1:13 p.m. EDT
12:01 briefings. Anyway, welcome to the State Department. Before we take your questions, at the top I do want to mention that we are troubled by reports of violence in Moscow during the protests on May 6th and by the arrests that have been carried out over the last three days. We are disturbed by images of police mistreatment of peaceful protestors both during the protests and after detentions.
As the Secretary said earlier today, we want Russia to fulfill its own potential, and that means giving people the chance to freely express themselves. At the same time, we’re also concerned by reports of violence perpetrated against law enforcement by a small group of protestors, and we call on all parties to refrain from violence and strongly urge the authorities to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and speech.
So with that, I’ll go to your questions.
QUESTION: Does this bode ill for the beginning of President Putin’s third term?
MR. TONER: I don’t think so. Again, the Secretary mentioned this in her conversation, I think, with CNN earlier today, the fact that in the past three years we’ve made a significant – we feel significant - progress on our bilateral relationship, New START being just one example. We certainly look forward to seeing President Putin at the G-8 summit in a few weeks.
And – but also, we’ve always made the point that we’re going to continue to raise human rights issues when we have concerns, and this is one of those cases.
Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Mark, do you recall if at the time when the violence erupted in London whether you guys issued a similar statement? Like several months back there were casualties and fires and riots and so on --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I apologize, Said. In context, you’re talking about some of the riots that took place in London a few days ago?
MR. TONER: Or a few months ago?
QUESTION: Three months ago. I’m just curious as – is that – like you would do that, let’s say, if it was in London or Paris or something like that?
MR. TONER: Well, again, you’re right in that we don’t --
QUESTION: Or is that in a political context?
MR. TONER: -- necessarily issue statements, Said, in every instance. In this instance, we feel that there was violence on the part of authorities and security forces as well as on the part of protestors, which I believe I mentioned here. But certainly in the case of London, I’m not sure we did issue anything, but certainly the British authorities were very proactive in addressing some of their concerns while that was taking place.
QUESTION: All right. So your position – your statement is on a position, a political – basically a political position as a result of the elections where some people were unhappy, they went out on the street, and then there were quelled rather forcefully?
MR. TONER: I think our position is simply that – and this is something that we express universally, not just in the case of Russia – is that when protestors go out into the street to voice their aspirations, democratic aspirations or other aspirations – political, economic aspirations – that they should be treated with respect and that they should have the right to voice those aspirations.
At the same time, as I think I just mentioned, we also don’t want to see any violence on the part of protestors as well. It’s incumbent on them to protest peacefully.
QUESTION: And lastly, did you issue any statement on the appointment of Medvedev as the prime minister?
MR. TONER: We have not commented on that, no.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Sure, we can go to India.
QUESTION: Secretary’s visit – what agenda she has in India, and also at the same time she was also in Bangladesh. I understand, I think, Secretary is pushing India again about the Iranian oil supply to India, if she is offering any alternative to India? And also at the same time, we are still stuck as far as U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which was supposed to help India as far as India’s energy needs are concerned.
MR. TONER: Goyal, I would just commend you to the transcripts that have already gone out. I believe we’ve already issued the transcript of the Secretary’s press availability with Minister Krishna* in which she addressed many of these questions. She said that we do share the same concern; fundamentally, this is about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That’s what’s behind this move to urge countries, likeminded countries, partners around the world, to move away from any dependence on Iranian oil. It’s to increase that pressure on Iran, as the Secretary mentioned. It’s that pressure that we believe has been instrumental in getting them back to the negotiating table. So she mentioned that she has seen progress. She also mentioned that Carlos Pascual, our energy envoy, is headed out to India to continue those conversations.
QUESTION: Was there any discussion as far as China’s threat or presence in the Indian Ocean or any --
MR. TONER: I’m not aware, and I’m not sure I would give a complete readout of their conversations. You’re talking about China’s --
QUESTION: Threat in the region, and also presence in the Indian Ocean, yeah.
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that that topic came up. Yeah, go ahead in the back, please.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m --
MR. TONER: Are we still on India? I’m sorry. Were you finished with India?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Secretary’s meeting with the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. There are some reports that says that she discussed the issue of FDI in India with the chief minister, whereas the chief minister’s office says that was not discussed. Can you clarify to us was this an issue taken up by the Secretary in her meeting with the chief minister of West Bengal?
MR. TONER: You know what; let me take that question and I’ll get back to you if I can get a better readout. I simply wasn’t briefed on that meeting.
