1:01 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Happy Friday, before a Super Bowl weekend. And in honor of that, I called an audible on the two-minute warning. I hope you all appreciated that. (Laughter.) De-dum-pum. Anyway, welcome to the State Department.
Look, I don’t have much detail to add, but I know many of you are following this morning the kidnapping of two American citizens on the Sinai Peninsula that took place earlier today. I can confirm that kidnapping and also, more happily, the release of these two U.S. citizens. Obviously, due to privacy considerations, we can’t provide any additional information as to their names, but they’ll obviously – we’ll be working closely with them to provide any consular assistance that we can. And we certainly do appreciate the efforts of the Egyptian authorities in securing their release. And for any further questions involving the ongoing – or the investigation into this incident, I’d just refer you to the Egyptian authorities.
That’s all I really have on that issue. I just wanted to update you guys. Anything else? Brad? Andy?
QUESTION: On Egypt, you – Toria said you would have a readout for us on Secretary – Assistant Secretary Feltman’s meeting with the Egyptians yesterday, and potentially on Mr. Shapiro’s meeting this morning.
MR. TONER: I do. As you noted, a delegation of several senior members of the Egyptian military are concluding their meetings with U.S. Government officials today, and they’re in Washington more broadly as part of a regular dialogue between the United States and Egypt on our security assistance. I believe they visited just as recently as October, and previously last summer. The delegation did meet with, as you mentioned, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman yesterday. They obviously discussed a wide range of issues related to our security relationship. But to get to the meat of the issues you’re probably interested in, I did confirm that they raised the NGO issue, and they also certainly had discussions about the assistance certification process. So --
QUESTION: But I’m --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead, Andy.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, you said they raised the NGO issue. Who – did the Egyptians raise the NGO issue or --
MR. TONER: No. We – I understand we -- I don’t --
QUESTION: And what specific --
MR. TONER: Frankly, Andy, I don’t know who raised it first, but we – it was raised. I would imagine that we raised it.
QUESTION: And can you tell us in what context you raised them? Did you – did Assistant Secretary Feltman demand that the Americans be allowed to leave the country or --
MR. TONER: Well, look. These have been our consistent points all along. We want to see the travel restrictions on these American citizens raised, but in addition, more broadly, we think that the Egyptian Government needs to address the status of these nongovernmental organizations and address some of our concerns about not only American and international NGOs, but as – the Egyptian ones as well.
QUESTION: The – frequently, from here and also on Capitol Hill, various speakers on the U.S. side have underscored that they see the U.S. – future of U.S. aid to the Egyptian military is intimately tied up with this issue. Was that point raised to them directly, do you know?
MR. TONER: I did say that they did talk about the assistance certification process, but it’s premature, obviously, to – it’s premature to make any kind of assessment of our assistance at this time. But it was raised, certainly.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to call that a warning?
MR. TONER: I think – we consult regularly with Congress, and we also, when we’re talking with the Egyptians, make very clear what Congress is asking us to do in terms of assistance. So I wouldn’t call it a warning. I would just – it’s part of our regular consultations.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be fair, though, to say that you were just reemphasizing the message? Because this particular delegation – my understanding, anyway – doesn’t really have any decision-making capability or things like that. You were just there to reinforce the points of what --
MR. TONER: Yeah. I’m not trying to oversell this in any way. What I – I think that’s accurate.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, would you consider – I mean, did they offer an explanation of how they see the --
MR. TONER: I didn’t get that intense a readout from the meeting. The one with Jeff Feltman took place yesterday, obviously, but they’re meeting with Assistant Secretary Shapiro today, this afternoon. But I think it’s consistent with what we’ve been saying, which is that we are seeking every avenue, both – from the President on down to our regular consultations, to press the points that we want to see the travel restrictions lifted and we want to see the NGO issue more broadly addressed.
QUESTION: But do you have any readout of the response from the Egyptian interlocutors?
