Daily Press Briefing - May 30, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- SIERRA LEONE
- Sentencing of Charles Taylor
- Update on Efforts / Annan Plan / Positive Effect of Monitors / Want Constructive Work with China and Russia in Syria
- Military-to-Military Cooperation
- Role in the Region
- Dr. Afridi Case
- Corruption Allegations / Merida Initiative
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- Talks / Support for Jordanian Role
- Jason Puracal Case
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- UNRWA Funding
- Kidnapped U.S. Citizen
- Iranian Oil / Ongoing Consultations
12:51 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: I’m going to have to raise this up. Anyway, welcome to the State Department. Just before we do get started with your questions, I did want to note the sentencing earlier today by the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s Trial Chamber, which sentenced Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for aiding, abetting, and planning war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including sexual slavery and the conscription of child soldiers. The conviction of Charles Taylor is a significant moment for the people of Sierra Leone and, I would note, a milestone for justice and accountability.
And I’ll take your questions from here.
QUESTION: So you think it’s a good thing?
MR. TONER: Yes, we do.
MR. TONER: I think you know that the deputy joint special envoy briefed the Security Council by video link today. I have not obviously been privy to his briefing. I am aware that Susan Rice, Ambassador Susan Rice, will be doing a press availability after that briefing. So – but you also probably know that we’ve joined with Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, and the European Union to lead efforts to convene a special session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday to address the massacre in Houla.
QUESTION: But in terms of additional sanctions or additional action at the UN --
MR. TONER: Right, that’s --
QUESTION: -- and specifically at the UN, outside or not necessarily inside the Friends of Syria framework --
MR. TONER: Right. There was the briefing this morning --
QUESTION: -- there isn’t anything new?
MR. TONER: She’s going to go do some press availability, and then there’s also going to be – there’s going to be consultations ongoing, I think, on the issue of Syria.
QUESTION: Well, I understand. But I mean, has the Secretary made any calls from the plane? Has --
MR. TONER: The Secretary has not made any calls. Obviously she’s just wheels up this morning on her way to Denmark. But you did all see that the Department of Treasury did designate the Syrian-based International Islamic Bank – designated them pursuant to Executive Order 13382 for acting on behalf of U.S. and EU-designated Commercial Bank of Syria and providing services to a U.S.-designated Syrian-Lebanese Bank. So essentially, this International Islamic Bank was acting as a front for two already designated banks.
QUESTION: The Russian President Putin’s spokesman today was pretty unequivocal in saying that Russia has no intention of changing its approach to Syria, its stance on Syria, and that efforts to pressure it were hardly appropriate, or some term like that. Given that sort of line coming out of Moscow, do you think that there’s any room for movement at the UN, or is it just a complete deadlock?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we’ve long said – the Secretary was very clear – that we would pursue action at the UN, at the Security Council, when we determined that the Annan program, the Annan plan, was not going to work. That 90-day window for the plan is still ongoing. But I think given the events of last Friday, we’re going to continue to consult on possible next steps. And obviously I can’t predetermine what those might be.
QUESTION: And is it your hope that you and the Russians and the Chinese will all reach some sort of joint conclusion about the success or failure of the Annan plan after that 90-day period?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’re going to – we’re in – we’re waiting to see what that 90 days yields. Obviously, thus far, we’ve seen very little progress by the Assad regime to comply with any of the six points of the program. So to say we’re skeptical is probably an understatement, which is one of the reasons why we’re beginning those consultations in New York.
QUESTION: But just to clarify --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you haven’t made that determination yet?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Although --
MR. TONER: And as I – as we’ve said repeatedly before, Matt, there are elements of the Annan plan that are positive. The actual presence of monitors in Syria has had somewhat of a positive effect. Now, it wasn’t enough, clearly, to stop the massacre in Houla, but the fact that these monitors were on the ground and able to go visit the site shortly afterwards helped us to determine responsibility and as well as see – as get valuable on-the-ground evidence.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. And I’ll get to you guys. I’m just going to --
QUESTION: -- today are exactly in that vein. And he says basically we’re still at Plan A, Annan’s plan is part of that. Monitors aren’t going to stop the violence, obviously.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: We’re not betting the farm, I think he said, on this plan. So is it that you just say you want to stick with it for 90 days to see what happens, even though for the first at least 30-plus, it’s showing that it’s not working? Why stick with Plan A?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we’ve seen, as I just said, some positive aspects to the plan. It does provide a glide path, if you will, to a political transition, a democratic transition, which is certainly something we want to see. But it has failed in one of its most basic goals, which is the cessation of violence. And that’s because of Assad’s unwillingness to stop his assaults on the Syrian people.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: If I can --
QUESTION: Can I follow up on something?
