Daily Press Briefing - April 17, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- NORTH KOREA
- Leap Day Commitments / Security Council Resolutions / Sanctions
- Diverse Energy Markets
- Violence / Annan Plan / Sanctions / UN Monitors / Non-Lethal Assistance to Syrian Opposition
- SOUTH SUDAN
- Ambassador Lyman's Meetings
- Concerns about the Haqqani Network / Counterterrorism Cooperation
- Action for Action
- Want to See Free and Transparent Process
- Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu
- Support for ECOWAS
- SOUTH KOREA
- Visit of Special Representative Lim
- Diverse Energy Markets
12:46 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR. TONER: Welcome. (Laughter.) I feel sometimes a little schoolmarm-ish up here when I – I don’t know why. It’s ridiculous. (Laughter.) Anyway, welcome to the State Department. Jill, Cami, good to see you guys, too. (Laughter.) Anyway, I have nothing for the top, so I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Actually, I’m interested in North Korea.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: North Korea is saying that the February – the Leap Day Agreement is over, no longer binding. So of course, what does that mean? Is there any reaction? Does it mean they’re paving the way for a nuclear test?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s difficult to say. I mean, in terms of what we’ve seen reported, the statements about these commitments that they made on Leap Day - it’s not surprising, given their recent behavior. We’ve been very clear, especially the presidential statement that was passed by the UN Security Council yesterday, that North Korea needs to comply with the Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874. And that includes abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs as well as no more nuclear tests, or abstaining from any nuclear tests. So – and it was also very clear that the Security Council was determined to take action in the event of any future launch or nuclear test.
QUESTION: Is there any indication the U.S., at this point, believes that they might be laying the groundwork for a nuclear test?
MR. TONER: I can’t, obviously, talk about any intelligence that we might have about this. And frankly, it’s very difficult to say; it’s a very opaque regime. We parse out their public comments. We also know that in the past, as we’ve said, there’s been this pattern of bad behavior, if you will. So we can’t preclude anything at this point – but again, very clearly reminding them of their obligations under existing UN Security Council resolutions and also very clearly conveying the fact that the Security Council would take appropriate actions.
QUESTION: What are the appropriate actions that could be taken, given the raft of sanctions that are already facing not just the North Korean Government but various individuals, including the new leader Kim Jong-un?
MR. TONER: Well, you are correct in saying that. I don’t think any other country, or very few countries in the world, have as strict or rigid a sanctions program against them as North Korea. They’re probably one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world. The presidential statement did speak yesterday about, though, going back to the UN Sanctions Committee to find out ways that those sanctions, existing sanctions, can be strengthened.
And I talked a little bit about this yesterday, that there’s sanctions that are on the books, and then the second part of making an effective sanctions regime is constantly adding to them but also seeking ways to make them stronger through the implementation. And that’s what they’ll be doing.
QUESTION: What’s the U.S. view on the Leap Year Agreement? Is it – obviously the U.S. part has been suspended with the nutritional assistance.
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: But does the U.S. still believe that it’s in force, that North Korea is bound to what it promised at that point?
MR. TONER: Well, indeed. I mean, we’ve – we believe that, again, it’s not just the commitments that North Korea made on Leap Day, but also existing Security Council resolutions that hold North Korea to the pledge not to conduct any nuclear tests.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to make sure we understand, then, is the Leap Day Agreement null and void, or is it just that it still remains as a legal agreement which they have broken? Maybe it’s the same thing, but --
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t know if I would term it a legal agreement, but it was a pledge of commitment that North Korea took. We undertook a commitment to look at nutritional assistance at the same time. Given the fact that they’ve reneged on their commitments by launching this satellite, then we’ve suspended our side of the commitments.
QUESTION: Different issue?
MR. TONER: Different issue. Do you have another or --
MR. TONER: Okay. Sure, Shaun.
QUESTION: Repsol – the issue in Argentina with the nationalization. I saw Secretary Clinton spoke a little bit about this, but didn’t really give much commentary on it. Does the U.S. want to stay out of this, or is there some viewpoint that you could give? The EU has --
MR. TONER: I think her comment reflected that we’re still studying the details of the case. She spoke about the need for diverse markets, and certainly that’s one of our core beliefs: diverse energy markets. But beyond that, we don’t have any comment.
Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MR. TONER: We can go to Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday you made a couple comments, but right after that I think there was a comment made by the Secretary of State and by the representative of the United Nations. Both were not actually very helpful as far as the ceasefire is concerned. Could you care to comment on that?
MR. TONER: You’re saying that the Secretary nor the representative --
MR. TONER: Well, I think I spoke to it a little bit yesterday. By our accounts, based on sources inside the country, 26 people were killed in Syria yesterday. We also understand that violence continues with tank shelling in Homs and in another town in southern Syria, Busra al-Harir. And it’s – this – as I said yesterday, this erosion of the cessation of violence that we had in place – and we called it fragile from the start – is – this erosion is unacceptable. We need to see the Assad regime live up to its pledge, and the onus is on the Assad regime. So far, the Syrian opposition has held its fire and lived up to its side of the agreement.
QUESTION: Yeah. But there is also a back and forth going on with the amir of Qatar saying that it has a chance of 3 percent of success. I don’t know how he came up with that figure. But also today with Mr. Lavrov in Moscow saying that there are people – alluding to Qatar and Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf countries – who are trying to actually collapse the ceasefire. Do you concur with that assessment, with the Russians?
MR. TONER: I don’t think anybody wants to see the violence return to Syria. I can’t really say that because it hasn’t fully abated, but nobody wants to see the Syrian regime crank up its artillery assaults on civilians again to the degree that it had been in previous weeks. I think the GCC countries have played, obviously, a strong leadership role in trying to address this crisis. And it’s frustrating to see one small, fragile step forward, but then to see that eroding before our eyes.
So again, the onus is on Assad. The onus is on his regime. They need to live up to their side of the bargain. They need to fulfill all the points of the Annan plan – implement all the points of the Annan plan. To date, they have not. They barely fulfilled one. And so – and we do need to let these monitors get on the ground, establish themselves, and go out and actually report on what they see.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that the ceasefire, by itself, is not enough, right? There’s got to be also – the regime has to be forthcoming on all the other points.
MR. TONER: Absolutely.
QUESTION: What is your assessment of how the ongoing discussions in Paris about the economic sanctions aimed at Syria and efforts to toughen them? What’s the – this building’s read on what’s happening there?
MR. TONER: Well, the tougher the better. We’ve said all along that we want to see sanctions, political pressure, economic pressure increased on Assad, increased on his regime. We would have the message conveyed very clearly to those around Assad that the tide has turned, and they need to reconsider their options.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.
QUESTION: What are monitors doing exactly?
MR. TONER: They are – again, this is a very small group that arrived over the weekend. I believe just five monitors are on the ground – six monitors are on the ground. They’ve set up an office in an existing UN office, I would imagine in Damascus. They’ve also met with officials at the Syrian foreign ministry, and we expect the number of monitors to quickly increase to 25 or 30 in the next five to seven days. And as you probably saw from reporting out of UN, they’re still trying to establish – waiting for recommendations from the Secretary General on how large this mission will be.
QUESTION: How – what will you base your assessment on whether or not this initial monitoring effort is successful? I mean, what does it take? What do they have to do that they – that you all would then say that this is actually working?
MR. TONER: Well, first off, they need unlimited access to all parts of Syria, and I think that we’ve seen this come out in some of the discussions ongoing in New York. They need to be able to – as we talked about before with the Arab League, these monitors are only as good as the access that they’re provided. If they can get out, if they can see all areas of the country, then they can provide an objective and detailed assessment of the situation. So I think we’ll – as we move forward, we’ll see how – what kind of access they get, their ability to travel around, and then we’ll, obviously, wait for their report back to the UN.
QUESTION: I mean, you’re saying that that group could expand to up to 30 within seven days.
MR. TONER: That’s correct.
QUESTION: You think that within that seven-day period we’ll be able to judge whether or not this is --
MR. TONER: I honestly – I think it’s going to be a critical week as we see how this mission is implemented, and I think the Secretary alluded to that last night. I don’t know whether we’ll expect a full report, from them in that time. I just can’t say.
QUESTION: The Secretary General suggested in his comments today in Doha that perhaps even 250 monitors might not be enough, given the size of Syria and given the scope of the ongoing --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- violence. And he also suggested, perhaps, providing helicopters and other means of travel to these monitors. Are we seeing a slow ratcheting up of some sort of outside intervention here?
