Daily Press Briefing - October 19, 2011
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Interagency Team of U.S. Officials will Meet with a North Korean Delegation
- Ambassador Steven Bosworth Steps Down as Special Representative for North Korea / Ambassador Glyn Davies / Clifford Hart Replaces Ambassador Sung Kim
- NORTH KOREA
- Exploratory Talks with North Korea / Continuity of U.S. Policy / U.S. Remains Committed to Six-Party Process
- Inter-American Court of Human Rights / U.S. Urges Government of Venezuelan to Uphold the Principle Recognized in Inter-American Democratic Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Notification of Weapons Sale to Congress / Weapons to be Used for External Defense Purposes / Human Rights / End-use Monitoring / GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)
- White House Statement Condemns Terrorist Attack / Turkey and Iraq's Shared Interest on Combating Terrorism and PKK
- Upcoming Election / Encourage Independent Election Commission to Ensure Fairness, Transparency of Electoral Process / Issue of Violence
- U.S. Travel Alert
- Need Good Relations between India and Pakistan / Strengthening Democratic Institutions
- U.S. Foreign Assistance
- GCC Agreement / President Saleh / Support for Accountability and Call for Independent Investigations of Human Rights Abuses
- Syrian National Council / Syrian Opposition
1:02 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Welcome to the State Department. A few things at the top:
First of all, I can finally announce some of the news that I know some of you have been waiting – anxiously awaiting, and that is that an interagency team of U.S. officials will meet with a North Korean delegation led by First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan in Geneva on October 24th and 25th. Excuse me. This is a continuation of the exploratory meetings to determine if North Korea is prepared to fulfill its commitments under the 2005 joint statement of the Six-Party Talks and its nuclear – international obligations as well as take concrete steps toward denuclearization. And as always, we’re going to remain in very close coordination with the Republic of Korea, as well as other partners, as we move forward.
On a related note, after two and a half years, we regrettably announce that Ambassador Stephen Bosworth has decided to step down from his position as special representative for North Korea policy following the October 24th and 25th talks in Geneva. As you all know here, Ambassador Bosworth is a storied diplomat and a dedicated public servant. He has an exceptional record of public service, of government service, including his role as special representative, which helped advance our North Korea policy. We applaud him, not just for his service as special representative, but also for a truly remarkable career devoted to serving our country.
Ambassador Bosworth will be succeeded by Ambassador Glyn Davies, who is currently our ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, and has previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, as well as at the National Security Council, among other very important diplomatic assignments. It’s important to stress this is a change in personnel, not a change in policy. And our goal is to ensure a smooth transition and to reinforce the continuity in U.S. policy toward North Korea. Ambassador Bosworth is going to lead the delegation to the meetings in Geneva as well as introduce Ambassador Davies to the DPRK delegation.
I do want to add that Clifford Hart will replace Ambassador Sung Kim as special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, and he’ll work under Ambassador Davies and have the lead on day-to-day engagement with Six-Party partners. Robert King will continue to serve as special envoy for North Korean human rights and will also work under Ambassador Davies and have the lead on human rights and humanitarian affairs.
I’ll take your questions with that.
QUESTION: Before we talk about the personnel, just on the talks --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- what do you hope to accomplish specifically at this meeting next week, and what type of concrete steps are you hoping to see from North Korea?
MR. TONER: Well, as you know, Brad, this is the next meeting in a series. We had the meeting in New York in July, and that followed on several meetings between the DPRK as well as the Republic of South Korea. We’ve said before that we’re open to talks. These are exploratory in nature, like the one in New York.
We want to see if North Korea is indeed prepared to take steps to fulfill its commitments under the 2005 joint statement of the Six-Party Talks, and we want to see it take steps toward denuclearization. I’m not going to give specifics on what those steps are, but what we want to see is a seriousness of purpose. We’re not going to, as we’ve said many times, reward North Korea just for returning to the table, nor give them anything new for actions they’ve agreed to take. But we want to see, as I said, signs that they are committed to moving the process forward.
QUESTION: And just one more: Three months ago, you said that you were open to these talks when – right before you went to New York, but you said you wouldn’t have talks for talks’ sake. What has happened between then and now that has prompted you to seek another set of talks?
MR. TONER: Again, we don’t want to get into the substance of these negotiations as they go on – or these talks, rather. These are – I would insist and maintain these are exploratory. We did feel – and I think we said after New York that we felt – that there was a good atmosphere there, and that we saw enough to have another round of talks.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just on Bosworth himself --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- why did he step down at this point?