QUESTION: Could I just ask something to --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Finish up.
QUESTION: -- follow up on that? What is that glide path? Can you explain exactly how --
MR. TONER: Well, the Annan plan talks about the fact that – and again, all of this is predicated on a cessation of violence that we have not seen yet. But once that happens, there is – and again, you can obviously go to the plan itself for the details, but there is an approach or a step-by-step approach that involves dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian regime that, as we said, would lead to that democratic transition that we want to see take place in Syria.
QUESTION: So you’re speaking hypothetically, in a way.
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean, that is the plan, but there’s nothing at this point. Is there a glide path, an actual glide path?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re looking to this – what we’ve gotten so far out of the plan, we’ve got monitors on the ground. They are providing, we believe, eyes. They’re serving as witness to what’s going on, some of the atrocities that are taking place, obviously Houla being the most recent in Syria. So they are playing a valuable role. But as the plan – if the plan were allowed to be fully implemented, then there is – then it does call for a democratic transition, which indeed would be positive. It’s all – what we all want to see, but first we need to see an end to the violence.
Yeah. Go ahead, Cami, and then back to you, Said.
QUESTION: I think you said when we determined it was not going to work that you would always plan to return to the UN. It makes it – it sounds like you never thought the Annan plan was going to work.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry if I led that – gave that impression. What I was trying to say was – and the Secretary was very clear – is when – if we did not see progress on the Annan plan, then we would go back and seek Chapter 7 resolution in the UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: So the plan was not just a way to buy time?
MR. TONER: That said, we’ve always been skeptical. And that skepticism is well rooted in Assad’s refusal to comply with any previous plans that would end the violence in Syria and lead to a democratic transition. So his record on this isn’t very good.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: You said something about dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian regime. So would you welcome talks between the opposition and the Syrian regime, considering that you’ve said time and again that --
MR. TONER: Not the Syrian regime. Look, Assad has blood on his hands, and we’ve said all along that he cannot be a credible voice for political dialogue and political change. We, the United States, have been very clear about that. The Annan plan going forward does provide a roadmap for political dialogue, however.
QUESTION: Okay. So what address should the opposition go through to conduct some sort of a dialogue that could bring this violence to an end?
MR. TONER: Well, we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves. I mean, again, the most fundamental – the initial first step that has failed to transpire in Syria is a cessation of violence. So once we get the cessation of violence, then the next steps are laid out by Annan.
QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up on --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: -- Russia’s role. There’s talk around this town that maybe the Houla massacre is a tipping point and maybe Russia now is sort of more receptive to an idea of getting along some severe UN measures, provided that it is part of a larger and grander scheme, including the missiles in Europe. Would you consider something like this?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not sure – you threw in missiles in Europe there at the end, which --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it’s like as part of a larger strategy that would see to it that Russia’s interests, let’s say, in Syria or on the Mediterranean are sort of taken care of.
MR. TONER: Right. Look, it is clear to us, it’s clear to our partners in Europe, it’s clear to the Arab League and all, with the exception of one, of Syria’s neighbors, that what’s going on in Syria is untenable, it’s inexcusable, it’s despicable. Choose your disparaging adjective. We would like to work constructively with China and Russia going forward to increase pressure on Assad, bring more pressure to bear on him, the kind of political and economic pressure that we think is going to finally turn the tables here. We hope that, if anything, Houla was that kind of wake-up call.
QUESTION: Sorry. I just want to make certain --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go.
QUESTION: -- the neighbor you refer to is Iran, not Lebanon?
MR. TONER: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: Where do you put Lebanon?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Lebanon --
QUESTION: Where do you put Lebanon in that?
MR. TONER: Lebanon is clearly being affected --
QUESTION: Where do you put Israel in that?
MR. TONER: -- by – Lebanon is clearly being affected, as we’ve seen over the past couple weeks by the spillover effect of the turmoil in Syria.
Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: All right. And then I just want to make sure –
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m curious as to – you’re talking about how the observers on the ground have – there have been positive aspects to it and that they’re playing a valuable role. I mean, these people were supposed to go in and monitor a ceasefire, and instead, they’ve become glorified morgue statisticians. They’re counting dead bodies. I don’t – the Administration really sees that as of value or of enough value to keep going for another whatever – for the rest of the 90 days?
