Daily Press Briefing - December 7, 2011
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Virtual Embassy / Site Compromised / Both English and Persian Sites Blocked / Private Networks / Offering Information about the United States / Visas / Effort to Engage Iranians / Looking at Ways to Track Via VPN Usage
- Asad's ABC Interview / Denial of Brutality / Allowing International Monitors / UN and other Reports / Disconnected and Disregard / Syrian Security Apparatus / No Transparency in Regime / Empty Promises and Human Rights Abuses / Ambassador Ford's Travel Back to Damascus / Engaging / Carrying out U.S. Policy / Asad Needs to Step Down / Long Struggle / Building Pressure / Arab League / Moving Forward with Sanctions
- Averted Plan to Smuggle Saadi Qadhafi into its Territory / Mexican National Security Case / Commend Mexican Authorities
- Mexican Congress Letter to Secretary Clinton / Violations of Human Rights / Border Security and Control / Merida / Strengthening Intuitions
- Posting of Internet Content / Working Group on Information and Communication Technology / Strategic Dialogue / Internet Freedom / Call on Global Community to Protect Freedoms of Expression, Association and Assembly
- Knowledge of Israeli Stance on Iran's Nuclear Ambitions / U.S. Israel Strategic Dialogue / Continue Regular Dialogue
- SAUDI ARABIA
- Stepping up of Oil Production / Sanctions on Iran / Legislation
- Demonstrations in Russia / Blogger Remains in Detention / Right to Peaceful Protest / Recent Elections / Call for Investigation / OSCE Report
- Separate Upcoming Meetings between Parties and Quartet / Remain Hard at Work / Direct Negotiation / Playing a Facilitative Role
- Status of U.S. Sales of Tear Gas to Egypt / Condemn Excessive Force against Protesters / Licenses
- Prime Minister Ganzouri Presidential Authority / Creating an Interim Government / Presidential Elections
- President Zardari Travel to Dubai for Health Reasons / Official Pakistan Statements
- Connections with Pakistani Government and ISI / Counterterrorism Cooperation
- Recent NATO Strike / Condolences / Investigation
- Recent Bombings / Claim of Responsibility / Lashkar e Jhangvi / Combating Extremist Terrorist Activity / Cooperation / U.S. Citizen Killed in Attack
- Military-to-Military Ties / Civilian-Government-to-Civilian-Government Ties
- Security and the Bonn Conference
- DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
- Appointment of Special Advisor for the Great African Lakes / Barrie Walkley / Providing Support to the Region
- EAST ASIA PACIFIC REGION
- Derek Mitchell Travel to Region / Seoul and Tokyo
1:06 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I do see a lot of new faces in the back, and I don’t know where you’re from, but I welcome you to the briefing room. I’m sorry that I’m not prepared to welcome you formally.
MR. TONER: I know, Matt. I don’t know what to say.
Anyway, I don’t have anything for you at the top, which I know makes Matt and others happy, but we’ll just go right to your questions.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Can I ask you one, starting with Iran? So yesterday, you all launched your virtual embassy for Iran with some fanfare. It lasted – it was available in Iran for only a couple of hours until it was blocked. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that. I realize that you expected that they would tend to do this, but --
MR. TONER: Well, they did. We did expect, and I think, as our briefer said yesterday, we’re fairly confident that we’re able to recover from these kinds of temporary compromises of the site. Of course, the fact that they would – in fact, the Iranian Government would attempt to block access to a site that, as we walked you through yesterday, does nothing more other than offer information about how to travel to the United States and opportunities for travel to the United States, as well about our policies in a very transparent and straightforward manner, speaks volumes about their trust in their own citizens and then in closing them off to the outside world.
But it’s important, I think it was noted yesterday, many Iranians do have access – I’m sorry, rather, have software and virtual private networks that allow them to work around these kinds of blocks and to facilitate access to the internet. And I think, for example, there’s millions of Iranians who have access to Facebook and will also be able to use these so-called VPNs to access the site.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea what traffic was before it got shut down?
MR. TONER: I don’t. We were going to try to get the latest figures. We’ll get that for you by the end of the briefing.
QUESTION: By the end – sorry, by the end of the briefing?
MR. TONER: Yeah. We just – we do have those figures.
QUESTION: I’m going to hold that – hold you to that.
MR. TONER: You can absolutely hold me to that.
QUESTION: You said that you felt you’d gotten around it. Has (inaudible) found a way around the controls at this point or no?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear your question.
QUESTION: In your opening statement, you said that you felt that you had found a way around (inaudible).
MR. TONER: I just think we can – as we said, we can recover from these compromises. I think one of the ways we’ll do that is, in fact, that millions of Iranians already use VPNs to – for example, to access the internet or access Facebook, and --
QUESTION: When you say compromise, though, that sounds like someone who’s gone in and hacked it. This isn’t --
MR. TONER: No. This is apparently blocking it, yeah.
QUESTION: But the website hasn’t been hacked or – hacked.
MR. TONER: No, it’s been blocked, is my understanding.
