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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 5, 2012


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • CHINA
    • Air Quality Data Collection / Released by Embassies and Consulates
  • PAKISTAN
    • Sesame Street Programming / Allegations of Corruption from USAID Anti-Fraud Hot Line / Rafi Peer Theater Workshop
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • NATO Transportation Agreement Reached
  • PAKISTAN
    • Status of NATO Transportation Agreement in Pakistan
    • Drone Strikes
    • Dr. Afridi Case
  • SYRIA
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Clements / Syria Humanitarian Forum in Geneva / Additional $12.8 Million in Assistance
    • Update on Annan Plan / Secretary Meeting with Kofi Annan Friday
    • Targeted Sanctions on the IRGC
    • Ambassador Ford persona non grata / Will Continue Our Efforts for Syrian People
    • Friends of Syria Meeting on Future Sanctions with Treasury Department
  • INDIA
    • Status of Relations
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Settlements
  • ISRAEL
    • Consular Support Case
    • Uri Blau
  • UAE
    • Mr. Shaheen / Hunger Strike
  • IRAN
    • Compliance with Nuclear Obligations / Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy
  • IRAQ
    • Cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces
  • KUWAIT
    • Hamad al-Naqi
  • SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND
    • U.S. Security Assistance Program / Global Security Contingency Fund
  • NIGERIA
    • Confirm 7 American Citizens on Flight / Next of Kin Notification / Consular Assistance
  • HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
    • Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights / Supports Consensual Reforms
    • Kimberly Process Delegation / Zimbabwe


TRANSCRIPT:

1:04 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Just a quick shout out to our guests in the back, a group of Brussels-based journalists and EU civil servants are back there. How many of you? I guess a pretty small group, actually. And we also have six Serbian editors, who are part of the U.S. Embassy program in Belgrade. Is that right?

PARTICIPANT: Yeah.

MR. TONER: And they’re back there too. Well anyway, welcome.

That’s all I have.

QUESTION: Really?

MR. TONER: That’s it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, well there’s so much going on today. All right. Let’s start with clearly what is the most important issue, and that is the latest chaos between you guys and the Chinese over the most important issue of air quality.

MR. TONER: Wow. That’s the most important issue?

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m thinking that it might be the most. Have you – has the Embassy heard the – received any formal complaints about its Twitter feed of this – of the air quality, and are you planning to shut it down?

MR. TONER: Matt, we are aware at the June 5th press briefing by Chinese spokespersons – their equivalent, I guess – that they did make a statement about foreign embassies that release environmental information were violating Chinese internal affairs. You know what we do at the U.S. Embassy and other various consulates throughout China. We provide the American community, both our Embassy and consulate personnel, as well as the American community writ large, information it can use to make better daily decisions regarding the safety of outdoor activities. We do this via these PM 2.5 – I’m sorry – monitors that look at PM 2.5 pollution. And this is, frankly, something that Americans – or data or information that Americans get in U.S. cities every day.

QUESTION: All right. So you don’t think it’s a violation of the Chinese internal affairs to --

MR. TONER: We do not.

QUESTION: -- basically release a weather report?

MR. TONER: We do not.

QUESTION: No? And you don’t think that it’s a violation of the Vienna Conventions?

MR. TONER: Most certainly, we do not. I mean, again, this is a service that we provide to Americans, both who work in the Embassy community as well as Americans who live in China. And again, this is a service we’re all well aware that exists in many U.S. cities. Air pollution, quite frankly, is a problem in many cities and regions in China. So --

QUESTION: And just to wrap it up then.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And so you have no plans to stop?

MR. TONER: We do not.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on that one.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Can you tell me – does the U.S. provide a similar service in other polluted capitals --

MR. TONER: By the way, just to go back, I’m not an expert in Vienna Convention, but I’m pretty sure that this is no violation of the Vienna Convention.

QUESTION: Then you don’t think that– when was the Vienna Convention signed? What, 19 --

MR. TONER: That they had pollution monitors? I don’t think so. They probably needed them, but --

QUESTION: Does the U.S. provide similar services in other embassies in cities which might be polluted?

MR. TONER: You know what? I can take that question. I believe that we may do that. I don’t have an answer for you though.

QUESTION: Okay. If you can check on that. And do you know in China, other than the Embassy Beijing, are the similar readouts provided for sites from U.S. consulates?

MR. TONER: We do. Well, in Shanghai, the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau publishes PM 10 data and air quality readings from multiple monitors, while the U.S. Shanghai consulate publishes PM 2.5 data and air quality recordings from one monitor. So these are different – they measure different parameters and indices. In Guangzhou, again, we also have a – we also publish the same PM 2.5 data.

QUESTION: Okay. How about Chengdu?

MR. TONER: That is a good question. I would say, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know yes or are you just saying yes?

MR. TONER: But I don’t have that in front of me. If that’s wrong, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t have any problem with the Chinese doing a similar – something similar here?

MR. TONER: Not at all. But again, I mean, what we do in China is – I mean, these are different standards the way we measure this. So this is something we already provide, as I said, in many American cities. But no, we have no objections.