MR. TONER: Matt, your point’s taken. I think what I was trying to convey was that some of these monitors, when they’ve gone into cities, have helped quell, even momentarily, some of the violence by their very presence in some of these cities. And I know in the instance of Houla, they were able to very quickly get on the ground there, and rather than depend on YouTube tapes and other kinds of materials, we were – they were able to verify a lot of --
QUESTION: Was it your view that --
MR. TONER: Sorry. Go ahead. A lot of the evidence. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Was it your view that their presence in Houla stopped more killing from happening?
MR. TONER: I can’t say.
QUESTION: But --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- does that not then turn UN observers into being makeshift peacekeepers?
MR. TONER: Again, they have a very clear role that they’re playing --
QUESTION: But --
MR. TONER: -- but their effectiveness has clearly been limited by the Assad regime’s ongoing assaults.
QUESTION: But you continue to say that when the peace – I mean, when the observers are there, they are stopping violence, they – you’re seeing that people are allowed to freely – which --
MR. TONER: Right. It doesn’t necessarily call them peacekeepers, but what it does speak to is the fact that their very presence as witnesses, as monitors, can often prevent the government from carrying out atrocities.
QUESTION: But does that not sort of overstate their mandate? I mean, what is the difference between that and what peacekeepers do?
MR. TONER: Well, I’d refer you to the UN for the clear delineation between the two.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: But you said you’re working to convene the Security Council. So what kind of resolution you are --
MR. TONER: We’re consulting --
QUESTION: -- consulting to convene the Security Council?
MR. TONER: -- with our partners in the Security Council.
QUESTION: So what kind of resolution are you looking for? Is it under the Chapter 7, you insist on it, or just condemnation?
MR. TONER: Well, think we’re looking – again, I don’t want to predetermine or prejudge what might come out of it. The Secretary has mentioned Chapter 7 resolution, but let’s wait and see.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.
QUESTION: So is Chapter 7 Plan B?
MR. TONER: Plan B, as you know, is across a broader spectrum. It’s about UN action, but it’s also about the other mechanisms through the Friends of Syria that we’ve tried to set in place in terms of economic sanctions, financial sanctions, increased political pressure being brought to bear on Assad.
QUESTION: But that sounds --
MR. TONER: -- as well as – sorry, just to finish – as well as our humanitarian aid which is assistance, which is upwards of $40 million now, and nonlethal aids of the Syrian opposition.
QUESTION: So – I’m sorry. That is Plan B? Because it sounds like Plan A.
MR. TONER: Again, it’s a broad spectrum. While we’re pursuing – and we certainly want to see the Annan plan succeed, we’re also continuing with these other options that we’re pursuing, which is support for the opposition, humanitarian assistance, working through the Friends of Syria to increase financial and political pressure on Assad.
Yeah, go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Just to follow-up on Jill’s question on Plan B. Now, more and more, the situation’s being likened to the Balkans in the 90s. Now, if I recall, there were thousands of monitors. Would that be part of the Plan B that you might have, like, to request more and maybe --
MR. TONER: That’s really a question for Kofi Annan and his colleagues at the UN. I mean, we want to see a robust monitor mission in Syria and an effective one.
QUESTION: What is robust, in your opinion?
MR. TONER: Well, we’d like to see as many as possible. Right now, there’s roughly 300.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jill, and then back to – are you guys on Syria, as well?
QUESTION: We do this almost every day, but I mean, that overall question is why the United States at this point is willing to not really lead. The United States is allowing a whole bunch of people – a whole bunch of countries to kind of lumber along and make it up as they go along, something doesn’t work – it sounds like a science experiment. Let’s try a little bit of this, let’s try a little bit of that. And when you look at the horror right now, everyone is saying it’s a tipping point. So how long do you let this experiment go on?
MR. TONER: Well, you’re absolutely right in expressing horror about what happened in Houla on Friday. Kofi Annan referred to it as a tipping point. Certainly, we’d like to see other nations within the Security Council view it in the same light so that we can bring that concerted effort that we feel is necessary to basically take Assad out of this calculation and to lead to a political transition and lead to an end to the violence.
I do reject your idea that we’re not leading on this issue. We built a very strong international coalition grouping of likeminded nations, whether it’s working through the UN; whether it’s working in concert with the Arab League, with the EU; we’ve brought unprecedented financial pressure to bear on Assad, on his cronies; we’re going to continue to tighten those sanctions; we’re going to continue to up the pressure on him. Is it frustratingly slow at times? Sure. But it’s an avenue that we’re going to continue to pursue.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Australia and France have started to talk about military option. We know that the military option is on the American table, but where exactly? On the top? On the bottom?
MR. TONER: It’s not something I would discuss here other than to say we never take any option off the table.
Yeah, in the back now.
QUESTION: So it’s actually on the table. It’s not tucked into a side drawer?
