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


Index for Today's Briefing
  • TURKEY
    • Incident at Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Quartet Statement / In Contact with Parties / Working on a Variety of Levels / Continue to work on All Remaining Issues / Making Progress / Working Toward Direct Talks
  • CUBA
    • Outreach Efforts to Cuba / Support for Cuban People
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Private Security Firms / Karzai Decree / Still Gathering Information in How it May Effect the United States / Working with the Afghans
    • Training the Afghan Military
  • PAKISTAN
    • Flooding / U.S. Assistance
  • CHINA
    • China's Military Strength / DOD Annual Report / Diplomatic Relationship
  • SUDAN
    • Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration Travel / Referendum / Working with Key Stake Holders
  • INDIA
    • H-1B Visas / U.S. Legislation / Understand Concerns / U.S.-India Partnership
  • COLOMBIA
    • Plane Crash / Update on AmCits
  • IRAN
    • Enrichment Activities / International Commitments / Bolton Comments / Bushehr Facility
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Travel of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf / Muslim Outreach
    • Court Ruling on Unpaid Property Taxes in New York
  • VENEZUELA
    • American Ambassador Nominee to Venezuela / Comments by Chavez


TRANSCRIPT:

2:00 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. I’ve got nothing to announce. I know that makes Matt very happy.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: So, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Real quickly, do you know anything about this situation at the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv?

MR. TONER: I don’t, Matt. I’ve seen – I’ve just seen press reports, but I don’t have anything else, any information for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: If we get it, we’ll come back for you.

QUESTION: And then on the same basic issue, although not that specifically, is there any update on the situation with the Quartet statement, Mitchell’s talks?

MR. TONER: Nothing beyond what P.J. said yesterday.

QUESTION: So there’s been no movement?

MR. TONER: Essentially --

QUESTION: You’re not closer today than you were yesterday?

MR. TONER: We feel we’re – we feel we’re always – well, no, we feel we’re making progress. We continue to be in contact with all the parties.

QUESTION: Well –

MR. TONER: I think P.J. said a Quartet statement sometime in the near future, and we continue to believe we’re making progress and we’re getting closer to direct negotiations, was the ultimate goal.

QUESTION: Well, if there haven’t been any developments, how can you say you’re getting closer?

MR. TONER: On a larger metaphysical scale, I think we believe we’re getting closer. I mean, we’re continuing to talk to all the parties. We’re continuing to work all the remaining issues.

QUESTION: Okay. So what –

MR. TONER: And as P.J., said, we’re not going to – I’m not going to negotiate --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to negotiate.

MR. TONER: -- not negotiate in public.

QUESTION: What contacts have you had since yesterday that leads you to this metaphysical belief that you’re getting closer or not?

MR. TONER: I believe they’ve been meeting on the ground. I think Hale meet with Abbas.

QUESTION: Again, yesterday or today?

MR. TONER: I believe yesterday.

QUESTION: Mark –

MR. TONER: I don’t have anything more for you, sorry.

QUESTION: Are we likely to see a statement by the Quartet by the end of the week?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to put a date or a deadline on it.

QUESTION: Are you talking to --

MR. TONER: I think in the near future is what P.J. said.

QUESTION: -- Blair or someone else on the Quartet (inaudible). Are you in discussion with the Quartet? Could you give us what is the status of what you’re doing with the Quartet?

MR. TONER: We continue to be in contact with the members of the Quartet, but I’ve just – nothing – I have nothing new for you today.

QUESTION: Mark, is it an --

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Dmitry.

QUESTION: Is it a minister-level discussion at this point of time?

MR. TONER: Is it a --

QUESTION: Minister-level discussion within the Quartet?

MR. TONER: I wouldn’t say that necessarily. I believe they’re all working levels. As I said, Hale in Jerusalem yesterday met with Abbas, and so we continue to work on a variety of levels.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, what progress has Mr. Hale made? This is the second meeting in addition to (inaudible).

MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I think the meeting was yesterday, but --

QUESTION: Because Mr. Crowley said he met with him on Sunday.

MR. TONER: It may – well be the same meeting. I’m not sure.

QUESTION: And what was --

QUESTION: If it’s the same meeting, then you can’t point to any contacts you’ve had that gives you this metaphysical glow of progress. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be obnoxious, but –

MR. TONER: Yeah, I know.

