1:24 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. I’d just like to start with our case of the day of journalists that we’re highlighting for our Free the Press campaign this month. Today’s case is from Ecuador. His name is Cesar Ricaurte, and he’s an award-winning journalist and a leading voice supporting the right to freedom of expression. Mr. Ricaurte and his colleagues founded Fundamedios, which is a premier organization that advocates for press freedom and monitors attacks against the press in Ecuador. And he received death threats following recent testimony at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the state of press freedom in Ecuador. So we call on the Government of Ecuador to uphold freedom of the press as a vital component of a democratic society and to ensure that journalists can operate without fear of threat or retribution. And again, to learn more about this and other cases, go to HUMANRIGHTS.GOV.
QUESTION: Speaking of death threats, I wanted to ask you about the deal for the release of and the protection of Chen. He says he left because of threats against his family. Is the deal still valid in light of his claim that he left under coercion?
MR. TONER: Brad, I’ve seen the press reports you’re referring to, comments that he may have made in the hospital. I just can’t speak to those comments. All I can say – and I think you’ve seen Toria also pushed out our perspective to reinforce it from this morning – you’ve seen the transcript that two senior administration officials did as well – that at no time did any U.S. official speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children, and nor did any Chinese officials make any threats to us or through us.
QUESTION: In the statement by the Secretary, she says that the American people and the U.S. Government would remain engaged with Chen. He says he changed his mind about staying in China after he was dropped off at the hospital and not one American official remained with him. Why did nobody stay with him --
MR. TONER: Again, that’s incorrect, as far as I know. Again, I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat here because I’m obviously not in Beijing. My understanding is that there were U.S. officials in the building. I believe some of his medical team was, in fact, with him – at the hospital, rather.
MR. TONER: At the hospital, just to clarify.
QUESTION: And they stayed with him throughout, or have they all left now?
MR. TONER: I believe they’ve – they were at – with him at times during the evening.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, about his family --
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- you’re saying that there was no threat passed on that his family would suffer any undue harm if they – if he stayed in the Embassy. But in one of the statements, you said that – I think it was Toria said – that the Chinese indicated they would be returned to Shandong. And you have said that there they’ve suffered – in the past, you have said they’ve suffered harm. Is that not an implicit threat?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s – there’s – one thing that’s important – an element, I think, important to reinforce is that at no time did he ever request political asylum. That’s another thing we’re seeing in the press. At every opportunity, according, again, to those officials who were with him during his stay at the U.S. Embassy, he expressed a desire to stay in China. He wanted to reunify with his family – and indeed, that speaks to the comment that Toria made about the family going back to Shandong. He wanted to be reunified with his family, and he wanted to pursue educational opportunities and continue his work in China. So that’s what we sought to --
QUESTION: Telling him that his family would be returned to his home would – isn’t there an implicit threat in that considering the harm that they have already suffered there?
MR. TONER: I just can’t parse that from here. I think what our efforts were geared towards was trying to put him in the best possible position to achieve his objectives, again, which were to reunify with his family, to pursue his legal education, and to continue his work on the ground.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more --
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure thing.
QUESTION: He also – there’s been a widely carried quote that he said he wanted to kiss the Secretary. He’s saying that’s not true and he never said it. Who is responsible for, one, translating that or deciding to --
MR. TONER: I actually --
QUESTION: -- distribute his comments?
MR. TONER: I think how it was described – and again, I’m watching this from afar just as you are --
QUESTION: Because “kiss” and “see” sound quite different. He’s saying he said he wanted to see her.
MR. TONER: But I actually think the way it was conveyed in the background briefing this morning was that he actually said that in broken English.
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: He says he didn’t.
MR. TONER: Again, I --
MR. TONER: These were – there were three U.S. officials who claimed he did.
QUESTION: And then just because --
MR. TONER: I think the sentiment --
MR. TONER: -- is still that it’s very strong that he felt a connection with the Secretary of State.
QUESTION: Maybe not on that emotional level?