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) No.
QUESTION: Collecting dust.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the Plan B, some think tank experts suggest that Russia is to provide political asylum to Assad. Would you also consider that as an option?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re way ahead of ourselves here. Our focus right now is on implementing the six points of the Assad plan in full and that means, first and foremost, a cessation of violence.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on China?
MR. TONER: Yeah. You want to switch to China?
QUESTION: No. Just on Syria and China’s involvement. You expressed earlier that you hoped to work with China and Russia constructively, but we also know that the Chinese Government has long been hesitant to throw in their full support for the U.S. effort to bring down the Assad regime. Are you satisfied with China’s performance on the Syria issue? Or, in other words, do you think that the Chinese involvement on Syria issue has lived up to the U.S. expectation?
MR. TONER: Well – go ahead.
QUESTION: And then the secondly is, in July as I know that China’s going to take up the chairmanship in the National Security Council in UN. Are you concerned that your effort on Syria will be – will facing some back steps once China become the chairman?
MR. TONER: Well, in answer to your first question, we’ve been very clear all along that we want to see more out of China, more out of Russia to put more pressure on Syria, on the Assad regime. In answer to your second question, let’s take this one step at a time. Right now we’re going to consult within the Security Council on possible next steps.
QUESTION: Any update on the consultations to expel the Syrian ambassador from the UN?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any updates on that for you.
Yeah, go ahead, Matt. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Just one on the tipping point. Does the Administration agree with the former Secretary General that this is a tipping point? And if so, it’s a tipping point for what? More inaction?
MR. TONER: I think you can call it a wakeup call, you can call it a tipping point, but I think that the events that took place in Houla, even in a struggle that’s been marked by really some profound atrocities, that Houla was a new – reached a new level of horror.
QUESTION: I understand. But tipping point for what?
MR. TONER: I – again, tipping point for more international action in concert against Assad and his regime.
QUESTION: And you would argue that the expulsion of the diplomats by the concerted – or by a group of countries is one – no – is the beginning of the more concerted action?
MR. TONER: Look, I think we’re going to continue to apply pressure, bring pressure to bear where we can and where it’s most effective. Toria spoke to the expulsion of these ambassadors or charges yesterday as a political statement to say that we reject your representatives.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But your – the Administration sees that as the beginning of a new concerted push against Assad?
MR. TONER: This Administration has been pushing as hard as it possibly can for more –
QUESTION: Well, I know, but you just –
MR. TONER: -- international action on Assad.
QUESTION: I understand, but now you’re talking about a tipping point.
MR. TONER: But I think what Kofi Annan was talking about was for the broader international community to wake up to what’s going on.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that you guys have already put up the point, and now Kofi Annan is saying that the point is tipping? Is that –
MR. TONER: You’ve confused me now. I’m not sure I understand the premise of the question. I’m just – I’m saying we have been leading efforts to increase pressure on Assad, both politically, economically, working, as I said, with the Arab League, with the EU, with others to continue to apply pressure on him and working to support the opposition at the same time. Can other nations and other countries do more? Can we do more? Certainly.
QUESTION: Mark, could you verify – are you aware of any situation where actually the ambassador of any particular country at the United Nations was thrown out?
MR. TONER: Off the top of my head, I cannot.
QUESTION: And just –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Dana, sure.
QUESTION: -- for clarification. So you’ve said that the Administration, that you guys are highly skeptical that the Annan plan can work, but then yet, you’ve also said that you’re focused on making sure that the plan works. Is that correct?
MR. TONER: Dana, we’re highly skeptical because we’ve seen very little in the way of compliance by Assad.
QUESTION: So then why are you focusing your efforts on making the plan work? Because there’s nothing else?
MR. TONER: No. Because – and again, there’s – as I talked about with Jill, there’s – we’re working on two tracks, if you will. I mean, the Annan plan is going forward, and we’re also continuing to apply political economic pressure, working with other likeminded nations to do that.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Burma. Indian prime minister, Mr. Singh, was in Burma, and after meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, and he called her that she had inspired millions of people around the globe, and now time has come for the international community to recognize her now. For the past –
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Goyal. You said – who are you talking about? I apologize. I missed the –
QUESTION: Prime minister of India was in Burma –
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- after meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and –
MR. TONER: I got it. Okay.
QUESTION: -- he called her that she inspired millions of people around the globe and now time has come for the international community to recognize her. Now, for the first time, she is traveling to Thailand and coming to Europe and including and also to receive her Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded 21 years ago, but military dictatorship never allowed her.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: My question is: Is she has been invited to the U.S.?
