Daily Press Briefing - February 22, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Continued Arbitrary Detention and Harassment of Peaceful Activists
    • Homs / Reports of Journalist Deaths
    • Friends of Syria, Tunis / UN
    • Russia / Saudi Arabia / Arab League
    • China / Iran
  • IRAN
    • IAEA / P-5+1 / Two-Track Approach
    • Israel
    • Mr. Hekmati / Consular Support to Family / Seek Consular Access / Privacy Act / Swiss Protecting Power
  • EU
    • Moscow Meeting / EU Emissions Trading Scheme / Airlines / ICAO
    • U.S. Wants to See Comprehensive Settlement Delineating Borders, Resolving Issues
    • Suspension of Travel, Chief-of-Mission Personnel
    • Inappropriate Treatment of Religious Materials
    • Reconciliation Efforts
  • DPRK
    • Exploratory Talks / Third Round / Ambassador Glyn Davies
    • Food Aid
    • Elections / Election Observers / Parliamentary Polls / USAID
    • Remain Engaged with Egyptian Authorities
    • Meetings / Margins of London Somalia Conference
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 22, 2012


1:10 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department.

I do want to begin talking about Syria for a few minutes. First, the United States is deeply concerned by the – about the continued arbitrary detention and harassment of peaceful activists by the Syrian regime. Last week, Alawite activist Mazen Darwish and at least 12 others were arrested when security forces raided the office of The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, an organization that recently obtained special consultative status with the United Nations. This came one day after Zeena Shala, who was a Christian youth leader, was arrested in Damascus for providing aid to vulnerable communities.

And today, we’re also clearly deeply troubled and saddened by reports that American journalist Marie Colvin and French journalist Remi Ochlik were killed today in Homs as a result of the intense shelling, the ongoing intense shelling by the Syrian regime. We are still working with the Poles and others to confirm the death, but this follows yesterday’s sad news that Rami Sayed, who was a brave young Syrian who filmed videos of Syrian security forces’ repressive acts, was killed also in the shelling of Homs. We, of course, extend our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones and just note that their sacrifice in chronicling the daily suffering of the people of Homs stands as a testament to journalism’s highest standards.

With that, I’ll take your questions. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does this add any additional urgency to Friday’s meeting in Tunisia?

MR. TONER: It’s hard to add any more urgency to Friday’s meeting. We’ve all watched, I think with some degree of horror, as we’ve witnessed the onslaught on Homs. It just – it brings it home in a new way, I would say, that we need to – the international community needs to do more to help the Syrian people. But again, we’re talking about measures that the international community is going to try and take when they meet in Tunis, these Friends of Syria. But let’s squarely put blame back on Assad and his regime, who bear responsibility for these deaths and the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.

QUESTION: Not that it should be the death of a Western journalist or the death of any journalist to add urgency to the situation, but given the daily carnage that we are seeing, that we are hearing about, that we’re reading about – Marie Colvin gave testament to it just 24 hours ago on the BBC, saying she watched a two-year-old die and was sharing that knowledge with the world – does this add any urgency to the idea that the international community needs to find a way to get past its own parochial concerns, some would argue, and do something in the way of an intervention? How much longer does this go on?

MR. TONER: Well, let’s be very clear that the vast majority of the international community, as we saw with the UN General Assembly vote last week, stands squarely on the side of the Syrian people. The failure to get a UN Security Council resolution – blame for that rests on two countries. So the international community is fairly united in trying to help the people of Syria. The question is what do we do. We talked about humanitarian assistance and trying to work those avenues. Ceasefires – we need to get the Syrian regime to stop the onslaught of Homs. I mean, these are immediate goals and immediate objectives, I think, as we head into Tunis.

