Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 21, 2011


Index for Today's Briefing
  • LIBYA
    • TNC Pledge to Provide a Full Account of Events in Sirte
    • Urge to Continue TNC to Abide by International Standards / Urge Humane Treatment of Prisoners
    • MANPADS
  • IRAN
    • U.S. Briefed Turkish Officials on Iran Plot
  • IRAQ
    • U.S. Is Working Diligently on Transition / Stronger Bilateral Relationship with Iraq / Strategic Relationship in the Area
    • Confidence in Iraq Security Forces
  • TURKEY
    • We Stand with Turkey to Fight Against the PKK
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • U.S. Remains Focused on Getting Israel and Palestine back to Negotiations / Looking for Commitment from Both Sides as Laid Out in Quartet Statement for Time Frame
  • SYRIA
    • Continue to Urge Unfettered International Recognition on Human Rights / Urge Access For Journalists
  • YEMEN
    • Urge President Saleh to Sign the GCC


TRANSCRIPT:

12:19 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: A number of reasons I’m trying to get out early, one of which is that, as you guys probably saw, we’re going to have a – I think it’s – is that an on-the-record briefing?

STAFF: Yes.

MR. TONER: Okay. So our permanent representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is going to talk a little bit about some of the conversations that have been going on there today about the future of Unified Protector. So that’s going to be, I think, in about 45 minutes or so.

QUESTION: Libya?

MR. TONER: The NATO mission in Libya, Unified Protector. So I wanted to get out here as soon as possible, answer any other questions you might have.


Brad, do you have something or do you want to --

QUESTION: Can we start with the same topic, with Libya?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: What was the U.S. involvement in the attack on the convoy that ultimately started the chain of events that led to Qadhafi’s death? Are you in a position to say now?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about operational details? You’re talking in terms of what, exactly? I’m unclear --

QUESTION: Was there a U.S. drone strike on Qadhafi’s convoy?

MR. TONER: Again, that’s not something I’m going to comment from here. I think you’ve see the Transitional National Council yesterday tried to give a detailed summary of what happened leading up to Qadhafi’s death.

QUESTION: Tried.

MR. TONER: And there are going to be more details emerging, as I think I said yesterday, in the coming days from the Transitional National Council. It’s really their story to tell. We look for them to provide, obviously, a transparent accounting of his death. But as we said yesterday, this is a pivotal moment in the Libyan people’s history.

QUESTION: Do you have a clear understanding from them now of how he died?

MR. TONER: I think we do. I think we know what you all know, which is the events outside of Sirte yesterday. But I’m not going to give a tick-tock. It’s really not our place here to do that kind of thing. I think we’re looking for them to add any more details that they might be able to as move forward.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a UN panel was now suggesting that some sort of probe needs to be conducted on exactly how Qadhafi died, possible violation of his human rights.

MR. TONER: Again, what I --

QUESTION: This is a serious question. Maybe we should get the tick-tock.

MR. TONER: Again, what I would say is – and I’m not sure why we’re looking to us to provide that tick-tock is my answer. The Transitional National Council has already been working to determine the precise cause and circumstances of Qadhafi’s death. And we, obviously urge them, as I just said, to do so in an open and transparent manner as we move forward. And we also continue to urge them, as we have been over the past months, to treat prisoners humanely and abide by international standards of justice and human rights.

QUESTION: Mark --

QUESTION: Will it come back to the --

MR. TONER: Let’s let her finish – okay, Said.

QUESTION: A quick clarification. I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s okay.

QUESTION: A quick clarification. I thought it was acknowledged that a Hellfire missile was dropped or was lobbed from a (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Again, it’s --

QUESTION: -- one of the Predator drone. I thought was already (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Again, that’s something – that’s a question best – better --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) the whole chain of events.

MR. TONER: That’s a question better directed either to NATO or the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), actually tagging on to his point, going back to the U.S. role in the attack, the U.S. and NATO have been criticized for essentially pushing the boundaries of the UNSC --

MR. TONER: Resolution.

