The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:36 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything at the top, but I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: I’m going to assume that even though you were over an hour late, you don’t have --
MR. TONER: Well, I didn’t want to set a false standard the last couple of days. We’re a little late today. Obviously, I wanted to watch, as I’m sure you guys did, the Secretary’s press avail from Dublin. So we did that. And I pined for the pubs of Dublin as I watched, but that’s another story.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) meeting with Lavrov and Brahimi, or the – with Lavrov?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, one more time.
QUESTION: Which one did you watch?
MR. TONER: I didn’t watch – I watched the press conference she did with Taoiseach.
QUESTION: May I ask two question on South Asia, please?
MR. TONER: Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: On India, as far as Indian parliament is concerned, they have passed a – sorry.
MR. TONER: What’s that? Matt. Back to you. Do you have any questions, or --
QUESTION: I was just going to say that even though you were so late, I’m sure you don’t have answers to any of the questions that I’m going to ask, and I don’t – so I don’t have anything worthy to begin the briefing. I would suggest, however, that South Asia may not be the most newsworthy topic --
MR. TONER: Well, we’ll get there. Anything from you, Andy?
Go ahead, Goyal.
MR. TONER: You’re talking about the Indian parliament?
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: And now the lower house passed a resolution as far as FDI is concerned – foreign direct investment – and how this is going to affect the U.S.-India economic relations? Because there is still opposition as far as Walmart and others are going to – entering India’s market.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: And it may affect the poor people there or small businesses, among others. What role you think the U.S. played in this resolution?
MR. TONER: Well, as you noted in your question, this political process is still playing out in India. India is a strong and vital and vibrant democracy, and it’s only fitting that they would discuss this kind of issue and all of its possible ramifications, as well as its negatives and pluses and its possible impact on the Indian economy.
We’re going to continue to promote U.S. businesses both in India and worldwide, but we’re also going to allow the Indian political system and process to play itself out.
QUESTION: And if I may, one more regional question on Bangladesh.
MR. TONER: Sure. We missed you, by the way, Goyal.
QUESTION: Can we stay on India?
MR. TONER: I heard you’d been over at the White House.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we stay on India?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Last week, 25 U.S. congressmen wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton on requesting her to continue the U.S. policy of not granting a visa to the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Has she received the letter, and is there any change in the U.S. policy?
MR. TONER: Well, I can confirm that we’ve received this letter, and I can also confirm there’s no change in U.S. policy.
QUESTION: No change in U.S. policy on Narendra Modi visa issue --
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into specific questions regarding visas. I’m just going to say there’s no change in our position.
QUESTION: And also that the U.S. believes that the victims Gujarat riots 10 years ago, they have received justice, or they are yet to receive justice?
MR. TONER: Well, again, that’s an issue best directed to the Indian Government. We obviously continue to engage with Gujarat across a broad range of issues, as well as trade, investment, energy, university linkages, and people-to-people exchanges. But as to the question of whether justice’s been served, you’ll have to ask the Indian Government.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yep.
MR. TONER: I’m aware.
QUESTION: -- and Secretary Blake is now heading there. My question is that, what sort of help you think U.S. is going to provide or in the future such things doesn’t happen, because so many – scores of people died there – poor installations and also safety concern, human rights, and among others. And those garment factories were making for the U.S. manufacturers.
MR. TONER: First of all, it was a terrible, terrible tragedy, and of course our condolences go out to the families and the loved ones of the victims. The loss is unimaginable. Secondly, we obviously always promote safety standards wherever we go abroad, both – we want both U.S. companies to promote those highest safety standards in their dealings overseas, in their investments in businesses and factories. But beyond that, I don’t have anything specific about Assistant Secretary Blake’s trip.
MR. TONER: Go ahead, Jamie.
