Daily Press Briefing - November 29, 2011
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Clinton Arrived in Busan / Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness / Keynote Speech
- Bonn Conference / Pakistani Public Statement / Valuable Opportunity in Bonn / Critical Relationship with Afghanistan / Ambassador Munter Engagement with Pakistani Government
- NATO Strike / Expressed Condolences / Investigation Launched / Building Stronger Relationship / Difficult Situation and Challenge / Central Command / Secretary Clinton's Call with Foreign Minister Khar
- Reconciliation in Afghanistan / Afghan-Led Process
- Defense-Related Products to Pakistan / Lawsuit / Approval of Marketing License / Sales Demonstration / Security Assistance Program Continues
- Cooperation on Missile Defense with Russia
- Tear Gas / U.S. Security Assistance Funds / Licenses for Export / Condemn Any Misuse
- Elections / American Election Experts
- COTE D'IVOIRE
- Gbagbo / Impeded Peaceful Transition to Democracy / Needs to Be Held Accountable
- OIC Conference / Arab League
- Jesuit Father Paolo dall'Oglio Expulsion
- Ambassador Ford's Travel
- U.S. Thinks Economic Reforms Will Further Strengthen Business-to-Business Ties / U.S. Welcomes India's Decision to Create New Economic Opportunities, Leading to More Choices for Indian Consumers
- UNITED KINGDOM/IRAN
- Attack on British Embassy in Iran / Echo White House's Very Strong Condemnation / Close Contact with British Authorities
- U.S. Condemns Firing of Rockets from Lebanon towards Israel / Provocative Act / UNSCR 1701
- Bradley Manning / Ongoing Legal Case / Unauthorized Release of Classified Information
- Secretary Clinton's Trip / Relationship with North Korea / Full Agenda
- Hamas / Elections
- U.S. Reiterates Strong Support for Georgia's Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity
- Alan Gross / U.S. Raises This Case at Every Opportunity with Cuban Authorities / Call for Immediate Release on Humanitarian Grounds / Held Far Too Long
1:04 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Welcome to the State Department. I can report that the Secretary has arrived this evening in Busan. And tomorrow, which is our evening, she’ll attend the opening ceremony of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, where, as you know, she’ll give the keynote speech. Obviously, as we discussed yesterday in the phone backgrounder, the Secretary’s participation is a reflection of her commitment not only to development for its impact on our national security objectives, but also to demonstrate the need for all countries to put development on their national agendas.
And with that, I will take your question --
QUESTION: Yesterday --
MR. TONER: Brad, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you mentioned that Pakistan was reconsidering their participation in the Bonn conference. And today, they’ve withdrawn. Did they inform you of this directly, and what reasons did they give?
MR. TONER: They did not inform us directly. We’ve seen, obviously, the Pakistani statements about their intentions. And the reason why they didn’t inform us directly is that we’re not the host. The Germans are the host. So I would refer you to the German Government for confirmation on whether they’ll attend or not. Again, we’ve seen the public statement saying that they’re not. And also, as you know, Afghanistan is the chair of that conference.
QUESTION: What does this --
MR. TONER: What was your full question? Sorry (inaudible).
QUESTION: No, no, no, that was the start, but what does this say about the strategy in Afghanistan? Pakistan was supposed to play a key role in the future in stabilizing the country and also helping with reconciliation talks. If they’re not going to take part in this big conference on the future of the country, what does it mean for your strategy?
MR. TONER: Well, first of all, we did – and I think I made the point yesterday that we do think that it’s important to note that this conference is, as you said, about Afghanistan, about its future, about building a safer, more prosperous Afghanistan within the region. And so it’s very much in Pakistan’s interest to attend this conference.
Seeing this on a continuum, Pakistan was obviously in Istanbul and pledged support for a strong, prosperous Afghanistan within the region. It was a very important statement. And again, now we’re moving towards Bonn. This is an important opportunity. It’s also worth noting that there’s still going to be 85 nations and 15 international organizations that are going to be in Bonn. So while we would like to have Pakistan there, we still think it’ll be a valuable opportunity to talk about Afghanistan’s future.
QUESTION: Do you fear that this will be indicative of a larger policy shift with Pakistan less cooperative on future plans for stabilizing, securing Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s impossible for me to say what Pakistan’s long-term intentions may be.
