Mark C. Toner
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 17, 2010


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Happy St. Patrick's Day
    • Secretary met with the Irish PM Today at the White House/ Secretary Gave Keynote Address at National Gala of the American Ireland Fund /Secretary en route to Moscow
    • Thursday the Secretary will have Dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Friday the Secretary will Meet with Russian President Medvedev
    • Secretary Will Return on Saturday
    • US and Pakistan Will Hold a Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC Next Week/ President and Secretary Emphasize the Importance of the US/Pakistan Relationship
    • US Consulates Reopen Along the Mexican Border/ Investigation is Ongoing/ Mexican Officials Met with Consulate Officials Yesterday
    • Assistant Secretary Robert Blake is Traveling to India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Belgium/ Will Give Speech in India
    • US Canceled Afghanistan's Debt to the Paris Club/ Lifting the Debt Burden is a Crucial Step to Afghanistan's Economic Development
  • ISRAEL
    • US Still Looking Forward to a Response from Israel/ Active Consultation is Underway/ Refer You to the Vice President's Office for a Readout of His Call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu/ US Wants Both Sides to Reaffirm Their Commitment to the Peace Process/ The Quartet Meeting is a Routine Gathering/ Will Provide Information on Why Special Envoy Mitchell not on the Secretary's Plane/ There is an Expectation That Israeli PM Will Respond/ Secretary Plans to Speak at AIPAC
  • INDIA
    • Rich Strategic Dialogue with India
  • BLAKE¬íS TRAVEL
    • The Assistant Secretary is Traveling to the Region/ Wants a Sense of What is Occurring on the Ground
  • INDIA/PAKISTAN
    • No Readout of the Secretary Clinton and Under Secretary Burns Meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao/US in a Common Struggle Against Terrorism with India and Pakistan
  • PAKISTAN
    • US Consular Staff Present at Five American Citizens on Trial in Pakistan for Multiple Charges/ Ongoing Legal Issue that the US is Monitoring/ No Comment on the Veracity of the Charges/ Five Americans in Good Health/ Unsure if Joint Talks with the Afghans Will Occur After the Dialogue with Pakistan
  • IRAN
    • Will Find Out Information Regarding Yesterday's Agreement Between Iran and Pakistan on a New Gas Pipeline
  • NORTH KOREA
    • No Comment on Assistant Secretary Campbell's Comments on health of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il
  • SINGAPORE
    • No Readout of Deputy Secretary Steinberg's Meeting with Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister TEO Chee Hean
  • RUSSIA
    • No Frustration on START Talks/ Getting Closer
  • JAPAN
    • No Announcement on Secretary's Future Meetings with Japanese Officials
  • MEXICO
    • US Continually Assess the Security Situation of its Consulates in Mexico
  • AUSTRALIA
    • Australia is an Important Strategic Partner
  • INDONESIA
    • Refer you to the White House for Specifics Regarding the President's Trip Goals/ Will Provide a Response on Question on Aid to Indonesian Special Forces
  • SRI LANKA
    • Will Look Into the Situation Regarding Refugees in Sri Lanka


TRANSCRIPT:

1:27 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Sorry to be a little late, guys. Welcome to the State Department. As a proud Irish American and equally proud alumnus of Notre Dame, I want to wish everyone a very happy St. Patrick’s Day. As we say around South Bend, go Irish.

As you know, the Secretary, prior to departure, was over at the White House where she participated in the President’s meeting with the Taoiseach this morning. Last night, she gave the keynote address at the National Gala of the American Ireland Fund, where she reaffirmed the historic bonds between the United States and Ireland. She also stressed the importance of solidifying Northern Ireland’s progress through economic development, an area that our envoy, Declan Kelly, is working hard on.

As you know, the Secretary will be refueling in Shannon later today en route to Moscow, which means she’ll be – actually be able to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Tomorrow, she’ll have a meeting and dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. I imagine they’ll discuss the full-range of bilateral and multilateral issues that comprise the relationship, including cooperation on nonproliferation, progress on a successor agreement to START, counterterrorism, regional security issues, and of course, the work of the Bilateral Presidential Commission.