QUESTION: Does this mean, given the attempts and the failures to get some sort of UN imprimatur on some sort of action, that some other framework needs to be looked at and not just the imprimatur of a UNSC resolution in order to act? I mean, in other – and let me put it more simply. Why does there need to be a UN Security Council resolution in order for the world to take some sort of action? Why can’t it be done under an Arab League auspices or under a NATO auspices, even though the secretary general earlier this week ruled out any sort of military intervention?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a fair question, and I think that it speaks to why we’re going to Tunis, because we tried and we failed within the UN Security Council. And as Ambassador Rice and others have said, it was a huge failure of the – of that organization, of that body, to live up to its responsibilities. But we’re trying now, through this Friends of Syria group, to build pressure on Assad, to look for new ways to add to the pressure, but also, as we said, try to take immediate steps, whatever we can do, to ease the suffering of the people of Homs through humanitarian assistance and a possible ceasefire.

But I think that, as we look at this, we have huge regional support against Assad and against what he’s doing. And we do have significant international support. The EU, the United States, others stand by – stand with the Syrian people as we move forward. So I do think that – and it speaks to why we’re doing this meeting in Tunis, that there is broad agreement that we need to act.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The UN announced today that their humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, is going to go to Syria in the near future in an attempt to negotiate some sort of access for humanitarian aid workers. Do you guys – do you support this plan? Do you think there’s any hope of success here? Because that seems to be a track that’s moving separate to the Tunis meeting.

MR. TONER: It is. Frankly, Andy, I think at this point, we – of course, we would support any effort, I think, to stop the shelling and to stop the onslaught. The devil is in the details on all of these things. And in fact, you can’t often – well, you can never trust the Syrian regime, because they promised so much in the past and failed to deliver. But any effort, we think, by the UN to end the violence is worthwhile.

QUESTION: This move by – to send Amos seems to come or follow along from a Russian suggestion that the Assad regime could be persuaded to – might be persuaded to allow access in some way or fashion. Do you have any sense that the Russians are increasing their pressure on the Syrians to do something like this?

MR. TONER: I mean, it’s hard to say. We’ve seen the same press reports obviously. We’re hopeful that the Russians are delivering the sternest possible message to Assad and his regime, and are at least using that leverage – the leverage that they have, to make him aware that the international community is increasingly speaking with one voice against what he’s doing.

Yeah, go ahead.


MR. TONER: On Syria.

QUESTION: So, today it was also reported a high-level Syrian defector said that Russians are continuing to send arms and ammunition, as recently as January, to the Syrian military. Is that your understanding as well and what’s your reaction to that --

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve spoken on it. I can’t speak to the latest delivery of arms or on a date – certain when it was delivered, but we’ve said many times that these arms shipments continue and that they’re reprehensible.

QUESTION: Do you believe they continue to this day and include things that can be used against the --

MR. TONER: Honestly, I don’t know, Josh. But, we’ve been very vocal in saying that they need to end because given what’s happening to the Syrian populations, innocent civilians, how anyone can supply the regime with arms is beyond us.

Yeah, go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: What kind of immediate steps does the United States expect from the Tunis meeting?

MR. TONER: Well again, I don’t want to preview the meeting because there’s a lot of hard work and discussion that needs to be done in Tunis. We’ve talked before about – again, I think I put it in two stages. We have these immediate steps, we’ve got this ongoing violence, shelling of Homs and elsewhere that we need to take immediate steps to address. We need to try to get humanitarian assistance into these people. And then longer term, how do we aim for a democratic transition along the lines of the Arab League plan?

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the (inaudible) conversation that king of Saudi Arabia had with the president of Russia, Medvedev, today?

MR. TONER: Again, I’ve – I’m going off press reports. I would really refer you to the Saudis to read out their king’s phone call with President Medvedev. But Saudi Arabia, as part of the Arab League, is outraged by what it sees happening in Syria, and I think rightly so.

QUESTION: I’ve heard – saw something that Russia and China both came out in support of the Assad regime again. How does the international community move forward at this point on Syria when you have these two big players who are not playing – falling in line – who are taking a different stance?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a good question and one we’ve been trying to answer for the last couple of weeks ever since the UN Security Council vote, but I think we’re working as much as we can around them. We do have, as I said, all of Syria’s neighbors, with one exception, standing up against Assad and seeking to support the Syrian opposition and support the Syrian people. So there is – it’s tempting to focus on these two countries – or three countries, but it’s also useful to note that there is overwhelming pressure on Assad, and that pressure’s just continuing to grow.