MR. TONER: I don’t. And frankly, it’s not really our place to do so. I mean, I’d point you to them.
QUESTION: Well, the last time this came up, with the letter, they kind of threw it right back at you. So I’m wondering if there was an improved signaling of cooperation in this case.
MR. TONER: Oh, I think these were good consultations that touched on, as I said, a broad range of issues, the NGO one being among them. But the – getting back to the letter, the – that was, as I said at the time, the prerogative of, I think it was, the minister of justice, who said that. And we’re not trying to interfere in any way into the legal process, but we are trying to get our concerns addressed.
QUESTION: Mark, one more on --
MR. TONER: Yeah, Jill.
QUESTION: -- the Americans. This happened – they were kidnapped and then freed rather quickly this morning. Some people have raised questions about the ability of the Egyptian authorities right now to ensure security throughout the country, in light of political problems, et cetera. Can you tell us what you, the United States Government, thinks about that issue? Did this encourage you that they’re in charge of the country or what?
MR. TONER: Well, look. I think we – as I just said, we’re very appreciative of the quick response by the Egyptian authorities in securing their release. It’s a very fortunate outcome, and a very quick one, as you noted. More broadly, there are issues of security that the Egyptian authorities are attempting to address. We’ve been very clear at appropriate times in expressing our concerns about some of the ways they’re handling these security situations or security incidents as they come up, and we’re going to continue to do so. We’ve – we’re always clearly going to express our human rights concerns when applicable, when appropriate.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: -- overall, do you have confidence in the military council to maintain security in Egypt?
MR. TONER: Again, the military council has been very clear in laying out a timeline towards political transition. They’ve laid that out publicly and, we believe, in a transparent manner. It is playing out. There is progress, as we noted. There are issues as well – hiccups, if you will – as we move forward, the NGO one being among them. But we believe that there is a timeline there and the Egyptian people, as I said many times, are navigating a difficult period. But there is a process in play here, and we do believe there’s been progress.
QUESTION: Are you able to --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just on the talks with the Egyptian military delegation, are you able to say whether or not Assistant Secretary Feltman came away from the talks with any kind of confidence that this is going to be resolved in the near future, as has been repeatedly demanded?
MR. TONER: I think – I, frankly, haven’t spoken to Jeff following his meetings, but I just think that we’re trying to be as consistent as possible in conveying our serious concerns about the situation. And we certainly want to see it resolved as soon as possible, and by that I mean the status of these individuals. But as I said, more broadly, there is the issue of the nongovernmental organizations that needs to be addressed in some fashion soon.
QUESTION: But --
MR. TONER: So there is a – I would say there is a sense of urgency here, but I can’t tell you whether we’re any more optimistic than we were a day or so ago.
QUESTION: But the problem is that the answer you’re getting is also consistent, in that nothing is being done. These meetings have not taken this one step closer to resolution, have they?
MR. TONER: Well, again, that’s not the goal – and I don’t want to characterize it. As Elise pointed out, this was – these are regular consultations that have taken place in October and last summer, so this wasn’t like we sought these – or brought these folks over to – simply to address the NGO issue.
QUESTION: Well, this – wait.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: This wasn’t a regularly scheduled visit, was it?
MR. TONER: Yeah, I believe so.
QUESTION: Yeah, it was.
MR. TONER: Yeah, it was. I mean, as I said, they’ve done this before, in October and last summer. So these are --
QUESTION: Regardless, any time you engage in diplomacy --
MR. TONER: Absolutely, Brad.
QUESTION: -- it’s to get results; it’s not to --
MR. TONER: And Brad, I was going to say, so we just – we certainly – in talking about them, all issues are on the table, and we certainly raise the – our concerns about these American citizens.
QUESTION: Do you happen to know if the issue of Egypt’s request for a large loan from the World Bank came up in these discussions?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll have to take the question.
QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, you said that they wrapped up their meetings with U.S. officials. Does that mean that --
MR. TONER: They’re wrapping up their meetings. My understanding is that they’re still meeting this afternoon with Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Shapiro.
QUESTION: Is that just for this building or does that include officials at the Pentagon, or do you – I mean, because they’re supposed to be staying through next week.
MR. TONER: Yeah, that’s a good question. You may be right.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we get – I mean --
MR. TONER: I’ll try to get clarity.
QUESTION: Another --
QUESTION: Going back to the kidnapping of the U.S. nationals, do you have anything about the kidnappers or their motivations --
MR. TONER: I really don’t, and that’s something, frankly, the Egyptian authorities would have more readily. I mean, I’ve seen press reports. I just can’t confirm those details, though.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. TONER: We’re just happy they’re out.
QUESTION: Mark, another subject?
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. TONER: Are we done with Egypt?
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Yesterday, U.S. and India labor ministers met at the Labor Department and they signed the MOU, a memorandum of understanding, to discuss the labor issues in India. Is the State Department playing any role in these discussions, ongoing labor issues?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, where did they meet to sign it?
QUESTION: At the Labor Department.
MR. TONER: At the Labor Department, okay. I thought you said State Department.
QUESTION: No, no, Labor Department. Is State Department playing any role?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think in the – when you look at our relationship and the Strategic Dialogue that we have with India, there’s many baskets of issues that fall under that rubric, and certainly labor laws are one of those. So certainly, it’s part of – an essential part of our bilateral relationship, but I think the Department of Labor is probably more knowledgeable about what transpired yesterday.
QUESTION: And just to follow, one more quick.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is State Department playing direct role? I mean, are they meeting with the Indian labor minister, or State Department is discussing anything directly?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if he’s had – if they’re having any meetings here, so I’ll have to check on that. I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Staying on India?
MR. TONER: Sure, we’ll stay on India.
QUESTION: Okay. I have two subjects. Do you agree with the – today’s assessment that India is strategically important to the U.S. for containing China?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. What are you referring to?
QUESTION: It’s about the – Secretary Burns’s assessment in The Boston Globe today.
MR. TONER: Okay. Yeah, I’m aware that he had an opinion piece in The Boston Globe and --
QUESTION: So do you --
MR. TONER: -- best wishes, of course, to Ambassador Burns, who’s an old friend. But what was your question specifically?
QUESTION: Do you agree that India is strategically important to the U.S. for containing China?
MR. TONER: Well, while we’re on India, first of all, I do want to provide a bit of news. I am pleased to note that the Indian Foreign Secretary Mathai will be visiting Washington next week, and that we’re looking forward to welcoming him to the State Department on February 7th. While here, he will meet with Deputy Secretary Burns and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, as well as Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake. And they’re, of course, going to discuss all of the issues that fall under our strong bilateral relationship as well as many global issues.
As you know, we’ve repeatedly from this podium talked about the indispensible partnership with India, and President Obama noted this in his trip in 2010. I’m not sure what you’re specifically talking about in the opinion piece.
QUESTION: He says that the present Administration is not doing enough when it comes to U.S. relations with India, and the other – and the former question was that – earlier question was that – is U.S. here going to use India to contain China?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I haven’t actually read the entire piece, so it’s hard for me to comment on it. I would just say that, as I noted, we have a strong bilateral relationship with India. The United States is in the midst of our Asia pivot, as we’ve talked about many times, and we’re strengthening – in the process of – in strengthening our interactions with Asian nations, especially with emerging powers like India and China. And these are the kinds of ties that are going to set the framework for our engagement with Asia throughout the next century.
This is not a zero-sum game. We need strong relations with both countries, and we need all of us working together. These are – there are always going to be matters on which we disagree, but we also have significant areas of common interest.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on that subject is about what is the diplomatic perspective on these remarks that have come from the intelligence chief Clapper about India and China engaging in a limited edition war?
MR. TONER: I would refer you to him for a response.