QUESTION: -- resolution to protect the Libyan people from any attacks involving Qadhafi’s convoy. And so it does beg the question: What exactly did the U.S. do as part of its support role in this mission?

MR. TONER: And again, that’s an operational detail that the Pentagon’s better poised to address. I would just say that NATO did confirm that the alliance aircraft did strike a convoy of pro-Qadhafi vehicles that were conducting, as they said, military operations. It’s not determined whether that convoy was the convoy containing Qadhafi. At this point, that’s unclear.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. – does the U.S.--

QUESTION: (Inaudible) operational --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: -- issue, can we acknowledge that the Hellfire missile launched the whole operation and put it into its sequence? Why is that – why cannot you confirm that?

MR. TONER: Why is it an operational detail? Because it speaks to military capabilities used on the battlefield in the context of NATO mission that is in support of the UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: But, I mean, it’s all over the news today. (Inaudible) --

MR. TONER: And you’re talking about an operational aspect that I’m just not equipped and informed enough that --

QUESTION: Mark, Mark --

MR. TONER: I’m not equipped or informed enough to answer that question here.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: I think you should go to the Department of Defense or to NATO itself, where they can talk about it.

QUESTION: Based on --

QUESTION: Are you (inaudible) questions of your Libyans interlocutors about how he died? Or are you happy with whatever they’ve said so far?

MR. TONER: Well, I think I just said that --

QUESTION: No. Are you guys asking them questions to get clarifcation, or are you not really concerned about who punched who or who shot who and how Qadhafi ultimately died?

MR. TONER: Look, we have said all along that we support the humane treatment of prisoners on the part of the Transitional National Council and their fighters in Libya. The TNC, the Transitional National Council, has pledged to answer some of these questions going forward and provide an accounting of his death. Concurrently, there has been confirmation out of NATO that they did launch an airstrike on a convoy that may or may not have been the convoy with Qadhafi in it. We just don’t know those details at that point.

QUESTION: And just one – just one more thing.

QUESTION: Well, when you --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. And then I’ll – yeah. That’s okay. Sorry. (Inaudible).

QUESTION: On the humane treatment, the videos that you’ve seen, that everybody in the world has seen now – would you describe that as humane treatment of a prisoner, or does that need to be investigated?

MR. TONER: I think the TNC, the Transitional National Council, has pledged to provide a full accounting of what happened, what transpired leading up to his death. And we look to them to do that. They’ve been – they said they’re working to determine the precise nature and cause of his death. We think they’ll do that and we think they’ll kind of transparent --

QUESTION: But the treatment --

MR. TONER: And I just said – just let me finish. What I saw was snippets of film, and it’s impossible for me or for anyone, based on those, to really make a full and clear judgment about what happened.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Kirit.

QUESTION: So just to take it a different way, based on what you have seen, can you say whether you, the U.S. Government, has any concern that Qadhafi was executed?

MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re still seeking clarification or still looking for clarification. The Transitional National Council has said they’re going to work to determine the cause of his death and the circumstances around it, and we’ll wait for them to --

QUESTION: But what you’ve seen has raised no red flags with you, no concern at all?

MR. TONER: It’s – it goes without saying that there was a – that this was a clear case of the fog of war, of a very fluid situation. We’ve seen snippets of film played incessantly on media outlets throughout the world, but that does not provide a clear enough picture of what took place. Again, we’re going to – we’ve seen that the TNC has said that they’re going to look into this. They’re going to provide more details about the death.

What’s clear in our mind is that the end of a 40-year dictatorship took place yesterday. This is a man who brutalized his people, and he’s now gone. It’s a cathartic moment for the country. They’re moving forward. They’re dealing with the death itself as well as the aftermath in as transparent a way as I think they can. And we look for them to continue that effort.

