12:51 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Friday at the State Department, a Lach-less Friday. Anyway, welcome. But I just have a couple of things to mention at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions.
First, I wanted to note that Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will be attending the Organization of American States General Assembly June 3rd through 5th in Cochabamba, Bolivia. And this is an important part of our vision for a free, prosperous, and democratic hemisphere. The General Assembly is a high-level annual meeting of the OAS member-states that allows for constructive dialogue and is a key part of our multilateral engagement with the hemisphere.
Secondly, I did also want to note that Nancy Lindborg, who is the USAID assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance, is in Yemen this week, June 1st through 3rd as part of an international delegation. Assistant Administrator Lindborg will join officials from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the European Union, the League of Arab States, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sana’a to highlight the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and to encourage the international community to provide additional humanitarian aid and economic assistance that’s necessary to meet the needs of the Yemeni people.
That’s it. Matt.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just on the first one.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: On the OAS.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: If it’s so important, why isn’t the Secretary going?
MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary is obviously already on a trip, and –
QUESTION: Latin America is less important than –
MR. TONER: Not at all.
QUESTION: -- prancing around the Arctic Circle?
MR. TONER: As you well know, Matt, the Secretary’s made – I don’t have it on the top of my head – many, many visits to Latin America, and will make, I am sure, many more.
QUESTION: Was there reason about her skipping this because it’s in Bolivia?
MR. TONER: No. There’s no issue here. She had already planned to take this trip to Europe as well as – well, to Europe and then – and Roberta Jacobson is attending on our behalf.
QUESTION: As far as Secretary when she’s in Oslo, is she planning to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi while she will also be in Oslo to receive her Nobel Peace Prize? Do you think – are they going to meet, or is she – Secretary going to attend her ceremony?
MR. TONER: Goyal, I’m not sure – frankly, I don’t – there’s nothing – there’s no planned meeting. I’m not sure, frankly, that the visits overlap. I would have to check on that. So – but there’s no meeting planned.
QUESTION: Can I ask another?
MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead, Goyal.
MR. TONER: You’re talking about a film festival in Washington, D.C.?
QUESTION: Right. At the University of Maryland. That’s right.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: And there was a big reception last night at the Indian Embassy hosted by the Indian Embassy. And this festival also co-sponsored by the Government of India. My question is that as far as U.S.-India cultural ties are concerned, what some of these film stars are asking that U.S. should issue more visas for arts or artists so more and more people-to-people and cultural ties can be between the U.S. and India.
And finally, also they were complaining that some of the filmmakers – there is a ban against piracy in the U.S. on English – American films – against American films. Nobody can make any copies. But when Indian films are – questions here, you can find copies and copies and piracy among Indian films. Why they are not treated in the same way as English films?
MR. TONER: Well, in answer to your first question, we obviously have a very robust people-to-people or cultural relationship with India. We certainly want to see that grow and solidify in the future. Obviously, Indian culture is very popular among Americans, and vice versa, I would wager. And in any way we can facilitate that exchange, we certainly would support that.
To your second question about piracy, I don’t have the laws in front of me in terms of intellectual property. I would assume that we would as stringently uphold the laws against piracy on Indian films – or American films, rather – forgive me – on Indian films – piracy of Indian films as we would on piracy of American films. I know this is something that the American film industry feels very strongly about.
QUESTION: On China?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: These reports out of China that a government official has been arrested for spying for the United States, was arrested earlier this year. Do you have any – have you seen those reports? Any reaction to them? Have you been in contact with the Chinese about this case?
MR. TONER: We’ve seen the reports. We don’t have any comment. I think you saw the Secretary also declined to comment on them. And I don’t know that we’ve had any contact with the government on it. I can check on that, but I’m doubtful.
QUESTION: Just one more question on India.