QUESTION: Hold on just a second.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Explain the whole recover part again, because I don’t understand. I mean, is there an effort to kind of help people get around this or are you just --
MR. TONER: There’s not an effort. What we went into this recognizing is that as we – I think we acknowledged yesterday, we did expect this to be blocked at some point. And again, that tells you what kind of government we’re dealing with. But in any case, as we talked a little bit about yesterday, the fact that Iranians have access via these virtual private networks to Facebook and other programs, or internet programs that are normally blocked by the government, they’ll continue to have access to our website.
QUESTION: Two other questions for you. First is: How long was it up before it was blocked? Do you have that information?
MR. TONER: I believe it was blocked – at least we saw the first press reports on this as of, like, late – early this morning our time, so less than 24 hours, I think.
QUESTION: Okay. Got it. And --
QUESTION: Mark --
QUESTION: Well --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Kirit. Finish up.
QUESTION: Well, now I totally forgot my question.
MR. TONER: That’s okay. We’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: On this virtual embassy, so what is really – at the end of the day, what are you hoping to accomplish? How will this, let’s say, impact --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I know that you explained that many times, but if you’d bear with me for a minute --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- how do you hope that this will impact, let’s say, opposition to Ahmadinejad or the mullahs and so on?
MR. TONER: Well, to some extent – I mean, we talked a little bit about this in a broader sense last week when you had – after the attack on the UK Embassy, they pulled their personnel and there was a lot of talk in this room, or questions in this room – doesn’t that basically cut you off when these Western embassies are pulling out of Tehran; doesn’t that, in essence, cut you off from the Iranian people. And I think it’s in recognition that we don’t have sufficient contact with the Iranian people due to the fact that we don’t have an embassy on the ground. And we do have other embassies, Western embassies, because of the attack, pulling out because they can’t guarantee the safety of their diplomats.
So I think this is an effort to use the internet as a way, again, to – in a transparent way, offer information about the United States. We want to encourage travel to the United States, as I think we spoke yesterday. That’s not an easy thing to do. This will allow more information, or make more information available to Iranians who want to travel to the United States to study, for example. It’s still an arduous process to receive a visa, but again, we’re trying to facilitate that kind of exchange.
QUESTION: So you are hoping that at one point, it will go beyond just giving travel information and so on, and basically work as a substitute to a real physical embassy on the ground?
MR. TONER: I think it’s a way to – I don’t think necessarily it can ever be a full substitute to a real operating embassy on the ground, but it’s an effort for us to – because of the reality of the situation, to find other means to engage with the Iranian people.
QUESTION: Mark, just on – back on the recovery question, is there any way that you guys have to measure whether or not you’re still getting hits from within Iran, (inaudible) talking --
MR. TONER: We’re looking at – yeah, we’re looking at ways that we can look at that. I’ll – and I don’t want preview that, but there’s ways, for example, to measure who, with VPNs, for example, would be accessing that.
QUESTION: You could still take them back to the source country that they (inaudible) coming from Iran?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean – but it would be an example. I mean, in the case of VPNs, it would be likely that people using those would be Iranian for the most part.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. But --
MR. TONER: Not in the U.S., where you don’t really need a VPN.
QUESTION: Since those press reports came out about the site itself being blocked, do you – are you still aware that it’s getting traffic? I mean, I know you don’t have the actual numbers, but do you think it’s still sort of operating --
MR. TONER: But I’ll have those numbers by the end of the end of the briefing. (Laughter.)
We’re not – again, we’re looking at ways to track just via the VPN usage, and that would help us, I think, maintain – I don’t have those numbers right now, but that would allow us to make an educated guess that these are individuals still, within Iran, accessing the site.
Who – yeah, in the back, and then back to you, Kirit.
QUESTION: I understand there are three different URLs for this virtual embassy website. And apparently, it’s the – one of the English websites that was blocked, not the Farsi one?
MR. TONER: Let me double-check on that. I understood it to be the two, but --
QUESTION: Iranian officials, when explaining why they blocked the site, said that the United States was meddling in their domestic affairs. Do you have any reaction to that in terms of the goal for this website and --
MR. TONER: Again, we’ve been very clear that this is an effort, because we don’t have a brick-and-mortar embassy on the ground in Tehran, to find ways to engage with the Iranian people, frankly to talk more about what the United States is all about, what our policies are, as well as information about travel here. How that meddles in their domestic affairs, I’m not quite clear.
QUESTION: And would it be quite fine with you if the Iranians were to open a virtual embassy in Washington and do exactly the same thing?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, if they – if we --
QUESTION: If the Iranians choose to --
MR. TONER: They’re welcome to it.
QUESTION: But they already have an interests section here, don’t they?
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MR. TONER: As we also have a protecting power in Tehran.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MR. TONER: Yes, we can move on. You raised it.
QUESTION: Have you seen President Asad’s interview with ABC?
MR. TONER: I did. I don’t believe the full interview has run yet --
QUESTION: But you saw the excerpts --
MR. TONER: -- but I saw whatever was on Good Morning America this morning, yes.
QUESTION: What did you make of what he had to say?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve seen the elements or the parts or the excerpts of the interview that have already run. In it, he appears to deny much of his regime’s brutality, and repeatedly challenges Barbara Walters on – to provide evidence.