QUESTION: You said there’s one neighbor that’s not supporting the --

MR. TONER: Iran is not –


MR. TONER: -- I mean, Russia, China, and Iran, essentially, if you want to draw it out --

QUESTION: Okay, because I don’t know how Israel right now is supporting the Syrian opposition, unless you know more than me – or even Iraq.

MR. TONER: Well, again, but these are countries that have clearly – are on the side of democratic transition in Syria.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR. TONER: Yeah sure, yeah.

QUESTION: Iran. There were – the IAEA – there was a group from the IAEA that went to Iran. It doesn’t seem like there was much progress there. What’s your readout – what’s your assessment of the trip and how that affects diplomacy going forward?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we regret that the visit was, as Director General termed it – god bless you, sorry --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: -- termed it as disappointing. It’s not particularly surprising. But the fact that they didn’t come – that Iran didn’t allow them to visit certain facilities – none of this is surprising. We’ve seen this before, frankly. I would just say that there is a more detailed report expected in the coming days, so we’re going to withhold further judgment until we see that report. But we share his disappointment.

QUESTION: Were you hoping the Iranians would allow access to the sites?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Would you hope that Iranians would allow access?

MR. TONER: Well, of course. I mean, we want to see them cooperate, we want to see them address the international community’s very well-founded concerns about their nuclear program and that remains our goal, and that remains our goal via the IAEA, but also working within the P-5+1.

QUESTION: How do you take this action and juxtapose it with the letter that was recently sent which seemed to imply a willingness to talk about its nuclear program in the frame of negotiations, and now you have an unwillingness to even allow monitors that they’re obliged to allow in to see these sites?

MR. TONER: Brad, it’s really difficult to say. We are – it is one of the reasons why we’re taking time to consult and move in a coordinated and deliberative way forward with our P-5+1 partners and not jumping to any quick decisions. We want to see a return to the negotiating table to talk about the real issue here, its nuclear program, and we’re going to continue weighing the IAEA visit but also other factors as we move forward.

QUESTION: When you put these two together, does it suggest to you an Iranian regime that is not yet sure which way it wants to go?

MR. TONER: It’s hard to say. We think it possibly suggests an Iranian regime that’s feeling the squeeze of sanctions and are both trying to shore up domestic support, but also again, feeling the weight of these sanctions that the international community has put on them. And that two-track approach that we’ve often talked about is going to remain in place. We want to see negotiations move forward. There is that diplomatic track. But we’re not going to ease up on the sanctions.

QUESTION: But just lastly, does --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Does this action undermine the goodwill, the stated goodwill, in the letter? Does this almost immediately disprove that there is any possibility of change from this regime?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I’ll just say – I’ll go back to what I originally said, which is it is disappointing, but we’re going to assess with our partners in – P-5+1 partners as we move forward. And I think it, again, just speaks to the need to move at a very cautious but coherent and deliberative fashion.

Yeah. Go ahead. Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: Is Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA a precondition for the resumption of the negotiations?

MR. TONER: Again, I think there’s a couple of avenues here. We certainly – P-5+1 works closely with the IAEA. What we’re looking for when Iran gets back to the negotiating table is for a serious discussion of its nuclear program and looking for it to address our concerns about it, and not – that’s first and foremost.

Yeah. Go ahead, Andy.

QUESTION: Sort of similar question, but it just sounds as though you’re trying to sort of differentiate between the IAEA interactions with Iran and the P-5+1, which – obviously, they’re different groups. But does this really not have much bearing on the P-5+1 decision-making process about resuming talks with them? It sounds as though you’re sort of discounting this.

MR. TONER: Now, look. I mean, we work, obviously, very closely with the IAEA in addressing concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and that cooperation and coordination remains. But I think, again, you just have to look at this – this is a disappointment. It wasn’t all that surprising, frankly, and – but we’re going to look at the totality of the issue here and the letter and what we think is the best course of action moving forward.

