Daily Press Briefing - November 23, 2010
Index for Today's Briefing:
- NORTH KOREA
- Secretary Clinton's meeting with Dr. Hecker
- Ambassador Bosworth in Beijing Today
- Recent Developments in North Korea / Unprovoked Attack on South Korea / Consulting Closely with Six Party Partners
- Anniversary of Mumbai Attack 26/11
- Speculation about Peace Talks with the Taliban
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- Impact of Israeli Legislation / U.S. Goal is to Get the Parties Back to Direct Negotiations
- IAEA Report
- AQ Khan
Daily Press Briefing
1:44 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Welcome to the State Department. I just wanted to give a brief shout-out before answering any of your questions. We’ve got four U.S. Navy officers from the Pentagon Public Affairs Office with us today. I’m not sure what we can teach them over here, but anyway, welcome – as well as five interns from Senator Lugar’s office on the Hill. So welcome to the State Department.
See, I knew people would come out of the woodwork. All right. I don't have anything off the top, so I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Really? Absolutely nothing off the top of your head?
MR. TONER: I don’t --
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton’s schedule this morning?
MR. TONER: Do you have a question, Matt?
QUESTION: I understand that she met with a certain scientist who might have some information that you guys are interested in.
MR. TONER: She did meet with Dr. Hecker this morning.
QUESTION: And what did they discuss?
QUESTION: All right. Has she had any other discussions with anyone about the situation in North Korea, particularly about the incident overnight?
MR. TONER: Well, she’s at the White House now, I believe, meeting with National Security Adviser Donilon and Secretary Gates. That’s a regular meeting, but obviously, North Korea is going to be something they’re going to discuss there. And I believe she’ll – she will be making some counterpart – or calls to some of her counterparts in the region. Once we get a fuller readout of that, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: The usual suspects?
MR. TONER: Don’t want to say yet. Again, once I get a better readout, I’ll convey. The usual suspects, but I don't want to --
QUESTION: China, South Korea, Japan?
MR. TONER: Once we get a firm list, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Are you suggesting she might call someone other than that, like – I don't know – the Botswanan foreign minister to talk about North Korea?
MR. TONER: Matt, I trust that you’ll use your keen foreign affairs intellect to discern who she might call.
QUESTION: But she hasn’t made any calls yet?
MR. TONER: Not yet.
QUESTION: So --
MR. TONER: Sure, Christophe.
QUESTION: Most (inaudible) think that China is the only country to have some sort of leverage on North Korea. So my question is: Do you think China is doing enough? Do you ask them to do more to help you resolve this?
MR. TONER: Well, Christophe, I mean, as you know, Ambassador Bosworth was in Beijing today and he’s actually on his – should be on his way back, or I believe he’ll return actually to the United States tomorrow. He had good discussions with the Chinese. He gave a readout of his meetings there. I believe he spoke with – or met Special Representative Wu Dawei as well as the Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai.
Obviously, they exchanged views on recent developments in North Korea, both over the weekend the uranium enrichment allegations as well as the exchange of fire overnight. And he gave a readout that said basically that they shared our concerns. We’re going to continue to consult with the Chinese through the Six-Party Talks. We believe that it’s important that we keep a unified and measured approach going forward.
Go ahead, Nicole.
QUESTION: But given that China’s reaction after the Cheonan disaster was – it fell short of U.S. hopes, are you confident you’re going to get the support you need from China, and are you taking any special measures to sort of shore up that support or ask for that support?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, Bosworth was just in Beijing. I mean, I know that was part of a preplanned trip.
QUESTION: I mean, what --
MR. TONER: But obviously we’re consulting closely with the Chinese on next steps. And right now we’re – again, what happened overnight was an unprovoked military attack on both Korean military personnel as well as civilians. Our condolences go out to those who lost their lives and their families and loved ones. But moving forward, we’re going to take a measured and unified approach. We’re going to work with China. We’re going to work with all our Six-Party partners on our response. But again, just to stress, it’s going to be a measured and unified response.
Go ahead, in back.
