s going to try to find out what exactly – and again, that is a crucial part of this process of building better communications, is trying to find out what, if anything, did go wrong, and then trying to fix those things for the future.
QUESTION: And does the United States have the right to conduct hot pursuit into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: I’d refer you to the ISAF for --
QUESTION: Okay. And then one other one. I mean, I understand why you keep pointing us to the --
MR. TONER: The rules of engagement, yeah.
QUESTION: -- to answer the military investigations. I get that. That said, can you describe for us what, if anything, is being done on the diplomatic side since the Secretary’s call late Saturday, I guess it was? Has she made any additional calls either to Foreign Minister Khar or to anybody else? Is Ambassador Grossman reaching out to his Pakistani counterparts? Or is this really now just in the realm of the military’s trying to figure out what actually happened and there’s really not much going on on the diplomatic front?
MR. TONER: Well, I wouldn’t say there’s not much going on the diplomatic front. I think we do certainly on the – at the embassy there and Ambassador Munter does remain engaged with Pakistani Government. I think it’s important now too that we show our seriousness of purpose in investigating this incident and convey that to the Pakistan Government. The Secretary did make the call over the weekend. I’m not aware of what Ambassador Grossman has done in terms of conversations with the Pakistani authorities.
But we’re taking this very seriously. We’re looking into the incident. We want to move beyond.
QUESTION: The Embassy in Islamabad issued a --
QUESTION: Could you take that one?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: The Embassy in Islamabad issued an emergency statement for Americans in country and it also noted that some U.S. Government personnel had been called to Islamabad, ostensibly for security reasons. Can you give us an update on the posture of the Embassy and the consulates?
MR. TONER: No, we don’t normally talk about the security posture of our embassies and consulates. There was a – I believe a Travel Alert or message sent out to Americans in Pakistan.
QUESTION: It was a Warden Message, wasn’t it?
QUESTION: Is that open-ended?
MR. TONER: Warden Message? We don’t use Warden Message.
QUESTION: Anymore? That’s gone?
MR. TONER: I’m groping for the term.
MR. TONER: It’s not Warden Message anymore.
QUESTION: Is that open-ended as far as you know in terms of trying to make it less likely for Americans to be --
MR. TONER: Usually, Warden – sure.
QUESTION: -- the target of public frustration or lashing out?
MR. TONER: Usually these kinds of messages – and I’m going to be castigated by my Consular Affairs colleagues for not having the right terminology in my head – but these kinds of messages are geared towards a specific incident that they believe has raised security concerns.
QUESTION: Mark, one on --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Charley. You’ve asked – you’ve had your hand up for a while.
QUESTION: Mark, amidst all the tension between Pakistan and the United States, there’s also increased tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani, an aide to President Karzai, told CNN that he’s worried, amidst all this happening, that Pakistan is sliding down a path toward a new conflict. What words do you say to Afghanistan and Pakistan today in the aftermath of the attack?
MR. TONER: I think you say that their relationship is critical to the region’s stability and to highlight the fact that they share a common enemy with the Taliban, with the extremists who are operating around these borders, who are causing the conflict – who are the root cause of this conflict – the root cause of the instability that led to the incident over the past weekend. And we express our condolences, we investigate what happened, but we don’t lose our focus on what’s the real goal here, which is to create a more stable and prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan, and one that’s not threatened by extremists. And the same goes for Pakistan.
QUESTION: Mark, very quickly --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: -- when Ambassador Haqqani was in Washington he tried his best, according to many Pakistanis here in this area, to repair the bad relations between Pakistan and the U.S. And now Sherry Rehman is coming to Washington. What do you think? Now she comes at a worsening and very bad relations. And now, what message do you have for her, or do you think she will make any difference as far as relations are considered between the two countries?
MR. TONER: We – as I think we said last week, we look forward very much to working with her. She’s an individual who’s well known to many in this Department as well as in the United States more generally. This is a critical relationship for the United States, one that we’re committed to improve and to make stronger.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Briefly, do you have any comment on --
MR. TONER: (Inaudible.) Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any comment on the Arab League decision yesterday to impose severe sanctions on --
MR. TONER: On the --
QUESTION: -- on Syria, including disrupting or interrupting air travel and domestic travel and the central bank?
