Remarks to the Press

Press Availability
Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman
Mark Toner, Director, Office of Press Relations
Washington, DC
December 3, 2009

MR. TONER: All right. Well, welcome everybody. And again, I do apologize for the lateness. Just very quickly, as you know, Deputy Secretary Lew is on the Hill right now speaking to the House Armed Services Committee in the Secretary’s stead. She’s on her way to Brussels after intensive two days of hearings. She’ll start off her day tomorrow with a meeting with the NATO secretary general, to be followed by a meeting with the NATO foreign ministers, with non-NATO ISAF-contributing nations. That’ll be followed by the North Atlantic Council meeting, and lots of other to-be-determineds. But there’s – there will also be a NATO-Russia Council meeting, as well as an additional meeting of major ISAF-contributing countries. That’s pretty much all I have. I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about what’s on the agenda for the ISAF-contributing countries meeting tomorrow?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I think it’s going to be more of what they’ve addressed in great detail over the past couple of days on the Hill. I mean, obviously, a major rollout, a new strategy, and they’re just going to continue to consult with both our NATO allies and our partners about what this means and what we’re looking for.

QUESTION: Rasmussen said today that – earlier today that they had pledges of at least 5,000 additional troops from the NATO – or contributing countries, at least – ISAF-contributing countries. Do you – but he said possibly more. So do you know how many more and from what countries*?

MR. TONER: Again, Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton and Admiral Mullen have been clear on the Hill that allies have been stepping forward, will continue to step forward. I’m not going to get into numbers. Obviously, we’ll leave it to the individual countries, allied country governments and partners, to talk about what they’re willing to offer.

QUESTION: Do you expect announcements at the NATO meetings then of troop – you know, more troops from the allies?

MR. TONER: To be frank, Lach, I’m not sure. I mean, I think a little bit, but I think it’s going to come in the future – in the coming weeks. And I mean, I think we saw yesterday that --

QUESTION: From all the capitals?

MR. TONER: -- in different capitals. Also, there’s going to be the meeting later on in January, I think. And so we expect as we move forward, that there will be announcements. But I can’t predict that there’ll be a slew of announcements tomorrow.

QUESTION: President Karzai said today that he’s willing to talk to Mullah Omar in the cause of peace. What are you – is that --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is that kosher with you guys?

MR. TONER: Well, Matt --


MR. TONER: Secretary Clinton was very clear in her speech in July at the Council on Foreign Relations of the criteria that we placed on reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. That said, it’s an Afghan-led process and truly for the Afghans to pursue themselves. But she’s been clear – just looking to reiterate what she had said. Again, obviously, we support the Afghan Government’s efforts toward reconciliation. But – sorry, I’m just looking for the exact criteria. I mean, look, it’s renouncing violence – it’s – there we go, thank you. It’s laying down arms, renouncing violence, willing to participate in the free and open society enshrined in the Afghan constitution, and also willing to participate in the democratic process.

QUESTION: Well – but what about Mullah Omar?

QUESTION: It’s Afghan-led.

MR. TONER: No, I understand that.

QUESTION: So if he wants to talk to Mullah Omar, then it’s okay?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m just saying that right now, it’s a hypothetical. It’s something he mentioned. And again, I’ve only seen press reports, so I can’t speak to the truth of any of it. I’m just laying down what our policy is, what our criteria are, and also saying that we view it as an Afghan process that we support – reconciliation.

QUESTION: Well, what about Mullah Omar specifically?

MR. TONER: Again, those are our criteria. I can’t speak to individuals. It’s something that hasn’t happened, so it’s hard for me to – I can just tell you what our criteria are. We would support –

QUESTION: So if Mullah Omar agreed to lay down his arms, renounce violence, then it would be okay?

MR. TONER: Again --

QUESTION: It’s a very simple question.

MR. TONER: I understand it’s a simple question, but it’s also speculative, and I can’t --


MR. TONER: I can’t – all I can tell you –

QUESTION: Mark, it’s not speculative.

MR. TONER: -- is that that’s our criteria.