MR. TONER: Ros, I think he’s just looking at – and I just spoke to this a little bit. He’s looking at what’s required for an effective monitoring mission. Indeed, Syria’s a very large country. And so they need access to all parts of the country in order to carry out an effective mission. So I believe that as we move forward in the next couple of days, the Secretary General will go back to the Security Council with his recommendations on the size and scope of the mission, and then we’ll move from there.
QUESTION: Is there any concern that the Assad regime could push back on aerial modes of transportation, to use a bureaucratic phrase, because of some concern that perhaps people could fire weapons out of those aircraft?
MR. TONER: Again, these are unarmed observers, so I don’t preclude any action, however absurd, by the Syrian Government. But it would be indeed absurd to assume that.
QUESTION: Mark, some Syria – I’m sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to clarify.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: With the monitors, and essentially, they’re talking with the foreign ministry, trying to establish how they’re going to go about this --
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: -- as opposed to actually carrying it out, right?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: And then is – do you have any feedback in terms of how the Assad government is reacting, what they are saying? Are they cooperating?
MR. TONER: I really don’t at this point. Other than what we’ve seen in terms of the return of violence or the slow ratcheting up of violence in several areas of the country, I really don’t have an assessment about their meetings with the foreign ministry, at least yet.
QUESTION: The fact they’re saying that Secretary Clinton’s going to be in Paris on Thursday for the sort of – some Friends of Syria meeting. Are you able to confirm that?
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm at this point. She’s obviously up in the air. I’ve seen those same press reports. We’ve talked about – certainly, the Secretary is very willing to meet – to discuss this important issue, obviously. But I just can’t confirm at this point.
QUESTION: I wonder if I can get you to comment on something. Some old Syria hands in town are suggesting that perhaps the United States Government could share intelligence with the opposition groups and so on, saying that now there is a movement of tanks or now there’s a movement of military contingent moving towards this neighborhood or that neighborhood. Is that something that is being discussed, at least, in this building?
MR. TONER: Well, if it was being discussed, I wouldn’t be able to tell you about it.
QUESTION: But is it --
MR. TONER: No. I think what we’re working at is along the lines of what was decided at the last Friends of Syria meeting, which is non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, improve their communications. Again, you’ve seen some of the imagery also that’s appeared on Ambassador Ford’s Facebook site, and that, in effect, is a way to hold the Syrian regime accountable. You can actually see heavy weaponry surrounding some of these cities. So our focus right now: working with the opposition, trying to strengthen their cohesion, strengthen their unity, so as we move towards what we hope is an eventual transition, that they’re ready for that.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up to rephrase my question. So as part of that assistance in communications, would that be communicating to the opposition that they’re about to be attacked? Is that part of communication?
MR. TONER: My understanding is that this is communication that’s supposed to strengthen their own intra-communication, their ability to – and again, the Secretary spoke about when she met with members of the opposition during the last meeting in – Istanbul? Sorry, was it Istanbul or – okay, thank you – talked about meeting with a woman who talked about, during these bombardments in places like Homs, their inability to even know what’s going on in another part of the city. So we’re trying to look at ways that we can strengthen that kind of communication.
Yeah, in the back, Scott.
MR. TONER: Sure. I don’t have a lengthy readout for you, Scott. I can say that he is in Juba, as I mentioned yesterday, for meetings with the Government of South Sudan. He did meet with President Kiir yesterday. I think I said they’re looking at ways to deescalate the tension and end the current crisis. He is going to travel to Khartoum, I believe, later today or tomorrow for meetings with Sudanese officials to essentially stress the same message, which is that we need an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence, and we need both sides to get back to the AU process.
QUESTION: Does it continue to be your position that the SPLA troops need to withdraw from Heglig?
MR. TONER: It does.
QUESTION: Was that raised with President Kiir?
MR. TONER: I’m sure it was.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey blamed Pakistan-based Haqqani Network for the attacks in Kabul, and Secretary Clinton also talked to Foreign Minister Khar. So what – does the initial evidence lead to Pakistan at the moment? Was this coordinated by the Haqqani Network elements in Pakistan or in Afghanistan? What is your initial information?
