12:36 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Thursday. Welcome to the State Department, Jill. (Laughter.) I see there’s no front tier to shield you.
Just very quickly at the top, I did want to note and failed to do so yesterday, but I did want to note that this morning the Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities together with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Office of Civil Rights hosted the first ever strategy session on diversity, inclusion, and U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. Department of State convened 100 top diversity experts to brainstorm on next steps for international advocacy on diversity and inclusion issues and how to work them into our foreign policy agenda. So if you want any more information about that, happy to put you in touch with the experts. That’s all I have at the top. I’ll take your questions.
Jill, go ahead.
MR. TONER: Syria.
QUESTION: Today we heard from Kofi Annan, but he did not come up with anything that was very, very specific other than a call for the international community to work together. What – Since the Secretary is meeting with him tomorrow, what’s her hope, what’s her expectation?
MR. TONER: Well, that’s a fair question. You know she talked a little bit about next steps before she departed Istanbul and about her meeting yesterday. You’re certainly right that Kofi Annan did talk to the UN Security Council. He did confirm his concerns that the plan is not being implemented. I think it’s very clear what we want to see happen, what our expectations are. The Annan plan is a good plan. It lays out the next steps that need to happen – a ceasefire, a dialogue, a political transition, Assad transferring power and departing Syria. These are the basic tenets of a solution to Syria. The problem is in the implementation. And that’s why, as the Secretary stated in Istanbul, her meeting yesterday was about ways to increase pressure on Assad, to make his regime wake up and realize that they need to comply with the Annan plan. So the plan itself is sound; we just need compliance.
QUESTION: So what specifically is missing to make him comply that would come from the UN or would come from whoever Kofi Annan was speaking to when he talked about the international community needing to unite? Can you be specific?
MR. TONER: Well, I think precisely that. We need – and the Secretary talked about this as well – we need to have the international community in lockstep on – behind the plan in support of the Annan plan. It’s something that we’ve been building all along. We do have a very strong coalition, but we need more. We need Russia, we need China to get onboard behind the Annan plan, behind its implementation, so that we can bring the right amount of pressure to bear on Assad.
QUESTION: But Mark, when you say the Russians behind it, the Russians say they do support it. So what part of it do you see them not complying with?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we want to see the Russians – and we’ve talked about this all week – use their influence, if you will, with Assad to convince them that the only the way forward here is a political transition. And I know also that Fred Hof is in Moscow today. You had asked about that yesterday. I’m sorry I didn’t confirm it for you. But those talks continue with Russia. But clearly we need to get everybody behind this – the Assad plan or – excuse me, the Annan plan. As we move forward, we need to get it truly implemented. It has the right ingredients for a solution.
QUESTION: Let me just raise one thing –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: -- that the Russians say. They say that, okay, somebody – hopefully, I guess, they – can work with Assad. But everybody has to work with the people that they have influence with. And they would say the opposition right now are refusing to deal with Assad. So it’s the job of the United States and others to convince the opposition that they have to work on this, too. Do you see any failure on the part of the opposition to comply, to be part of this? After all, they’re saying, “No, we’re not going to talk.”
MR. TONER: Well, it’s certainly not surprising that the opposition is reluctant to sit down to the table with an individual who has wreaked such violence and havoc against them, against their families, against their loved ones. The onus, as we’ve said all along, sits squarely on the shoulders of Assad to move this process forward. His regime is the one behind the preponderance of violence that’s happening right now in Syria.
We’ve been working, and the Secretary mentioned, that we need to do more to shore up the opposition, to bring them together. It’s difficult, as we all recognize, some – there’s opposition outside of Syria, opposition within Syria – to build that kind of cohesive approach to next steps in the political transition. But that’s certainly something we’re focusing on.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, are there any talks between the U.S. and China right now on Syria?
MR. TONER: Specifically on Syria?
MR. TONER: I’m aware that talks among all UN Security Council members are ongoing in New York.