QUESTION: He said this. He said – he’s --

MR. TONER: Has he responded to any of this? No. So, I mean --


MR. TONER: Mullah Omar. So, I mean, we haven’t seen anything.

QUESTION: Well, that doesn’t – but that doesn’t matter. You’re just about to – your – the President has just announced a strategy to send 30,000 more troops there. It’s going to cost billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. The president of the country, who you support, is saying that he’s willing to sit down and talk with a guy who harbored the architects of 9/11. Is that okay with you guys or not?

MR. TONER: Again, we’re clear on what we – on what our criteria are for reconciliation efforts writ large, and that we support them as long as those criteria are met. But I really can’t talk to this individual --

QUESTION: Have you set up any kind of process with Karzai for discussing something like this, should a situation like that come up, if an opportunity like that come up?

MR. TONER: It’s a good question. And I can try to find out more details. I mean, I know that it’s – that we’ve discussed it with him in the past, and it’s something we – obviously, in our discussions and our dealings with the Afghan Government, we deal with. But I don’t know, in particular, whether there’s a process.

QUESTION: Discussed what with him in the past? Specifically Mullah Omar reconciliation?

MR. TONER: Just reconciliation efforts.

Do you know if there’s any – I mean, is there any process set up or --

MR. KELLY: I think this is something that we have talked to them about. I don’t know if we have strict protocols laid out or a strict procedure.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

MR. KELLY: I think that that kind of mechanism would have to be worked out. I mean, there are a number of different components in a reconciliation process.

QUESTION: When you say you know we’ve discussed this with him, you mean discussed reconciliation or specifically discussed the possibility of talking with Mullah Omar?

MR. TONER: Reconciliation --

MR. KELLY: No, we – that – I don’t know the answer to that question. And there are various approaches here. There’s reintegration, which brings them back into the political and economic life of the country, and then there’s reconciliation. And I think in the latter, we’re talking more about just the kind of rank-and-file Taliban that may be –

MR. TONER: Right.

MR. KELLY: -- may be in it just for the small stipend they get.

MR. TONER: Right. There’s all levels.

MR. KELLY: And so it all depends on what kind of talks we’re talking about.

MR. TONER: And obviously, this is something that’s been discussed in the past. I mean, this is not a new topic.

QUESTION: All right. Given the amount of time you guys had to come up with something on this, your response implies – suggests that you won’t have – you don’t have a problem with it.

MR. KELLY: It was a general response to a very –

MR. TONER: Right, exactly.

MR. KELLY: -- general concept. I mean, what we’ve seen is that he’s willing --

QUESTION: It’s an incredibly specific --

MR. KELLY: No, it is not.

MR. TONER: No, it isn’t.

QUESTION: Yes, it is.

MR. KELLY: It is not incredibly specific.

QUESTION: Yes, it is. He says, I’m willing to --

MR. KELLY: What did he say?

QUESTION: He says, I’m willing to talk with --

MR. KELLY: About what? When?

QUESTION: About peace.

MR. KELLY: And under what conditions?

QUESTION: Ian, look, you guys have had well over two hours. That’s the best guidance they could come up with?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, that says nothing.

MR. TONER: It’s our policy, which is that --

QUESTION: I don’t know – what’s the policy on Mullah Omar?

MR. TONER: The policy --

MR. KELLY: We gave you a hypothetical answer to --

MR. TONER: Yeah, right, exactly.

MR. KELLY: -- a hypothetical situation. Sorry, there’s no --

QUESTION: First of all, it’s not hypothetical.

MR. KELLY: -- there’s no flesh on these bones.

QUESTION: It’s not hypothetical.

MR. KELLY: I beg to disagree.


MR. TONER: Next question.

QUESTION: May I turn to the Secretary’s trip to Brussels?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: NATO-Russian Council, what – can you be more specific, what is on the agenda?

MR. TONER: You know what? That’s a very good question, Peter. I’ll try to find out more specifically what’s on the agenda. I mean, obviously, the agenda is always a continuation. We’re always looking to strengthen that dialogue and – I mean, but I’ll try to find specifically more about what --

QUESTION: Afghanistan, Georgia, START?