QUESTION: The Spokesman yesterday said a number of times that North Korea can’t be rewarded for bad behavior, as he put it. Particularly with regard to the alleged enrichment plant, is this viewed as part of a pattern in which a threat is revealed and then pulled back on an offer of increased assistance or aid from the outside? Do you see this as some kind of pattern?
MR. TONER: Well, you’re right. It is – it’s – it is a pattern, absolutely. It’s – we’ve seen this story before, and I – your question is right on the money. We’re not going to buy into this reaction-reward cycle that North Korea seeks to perpetuate.
QUESTION: Do you see any linkage between the events early this morning and that enrichment --
MR. TONER: I don't know.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Same question in the past. Can you trust that North Koreans, whatever they had been saying before, that you provide them some kind of aid and all that and they will halt their nuclear weapons program and all that? And second, as far as Chinese involvement is concerned, do you believe that whatever North Korea is doing, whether it’s exchange of fire or finding out the – I mean, the South Koreans or nuclear, that China is behind, or they are – they cannot do without the blessings and the support of the Chinese Government?
MR. TONER: In answer to your second question, we are fully engaged with China as a Six-Party partner and are committed to working with them within that process. On your first question – I think it was something about being able to trust North Korea – you’re right; it’s hard. And it makes the Six-Party process a difficult process. I think Ambassador Bosworth said as much. But the onus is on North Korea. We’re going to stay unified with our partners. We’re going to consult. We’re going to figure out next steps. But North Korea, through its actions, continues to isolate itself.
QUESTION: And finally, as far as this exchange of fire is concerned, how serious it is, or are you getting UN involved?
MR. TONER: That’s a good question; too early to tell. Again, we’re consulting with Six-Party partners. But there may be some involvement at the UN. I just – I can’t say at this point.
Go ahead, Charlie.
MR. TONER: Sorry. Charlie.
QUESTION: You’ve already answered one part about Ambassador Bosworth being on the way back. Was there any consideration given before he started his return to keeping him in the region or to returning to Seoul?
MR. TONER: My understanding is that it was always considered that he would come back before the holidays, but – you mean keeping him after today’s events, you mean?
QUESTION: After the incident? Because of the --
MR. TONER: You know what, Charlie? I’m not aware. I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: Admiral Mullen’s office said that he is in contact with the commanders in the region. Has there been any --
MR. TONER: Admiral Mullen, did you say?
MR. TONER: Okay, sorry.
QUESTION: Has there been any negotiations or movement, military movement, to beefing up South Korea’s defense?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t know. I’d refer you to either the Korean defense forces or to U.S. Forces Korea.
Go ahead, Kim.
QUESTION: What would you like China to do at this stage?
MR. TONER: What would we like China to do? Well, I mean, obviously, we’re consulting closely with them. They’ve got, obviously, a closer relationship with North Korea, but they are also part of the Six-Party process. I think we want to make sure that we are all unified in our approach. And I think that’s really, frankly, the best way that we’re going to – by presenting a unified, coherent front to North Korea, make them aware of their isolation and --
QUESTION: But what is the approach? I mean, at the moment – I mean, you don’t have talks.
MR. TONER: We do not.
QUESTION: The Six-Party Talks aren’t going anywhere. You’re not engaging with the North Koreans. They’re not responding to the pressure. I mean, it seems like a deadlock. And all they’re doing is continuing with military provocation. So what are your options?
MR. TONER: Well, again, Ambassador Bosworth said we don’t rule out further engagement with North Korea, but we want to do it in a unified way. We don’t believe in engagement for the sake of engagement, I think, is what he said, and that’s very true. And you’re right; North Korea’s behavior has been very, very bad – provocative, belligerent – and again, we’re not going to get into – buy into this cycle of rewarding that kind of behavior.
We’re in a spot now where, again, we just feel that by working through the Six-Party process, by working with our partners, we’re going to take a deliberate, slow approach to responding to this latest provocation.
