Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 14, 2011


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Do not Recognize Legitimacy of Elections Held in Georgia's South Ossetia Region on Nov 13
    • Support for Georgia's Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity / Urge Russia to Fulfill Obligations Under 2008 Ceasefire Agreement
  • SYRIA
    • Welcome Arab League's Suspension of Syria / Growing Syrian Isolation / Mutual Goal is to Protect Civilians
    • Don't Want to Further Militarize Syria / Sanctions
    • International Media in Syria
    • Attacks on Foreign Embassies
    • U.S. and International Diplomatic Presence in Syria
  • PAKISTAN
    • Question Regarding Pakistani Journalist Seeking Asylum in U.S. / Press Freedom
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Loya Jirga / Leaked Security Plans
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Quartet Meeting in Jerusalem
    • Development of Proposals that will hopefully Lead to Direct Talks
    • Composition of U.S. Negotiating Team
    • Continued Work toward Direct Negotiations
    • Possibility of Hamas-Fatah Unity Government
  • JORDAN
    • Relocation of Hamas
  • CHINA/TAIWAIN
    • Charges brought against Director General of the Kansas City Taipei Cultural and Economic Office
  • ROK/DPRK
    • Dialogue between DPRK and ROK
  • KEYSTONE
    • U.S. Commitment to Rigorous Keystone Review Process
    • U.S.-Canada Relationship


TRANSCRIPT:

12:54 p.m. EST

MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Monday. I want to let the – allow the new, svelt Samir to take a seat, plug into the mult box. Ready? Great.

Just very briefly at the top of the briefing, we do want to note and comment on the November 13th South Ossetian de facto presidential elections and referendum. The United States does not recognize the legitimacy or the outcome of these so-called presidential elections and referendum that were held in Georgia’s South Ossetia region on November 13th. We reiterate our strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and we, again, urge Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of forces to pre-conflict positions and free access to humanitarian assistance to the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

And with that, I’ll take your questions, except about football. I don’t want to --

QUESTION: Believe me, I don’t want to talk about football either. (Laughter.) What do you mean the so-called elections and referendum? Are you saying that they just --

MR. TONER: We don’t recognize them because we don’t recognize their sovereignty.

QUESTION: I know. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re so – don’t deserve the term so-called, do they? I mean –

MR. TONER: We chose that expression to characterize our –

QUESTION: Gotcha. The pressure seems to be mounting on President Asad of Syria. There’s – they’ve been suspended by the Arab League; I know you all have commented on that and so has the President. There is an Arab League meeting coming up soon. I’m wondering what you would like to see them do and if you are looking right now to expand either your sanctions – your bilateral sanctions on the Syrians, or if you’re going to be pushing harder for other countries in a multilateral fora to do the same thing.

MR. TONER: Okay. First, as you mentioned, we did welcome the Arab League’s very strong and historic stance aimed at stopping the violence in Syria and protecting Syrian civilians. And, as you said, both the President and Secretary Clinton issued statements on that over the weekend. It speaks to, again, the growing isolation of Syria. We are, indeed, looking to the Arab League’s next meeting, which is on November 16th. It is a significant development that happened over the weekend, as I said, and we’re going to continue to consult not only with the Arab League but also with the EU and our other partners as we move forward in trying to find ways to increase the pressure on Asad.

QUESTION: The Syrians themselves have called for an emergency summit of the Arab League. What do you make of that?

MR. TONER: Well again, you’ll have to ask the Arab League for their reaction to it. To us it looks like another attempt to buy yet more time. We’ve seen this consistent pattern in Syria’s reactions to efforts – whether they were Turkey’s efforts to resolve and end the violence and then the Arab League’s initial offer that they continue to seek delay tactics, if you will.

QUESTION: Would you like – as you well know, the Arab League called for (inaudible) ways to stop the violence against civilians. Given that your calls, and pretty much everybody else’s calls, thus far have failed to persuade the Asad government to stop the violence for which it is responsible, what other ideas do you have for how to stop the violence, beyond rhetoric?

MR. TONER: Well, as the Arab League stated, one of their – one thing they’d like see happen, and one thing that we have also pushed for, is getting monitors on the ground, as well as opening up Syria to international media. This would help, I think, provide witness to what the Syrian Government is carrying out – the violence. It would make them, we believe, much more reluctant to carry out that violence against innocent civilians under the watchful eyes of international observers, as well as the international media. So that’s one idea.