MR. TONER: I mean, certainly, you’ll have to – it’s best to talk to Ambassador Bosworth. He’s – he is – he has been in this job for nearly three years and he does have significant responsibilities in his job at Fletcher – the Fletcher School at Tufts University, so I think he wanted to focus on that.
QUESTION: Is there a concern that perhaps we need somebody who’s more Washington-based, somebody who’s going to devote – make this more of a full-time position than a part-time?
MR. TONER: Not at all. Again, I think this was a personal decision on the part of Ambassador Bosworth. Our – as I said, our priority here is to continue on the same policy track that we’ve been, and we believe that Ambassador Davies provides that kind of continuity.
QUESTION: And who’s going to – is Robert going to take over in Vienna, then, for (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I would assume he’d at least be a chargé.
QUESTION: A chargé, okay.
QUESTION: How many --
MR. TONER: Robert Wood he’s referring to --
QUESTION: How many U.S. --
MR. TONER: -- who was formerly in this job.
QUESTION: How many U.S. delegations attended the meeting?
MR. TONER: How many in the U.S. delegation? I don’t have a number for you. (Cell phone rings.) You can get that. (Laughter.) I don’t have a number, sorry. And we’re not likely to give a full breakdown. But as we said, it’ll be led by – sorry – it’ll be led by Ambassador Bosworth, and he’ll, in fact, take that opportunity to introduce Glyn Davies as the new special representative to the DPRK delegation. And again, that just underscores the kind of continuity that we’re seeking to achieve here.
QUESTION: Do you think Six-Party Talks will resume within this year?
MR. TONER: Within the D.C. area?
QUESTION: This year.
QUESTION: This year.
MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Within this year.
MR. TONER: I apologize. Didn’t hear you correctly. Look, it’s impossible for us to say. As I just told Brad, we had those initial set of talks in New York. We still feel that they’re best characterized as exploratory this time around. We’re still seeking firm signs that the DPRK is serious about engaging in talks and fulfilling its commitments, so let’s just let these happen and judge from there.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Who’s going to be in that? What are --
MR. TONER: I’ll try to get a breakdown for you on that.
QUESTION: I know you said that this is – that there’s continuity of policy, but is there a sense that with a new team there, with new people there, that this will give more momentum to the talks going forward in particular?
MR. TONER: Well, I would just say that Ambassador Glyn Davies is, again, a seasoned diplomat, has a tremendous amount of relevant experience that he brings to the job, and as well as high energy and a commitment to the job. So he’s an excellent choice, and we’re – I would just stress again that there’s – this is going to be a seamless transition.
QUESTION: Do you have to send his – do you need a confirmation to – for Mr. Davies from Congress?
MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. I don't believe we do. No.
QUESTION: Who else is attending the meeting?
MR. TONER: If that changes, I’ll let you know. Or if I get different information, I’ll let you know, but I don't believe we do.
QUESTION: So he’s official day one, today? From today he’s official, he’s taking over? No, no. Sorry.
MR. TONER: No. They’re going to go to –
MR. TONER: Ambassador Bosworth is going to lead the delegation to Geneva. I don't know when exactly the switchover date is.
QUESTION: And who else is attending the meeting, Ambassador King, Clifford Hart?
MR. TONER: Again, I’ll try to get you more details on the delegation that will be going there.
Yeah. Go ahead, in back.
QUESTION: Mark, doesn’t this --
MR. TONER: You want to know – sorry?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. TONER: I would imagine Clifford Hart would attend. I would – I’ll find out about Ambassador King.
QUESTION: North Korea always seemed to want a direct dialogue with the United States, and this appears to – this process we have unfolding appears to give them that. Are you, in a way, sort of downplaying the Six-Party aspect of this now?
MR. TONER: Not at all. And let me be clear again, if I wasn’t before, that we’re not seeking to reward North Korea in any way by holding these talks and we certainly don’t want to have talks just for the sake of talking. We want to see, again, as I said before, a seriousness of purpose and a commitment to moving this process forward; to taking the steps that they’ve already committed to take. I think, as I said before, we saw enough in New York that led us to believe a second round would be useful.
QUESTION: Mark, why are you calling these exploratory again? If you’ve already had one exploratory, and as I gather, you want clear commitment from the North Koreans, that seems to go well beyond exploratory.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I just – these are – I don't know how to characterize them otherwise. They are not – as David said, they’re not part of the Six-Party process. But we’re seeking to see if there’s enough movement on the part of the DPRK to lead to further and broader talks.
QUESTION: But you’re looking for them to go beyond where they were in your initial talks.
MR. TONER: Indeed. I mean, we’re looking for more progress. We’re always looking for more progress.