QUESTION: You said that you want to approach negotiations with North Korea in a unified way, but aren’t you unified now? Are you not unified now? I mean, the approach so far – I mean --
MR. TONER: Well, we had the incident last night, or earlier today. We had the revelations over the weekend. It was an issue, obviously, we’re aware of, but these are new revelations. And so we’re in a consulting period right now, where we’re – obviously, Bosworth dispatched almost immediately to the region, met with our partners, and is on his way back now. I think I would just say that it’s not that we’re not unified, but that we’re going to be deliberate about our approach to this and it’s going to be a consultative process.
QUESTION: Are there significant differences --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Ben.
QUESTION: Are there significant differences in opinion about how to approach this?
MR. TONER: I haven’t been in Ambassador Bosworth’s meetings, and he’ll come back and obviously brief relevant people here when he gets back.
QUESTION: So is the U.S. advising against an enormous military response, which the South has sort of threatened if they’re provoked any further?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, is the U.S. advising against?
QUESTION: Against, the South Koreans had said, an enormous military response if they’re provoked further?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of that statement by the South Koreans. I think that everybody involved is stunned by the – by North Korea’s provocative actions – I believe the President referred to it as outrageous – and that we are working, again, within an established framework with our partners so that we have a deliberate approach to this. We’re not going to respond willy-nilly.
QUESTION: Can you define the security pact between the U.S. and North Korea? I mean, does it include the U.S. using any power necessary?
MR. TONER: Our commitment to South Korea as an ally is steadfast, but I would refer you to the Department of Defense for the specifics of our defense agreement.
Go ahead, Kim.
QUESTION: Is it an act of war?
MR. TONER: I saw that the White House Spokesman was asked the same question. Frankly, Kim, parsing out the legal definition of that, it was clearly a provocative, belligerent action. And I just would stop there and say that it – one that killed Korean military personnel and I believe injured civilians. So I can’t say from this spot that it was an act of war, but clearly an act of belligerence.
QUESTION: Was it a violation of the armistice?
MR. TONER: I believe we said that we want them to abide by the terms of the armistice agreement, so --
QUESTION: So you’re saying it was a violation of the armistice?
MR. TONER: Again, I’ll leave that for the lawyers to parse out, but it is --
QUESTION: The Cheonan incident was a violation of the armistice.
MR. TONER: Armistice, yeah.
QUESTION: So is that --
MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re evaluating --
QUESTION: So if only two people die, maybe it’s not as much of a violation as opposed to 46? I’m curious as to why there is such a reluctance to call this what it is, which is a violation of the armistice, if not an act of war.
MR. TONER: Again, I am not willing to stand up here and parse this out. I’ll just say what it was, which was an unprovoked military attack on South Korea.
QUESTION: What it was was a violation of the armistice. I just don’t understand why that isn’t in the talking points.
MR. TONER: Again, we want them to abide by the terms of the armistice agreement. If you want to extrapolate from that, you’re welcome.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean that at 2:40 whatever this afternoon, local time in Korea, they were abiding by the armistice or they weren’t abiding by the armistice? You in – I mean, yes, you say you don’t want to parse it and it may be semantic, but it actually has some meaning legally. So that’s why --
MR. TONER: I agree, it does. That’s why I don’t want --
QUESTION: So you’re saying that when it’s determined – the U.S. has not determined this is --
MR. TONER: Well, again, I am not going to do that from the podium right now, but what I will say is that it was an unprovoked attack on South Korea.
Go ahead, Christophe.
QUESTION: Can I get back on --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- China? China was the only big country who didn’t explicitly condemn what happened last night. So what can be the reason for this (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the Chinese Government. Frank – I mean, I don’t mean to be glib, but --
QUESTION: And it doesn’t look that (inaudible) when they don’t even condemn it.
MR. TONER: Well, but as Ambassador Bosworth said, he – they were in agreement, he was in agreement when he left the meeting with the Chinese, that last night’s action was destabilizing to the region. But I mean, as for their public statements, really, I’ll just have to refer you to them. I can’t speak for them.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Isn’t the process now – Ambassador Bosworth in Seoul said it’s not a crisis regarding enrichment. And isn’t it enrichment?