QUESTION: No, but what is the diplomatic perspective from this building? Because – what is the U.S. interest fanning this Indo-China limited war?
MR. TONER: Well, look, you’re talking about Director of National Intelligence Clapper’s testimony to Congress. He was providing analysis to Congress that he was asked to provide. But more broadly, I’d just reiterate what I just said, which is that – and the Secretary, in fact, articulated when she was in Chennai last July – we have a – we were committed to strong, constructive relationships with India and with China both. And we need to work together, as I just said, if we’re going to solve all the common threats and address all the common challenges that we face.
QUESTION: Can I just quickly --
QUESTION: A follow-up, Mark. Are you concerned about China’s rising military power in the region? Because many smaller countries are worried, and that’s what they are relying on – the U.S.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Look, Goyal, we’ve talked about these issues a lot from here, and I know that they keep coming up again and again. You know what we’ve called on from China is transparency in the military, in our military relationship with them. We want stronger and –stronger military to military ties in our relationship with China. And again, we’ve often said China shouldn’t view the U.S. as a threat in any way. We need a stronger bilateral relationship; we need stronger regional relationships to promote greater stability.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Thank you.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had her long awaited conversation with Minister Lavrov yet?
MR. TONER: She did. She did speak – I can confirm she spoke with her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, earlier this morning. They did agree that their teams in New York would continue to consult on this draft resolution.
QUESTION: This is – okay. Sorry.
MR. TONER: Go ahead. No, I just wanted to say, and that’s in fact where – speaking more broadly about the status of the resolution on Syria, the center of gravity remains in New York and Ambassador Rice and her team remain fully engaged there.
QUESTION: Did you get a – did she get a sense that the Russians were now willing to join and support this somewhat lighter, watered down resolution that’s now being negotiated?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if I’d agree entirely with your characterization of the new --
QUESTION: The reworded --
MR. TONER: Okay. Thank you. Look, this is still being discussed in New York, so I don’t want to get ahead of those ongoing consultations and negotiations. They’re still talking about this, they’re working hard, and you know where our position is on this. You know we want to see the Security Council speak in a unified and strong fashion in support of the Syrian people, but also to the Syrian Government that the violence needs to end and that political transition needs to take place.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) back to Russia’s fine diplomatic staff in New York, they’re taking their cues from their boss. And the Secretary had a chance to speak directly with him today.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: What sense did she get from him that Russia is now willing – wants to play a more constructive role in this process?
MR. TONER: Well, look, it’s – again, I’m not going to get into the substance of their discussions. We never do that.
QUESTION: Its tone.
MR. TONER: Its tone. Okay. I think that we are working hard to get a unified response from the Security Council, and frankly, because those discussions are ongoing, I’m going to be very circumspect in what I say from the podium.
QUESTION: Do you know how long that conversation lasted?
MR. TONER: Well, sure. I’m sorry, I don’t.
QUESTION: You don’t know how long? And was that before she departed for Munich?
MR. TONER: No. I think it was from the plane.
QUESTION: From the plane?
QUESTION: Is it your – you just said that you wanted the United Nations Security Council to speak with one voice about the need for the violence to stop. Over the last few days --
MR. TONER: And for political transition per the Arab League’s plan. Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and for political – well, the new draft that’s floating around talks about welcoming the Arab League plan. But it specifically does not call or full – call for full implementation of it or even say that the Council fully supports it. So I’m wondering, is an endorsement of the Arab plan in all of its aspects a prerequisite for you to sign on to a resolution? Or is it just important for you to have a statement that condemns the violence and calls for political transition? There’s a difference.
MR. TONER: No, I understand that Elise, and it’s a good question and it’s a fair question. But I can’t, in an essence, show our card from this podium when we’re still negotiating the text in New York and we’re still there.
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Do you feel that you are closer today to getting the Russians consent than you were yesterday at this time?