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, the quick answer is we don’t know yet. It appeared to bear the hallmarks of the – an Haqqani Network-style attack. We’ve seen them obviously carry out one last fall that was coordinated in this kind of fashion, but beyond that, we’re still in the information-gathering stage. It’s still an investigation carried out by Afghan authorities. So we should know more.
QUESTION: And last year, we heard a lot about Haqqani Network that was – all sorts of – that went from communication with Pakistan. But that seemed to go in the background during the last few months when everything between Pakistan and U.S. seemed to be at a standstill. So was there any kind of communication on Haqqani Network, or are your concerns about the same? You thought Pakistan actually did take some action or they did nothing? What is your impression?
MR. TONER: Well, I think the Secretary spoke to this in her press availability yesterday in Brasilia, and she simply said that when she was in Pakistan in the fall, that she raised our concerns about the Haqqani Network, and frankly, our concerns that this is a shared threat. We all need to take action against this network. It’s a threat to Pakistanis, it’s a threat to Afghans, and it’s a threat to, obviously, Americans living in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
QUESTION: No, my question is that --
MR. TONER: Sorry.
QUESTION: -- you have been raising this concern with Pakistan over the last year or so. You have done that a number of times.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Have you seen any improvement or you think the situation is actually deteriorating?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s – we’ve been going through a fairly difficult period with Pakistan that we’re now hopefully emerging from. And throughout that, our counterterrorism cooperation has continued, but we want to try to strengthen it. We recognize that we do face these shared threats, and we need to keep up the fight. We continue to make that case to the Pakistani Government, that this is a group that is killing Pakistanis as well as Americans as well as Afghans, so we need to put the pressure on them. I think I’ll just leave it there.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that this attack, and if Pakistan doesn’t take any action against Haqqani Network, as U.S. has been demanding, it could sabotage whatever efforts there are at the moment to bring this relationship back on track?
MR. TONER: We’re going forward. We have the parliamentary review process complete, but going forward, we’re going to have a strong and serious discussion on all the issues, including counterterrorism, including the Haqqani Network. The Secretary stated that yesterday. We take it very seriously.
QUESTION: There are Azerbaijani officials in town this week. Can you tell us about any talks they might be having in this building, and if any of those talks have included Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: Scott, I’ll take the question. I don’t have any details with me.
QUESTION: Treasury today said it was easing some sanctions on Myanmar, certain sanctions that would allow nongovernmental organizations --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- particularly to do their jobs. I’m wondering, is this the extent of the action for action that we can expect at this stage or are you contemplating further moves?
MR. TONER: No, I think the other – we talked about a number of actions on April 4th, I guess it was, which included naming an ambassador, opening a USAID office, establishing a normal country program for UNDP, facilitating travel for select government officials, and also easing restrictions on the export of U.S. financial services. And then also, one of these elements was, as you just mentioned, easing restrictions on nonprofit activities. So today, as you correctly noted, the Office of Foreign Assets Control did issue a general license easing financial restrictions for certain not-for-profit activities in Burma. These include health, education, good governance, and certain noncommercial development initiatives. And as I said, this is – I think you’ll see more steps as we implement what we laid out on April 4th. You’ll see additional measures.
QUESTION: Okay. So I mean, it isn’t that the Burmese have to do more now to get more, that --
MR. TONER: No.
MR. TONER: I mean, these were our action for action, if you will, in response to what we viewed as very positive parliamentary elections.
QUESTION: Mark – Egypt. Some of the NGO people are now worried that they will be on an Interpol list and will not be able to travel internationally. Do you have any update on where their status is, what their status is?
MR. TONER: I don’t, and I’m somewhat limited to what we can say about Interpol matters. I’ll take the question, though, and see if we can get anything back for you.
QUESTION: All right. And you may have addressed this --
MR. TONER: But I mean, obviously, what we said previously, Jill, just to – we’ve been very clear that we think these are politically motivated charges and without merit, and so let me just reiterate that, that we don’t – there’s no reason for these individuals to be on any kind of list, international legal list.