QUESTION: -- I mean, if you – well, actually, I am trying to be obnoxious. (Laughter.) Because if you keep –

MR. TONER: You were about to disappoint me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If you all keep saying that progress is being made and you’re getting closer, you have to – you can’t just expect us to believe that hook, line, and sinker without offering any kind of – I mean, if you can’t even say that there have been contacts, I mean, is this – is progress just happening by osmosis, thin air, just --

MR. TONER: I will try to get an update if any contacts have been made in the last 24 hours. I’m not aware of any. That said, we continue to work on all the remaining issues. We believe that we are getting closer. I don’t know if we’re inches or centimeters closer today to direct negotiations, but we continue to make progress towards that ultimate goal. But I don’t have any new information.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What was the Palestinian answer to Mr. Hale on Sunday or yesterday regarding resuming direct negotiations with Israel?

MR. TONER: Again, it was a good, constructive conversation, but I don’t – I’m not going to get into the details.

QUESTION: Different subject.

MR. TONER: Wait. I think he had one more question.

QUESTION: Just to follow up.

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: The issues that are being – that were discussed with Mr. Hale, are they issue by issue or are they discussed like in a lump sum or a group of issues? Where are we in terms of progress? Because you keep saying we made progress. I mean, did we put, let’s say, the issue of the settlements behind us, now we are on the terms of reference and so on?

MR. TONER: Right. When I talk about making progress, I think we’re talking about we know what issues remain. We’re dealing with them in a constructive fashion, but I can’t get into the details of those discussions. But we are – continue to be optimistic that we’re moving towards direct negotiations in the near future.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Good. So now that we’ve got all that ironed out – (laughter) – there have been several reports of a possible change in policy, relaxation of policy for Cuba, for travel of Americans to Cuba. Can you discuss that in any way?

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t have anything to announce on that. I’m aware of the press reports this morning. In general, as you know, President Obama first announced renewed outreach efforts to Cuba, to the Cuban people in April 2009, and since then, we’ve seen talks on a variety of issues from postal services, migration, even the oil spill, and I believe trafficking as well.

Our overarching goal here is to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And consistent with that objective, we’ve promoted measures to encourage the free flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people. And I think just, in general, we remain committed to policies that advance both our interests and help support the Cuban people’s desire for – to freely determine their future.

QUESTION: Well, with that said –

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: -- that said in general, is there anything underway that might lead to an even greater relaxation of travel restrictions?

MR. TONER: Right. I --

QUESTION: Just discussions underway? I’m not asking you to announce any policy change.

MR. TONER: I’m going to stay where I’m at, which is that we’re looking at promoting measures that encourage the free flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people. We’re obviously engaged, as I said, on a variety of fronts, but nothing to announce.

QUESTION: Can I ask about – now that President Karzai has issued a decree, do you have anything else to say about contractors, security contractors, in Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve read the decree. And since last fall, we’ve been working proactively with President Karzai on the issue of private security companies. As you’ll recall, President Karzai noted his intentions about these companies in the speeches he gave at – in a speech, rather, at the London and Kabul conferences.

We continue to support the Afghan Government’s intent to properly regulate the activities of private security companies in Afghanistan. There are questions of implementation, however. And I think P.J. said it best yesterday when he said that any – a four-month timeline would be a challenge. Private security companies are currently filling a gap that allow us to deliver reconstruction and development assistance that, at the end of the day, focuses on improving the lives of the Afghan people.

So we’re still gathering information about the decree and how it would affect – specifically affect the United States and our contracts with private companies, and we’ll continue to work with the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: Do you have any specific concerns about your particular operations and the country being affected by this on that timeframe?

MR. TONER: Sure. I just know that we’re going to work, I think, directly with them. We’re still kind of evaluating where we’re at, where it stands specifically with our contracts with private security companies.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re not offering a blanket opposition to this move. I mean, you don’t mind regulating it, but you seem to have a problem --

MR. TONER: Well, as I said, this is something that President Karzai has raised in the past. We think – I guess I would say our concern would be with the deadline, the four-month window.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow up. As far as replacing both private security, how fast or how hard are you working on training the – Afghan’s military and police force so then it can satisfy the – both sides?

MR. TONER: Fast and hard. (Laughter.) I mean, that’s the ultimate --

QUESTION: And how long it would be?

MR. TONER: -- the ultimate goal here. I wish I could put a date on that, but I can’t. But as you and everyone in this room know, that’s – it’s probably priority number one is the transition to Afghan security forces.

In back.

QUESTION: The situation in Pakistan has got worse. Are there any plans to boost aid?

MR. TONER: The situation in Pakistan?