MR. TONER: Well, sure. It’s a very clear message that the Arab League has sent to Asad that his neighbors are not going to – are no longer going to tolerate his bloodshed – or the bloodshed perpetrated, rather, by his regime. We understand right now that they’re still determining the most effective ways of implementing the 14-point decision that they issued. And so we’ll refer you to them. I think they’re going to have an additional meeting later this week about implementing it.
QUESTION: With the --
MR. TONER: But it goes without saying: It’s a clear, unequivocal signal that Asad’s neighbors in the region have had enough of his behavior and of his regime’s targeting and killing of civilians.
QUESTION: Was there a discussion today of this particular point during the meeting with the President and Secretary Clinton and Ashton?
MR. TONER: Indeed, it did come up.
QUESTION: Right. So --
MR. TONER: I don’t know about – I mean, I do know it came up in the Secretary’s meeting with Lady Ashton.
QUESTION: Okay. Are there any like – any kind of steps that may have been discussed, or you guys are willing to at least declare on what’s next in terms of new relationship with Syria?
MR. TONER: Sure. And I also would just call your attention to the Commission of Inquiry report that came out – the UN Commission of Inquiry’s report – that also confirms on a nearly daily basis the Asad regime is summarily executing peaceful demonstrators and routinely committing arbitrary detentions, torture, and other serious human rights violations. And indeed, if you read the report, it’s pretty sobering.
In terms of next steps, we’ve already got very strong sanctions in place. We commend the Arab League for taking the decision to move to implement its own set of sanctions. We think that it’s going to continue to apply the kind of pressure that we’ve been seeking to apply on Asad. To date, it’s true, he has not – he has continued undeterred. But our strategy here remains the same, which is to put financial – increasing financial and economic pressure on his regime.
QUESTION: What happens on Friday --
QUESTION: Yesterday there was an attack by militants against – on a military base killing seven or eight combat pilots – seven combat pilots. Do you have a comment on that?
MR. TONER: Look. We talked about this last week in greater detail.
QUESTION: This keeps happening.
MR. TONER: There are, indeed, elements on the opposition that are – that have taken up violence. It’s not surprising. We don’t think it’s the right path, and we would note that the vast majority of Syria’s opposition is peaceful.
QUESTION: Referring to the report --
MR. TONER: I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: -- it appears that the Human Rights Council will be meeting on Friday in Geneva. What would the U.S. hope to get out of that session? Is this a precursor to Security Council action?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve said that the – you’re right. Sorry, just to rewind, the Human Rights Council in Geneva has already held two special sessions on Syria. We do think that additional action by the Security Council is long overdue. We would support it as long as it’s effective.
QUESTION: And how would you find effective --
QUESTION: Well, on that point about the Security Council action, do you think the Arab League message on imposing sanctions on Syria also sends a message to the Russians to follow suit and impose sanctions? They’ve held out at the UN, as you know.
MR. TONER: I mean, you’ll have to ask the Russians, but we think it’s an unmistakable sign that when your – when Asad’s own neighborhood has said enough, that it’s a sign that the tide has indeed turned.
QUESTION: But from the podium – I think from the podium a couple of weeks ago, you were predicting that the Turks and the Russians would also decide to take stronger action. So --
MR. TONER: Well, the Turks have – at least in terms of their public statements, have already been playing – and in fact – and also, in welcoming thousands of Syrian refugees over their border – let’s not forget that – they’ve already been playing a very outspoken and public role in condemning Asad and then helping address the humanitarian concerns by the Syrians who fled Asad. So they’re doing quite a bit.
QUESTION: Mark, are you --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go – let’s finish – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you think that the sanctions will be effective on Syria since Iraq and Lebanon voted against them?
MR. TONER: Well, we do, and we would just remind Lebanon and – specifically that these are – these decisions – Arab League decisions are supposed to be binding, but I’d refer you to them for their (inaudible).
QUESTION: Mark, Turkey has not imposed a trade embargo on Syria, correct?
