Daily Press Briefing - May 18, 2011

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Secretary Clinton Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Department of State Operations Center
    • Secretary Clinton accompanying President Obama to London for State Visit
    • Secretary Clinton travels to Paris to preside over the 50th anniversary of OECD
    • Secretary Clinton delivers keynote remarks at launch of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Global /Partnership for Girls' and Women's Education while in Paris
    • Secretary Clinton meets later today with Icelandic Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson to discuss Arctic Council, Mid East, North Africa and Afghanistan
    • Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is visiting Israel and West Bank
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary Yun's trip to Burma
    • Secretary Clinton meeting with PLA General Chan/Follow-on to Strategic and Economic Dialogue last week
    • Panel of Experts Uranium Enrichment Program Report
    • Food Assistance/Food distribution verification/Possible NK Envoy trip
    • Ambassador Grossman's Trip to Pakistan/Secretary Clinton Visit/Continuing Security Dialogue with Pakistan/Continue Productive Relationship with Pakistan
    • President Medvedev remarks about U.S. plans on missile defense in Europe
    • Undersecretary Ellen Tauscher talks with her Russian Counterpart
    • Steinberg meetings with Palestinians/Following Mitchell's resignation/We Encourage both parties to get back to the negotiating table
  • IRAN
    • Release of reporter Dorothy Parvaz from Iran/Swiss or Omani involvement/Has departed Iran and is in Qatar/Encourage Iran to also release Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer who they have held for almost two years
Mark C. Toner
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 18, 2011


11:28 a.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Part of the reason we’re doing that is because later today at 1:20 p.m., as you saw from a media note that we put out or a notice to the press the other day that Secretary Clinton will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Department of State’s Operations Center. As a former senior watch officer, so-called, aka, SWO, it’s an organization or entity that’s near and dear to my heart, and it’s really been serving as the State Department and, indeed, the U.S. Government’s first response to many crises around the world for the past 50 years, so it will be a good event.

Just briefly at the top, just wanted to announce that Secretary of State Clinton will accompany President Obama to London on May 24th for the first part of his state visit to the United Kingdom. This trip is a sign of strength of the special relationship between our two countries and of the United States enduring commitment to our allies and partners in Europe. Secretary Clinton will also meet with Foreign Secretary Hague while in London.

Secretary Clinton will then travel to Paris, France to preside over the 50th anniversary of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD, otherwise known as the Ministerial Council meeting, which is taking place May 25th and 26th. Events will include the OECD’s 50th Anniversary Commemoration, at which the Secretary will deliver the opening address in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Several signing and adoption ceremonies and a plenary session on “A New Paradigm for Development,” and these – all these – the commemoration will be live-streamed on the OECD website.

Secretary Clinton will also deliver keynote remarks in support of the launch of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education while in Paris. The global partnership will bring together companies, nongovernmental organizations, and governments to develop innovative programs to deliver education to women and girls.

As you know, the Secretary later today will meet with the Foreign Minister of Iceland Ossur Skarphedinsson. Sorry if I mispronounced that. The Secretary and foreign minister will discuss a range of issues on our bilateral agenda, which is based on a shared commitment to democracy, freedom, and human rights. The Secretary and foreign minister will continue the discussions they began last week at the Arctic Council. They’ll also discuss ongoing events in Libya, North Africa, and the Middle East. As NATO allies and partners in ISAF mission in Afghanistan, the United States and Iceland continue to work closely together to address these global challenges.

Just one final note. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is visiting Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank today and tomorrow, May 18th and 19th. On May 19th, he’ll participate in the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue. This strategic dialogue allows senior U.S. and Israeli leaders to discuss, on a regular basis and in depth, the many issues that affect our mutual relation – our mutual security and partnership. In Israel, Deputy Secretary Steinberg will meet with Israeli academic and student leaders. In the West Bank, he’ll meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials, and among other issues, he’ll be discussing moving forward a Middle East peace as well as the recent fundament changes in the region, as well as the United States response to them.


MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: -- a logistic thing on the Iceland meeting.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: What – do you have there what Iceland’s contribution to ISAF is? Last time I checked, I don't think the country has an army.

MR. TONER: I don’t. What they probably do is offer expertise to PRT, provincial reconstruction team, but I’m not sure what capacity.

Any other questions? Lalit.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout on Ambassador Grossman’s trip? Which country he is now – when he’s going to Pakistan?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I believe he’s heading to the region for operational security details. I don't want to get into exactly when he’s going to arrive, but obviously Islamabad is among his first stops.

QUESTION: But the statement – a statement yesterday said he left probably yesterday, it said.

MR. TONER: Right. Again, I don't want to get into too much, given obvious security concerns. But I believe he’s heading to Islamabad in the next few days.

QUESTION: And also on Burma --

MR. TONER: So no readout, per se, because he hasn’t arrived yet.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any – another readout on your officials’ meetings in Burma with Mr. Yun?

