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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 4, 2012


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • NIGERIA
    • American Victims of Plane Crash in Lagos / Consular Assistance
  • PAKISTAN
    • Common Interest in Combating al-Qaida
    • GLOCs / Government-to-Government
    • Dr. Afridi Case
  • SYRIA
    • Annan Plan / Syrian Humanitarian Forum in Geneva / Sanctions Working Group in Washington / Secretary Clinton's Meetings in Istanbul / Annan Visit to Washington / Russian Role / Assad Regime / al-Qaida in the Region / Iranian Role
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Mujahedin-e Khalq
  • SYRIA
    • Nonlethal Assistance
  • LIBYA
    • Militia Taking Control of Airport
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Settlement Issue / Engaging with Partners
    • Journalist Uri Blau / Privacy Act Waiver
  • DEPARTMENT
    • NEA Assistant Secretary Position
  • ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN
    • Violence / Minsk Process
  • EGYPT
    • Trial of NGOs / Freedom House Employee Sherif Mansour
    • Diplomatic Transition
  • CHINA
    • Anniversary of Tiananmen Square / Human Rights Issues


TRANSCRIPT:

1:05 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Anyway, welcome to the State Department. I will take your questions.

Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t really have anything big but, just quickly, can you update us on whatever you know about American citizens who were on that plane that crashed in Nigeria?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure, Matt. I mean, first of all, let me say that we extend our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones on June 3rd, yesterday’s plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria. And I do want to note that Deputy Secretary Burns as well as a U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley, gave their personal condolences to the Nigerian Foreign Minister

Olugbenga Ashiru and his delegation during the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, which, in fact, opened today here in Washington, DC.

Just to get to your question, we can confirm that there were some U.S. citizens on board that flight. We’re still, frankly, unable to provide a firm number. Once we’re able to, we’ll get that to you all.

We – I can also say that our consulate in Lagos is working both to notify the next of kin and also provide any appropriate consular assistance.

Yeah. Go ahead, Andy.

QUESTION: Couple on Pakistan, if I may?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Firstly, there are reports out of Pakistan just relatively recently that three or four U.S. diplomats that were detained – possibly detained in Peshawar and the motor convoy that also had a large number of weapons in it. I’m just wondering if you have any information on that?

MR. TONER: I’ll take the question. I don’t have any update or information.

QUESTION: And the second is, the Pakistan foreign ministry this morning had a pretty – our time – had a pretty strong statement about the drone strikes again, calling them a violation of sovereignty. I’m wondering if you have any reaction to that restatement of their position, and B, if you can update us on the talks on the GLOCs and whether or not that’s hit a wall, given that this --

MR. TONER: Right. Well, Andy, I can’t talk specifically about classified operations. Speaking more broadly to your point, as we’ve said many times, we share a common interest with Pakistan when it comes to going after al-Qaida, and then seeing a stable Pakistan emerge in the region. As we’ve said many times, Pakistan faces a strong core threat from these extremist groups, and we’re committed to cooperating with them in counterterrorism.

Speaking on the GLOCs, I don’t have much to update on that. We do, obviously, continue to talk to the Pakistani Government. I would just note that, in cooperation with the Department of Defense, Secretary – Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides did engage – did speak with Pakistan’s finance minister over the weekend on this issue.

QUESTION: Anything more on what exactly – I mean, was he outlining for them the potential benefits of reopening these lines?

MR. TONER: I just would say that he once again made our case on why we believe it’s in everyone’s interest to reopen these lines of communication, and we’re going to continue to make that at various levels, that case.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Why would the Deputy Secretary speak to the Pakistani finance minister about this?

MR. TONER: They actually have regular conversations, and I think that – this was another in --

QUESTION: Yeah, but why on this? This has nothing to do with Pakistani finance ministry.

MR. TONER: It has nothing to do with – well, I mean, it has everything to do, frankly, with our relationship with Pakistan. It’s --

QUESTION: So basically, they’re demanding cash.

MR. TONER: Not at all, Matt. What we’re --

QUESTION: Well, why would the finance ministry be involved? This is a military thing.

MR. TONER: This is a government-to-government conversation, and it’s an issue at which we’re engaging the Pakistanis on, as I just said, at a variety of levels.

