Daily Press Briefing - June 6, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Attack on Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi
- Settlement Activity
- Ambassador Hale's Travel
- Communications with Sandra Tamari/ Stand Ready to Support Any American Citizen
- Counterterrorism Partner with the United States
- Regional Group / Diplomacy in Play
- New Prime Minister / So-Called Reform by Assad
- Need to See Some Kind of Dialogue
- Escalation by the Syrian Government
- KOREAN PENINSULA
- Readout of Ambassador Davies' Meetings with Russian Officials
- Al-Qaida Remains a Threat / Shared Struggle
- Area of Disagreement between the United States and Russia
- Embassy Beijing / Twitter
- Dr. Afridi Case
- Syrian Opposition / Support
- Energy Needs
- Plane Crash / Death Toll
- Ambassador-Designate McGurk Testimony
1:12 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR. TONER: Welcome to the State Department.
QUESTION: You have nothing?
MR. TONER: I am an empty vessel. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Oh. More than usual? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: That was a set-up, clearly. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It was a softball. I’ll take it anytime.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’ve got a lot of stuff on Israel, but I want to start with – just assuming you don’t have a whole hell of a lot to say about the bombing in Libya, maybe you could get through that first. Is there – was there any damage done? And do you expect – or do you think that this was in any way retaliation for al-Libi’s death?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Did – have you asked for security to be tightened? And if you have done that, when did you do it? Did you do it before this bombing, after the confirmation of al-Libi’s death?
MR. TONER: Okay. Let me start, and if you have any follow-up questions, I’ll try to endeavor to answer them.
As Matt mentioned, we deplore the attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack. And we’ve also requested the Libyan Ministry of Interior to increase its security around U.S. facilities. In answer to your specific question, Matt, I’m not sure of the timing. I believe it was following the attack. If that’s different, I’ll let you guys know.
QUESTION: Following the bombing --
MR. TONER: Yeah, the bombing.
QUESTION: -- in Benghazi?
MR. TONER: Yes, correct. And I do want to note that local – it was the local guard force that really did an exemplary job in seeing this as it happened and notifying the rest of the mission, so they were able to reach safety. But the bomb attack was actually on an outside or a perimeter wall of the facility.
MR. TONER: And in answer to your – one of your other questions, we’ve seen reports from one group claiming responsibilities for this attack. But there’s an investigation right now by the Government of Libya, so we’ll let that play out.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to suspect that it was retaliation?
MR. TONER: We do not.
QUESTION: Do you have a reason to suspect that it was other than al-Qaida?
MR. TONER: At this point, we just don’t know, Said.
QUESTION: But do you have any concern that this may be – may bode very ill for the future security of Libya? I mean, there seems to be a breakdown in security on all levels.
MR. TONER: On the contrary. As I said, our local guard force acted in exemplary fashion. We believe they were very vigilant in seeing this attack as it was taking place and sounding a warning for our mission staff to seek cover. And as I said, we’ve requested additional security. As to whether this bodes ill or well for – on a larger scale, clearly Libya is in transition. It’s grappling with many different issues, important issues right now. Security is a concern, but one we’re addressing, working productively with the Libyan Government.
QUESTION: Just a quick --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up on this. Early on during the Libyan revolution, there was a tremendous influx of arms basically sent by countries like Qatar and others and so on, and that probably is what we are seeing today. Could the same thing be replicated in Syria?
MR. TONER: First of all, I don’t know if you’re speaking specifically about this attack, and I certainly don’t want to get into too much detail about it, but I certainly also don’t want to link it to any influx of arms as a result of the war that took place that ousted Qadhafi.
And also, you want to compare the situation to Syria? Look, we’re – we’ve been very concerned about the situation in Syria, the volatility of it, the fact that armed groups are emerging in defense of Syrian civilians who are being attacked by government forces. It’s very clear that it’s a very tenuous security situation in Syria.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Back on Libya?
MR. TONER: Samir and then --
MR. TONER: I believe he was supposed to. I don’t have a readout for you yet, though. I’ll try to get that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?
QUESTION: No, one more on Libya.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What did the guard see when the explosion happened?
MR. TONER: Well, they were able to identify that the mission was under – was being attacked. But as I said, it was an outside --
QUESTION: It wasn’t self-evident?
MR. TONER: -- wall.
QUESTION: I mean, it goes off, a big boom, right?
MR. TONER: No. I’m talking about prior, as the attack was taking place.
QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?
MR. TONER: Sure.