QUESTION: To follow on the Six-Party aspect of this, have you heard from any of the other parties to the Six-Party Talks whether they view this step as worthwhile and --
MR. TONER: We’ve been – obviously we had the South Korean president here last week, and we’ve been consulting closely with South Korea throughout, as well as the other partners. So they’re --
QUESTION: Russia and the others?
MR. TONER: Russia and Japan and others.
MR. TONER: Yeah. China, of course.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Are we switching topics?
MR. TONER: Let’s finish with North Korea first.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what is going to be the top priority this time? Even though you say you might not come with a real substantive talks, is uranium, of course, going to be one of the top priorities?
MR. TONER: Well, I do think they’ll be substantive talks. I think we’re very clear what we’re looking to see, which is a commitment on the part of North Korea to fulfill its commitments. There was the 2005 joint statement of Six-Party Talks that it committed to do, as well some of its international obligations that have been spelled out by the UN Security Council. So we’re going to look for those steps for movement on those pieces.
QUESTION: And – I’m --
QUESTION: Where in Geneva is this going to take place?
MR. TONER: I don't know.
QUESTION: And another thing about the timing of this – we shouldn’t read into why it happened just now? Is it like purely from – should we understand this happened right now because he decided to step down?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You’re saying that --
QUESTION: I’m saying why --
MR. TONER: -- we’re saying -- your question
QUESTION: -- why this is happening right now. Is there anything – any reason behind this, other than Mr. Bosworth decided to step down now?
MR. TONER: No. There’s no – I mean, they’re not connected in that way. We view this as an opportunity for Ambassador Bosworth to lead this delegation, as I said, to introduce Ambassador Glyn Davies to the North Korean delegation. And that, in our view, allows for us to really maintain that continuity of policy.
QUESTION: Change? Change of subject?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. Oh, that’s right. And then I’ll get to you, (inaudible).
QUESTION: It’s a different subject.
MR. TONER: Oh.
QUESTION: Just briefly, food aid – I mean, that’s been something that Ambassador King, when we went to North Korea, talked about.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: There’s been no --
MR. TONER: I don't have any updates. I’ll try to see if there’s been any updated information on that.
QUESTION: Is it something that potentially could come up in Geneva?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not aware that it’s going to come up in Geneva, but I’ll certainly check on that.
I promised her, and then I’ll get to you guys. Sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you. On Venezuela, yes?
MR. TONER: On Venezuela. I had an inkling it was going to be about Venezuela.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay. Venezuela refused to recognize the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding the Venezuelan politician, Leopoldo Lopez. And I have a second one, so --
MR. TONER: Okay. Sure. On your first question, your – indeed, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights did find that the disqualification of individuals from running for public office without due process is inconsistent with the commitment to the principles of representative democracy as set out by the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We view the Venezuelan – or the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision would, therefore, appear to be in conflict with Venezuela’s international commitments. So we would join the court, as well as Human Rights Watch, and other observers, in calling on Venezuela to adhere to its international commitments.
And your second question?
QUESTION: My – I have a second question. It is regarding government, again Global Vision. Global Vision has – the news channel – been fined because of its critical position against government politics, so I was wondering if you have any comments on that.
MR. TONER: Sure. I’m aware that this has something to do with their coverage of a prison riot, I believe?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Right. Well, certainly we support freedom of expression, including for members of the press. It’s a fundamental freedom that’s vital to the health of any properly functioning democracy. Media outlets must be guaranteed the freedom to cover important news stories, including controversial stories, without fear of government reprisal. So we urge the Venezuelan Government to uphold the principle recognized in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that respect for human rights, including freedom of expression, is essential for representative democracies. So, a little bit of love for all you guys out here.
Go ahead. Yeah. Actually, I’ve got a waiting list here. So, I’ll go with you (inaudible). Sorry. They had their hands raised before. Go ahead. You and then Ilhan.
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- what exactly needs to happen for this arms sale to go through?
MR. TONER: Well, again, there was a notification process to Congress. That’s been completed. There are several more procedural steps that remain. And so, I think I said yesterday, I talked about a process, it’s hard for me to put a timeline on it, but this isn’t going to be immediate by any – by – in any sense. But as we move forward, as I said yesterday, we’re going to continue to consider all of the elements on the ground, including human rights. And I did talk about yesterday, we’re awaiting the findings of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry that’s due out, I think, on October 30th. And so we’ll look at that. We’ll weigh those findings, and we’re going to continue to look at human rights as we move forward.
So, we’ve passed one phase. There’s more to this process than congressional notification. As we move forward for these items, which as I said, are for the external defense of Bahrain, we’re going to continue to assess the human rights situation.
