1:02 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: I see there’s a vast number of visitors here today. I think you guys are from FSI and you’re from – you’re the FSN group that’s studying at FSI? I’m almost there. Anyway. (Laughter.) Anyway, sorry I’m not better informed about your visit. I did receive something. But regardless, welcome to the State Department briefing.
Okay. Welcome to the State Department. Today, as you know, or may not know, is World Press Freedom Day. And to mark this day, our Free the Press campaign brings attention to Khadzhimurad Kamalov of Russia. Kamalov was the founder of the Dagestani newspaper Chernovik and was shot to death outside his office by a masked man in December of 2011. Kamalov had been critical of local corruption and human rights abuses committed by security forces, and before his murder he and other journalists at Chernovik had been harassed, prosecuted, and indeed arrested by authorities for their work. His unresolved killing has had a chilling effect on media freedom in Dagestan and elsewhere in Russia, and we call on Russia to end this culture of impunity for those who attack journalists or kill them by bringing the perpetrators to justice in Kamalov’s murder as well as these other attacks.
And that’s it. I can go to your questions now.
QUESTION: Can we start with China? As you’re well aware, Ambassador Locke has given a lot of interviews and the transcripts are all now out. It seems very clear that after Mr. Chen went to the hospital, American officials stayed with him for some period of time and then left. Why – given that this is a man who had been through a significant upheaval in the preceding two weeks, escaping from his home, injuring himself, falling climbing over more than half a dozen walls, falling 200 times by his count, why didn’t the U.S. Government see fit to keep someone with him in the hospital just to provide reassurance?
MR. TONER: Arshad, before I get to your question, I realize that there is an insatiable desire for details about this particular case. But to state the obvious, I’m here in Washington, you’re here in Washington; the center of gravity for this case is out in Beijing right now. And so as you well noted, Ambassador Locke and others have been talking to the press. We’ve made every effort to get those transcripts out to you and as quickly as possible.
I don’t have a lot of detail to add to what they’ve already addressed out in Beijing. In direct response to your question, we did have a medical team working with Mr. Chen while he was in the Embassy. They were part of the group that transported him to the hospital. They have liaised and continue to liaise with medical officials. So I think every attention has been paid to his medical care.
QUESTION: But you cannot address the – I’m not talking about his medical care, but more about trying to ensure that the guarantees that U.S. diplomats believed they had received from the Chinese Government would be respected. And it may well be you can’t address this because you just don’t know, and I realize you’re in Washington, but it would be interesting to know: one, if you gave any consideration to having someone stay with him for some period of time; and two, if so, why you chose not to do so.
MR. TONER: Well again, I think as Ambassador Locke and others have said, we brought him to the hospital. He left the Embassy of his own freewill. It was his decision. Once we did arrive at the hospital, we stayed with him for some time. We subsequently called him. We’ve been in contact with him by phone again today. And so we feel like we’ve been able to talk to him and hear his views.
QUESTION: Ambassador Locke said that Embassy officials had spoken to him twice today and also that his wife had been able to come out of the hospital and speak at some length to the DCM.
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any guarantee that U.S. officials will be able to meet with Mr. Chen?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have any further information except that it’s our desire to meet with him in the days going forward.
Yeah, go ahead, Lach.
QUESTION: I know since you want the specifics discussed over there rather than here, but what about in the broader picture? How does it affect Chinese-U.S. relations? I mean, first of all, in the S&ED – the talks there, the dialogue, has it had any impact on the atmosphere there? And going forward, could you see it having an impact on areas where you want cooperation – Syria, Iran, North Korea, economic issues?
MR. TONER: Well, again, in essence, your question is, in part, my answer, which is that we have a relationship with China that is extremely broad, extremely cross-cutting. The Secretary and the President have all said how important this relationship is strategically, whether it be Iran, whether it be working on other issues of vital importance in the international arena. And we’re going to continue to pursue those. The Strategic and Economic Dialogue is moving forward. But we’re also going to raise human rights issues and we’re not going to shy away from it. The Secretary said as much in her intervention today. So again, it’s a continuation of this relationship that we have with China where we are able to discuss constructively cooperation on a broad number of issues but also have frank discussions where we have concerns.
QUESTION: Can you say for sure that other areas will not be affected by the human rights issue and this particular case?
MR. TONER: Again, I think that it’s impossible to predict going forward, but I think that this relationship is strong enough – others have said this – where we’re going to cooperate in areas where we share common views, but we’re also going to continue to talk about tough issues.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on yesterday’s briefing?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: We got to a point where you acknowledged that Chen’s family suffered duress at their home previously, that the Chinese were warning that they were going to send the family back if Chen did not leave the Embassy, yet that was not to be perceived as a threat. Is that still the logical construct you guys have created?