MR. TONER: Another fair question. I think that these consultations, these discussions, these negotiations are still ongoing and that, in and of itself, is encouraging. Folks are working hard and they’re trying to reach consensus.
QUESTION: Okay. Arab League diplomats are claiming that the Russians, to begin with, were the ones that floated around a resolution akin to that of Yemen, where he would sign on on giving the authorities to the vice president, but then that the Russians backed away from that. Are you, one, proposing that this same model would be used, like Yemen? And second, would that be something that you would expect the Russians to agree to?
MR. TONER: Well again, I don’t want to – and you’re just trying in a different fashion to ask the same question Elise did – but I think – what we’ve said all along is that we’re supportive of the Arab League plan for this political transition. We believe that that’s a way forward that would end the violence, and as we’ve all along said, lead to a transition in power there. But let’s let these negotiations play out.
Yeah. Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: Aside from the substance --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) draft is the only – it is the only plan that it being floated around. So it’s the only game in town. So you do expect the Russians to sign on today, right?
MR. TONER: We certainly, as the Secretary noted the other day, this is – the Arab League has shown tremendous leadership in addressing the problem or the situation in Syria, and we want to support them.
QUESTION: Aside from the nitty-gritty, the substance, you didn’t characterize the discussion between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov in any way.
MR. TONER: I think it was constructive, and – but, again it’s --
QUESTION: It was productive, or was it --
MR. TONER: I’m going to say constructive --
MR. TONER: -- because I didn’t get a full readout of the conversation. So it’s hard for me to characterize the tone of it. But I think the fact that, as I said, that they agreed that their teams would continue to work hard on this draft resolution in New York, I think, obviously, says that it was a constructive conversation.
QUESTION: Did they agree to meet at all in person at Munich, do you know?
MR. TONER: I believe that’s still set. I think so.
QUESTION: So they are going meet in Munich?
MR. TONER: I believe so.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. No, I’m sorry, Lalit. And then – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov is quoted by wire agencies as saying that the new draft in its current form is not something they’re going to support.
MR. TONER: I’ve seen those press reports. Yeah.
QUESTION: Now is this something that Lavrov communicated directly --
MR. TONER: I don’t know that they – I don’t know that this – that specific report – his comments are – they were raised in the phone conversation, I don’t know.
Yeah. Sure. Elise, you got a question?
QUESTION: I have a new topic, so go ahead, Said.
MR. TONER: Okay, are we finished with Syria? And Elise. Then I’ll get back to you guys. Sorry.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: There are all these comments swirling around about how, particularly the Secretary of Defense, but other officials in the Administration are concerned that Israel is going to launch a military strike in the not-too-distant future. Today, the Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon said in Munich that, if you continue to pose sanctions – it might not impose rapid sanctions, it may not be necessary but they’re not taking anything off the table. What are you doing to coordinate with the Israelis and make sure that they don’t take action that (a) you don’t know about, (b) you may not agree with, maybe you do, and (c) that this doesn’t launch into an even greater regional conflict?
MR. TONER: Well, thanks for the question. Look, first of all, we’re certainly under no illusions about the threat that Iran poses both to our ally Israel but as well to the broader region and our allies and partners there, as well to the international community writ large. So we certainly understand and share the serious concerns that Israel has regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
And in answer to your – in response to your question, we’re consulting closely with all of our partners internationally but certainly including Israel to address the threat. That’s why --
QUESTION: I’m not talking about addressing the threat. That’s – is that what you consider addressing the threat --
MR. TONER: Well, let me just finish.
QUESTION: -- Israel going after them?
MR. TONER: What I was going to say was – what I was going to say next was that that’s why we believe and have placed unprecedented pressure on Iran, because we believe there’s still time and space to pursue diplomacy and to allow the sanctions that are in place – and again, these are unprecedented sanctions that I think everyone agrees are having a chilling effect on the Iranian economy that allow them to take hold. So I guess, in answer to your question, we still believe that there’s, as I said, time and space here for diplomacy to work, our two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure to work.
