Daily Press Briefing - December 28, 2011

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Arab League Mission / Monitors
    • Ambassador Ford
    • U.S. Pressure on Assad
  • IRAN
    • Comments by Government of Iran
    • The Fifth Fleet
    • U.S. Request for Consular Access to Iranian American Amir Hekmati
    • Oil
    • Release of Report on U.S. Human Rights Record
    • Funeral of Kim Jong-Il
    • North Korea in a Period of Mourning
    • Lim Sung Nam / Meeting with Glyn Davies
  • IRAQ
    • Situation Remains Tense
    • U.S. Urging Parties to Come Together
    • Camp Ashraf
Mark C. Toner
Acting Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 28, 2011


Today's briefing was held off-camera, so no video is available.

12:13 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: All right, guys, nothing at the top, so I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Iran, Straits of --

QUESTION: Anything on Syria?


QUESTION: I was just on Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: On – the general from the Arab League mission has said that he found nothing disturbing in Homs. Is that disturbing to you at all? I mean --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. One more time. Did the --

QUESTION: The general who is overseeing the Arab League mission in Syria has said that he found nothing disturbing in Homs. Is that disturbing to you, given the reports that you have been talking about from --

MR. TONER: Well, yeah, I’ve seen those press reports. First of all, it was day one. So I think it’s important that we let them get themselves squared away on the ground, get their mission up and running. I know they’re going to add more monitors in the coming weeks. And I would just say two things. One is that it’s important that they have access to all areas in order to carry out a full investigation and are able to do their job to the fullest capacity. And then, two, that they are – that they, the monitors, do go to all areas and seek to observe as many of these – of the – sorry – many of the protests as possible, engage with as many members of the opposition as possible, and really pursue their mission.

QUESTION: And so two things to follow up. First, you don’t seem to be very concerned about the fact that he didn’t find anything concerning, given all the videos that have come out and everything that you’ve talked about from the podium and again at the gaggle yesterday, about the assaults and all. You don’t find that at all disturbing?

MR. TONER: Kirit, again, I think it’s – it was just day one. It was one small area of Homs. We need to let this mission get up and running, let them do their job, and then let them give their judgment.


QUESTION: My other follow-up --

MR. TONER: Yeah. So go ahead.

QUESTION: -- was just whether or not you have full confidence in this mission, the Arab League mission.

MR. TONER: We do have confidence in the mission. We are – through our Embassy in Damascus and Ambassador Ford, while we’re not in touch with the monitors themselves, we are working with the Arab League embassies there. And we are, of course, engaged via our Embassy in Cairo with the Arab League headquarters there. So we are consulting with them and we’re engaged, but this is an independent monitoring mission and we’re going to let them carry out their duties.

QUESTION: Will Ford have access to the monitors? Are you hoping that he will?

MR. TONER: Again, I think what’s important to stress is this is an independent mission. Let’s let them carry out their duties and talk about their findings.

QUESTION: So he won’t?

MR. TONER: Well, again, at the – my point is that he is engaged via the Arab League embassies in Damascus. We are talking with both Ambassador Ford and others within the mission – with these Arab League missions. And then, of course, also via our Embassy in Cairo, we’re also engaged with the Arab League.

QUESTION: The French Government was critical today of the visit of the monitors to Homs. It was very brief, they weren’t able to see much, and the head of the mission making, like, vague comments.

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to – I don’t necessarily want to provide a daily reaction to the monitors’ activities.

QUESTION: Why not? (Laughter.) You provide a daily reaction of what the Syrian Government is doing.

MR. TONER: Because, again, it was just the first day. They just saw one small area within Homs. So let’s let them --

QUESTION: What are the next steps? In your statement yesterday said that the Syrian Government does not cooperate in a genuine way with the mission, and the agreement with the Arab League you are going to consider next steps.