MR. TONER: So how we – however we parse it out. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But just lastly, since you’ve challenged the veracity of many of his past comments, was he --
MR. TONER: I’m really – actually, I’m not trying to challenge the veracity. I just don’t know. He’s --
MR. TONER: -- I’m seeing press reports of things that he has allegedly said. All I can do is --
MR. TONER: -- really speak to our side of the story.
QUESTION: Was there any question about his mental health or his – that he was fully cognizant of everything? Because even with his reported comments, firstly, that he wanted to kiss her, and now him saying he wants to leave the country and he feels lied to, there’s a massive dissonance in that.
MR. TONER: Right. I frankly – I don’t know. I know that he’s received medical attention while at the Embassy. Those doctors – our doctors have continued to follow his case. As I said, I believe they accompanied him to the hospital. But it’s not for me to give a medical opinion one way or the other except that I think you saw that he had some minor injuries from his escape attempt.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that commitments made to him will not be followed through?
MR. TONER: I missed the first part of your question.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that commitments made to him whilst in the U.S. Embassy will not be followed through?
MR. TONER: Well, I think I would just refer to what the Secretary said, which is making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task. And the – our Administration officials who spoke on background this morning talked about the fact that we’re going to continue to seek access to him as we move forward and to make sure that these commitments are upheld.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: So I think it’s an ongoing process and one that we’re fully cognizant of that we’re going to have to continue to monitor his situation, have periodic access to him.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I – sorry – could or should the Embassy have turned him back?
MR. TONER: I think, again, they spoke to this quite clearly and eloquently in the briefing this morning – what they said that we were operating in accordance with our own standards towards human rights and consistent with our own values. I also think that one of the senior Administration officials answered a question by saying we also believe that everything we did was lawful in this case.
QUESTION: But there seems to have been a great deal of logistical organization. So was that worked out with the Embassy or any Embassy staff?
MR. TONER: I think the Embassy responded, I think, very well to – as again, what was characterized as a very exceptional case.
Yeah. Go ahead, Catherine.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in the background briefing was some help gaining access to the Embassy and said they didn’t have anything else to say at that time. Do you have any more details on --
MR. TONER: I apologize. Access to him --
QUESTION: To the Embassy. Getting him in the Embassy.
MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t have anything to add to that. I think they spoke to it a little bit, saying that they had to take some measures to get him inside the Embassy. But beyond that --
QUESTION: Was that just like because of his blindness or because --
MR. TONER: I don’t have any more details, Catherine. Sorry.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do these questions trouble you? Aare you concerned that he may be either playing both ends against the middle or may have gotten some information from some U.S. official that he wasn’t supposed to get? Are you --
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think --
QUESTION: -- investigating in any way?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we’re going to continue – we did have officials there with him in the hospital today, and we’re going to continue to have access to him. I think that’s one thing we made clear in all of our statements so far today is that this is an ongoing situation. We believe it’s reached a positive resolution, as I said, one in keeping with our values and also reflective of our ability to discuss and to work through these issues with the Chinese authorities. But I think we’re going to continue to monitor his case going forward and we’re going to have access with him going forward, and we’re going to have a chance to talk to him about these reports.
QUESTION: But do we believe he’s an honorable player now, given the concerns he has raised, the accusations he has made?
MR. TONER: I mean, this is a --
QUESTION: Can we trust him?
MR. TONER: This is an individual who has been lauded worldwide for his human rights work on behalf of Chinese citizens. I would just refer you to his already well-known reputation as an advocate for human rights. All I can do, as I explained to Brad, is simply put out the details as we know them.
QUESTION: Yeah, but this guarantee for his safety is really for the long haul because that’s a long term and he’s not leaving China anytime soon, correct?
MR. TONER: Again, what he expressed to us was his willingness, his desire, to stay in China, yes.
QUESTION: So to mitigate whatever tensions there may have risen because of this, would the United States submit an apology? Would it apologize?
MR. TONER: We spoke to that earlier. We don’t – we saw our actions as lawful in this case and in keeping with our values.