QUESTION: Can we stick with --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Let’s stick with –
QUESTION: -- something with a little bit more broad interest to --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- more than one person? Syria.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: Sure thing. In fact, thanks for bringing it up. As you probably all know, the Human Rights Council met today in an emergency session in which they condemned in the strongest possible terms the massacre in Houla and reiterated their calls – its calls, rather, for the Syrian Government to cease violence in all its forms, including the use of heavy weapons in population centers. So it was a very clear message that was sent: The killing has to stop, and those responsible for the horrific acts in Syria must be held accountable. And I believe that vote was 41-3.
QUESTION: And do you have any message for the three?
MR. TONER: I think it would along the lines of the message I gave yesterday and the message others have given over the past week, which is that it is time to join the international community to work with the Syrian opposition and on behalf of the Syrian people to end the violence there.
QUESTION: Ambassador Ford’s Facebook posting of the – today of the new – of satellite imagery from before the Houla massacre and afterwards, is that – is that Facebook posting part of this messaging to these three and others who may be reluctant to act interventionally?
MR. TONER: Well, Camille, I think you know we’ve been utilizing Ambassador Ford’s Facebook site to show some of these images, not specifically to Houla but elsewhere, to illustrate in very clear and stark terms how the Syrian regime is using heavy weaponry on population centers. We want to send that message to the Syrian people first and foremost so they can see what their government is doing, but certainly it’s equally important that the international community see these images as well.
Goyal, are we on Syria, or are you --
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: The Russian president denied that Russia is sending – shipping weapons to Syria or taking any sides in the conflict there. Do you buy this denial?
MR. TONER: Again, you’ve probably all seen the Secretary’s remarks on this very issue earlier today. She said about regarding any arms shipments, there’s been a very consistent arms trade coming from Russia to Syria over the past year. She said that this continuing supply of arms from Russia has in fact, we believe, strengthened the Assad regime. That needs to cease.
QUESTION: Have you seen the appeals court ruling on the MEK giving the Secretary four months to make a decision on them or remove them from the --
MR. TONER: Matt, I just was aware of it as I came down, so we’ll try to get you more on that.
QUESTION: You don’t want to predict what your answer is going to be?
MR. TONER: I would never want to do that.
QUESTION: Do you want me to predict it for you? Are you going to say: That’s nice, but I’m not going to comment because it’s a pending legal matter? Is that what you might say when you – when the great brains in L have gotten together? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Let me go ahead and get more for you on that.
QUESTION: On the – back on the Syria thing?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: It’s pretty clear that Russia is still kind of supporting them, however tacitly. It seems kind of more overt now. What in these negotiations – what is the U.S. doing to put pressure on Russia to kind of join this international call against the Assad regime? I mean, all it seems thus far is that there’s some sort of talking going on and it’s not really producing any tangible results.
MR. TONER: Well, as you’ve seen from public comments from Ambassador Rice in New York as well as the Secretary, we’re trying to set out in very plain terms what the possible scenarios are that we see for Syria and how it’s vitally important that the Security Council act, speak in one voice, on Syria. We’re all aware that – of those within the Security Council who have not stood up for the Syrian people, for the Syrian opposition, and against the violence that’s being perpetrated by the Assad regime.
So we’re going to continue to make that case. The Secretary said this morning that she was going to reach out to Foreign Minister Lavrov. And again, I think our message is very clear that, as Kofi Annan said, Houla was a tipping point and it’s time now to decide whether we’re going to support the Annan plan and in doing so put direct, unified pressure on Assad to comply with the Annan plan, or whether we risk a further deterioration of the security situation and all-out war, a civil war.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You used the word “tipping point” or the phrase “tipping point” once again; but this happened a week ago, and the only thing that’s tipped seems to be that the expulsion of some minor or in a few cases some senior Syrian diplomats from countries. In fact, that the situation on the ground seems to be getting worse, or at least staying the same. There are new – evidence of new massacres.
