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Washington, DC
May 13, 2011

The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.

From the Daily Press Briefing of May 13, 2011

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MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Happy Friday, everyone. Sorry to be starting so late. It’s Friday the 13th. It’s kind of a Freaky Friday, so – which is a great movie by the way. Anyway, welcome, everyone, to the State Department.

Very briefly, before taking your questions, on a very, very serious note, the United States strongly condemns today’s brutal attack that targeted a frontier constabulary training camp in northwest Pakistan. It killed scores of innocent people and injured many others. We extend our condolences to the Pakistan armed forces as well as the families and friends of the victims. Terrorists have shown time and again that they are the true enemy of the people and the Government of Pakistan, and we respect the nation’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, and we’ll continue to stand with Pakistan in our joint struggle to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and allied terrorist organizations.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Is that the only thing you have to start?

MR. TONER: That’s the only thing I have to announce.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Syria just for a second?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The situation there has gotten worse – more attacks – and I’m just wondering if you are yet prepared to say that President Asad is no longer the legitimate leader.

MR. TONER: Well, if we’re talking about legitimacy, I would just say that it’s really up to the Syrian Government to answer the legitimate aspirations of its people and not terrorize them into submission. We continue to monitor events on the ground in Syria. The Secretary spoke to this yesterday in Nuuk, where she expressed our concern as well as the international community’s mounting concerns about violence in Syria.

We continue to look at ways to apply pressure on the Syrian regime. We continue to express clearly our consternation about the ongoing violence there and continue to make the point that the window is narrowing for the Syrian Government to make any attempt to address the legitimate aspirations of its people.

QUESTION: Yeah. But do you see this as a situation where there has got to be some kind of a change?

MR. TONER: Look, there’s clearly a popular movement going on in Syria. The people have expressed their aspirations. We believe that the government does need to address them in a credible way and allow for that type of transformation to take place.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Really, it’s more than consternation.

MR. TONER: Okay, perhaps that wasn’t strong enough – our outrage.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. TONER: Sure, are we done with Syria? Okay. Go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: This is just a small, I guess, as Charlie Wolfson used to like to say, housekeeping question, but I’m not sure we ever answered it. Did you officially ask the Pakistanis for their – for the U.S. helicopter that fell?

MR. TONER: Elise, we haven’t addressed that.

QUESTION: Could you address it?

MR. TONER: No, because it really touches on intelligence and –

QUESTION: Why does it touch upon intelligence? You said on the record that the helicopter crashed or was unable to take off and that you destroyed it. But the – you left behind several pieces of the helicopter, and from our understanding, it’s – parts of it are floating all over Abbottabad. So did you ask the Pakistanis for whatever they – that remain? I don’t understand why that would be an intelligence matter.

MR. TONER: Well, it –

QUESTION: I’m not even asking what was remaining.

MR. TONER: No, no, no. I get – yeah. No, look, it speaks to our conversations with Pakistani military, and we – you’re right; we have acknowledged that the helicopter was destroyed in this operation, but I’m not going to get into addressing what requests we may have made to – about its whereabouts.

QUESTION: But you’ll get into some of your talks about – with the Pakistani military, I mean, when specific people called and general –

MR. TONER: But I’m not going to address this issue. Sorry.

QUESTION: But do you have any intention to bring those helicopters back – the pieces of those helicopters back? Do you have any intention to bring those back?

MR. TONER: Do I have any –

QUESTION: Do you – does the U.S. has any intention to bring those pieces of helicopters back to the U.S. --

MR. TONER: Again –

QUESTION: -- or you are going to leave it behind?

MR. TONER: In terms of intention, you can ask the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: What was that?

MR. TONER: Again, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: You don’t know if you want it back as the – you don’t know?

MR. TONER: Look, there was an action taken, we’ve – obviously that resulted in the death of bin Ladin. As a result of that action, this helicopter was crash-landed or however you want to phrase it, and it was destroyed by the team on the ground. That’s all been acknowledged on the public record, but I really don’t want to discuss it beyond that.