QUESTION: There – is there concern that the United States has supported pro-democracy movements in the Middle East, but in this case the weapons could be used – or have been in the past even used – against pro-democracy protesters in the kingdom of Bahrain?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You’re talking about these types of – I mean, obviously this sale hasn’t gone through, and any sale of weapons that are, again I must underscore, are for external defense purposes would also have end-use monitoring elements to it. So we always, whenever we conduct a defense – a sale of defense articles, we always have an end-use monitoring, where we make sure – ensure that these are – that these items are being used for what they were intended to be used for.
Yeah. Ilhan. Ilhan and then –
QUESTION: Just still on this topic.
MR. TONER: Oh. Okay. Great. That’s okay. Stay on Bahrain.
QUESTION: This topic. I mean, Bahrain’s use of weapons and military action was only used against its people. So how would you guarantee that these weapons would be used only in the defense of Bahrain? I mean, after all, the U.S. Fifth Fleet is out there to protect Bahrain. I don’t think it’s threatened by foreign adversaries, at least not in the short term. So these weapons so far have been used against the people. So what kind of guarantees you have --
MR. TONER: Well, Said, again, let me just underscore that this is not a done deal, as they say. There’s other steps to this process, and certainly human rights will be under consideration – under review throughout the process. But we also support Bahrain’s right to defend itself and to seek to defend itself. And, as I just said, whenever we conduct these kinds of sales, whether they be to Bahrain or elsewhere in the world, we always include an end-use monitoring component that allows us to see if these are being used for the purpose for which they were intended.
QUESTION: Okay, on – just to understand the technical aspect of this thing.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Now this – the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – I think they have some sort of a defense pact, so –
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So how does that work into all these countries? Does that have to be, sort of, coordinated with all of them, one at a time? If it’s used in defense, do they have to coordinate with all these countries?
MR. TONER: That’s really a question that you’ll have to pose to the Bahraini Government. They’ve come to us for these defense articles, but it’s not for us to coordinate within the GCC. That’s for them to do so.
QUESTION: Okay. I guess my question would be: So it would be okay from the U.S. point of view, if these weapons fall, let’s say, in the hands of the Kuwaitis or the hands of the Qataris or the hands of the Emirates, correct?
MR. TONER: Look, I’m not aware of any sharing agreement that they might have for defense articles. Again, any weaponry that we – or any defense articles that we sold to any country would be, as I said, subject to end-use monitoring.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: If Congress doesn’t block the sale, when would the transfer happen, hypothetically? Like, what is the time frame we’re looking at?
MR. TONER: Yeah. And it’s a fair question. It’s hard for me really to put a firm date on it. As I said, there’s procedural steps that need to be taken. It’s a matter of months, not days or weeks.
QUESTION: What happens with your end-use monitoring if you determine that the weapons are not being used for what you thought they were. You ask them to return them and you give a refund, or – (laughter) – or you call them out on it, or what?
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I think it’s a question that Toria, in fact, took last week about what are the consequences or repercussions.
QUESTION: Did she?
MR. TONER: I’ll try to find out a more detailed answer for you, what’s actually entailed when we do find that there have been unintended uses.
QUESTION: On Bahrain. Excuse me.
QUESTION: Oh, let’s stay on Bahrain.
QUESTION: Are the Bahraini’s pushing on the table the threat they feel coming from Iran to try to convince you to try to close the deal on this arms sale?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Are you talking about the Bahraini Government in terms of --
MR. TONER: Look, first of all, I’m not going to talk about what our private diplomatic exchanges may be with the Bahraini Government. They have a right to defend themselves, though, to – from external threats, and they’re seeking to do so through this sale to give their military additional capabilities. We – as I said, we’re moving forward in a very deliberate fashion to ensure that these articles are, in fact, used for what they’re intended to be used for.
Yeah. Turkey, and then –
QUESTION: Today, in southeast of Turkey, there was a terror attack, and according to latest numbers, 24 Turkish soldiers got killed, and wondered what’s your reaction to that, first of all?
MR. TONER: Well, you saw the White House statement – the statement from the President that strongly condemned this morning’s outrageous terrorist attack against Turkey. We stand in solidarity with the Turkish people and condemn in the strongest possible terms these attacks in Turkey’s Hakkari province. They demonstrate a disturbing uptick in violence comparable to the level of the 1990s, and again, we express our deepest condolences, and we stand with our NATO ally Turkey and its fight against the PKK and in solidarity with the Turkish people.