So I asked the other day the tipping point for what? More inaction? I mean, it does nothing – I don’t see what’s – I don’t see anything different now than I did before --
MR. TONER: It crystallizes, Matt, the stakes involved here for everyone. And I think that was the message that you’ve heard from New York, from the Secretary, which is that we want to see the Annan plan work. To do that, we need the Security Council to put absolute, cohesive pressure on Assad to comply with it. And so we’re looking to Russia to use its influence to push Assad into complying with that plan. That’s the best way forward here.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem to --
MR. TONER: But it doesn’t seem --
QUESTION: -- be the tipping point for the Russians, because they’re saying the same thing that they’ve always been saying.
MR. TONER: But I guess what – you can use whatever adjective you want. I mean, a wakeup call, a tipping point. But clearly the massacre in Houla was a shocking testament to what the Assad regime is capable of.
QUESTION: It may have been a shocking testament to what the Assad regime is capable of, but I don’t see how it was a tipping point or a wakeup call to anyone who wasn’t already onboard. No one seems to have changed their positions.
MR. TONER: Well, that’s what we’re trying to do now. We’re trying to make it very clear to all members of the Security Council that they need to act now to convince Assad to go along with the Annan plan.
Yeah, in the back, and then to you.
QUESTION: Under the hypothetical assumption that Russia and China do join the kind of resolution that the UN Security Council does speak with one voice and still says to adhere to the Annan plan, it’s pretty clear at this point that the Assad regime has no intention to do that. Is the plan still to allow the full 90 days for that plan to – before declaring it officially dead, even though unofficially it kind of is?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, you’re very right in that without the regime’s compliance with any of the aspects of the plan, then the plan is not being fulfilled, so its chances for success are obviously hampered. And in fact, the security environment is of concern. In fact, the Secretary spoke this morning of the bravery of the monitors who are on the ground, led by a Norwegian general, the risks that they’re taking to do their jobs in the face of ongoing violence.
It’s – I think we’re already consulting within the Security Council. We’re going to continue to do so in the coming days. We’re going to work outside of the Security Council. We have a member of the Treasury Department traveling to Europe and other capitals to talk about ways to strengthen our sanction regime against Syria. We’ve got a meeting of the accountability group – the Friends of Syria accountability group that’s going to take place in Washington next week. And so we’re going to continue to work both within the Security Council, within the UN, and outside the UN to continue to bring pressure to bear.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, have you been looking at the possibility that the Assad regime could resort to the use of chemical weapons, which he reportedly has?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You said are we concerned?
QUESTION: Have you been looking at this possibility that he might resort to use --
MR. TONER: I mean, without getting into detail about intelligence matters, we are concerned about those weapons and we are monitoring their location.
Yeah. Go ahead. In the back.
QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Rice mentioned United States may need to take an action with allied country without UN resolutions. But Defense Secretary Panetta said he couldn’t imagine without – to take action without the resolutions. So which ones did U.S. Government spoke --
MR. TONER: Well, look there’s no – absolutely no daylight between what Secretary Panetta said and what Ambassador Rice said. Ambassador Rice was laying out three possible scenarios. Obviously, the one we want to see go forward is the Annan plan. We want to see that be successfully implemented. But then she very clearly laid out the other possible outcomes if we don’t get Security Council support.
In terms of military action in Syria, we’ve been very clear. We don’t want to – we don’t view further militarization as the right way forward. That said, we never take any option off the table.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the chemical weapons for a minute? You said that you were monitoring them closely. How exactly are you monitoring--
MR. TONER: I’m not going to answer that.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: But nice try. Yeah. Go ahead. Yeah.
MR. TONER: Have they responded to – oh, about the --
QUESTION: The reasons for why he was --
MR. TONER: The reasons why he was – we’ve not. Actually, I sought an update on Dr. Afridi’s case. We’re still seeking clarity on what those new charges – where they came from and what, in fact, they mean. It hasn’t changed our basic position, which is that we think he’s being unfairly, unjustly held. And what he did was in Pakistan’s interest, as well as our own, which is to take down one of the biggest mass murderers of the 21st century.