MR. TONER: Well, I’m certainly aware of reports that the Israeli – of the Israeli Government’s – I’m sorry. We’re aware of reports both that the Knesset voted against a bill to legalize settler construction but also aware that – of the Israeli Government’s announcement to authorize the construction, as you said, of an additional 300 units in the West Bank.
We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations, including the 2003 Roadmap. Our position on settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. And we want to see these parties – both parties, rather – refrain from these kinds of actions and to get back into negotiations.
QUESTION: So what is the consequence for Israel of your anger?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is an issue that we continually raise with the Israeli Government. It’s one that – it’s – it is --
QUESTION: How effective would you say that has been over the past --
MR. TONER: Matt, I’m not able to --
QUESTION: -- course of the past couple years?
MR. TONER: I’m not able to give it a grade, as Toria says.
QUESTION: You’re not? I can.
MR. TONER: But --
QUESTION: Can I volunteer to give it a grade? (Laughter.) If you continually tell someone not to do something --
MR. TONER: That’s okay. But Matt, the larger issue is --
QUESTION: -- and they continue to do it over your objections, I think that gives you an F.
MR. TONER: The larger issue here is that it impedes progress on any kind of comprehensive settlement. And that’s ultimately what everyone here, most importantly both sides, both parties, want to see happen, or at least that’s what they claim to want to see happen. So that’s where we want the focus to be --
QUESTION: Have you --
MR. TONER: -- not on additional settlements.
QUESTION: Have you – okay. Well, I mean, but the Israelis are --
MR. TONER: It only sets that – it only sets them further back on that – on progress.
QUESTION: Alright. Has this been explained to them, expressed to them, yet again?
MR. TONER: I believe we have expressed our views, yes.
QUESTION: Do you know where and by who?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll find out.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, Said.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. You mentioned that this is inconsistent with your policy and it is also inconsistent with the Roadmap of 2003. Out of curiosity, are you keeping a tally of the number of parcels of land that have been taken by Israeli settlers since 2003?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have an answer for you on that. But this is a – we’ve seen these kinds of actions in the past. They are not constructive, and they simply are another roadblock, if you will, in getting both sides back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Would that give you pause, so to speak, perhaps that you ought to alter the Roadmap that was suggested back in 2003 because it is no longer – it no longer fits that bill?
MR. TONER: What we need to see as soon as possible is, as I said, both sides getting back into direct negotiations. We had this exchange of letters. As we said, we thought – found it encouraging. But ultimately, until they sit down at the table, we’re not going to get a resolution.
QUESTION: And lastly, Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: And I asked you this yesterday. I want to follow up today.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Now, the Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said that they may take unilateral action and actually declare whatever state or two Palestinian states with temporary borders. I don’t know what that means, provisional borders right along the separation wall. Have – has he discussed these with you? Did you make your opposition to this plan known?
MR. TONER: Right. Not that I’m aware of. I know the Secretary spoke to this the other day. There’s no substitute for direct talks. There’s no substitute for the hard work that that will require from both sides, the concessions that that will require from both sides. We want to see that happen as soon as possible. And frankly, we think that the new coalition and government – government in Israel offers the best opportunity to move this process along.
QUESTION: So you flat-out reject the notion of a provisional state as proposed by the Israeli minister of defense?
MR. TONER: Again, I think I’ve been very clear that none of this will advance ultimately what we want to see here, which is direct negotiations, both sides sitting at the table working out these issues.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton protested Lithuania’s totalitarian --
QUESTION: Wait, wait. Can we stay on Israel?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Let’s stay on this, please. Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Hale still planning to travel to the region?
MR. TONER: He is. I don’t have specific dates, but I believe he is traveling there soon. I’ll try to get more details for you on that.
QUESTION: More on Israel. Yesterday you said you were aware that the Privacy Act waiver had been signed by Ms. Tamari. I’m wondering if you can tell us exactly what the State Department or the Embassy’s version of the conversation was, whether in fact that she was told that they couldn’t help her because she wasn’t Jewish.
MR. TONER: And actually I’m not sure if we’ve released – we should have; I apologize if we haven’t already released the Taken Question on this. But we can confirm that an official from U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv spoke via telephone with this individual to check on her safety and welfare while she was detained at Ben Gurion Airport. We remain in contact with local authorities until a decision was made regarding her entry into Israel. And of course, decisions about entry are the purview of the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Did this person ask her if she was Jewish?
MR. TONER: Well, I don't have an answer for you on that. What is very clear is that we would never deny assistance to any American citizen, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.
QUESTION: According to her account, the conversation, which is pretty much a verbatim transcript, he did ask, “Are you Jewish?” She said, “No.” Then she – then he asked, “Have you been here before?” She said, “Yes. Several times. I’m Palestinian. I have family in the West Bank,” to which he replied – and I won’t use his name, but I have it – “Oh, you have family in the West Bank. Then there’s nothing I can do to help you. If in fact I interceded on your behalf it would hurt your case with the Israelis.”