MR. TONER: Okay. Yep.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you could talk about counterterrorism cooperation with the British and the Saudis in terms of finding out more information about the suspected plot.
MR. TONER: Elise, I’m going to disappoint you because I don’t have a lot more to say beyond what’s already been said by John Brennan and others from various agencies within the government. This was a result of close cooperation both within the government but also abroad with security intelligence partners overseas --
QUESTION: Including the Saudis?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to confirm --
QUESTION: It seems that the Saudis were instrumental --
MR. TONER: I’m not going to confirm with whom we were directly cooperating on this, just to say that it’s a success and that the appropriate people were involved.
QUESTION: Well, the plot emanated from Yemen. Could you talk about cooperation with the Yemenis in this regard?
MR. TONER: I can talk broadly about our cooperation with Yemen. We’ve – we do have close counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen. That’s undertaken clearly with the full knowledge and support of the Yemen Government – Yemeni Government, rather. And we continue to work with them closely and collaborate closely on the full range of counterterrorism issues.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, on Yemen. So you feel that the level of cooperation with the present Yemeni Government is as robust as it was with the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh?
MR. TONER: We do. And we do have confidence that President Hadi is cooperating fully with us in our counterterrorism efforts.
QUESTION: Given these recent terrorist incidents which are being unearthed in Yemen, do you believe that the center of terrorist activities is gradually moving from Afghanistan-Pakistan region to Yemen, or Af-Pak is in – still the center of those activities?
MR. TONER: I think I would just refer to what other experts far more knowledgeable about this topic than I am have already said, which is that we’ve dealt major blows against al-Qaida over the past two years. But remnants of al-Qaida do remain resilient and do remain a threat, whether they be in Yemen, in Pakistan, or elsewhere, and we’re going to continue to pursue those threats as they – and they’re going to continue to make efforts, as we saw, to strike the U.S. and other partners.
MR. TONER: He did, in a staff meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, announce that he’d made the personal decision to depart Pakistan this summer. This is at the conclusion of his tenure, I believe, at the end of two years, which is a perfectly normal period for an ambassador to Pakistan. I do note that Secretary Clinton did praise his efforts and his performance earlier today in an interview that she did in New Delhi and also noted that she understood his decision.
QUESTION: One more, Pakistan.
MR. TONER: Sure -- is this Pakistan or --
QUESTION: No. This is on Colombia. So you --
MR. TONER: We’re all over the map, but go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask about Yemen. Go back to Yemen (inaudible).
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Okay. Let’s reverse.
QUESTION: Very quickly --
MR. TONER: Lalit tricked me on that one. He quickly – so quickly switched to Pakistan.
QUESTION: No problem. I just want to hear from you, what is your assessment to the – sort of the transition in Yemen? What is going on in terms of transition, how the U.S. is interlocuting with its Yemeni counterparts?
MR. TONER: You're talking about the --
QUESTION: The political front.
MR. TONER: -- Gulf Cooperation Council’s plan --
QUESTION: Right. Right. Exactly.
MR. TONER: -- that was laid out in President Hadi --
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I think we – obviously this is a political process. We saw the referendum that took place a few months ago. It was actually well received by the Yemeni people. There was high voter participation in this process. That continues. I don’t have an update to give you today except that we believe they are making progress in the next steps along that – along the GCC plan, but I’ll try to get you more information.
QUESTION: So one last question on this. So do you feel that the tension and the violence in Yemen has ebbed so much or diffused so much that you can go in conducting your business and supplying arms and training and so on at the present time?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about our counterterrorism cooperation?
MR. TONER: I mean, our counterterrorism cooperation, even through Yemen’s darkest days, frankly, continued, has continued. That’s – and we always said that it wasn’t incumbent on and it wasn’t a relationship with one person. This is a relationship that we have with the Yemeni Government. So we share the same goals here. And that cooperation has continued, remains intact, and remains fairly robust. But again, I’ll try to get you a more comprehensive and detailed assessment of where we are in the political process. But I think just to characterize what I’ve already said is that we believe President Hadi has kept this process moving forward, and we have confidence in him.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, Michel. No, I’m – actually, Michel, I did have him over here – raised a question about Colombia if we are changing.
QUESTION: Sorry to drop the topic, but --
MR. TONER: It’s okay.
QUESTION: -- there’s a – there are reports coming out of Colombia that an attorney there has given the United States Embassy a document that alleges the escort involved in the Secret Service flap, Dania Londono. Basically that the document alleges that she was, in fact, aware that the men were Secret Service agents, and they also alleged that Londono was hired to pay other escorts to obtain information about the President’s security plan. Is the Administration aware of these reports coming out of Colombia?