Just taking at face value his denial that there’s anything going on there and his questioning of the motives and the credibility of the UN and other international observers, it really – again, taking that at face value, it speaks to why not let international monitors – human rights monitors, which is what the Arab League is proposing – into Syria as well as international media and allow them to report transparently on what’s happening there? But that’ll never happen.
QUESTION: Yeah, but – well, I mean, he’s saying that what has been alleged hasn’t happened. Do you believe him?
MR. TONER: Well, again, if he – he’s making these claims, then the way for him to do that or the way for him to support his own claims that all this is somehow cooked up on the part of the international community against Syria is to allow international monitors on the ground there.
QUESTION: Well, you’re not saying – I mean, so you think that he might have a point?
MR. TONER: I’m not. My point is very clearly – I’m saying that if he was backing up his claims that there was nothing going on, that the way to allow that to be proved is by allowing international monitors, which is exactly what we’re asking for.
MR. TONER: Of course we believe that the UN’s reports and other reports on the thousands, 4,000-plus dead, are credible and shocking.
QUESTION: Right. Well, so you reject his denial that --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- there’s nothing going on?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: That there’s nothing going on – so he said that in this interview – one of the clips, he says that if a government was going around killing its own people, it would have to be led by a crazy person. So do you now think that President Asad is insane? If you --
MR. TONER: He said it.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) believe what’s going on there to be murder --
MR. TONER: And that was his own --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) thousand people of (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: That was his own characterization.
QUESTION: Right. Well, so if that characterization – I mean, do you accept that characterization? Is he crazy?
MR. TONER: I think he – again, just from what happened or what took place in the interview, he appeared utterly disconnected with the reality that’s going on in his country and the brutal repression that’s being carried out against the Syrian people. It’s either disconnection, disregard, or, as he said, crazy. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay. And then you – then he also said that the army wasn’t his, that it was an instrument to the state, that – do you believe – do you believe that or do you think that he has given orders for this repression?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, it either says that he’s completely lost any power that he had within Syria, that he’s simply a tool, or that he’s completely disconnected with reality. It’s hard for us to say, but what we insist is that he has lost all credibility in the eyes of his people and needs to step down.
QUESTION: Is your --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- assessment or has it ever been --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- your assessment that Mr. Asad may be insulated, maybe he’s not being told of what really going – is going on by his commanders and people (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: I mean, it’s a fair observation. Judging by the content of this interview, it seems to be that that’s one explanation, is that he’s at least trying to create an image of himself as someone who’s not pulling the levers here. But what is very clear is that the Syrian security apparatus is carrying out this clear campaign against peaceful protestors, and that blame and responsibility or accountability, that ultimately rests on Asad and his cronies.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: He denied specifically that he had ordered any killings, ordered any brutality, said there had been some mistakes but people had been punished for that and it wasn’t something that he had ordered. Do you accept that?
MR. TONER: Again, there’s almost no transparency in that regime. It’s unclear whether he’s taken any actions against any of his security officials about these actions. What’s clear is that he has spoken time and time again about reform, and all we’ve seen are empty promises and continued human rights abuses. And again, I just point you to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report that came out a couple weeks ago that was a pretty disgusting litany of some of these abuses.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: No, let’s go ahead.
QUESTION: Stay on Syria. Have you been – since Mr. Ford has gone back to Damascus, have you been in touch with him?
MR. TONER: He has. I have not personally been in touch with him. I think he’s, frankly, just settling in after a long journey. We talked about – yesterday that he’s going to be back on the ground, he’s going to be engaging with members of the opposition, he’s going to be engaging with members of civil society, and he’s also going to be continuing to deliver our message that the violence has to end.
QUESTION: Okay. So you expect to do exactly what he was doing before to meet these (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Exactly.
QUESTION: Syrian sources say that his activities will be curtailed. Are you aware that his activities will be curtailed by the Syrians?
MR. TONER: Again, as I think you’ve seen, he’s an individual who carries out his mission as he sees fit. He’s going to continue, I think, to conduct himself in the way he did before in order to – frankly, to carry out our policy there, which is to support the Syrian opposition and civil society that’s emerging, and to send a very clear message to the Syrian Government that Asad needs to step down and allow for that democratic transition to take place.
QUESTION: So what is the hope now in – the diplomatic hope now that Ambassador Ford is back? The French Ambassador (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: Right, French Ambassador --
QUESTION: -- a great deal of diplomatic activity. So what is hoped to be achieved?
MR. TONER: Well, we said before this is going to be a long struggle, and all along, we’ve been working steadily to build pressure, to build international pressure against Asad. We’ve seen that manifested in different ways.
As you saw, the Arab League suspended Syria and then withdrew many of their ambassadors. They’re now moving forward with sanctions. Their offer for international monitors, of course, remains on the table, and we want to see that move forward as a first step, if you will, to end the violence that’s going on there. And then we’ve got our own ambassador back there as well as the French and German Ambassador. We believe Ambassador Ford’s playing a critical role there as somebody who can bear witness to what’s going on in a place where there, frankly, is very few – there are very few international reporters and no monitors of any sort.