QUESTION: Mark, I have a question on Pakistan. How can you bring peace and comfort to Pakistanis who feel really humiliated by their own government, as far as this incident took place in their backyard, because they said that they were misled by then-ISI chief Kayani or General Musharraf. And now, a special TV report last night on Al Jazeera and CNN that even prime minister then, Nawaz Sharif, was involved with Usama bin Ladin and he was – financed his campaign, and also he used to meet with him regularly.

MR. TONER: Look, we’ve seen lots of rumors circulating about who may have known what about Usama bin Ladin’s whereabouts. We have raised our concerns with the Pakistani Government. Congress, of course, shares our concerns. And I think the Pakistani people also have concerns about this issue. So it’s – in a democratic government, a democratic political system, it’s incumbent on the government to try to answer those questions.

QUESTION: And finally one more, just quickly. Are you thinking of bringing or talking or any kind of talk with General Musharraf or General Kayani?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Pakistani Taliban says that they did this attack because of the death of Usama bin Ladin. What are you doing to reassure the Pakistani Government that – to try to prevent more retaliatory attacks?

MR. TONER: Well, again, this was a heinous attack that killed 80 innocent individuals. Look, I mean, the Pakistani Taliban has shown that it will commit horrendous acts of violence for many different reasons. Who knows really what the reason was for today’s attack? We consider it heinous and we consider that it only highlights the existential threat that these kinds of extremist organizations pose for Pakistan, and underscore why it’s so important that we continue to work together both to – both on defeating and dismantling al-Qaida as well as its affiliates.

QUESTION: Well, wasn’t the main real consternation, to use your word, of the Pakistani Taliban – is the alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan? So aren’t you concerned now that these type of retaliatory attacks will emphasize to Pakistan the need to distance itself from the United States, not get closer?

MR. TONER: Look, there’s no way to avoid this issue – this threat, if you will, by hiding your head in the sand. This is an existential threat for Pakistan. They recognize it. No one has suffered more from these kinds of attacks – terrorist attacks than the Pakistani people. They recognize it. Look, they’re clearly trying to disrupt our bilateral relationship through this attack, but it’s also clear that they’re just – they’re going to carry out these kinds of attacks no matter what.

Yeah, sure. Why don’t we go to Tejinder and then Lalit.

QUESTION: I just have two. The first one is that – what are your comments about the participation of India in Afghanistan? Yesterday and today, Indian prime minister has been visiting Afghanistan. He’s the first top-level foreign – so is the U.S. welcoming it? What exactly is going on?

MR. TONER: Well, clearly, India can play a constructive role in Afghanistan and in the region, and we would certainly welcome their involvement.

QUESTION: Is there any talks, dealings going on with India on this Afghanistan subject?

MR. TONER: Well, of course we talk about Afghanistan with India and – as well as other regional issues. Our bilateral relationship with India is quite close and robust. We recognize India’s role in the region and are frankly encouraged by it playing a more active and constructive role.

QUESTION: Can we go to Libya?

MR. TONER: We can go to Libya – or, sorry, let’s finish up with --

QUESTION: Senator Berman in a letter to Secretary Clinton --

MR. TONER: Oh. Well, let’s – she said Libya. I didn’t know we were jumping around.

QUESTION: Pakistan. No, I’m not --

MR. TONER: Oh. You’re in Pakistan. Okay. I thought you said Burma.

QUESTION: Yeah. No. No. Senator Berman, in a letter to –

QUESTION: Berman.

MR. TONER: Berman. Sorry. Thanks, Matt.

QUESTION: -- Secretary Clinton, in a letter last week, he said that U.S. had provided helicopters to Pakistan to fight – counter terrorists in the tribal areas, and Pakistan has been using these helicopters for its peacekeeping operations in Sudan. Do you have any kind of end-use monitoring agreement with Pakistan?

