1:03 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday.
QUESTION: Welcome back, Mark. Good to see you.
MR. TONER: Thank you.
QUESTION: So let’s start with Libya, and a couple of things on that. One is there’s this report about email exchange regarding an airplane that the post apparently wanted to keep, and they were denied. Is that – one, is that accurate? And second of all, they’re talking about the plane is a DC-3, and I mean – a DC-3? Really? The DC-3 was – they were made in the ’40s, and I’m just wondering if that’s the best available there is. And then secondly – or thirdly, rather, there was talk about there being a plane on standby in Tripoli that actually flew to Benghazi the night of the 11th, and I’m wondering – what kind of plane was that?
MR. TONER: Thanks for the questions, Matt. Look, I’m very hesitant to get drawn into this whole line of questions too deeply, because as the Secretary said, as Toria has said countless times over the last several days, we do have an ARB up and running now. They did meet again today. They are meeting regularly going forward. And it’s really their mission to get to the bottom of the events of 9/11 and to do a comprehensive report that answers a lot of these questions.
That said, in response to this particular story, my understanding is that – and I can’t speak to the make and model of the plane, I think it was a DC-3 – but this plane was in Iraq at the time and moved to support Libya early on, when there are no – when there was no commercial airline service into Libya. This is a very common practice in places where there’s no commercial airline service. When commercial service was subsequently established, we then moved that asset back to other State Department business, I believe back to Iraq in this case. But we essentially – we use our aircraft when there’s no commercial flights available.
In regard to your second question, again, I think some U.S. officials have alluded to the fact that there was a plane that was sent into Benghazi the night of 9/11. I don’t want to get into too many details; again, I don’t want to stray too far into what is the purview of the ARB.
QUESTION: Whose plane is this DC-3?
MR. TONER: I believe it’s a State Department asset.
QUESTION: Okay. And it was moved back to Iraq to –
MR. TONER: I think it was Iraq.
QUESTION: Because –
MR. TONER: “Reassigned to other State Department business” is what I have in front of me. It was taken from Iraq at the time.
QUESTION: Can you check that, where it went to?
MR. TONER: Sure, I can.
QUESTION: Because I believe that there is commercial airline service in Iraq.
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: So do you have any reason to believe that if this DC-3 had been kept in Libya, the situation would have been any different on the 11th than it was?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to be put in a position here where I’m commenting on events leading up to 9/11 in what is rightly the purview of the ARB. All I can say is that –
QUESTION: What was it doing in Libya at the time?
MR. TONER: Well again, it was there simply to provide support in the absence of commercial –
QUESTION: Yeah. But was it ferrying – was it ferrying four flights a day --
MR. TONER: Precisely. It was bringing – no, I don’t know how many flights –
QUESTION: -- to Benghazi security --
MR. TONER: I don’t know how many flights a day it took. I don’t have that kind of detail.
QUESTION: -- weapons and ammunition to –
MR. TONER: I don’t have that kind of detail. But essentially – sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: – to the consulate in Benghazi? I mean, was that what it was doing?
MR. TONER: I don’t have that level of detail. It was meant to take personnel from – most likely from between Tripoli and Benghazi, but also elsewhere.
QUESTION: But – and also elsewhere in Libya?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t have that level of detail, but it was there in the absence of a commercial airline service. So yes, it was there to take them from point A to B.
QUESTION: Well, was it taking things that would not be normally taken on a commercial aircraft?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have that detail.
QUESTION: Was it taking materiel in addition to people?
MR. TONER: I don’t have that detail.
QUESTION: And do you know when it was removed from Libya and reassigned to other business?
MR. TONER: I don’t have that date. I can look into that.
QUESTION: Welcome back, Mark.
MR. TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: It’s good to see you behind the podium.
MR. TONER: Thanks. At least you in solidarity shaved your head; I appreciate that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I wanted to – exactly. We should have our picture taken together.
MR. TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: Anyway, I wanted to ask you as a follow-up to my question the other day on cooperation with the Libyans. Now, pre-Qadhafi, or during the Qadhafi time, they had like military intelligence and they had like a national police. Do they have anything like this now? Do you coordinate or the FBI coordinates with the military intelligence with the – coordinates with the national police, or with all of the above?