QUESTION: Do you fear --
MR. TONER: Certainly, from our perspective, we have expressed our condolences over the incident last week. The White House yesterday termed it a tragedy, and it is, in fact, a tragedy. We’ve launched an investigation to look into the matter, both to find out why this happened and what, in fact, transpired, but also to ensure that this never happens again. And as we’ve expressed in our private conversations with Pakistani leaders, we’re committed to working through this and building a stronger relationship. We absolutely see our relationship with Pakistan vital to our national security interests, to the interests of Afghanistan, as well as to Pakistan’s own interests.
QUESTION: Mark, why is it – you’ve said it’s very much in Pakistan’s interest to attend this conference. Why?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s – Pakistan has a crucial role to play in supporting a secure and stable and prosperous Afghanistan. In some ways, it goes without saying. But I mean, it’s absolutely critical that Afghanistan’s neighbors play a role in its future development. And certainly, Pakistan – its relationship with Pakistan has been critical in that regard.
QUESTION: If it’s very much in their interest, are you trying to convince them to change their minds about this?
MR. TONER: I think we’re expressing our – as I have publicly – our desire or our belief that it’s in their interest to attend.
QUESTION: But are you – you’re – I mean, I understand that and I know that because you’ve said that. That doesn’t tell me whether or not you’re actually talking --
MR. TONER: Whether they’ve conveyed that – I’m not --
QUESTION: No, no. Whether you’re talking to them and saying, look, we think you should do this, and here is why.
MR. TONER: We are talking to them. I’m sure that – and you talked about this yesterday. We’ve – our ambassador, Cameron Munter, in Islamabad, has been engaged full stop with the Pakistani Government. And I’m sure they are talking about Bonn.
QUESTION: But are they – are you trying to persuade them to come?
MR. TONER: I don’t actually know what the substance of the conversations were, so it’s hard for me to say.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I also understood that some Taliban representatives may have been planning on participating, and now they’ve backed out of this as well, and that would – they would – that the U.S. was hoping they would actually be present at this.
MR. TONER: That, I don’t know, Cami. I’ve not heard that.
QUESTION: What does it say, though, about the long-term relationship that Pakistan already is going ahead and making these substantive decisions and taking actions long before there’s been any resolution in terms of an investigation?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. What do you think it – what does it say about the long-term effects of this?
QUESTION: Pakistan isn’t waiting. Pakistan is already making its decisions, taking actions, denouncing what happened, even before the investigation. What does that say to the United States about mending this relationship?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think it says that we are facing a difficult situation, a difficult challenge. We’re trying to address it in a way that’s transparent and forthright in the sense that we’re having an investigation that’s going to look into what happened. You probably saw that our Central Command did issue a press release last night giving some of the details on that investigation. And in every conversation we’ve had and continue to have with the Pakistani Government, while expressing our deep condolences about the incident, we are also pledging to work – continue to work together.
QUESTION: Does this really mean that the Administration is now having to rethink its entire Af-Pak strategy, given that things are so strained now with Islamabad?
MR. TONER: I think our strategy, our approach to Afghanistan, remains on track. As we said, we’re still planning on the Bonn conference. It’s not going to be delayed or postponed. We still have, as I mentioned, some 85 nations and some 15 international organizations who will attend. We think it’s important to go forward with our plan – long-term plan for Afghanistan.
Do we want Pakistan to be involved in that future? Yes. Is it vital? Certainly, and we’re going to work towards making sure that Pakistan is indeed involved as we move forward. Pakistan has been involved in the past, and we believe it will be in the future.
QUESTION: Given that the Administration has been – given that the Administration has been pushing this strategy for just about three years now, as part of the discussion, what are the three things that U.S. officials are telling the Pakistanis about why they still have a vested interest? Is it security? Is it a chance for improved economic development? Is it a chance for improved local ethnic ties? What are the tangibles that the Pakistanis should not be losing sight of, in the U.S.’s view?
MR. TONER: Well, first of all, that they face, in fact, an existential threat in the form of extremists who operate in that border region. It’s a threat to Afghanistan’s stability, it’s a threat to Pakistan’s stability; we need to address it. The Secretary and the high-level delegation that she brought with her to Pakistan discussed the need for Pakistan to address some of these threats head on. And that threat remains intact, and so we need to address it.