MR. TONER: Yeah, I mean, it’s all – right. Afghanistan. START, I don’t believe, is with --

MR. KELLY: That’s a bilateral issue.

MR. TONER: Yeah, it’s a bilateral issue, so --

QUESTION: So Afghanistan, Georgia, anything else?

MR. TONER: I’ll have to find out. I’ll check.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Can you confirm the report that Ambassador Bosworth is leaving for Seoul Saturday?

MR. TONER: Actually, I can. I can give you some details on it. Hold on one second.

QUESTION: What was the question?

MR. TONER: Bosworth --

MR. KELLY: Bosworth’s travel.

MR. TONER: Yes, he plans to travel to Pyongyang on December 8th. He’ll spend several days there.

MR. KELLY: He plans to arrive on –

MR. TONER: Arrive on – what’s that?

MR. KELLY: He plans to arrive on December 8th.

MR. TONER: Arrive, rather, on December 8th, where he’ll engage in direct talks with North Korean officials. Obviously, we’re seeking the resumption of Six-Party Talks as well as North Korea’s reaffirmation of the 2005 joint statement. The delegation then plans to travel to Seoul on December 10th, Beijing on December 11th, Tokyo on December 12th, and Moscow December 13th for consultations, and then return to Washington on December 15th.

QUESTION: Do you know who will be his interlocutor in Moscow?

MR. TONER: I do not.

QUESTION: He’s leaving Saturday?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have a calendar in front of me.

QUESTION: Dates again, please?

QUESTION: Can you run the dates, please?

MR. TONER: Yeah, absolutely, sure. Of the post-trip or --


QUESTION: After --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Plans to travel to Seoul on December 10th, Beijing December 11th, Tokyo December 12th, and Moscow on December 13th.

QUESTION: But he going to Seoul December 6th?

MR. KELLY: He’s leaving this weekend.

MR. TONER: Yeah, he’s leaving this weekend. Yeah.

MR. KELLY: I don’t know if it’s Saturday or Sunday.

QUESTION: He drop by Seoul, then he leaving the 7th, right – December 7th? When he --

MR. TONER: Right. I believe he’ll travel through Seoul.

QUESTION: Yeah. What transportation he using there to go to North Korea?

MR. TONER: To go to North Korea?


MR. TONER: I don’t know.

Ian, do we know that?

MR. KELLY: By airplane.

MR. TONER: By airplane, obviously.

QUESTION: By airplane, I know, but it’s very close from DMZ.

MR. TONER: That’s a good question.

MR. KELLY: Sorry? He’ll go by air.

MR. TONER: I assume – yeah.

QUESTION: Very close, only take about 30, 40 minutes drive.

MR. KELLY: He’s going by air.

QUESTION: Oh, by air?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Who will he meet – North Korea official?

MR. TONER: Another good question. I believe his counterpart is all we know, but we don’t know who the --

MR. KELLY: -- appropriate senior person.

MR. TONER: Yeah, appropriate senior person. Yeah, we don’t know. We don’t have names, no, sorry.

MR. KELLY: We don’t have names.

QUESTION: He have any meeting with Kim Jong-il? He have that on his schedule?

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: How often has he --

MR. TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Will he have meeting before he will go to Pyongyang with South Korean officials, before Pyongyang – before he will go to Pyongyang?

MR. TONER: I’m not certain. I believe he will if he has time in Seoul.

QUESTION: Is there a possibility that he got – get written letter of President Obama?

MR. TONER: Yeah, I have no idea.

QUESTION: Who else is on the delegation?

MR. TONER: I don’t have the names. He’s obviously the senior representative, but – now, I know that, but --

QUESTION: Well, like, is Sung Kim going? Is Bader going? Is --

MR. KELLY: Sung Kim is going.

MR. TONER: Sung Kim is going, yeah.

QUESTION: And from other agencies?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

MR. TONER: Representatives of the NSC and Department of Defense also plan to travel with him.