MR. TONER: Frankly, I personally am not. But even if I were, I think, given that this is an investigation ongoing with possible legal ramifications as well, that I’d refrain from comment. But we’ll see if we have any more information for you.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: I don’t. We’re just getting – the details were just emerging. I’m aware that there was this accident. We certainly express our deepest condolences to the family of the inspector who passed away in the car accident as well as to the people of South Korea who lost, obviously, a fellow citizen; he was South Korean. We also understand that another inspector from Slovenia was injured. We certainly wish him a speedy recovery. But I’d just refer you to the IAEA for any additional details that they may have.
MR. TONER: I didn’t get it. I was trying to get in touch with USUN. Certainly, this is a closed-door session.
QUESTION: Then he spoke to reporters afterwards.
MR. TONER: And I know that Ambassador Rice was also planning to go out and take some questions as well. So I’d just refer you to her comments.
QUESTION: On the same issue, Kofi Annan just came out and said this is really the last opportunity to prevent Syria from delving into total chaos and civil war and violence. First of all, do you concur? And second, yesterday, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, was basically saying that we are doing fine, we’re deploying the monitors, that by the end of this month, all 300 of them will be completely deployed, and in fact, they do conduct their work quite effectively. Do you concur with both statements?
MR. TONER: Again, I haven’t seen Kofi Annan’s full transcript of remarks, so it’s difficult for me to cherry-pick any comments and put them in the proper context. Having said that, I think we’ve been very clear-eyed about our skepticism about how this plan is being implemented or lack thereof by the Syrian Government. It’s – one thing is clear is that it’s a good plan. It’s just the implementation of it, as I said, or the lack thereof by the Syrian regime that’s really put us in this situation where we’re in today.
That said, they have moved forward; there are monitors on the ground. We’ve always said that we believe the most robust presence as possible that we can get in Syria is a good thing. It can have a positive effect. It can help put more eyes and ears on the ground to report on some of the things that the Syrian regime is doing against its own people. And certainly, that’s going to have a good and solid impact. That said, we’re also very clear that monitors are not enough. We need a political transition in Syria. And until we have that, we’re going to continue to see violence, I think.
QUESTION: Yeah. Mark, we all see the spike in violence in Syria and we see the government’s heavy hand in quelling the demonstrations. But there has also been a marked increase in insurgent attacks, if you will, on Syrian regulars, Syrian army posts. In fact, much of it has like al-Qaida thumbprint, with suicide bombings and others and so on. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t know anything – you asked me about this last week, and I said that certainly we’re concerned --
QUESTION: But it seems to be increasing.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we have seen reports of attacks over the past several weeks. We’ve said before that we do have concerns that al-Qaida might be taking advantage of the political instability that’s in Syria. That’s what it does. It feeds off of instability in many of these places. That said, we’ve also seen the opposition has been, in large part, peaceful in the face of unremitting violence, but there have been elements within the opposition, as we all know, that have struck back against the regime in defense, if you will, of their own people.
So it all speaks to the fact that we need a durable, credible cease-fire. We need the Syrian regime to comply with the six elements of the Annan plan. And then we need a political transition, because as long as the violence continues, we’re going to continue to see this deterioration of security in Syria.
Yeah. Go – sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On – excuse me – on Japan.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Assistant Secretary Campbell met with the families of some of the DPRK abductees. And during the meeting, he brought up the issue of parental abductions, and it seems that these families feel quite offended that there was an implicit link between these two issues. So can you please clarify what Mr. Campbell meant?
MR. TONER: Sure. Well, let me start off by saying that the U.S. certainly does not link these two issues. Both are important, clearly, but – and we’re going to continue to do our utmost to make progress on both. But just to take a step back, indeed, on May 7th, members of the delegation – of a delegation from Japan that included Diet members, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, as well as several family members of those abducted from Japan by North Korea, met with Assistant Secretary Campbell, as well as Ambassador Glyn Davies, Ambassador Robert King, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Zumwalt. And again, the purpose of this meeting was to discuss DPRK abductions of Japanese nationals. And in support of Japanese efforts to resolve this issue, we continue to press North Korea to immediately address Japan’s concerns and to follow through on its August 2008 agreement to conduct a full reinvestigation of the abduction cases.
QUESTION: Palestinian issue?
MR. TONER: Let’s go to Goyal in the back.