It’s absolutely vital, as we’ve seen, and not just from a security standpoint but from a political and economic standpoint, that there is closer cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And it’s very much in Pakistan’s long-term interest, as it is in fact in the long-term interest of every one of Afghanistan’s neighbors, that Afghanistan has stability, has prosperity, and is a safe and secure neighbor --
QUESTION: So how is --
MR. TONER: -- with safe and secure borders.
QUESTION: So how is --
MR. TONER: So I mean, those are all – just to finish my thought --
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR. TONER: I mean, those are all very much not only in Pakistan’s interest but in all of Afghanistan’s neighbors’ interest.
QUESTION: But given that the U.S. has framed this challenge in this bi-national way for so long, what thought had been given or perhaps might be reconsidered about trying to shore up Afghanistan as a stable, independent country without the Pakistani influence as part of that discussion? Are you looking for other countries that might be willing to help promote that?
MR. TONER: Look, I think we’ve had a significant incident that took place, but this has not disrupted our overall strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, vis-a-vis Pakistan. We’re still committed to working with both countries to build a more stable and secure future for both countries.
QUESTION: But it does come at the end of a very difficult year in U.S.-Pakistani relations, with many officials noting privately that this is the worst thing that could have possibly happened. How do you salvage – how do you salvage that, or do you simply say let’s just make this a functional relationship and let’s try to recalibrate what we’re doing in Afghanistan for the remaining three years of our military involvement there?
MR. TONER: I think it’s an absolutely vital relationship for both countries, and we need to work harder to make it work better. And I think that’s exactly what we’re engaged in doing.
Go ahead. You were going to – you had a question.
QUESTION: Two quick ones. One, do you regret the Pakistani decision not to come to Bonn?
MR. TONER: It’s – I think I said it as plainly as I can. It’s in their interest, so we think it’s important that they be there.
QUESTION: But why not say that you regret it? I mean, surely you do regret it, don’t you? I mean, they’re a neighbor, and you think they’re going to play a key role, you think it’s vital that they do this. Why can’t you just say yeah, we regret this?
MR. TONER: I just resist having words put in my mouth. It’s just --
QUESTION: Are you delighted that the Pakistanis are not coming to Bonn?
MR. TONER: I just – it’s not for us to characterize --
QUESTION: -- your own feelings about the Pakistanis choosing not to attend?
MR. TONER: Well, frankly, no, because it’s for the Pakistanis to make these decisions on their own. And they have made their decision. We think it’s important that they be there, but --
QUESTION: But you’ve decided it’s in their interests. They’ve decided it’s not in their interests. So you’re saying they’re wrong? If they’re deciding not to go, they’re saying it’s not in their interest to attend, unless they’re wrong or they’re deciding to do something --
MR. TONER: You’ll have to --
QUESTION: -- against their own interests.
MR. TONER: Brad, you’ll have to ask the Pakistanis why they made the decision they made. In terms of their interests, it’s somewhat stating the obvious that having a stable neighbor is in anyone’s interest.
QUESTION: And do you want them to participate --
MR. TONER: From a geopolitical sense.
QUESTION: -- in your investigation or investigations, whether it’s two or one now?
MR. TONER: It’s two. I mean, the ISAF – look, I refer you to the – to CENTCOM’s press release, which puts it all in perspective. But --
QUESTION: So do you want the Pakistanis to participate in this investigation?
MR. TONER: I believe the offer was made. I don’t know what the Pakistanis have decided.
QUESTION: A Pakistani general – that’s along the lines of what I was going to ask you – suggested today that Pakistan would not cooperate in this because, in the past, investigations have come up with nothing, into similar instances.
And you mentioned transparency. What assurances can you give the Pakistanis that they will be satisfied with the way this investigation is being conducted?
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: Versus investigations in the past.
MR. TONER: Well, you’re implying that past investigations weren’t transparent.
QUESTION: That’s what they’re saying.
MR. TONER: Again, we’re conducting a thorough investigation. It will be up to the Pakistanis ultimately to decide whether they believe it was done in a transparent manner. Our military’s conduct speaks for itself. It will be a transparent investigation.
QUESTION: Do you think it would be reasonable for Pakistan to conduct its own investigation?
MR. TONER: That’s up to Pakistan.
QUESTION: Do you think it would be reasonable? If 24 Americans were killed, would the United States conduct its own investigation?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to speak for the Pakistani military.