QUESTION: But he has said in the past, and also many others are saying, that as far as human rights and torture, there’s a – do you agree that there is a problem in China as far as human rights and torture is concerned? And millions of other Chinese are in the same situation and they want to leave China but they cannot.
MR. TONER: Well, others have spoken to this in the past few days. The President, the Secretary have all said that human rights remains on our agenda with China. It’s something that we discuss and raise regularly, whether it’s individual cases or human rights writ large, with China. It’s part of our broad bilateral relationship. We do have a strong enough relationship that we can talk about these hard issues. And again, consistent with our own values, we make our concerns clear.
QUESTION: But what do you hear, what the Chinese in response? Always you talk about human rights, but still, people are still --
MR. TONER: It’s a dialogue. We do have a dialogue with China on these issues. We don’t refrain from raising cases that we feel deserve a response.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up. U.S. official insisted he left on free will, but Chen Guangcheng gave a different story. Just wonder that, is that a consensus between U.S. and China this has to be resolved before the SED? Why this moment, at this time, that he has to be released from the Embassy?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we – as we said this morning, that he came to the U.S. Embassy under exceptional circumstances, requesting medical treatment. So this was always a temporary situation. And frankly, our diplomats worked very hard and worked with Chinese officials to find a resolution of this issue that, as I said, is in keeping with our values but also respective – respecting his wishes to stay in China, to pursue his education, and to remain active in his work.
The fact that – you’re asking whether that timeline is a week, two days, four days, I can’t really speak to that.
QUESTION: And somebody --
MR. TONER: All I can say is – just add on is what we’ve already said this today, which is that Ambassador Locke, others, were with him when he was leaving the Embassy. They asked him several times, I believe, if he was ready to go. He said, “Yes, I’m ready to go.” They walked out. And I would just commend to you there are some photos up on our Flickr site which show him, I believe, arriving at the hospital. Is that correct? Or leaving the Embassy? That show him with U.S. officials, so --
QUESTION: And this will be anybody from the U.S. there to verify his story? After he left, he claimed that he was threatened to leave.
MR. TONER: Right. I can’t really speak to what we’re seeing, as I said, some of these comments that are being reported now in the press. All I can really do is give our understanding or our side of the story and our view of the story and the events that transpired. What we’re hearing now – again, I would just say that we did have U.S. officials with him at the hospital today. We’re going to continue to visit him in the hospital. So hopefully, we’ll get better clarity on that.
QUESTION: Change topic?
QUESTION: No. (Inaudible.)
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: If something bad were to happen to Chen, would you be – is the U.S. Government comfortable sharing in that responsibility?
MR. TONER: That’s a highly speculative question. I think all I can say in answer --
QUESTION: It’s certainly one that must’ve been thought about at some point by somebody, or else that would be a problem.
MR. TONER: Well, I can say that we are – as the Secretary said, we’re going to continue to make sure that these commitments that were made to him become a reality, and that’s something that we’re going to take very seriously.
QUESTION: So you consider the U.S. Government a guarantor of Chen and his family’s protection now?
MR. TONER: I think you’re getting ahead of it.
QUESTION: Ahead of it? Come on. He’s been released now to the Chinese authorities and there’s a deal been reached.
MR. TONER: He has been released. We’ve received commitments. Well, okay, you’re putting words in my mouth. What I would say is that --
QUESTION: Okay. I’m asking you.
MR. TONER: What I would say is that we are going to continue to monitor his case very closely. We’re going to continue to seek assurances that the commitments that were made in this case become reality or are followed through on. And going forward, we are going to make sure that we keep a very close eye on it.
QUESTION: But you would stop short of saying that the U.S. Government guarantees his protection because it’s not in your hands anymore?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this was a decision that he reached with us, through our interactions with the Chinese authorities, that he wanted to stay in China, that he wanted to pursue his studies, that he wanted to continue his work. We tried to put – get a – we tried to work with him so that he could achieve these goals. We believe we did that. He wanted to stay in China. He did not want to seek political asylum. So we’re in a situation now where we’re going to continue to monitor his case very, very closely. We realize now that we’ve got to make sure that these commitments are followed through on.