QUESTION: A question on Syria and the Secretary’s bilateral with Foreign Minister Lavrov – or her trilateral. What was the reasoning for the addition of that to her schedule? Is there a sense that the Russians are beginning to come around to the way the United States sees the situation in Syria? Maybe there’s a track forward in the United Nations?
MR. TONER: You saw the Secretary got a very similar question, actually. And what she said was that we do see events on the ground accelerating. Obviously, this was an opportunity for us to sit down both with Joint Special Representative Brahimi, but also with the Russians – Foreign Minister Lavrov – to discuss what we all want to see here, which is an end to the bloodshed and a political solution. So as these events are accelerating on the ground and as pressure on the regime in increasing, we’re looking for opportunities to move to that political transition.
But let’s be very clear that we’re not pushing the opposition to negotiate without clear guarantees. And first and foremost, that means that for any transition, let’s be very clear that Bashar al-Assad is not a part of that equation. He cannot remain in power.
QUESTION: So he cannot even be part of the transition? Because I think that – I think he’s --
MR. TONER: Again, I think that we’ve been very clear all along he’s lost all credibility. He’s lost all credibility.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the Secretary’s statement yesterday that – she alluded to the fact that he should hurry up and be part of that transition, help in transiting this process, correct?
MR. TONER: We’ve said that he cannot, as an end result be – remain in power, and we’ve been very clear on that.
QUESTION: So what kind of future do you foresee for Bashar al-Assad?
MR. TONER: That’s for him to, I think, to determine.
QUESTION: No, but you are saying that he cannot be part of any political process. So he should pack up and leave?
MR. TONER: Again, you’re asking me to determine his next action. We want to see an end to the violence, we want to see an end to the bloodshed. His regime is the one perpetrating this violence against the Syrian people. We’ve called on him to step aside and allow for that political transition to take place. But what he decides to do, where he decides to go, that’s up to him. However, we’ve been also very clear that he will need to be held accountable for his actions.
QUESTION: Was Brahimi bringing anything new with him to the meeting?
MR. TONER: Again, let’s let them meet, and let them read out that meeting.
QUESTION: Actually, Mark, before we --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Catherine.
QUESTION: -- came in, maybe five minutes before, we got word that the meeting had ended. So you haven’t been in touch with the traveling party for anything?
MR. TONER: No, I didn’t get a readout, sorry. I didn’t – or wasn’t able to get a readout before coming down here.
QUESTION: Do you know – will you be able to provide us with one later today?
MR. TONER: We will do our best.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you.
QUESTION: No, can we stay on Syria?
MR. TONER: We can stay on Syria.
QUESTION: Okay, you talked about looking for opportunities to move forward with the transition. Would a full recognition of the Syrian Opposition Coalition – would that gain ground, potentially, in moving forward with the transition?
MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary spoke in Brussels yesterday about our intent and commitment to work with the Syrian Opposition. Certainly there’s a meeting next week in Marrakesh. And that’s going to be another opportunity for us to seek new ways to help them as they continue to organize and take steps towards becoming stronger both on the ground within Syria and also on the international stage. So those are some of the signs and steps that we’ve been looking for. This is a pretty nascent group, but they clearly seem to be moving in the right direction.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Secretary General of the United Nations just send a letter to Bashar al-Assad warning against the use of chemical weapons. This heightened anxiety and concern over the past three days – is there anything to it? I mean, is there anything new, or just the allegations that they were arming or moving or something like this. Can you share anything new with us?
MR. TONER: Said, I can’t really share anything new beyond what I’ve said the last couple of days, beyond what the President said, beyond what the Secretary has said. We’re not going to discuss specific intelligence, but we’re very clear that any attempt to use or proliferate chemical weapons would be – obvious – a redline.
QUESTION: So have you been able to determine whether they are being moved for possible use or for possible storage?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into it here.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, it seems like a lot of people have chirped up on this issue now. Ban Ki-moon, and – following the President. Has there been a coordinated effort among various capitals to sort of deliver a joint message on this?