And then we’ve got very stringent sanctions in place against Syria. We believe they’re beginning to bite, and we’re going to continue to move forward to tighten the noose around Asad’s regime.
QUESTION: Do you have any reports on – about important defections in the Syrian army?
MR. TONER: I mean, I don’t have any news or anything new to tell you about. We all know that the Free Syrian Army is made up largely of defectors from the Syrian armed forces, but I don’t have any new numbers or – you’re talking about high-ups, higher-up officers or --
QUESTION: Yeah, some people in the --
MR. TONER: -- military?
QUESTION: -- air force intelligence. There are reports that new elements are defecting.
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to confirm at this time. I’ll look into it.
Are we still on Syria? Okay. Let’s start with you, then. You had a non-Syria question.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have anything to say about Mexico’s announcement today that they have averted a plot to smuggle Saudi Qadhafi into its territory, and whether the U.S. provided any assistance or intelligence for that operation?
MR. TONER: Right. I’m not aware that we did, in fact, provide any support to that. This was a Mexican national security case and has been addressed by the Mexican Government. And I believe that, as they said in an announcement, that arrests related to forged identity documents and human smuggling were made in Mexico surrounding this case. So I’d refer you to the Mexican Government for any more details, but we certainly appreciate the --
QUESTION: You don’t have any idea whether any U.S. resident or U.S. citizen was involved within these operations?
MR. TONER: No, and I mean, that would be probably something to be coordinated between our law enforcement agencies. But I’m unaware of any connection at this time. Again, we commend the Mexican authorities for their good work.
QUESTION: In Mexico, Congressman Grijalva and 32 others – members of congress – sent a letter yesterday to Secretary Clinton, concerned about the violations of human rights in Mexico of migrants crossing the country such as the 72 that were murdered recently. And they want the Secretary to tie that to aid such as the Merida Initiative.
Your reaction to that?
MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t seen the letter yet, so let me check and see what the letter says, exactly, before we’d have any detailed comment on it. But just speaking more broadly, it is obviously a concern. Border security and border control is obviously an important concern between our two countries, one that we’re working collaboratively to address.
And in terms of Merida, that continues, we believe, to pay dividends for both our – in both our nations’ interests. And as far as I know, that continues to move forward. We’re now in kind of an institution-building phase, a capacity-building phase with the Mexican Government regarding Merida, but we believe it continues to be in both our nations’ interests.
QUESTION: Is there concern about the high number of human rights violations registered in Mexico of immigrants coming from Central America, through Mexico, to the U.S.?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re always concerned about credible reports of human rights violations. I think one of the goals of Merida is to strengthen the institutions that work in these areas in order to make them better able to deal with these kind of flows of migrants and avoid these kinds of allegations or instances, but we always raise human rights concerns, not just in Mexico but with any country where we feel they’re credible.
Yeah. Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: What is the position of the United States Government or the State Department on efforts by two Asian democracies – India and South Korea – to monitor or regulate posting of contents on popular internet websites like Facebook, Google?
MR. TONER: You’ve – I’m not aware of the – South Korean, you said?
No, I’m not aware of that. But I can say that --
MR. TONER: -- in terms of India, we do have a working group on information and communication technology between the U.S. and India, and it’s part of our overall Strategic Dialogue. And of course we – within that working group – do talk about issues on information technology, discuss approaches our governments can take to create investment, for example, and regulatory environments that maximize the development of these sectors.
I think your question is more to a broader question of internet freedom. The – our position’s clear and Secretary Clinton’s called on the global community to protect freedoms of expression, association, and assembly in the online world as we do in the regular world, and we uphold those beliefs. And I don’t want to get out too far in front; she’s actually going to be talking about internet expression and – freedom of expression, internet freedom tomorrow in an address in The Hague. So I don’t want to preempt that speech.
QUESTION: I’m asking this question because the two U.S. – they are two U.S. companies are involved in this, Facebook and Google, which have decided not to go with what Indian Government is saying, and you’re having talks with Indian Government on this. Who – what’s your stand? Do you support Indian Government’s stand to monitor and regulate what kind of content needs to be posted in the website of Facebook? Or do you stand by Facebook and Google?
MR. TONER: I think I just tried to express the fact that we stand on the side of freedom of expression on the internet.
QUESTION: Well, in this specific discussion with India, has this come up? Are you --
MR. TONER: I’m not sure. Let me check on whether it’s come up, either in that working group or in our regular bilateral conversations.
QUESTION: And what do you think of the idea?
MR. TONER: That?
QUESTION: To regulate it.
MR. TONER: To regulate content?
MR. TONER: I mean, again, I think – I don’t want to get out – the Secretary’s going to have a major speech on internet freedom tomorrow in The Hague.
QUESTION: I know, but she will speak and it will be covered. But this is today, not tomorrow. This is Washington, not The Hague. There are questions being asked now.
MR. TONER: What I can say now is that we believe that freedom of expression applies equally to the internet as it does in the real world. So we would support --
QUESTION: That’s fine. Does the real world include India?
MR. TONER: Precisely. It includes --
QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, can you say something specifically about this proposed regulation that --
MR. TONER: Well again, I mean, what I would say is not necessarily specific to India. It’s broader than that, which is that --
QUESTION: You’re being asked about India, though, Mark.