QUESTION: Right. But Deputy Secretary Nides is the deputy secretary for management and the budget.

MR. TONER: Which is why I said in cooperation with the Department.

QUESTION: And the Pakistani finance minister – or finance ministry deals with Pakistani finances.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: So I just don’t understand why they’re – why these two would be talking about this.

MR. TONER: Well, you’ll note that I said that – obviously, in cooperation with the Department of Defense -

QUESTION: Unless it’s is a shakedown, I don’t get it.

MR. TONER: -- this is a point that we’re making, an argument that we’re making at every level – the importance of reopening these lines of communication.

QUESTION: All right. The other thing is that last week when there was still nothing going on on this, you claimed that there was progress being made. Today, you’re not even claiming that.

MR. TONER: Sorry. I can reiterate diligent progress.

QUESTION: I asked you at the time – yeah?

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Diligent progress? Okay. And then the last one really, really quickly: You opened that whole thing on – without talking about the drone strikes by saying we share a common interest in going after al-Qaida – you share it with Pakistan. Are you absolutely, 100 percent sure you share that interest with Pakistanis?

MR. TONER: Matt. We’ve been over this issue many times.

QUESTION: Yes or no? It’s just an easy --

MR. TONER: Yes. We believe that we have a shared struggle with Pakistan in going after these extremists.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Still on Pakistan.

MR. TONER: Said, is yours on Pakistan or no?

QUESTION: On Syria.

MR. TONER: No, let’s stay on Pakistan and then we’ll make our way around.

Sorry, Cami.

QUESTION: Is there – have you gotten any clarification yet on the Afridi case?

MR. TONER: We have not. We’ve not received any updates. And our position’s very clear.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. In another court case in Pakistan on Saturday a court acquitted four alleged accomplices of Faisal Shahzad, The New York Times bombing accused. Have you heard of that and do you have a reaction?

MR. TONER: I did see that, that that court decision from the – you said from the weekend. I don’t have a lot to say. I mean, we’ve – obviously, we want to see the Pakistani Government pursue prosecution in these kinds of cases. But obviously, it was a legal process that took place and a legal decision or a court decision was made.

QUESTION: So –

QUESTION: Syria? Can I ask one?

MR. TONER: Do you have a follow up?

QUESTION: Yeah. So if that was a court process, and you don’t have any reaction to that, what is the significance of such strong reaction in Dr. Afridi case? Do you see a resemblance? Do you think that --

MR. TONER: No. Not at all. I mean, the Dr. Afridi --

QUESTION: Do you think that --

MR. TONER: The Dr. Afridi – which I said our position’s been very clear that we don’t think there were ever any grounds to hold him, much less convict him of any wrongdoing. In this case, this is a case where the Government of Pakistan brought these individuals to trial for their complicity in this case. There was a trial that took place. Unfortunately, they didn’t win that trial, but we think it’s important that they did pursue justice.

QUESTION: But with these two back to back verdicts – when you are already talking about these GLOCs and other issues, do you think there is some kind of signaling going on from Pakistan?

MR. TONER: It’s our understanding that the case proceeded according to Pakistani law.

QUESTION: You say that there’s no grounds for the conviction of Afridi, but are you really clear what the grounds were? I mean –

MR. TONER: Well, you’re absolutely right, Cami. We’ve yet to receive – there was this weird reversal, if you will, last week on which they said, in fact, he was tried – and again, I’m going just off of news reports – because of his ties to the Pakistani Taliban. And we’ve yet to receive from the government, to my understanding or to my knowledge, a clear explanation of that shift.

Yeah. Go ahead. You were on Pakistan, too.

QUESTION: Yes. I am Jo Biddle from AFP (inaudible) subject.

MR. TONER: Hi. Nice to see you. Yeah.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask going back to the drone strikes this morning, we understand that among those who were killed, there was a sort of senior propaganda official from al-Qaida, Abu Yahya al-Libi. We haven’t managed to confirm. I just wondered if you could talk to that.

MR. TONER: No. I really can’t. I can’t confirm that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria.

QUESTION: Syria.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Jill.

Sorry. I’ll get to you next, Said. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: We now know that Kofi Annan will be meeting the Secretary on Friday.

MR. TONER: You do. Right. That’s correct. They spoke earlier today, and in fact, he is traveling here on Friday.