MR. TONER: That is correct.
QUESTION: So how effective are Arab League sanctions going to be if this major bordering country is not participating? I mean, obviously, they’re not in the Arab League, but it’s not participating in them.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we think it’s – this is going to be a building process. We’ve got very strong EU sanctions, U.S. sanctions, multilateral sanctions against Syria now with the Arab League. We are continuing to look for other nations to initiate similar sanctions. Again, this is – it’s not going to be something that happens overnight, but we believe that this kind of building pressure is going to eventually bring about Asad’s stepping down in line for a peaceful, democratic transition to take place.
QUESTION: Were you surprised by the Iraqi vote?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, the Iraqi --
QUESTION: Were you surprised by the Iraqi vote, that they voted against the sanctions?
MR. TONER: Again, you’ll – I would just refer you to the Iraqi Government to explain themselves.
QUESTION: What about the humanitarian corridor that the French suggested last week? Did you find out about it?
MR. TONER: We haven’t gotten any more details about it, and we certainly would want to get more details before we could comment on the feasibility of it. I mean, we certainly support, as I just said in the case of Turkey, efforts to address the humanitarian concerns of these Syrians who are under duress, but I don’t have any comment until we can see the actual details.
QUESTION: Mark, now that the Arab League took these decisions and so on, why does it remain out of the question to go back to the Security Council and try that route again?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve tried that once before. We think that it’s just – it’s a matter of it being an effective venue and an effective process, so I think we just – we’ve never ruled out Security Council action, but we’re not going to try it until we’re convinced that it’s going to be fruitful.
QUESTION: You stated that you’re (inaudible) to see details about the humanitarian corridor. Are you awaiting these details from French, or what’s that exactly? Which country from which place you are expecting these details to come from?
MR. TONER: I think it was Foreign Minister Juppe who originally suggested it, so --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) has stated that – has stated that for kind of action, I mean, the Security Council decision – resolution has been required. I mean, do you think that you have to work on this issue with Turks and the Russians to convince the – I mean, the Russians to convince Russians to kind of action, like Libya resolution?
MR. TONER: Well, we continue to talk with Russia. We continue to talk with everyone, trying to make the case for further action against Syria. In the meantime, I think it’s important to look at what has been done. The Arab League has taken really an historic position against Syria, and has enacted now economic sanctions against them, and suspended them from membership to the Arab League. So we continue to look to the Security Council if it’s indeed a viable option. But we’ve succeeded, I think, outside of the Security Council in applying additional pressure.
QUESTION: But your official position: It’s time to – for a resolution, like Libya resolution, right? It’s --
MR. TONER: I’m not saying like Libya resolution. We said we – we said that we believe Security Council action is long overdue.
MR. TONER: Yeah, let’s do one – are you done with Syria?
QUESTION: I have one more. Over the weekend, there were some news reports that nuclear aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush has reportedly anchored off Syria. Would you be able to confirm if it’s --
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm that. I would refer you to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what role American and U.S. --
QUESTION: Yeah, we’re now on Egypt.
MR. TONER: That’s all right.
QUESTION: The Embassy or American personnel are taking in the election, and what have officials observed so far?
MR. TONER: We do have independent U.S. witness delegations that are in Egypt. They come from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems as well as The Carter Center at Emory University, and then of course, National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. And they’re spread out in various neighborhoods and parts of the country observing. What they’ve been able to see so far has been quite positive. There’s been a high turnout. In some areas, there were some lines, but it was to be expected. But it’s been entirely peaceful, from what they’ve seen.
So I think those two characterizations, high turnout and no violence, I think speak to the success of this first (inaudible).
QUESTION: So what about the fairness of the election, though? And about any irregularities for --
MR. TONER: I don’t think they’ve – from what we’ve seen in, again, early reports, there’s been no irregularities.
QUESTION: So does this validate the plan --
QUESTION: Are you (inaudible) to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood now has emerged as the major power broker in Egypt?
MR. TONER: We’ve been very clear about what we – how we view the Muslim Brotherhood, which is that if they’re committed to the democratic process --
QUESTION: How do you --
MR. TONER: -- we welcome them as a part of the political process.