On Friday, she’ll meet with Russian President Medvedev, and of course, will participate in the Quartet meeting where discussions will focus on how best to work with Quartet partners to move proximity talks forward as well as our current diplomatic efforts focused on creating the necessary conditions for Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations. And she returns to the U.S. on Saturday.

You probably received a little while ago a media note announcing the United States and Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. This will take place on March 24th. The United States and Pakistan will hold their first Strategic Dialogue at the ministerial level in Washington, D.C. and it will be hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who will – they’ll co-chair the talks. Topics will include economic development, water and energy, education, communications, and public diplomacy, agriculture and security.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have repeatedly stressed the breadth and depth of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, a partnership that goes far beyond security. The Strategic Dialogue represents the shared commitment of both nations to a strengthening bilateral relationship and building an even broader partnership based on mutual respect and mutual trust.

Just an update on the consulates along the border in Mexico as well as our consulate in Juarez: The Embassy and all of our consulates in Mexico are open for normal business today.

An update on the investigation: You’ve probably seen press reports in the FBI as well, but no information currently indicates the victims were directly targeted due to their employment at the U.S. Consulate. However, the investigation is ongoing and we don’t know the motive at this stage. Agents from multiple U.S. and local law enforcement agencies already assigned to liaison in Ciudad Juarez are assisting Mexican officials. Ambassador Pascual and Foreign Secretary Espinosa met with the consulate community on March 16th, yesterday, and in their comments, both expressed their sincere condolences and reiterated both governments intend to continue working together in the fight against organized crime.

And then just a few more things, sorry. Just a travel update: Assistant Secretary Robert Blake will be traveling – Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake will be traveling to India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Belgium March 17th through 30th. This will be his first visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan as Assistant Secretary. He’ll deliver a keynote address at the Asia Society Corporate Conference in New Delhi on March 20th. He’ll also have consultations with Indian and American business representatives and have discussions with his counterparts in the Ministry of External Affairs to prepare for the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington in the early Summer.

QUESTION: Mark, she did that yesterday.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Then what’s the change?

MR. TONER: Well, just updating. In any case, finally, I just wanted to talk about the United States joining with other creditors and canceling Afghan debts owed to the Paris Club members. The United States welcomes the accord reached today by Afghanistan and its Paris Club creditors including the United States, to cancel all debts owed by Afghanistan to club members.

Today’s decision represents a great achievement for Afghanistan and reflects the international community’s acknowledgement of the great strides the country has made in strengthening its economy. Lifting the debt burden inherited by the Afghan Government marks a crucial step on Afghanistan’s road to economic sustainability. The accord reached today will implement Afghanistan’s completion point treatment under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. And the accord also recognized Afghanistan’s performance under its IMF program and its progress on adopting and implementing economic reforms in a tremendously challenging environment.

Since 2002, treasury technical advisors have worked closely with the Afghan minister of finance to streamline the budget process, improve the payment system for government employees, restructure Afghanistan’s debt, and establish a debt management unit within the Ministry of Finance, which played a crucial role in today’s negotiations. Now, that’s all I have. I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: So how is the – Prime Minister Netanyahu’s phone call to the Secretary? Did – how’d it go? Did he come up with positive responses to her recommendations, suggestions, demands that she made to him on Friday?

MR. TONER: Well, thanks for asking, Matt. We’re still looking forward to a response. It hasn’t happened yet. There hasn’t been a call yet. But as Secretary – we’re really in no – we’re really in the same place we were yesterday. As Secretary Clinton said, we’re engaged in active consultation and we’re looking for, really, both sides to represent – to demonstrate the requisite commitment to this process.

QUESTION: Well –

QUESTION: Do you think you’ll get one today, a call today? I mean it’s already in the evening there now.

MR. TONER: Well, she’s up in the air. So it’s hard to predict.

QUESTION: Well, so she’s just basically sitting there by the phone like a lonely teenager on Saturday night waiting to Bibi to give her a call. Is that the impression you’re trying to leave us with?

MR. TONER: I think I said we’re looking forward to a response. I didn’t say waiting expectantly by the phone.