QUESTION: Is this his first or second trip to Pyongyang?

MR. TONER: That’s a good question, Charlie. Is this his first trip?

MR. KELLY: In this capacity --

MR. TONER: This capacity, yeah.

MR. KELLY: -- it’s his first trip.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: First trip in this capacity?

MR. KELLY: In this capacity.

MR. TONER: In this capacity, yeah.

MR. KELLY: He’s been before.

QUESTION: It’s going to be bilateral talks with North Korea, or no?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think direct talks – but we’re very clear that we’re only talking with them to seek the resumption of Six-Party Talks. We’re going into that with a very clear message.

QUESTION: Just a question --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- on Italy, I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today, the --

MR. TONER: With what? I’m sorry, apology.

QUESTION: About Italy.

MR. TONER: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Italy today is deploying 1,000 more troops for Afghanistan --.

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the government – and which is your comment about that?

MR. TONER: Well, look, obviously, Italy is playing a very vital role in Afghanistan. We support and appreciate their sacrifice and efforts, as we do with all our partners and allies who are fighting alongside us in Afghanistan. And this – any additional contribution will be greatly appreciated.

QUESTION: Can I go back to North Korea?

MR. TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: You said that – I’d like to know the delegation. How many people are they? And you mentioned about – this is State Department, White House and Defense ministry?

MR. TONER: Yeah, I don’t --

QUESTION: And no Treasury?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. Again, what I have is just a representative of the NSC, the Department of Defense, as well as the State Department, obviously. And I don’t know the number. I don’t know the exact size of the delegation.

QUESTION: Can I ask a Japan question?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do you have a – or does the Administration have a reaction to the Japanese Government pushing the Okinawa deadline back? Because the Administration and the Department of Defense had asked that we have a decision by the end of the year, and now the Japanese Government is saying we’re not going to have that.

MR. TONER: No, no reaction to that. I mean, Ian’s spoken to that many times at the – from the podium that we continue to work with them as they review this plan and – but --

QUESTION: That doesn’t concern you at all?

MR. TONER: Look, we’re just trying to work with them and trying to help facilitate their review process, but no reaction.

QUESTION: Is there any update on Iran, the P-5+1 meeting?

MR. TONER: No – nothing to announce, just that, obviously, they said they were going to meet again last time in the near future. So once we have something, we’ll give it to you.

QUESTION: Do you expect something to be announced soon?

MR. TONER: Again, I just can’t say. I mean, they said near future, so – or near term or whatever.

QUESTION: Do you guys have any reaction to this decision by this Greek court to overturn terrorist convictions against the three guys who were convicted of terrorist acts against U.S. targets back in the ‘70s and ‘80s?

MR. TONER: Matt, I don’t. Sorry, I can – we can take that question, I think.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Just back to Iran –

MR. TONER: Yeah, Sure.

QUESTION: Anything on the difference between Iran releasing the Brits versus still holding the U.S. hikers? Any update on contact with them?

MR. TONER: No update on contact with them. Just that we continue to call on their immediate humanitarian release. Yeah, we might have something. Hold on one second. Ian’s helping guide me through this maze of a book.

Yeah, just that we obviously – we – this case remains a priority for the United States. We call on the government to release them immediately on humanitarian grounds. But there’s no real update, and I don’t know there’s been additional contact.

QUESTION: Any lesson to be learned for the United States about how the British case was handled both on their end and the Iranian end?

QUESTION: Get a map.

MR. TONER: Look, I mean, no real lesson. I would just say that this continues to be a huge priority for us, and we’ve made our desires very clear, because I don’t know how we can be any more direct in asking them to be released.


QUESTION: There’s a story in the Post this morning about some Uighurs who have shown up in Cambodia, in which this story says that – quotes a State Department – an unnamed State Department spokeswoman as saying the U.S. does not comment on asylum cases. That may be true. I don’t know. I don’t think it is, but – particularly when they don’t involve you. But what – do you have any position on what the Cambodians should do? The Chinese want these guys to be repatriated, and they don’t want to go.

MR. TONER: I don’t. I haven’t seen the reports.