QUESTION: I appreciate it.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: Sorry, hold on a second. One second, because you’re still not answering the question. I understand and I appreciate that you can’t come to any sort of conclusion and that I – and I understand that you say that you want them to do – that they’ve pledged to make some sort of investigation. But I think anybody who has watched those videos has come to some sort of – or at least has – it raises the question in everybody’s mind that it appears that he at one point was alive and then one point, there’s a bullet hole through his head. And --

MR. TONER: I agree, and --

QUESTION: And so I’m curious if that – I mean, you can’t say --

MR. TONER: And we’ve seen --

QUESTION: So that doesn’t raise any questions in your --

MR. TONER: And we’ve seen various details about how that happened, that there was – he was caught in the crossfire. And again, these are details that I think we’re looking to see emerge in the coming days.

Go ahead, yes.

QUESTION: Based on what you know to this point, are you satisfied with the NTC’s explanation of what happened when he was killed in crossfire between loyalists and armed rebels?

MR. TONER: I don’t think – they have laid that out. They have – we – in our conversation with them, both publicly and explaining what happened to the Libyan people, which really is paramount here, they’ve set out the details of how it took place, but I think their accounting right now is still emerging, and I think we’re going to look for it for the days to come. I think it’s too early to say.

QUESTION: And to update from yesterday, did the U.S. ever get a chance to view Qadhafi’s body after --

MR. TONER: No, not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Mark, you talked about --

QUESTION: Do you know if the TNC abides by the Geneva Convention?

MR. TONER: The TNC?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: I know that they --

QUESTION: Do they abide by – I mean, as the governing body of Libya, are they obligated by the Geneva Convention?

MR. TONER: They have said, and repeated many times in their public and private conversations, that they will abide by international human rights standards, including the Geneva Convention. I don’t know if they’re signatories, but Libya’s a signatory to the Geneva Convention.

QUESTION: And that would include some – in Qadhafi’s case, to be treated as a prisoner of war, correct?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not sure of their legal obligations under the Geneva Convention. What they have expressed many times, as I said publicly and privately, is that they’re going to uphold international legal and human rights standards.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Picking up on the word “cathartic” that you used, the UN high commissioner on human rights was saying that Qadhafi’s death has actually robbed his victims of a cathartic moment by seeing him in trial. Is that something that you all would have preferred, I’m assuming?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s not for us to state our preferences of what we would’ve liked to see happen. It is – events that took place yesterday, I think, point to a brighter future for the Libyan people. And as I said, they’ve emerged out of whatever you want to call it, a 40-year political coma. They’ve fought bravely to liberate their country from this dictator, and he met an ignominious end yesterday. But now the important challenges ahead are the – how the Transitional National Council establishes security and stability throughout the country and then moves them on a glide path towards a democratic transition.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that, though.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday in her round robin, Secretary Clinton, upon having confirmation that Qadhafi had been killed, said, “We came, we saw, he died.” That was before she saw the images of how Qadhafi did die. Was it appropriate for her to make such an off-the-cuff remark?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to comment on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Mark, anything on the status of the cache of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that are allegedly loose now as a result of Qadhafi’s death?

MR. TONER: Any update on --

QUESTION: Any update on the status --

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. TONER: -- so-called MANPADS?

QUESTION: Right, the – yeah, exactly.

MR. TONER: I don’t have updated figures in front of me. Obviously, the Secretary, when she was there just several days ago, pledged more money – I think it brings the total up to about 40 million right now – to help the Libyans, the Transitional National Council, wrap their arms around this problem. I mean, clearly, it’s a very serious matter, it’s one we’re concerned about, and it’s one we’re going to continue to work with them and cooperate with them on moving forward. That involves both conventional and unconventional weapons. We are – we have teams on the ground, people working with the Transitional National Council.

QUESTION: Is --

MR. TONER: Just to finish, so, I mean, it’s clearly a matter of great concern. The other matter too is the proliferation of these weapons and controlling and securing the borders.