QUESTION: President Obama also wants to cooperate with Turkey. Is there any specific steps that the U.S. Government is ready to do?
MR. TONER: Well, as you know, we’ve cooperated in the past on counterterrorism against the PKK. We do condemn them as a terrorist organization and demand that they cease their terrorist activities, and we’re going to continue to cooperate with Turkey in combating the scourge of the PKK.
QUESTION: Do you think you are going to –
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything concrete to point to, but our existing cooperation will certainly continue.
QUESTION: Turkish Government has been seeking to get some drones and other new arms to fight against PKK. Do you think –
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything on that for you.
QUESTION: On this issue, Mark, in the past, Turkey has pursued the PKK into Iraqi-Kurdistan territory and other places. Would you support Turkey if it conducts such operations?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we would – we look to both Turkish and Iraqi authorities to cooperate and coordinate and work together to combat the PKK. There’s certainly – they certainly have a shared interest. We encourage always Iraq’s neighbors to respect its sovereignty by cooperating closely with the Government of Iraq in combating these terrorist groups that operate along the border region. And indeed, these are a common enemy to both Turkey and Iraq.
MR. TONER: In any Syrian?
QUESTION: Syrian territory.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Look, as I said, we’re going to continue to work with Turkey to combat the PKK. I don’t know about safe havens in Syria, but we’re certainly going to try to increase our counterterrorism cooperation to go after the PKK.
QUESTION: Okay, but --
QUESTION: Do you if these – what (inaudible) calls have been made from here to Turkey in raising this issue?
MR. TONER: Not yet. No.
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. No.
QUESTION: One more question. Even though U.S. Government has been helping in terms of intelligence as the public statements we know since 2009, there is this anti-American sentiment in Turkey again today as well.
MR. TONER: Anti-American –
QUESTION: Anti-American sentiment over this new terror attack. Some argue that still it’s some kind of link between these attacks and the U.S. presence in Iraq. How do you explain to these differing opinions, and it is growing actually?
MR. TONER: How do you speak to – look, I can’t be any clearer, Ilhan, that we view the PKK as a terrorist organization, as an enemy of both the U.S. and Turkey. And we’ve been cooperating, as you said, for many years now in combating them.
QUESTION: Mr. Toner, on Colombia?
MR. TONER: Let’s go back –
QUESTION: Just ask to clarify. You don’t have any --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I forgot you, Christophe.
QUESTION: You don’t have any update on Predators issue and the Cobra helicopters?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: And this second question: Do you think that the withdrawal process of U.S. troops from the region, from the northern Iraq and all over the Iraq, will cause any void of authority in the region?
MR. TONER: We have confidence in Iraq’s security forces to maintain both external and internal security, and – otherwise, we wouldn’t be moving forward with our withdrawal.
QUESTION: What is the role of U.S. presence in the region? I mean, you are providing the air security now in northern Iraq? What is the exact role of U.S. presence in the – for – in terms of Iraq – northern Iraq security?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve been – as we’ve been moving towards the January 1st withdrawal date, we have been ceding more and more areas to the control of Iraqi security forces as they’ve grown in the strength of their own capabilities. I’m not sure what the situation right now is in northern Iraq. I’d have to get those details, or I just would encourage you to contact the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Are you considering a kind of trilateral security agreement between Iraq, U.S., and Turkey?
MR. TONER: I missed that. I – Arshad, just – sorry, but I missed the – sorry. (Laughter.) You’re not distracting. Sorry, I just missed the question.
QUESTION: Are you considering a kind of trilateral security agreement --
MR. TONER: A trilateral security agreement?
QUESTION: Trilateral security agreement between Iraq, Turkey, and U.S. –
MR. TONER: Again, I would just say that we’re working to have better coordination and cooperation both between the U.S. and Turkey against the PKK, but also, importantly, between Iraq and Turkey.
QUESTION: On this very issue, Mark, are you having separate talks with the Government of – the governor of Kurdistan, the President Barzani of the northern province of Kurdistan or his prime minister, Nechervan Barzani?
MR. TONER: On this specific issue?
QUESTION: On this specific issue, because in the past, there has been a great deal of animosity between Turkey and the government in northern Iraq and Kurdistan. So are you sort of gearing talks or seeing – overseeing talks between Turkey and Kurdistan independent of Iraq?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I’ll take that question. Certainly, our aim is to – as I said is to enhance cooperation between Iraq and Turkey and to focus both countries’ efforts on ending the scourge of the PKK.