QUESTION: Just going back to Pakistan – was about Mr. Warren Weinstein’s abduction. My question was that: you got Usama bin Ladin and Mr. Warren Weinstein is still there. Are you getting cooperation from the Pakistan Government as far as his presence or his pleas is concerned in Pakistan? And that means, al-Qaida and terrorism is still based in --
MR. TONER: Well, we talked a little bit about this yesterday, Goyal, when the video actually began hitting the news cycle. We are cooperating with Pakistani authorities on this case. We’re still seeking to confirm the credibility or veracity of the video, obviously. We do call for his immediate release. And beyond that, we believe he’s somewhere in the western part of Pakistan, but we don’t have any other details.
Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Palestinian issue?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
MR. TONER: I don’t have an update. I believe David’s here. He’s obviously keeping in close contact with his counterparts, but I don’t have an update on his pending travel. I’m not sure that he’s – when he’s going to travel next. I’ll try to get an update for you.
QUESTION: Okay. So how are you conducting the talks? I mean, not negotiations but talks with the Palestinian Authority, who seems to be experiencing a tremendous crisis in terms of its ability to pay its employees. Are you aware of that?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the Palestinian --
MR. TONER: -- authorities. Well, this is an issue that we’ve talked about many times, and we believe very strongly that it’s important that the Palestinian Authority receive the funding it needs, that it’s been highly effective in institution building and also in strengthening its security services.
I do want to – while we’re on – in that part of that world, we certainly do welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement to the press that the new Israeli coalition will pursue responsible peace, and we certainly look forward to supporting the party’s efforts to achieve that two-state solution.
QUESTION: And that responsible peace – do you see it as pulling out of territories occupied in 1967?
MR. TONER: We’ve been very clear that we want to see both parties get back to the negotiating table so they can hash out all of these issues.
QUESTION: But you still subscribe to the notion that any Palestinian state should be contiguous, viable, and on territory occupied --
MR. TONER: You know very well what our --
QUESTION: I’d like to hear you say it again.
MR. TONER: -- position is, but until both parties get back to the negotiating table, we’re not going to make progress at all.
Yeah. Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Who had a – whoever had their hand up first. Go ahead, Cami.
MR. TONER: I don’t. The Secretary obviously spoke to this in some of her interviews earlier today. He’s – the Chinese authorities are working on getting him the proper documentation. At the same time, he’s continuing to receive medical treatment. And we have our ducks in a row, if you will, to – once we get him and the proper documentation, to move his – to expedite his case.
QUESTION: Staying in China, do you have any comment on the Chinese Government’s decision not to renew the visa for Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera’s English language correspondent there and Al Jazeera’s subsequent decision to close the bureau for its English channel?
MR. TONER: We know – we’ve been closely following Melissa Chan’s case, and I would just say that we’re disappointed in the Chinese Government – in how the Chinese Government decided not to renew her accreditation. To our knowledge, she operated and reported in accordance with Chinese law, including regulations that permit foreign journalists to operate freely in China.
QUESTION: Have you raised this with the Chinese?
MR. TONER: I don’t have that in front of me, but I believe we have. I’ll see if we can confirm it. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you take it? Okay.
MR. TONER: Yep. Fair question.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In Kabul yesterday, the Afghanistan Government summoned the Iranian boy for his criticism of U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership. Are you aware of the incident and how do you see Iranian’s role in the --
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of this incident. We’ve said in the past and continue to say that Iran needs to play a more constructive role in the region. All of Afghanistan’s neighbors need to play constructive roles in stabilizing and in creating a more prosperous and stable Afghanistan. It’s in everyone’s interest to do so. It’s a win-win, frankly, for the region. So we would just, as we’ve done in the past, urge Iran to play a constructive role.
QUESTION: So do you believe Iran’s role has been negative as far as Afghanistan is concerned?
MR. TONER: I’ll refrain from comment.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
MR. TONER: I don’t. Certainly, I – all along, we’ve been very clear that we’re working towards a political transition. We believe Assad’s lost all credibility, needs to step aside. But we want to see a political transition take place. We’ve been working very closely with the Syrian opposition, and in fact, to that end, I would just note that this week Robert Ford, Ambassador Ford, and Fred Hoff have invited a delegation from the Syrian-Kurdish National Council, and they’re in Washington all week.
And again, it’s part of our ongoing efforts, discussions, to build a more cohesive – well, frankly, to help the Syrian opposition build a more cohesive opposition to Assad. And as we talked about all along, that’s been an ongoing process. But as to what she’s speaking about, I just don’t have any details.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: We have a report out of Beijing that the Chinese Government is seriously considering – or the Chinese authorities are considering postponing their party congress, originally expected for the September-October timeframe by a couple of moments to the November through January timeframe. Any comment on that?