QUESTION: Okay. So these teams on the ground include special forces, U.S. and NATO?

MR. TONER: No. These are individuals, I think, working with the TNC to search out these weapons.

QUESTION: Are they Libyan nationals or are they foreign nationals? Who are these teams?

MR. TONER: I believe they’re foreign nationals, but --

QUESTION: Are they like contractors?

MR. TONER: They’re like contractors, yeah.

QUESTION: Why would you have no preference on how you would’ve liked to have seen this taken place when the question pertained to a legal process versus a death under mysterious circumstances – which, by your own admission, you didn’t endorse any full account of how he died. Wouldn’t a legal process have been a better thing for everyone?

MR. TONER: This was a man who brutalized his people, who threatened to hunt them down like rats, who then, when Tripoli was liberated by the opposition, by the Transitional National Council after weeks and months of heavy fighting, then clearly retreated to Sirte, where he fought to the bitter end, and then fled Sirte, and there was a firefight of some sort.

But I mean, it is – we’ve long said about Qadhafi’s fate that it’s really up to the – he should be held accountable, but it’s really up to the Libyan people to decide. He decided his fate when he refused to step down.

QUESTION: Be that as it may, it’s up to the Libyan people to decide, shouldn’t – wouldn’t it be preferable that your – that it’s in a legal process where all accordance of rights are guaranteed, as opposed to all these questions we’re getting now?

MR. TONER: And again I would just say it – this was a decision by Qadhafi not to step aside, not to allow for democratic transition to take place, but rather to put countless lives at risk and to fight to the bitter end. And so what happened, happened.

QUESTION: But that justify anything.

MR. TONER: I didn’t say it did. I just said that this is – he met his fate, but it was his decision.

QUESTION: Change?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Let’s – you have another Libya question – let’s finish with Libya.

QUESTION: I have one other thing on Libya --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- just on the money. There’s still, I guess, $36-plus billion in frozen assets that the U.S. has. Does the events of yesterday, however they occurred, now change the status of that? Will the U.S. try to expedite returning this money now to its rightful owners?

MR. TONER: Well, I think that’s something we’re looking at. We have the UN Security Council Resolution that – of, I think, about a month or so ago that allowed a good chunk of this
financial – or those frozen assets to be freed up. And that money is now being funneled through the temporary financial mechanism. And going forward, we’re going to look at ways to provide more of that money, unfreeze it, because it belongs to the Libyan people.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Will the United States support a substantial peacekeeping force – international peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations to ensure that revenge killing does not go rampant in Libya, and that this happens in a short order?

MR. TONER: Again, Said, I think that it’s – we have pledged our support to the Transitional National Council as they move forward and are, among other challenges, assessing the security situation on the ground. We’re fully aware that there are some significant challenges as they move forward, bringing everyone under – bringing all these militias under a unified command, some kind of disarmament or at least a tallying or an attempt to collect or to solidify the number of arms going – that are circulating in Libya due to the fighting.

And I think these are significant challenges. We’re going to look to, and as is NATO, going to look at ways we can be supportive. But I think it’s premature to talk about some kind of peacekeeping mission.

QUESTION: To guard against any potential lawlessness, would the United States do well to initiate such talks with other Arab governments or --

MR. TONER: I think we’re positioned to be responsive to the Transitional National Council, to meet its needs.

You want to go? Go ahead, Ilhan.

QUESTION: Yes. Today, Iranian foreign minister was in Turkey and there was a press conference. And today also, the week after Foreign Minister Davutoglu debriefed on the Iran plot – assassination plot. And Foreign Minister Davutoglu says today basically what needs to be done is that all parties involved share what they have and clear the issue. Didn’t the foreign minister of Turkey got all the evidence on the Iran plot?

MR. TONER: We did brief Turkish officials on the Iran plot, yes.