MR. TONER: Again, Ambassador Locke and others have really talked about that time at the Embassy in much better detail and with much better knowledge of what actually happened than I can give you here.
QUESTION: Well just in general --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I mean, do you feel a bit duped by the Chinese? I mean, you negotiated this kind of arrangement for Mr. Chen in good faith. Presumably, you thought that the Chinese did too, and it seems a little bit unclear whether they were just telling you what you wanted to hear so that you would leave him from the – that you would let him go from the Embassy. How does – just back to what you were talking about before with Lachlan, I mean, how does that affect how you’re dealing with the Chinese right now? I mean, clearly, even though you do have other areas of important interests to discuss, whether the Chinese will negotiate with good faith with you has always been a issue.
MR. TONER: Well, Elise, first of all, let’s go back to what Ambassador Locke and others have said. His time in the Embassy – he made the decision to leave the Embassy, as we said yesterday, to pursue a law degree, to reunite with his family, and to relocate. After that, it became very clear, first to the press and then with our own conversations, that he’s had a change of heart.
It’s unclear why he’s had that change of heart.
QUESTION: Did some of the change --
MR. TONER: I haven’t had those conversations with him. I’m not privy to them, so I can’t explain it. I can just say that we’re engaged with him going forward and trying to work out where he is in his own mind.
QUESTION: But do you find that the Chinese are still willing to work with you in terms of finding a suitable arrangement for him? Because, I mean, it sounds like from what he’s saying – and he said it to us and some others – that the threats continued even after he left the Embassy. Once he made it to the hospital, he didn’t feel like he was in a safe environment.
MR. TONER: Again, I just think – as Ambassador Locke and others have said, we’re – it’s apparent that he’s had a change of heart. We’re going to work with him going forward, and that’s going to obviously --
QUESTION: But also you’ve --
MR. TONER: -- that’s also going to obviously involve a dialogue with the Chinese authorities. But speaking more broadly, I just would go back to the fact that the S&ED is going forward. The Secretary spoke this morning. There’ll be various meetings going on tomorrow; obviously it’s nighttime there now. This is an important – it’s a complex relationship with a lot of different aspects. Both countries recognize that it’s in our own national security interests to work together on a slew of common issues and we’re going to continue to do so, but at the same time, address human rights issues.
QUESTION: You said it’s going forward, but can you say it’s affected the atmosphere, at least, of the talk?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I – it’s – first of all, again, I’m not there so I can’t tell you how – what its effect has been, really, on the atmosphere. But I just would put it back in the framework of what I just said, which is that we’re always raising human rights issues in our dialogue with China.
QUESTION: What would be the process for Mr. Chen to seek asylum if he wished to?
MR. TONER: Again, that’s something I’m just not going to get into discussing from this podium.
QUESTION: Why not?
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. TONER: Well, first of all --
QUESTION: Is that policy?
MR. TONER: -- we’re not sure, in fact, what his intentions are, what his goals are, now that he’s had a change of heart.
QUESTION: I think he’s made pretty clear what his goals are. He said that he wants Secretary Clinton to take him back on a plane with her. I think that there’s no doubt what he --
MR. TONER: It’s clear that he’s had a change of heart --
MR. TONER: -- it’s clear that he’s had a change of heart. We’re having conversations with him, but I’m not going to prejudge those conversations, and I’m certainly not going to speculate from this podium – again, in Washington, on how this – on any possible outcome.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate. I – but, you must have general policies that must be followed for someone to --
MR. TONER: We do. And --
QUESTION: -- apply for asylum.
MR. TONER: -- in fact --
QUESTION: And in this case, how would that work?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to talk about this particular case. Ambassador Locke spoke to this in one of the interviews he gave earlier today. You cannot achieve political asylum unless you’re first outside the country you’re trying to flee.
QUESTION: But isn’t it that you have to --
MR. TONER: That is – that’s generally the --
QUESTION: Yeah. So you would have to --
QUESTION: So (inaudible) U.S. Embassy, you are outside of the country. Is that correct?
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: Certainly it’s not an Embassy.
MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of political asylum and what it involves and the -- if we need --
QUESTION: Like, who can apply from this --
MR. TONER: -- a broader briefing on that, we can get that for you.
QUESTION: Mark, did Ambassador Locke drop the ball when he invited Chen in last Thursday, so close to these talks? I mean, would you rather if he hadn’t had him in? Could he maybe not have him in next week?
