Daily Press Briefing - May 7, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Ambassador Robert Ford Receives the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
    • Chen Guangcheng
    • U.S.-China Consultation on Middle East Affairs
    • National Elections / OSCE
    • President-elect Hollande / Discussions at G-8 and NATO
    • Economy
    • Warren Weinstein
    • Counterterrorism Cooperation
    • Credibility of Parliamentary Elections
    • Russian Support
    • Cooperation / Rewards for Justice Program
    • Video of Warren Weinstein
    • Satellite Imagery
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 7, 2012


1:13 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Before we get started, I did want to briefly note that U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award today at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. As you all well know, Ambassador Ford has worked tirelessly throughout the Syrian crisis both in Damascus, as well as continuing his work in Washington to ensure that the Syrian people know that the United States stands with them. So I just wanted to give a shout-out to Ambassador Ford. He’s been a valuable asset, and we congratulate him on receiving this award today.

QUESTION: Can we start with China?

MR. TONER: We can start with China.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on Mr. Chen’s efforts to obtain a passport and subsequently depart China with his family?

MR. TONER: Well, Arshad, I can tell you that he continues his medical treatment. We do remain in close contact with him. I understand that we’ve been in regular phone contact with him over the past couple of days. He has advised us that he’s engaged with the Chinese Government on – as we talked about Friday, on the necessary arrangements to pursue his studies in the U.S. And on our side, certainly we’ve – we’re making the necessary preparations once we do – once he does receive that paperwork to move forward.

QUESTION: Do you still expect the Chinese Government to act expeditiously, as Toria said on Friday?

MR. TONER: I believe we do. We expect them to act expeditiously.

QUESTION: And has he given you any reason to understand that – or any reason to believe that they are acting expeditiously?

MR. TONER: As I said, he’s said that he is engaged with the Chinese Government on the necessary arrangements. We have nothing to believe otherwise, I guess, at this point. We’ve been in contact with him. It appears the process is going forward.

QUESTION: And have you – you said you’ve been in contact with him several times by telephone over the last few days – have you tried to see him for over the last couple of days in person?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware – I know we have no seen him in person. I don’t know if we’ve made any attempt to see him in person. I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: Could you check to see if you’ve made an attempt and if you – that such attempts have been rebuffed, or if you just haven’t made an attempt?

MR. TONER: I’ll double-check on that for you.


MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can – just on the medical treatment, how long – I mean, he had a broken foot. How long is the standard medical stay for a broken foot in China?

MR. TONER: I honestly – I don’t know.

QUESTION: What treatment is he --

MR. TONER: He has some other medical conditions as well, I think, that are being treated. That’s doctor stuff. I can’t expect to give – think of a prognosis from here. I just know that he remains in the hospital.

QUESTION: Where would he go? Is there any plan for him to be released from the hospital in China? Where would he go?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not aware – I think, all I can say is that, as we stated Friday in the statement, is that we’re all working towards eventually getting him to the United States for his studies. But whether he’ll leave the hospital into some interim facility or place, I don’t know. I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: So as far as you know, he would remain in the hospital until (inaudible) he comes to the United States?

MR. TONER: I just don’t have an answer for you. I could try to find out, but I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah. On China again. United States should take necessary measures to prevent a repeat of the China incident, according to the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman. Are – do you agree with that? And what measures would you be taking to prevent this from happening?

MR. TONER: Well, look, senior Administration officials have been quite clear that this was extraordinary case, it was an exceptional case, but it was a case in which we acted according to our traditions and our values and that we acted lawfully. We believe we acted lawfully, and I’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Are you giving them promises to this effect that you will prevent a repeat of this?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that we, as I said, we’ve recognized publicly that this was an extraordinary case. But privately I’m not going to get into the substance of our conversations with the Chinese Government, except that we’re working through this case to make sure that his best wishes or his desires are met.

QUESTION: Would you say this would be a quid pro quo to make sure that Chen is released and comes to the U.S.?


QUESTION: It’s not a quid pro quo?