MR. TONER: Has she been invited to the U.S.? I don’t have anything to announce here yet, no.
MR. TONER: Israel and China?
QUESTION: Israel and China, yeah. Is that with the U.S. knowledge or is surprise and shock? Because many international observers, including human rights groups are calling that this might be a threat to the human rights and other regional issues as far as military ties with Israel and China.
MR. TONER: Israel is a sovereign nation as is China. They’re free to pursue bilateral relations.
QUESTION: But don’t you think because of military buildup by the Chinese in the South China Sea, which has already threatened the neighborhood, and now U.S. is shifting its presence in Asia, and Secretary Panetta has already left for the region, including is going to India tomorrow.
MR. TONER: Correct. All correct.
QUESTION: Don’t you think this is concern to the U.S. as far as Israel and China military ties?
MR. TONER: Again, as we talk about our own military-to-military cooperation with China, that could be a good thing. It can lead to greater transparency and greater cooperation.
Yeah. Go ahead in the back.
MR. TONER: I don’t have much new to offer. I know that they’re ongoing. We do remain engaged with Pakistan on reopening these ground lines of communication. We want to – we think that opening them would obviously be an important demonstration of Pakistan’s commitment to the international effort to ensure a prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan. So we’re working diligently trying to make progress.
QUESTION: But is there a timeline on these negotiations, or these can go on indefinitely?
MR. TONER: I mean, we certainly hope to reach a resolution very soon.
QUESTION: But –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- just last week – just one more.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Secretary Panetta a couple of days ago said in an interview that U.S. will not be gouged by Pakistan. So does this building share the same sentiment that Pakistan is trying to be unreasonable?
MR. TONER: Will not be –
QUESTION: Gouged by Pakistan.
MR. TONER: Gouged. Okay. I haven’t seen those remarks. I’m certainly not going to get into our diplomatic conversations with Pakistan over the reopening of the ground lines of communication other than to say we’re continuing to make progress. It’s – and we hope to reach a resolution soon.
Yeah. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: On Pakistan itself?
MR. TONER: Oh, are we off of Pakistan? Let’s finish.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) stay on – just on that specific Pakistan issue?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You’re continuing to make progress?
MR. TONER: I said diligent progress. We’re continuing to –
QUESTION: Are you really?
MR. TONER: We’re still –
QUESTION: It seems like things have been deadlocked. What kind of progress can you point to since the summit?
MR. TONER: Again, these are negotiations. I’m not privy to discuss them here.
MR. TONER: No. Because we’re continuing to meet in Islamabad to talk over these issues as we are discussing a broad range of issues with Pakistan. But you’re right. It’s slow going, but we’re making progress.
QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing is, if you say that reopening the GLOCs would be an important – excuse me – an important demonstration of Pakistan’s commitment, does that mean that by not reopening them then, by having it the status quo with them closed, that that’s a demonstration of their lack of commitment?
MR. TONER: Well, we do have other ways to get these kinds of supplies into Afghanistan.
QUESTION: I understand, but –
MR. TONER: And we are discussing – to your broader question, we are discussing with Pakistan – and this came out of as well from Chicago, where the President (inaudible) have a brief discussion with President Zardari – Pakistan’s role in the region and what kind of future we want Pakistan to play. We want Pakistan to be a stable, prosperous democracy that’s helping its neighbors also become stable democracies.
QUESTION: All right, I understand that. But if reopening the lines would be an important demonstration of their commitment, doesn’t that mean that keeping them closed makes you question their commitment, at the very least, or suggest that they are not committed at all?
MR. TONER: I would just say that we --
QUESTION: Why isn’t the converse true, or the inverse, or the whatever we call it?
MR. TONER: Again, these discussions are ongoing, so I’m going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: On Pakistan? This is the fifth week that you are continuing the negotiations, right; am I correct?
MR. TONER: Fifth week?
QUESTION: Fifth week of negotiations.
MR. TONER: I don’t know.
QUESTION: And this goes on every day, right? The negotiations are being held every day, Monday to Friday?
MR. TONER: I believe so. I don’t know if they’re meeting every day, but the team remains in Islamabad discussing it.
QUESTION: Okay. And continuing on this Dr. Afridi case, his brother, in a press conference yesterday, or day before yesterday, said that U.S. is not helping his brother, Dr. Afridi, in this case. Have you – have they approached you for any help, any kind of help from the U.S.?
MR. TONER: Lalit, I’m actually not sure that they’ve actually approached us requesting assistance. I mean, other than raising it very publicly, as we’ve done via Secretary Clinton, and raising it consistently in our meetings with Pakistani Government officials, it’s unclear to me what else we could do for his case. But we certainly take it very seriously. The Secretary was very clear in her remarks, saying that there’s not any basis for holding Dr. Afridi.