Is that correct? Is it that U.S. intervention on behalf of one of its citizens would actually hurt the case with Israel, a democratic ally?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have a transcript of the conversation. I don’t know where you were able to obtain one from.
QUESTION: From her.
MR. TONER: Again, this is a little bit of a --
QUESTION: I’m not trying to --
MR. TONER: -- he said, she said. All I can say is that we --
QUESTION: Well, it may be. I want to know, regardless of that, is it correct that if you are a – that the position of the Embassy or the consular officers at the Embassy is that if you are a Palestinian with family in the West Bank and not Jewish that there’s nothing that they can do to help you. The actual verbatim words of the conversation I’m not --
MR. TONER: Verbatim words of what? A transcript that she presented or she produced?
QUESTION: Well, but --
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: -- is it correct that there is nothing that you can or nothing that the Embassy can do to help someone --
MR. TONER: That’s not correct.
QUESTION: That is not correct. Okay.
MR. TONER: We certainly stand to – we stand ready to support any American citizen, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. And then she says that she told them that they were trying to get into her email account – which goes to a different part of this story – on her laptop. He said that if they have your Gmail address, then they can get into your – they can get into the account anyway. She says, “How can they do that?” He says, “Well, they’re very good at this kind of thing.” And he says that they – that the Embassy is aware that the Israelis go in and check people’s email account – emails on their laptops. She says that she can’t understand why you don’t have a problem. He implies it’s in our Travel Warning.
Okay. Now, it’s not in the Travel Warning. The Travel Warning says that people who are carrying laptops or other audio-visual equipment could – have had these items confiscated. But there’s nothing in the Travel Warning – because I just read it now – that says that people might go into your computer and then demand access to your private email account. So I’m wondering, was I looking at an outdated Travel Warning, or is this just wrong?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. I think that’s accurate. But again, I’m not going to speak to a transcript of a conversation that’s unofficial at best.
QUESTION: Okay, well, it’s not so much the actual words that were said. I just want to know whether or not – and you answered the question – it is policy not to help someone --
MR. TONER: That is not our policy.
QUESTION: And also, if you are aware that they’re going into people’s emails, do you plan – would that be something that one – that you would --
MR. TONER: Again, I’d have to speak with our Consular Affairs, but I’m not aware that that’s reflected in our current Travel Warning. It’s not, I don’t think.
QUESTION: No, it isn’t, but I’m wondering if it would be now because this has become an issue quite separate from --
MR. TONER: It’s a hypothetical. I would assume we’d look at it.
QUESTION: And then my last one on Israel, which is completely different, is the meeting that the Secretary’s in Istanbul tomorrow, this counter – do you know why the Israelis weren’t invited to this conference on counterterrorism? The U.S. is the co-chair of it. Israel has in the past expressed an interest. I mean, I realize it’s only a year old, but they wanted to be in it. It seems to be germane to the issues that they face in the world, and they also happen to be a counterterrorism partner of the U.S. Do you have any explanation as to why they – their attempt to get in and participate was rejected?
MR. TONER: I’m not – it’s not clear to me that it was rejected, but certainly, as you mentioned in your question, they are a counterterrorism partner with the United States and with many of the countries in this group. So that’s certainly something we would look upon favorably, but I’m not aware that any formal request has been made.
QUESTION: Well, do you know, since you are a – since the U.S. is a co-chair, if you sought to get them involved?
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: Yeah, let’s go ahead with – and then with you.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton protested Lithuania’s totalitarian prosecution of the brilliant statesman and journalist Algirdas Paleckis? Tomorrow, Paleckis was invited to speak at the National Press Club at 12 noon, and Lithuania is pressuring our National Press Club to deny him the right to speak here. Now, Ron Baygents has been very, very honorable and courageous and said, in the United States we give people the right to speak, and if you want to prevent this in your country, we won’t.
So Mr. Paleckis will be speaking here tomorrow. And in five days, when he returns to Lithuania, the judge of the court, Regina Pociene, who is acting like a Stalinist tyrant, will try to throw him into jail for two years. And what he spoke on a radio broadcast, two sentences quoting – what is Secretary Clinton doing?
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Our Embassy in Lithuania is wonderful. They’re trying to help.
MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The National Press Club is wonderful. What is Secretary Clinton doing? Because evidently, it’s going to take a higher-level involvement to do something.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m not, unfortunately, aware of the details of this case. Let me try to get better informed and I’ll try to get you an answer as to what our involvement is in this matter.