QUESTION: Basically, Foreign Minister Davutoglu says, “We do not believe,” – this is quote, “We do not believe that Iran would resort to such ways.”

MR. TONER: I think it is, frankly, unbelievable for many people to consider that such a plot could be hatched by a sovereign nation on the soil of another sovereign nation against another sovereign nation. So it is unthinkable and unbelievable. But as we have said in our – in making case last week, and then continuing to make the case to our allies and partners, we believe the evidence supports that there was indeed this plot.

QUESTION: So at the time when EU goes with the sanctions, you have been putting more pressure on --

MR. TONER: Well, I think we talked about – we’re going to continue to put pressure on Iran. And it goes – that goes without saying. But one of the things we’re talking about as well is ways to strengthen existing sanctions. And indeed, these are, from what we’ve seen in press reports, that these sanctions are beginning to bite.

Go ahead. Kirit.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Iraq, please?

MR. TONER: Iraq? Yeah.

QUESTION: Is the State Department prepared to take over in 2012, especially with all military troops leaving by the end of the year?

MR. TONER: I think it’s something that we’re working diligently to be ready for. It’s certainly a challenge, but it also is a new chapter in our relationship with the Government of Iraq and its people. Our goal here is we want to establish a strong, or stronger, if you will, bilateral relationship with them. And we want an Iraq that’s, as I said, a strong ally and a strategic partner in the region. And so we are – it’s – you can’t flip a switch and go from a military operation to a civilian operation. There has to be a transition, and we’re working on that transition. But we believe we’re ready.

QUESTION: Oh, wait. I’m sorry. On the security side, though.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about -- on the security side, without U.S. troops in the country?

MR. TONER: On the security side?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: We’ve said that we believe that the Iraqi security forces do have the capability to provide security inside the country. We are going to have security there to protect our people. That is an element of the transition, and we need to be able to maintain and protect our diplomatic presence.

QUESTION: Do you mind fleshing out that transition period a little bit, what that might look like?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m sorry, you mean to talk about the numbers or are you talking about --

QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned the transition. You talked about a transition period. I’m curious what you mean by that. What would that look like?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously, like I said, this is moving from what was primarily a military operation. And let me just say that this is a transition that’s been ongoing as we’ve seen troops leaving Iraq over the last year or so. But we are looking towards January, and it’s going to be a diplomatic, bilateral relationship with Iran – or with Iraq, rather. And it’s going to require that we provide security for our personnel who are on the ground. So, to that end, we’re looking to have the kind of numbers on the ground, support personnel as well as security personnel, that can do that.

QUESTION: And is it – my last question.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned or worried about the fact that there will be no troops, U.S. troops, in the country at the end of the year?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You – are we concerned that there’s not going to be any troops on the ground?

QUESTION: Is the State Department, as an entity that’s going to be taking over there, concerned?

MR. TONER: Well, again, the U.S. – the current U.S.-Iraqi security agreement has a deadline of December 31st, 2011. We’ve said for many months now that we are going to meet that deadline, that all forces are going to depart Iraq on schedule per that agreement. So looking at that deadline, we have been looking at the security needs of our personnel on the ground in our mission, and we’re working to provide the kind of support that our personnel need.

QUESTION: Okay. I lied. I have one more question. Do you have any concerns about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces to maintain security in the country without U.S. trainers or personnel on the ground?

MR. TONER: We do have confidence that they can provide security. We’ve been working hard to build that capability over many years. And I think what we’ve seen in this drawdown is that they are able to meet some of these challenges.

QUESTION: But Mark, an Iraqi official differs with this assessment that you just said about their capability and so on. In fact, he said that they took the President’s speech yesterday to mean that, in fact, the Obama Administration now is resigned to actually pulling out lock, stock, and barrel by the end of the year and not renew any kind of presence that is really necessary to maintain some sort of equilibrium there. So are there any other efforts ongoing, let’s say, between the Iraqi ministry of defense and the Pentagon, as been alleged, to have some sort of special arrangement?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I have nothing beyond what we’ve said before, which is that we continue to talk about a post-December 31st arrangement or a relationship, security relationship with Iraq.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: But we are, at the same time, very committed to meeting the December 31st deadline as laid out in the Iraqi security – U.S.-Iraqi security agreement.