QUESTION: Do you know what is the legal basis – in the original briefing that was given by senior Administration officials after he went to the hospital, one of the two officials briefing said, “We believe that our conduct was lawful." I don’t know who said that, but do you know what is the legal basis on which you believe it was lawful to take him into the Embassy?

MR. TONER: Again, I think he said that we acted lawfully or in – I can’t remember the exact – I’m paraphrasing – that – you’re asking me for the – to cite the Vienna Convention?

QUESTION: What was the basis? I mean --

MR. TONER: I think he’s just saying that an individual approached the U.S. Embassy, as we’ve said in that same background briefing, seeking medical attention, and we took him in on that basis.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Serbia elections, just the change the subject?

MR. TONER: Are we done with China? We can still – we usually just run through the course of --

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: There’s another question about China, if I may ask. Last week when the Administration, the Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing during the Strategic Economic Dialogue, one of the accomplishments is that U.S. and China agrees to start a dialogue on Middle Eastern issues. And according to the declaration – announcement from the S&ED Dialogue, they are going to agree upon the date and time for the first round of dialogue on this. Can you tell us more details about this kind of – this dialogue itself, including what is the reason for the two countries to decide to start such a dialogue?

MR. TONER: Well, I would just say generally that it speaks to our recognition – again, the Secretary spoke about this – our recognition that increasingly China’s a partner when we look at these global issues, certainly with regard to the Middle East. We’re seeking China’s support on a wide variety of issues and countries, certainly as we look at issues like the Arab Spring and the transition then that so many countries in the Middle East are undergoing and in North Africa as well, that we want to extend our dialogue. Certainly that dialogue already exists. We already talk to China about all of these issues, but I think it’s an attempt to formalize that and to regularize it.

But certainly, as we move forward, whether it’s dealing with the transitions underway in so many, as I said, countries in North Africa and then the Middle East, but certainly with regard to Syria too, we’re going to look for China’s support as we continue to seek pressure – to put pressure on Assad.

QUESTION: And may I ask, what kind of level were the officials? What kind of levels of officials will be forwarding this --

MR. TONER: I don’t have any more details beyond what the Secretary announced the other day. So --

QUESTION: Last Friday, some aide to Mr. Chen said that Mr. Chen could be going to leave China in a few days. So is there any possibility that he can leave the country today or tomorrow?

MR. TONER: Again, I can’t put a date certain on his departure. All I can say is that, as the statement said, both sides are working expeditiously to get – both get him the proper paperwork and then process his paperwork on the U.S. side.

QUESTION: Didn’t the statement say that you expected the Chinese to act expeditiously?

MR. TONER: It says the Chinese has – the Chinese Government has indicated it will accept Mr. Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents and we expect that they will expeditiously process his application. Sorry. Thank you for the clarification.

Yeah. Go ahead, Cami.

QUESTION: Switching subject?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The – sorry.

MR. TONER: She did have a priority. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. I had it. (Laughter.) Sorry.

MR. TONER: Sure. We can go to --

QUESTION: Yeah. If you can just comment on --

MR. TONER: We had quite a few elections yesterday, but we’ll start with Serbia.

QUESTION: Ah, yeah, yeah. Europe was all up in elections. I just wanted a comment on the outcome of elections in Serbia.

MR. TONER: Sure. First and foremost, the United States wants to congratulate the people of Serbia on the successful administration of yesterday’s national elections. We’ve seen, according to the OSCE’s preliminary findings, that there were no serious incidents and that the process was orderly. Certainly the vote counting continues, but it appears that a runoff will be necessary later this month in order to determine the presidential winner. Parliamentary results are also, as we can tell, preliminary at this point. So it should take some time for a government to be formed, as you well know. But regardless of which party comes into power, we look forward to continuing our work with Serbia as it advances further on its European Union integration path.

We also would like to congratulate the OSCE for its facilitation of balloting in Kosovo, with the support of the Kosovo Government, for Serbians’ – Serbia’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the French and Greek elections now? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Oh, there were other elections? Sure.

QUESTION: I think we have a follow-up on Serbia’s election.