QUESTION: How do you view them?
MR. TONER: I think I just said it. (Laughter.) I said as long as they’re committed to – I mean, the Secretary, I would point you to what she said at – in her speech to the National Democratic Institute a couple weeks ago, but – talked about the importance of these – of all political parties. As long as they’re committed to the democratic process, then they’re welcome.
QUESTION: Your Administration spent some political capital working with the Egyptian military, the SCAF, pushing them to stick to this electoral timeline. And now that you’re seeing it so far come off pretty well – well, so far --
MR. TONER: It’s a little early, but --
QUESTION: Well, you’re seeing the vote happening at the time you wanted it, at the time that it was originally promised, good turnout so far, and no violence. Does this validate, kind of, all the efforts that you’ve had and that you’ve taken and all the ups and downs that have occurred, especially in recent weeks, to get to this point?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if it’s about us validating our particular position. I think this is about the Egyptian people. As we said last week, as much as it’s important to protest in Tahrir Square, the real future – democratic future of Egypt will be decided in the ballot box. And so as much as that message has been conveyed and the Egyptian people are now exercising their democratic right in a peaceful fashion, that will lead to real democratic change. In the long term for Egypt, that’s a very good thing.
QUESTION: And during this recent violence a week back that spilled over – up until a few days ago, perhaps – was there ever a feeling that this election should be postponed, or was it kind of the Administration’s view the whole time that they have to stick to this first date?
MR. TONER: Again, that was really a decision for the Egyptian authorities to make. We’re just happy to see that the Egyptian people are out voting, that it’s peaceful, and that there’s a high turnout.
QUESTION: Can you – beyond the – beyond this simple holding of elections, is there anything you might wish to additionally say about the importance of an independent judiciary, the importance of freedom of the press, the importance of civilian control over the military, the importance of sort of institution-building, so that it’s not just an election but also --
MR. TONER: Absolutely, and --
QUESTION: -- the supporting structure of democracy?
MR. TONER: Yeah, and again, the Secretary talked a bit about this, and certainly the White House statement from a few nights – a few days ago reinforced the fact that democratic – democracy is not just about elections. It’s about the hard work that comes after those elections in terms of governance, in terms of building the kind of institutions – free, fair, transparent – that adhere to international standards, that will really bring true democracy to the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: About the Brotherhood, do you have any concerns about how they view the Middle East peace process? I mean, they’re more likely to support Hamas than the current Egyptian or the past Egyptian government.
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve always said that we would want any Egyptian government to adhere to its agreements.
QUESTION: So based on what the Brotherhood’s been saying about its support for Hamas, would you be worried about them having an increased role in Egyptian political life?
MR. TONER: Well, again, you’re asking me to speculate many steps ahead here what I think we – I just said, what I’d reiterate, which is that we would call on any Egyptian government to adhere to its previous commitments and agreements.
QUESTION: So during the last conversations you had just before Thanksgiving with Egypt, did – it went beyond just the first part of the elections timeline and also spoke about the emergency law, the eventual handover of civilian power. Are you confident – and of course, restraint of security forces, when dealing with peaceful protestors – are you comfortable now with where the SCAF is on those issues? They obviously haven’t taken any measures with regards to the emergency law, and we’re still talking about the July timeline, in theory, for the handover to civilian power. But are you comfortable, especially after today, and this first part, that these things are going to be realized?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s not about us being comfortable. But we have seen the SCAF make an effort to address some of the concerns that were being expressed by the people in Tahrir Square. There is an interim government named of – I’m sorry, a new PM, rather. Interim PM – prime minister – named, who has asked – who’s been asked to head this interim government. They did clearly stipulate that he would serve until June 30th, when Egypt’s military council has announced it’ll turn over executive authority to an elected president. All these are the elements of a democratic transition that we think is positive.
QUESTION: So it’s your assessment that they are now, again, on the right path toward a democratic transition?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s – there are going to be challenges ahead. It’s important that the Egyptian people feel that there is a credible process in place that is leading to a democratic elected government – democratically elected government.