QUESTION: So if this wasn’t surprising, would it be a surprisingly positive move if the Iranians were then to do an about turn and allow the inspectors to view this site?

MR. TONER: We’ll wait and see. Watch this space. It’s – that falls into the speculative.

QUESTION: In the vein of the moving cautiously vein, what is Washington telling the Netanyahu government?

MR. TONER: Oh, I thought there was – (laughter) – sorry, that was the end of your question.

QUESTION: So shocking.

MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s right. (Laughter.) No. But thanks. Look, we’ve been very clear that we continue to consult very closely with Israel on our concerns about Iran. And the President’s also been clear in saying that there’s still a chance for diplomacy here. And we think that the pressure is having an effect, and we’re going to continue to pursue that route.

QUESTION: But there’s a considerable amount of agitation, both here in Washington and in Israel, for some sort of action. It doesn’t seem as if the Administration’s message to slow down – let’s consider, let’s give it time – is actually registering with the Netanyahu government.

MR. TONER: Again, there’s lots of quotes and – percolating in press reports, but let’s be very clear that we consult very closely with Israel on these issues. We are very clear that we are working on this two-track approach. We believe, and are conveying to our partners – both Israel and elsewhere – that this is having an effect. We have unprecedented sanctions in place, and they are squeezing the Iranian regime. And so if that brings them back to the negotiating table in this two-track approach, then we’ll move forward.

QUESTION: Are there meetings next week in this building with Defense Minister Ehud Barak?

MR. TONER: I can’t confirm at this point.

QUESTION: A different topic, for once. Just briefly, I was wondering if you had any message to President Chavez of Venezuela. His health has apparently deteriorated.

MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t have all the details, and I’ve just seen public comments by him. It’s really a private matter, so I would refrain from any comment.

Yeah. Go ahead, Andy.

QUESTION: On the EU carbon emissions thing, there was this meeting in Moscow where apparently all the countries that are – a number of them that are opposed to the carbon emissions law for airlines have agreed on what they’re calling a basket of measures that they might take to respond. I’m wondering, firstly, can you tell us, did the U.S. participate in this meeting, are you signed up for this basket of measures, and what are they?

MR. TONER: Well, again, there is, I understand – just to rewind, as you mentioned, on February 21st and 22nd in Moscow, Russia did in fact host a meeting of 32 countries that were concerned about the application of the European Union’s emission trading scheme to non-EU air carriers. And just to answer your – one of your questions, the United States and Singapore did serve as vice chairs. I believe we were represented by the Department of State, obviously, but also the Department of Transportation, including the Federal Aviation Administration.

There is, I understand, a declaration that will be issued by the Russian Government. I don’t know if it’s been issued yet. And our position has been very clear on the inclusions of – rather, the U.S. position on the inclusion of its airlines in this emissions trading scheme has been very clear and consistent. We believe that the EU needs to cease application of this scheme to foreign airlines and engage meaningfully with the International Civil Aviation Organization to find a – and develop a global approach to this problem.

QUESTION: Do you – are you able to discuss what sorts of countermeasures might be contemplated?

MR. TONER: I think it’s premature. We are looking at various actions that we might take, but frankly, what we’re really hoping for is that the EU recognizes our concern and the concern of these some 32 countries, and again, finds a way to address these concerns by working through the International Civil Aviation Organization.


QUESTION: One final follow-up on this. The – some of the reporting out of this made it sound as though the basket of measures was a set of options that each country or region could decide what – which one of them they wanted to take, so it really wasn’t sort of any – a coherent battle plan. Is that your understanding, A, or is it --

MR. TONER: I think that’s accurate. I think it’s laying out, again, possible options that might be taken, but I think it’s – as I said, I know it’s the United States hope, and I believe the other 32 countries share this hope and desire that the EU seeks a way to address this now through the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization.

QUESTION: Well, I guess the – another way of asking this question is: How important is it, does the United States feel, that the countries that are opposed to this law move together, that there be a unified --

MR. TONER: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: -- strategy for pushing back against this?