MR. TONER: I mean, those are valid questions, Said. I don’t want to get into the middle of what the FBI is doing in conducting its investigation, other than that, obviously we have ongoing contacts with the Government of Libya and have been working and coordinating closely with them. But as to who they’re talking to about some of the – this investigation, I really don’t want to comment.
QUESTION: I guess my question is: Do you have like a competent counter-security services that can provide that kind of cooperation in Libya?
MR. TONER: Well again, I think – obviously, there is a new government structure emerging in Libya. It’s obviously been a period of transition for it, and we’ve talked a lot about the security services in Libya and about their efforts to consolidate and to put in place a real security infrastructure in the wake of the civil war there. So that’s a process that’s still ongoing, but certainly we do have, we believe, reliable counterparts within the Libyan Government.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TONER: I really can’t confirm those. I can say that we have been in contact with the Turkish Government on this issue. But obviously, the FBI is the one who has the lead on this investigation, and so really it’s up to them to comment on it when – at an appropriate time.
QUESTION: With what – you have been in contact with the Turkish Government about this issue to what end?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any details beyond that. And as I said, it’s – because it’s an FBI-led investigation, it’s really up to them to comment on it.
QUESTION: Are you just trying to confirm – figure out what happened?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’re – we’re obviously, as we would be with our close partners, the Turks, in contact with them following these reported arrests.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the plane --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- for a second? Do you know how many other 50 to 60 year old aircraft the State Department is flying around the world using – to shuttle stuff back and forth in countries --
QUESTION: Seventy-year old. Sorry. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s a great airplane.
MR. TONER: Look, obviously we clearly have a lot of --
QUESTION: I'm sure – I know the DC-3 has a lot of fans.
MR. TONER: -- vintage aircraft enthusiasts in the room here today.
QUESTION: I know it has a lot of fans. I know it’s used – I know they’re still used.
MR. TONER: Look Matt, it’s a legitimate – What I can legitimately look into is --
QUESTION: But how many you – do you have in your fleet?
MR. TONER: -- is I can get a look into whether I can get an answer to you as to how many aircraft we have.
QUESTION: No, no, I want to know about – yeah, how many aircraft you have --
MR. TONER: -- and what those aircraft are --
QUESTION: -- how many of them were built before the Second World War and how many of them might be relatively newer.
MR. TONER: I can’t tell you I’ll have that for you today, but I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: All right. And then just one other thing on this which has come up apparently: There have been some complaints or some suggestions that you guys waited until – waited for weeks to ask DOD to go – to move in support of the FBI team that was on the ground in Tripoli to get them to Benghazi. One, is that true? And two, can’t the FBI ask for these things themselves?
MR. TONER: First of all, look, it’s not true. I don’t want to get into a he said/she said with anonymous sources quoted in news reports. I can assure you that we have been working very closely with the Department of Defense, with the FBI, within the interagency, to the fullest extent possible to cooperate in the investigation on this attack. And obviously we all share the same goal: bringing the perpetrators to justice. We’ve supported the FBI’s efforts to investigate this crime every step of the way. We’ve worked to help to get them into Benghazi, because we all recognize, obviously, that their travel there is essential to any successful investigation.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: You began the response by saying, “It’s not true.” What’s not true?
MR. TONER: The first part, that there was some kind of delay in our asking.
QUESTION: But you waited for weeks?
QUESTION: Well, did you, in fact, make such a request at some point?
MR. TONER: Again, I – we were working with the Government of Libya to obtain permission for the FBI team and the DOD support team to travel there. We did seek overflight for them, permission as well as for the landing of the aircraft, and we worked to get them the appropriate visas. So we’ve been working through all these permutations.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But I’m talking about the --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- asking the Pentagon to help the FBI. Because I just don’t – I mean, if it’s correct that you did, in fact, do that or you had to, I’m not sure I understand why the FBI – the FBI is grown up. It can ask itself, can’t it?