QUESTION: Well, why didn’t the call –

MR. TONER: And in fact, she’s not waiting by the phone. She’s on her way to Russia where she’ll meet with her Quartet partners.

QUESTION: Why didn’t the call happen? What’s your understanding of why the call didn’t happen. I mean we were told to expect it by now.

MR. TONER: I truly don’t know, Matt.

QUESTION: And so is this why Vice President Biden felt the need to call Prime Minister Netanyahu, to ask him why he’s not calling the Secretary of State back?

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the Vice President’s office.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about that call?

MR. TONER: I don’t.

QUESTION: You –

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary got a readout on the Vice President’s call?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I frankly don’t know that – has the Vice President’s office confirmed the call? I mean I saw press reports. So you’ll have to go the Vice President’s office.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the Israeli Government is digging in? I mean Avigdor Lieberman says the demands that the U.S. is making are unreasonable. He said that today. There’s no sign of any change there.

MR. TONER: Again, Lach, I just would repeat what I just said, which is that we’re still looking forward to a response. We’re pretty much in the same place we were yesterday; looking for both sides to take the steps, to show determination, and to reassert their commitment to the process. She’s on her way to Russia. There will be Quartet meeting there. I don’t want to get ahead of the diplomacy that’s going to take place there, but I also don’t want to characterize various responses coming from various corners.

QUESTION: Does the lack of a response to date sort of hinder the Secretary’s ability to effectively deal with the Quartet? I mean, she isn’t informed by any Israeli position on this. So how are they going to talk about the way forward when they don’t even know what Israel is saying in response?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a regular consultation. I mean, there will be input from all the different players and parties and, again, we’re looking forward to the response. So we’ll just wait and see if it comes. I don’t want to prejudge something that’s happening on Friday.

QUESTION: Can you –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- tell us about Senator Mitchell’s travel plans, why he’s not on the plane with the Secretary if, as P.J. said yesterday, it’s a logistical reason that he did not go to the region himself? I mean why wouldn’t he take (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Kirit just told me. I didn’t realize he wasn’t on the plane with the Secretary. I can try to get an answer for you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: And when he’s going, please?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: And when he’s going, as long as you’re getting (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure thing. Yeah.

QUESTION: Did the Israelis actually indicate that they would call back? I mean is it Netanyahu who said, “I will get back to you. So you’re waiting for this call?” Or was it just implied that eventually you would get their response?

MR. TONER: Sure. It’s hard for me to say. I mean I wasn’t obviously on the call and I don’t want to get into the substance of the call, but the expectation is that there will be a response. I guess I would leave it that way. Sure. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met Mr. Bill Burns yesterday, and Secretary Clinton also dropped in the meeting. Do you have any readout what are the issues discussed on that (inaudible).

MR. TONER: I mean we have a very rich, strategic dialogue with India. I don’t know the specific issues. I can try to find out what, in fact, they talked about.

QUESTION: And secondly, Under Secretary – Assistant Secretary Blake is going to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the first time. I thought that’s exclusive domain of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, so what – how different a role Blake’s role is in Afghanistan –

MR. TONER: At the risk of repeating myself on that, yes, he is going to the region. Well, he’s Assistant Secretary for that region. I think, I mean, I don’t need to explain what the special envoys on – I mean, you know and have heard many times from this podium a description of their role versus the assistant secretaries, especially on front-burner issues like Afghanistan and Pakistan. But that said, Assistant Secretary Blake is obviously engaged in that issue as well and he has --

QUESTION: But he has not been to India, not been to Afghanistan and Pakistan so far in the last 14 months after he became the Assistant Secretary. It’s basically Richard Holbrooke was visiting the country, the region, eight, nine times after that.

MR. TONER: Well, and being the special envoy there, that’s correct. I mean that’s proper and right that he would do so. But Assistant Secretary Blake, I think, is just also trying to get a sense of what’s going on on the ground so he can be better informed in his role.

QUESTION: Follow-up on India.

MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Before Foreign Secretary Rao met with the Secretary Clinton yesterday, she had a very straight warning. She was warning Pakistan at the Woodrow Wilson Center as far as –

MR. TONER: I’m sorry; who was warning that?