QUESTION: This final clarification. In the past, you stated clear stance and support for Turkey to cross-border operation, just a month ago actually, and there are different reports now. It is your stance still to support Turkish military operation? Some say already some of them inside –
MR. TONER: I would just say that we certainly recognize Turkey’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks. We also certainly encourage Turkey to work closely with the Government of Iraq to combat this threat.
QUESTION: There are elections – thank you, Mark. There are elections in Tunisia on Sunday, and the Islamists there have warned against the manipulation of the vote. Basically, what they say is that they would organize an uprising if they are not happy with the results. So do you have a comment on that? And do you have a comment, as well, on the fact that apparently according to the polls, the Islamists are well ahead of any other party in Tunisia right now?
MR. TONER: Well, Christophe, you’re right in that the people of Tunisia do approach a significant milestone in their transition, which is the first democratic election in the country’s modern history, on October 23rd. The right to choose their leaders now belongs to the Tunisian people, and we’re confident that they’re going to exercise that right. And in the run-up and certainly during the elections, we encourage the Government of Tunisia as well as the independent elections commission to ensure fairness, transparency of the electoral process, which includes unfettered and secure access to voting stations, timely, accurate – and timely, accurate release of the results.
In answer to your second question first, the composition of the Tunisian Government is ultimately a matter for the Tunisian people to determine, and we’ve seen in Tunisia as elsewhere across the region that people have demanded political change in the form of a government that’s representative and accountable to the people. We believe these governments should be inclusive of the broad spectrum of civil society, and it’s only natural that religious parties are going to play a role in that democratic process. I guess where we would draw the line is that, as your first question implied, the uses for – the use of violence for political purposes cannot ever be tolerated, and any political party that may use violence to that end cannot be a credible partner in the democratic transition in Tunisia.
QUESTION: Different topic?
QUESTION: On this topic, but you don’t have any problems with Islamists garnering a great deal of power as a result of the vote?
MR. TONER: I think I just said that we want any government in Tunisia to include a – to be inclusive of the broad spectrum of civil society, and that certainly includes religious parties.
QUESTION: Right here.
MR. TONER: You have Tunisia? Okay. Tunisia’s done. You are next, Kirit.
QUESTION: I had a question following up on the one I asked yesterday about whether there was consular access for the Iranian American who was detained last week.
MR. TONER: Yeah. And I didn’t get that for you, and I apologize. You mean – you’re talking about whether there’s actually been --
QUESTION: Whether there has – whether there’s been a decision to allow it, and then whether there has been.
MR. TONER: Well, I think I said we’ve encouraged – even though dual citizens aren’t required under the Vienna Convention to be allowed access, consular access, in this case and in other cases we’ve said that we would support such access. I don’t know if it’s been granted. I will find out --
QUESTION: Do you know if it’s been requested?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I’ll find out (inaudible).
QUESTION: And I’m curious why you keep mentioning the fact --
MR. TONER: I apologize. I forgot that.
QUESTION: I’m curious why you keep mentioning the fact that you’re not obligated to give consular access, seeing how this is – the complaints you always have with the Iranians when they arrest an American citizen in their country that they don’t feel that they are obligated to provide consular access to you.
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: I’m curious why you have to – feel the need to caveat this every single time.
MR. TONER: Because – I mean, because we deal in a very legalistic environment in diplomacy, and so it’s important to say that we are not required by law or under our obligations under the Vienna Conventions to grant access. That said, we do support it. I think that’s the point. And in many cases, as you’ve suggested, in other cases with dual citizens in Iran, that that access has not been granted.
QUESTION: So is it fair to say, then, in that case, that you plan to do so in this case?
MR. TONER: We would support it, yes. We would support access. I just need to find out whether it’s been actually asked for and whether it has been granted. I will do so. We’ll do that as a taken question.
QUESTION: Change of topic.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MR. TONER: Arshad, and then --
QUESTION: You said that the – to go back to North Korea, you said that the purpose of this upcoming meeting is that it is a continuation of the exploratory talks to see whether the North is willing to live up to its commitments under the September 2005 joint statement and to meet its nuclear international obligations. Do you want – well, first question: Does the U.S. Government see any utility in the possibility of eventually reviving Six Party talks?
MR. TONER: Do we see any utility in eventually --
QUESTION: In eventually reviving Six Party talks, which collapsed in – at the end of 2008.
MR. TONER: Again, I think we remain open to and remain committed to the Six Party process; but again, we’re not seeking to have talks for talks’ sake. We want to make sure that any talks would indeed include concrete steps that would address some of the international community’s grave concerns about North Korea.
QUESTION: And would the North, having made commitments under the September 2005 agreement, abandon its nuclear programs, and under subsequent agreements to do other things, would the North have to take actions to meet some of those commitments before you would review – you would revive Six Party talks? Do they have to do – actually do things first before you’ll widen the circle and resume those talks?