MR. TONER: Let’s finish with Serbia.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any comment about that SPS that is a party of former President Slobodan Milosevic actually got a lot of votes in Serbia? That is something that usually in the past was a reason for worry.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I missed the last part of your question.

QUESTION: That party of Slobodan Milosevic, SPS, got a lot of votes. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I mean, look, it was clearly a – as the OSCE monitors have already said, it was no serious incidents, the process was orderly, it looked to be above board. This is a democratic process in action, so I’m not going to comment on one political party’s gains versus another, simply to say that the election went off well and we congratulate the people of Serbia. And our long-term goal is to work with the government that comes into power on Serbia’s further Euro-Atlantic integration. That’s where our priority remains.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.

QUESTION: And you’ll cooperate with any government that’s put into power?

MR. TONER: Correct.

In terms of France, Greece? Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: Well – (laughter) – I mean, you saw the White House already issued a – I’ll go alphabetically. The President – or the White House already issued a statement yesterday about the President’s call to President-elect Hollande. We certainly echo his congratulations on his victory in the presidential elections. We look forward to working with President-elect Hollande and his cabinet. Certainly, as the President’s statement said yesterday, we’re going to have the chance to welcome him to the White House for the G-8 and then onward to Chicago in – at the NATO summit later this month. It goes without saying that France remains an invaluable partner, and we wish President-elect Hollande and the people of France the very best. And they’re obviously going to be working in the next several weeks to settle in.

QUESTION: Maybe I can follow up on the --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- French election.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: What about Francois Hollande’s pledge to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan this year? Are you concerned about that, and have you had any discussions with them since he was elected?

MR. TONER: Again, I think our discussions with him were just in the context, as the President’s statement makes clear, that we’re going to have the opportunity to discuss the transition in Afghanistan in Chicago later this month.

QUESTION: You must be concerned about it?

MR. TONER: Well, again, look, this is a – there’s a – the allies are in agreement, as it was agreed upon in Lisbon. Chicago is the next opportunity for us to sit down, discuss the transition plan, so we’ll look forward to hearing from him then.

QUESTION: Just broader --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Under Sarkozy, there was this kind of great rapprochement in U.S.-French relations, and cooperation really kind of reached a zenith in recent years. Would you hope that Hollande continues this trend, even if he’s going to maybe redirect French foreign policy away from some of the precedents Sarkozy set?

MR. TONER: Sure, Brad. I mean, it goes without saying that France is an essential and invaluable ally in so many areas of the world, so we certainly want to see our cooperation with the new government, if anything, deepen on a variety of issues. So we want to see this trend continue.

QUESTION: Is there cause for hope that it will deepen, based on his statements?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re – we look forward to discussions at the G-8 and at the NATO summit. It’s, I think, fortuitous that we’re going to have these opportunities very early on to engage with them on these global issues.

QUESTION: He’s a new president coming in who’s promising change, something you might be familiar with in recent years in this country. Are you – I don’t want to – are you worried, are you concerned, but does that give you some concern about him setting a new foreign policy, specifically in order to change the policies of his predecessor, and that might not help U.S.-French relations?

MR. TONER: I think, as I just said, he’s going to be settling in in the coming weeks. We’re going to have an opportunity to sit down at the highest levels, the President with President-elect Hollande, to discuss all these issues. So I’m not going to prejudge in any way how those discussions might go.


MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The election in France and the election in Greece are both widely interpreted as bringing to power – or at least in Greece it’s not clear, I guess, who will yet be in power – but as manifestations of popular sentiment against the austerity programs that have been brought into effect in both countries. From the U.S. Government point of view, is it good that leaders who – clearly in Greece and to some degree in France – have made clear some opposition to the austerity programs have come to – are coming to power?

MR. TONER: Well, Arshad, I’m certainly no economist. But we certainly recognize at the same time that European countries are experiencing hardships as a result of the economic crisis there. And it’s also clear, as they move forward, that some combination of pro-growth and pro-stability reforms are going to be necessary to sustain the stability and the markets there, and spur economic growth. That stands for Europe as well as the global economy.