QUESTION: But Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: He could have done the same thing without coming to the U.S. Embassy in the first place. There must be some kind of attraction feels from his side. That’s why he’s – in the first place came to the U.S. Embassy.
MR. TONER: (Inaudible.) He originally approached the Embassy, I believe, to seek medical treatment.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, Chen – in a statement, you guys say that Chen and the Chinese Government has a number of understandings before he left the Embassy. Do you know about all those understandings? And how could he contact with the Chinese Government at the time he stay in the Embassy?
MR. TONER: So you’re asking what understandings he may have had --
QUESTION: By Mr. Chen – between Chen and the Chinese Government. That’s the –
MR. TONER: You mean on departing the Embassy or on his --
QUESTION: Before departing the Embassy. That’s the –
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that officials have already spoken to this in great detail, his desire, which he made clear from the beginning, that he wanted to stay in China; he wanted to his stay in the U.S. Embassy to be temporary. He had also indicated that priority for him was reunification with his family in a safe environment somewhere else in China, relocation somewhere else in China. And he also wanted to express – or he expressed a desire in addressing some of his concerns about the safety of some of his colleagues and family. Again, and the other desire that he expressed was to continue – or to pursue a law education.
QUESTION: But he didn’t say anything about his family might be under this threat somewhere or somebody where he was staying at the Embassy.
MR. TONER: Again, I’d just refer you back to what Toria already said about this – Victoria –
QUESTION: And how could we contact with the Chinese with all these deals or understandings while he was in the Embassy? Was they – was he allowed to contact – talk with the Chinese directly?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure. I believe that it was – there was various interlocutors with – between the Chinese authorities, but I’d refer you to the traveling party in Beijing for the details on that.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: But in last reports he’s asked Congressman Chris Smith to help him and his family leave China. What do you make of that?
MR. TONER: I really don’t make – I have no way to corroborate them in any way. I have no way to dismiss them. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: But Mark, don’t you think that –
MR. TONER: Mark, if he were –
QUESTION: -- in the first place, the move he took place and came to the U.S. Embassy made Chinese very angry? And don’t you think now under pressure that he will be in trouble and his family because Chinese are angry because why he took such a move?
MR. TONER: Again, I feel like I’m repeating myself somewhat here. We’ve been very clear from this morning when we did the backgrounder, from the Secretary’s statement. There have been commitments made to his education, to reunification with his family. We’re going to continue to monitor this very closely. We’re going to continue to seek access to him so that we can ensure that those commitments are followed through and that he’s not under threat.
QUESTION: Can I just ask for –
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- clarification on my colleague’s question?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I think he asked: When Chen was in the Embassy, did he express concerns regarding his wife being sent back to Shandong?
MR. TONER: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: One more?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I think we’ve said, but okay. Keep going.
QUESTION: In your continuing conversations with him, if he were to come back to you all and say, “I would like political asylum in the United States,” definitively, which would be different from what he has said to you in the past, is that something that the U.S. is willing to consider?
MR. TONER: That’s just – it’s very speculative at this case. I mean, we’re going to continue to have conversations with him. We’re going to continue to have access to him. But let’s try to get greater clarity on what he’s saying before we talk about various permutations.
QUESTION: And then one more. We’ve talked about how the U.S. diplomats have been working very hard with their Chinese counterparts in his case. Do you feel in any way that the U.S. has used up leverage over the Chinese in getting a resolution to this on other matters that are going to be talked about in the coming days?
MR. TONER: I think of it differently, and I think that others have phrased it that it showed, frankly, the strength of the relationship that we were able to deal with these very difficult issues over the last few days and then look towards this very important Strategic and Economic Dialogue that’s going to discuss another side, but a very important side to our relationship with China as well.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. TONER: Where?
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Today, Mr. Assistant Secretary Feltman is in Lebanon and also the deputy prime minister of Iran. Is that coincidental, or is there something in the making?