MR. TONER: Well, I think this meeting speaks to the desire to develop a unified approach to this.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- obviously, the issue’s come up before, but the Secretary just a week ago was talking about how there needs to be more efforts (inaudible) on global climate change. Is the U.S. position consistent with that? The U.S. position on --

MR. TONER: I mean, I think it is. This shouldn’t be construed as somehow – that we’re not concerned about emissions. In fact, we agree with environmental NGOs that there is a need to further reduce emissions from international aviation. We just disagree with the process of, that the EU is basically setting the scheme against other international airlines. It’s – we think it’s unfair.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- settlement activity in Israel? There was news of a preliminary decision regarding, I think, 600 units in Shiloh, which is quite far inside West Bank territory. Do you have a reaction to this that’s different than previous reactions for the same --

MR. TONER: I really don’t. I don’t have a – frankly, I haven’t seen those press reports. I mean, you know where we stand on settlement activity. We don’t believe it’s in any way constructive to getting both sides back to the negotiating table and we want to see, clearly, a comprehensive settlement that delineates borders and resolves many of these issues.

Yeah, Luis.

QUESTION: In Afghanistan, was the Embassy on lockdown today because of the demonstrations and --

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) – what does that exactly entail?

MR. TONER: I mean, lockdown is a bit overly dramatic, I think. My understanding is that there was an announcement or a suspension, rather, of all travel of chief-of-mission personnel. And my understanding, too, is that movement was later suspended for employees in the southern part of Afghanistan as well. And this announcement was pushed out over the embassy website as well as via Twitter, and this restriction on travel is still in place.

QUESTION: Do you know how long you anticipate this going on for? Is there a direct threat to the Embassy and personnel?

MR. TONER: No. I don’t believe so. Obviously, we’re very concerned about the security situation. I would note that the governor of Kandahar, as well as, indeed, President Karzai has urged calm and restraint in the wake of yesterday’s news and just to reiterate how sorry we are about the unfortunate incident that came to light yesterday involving the inappropriate treatment of religious materials – the Qu’rans.

QUESTION: The Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, also repeated his apology during his three-day trip to Kabul. Is the U.S. Government really concerned about whether the U.S. has actually won hearts and minds, given this incident?

MR. TONER: These are isolated incidents that have happened, especially in this case. We took swift action to address the very real concerns of Afghan civilians, and indeed Muslims everywhere, about this incident. General Allen has announced that he is going to take decisive action to investigate this matter jointly, I might add, with the Afghan Government. And Secretary of Defense Panetta has spoken out on this and pledged to carefully review the final results of any investigation to ensure that we take necessary steps to make sure that this never happens again.

QUESTION: But the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for the last 10 years, and it does beg the question: Don’t Americans, and don’t those taking part in ISAF, get it, when it comes to the Qu’ran – that people don’t just consider it a book, they consider it an emanation from God?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to necessarily – this is one incident and it was regrettable. We’ve apologized for it. We’re taking actions to ensure that it never happens again. But I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s indicative of our lack of concern or lack of respect for Islam or for the Afghan people.

QUESTION: I wasn’t saying that, but it does – people have raised the question: How could anyone who has been deployed in Afghanistan in 2012 not understand that if you see this particular religious text, that you need to give it treatment other than you would give copies of old textbooks or copies of old newspapers or copies of meeting briefs – that there is – that you need to just stop and treat it differently. Because it’s not just the demonstration outside Bagram, it’s – we’ve seen it in two other provinces, and we’ve seen it in Kabul.

MR. TONER: I get it. And clearly, fundamental mistakes were made in this case. We’ve apologized for them. I mean, in terms of training and awareness among our military personnel, I’d have to refer you to the Department of Defense.

Yeah, go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: President Karzai has met some Taliban sympathizer clerics in Pakistan. Has Afghanistan or Pakistan – anybody of them informed you what those discussions were about, were they about reconciliation?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I don’t have any information about those meetings. I mean, speaking more broadly about reconciliation efforts, you know where we stand: We want to see an Afghan to Afghan talks go forward. And so, in that regard, we’re supportive of President Karzai’s efforts. But I don’t have any specific details of these meetings.