QUESTION: And do you have any information on the charges that he had some links with terrorist organization? Because Lashkar-e Islam have denied that he --
MR. TONER: I saw those news reports. Again, we’ve sought clarity on these new charges from the Pakistani Government. As far as I know, we’ve not received any response, but it doesn’t change our position, which is we feel that he should be set free.
QUESTION: And do you have any update on the negotiations that you’re having with Pakistan on reopening of routes?
MR. TONER: Ongoing.
QUESTION: How long will you continue to seek clarity while this doctor is under constant threat of being stabbed in prison?
MR. TONER: Well, we’re obviously very concerned about his welfare. It’s something that we’ve conveyed, obviously, from the highest levels of the State Department. The Secretary spoke about this. We also are raising it bilaterally through our ambassador, Ambassador Cameron Munter, who I believe met with the foreign minister just a day or so ago and raised this issue again. We’re being very clear that we’re concerned about his welfare.
QUESTION: This is just one minute.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: This is a guy who’s not an American citizen, who was accused of working for the CIA and was sentenced to 33 years in prison for it, correct? Or at least that was the initial story.
MR. TONER: That’s – right.
QUESTION: That was the initial story.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: So I’m curious as to why you don’t – and you’re expressing concern. So why are you not expressing concern about this guy who’s reportedly was working – who’s not an American citizen, who’s Chinese, who was allegedly working for the CIA in China who’s been arrested. Why do you have no comment on that, and yet you have plenty of comment on Dr. Afridi?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if I have plenty of comment on Dr. Afridi. Our position on him is that he’s being unjustly held. He should be set free.
QUESTION: What about the guy in China? Is he being unjustly held?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any comment on it. I don’t have any details.
QUESTION: Do you know --
MR. TONER: I don’t have any information. No.
QUESTION: Does this – can you say – does this building know anything about this case?
MR. TONER: I can only speak for myself, and I have no comment.
QUESTION: Well, that doesn’t answer my question. Do you know --
MR. TONER: I have no comment, and that’s where I’m going to stay.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, sir, on India. On Sunday, the history will be repeated of the past. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrations will be back on the streets of India against corruption or corrupt politicians in India against the ruling Congress party.
My question is what they’re asking again, same thing, that international community should help the Indian people, not the Indian Government, as far as bringing the black market money, trillions of dollars sitting outside of India, and while in India, Indians are so poor or no energy, no food, nothing. I mean, they are suffering because of the corruption among these corrupt politicians. What U.S. is doing about those, as far as transparency concerned --
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) money in the Swiss banks and other banks around the globe?
MR. TONER: Well, Goyal, in terms of Indians’ right to – the rights of Indians to protest peacefully over corruption or whatever they see fit to protest over, that’s well within their rights, and we support that. That’s part of a functioning democracy. And indeed, we do view India as a functioning democracy, a strong democracy that has the institutions to look at these kinds of matters internally, domestically, and to address them.
QUESTION: May I – just one more to follow quickly. What people are saying, really, that the ruling party has not sent, or no politician – corrupt politician has gone to jail in India so far because what the ruling party may be saying of President Manmohan Singh --
MR. TONER: Can I just stop and say --
QUESTION: -- who to send to jail --
MR. TONER: You’re trying to get me to talk about what’s an internal Indian political dynamic, and so I would just refer you to the government.
QUESTION: Well, the government is not responding or saying anything because – who they sent to jail, because all, most of them are (inaudible) corruption.
MR. TONER: Goyal, I think I’ve addressed your question.
QUESTION: Do you have any update --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- on the situation in Honduras? I understand the DEA has opened an investigation into the incident, and I’m just wondering if you know why and if the State Department has also opened its own investigation.
MR. TONER: Sorry, you’re talking about the situation with the --
QUESTION: The DEA and the Honduran police with the State Department --
MR. TONER: Right, right, right.
QUESTION: -- helicopters.
MR. TONER: I am aware that obviously, there’s an ongoing government investigation by the Government of Honduras into this matter, and I’m also aware that there’s a separate DEA investigation, but I don’t have any more details beyond that.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about a State Department – a separate State Department investigation?
