Daily Press Briefing - May 1, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Free the Press Campaign / Journalists Annagurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadjiyev from Turkmenistan
    • Human Rights Concerns / Effective, Constructive Relationship with China / Upcoming Talks
    • Iran / Destabilizing Activities
    • Aung San Suu Kyi / National League for Democracy / Democratic Process
  • CUBA
    • Welcome Greater Freedom of Movement for Cuban Public
    • Haqqani Network / FTO Process
    • Continued Violence / Monitoring Mission / Parliamentary Elections
  • MALI
    • Ongoing Instability / Support Progress on Interim Government
    • Support Closer Ties between India and Afghanistan
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 1, 2012


1:09 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. In keeping with our daily mention or announcement about journalists who are being persecuted worldwide, I would like, today, to cite two cases from Turkmenistan who are part of our Free the Press campaign: Annagurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadjiyev, both of whom are human rights activists and film crew assistants. These men have been imprisoned since 2006. They were working for filmmakers creating a documentary that was critical of then-President Niyazov. And we call on the Government of Turkmenistan to release both of these gentlemen, Amanklychev and Khadjiyev, immediately, and call on the government to respect all citizens’ fundamental freedom of speech. And as we say every day, you can read more about these cases and other cases on humanrights.gov.

And with that, I will go to your questions.

QUESTION: Can we start with China and just get the daily, “I have nothing for you on that,” out of the way? Is there anything that you can tell us about the case of Mr. Chen Guangcheng?

MR. TONER: As you correctly predicted, I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Is Mr. – is Assistant Secretary Campbell still in Beijing?

MR. TONER: Secretary Campbell is still in Beijing. That’s correct.

QUESTION: And has the Secretary now arrived?

MR. TONER: No, she’s en route.

QUESTION: And what is your expectation of – yesterday, as you saw, the Secretary said in her news conference with the ministers from the Philippines – she said that she could assure us that she will raise every matter that is between us. Without speaking his name, do you regard this as the case – as a matter that is between the United States and China?

MR. TONER: Well again, the Secretary was talking about, as you said, the fact that she was heading to Beijing and that she spoke of the broader context of our relationship. She said it was important, obviously, that – and that we’ve worked hard to build an effective, constructive relationship with China, one that allows us to find ways to work together. And certainly, one element of that is being able to engage with them on difficult issues, areas where we don’t agree. And the President said as much as well in his press conference yesterday. And that includes talking about human rights concerns. But I think I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: What is Under Secretary Burns doing in China?

MR. TONER: He is also there in support of the upcoming talks.

QUESTION: Is he joined with --

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary.

MR. TONER: Oh, thank you very much. Thanks, Arshad. Yes. Deputy Secretary Burns. You said Under Secretary.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary, excuse me. Sorry.

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Is he joined --

MR. TONER: I didn’t catch it.

QUESTION: -- with Campbell in the same talks?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t --

QUESTION: In the same effort?

MR. TONER: -- know what talks you’re referring to, but what I’ll just say is --

QUESTION: Well, you could tell me.

MR. TONER: -- what I can confirm is that he’s in Beijing, and he’s there in support of the Secretary’s trip.

QUESTION: Do you know if – oh, sorry.


QUESTION: -- do you know if the deputy secretary has, in the past, gone to the S&ED? Did, for example, Deputy Secretary Steinberg --

MR. TONER: Well, the last year, it was obviously here.


MR. TONER: But I don’t know what his role was.

QUESTION: How about Deputy Secretary Steinberg in 2009?

MR. TONER: I’d have to look into that. I’ll take the question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: So you would – what he’s doing in Beijing is separate from what Campbell’s doing?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think what we talked about is that they’re both there, and it’s not uncommon for these high-level individuals to travel to Beijing in support of what is a very important, high-level dialogue between us and China.

Yeah. Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, Mark. Why you are not talking about this activist, this Chinese activist? Because you don’t know anything about him or because you’re not able to say anything?

MR. TONER: I have nothing for you on this.

QUESTION: But why? This is the question.

MR. TONER: I don’t have to answer why. I’m just telling you what I’m – that I’ve got no information for you on this.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: A Saudi diplomat in Egypt told – was quoted by two Arab newspapers that the Egyptian authorities arrested or discovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Egypt. Are you aware of these reports?

MR. TONER: We have seen the reports. I’d refer you, obviously, to Egyptian authorities for details. If true, however, this plot would be consistent with what we’ve seen the Iranian Government do in the past and its destabilizing activities worldwide. And obviously, we refer you to the –refer you to the case here in Washington. So we’re well acquainted with these kinds of actions. I just don’t have any details on this allegation.