QUESTION: Mark, is it --

QUESTION: But why isn’t it --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I was just saying that one of the chief Chinese complaints about it is that they say that since it’s – in Embassy Beijing case, since it’s only data collected from one monitoring instrument, that it’s not very scientific and that it doesn’t get sort of – they’re claiming it as sort of specious data that’s being used to whack them. Do you think that it’s scientifically sort of valid to deliver air pollution reports on the basis of one monitor?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we admit that these are from – data from a single monitor, but this is just information that we provide to the American community so that they can make decisions based on safety of outdoor activities. But we freely acknowledge that these are single monitors.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill. Go ahead, and then I’ll --

QUESTION: Just to clarify. This has not come up before? Is this the first time they’ve ever made a complaint about this?

MR. TONER: I’ll take that question as well. They – I’m not sure whether there’s been similar, kind of, public statements about it. I don’t know.

Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Mark, a clarification on China, but not pollution related. You issued a statement on Tiananmen Square – the anniversary. Is that the – an annual thing that you do?

MR. TONER: It is something we do yearly, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. (Inaudible) from (inaudible). My question is about the media report --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Are we done with China, air quality?

QUESTION: Anything about the alleged spy? Anything new about that?

MR. TONER: No. Nothing.

QUESTION: Yes. My question is about the report of USAID cutting off funding for the Pakistani iteration of Sesame Street.

MR. TONER: Okay. Are we ready to move to Pakistan Sesame Street?

QUESTION: Yeah. That was number two. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Matt. I know you had number two.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MR. TONER: I apologize.

QUESTION: It’s fine.

QUESTION: Just my question was --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: -- the conflicting – there was a sourced report in Pakistani media – it was a matter of corruption in the theater company that was producing it. The theater company itself alleged that the U.S. simply ran out of money for it. My question is: Why, specifically whether it was at all related to the report last week that Gitmo detainees were forced to listen to Sesame Street music in their ears?

MR. TONER: Your last question first. No. There’s no relation. Look, what happened here was there’s an anti-fraud hotline that was set up by U.S. – the U.S. Agency for International Development in Pakistan. And we did receive via that hotline what we believe were credible allegations of fraud and abuse by the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, which is the workshop – theater workshop that manages the Sesame Street program in Pakistan. So we did launch an investigation into the allegations. We’ve also sent the theater workshop a letter that terminates the project agreement.

And just in case – you were asking about the scope or this allegation that we ran out of money. The initial agreement between USAID and the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop was for $20 million, of which 6.7 million has been spent as of the last fiscal quarter ending March 31st. So there is an investigation underway looking at these allegations. No one’s questioning obviously the value and positive impact of this kind of programming for children, but this is – again, as I said, this is about allegations of corruption.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: So Mark --

QUESTION: -- how much was spent? You said 6.7 --

MR. TONER: 6.7 million.

QUESTION: But – and they’re not going to get the rest of the 20 now?

MR. TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: You said 20 million a year?

MR. TONER: You know what? It says the initial agreement, so I don’t think it was an annual contract, but simply the original scope of the project between USAID and the workshop.

QUESTION: Mark, do you know whether in – at least theoretically – the United States would have the right to get that money back or to file some type of --

MR. TONER: I don’t. But let’s look at – as I said, there’s an investigation underway. We’ll wait for the results of that investigation. I’m looking at these --

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand – well, if the results of the investigation aren’t back, why are you – why have you terminated the agreement, if you don’t know that anything was actually wrong?

MR. TONER: Again, we deemed that the allegations were serious enough that we wanted to suspend or cut off the program until we were able to complete this investigation. Because we take --

QUESTION: So it’s – well, but you didn’t say suspended. You said it was terminated.

MR. TONER: -- misuse and misspending of Pakistan – I’m sorry – misspending of U.S. taxpayer dollars very seriously.

QUESTION: Well, but you didn’t say it was suspended; you said it was terminated.

MR. TONER: No, I said terminated. Sorry. A correction.

QUESTION: But – so I don’t understand. I mean, anyone can make a phone call to a fraud line and say something outrageous that there’s --

MR. TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: So what was it – what was the fraud? I mean, were they funneling this money to al-Qaida or something? What --

MR. TONER: There was – again – which is why I said these were serious and credible allegations made against the workshop.

QUESTION: Fine. But it sounds like the investigation’s over, if you decided to terminate the --

MR. TONER: The investigations still ongoing.

QUESTION: Well, then I don’t understand why you terminated the funding. If you don’t that there was something wrong, and you acknowledge that this programming is beneficial why would you --

MR. TONER: We do acknowledge the programming is beneficial, but we had what we believe were credible allegations, so rather than continue to throw good money after bad, we thought it was prudent to suspend – I misused that word again – to cut off this program --

QUESTION: All right.

MR. TONER: -- and wait for the results of the investigation.

QUESTION: By my recollection, this is the second time in probably about six months that you guys have cut off funding for this. What do you have against Sesame Street? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Look, we have nothing --

QUESTION: There was the Palestinian one and now this one.

MR. TONER: Let me be very clear that we strongly support the goal of the Sesame Street and the Sesame Workshop worldwide. These are valuable programs teaching kids worldwide values as well as math, reading skills, et cetera. This is simply two very different cases – but in the latest case, in Pakistan, concerns that U.S. taxpayer money was being misused.

QUESTION: And you can’t say at all --

MR. TONER: And this is something, by the way, we’ve been in conversations and I believe that Sesame Street – or Sesame Workshop rather – has issued a statement as well surrounding this.