QUESTION: Okay. And if all those are aimed at reconciliation in bringing Pakistan-based Taliban on board for this, and he is apparently taking an active role. He has also a Taliban for direct talks. Is it because of his earlier (inaudible) on being bypassed by the U.S. in these talks? What’s the reason for that?

MR. TONER: No. And I think that numerous visits and meetings between Marc Grossman and President Karzai are a strong indication that we’ve been consulting with his government throughout this process. And again, he’s supportive of this, we’re supportive of it. I think Toria put it, we want to, at some point, step away from this and have it be an Afghan to Afghan reconciliation process.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, Secretary Clinton talked about religious (inaudible) in Pakistan and she wanted Pakistan to take action against them. Now, if President Karzai is talking to those groups, trying to bring them on board, and Pakistan apparently is also (inaudible) to take that action, do you think all this effort will result in a compromise on the sort of action that you require from Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve been very clear about our red lines and, indeed, the Afghan Government’s redlines for those Afghan – forgive me – for those Taliban who would participate in any reconciliation process. And so the groups that we’re talking about, that the Secretary raised her concerns about operating in Pakistan, are very clearly not part of this process and not interested. They’re carrying out violent attacks against Afghans and also international entities in Afghanistan.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, thanks. DPRK-U.S. talks tomorrow in Beijing; how optimistic are you that this will see a resumption of the full Six-Party Talks?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve termed them exploratory talks. It’s the third round. And I would just point you to Ambassador Glyn Davies, who did give preliminary remarks to the press on his arrival in Beijing. As you said, meetings are due to start tomorrow. I think we’re going to see how those talks proceed. We’re always, I think, cautiously optimistic.

QUESTION: Can I follow up, please?

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. A few months ago, a significant amount of U.S. food aid was on the table in these kind of talks. Can you say whether that’s on the table again this time?

MR. TONER: It’s a good question whether they’re going to talk specifically about the food aid question. I’ll try to get more details whether that’s going to be really discussed here. As you know, we had some concerns. We were asking for the North Koreans to respond to those concerns. But let me make sure that it – or let me see whether it’s going to be raised in the Beijing context.

QUESTION: Can I ask one final question?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: This is, of course, the first such talks at this level – or any level, in fact, since the transition. Do you have any indications that the same policies will continue over?

MR. TONER: We really don’t. We’re – as I said, we’re always cautiously optimistic that there will be a new spirit to these consultations, but let’s let them play out. I can say – I just was briefly looking at, as you asked your question – we do think that in some manner, that we’ll just – we’ll talk about food assistance during these talks.

QUESTION: Back to Afghanistan for (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: There are reports that security contractors fired on protestors outside the Embassy walls, killing one of them. Were these State Department security contractors, and can you confirm it?

MR. TONER: You know what? I can’t.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR. TONER: I was told that Afghan police had fired on some of these protestors, but I’m unaware. I’ll take the question, yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry, Mark, just to go back on the North Korea thing?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: When – I think when Toria was briefing earlier on these talks, the sense was that the food aid was not going to be a part of the discussion unless perhaps the Koreans raised it, but that was not sort of part of their brief going into this. Has that changed?

MR. TONER: What Ambassador Davies said, what Glyn said, was they expect that this may well come up in the discussions with the North Koreans. We’re prepared to talk about that.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. TONER: Yes, sorry. Just making sure that I was right. And I can share this with you as well.

QUESTION: Former Nigerian President Obasanjo is in Senegal today. Are you optimistic that his visit will – could help to ease tensions there between the incumbent president and opposition parties? And more specifically, does the U.S. have a message for Senegal’s opposition parties who’ve threatened to resort to violence if they don’t win elections this weekend?

MR. TONER: Well, I think my – your second part of your question I’ll answer first is that we would call on all Senegalese to participate peacefully and actively in the political process, and we certainly urge the Senegalese Government to build on its already very strong democratic tradition by ensuring that the electoral process is free, fair, transparent, and inclusive. We certainly condemn the use of any violence or the threat of violence, and we also would ask that the government and security forces show restraint and honor the Senegalese people’s freedoms of peaceful assembly and peaceful expression.