QUESTION: Do you have answer to Pakistani --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you had any clarification from the Pakistanis on the grounds for his detention. I mean, there have been reports now that the court papers say it was due to alleged contacts with banned extremist groups rather than anything to do with Usama bin Ladin.
MR. TONER: No, we’re actually seeking clarity on those latest reports. I’m aware of what you’re talking about, so we’ve raised those with the Government of Pakistan. It seems to us to be – to contrast previous reports about his conviction and the basis of it, so we’re trying to get clarity.
QUESTION: Are you seeking this clarity and raising this issue through the Embassy here in Washington or directly from Islamabad?
MR. TONER: I would say both.
QUESTION: On Mexico, published (inaudible) of the article today in The New York Times about the corruption in the Mexican Government. And last week in the Human Rights Report, State Department said that the Mexican military are very, very involved in human rights violations in Mexico. The New York Times says that since these recent arrests of Mexican for three generals and one lieutenant colonel, the relationship and cooperation between the U.S. officials and law enforcement personnel in Mexico has changed, has been damaged. It is really true that this corruption in the Mexican army is having a very negative effect on the U.S. cooperation against narcotics?
MR. TONER: Well, I can’t speak to the allegations in the article. All I can simply say is that we obviously are working through the Merida Initiative to strengthen Mexico’s institutions so that they can address these corruption allegations and concerns and build stronger both law enforcement agencies, military institutions, that are free of corruption.
QUESTION: At some point, the U.S. Government is not worried that now every day are more allegations that Mexican military personnel have links with the big drug cartels, especially the ones who are the principal couriers of cocaine to the United States?
MR. TONER: I mean, I think --
QUESTION: I mean, would you say the Merida Initiative is working to build a better relationship and better --
MR. TONER: Well, no, I didn’t say about the relationship --
QUESTION: But the real effects are different --
MR. TONER: -- which is the – in the broader context. But I’m talking about institutions building and the terms of building corruption-free institutions, democratic institutions, and strengthening rule of law. And obviously these allegations, human rights allegations, whenever they’re made, are concerning to us. They’re also concerning, I’m sure, for the Mexican Government.
QUESTION: But I am talking about military corruption --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- not human rights – both, both human rights violations. The corruption in the Mexican army, it’s an issue that really worries the U.S. Government, or not?
MR. TONER: Again, any corruption allegations, human rights allegations, concern us. But that’s why we’re working so diligently with the Mexican Government.
Yeah. We’ll go here.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Was the Secretary’s call to Foreign Minister of Jordan, Judeh, yesterday related to Abbas’s visit to the Jordanian capital at the same time?
MR. TONER: You’re – that’s a level of detail I’m just not going to confirm from here. But she did obviously express strong support for the Jordanian role in getting peace talks going again and hopes that role of positive influence can continue.
QUESTION: So is it your feeling that we are likely to see these talks going on again soon?
MR. TONER: We did have the exchange of letters earlier this month. We’ve said we were encouraged by that, and we want to see the two parties get back to the negotiating table. And obviously, if that exchange of letters can help do that, all the better.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on this guy, this American who’s in prison in Nicaragua on drug charges. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is highlighting his case today, and his family is saying that there’s no grounds for his continued or even his initial jailing. And I’m just wondering if the U.S. Government --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- has any position on this and if you’ve had any contacts with the Nicaraguans recently on this subject.
MR. TONER: Well, we obviously are continuing to work assiduously on Mr. Puracal’s behalf through diplomatic as well as through consular channels. We are aware of this May 4th opinion from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding Mr. Puracal, who, as you know, has been imprisoned in Nicaragua. I think he’s serving a 22-year sentence right now.
We would just say – and I don’t believe the findings of this working group have been made public yet, but as we’ve said before, we would encourage the Government of Nicaragua to consider any opinion or recommendations from any – from the UN Working Group. I also believe there was a congressional letter sent to President Daniel Ortega also asking that his case be reviewed and that his conditions be improved as well – or his case be reviewed, rather, and his conditions be improved.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. Government made any similar request formally for a review of this case?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Has the U.S. Government – I mean, there is that congressional letter, but how about you guys?
MR. TONER: Again, I’d just say that we’re continuing to work on his behalf through consular and diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: And just on straight – do you take any position on the sort of merits of this argument that he’s been unjustly detained? I mean, do you believe that his detention has been justified under Nicaraguan law or not?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s – you know how – the UN Working Group that has apparently asked – made some recommendations and called for a review. You’ve got the congressional letter too calling for review. So we would just point to those.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: You said you’re working on this case through diplomatic as well as consular – what was the next word?