QUESTION: But you can’t get in at all, even to broadly, what the claim – what the allegations were?

MR. TONER: No. Not at this point.

QUESTION: Any reaction from the Pakistani Government or different agencies?

MR. TONER: No. I’m not – no.

QUESTION: Or the children of Pakistan?

MR. TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Or the children of Pakistan? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’ve got another on Pakistan when you’re done with that.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, NATO and some of the Central Asian countries reached an agreement on transit routes to mainly bring military equipment out of Afghanistan as the drawdown continues. There is a lot of speculation that this means that you guys have essentially given up on trying to get a GLOCs deal with the Pakistanis. So --

MR. TONER: No – sure – finish your question.

QUESTION: -- is that – A, is that true, which I guess it’s not? And B, although NATO talked about these routes mainly being used to take stuff out, can they also be used to bring stuff in?

MR. TONER: Sure. Very quickly, because I know you like quick answers, this is agreements to allow two-way transit of nonlethal military equipment in and out of Afghanistan. Second question is – or answer to your second question is that this is redundancy. Basically, we want to see, obviously, the GLOCs opened as soon as possible. But this is a logistically challenging region, so we like that built in redundancy.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But, I mean, would this – are you saying that this would have been done anyway --

MR. TONER: Yes. It would.

QUESTION: -- even if you had an agreement with the Pakistanis on the --

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And how is the state of those negotiations?

MR. TONER: Those negotiations are ongoing. I don’t have, obviously, the breakthrough that we’re looking for, to report. But we believe that they’re moving forward in a positive direction.

QUESTION: The Pakistanis apparently called in the charge again over the issue of the drone strikes. Has that had any impact on the talks or the atmosphere surrounding --

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The Pakistani Government is saying that as far as drone attacks inside Pakistan is illegal and U.S. is violating the international laws and also sovereignty of Pakistan. That was from the highest level of Pakistan Government accusing the U.S. Government.

MR. TONER: We’re very much aware of the position of the Pakistan Government on this issue, but I’m not going to discuss from this podium details of any classified operations.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the Dr. Afridi case --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- have you heard anything about these new --

MR. TONER: We still haven’t. Every day I try to get more information, and they’ve – so far, we’ve not heard any kind of clarification on those claims of – that they made last week.

QUESTION: And then part two of that is, as you were with the – in the Cheng Guangcheng case, are you in any kind of regular contact with him to ensure -- basically to ensure the fact that he’s still alive?

MR. TONER: That’s a good question. Let me take the question whether we’ve had any contact or reached out to him in any way.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you.

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we have or have been able to, frankly.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Change topics?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR. TONER: Syria.

QUESTION: Mark, in every statement or publication, the opposition keeps insisting that there is no way for them to conduct any kind of dialogue with the regime. So having this kind of situation, isn’t that a recipe for continued conflict between the two?

MR. TONER: Well, before I get to your question on Syria, I just wanted to note that Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Clements, who’s of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, represented the United States at the meeting of the Syria Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, which I think I mentioned yesterday. This forum is the most recent in a series of meetings that’s designed to maintain the international community’s focus on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. And while there, she did announce another $12.8 million in assistance for those suffering from the violence in Syria, bringing the total U.S. Government humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis to just over $52 million.

Now, in answer to your specific question, Said, which was this --

QUESTION: I’m saying that --

MR. TONER: -- impasse, if you will, over – yeah. I mean, look --

QUESTION: This entrenchment of positions and so on will lead to more violence, correct?

MR. TONER: Well, as you know, and I’ve said many times from this podium, that the Annan plan talks about an end to the violence – that’s first and foremost here. We haven’t seen that yet. That’s the initial step that we really need to have in place, a ceasefire, a credible ceasefire – but then talks about a political dialogue. We believe that Assad needs to not be a part of that political dialogue, but that that political dialogue set forth by Annan would hopefully pave the way to a democratic transition. But again, initially, we need to get this – an end to the violence.

QUESTION: But when the Friends of Syria meet again, the opposition, lacking any political programs as it seems, or an agenda for the future, what do you tell them? Do you – how do you tell them to conduct some sort of a transition? They have to talk to someone to effect or effectuate that transition, correct?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I’m sorry. You’re saying to talk to --

QUESTION: I’m saying when you meet with the Syrian opposition, if they maintain behind these sort of land – line drawn in the sand so to speak --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- they’re not going to get anywhere. Why not, let’s say, say look, you have to have some sort of an interlocutor?

MR. TONER: Right. I mean, clearly we are – we remain committed to working towards a political transition, and I would say with a sense of urgency. And we give that same message to the Syrian opposition as well.

QUESTION: So how concerned are you that the Saudis are now saying they’ve pretty much lost hope in the possibility of this working, and the Saudis being a country that support arming the opposition in Syria?

MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s no surprise that many of these countries who are watching closely events in Syria, including Saudi Arabia, is dismayed by the lack of progress on the Annan plan. The Secretary’s going to be in Istanbul tomorrow – or rather, Thursday – and she’s going to meet there and then she’ll be able to discuss next steps with Kofi Annan here on Friday.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: But isn’t this Annan plan now dead? I mean, the Syrian rebels said that they’re not going to abide by any ceasefire yesterday, and --

MR. TONER: We still --

QUESTION: -- it’s not going forward.