QUESTION: So just specifically, are you at very senior levels telling the Israelis that you believe that there’s still time and space and asking them not to take precipitous military action until there’s an international consensus that the time and space is no longer?
MR. TONER: Well, our public position is our private position, which is that we continue to be committed to this two-track approach. We still believe, as I said, there’s time and space for that to work.
QUESTION: So you’re telling Israel not to bomb as well*?
MR. TONER: That’s our message. Our message is consistent publicly and privately on this. But also the fact that we’re absolutely committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: But, Mark, this image of time and space really does not juxtapose quite well with, apparently, a planning that is well underway. I mean, they are talking about five days of bombardment and a call by the Security Council thereafter for an immediate ceasefire. I mean, that is a well-developed plan. So how do you reconcile --
MR. TONER: Again, you’re – I’m not going to confirm these plans. These are press reports. I’d refer you to the Israeli Government for their comment on that.
QUESTION: So do you think that --
MR. TONER: I’m just saying what our position is.
QUESTION: -- the statements made by Secretary of Defense Panetta and others and the Israelis are really intended to sort of exact a great deal of pressure on the mullahs’ regime in Tehran? Would you say that’s the intent?
MR. TONER: Again, I think that this – they’re expressing their concern about Iran’s nuclear program and the fact that it has failed to really address the international community’s concerns. I’m just saying the United States, our partners and allies remain committed to the two-track approach and that we believe sanctions are having an effect.
In the back.
QUESTION: Are you following the situation in Pakistan? Supreme Court has said that it was going to convict the prime minister on 13th, the government seems to be on its way out. Are you concerned about it?
MR. TONER: I mean, look, of course, we’re following closely events in Pakistan. We’re the State Department. No. But just to be clear, as I think we’ve said all along, these are internal political processes. Specifically, you’re talking about the current court case. This case is not new. And what we’ve said all along is that we expect Pakistan to resolve any of its internal issues in a way that’s consistent with Pakistani laws and its constitution.
QUESTION: But does it limit your ability, because there is sort of impasse at the moment between Pakistan and the United States?
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: They were supposed to review, the U.S. was supposed to wait for the recommendations. Is there any communication --
MR. TONER: We are, in fact, still waiting for those recommendations and that review.
QUESTION: But does the internal situation limit your ability to engage with Pakistan?
MR. TONER: I don’t think so. We remain in very close consultation through our ambassador in Islamabad, Cameron Munter, and his counterparts on the ground in Islamabad, but at a variety of levels with the Pakistani Government. So I think where we are with the broader bilateral relationship is exactly what you said, which is that we understand there’s this parliamentary review underway. Once that’s completed, we can sit down with Pakistan and try to address some of these issues.
Yeah, sure. Samir.
QUESTION: What’s the U.S. reaction to the parliamentary elections in --
QUESTION: Another on Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Let’s finish with Pakistan. I apologize. I didn’t realize it. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, there were two interesting developments last week – or rather this week: President Obama saying that the drone that attacked targets in FATA are American drones, and the Pakistani foreign minister saying that yes, we can bring the Taliban to talks with the Afghan Government. Previously, both sides refused to acknowledge these things, so does it reflect a new resolve to addressing difficult issues rather than sweeping them under the carpet?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s – that’s a good question. Look, I think we want to – as we’ve said many, many times since the very tragic events of November 26, we are committed to this relationship with Pakistan. It’s absolutely essential. It’s in our national security interests and it’s in Pakistan’s national security interests. I think in the context of the two things you cited in your question, those are – I think we’re trying to bring greater focus to bear on the broader threats that we both face, which are these extremists operating who are an existential threat to Pakistan as well as a threat to the United States as well as a threat to Afghanistan and the region as a whole. So as much as we can honestly work together to address those threats, that’s a good thing.
Yeah. Let’s go to Samir. He had a question.