MR. TONER: But I’m talking about a broader principle.
QUESTION: I understand that, but this is a concern, this specific proposal in India --
MR. TONER: And I would say we would – and I will say we are concerned about any effort to curtail freedom of expression on the internet.
QUESTION: All right. And do you expect the Secretary to raise this tomorrow? This specific --
MR. TONER: Again, I – she’s going to talk broadly about internet freedom. I just don’t want to --
QUESTION: Mark? On the same --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
Goyal. Doesn’t matter.
QUESTION: The – Kapil Sibal, India’s minister of communication and information technology – he’s putting forward a framework to prevent content which is offensive to religious communities and other groups. So this is a particular specific thing they are doing. So what is your reaction to that?
MR. TONER: Again, I think I just tried to address that, about – in more, broadly speaking about internet freedoms. I’m not going to go any further and talk about the specific legislation.
Yeah. Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Just following yesterday, on this as far as cyber and internet freedom is concerned, Bob Schieffer of the CBS – he had a special function at CSIS, and what they discussed was the panel including Bob Schieffer --
MR. TONER: Goyal, can I just say you are – really make the rounds on the – in the think tank community here. It’s very impressive, actually. And I don’t mean that --
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s a --
MR. TONER: I mean that positively. You’re always bringing those discussions into the briefing room, which I appreciate.
QUESTION: That’s what Bob Schieffer said.
MR. TONER: (Laughter).
QUESTION: Great question, I had yesterday.
MR. TONER: Go ahead, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: What they were talking about is that, including of course, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee also had last time – there’s a big problem as far as internet cyber – it’s a big problem, counterfeit and cyber security is concerned in the U.S., especially coming from China. So where do we stand now, just to follow that?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not sure exactly – I mean, you’re asking about cyber security writ large. And I mean, it’s obviously a concern. It’s something that we’re working proactively on with countries around the world. We have an office about – that – here within the State Department that addresses issues of cyber security and cyber security policy. And we would agree that it’s something that certainly needs more international cohesion on and coordination.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on the same subject.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: In the question and answer with Matt, the whole statement got fractured. So what is --
MR. TONER: That often happens in my experiences with Matt.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. stand on this particular move by India?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into the details of this legislation.
QUESTION: No, whatever you want to say. Can you just say --
MR. TONER: I would just say our position on internet freedom is clear. We call on the global community to protect freedom of expression, association, and assembly in the – on the – in the online world as we would in the real world. The same principles apply.
Now, Andy, you had a question.
QUESTION: New subject.
MR. TONER: If it’s about India --
QUESTION: Actually, two different little quick subjects.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Both of them involving lawmakers. The first one has to do with Israel. We’ve had a couple of lawmakers up on the Hill, among them Senators Levin and McCain, saying that they believe that Israel has not fully shared its intentions with the Administration as to what its plans might be regarding Iran’s nuclear program, whether it’s military, (inaudible) or whatnot. And they’re pointing to Secretary Panetta’s statements recently as evidence that the Administration is trying to send signals to Israel because it doesn’t really have the full readout on what Israel’s plans are.
Can you let us know what the current state of communication is with Israel on their Iran strategy, and are you confident that you know exactly what it is that they – are their sort of red lines when it comes to going forward?
MR. TONER: Well, as we often state, Israel shares our very grave concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It’s a regular topic of discussion. I think we talked last week about the – in fact – what’s that?
QUESTION: The strategic dialogue.
MR. TONER: Right. I was going to say – thank you for – the U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue. That was one of the principal topics of discussion. That was with Deputy Secretary Burns as well as the Israeli deputy foreign minister. And we continue to have a regular dialogue on these issues and collaborate closely in terms of sharing information and ideas about how to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and addressing – and how we can promote an Iran that addresses the international community’s concerns of --
QUESTION: So you would say that this building is confident that you have a full understanding of exactly where Israel stands and what its policy options are?
MR. TONER: I think we’re confident that we share concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and that we’ve got a good level of communication. Yes.
QUESTION: A follow – a second sort of similar one.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Senator Kirk said today that he – or yesterday – that he had received personal assurances from the Saudi ambassador several times that Saudi Arabia was willing to step up its oil production, which indeed it’s doing, in order to offset the effects of the U.S. sanctions, and particularly this concern over how sanctions against the central bank might end up benefitting Iran, should that come to pass.
I’m wondering, have the Saudis told you, told the government specifically, that that’s what they’re doing and that they’re ready to keep on doing this because they’re worried about the impact on oil prices of sanctions?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not aware of specific conversations we may have had. I’ll have to take the question, frankly, to see if we’ve received those kind of assurances or to see what we can say about our conversations with the Saudis on this matter. But just more broadly speaking about the legislation, we’re consulting with Congress on a way to ensure that we can meet and address their concerns at the same time that we ensure that our overall policy remains intact.
QUESTION: If you could take that question on the Saudi --
MR. TONER: I will.
QUESTION: On that?
QUESTION: Well, on that subject, you’re working with Congress to ensure that their concerns are met? They don’t seem to have any concerns. It’s you that have the concerns about this legislation.