MR. TONER: We still support the Annan plan. As I said, the Secretary plans on meeting with him on Friday – working very closely with the Russians so that they can continue to put pressure on Assad to comply with it.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t we have a Plan B somewhere?

MR. TONER: Well, as I said, these – this is not – we’re not doing this in a vacuum. We’re continuing with serious financial, economic sanctions against Assad, against the regime. And frankly, I wanted to – I kind of inadequately answered your question about the Iran and – what we’re doing about Iran meddling in Syria. And there are, in fact, sanctions in place against the IRGC, specifically targeted – and as well as the ministry of intelligence and national security – for the support of the Syrian Government and repressive actions against the Syrian people. So there are, in fact, sanctions targeted at some of these individuals.

But again, to get back to your question, this is, as I said many times, a multi-front battle. We’re continuing to press for action within the UN Security Council, continuing to press for compliance with the Annan plan, but at the same time, political, economic pressure, and that’s going to be the goal in Istanbul.

QUESTION: And what if it’s all they’re going on perhaps to try and bring the opposition groups together so they’re less fragmented?

MR. TONER: Absolutely. That’s an essential part of what we’re trying to do here. And again, we had the meeting in Sofia. There’s another meeting coming up in the coming weeks. But that’s the work of Ambassador Ford and others within this building who have conducted extensive outreach with the Syrian opposition, trying to counsel them on how to become more coherent. You’re right, it’s been a significant challenge, but partly due to the fact that – of the political reality that these – this political – this opposition is coming out of a 40-year – however many year – coma in Syria.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, is it correct that the Syrians have named – have declared Ambassador Ford persona non grata?

MR. TONER: Yes. That is correct. We have been officially notified, via the Polish Embassy from the Government of Syria, that he has been officially PNGed by the regime. But --

QUESTION: And so what does that actually do?

MR. TONER: Well, look, in most – in almost every respect, it’s an empty gesture, and this certainly isn’t going to stop Ambassador Ford from continuing his important outreach to the Syrian people. That’s – he’s going to remain our ambassador, if you will, to the Syrian people. He’s going to continue to remain – or maintain contact with the Syrian opposition. He’s going to continue our efforts to support a peaceful political transition for which the Syrian people have so bravely fought.

QUESTION: So what is --

MR. TONER: That’s going to be his focus going forward.

QUESTION: What’s the status of the Polish Embassy?

MR. TONER: I believe the Polish Embassy is still open. I don’t think they were on that list.

QUESTION: They have not been asked to leave?

MR. TONER: That’s right. That’s correct.

QUESTION: Mark, is this likely to change the status of, let’s say, the Syrian Embassy in Washington or the American Embassy in Damascus?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no. There’s no plans to change the status, other than PNGing the --

QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up --

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- to my earlier question. I mean, how do you guard against everybody that is involved, the Arab League, the United States, Russia – from becoming embroiled or drawn into a – some sort – a very violent quagmire if the flares keep flying, so to speak?

MR. TONER: Well, Said, it’s an important point you make, which is that from the very beginning, Assad has tried to make this about outside influences, and that was a narrative he continued in his speech the other day. He wants to create this kind of dissension abroad. We’ve been working diligently, seriously, to build a strong coalition of support for the Syrian opposition. And I think there is a strong platform of international support for the Syrian opposition, from the Arab League to Turkey to the EU to the United States. We’re still working diligently with Russia to try to get us all on the same page, which is to support that political transition.

QUESTION: Ambassador Ford. Where he will be next?

MR. TONER: He’s here.

QUESTION: Can you confirm if Syria Ambassador to the United States is already out of this country?

MR. TONER: You mean the Charge d’Affaires because --

QUESTION: Charge d’affaires, yeah.

MR. TONER: -- the Ambassador already moved on? Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Do you view any changes – or how do you assess the statement made by Russia today regarding President Assad?

MR. TONER: I haven’t seen the entire statement.

QUESTION: That his presence and power is not a condition (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: I think they talked about the need to comply with the Annan plan and stressed the importance of compliance with the Annan plan.

QUESTION: Do you --

MR. TONER: The one I saw, in fact, so, I mean, that would be something we obviously fully support. I haven’t seen the other --

QUESTION: They’re saying that the Assad continuation as president is not necessarily --

QUESTION: Is not a condition.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: They’re suggesting that Assad’s continuation as president is not a precondition.

MR. TONER: Is not a precondition --

QUESTION: The Russians are suggesting --

MR. TONER: No. I mean, absolutely – I mean, you know where we stand on Assad.

QUESTION: Should you see improvement --

QUESTION: Mark, could I ask you to clarify that?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Because the Secretary has indicated just in the past few days that he has to go but he doesn’t necessarily have to go as a precondition. Could you just walk us through that?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think what we’re talking about here is the need to get, first and foremost, as I said, a ceasefire, a credible ceasefire, so we get an end to the violence, but then to get a dialogue underway that points to this political transition. We’ve been very clear that we believe Assad is not a part of any kind of future in Syria. He has too much blood on his hands. But the most important thing is to get the – both sides in a dialogue moving forward. We believe Russia can play a supportive role in that sense.