MR. TONER: I don’t. It’s certainly an internal, political process for China, so I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The Honduran president was in Washington --
MR. TONER: Here?
QUESTION: Yeah, so I was wondering – I enjoyed your statement on it, by the way – (laughter) – but I was wondering if President Lobos raised any concern about the mounting U.S. military footprint in his country, or alternatively, whether he welcomed it to grow further in the coming year?
MR. TONER: Well again, I would refer you to President Lobos for his take on all of this, but certainly we’ve had a very cooperative relationship with his government, as we’ve been very transparent about the military personnel that are in Honduras now are there at the request of the Honduran Government and are there to help Honduras deal with, frankly, a deteriorating security situation. So – but I’d refer you to him for more details.
QUESTION: How seriously deteriorating is it? I mean, would you frame Honduras as something of a failed state in Latin America right now?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to characterize it. I just know that it’s a matter of concern for the Honduran people and for the Honduran Government, so in that spirit, we’re seeking to help them get a handle on it.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) of a North Korean nuclear test?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any information on that. No.
In the way back.
MR. TONER: Yeah. It’s okay.
QUESTION: I know you say you have nothing, but I’m still going to try.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: He’s still undergoing treatment for injuries in the hospital. Why are U.S. officials being denied the ability to actually see him face to face? I know you’re – they’re in contact by phone fairly regularly, but they couldn’t even drop off flowers to a guy recovering in a hospital?
MR. TONER: Well, look, we have been, as you well note, we have been in frequent phone contact with him. I haven’t been able to confirm whether we’ve actually laid eyes or been with him today. Let’s return to the goal here, which is to get him, as per his wishes and desires and aspirations, on a plane to the United States where he can pursue his law degree. That’s where our focus is right now. We do believe that he’s receiving good medical attention and medical care while he’s in the hospital. He does have some ongoing medical issues. On our end we’re allowing the Chinese Government the space they need to get the documents that he needs to travel. And on our end, we’re trying to prepare ourselves to expedite his travel.
QUESTION: We – yesterday I forgot to ask you whether you had sought to – whether U.S. officials had sought to see him and had been rebuffed. So regardless of whether you’ve seen him or not today, have you made efforts to see him since the weekend? And have these been rebuffed?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t know that we’ve – I did try to seek clarity on your question. In my view or in my understanding, rather, we’ve chosen to speak to him by phone, not personal visits. But I’ll double-check on that. But again, our overarching goal here remains to get him the documentation he needs to travel and we’re working to that end.
QUESTION: Just so I understand, he’s coming here --
MR. TONER: Sorry, I’m looking at you but I’m looking at Said.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Go ahead, Nicole.
MR. TONER: No, no, no. She didn’t have a question.
QUESTION: No, I just wanted to ask you, he’s coming here for education purposes?
MR. TONER: That’s correct.
QUESTION: So it’s not for medical treatment.
MR. TONER: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Can you give us some detail on what these ongoing medical issues are?
MR. TONER: Not really. No, I mean it’s – I mean, I refrain from talking about his – I mean, we’ve talked broadly about the fact that he has a broken foot. But beyond that, I’m not going to get into his medical condition in any details.
QUESTION: Okay. And – understood. Could you comment on whether that ongoing medical condition could delay his departure from China beyond a few weeks or --
MR. TONER: I talked a little bit about this yesterday. It’s impossible for me to make any kind of medical assessment given my bachelors degree in English literature. But we’re trying to get him out of there as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: On Thailand, in light of human rights, I – were you aware, and is there anybody in this building that’s following the case of a 61-year-old Thai man who was sentenced to jail time for writing text messages critical of the Thai monarchy? He actually died in jail yesterday. So I’m wondering whether there’s anyone looking into what – the extent to which foul play might’ve happened with his death, and --
MR. TONER: Again, I’ve just seen preliminary reports. I don’t know that anybody’s actually alleging foul play. From what I’ve seen is that it may have been a medical issue, but I would refer you to the Thai authorities for details on that. I don’t have many more details than what I’ve seen in the press regarding his death. But we were outspoken when he was convicted in that – in saying that the United States clearly supports freedom of expression around the world. And as the Secretary’s said many times, no one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their views, whether that’s through a text message or out in the street protesting.
On that note, thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)
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