QUESTION: Just one practical one. Yesterday, I had asked if you could get a readout of any of Ambassador Grossman’s calls. Are you able to share any of that with us?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I’m not aware that he’s had any calls, since this, obviously – Secretary Clinton – did speak with Foreign Minister Khar, but I’m not aware that he’s had any specific calls. And as I said, Ambassador Munter has been engaged in Islamabad.
QUESTION: Anything specifically to the prime minister, the Pakistani prime minister (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Not – you mean Ambassador Munter?
QUESTION: In recent days.
MR. TONER: I believe so, yes.
QUESTION: You believe he is?
MR. TONER: He has been – he has spoken to the prime minister.
QUESTION: If Pakistan doesn’t attend the Bonn conference eventually, do you think this will affect the efforts to reach a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan alongside the border region and the bigger picture, which was the Silk Road vision in the region?
MR. TONER: Well, I think Pakistan has pledged its support for reconciliation efforts. We’ve always said that that needs to be an Afghan-led process. You know where our set redlines are about those reconciliation efforts. But certainly, we want to – as long as it’s an Afghan-led process, they want to see that move forward.
QUESTION: But how confident are you that if they don’t go to Bonn, they will still remain committed to what they committed earlier?
MR. TONER: To what they’ve committed to --
QUESTION: To the peace process, to play an active role in achieving this negotiated settlement.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get too far out ahead of where we’re at right now. We do have the Bonn conference on the immediate horizon. It will be an important opportunity to talk about Afghanistan’s future, but it’s not the sole opportunity, and we’ll continue to work closely with Pakistan. As I said, we’re committed, certainly, to working through this.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a while ago you said, “In our private conversations with Pakistani leaders,” so in those private conversations, have you had any indication that Pakistan is going to change its mind at some point in future?
MR. TONER: I’d really refer you to the Pakistani authorities.
QUESTION: Can I just –
QUESTION: Can I just ask one quick question –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- peripherally? I was wondering whether there’d been any new look at Defense Department approvals of defense-related products to Pakistan. This comes in light of a lawsuit filed by Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer, who objected to BAE selling thermal optic equipment to the Pakistanis saying it was going to guys that are known to stab us in the back. It is the same people who are killing our guys. They come --
MR. TONER: I’m aware of the article and the lawsuit. And I did do a little bit of digging on this issue, although I would caveat it by saying we’re limited to what we can say because it is an ongoing lawsuit. I am aware that in August, we have approved an – or we did approve a marketing license that allowed BAE to temporarily export up to 20 thermal imaging rifle scopes to Pakistan. But that was for sales demonstration and none of those scopes were sold, and in order to do that, they would have had to apply for a separate export license. So I’m not aware that any sale – there was never any pursuit of a sale on those items.
QUESTION: And can you speak in a more general way whether, under the present circumstances, State Department approvals of defense-related products exported to Pakistan are under any review, or does that continue apace, or how would you characterize that?
MR. TONER: You know what? I’ll have to, frankly, take the question as to whether there’s been any review. I mean, I know that our security assistance program does continue. It’s an important part of our counterterrorism efforts. But in terms of particular sales, I’d have to take the question.
Yeah. Thanks, Christophe.
MR. TONER: I didn’t hear the first part of your question there.
QUESTION: That President Medvedev of Russia --
MR. TONER: Oh, Medvedev. Yeah.
QUESTION: -- has announced that radar warning system that they have in Kaliningrad would go on immediate combat readiness. So I wonder what you think of that.
MR. TONER: I don’t have much more to add than what we said last week, which is our missile --
QUESTION: Because they have made a step forward, so --
MR. TONER: I’m aware. Well, there’s – it’s – in fact, it’s – at this point, it’s – these are public statements, obviously, that we haven’t seen any action on the ground. We still remain committed to cooperating with Russia on missile defense and we’re hopeful that we can convince them that it’s in our mutual interest to do so.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. TONER: Sure.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: I want to go back to something that was raised last Tuesday about some reports that the Egyptian military had been using tear gas – American-made tear gas – against the protesters. And while, I know that Toria said that there weren’t any pending independent company wishes to sell directly to the Egyptian military, there was – State was looking into this.
And my question is: Do we know whether there are any pending sales from U.S. companies apart from government weapon sales? And specifically, do we know whether the U.S. has ever approved the sale of something called Combined Tactical Systems 6230 Riot CS Smoke? I guess it’s a brand of tear gas.