MR. TONER: I think it’s safe to say that we are looking for, as you’ve stated, some of these concrete actions before we would pursue broader talks.
QUESTION: Mark --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Colombia?
MR. TONER: Colombia, sure.
QUESTION: Okay, just quick. Do you have any comments or any reaction regarding this U.S. military attaché in Bogota caught with four kilograms of cocaine?
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: All right. (Laughter.) All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: A couple questions on South Asia. One, on India, I saw some travel warning from the State Department – if you have any credible accounts that terrorists are going to attack India, whether from the Indian Government or from State Department, any kind of a --
MR. TONER: Sure. Goyal, let me – that’s a – it’s a fair question. We did issue a – or update the India travel alert. Let me just say that we do alert U.S. citizens of the continued possibility of terrorist attacks throughout India during the Indian holiday season, which includes Hindu, Islamic, and other religious and secular holidays between October and January. So the travel alert expires on January 20th of 2012. Recent Indian Government advisories and local media report increased indications that there are terrorist attacks possibly in planning. This is in addition to the current standing travel alert, but we also note that this period has been a period in the past where there have been terrorist attacks, and certainly there’s upcoming anniversaries of terrorist attacks in India. So it’s really just an effort on our part to do due diligence and to alert folks of the heightened – so that they’re more aware of the possibility.
QUESTION: Another question, if I may have – yesterday, Mr. Professor Akbar Zaidi was speaking at the Carnegie Institution. He’s a professor at the Colombia University for International Affairs. What he gave accounts yesterday of India-Pakistan and India-U.S. and U.S.-Pakistan relations and economics. What he said the time has come now for India and Pakistan to work together, and especially Pakistan’s time is now is now to recognize that India is a power, and without India, Pakistan has no existence as far as security and trade and other issues are concerned. But he said the problem is that Pakistan is being run by the two governments, not one. One is civilian, and one is military. But without military, civilian government cannot do anything; maybe U.S. can help in this situation. So what do you have to say about his comments?
MR. TONER: It sounds like it was very interesting academic analysis of the situation – (laughter) – in Pakistan. I’m not trying to be facetious. But our policy remains that, as I’ve said many times before, that we need good relations between Pakistan and India. We need good, constructive relations between India and Afghanistan, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, so that all three countries can prosper and increase stability and peace in the area. Certainly, an important element of that in Pakistan and elsewhere is strengthening democratic institutions and democratic governance.
QUESTION: And finally, if I may quick, General Musharraf is in town and he has been – he had on and off almost two, three weeks and now he is going to speak again at the Carnegie, but he’s looking, I understand, for some kind of think tank job in Washington. One, if he has met anybody from the State Department, if he’s in touch with anybody here?
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question whether he’s had any meetings here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Christophe.
QUESTION: The French Government has announced – sorry.
MR. TONER: I’d forgotten her, but go ahead and then I’ll – I apologize.
QUESTION: It’s very short.
QUESTION: French Government has announced this morning the death of a French woman who was hostage in Somalia, so --
MR. TONER: Death of a French woman who was held hostage?
QUESTION: Yeah, in Somalia, so I wonder --
MR. TONER: I’m aware of those reports, and certainly we extend our condolences to the family and as well as to the French nation.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Should the United States be giving foreign assistance to China when we’re competing with them economically and politically? Last year – the aid amount is small, there was $47 million in development aid and then there’s a government contract through some Chinese state enterprises for 350 million. I mean, China can afford pretty much everything. I mean, they can afford our bonds, so should we be giving them aid?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’d like to see a more detailed breakdown of where that assistance goes to. Our foreign assistance is carefully vetted and it goes to support projects and programs that we believe are in our long-term national security interests as well as assisting the government to which – or the country to which they’re going to. But moving forward, we – foreign assistance is constantly being reviewed, certainly in these tough budgetary times, but let’s be very clear that the foreign assistance that we give both to China but elsewhere in the world is, as I said, clearly in our national security interests and it pays dividends for the American people.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Yemen, there are reports today that President Saleh has now said that he is ready to sign the GCC proposal as long as the U.S., Europe, and the Gulf states provide guarantees for implementing the proposal. Have you seen those reports and do you have any --
MR. TONER: Guarantees for?
QUESTION: Implementing the proposal is what he said.