MR. TONER: Nothing beyond what I said yesterday. He’s arrived in Burma. As we’ve said, this is a follow-on. I believe the last visit was in December 2010, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Yun is there to have introductory meetings with some of the new officials in place. Obviously, it’s also a chance for him to talk to civil society leaders as well as other NGO leaders.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Secretary Clinton meeting with General Chen of the PLA today – is there a readout on that?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I don't believe it’s happened, or it’s happening now, but she is meeting with him. And again, this is a follow-on from last week’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue and is in keeping with – I believe Secretary Clinton and others stated last week, military-to-military dialogue and – is an important part of that.

Yes. Go ahead, Jim.

QUESTION: Again, on this North Korea UN report – you said yesterday at the briefing that you wanted to see this report released soon so that we could know what was --

MR. TONER: Right. So that other countries can be aware of its contents.

QUESTION: Right. Well, it’s now official that China is blocking the release of this report. So I’m wondering what you have to say about that, because it’s very clear that China doesn’t want the bad information about its activities coming out in this report. So, I mean –

MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to add beyond what I said yesterday, which is, North Korea’s sharing of this kind of technology has long been of concern to the United States. And I don’t want to talk about the report specifically because it hasn’t been released yet, but we continue to call for its release.

QUESTION: But what about the fact that China is blocking?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m at where I’m at on that, said what I said.

QUESTION: And your daily temperature-taking on whether we will send this human rights envoy to North Korea, Robert King?

MR. TONER: Oh. Nothing to announce, but obviously we will announce it when we have something to announce. But nothing beyond what I said yesterday, which is that we continue to assess the need for food assistance to North Korea and we’re looking at a possible trip. But, again, no firm dates.


MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Why is that taking so long --

MR. TONER: Why is the --

QUESTION: -- to assess the needs – because the UN did its report about two months ago. Before that there were NGOs who went before the UN mission, said the people were eating grass and things like this, and they – apparently they’re saying that the need is now, because they’re between two harvests.

MR. TONER: Right. Right. Well look, Matt, we – we’re obviously aware of the situation. As I said, we’ve been looking at all those various reports. We’re considering sending Ambassador King to the region, or to the – or to North Korea to do our own assessment, which is a part of any food assistance program that we would implement. And it’s important to recognize that North Korea is largely responsible for the situation it’s in; it’s caused by bad policies and the misallocation and mismanagement of resources. And also just to remind folks that in 2008 we did have our food assistance program kicked out of there. So, again, we’re looking at it, we’re taking it very seriously. Our food assistance program is, as I talked about yesterday, is done in a very objective fashion divorced from any other policy concerns, and it’s consistent with our desire to aid humanitarian – or provide humanitarian assistance where it’s needed.

QUESTION: You said North Korea’s to blame for this, for all of it? I mean, are they – the North Korean Government is responsible for drought and natural disaster?

MR. TONER: Look, this is – it’s something, frankly, that --

QUESTION: I mean, I know you think they’re bad, but are they that bad?

MR. TONER: No, but this is – they bear partial responsibility for this situation because of misallocation of resources and mismanagement.

QUESTION: But if it is just about humanitarian need, no politics, why is it taking so long if the need is now? I mean, are there – why is the process taking months rather than weeks? Because it sounds like, when the decision is made, there’ll still be, like, a lead-in time of two or three months --

MR. TONER: Well, yeah. We’ll have to --

QUESTION: -- before it should have to be made.

MR. TONER: We do need to conduct a thorough needs-assessment. We need to provide for it with adequate program management, monitoring, access provisions in place. And, again, this is about a process that we have to undertake that involves looking at both the international community’s assessment, but then conducting our own needs-assessment. We’re looking at that right now, but I don’t want to get out ahead of the process. But obviously we’re aware of the situation and are taking steps to address it.

QUESTION: Are there differences, though, with – I mean, are differences with South Korea holding back the process? Because it seems like South Korea does not support (inaudible).

MR. TONER: I think Ambassador Bosworth said yesterday that we’re – that we have a strong agreement with South Korea regarding the need for food assistance.

QUESTION: A follow-up on this issue. When you extended the humanitarian food aid to North Korea, has there been any form of verification ever?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The last part of your question?

QUESTION: Has there been any forms of verification ever? United States --

MR. TONER: Verification in terms of --


MR. TONER: -- the previous food assistance program?


MR. TONER: Well, again, I just tried to make this point, which is that we did have a program of food assistance in North Korea, and they were expelled by the North Korean Government and that’s part of the reason why we find ourselves in the situation we’re in today where we have to conduct a new needs-assessment. But, again, I don’t want to get out ahead of the process. We haven’t announced any travel yet. It’s something we’re considering. We’re looking at these reports, but we haven’t made any decisions yet.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: As you said, Ambassador Bosworth said in Seoul yesterday, the U.S. and South Korea reached a common view on North Korea – food aid to North Korea, or a (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Common view is --

QUESTION: -- North Korea’s food aid request. But could you clarify what the common view is?

MR. TONER: Well --

QUESTION: Is there any daylight between the U.S. and South Korea on this issue?

MR. TONER: Well, I think the common view is a common view that there’s agreement that there’s a situation that needs to be addressed in some fashion. This has been made clear in some of the reports and studies done by World Food Program – or World Food Program, sorry, and other NGOs. We’re assessing those reports and we’re considering our own trip there.