QUESTION: Do you view that Russia is on the same page with you regarding this issue now?

MR. TONER: Again, the Secretary has obviously spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov several times on this issue. We’re going to continue that dialogue. We believe we’re making headway.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Would you please clarify that – you said you want Assad to go. The Russians said it’s not a precondition. And you said you’re working closely with the Russians. So you’re working closely toward what kind of outcome?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think what the Secretary was saying was that in order for us – for both sides to sit down, Assad doesn’t necessarily have to be gone, but that any transition can’t include Assad. That’s – we’ve been very clear on that.

QUESTION: Are you looking at something more like has happened in Yemen, a kind of transition (inaudible) council?

MR. TONER: That’s been a model that’s been looked at.

QUESTION: So there’s a change in the Russian position now?

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the Russians, okay, Samir? I mean, I don’t know that.

QUESTION: Because it was – the Secretary in Denmark, she was criticizing them. They said --

MR. TONER: Again, I haven’t seen the full text of the remarks today, so I’d refer you to them.

Yeah, in the back. I’m sorry. Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just touching on the possibility of prolonged violence and quagmire in Syria, did you see there were reports that Jordanian authorities arrested some foreign fighters trying to go to join the fight in Syria? Does this Department have any information about who they were and --

MR. TONER: I do not, no. I saw those reports and we’re looking into them, obviously, but I don’t have any more information for you on it.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: No, just one more on Syria.

MR. TONER: No – yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do you expect anything to come out of this meeting that Treasury is hosting tomorrow on sanctions, like will there be anything announced, or is this just another gabfest?

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Again, I don’t want to preview the meeting before it happens.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR. TONER: I think the goal of this sanctions working group is to look at ways to strengthen or tighten existing sanctions. I’ll try to get more information on whether we expect anything new out of that.

QUESTION: In other words, no?

MR. TONER: Again --

QUESTION: Well, if it’s looking at strengthening or tightening existing sanctions --

MR. TONER: Right. It’s in terms of new – let me take the question.

QUESTION: And who is actually involved in the meeting? Is it American – just American participants?

MR. TONER: No, no. In fact, it’s all of this Friends of Syria group coming here, but it’s being hosted – obviously, Treasury has the lead on sanctions.

QUESTION: At what level?

MR. TONER: I believe that it’s at the under secretary level, but I would defer to Treasury.

QUESTION: I think that Geithner is speaking at it, so --

QUESTION: Geithner’s speaking.

MR. TONER: There you go. Thanks, Andy and Matt.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead in the back and then I’ll get to you, Michel.

QUESTION: About Syria, about your position on Syria, actually, do you see any pressure from your allies for doing something more on Syria?

MR. TONER: Look, I think everybody is trying to find new ways, new approaches to Syria, but I also think that most of our allies and partners are focused right now on political pressure and economic pressure as a way to tighten the pressure, increase the pressure on Assad.

QUESTION: I mean, I asked this question to them, actually, about – my point is do you have any complaints coming from your allies about your reluctance in Syria?

MR. TONER: I wouldn’t say that we’re reluctant about Syria. I think we’re trying to work very closely and diligently with our allies and partners to put pressure on Assad, and I think that we’ve made real progress in that regard.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to switch to al-Qaida, the U.S. is confirming now that al-Libi is dead. I was just wondering whether or not you can comment at all and whether --

MR. TONER: I can’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: No comment. Thanks, though. Sorry.

QUESTION: India?

MR. TONER: India.

QUESTION: Do you agree – recently, Washington Post had an article that U.S.-India relations are going downwards, and --

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: -- not at the point what they used to be. And secondly, yesterday, Secretary Robert Blake, he was speaking at the U.S.-India Global Institute, and they were highlighting the – next week’s upcoming U.S.-India High-Level Strategic Dialogue. But he said that U.S. and India is working on many fronts and going forward. So what – you have any comments on this Post story?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I fully support Assistant Secretary Blake’s comments. We look forward, obviously, to next week’s very important meeting as another opportunity to engage with our Indian counterparts. We believe our relationship with India is very strong and very positive, and moving in a positive trajectory.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Change of topics?

MR. TONER: Let’s go.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we talk about --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the Palestinian issue?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Today, one of the staunchest supporters of the Likud, Alan Dershowitz, a great legal mind, American legal mind, suggested that settlements ought to be frozen while talks are ongoing. Would you support such a proposition?

MR. TONER: Again, I think our focus remains on getting both sides back to the negotiating table as soon as possible. Again, we had this exchange of letters that was very positive.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: We want to see this back, but in terms of that specific proposal, what’s important for us is that both sides get back to the negotiating table where they can discuss all of these issues.

QUESTION: Okay. And today marks a momentous date, an anniversary. The Israeli Defense Minister Barak – Ehud Barak – suggested that maybe Israel will take unilateral action and actually just withdraw and sort of have the separation wall as a border. Would you comment on such a proposition?

MR. TONER: No. I think the Secretary spoke to this in one of her press availabilities. I think it was in Copenhagen, but I’m not sure. She said there’s no substitute for direct negotiations, direct talks between the parties, and there’s only one route to achieving that two-state solution – two states living side by side. So they need to get back into direct negotiations so they can talk about all these issues and reach a comprehensive settlement.