QUESTION: You’re welcome to the briefing tomorrow at the National --
MR. TONER: Thank you very much. Thanks.
MR. TONER: Syria.
QUESTION: Hi. Moscow is proposing a regional solution that would include Iran and Turkey, apparently helping to implement Kofi Annan’s plan. What does the U.S. think about Iran taking part in that?
MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary, when she was in Baku this morning, did talk about, in response to a question about the situation in Syria, next steps; talked about the fact that she was going to be meeting, obviously, with some of our partners in Istanbul. In fact, I believe those meetings are taking place right now. We also have, as you guys well know, the Friends of the Syrian People sanctions group meeting in Washington today, and Treasury Secretary Geithner spoke to that group earlier.
In terms of – and of course, as you all know, Kofi Annan’s going to speak to the Security Council tomorrow, and also meet with Secretary Clinton on Friday. I don’t want to get too far out in front. Certainly, from what – of – and what – I’m sorry – do get out too far in front of what Kofi Annan may or may not talk about when he meets with the Security Council tomorrow.
The Secretary did address this point about a regional group. We certainly do want to see a transition in Syria, the sooner the better, precipitated by a ceasefire, a credible ceasefire, a real and lasting ceasefire, a durable one. But as the Secretary said, she wouldn’t prejudge whether we’ll even hold a conference and who would be invited to that conference, although she did also add that it would be hard to imagine inviting a country that has admitted to helping the Syrian regime in its almost daily assault against its own people.
QUESTION: So it sounds like they’re not welcome.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go – I’m sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it sounds like they’re not welcome.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I – (laughter). Well said, Andy. Again, I can’t improve upon the Secretary’s language. I paraphrased a little bit. She, in fact, said it’s hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime’s assault on its own people.
QUESTION: Just to follow on this, I mean --
QUESTION: I’m sorry. That was --
MR. TONER: That was a reference to Iran. Yes.
QUESTION: To Iran, okay.
MR. TONER: Just to be clear.
QUESTION: Not to Russia and China?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: But given that you, I mean, from this podium have identified Iran and Russia as principal roadblocks to finding a solution in Syria, why would you conceivably be opposed to involving them in a broader effort to find a real solution? I mean, you’re not – clearly not going to solve it without them, so why not bring them into the dialogue?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t know if we can say we’re clearly not going to solve the situation without them. That’s a pretty broad statement. Again, our focus right now is with Russia, certainly, as well as China, and in getting them on board to use their influence to convince the Assad regime that it’s time to begin this dialogue and to end the violence.
QUESTION: Is Hof there? Is Fred Hof there now?
MR. TONER: In --
MR. TONER: No. Not that I’m aware of. No.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: How is their proposed regional or contact group be different than what, let’s say, Lavrov has suggested today in a press conference from Beijing. He said that we can have a conference – an international conference, he called it. How would that be different between his suggestion and the proposed --
MR. TONER: Again, Said, there’s a lot of diplomacy in play over the next two to three days. Istanbul right now, UN Security Council tomorrow, and then Kofi’s – Kofi Annan’s meeting with Secretary on Friday. There are some of these initiatives or ideas being presented. Let’s let this evolve over the next couple of days and see where we’re at after they meet on Friday.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.
QUESTION: We did hear Secretary Geithner’s comments and he mentioned Chapter 7, which the Secretary mentioned back in April and other times. Is there any difference in the way he is pushing that? In other words, is it – what he is saying is essentially what she’s saying? Is the accent still on --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- economic, diplomatic? Or are you putting an accent on military as well?
MR. TONER: Again, the Secretary, as you’ve mentioned, has several times mentioned or said that we will pursue Chapter 7 resolution in the UN Security Council if we feel that all other options have failed. This is something we’re actively discussing. Secretary Geithner today was speaking to that very same point. Our stress, obviously given today’s meeting, is clearly on financial pressure, economic pressure, yeah, and political pressure.
QUESTION: Has the United States received any complaint from its ally – Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar for the prospect of including Iran in this group?
MR. TONER: I didn’t hear the first part of your question.
QUESTION: I said: Have you received any complaints from your Arab allies like Saudi Arabia or Qatar?
MR. TONER: No. I don’t believe we’ve had any conversations other than, obviously, the Secretary’s meeting right now in Istanbul, and I can’t give a readout from here.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Are we done with Syria?
QUESTION: No, sorry.
MR. TONER: It’s okay.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about --
MR. TONER: That’s the protocol here. It’s okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The – any reaction from the U.S. Administration to the announcement today of a new prime minister in Syria, Mr. Riyad Farid Hijab, to head a new reform government, as Assad called it?