QUESTION: Was the U.S. --
QUESTION: Parliamentary election yesterday in Kuwait.
MR. TONER: I do have something. Hold on just one moment as I look for it.
QUESTION: Of course, you do. You’re the State Department.
MR. TONER: That’s right. We do follow events in Kuwait. (Laughter.) Thanks, Brad.
We do congratulate the Kuwaiti people and the government for continuing to uphold Kuwait’s democratic traditions and institutions, including through their national parliamentary elections which took place yesterday, as you noted. Transparency and due process are essential to protecting the integrity of the electoral process and preserving the confidence of the Kuwaiti people and their democratic system. So we’re encouraged that the government invited citizens and international observers to monitor and report on the elections and of course, some of the initial reports indicate that these elections were, in fact, free and fair. So, again, we congratulate the Kuwaiti people on a job well done.
QUESTION: Although 60 percent of the parliamentarians – parliament seats are apparently Islamist or from the Muslim Brotherhood, people that may want to see Sharia law imposed and less and less freedoms?
MR. TONER: Well, again, your question contains the kernel of my response, which is that it’s not about labels, what these parties may call themselves. It’s going to be how they govern and do they govern in a democratic fashion that’s consistent with the aspirations of the Kuwaiti people. That’s how we’re going to judge going forward.
QUESTION: Did you experience – is it your experience that the Islamists governing – actually they govern in accordance with rule of law rather than Sharia law?
MR. TONER: I apologize. I didn’t --
QUESTION: Okay. Let me rephrase it then. From your experience thus far, do you have confidence that these Islamic parties will rule according to their constitutions or --
MR. TONER: I think it’s something we’re watching closely, whether it’s Egypt or Kuwait, and we’re going to be monitoring closely going forward -- excuse me. But I would say the jury’s out. But again, we’re going to judge them by how they actually govern.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On a new subject, on Okinawa, there are reports out there that the Administration has given up its plan to shift the Marines out to Guam and instead is looking at rotating them through Australia, Philippines, other places. Can you tell us what’s the status of this?
MR. TONER: Sure. I am aware of those reports. I can say that we’re obviously strongly committed to maintaining and enhancing our security alliance with Japan. At the same time, as we’ve noted before, we’re looking to mitigate the impact on Okinawa and the United States and Japan remain fully committed to the implementation of the Futenma replacement facility and the relocation of the Futenma airbase to Camp Schwab. So there’s no change there.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: Same topic?
MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: The Japanese Foreign Minister Gemba said that the U.S., Japan are rethinking the Futenma relocation in the roadmap, so which mean – it implies maybe they are – they going to make a change about this plan. So would you please explain this? And also, would you please tell me what kind of impact do you think it has on the relocation of Futenma to Henoko.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’ve said all along that we’re in discussion with Japan. We’re looking to, as I just said, to mitigate the impact of the – on Okinawa of these changes. But I don’t have anything to announce or anything new to say about it.
QUESTION: I have a new --
QUESTION: But it’s inaccurate to say that you’re relooking at the roadmap? I mean, you’re committed to the current plan for now, but you’re also looking at other options. Is that correct?
MR. TONER: We’re committed to – I think we’re committed to the roadmap. I’d stop there.
QUESTION: I have a new topic.
QUESTION: So there is no change right now you --
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. No.
QUESTION: This is on Spain.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Spanish foreign minister announced --
MR. TONER: Are we done – sorry. Are we done with Futenma? Yeah. Sorry.
QUESTION: So your understanding for this moment is that it’s within agreement U.S., Japan (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: So it’s not like a renegotiating for other agreement.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: On Spain, the Spanish foreign minister announced today that the U.S. has agreed to retrieve some soil contaminated with radioactivity from this incident in the ’60s where a U.S. plane with an atomic – dropped an atomic bomb. And there’s a quote in the Spanish papers by Kathleen Doherty, deputy assistant secretary. Is this a done deal from the U.S. point of view, and is the U.S. agreeing with the public comments by the Spanish foreign minister that you’ve agreed to --
MR. TONER: That we’ve reached agreement on a settlement, if you will, for this?