QUESTION: And should this be construed as an official response rejecting such a proposal?

MR. TONER: I don’t think so, no.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one on Iran.

QUESTION: I want to – can we stay just with Israel before we do that?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Have you managed to find out what happened with this woman from St. Louis? Was she told by the Embassy that they couldn’t help her because --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- she wasn’t Jewish?

MR. TONER: Matt, I tried to get more information on that. I should have – I don’t have it in time for this briefing. My understanding, as I said, is that she did contact the Embassy and the Embassy did provide her with support. But I’m not aware of the exact exchange that she had with the Embassy personnel, so I’ll try to get you details on that.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. TONER: I appreciate I should have had it today. I don’t.

QUESTION: And so you do know that she has signed the Privacy Act waiver?

MR. TONER: I do know that and I have duly noted that --

QUESTION: No, but not just for me --

MR. TONER: And I have duly noted that to our friends in the Consular Affairs Bureau.

QUESTION: Okay. So specifically my question then is about that conversation --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that exchange, if she was told that and if that is now a practice of the Embassy to tell people if it --

MR. TONER: Again --

QUESTION: -- to ask people what their religion is, and regardless of what it is, to tell them that based on that --

MR. TONER: I’m certain it’s not --

QUESTION: -- based on just their religion --

MR. TONER: I’m certain it’s not, but let me get --

QUESTION: Well, she’s --

MR. TONER: Let me get the facts. Let me get the facts before --

QUESTION: -- she’s saying --

MR. TONER: Okay. Thank you. I appreciate it.

QUESTION: And you were supposed to follow up on the arrest of Uri Blau.

MR. TONER: Yeah. We’ve actually inquired about that, but I don’t have any more details. We actually did look into that – into that case. But I don’t think I have any more to say about it other than that we’re aware, as you mentioned yesterday, of media reports that international – or Israeli security forces arrested a journalist for the al-Aqsa Radio, Sharif Rajoub – I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that correctly – yesterday in Hebron. But we don’t have any further details beyond that.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Mark, how closely – and I apologize; somebody may have brought this up last week. But how closely is this Department following the case of Zack Shahin? He’s an American businessman who’s currently on a hunger strike in prison in the United Arab Emirates. He’s been held for four years without a trial and he’s protesting what he says is the U.S. Government’s inaction and calling on the UAE to grant him due process. Is this case on the Department’s radar at all?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Can you tell me why more is not being done on Mr. Shahin’s behalf?

MR. TONER: Well, okay. Yes, we remain very, very concerned about the health of Mr. Shahin. He is, as you mentioned, continuing, I believe to today, a hunger strike he began on May 14th. We are working with prison officials to monitor his condition.

In response to your second question, we have had significant concerns with the prosecution of Mr. Shahin since his detention in 2008, including his detention for more than one year without any formal charges being brought against him and the failure to release him on approved bail requests as well as what we believe was unequal treatment of Mr. Shahin as measured against the other defendants accused of financial crimes in the United Arab Emirates.

We have repeatedly raised these concerns with our – in our meetings with senior officials of the UAE in Dubai, in Abu Dhabi, and in Washington. And we have urged the UAE to conduct Mr. Shahin’s case in an expeditious and transparent manner. And I just would note that most recently on May 23rd Janice Jacobs, who’s our Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, expressed these concerns to the UAE Ambassador to the United States. And also, as you’re probably well aware, members of Congress have also raised his case with UAE officials.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: His lawyers say it’s actually been four years that he --

MR. TONER: Right. 2008. No, I’m sorry; I just said his detention for more than one year without any formal charges being brought against him is one of the matters that we are obviously concerned about.

QUESTION: What would a possible resolution to this be? Did they charge him, or are you calling on the UAE to charge him?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we’ve urged them to consolidate – there’s several outstanding cases against him. We want to see those consolidated so that he’s able to defend himself more effectively. And we’ve also urged them to permit his release on bail. We’ve had, as I said, several approved bail requests.

QUESTION: What was the date of that meeting?

MR. TONER: May 23rd, 2012.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic. On Iran, a senior advisor to Iran’s supreme leader today in an interview again laid out Iran’s position in the P-5+1 talks, saying that they hoped or demanded the Western powers recognize Iran’s right to enrich under the NPT. And I know this has been discussed in various permutations, but can you just lay out for us what is the U.S. position on whether or not Iran has --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- any right to enrich ever?

MR. TONER: Well, we have long said that we recognize Iran’s right as a signatory to the NPT to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but only after it comes into compliance with its international nuclear obligation. So the peaceful use of nuclear energy is not what’s at issue here. Iran is currently noncompliant with the NPT and with numerous UN Security Council resolutions. So as the Secretary and others have said, moving forward we’re going to judge Iran’s cooperation by actions, not words.

QUESTION: So then – just so that I’m understanding this --

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: So they have a sort of theoretical right to enrich, but only after they’re fully in compliance?

MR. TONER: Only after they address these --

QUESTION: And they have to stop it now --

MR. TONER: -- UN Security Council resolutions, as iterated in U.S. – various U.S. Security Council resolutions and via the IAEA.