MR. TONER: I’m fairly certain it’s coincidental, but I don’t have any details on his trip. I’ll –
QUESTION: So no –
MR. TONER: -- take the question that –
QUESTION: -- behind-the-scenes discussions –
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: -- a prelude to the meetings in Baghdad on the 23rd of May?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no. But what I can do is get some details. Sorry, with all the events taking place in China, I don’t know –
QUESTION: All right.
MR. TONER: -- where Assistant Secretary Feltman is today. But I’ll try to get you some clarity.
QUESTION: Okay. Then we’ll go next door to Syria. Today, there was an ambush that – against Syrian soldiers. A number of Syrian soldiers were killed. Do you have a statement on that? Or would you say anything on that?
MR. TONER: Only in that it’s discouraging to see the violence continue. But let’s be very clear that the lack of a ceasefire that can hold the ongoing violence – the onus for all of that remains squarely on the Syrian regime – the Assad regime’s shoulders. This is a situation of their own making, frankly. So we want to see an end to the violence, we want to see the monitors in place, we want to see a robust mission in place that can look at all areas in Syria and provide that kind of presence.
QUESTION: So what kind of independent evidence that places the onus on the Syrian regime that you can gather in this particular case, because –
MR. TONER: I’m not talking about this specific incident. What I’m trying to – I’m trying to make a broader point, which is that we have seen violence on the part of some elements within the opposition, but that you can’t have a year-plus assault on civilians in a country and not have some degree of blowback, some degree of violence generated from the other side. So my only point is to say this is a situation of their own making, where you’ve got elements within the opposition trying to defend – trying to take the offensive, and it only exacerbates the violence. We want to see the violence end on both sides. We want to see both sides in this adhere to the Annan principles. So far, the Syrian regime – Assad regime is taking really almost no steps towards fulfilling the core commitments of the Annan proposal – withdrawing its forces, freeing political prisoners, and allowing for the monitors to –
QUESTION: And finally –
MR. TONER: -- deploy.
QUESTION: -- aren’t you concerned that, let’s say, since last Friday last, there was bombing in Damascus, bombing in Idlib, bombing in Halab, that yesterday there was suicide bombers and so on, all targeting government institutions, government personnel, and so on? So are you concerned that this resistance, or whatever it is, opposition to the regime, has taken on al-Qaida aspects?
MR. TONER: Well, we talked about that before too, Said. We are concerned that there are terrorist organization, al-Qaida specifically, that often seek to exploit these kinds of situations. And so again, it’s incumbent on the Syrian Government to withdraw its forces, to comply with the Annan plan so that we can get a ceasefire, a real ceasefire, and a democratic transition in place.
QUESTION: Does the Syrian Government have the right to exercise its self-defense against armed groups?
MR. TONER: Again, we – I think we’ve been fairly clear about this all along, that we don’t condone violence on either side. Now, the vast proportion of violence has been the Syrian Government inflicting it on its own citizens. But you have seen, as I said, elements within the opposition fight back. We don’t want to see an escalation of violence. We want to see a ceasefire.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible). On Venezuela, the announcement of the Venezuelan Government to leave the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights – I would like to hear if you have any comments. Do you think this is going to weaken the Inter-American system, the OAS?
MR. TONER: Well, I would say it would be deeply regrettable if Venezuela would decide to walk away from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which we believe is an effective and unique organization within the hemisphere. As you know, the Organization of American States is a multinational organization and its member have made – its member nations have made a commitment to promote and protect human rights. So again, it would just be regrettable for Venezuela to decide to leave the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, send a bad signal.
QUESTION: On the region, please.
MR. TONER: In the region? Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Well, this comes on the heels, obviously, of the Argentine announcement of, I guess, a couple of weeks ago. And my response is going to sound similar, which is that we are concerned by the Bolivian Government’s decision and announcement to nationalize the Spanish-owned electricity company Transportadora de Electricidad. Sorry for that mangling of it. But as we’ve said before, these actions against foreign investors really dampen the investment climate in Bolivia, in Argentina, in wherever. So that’s our concern.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Well, Samir, I would just say that we’re obviously very concerned about the recent violence in Egypt that, as you said, did result in injuries and deaths among the protestors. We want to see an immediate end to this violence. We want to see the Government of Egypt investigate these events and hold those responsible for the violence accountable. We obviously support the rights of all individuals to peacefully protest.