QUESTION: Are you looking for links between the two cases? Just how they came about?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Looking for links between the --

QUESTION: Are you looking for links between the one in Egypt and --

MR. TONER: -- the one here and the case in Egypt?


MR. TONER: I’m not aware that there’s any active investigation. I’m sure that we’ll be consulting with Egyptian authorities, but I can’t tell you that there’s any active investigation. I’ll check with the DOJ on that – Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Do you have any feedback from your Embassy in Cairo concerning this plot – presumed plot?

MR. TONER: We don’t. Again, we’re – I’d refer you to Egyptian authorities. I mean, we just have – what we’ve – I’ve frankly seen in press reports at this point.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is reported as having made a decision to drop its boycott – end its boycott of Myanmar’s parliament. As you know, this was, I think, over a particular phrase in the oath. Do you regard this as a good thing?

MR. TONER: Well, again, you’re referring to the fact that they’re – they’ve agreed – Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as other members of the National League for Democracy. These newly elected members have agreed to take their seats on May 2nd. I think we see this as a hopeful sign that the NLD and the government will work together to continue to build on the democratic progress that we’ve seen there.

QUESTION: You don’t think they’re caving to the government?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of their decision making. I just think that we would look for them to work together with the government and to keep the momentum on democratic process. But I’d refer you to them to – for the details behind their decision.

QUESTION: Is there not a danger that by not securing an agreement on the amendments that the government and the other authorities could exploit the existing law so as to roll back the democratic progress that has occurred?

MR. TONER: You’re talking – I’m sorry – your specific question refers to by not changing policy on the oath?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I thought that the key thing was the amendment of the 2008 constitution, which gives the military very wide powers. And I had thought I understood that the concern about the oath of office was that if they were sworn to – and forgive me, I don’t remember the specific term now --

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: -- whether it was defend or uphold or protect or that particular constitution that it might ultimately given – give an excuse for the government for the authorities to exploit the constitution so as to --

MR. TONER: Right. I just think from our perspective, we want to see these newly elected members take their seats. We want to see them work constructively with the government. We want to see the progress continue. And in terms of any rolling back, I think we’re going to continue to keep a close eye on the progression of these reforms in Burma. And we’ve been very clear, the Secretary’s been very clear that we’ll do action for action; that as we see progress, we’ll take steps on our end to recognize that progress. So I think we’re going to need to monitor things very closely as we move forward.

QUESTION: Okay, just for the record --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- the phrase was, the NLD wanted to replace the word “safeguard” the constitution with “respect.”

MR. TONER: Thank you. That’s right.

QUESTION: When do you expect announcement of a new ambassador to Burma?

MR. TONER: I don’t have any information for you. I mean, obviously, that’s a White House decision and a White House announcement. So we’ve said we’re moving forward in that regard, but really the ball, if you will, is in the White House’s court to make that announcement when they’re ready.

QUESTION: And would Burma be one of the topic of discussion when Secretary meets her counterparts in China and India, Bangladesh?

MR. TONER: I can imagine that they will discuss Burma. It’s obviously a very important topic and a very important issue between our two countries bilaterally, but also for the region.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: They will discuss Burma but not Mr. Chen, as far as you know?

New topic? Cuba? There’s talk that Raul Castro might ease some of the travel restrictions in Cuba. What would this mean? And what good benefits could it also have maybe from U.S. policy side?

MR. TONER: Well, I actually looked into that. We don’t have any – we haven’t seen that there’s going to be any announcements, so I don’t know what precisely you’re referring to. I mean, speaking more broadly, you know we would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Pentagon today sent a report to the Congress on Afghanistan. It again expresses its concern about safe haven there and the Haqqani Networks. The Pentagon has recommended for declaring Haqqani Network as FTO, Foreign Terrorist Organization. And Secretary have said that the State Department has been working on it several months ago.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: So do you have an update? What the status? And why this delay? Are you having any second thoughts on it?

MR. TONER: You’re right. First of all, when we talk about the Haqqani Network, it’s important to also note, when we talk about designating them or the possibility of designating them as an FTO, much of their leadership has already been put under U.S. sanctions. So it’s not like they’re operating free and clear from U.S. law or U.S. sanctions. In fact, many of the leadership has been named by the Treasury and other sanctioning agencies.

But in reference to the FTO process, we don’t normally talk about a timeline or give a date certain on that. One factor in that is that we don’t want to, obviously, give these kinds of groups or organizations a heads up because there are certain financial restrictions that go into effect once they are named. So I really can’t give you any kind of feedback or update on the process.


QUESTION: Mark, on Syria, 41 people got killed today. Do you have anything on that?

MR. TONER: I haven’t seen the latest numbers on deaths in Syria today. I mean, certainly, we’ve talked about this all along that the cease-fire, such as it is, is not really holding, that we’ve seen continued deaths among civilians. We’ve seen continued artillery barrages on Syrian cities.