MR. TONER: Well, I would just say that there are concerns about the importance of this legislation, Matt, about this legislation being passed. We’ve voiced our own concerns about the fact that it might – as we mentioned here last week, that it might hinder our overall efforts to put pressure on Iran. And I think we’re just trying to consult collaboratively with them on ways around that – ways to ensure that the legislation can – if – as it moves forward, is done in a way that doesn’t impinge on that overall strategy.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MR. TONER: Okay.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- there is all the reports that it’s manifestations there, demonstrations. And considering that your Embassy there is a very large, big Embassy and there is a lot of information, what reports are you getting about the overall situation that’s going on there in Moscow in this (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we have seen that hundreds were arrested, and there is apparently a prominent blogger who remains in detention. We’ve expressed our concerns about the treatment of all those being arrested who were exercising their rights to peaceful protest. And again, I think as we’ve said before, we would obviously support the rights of anyone to peaceful protest – emphasis on peaceful – anywhere in the world. And – well, Russia’s no different.
QUESTION: There was any response officially from Russia to some comments made from U.S. authorities in the last hours.
MR. TONER: I’m not aware – when you say official, I’m not aware that there was a diplomatic exchange or a demarche of any form. I know that there were some public comments made. We – as I think I said yesterday, Secretary Clinton was very clear about raising some of the concerns with the conduct of the recent elections. These are – she said that Russian voters deserve, I think, a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation. These are – these were incidents that were reported by international observers, by OSCE and other observers who were invited to observe the elections. There is an OSCE report with recommendations that’s – I think will be finalized in the coming weeks. And we look to the Russian Government to address some of those recommendations, as we believe it’s incumbent on any government to ensure a democratic, free, and transparent process for its people.
QUESTION: Palestinian issue?
MR. TONER: Palestinian issue.
QUESTION: Do you have anything new in the aftermath of the meeting – Mr. Feltman’s meeting in the last day or so? Anything new on --
MR. TONER: I don’t, frankly. I mean, I think that the next step in this, I believe, is there are some – there are – there will be separate meetings between the parties and the Quartet envoys. I think that’s next week.
QUESTION: What is the current assessment of – in this building of the peace process? No, it’s a serious question. It’s no laughing matter.
MR. TONER: No, I’m not trying to – it’s just a – it’s a big question. It’s a big question, but it’s a serious question. And frankly, not a lot has changed from the last time we discussed this, which is that we remain hard at work at convincing the two sides to come forward with concrete proposals that we can then pull into the direct negotiations so that we have a set of ideas to begin negotiating about. There is this timeline or timetable that was set out by the Quartet. We’re trying, as best we can, to adhere to that.
QUESTION: So none of these concrete proposals – and the weeks go by and the time is – the clock is running out, the 90 days are about to expire. Isn’t it time that perhaps the State Department or the Administration could come up with its own kind of concrete proposals on how to get the process going?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve always said that – we always have said that we’re willing to play a facilitative role, if we can, once direct negotiations are underway. But again, our focus right now is getting them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Last point on Hamas. Hamas is phasing out its operation in Damascus. They basically – they kept this (inaudible) office in Damascus. Could you – would you care to comment on that?
MR. TONER: No.
MR. TONER: Well, while you were away, Matt, we did talk a lot about this last week, about the current status of U.S. sales of tear gas, which, by the way, aren’t --
QUESTION: It’s not just tear gas. This is other stuff as well.
MR. TONER: I’m not sure what you’re – what else are you talking about? What else is –
QUESTION: There’s a statement today – I think it’s --
MR. TONER: I think they talked about tear gas, but they talked about it and used different terminology. But what I was aware of is that they were talking about --
QUESTION: Ammunition smoke or something like that. But as far as I --
MR. TONER: But I think ammunition smoke – again, we need to --
QUESTION: This came from today, though, not last week.
MR. TONER: No, no. I know. I’m aware of the Amnesty report. Some of the terminology in there, frankly, I was unfamiliar with. But I do believe one of the things they were talking about was the provision of tear gas.
QUESTION: Well, do you have a response to the Amnesty report?
MR. TONER: I just – beyond what I said last week, which is that we have – as you know, we’ve condemned the use of excessive force against protestors during the recent period of civil unrest in Cairo. We do take allegations of misuse of tear gas very seriously. We are – continue to monitor the situation there. We’ve looked into these allegations, tried to seek additional information to see if somehow this tear gas was misused. I think we talked – last week, we said that there was a – this – there was a license, ongoing license, that has now since expired, but there was another shipment that was delivered to Egypt, I believe just last week, of tear gas. But beyond that, there are no additional shipments that we’re aware of and no additional licenses that we’re aware of.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Different topic.
QUESTION: On Egypt.
MR. TONER: Okay. Both of you. Shaun first.