I also think that, as we’ve said before, we remain confident that the Europeans have the capacity and the ability to address all of these challenges, and we remain confident that they can address these challenges.


QUESTION: On Warren Weinstein, the American --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- who disappeared in Pakistan and the video that showed up over the weekend, I’m wondering, has the U.S. continued to work with the Pakistani Government on this case in the past few months while there’s been this pause in relations?

MR. TONER: We are. We’re actually assisting in the investigation, and that cooperation continues. I’d refer you to the appropriate U.S. agencies or law enforcement agencies for more details on that, but I’m not sure, frankly, what details they can give as the investigation continues. And we --

QUESTION: But (inaudible) that cooperation continued even while --

MR. TONER: It has continued throughout. We obviously remain very, very concerned about the safety and well-being of Mr. Weinstein. We want to call – or we have called, and continue to call for his immediate release, and we continue to cooperate closely with Pakistani authorities on the ongoing investigation. And we’re obviously also in close contact with Mr. Weinstein’s family, offering appropriate consular assistance as they requested.

QUESTION: But it’s unlikely that you will accept the demands made in the video; is that --

MR. TONER: It is. I mean, as you know, we don’t make concessions to terrorists.

Yeah, in the back. Over on the side and then over to Michel.

QUESTION: On Pakistan still. Foreign Minister Khar said that she wanted Secretary Clinton or the United States to give evidence that Ayman al-Zawahiri was in Pakistan following Secretary Clinton’s statement on the same matter in India. Has anything been provided officially to Pakistan, or has that request from Foreign Minister Khar been given – been formally communicated to the U.S.?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that it has been formally communicated, and I haven’t really seen her remarks in full, so it’s hard for me to comment on them. You know where we are on our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan. We continue to view it as a threat to both our countries, and we want to take steps to work cooperatively with Pakistan.

QUESTION: As a follow-up, has any information in the last three or four months prior to Secretary Clinton’s statement been provided that Ayman al-Zawahiri is in fact in Pakistan or not?

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t know if we would discuss that in any case, but I don’t have any comment on that.

Go ahead back, Michel.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the parliamentary elections in Syria today?

MR. TONER: Actually, you know what? I chuckle; it’s not funny. It’s – I think I spoke to this a little bit last week when someone asked. It’s not really possible to hold credible elections in a climate where basic human rights are being denied to the citizens and the government is continuing to carry out daily assaults on the citizens, on its own citizens. So to hold a parliamentary election in that kind of atmosphere is – borders on ludicrous.

QUESTION: Still on Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yeah, let’s stay on Syria and then go back to Pakistan.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You just talked about a Syrian regime that assaults its own citizens. According to reports – you also called on Russia to stop supplying arms to Syria.

MR. TONER: We’ve called on all countries to stop supplying weapons, arms to – munitions to the Syrian regime, yes.

QUESTION: But also, the U.S. Government is doing other business with the Russian arms dealer. According to latest documents, U.S. Government is doing about $1 billion of business with the Russian --

MR. TONER: I’m not sure what you’re referring to. The only thing you might be referring to is we do have a limited contract with Russia to provide helicopter parts, I think, for some helicopters that are – that have been loaned to the Afghan – or sold or given to the Afghan military. That, I think, is the extent.

QUESTION: I believe it’s about $375 million, but --

MR. TONER: Yeah, I don’t have a total in my head.

QUESTION: There are also reports Human Rights First organization sent several letters to Congress, also the U.S. Treasury, on this specific issue. So my --

MR. TONER: Question?

QUESTION: -- question is to you, are you – is the U.S. Administration is thinking to reassess these military relations with Russia?

MR. TONER: Right. I mean, I haven’t seen these letters from human rights organizations that you mentioned. I’m not aware that, frankly, we’ve had any questions raised by Congress. I’d have to look into that. As far as I’m aware, what I think you’re referring to, as I said, is a very limited contract to provide spare parts for used or older Russian military aircraft, namely helicopters, that are now given or used by the Afghan military. That’s the extent of, I think, our cooperation. But it’s apples and oranges to compare – as I said, we don’t want to see any country providing Assad with the wherewithal to continue his assault on his own citizens.

