Mark C. Toner
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 24, 2010

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Secretary Clinton had Bilateral Meetings this Morning / Later Joined President Obama
    • Release of Fishing Boat Captain / U.S. is Pleased that Matter has been Resolved Through Appropriate Diplomatic Means / Improved Relations Between the Two Countries is Good for Regional Stability / Jeff Bader, National Security Council, Spoke Yesterday About Senkaku Islands at a Briefing / U.S. Will Continue Dialogue with Both Countries
  • CUBA
    • Confirmation That Judy Gross Traveled to Cuba to Visit Husband Alan Gross
    • U.S. Desire to See Moratorium Extended / This Issue is Conducive to Keeping Direct Negotiations Moving Forward on a Positive Track / IAEA Issue
  • IRAQ
    • Secretary Clinton Met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Yesterday / U.S. Wants to a See a Resolution of Iraq's Political System / Security Situation Discussed
    • State Department has Made Every Effort to Keep Congress Informed of Additional Resources Needed or Required for Transition / Recognize Enormous Challenge / Working in Collaboration with Department of Defense / Safety and Security of Personnel / Contract and Operational Oversight / Transparent in Expressing the Needs to Congress / Bureau of Diplomatic Security / Military to Civilian Transition
    • There is a Mechanism in Place for Dialogue / PKK is a Terrorist Organization
    • Secretary Clinton Pledged Support to Lebanese Sovereignty and its Governmental Institutions
    • U.S. View is that November 7 Elections are Going to Lack Legitimacy / U.S. Urges the Release of All Political Prisoners Including Aung San Suu Kyi / U.S. Position is for Burmese Authorities to Begin a Genuine Political Dialogue
    • Death of Nicaraguan Diplomat in New York / U.S. Expresses Condolences to the Government of Nicaragua


1:07 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Well, happy Friday. I don’t have anything particular to lead off with, but I did want to come out and just – obviously, the center of action, center of gravity, is in New York. The Secretary had some bilats this morning and then joined the President for the balance of the day. But I did want to touch base with you all and answer any questions I could before the weekend. So any questions you have, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. Japan and China. The Japanese released the captain. There’s been some domestic criticism in Japan saying that perhaps this was – they’re buckling under pressure from the Chinese. How does the U.S. feel about this? Is this a step forward? The U.S. has called for dialogue. Is – how does the U.S. see that (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: Sure. Well, Sean, we said all along that we want to see this situation resolved through appropriate diplomatic means, and I’d just say we’re pleased that the matter has been resolved.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR. TONER: Sure. Do you have –

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, just following up on that. I mean, is the – the Chinese are insisting that the actions of the Japanese were illegal in arresting him to begin with. Does the U.S. take a stance on that?

MR. TONER: It’s really a matter for those two countries to discuss and, as I said, resolve through appropriate diplomatic means.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that.

MR. TONER: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: Do you think this release will ease the tension between China and Japan?

MR. TONER: Well, we think that improved relations are better for – good for regional stability. But again, we’re happy that this – we’re pleased that the matter’s been resolved, and I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: I asked Admiral Mullen and Gates this question yesterday about the umbrella extending to the Senkakus, and they pledged their support for Japan generally. And I’m just wondering, as tensions continue between – in the region, what’s the State Department going to do? Is it always going to fall back on the diplomatic mantra, or is it going to step up some kind of increased dialogue or interaction, or how do you anticipate the future in that sense?

MR. TONER: Well, again, the immediate concern, obviously, we’re pleased that the matter has been resolved through appropriate diplomatic means, but on the larger scale, I think that regarding the Senkaku Islands, the National Security Council’s Jeff Bader yesterday spoke about this in a briefing about our position on the Senkakus. Obviously, it’s important that these two countries have peaceful, constructive relations. And of course, we’re going to continue our dialogue with both countries. And it’s in our interests, it’s in the interests of the region, that there’s stability and constructive dialogue. Those would be our goals and we’ll work in our bilateral relations with both those countries to that end.

QUESTION: New topic?


MR. TONER: Cuba. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –

QUESTION: I had come and seen you yesterday about the Gross – can you fill us in on anything on that?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a lot of details and I’ve been trying – I mean, all I can really do is confirm that she did travel there and did have a visit with her husband.

QUESTION: Did she do that through – there’s questions. She went through the State Department. Did – was she facilitated?