QUESTION: Follow --
QUESTION: Have you specifically been in touch with the Egyptian Government to ask them to investigate?
MR. TONER: I believe we have through our Embassy, but I’ll take that question.
QUESTION: Question on S&ED.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just broadly, could you lay out the concerns that the U.S. has going in on security and specifically in terms of addressing the Chinese concerns about the so-called pivot? Are you going to be trying to offer additional reassurances on that?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m always loath to talk in great detail about trips. I would refer you to the traveling party. I believe they are going to do an intensive backgrounder on our goals, aspirations for these talks that begin, I believe, tomorrow. But as you know, this is the fourth round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. This is also going to be – concurrently there’s going to be this third round of the U.S-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange that’s going to be held also on May 3rd through 4th in Beijing. And Secretary Clinton’s going to co-host that event with State Councilor Liu Yandong. And in terms of a deep dive on the agenda, I just would refer you to the travelers.
QUESTION: Staying with China, go back to something that Brad had asked earlier. It’s well known that Mr. Chen’s family had been mistreated while living in Shandong. I believe it’s well known that his wife was beaten in recent months. Did the U.S. Government regard Chinese officials saying that if he did not leave the Embassy his family would be sent back to Shandong as an implicit threat?
MR. TONER: I – you’re talking about the statement that was put out from Toria just a few minutes ago that talks about – that Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong. Look, I think that – I mean, her statement speaks for itself. One his priorities was reunification of his family.
QUESTION: That’s – I get that. My question is: Given that when he and his family lived in Shandong they – one, his wife was recently beaten in addition to his having been beaten in the past; two, they lived under extreme scrutiny, both electronic surveillance and paid local thugs; three, he himself did not have freedom to leave his house, and according to reports, his son was walked to school by some kind of security or paid guards. So the question is: Why wouldn’t Chinese officials saying you don’t leave and your wife and kid are going back to Shandong be viewed as an implicit threat?
MR. TONER: Arshad, I just can’t speak to – I mean, all I can say is that – factually, what was conveyed by Chinese authorities and then pivot to what he clearly articulated among his desires, and he did say that he wanted relocation as part of that. Speaking to your, I think, broader question, is that – was he under duress, under threat, and was his family under threat in his home province? He did seek relocation and we’re going to make sure that that commitment is carried through. But I can’t speak to the more specific question that you have.
QUESTION: Okay, I’m – what I’m trying to understand partly is, it seems to me that Toria’s on-the-record statement, which said that at no time did U.S. officials discuss physical or legal threats to Mr. Chen’s family with him and which adds that at no time --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- did the Chinese Government officials discuss any such threats with U.S. officials, is not, however, to rule out or to obviate the possibility that Chinese Government officials did indeed make threats to his wife and family, correct? I mean, in other words, you’re saying we never said it to him and they never said it to us. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t under or that they weren’t under threat.
MR. TONER: I just – again, I can only speak to what he had articulated his desired outcome from these talks, from these negotiations, from these – from his stay in the Embassy, was relocation and reunification with his family, which –
QUESTION: And do you believe that his family would have been under – remember, this is his family who had been in a highly guarded and heavily surveilled form of house arrest, right? Do you believe that his family would have been under threat had they – had he not left and had they been returned to their home?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think he has made clear in his desire to relocate that he felt under threat, his family lived under threat in their present circumstances. That’s all – that’s the best answer I can give you on that.
QUESTION: So it’s conceivable, then, that he did indeed feel that they would have been under threat had he not accepted this agreement to relocate with them somewhere with the guarantees of safety and so on.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think he was seeking a relocation so that he could pursue, as I said, his law education, but reunification with a family that he hadn’t seen in some two years. So those were his articulated outcomes from this.