MR. TONER: Right. Well, I don’t want to get into too great detail, but we’ve talked before about we’re going to let the Arab League mission carry out its duties. We’re looking, obviously, through this mission for an end to the violence, for the Syrian Government to recall its forces from urban areas and to release political prisoners. And also, as – one of the other preconditions – or conditions, rather – is that the monitors be given unfettered freedom, as well as international media. So these are the criteria that we’re going to base any future actions or future decisions on. We’ve talked again about pursuing action at the UN Security Council resolution – or UN Security Council, rather. We’ve also talked about additional sanctions.

QUESTION: Does anything that you’ve seen so far give you confidence that this monitoring mission is going to fulfill those requirements that you’ve just laid out?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’ve just got to let – excuse me – let all the monitors get in place and carry out their work before we pass judgment.

QUESTION: Other subject?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Iran and, again, the Straits of Hormuz, they’re repeating that it would be very easy to shut it off. U.S. has been making some comments, “this will not be tolerated,” but where are we right now? What is --

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t know where we – we’re much beyond where we were yesterday, which is this – sorry – these comments on the part of the Iranians – I am aware that the spokesman for the Fifth Fleet did comment and stressed the absolute necessity for freedom of navigation in international waters.

QUESTION: Right. But when you say “we’re beyond” what are you saying?

MR. TONER: I said, “we’re not beyond” --

QUESTION: Oh, we’re not beyond. Okay.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sorry. Just to clarify. No, I don’t think we’re – I think it’s more rhetoric from the Iranians.

QUESTION: So you think --

QUESTION: You’re dismissing it. I mean, you’re dismissing it, but, obviously the Navy –

MR. TONER: I’m not dismissing it. What I’m – but that it’s -- I’m saying at this point it’s pure speculation. It’s – these comments by the Iranians – but as I said, as the Fifth Fleet has said, and I believe other governments have also said, it’s absolutely critical that there be freedom of navigation in these international waters.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s rhetoric to --

QUESTION: Do you see this as saber rattling or a real threat?

MR. TONER: It’s hard to say. We’ve seen this kind of – these kinds of comments before on the part of the Iranians. I don’t know.

QUESTION: As serious at this point? I mean they’re actually saying we’ll do it if you have those --

MR. TONER: Yes. I think we’ve seen similar comments.

QUESTION: Except that they changed their tone today. The admiral, the head of the Iranian navy, said that Iran controls the straits. But there’s no necessity to close it down.

MR. TONER: Again, I’ll let the words of the Fifth Fleet stand.

QUESTION: Is there any appeal that you’re putting into the Swiss? I mean, you are responding to them or opening any appeal through the Swiss (inaudible).

MR. TONER: No. Regarding the comments in the strait? No.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry. Just, any luck in access to the Swiss gaining access to the Iranian American who’s been put on trial, Hekmati?

MR. TONER: Sorry, Lach. As I think I said yesterday, we’ve requested access to him. We were denied that access via our Swiss protecting power. And --

QUESTION: Nothing new then.

MR. TONER: Right. We have repeated that request on December 28th, so today. And again, the Iranians refused consular access. So this now makes, I believe, the third that they denied us. We’re going to continue to push for consular access via the Swiss.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: On Russia. The Russian foreign ministry released a report today on the U.S. human rights record, which was extremely critical, citing particularly the failure to close Guantanamo. I’m wondering if you’ve seen that report and what you make of it. Do they have anything – is there anything to it?

MR. TONER: Right. Well, I mean, more broadly speaking, these kinds of human rights reports can be a useful mechanism. But we certainly don’t regard it as interference in our internal affairs when foreign governments, individuals, or organizations comment on or criticize U.S. human rights practices.

QUESTION: Well, are you going to actually take any pointers from their report? Do you think that they are making any suggestions that --

MR. TONER: I think we’ll look at the report. I don’t know that we’ve – probably take some time to study it. But in terms of our human rights record, we’re an open book.

Yeah. Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: On (inaudible) --

QUESTION: So – I’m sorry. As opposed to the Russians?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not – I’m just saying that we don’t regard it as interference when foreign governments critique our --

QUESTION: Did someone say that you did?