MR. TONER: Consular channels.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What – I though consular channels were diplomatic channels.
MR. TONER: They are.
QUESTION: What’s the --
MR. TONER: I mean diplomatic --
QUESTION: So you’re just --
MR. TONER: We’ve raised this case with the --
QUESTION: -- you’re trying to make it sound like you’re doing more than what you actually are doing by --
MR. TONER: We’ve raised this case with the Nicaraguan Government.
QUESTION: But is there a difference between – I mean, I don’t know. Is consular – does that just mean consular visits? And then diplomatic, you mean – by that, you mean you’ve discussed it with the government --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- without him being there?
MR. TONER: I believe that’s correct. Yes.
QUESTION: All right. I’ve got --
MR. TONER: Well, go ahead. And then we’ll go to --
QUESTION: -- two, yeah just on – back in the Middle East. One is, are you familiar with the case of this – a woman from St. Louis who’s a Palestinian American, who was deported from Israel, I believe several days ago, maybe even last week, who called the Embassy in Tel Aviv for assistance and was asked if she was Jewish? When she said that she was not, when she was Palestinian, they said that they couldn’t help her.
MR. TONER: Matt, I have no idea.
QUESTION: Okay. I sent --
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Okay. I sent something about this, not to you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. I apologize. I didn’t see it.
QUESTION: No, no. It’s okay. And then the other one thing is that Toria was asked last week about this language in the foreign ops bill – or what was proposed language – about counting Palestinian refugees. And she didn’t really have an answer, but then I understand there was an answer out there. I guess I was gone on – or the day that that came out. But I’m curious, is there a position – do you have a position on the final language that was put into the foreign ops bill by Senator Leahy, which watered down what Senator Kirk wanted? Are you okay with this idea that – of counting Palestinian refugees?
MR. TONER: Well, you know there was a letter that Deputy Secretary Nides did write to – about – to the chairman about this proposed amendment. And what he – what this letter raised was simply that the status of Palestinian refugees is clearly a final status issue between Israel and --
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But I want to know if you take a position on the language that ultimately ended up in the bill.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we – the final language I haven’t seen, frankly. But our position on this is that we want to see UNRWA funding continue. It’s to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees, as well as those displaced by the 1967 conflict in Jordan and Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza and the West Bank.
QUESTION: Well, can you take the question --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- as to what the Administration’s position is on --
MR. TONER: I’ll look at the final wording and see if we’re --
QUESTION: -- what the Leahy language is, because it was at least a little bit different than what Senator Kirk --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- had first proposed. And I’m not sure that I’ve seen any answer on whether you’re okay with that – with the revised language.
MR. TONER: But fundamentally, where we come down on this is that we don’t want to be viewed as prejudging or --
MR. TONER: -- predetermining the outcome of --
QUESTION: No, I understand that. But it’s the just the case if --
MR. TONER: Refugee status.
QUESTION: -- you’re okay – but if you’re okay with that language, then I would wonder if you were also okay with language that would say: Okay, you have to map out the area that – where there are illegitimate – what you consider to be illegitimate settlements – how much land that actually is. So I mean, I want to know if you’re okay with this, which involves counting the refugees – which is, as you say, a final status issue – are you okay with also inserting yourself into other final status issues?
MR. TONER: Well, again, just to be clear, and I’ll – we will look at the final language as it appeared – UNRWA does have a specific number of refugees that it does count for this. That said – and we continue to support funding for UNRWA, but that said, we still consider the final status of refugees to be something that needs to be worked out between the parties.
QUESTION: Two quick --
QUESTION: A follow-up on that.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I had two quick –
QUESTION: Just on that --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Would the United States – considering that the refugee issue is part of the final status of talks that the United States has shepherded for a very long time, would the U.S. be – or does it do independent, sort of, survey of how many Palestinian refugees there are in the --
MR. TONER: Not – certainly not that I’m aware of. As I said, UNRWA does have a number – a global number that they work with, the number of Palestinian refugees. But again, we’re not saying that that’s the number in and of itself that we want to see going forward. That final status would be something for the two parties to negotiate.
QUESTION: So absent American conduct of independent, let’s say, census of Palestinian refugees, the U.S. Government would take the figures that UNRWA does submit, correct?
MR. TONER: Not at all. I said that that’s – that ultimate number is something to be determined through the parties.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: I don’t have any updates. I don’t know. Did this come up yesterday at the briefing?
MR. TONER: It did not. Yeah.