QUESTION: But you’re not disputing that he was under threat before he fled, right? They faced --
MR. TONER: I mean, he was under house arrest before --
QUESTION: He was under house arrest and he faced abuse – him and his family. That’s not in dispute. So returning his wife and family to that same state, how is that not a threat of further abuse?
MR. TONER: Again, I just – all I can deal with are the facts as we’ve laid out them – laid them out for you, which is that --
QUESTION: It’s not a logical leap, though. I mean, you guys --
MR. TONER: But I can’t make that --
QUESTION: -- maintain this all the time with the --
MR. TONER: I cannot make that (inaudible).
QUESTION: -- when there’s a refoulement of refugees.
MR. TONER: You guys can speculate about what may or may not have been behind that statement. I cannot.
QUESTION: So the next time there’s talk about refugees being sent back to their country in North Korea or in Iran and that you’re uncomfortable with it because of the long histories of torture, we shouldn’t make any assumptions that they might suffer any ill will when they’re returned --
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: -- be they dissidents, opposition members, whatever?
MR. TONER: All I’m saying is that he clearly sought relocation for his family as well as reunification. We sought an outcome to this that met his desires.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: No. Same subject, please.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you – but I presume you believe that the U.S. has played a constructive role in this case so far.
MR. TONER: Again, I think we’ve – our Embassy, our officials have played a role that, as I said, is consistent with our fundamental values. Yeah.
QUESTION: And it’s quite an unusual case. So do you think this could set a precedent for people who can’t get their grievances met in unusual cases like this for future cases?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s really hard for me to speculate going forward what the long-term outcomes of this kind of case. I mean, we’ve said it’s unique; we’ve said it’s exceptional. We believe our Embassy officials responded in a very professional and a legal manner, and also one consistent with our values. But I – in terms of the long-term impact, I can’t, at this point, tell you.
QUESTION: Mark? I’d like to try --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- one more time to follow Brad’s question: Did the Chinese authorities make any commitment to try and better control the local authorities who seem to be the problem in this case?
MR. TONER: Right. And I’m aware of that element of the local authorities and the relationship with the Chinese Government. I just can’t address whether there was that kind of communication or that kind of commitment made. Again, I think we’re getting somewhat off the main thrust of the outcome of this event, and that is that we do have a situation where he expressed his desire to stay in China, to continue his work, continue his education, and, as I said, be reunified with his family, his son, his wife who he hasn’t see for a number of years. And we believe we’ve achieved that outcome. And as we move forward we’re going to continue to keep a very close eye on this case, to monitor it, and to seek assurances that --
QUESTION: But even if he wants to stay in China, returning him to the situation he fled is an implicit threat, unless there’s a commitment to change the circumstances, as Brad says.
MR. TONER: Right. But I think we’ve achieved an outcome that does change those circumstances.
QUESTION: Can I ask you one other about this?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: In the transcript of the background briefing, one of the briefers said – I think twice said that he was prepared for the struggle ahead – something like that. Do you expect it to be all smooth sailing now for Mr. Chen?
MR. TONER: I don’t. And I – how I understood that, frankly, was that he is going to remain active in his field. He’s going to remain as he pursues a legal education, continue to be a human rights activist. And that’s going to be – implicit in that is the idea of struggle. It’s going to be a fight for him.
Yeah. Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: On China?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: According to the U.S. statements on Mr. Chen, Chinese Government has made some understanding on his safety. But is there any direct understanding between Chinese Government and the U.S. Government on his safety, because it’s not very clear from the statements?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think I would just say that we’re going to seek periodic welfare visits. We’re going to raise his case – continue to raise his case with the appropriate authorities, and we’re going to confirm at regular intervals, as I’ve said numerous times now, that he’s – that the commitments he’s received from the Chinese authorities, the Chinese Government, are carried out.
QUESTION: People are still talking about 9/11, over 10 years, and now --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Usama bin Ladin, one year. My question is that anywhere you go from think tank to government officials around the globe, they’re talking about that Pakistan is still at the center of terrorism, and then it was Usama bin Ladin, today maybe Haqqani Network and others there. My question is: one, is Pakistan cooperating with the U.S.; and second, what kind of message are you sending now to Pakistan? You have resumed again the drone attacks, and Chairman Dempsey also spoke yesterday at the Carnegie Institute.