MR. TONER: No. But he was asking me --

QUESTION: The Russians routinely say that --

MR. TONER: But Matt, he was asking me how we viewed the Russians critiquing our human rights record, and I’m just saying we don’t regard it as any kind of interference or – I’m giving you our reply or our response --

QUESTION: I know. But it’s not unusual because you weren’t asked if you did think it was interference.

MR. TONER: But I’m just giving you our reaction.

QUESTION: So do you welcome the Russian report?

MR. TONER: I said they can be a useful mechanism.

QUESTION: Just on that Iranian --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Sorry. Go.

QUESTION: Well – I mean, so what? You’re going to read the report? I don’t believe you. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: I do think --

QUESTION: Do you think the Russians have anything to tell the United States about human rights or respecting human rights?

QUESTION: That’s a good one.

MR. TONER: Matt, we think --

QUESTION: Do you think the Russians have any --

MR. TONER: -- we think these human rights reports can have – can be a useful mechanism, provided that they’re produced using an objective methodology and --

QUESTION: Do you -- and do – and is this one?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. We don’t know. We’re just assessing it.

QUESTION: So you actually – you have someone working on this right now?

MR. TONER: I think we can say that we will or we may examine the report --

QUESTION: You may?

MR. TONER: -- to see if there’s any importance to it.

QUESTION: Do you think that the U.S. can use pointers on human rights from the Russians?

MR. TONER: Again, I think what the more important point to make here is that in terms of human rights, we’re an open book. We don’t put any restrictions on access to our human rights records, and, indeed, we have an extremely unfettered press and media that hold us to that.

QUESTION: Guantanamo isn’t exactly an open book – (laughter) – but the Chinese have made these reports --

MR. TONER: No, but --

QUESTION: -- repeatedly over a number of years. Would you say that the Chinese criticism has in any way affected U.S. human rights policy or protection? Is this constructive criticism?

MR. TONER: I would say that the U.S., given our media, given our robust civil society, polices itself pretty well in terms of human rights.


MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did you watch the funeral of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il?

MR. TONER: I watched snippets of it, yes.

QUESTION: And so what’s your impression? What’s your response?

MR. TONER: It was obviously an emotional moment for North Korea.

QUESTION: So can I follow?

QUESTION: Yes. I’m so sorry.

QUESTION: So what do you think about Kim Jong-un? Do you view him as North Korea’s next leader, actually?

MR. TONER: Do we – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Do you view Kim Jong-un, I mean, the son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, as North Korea’s next leader?

MR. TONER: Well, North Korea’s in a period of mourning. They’re – they’ve issued some statements about the future leadership of the country. That’s provided some clarity, but I think we’ll wait and see in coming days and weeks what else emerges. It’s a pretty opaque system, so we don’t have a lot of insight.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have some details today about the meeting between South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Lim Sung Nam, and Glyn Davies?

MR. TONER: Only that he’s – you’re talking about Korean --

QUESTION: Yeah. Right.

MR. TONER: -- the special representative for –

QUESTION: Yeah. Right.

MR. TONER: -- Korean Peninsula peace and security issues.


MR. TONER: I wanted to get his full title in. He is here, obviously, to talk about regional security. He’s going to meet with our own Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies. They are obviously going to talk about the situation in North Korea. As I think the Secretary said in her statement last week, we do remain deeply concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people. So they are going to talk about those issues as well as the food security situation, and also it will be an opportunity for North Korean human rights issues – sorry, the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, to also debrief on their trip.

QUESTION: Follow-up – you said it was an emotional moment for North Korea. Does that mean you think it was a genuinely emotional –

MR. TONER: I can only tell you what I – again, it’s a rather opaque system there, and I can only – I’m just giving you my impression from this very short and small snippet that I saw televised.

QUESTION: North Korea’s mourning period is finished almost. So when do you think the talks with North Korea will restart?

MR. TONER: I don’t know in their – again, I don’t know when it’s over. We’ll obviously wait for some signal from the North Koreans.

QUESTION: Have you had any additional contacts with the North Koreans through New York channel?