MR. TONER: And we’ve been cooperating with – we’ve been cooperating --
QUESTION: But is there some rule that says that the State Department has to ask on behalf of the FBI; the FBI can’t pick up the phone and say, “Hey” --
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. And in this case, we’ve all been working together. So the reason I said it’s not true is because we have been working productively together with DOD and FBI.
QUESTION: Presumably, it would have been more to your liking had the FBI team been able to get to Benghazi sooner – more quickly; is that correct?
MR. TONER: Obviously, I think all of us wanted to see – wanted to see this. And we talked about the other day – Toria, and indeed I, was quoted as saying that there’s been challenges in getting access to the site.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But you would have preferred that they had gotten there sooner than they actually did, correct?
MR. TONER: Of course. Of course.
QUESTION: So – but the reason – the reason that they didn’t get there quickly, is that – who is responsible for that not being the case? Is it the State Department not making a request to DOD until three weeks after the FBI got there? Or is there some other reason that it was – there was a holdup from the Libyan end? I just don’t understand the process here --
MR. TONER: And again, I don't --
QUESTION: – because I really, frankly, don’t understand why it is that the FBI can’t man up itself and ask the Pentagon for help, unless there’s some kind of bureaucratic intergovernmental process --
MR. TONER: -- and my answer, without getting too much into specific detail, is that, as we’ve said, there have been challenges to gaining access to the site. We’ve been working diligently with the Government of Libya to overcome those challenges.
QUESTION: I’ll stop after this --
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: But those challenges that you talk to, are those from inside the U.S. Government itself? Are they internal challenges or are they external challenges?
MR. TONER: I’m just going to say challenges.
QUESTION: On the extradition, change topics?
MR. TONER: Yeah. We done? Great.
QUESTION: Okay. I just – I have a quick question on --
MR. TONER: Extradition. Are you talking about –
QUESTION: Abu Hamza al-Masri.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: You say those much better than I can.
QUESTION: -- in ’99 and back in 2004, 2006. But what are the specific charges? Do we have specific charges, because it’s not there?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the embassy statement --
MR. TONER: -- that came out?
QUESTION: Yeah. As you know, they are – obviously, they are on their way or in --
MR. TONER: Well, again, my understanding – as you stated, and obviously, as our embassy in London put out, that we are pleased that the UK judicial authorities approved the extraditions of these individuals to the United States to face prosecution in U.S. courts on terrorism charges. And indeed, these individuals are being transferred to the United States. Obviously, this ends a period of lengthy litigation through UK courts as well as through the European Court of Human Rights, and also speaks to the strength of the law enforcement relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.
In terms of the details of the prosecution, I think I’m going to have to refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: So these guys are accused – these individuals are accused of conducting different terrorist acts at different intervals, right? Not --
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding. But again, for the specific details, I refer you to DOJ.
QUESTION: Talking about terrorism, this week State Department designated al-Sharia as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. My question is that, one, if they have any connection with the Haqqani Network or any other terrorist groups in South Asia; and second, last month at State Department designated also this Haqqani Network, and now Pakistani Government and the military is after them going after them every day to get them out. One, if U.S. is playing --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Who’s going after them every day?
QUESTION: The Pakistani military against those Haqqani terrorists inside Pakistan. What role do you think U.S. is playing along with the Pakistani military or Pakistani Government?
MR. TONER: In answer to your first question, as you did note, you’re talking about the designation of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen.
MR. TONER: No. That’s correct. We did amend al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s designations – sorry for the legalese – under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and under Section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224 to include this new alias, which is Ansar al-Sharia. So they’re obviously – in answer, I think, to your first question – there is a connection to AQAP. Clearly, this subgroup, if you will, has been – taken responsibility for multiple attacks against Yemeni forces, including an attack in May 2012, that killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers in a suicide bombing during a parade – I think we’re all familiar with that – as well as in March 2012, a series of attacks and armed assaults by these individuals in Southern Yemen that killed 100 people.
Now, switching back to your next – oh, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one interjection here: Can you say on the record what was said in the announcement when it came out that this Ansar al-Sharia is simply a rebranding of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and it has nothing to do with the Ansar al-Sharia group in Libya that may or may not have been behind the Benghazi attack?