QUESTION: Do you see any difference of the Russia’s position, the Chinese position? Because on – when the Russian President Putin in Beijing yesterday, China and Russia, they both reiterated that they both object international power to interfere with Syria’s internal affairs. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. TONER: Well, our reaction is that what’s happening in Syria right now is clearly in the purview of the UN Security Council. The instability that it’s generating both within Syria and within the region, we’ve seen the spillover effects in Turkey, in Lebanon, and elsewhere. This is what the UN Security Council was created for, to deal with these kinds of situations. So it’s obviously something that the UN Security Council needs to be engaged on. We need to work together, and I think that was the crux of the Secretary’s message as well as Kofi Annan’s message. We need to work together now. We need to bring that next degree of pressure to bear on Assad, convince him that the international community is of one mind on this, and he needs to begin that political transition.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Did Ambassador Hof talk to the Chinese, or will he go to China after his visit to Moscow?
MR. TONER: Samir, I’m not sure that he’s got a follow-on visit to Beijing. I’ll check on that.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure, Jill. Go ahead and then we’ll go in the --
QUESTION: Okay. On Hof, why did you have to send him exactly? I mean, don’t you talk to the Russians all the time? Don’t you know what they want?
MR. TONER: Well, certainly, I mean, he’s the point person in large part on our Syria policy – he and Robert Ford. So it made every sense in the world to send him directly to talk to his counterparts in the Russian Government. Certainly, the Secretary and Lavrov have spoken recently and will in the near future speak again about this issue. But at the working level, it’s important that we express our views and that we reinforce what we want to see happen in Syria with his counterparts, and also that we talk about logistic or pragmatic issues as well.
Yeah, in the back. Lalit.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: Are we done with Syria?
QUESTION: On Pakistan, why is the U.S. running out of patience on Pakistan?
MR. TONER: What are you referring to specifically?
QUESTION: Because – yeah, because there have been two, three statements coming out of Turkey and Afghanistan and Pakistan from Secretary of Defense and Secretary Clinton about safe havens in --
QUESTION: Secretary Panetta (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: The U.S. is running out of patience.
MR. TONER: Right. Well, Secretary Panetta, Secretary Clinton, others have stated before about our desire to work with Pakistan to squeeze the Haqqani Network, and that we need to make a joint effort to confront them and confront extremism writ large in Pakistan.
It’s an important and complicated relationship, but one – and I believe Secretary Panetta made this point – it’s one that we need to work to improve, and that despite the challenges that we face with Pakistan, we must continue to engage with them in order to make the region a safer place. But let’s be very clear where we’ve been on the Haqqani Network. We want to see steps taken to squeeze them.
QUESTION: How long --
QUESTION: But U.S. also hasn’t taken steps on the Haqqani Network as far as declaring – designating them as a foreign terrorist organization is concerned. It has been six months now that you haven’t taken any step on this.
MR. TONER: Lalit, you know as well as I that particular action is still under consideration, still under review. There’s a legal process, a rigorous legal process, that’s undertaken whenever we look at that kind of designation for an organization. But at the same time, we’ve designated and sanctioned, as you know, all of the key leadership within the Haqqani Network. So you can’t say that we haven’t taken action on it.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to follow?
MR. TONER: Let’s go here and then back to you.
QUESTION: So for the last year or so, ever since the May 2 raid, you have been expressing this commitment from the podium; you have been saying that there is the need to work through these issues. But it seems that after a year, all those issues like the Haqqani Network, like the deadlock on drone attacks, the ground LOCs, or any other issue you speak about, they remain as much there. So what exactly have you been talking about? What breakthrough have you achieved?
MR. TONER: Well, let’s be very clear that there was an incident, as you well know, in November, that, if you will, hit the pause button on a discussion of many of these important issues while the Pakistani Government had its own internal deliberation about what it wants to see in this bilateral relationship. We gave them the time to do that, to reflect, to come forward, working through their parliament with the key issues, the key questions that they want to raise about this relationship going forward. And that’s taken a while, that process, but now we’re engaging with them on their concerns and also coming to the table with our own concerns about this relationship.
But I can’t put it any better than Secretary Panetta that despite it all, we have to continue to engage with Pakistan. There’s no other option here. We need to work together because we face such serious threats.
QUESTION: Would you agree with Secretary Panetta that you’re running out of patience?