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not sure I can get into that level of detail, but, as I think Toria specified last week, no U.S. security assistance funds have been used for the purchase of tear gas by the Egyptian Government. We have approved previous licenses for the export of tear gas to the Egyptian Interior Ministry, and that was paid for with Egyptian funds. And the – our understanding – and maybe this speaks to the type of tear gas that you just asked about – our understanding is that the tear gas approved for export has been the type of – that’s used by police forces in many countries around the world. We certainly would condemn the misuse – any misuse of tear gas anywhere that could result in death or injury.
QUESTION: When --
QUESTION: But Mark, considering with the violence we saw last week and the fact that you’ve got – what, a 21-ton shipment, three part, arriving now, some of it in Suez right now – doesn’t that kind of send a mixed message from the U.S. Government? I mean, I know on one hand the U.S. Embassy in Cairo this morning tweeted, “U.S. security assistance funds were not being used for tear gas. That’s a genuine fact.” Another tweet said the U.S. is providing humanitarian assistance to victims, but has condemned excessive force.
But what does that say then, when you’ve got tear gas shipments arriving in the Port of Suez with “Made in the USA” on the side of them?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s – again, as I said, these are – this tear gas is approved for export to many countries around the world. It’s used by police forces in many countries around the world including our own --
QUESTION: But you’ve seen instances, haven’t you, in the past week or so, where it’s been misused?
MR. TONER: Right. And let me just finish what – my last point, which was saying that we certainly condemn the misuse of tear gas that would result in death or injury. And any kind of misuse to that extent would certainly cause us to – give us pause, I think, and has the potential to jeopardize future exports.
QUESTION: So what can be done, then?
QUESTION: Do (inaudible) misuse in Egypt, tear gas?
MR. TONER: It’s really – a lot of the evidence and the stories that we’ve heard have been circumstantial, so I’m really hesitant to pass judgment.
QUESTION: But you are looking into this, though?
MR. TONER: I think we are looking into it. I’ll have to try to see if we have any kind of judgment to pass so far on it.
QUESTION: There’s also been talk --
QUESTION: On whether – yeah. That would be interesting if you could take the question. It would – yeah.
QUESTION: There’s also been talk that this is a stronger tear gas than has been previously used in Egypt, and I’m wondering if --
MR. TONER: Again, I’ve seen those kinds of reports as well.
QUESTION: Would you check if there is any investigation or anyone looking into that as well?
MR. TONER: We could look into that, but again my understanding is that this is the type of tear gas approved for export around the world, and it’s not a particularly more --
QUESTION: And then just on – sorry.
MR. TONER: No. That’s okay. It’s not a particularly – and I’ve asked this question myself –it’s not a necessarily stronger brand. It’s the type of tear gas that’s used by (inaudible) forces around the world.
QUESTION: And just on the licensing issue, Toria said last week that there were no pending licenses being sought. So if this --
MR. TONER: Right. There are previous licenses that are still --
QUESTION: Yeah. Well --
MR. TONER: Sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: If there’s previous licenses, one would have been – that if a new shipment has arrived today, one would --
MR. TONER: Well, these can still be valid. I mean, that’s the point.
MR. TONER: Somebody could have gotten a two-year license, and it’s still valid. They haven’t been --
QUESTION: So you don’t know when that last – when this license would have been valid for, or when it was given? Is this from the Mubarak era? Is this since then?
MR. TONER: That, I don't know. I can certainly ask, but --
QUESTION: Well, she said – the way she said it, there were no pending licenses, it sounded as if nobody could sell tear gas right now.
MR. TONER: No. I --
QUESTION: She didn’t say companies are out – have open-ended rights to send whatever they want.
MR. TONER: Right. They’re not open-ended, but they’re – what I think she meant by pending – again, I’m --
QUESTION: There was no suggestion that companies could right now --
MR. TONER: There are ongoing licenses that are still valid.
QUESTION: I thought it was no pending requests for licenses.
QUESTION: Okay. Maybe that was it.
MR. TONER: Right. Thank you.
QUESTION: But they’re – so you’re saying --
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding as well.
QUESTION: -- there are companies that can now send tear gas, and they don’t have to ask because --
MR. TONER: They are operating under existing licenses. That is my understanding. If that’s wrong, I’ll let you know, but that’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. And those aren’t being reviewed in any way?