QUESTION: Do you have any information why the SCAF did not lift the emergency law, even though it clearly promised it was going to do (inaudible) elections?
MR. TONER: I do not. I do not, and we would continue to call on them to be lifted.
QUESTION: Also, one of the demands of the Tahrir in recent week was Mohammad El-Baradei as a prime minister. SCAF so far denied for this cause. Do you have any assessment on the candidacy of –
MR. TONER: Now as I said, the former Egyptian prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri has been chosen to head the interim government. I think as the – as we said over the weekend, what’s important is that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority. I think that’s our bottom line.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) minister in the Mubarak government, is this a good thing, that the interim prime minister should be part of the (inaudible) regime?
MR. TONER: Again, as I think our focus here is on – that the interim government have real authority in conducting its affairs.
QUESTION: Mark, I want to ask a question on the level of your comfort. You are responding to Brad. In Egypt and beyond, I mean, what we have seen, let’s say, in Morocco and Tunisia and Egypt – definitely in Syria and Yemen and so on – you have the rise of Islamic fundamentalism gaining the reins of power. Are you comfortable with that direction?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the premise of your question.
QUESTION: Could you comment?
MR. TONER: I think what we’ve seen is sweeping change across the region; one that we believe is resulting in real democratic reform. The kind of reform we’ve long believed is necessary for many of these countries. And this process continues to play out. We have been very clear about our belief that the important thing is that there is a democratic process, and as Arshad pointed out, that it’s not just about elections, it’s about governance.
QUESTION: Mark, are you worried about minorities in the region if the Islamists won the elections?
MR. TONER: Again, you’re --
QUESTION: Talking about Egypt.
MR. TONER: You’re talking about Egypt. These parties, as we’ve said – I feel like I’m repeating myself a little bit, here – it’s – what’s really important is that – is not necessarily their political stripes, if you will, but how – their commitment to real and true democratic (inaudible). That’s how we’re going to judge them.
QUESTION: So, again, can you assess these two parties that have done really well, the one just winning the elections in Morocco and then the Ennahda? I don’t --
MR. TONER: In Tunisia?
QUESTION: In Tunisia. Are you able to work with them?
MR. TONER: Certainly. In Tunisia they’ve, I think, been saying many of the right things and it’s been encouraging. In terms of Morocco, just a – I would like to – since you brought it up, we would like to congratulate the millions of Moroccans who did exercise their right to vote in Morocco’s parliamentary elections. Again, I think we’ll wait and see how this party actually operates and the things it says publicly, as well as its governance. But it’s – as I said, it’s important to see – it’s more important than – not what a government or a particular party is called, but what it does and whether it operates according to democratic standards.
QUESTION: Does the Administration see the continuation of a degree of secularism in the political systems of these countries as in U.S. national interests?
MR. TONER: We see the establishment of a democratic process that leads to long-term democratic governance in our national security interests in the region.
QUESTION: But does the issue of secularism --
MR. TONER: And there are cases – again, I feel like a broken record. I keep pointing you back to her speech at NDI, where she talked about Turkey being one example of countries that can successfully marry Islam with democratic governance.
QUESTION: Right. But does the question of maintaining a degree of secularism – and Turkey has a long tradition of secular foundation as well – maintaining a level of secularism in countries that you’ve long partnered – is that, along with the democratic advances, part of U.S. national interests? Or is the secular religious orientation of the political sphere not of any importance?
MR. TONER: We believe that our interests are best served by democratic governance
Go ahead. Goyal. Or I’m sorry, Goyal, did you have a question? Rosalind? Either one.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a sense of how the elections in Congo today have actually played out? We’ve been reporting that there’s concern about ballot stuffing, some scattered incidents of violence, concern that some candidates may try to steal the election – that sort of thing.
MR. TONER: Now we are concerned. Thanks for bringing it up, Rosalind. We’re concerned about reports of anomalies in today’s voting process and hope they’ll be – they’ll prove to be isolated. The U.S. deplores in the strongest possible terms the recent election-related violence that has taken place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we would just say that there’s no place for violence in these elections and we strongly condemn those responsible, and just reminding the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo of its role in providing a safe environment for voters to go to the polls.