MR. TONER: Yeah. It’s a – this is another so-called reform by Assad, and it’s – we view it as another empty gesture by him to preserve his rule. And it’s hard to take any of this seriously when Syrian citizens are being shelled daily, when you’ve got atrocities like Houla being committed by the shabiha, it’s really hard to find credible any talk of – or any political reforms that he may be referring to.
QUESTION: But if there is some kind of move towards shelving the Annan plan and going towards a Yemen model, would this new gentleman be possibly somebody who could lead that?
MR. TONER: It’s really – again, what we’ve been very about is that we want to see a political dialogue begin as soon as possible. We don’t believe, as we’ve said very clearly, that Assad can be still in power at the end of any kind of process like that. As to whether this individual can lead that dialogue, let’s get to that point before we decide.
QUESTION: Just a quick --
QUESTION: Mark, the opposition have been saying most recently that they wouldn’t be able to talk with the government of Assad or with Assad himself. I mean, is it realistic to think that you can promote this kind of dialogue or negotiation if the oppositions say we don’t want any part of it because we refuse to talk to him?
MR. TONER: Well, ultimately, Jill, it is a decision. This must be a Syria-led process and that the opposition as one must be speaking about or must be expressing what it wants moving forward. But it’s clear that there needs to be a dialogue following a cessation of the violence. Ultimately, the parameters of that are going to be one decided by the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Conversely, could you envisage a situation where a dialogue can be conducted between the opposition without the regime? Who are they going to talk to?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry – you’re saying that the --
QUESTION: Can you imagine a situation where the opposition could actually have some (inaudible) to talk to that does not include the regime or the regime element or the Syrian Government?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that we need to see some kind of dialogue take place but with a clear goal of a political transition. So this isn’t about, as I just said, more empty talk of reform, empty gestures about reform. This needs to lead to a political transition in Syria. The exact makeup, who talks to who – obviously that’s something that needs to be clarified by the Syrian people themselves.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Have you confirmed the information that said that the Syrian army has used the helicopters against civilians in Latakia today?
MR. TONER: No. We’ve seen those reports, obviously are very concerned by them. But we haven’t been able to confirm them.
QUESTION: And how do you view this step or this action?
MR. TONER: We view it as, as I said, as troubling, another escalation by the Syrian Government using yet another form of heavy weaponry against its own people.
Yeah. Sure. Are we done with Syria?
QUESTION: Not Syria news.
MR. TONER: That’s okay. I think we’re done, so then I’ll go to you and then I’ll go to Lalit.
MR. TONER: Purpose of Ambassador King’s visit to South Korea?
MR. TONER: Hold on one second. I think I have something on – I do have a readout of Glyn Davies, who was actually in Moscow. I’m not sure I have any details on – let me just check one other place, okay? Forgive me. No, I don’t have any details of that. I’ll try to get a readout. You said he’s in South Korea? Or he’s traveling to South Korea?
QUESTION: Yes. South Korea and Japan – he’s traveling to --
MR. TONER: I’ll try to get more details on that. I apologize.
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: Can you give us the Davies readout, though?
MR. TONER: What’s that?
QUESTION: Can you give us the --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure thing. He was – obviously met with the – in – on June 5th and 6th, Glyn Davies did meet with senior Russian government officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as well as Ambassador Grigory Logvinov, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director of the First Asia Department.
His discussions – meaning Ambassador Davies – discussions were positive and wide ranging, and reflected our common goals of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula as well as its denuclearization. Ambassador Davies also met with academics and other experts on Russian-DPRK relations.
And after Moscow, he’ll travel to Brussels where – with nonproliferation and Asia experts in the European Union European External Action Service as well as European Union Asia-Oceania Working Party officials.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to these reports from the North Korean media about how that they – how they had targeted with nuclear weapons specific latitude and longitude points that apparently relate to South Korean media outlets?
MR. TONER: Matt, I’m frankly --
QUESTION: Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I’ve seen those.
QUESTION: Maybe I dreamt it. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: I mean, off the cuff reaction, if you want, is that --
QUESTION: It’s not good, right?
MR. TONER: -- this kind of heated rhetoric doesn’t help us at all. Yeah.
MR. TONER: Sure. Oh, I did promise Lalit. And then I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Following the death of a second al-Qaida leader – second top al-Qaida leader yesterday, can you give us a sense what is the strength of al-Qaida now? How strong it is and how high is it a threat to the U.S. security interests? And how many al-Qaida leaders are still on your hit list?