QUESTION: In Pakistan has got worse. Are there any plans to raise the aid there more than the 76 that’s already been announced?

MR. TONER: Nothing new to announce today, but we continue to bring airlift power as well as the 76 million in assistance to bear on the situation. I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions that it’s going to get better soon. So I think we’re constantly going to reevaluate where we’re at and possibly increase assistance.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the contractors for a second?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: You said you’re still --

MR. TONER: And then to – sorry. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: No, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, if someone has something on Pakistan floods and you don’t want to refer them to the Embassy statement that you helpfully put out earlier this morning, then I would like to ask my question. But if they want to go --

MR. TONER: Okay. Pakistan and then Matt.

QUESTION: Early estimates suggest that there is a need for $15 billion for Pakistan. Is it likely that you would call a donors conference on anything like this?

MR. TONER: Nothing to announce, but we are fully cognizant of the fact that it’s going to need a lot of assistance over the long haul. I don’t think anyone is expecting this to be a short-term humanitarian need.

QUESTION: Nothing to announce?

MR. TONER: On?

QUESTION: Well, isn’t the UN holding a big meeting about the situation on Thursday?

MR. TONER: They are.

QUESTION: And you don’t have anything to announce with --

MR. TONER: Not yet, not at this time.

QUESTION: All right. Can I go back to the contractors --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- for a second? You said you’re still getting information about the decree? I thought P.J. told us yesterday that you had a copy of it. So is translation being held --

MR. TONER: No, I said we’re still getting information about – we’re still evaluating how the decree is going to affect the U.S. Embassy’s --

QUESTION: Well, how difficult can it be? He says all prior contractors out in four months. Doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of wiggle room there.

MR. TONER: Well, I’ve said that that’s a concern for us – the four-month window.

QUESTION: Well, that means – right, exactly, but it’s – so you’re – but if – you’re not gathering information about the decree. You’re gathering information about how you can water it down; right?

MR. TONER: Look. We’re going to work with the Afghan Government. We share a common goal. This is something that we’ve known about that’s been a priority for them for months, and we’re – we’ve had the – we have the decree, we’ve looked at it, and we’re still judging – or studying how it’s going to affect our private security companies that protect our personnel.

QUESTION: Is it that complicated?

MR. TONER: I haven’t seen the document. I can’t say.

QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing you said was that you’ve been working with – proactively with President Karzai on this issue since last year. What does that mean?

MR. TONER: Well, I think it just means that we – this is a priority. We’ve known about this and --

QUESTION: Known about?

MR. TONER: We’ve known about this as a priority, that he wanted to move beyond private security companies in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: All right. Well, the term “proactive,” which is not exactly the best term in the world to use, but would suggest that you raised it with him first – is that correct?

MR. TONER: No, I just think we’ve been engaged with him on the issue.

QUESTION: Then can I suggest that you take out the word “proactive” and --

MR. TONER: Thank you for editing that.

QUESTION: You – no, no, I’m not trying to edit.

MR. TONER: No, I --

QUESTION: But if you say you’ve been proactive; that means you approached him and say “Hey, listen, we’d really like to get rid of these private security contractors. Can I have you guys -- ”

MR. TONER: I think we said we – the phrase I used was “working proactively,” which means that we’ve been engaged, but I appreciate --

QUESTION: But the fact of the matter is that he came to you first, or he raised his concerns before --

MR. TONER: I believe so.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday the Pentagon released its China Military Power Report and not surprisingly, they’re saying the military’s growing in strength, they’ve got more funding than ever. It says at one point – quote – “such --” and it makes specific reference to these anti-ship ballistic missiles that can push carriers farther back – U.S. carriers, that is. It says “such capabilities increase Beijing’s options for using military force to gain diplomatic advantage, for example, or to resolve disputes in their favor.”

So is China’s increasing military strength a real concern here at the State Department? And how might that affect future diplomatic efforts?

MR. TONER: Well – right. As you know – and I believe this is an annual report – the Department of Defense, I’d refer you to them for specific questions and details of the report. I’ve not seen it or read it. I would just say in general, we continue to seek a sustained and reliable military-to-military partnership with China, and we’ve obviously got a robust diplomatic relationship with them. So I wouldn’t necessarily view this as cause for concern. We’re going to continue to engage with China diplomatically and work with them on improving military-to-military cooperation.

QUESTION: Do you see their increasing military influence sort of seeping over into, I don’t know, diplomatic exchanges you have with them with – seeping over into their civilian – or in governmental affairs, if that makes any sense?