QUESTION: Yeah. Yes.
MR. TONER: You know what, Elise? I’m going to take the question. I apologize. I am well aware of the case. I just don’t know --
QUESTION: If you could take the question --
MR. TONER: I absolutely will take the question.
QUESTION: -- because the Spanish foreign minister said it today, and the Secretary’s scheduled to meet with her tomorrow, so --
MR. TONER: No, absolutely. And, as I said, I’m very – you’re absolutely right, and I’m very much aware of the – of this. It’s a very tragic story, but we’ll check on it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Palestinian issue. Did you follow closely the visit of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the West Bank and Gaza?
MR. TONER: We’re the State Department.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay. Great.
MR. TONER: No --
QUESTION: Did you – do you agree with what he said at the tail end of his visit, that the window on the two-state solution is closing?
MR. TONER: Well, look, we would agree that there’s an urgency here, yes, and that – and we’ve talked about this many times before, that the status quo is not sustainable, so that it’s in both sides’ interests to get back and to address these issues at the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Sorry. He also called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, but he also called on the Israelis to be serious about giving up the land. Do you agree with him?
MR. TONER: Well, again, these are all issues for – to be addressed in direct negotiations. So we would call on both sides to come to the negotiating table with serious proposals.
QUESTION: And lastly, he also called on Israel to lift the siege on Gaza. Would you also agree with that?
MR. TONER: Again, all of these matters are best left to the negotiating table for discussions there. David Hale is in the region now. He was, I believe, in Ramallah yesterday, where he did meet with Abbas, and he’s in Israel today. I’ll try to get a readout of his meetings there. But that remains our focus right now, is we’ve got this pause in the talks that began in Jordan. We want to see them get back to the negotiating table, as I said, with real, concrete proposals on how to bridge some of these differences.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Let’s go to the back. Swiss – you’re the Swiss. I remember you, see.
QUESTION: Exactly. No, yesterday the Department of Justice indicted, for the first time in history, a Swiss bank on conspiracy and tax fraud, and it’s the first time that a foreign bank is indicted on these counts. So I was wondering what impact this has on the ongoing negotiations and on the --
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the – and forgive me if I mispronounce it --
MR. TONER: Wegelin. Yeah. Thank you.
MR. TONER: I know Brad’s watching closely for my pronunciation.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) your pronunciation. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) remediate it. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: That’s a perfectly valid word, by the way. In any case, let me assure you that we obviously enjoy a very strong and long-lasting partnership with Switzerland. That goes without saying. This particular matter does involve allegations of criminal wrongdoing by a particular institution and its employees, so I have to refer you to the Department of Justice, as it’s an ongoing investigation.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: But some people back in Switzerland are characterizing this as a unfriendly move from the U.S. What’s your reply?
MR. TONER: Not at all. As I said, the broader bilateral relationship remains very strong, but this is a matter – an investigation that’s being conducted by the Department of Justice, so I’m limited in what I can, frankly, say about it.
QUESTION: So you didn’t hear back from the Swiss Government yet?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so, but I can – I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, Goyal. One last question, quickly.
QUESTION: Just a quick – back to Iran quickly, please. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl, Goyal?
QUESTION: As far as sanctions are concerned against Iran, many countries and many companies are still doing business with Iran. Are you going to sanction those countries and companies who are helping Iran?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the CBI legislation, the – about the Central Bank of Iran?
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR. TONER: Well, I think we’ve also said – and very quickly – we’re – we’ve sent teams out. We’re talking to allies and partners throughout the world. We’re committed to implementing this law and this legislation, but we’re also trying to do it in a fashion that doesn’t put undue pressure on our partners in this process.
So thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
DPB # 23