MR. TONER: We do have an end-use monitoring agreement. Usually in these kinds of --

QUESTION: Are they violating this?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure in this case, but normally when we do that kind of security assistance – material security assistance, we do have end-use agreements or end-use requirements. I’m not sure in this particular case. You said that they’re using the helicopters in

--

QUESTION: For you – which was sent – given to Pakistan for terrorist operations – counterterrorist operation from Libya’s --

MR. TONER: Yeah. I’d have to look into it, but I can confirm that normally when we do give security assistance, it’s with end-use requirements.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I was going to ask on Libya.

QUESTION: One more quickly, please. Did you watch – do you have any comments – what Prime Minister Gillani was saying in the Pakistani parliament, blasting the United States and also --

MR. TONER: Is this a couple of days ago?

QUESTION: Yeah. And General Kayani also had a warning for the U.S. for the future.

MR. TONER: No. I talked about it the other day. I don’t want to get back into it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: On Libya, a couple of things.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just before coming in, there was a wire saying that Qadhafi is going to speak on Libyan TV. Do you know anything about what’s going on there?

MR. TONER: I certainly hadn’t seen that. Obviously, there had been press reports swirling around that he was injured, that he was out of Libya. We’ve seen nothing to confirm those reports on our end. Now you tell me he’s supposed to speak on Libyan TV.

QUESTION: That’s what the wires are saying.

MR. TONER: Sorry?

QUESTION: That’s what the wires are saying.

MR. TONER: That’s what the wires are saying, rather. Okay. And I mean, look, what’s essential here is there’s a clear path that he can follow. He can conduct a meaningful ceasefire, withdraw his forces from Misrata and elsewhere, and end the humanitarian suffering in those cities. And he – we remain clear in our call for him to step away from power.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout then – excuse – oh.

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: Oh, do you want to follow up on this?

MR. TONER: Readout from?

QUESTION: Yeah. On this. Actually, he just made an address to Libyan state TV, and he has a message to NATO that he’s in a place where you cannot reach him. So I guess the question is: Are you looking for him to try and target him?

MR. TONER: No. NATO’s been quite clear that they’re not trying to target – they will target legitimate command and control operations, but they’re not going to target Qadhafi.

QUESTION: Okay. So if he’s in a place where he’s – it’s not a military compound, and there’s no command and control --

MR. TONER: Is this a game? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No. It’s not a game. I mean, I guess to him it’s not a game. And it’s not a military command and – do you consider anyplace that Qadhafi, is a command and control site, because he’s commanding and controlling?

MR. TONER: Again, that’s a question better posed to the NATO commanders in Italy.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: Do you have a readout for a meeting between Deputy Steinberg --

MR. TONER: I do. Deputy Secretary Steinberg did meet with the chairman of the Transitional National Council Mahmoud Jibril earlier today. They had a positive and productive meeting that covered the range of issues related to the Transitional National Council’s efforts in Libya. And that includes, obviously, the dire humanitarian situation as well as the vesting question as well as the need to make funds available to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people and to meet the operational needs of the opposition.

QUESTION: What about the recognition of the TNC?

MR. TONER: I’m – certainly it was discussed, but, look, we believe that the TNC is a – remains a credible and legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people, and I would just say that the question of recognition is one of many issues, policy issues, that we’re – that are still under review.

QUESTION: What are you waiting for? What is it that you need from them? Or are you waiting for Congress? What’s taking so long?

MR. TONER: No. Look, I feel like I’ve talked about this at length, but clearly not to anyone’s satisfaction. But --

QUESTION: Well --

MR. TONER: But, look, we’ve been pretty forthright in saying that we continue to assess the TNC, but ultimately it’s up to the Libyan people to decide and not the international community who’s going to lead Libya in the future. But we consider the TNC to be a credible and legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people.