QUESTION: All right. We seem to be at a point which we’ve been discussing where basically everybody – allies at least, the U.S. – believe that the Kofi Annan plan isn’t working. So what’s the purpose of the meeting? Is this to get some type of final – could this be a turning point in that Kofi Annan plan?

MR. TONER: Well, there’s actually quite a lot going on with Syria this week in terms of international efforts. Tomorrow we’ve got the Syrian humanitarian forum, which is meeting in Geneva, and that’s going to be an opportunity for us to look at ways to enhance our humanitarian assistance to those suffering in Syria. We also have a meeting here in Washington of the sanctions working group. That’s a Treasury lead on that, obviously, but that’s going to look at ways to tighten, strengthen, better coordinate sanctions among the Friends of the Syrian People Group.

And then on Thursday, obviously, the Secretary’s in Istanbul where she’ll also have meetings. I think the final participant list in that is obviously to be determined by the Turks, but it’s going to be a similar group that met in Paris.

And then, of course, as I said, Kofi Annan will be here on Friday. So there’s a lot going on here. You know the broad parameters from the Secretary’s conversations and press availabilities over the weekend that she has been talking both to Kofi Annan as well as to Foreign Minister Lavrov about bringing more pressure to bear on Assad, on the regime to comply with all six aspects or components of the Annan plan, including a democratic or political transition.

QUESTION: Are you getting anywhere with the Russians?

MR. TONER: We’re engaged. We – obviously, this is – as the Secretary’s made very clear, they have a very – excuse me – a very significant role to play in trying to persuade Assad – using their influence, trying to persuade him that the Annan plan offers the best way forward. But that’s not where we’re stopping. We’re obviously going to continue our work both within the UN Security Council and with the Friends of the Syrian People to continue the political and economic pressure. So this is a multi-front battle, if you will, to keep pressure up on Assad.

QUESTION: But Mark –

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to listen to the speech made by the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad? It doesn’t seem like someone who is amenable to departing sort of amiably.

MR. TONER: I can’t get into his head, if you will. I don’t know what his thoughts are. That was a speech that he made to a primarily domestic audience. It was remarkably out of touch with the reality of the situation on the ground in Syria, especially his comments regarding the massacre in Houla.

QUESTION: But Mr. Assad keeps insisting that there are foreign elements that are really sort of stoking up the fires of violence and sectarian violence in this case. Is it – do you have any information on who is really – who are the players in the Syrian conflict?

MR. TONER: Said, this is – I mean, this is the regime’s narrative almost from day one when this was very clearly, at its inception, a peaceful democratic movement. This has been their narrative all along that there are outside forces at play here, conspiracy theories, outside antagonists, when all along we know very well that this is a grassroots movement, a peaceful one still, remarkably, in the face of all of the violence that’s been unleashed upon them – by the Syrian people to express their democratic – core democratic aspirations. So this narrative that you’re hearing from the Syrian regime time and time again is frankly, as I said, out of touch with reality.

In the back. Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, I just want to follow up.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: No. I’ll go back to you –

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on this.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: But all serious analysts from the region, they say and they can see and they detect that there is a sectarian element now for the conflict that is going on with Iraq, Iran on the one –

MR. TONER: One that’s been stoked by the Assad regime. I mean, this is their narrative. This is what they’re pursuing in terms of trying to promote this false narrative of what’s going on there.

QUESTION: So you believe that this is actually a false narrative that the sectarian conflict is not there?

MR. TONER: Again, Said, what we’ve seen there is the narrative by Assad, by his regime, that this is all outside aggressors trying to stoke civil war within Syria. We saw a peaceful movement all along on the part of the Syrian people that was met with unremitting violence by the Assad regime. We’ve always said that we want both sides to refrain from violence, but we’ve also seen members of the Syrian opposition, while the vast majority remains peaceful, take up arms in defense. We’ve also seen acts of terrorist groups that are looking to exploit the chaos and the instability that exists there.

So there is this brew that exists right now in Syria that is, frankly, alarming, but it is one that was mixed by the Syrian Government and the Syrian regime.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. TONER: In the back. And then I’ll get to you, Cami.

QUESTION: Just, with all due respect, Mark, two weeks ago you actually stood at that podium and talked about how this brew in Syria – there were possibly outside groups operating there. I asked the same question at that time. Who are these players that you are referring to?