QUESTION: The Foreign Secretary of India.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Straight warning. Even before meeting with the Secretary here. And she said that she had been telling the U.S. officials, and I understand that she might tell the same thing here with the Secretary’s meeting, that Pakistan now time has come must stop terrorizing India, supporting terrorism, or bring those who are arrested in Mumbai attack and all that to justice. Otherwise, India is capable of dealing with it, it’s own; they’ll not need anybody’s help. What I’m asking is, this was the first time something like this happened, a state warning, coming here to the U.S. at the Woodrow Wilson Center? And if she has the same thing with the secretaries, that now time has come that U.S. must intervene or then they will take whatever actions are needed against Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have a specific readout. I can try to find out what was on their – what was their topic of discussion. I can certainly imagine that they did talk about dialogue between Pakistan and India, and better cooperation.

QUESTION: Okay. What I’m asking, why I’m asking really now –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- is so many things are going between there and U.S. Now today, a trade agreement was signed at the USTR, between Ambassador USTR and also the Indian Minister of Industry. At the same time, strategic dialogues are going on and many visits are back and forth to India and to U.S. from India. And same thing now, you said that the same thing happening between U.S. and Pakistan. And also, Mr. Headley in Chicago was – he pled guilty.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: And –

MR. TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: He pled guilty –

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- of the charges that – against him in connection with Mumbai and other attacks in India.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: At the same time in Pakistan, five people from this area who were arrested, Pakistan had charged them but they pled not guilty. What I’m asking, so much going on now, I think people in India are now fed-up with whatever is going on and they are asking the U.S., now the U.S. must take action against those who are terrorizing India. So there must be --

MR. TONER: Actually, you did segue into something. I can give you an update on the --

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you, please?

MR. TONER: But just to answer your question very quickly, of course we’re in a common struggle with Pakistan and India against terrorism, and of course we’re encouraging cooperation on all levels. And we’re engaged in strategic dialogues to that end.

So – but let me give you an update on the five Amcits – American citizens. We can confirm that the U.S. citizens appeared at a hearing in Sargodha on March 17th, that’s today, and that consular staff were present at the hearing and, in fact, they were last visited by consular officers today. We can also confirm press reports that in today’s hearing, the court formally charged the five American citizens with the following charges: criminal conspiracy to commit terrorist activities in Pakistan, conspiracy to wage war against the powers in alliance with Pakistan, conspiracies to commit depredation on territories of Afghanistan and the United States, possession and contribution of cash for proscribed organizations with the intention to be used for terrorism, and taking direction from and giving direction to others to commit terrorist acts. That’s it.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that they are guilty of any of these charges, or that there is enough evidence to charge them with it – with them?

MR. TONER: Really, Matt, it’s a legal issue for Pakistani law enforcement. As – again, we’re monitoring the trial, we had somebody at the hearing, but we don’t have any comment on the veracity of the charges. We’ll let the legal system play itself out – legal process play itself out.

QUESTION: All right. So far – you said that the last consular visit was today as well, but I assume that was separate from just sitting in the same hearing room with them, that they actually saw them?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I believe so.

QUESTION: And they are okay? Because they have claimed in the past to have been tortured.

MR. TONER: Yes. I’ll double check on that, but since it says they last visited today, I assume that with – the lack of anything says that they’re in good health. And – but obviously we take seriously reports of abuse and torture. We did, in fact, raise those reports with officials from the Government of Pakistan. And as we do in all such cases where prisoners report abuse, we’ve requested immediately consular access and then subsequently visited them.

QUESTION: All right. And so far, the legal proceeding against them has been proceeding in an open, transparent way in the opinion of the U.S. Government?

MR. TONER: Yes, I would say so.

QUESTION: What was the response --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- when you raised the abuse claims with them?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. We were granted access immediately, so – and I assume we checked her welfare and were satisfied. But I can ask, actually.

QUESTION: The strategic dialogue next week with Pakistan, what will be the security issues the Secretary will want to raise?