MR. TONER: Again, I think we would – if we had strong evidence that the tear gas was being misused, as I said, we would reconsider. But I’m not aware that that’s happening.
QUESTION: This is expanding on Brad’s point. Given that weapons, that arm sales that the U.S. Government sells can be pulled back, there can be some sort of punishment, when we’re talking about a private company that is providing the product, what can be done once it’s overseas? How do you sanction the company? Do you terminate the license right then to keep them from supplying someone? Is there a way to sanction the country that’s misusing the product? What’s – how do you roll this back, I guess is my question.
MR. TONER: Well, first of all, Rosalind, again, what we’ve seen is a lot of circumstantial evidence, but we haven’t seen any real concrete proof that the Egyptian authorities were misusing tear gas. So I don't want to elaborate any further on what possible next steps we could or could not take until we really have all the facts and details.
QUESTION: Well, has the situation come up before?
MR. TONER: I don't know, frankly.
QUESTION: Can you take that as part of the question, please?
MR. TONER: This is becoming a mega taken question.
QUESTION: I said please.
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it. I’ll look into it. (Laughter.) I said please. Yeah.
QUESTION: Mark, do you have any new assessment for the elections in Egypt today than yesterday?
MR. TONER: Well, absolutely. They are scheduled to conclude the first two-day round of voting in their transition to democracy. As I think I talked about yesterday, there are delegations of independent American election experts on the ground. I think I mentioned yesterday, just to clarify, there’s experts from the Carter Center, from the National Democratic Institute, from the International Republican Institute, but – did I also mention – was there IFES? IFES, yeah. IFES is not actually there with election observers, so just to correct what I said yesterday, I believe they’re providing other support.
But these delegations, which have been fully accredited by the Egyptian authorities, are observing the elections. So far, it’s another peaceful day, and we congratulate the Egyptian people, the Egyptian authorities for what appears to be a successful election.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the former president Gbagbo being sentenced to the Hague, to the ICC?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure – is that – I’m aware that there was pending UN action on that today.
QUESTION: Yeah. And the warrant – the arrest warrant has been issued, and then his lawyer has said that he would leave either today or tonight or tomorrow.
MR. TONER: Well, Christophe, I would always say that, as we said at the time, he impeded the peaceful transition to democracy in Cote d’Ivoire, and he paid a price for that. He now needs to be held accountable for any human rights abuses that he may have carried out.
QUESTION: Do you think his trial can help reconciliation in the country?
MR. TONER: I think any credible, transparent trial that holds him accountable for his actions can certainly be constructive in the reconciliation efforts.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The --
MR. TONER: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And the Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers will attend this conference. What are your expectations?
MR. TONER: I mean, it’s ultimately – I don't want to lay out our expectations for a conference that we’re not attending or – nor for an organization that we’re not a member of. We think it’s important that all of Syria’s neighbors take a good look at what’s going on there and reconsider their policies with regard to Syria. We’ve seen the Arab League take very strong action in the past couple of weeks. They’re going to meet later this week to discuss sanctions. We think that’s a positive step. We would call on other international organizations to take similar steps to put pressure on Asad.
QUESTION: And on Syria too, the Syrian Government has decided to expel an Italian Jesuit priest from Syria. Do you have anything on this?
MR. TONER: I do. You’re talking about Jesuit Father Paolo dall’Oglio?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Well, he’s – as you said, he’s a figure inside of the Syrian Christian community, and he’s also credited, I believe, for restoring a monastery there, and he is being expelled for his criticism of the regime, regime’s crackdown on protestors. We believe it’s additional proof to Christians and all minorities that the regime is not really protecting their interests, but rather is willing to target anyone who speaks ill of Asad.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?
MR. TONER: Sure, sure.
QUESTION: Any update on Ambassador Ford’s plans to return to Damascus by the end of the year?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I’ll try to find out for you tomorrow. I don't think any decision has been made yet.
QUESTION: Yeah. What’s your reaction to the Indian Government decision to allow foreign direct investment in the multi-brand retail sector, which was one of the wish list for the U.S. as number of U.S. companies, including Wal-Mart, are looking forward to (inaudible) Indian market.
MR. TONER: Right. Well, we welcome India’s decision. We think economic reforms, such as these, will further strengthen business-to-business ties between our two countries. It’s going to create new economic opportunities and it’s also going to lead to more choices for Indian consumers.