QUESTION: But do you --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) release part of the frozen assets to the Jibril group, how big the part is.

MR. TONER: It’s – I’m sorry. What was the last --

QUESTION: I mean the frozen assets.

MR. TONER: Right. Yeah. Well, that continues to be discussed with Congress. The Secretary announced that we’re going to move in that direction in Rome last week. We’ve met with members of Congress, and we’re working on legislation that addresses that.

QUESTION: Do you have a number, about how much --

MR. TONER: I don't have a number.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: When Jibril spoke yesterday at Brookings he made several appeals over and over and over again for recognition. What does Deputy Secretary Steinberg tell him when he presumably makes this – the same appeal directly to him? Sorry, tough luck, you just have to wait? What – I mean, what – I mean the – what’s the answer? Here you have a guy who comes to town and is begging for help and begging for recognition, and says that the reason that they can’t get any money right now is – from the frozen assets is because they’re not recognized. And --

MR. TONER: But, Matt, we’re working – again, there’s the idea that recognition is --

QUESTION: But, Mark, it’s been months. How long has Chris Stevens been in Benghazi?

MR. TONER: He’s been there for several weeks. I’m not sure how many weeks.

QUESTION: More than a month.

MR. TONER: Okay. More than a month.

QUESTION: So what do you tell --

MR. TONER: And while he’s there --

QUESTION: What does Steinberg tell Jibril when he begs him for recognition?

MR. TONER: He says that we’re – he tells him or – our position on this, rather, is that we believe that the TNC is a very credible and legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people. But we are still assessing its capabilities. And this is an organization that’s not very old, and it’s evolving in an environment that’s seen more than 40 years of dictatorship and oppression.

QUESTION: Right. But surely you can understand why that kind of response is not --

MR. TONER: But, Matt --

QUESTION: -- is not welcomed by him. It’s like – kind of like – it’s like girls saying well, let’s just be friends.

MR. TONER: But Matt – (laughter) – but, Matt --

QUESTION: What is – (laughter) –

MR. TONER: But, Matt --

QUESTION: Well, no. Let me (inaudible) --

QUESTION: I mean, (inaudible) where – I mean, that’s great.

MR. TONER: But, Matt --

QUESTION: You think they’re credible --

MR. TONER: But Matt --

QUESTION: They’re a credible and legitimate interlocutor, but you’re not going to give them any cash? I mean, that’s --

MR. TONER: But that’s not true, Matt. I mean, we have given them $25 million in nonlethal assistance. We’re also looking at ways to unfreeze those frozen assets to provide them with the monetary assistance that they need. So the idea that recognition is some kind of be all and end all --

QUESTION: We’re talking about – he said yesterday --

QUESTION: (Off mike).

QUESTION: Hold on, Elise. Just one more, one last step.

MR. TONER: No, no. But the idea that – let me finish though – that it’s some kind of be all and end all here is – I think it’s just not true.

QUESTION: No. What – you think that it’s not a be all and end all, but they certainly do. And yesterday he said we’re talking – the amount of money that’s being talked about is about $180 million from those frozen assets. Now, it’s not clear to anybody if this money is actually going to go to them or if it’s going to be spent by the U.S. Government in support of – in aid of the Libyan people, or if it’s going to go into this trust fund whatever, which I don't think it is. But in any case, they say that they need $3 billion over the next six months. Now, your 25 million in non – I mean, that – we’re talking drops in the bucket here, 180 million --

MR. TONER: I recognize that --

QUESTION: -- 25 million --

MR. TONER: I recognize what you’re saying, that the Transitional National Council does need financial assistance and its needs are great. We’re aware of the urgency here. But recognition is not the ultimate answer to any of this. What we need to find, and what we’re working hard at doing, is creating the kind of mechanisms such as the temporary financial mechanism that allows us to get funds to them and --

QUESTION: Well, so can I --

MR. TONER: -- and my understanding is that it’s not dependent on some kind of official recognition.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, is it a question of more time to assess their capabilities and get to know them? Or is it a question of you are not going to recognize a Libyan group until Qadhafi is out and there are elections where the whole country can choose their elected leaders?