QUESTION: Sure. On Pakistan, Pakistani President Zardari has gone to Dubai. His government has said that he has a health issue, a minor heart attack, as it’s described. Has the United States been in touch with President Zardari, and what’s the overall assessment of his --
MR. TONER: Yeah. I don't know if we’ve been in touch with him, obviously given his travel and his health condition. We’ve obviously seen the reports – we – that he has traveled to Dubai. We wish him a speedy recovery but otherwise refer you to the Government of Pakistan for details.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of his condition, if you wish him a speedy recovery? Do you know?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don't know. I understand it was related to a heart condition. I don't have any more details beyond that. Sorry.
QUESTION: But have you – sorry. I mean, is – does the U.S. Government have an understanding of his – whether you want to express it here or not, does the U.S. Government have an understanding of his health?
MR. TONER: I don't think beyond what we’ve seen officially, I don't know that we have – I mean, it’s – he’s obviously sought medical treatment abroad. But I’d refer you to the Pakistani Government for details.
QUESTION: So they haven’t (inaudible) to explain to you directly what’s going on? You haven’t received official word from the foreign ministry this is what’s happening?
MR. TONER: Again, I think what we’ve seen are just reports from the government itself. I don't know that we’ve had direct contact with them on his condition.
QUESTION: You mean press reports or official statements that --
MR. TONER: Official statements.
QUESTION: There were some reports about and rumors about a silent coup being involved in this. Do you have any concerns about that?
MR. TONER: No concerns and no reason to believe --
QUESTION: You don’t (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: No. Yeah. That it’s – we – our belief is that it’s completely health-related.
QUESTION: Not (inaudible). It’s on Pakistan.
QUESTION: Just one --
MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead. Goyal and then Tejinder. We’ll get to everybody. And then Lalit in the back.
QUESTION: Just a related question on Pakistan. There were – this week, there were two guilty plea in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, both involved as far as connections with the Pakistani Government and ISI. One was Woodbridge man connected with the Lashkar-e, LET.
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: And he said that yes, he did get report – or support from LET and he was connected and supported by the ISI.
And today, Dr. Fai from the Kashmiri American Council, he pleaded guilty that he was connected with ISI and the – with the Pakistani Government, in a plea guilty. What I’m asking you is also at several – again another think tank also had, day before yesterday, at the New America Foundation, LET is – that they are still involved with ISI.
My question is: Do you really talk about all these things when you meet or talk with the Pakistani Government officials?
MR. TONER: Of course, we --
QUESTION: Because – one more. I’m sorry to interrupt you. One more – that according to two think tanks, maybe some of the U.S. funds or U.S. aid to Pakistan may had been used through the ISI to the cause of – Kashmiri cause through Dr. Fai.
MR. TONER: I’ve no information or, frankly, knowledge of those kinds of allegations. But of course, we talk in our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan about all of these different groups and the threat that they pose.
QUESTION: Just a quick one, continuing on his question. Pakistan is a (inaudible) ally and a – with whom are you in touch with at this moment? Just you are giving a statement that everything is all right. Whom you have been in touch with last 24 hours?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not sure that – I mean, we’ve – we had a significant incident that took place on November 26th. We have expressed our condolences about that tragedy. There’s an investigation underway. But we do continue, through established channels, to talk about counterterrorism threats –
MR. TONER: -- or terrorism – terrorist threats and counterterrorism efforts, rather.
QUESTION: Something similar. President Karzai – today, he talked about the attack on the Shia --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- in Afghanistan and said that he believes the attack was plotted in – sorry – in Pakistan by Lashkar e Jhangvi. Is that a credible assertion? What would be the message to Afghanistan and Pakistan over this attack?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think it’s a – it’s important in the wake of yesterday’s very tragic bombings that there’s no indication that it was linked to any sectarian divisions within Afghan society. It does appear that it was – claim of responsibility was from Lashkar e Jhangvi’s – which is, I believe, a – already a Foreign Terrorist Organization and one that – this group apparently focuses on anti-Shia attacks. It’s been responsible for many attacks within Pakistan. So it’s clearly a threat to both countries, and it’s precisely the kind of organization that the Secretary was trying to address when she went to Pakistan in calling for Pakistan to do more to combat this kind of extremist terrorist activity within its own borders.
QUESTION: So in a sense, Karzai’s statement – the United States agrees that Pakistan should do more against this group?
MR. TONER: We do. I mean, obviously, we don’t know all the details behind the planning and execution of this attack, but we just believe that we need – there needs to be – it’s just too important, the threat we face. There needs to be ongoing, sustained, and even increased cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan, between Pakistan, and certainly with the international community via ISAF to help out.
QUESTION: Just one more on the attack yesterday.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s reports of a U.S. citizen killed in that attack.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about that?
MR. TONER: We can confirm that one U.S. citizen was killed in the suicide attack yesterday, December 6th. We mourn the loss of life in the incident, and obviously express our condolences to his family. I don’t have any more details. I understand the victim’s family wants to maintain its privacy on this.
QUESTION: It was a private American not associated with the U.S. Government or anything?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Just --
MR. TONER: And we have, obviously, reached out to provide consular assistance.
QUESTION: Mark, you said that there was a significant incident on 26/11.