QUESTION: Apparently the Embassy of Nigeria put something out.
MR. TONER: Right. There was – we can confirm that a U.S. citizen has been kidnapped, but due to privacy considerations, I don’t – I can’t provide any more detail.
QUESTION: And my second question relates to the Mexican high school student from Indiana, Elizabeth Olivas, who is currently stuck in Mexico waiting to see if she can get a waiver to give her graduation salutation at her high school graduation.
MR. TONER: Again, I’ve seen some of these press reports about this individual. I can’t, from the podium, talk about individual visa cases. In terms of – I know one of the things under discussion is a waiver of ineligibility or what’s called humanitarian parole. That’s a decision for the Department of Homeland Security. But in cases --
QUESTION: So the Department of Citizen and Immigration Services isn’t under you? That’s under DHS?
MR. TONER: Correct. Now, in cases where a waiver of ineligibility is granted by DHS, we certainly stand ready to adjudicate any application in the most expeditious way possible. But that’s really a decision right now for the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: So DHS --
MR. TONER: On the issue of humanitarian parole, were that to be – this is – again, I’m speaking not about this individual case.
MR. TONER: I’m speaking generally now.
QUESTION: Cases like this.
MR. TONER: In the case of a humanitarian parole, that is a – that’s a decision for DHS. Once that were to take place, we would be able to then process that application as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Sorry. I’d like that you --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you finish the rest of your first sentence there? You said I can’t talk about specific – about individuals --
MR. TONER: -- details of individual visa cases.
QUESTION: Unless they’re a blind Chinese lawyer, right? (Laughter.) That was the clause that should have come after that, correct? Yeah? (Laughter.) And then in – and then, I’m sorry, in case in Benin, so how actively have you guys been asking this kidnapped person to sign a Privacy Act waiver? Do you know where he is?
MR. TONER: Matt, I know your feelings about this issue.
QUESTION: Has his family said that they don’t want you to talk about it?
MR. TONER: We are in contact with his family. I really don’t want to go beyond that. It’s a very sensitive case. I don’t want to speak to it more --
QUESTION: Can you say where and when he was kidnapped?
MR. TONER: I cannot.
QUESTION: Can – has --
QUESTION: It’s in Benin somewhere?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Has the family been asked if they would like --
MR. TONER: I’ll double-check on that. I believe they have been asked.
QUESTION: I was under the impression that a family couldn’t provide – couldn’t sign a waiver.
MR. TONER: Again, it varies from case to case, individual to individual. I’ll get you a consular official who can walk you through some of the complexities of this.
QUESTION: No, I’ve been through it many times. I just think it’s – I just think that it’s ridiculous for you to claim – to hide behind --
MR. TONER: But we can take this conversation offline.
QUESTION: -- Privacy Act, when in fact --
MR. TONER: We can take this offline. It’s not hiding behind the Privacy Act.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Reports out of Seoul are saying that Washington has accepted the request for waiver from the sanctions regarding the satisfying your whatever standard or whatever for reduction of buying Iranian oil.
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, as you know, those consultations are ongoing, not just with Korea but with a number of countries. And once we have something to announce, we’ll do so.
QUESTION: Well, the report says you’re going to announce this week, so anything on that?
MR. TONER: Nothing to announce.
MR. TONER: All right, guys? Or do you have another question?
QUESTION: One more. In Israel today, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro was speaking at Tel Aviv University, and he said that the window is closing on dialogue with Iran. Is this a post-Baghdad meeting assessment?
MR. TONER: No. We’ve said that all along, that there’s a narrow window that remains open for dialogue, for diplomatic solution, but that window’s not going to remain open – to belabor the metaphor – forever.
QUESTION: So how – where is the door right now, since Baghdad talks? (Laughter.) Any closer?
MR. TONER: Look, I think that we’re looking towards Moscow. We’re going to – we want to see additional progress.
QUESTION: Did you see any progress in the past two talks?
MR. TONER: Again, these are negotiations. This takes a long time. What we did have was a substantive discussion of the nuclear issue, which in and of itself is progress, but we’re going to look forward to greater progress in Moscow.
QUESTION: Apparently, during the Baghdad talks you were looking – or the group at least, the P-5+1, was thinking about accepting a lower level of enrichment and asking Iranians to stop at 20 percent. But Ambassador Shapiro said that both Israel and Washington want to – want Iran to stop enrichment completely, which is --
MR. TONER: Again, I think that there’s been discussions via Cathy Ashton, the high representative for the EU, on what was discussed at Baghdad, and I’m not certainly going to embellish it here.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)
DPB # 98