MR. TONER: Goyal, I give you a lot of credit; you always start out very broadly and then narrow it to some very focused question, so --
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR. TONER: But in speaking to whether – what our conversations are like with Pakistan regarding counterterrorism cooperation, as you know, Ambassador Marc Grossman was just in Pakistan. And that was, in a sense, building on some of the momentum that we’ve seen over the past months. We have had this parliamentary review completed. The Pakistanis have made clear on a number of areas how they want to see the relationship move going forward.
We’ve talked before about the fact that terrorism is an existential threat for Pakistanis. Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives to terrorism. So this is a shared struggle. We recognize that. We’re committed to working through the problems that we’ve had in the past, because it’s in both our national interests to do so.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Mark, are you monitoring the situation in Pakistan where Prime Minister Gillani is simply telling his nation that he doesn’t give a damn about the, quote, “decision;” he refused to step down after he got convicted by the higher court? Now he is taking the country – the entire country to a point where – leaving no choice for the military to take over. It looks like your diplomats in Islamabad are – is not telling you what’s really going on in Pakistan, what’s the constitution is all about. And as far as I know from this podium, everyone has been talking about the supremacy of judiciary rule of law, but why Washington is so quiet on this entire situation? You don’t have any concern?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I would dispute the premise of your question. And I think we’ve been very clear that we view this as an internal domestic issue but one that is falling on a clear democratic track, that it’s progressing within the Pakistani judicial system and that it’s being addressed in a legitimate and democratic fashion by the Pakistani judicial system.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about --
QUESTION: Excuse me. According to the constitution, he can no longer run his office anymore. His cabinet has been suspended. But they’re trying to create anarchy, chaos, and taking the situation to invite the army. And this is a situation that entire country is looking towards the Washington and West, and why the West is so quiet? Why Washington is so quiet? Constitution is very clear; once he got convicted, he no longer run his office.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not an expert on the Pakistani constitution. All that I can say is this case has moved forward through the Pakistani judicial system in a way that we view as consistent with Pakistan’s democratic values and in a transparent manner. And we don’t have any real comment on what is a domestic political issue.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Hamas?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: We have an interview with a Hamas official who talks about contacts with several EU government – governments’ officials. Do you think these contacts are helpful? Were you knowledgeable about these? Are you in touch with European counterparts --
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm if we – if these meetings – you know where we stand, Brad, on any potential Hamas role going forward in the peace process. They have to adhere to the Quartet principles; they have to renounce violence; they have to renounce terrorism; they have to recognize Israel; and they have to live up to previous agreements. When they’re ready to do that and willing to do that, then they’ll have a role in the process.
QUESTION: Do you think talks like these could be helpful in testing the flexibility of Hamas to maybe soften their hard-line stance on some of these issues?
MR. TONER: I mean, frankly, that’s hard to say. Those are the agreed-on redlines, if you will, or bottom line that we’re looking to see Hamas adhere to if they’re going to play a constructive role.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: So there’s a great deal of talk about Hamas – just one –
MR. TONER: Go ahead. Sure. Sorry.
QUESTION: -- that they are actually fixing to do just that. They are going to issue a statement much like the PLO did back in ’89 that will renounce violence and do all this. Will you be ready to conduct direct talks with them, or does it have to be through the PA in this case or as part of the PA?
MR. TONER: You’re trying to get me several steps ahead. I think all I can say that if they’re willing to meet the criteria that we’ve laid out, we’ve said all along that they would have a role to play in the peace process.
QUESTION: And lastly on the Palestinian issue, could you update us on the latest activities of Mr. Hale?
MR. TONER: My apologies; I don’t have an update on David Hale’s whereabouts. As you know, he was in Switzerland over the weekend, but I think he’s back here now.
MR. TONER: Yeah. I think – I said I think he’s back here now.
MR. TONER: No response other than that we believe what we did was lawful and in accordance with our own values.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)