QUESTION: Is there any sense that this election is not credible, and if so, why?
MR. TONER: Again, we’ve – we have – we’re very concerned about the violence that’s taken place. We’ve seen some anomalies. I think we’ll wait and see how it all plays out before we make a final judgment.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Bahrain.
QUESTION: As you well recall, the Independent Commission of Inquiries report was released on Wednesday morning, our time. You have --
MR. TONER: That was a long time ago, but yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. You had an initial reaction, and, of course, the Secretary had her comment and the White House also issued a statement. So it’s been five days. I realize it’s a long report, but even though it’s a holiday weekend, I imagine your Bahrain experts will have read the report. Two questions: One, does the report, now on reflection, seem to you to have been a fair and genuinely independent-minded and no holds barred sort of report? And then secondly, is what you have seen so far from the Bahraini Government suggestive of their taking genuine steps to try to hold everyone accountable for their actions in the – putting down the protests this year? And is it suggestive to you that – of a sort of rule of law or some other kind of process that may eventually lead to reconciliation with the Shia population?
MR. TONER: Yes, on the fact that we believe it was a credible and transparent report that did come out. Of course, it is, as you said, a very long report, and we have read through it and remain – and – I’m sorry – continue to study various aspects of it, but we certainly believe it was a transparent, credible process carried out with due diligence. We did – we do commend the commission’s work, and we commend the king for allowing it to work in an unfettered environment.
In answer to your second question, I think it’s – we’re still waiting and monitoring. We did, obviously, see that Bahrain has formed a report implementation committee that’s going to implement some of the report’s recommendations. We welcome the formation of that national implementation committee. We think it’s a good first step, and we would just urge the government to meet the high standards of transparency and accountability that were recommended by the report.
QUESTION: And how about reconciliation? I mean, do you think that the government is taking steps towards trying to achieve reconciliation?
MR. TONER: Well, we think that, again, the work of this commission and now the follow-up committee, if it indeed does take the kind of steps that seek to implement the commission’s recommendations, would help move that process of national reconciliation forward.
QUESTION: And should Bahrain have – we just talked a lot about the Egyptian elections. Should Bahrain have a fully fledged democracy?
MR. TONER: Again, what I think is important now for Bahrain is to address the report’s recommendations. It was a very tumultuous period there in the spring. The government there has made an effort, the king has made an effort to address some of the problems that resulted from that period. We need to see a national reconciliation process emerge from this, and then ultimately a political process will emerge from that that leads to – or that addresses, I think, the aspirations of the Bahraini people.
QUESTION: Well, let’s – I mean, there’s been tumult in a lot of countries this spring. In three of the ones we’ve talked about today – well, let’s just stick to two, Tunisia, where it began, and Egypt. You have very warmly praised the movement to elections; you have made clear that you believe that democratically elected governments are in the U.S. national interest. You don’t seem to have any trouble with the notion of dealing with a religiously based government, should one emerge in either of those countries, or as it has in Tunisia.
MR. TONER: So long as their committed to democratic ideals.
QUESTION: Right. So why not answer my question – does Bahrain deserve a fully fledged democracy – with yes? Is that not the U.S. interest in the world?
MR. TONER: Look, we very much want to see the democratic aspirations of the Bahraini people met by the government. Ultimately, that’s the goal here. But I also want to praise – we also want to praise the steps that they’ve taken to address some of the incidents that took place last spring and try to move the country on a better path towards reconciliation.
QUESTION: Have you –
QUESTION: But one other thing on --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, one thing that hasn’t changed in Bahrain is that it is – it remains a monarchy and it is ultimately the king who retains power. So for all the – what you say is the transparency and independence of the report, and you say you’re waiting and watching to see how it’s implemented, but one thing hasn’t changed, the country is still ruled by the person on whose watch all of the things described in the report, including the death by torture of civilians by security forces, one of whom was tortured to death in a hospital. So why not take – even if it is commendable to have done such a report and a rare thing in an Arab country, why doesn’t the Administration believe that democratic change, where the democracy – where you can kick out a government that you don’t like or that you believe has mistreated or not served – mistreated the people or not served their interest should be as applicable in Bahrain as it is in Egypt or as it is in Tunisia or anywhere else in the region?