MR. TONER: Regarding enrichment, it’s an issue that we’ve been aware of for some time. This latest information is obviously cause for concern, and as evidenced by the Secretary’s meeting this morning, we’re trying to get all the details and all the facts as we formulate our policy going forward. But it’s an issue we’ve been aware of. It’s a serious issue, so – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. What’s the U.S. plan in the UN Security Council on the incident?
MR. TONER: Yeah, too early to tell. I mean, we’re – right now, we’re consulting with our Six-Party partners, so I don’t want to get ahead of the process.
Yes. Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: What would be the U.S. position in the wake – in the case of a South Korean military attack on North Korea?
MR. TONER: Boy, that’s a huge hypothetical. I’m not even going to go there.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Wait, may I --
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Last week, the – South Korea denounced the U.S. policy calling for peaceful engagement with North Korea, calling it a failure. Is this another example of that?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Again, who denounced?
QUESTION: I’m sorry, the --
QUESTION: South Korea denounced it.
QUESTION: She’s talking about North Korea, that --
QUESTION: Correct, that’s what --
MR. TONER: Okay. I apologize, Laurie. One more time. North Korea denounced?
QUESTION: South Korea is denouncing this policy of a peaceful approach toward the North Koreans as a failure; the current policy is a failure.
MR. TONER: Wait, South Korea denounced? I’m --
QUESTION: Yeah, last week in a white paper.
MR. TONER: I don’t know the white paper. I’ll have to look at it, Laurie. Sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, nonetheless, do you think that the current policy just simply isn’t working? Is this another example?
MR. TONER: Look, it’s hard and there have been setbacks, but we’re committed to the Six-Party process, so I’ll leave it there.
Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: On India, Mark, on Friday, there will be 11/26 or 26/11, or India’s 9/11 marking. And there are some reports and India is on high alert, that they have received some information. I don’t know whether U.S. has received that information or not that same terrorists from Pakistan are trying to now hit Mumbai and other places in India to celebrate their 26/11. And this will be now, according to some reports, under the leadership of Ibrahim Dawood, who is a fugitive and wanted who is hiding in Karachi. Any reports or any comments?
MR. TONER: Goyal, I’ve not even seen those reports. But our counterterrorism cooperation with India is – in the wake of 26/11 has been very, very productive, very constructive, and on a good footing. And I’m sure we’re consulting with them. And thank you for the reminder. That’s a grim anniversary, and our hearts go out to the people of India.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: On the reports of this – of attempted high-level talks with the Taliban who turned out to be an imposter, I saw that the White House has already confirmed that this has broken off. But I was curious if you could tell us at what point, when, it was figured out that this guy wasn’t who he said he was.
MR. TONER: Kirit, I wish I had more information. It made for – for you and for me, as well, it made for pretty compelling reading this morning as I drank my coffee and read the story. But I don’t have a lot of information about when it was cut off. I’m trying to get more details, and if I can get them, I’ll share them with you.
I think Ambassador Holbrooke, when he was here a few weeks ago though, was pretty succinct about saying that he found that a lot of this – the speculation about peace talks or peace negotiations with the Taliban were – there was a lot of – there was no “there” there, that there were a lot of contacts, a lot of talks about contacts rather, but he was cautious about describing them as anything substantive at the time.
QUESTION: That talk by Ambassador Holbrooke was about two weeks after officials, including, I think, Secretary Gates, spoke about – for the first time – these talks. Would you say that Ambassador Holbrooke’s comments indicate that sometime between there and that two-week period is when it – when this was figured out?
MR. TONER: I can’t say that. As I said, it’s a pretty compelling story. I would have to refer you to the Afghan Government for more details. I’ll try to flesh out more details that we can get on that specific question. I don’t have any more.
QUESTION: I have a question on – going back to North Korea. When you said Ambassador Bosworth is coming back, do you see this as something like we’re waiting for Ambassador Bosworth to come back to have face-to-face meetings with more senior officials before there’s going to be announcements about what might be an interim – for example, strengthening sanctions?
MR. TONER: Obviously, when Ambassador Bosworth returns, he’ll obviously speak with the Secretary, others, about his trip to the region. That’ll be just one aspect of, again, this deliberate process that we’re going to go through before we respond. But I don’t want to suggest that there’s some kind of timeline there once he gets back, speaks to person A, B, or C, that there’s then going to be a response.
Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Staying with North Korea, the events, once again, of early this morning – and I know it’s very early for analysis, but is there the possibility that this is a consequence of the gradual transition of power happening within that country?
MR. TONER: Defense Secretary Gates was asked about some of this – well, obviously, it was prior to this morning’s incident, but over the weekend, and said, “I don’t know.” And it’s true that we don’t know a lot about what’s going on in North Korea, so it’s difficult really to say.
QUESTION: Actually, Admiral Mullen, he said the other day on ABC today this week, he said that he believed this has something to do with the succession issue. So what’s the motivation that you think --
MR. TONER: I just don’t want to opine on internal North Korean politics. I don’t know enough about it.
Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Israeli parliament passed a law which will make it significantly more difficult for any government to cede territory that it annexed after the 1967 war. That would be specifically the Golan Heights and parts of East Jerusalem. Given the fact that you’ve said that both – neither party should take any unilateral steps that could affect the outcome of any negotiations or the success of a peace deal, do you have anything to say other than the rather unsatisfactory taken question that was put out – the answer to the taken question that this is an internal Israeli matter when clearly it affects one of the Administration’s prime foreign policy goals?
MR. TONER: Matt --
QUESTION: You can just say no. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: No, I would just say that you’re right; it may. But we’re – again, it’s hypothetical at this point and we’re getting ahead of ourselves and we’re getting ahead of the process. Our goal now is really to get the parties back into direct negotiations in an effort to achieve an agreement that is in the mutual interests of both sides.
MR. TONER: And that’s the focus right now. So for us to talk about the impact or the potential impact of this legislation is really putting the cart before the horse.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, what’s the hypothetical here? The parliament passed a law.
MR. TONER: Right now, we need to get --
QUESTION: That is not hypothetical.
MR. TONER: That is not hypothetical. But we need to get them back into direct negotiations so we can reach an agreement --
QUESTION: Right. And this makes it more difficult to get them back into negotiations because the Palestinians see this and the Arab world sees this as – particularly the Syrians --
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: -- see this as something that prejudges the outcome of negotiations and/or the success of an agreement. So I’m curious as to why you want to say – just brush this aside as an internal matter for the Israeli parliament when it clearly has a negative impact on what you’re trying to do.
MR. TONER: Well, again, our goal is to get them back into direct negotiations. Once we get an agreement that is in the mutual interest of both sides, then we’ll look at this issue and other issues. But I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.
QUESTION: So actions – but you’re not worried that this is going to make it – that this will make it difficult – more difficult to get them back to the direct negotiations?
MR. TONER: It’s already a difficult process, but we’re going to keep moving forward.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But you don’t think this makes it more difficult?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re going to keep our focus on getting them back into direct negotiations.
Go ahead, Kim.
QUESTION: Sir, just going back to North Korea, could you tell us a little bit more about the meeting that the Secretary had with Dr. Hecker – how long, what time?
MR. TONER: You’re right, Kim; those are legitimate questions. I’ll try to get a little bit more color and detail.
MR. TONER: Yeah, just that it – I mean, we’re obviously studying the report, but the key point is that it’s – it underscores Iran’s continued failure to comply with its international nuclear obligations and also its sustained lack of cooperation with the IAEA. But obviously, we’re going to look at it in more detail and we’ll have a fuller response in the days to come.
QUESTION: May I just follow on this?
MR. TONER: Sorry, Michel.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, one second. Yesterday, at the CSIS, there was a panel on North Korea where they were talking about global nuclear, including Iran and North Korea. My question is panelists were saying that AQ Khan, who is now a free man, his network is still working and it may be now still helping Iran or North Korea as far as nuclear material is concerned. Do you have any information on that?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any more information on – but obviously, our concerns about AQ Khan are well known.
Michel, in the back.
QUESTION: Does the new Israeli law help you in achieving your goal?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re focused on getting them back into direct negotiations. Thanks.
QUESTION: Is Senator Mitchell going back this week, next week?
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to report.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)
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