MR. TONER: Well, we have been in contact with our allies and partners, who obviously share their concern about this issue, and the world. It’s an issue that is so horrific to contemplate that obviously the world wants to speak with one voice on it.
QUESTION: Mark, have you gotten any indications after the President spoke and after Clinton spoke and now the UN, that these messages are really getting through, that there has been some sort of de-escalation or anything?
MR. TONER: Right. That’s a fair question. I don’t really have anything to say about that. We continue, obviously, to monitor them. But as to whether there’s been any – I mean, you’ve seen the public comments, obviously, by the Syrian Government. But I can’t speak to the actual weapons themselves.
QUESTION: But hasn’t the Syrian Government specifically said that this whole sort of campaign is a pretext for intervention and that you guys are fanning the flames of hysteria over chemical weapons, which they have no intention of using, in order to open the door to further action. What’s your reaction to that specific charge?
MR. TONER: Well, as I said, I believe, on Monday, we are very concerned as the opposition continues to take ground, make strategic advances, continues to grow in strength. We’ve seen fighting in and around Damascus this week. We’ve seen time and time again that this regime, when its back is up against the wall, up the ante. And it would be irresponsible for us not to issue this kind of stern warning given what they’ve already carried out against their own citizens.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: You said yesterday that you can’t confirm whether some country has offered officially an asylum for Assad and his entourage.
MR. TONER: I can’t --
QUESTION: Do you have anything new today?
MR. TONER: Right. No, I can’t, and nor would it really be appropriate for us here to acknowledge or even to point in any direction. It’s really for the individual governments themselves to discuss what they may or may not have communicated to Assad.
QUESTION: But you said you were aware that there is some communication in this respect. Is it --
MR. TONER: We’ve said that in the past, that we’re aware that there has been this communication. But I’m not going to get more specific.
QUESTION: I believe you addressed this off-camera, but there’s been conflicting reports about the former spokesman Jihad Makdissi.
MR. TONER: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. Mea culpa. I may have spoke too soon when I said he was in London. In fact – and apologies to our British colleagues. Those reports are not true. All I can say with certainty – he’s not in the United States.
QUESTION: Well, I mean --
MR. TONER: I don’t know where he is.
QUESTION: Well, just – this is actually a common question, not necessarily about him – but would you even confirm it if it would be any other individual, just out of security reasons? Would you confirm or would you just tend to not really say, just move on to the question? I mean, in a sense, you might not want to admit if he is here, just in general. Do you – could you comment on that?
MR. TONER: I just would go back to what I just said, which is that I’m confirming he’s not in the United States. So that is a confirmation, right?
QUESTION: How do you know that? He could’ve come in illegally, and you might not know.
MR. TONER: True. Well, he’s not come through any --
QUESTION: So, there is a chance that he’s in the United States.
MR. TONER: Well, I can say that --
QUESTION: You can’t prove a negative, right?
MR. TONER: That’s right. You can’t prove a negative, Matt.
MR. TONER: Sorry, you’re talking about the attack --
QUESTION: Abdullah Khalid.
MR. TONER: -- the attack on Asadullah Khalid?
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR. TONER: We obviously join Afghanistan in condemning this attack that, as you mentioned, injured the head of National Directorate of Security Asadullah Khalid. We obviously stand strong with Afghanistan against these cowardly acts of terror, and we stand strong against this kind of terror and continue to work with Afghanistan to address both the security challenges but also the other challenges that they face.
QUESTION: And any idea who was responsible behind this?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I mean, I’ve seen the media reports that the Taliban have claimed responsibility, but no confirmation.
QUESTION: And is he being brought to U.S. for treatment? Do you have --
MR. TONER: I don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: Can we just go back to Syria for one second?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure thing.
QUESTION: And this is a question that I think that maybe you could take and ask the big thinkers in this building --
MR. TONER: I’m not a big thinker, Matt? Is that what you’re trying to accuse me of?