MR. TONER: Right. In fact, yes. It’s a fair point. While the two groups obviously share a name, they’re wholly separate entities. Ansar al-Sharia is a general term that means supporter of Sharias. Many of you know better than I, and it’s a name being used by – increasingly by groups across the Middle East. So no, there is no connection between the two. Thank you.
Sorry. You had a Haqqani Network question?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan?
QUESTION: Right now, after U.S. designated Haqqani Network as also a – as an FTO, and now Pakistani Government for the first time, including Pakistani military, is going after those terrorists inside Pakistan and also, of course, they have had many, many bombings against innocent people inside Pakistan. So what role do you think now U.S. is playing? Are U.S. helping the Pakistani military now to go after those terrorists?
MR. TONER: Well, of course, you talked about the FTO designations and the fact that previously to that we had designations on much if not all the senior leadership of the Haqqani Network. So I mean, we already had a robust package of sanctions in place to try to choke off the financing for this network. And obviously, as you correctly pointed out, this is something we’ve been urging the Pakistanis to do for some time, which is to put the squeeze on them internally and to recognize that this group is, in fact, a threat to them internally. And so we continue to cooperate productively with the Pakistani Government on the counterterrorism front. I think I’ll leave it there, though.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: I just wanted to –
MR. TONER: Oh. In the back, and then I’ll go back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’ve a question regarding Afghanistan about the new security agreement, which has been discussed last week between Foreign Minister in Afghanistan and Madam Clinton. What’s your U.S. expectation and how much it’s going to be effective or useful for security in Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: You’re talking specifically about the –
QUESTION: New agreement security.
MR. TONER: The BSA, so-called? The bilateral security agreement?
MR. TONER: Right. Well, as you noted, we did obviously have Foreign Minister Rassoul here earlier this week, and the Secretary met with him. And they did discuss, obviously, our mutual commitment to implementing the strategic partnership agreement, as well as our support for Afghan-led reconciliation and the importance of regional cooperation to Afghanistan’s future security and development. We did talk about the – I think what they announced this week was the – their negotiator for the bilateral security agreement, which was Ambassador Hakimi, obviously, on the Afghan side as well as Deputy SRAP Ambassador Jim Warlick. These negotiations obviously haven’t begun yet, but we expect they’re going to begin in the near future. And as expressed in the strategic partnership agreement, once these negotiations begin, we expect them to be completed within a year. So obviously, we expect this to reinforce our overall efforts as we move towards 2014 to increase Afghan security lead as well as train up Afghan forces and build a more enduring partnership with Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just on Egypt, yesterday that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs issued a letter to Secretary Clinton regarding Egypt aid. And she asked in the question was Jim Jordan, the head of the Republican Study Group – it was a serious question about the relation between the Administration and Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi in Egypt. How do you respond to the letter, and does it mean that the discussions in Congress regarding the aid to Egypt, relations with Egypt, is stumbling, or what?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we talked in the past week or so about the next tranche of aid to Egypt and the Congressional notification that went out and our commitment to work and consult with Congress going forward, because we very strongly believe that this assistance is in Egypt’s long-term interest. I haven’t seen the letter, so I’ll refrain from commenting. I’ll look into it and see if we have a response.
Yeah. Go ahead, Dmitry.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Georgia, according to press reports from Tbilisi, Secretary Clinton spoke on the phone yesterday to both President Saakashvili and Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the coalition which won the parliamentary elections in Georgia. I was wondering if you could read those conversations out.
MR. TONER: Sure. I can, and I apologize if you didn’t receive that. We did send it out last night to a number of folks. And I apologize, you weren’t on that list, Dmitry. We’ll remedy that in the future. But I can say that, very quickly, that Secretary Clinton did have separate phone conversations yesterday afternoon Washington time with Georgian President Saakashvili as well as Georgian Dream Coalition Leader Ivanishvili discussing with both Georgia’s – discussing with both Georgia’s historic October 1st parliamentary elections. The Secretary praised President Saakashvili for presiding over open and competitive elections and for his statesman-like response to the results.