QUESTION: Okay. Check it out.

MR. TONER: Yeah, I will.

QUESTION: Your office was called because there is this – anyway.

MR. TONER: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: Yeah, if that question could be taken, I’d appreciate it.

MR. TONER: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Mark, anything new on START negotiations?

MR. TONER: Sure. Well, nothing new.

QUESTION: Well – not new?

MR. TONER: -- per se, but --

QUESTION: Well, tomorrow is --

MR. TONER: What’s your specific question?

QUESTION: Tomorrow is the date when the treaty is expiring, so the regime will work with the – with special regime and generally with the (inaudible) regime?

MR. TONER: Sure, sure. Look, we continue to work through the final issues with Russia on the START treaty negotiations. Obviously, there is always endgame issues in any negotiation. And Presidents Obama and Medvedev have been quite clear about their desire and commitment to seeing a new treaty to be completed by the end of the year. And I can say that the team in Geneva is working around the clock on trying to resolve all these issues.

QUESTION: Are they in Geneva right now? They are negotiating right now?

MR. TONER: Yes. Yeah, the negotiating teams --


MR. TONER: -- have been in Geneva, I think, for the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. For weeks.

MR. TONER: For weeks and weeks, through Thanksgiving.

QUESTION: When exactly – okay, I wasn’t sure if --

MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s okay.

QUESTION: -- they went back. When exactly is the deadline to – I mean, when exactly does the existing agreement expire? It’s December 5th, but what time?

MR. TONER: December 5th. I don’t know the time. It’s --

QUESTION: Is it like midnight tonight or is it midnight tomorrow night? Do we know?

QUESTION: So what is going to happen after December 5th?

MR. TONER: Look, on a bilateral basis, we’re talking with the Russians about ways to keep in place monitoring mechanisms. But I can’t say more than that.

QUESTION: The inspectors have left, right?

MR. TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: There are no inspectors there anymore?

MR. TONER: But again, we’re dealing with them on a bilateral basis to try to address some of those issues.

QUESTION: Is there any chance that Secretary Clinton will take a little detour to Geneva and try to clinch this while she’s over in the neighborhood?

MR. TONER: I really can’t say, Viola. I don’t know. I don’t know, is – no.

QUESTION: Well, you can --

QUESTION: There are no plans?

MR. TONER: Yeah. No plans.

QUESTION: Well, not only are there no plans, but she has other plans for Saturday, right? I mean, you can say that? She’s doing all these – she’s taping all the Sunday shows and then she’s got the Kennedy Center dinner, so --

MR. TONER: Thanks, Matt.

QUESTION: She isn’t going anywhere else.

MR. KELLY: Appreciate that, Matt.

QUESTION: They might decide this is important.

QUESTION: Actually, they’ve been – they’ve been over there for weeks and weeks?


QUESTION: The delegation? Where do they stay? Some pretty pricey hotels there. In fact --

MR. KELLY: It’s in our national interest to get this done.

QUESTION: Yeah, but in fact --

QUESTION: Six months?

QUESTION: No, it’s not --

MR. TONER: No, I don’t think they’ve been there that long. But --

QUESTION: In fact, I think I’m going to FOIA the cost of (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Oh, for being late down here, is that what we get for this? Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Damn right. You know, you treat us well, you’ll be treated well.

Listen, there are these emails, these Pentagon emails that have come out today about the spy – the Canadian spy coins, which suggest that the U.S. may not necessarily trust Canada. From the State Department’s point of view, is Canada a trustworthy ally? Should be – secrets can be shared with them?

MR. TONER: From the State Department’s point of view, Canada is a trustworthy ally. But I would refer you to the Pentagon for anything else. Actually, I haven’t even seen the story, Matt.


MR. DUGUID: I’m all ears in this room. I have seen the story.

MR. TONER: Is that it? Sorry. Is there anything else, guys?

QUESTION: Anything on the Middle East you can volunteer us?

MR. TONER: Not really. No, nothing today, but thanks.

All right, thank you.

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PRN: 2009/1221