MR. TONER: No. Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: The meeting with Davies and the South Korean envoy, was that – do you know when that was scheduled? Was that scheduled after Kim’s death as a sort of – is this something that – is this a meeting that’s taking place to sort of assess the fallout from Kim’s death?

MR. TONER: I’ll check.

QUESTION: Okay. And is this – are these --

MR. TONER: I think it was scheduled well in advance because of Davies’ travel, but I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And you mentioned that – the things that they would be talking about. Are – might we expect some sort of decisions to be made? Is this after this meeting – soon after this meeting, on these various issues of –

MR. TONER: No, I wouldn’t necessarily expect any decisions out of this meeting. Again, I think, as Toria said last week, we’re still looking for certain things from the North Koreans, and given that they’re in this mourning period, we’re going to have to let them emerge from that before we think we can move forward.

QUESTION: If you don’t expect any decisions to come out of it, why have somebody cross an ocean to have the conversation? Why not just pick up a phone?

MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. I think you’ll have to ask the South Koreans.

QUESTION: Contribution to global warming.

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) That’s right.

QUESTION: Can you tell me how they got American limos and American cars to their funeral procession?

MR. TONER: I have no idea.

QUESTION: I don’t think they were --

QUESTION: Could I get a readout of those meetings? Does that --

QUESTION: That was --

QUESTION: They were? They looked they were Russian.

QUESTION: They weren’t – I don’t think they were American; they were Russian.

MR. TONER: I honestly –

QUESTION: They were Russian?

QUESTION: I’m pretty sure.

MR. TONER: I just thought it looked it looked very cold in Pyongyang.


QUESTION: Can we get a readout of those meetings when they have them?

MR. TONER: I’ll try to get that for you.

QUESTION: So, Mark have you (inaudible.)

QUESTION: Check out Z-I-L.

MR. TONER: I have not. No.

QUESTION: Could you share with us the latest –

MR. TONER: Well, I talked a little bit about it yesterday. The situation there obviously remains tense. We want to see, as we’ve called on for the last several days, that all political parties come together in a dialogue and work through the problems.

QUESTION: What does that mean, all political parties come together for a dialogue? Are you sort of overseeing or husbanding that kind of dialogue? Are you arranging for some sort of national reconciliation?

MR. TONER: Well, look, overseeing and husbanding implies that we’re somehow calling the shots.


MR. TONER: And Iraq’s a sovereign country. I think we’re engaged with all the political parties on the ground. And, again, we’re urging that they come together, that they talk through the current situation and issues, and reach a consensus that way.

QUESTION: So with so much at stake and so much experience for the United States in Iraq, why can’t it take leadership and sort of launch a national reconciliation among the different parties?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. With – why would we --

QUESTION: Because there’s much at stake --

MR. TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- and so much experience in Iraq, why wouldn’t the United States sort of take the initiative to actually launch some sort of national reconciliation?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’ve – our role is obviously there as a friend and a partner to the Iraqi people. And in that sense, I think we have conveyed the urgent need for the prime minister and the leaders of all the major blocs to meet and work through their differences.

QUESTION: Just a couple on Yemen?


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. Any update from your statement last night, any update on the visa application?


QUESTION: And have you been in touch with any other governments about Saleh’s request, any talk with the Saudis?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we’ve had any conversations regarding Saleh’s request for a visa with any other third countries.

QUESTION: On Camp Ashraf --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: -- there’s some word that --

MR. TONER: Did you – I’m sorry. Did you have a Yemen, or did you --


MR. TONER: Okay. Cool.

QUESTION: -- some word that some of the people in Camp Ashraf have been moved to Camp Liberty. Do you have any update on that?

MR. TONER: Sorry. That they’ve been moved to Camp Liberty – I don’t – I do have – we did see reports of a possible rocket attack on Camp Ashraf. That’s the information that I had received. And obviously, we condemn any such attack. In terms of removing them to Camp Liberty, I don't have any updates or any confirmation of that. I can --

QUESTION: But you haven’t heard that anyone was moved?