QUESTION: Well, hold on just one sec.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Because there’s two things here. I mean, enrichment – the peaceful use – being entitled to the peaceful use of nuclear energy doesn’t necessarily mean enrichment.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And I think that’s the specific question that’s being asked here. So are you saying – is the language that you just used meant to say that if and when Iran meets all of its obligations, it is entitled not just to have civilian nuclear power, but it is also allowed to enrich uranium?

MR. TONER: Again, what’s at issue here is – and what was at issue in the statement made by the Iranian official – I’m not sure who it was again – but was whether they have a right to --

QUESTION: A right to enrich.

MR. TONER: -- to peaceful use of nuclear energy.

QUESTION: Well, the question that was posed is the question of enrichment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) as enrich.

MR. TONER: The one that I saw was the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

QUESTION: All right. Well, then you make a – do you make the same distinction that Matt’s outlining here?

MR. TONER: Well, there are – there are enriching levels that are used for peaceful – or for civil use of nuclear energy --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, they could also run a nuclear program with --

MR. TONER: They could also do that as well.

QUESTION: -- with uranium brought in from outside, so they don’t have to enrich --

MR. TONER: But what’s at issue here – what’s at issue here is that the fact they’ve not come into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, with the NPT, and that they need to address those concerns before we can talk about any peaceful use.

QUESTION: Or enrichment --

QUESTION: So you’re saying it’s an open question then?

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: You’re saying they might not be allowed – you might not be willing to allow them to enrich if and when they come into compliance with their obligations?

MR. TONER: If and when they come into compliance, at that point we’ll address the possible civil use of nuclear energy. But at this point --

QUESTION: And you do also accept the distinction that you could have a civilian nuclear program without --

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- enriching uranium?

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: So it’s not a given that you’ll accept – you’ll allow them to enrich?

MR. TONER: Again, they need to come in compliance with – we’re getting far ahead of ourselves right here. What we need to – what Iran needs to focus on now is addressing the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.

QUESTION: So compliance is really independent of having any kind of quantified figure on enrichment, 5 percent versus 20 percent, kind of? Is that independent of these figures?

MR. TONER: We want to see an end to all enrichment activities.

Is that it?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR. TONER: Let’s go Iraq and then back to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. Mark, I wanted to ask you if you’d – if you have any comment on plans by the CIA to scale back its presence in Iraq, and how does that impact the presence of your personnel at the Embassy?

MR. TONER: Well, I certainly can’t speak to the matters raised in the article that you mention. I would just say that we continue to work closely through the Embassy as well as through our Office of Security Cooperation to support Iraqi Security Forces.

QUESTION: Are U.S. diplomats able to conduct their business in Iraq freely and let’s say the consulates in Mosul and Basra and places like that?

MR. TONER: Yes. We believe that they – that our – as I said, our cooperation with Iraqi security forces is very good.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, would the U.S. continue to conduct its diplomatic efforts in Iraq as usual with a lessened number of, let’s say, contractors?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: With a scaled-back number of contractors that provide security?

MR. TONER: Well, as we’ve talked about before, we’re looking at possible changes in reductions in our footprint in Iraq. But as we always say, the safety and security of our personnel on the ground is paramount.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I have a quick one on Kuwait? There was a guy there who was sentenced yesterday, I think, to 10 years for Twitter – for a tweet that apparently ran afoul of their blasphemy laws. And I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.

MR. TONER: Right. This was the case of Hamad al-Naqi, I think you’re talking about? Yeah. We have seen these reports that a Kuwaiti court has sentenced Mr. al-Naqi for postings on his Twitter account. Just to say that – we would just say that freedom of expression and freedom of religion are universal rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kuwait is a party. And the U.S. imposes laws that curb the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.

QUESTION: The U.S. what?

MR. TONER: Opposes.

QUESTION: The U.S. opposes, not imposes.

MR. TONER: I said opposes.

QUESTION: It sounded like you --

QUESTION: I said – I heard imposes, too. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Sorry for my poor Pennsylvania diction here. Opposes.

QUESTION: Have you had any – have you made any representations to the Kuwaitis directly on this subject?

MR. TONER: I believe we have raised our concerns, yeah.

Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: Mark, just one last one. This story in the New York Times about the Special Operations Command making that request for authority to train and equip security forces in places like Yemen and Kenya – there’s no particularly big issue, but it sounds as if the State Department finally won one in the sense of turning down a request. Do you have any explanation?

MR. TONER: We – well, first of all, we don’t – this is not a – this is always a win-win situation. And in fact, as the Secretary made very clear on May 23rd when she visited SOCOM, that it’s a priority for our soldiers and diplomats to work hand in hand across the globe and get better at coordinating budgets and bureaucracies in Washington as well. We certainly support engagement by U.S. Special Forces – Special Operations Forces, rather, with partner nations to meet shared security challenges. And we’re working closely to realize this goal within existing authorities.

We believe, and Congress does as well, that almost all of the requirements identified by the Special Operations Command can be satisfied through this U.S. security assistance programs that have already been established, as well as, I believe it’s mentioned in the article, the Global Security Contingency Fund.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- on the issue of the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, CNN Arabic just – has breaking news that a high official just acknowledged that Abu Yahya al-Libi has indeed been killed. So again, your comment on that?

MR. TONER: Well, not this high official. (Laughter.) If I’m indeed a high official.