QUESTION: Let me just rephrase the question. Would you confirm or deny that Ambassador Jeffrey is conducting some sort of talks – intensive talks with Iraqi counterparts to maintain some sort of a presence that is done between the Pentagon and the ministry of defense?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of our diplomatic conversations except to say that we do continue to talk with Iraq about a security agreement post-2011.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iraq, but separately.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have concerns about the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers pledging closer cooperation against Kurdish rebels?

MR. TONER: Well, we obviously condemn the PKK as a terrorist organization, and we are working jointly with Turkey as well as with Iraq to combat it.

QUESTION: This is Iran.

MR. TONER: I know. Let me finish. And we obviously stand with our NATO ally, Turkey, and its fight against the PKK. In terms of any relationship or what it may have said with cooperation in terms of Iran, I’d just refer you to the Turkish Government.

QUESTION: But you don’t have – let’s – in context for a second, the Turkish military is inside Iraq right now, and it’s talking about much closer cooperation with Iran. Does that raise some red flags for you?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about much closer cooperation with Iran?

QUESTION: On a military-military level against the Kurdish rebels.

MR. TONER: Against the PKK.

QUESTION: And PJAK.

MR. TONER: And --

QUESTION: P – the (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Again, I just think where we stand on this is that we are committed to work with Turkey on combating the PKK. In terms of what they may or may not be talking with Iran about, I’d refer you to them.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on --

MR. TONER: I do want to follow up. Yesterday, I was asked – sorry, I was – just have the information here. I was asked yesterday about the Trilateral Security Dialogue. It does meet on a monthly basis, and the last meeting was on October 3rd, 2011, since we’re on the topic.

QUESTION: So are you considering to extend mechanism after New Year?

MR. TONER: It’s independent of other agreements, and its work will continue beyond the end of the year.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change topic? The Palestinian-Israeli status of no negotiations. The Palestinian prime minister was in town.

MR. TONER: That was a loaded question, Said.

QUESTION: Huh?

MR. TONER: I said that was a loaded question. Go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The Palestinian prime minister was in town, and he spoke to a large gathering. Mr. Ross was there, David Hale was there, many other officials, non-officials were there, and he actually said that relations between the United States and the Palestinian Authority were not very good. And in fact, he indicated --

MR. TONER: He said that the relations between --

QUESTION: They were not good. That’s what he said. He said that they were difficult.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: That we’re going through a difficult phase – those were his words – in relations between the PA and the United – the Obama Administration. How does that affect the potential for negotiations? He also said that we will not go back unless there is really an acknowledgment that the ’67 borders is the place where our state will emerge, that Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinians. Could you comment on that, on both issues?

MR. TONER: Well, yeah. I mean, he was here. It was largely a private visit. I’m aware that he did speak at this gathering.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: We remain focused on getting the parties back into direct negotiations. That’s where issues like borders are going to be decided. That’s where they rightly should be decided and talked about and discussed. So that’s what we’re looking to do. We have this upcoming meeting that’s a preparatory meeting between the Quartet and the parties. And that’s – part of the purpose of that is to agree on an agenda and a way to proceed forward. And we’re looking to see commitment by both sides that our objective or the objective of negotiations is to reach an agreement, as laid out in the Quartet statement, on a timeframe.

QUESTION: Would you --

MR. TONER: So the idea, I think, as the Quartet statement clearly stipulates, we want to continue on a track that gets them to focus on getting back into negotiations, and then once with – in negotiations, then it provides a timeframe for moving forward on all of these core issues. So I think it’s – is it hard? Yes. We’ve talked about that before. But our focus remains on moving forward step by step in this process, and we think we’re making progress.