MR. TONER: I think we’re frustrated. We’ve said that before. We want to see action against the Haqqanis.
QUESTION: Mark, is there any timeline for you? Are you giving any timeline?
MR. TONER: No, I’m not going to get into the timelines. We’re very clear.
QUESTION: I have a question on --
MR. TONER: Are we done with Pakistan or are you --
QUESTION: No, I’m on Pakistan.
MR. TONER: Oh, good. Okay.
QUESTION: Yes. The foreign minister of Israel said yesterday that Israel is not going to apologize to Turkey because the United States Government refused to apologize to Pakistan. Do you see any similarities in these two cases?
MR. TONER: Not at all. And let’s be very clear. We did express our regret over the incident in November. We want to see rapprochement between Turkey and Israel. They’re two great allies of the United States. It’s important that they work together. It’s important for the region.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: You think Secretary will join Secretary Panetta when he said that the Haqqani Network should be labeled as a terrorist organization?
MR. TONER: Again, let’s --
QUESTION: That’s what he said in India.
MR. TONER: I’m aware of his remarks. I’m aware of all of the questions surrounding this process. But until we have something to announce, I can’t speak to it other than that it’s definitely under consideration.
QUESTION: And one more: As far as terrorism is concerned, Secretary Panetta spoke about this in the region and now scores of people have dead – are dead in Afghanistan, and they’re all blaming that Haqqani Network is related, and dealing with al-Qaida and the Taliban.
My question is: Also today, Indian Americans gather on the Capitol Hill and the White House and also at the Indian Embassy. And their gathering was joined by a number of senators and congressmen, and they call on the Administration to join India fighting against terrorism and also a permanent seat for the – for India in the United Nations Security Council. Any comments?
MR. TONER: No comments beyond the fact that we obviously share India’s concerns about terrorism. We are committed to working with India on counterterrorism. We have a good, strong relationship with them. I’m not going to --
QUESTION: And finally – I’m sorry.
MR. TONER: Go ahead. No, you finish.
QUESTION: Finally, of course, coming – in coming days, high-level U.S.-India --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- strategic dialogues are going on. Do you have any highlights, or what will be the difference in the third and the previous and now anything new you think going to be announced?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m going to let – we’re still several days out from this. I know Assistant Secretary Blake is keen to address many of these issues as we get closer, so we’ll obviously have an opportunity for you all to pepper him with your questions about the future of U.S.-Indian relationships – sorry, India – the U.S.-India relationship.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Mark, this is a question on the Kimberley Process.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: And there’s a delegation from Zimbabwe which includes the attorney general, the minister of mines, and some others. And if – the attorney general and the minister of mines are both subject to U.S. financial sanctions. So they are here. Some people are not even participating in these meetings. In fact, I think we have a report that it’s the wife of the minister of mines is here.
So it sounds like a boondoggle. I mean, are you aware that people are here (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: I’m not, Jill. What I am aware of is that Zimbabwe’s minister – mines minister, as well as their attorney general are part of Zimbabwe’s official delegation. I don’t have any more information about the size of that delegation. I can say that their participation is in no way indicative of an easing of U.S. concerns about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, nor is it a change in our sanctions policy. So – yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, I have two questions.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: On Cyprus, if the Secretary discussed Cyprus issue with Turkish foreign minister? And the second question is about Greece. There are reports from Athens that the leader of the opposition party, Mr. Alexis Tsipras invited the American ambassador to his speech, but the ambassador didn’t show up. Can you tell us the reason?
MR. TONER: On the first question, Cyprus, I don’t know if it came up in her conversations in Turkey. I’ll have to check on that for you and see if it was raised. You know our position and policy very clearly.
But on the second question, you said the – it was a Greek opposition leader who invited the ambassador --
QUESTION: He invited the ambassador of – in – the American ambassador in Athens to his speech and – but he didn’t show up.
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: If you can take the question, please.
MR. TONER: I can take the question. It’s hard to say whether he had a schedule conflict or what was the reason for him – his inability to attend that event. I’ll look into it though.
Anything else? That’s it? Wow. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:53 p.m.)