MR. TONER: Right. Well, the – I would just say I have seen those reports, and the GCC, the EU, and the United States have repeatedly stated our unequivocal support for a political transition on the basis of the GCC agreement. I’ve said that many, many times from the podium. So we don’t believe any further guarantees are necessary. We would just urge that President Saleh fulfill his pledge to sign the GCC agreement without further delay, arrange for a presidential election to be held before the end of the year within the agreement – within the framework of that agreement.
QUESTION: So you’re not worried that the Secretary General of the United Nations refused to issue guarantees to Saleh and his family to be immune from prosecution, and as a result this may cause him to stay and remain as long as he can in power?
MR. TONER: Again, the GCC agreement was agreed to after many months of negotiations by both the ruling party and the opposition parties in Yemen, so the Yemenis would decide any contents and details of any political agreement that was reached. We, the United States, support accountability and have called for independent investigations of human rights abuses in Yemen.
But again, I think we’re losing focus here. The real issue is on President Saleh – or the real issue is President Saleh and his continued refusal to sign the agreement. He’s reneged on his promise to – or pledge to sign the agreement several times now. We believe that this agreement has been carefully vetted and agreed to by all the parties in Yemen, and so we should be able to move forward. He should be able to sign it.
QUESTION: So you don’t see the – a bargain for immunity for him and his family as being part of any agreement?
MR. TONER: We don’t – your question?
QUESTION: You don’t see that immunity from prosecution as being any part of any bargain of him to depart from power?
MR. TONER: Again, I – the GCC agreement, we believe, answers these questions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A different topic?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I believe you were asked yesterday if Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was going to meet any U.S. officials while he is in town.
MR. TONER: He is, and I know we pledged to issue a taken question about it. In fact, it was – so he’s here on a very short, private visit. He doesn’t have any meetings, so I thought it best to just answer the questions.
QUESTION: So there are no meetings?
MR. TONER: There’s no meetings here that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: That’s interesting. And even though the question of how the Palestinian Authority continues to finance itself remains very much an open question, and even though you have many members on the Hill who said that they would oppose continued U.S. funding --
MR. TONER: And I don’t know whether he’s having any meetings on the Hill. I can’t answer that aspect of it.
MR. TONER: I know he doesn’t have any meetings in the Department.
QUESTION: Mark, last week --
QUESTION: Hold on, sorry. With the Administration or with the State Department? Do you know if he has an NSC meeting, for example, or something?
MR. TONER: I don’t.
QUESTION: So you only know about the State Department, okay.
QUESTION: Last week when asked --
MR. TONER: My impression from – sorry, just to finish – my impression that his visit was more private than in his official capacity.
QUESTION: I understand that – even that – at one of the Palestinian organizations in town. But last week when asked, Victoria said that he was going to meet with someone. She didn’t know who or at what level, but she did say --
MR. TONER: You’re talking about Fayyad?
QUESTION: Yes, with Fayyad, so – who is here in town. He’s speaking in town, but you – there is no – is that something new or (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: That he’s not meeting with somebody? Again, he’ll be in Washington. At this point, no meetings are scheduled, so --
QUESTION: One last question.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: There is U.S.-Israeli citizen being held in Egypt and there are --
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: -- talks underway to release him in exchange for, like, 800 Egyptians that are being held by Israelis. Are you aware of that?
MR. TONER: Again, I think the Secretary spoke to this yesterday when she was on the ground in Libya and said simply that we want to see him released. I’m not aware of any talks.
QUESTION: On Syria, Turkish foreign minister just yesterday met with Syrian National Council that was formed in Turkey.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Some argue that this is the right step in the recognition of the SNC? First of all, are you considering to take similar steps to meet with the Syrian National Council anytime soon?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I – we’ve – we have met with and will continue to meet with members of the Syrian opposition and – going forward. And we’re also seeing this Syrian opposition and this – and in part, the Syrian Transitional National – Transitional National Council, is that right – the Syrian National Council, I think, is what it’s called – continue to coalesce and grow. We believe it’s one of the major voices within the Syrian opposition. We’re still seeing the Syrian opposition coalesce. We maintain contacts both within Syria and outside with Syrian activists and expatriates as we move forward. It’s an important element of our strategy.
QUESTION: So you are saying you met with this particular council?
MR. TONER: I don't know if we’ve had meetings with the council that’s in Turkey now. I’ll take your question.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: What’s your reaction to Libya? The Libyan National Council recognized the Syrian National Council as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: Do you welcome the Libyan --
MR. TONER: Well, I think that we’re beginning to see, as we move forward, as the violence continues, as the Syrian people continue to stand up to Asad and his regime, an important element of this is that the opposition begin to truly come together to coalesce and represent the desires of the Syrian people, and we’re beginning to see that.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)