QUESTION: Well, I don’t think you’ll be answer it from the podium right now.
MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: But maybe you could – maybe someone upstairs has thought about the broader implications of this --
MR. TONER: Tell me the question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- which is: Why is the use of chemical weapons a redline here? You guys have stood by and done nothing in the way of intervention while almost 40,000 people have been killed over the last two years. What’s the difference if they die --
MR. TONER: I just --
QUESTION: -- from using --
MR. TONER: I reject the whole premise of your question, that we have stood by and watched. We have --
QUESTION: No, no. I’m not saying stood by. I said stood by and not intervened --
MR. TONER: Done nothing.
QUESTION: -- is what I said. I’m sorry, you did intervene?
MR. TONER: No. Okay.
QUESTION: Is that not correct?
MR. TONER: Finish your question. Finish your question. But I – okay. I --
QUESTION: The suggestion that this is a redline, that this would be a redline that would involve – incorporates the idea that there would be some kind of a military response, correct?
MR. TONER: Again, the Secretary has been very clear. Everyone has been very clear.
QUESTION: There would be extreme consequences, whatever there would be. So can you ask the big thinkers --
MR. TONER: We’re not going to get into what the consequences would be, other than to say that it’s there’s a redline.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. Well, that – it implies something more than what you’ve been doing to this point, correct?
MR. TONER: A redline is a redline. Go ahead.
QUESTION: No, the consequences – implies that they would be more than something – I think it’s a safe – I think that’s a safe assumption.
MR. TONER: I’m not going to go beyond what I’ve said.
QUESTION: Well, I’m saying that I think it’s a safe assumption to make. So can you ask the big thinkers in this building why it is that the use of chemical weapons and the albeit horrific deaths that would ensue, and injuries, why that is a redline when you’ve been not willing to intervene or do anything over the past two years when almost 40,000 people have been killed by conventional means?
MR. TONER: Again, I argue with the premise of your question that we’ve somehow done nothing.
QUESTION: I didn’t say nothing – I didn’t say you’ve done nothing.
MR. TONER: We have been working --
QUESTION: I said you have not intervened.
MR. TONER: Okay. We have been working with the international community and leading efforts to put pressure on the Assad regime, to have Bashar al-Assad step aside, to allow for a political transition to take place. We’re just very clear that, given the horrific nature of these weapons, this would constitute a redline. I don’t know how to put it any more --
QUESTION: Okay. But death of 40,000 people isn’t horrific enough?
MR. TONER: It is horrific. Absolutely. We’re not trying to discount --
QUESTION: Well, I guess the question is: Does it matter – you think that it matters, the method in which the – or how these people die; is that correct?
MR. TONER: Again, the international community, not just the United States, feels strongly that the use of these weapons of mass destruction --
MR. TONER: -- is untenable.
QUESTION: Okay. But the death of almost 40,000 people through conventional means is – that’s not nothing --
MR. TONER: And that’s -- and you’re absolutely right, Matt. It is --
QUESTION: And it’s just as horrific.
MR. TONER: And it is (inaudible) a horrific scene. And because of the Syrian Government’s seeming nonchalance about killing 40,000 of its own citizens, that’s precisely why we’re concerned that with its back against the wall, it could take the next step.
QUESTION: All right. Well, perhaps you could ask someone up in the policy planning department for the answer to the question. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue?
MR. TONER: We’ve – yeah.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it correct to say that the U.S. is going to blacklist Al-Nusra Front, this radical group, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t have anything to, obviously, announce on that front. You know you – you know what we’ve said publicly in general about the existence of these extremist groups in Syria, that it is a matter of concern to us. Although they make up a relatively small part of the opposition to Assad, we know that these groups, al-Qaida and their ilk, try to take advantage of exactly the kind of environment that Assad has fostered over the last year or so.
And we’ve been very clear that they don’t represent the will of the Syrian people. And it’s important that they – that the Syrian people get a government out of all this that’s representative of their desires and aspirations. They don’t, certainly, want to trade one dictator for another.