MR. TONER: That’s a good question and I’ll try to find out what our role was in that. Again, I believe our last consular visit with him was September 9th, but I’ll check that date. But I’m not clear what role we had. Certainly, I can imagine – would only imagine we’d play a facilitative role in –


MR. TONER: -- bringing her down there.


MR. TONER: But if there’s anything more to add, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Appreciate it.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: There are reports that the Israelis saying that they are on the verge of reaching an agreement with the U.S. and the Palestinians regarding the extension of the settlement freeze, and the head of the Israeli – the negotiator is in the U.S. working on this. Any update? Any progress?

MR. TONER: Samir, I don’t have an update. I do know, and as P.J. made clear last night, this is an issue of utmost concern, obviously, as we move towards the weekend. The President couldn’t have been more clear in stating our position, our desire that we see the moratorium extended. We believe it’s a good thing. We believe it’s conducive to keeping direct negotiations moving forward on a positive track. So obviously, it’s an issue upon which there is tremendous focus right now, but I can’t say more beyond that really.

QUESTION: Do you feel the – defeating the resolution at the IAEA to make Israel sign the NPT will encourage Israel to extend the extension?

MR. TONER: Well, I don’t know if I’d draw that distinct a correlation between the two, but our feeling about the resolution of the IAEA was that it’s not the right venue, it’s not the right time, that our focus right now should be on direct negotiations.


MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. According to the – some Iraqi generals, that there is a – there was a problem between Arab and Kurdish line which the U.S. intervened and it has quieted down. But they see a lot of trouble further ahead because of the Turkish position. So is U.S. doing anything about it? And then according to – it’s not from the Wikileaks, it’s a leaked email from an Iraqi top official to the Department of Defense that Iraq war is lost, he says in the email, even though the American effort has won, because of the political situation. Is the U.S. going to do anything about – to bring more stability in the political situation?

MR. TONER: Well, again, the Secretary met with the Iraqi foreign minister yesterday. And as P.J. said, I believe last night, one of the core messages that she sent was that we want to see a resolution of the Iraqi political system and that we don’t want to see any kind of security vacuum develop there. But I don’t have any comment on – I haven’t seen any leaked email or anything like that.

To your other –

QUESTION: You will see the email. You will not see the leaked one. We see the leaked ones.

MR. TONER: Okay. Well, I -- (laughter) – I’m not sure I know what you’re referring to. But more broadly about the security situation there, obviously, as I said, this was a topic of discussion in the Secretary’s meeting with the Iraqi foreign minister.

To your previous question, you were asking about –

QUESTION: Turkey meddling into the Kurdish – the PKK and that is very volatile situation if you go on the ground there.

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve got mechanism and dialogue in place between ourselves, between Kurdish authorities, the Iraqi Government, and Turkey, where we do coordinate on efforts to go after the PKK, who we all collectively view as a terrorist organization. So I would actually say that there is a mechanism in place for dialogue there and coordination.

QUESTION: But the Iraqis are saying that you should talk to PKK not as a terrorist organization. They even have mentioned about treating PKK on the lines of how South Africans treated Mandela.

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of those comments. I can only just state what our position is, which is that we believe that the PKK is a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq for a second?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday on Capitol Hill, the State Department came up against some pretty sharp criticism about its ability to oversee reconstruction once the U.S. military pulled out. Special Inspector General Bowen said the State Department had failed so far to oversee a lot of these projects. And today he repeated that and said as far as he could see, the State Department did not have the core ability to oversee reconstruction at, say, tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money. What’s the State Department going to do?

MR. TONER: Well, we cooperated, actually, on that report and have made every effort to keep Congress informed of additional resources needed or required, rather, for the transition. That is, in fact, ongoing. Certainly we recognize the enormous challenge of, and are devoting considerable effort to, the military-to-civilian transition, working in close collaboration with the Department of Defense. And we’re – obviously, our overarching goal is to ensure the safety and security of our personnel in Iraq, but also ensure an appropriate level of contract and operational oversight, and then thirdly, to make sure that the mission there – our mission, rather, succeeds.

And then finally, I just would say that this is a tremendous challenge, but the State Department does have experience in this. Looking back from an historical perspective, from post-war Germany and Japan, to the unrest in Central and South America in the 1970s, to more recently East Timor and Bosnia, we’ve put staff, personnel in these challenging locations. Their goals were to stabilize the governments, provide foreign assistance, promote stable and functional host governments. And so we believe that we are up to the challenge in Iraq.