MR. TONER: Again, our – you’re talking about such a broad and complex diplomatic relationship. Certainly, China has a strong defense; we’re aware of that. But specifically commenting on this report, I just don’t have the details in front of me, so I’m hesitant to go beyond what I’ve just said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: But in general – I’m sorry. But in general, what kind of message are you sending to China as far as this special report is concerned – or released?

MR. TONER: Well, again, Goyal, this is an annual assessment and it’s done by the Department of Defense. Our message to China hasn’t changed from yesterday, which is that we continue to engage with them on a broad array of fronts – economic, political, et cetera.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to Afghanistan, President Karzai sent a letter to President Obama asking for a review of the Afghan war strategy. What’s your read on Karzai’s motivation? Why is he doing this?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m not aware of the letter, but I would imagine, just as our leadership does, it’s part of – well, I also don’t want to speak for President Karzai, but I would imagine he, like all of us here and the leadership in the United States and elsewhere are constantly evaluating the direction in which we’re moving and trying to make sure we’re on the right path and evaluating conditions on the ground. That’s part of any, I think, wise leadership.

Go ahead. David.

QUESTION: Can we talk a little bit about what Scott Gration is up to in Sudan? There are lots of --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- reports that they can’t come to an agreement to stage this referendum. Is that what he’s about?

MR. TONER: Well, I know he’s en route to Khartoum, I believe, as I speak. And his visit’s going to focus on preparations, obviously, for the January 2011 referenda. That’s our primary focus right now, the referenda on self-determination for Southern Sudan and Abyei. He’s also going to participate in a Southern Sudan agricultural conference which is taking place in Nairobi. So --

QUESTION: Is that referendum in trouble, as far as you’re concerned?

MR. TONER: I don’t know if it’s in trouble. There’s obviously concerns. We – and right now, as you can tell, Scott Gration has been back and forth multiple times in the past couple of months. We’re working with key stakeholders to address those concerns, and just – it’s part of – we believe that keeping the referenda on track is part of building a lasting peace and our ultimate goal is, obviously, full implementation of the CPA. So we don’t want to see any delays.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: India. The Indian Government is seriously considering filing a formal complaint at the World Trade Organization because the U.S. is increasing fees for H-1B visas. Do you have a reaction to the possible formal complaint?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a reaction to the formal complaint. I think we’ve said – about this legislation, first of all, I think it’s not through Congress yet. I believe it was passed by the Senate and is in the House right now. We understand India’s concerns and I don’t have much beyond that. We appreciate their concerns and we’ll work with India to address them.

QUESTION: Do you have any expectation of --

MR. TONER: And with Congress.

QUESTION: -- changed minds up on Capitol Hill and say this is a pretty big deal for one of our big allies?

MR. TONER: Sure. Again, it’s still working its way through Congress. I mean, we’re trying to work with both India and Congress to at least address their concerns about it.

QUESTION: Can you check on that, because – since this is the first question about this issue to come from someone other than Goyal? Yesterday, he – P.J. said that the President had actually signed it and that --

QUESTION: It’s through and it’s signed by the President.

MR. TONER: It’s been signed by the President?

QUESTION: Yeah. And it --

QUESTION: And (inaudible) has verified it. And he has issued a statement on it also.

MR. TONER: Okay. Well --

QUESTION: So perhaps you could proactively ask in the South Asia Bureau to – (laughter).

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt.

QUESTION: My pleasure.

MR. TONER: I mean, what I can say is that we understand the Government of India’s concerns. We realize it could impact Indian companies that invest in the United States and we also understand the potential impact on Indians who work in the United States as well as some American businesses. But we remain confident that our long-term economic partnership with India will continue to deepen and provide benefits for both societies.

QUESTION: With India --

QUESTION: Can you confirm that a senior diplomat from Washington is traveling to Kabul this week to talk to – about the security contractors and --

MR. TONER: I cannot confirm that.

QUESTION: So you – are you denying it?

MR. TONER: I don’t know anything about it.

QUESTION: Can I just go back, one quick one about – on the India’s filing complaint? Let me ask you – this may be the first time that India filing a complaint in WTO against the United States. What do you think the implication are diplomatically and U.S.-India relations on this complaint?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s within India’s purview to do that. Again, I think we remain cognizant of the effect that this legislation may have on India, and we’re going to try to work with them to mitigate it. But beyond that, I don’t have a reaction. I mean, we’ve got a robust economic partnership with India.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask you if there is any update on the Americans that were onboard that flight that went down yesterday, if you have a final number and their status, health, and location?