MR. TONER: How many --
QUESTION: Al-Qaida leaders are still on your hit list?
MR. TONER: Frankly, Lalit, I know Jay Carney from the White House spoke a little bit to this yesterday – this issue. The President and others have said that even though we’ve – we continue with our goal of disrupting, dismantling, destroying al-Qaida, it does remain a threat, and working – going to continue to go after its leadership. But if you’re asking me for a daily assessment, I just don’t have it.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up. Who is number one now, and where he is? And second, Mark, all these drone attacks inside Pakistan, is this with the knowledge or cooperation of the Pakistani Government?
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to speak to your second question at all. We don’t talk about the details of classified operations. And to your first question, Zawahiri’s got to be up there, but I don’t have a detailed list in front of me now.
QUESTION: But you still believe what Lalit was asking. There are more and more terrorists inside Pakistan and Pakistani people are really happy actually – many of them – that U.S. is doing the job that Pakistan Government should do.
MR. TONER: Well, Goyal, I mean it’s – we view this as a shared struggle. We obviously are very much cognizant of the fact that extremism and terrorism remains a threat to Pakistan’s stability, to its citizens. Nobody’s suffered more from these kinds of terrorist attacks than the people of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Now one more finally – I’m sorry. Compared to last year before and before, there was, on a daily basis, so many attacks inside Pakistan against civilian – innocent people of Pakistan. And today, you hardly – they hardly hear any attacks. Is this because of the operation going on inside Pakistan?
MR. TONER: That’s a – it’s a fair question. I don’t have a very good answer for you, except to say that we’re going to continue to go after these al-Qaida elements and disrupt, dismantle, and destroy them.
Yeah. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The Russian foreign ministry has been tweeting up a storm about Secretary Clinton’s visit and saying basically that the U.S. --
MR. TONER: I need to follow his Twitter account, apparently.
QUESTION: It’s great. There are several. You should read them. They’re very interesting.
MR. TONER: Actually --
QUESTION: But in essence, they’re saying that the U.S. just doesn’t get it, that they incited Saakashvili, but they mentioned her by name. So just – and then they actually had a print statement on their website. So they’re very angry. How are you – what’s the level of concern, seriously, that this is becoming, again, a dangerous situation, hostilities might break out?
MR. TONER: I don’t want to hype this up too much, that it’s becoming a dangerous situation. The Secretary had a very successful visit; we reiterated our core commitments to the Georgian people, to the Government of Georgia, to its sovereignty. There’s no surprise that this is an area of major disagreement between us and Russia. It’s been that way for some time, and we talk about this when we talk about the reset, that there are areas in which we can constructively cooperate, where we can make real progress on, but there are areas or redlines, as Vice President has said in the past – such as Georgia. But, we’re not going to back away from in our position.
Yeah. Go ahead, Andy.
QUESTION: One on Iran. The Iranians, or at least their state media, are saying on the P-5+1 talks that they’ve made repeated efforts to set up preparatory meetings with the P-5+1 and they’ve contacted each member, but that they’ve been rebuffed and that this doesn’t bode well for the Moscow meeting. And I’m just wondering: (a) were you aware that they were trying to set these up; and if you have said no thanks, why?
MR. TONER: We did. We saw these reports and in fact reached out to High Representative Ashton’s office. I can reiterate what they have already said, I believe, to this, which is that these claims aren’t true. High Representative Ashton’s office has confirmed that we replied on June 4th and stressed that we need to see clear signs from the Iranian side that it wants to engage in constructive talks on the P-5+1’s proposals focusing on substance, not process. High Representative Ashton is the point person, as she always is, in discussing this matter directly with the Iranian side. So I’d just refer you to them for more details.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up. The point you made yesterday about the Chinese air quality, you said the service is only for the Americans in China. But actually, someone in China pointed out that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, they tweet on the Chinese Twitter in Chinese talking about the Chinese air quality. So how does it make sense that if this is only for the Americans in China?
MR. TONER: Well, again – I don’t know. You’re saying that they actually tweet this information out in Chinese? I would --
QUESTION: They do sometimes.
MR. TONER: I would assume that there are many in the American community in China who speak or read Chinese fluently. That’s my first assumption in this. I know that the Twitter account has about 20,000 followers. I don’t know how many of them are bilingual, but I would imagine some percentage of them are. But again, this is an initiative by Embassy Beijing, by the mission in China, to convey what we believe is useful information to our citizens abroad.
QUESTION: Even if it wasn’t directed only at Americans, do you – would you see a problem with it? I mean, what --
MR. TONER: Not at all. I mean, we --
QUESTION: Is there a problem with the --
MR. TONER: We don’t --
QUESTION: -- with Chinese people knowing --
MR. TONER: We don’t have any problem with --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) air quality –
MR. TONER: We don’t have any problem with – sorry.