QUESTION: Are you also aware there’s a huge opposition to this decision? What – how do you see that? Opposition parties are opposing it.
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is part of a vibrant democracy where opposition parties can speak their mind and voice their concerns. But we viewed this, as I said, as a way to deepen our economic ties with India.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Iran?
MR. TONER: Sure. Iran, yes.
QUESTION: The White House released a statement condemning the attack on the British Embassy and it said that our State Department is in close contact with the British Government, and we stand ready to support our allies at this difficult time. What does “ready to support” mean?
MR. TONER: Obviously, we’re – first of all, we echo, here at the State Department, the White House’s very strong condemnation of the attack on the British Embassy. You probably also saw that the UN Security Council also issued a similarly worded statement. We join with the UK Government in expressing our outrage. We call on Iran to respect its international obligations and to fully guarantee the safety of the British Embassy and its staff.
We’re in very close contact with the British authorities and – as well as other international partners. I think what’s important now is that – on the ground – that all of the personnel within the embassy are accounted for and safe. But we’ll provide whatever support we can, whatever the British Government might need in terms of supporting its staff, I mean, recognizing that, in fact, we’re somewhat limited to what we can do on the ground in Iran.
QUESTION: Did you say that they are all accounted for and safe?
MR. TONER: I said it’s important right now that we establish that they’re all accounted for.
QUESTION: Okay. But you’re not saying that that’s been established.
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: And one other thing: Does this suggest to you that the United States and its allies – or, I guess, the British Government – got the Iranian’s attention with the coordinated decision announced last week to bar any British financial institution from dealing with Iranian financial institutions?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The last part of your question, what was the question?
QUESTION: Do you think --
MR. TONER: Do we think this is why they’re --
QUESTION: Do you think this suggests that you got the Iranian’s attention and do you think this is a response to the British decision to cut off their financial institutions from the Iranian banking sector?
MR. TONER: What I do think it’s – is that it’s another example of Iran’s disregard for its international obligations. They need to uphold their obligations under the Vienna Convention and they need to protect the security and safety of diplomats in Tehran. It’s hard to say, frankly, but we do believe – as we’ve said before – that taken in totality, that the economic sanctions against Iran are beginning to have an effect.
QUESTION: Was there --
MR. TONER: Which has been acknowledged – as much has been acknowledged by President Ahmadinejad.
QUESTION: Was this ever gamed into the consideration with this latest round of sanctions, that there might be some kind of violent pushback from the Iranians or from Iranian citizens acting at their government’s behest?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s very unfortunate. It’s a disregard for their international obligations, and we call on them to protect the safety and security of diplomats. I don’t know about gaming, whether we could have foreseen this. Certainly, this is a country where – that has shown a disregard for its international obligations in the past.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on rocket activity over the Lebanese-Israeli border?
MR. TONER: Oh, sorry. Thought you were talking about the explosion that Arshad asked about yesterday.
QUESTION: Did you have --
MR. TONER: I didn’t. No, we didn’t have any. Sorry.
QUESTION: While you mention it.
MR. TONER: Yeah, right. We didn’t get any additional information on that, which is what I was about to tell Brad.
I’m sorry, you’re talking about in Lebanon?
MR. TONER: Well, we condemn the firing of rockets from Lebanon towards Israel. This was a provocative act; it undermines the stability of Lebanon and constitutes a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. We call on all parties to respect the blue line, as prescribed by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and to exercise restraint. And we urge Lebanon to continue its cooperation with UNIFIL to identify the source of the attack against Israel. And we again encourage, or underscore, rather, the need for Lebanon to exercise full sovereignty over its territory.
QUESTION: And are you in discussions as well with the Israeli Government to maybe prevent any kind of rash reaction to this?
MR. TONER: I think I just said that we call on all parties to exercise restraint.
Yeah. I’m sorry. Charley and then Lalit.
QUESTION: I’m on a different topic. Is that okay?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I think you’re on a different topic, too. I’m guessing.
QUESTION: On WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning’s lawyer has recently said that the impact of the leaked documents has been exaggerated. And he points to a State Department task force of 120 individuals that reviewed the cables and found that they were either low-level opinions or materials already known in – from previous public disclosures. Can you speak generally --
MR. TONER: I can speak generally to say – because this is an ongoing legal case, I can speak generally, just to reiterate what we said at the time of this release of classified information, and that is that the unauthorized release of any classified information puts individuals at risk and does damage to our national security.