She also congratulated Ivanishvili on his coalition’s victory, and she praised the citizens of Georgia for actively participating in this historic and peaceful election. The Secretary thanked Ivanishvili for his pledge to work with his political opponents as well as underscored the importance of continued respect for rule of law and democratic norms.
QUESTION: And a short follow-up, Mr. Ivanishvili said, I think a couple of days ago, after meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Tbilisi, Norland, that he would pay his first visit abroad to the United States point A and point B that he got formal invitation from you guys to travel here to Washington, D.C. I was wondering if you can confirm this or saying anything --
MR. TONER: I can’t at this point. I’ll look into it. But I don’t think it was raised in the context of yesterday’s phone call.
Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Syria.
QUESTION: Yes. Mark, are you aware that Syrian rebels threatened to start killing 48 Iranian pilgrims – Iranian Shiite pilgrims? Are you aware of that?
MR. TONER: I’m not. I haven’t seen those reports. No.
QUESTION: Okay. But would you – when you become aware of that, do you consider that as a terrorist act and you would condemn it?
MR. TONER: Well, I think would condemn any violent threat of that nature by either side – an overt threat like that. But I’m not aware of the actual threat, so until I see it, I’m going to refrain from commenting.
QUESTION: Apparently, there’s been another incident of shelling into Turkey. Are you up on that?
MR. TONER: I’m not. I wasn’t aware that there was a new incident of shelling.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just like – less than an hour ago.
MR. TONER: Okay. No. I mean, I think our comment will remain similar to what we said in the last couple days, which is that we stand by Turkey. We think that their responses thus far has been appropriate and reflects, I think, the desire to let Syria know that – the deterrence that they face.
QUESTION: Can we stick with --
QUESTION: A follow-up on --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, finish.
QUESTION: Can we finish briefly with the Syria-Turkey stuff for a second? Or was that your question?
MR. TONER: I think we’re still there. But go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: So, I mean, speaking of sort of violent threats --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Erdogan made a fairly belligerent speech today in which he said that Turkey was, quote, “not far from war with Syria” and in which he warned the Assad Government that it would be making a fatal mistake if it picked a fight with Turkey. Do you think that – I mean, I understand you want to stick with your Turkish ally, but do you think that they have now done enough in terms of shelling to make their point? And if you were to see additional Turkish shelling back into Syria that that might be excessive?
MR. TONER: Well, Arshad, I am aware of news reports about those comments. All I can go – all I can do is stress the fact that we believe that the Turkish parliament’s troop authorization has strengthened deterrence and sends a clear message to the Syrian Government. And let’s make no mistake that this was Syrian shells that initiated this whole incident and that it’s certainly not inappropriate for Turkey to act in this way when they’ve had their sovereignty so flagrantly violated.
QUESTION: I guess the only question that I have has to do with – I mean, yesterday Toria made a point of saying that she thought that the response thus far had been appropriate and proportional – or proportionate.
MR. TONER: That was the word I was searching for. Thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah, and that was after two days of Turkish response. If the reports that we have of a third day are indeed correct, is it still proportionate?
MR. TONER: Again, I haven’t seen those latest reports about additional shelling. I know that Syria did come out and apologize for the first round, but this is inexcusable actions on the part of Syria’s, and it’s Syria that has brought us to this juncture and has escalated the situation. So again, I just would reiterate that we believe Turkey thus far has been both measured and proportional in its response.
QUESTION: So Mark, the fact that the Security Council was able to come together and issue a statement, is that like a breakthrough for the first time on the Syrian crisis at least in terms of cooperating with Russia?
MR. TONER: Well, again, Said, I think it reinforces what I was just trying to express, which is that this is obviously an act by Syria, by Syrian armed forces, that is seen by the entire Security Council as egregious.
QUESTION: Okay. Now would you support a Russian effort in the Security Council, I think, today to introduce some sort of a statement condemning the attacks in Aleppo that killed maybe dozen --
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of that statement. Look, we have – I think I’ll just say that we have condemned escalating violence on the part of both sides in this war. But let’s be very clear that the preponderance of violence rests on the shoulders of the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: Why do you say that Syria apologized? I mean, they didn’t.