QUESTION: No, but do you – the point of the question, it seems to be, that it’s bad for the U.S. Embassy to give the Chinese people information in Chinese. Do you see anything wrong with giving – is there anything wrong --
MR. TONER: This information isn’t – yeah, no, just to finish --
QUESTION: -- with giving --
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: -- weather reports basically in Chinese? Do you see anything wrong with the Embassy doing that --
MR. TONER: What I’d just say is --
QUESTION: -- in any language?
MR. TONER: -- while this is directed at the American community in China, obviously this information is --
QUESTION: But it wasn’t --
MR. TONER: -- no, right.
QUESTION: Would you take it as a problem --
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Would you take the Chinese Government’s point that it would be a problem if this was – if it was directed at Chinese --
MR. TONER: This information is – we don’t delineate between Chinese or Chinese Americans or American citizens who follow our Twitter account. All are welcome.
QUESTION: But even if – what if it was --
MR. TONER: And this information is --
QUESTION: What if it was all for – what if it was all – only being looked at by Chinese citizens? Would you see a problem with that?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s primarily directed to American citizens. But in terms of Chinese accessing this information, we don’t have a problem with it.
QUESTION: So you’re not going to stop doing this, then?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: And were you able to --
MR. TONER: No intention.
QUESTION: -- obtain information on whether you do this in any other countries?
MR. TONER: I don’t. That was a really hard question, it turned out, because we have to actually – we would have to – there’s no kind of – this isn’t a State-run program. It’s not out of the main State. It’s a program each mission takes on or implements.
This was, as I just told Jill, I think – that this was an initiative started by Embassy Beijing. We would see it as a model for other missions around the globe to do. I know that, for example, our Embassy in Mexico City did do it in the past, but I don’t believe they still do it. I’m not sure what the status is. I just didn’t have time to check every place around the world. But it’s – just flipping that on its side, we view it as a very constructive and positive initiative undertaken by our mission in Beijing.
MR. TONER: I did. No is the short answer; we haven’t had contact with him.
QUESTION: Do you plan to? It does seem like the longer he sits in jail, the more likely there will be some sort of incident, and his chances --
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- of survival are decreasing.
MR. TONER: Right, I – well, again, we continue to express our concerns about his continued incarceration. We have actually gotten some clarity that the charges against him are not related to the bin Ladin case apparently. We did get a response from the Pakistani Government. This, however, doesn’t change our view that the prosecution and conviction of Dr. Afridi sends the wrong message about the importance of our shared interest in taking down one of the world’s most notorious murderers, bin Ladin. So we would just continue to urge the Pakistani Government to consider his appeal.
QUESTION: But you aren’t going to be attempting to make regular – any kind of contact with him directly?
MR. TONER: Again, I know that we’ve expressed our concern. I don’t know that we’re able to get access to him, frankly. I mean, this is not an American citizen, so it’s not that we can – we don’t have --
QUESTION: What are the charges?
MR. TONER: What’s that?
QUESTION: What are the charges?
MR. TONER: I mean, I would point you to the Government of Pakistan. I mean, they’ve said publicly that it was related to his – somehow that – his involvement with terrorist groups in Pakistan.
QUESTION: Does your response mean that as long – that even if he is guilty of some other crime, he should be let off the hook because he helped you out with --
MR. TONER: I didn’t say that. I said that --
QUESTION: It sounded an awful lot like that to me.
MR. TONER: I said that his appeal should be considered in a manner that is expeditious, transparent --
QUESTION: But the sentence --
MR. TONER: -- and consistent with due process. What I said was we believe that his conviction and sentencing send the wrong message about people who are trying to cooperate to bring down a terrorist like bin Ladin.
QUESTION: So even if he breaks another law, he should be let off because he helped you guys out with bin Ladin?
MR. TONER: I didn’t say that. I said there’s an appeal process underway and that that should be considered.
QUESTION: You’re saying that his conviction and sentencing on charges that have nothing to do with this, on stuff that could be – it doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s contact with another bad group or whether it’s a traffic violation, you’re saying that anything this guy does against the law in Pakistan should be forgiven because he helped you out with bin Ladin?
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: That sounds what – that sounds a lot like what you’re saying, but --
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- if you’re not saying that, please explain how you’re not.
MR. TONER: I’m saying that he should be given a full right of appeal.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, it’s a quick follow-up clarification. I don’t know if you addressed this before.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Was he given sort of the choice to flee the country? Were you giving him any kind of assistance or did you offer him – to take him out?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You’re talking about right now or --
QUESTION: Doctor – no, I mean at the time before arrest.