MR. TONER: Well, your second question or your second point is true insofar as it’s important that the Libyan people have a chance to decide their future leadership.

QUESTION: So – wait, no, no, no, can I – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: So --

MR. TONER: That said, we continue to assess the TNC and the Libyan opposition writ large.

QUESTION: So you haven’t made a decision on recognition --

MR. TONER: We have not made a decision.

QUESTION: -- or you’ve made a decision not to recognize – you’ve --

MR. TONER: We have not made a decision. It’s one of the issues we’re reviewing.

QUESTION: Will you recognize them before Qadhafi goes and all Libyans have a chance to elect (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: It’s a very fluid situation. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Well, is it the Secretary’s decision to make? Is it the President’s decision to make? Who will be the one making this final decision?

MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. I believe it would ultimately be the White House, but obviously with State’s input. But if that’s different, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Well, do you think today’s meeting, which takes it into the White House today, will finally make that final step? I mean, what – again, we’re all saying the same thing, what is (inaudible) hang up here?

MR. TONER: I think today’s meetings, both here and at the White House, his meetings on Congress, help create – or solidify rather our understanding of the TNC, what their needs are, where they’re going, what direction, et cetera. So, of course it’s helpful.

QUESTION: But yesterday, the TNC chief in an interview said that they have announced that TNC members will not be holding office after the whole country is liberated.

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve talked about once Qadhafi does step down there needs to a transition obviously and a democratic process.

QUESTION: Can I change --

MR. TONER: Peaceful change.

QUESTION: -- the subject --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- to George Mitchell --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and his resignation?

MR. TONER: Okay. But has it been announced? I’m not aware that there’s been an announcement yet.

QUESTION: Well, I think he just announced it, so --

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: -- do you want to talk about his resignation?

MR. TONER: Not that I don’t trust you, Elise – (laughter) – but I’ll wait until we have some kind of official confirmation.

QUESTION: But, I mean, aren’t you kind of --

MR. TONER: We’ll get somebody --

QUESTION: -- officially confirming that he resigned?

MR. TONER: I’ll wait until the White House makes the announcement.

QUESTION: It’s all over the media. It’s --

MR. TONER: I’ll wait for the White House to make an announcement.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what (inaudible) – what did he achieve during --

MR. TONER: I’ll wait for the White House to make an announcement, and then I’ll talk about it.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if the Secretary’s spoken with him?

QUESTION: Well, I’m not saying – I meant --

MR. TONER: No, she has not spoken with him. Well, I’m not sure actually whether she’s spoken to him by phone today – I’m not sure – or in person.

QUESTION: Or before. Okay.

MR. TONER: Well, we can take that question.

MR. TONER: I’ll wait for the White House to make an announcement.

QUESTION: Returning to something we talked about briefly yesterday, a group of – or representatives of a series of human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others, say that they have sent a letter to Secretary Clinton today strongly urging the United States to support efforts at the UN Human Rights Council to convene a special session on Bahrain. Have you received such a letter and do you believe that it would – there would be some utility in convening such a session to examine the human rights violations that you yourself have discussed from the podium?

MR. TONER: Arshad, I don’t know that we received a letter. I’d have to check on that to confirm it. And until we see that letter and read it and assess it, I don’t want to comment on possible action at the UN.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, can I --

MR. TONER: Sure. In the back, sorry,, a quick question on Turkey.

QUESTION: A Turkish – a Turkish NGO is organizing (inaudible) aid flotilla to Gaza next month. Are you discussing this issue with Turkish Government, because the – 36 Congress members send a letter to Prime Minister Erdogan to stop this flotilla. Do you have any comment?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we’re discussing it with Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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