QUESTION: I will provide these letters to you, but it’s not exactly --

MR. TONER: And we’ve raised this, by the way, with the Russian Government.

QUESTION: Yes. It’s not exactly oranges and apples. It is basically that the Russian army dealer which supplies Syria and you, basically, or Administration is doing business with the Russian army --

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not sure that’s true, but let’s – we can talk about this --


MR. TONER: -- in some other context.


QUESTION: Yeah. So Secretary Clinton, talking in India, she – when she mentioned Ayman al-Zawahiri, she also talked about Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e Tayyiba. And she said that U.S. would continue to put pressure on Pakistan to take action against these terrorist elements. What kind of pressure tactics you are talking about at the moment, when everything is already at a standstill? And you think such statements would further rile up Pakistanis?

MR. TONER: Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s fair to say right now that everything is at a standstill with Pakistan. We’ve had a series of high-level meetings over the past month to two months that we believe is laying the groundwork for renewed cooperation. We’ve had this parliamentary review completed. We had Ambassador Grossman over there talking to Pakistani officials. And our counterterrorism cooperation has continued throughout this period.

With respect to what Secretary Clinton said in – earlier today in India, we’ve been very clear why this program, particularly our Rewards for Justice program, was put in place. We want to see this individual brought to justice. As you remember at the time, there was a lot of speculation of why we did this because everyone knows he’s in Pakistan. What we want to do is give the Pakistani authorities the judicial wherewithal to bring this guy to justice. At the time we used the phrase, and continue to use, evidence that can withstand judicial scrutiny. Whether he’s tried in a Pakistani court or in a U.S. court or wherever, we want to see him brought to justice.

QUESTION: Can I ask again --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- about the Weinstein video?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do you take this as proof that he is still alive? Do you know how old – can you tell how old this video might be?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I tried to get greater detail on that. We – in terms of – we said that – or, forgive me. We can’t even right now say for certain that it was – that it’s a credible video of him, and we don’t – certainly don’t know – I think analysis is ongoing about when it was taken and whether it’s a valid video or not of him.

QUESTION: And about that he’s alive: You can’t – you don’t really know or you think he’s still alive or this doesn’t affect that, but you think X, Y, and Z?

MR. TONER: Again, I think that the appropriate agencies are looking at this and trying to make a judgment on it.

QUESTION: Do you have an idea of where he’s being held? Is it the Waziristan area or --

MR. TONER: Yeah. That I do. That’s why I was looking down here. We think he’s probably or most likely being held in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but we don’t have any way to confirm that.


MR. TONER: No, we don’t. I don’t have any other details.

QUESTION: So you think he’s still alive, then, if he’s being held?

MR. TONER: Again, I --

QUESTION: To the extent --

MR. TONER: Looking – taking this video for face value, yes. But we haven’t done the rigorous analysis, I think, that would (a) prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s credible when it’s him, and (b) that it would put a kind of time/date on it.

QUESTION: Yeah. So when you talk about these high-level contacts that are supposed to lay the groundwork, would you disagree with the reports that have emerged in Pakistan and United States after Grossman’s visit that the first round of talks ended in a stalemate on the critical issues?

MR. TONER: Again, I think this is – we talked about this before. We don’t see eye-to-eye with Pakistan on every issue; that’s for sure. But I think we’ve approached the outcome of this parliamentary review with an open mind. I think we’re willing to discuss all the issues that were raised by it, but that dialogue’s really just begun. Is that it?

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one for – on Syria again. Today, some news reports – Jordanian news site Al Bawaba – there are reports that Western spy satellites have recently spotted movements of Syrian having missile launchers to the north to Turkish border and South Israeli border. Do you have any confirmation on that?

MR. TONER: I really don’t, and I’m not sure I could give confirmation. We’ve – as you know from certain sources, shown satellite imagery that shows Syrian armor, heavy weaponry outside of some Syrian cities, but I’m unaware of the report that you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:39 p.m.)

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