But again, what’s important to emphasize is we’ve been very transparent in our needs and expressing our needs to Congress, working with Congress to identify our needs and identify appropriate funding, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Does the Department intend to hire enough private contractors to make up the shortfall of what the military now provides in terms of security, transportation, communications, and all the other services?

MR. TONER: Well, Charley, the responsibility of security, obviously, on the ground there falls under our Bureau of Diplomatic Security. And it’s up to them, obviously, to provide a safe and secure environment. And that’s going to involve, obviously, the use and participation of contractors. These contractors will provide protective services, advice, training, support. And in terms of actual numbers on the ground, I’ll leave that for them to sort of decide what’s appropriate for the security situation.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on Iraq. Do you see Iraq as something like South Korea where we stay for 45 – with 45 – 40,000 troops for the next 27 years?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve already significantly reduced our military footprint. We’ve made this transition from a military to a civilian effort there, so I’m not sure that that comparison holds.

QUESTION: In South Korea, the troops have never left, so –

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, look, if – I mean, we are hopeful and indeed confident that Iraq will become a stable democracy sometime in the future on the level of South Korea, and that would be a wonderful thing.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said that the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued a – said that the Polisario should release immediately one of its officials who recently supported the Moroccan autonomy plan. Now he’s jailed in a location which is unknown. So what’s the position of the State Department?

MR. TONER: I’m going to have to take that question. I’m not aware of those reports, so let me just take the question and get back to you and find out what I want to say on that.


QUESTION: Did you get the readout on the Secretary’s meeting today with the president of Lebanon?

MR. TONER: I did. Actually, well, you’ll have to sign up for it because P.J. actually tweeted on it.

QUESTION: Okay. Tweeted.

MR. TONER: P.J. has got the technology stuff down. But anyway, just very briefly, just capsulating or summarizing, Secretary Clinton pledged support to Lebanese sovereignty and to its governmental institutions, including the Lebanese military. She also urged better coordination and cooperation with UNIFIL, obviously, to avoid any future border incidents with Israel, and then they also talked about broader regional issues, including the status of peace negotiations and also Iran.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Staying on New York, I realize that things are probably still – they might still be ongoing now. But is there any readout of the Friends of Yemen meeting, the Friends of Yemen?

MR. TONER: Yeah. No, I don’t have a readout from that. I’ll have to check and see if there’s been anything to say about it. I’ll find you over here later.


MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Apparently, Aung San Suu Kyi is going to be allowed to vote in the elections. I wonder if you see that as legitimizing to some extent, or it’s just window dressing.

MR. TONER: Look, we’ve made it clear all along that we think the November 7 elections are going to lack legitimacy. We obviously remain concerned about the oppressive political environment in the country and we urge all of the authorities to release all the political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and I believe there’s 2,100 additional political prisoners. We don’t believe those elections can be free or fair, and we continue to urge the Burmese authorities to begin a genuine political dialogue with the democratic opposition as a first step, and also the ethnic minority leaders, as a first step towards national reconciliation.

QUESTION: Would you recognize the government which is formed after the election, because you are saying that it is illegitimate?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Would the U.S. recognize the government formed after the elections?

MR. TONER: Well, if we say the elections lack all international legitimacy, I don’t certainly want to predict what the outcome might be. But no, we don’t have a lot of confidence in any government that might be formed through illegitimate elections.

QUESTION: Are you saying allowing her to vote is just sort of a political stunt – allowing her to vote is sort of a political stunt?

MR. TONER: Your words not mine, but we don’t think it has any merit.

QUESTION: I realize this might somewhat out of the purview of State, but on the Hill today they moved forward on a bill that could eventually punish China over its currency.

MR. TONER: We don’t do currency. (Laughter.) And the President’s been – much has been said on this issue at much higher levels than my own, so I’ll let those words stand.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah, anything further about the death of the Nicaraguan diplomat in New York?

MR. TONER: Oh, yeah, sure. I don’t have much, but – so there’s an ongoing investigation. Obviously, the NYPD has the lead on this. The Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security, however, is cooperating, obviously, through their Office of Foreign Missions would be the mechanism for that. And we’ve also expressed our deep condolences to the Nicaraguan Government as well. I believe that was done at the – on the bilateral level in Managua.

QUESTION: Is there knowledge of the motivations behind this, whether it was a random –

MR. TONER: Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to get into anything. I mean, it’s an ongoing investigation, so I think I’ll leave it there. But as I said, it’s a tragedy either way how you look at – or any way you look at it. And we’ve expressed our condolences to the Government of Nicaragua.

Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:24 p.m.)

DPB # 156