MR. TONER: Well, again --

QUESTION: We’re talking about al-Qaida in the region? That’s --

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve seen terrorist acts that have been claimed by al-Qaida. I think from our perspective, we’ve seen al-Qaida try to exploit – these are the kinds of environments that they seek to exploit. But as I said, let’s make very clear that this is a situation of Assad’s own making.

Yeah. Go ahead, Cami.

QUESTION: And on the Syrian Rebels Front, which is apparently a new now opposition military coalition, which announced today it was opening up a new front. So now how concerned are you – it seems as if the armed opposition has become much more organized than the unarmed opposition. How concerned are you about that?

MR. TONER: Well, we are concerned by, as you said, by this further militarization of the situation in Syria. Absolutely we want to see this – we want to see the violence end. We want to see the ceasefire in place. We’ve said it’s understandable that some of these groups have reacted in defense of their loved ones, their families, their homes, but we don’t believe this is the right way forward. What we want to see, as you mentioned in your question, a Syrian opposition that – or rather, the Syrian opposition come together, become more cohesive. They did have a very positive meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria. They’re going to have another meeting in the next week or so and try to strengthen their own cohesiveness and organization.

QUESTION: Mark, just a --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: -- I mean, you, from this podium today and days past, you also warn about the infiltration of terrorist elements, as you call them. Are you concerned that some of your allies may be financing and arming these terrorist elements? And would you call on them to stop doing that?

MR. TONER: We’ve said that we obviously are providing nonlethal assistance to the opposition. Other countries are making their own sovereign decisions, but by and large, the Syrian opposition movement – the movement by the Syrian opposition, rather, has been largely peaceful and is directed in one direction only, which is to have a democratic transition in their country.

QUESTION: And finally, Mark – I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s okay, Said.

QUESTION: The Secretary alluded that she spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov about utilizing the Yemeni model for Syria. Are the Russians on board and accepting that model?

MR. TONER: Well, I think it’s – as she said, it’s a conversation we continue to have with the Russians. I think it’s clear that the Russians have a role to play in moving us beyond the current situation, moving us towards that transition. They can also just as easily prolong the current situation by continuing to side with the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Mark, can I ask you --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. Let’s go with Matt, and then we’ll --

QUESTION: -- two quick things to --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you say in response to Cami’s question about this new rebel group that you don’t want to see the opposition, whether it’s armed or unarmed, becoming more cohesive and better organized?

MR. TONER: No, no, no, no. I said we don’t want to see a further militarization. We want to see the Syrian opposition be --

QUESTION: So it’s a good thing that this --

MR. TONER: The political – no. The political opposition, Syrian opposition, we want to see them become more cohesive. We do not support --

QUESTION: But you want to see the Syrian --

MR. TONER: We do not support these armed groups --

QUESTION: So you want to see the rebel – the Free Syrian Army, the rebel groups, you want to see them less organized, more disorganized? Is that right?

MR. TONER: We simply don’t believe that that’s the way forward here.

QUESTION: Well, what – is there something wrong with them organizing so they’re a more cohesive unit?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the military aspect of this?

QUESTION: Yeah, what she was asking about.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And you seem to suggest, no, as if --

MR. TONER: I did not --

QUESTION: -- we want them to be loose, disparate, and without any organization, so they’re all running around with guns.

MR. TONER: We want to see an end to the violence.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: We want to see --

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be better, though, if they were organized? If they were a cohesive unit, like you had in Libya? So there was a – some kind of a command structure that could turn on and off?

MR. TONER: First off, this isn’t Libya. Secondly --

QUESTION: No, I know. But --

MR. TONER: This is – we’re seeking a political transition here in accordance with the Annan plan. Further militarizing this to more armed groups is not the way forward.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then the second thing is, you keep talking about this false narrative – the narrative is out of touch with reality, meaning that they are outside forces at play. Why – I’m confused, because I thought your whole line, and everyone else’s whole line from this podium, is that there are outside forces at play. You’ve accused Iran, specifically, of aiding and abetting the massacre --

MR. TONER: Well, but that’s not at all the narrative that Assad is pushing out. He’s pointing to unnamed sources of instability from the outside --

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s only his --

MR. TONER: -- when in fact Iran is --

QUESTION: So only your allegations of there being outside influence are the only ones that count. His are not – his can be dismissed?