MR. TONER: No, I don’t believe so. Let me just check very quickly here. No. As I said, the Government of Honduras is undertaking an investigation, and also the Drug Enforcement Administration. And so we support these investigations, but we’re not doing a separate one.
QUESTION: If I may follow up on this, because New York Times reports today that during that counter-drugs operation, two State Department helicopters – that’s the way they mentioned – they described them – two State Department helicopters were involved. I was wondering if – I mean, if you could confirm that. How do – how is it that they describe those helicopters in those – what does it mean?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, this is part of our – and I believe the article lays this out.
QUESTION: I think Toria laid it out last week.
MR. TONER: As did Toria. These were State Department helicopters. This is part of our whole-of-government approach and our assistance to Honduras and the rest, frankly, of Central America. We’re not – obviously, law enforcement alone can’t mitigate the threats to citizens’ security in the region, but we do support law enforcement efforts to ensure the security of Hondurans.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to what you said yesterday in preview of the emergency law in Egypt being let – going – expiring?
MR. TONER: Well, you saw the Secretary spoke to this.
QUESTION: I didn’t.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Sorry. Never mind if she’s already spoken to it. She trumps you unfortunately, so --
MR. TONER: That’s quite all right. Is that --
QUESTION: I got one more.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Does anyone else? They can go ahead of me. You are aware that next week, the State Department is hosting an intersessional meeting of the Kimberley Process?
MR. TONER: I am.
QUESTION: Yes, you’re right up on top of it. A statement came out in your name, right?
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) That’s right.
QUESTION: Yes. You are also aware that Zimbabwe is a member of the Kimberley Process? You will also be aware that there are provisions in U.S. law that permit the Administration to deny visas to Zimbabwe officials if they are coming --
MR. TONER: And your next question is whether we’re going to grant those visas to the Zimbabwean officials?
QUESTION: To the Zimbabwe delegation to come to Washington for the Kimberley Process.
MR. TONER: And my answer to you will be we don’t discuss visa issues in public.
QUESTION: Well, the – I understand that, but do you actually have an answer?
MR. TONER: Well, that’s going to be my answer.
QUESTION: Have they RSVPed?
QUESTION: I think --
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that there’s – that they intend to attend this conference.
QUESTION: Then – yes --
MR. TONER: I can check on that.
QUESTION: -- they do intend – I am --
MR. TONER: But we --
QUESTION: My question does not have anything to do with visas. My question has to do with whether or not the Zimbabwe delegation will participate at the Kimberley Process meetings in Washington next week.
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have details of whether, in fact, they’re coming; whether they’re going to be granted visas. I’ll try to get you an answer on that.
QUESTION: Okay. So my question – when you do have an answer – I am not asking you about visas, but I want to know whether they will participate in person at the meeting next week.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: All right?
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Nothing to do with visas.
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question and scrub it of any visa references.
Anything else, guys? In the back.
QUESTION: There have been some reports that – from a satellite image on Iran. Iranians have destroyed some buildings at the Parchin explosive test center. Do you have any concern on that? They are kind of just deleting the evidence of the test.
MR. TONER: Well, again, as I’ve said so often during this briefing, the Secretary spoke to this very issue in Oslo earlier today, where she said – and I paraphrase – we’re looking for concrete actions, we’re looking to Moscow for next steps in the P-5+1 program – or P-5+1 – did I say Moscow?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: You just did.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: You’re looking for Moscow to --
MR. TONER: No, I said we’re looking to Moscow.
QUESTION: Oh, you’re looking to the meeting in Moscow?
MR. TONER: To the meeting in Moscow.
QUESTION: You don’t want the Russians to deal with the Iranians --
MR. TONER: No, no.
QUESTION: -- on their own? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: No, we are looking --
QUESTION: You just want them to deal with the Syrians on their own.
MR. TONER: We are looking to Moscow where the next meeting of the P-5+1 will take place, and we’re looking to see concrete progress.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)