QUESTION: But a quick clarification: Would you agree with him in his characterization that it’s going – that U.S.-Palestinian relations are going through a very difficult phase?

MR. TONER: Again, I think that these are always difficult issues to tackle. It’s always – these are difficult talks because there’s so much at stake, and ultimately, it’s only by getting into these direct talks that they can resolve these issues.

QUESTION: Is there an estrangement in U.S.-Palestinian relations?

MR. TONER: No. We’re committed to working with the Palestine[1] Authority, as well as with the Israeli Government, to getting back into direct talks.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MR. TONER: On Syria.

QUESTION: I believe a couple days ago, you were asked whether Syrian army entered Lebanon. According to news reports, six, seven times, the army entered Lebanon. Have you been able to confirm these reports?

MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I don't know if we have. I’ll take the question on, whether we’ve confirmed the reports. Obviously, it’s – it would be of concern.

QUESTION: And at Homs in Syria, a fierce battle has been going on for some time. I believe yesterday 41 people got killed, if I am not mistaken. First of all, UN Security Council, is there anything – now do you have any renewed initiative at the UN Security Council?

MR. TONER: Well, we would certainly welcome further action by the UN Security Council on Syria. Unfortunately, that – the resolution of several weeks ago now was rejected, and so we commit ourselves to working, again, on – with likeminded partners and allies, both in the region, in Europe, and elsewhere, on other ways that we can increase the pressure on Asad.

But you’re right; every day that goes by, we see this violence perpetrated by the Syrian Government continue. We see more deaths of protestors. It’s obviously something we’re concerned about. We’re supportive, certainly, of the Arab League and its efforts to mediate a dialogue. We’re not particularly optimistic since the Syrian Government’s shown no interest in pursuing any kind of dialogue. At the same time, as you mentioned in Turkey, we see the Syrian opposition continue to coalesce. We think that’s a positive sign, and certainly as it becomes more broadly representative of the Syrian people, that’s – it offers – it can offer a future vision for these protestors who are out in the street risking their lives every day.

But let’s be completely clear that the onus for these deaths lies on the Syrian Government, on Asad, on his regime, who continue to kill innocent civilians, and it’s appalling.

QUESTION: Reportedly, there is a huge – a military operation is about to set against Homs in coming days, almost --

MR. TONER: Right. We’ve seen continued deaths and violence around Homs. We continue to urge the regime to grant immediate unfettered access to Syria for internationally recognized human rights monitors. This is something the UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry has asked about. We also call on access for independent journalists from a variety of media sources to report on what’s going on. It’s something that they’ve rejected thus far, because these are people who could bear witness to their atrocities.

QUESTION: Yemen?

MR. TONER: Yemen.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Yesterday, when they heard about the death of Qadhafi, thousand – literally thousands of people went out in the main square and demonstrating, calling for the same fate for Saleh. Are you, as a result of, let’s say, what has happened in Libya, feel the pressure that you should, in turn, pressure Mr. Saleh to abide by the GCC agreement?

MR. TONER: Well, it just – it speaks to the fact that these leaders need to be responsive to the aspirations of their people. As you speak, I know that the UN Security Council continues to talk about a resolution on Yemen. We may have something on that today. But we’ve seen very little progress on the ground. We urge President Saleh to sign the agreement so that his country can move forward. Right now, it’s in a terrible kind of stasis, where you see killings continue, and without that GCC agreement that clearly stipulates a path forward for the country, there’s going to be continued violence.

QUESTION: Why does the push through the Security Council is not so urgent --

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

MR. TONER: Guys, I understand the President is on TV, so I’m going to call this short.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Thanks, guys. Thank you. I’m going to end it.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:52 p.m.)

DPB # 159



[1] Palestinian

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - October 21, 2011]