MR. TONER: His are – yes. His can be dismissed. There aren’t – this is a homegrown Syrian --

QUESTION: But you do agree that outside forces are playing a role with – at least Iran is, on the side of Assad?

MR. TONER: And again, what we’ve seen here is, as I said, as the instability has grown, there have been terrorist groups who have sought to exploit the situation. But that’s not the Syrian opposition, clearly.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: On the Syrian opposition, the Russians have actually talked with them off and on. Members have come to Moscow. Have the Russians shared any impressions or information on what they see or – because there are some who say that the Russians might be, might be, looking at some post-Assad possibility and scoping it out for who could be in the opposition that could --

MR. TONER: Well, we would certainly hope that the Russians’ position is evolving regarding the opposition and regarding their ability to successfully lead a political transition. That’s where we want to get at.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: On that accusation that Iran is backing Syria, what’s being done to address that, if anything?

MR. TONER: In terms of – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Their troops are training the Syrians who may – are allegedly, allegedly, of course – who are responsible for the massacre or that there’s financial backing or anything like that. Is that – is the UN or is the U.S. addressing that, or are we still just focused on the Annan plan for the next 60 or so days?

MR. TONER: Well, again, this is something we’ve talked about obviously publicly from various podia, and we’ve been very clear that as Assad loses allies in the region, becomes further isolated – in fact, his only ally and friend remains Iran. And we did have, in essence, a mea culpa from and Iranian – senior Iranian defense official a couple weeks ago, where they said we’re there, we’re helping the Syrians – the Syrian Government deal with this situation. So this is concerning.

We, at the same time, are working to make Iran – or to help Iran address its – or the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. So we’re making very clear that Iran is not playing a constructive role in the region or internationally.

QUESTION: Did you have --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. There was a U.S. appeal court ruling on Friday that ordered the State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to delist the Mujahedin-e Khalq from a terrorist designation. Could you comment on that?

QUESTION: Is there anything to say more than the Taken Question that was put out?

MR. TONER: No. (Laughter.) Thanks, Matt. I mean, you – we are – we’ve been – again, you saw the Taken Question that we issued on Friday about this. We would certainly – we’ve got the court’s decision. We’re in the process of reviewing it and we would certainly comply with any decision. But also, as the Secretary has made very clear, we are looking – that the closure of Camp Ashraf and the move to Camp Hurriya would also be a strong factor in any decision.

QUESTION: Two --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Two follow-ups on Syria, actually.

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: The first quick question: Do you exclude the rebels who are armed in Syria from your aids you are sending to the region; for example, communication devices or something and nonlethal aids that you are sending to the region? Are you excluding to the rebels from that aids – the armed rebels?

MR. TONER: Yes, I think I understand your question. Yes, we’re providing nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.

QUESTION: But I mean --

MR. TONER: Communications equipment. That kind of --

QUESTION: Yes, you are providing nonlethal assistance to the opposition. This un – armed rebels group also can provide this nonlethal equipment from --

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: You are excluding Free Syrian Army from your aids?

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: And on the meeting, Madam Secretary’s on Thursday with Turkish counterparts, do you expect anything new from this meeting? For example, Senator Lugar has suggested that to create some kind of safe zones for rebels within Turkey.

MR. TONER: Well, let’s let them meet. I’m not going to preview anything that might come out of that meeting on Wednesday.

QUESTION: Sorry --

MR. TONER: Or Thursday, rather. Excuse me.

QUESTION: Just to clarify his question, so any rebels that are being – that are receiving arms, you are also – the United States is not giving help to – logistical --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Let me try to clarify this. We’re providing nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition: communications equipment, that sort of stuff. We’ve talked about this many times before.

QUESTION: The nonlethal Syrian opposition.

QUESTION: But if some of that opposition --

MR. TONER: Correct. The nonlethal Syrian opposition.

QUESTION: -- is receiving arms from other people, are you then excluding them from – are you excluding that portion of the opposition from help?

MR. TONER: We’re giving it to the peaceful Syrian opposition.