QUESTION: All right. And just one quick one on – you may have addressed this this week, I could’ve missed it, but the level of concern here in this building about the Egyptian elections, in which a number of people have been –
MR. TONER: Yeah. I spoke a little bit about this yesterday. This is – obviously, Egyptians are following this process very closely, and rightly so. Our concern is that we want to see a fair and transparent process moving forward and a successful handover election and handover of power to a civilian government along the timeframe that the SCAF has already laid out. So they’ve already had successful parliamentary elections. We want to see that trend continue, and leading to a transfer of power.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Last year, the Quartet, as part of its effort, requested that both the Palestinians and the Israelis submit their proposals for the borders and so on. The Palestinians did; the Israelis did not. Today there is a letter that is being submitted from Abbas to Netanyahu. Do you expect, as a result of this letter, that the Israelis will come forth with their own proposal of the borders, and will you support that?
MR. TONER: Well, what I can say is that, as you noted, the parties are set to meet today. I didn’t have confirmation coming down here that the actual – the meeting – actually the meeting was underway. But I can --
MR. TONER: They did already meet?
MR. TONER: Yeah. No, and I – again, I was trying to get confirmation about that as well. But I do – I can say that the Palestinians did intend to deliver a letter addressed to Prime Minister Netanyahu and that we understand there’s a – there are plans for an Israeli reply. But I obviously can’t get into the substance of those.
Yes. Back here.
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Following the coup in Mali, you supported the ECOWAS deal, which had the vice president come to power and the soldiers step back. The military, who’s now in control of Guinea-Bissau, says that they will have a similar transitional authority, but the soldiers will decide what civilians will take part in that. Is that acceptable?
MR. TONER: No – I did see that. Let’s be very clear that we support the ECOWAS-led efforts in the country as – and I believe it’s not just ECOWAS; it’s the community of Portuguese-language countries that are also involved in this. We certainly want to see a return to civilian power, but I can’t speculate on what’s being proposed by these mutineers except to say that we strongly support ECOWAS and CLP efforts to return the country to civilian rule.
QUESTION: Would it be acceptable to you that soldiers determine which civilians could take part in this transitional authority?
MR. TONER: Again, I mean, it’s somewhat speculative. I’ve heard those comments. I haven’t seen anything to back them up. I don’t know what – but I don’t know if they’re credible. I just have seen press reports at this point. ECOWAS is there on the ground. They’re working hard to – are there to mediate. We just want to see a return to civilian rule. But certainly, we would want to see something that is in keeping with democratic standards.
QUESTION: On Vietnam?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you have anything to say about charges that have been filed against a number of journalists and bloggers, one Nguyen Van Hai. They’re accused of anti-state propaganda.
QUESTION: On South Korea?
QUESTION: Lim Sung-nam is in town and is at the State Department today for meetings. And I’m wondering if you have any information about who he’ll be meeting with?
MR. TONER: He is. And I’m trying to – I hope I have this – I did have a readout – or not a readout but a preview. You’re talking about Special Representative Lim?
MR. TONER: He is going to be meeting with Glyn Davies, our Special Representative for North Korea, as well as Assistant Secretary Thomas Countryman. And, obviously, they’ll talk about the range of issues, probably first and foremost, North Korea, and next steps following yesterday’s presidential statement.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Yes. I have a question about Argentina and the oil company. The Spanish foreign minister has said he’s disappointed with Secretary Clinton reaction to the nationalization of the YPF company. I would like to know what should Spain expect from the U.S. Government? What position should Spain expect in this issue from the U.S.?
MR. TONER: Well, I think Secretary Clinton was simply – said that she was still looking at the case. She commented, as I mentioned to Shaun earlier, the importance that we subscribe to – or ascribe to diversity of energy resources. We believe that’s the best route to go. But beyond that, we’re still studying the implications.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Does the United States, to be clear, condone or condemn this nationalization?
MR. TONER: I think we’re still trying to get the details of what’s happened and making an assessment. But speaking more generally, when it comes to energy markets, as I just said, we want to see more diversity, not less.
QUESTION: Yesterday, governor of Tokyo made a speech in D.C., saying that city of Tokyo will be purchasing Senkaku Islands. Do you have any reaction to this news?
MR. TONER: Nothing beyond our standard policy or position on the Senkaku Islands, which I can give to you chapter and verse, if you like. But I don’t have any specific comment on his speech, no. Yeah.
Anything else, guys? Great. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)