QUESTION: Did you – well --

MR. TONER: Modest, humble official is my kind of --

QUESTION: Not since college, at least. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: That’s right. Anyway, Matt.

QUESTION: I got three real quick ones.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: One, on Honduras and the incident there, is there anything new to report --

MR. TONER: This is the incident of --

QUESTION: Of two weeks ago.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is there anything new to report on the investigation or the review – either the Honduran or the DEA? That’s one.

MR. TONER: No update. I’ll take the question and see if we have any update on that.

QUESTION: And the second one on that is that – are you aware of the two victims of this – or alleged victims of this attack who are in the hospital and in danger of losing limbs? There’s been a report by a human rights group about this.

MR. TONER: Of the --

QUESTION: Apparently, these people were victims of this attack or operation. They’re civilians. They’re at the hospital. Do you have anything for --

MR. TONER: Right. Honestly, I – no, I don’t have any update for you, and I don’t have any update on their condition.

QUESTION: All right. Can you ask someone in WHA or INL --

MR. TONER: I will take the question.

QUESTION: -- to find out what, if anything, is going to be done for these people --

MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: -- who were apparently the victims of this?

Second one, Nigeria. Did you ever find out how many Americans were killed in the plane crash?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Actually, one of the reasons I was a little late coming out here was I was trying to get a figure for you. We can confirm that there were seven American citizens on board that flight, at present. That’s what we’ve been able to confirm, and we’re still in the process of notifying next of kin. And obviously, as I said yesterday, our consulate in Lagos is offering any consular assistance that they can.

QUESTION: Do you know if it’s correct – there was talk yesterday that the pilot and potentially the co-pilot were Americans?

MR. TONER: I cannot confirm that now.

QUESTION: Were most of them American citizens or were they joint Nigerian-American?

MR. TONER: I believe that – again, without – there were some joint – dual, if you will, Nigerian-American citizens, but frankly, I’m not going to get any into more detail because, as I said, we’re still in the process of identifying next of kin.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one is: At the OAS meeting that the Secretary decided was so important that she would skip and go to Scandinavia for, President Morales of Bolivia has come up with an idea to scrap the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Do you know anything about that? And if you do, what do you think of that idea?

MR. TONER: Well, let me just sharply disagree with the first part of your question. And then I’ll try to answer the second part of your question.

As you said about the human rights – the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as well as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, both of which are independent and autonomous bodies of the OAS, this Administration certainly supports reforms to the management and procedures of the human rights organs of the OAS, but only those reforms that are achieved through consensus and that contribute to strengthening the institutions.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR. TONER: So it means – again, the operative word there is consensus. And I’m not going to talk about it anymore because these negotiations are still underway in Bolivia.

QUESTION: Well, is it fair to say that you don’t agree with his idea?

MR. TONER: Again, we would just say that we want to see any --

QUESTION: So there is no consensus there?

MR. TONER: -- reforms to these entities be done through consensus.

QUESTION: Right. So you --

MR. TONER: But negotiations are still underway.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you do not concede to the idea that has been proposed?

MR. TONER: The idea that --

QUESTION: That President Morales has proposed?

MR. TONER: Which is – I mean, what’s the --

QUESTION: Well, to get rid of it, essentially, or to strip it of all its powers?

MR. TONER: No. We want to see these organs strengthened. We think they’re incredibly valuable.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject? I believe there was – there’s a meeting of the Kimberley Process happening this week, and I believe you took a question last Friday, and I didn’t see the response – that just could be me – about whether there’s a Zimbabwe delegation actually allowed to attend.

MR. TONER: There is a – there are two members of the Zimbabwean Government here as part of that delegation that’s – and I don’t have more detail beyond that.

QUESTION: Mark, wasn’t there supposed to be some sort of press thing about – on that yesterday? Did that get – I’m sorry. Maybe I had missed it, but I didn’t see any transcript. I think in the initial announcement they said they were going to have opening statements that were open to the press on Monday.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then I couldn’t track that, if it goes anywhere.

QUESTION: No. I’ve been looking for that, too.

MR. TONER: Sorry. I’ll look into that. But as I said, there’s two members of the mines ministry who are part of Zimbabwe’s official delegation. I do have actually a little bit more information for you. Sorry. And obviously, as I said, we’ll look into – I hadn’t seen that announcement, but we’ll look into what happened to those transcripts.

QUESTION: Well, do you know if the press conference is still going to happen on Thursday?

MR. TONER: I’ll check.

QUESTION: So it might not?

MR. TONER: No. I believe it’s as scheduled. I don’t know what happened. I don't know what the – you said opening statements were supposed to be put out. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Are open to the press, but I didn’t – I mean --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: And what’s the American position on calls from human rights groups to strengthen the Kimberley Process and not just make it diamonds that are sold by rebels but to actually look at the way the conditions and the – particularly in Zimbabwe – in which these diamonds are being mined?

MR. TONER: Well, if you’re talking about Zimbabwe’s record of human rights violations within the Kimberley Process, we do have concerns about the Marange diamond fields. Our concerns were based on the outbreak of violence in November 2008 that led to a significant number of deaths, and we continue to have concerns about a wide range of human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: Will this lead to a strengthening of the Kimberley Process?

MR. TONER: We certainly hope so. That’s our intent, just to strengthen this institution.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 p.m.)

DPB # 102



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