QUESTION: Five Senators yesterday sent a letter to --

MR. TONER: Are we ready? Are we off North Korea? That’s – and food – great.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Five Senators yesterday sent a letter to Secretary Clinton, asking for assess time to check Pakistan’s commitment to and efforts to --

MR. TONER: I missed the – asking for?

QUESTION: Assessment time --

MR. TONER: Assessment time. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- for Pakistan’s commitment to and efforts towards the fight against terrorism. Do you have any comments on that letter?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s – we’ve said before that we understand concerns raised in Congress by Congress about – or in the wake of the bin Ladin raid, and we share some of those concerns. We’ve been quite clear in conveying those concerns to the Government of Pakistan. We just had the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry, in Pakistan. He’s being followed now by S/RAP Mark Grossman, and we’re going to continue this dialogue. We’ve also been consistent in saying that we believe this kind of counterterrorism cooperation is indeed in the interest of both our countries, our long-term national security interests, and we’re going to seek to move forward. But that’s – it’s also important to stress that we do have these concerns, we share them, and we want answers.

QUESTION: But just a follow-up. At a hearing yesterday, which was shared by Senator Kerry, the senator did say that there are terror groups operating out of Pakistan. Have you got anything from Islamabad saying that they are working to get rid of them or stop these operations?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry – terror groups working –

QUESTION: Out of Pakistan.

MR. TONER: Oh, out of Pakistan. I thought you meant outside of Pakistan. Look, I think that we’ve been clear that we’ve had a productive counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan over the past ten years that’s led to, as the President said, the death of more terrorists on Pakistan’s soil than anywhere else in the world. We’re going to continue to pursue that because, as I said, it’s in our long-term national interest and our short-term, frankly. And it’s in the interest of Pakistan who faced, frankly, an existential threat as we saw last week with the bombing at the police training academy. So this is in our mutual interest. We clearly have some concerns that we want to address, but we’re going to keep this moving forward.

Yeah. Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: But the same letters and the senators are also calling for conditions-based aid to Pakistan. Does the Administration, the Secretary, believe that you can have – put conditions on Pakistan for getting U.S. aid?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to talk in great detail about what we’re asking from Pakistan. But we are – as senator and others – Senator Kerry and others have made clear, we are asking them for some concrete actions, and short of that, I’ll just repeat what I said, which is that we’re interested in taking this relationship forward. We believe it’s in our best interest as well as in the interest of Pakistan, and we’re looking for ways to do that.

QUESTION: Can you just clarify one thing for me? All the media reports – all the on-the-table reports are suggesting that the Pakistani leaders are working on anti-American sentiments. Do you have any classified information that they are doing anything for America?

MR. TONER: No. I don’t.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Sure. Christophe, yeah.

QUESTION: Have you seen the comments by the Russian President Medvedev this morning about – he said that Russia might abandon the START Treaty if the U.S. goes ahead with these plans on missile defense in Iraq?

MR. TONER: Right. No, nothing particular, other than that we’ve been consistent and clear for many years now that our missile defense cooperation in no way is directed at Russia. And in fact, we want to cooperate on missile defense with Russia, and we’ve been quite clear on that.

QUESTION: First, one on Steinberg’s trip. With President Obama being here tomorrow talking about the Arab Spring and with Netanyahu here later in the week –


QUESTION: -- is Steinberg taking a message with – to Abbas with him?

MR. TONER: Is Steinberg taking a message –

QUESTION: Taking a message to – if he’s going to meet with Abbas, is – and other Palestinian officials, what message is he bringing with him?

MR. TONER: Well, look, I think – I don’t want to get out in front of the President’s speech tomorrow. He’s going to talk about the region as a whole. That part has been clear. We are interested in getting both the parties back to the negotiating table, and I think he is there to – following Senator Mitchell’s resignation, to clearly convey that we remain committed to this process going forward.

Sorry, Christophe, just an add-on, and it’s actual news related to your question. We do know that Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher is departing for Moscow today and is going to continue talks on missile defense cooperation on – with her Russian counterpart.

QUESTION: Is that what was previously scheduled?

MR. TONER: That was previously scheduled.

QUESTION: Okay. Change of – just as a quick one, that Iranian American journalist –

MR. TONER: Thought I might add some news to the policy –

QUESTION: -- Dorothy Parvaz has apparently been released and has now returned to Qatar, the Al Jazeera journalist, Dorothy Parvaz.

MR. TONER: Yes –

QUESTION: I was just wondering if – number one, if you’ve confirmed that release, and number two, if the U.S., through the Swiss or the Omanis or anyone else, tried – was doing anything in that case with the –

MR. TONER: We did, I think, ask for consular access. We didn’t ever receive it, I don’t believe. But we can confirm that she is – she was permitted to depart Iran today, and I believe, as you said, she’s in Qatar. We welcome the Iranian decision to allow her to depart Iran, and we would urge – take this opportunity to urge the Iranian Government to show the same compassion for Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer who have been in prison for almost two years so that they can be reunited with their families.

QUESTION: Do you know if she’s been debriefed by the U.S. Embassy?

MR. TONER: I don’t know yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:45 a.m.)

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