QUESTION: Any move on the part of the U.S. or the U.S. allies in the region to provide the Syrian opposition with anti chemical warfare gear?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to get into, from here, what we may or many not be discussing with them about chemical weapons control. We’re obviously taking prudent contingency action.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The Senate just dropped the amendment that they pursued to expel the Palestinian mission from town. Did you play any role in that?
MR. TONER: If we did or we – we constantly consult with Congress on this issue, as we do on any important issue, a foreign policy issue. You’ll have to ask Congress about why this was dropped.
QUESTION: Okay. And just to quickly follow up on Palestinian action, or reaction to the settlement activity, they are still determined to go to the Security Council. Did you call the Palestinian leadership in person and tell them not to go?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if we’ve reached out to them directly. I can take the question. I don’t know what our recent conversations have been with them.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: My apologies if you’ve already addressed this this week. But actually, Libyan media reported this week that an attempt was made to kill the organizer of an anti-militia, pro-America demonstration that took place in Benghazi on or around the 20th of September, I think. I was wondering if you had a response to that --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, one more time. The leader of a --
QUESTION: The organizer --
MR. TONER: Organizer.
QUESTION: -- of the pro-America demonstration that happened in Benghazi, I think it was on the 21st of September.
MR. TONER: Okay. And I’m sorry. And --
QUESTION: Have you guys seen these reports?
MR. TONER: And this was – oh, oh.
QUESTION: It was in a daily newspaper in Tripoli.
MR. TONER: No. You know what? I’m sorry, I apologize. I don’t have anything on it. Certainly, we’re very sensitive to the fact that the Libyan Government has a tremendous challenge on its hands in trying to deal with these militias and provide greater security throughout the country. But specifically on this, I’ll have to take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, Andy.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You have tanks on the streets overnight in Cairo. You have Morsi’s government being hit by a number of resignations. I’m wondering a, what’s your assessment of the situation on the ground in Cairo and in Egypt broadly; and secondly, do you have any concerns now that the Morsi government’s stability is being called into question by – particularly by all of these defections by his minister?
MR. TONER: Well, let me just say at the outset that we deplore the violence between rival groups of demonstrators that reportedly killed five people and injured hundreds last night as well as early this morning. We call on all Egyptian political leaders to lead by example in condemning these acts. And as Egyptians on both sides of these issues continue to express their views, we obviously look to the Government of Egypt to respect the freedoms of peaceful expression and assembly and to exercise restraint. Secretary Clinton spoke to this yesterday, I believe, that this kind of upheaval that we’re seeing, Andy, indicates that dialogue is urgently needed. We need to see that dialogue in place. It’s obvious that Egyptians have strong opinions regarding recent actions as well as the substance of the draft constitution, and we obviously need to see a dialogue in place as soon as possible to address their concerns.
Somebody’s got a phone ringing.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. doing anything concrete to facilitate this dialogue? Is there anything you guys could do more?
MR. TONER: Well, we obviously maintain regular dialogue both with the Egyptian Government as well as all of the political leaders at all levels from across the political spectrum, and we’re delivering that same message to all of them.
QUESTION: And how about the question of the sort of stability of the government now this has gone on for however many days? I mean, do you – is there any concern in this building that they’re looking at something which could snowball into something much bigger now?
MR. TONER: Well, whenever there’s this kind of level of violence in the streets, we’re obviously concerned and we’re monitoring the situation very closely. I understand President Morsi is supposed to speak to the country tonight. It’s important, as we’ve said, that as soon as possible this dialogue begin, that the concerns of all the demonstrators begin to be addressed so that they can move forward in this process.
Yeah, in the back.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: One is about trade. Recently, the United States and Europe presented a complaint against Argentina. Argentina yesterday presented a complaint against United States and Europe, and today United States answer asking for a panel. I wanted to know how do you see this dispute in terms of the impact it can have in the bilateral relationship.