QUESTION: Why? Why the Syrian Free Army is not getting --

MR. TONER: Again, Michel, I think we’ve been very clear that we don’t support further militarization of the situation in Syria. That’s been a core precept here.

QUESTION: But they are a part of the opposition.

MR. TONER: It’s understandable that they’ve – what’s that?

QUESTION: They are a part of the opposition.

MR. TONER: Well, they’re a part that has taken up arms against the government, and that’s not something we’re supporting.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: Is there anything you can give us on the cabinet reshuffle in Japan, a new defense minister, former TV commentator, nonpolitician?

MR. TONER: No, really no comment. It appears to be an internal political process, so I don’t have anything to say on it.

QUESTION: Libya?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of what’s happening at the airport there in Tripoli?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s still somewhat unclear. But we would just urge all sides to maintain calm and exercise restraint, and also to engage in the political process to address any grievances they might have. We’ve seen press reports about this militia that has apparently taken control or had taken control of part of the airport.

QUESTION: Do you have anything aside from the reports?

MR. TONER: No, not at this point.

Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Different issue?

MR. TONER: Sure. Oh, Libya. Go ahead, Camille.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout of Assistant Secretary Posner’s visit to Libya last week?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I’ll try to get you some background or some more information about it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Mark, tomorrow marks the 45th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the settlement process keeps going on, the fragmentation of Palestinian communities keep going on and so on. And do you look at the – my first question is: Do you see this coming year perhaps as the year of the state for the Palestinians? And if not –

MR. TONER: The year of the?

QUESTION: The year of the state for the Palestinians. Or will – are you – are we likely to see that the U.S. Government will take a stronger stand on the expansion of settlements?

MR. TONER: Well, again, you know where we stand on the settlements issue. We want to see constructive steps by both sides to get back to the negotiating table. As we’ve said many, many times, it’s only through direct negotiations that any kind of comprehensive settlement can be reached here. There was this exchange of letters earlier this month. I think the Secretary and others have said that that’s a positive sign. It was encouraging. We want to see them continue to work towards that – to that end and to get back to the negotiating table. There’s no substitute, as the Secretary said, for direct talks.

And so we want to see this process continue. Certainly David Hale is engaged with his partners in the Quartet at getting them back to the negotiating table. We’re working closely with other regional partners, including Jordan, which has been so instrumental thus far. And our goal remains the same.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up question on the freedom for press in Israel. The Israelis have – they arrested Uri Blau – he’s a journalist with the – a reporter with Haaretz – because he reported on the targeted assassination of Palestinians by the Israeli military. Do you have any comment on that, considering that for a while you were talking about the freedom of the press and press day here and press freedom day there?

MR. TONER: Said, frankly, I’m not aware. I’d have to find out more about the particular case. I’ll try to do that.

QUESTION: Can we stay on this for just one second? Did you – was there ever an answer to my question last week about this American woman who – from St. Louis who was deported and was told by the – or allegedly told by the embassy they couldn’t help her because she was not Jewish?

MR. TONER: Right. I did do some research. I thought that somebody had gotten back to you on that. If they haven’t we will get in touch with you. We’re somewhat limited by your old friend, the Privacy Act waiver and the fact that we don’t have one for this individual. But my understanding is --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) managed to put out a press release about this.

MR. TONER: Yes. As you know, these individuals can do that, but unless they’ve signed a Privacy Act waiver, we’re limited in what we can say about that particular case. I do believe that she was, as you said, stopped at the airport. She did speak to consular officials who offered her appropriate support, but beyond that, I can’t comment.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Wait, wait.

MR. TONER: Oh, sorry. Go ahead. Finish up.

QUESTION: Just one. Has – have you guys ever said who’s taking Jeff Feltman’s job on – at least on an interim basis?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I think we put something out last week. I thought we did. Did we not issue something that – Beth Jones is going to serve in acting capacity.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mark, the Secretary is in Armenia now, and as far as I know, she already met the leadership of the country. I was wondering if --

MR. TONER: And already gave a press conference as well. I’m sorry. What was your question? I’m sure I’ll just refer you to that.

QUESTION: So do you have a readout?

MR. TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Do you have any readout or any information about --

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I have a very brief readout, but we’ll have the transcript to shoot very shortly. So I just would – I would refer you to that.