MR. TONER: I thought they did. I thought they said that --
QUESTION: They said they were sorry that they were dead, but they didn’t (inaudible).
MR. TONER: Well, I think you’re right. They didn’t apologize. Well, again, I’m going back but I thought they said something to the effect – but look, let’s be very clear here. I’m not trying to say that Syrian Government is in any way not culpable. They, in fact, have started this situation; we stand very strongly with Turkey.
QUESTION: No. They are saying they are not. I mean, but, I mean --
MR. TONER: So – yeah. But I would refer you to the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: They are saying that want to investigate who did the shelling. You are saying that they – you are confirming that they did the shelling – the government, correct?
MR. TONER: Yes. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Going back to Abu Hamza for a second --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Where are he and the four other men going to be taken?
MR. TONER: I just don’t have that level of detail right now. Again, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Can I ask on Venezuela?
MR. TONER: Are we done with Syria?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) post today that the Syrian Free Army, they took control of a defense facility near Damascus that have missiles and they shot two airplanes – warplanes from the government. Had you --
MR. TONER: I’ve seen all those reports. We’ve heard of clashes and heavy fighting in and around Damascus, including, as you’ve stated, that the rebels have taken this airbase near the city. So, obviously, while we can’t confirm the veracity of these reports, it does appear to show that the rebels are continuing to get stronger and continue to take the fight to the heart of the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: But do you have anything to say about the timing of this success, after Turkey --
MR. TONER: Oh, look, I would just say that this speaks, again, to the increased ability, as I said, of the Free Syrian Army to strike at the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: Is there news about the Mujahideen help – joining forces with the Free Syrian Army. Is this something you would condone, you encourage?
MR. TONER: I just don’t have any information on that. We’ve been very clear about the fear that the violence that extremist groups will take advantage of the situation and seek to exploit the situation in Syria.
Yeah, go ahead. Oh, yeah. Hey (inaudible).
QUESTION: Hi. I just wanted a clarification on the email – just one more question about that. Officials on the ground obviously requested it because they believed that they needed it to be able to perform whatever duties the DC-3 was performing. Was it then the State Department’s assessment that Libya was now stable enough to be able to switch to a commercial airliner?
MR. TONER: I think I’ll just stay with exactly what I just said, which was that we provide these kinds of services in places where there isn’t a commercial airline service in place. And once that service is available, then we – our employees rely on commercial airlines. So all the other questions, I really don’t want to step into what I think is the purview of the ARB --
QUESTION: Well, this --
MR. TONER: -- to look into all these kinds of questions.
QUESTION: So the ARB is going to be looking at that assessment, then?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to sit here and delineate or define what the ARB is going to do or not going to do. I think they’re looking at all of this, the – from several months before or however long before they determine up until the events and after to get a good assessment of what happened. And we’ll wait for their report.
QUESTION: But the officials did request it because they believed they needed it; correct?
MR. TONER: Again, it was provided in the absence of commercial airline services.
QUESTION: One --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Burmese President Thein Sein told the United Nations that if the wish and will of the people of Burma is there as president for Aung San Suu Kyi, then he will accept her as the president of Burma. My question is that these are the very same people, 20 years ago when she won the democratic election in a landslide, and they rejected her and put her in jail for 20 years. What has changed now? These very same people now are saying that if people want, they will put her as president.
MR. TONER: Sure. Without going on too long about the changes that have occurred in Burma, I think it’s fair to say that there have been significant changes there. We’ve been very clear and measured in our response to those changes. And as Burma continues to move in a democratic direction, we’re going to respond accordingly.
QUESTION: And the U.S. will support that?
MR. TONER: I just said we’re going to respond accordingly as they move in a democratic fashion.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the protests in Jordan by Islamists calling for King Abdullah to accelerate democratic reforms?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t have a specific comment on some of these demonstrations. I can say that we support King Abdullah’s efforts. We also encourage the Jordanian Government to take all necessary measures to ensure a free and fair election, and would just reiterate that Jordan does remain an important strategic partner and ally of the United States.
QUESTION: The Islamists argue that the laws that were passed last July are essentially designed to constrain their influence by gerrymandering parliamentary districts to their disfavor. Do you believe that’s right?