MR. TONER: Sure. I believe the final tally was four U.S. citizens and one legal permanent resident that were injured. One was, I believe, critically injured and was transported to Bogota, and the other three U.S. citizens and the legal permanent resident have been treated.

QUESTION: Treated and remain on – at San Andres or –

MR. TONER: I’m unsure where they’re at right now. I believe they’ve been released.

QUESTION: Okay, got it. And then can I go to a different topic?

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iran and reports that they are – they have now announced some of the locations for the 10 new nuclear sites they plan to build, including some that will be built inside of mountains that would presumably defend them against aerial strikes, do you have any reaction to that – to their decision to go ahead with this?

MR. TONER: Well, under four United States[1] Security Council resolutions, Iran is prohibited from undertaking any enrichment-related activities, and it’s already in violation of UN Security Council resolutions mandating that it suspend its enrichment activities. So any additional enrichment facilities or enrichment to higher levels would only compound its existing violations. It goes without saying that it’s more fuel on the fire and that they continue not to meet their international commitments.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that former U.S. representative to the UN John Bolton --

QUESTION: Wait. I have an Iran question, actually.

MR. TONER: I think he’s got an Iran question, too.

QUESTION: On Iran. John Bolton was suggesting that Israel ought to strike before the end of this month. Is that something that is a concern in the State Department?

MR. TONER: I have no comment on former – or Ambassador Bolton’s comments.

QUESTION: So Russia made an announcement late last week that they would be helping Iran – shortly helping Iran bring the, I think, Bushehr nuclear reactor online. And NPR quoted P.J. as saying basically this is not a big concern for the State Department. But last March when the Russians made the announcement during Clinton’s trip to Moscow, she said that without reassurances from Iran, that they could have peaceful civil nuclear energy, that this would be a premature move opening the reactor. So I wonder if you have any – what’s changed between – obviously, you haven’t gotten the reassurances, so why the change in position and --

MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t know that – I don’t know what context P.J.’s remarks were used in. I mean --

QUESTION: I could give them to you.

MR. TONER: But I don’t think the two of them are mutually exclusive. Bushehr is a civilian nuclear project and so – and it actually proves that they don’t need to build indigenous enrichment facilities. And actually it provides a model that we’ve extended – the P-5+1 has extended to Iran.

QUESTION: Right, but you’ve changed your position. I mean, in March, Secretary Clinton said this would be a premature decision. Have you gotten reassurances from Iran that they would –

MR. TONER: Well, I just – well, let me finish, Ben.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: So, however, the Secretary’s remarks are also valid in the sense that we continue to have concerns about their failure to meet with their international commitments and to seek enrichment of uranium. So Bushehr in and of itself is unconnected to their enrichment activities.

Go ahead in back.

QUESTION: P.J. said last week he was going to gather more information on the itinerary of Imam Rauf. Has his State Department sponsorship – has it begun, when does it end, and what dates will he be –

MR. TONER: I do. I don’t know if I have it in my book. I may. Hold on one second.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: It’s – I have the dates. I apologize to leaf through, but I believe they’re in here somewhere. And of course, I can’t find them. I’ll get them for you afterwards. I can get you the dates. It’s – I just don’t know it off the top of my head.

QUESTION: And also being raised about this trip, he is going not to the countries where you need to develop a relationship, but to the countries where it is – there is money. So how are you going to stop him from collecting money?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve said that speakers are prohibited from raising money and using this program to raise money. He is aware of the prohibitions. He is going to engage in a public diplomacy program in countries that are believed by the United States to be areas where we need to focus. And during the Holy Muslim Month of Ramadan, it’s the perfect opportunity to engage some of these populations. So --

QUESTION: Thank you --

QUESTION: I’ve got one more.

MR. TONER: Yeah, Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the appeals court in New York – this appeals court ruling in New York in your favor against the Mongolian, Indian, and other governments on unpaid property taxes?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the decision, but if it’s in our favor, it sounds good. (Laughter.)

Dmitry – sorry – one more.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you for an update of your diplomatic spat with Venezuela over the nomination of Ambassador Palmer. I think President Chavez reiterated his dislike of your nomination again and --

MR. TONER: I’m aware of --

QUESTION: -- I’m just wondering if you’ve withdrawn the agrément, or what’s the status of this right now?

MR. TONER: He continues to be our nominee.

Great, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

DPB # 136

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[1] United Nations

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - August 17, 2010]