MR. TONER: I’m talking about cross-border – yeah
QUESTION: Pakistan – yeah. But I’m just wondering, who is in charge in Pakistan today with whom the U.S. is communicating with, if you can?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean it’s – we have a long relationship with Pakistan. We’ve got military-to-military ties, we’ve got civilian-government-to-civilian-government ties. I mean, it’s just – it’s impossible to say. And we’ve been connecting with them from the President to the Secretary to the Secretary of Defense, on down to our ambassador in Islamabad, on a regular basis.
QUESTION: But the civilian head of state, the president, is out of the country, incapable of --
MR. TONER: I understand that. So we – but we – again, I – Andy asked me the same question. I’m not – I can’t give you an up to date who we’ve been in contact with in the last 24 hours. But again, our – we maintain those contacts.
QUESTION: Yes. Mark, back to Egypt for a moment --
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- if we’re done with Pakistan? Today the military council said that they are extending presidential authority to Prime Minister Ganzouri. One, are you aware of that? And second, what do you think this entails and how it would impact the conduct of authority in Egypt?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of that statement. We’ve – you’re talking about Ganzouri?
QUESTION: Yes. The prime minister.
MR. TONER: I mean, he is charged to head the interim government and to move forward with creating an interim government. The SCAF has set a clear timeline for elections leading to parliamentary elections, writing up a new constitution, leading ultimately to presidential elections, and then said that it will cede power after that. And so we believe that that’s a credible, doable timeline, and we should stick to it – or that they should stick to it.
QUESTION: Do you have (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: I don’t. Do we have them yet? Thanks.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, you wouldn’t have had them if we had ended this when it should’ve ended. (Laughter.) The – I have one more here, though.
MR. TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: Do you want to say anything about the appointment of the special envoy for the Great – the African Great Lakes?
MR. TONER: I do. I can – if I can find it – I can – mentioned that we do have a new envoy – special advisor, rather – to the Great Lakes. Sorry. Let me start again. We do have a special advisor for the Great Lakes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s Ambassador Walkley, who is going to work closely, obviously, with Secretary – Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Johnnie Carson, as well as our ambassadors and missions in the field, and other U.S. Government officials to ensure that the United States provides all the support we can to help the Great Lakes region fulfill its potential and become an area of sustainable peace and security. And that is Ambassador Barrie Walkley, just to provide you with his first name. He is, obviously, in his new role, going to help shape, devise, coordinate U.S. policy on the cross-border security, political, economic, justice, and social issues arising from the Great Lakes in Democratic Republic of Congo.
QUESTION: On --
MR. TONER: That’s it.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Lalit.
Go ahead. Burma. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the Special Representative to Burma Derek Mitchell traveling to the region? Do you have any --
MR. TONER: He is travelling to – I believe he’s in Korea, Seoul. And he’s going to travel to Tokyo and Beijing on December 11th and 13th, on Tokyo, December 9th to 11th. And again, this is just a way to provide a readout of the Secretary’s trip and his own work in improving relationships with Burma.
QUESTION: And when is he traveling to Beijing? Which are the dates?
MR. TONER: I said he’s in Seoul today. He’s going to be in Tokyo December 9th through 11th and Beijing, the 11th through the 13th.
QUESTION: Mark, I just wanted to ask you --
MR. TONER: Very quickly.
QUESTION: -- a quick one on Afghanistan. Do you agree with President Karzai, what he said, that looking security of Afghanistan, he may need U.S. help and international community’s help for another – next 10 years?
MR. TONER: Well again, I think that’s – that speaks to what we’re trying to accomplish through the Bonn conference and other meetings as we go forward. We’re looking past 2014 and how that relationship’s going to change and how we’re going to continue to provide the kind of support that Afghanistan needs.
Just too – sorry, just to – so just to give you this, the details here, we can confirm that as of 5:00 p.m. yesterday Eastern Standard Time, on Tuesday, December 6, that both sites were blocked inside of Iran. That said --
QUESTION: What time did they go live?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: What time did they go live?
MR. TONER: I believe they went live --
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. TONER: Yeah. Thank you, Matt. Six --
MR. TONER: We did, however, notice some activity coming out of Iran that lets us know that some people do continue to have access to the sites. We’ve also been in contact with our firewall team at the hosting company and to have – seen no indication that the site’s been violated, which answers your question – or interrupted on the worldwide web. And just in terms of statistics, we’re delighted that in the first 24 hours our twin sites, the Persian and English language sites, have received nearly a half million page hits. I think the English site has close to 50,000 – I can give you the exact figure – 47, 686 unique visitors and 100,455 page views.
QUESTION: Is that just from within Iran, or is that worldwide to this point?
MR. TONER: No. Let me be clear. Visits from Iran are 2001 visits. This is on the English version.
QUESTION: These – the unique visitors --
MR. TONER: These are unique visitors, page views, and then visits from Iran. I don’t know if that’s unique visitors or page views. I --
QUESTION: Two thousand one?
MR. TONER: Two thousand and one. Now, on the Persian site – let me just – the Persian site – we’ve had visits from Iran of 7,770.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. From Iran seven thousand --
MR. TONER: On the Persian side. On the English site, we’ve had visits from around 2001.
QUESTION: So the vast majority are from outside Iran?
MR. TONER: Apparently. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you know from where?
MR. TONER: I don’t.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yep.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)