MR. TONER: Again, I think many senior officials, including Ambassador Locke himself, have addressed this. I’d just point you to their comments. We acted in a lawful way, but also in a manner that’s consistent with our own national values. I think we’ve exhausted this topic, but anything else on this?
QUESTION: Yes. Do you know if the topic of his – if the topic of Mr. Chen’s going into the Embassy and then leaving it has come up in any of the S&ED sessions?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.
QUESTION: And just to go back to my original question, do you – you simply don’t know if you have any kind of guarantees that you’ll be able to see him?
MR. TONER: Again, I know it’s our desire to meet with him tomorrow or the next day – in the coming days. We’ve obviously been in phone conversation with him, but I can’t speak to whether we will have access to him. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Well, why not? Is he under Chinese custody?
MR. TONER: I just don’t know. Elise, I just don’t know. We spoke to him several times by phone today. We spoke to his wife in person, but I don’t know about tomorrow (inaudible).
QUESTION: But is it your understanding that he is or is not in Chinese custody?
MR. TONER: My understanding is that he’s in the hospital.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you have to go through the Chinese to see him?
MR. TONER: I don’t know.
QUESTION: No, but – that wasn’t my question. I understand he’s in the hospital. But is he under – I think it’s a perfectly legitimate question, whether he’s under Chinese custody or not?
MR. TONER: Again, I – he’s in the hospital. I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t – again, this is something that’s happening in Beijing. They’re addressing it there, and I think I’ve exhausted what I’m going to say on this today.
Do we have anything else?
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: What – how do you read the comments by Russian officials today regarding preemptive strikes on – possible preemptive strikes on missile defense installations and continued distrust of the U.S. missile defense plans in Eastern Europe?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve seen some of these reported comments by Russian military officials. We’ve said many times before, there’s no reason for Russia to take military countermeasures to missile defenses that will not affect the strategic balance between the United States and Russia.
Now we’ve – this is a common refrain to anyone who’s followed this issue, but we’ve made clear for many years now that there’s no intent, desire, or capability to undermine Russian strategic deterrent.
QUESTION: Why has your message failed, then? If you’ve made clear so many times and yet we have this constant almost saber-rattling from the other side, what is it that you’re failing to do?
MR. TONER: That’s a question, frankly, you’ll have to ask the Russians because we’ve been very consistent in our message and our willingness to cooperate on missile defense.
QUESTION: Are you alarmed or concerned by these comments?
MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re just going to redouble our efforts to seek common ground on this and to seek understanding.
QUESTION: Usually when I redouble my efforts, I do it because I’m concerned about something, sorry to say here. Are you alarmed or concerned that the Russians said they would preemptively strike --
MR. TONER: No, I would just say we’re – I would just go back to the fact that --
QUESTION: -- a U.S. installation in Eastern Europe?
MR. TONER: Sure. Sorry. I didn’t mean to cut you off. I would just go back to the – my initial point, which is that this is – this cooperation on missile defense has been something that we’ve been engaged on and committed to for a number of years, so we’re going to continue those efforts.
QUESTION: But after – what was it – 45 years of Cold War, and now it’s been over two decades since, talk of military strikes on one another, is this really helpful? I mean, you don’t – you wouldn’t go around threatening military strikes on Russian military sites, would you?
MR. TONER: Look, I’m aware of this kind of rhetoric being thrown around. I would also just point you to the fact that President Medvedev also addressed the meeting that was taking place in Russia – in Moscow, and he expressed confidence that despite differences, we’re going to be able to resolve those differences on missile defense. So --
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. TONER: I don’t have a date certain on that. I think we’re just going to continue the hard work on it.
Anything else? Yeah.
MR. TONER: Right. Actually, thanks for noting that. We didn’t address it, but I think it took place yesterday, where the North Korean sanctions committee yesterday imposed new sanctions as well as tightened reinforcement – or enforcement, rather, of existing sanctions on North Korea. This was obviously in fulfillment of its – of the request made by the Security Council on April 16th in response to North Korea’s failed satellite launch. As you all know, that satellite launch was in serious violation of multiple Security Council resolutions, and this committee’s measures, we believe, constitute a serious and credible response to that launch.
QUESTION: How many entities or individuals were sanctioned – were designated by the committee?
MR. TONER: Three North Korean companies – again, you’re talking about, first of all, that this is a heavily sanctioned country to begin with, so part of the calculus here is to not only seek new entities to sanction but also strengthen, as I just said, enforcement of existing sanctions. But I believe they designated three North Korean companies that are deemed exceptionally critical to facilitating North Korea’s elicit activities.