I think we are – as I mentioned before, Senegal does have a very strong democratic tradition. We do believe that these kinds of election monitors can help play a very useful role. I believe that this visit has been welcomed by the Senegalese Government, Senegalese president. So I think we would hope that the violence comes to an end and that at least the elections are peaceful.

QUESTION: Have we done anything differently towards Senegal in supporting the freedom of the elections since the – meltdown might be too strong of a word – in the Congo with elections months ago?

MR. TONER: Well, we’re obviously observing the elections. We have allocated $850,000 to train 1,000 independent election observers for Senegal’s presidential elections as well as the upcoming parliamentary polls, and that these observers have been funded through our U.S. Agency for International Development programs on the ground. And again, as you know, we’ve talked about elsewhere, these programs are to support free, fair, transparent elections. They’re not in any way to support one political party or ideal over any – or ideology over any other.


QUESTION: Quick question. Back to Iran for a second.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: There are reports out that the mother of the detained Iranian American, Mr. Hekmati, was able to meet with him last month. Are you able to confirm that and speak to any role that the Swiss might have played in facilitating visits?

MR. TONER: I am aware of reports that Mrs. Hekmati did travel to Iran to visit her son. We have obviously provided all appropriate consular support and assistance to the family. We’ve remained in contact with them since Mr. Hekmati was detained last year. We can’t really discuss it in any greater detail because of Privacy Act considerations, but it’s – just to speak more broadly, we continue to seek to have consular access to Mr. Hekmati. I believe now we’ve requested through our Swiss protecting power October 25th, November 30th, December 24th, January 10th, and January 13th. And the Swiss have independently raised this issue of consular access with Iranian authorities as recently as February 19th. So we continue to press to have access to him as an American citizen.

QUESTION: Does that mean all of those times --

MR. TONER: We’ve been denied.

QUESTION: -- there was no response? Okay.

MR. TONER: Yeah, yeah. We’ve not gotten a positive response from the Iranian authorities.

QUESTION: Speaking of democracy promotion, it appears that the NGO workers in Egypt will start their trial on Sunday. What is the U.S. Government doing to help them? And is there any possibility four days out of trying to resolve the situation with the Egyptian Government?

MR. TONER: Well, I would just answer by saying I don’t have anything new to report on our efforts, but we of course remain very much engaged with Egyptian authorities to seek a resolution as soon as possible to these individuals’ situation.

QUESTION: Will the Embassy let them leave the – will they leave the Embassy to go to their own trials, or will they stay --

MR. TONER: Again, as we get closer – and I realize it’s fast approaching – we’ll have more details. But I think right now, we continue to engage with Egyptian authorities to seek a quick resolution.

Yeah, in the back.


MR. TONER: Sure. Excuse me.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Shapiro today is meeting with Japanese Ministry of Defense Director-General Hideo Suzuki. What is the purpose of this meeting?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure. I’ll have to take the question. I coughed when you mentioned the first --

QUESTION: Oh. Assistant Secretary Shapiro with Japanese Ministry of Defense Director-General Hideo Suzuki.

MR. TONER: I’m sure it’s in some manner to talk about our defense cooperation, but I don’t have any more details. I’ll try to get a --

QUESTION: There’s a Japanese delegation in town. I think they started yesterday. Yesterday and today, they’re having meetings with State and DOD.

MR. TONER: And I’ll get a readout for you, I promise.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. TONER: Is that it? One more in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on upcoming meeting between Pakistani foreign minister and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Do you confirm their meeting?

MR. TONER: I think they do plan to meet tomorrow in the margins of the – in London on the margins of the Somalia conference.

QUESTION: Mark, what are they going to discuss?

MR. TONER: A lot of things, clearly.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR. TONER: I mean look, I don’t want to get out ahead of this, but obviously we’ve got a lot of things to discuss with our Pakistani friends. And our goal remains to put this relationship back on track, to try to put some of the problems that we have had in the relationship, some of the challenges, behind us and move productively forward.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)

DPB # 35