MR. TONER: Let’s be clear. I mean, we’ve – we support the democratic aspirations of people in every country, as long as they’re expressed peacefully. I think – I’m not trying to necessarily dispute your logic or your questioning – line of questioning. I’m just simply saying that where we’re at now in the process, we’ve been encouraged by the steps that the Bahraini Government has taken. They need to do more to address, I think, the legitimate concerns of their people and to enact democratic reforms. Again, we’re – they’re at a stage now where they’re trying to initiate a process that addresses some of the – their grievances and also some of the incidents that took place last spring. We think that’s a good thing. We’re going to continue to look at it going forward.
QUESTION: New topic? Can you just (inaudible) about the proposed arms sale, which wasn’t mentioned in any of the statements on Wednesday, though it was, ahead of the report, off in – the report was referred to in answering questions about this sale.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: So have officials had enough time to determine how this will affect that deal?
MR. TONER: I think I said the other day that we’re going to wait and see how the commission’s recommendations are implemented before we move forward.
QUESTION: Are you --
QUESTION: So the --
MR. TONER: Before we move forward. But again, it’s important – I’ve also always said that this is not something that’s going to happen next week or two weeks. There’s a significant period of time before this military sale would actually be realized.
QUESTION: So the actual allegations that are contained in the report are not pertinent to the proposed arms sale; it’s how Bahrain would respond to these allegations?
MR. TONER: Well, again --
QUESTION: I mean, if you have killings and torturings, doesn’t that speak for itself, or is it okay as long as the government then responds by saying it won’t do it in the future?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve said – we’ve also said that human rights concerns do factor into our decision making. And again, the Bahraini Government has made an effort, we believe a genuine effort, to address these allegations head on and to implement reform so that they don’t happen again.
QUESTION: Just follow-up on Bahrain. After the release of the report, there were protests over the weekend in Bahrain, including today. Would it be fair to say that its – how the Bahraini Government treatment with these resuming protests would be a good indication?
MR. TONER: Oh, of course we’re going to look at those – I mean, we’re not going to give them a pass on future behavior as well. It’s important that they allow peaceful demonstrators to peacefully demonstrate.
QUESTION: Yes, Mark, on the Palestinian issue?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The Palestinians claim that they are looking in the face of bankruptcy in the next, like, few days unless the money held by the Israelis is released. Are you doing anything to make sure that the Israelis release the tax money?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve – we believe, and we’ve said, that these regular transfers of Palestinian-paid taxes are important and should continue to be made, and we continue to make that point to the Israeli Government. These are key, as we’ve said many times, to strengthening Palestinian institutions that are necessary for a future state and ultimately a more secure Israel, and we’ve been making that point.
QUESTION: So when was the last time you made that point, and to whom?
MR. TONER: That’s a very good question. Certainly – I’m not sure when the last time the Secretary spoke to the prime minister was, whether they raised this issue during that call. I’ll have to check.
QUESTION: And lastly, is there anything new that you could share with us? I mean, the Israelis announced today that they are building another 110 units in the Jerusalem area.
MR. TONER: I haven’t received – obviously, we’re – there’s an early December meeting of the Quartet, but I haven’t gotten an update from David Hale. I’ll try to get that for tomorrow.
QUESTION: There’s an AP story that suggested that, in a speech today, Prime Minister Netanyahu may have suggested he’s ready to restart the transfer of the tax revenue.
MR. TONER: I did see that, and we haven’t – we just can’t confirm that that’s actually taken place, but I’m aware of his remarks. And we – obviously, that’s something we would encourage.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: Can we switch to Yemen?
MR. TONER: We can switch to Yemen? Okay. Sorry.
QUESTION: Is Ali Abdullah Saleh making the quick power transfer you’re expecting of him? I mean, he appointed an opposition leader, Mohammed Basindwa to form a new government to rule until Saleh leaves.