MR. TONER: Sure. It doesn’t go into specific detail. I mean, obviously, we’re talking about the common – Afghanistan, the situation there --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: -- the spillover into the FATA and how to really better engage. And in fact, we’ve seen some successes on that front in recent weeks on terrorism.

QUESTION: Why aren’t there going to be joint talks with the Afghans? I mean, maybe after the Strategic Dialogue, could the two sides get together? I mean, it is Af-Pak, after all.

MR. TONER: Right. I don’t know if that’s intended down the road. I’d have to find out. I don’t --

QUESTION: Well, isn’t there already a three-way?

MR. TONER: Yeah, I think – you know what? I’m not sure what the status of that is, Matt. I’d have to check.

QUESTION: Well, they just had --

MR. TONER: I do know that --

QUESTION: They just had a meeting.

MR. TONER: Yeah, I do know that there was a meeting, but I don’t know what the – if there’s a plan following this to have a subsequent meeting.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: I’m sorry --

QUESTION: I had a different topic.

MR. TONER: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Pakistan and Iran. Yesterday, Pakistan and Iran signed an agreement for construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan at a time when we’re looking for sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council. How – what – do you – are you supportive of such an agreement between the two countries that might further extend to India?

MR. TONER: Sure. I don’t know the details of the arrangement, so I’m sorry. We can find out.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. TONER: Sure. In the back.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the record that Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell said in Seoul that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may have three more years to live?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I truly don’t have any – I don’t have any comment or any really further information on that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Going to Southeast Asia --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- the Secretary had a meeting today with the Singaporean deputy prime minister.

MR. TONER: Actually, I think it was Deputy Secretary Steinberg who had that meeting – I believe so.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. My mistake. So --

MR. TONER: And you want a readout? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, please.

MR. TONER: I don’t – honestly, I don’t know the – I mean, they were meeting, I think, up until I came out here. So I don’t have a readout.

QUESTION: What was on the agenda?

MR. TONER: I can try to get one.

QUESTION: What was on the agenda?

MR. TONER: I can imagine regional security issues, common regional agenda, but I don’t have details, so --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Mark.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Dave, sorry.

QUESTION: Could you discuss what the Secretary hopes to achieve in Moscow vis-à-vis strategic arms reduction? Is she --

MR. TONER: Vis-à-vis? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Strategic arms reduction.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is she frustrated at this point? I mean, we were talking about an agreement the first week in December and it just keeps sliding along.

MR. TONER: Well, no, I wouldn’t say frustrated. Look, both sides have repeatedly stressed a commitment to reaching an agreement. Are there hard issues to tackle? Sure, but they remain hard at work. And they’re getting closer, but I can’t predict when. And in fact, the goal here is the best agreement we can get, so – that’s in America’s national security interests. So I would view it as kind of an update and a chance to share the current status with her counterpart.

Yeah. Sure, man.

QUESTION: Back to Kurt Campbell for a second?

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said yesterday that Secretary Clinton will meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Okada in Canada, possibly during the G-8 foreign ministerial meeting at the end of the month?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Is that confirmed?

MR. TONER: I have nothing to announce on that.

QUESTION: Nothing to announce on that?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Well – okay, there’s a G-8 foreign ministers meeting?

MR. TONER: Right. That is – yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary is going?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And the Japanese foreign minister is going?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And you can’t say that they’re going to see each other?

MR. TONER: I cannot say with absolute certitude, no, Matt. I mean, I don’t – I have nothing to confirm or announce, but it would probably be likely, yes. How about that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, they’re going to be in the same room.

MR. TONER: I don’t want to – yeah, I agree with you, Matt. I just can’t --

QUESTION: Getting back to --

MR. TONER: I don’t like to --

QUESTION: You agree with him. That’s good. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Getting back to the phone call --

MR. TONER: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: -- between the Secretary and the prime minister, because it’s been so many days, does the U.S. consider the timing at all an insult?

MR. TONER: No. Again, we’re just – we’re looking forward to the Israeli response. We were clear that, as the Secretary said it best yesterday, that we want to have – make sure that we have the full commitment both from Israel and Palestine – Palestinian partners on this effort, and we’re looking for steps that we think would demonstrate the commitment. I don’t think there’s any timeline on that response. We’re trying to keep the process moving forward. Obviously, our ultimate goal is to get negotiations to start again, get both sides to the table. But I wouldn’t characterize it that way.