QUESTION: And more specifically, can you react to the claim that this task force of (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: I really can’t, given some of the legal constraints here. I apologize. I mean, we’re talking about an ongoing legal case, and so I’m limited to what I can say.
Yeah. Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: As Secretary travels to Burma tomorrow, several U.S. congressmen and senators are seeking full transparency on the relationship between Burma and North Korea on the nuclear issues. Is this – this is an issue which Secretary will be raising during her meetings with the Burmese leaders?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’d refer you to the traveling party for the details of her trip, and – as well as the topics of discussion. We’ve raised this as an issue before. Our – it’s been a topic of discussion with Burma, but we’re also – as we said, we have a full agenda, which includes the release of political prisoners and opening up the democratic space there to all political parties.
QUESTION: And once it meets the leaders, what should we be calling them? The Burmese leaders or the leaders of Myanmar?
MR. TONER: I think I talked about this a couple of weeks ago. We refer to it as Burma.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Mark, the Palestinian Authority (inaudible) has decided to hold parliamentary elections in May. Do you support this decision?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve talked about this before. It’s an internal matter. We have made clear what we believe Hamas needs to do to be a part of the political process, so --
QUESTION: And do you expect Hamas to win these elections? Is it likely to happen (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to speculate on the outcome of any potential election.
QUESTION: Any --
MR. TONER: Again, what’s important here is that Hamas, to engage in the political process, needs to do the things we always talk about (inaudible), which is give up violence, recognize past agreements, and pledge to be part of the democratic process and to not engage in terrorism.
QUESTION: Just so we’re clear, Mark, the – I mean, Hamas, from your point of view, is totally free to stand in these elections. They don’t have to meet those three criteria to stand in their own domestic elections; that’s just for them to take part in the peace process or the political – correct?
MR. TONER: Well, we believe for them to be a credible political interlocutor, yes, they need to meet those three criteria. So yes, I mean, this is an internal matter, but for them to be a credible part of the broader process, they need to.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Any comments on the decision in South Ossetia to annul the results of the recent election and to bar the apparent victor from participating in the future election?
MR. TONER: Well, since we never recognized the legitimacy to begin with, we don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: But you’ve commented on elections in other places that you don’t recognize as states.
MR. TONER: Have we?
QUESTION: Never about Taiwan? I know it’s a different situation, but you have no comment?
MR. TONER: Yeah, I know, but I mean, we don’t have – I mean, we don’t have any comment beyond – as I said, beyond – we don’t recognize the legitimacy or the outcome of this runoff presidential election. We reiterate our strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Burma: Right before Secretary’s visit to Burma, yesterday the Chinese vice president met with the Burmese military leader. Do you think China and the U.S. are vying for the influence on Burma?
MR. TONER: I think we’ve spoken to this before. This visit to Burma is not about our relationship with China. It’s about, as the President said, trying to seize an opportunity where we’ve seen flickers of progress within the Burmese leadership, and to engage in our – as we said, our – rather, to carry out our policy of principled engagement, and to see if we can’t convince the Burmese authorities to take more steps in a positive direction. It’s not about China.
QUESTION: Is there any concern about China’s influence on Burma as U.S. is engaging Burma?
MR. TONER: No. Again, we – our concerns with Burma right now are, as we said, taking additional steps to create more democratic space there for the political parties – all the political parties to participate, and to free the political prisoners who are there.
Yeah. Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: About Japan, recently, senior Japanese defense ministry (inaudible) who handled the issues related to the Futenma base – the location issue – was removed from his post. Has the U.S. received any (inaudible) communication regarding this?
MR. TONER: Have we received any communication regarding Futenma?
MR. TONER: What --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) being fired.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, who?
QUESTION: The Japanese defense ministry official being fired.
MR. TONER: Over Futenma? I’m not aware of it. We’ll have to look into it. I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. In the back and then – sorry --
QUESTION: Yes, Mark. (Inaudible) Spain. A question about Cuba: Next Saturday will be the second anniversary of Alan Gross detention in Cuba. I would like to know, what is the State Department and the U.S. doing, and what is it – is the U.S. willing to do for his release?
MR. TONER: Well, we raise this case at every opportunity with the Cuban authorities. He’s been held far too long and we call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds, and we continue to make that point to Cuban authorities. He’s been held far too long.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)
DPB # 182.