MR. TONER: Again, this is an internal Jordanian matter. I think I would just say that we believe that his taking action to dissolve the parliament and calling for an early election is in line with his commitment to foster a more inclusive political process and a more inclusive democracy and a more representative democracy in Jordan.
QUESTION: Does that mean – a more representative democracy in Jordan, does that mean that Jordanians of Palestinian origin should have sort of equal rights and representation with the Jordanians?
MR. TONER: Again, this is something for the Jordanian people and the Jordanian Government to work through, but we think that the King is being responsive.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: This weekend is the elections.
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And I wondered if you knew whether any American observers have been allowed to go in and observe or monitor the elections happening. And --
MR. TONER: That’s a good question.
QUESTION: -- this --
MR. TONER: I don’t think so, no.
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: And there’s – I wonder – there are also – the elections – the polling suggests that actually it’s very close and Chavez might lose. And so there’s fears that this could lead to some kind of unrest and upheaval in Venezuela. I wondered if you could talk to that, please, if you’re watching this, what’s going --
MR. TONER: I mean, obviously, we’re watching events in Venezuela very closely. Our principal priority is that the Venezuelan people have a voice in deciding their next leader, and that the elections on October 7th are free and fair. We’ve repeatedly emphasized how free and fair elections are a fundamental democratic principle and that the domestic electoral observer missions are critical, as you just mentioned, to impartially assessing those elections. But on the eve of these elections, I guess our message is that we want to see free and fair elections and we want to see the Venezuelan people have the right to choose their leader in a free and fair manner --
QUESTION: Do you --
MR. TONER: -- and transparently.
QUESTION: Do you know if it – sorry. Do you know if any observers asked to go in and were denied or if they never asked at all?
MR. TONER: I’ll ask. I’ll take the question. I don’t know.
MR. TONER: Yeah, Goyal.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Indian Foreign Minister Krishna was – or he visited the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. And if anybody was there with him from the State Department or – what he’s asking again now that full and fair investigation on this Sikh temple. Any thoughts?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if any State Department officials were with him on that visit. I do know that, obviously, the Secretary talked with him about our – about this tragedy and expressed our deepest condolences. And I do know that there’s an investigation underway, and we’ll await the results of that – wait for the results of that.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR. TONER: Yeah. That it, guys?
QUESTION: No. I got one more.
MR. TONER: Okay.
MR. TONER: I do, indeed, have something on that, yeah, just dig it out. I think I do. Yes, I do. Hold on, Matt. Yeah. You’re talking about Yoani Sanchez?
QUESTION: Mr. Sanchez.
MR. TONER: Yeah. No, we’re very deeply disturbed by the Cuban Government’s repeated use of arbitrary detention to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly, and certainly to impede independent journalism. The media reports that we’ve seen, that Cuban human rights advocates, including the Sakharov Prize laureate Guillermo Farinas, being detained in Villa Clara, Cuba are accurate. But the U.S. interests section in Havana also confirms that the Cuban Government has released all detainees in Villa Clara.
But as you note, Yoani Sanchez and her husband and another colleague continue to be detained after having been detained in a separate incident in Bayamo, Cuba. And we understand that Ms. Sanchez and these other detainees were en route to the trial of Angel Carromero, who’s a Spaniard who the Cuban Government is prosecuting for his alleged role in the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in the July 22nd car crash.
But just speaking broadly, it’s very clear that human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban Government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, including members – for members of the press.
QUESTION: Any update on Mr. Tice?
MR. TONER: No. I don’t have any other updates.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: William Hershkovitz?
MR. TONER: Thank you. Yes. I don't think I have something on him.
QUESTION: On who?
MR. TONER: This is a gentleman – well, it’s a U.S. citizen who was killed earlier today in Eilat, Israel, William Hershkovitz. I don’t have a great deal of information. I can tell you that the Embassy in Tel Aviv has been in contact with his family and is providing appropriate consular assistance. We express our condolences to the families of all the victims of this tragedy. For specific questions about the event and the investigation, I would refer you to Israeli authorities.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)