QUESTION: There’s absolutely no timeline for the response? The Secretary didn’t say, “Hey, when do you think you can get back to me?” I mean --

MR. TONER: I think there is an expectation, but beyond that, no.

QUESTION: And the expectation is?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to get into the substance of the phone call. I mean, I have said multiple times we’re looking forward to a response. P.J. mentioned it yesterday. He talked about in the near future. So –

QUESTION: Is the --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is the prime minister still planning to come to Washington next week or --

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the prime minister, but I assume so.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t they asking for meetings with the Secretary?

MR. TONER: I don’t have next week’s schedule, so I don’t know. I mean, all that sounds like it would be appropriate, but --

QUESTION: And the Secretary is still planning to speak at the AIPAC conference; yes?

MR. TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: Mark, on Mexico --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you said the Embassy and the consulates are now back open again. What do we read into that? I mean, does that mean that – you know, problem solved? Or is it – well, is there – because it was determined that it’s not clear whether they were targeted and there’s no information that really says that they were, did that change --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the level of concern, especially along the border?

MR. TONER: Well, as P.J. said the other day, I mean, they’re constantly assessing the security posture. The latest is that they don’t believe they were specifically targeted. That said, obviously, authorized departure remains in effect, and there’s obviously a tremendous concern given the Travel Warning about the security along there. But I don’t have --

QUESTION: Well --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

MR. TONER: No, that’s all right.

QUESTION: I just – I thought there was a – I thought they were closed first for a – when does the holiday end --

MR. TONER: They were. They were closed for a holiday and then I think – but we’ll double – I think the holiday was Monday and then yesterday --

QUESTION: And they remained closed after the holiday for this – because of the security situation?

MR. TONER: I believe so. Let me – that’s a good question, Matt. I think that’s correct. I think that’s the right timeline. I’ll double check. We can do it on background.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just – President flying off on Sunday for a trip to Australia, Indonesia, the main countries – how important, given that this is – Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country, from a diplomatic point of view, from a State Department point of view, is this trip?

MR. TONER: Well, of course, it’s tremendously important and Indonesia is a great strategic partner in the region. But for the specific details and – about the trip, I’d have to refer you to the White House. But yeah, of course, it’s tremendously important.

QUESTION: Okay. But – and just one follow-up.

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Just what – but what, from the State Department’s point of view, is the sort of key diplomatic goal of this trip in Indonesia terms?

MR. TONER: In Indonesia? Well, I mean, again, I don’t want to characterize the President’s trip to the region. Obviously, Indonesia is a key partner in the region and a key Muslim partner. So those make it a strategic partner, in fact. And so any way we can strengthen ties with Indonesia is for the good of the United States --

QUESTION: A couple days ago --

MR. TONER: -- and the region.

QUESTION: -- I asked P.J. --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a question about the Indonesian special forces, this pilot.

MR. TONER: And you never got an answer?

QUESTION: No, I never got an answer. And now – you know, it’s --

MR. TONER: Can I get you that answer offline? I assume – I was away last week at the end of the week, so I had no idea that you were --

QUESTION: Yeah, still waiting.

MR. TONER: -- still awaiting a response. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Kind of like you guys with the Israelis.

MR. TONER: Sorry. Lalit, go ahead.

QUESTION: A quick one on Sri Lanka.

MR. TONER: On what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: On Sri Lanka.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Sri Lankans are still frustrated that humanitarian aids are not reaching, and now in Sri Lanka, some kind of politics is going on between the humanitarian aid and the politics. So you have any idea now what the U.S. is doing as far as what – those who are in need of humanitarian aid, it should reach them --

MR. TONER: To reach –

QUESTION: -- after this war?

MR. TONER: To reach who, the refugees or the --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: Okay. I’m not aware of the – I mean – look, I mean, I know there’s a refugee situation there, but I’m not aware of humanitarian aid not reaching them, so we’d have to look into it, Lalit. Sorry.

Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - March 17]