I do know that there was a press conference given by – at the UN today about the monitoring mission there, and we were encouraged by the fact that they did say that there would be up to 300 monitors in place by the end of May. So that’s an encouraging sign. I think we – as we’ve said all along, we want them to be able to enter into an environment that allows them free, unfettered access to as many parts of Syria as possible. And we also want a safe environment. So again, it falls back to the Assad regime’s unwillingness or inability to live up to its agreement to implement the Annan plan.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you have a position on the Syrian Government plan to have parliamentary elections on May 7th, given the condition?

MR. TONER: Only in that it’s slightly ridiculous, given all that’s happening in the country, for them to move forward with the theater of parliamentary elections when it’s very clear that the Syrian people won’t have a real voice.

QUESTION: The Syrian Government has banned specific observers from specific nationalities from entering Syria. Do you have anything on this?

MR. TONER: I don’t, really. We obviously want to see the broadest, most representative contingent as possible, and we want to see them be granted visas and be able to get up – be able to get into Syria as soon as possible. So any restrictions by the Syrian Government on their visa process would be concerning to us.

Anything else, guys?


MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Three hundred – more than 300,000 people have been displaced due to the conflicts in Mali. And more than 180,000 have --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Did you say – where did you say --


MR. TONER: In Mali.

QUESTION: In Mali. And more than 180 have fled to neighboring countries. Are you in touch with these neighboring countries and with – to provide humanitarian relief to these people?

MR. TONER: We have been. It’s a very fair question. I’m not aware of what we’re cooperating – I mean, we’ve obviously been in close contact with the Algerian Government for example as this crisis in Mali has gone forward. And again, just in the past 24 hours we’ve seen more signs of fighting. It’s very unclear what’s happening on the ground. It looks like there was some sort of counter-effort, but we don’t have any firm grasp of what’s actually transpired there. We have seen ongoing reports of sporadic gunfire in Bamako. I can say that all our personnel at the U.S. Embassy there are safe and accounted for. But we don’t have any information. We’ve seen press reports that this was due to a possible counter-effort by members of the Malian parachute regiment who are loyal to former-President Toure. No way to confirm that at this time.

But it speaks to the fact that this ongoing instability is detrimental to Mali. We had seen some progress in last week in putting in place an interim government that was moving towards – on a timeline towards civilian elections, and we want to see that interim government back in place.


QUESTION: Do you think the junta is still in control?

MR. TONER: It’s – we – what we’ve seen so far is it looks like that the interim government and the junta, as you said, is still in control, that this was a failed effort, but we really don’t have any clear --

QUESTION: And the term counter-effort is not one that I had heard before. Did you not want to say counter-coup because you don’t want to describe it as a coup?

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. TONER: What’s that?


MR. TONER: Counterattack. I don’t know what you want to – how you want to describe it. I don’t want to get too bogged down in terminology. It was clearly an effort by those forces who are still loyal to President Toure to retake power. Again, all of this back and forth is just truly detrimental to the situation. As you noted, it’s causing massive refugee flows and greater instability for the country as a whole. We did see progress. We did have an interim government in place. We need to get back to that status quo ante.

And I will take the question about any humanitarian assistance we might be working at.

QUESTION: Afghanistan’s foreign minister is in Delhi holding talks with India’s external affairs minister. It looks like Afghanistan is seeking some kind of security assistance from India. How does the U.S. views that request for Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: You said that they’re getting security assistance from India? I don’t have any specifics on that.

QUESTION: That they are seeking some kind of --

MR. TONER: I don’t have any specifics on what security assistance they may be receiving. I would just say broadly that we certainly support closer ties between India and Afghanistan and between, frankly, the entire region for the greater stability of the region. So it’s certainly in India’s interest and Afghanistan’s interest to cooperate more closely.

QUESTION: And as U.S. is seeking money from your partners for ANSF for funding post-2014, can you give us some sense what kind of support have you – any commitment that you have received from any country so far?

MR. TONER: We haven’t gotten into numbers. It’s really up to the countries themselves as they move – as they come forward to announce their contributions, for them to do that themselves, not really for us to keep a tally. I can say that Marc Grossman and others have been working with other countries to – on that support effort. Maybe as we get closer to NATO we’ll have more public recognition of those offers.

QUESTION: So are you confident that you will be able to reach that target of whatever money they are looking for?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re working hard at it with our various partners, as are the Afghans. And we’re committed to having both the infrastructure in place, but also the financial wherewithal to support an Afghan lead and security efforts post-2014.

QUESTION: And what is the figure that you’re looking at?

MR. TONER: I don’t have it in front of me. I’d have to get it for you.

That’s it? Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:28 p.m.)

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