MR. TONER: No. I can look into it.

QUESTION: But there was an agreement that they would move to Camp Liberty.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The United Nations has --

MR. TONER: Right, right, right. But I don't know that people have been --

QUESTION: That actually, physically, they have --

MR. TONER: Right. Have actually been moved. Precisely. Yes. That’s what I’m talking about. I don't know that the physical movement has begun.

QUESTION: Are there any Americans in Camp Liberty – I mean, in Camp Ashraf, American citizens? Is there any reason that you would know? Since Camp Liberty is no longer an American base --

MR. TONER: Oh, I see what you’re saying. I’m sorry. It is --

QUESTION: -- and Iraq is a sovereign country.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And you’ve washed your hands of it. So why would you even know?

MR. TONER: Even know that they’ve – if they’ve been physically moved?

QUESTION: Yeah. Are there any American citizens there?

MR. TONER: I think we have – well, there’s obviously – there’s a UN presence regarding Camp Ashraf, so --

QUESTION: Well, that’s why one would have asked the UN, but I’m wondering why you would know.

MR. TONER: Well --

QUESTION: I’m asking are there any Americans --

MR. TONER: We either found out through our Iraqi – I don't believe there are any at Camp Liberty, but I’ll double-check.

QUESTION: Do you think there’ll be any change in MEK, its designation?

MR. TONER: No decision has been made yet.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Iran and the Hormuz, Straits of Hormez comments? Can you bring us up to speed on any conversations out of this building or anyone else in the Administration with other oil-producing countries to try to make up some of the offsets of the production loss if the Iranians do cut off any oil?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not aware that --

QUESTION: I mean, I know that Cohen was out in Saudi Arabia last week --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- from Treasury, and I think Einhorn was in --

MR. TONER: But apart from --

QUESTION: -- China talking to them about sanctions --

MR. TONER: -- normal contingency planning, I don't know that we’re ramped up because of these – because of this threatening language from Iran that we’re necessarily --

QUESTION: Fair enough. Fair enough. I mean, what about in terms of just the potential sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran? I mean, my understanding is that those conversations have more to do with preparing for that, which would in turn cut off Iran’s oil.

MR. TONER: I’ll take the question and see if we’ve been having any conversations.

QUESTION: But you did hear the Saudis said that they would replenish whatever loss --

MR. TONER: I did so those comments. Yes.


MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: You said no decision has been made yet. Does that mean that you’re seriously considering changing the designation?

MR. TONER: Again, I think there’s a process underway, and – so within that process, certainly we’re giving it serious consideration. We just don’t have anything to announce yet.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria for a second?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: In your statement yesterday, you said that you will – you might look for other ways to protect civilians in Syria.

MR. TONER: Yeah. I think I already addressed this. I just – I don't want to get beyond what the statement said, except the fact that we’ve said all along that we’re going to continue to pursue more pressure on Assad through a variety of mechanisms. We’re letting the Arab League mission run its course, and we believe that if it can, indeed, achieve all of its objectives that it will be a very worthwhile mission. But ultimately, we’ve said that we want to see a political – or a democratic transition in Syria, and we’re going to continue to look at ways that we can apply pressures to reach that end.

QUESTION: Do – monitors have been on the ground for a couple of days now. How the mission is going --

QUESTION: No. We just went through this.

MR. TONER: We did. Very quickly – (laughter) – let’s let them get up and running, and then we’ll make a broader assessment. But it was just one day.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask you if there are any coordination between the observers and the diplomatic mission.

MR. TONER: I’ll talk to you. Mostly – sorry.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. TONER: Yeah. It’s just – that’s okay. You guys just came late. It’s all right. We’re engaged with the Arab League via our Embassy in Cairo.


MR. TONER: The mission on the ground in Syria is independent. It’s doing its – it’s carrying out its mission. We are, of course, in contact in Damascus with the various Arab League embassies.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Thanks. Is that it? Thanks guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:36 p.m.)

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