MR. TONER: Well, we do certainly support the fact that he did sign the GCC initiative. There is an implementation mechanism with that document. As you said, he – we were pleased to hear that Vice President Hadi issued a decree on November 27th authorizing Mohammed Basindwa as prime minister to form a new government. We’re also encouraged by Vice President Hadi’s setting of February 21st as the date for presidential elections. And certainly, we’re – we stand by ready to assist in any way we can.
QUESTION: Any news about Saleh going to New York for medical treatment? The UN --
MR. TONER: We’ve – we’re aware of the reports, but we’ve not received any travel requests.
QUESTION: We’ve heard from diplomats that the U.S. is blocking him from going to New York. Have you heard anything on that?
MR. TONER: I’ve been told that’s not true. We haven’t received any requests.
QUESTION: That’s not true?
QUESTION: Can I ask for readouts on two things?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: One, on the Secretary’s meeting this morning with Catherine Ashton, and to what extent it touched on Iran; and then secondly, on her meeting with the head of the International Energy Agency.
MR. TONER: Which is I believe is – is that not later today, or is that – or not later today. She’s obviously wheels up, so it’s --
QUESTION: I thought it was this morning. I thought (inaudible).
MR. TONER: I’ll have to get a readout on the second meeting. I apologize.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MR. TONER: I do know that they did discuss the ongoing violence in Syria. They did note the Arab League’s increasingly important role, leadership role, in this crisis. They talked about developments in Egypt. They did discuss today’s elections. They also touched on the status of the Quartet process. And of course, as you mentioned, they did share their concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Anything on future steps toward Iran? I know --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- you’ve just taken a bunch, but – or further efforts to negotiate, or --
MR. TONER: Well, you’re right, we have taken a bunch. I mean, our dual-track policy hasn’t changed, and we continue to apply pressure via sanctions.
QUESTION: On Cyprus, Turkish minister has suggested Taiwan is model for Cyprus today, for Northern Cyprus today. He said the minute a British Airways plane lands at (inaudible) Airport – I mean it’s an airport in Northern Cyprus –Turkey is ready to open all of her airports, seaports, and airspace to Greek Cypriots’ planes and vessels.
MR. TONER: Our policy has not changed on --
QUESTION: Do you --
MR. TONER: -- on Cyprus. There’s a UN process underway. We support that.
QUESTION: But you had a plan such that, I mean --
MR. TONER: Bi-zonal, bi-communal.
QUESTION: No, for American planes which would have landed at (inaudible) Airport and the Americans’ companies which will be – trade with Northern Cyprus companies. Did you consider such a plan before?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, I’d have to – I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about. You’re talking about American planes landing in Cyprus for --
QUESTION: Northern Cyprus airport.
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll have to (inaudible.)
QUESTION: Because, I mean, this is the Taiwanese model that the Turkish minister has suggested, because if you allow an airplane which will be landed to an airport doesn’t mean that you recognize this country as an independent country. I mean --
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I follow. I’m sorry. Our policy hasn’t changed. Are we okay, or do you want to – one more question?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ve heard reports that India – the India-Japan-U.S. trilateral has officially been set for December 19th here in D.C. Can you confirm that and tell us who the representatives will be?
MR. TONER: We can’t. I’m sorry. I’ll try to get more details.
Yeah, Goyal. Last one.
QUESTION: New subject. Thank you.
MR. TONER: It’s not going to be a long question, is it?
QUESTION: Yes, one. (Laughter.) Last week, Frontline had a special documentary on PBS, and that was perfect terror, David Headley, which he’s now serving his time in Chicago for the – in federal jail for the Mumbai attack. What documentary is saying that, of course, blaming Pakistan, but also, they are saying that how David Headley was instigated by the ISIs and others, but what documentary is saying really there was a missing piece of puzzle between U.S. and India as far as sharing information was concerned. This incident could have been avoided. But my question is now: Do things change now between U.S. and India as far as sharing information, so in the future, any kind of these incidents --
MR. TONER: Well, I think we’re always trying to improve the – our cooperation on counterterrorism. And it’s good, and I think we’re striving to make it better.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)