MR. TONER: No, I – no, I don’t have anything for you on that. Sorry.
QUESTION: Have you --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Have you received this clarification from the Embassy here or from Islamabad?
MR. TONER: Good question.
QUESTION: At what level have you received this --
MR. TONER: Good question. I believe it was through our Embassy in Islamabad.
QUESTION: At what level?
MR. TONER: I don’t know.
QUESTION: And what have the Pakistanis – have specifically told you on this case? Only that
his sentencing is not related to the bin Ladin case?
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, we’ve seen – and it’s been made public – that they – he was tried on charges from – again, I’m paraphrasing – that he had contact with other terrorist organizations in Pakistan.
QUESTION: So just --
MR. TONER: But I’d refer you to the Government of Pakistan for clarification --
QUESTION: So just to --
MR. TONER: -- on what the exact charges were.
QUESTION: Just to seek clarity, they have told you that his charges are related to his – because his links with the terrorist outfits?
MR. TONER: Again, for his exact charges I would – I’d refer you to the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: But you – but you’re not convinced with their argument?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re asking that his appeal process be considered in an expeditious, transparent manner.
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- a group of Syrian businessmen today announced from Doha, Qatar a creation of a $300 million fund to help the Syrian opposition. Have you been given some heads-up about this fund, the creation of this fund?
MR. TONER: A 300,000 --
QUESTION: Three hundred million dollars.
MR. TONER: Millions. Sorry.
MR. TONER: Fund.
QUESTION: Fund to help the Syrian opposition. Have you been given some heads-up about this, and is this an initiative that you would welcome?
MR. TONER: Well, it certainly does sound like something we would welcome. You’re saying it’s directed to the Syrian opposition?
MR. TONER: We’ve been talking all along about the clear choice that Syrians – business leaders, economic leaders – need to make in this conflict. And if these reports are true – I don’t know that we’ve received a heads-up. I certainly hadn’t seen these reports, but others may have. But certainly we’d view it as an encouraging sign that more and more of the business leaders of Syria are joining ranks with the Syrian people and with the Syrian opposition.
Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Massive protests going on throughout India against the high rise of fuel prices, and that is related to – because India has cut down the oil from Iran. So what is your situation now, if U.S. is helping India in order to get down this – all these massive protests because of the pressure India was under to cut oil from Iran?
MR. TONER: Well, we continue to talk about India and its energy needs in relation to our overall global efforts to reduce dependency on Iranian oil, and those talks continue. But we’re certainly sensitive to these pressures on India. But we’ve had, as the Secretary noted, very positive talks with India. Carlos Pascual, who has the lead on this issue, was there following the Secretary and also had very positive talks.
Is that it?
QUESTION: Okay, I just – I understand there may be --
MR. TONER: I lost Andy so I’m --
MR. TONER: Yes. Very unfortunately, I have to tell you that the death toll has now risen to nine American citizens. So we can confirm that nine American citizens were onboard this flight. We obviously continue to work with Nigerian authorities to confirm the nationalities of all those onboard. That’s an ongoing process. And of course, as I’ve said, we continue to provide consular assistance to the families of the victims.
QUESTION: Any update on whether the pilot was an American citizen?
MR. TONER: I can’t. I’ve asked that specifically. I don’t know if it’s a next-of-kin notification, but we’re obviously not able to give out the precise names yet.
Is that it?
QUESTION: I have one.
MR. TONER: Go ahead. Sure.
QUESTION: On Iraq, the nomination of Brett McGurk as the new ambassador, Senator McCain came out yesterday ahead of the nomination hearing today with some pretty strong criticisms, saying he had grave concerns. What is your reaction to that?
MR. TONER: Well, my reaction is just to point you to the hearing itself, the testimony given by our ambassador-designate. He spoke to the broad range of issues bilaterally, and I don’t really have anything to add to his testimony.
QUESTION: So Senator McCain has no basis for his grave concerns then?
MR. TONER: Again, we’ve said before we feel that we’ve got a strong bilateral relationship with Iraq that’s growing stronger. As the ambassador-designate said, we’re looking at right-sizing our Embassy, if you will, looking at ways that we can change the personnel at our Embassy to fit this new relationship. But our Embassy officials are able to get out, visit anywhere in Iraq. The security situation, while there remain challenges, is getting better all the time. So – and we continue to engage with Iraq’s political leaders in forging a better and more productive political dialogue there. So I’d just say that we view it as on a positive trajectory.
That’s it? Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)
DPB # 103