QUESTION: Thank you. A quick follow up would be just a few hours before her airplane landed in Armenia, Azerbaijan again violated the ceasefire on the frontlines, and a few Armenians are reported killed. I was wondering if this building is following developments on the frontline and this growing belligerent rhetoric and violation that come from Azerbaijani side. Thank you.

MR. TONER: What I can tell you is that she actually was asked about this. She certainly raised our concerns, made very clear in her public and as well as her private comments, and will make it equally clear when she visits Azerbaijan later this week, that there is no military solution, there is – and that the violence has to cease on both sides and that both parties need to recommit themselves to the Minsk process.

Yeah. Go ahead, Tejinder.

QUESTION: A senior official of the Indian ministry of external affairs late Monday afternoon called a director of this NGO who’s working on this Kairi case and said the ministry of external affairs has sent letters to Department of Homeland Security and Department of State but have – no replies have gone back. Can you confirm you have received a letter from the ministry of external affairs India?

MR. TONER: My apologies. I cannot. I will seek to confirm that. Beyond that, we don’t have anything new to say about this particular case. I think --

QUESTION: You cannot confirm you have received those letters?

MR. TONER: I can’t, so I’ll ask about it.

QUESTION: But you will --

MR. TONER: I’ll check.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. TONER: Yep.

Yeah. Sure. Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Tomorrow there will resume the trial of the NGOs, and yesterday, as a matter of fact, an Egyptian American former member of Freedom House – he went back and he was arrested at the airport. Do you have anything about this trial? Do you have any assessment of what’s going on or is it still a political issue or it’s a legal issue? What’s your assessment?

MR. TONER: Well, indeed, as you said, the next hearing in this ongoing trial will take place June 5th. We continue to make very clear our objection to what we view as these politically motivated trials and urge the government to stop trying these individuals and instead resolve any outstanding issues that they may have on this matter in a government-to-government basis. And in the meantime, we’re going to continue, obviously, to work with civil society in Egypt. We believe that this is an important component to a successful democratic transition for Egypt.

But speaking also to the fact that we are aware that former Freedom House employee Sherif Mansour did return to Egypt, and as you noted, was arrested upon his arrival. I can’t comment too broadly on it due to privacy concerns, but I can say that we stand ready to provide any appropriate consular assistance if requested.

QUESTION: Did he let this building know before he left that he was planning to do that?

MR. TONER: Well, I know that there – we did have some conversations with Freedom House, but indeed, I would just refer you to his lawyer for his actions or what he may have done, the conversations he may have had prior to his departure. We clearly can’t prevent any American citizen from traveling abroad. All we can do is make very clear the situation that we believe will transpire on the ground.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is the existence – or the presence of the Embassy assistance? Do you have any idea about logistics of that?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about in terms of this individual?

QUESTION: Tomorrow. Yes, yes. This individual and tomorrow’s trial.

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t have a lot of detail. I mean, as I said, this individual is obviously due any consular assistance that we can certainly provide, and we stand ready to provide that consular assistance. With respect to the trial, we’re going to continue to make our concerns very clear to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: Yes. Another related question.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: It’s about the democratic transition in Egypt. Do you think that the verdict was announced on Saturday helps or hurts the democratic transition of Egypt?

MR. TONER: That’s truly a question that’s better directed to Egyptians, the Egyptian Government. That’s not something for me to really speak to. It was – the Secretary spoke to this over the weekend, and I’d just refer you to what she said.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What – beyond the statement you put out yesterday, what communication, if any, have you had or are planning to have with the Chinese Government on the anniversary of Tiananmen?

MR. TONER: Well, as you said, we – and duly noted, we did put out the statement yesterday noting the anniversary. Speaking more broadly, we – as we say many times, we always use that anniversary to highlight our ongoing concerns about Tiananmen, and we’ve long called for a genuine effort to examine the events of that period and believe that China should provide a free discussion – or allow, rather, a free discussion of the events surrounding Tiananmen. With respect to more broadly, we continue to raise human rights issues at every – whenever we do meet with the Chinese.

QUESTION: And over those years, have you developed – has the Department developed its own idea about the number of casualties that occurred on the day and how many political detainees remain in custody?

MR. TONER: Again, these are matters that we discuss frequently with the Chinese Government. I’m not going to go beyond what I just said.

Is that it?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)

DPB # 101



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