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: And the second --
MR. TONER: Go ahead. The second part?
QUESTION: No, the second is another subject. It’s about the media law, but let’s start with the trade.
MR. TONER: Well, just on the matter of these WTO complaints that you mentioned, in terms of – or with regard to the Argentine Government’s complaint, you’ll have to ask them. These trade disputes are obviously the responsibility of the U.S. Trade Representative, but I can say that the United States has expressed serious concerns both bilaterally and multilaterally in various fora of the WTO about measures maintained by Argentina that appear to restrict imports.
Go ahead with your second question.
QUESTION: The second question is about the media law. As you probably know, there is a big discussion about this media law and the impact it could have upon freedom of the press, and lately there is also a big dispute between the executive power and the judiciary power about the implementation of the law. I wanted to know the U.S. position about that.
MR. TONER: Well, we’re obviously watching the process closely. I don’t really have any specific comment on the legal proceedings themselves. As we say generally whenever there’s a legal process, we want to see it adhered to international standards. You know where we are about – where we are on media freedom. We want to see freedom of expression, including for members of the press. We believe it’s a fundamental freedom that’s vital to the health and proper functioning of a democracy.
Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Following last night’s strong statement that you issued on Tibet, have you received any response from the Chinese? And was it officially communicated to them, too?
MR. TONER: And? I didn’t hear the last part of your question.
QUESTION: Was this statement officially communicated to the Chinese?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it went out – it was released publicly. I’m sure the Chinese Government has seen it. I don’t have any information on whether they’ve responded.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jamie.
QUESTION: A question about Guatemala. John McAfee --
QUESTION: Can we stay on China for a sec?
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick question. A delegation led by Wang Jiarui, who was in North Korea last week visiting with Kim Jong-un, is in the States right now meeting with the Democratic and Republican parties. I just wanted to know if he’s set to have any meetings here in this building.
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll take the question.
MR. TONER: Yep.
MR. TONER: Oh, sure.
QUESTION: He was arrested in Guatemala. He says, according to reports, that the U.S. Embassy has told him that they could not help him with the request to get him back to the United States as opposed to going back to Belize. Can you comment on that and what, if any, involvement the Embassy has had with his case down there?
MR. TONER: Sure. We are aware that Mr. McAfee has been arrested in Guatemala. Regrettably for you guys, we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver for Mr. McAfee. So while he can make statements, we can’t really give you much detail in response. I can say that our Embassy in Guatemala City is providing all appropriate consular services, but I can’t really comment beyond that.
I know, I’m waiting for it, Matt. I’m waiting for it.
QUESTION: Do you expect us to believe that he didn’t sign a Privacy Act waiver? The guy is walking – he’s a walking television show.
MR. TONER: I --
QUESTION: Was he asked to sign a Privacy Act waiver?
MR. TONER: We always ask, Matt. You know that.
QUESTION: And he said no? I want to know if --
MR. TONER: You can ask him, obviously, if you want to.
QUESTION: Apparently, I can. I want to know, though, if from your end, if there was an affirmative he said, “No, I am not going to sign a Privacy Act waiver,” or is that covered by the Privacy Act waiver?
MR. TONER: I will double-check, but that’s something --
QUESTION: I find it very hard to believe. This guy has been aggressively seeking publicity. It’s very difficult for me to believe that he refused to sign a Privacy Act waiver.
MR. TONER: Well, Matt, I will take that question just so I can get back to you with a strong affirmative statement that he did not.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: And a follow-up?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: About the trade dispute, do you think this can impact the bilateral relationship? What can be the effect of this coming and going?
MR. TONER: We have a very strong bilateral relationship. These are serious issues and will be addressed in the appropriate fora. But our relationship with Argentina is broader, it’s stronger, than just the economic piece of it and just the specific trade piece.
Is that it, guys? Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)
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