QUESTION: Our reporting out of the UN the day before yesterday said that the United States and other countries had, in fact, proposed designating 40 entities, and what you seem to have come up with is three in the end. Is that not less than you would’ve liked?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I can’t speak to what was the goal here, but all I can speak to is what the sanctions committee has spoken to or has issued sanctions against. And that was these three Korean – North Korean companies, one of which is the Green Pine umbrella organization, which has a large impact on the designation of a large number of lesser firms. So I, frankly, don’t know what your reporter was getting at. Perhaps some of these lesser firms are part of that umbrella organization. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Can you read out the three North Korean companies with particular name?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if I have them in front of me. Other than the Green Pine umbrella organization, I don’t have the other names. We’ll get those for you. But you can also go to the UN.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on North Korea’s possible nuclear test?
MR. TONER: I really don’t – nothing to point to, I mean, other than the rumors that we’ve heard in the press and elsewhere. I obviously can’t speak any intelligence that we might have on this, but just the President, the Secretary have all said that North Korea has a clear choice in front of it, and if it continues its bad behavior, it’s just only going to further isolate itself.
Yeah. Sure, Scott.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- please? What can you tell us about the arrest of 20 people in Macedonia for the murder of five people near the capital? The interior ministry in Macedonia says the – some of these people who were arrested fought with the Taliban against NATO troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So if you could tell us if the United States has any information on radical Islamic threats against Macedonia.
MR. TONER: Right. I don’t have a lot of detail. I know our Embassy in Skopje is obviously following it closely and has – and issued a statement about the arrests. I don’t know these individuals, whether they’ve – the allegations made against them. I do know that yesterday morning, a number of arrests were made in connection with, as you mentioned, last month’s horrific murder of five individuals. And obviously, as I said, we’re following the investigation as it moves forward. But we would just say that any suspects for these terrible murders, regardless of their identities, ethnicities, or religious affiliations, receive – we would ask that they receive due process under the law and – ultimately to ensure that justice is served.
Yeah. Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: In Egypt, the military council announced today that they are inviting the Carter Center and embassies to send monitors to monitor the presidential elections, and they are willing to transfer the power before the end of June. Are you satisfied with this position?
MR. TONER: Am I --
QUESTION: Is the U.S. satisfied with this --
MR. TONER: Well, this is along the timeline that they’ve mentioned before, handing over power to an elected civilian government by July 2012. This is something that we note and obviously welcome. It’s a reiteration of their previous statements and it’s an encouraging sign. But what’s really important is that the Egyptian people have a credible, transparent electoral process so that they can make the right decision for the presidency.
QUESTION: Given the treatment of NDI, IRI, and the other NGOs in Egypt, would you encourage the Carter Center or other NGOs to go there to monitor the elections?
MR. TONER: Again, the status of NGOs in Egypt is something that’s still very much under discussion. You know where we are on these organizations, the value that they have, the role that they play – constructive role in a democratic society. And we certainly want to see an NGO presence restored in Egypt. So certainly we would be encouraged by these words about the monitors.
QUESTION: Yeah. But I don’t – it doesn’t go to my fundamental question, which is: Would you encourage them to go there? I mean --
MR. TONER: I would – again, I would just say that we’re still working with the Egyptian Government trying to resolve issues surrounding the status of NGOs.
QUESTION: So you --
MR. TONER: So, understanding that that dialogue’s still ongoing, we’ll take a step-by-step approach.
QUESTION: So that means you haven’t decided then whether you would encourage them to go or not, or whether you would discourage them from going, given the prosecutions earlier this year?
MR. TONER: I think we’re going to continue to work with the Egyptian Government to clarify the status of NGOs before we talk about monitors on the ground. But generally, obviously, we consider electoral monitors to be an important and positive component.
QUESTION: As you may know, the ROK Government has been hoping to develop ballistic missiles with a longer range. Currently, it can develop ballistic missiles with any longer – with any longer range than 300 kilometers. What’s your position on the issue?
MR. TONER: What’s our position on --
QUESTION: The – South Korea’s push to develop ballistic missiles with a longer range one.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we are strongly in support of the defense of South Korea, and that goes without saying that we seek to work productively and constructively with South Korea on meeting their security needs. But I don’t have a particular comment on that story.
That it? Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: One more --
MR. TONER: Oh, go ahead, Matt. That’s okay.
MR. TONER: Well, she does need to receive – our understanding is that she needs to receive proper treatment immediately. I don’t know – I’m not going to judge where that should take place, only that it should take place.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:26 p.m.)