QUESTION: Well, they found ways to expel, as far as I’m aware, just about every foreign news organization. It doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to accept monitors or journalists to go back in. So what else is there? I mean as – all I can see basically from the response is some sanctions, but not any recently, nothing at the UN level of significance, and then rhetorical calls for it to stop or for the Syrian Government to allow in monitors, which they don’t seem of any mind to do. Is there anything else that you’re thinking of?

MR. TONER: Well again, I wouldn’t want to in any way downplay the significance of the Arab League’s action on – over the weekend. Its agreement to suspend the participation of Syria is a very, very strong statement with regard to their view and the international community’s view that Syria is carrying out violence against innocent protesters.

That said, I don’t think anyone wants to see more militarization in the Syrian situation right now. We’re going to continue to seek ways that we can apply economic pressure. We’re going to continue seek ways that we can call the world’s attention to what’s going on. And, as I said, international monitors would be one way to increase that pressure on Syria. But again, we don’t want to see any more violence on the ground.

QUESTION: One more from me on this one.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Secretary, in the past, has been fairly explicit in public about how there simply isn’t the international consensus for action in Syria, as there was in Libya. She did so in a speech just last week. Do you think that the Arab League decision is, in any way, comparable to the Arab League’s essentially calling for an intervention in Libya? Or does it fall far short of that, and therefore you still don’t have the international consensus to take more robust actions here?

MR. TONER: I think what we’re seeing is definitely a strengthening of the consensus against Asad. Against what his regime is doing. And that’s a – and I – as I said, there’s – I don’t want to, in any way, downplay the significance of what we saw on Saturday. It was, indeed, a very significant step forward. This is a sign that Asad’s neighbors are disgusted with his actions and with his regime’s actions. And again, what we’ve seen all along here – perhaps slowly at first, but I think with increasing momentum – is the international community, the U.S, the EU, the Arab League, individual states like Turkey taking stronger and stronger stances against what’s going on in Syria.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s your response to Iraq abstaining from that vote?

MR. TONER: Well, that’s their sovereign decision; I’d have to point you to their government to explain that.

QUESTION: Yeah. But this Administration has often said how strategic that partnership is, and the relationship is with Iraq, and the first important vote that comes along in a while, it votes against the wishes of this Administration. Is it a partner or not?

MR. TONER: Well, look, we believe we have a – we’re building a stronger partnership with Iraq, but I’d have to really ask you to ask the Government of Iraq to explain their position. We want to see all of Syria’s neighbors take a stronger stance against what’s going on there.

QUESTION: Mark.

MR. TONER: Yeah, Said. And then over -

QUESTION: Back in the ’70’s, the Arab League took a decision to formulate an Arab Deterrent Force. And, in fact, it was led by Syria, to go and defuse – to go into Lebanon and defuse the civil war. Would you like to see the same thing happen this time around by the Arab League, to form actually some sort of an Arab or Islamic deterrent force to do that?

MR. TONER: Look, I’m going to leave it up to the Arab League to decide how it’s going to find ways to increase the pressure on Asad. I think what they’ve talked about now is the use of monitors and other actions that they can take to try to protect civilians. And I think that’s our mutual goal here.

QUESTION: But it is not something that the Administration would look favorably at?

MR. TONER: Again, we’re not going to – I’m not going to pre-judge or try to pre-determine the – what actions the Arab League may take. I think what’s very important here is that we share their concern about the protection of civilians in Syria.

QUESTION: Two quick ones.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: What would you like to see next? Would you like to see that, let’s say, commercial flights stop from flying into Damascus and out of Damascus? That’s one.

MR. TONER: Well, there’s a number of steps that they can take that would, we believe, continue to isolate Syria. But again, they’re going to meet on Wednesday. Let’s let that meeting take place. They took very strong action over the weekend. We believe they’re very unified in their reaction to the situation in Syria. And moving forward, we certainly feel like they’re now on board with the rest of the international community that’s growing more and more concerned by the human rights situation in Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah. But a clarification finally – I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: When there is an Arab summit, the United States attends, attends these Arab League meetings. Was there an American representative in this Arab League meeting of the foreign ministers?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t believe there was, Said. If that’s not right, I’ll let you know. I don’t believe there was. But again, we’ve been, obviously, consulting with our Arab League partners, both before and after.

QUESTION: Yemen and Lebanon have voted against the Arab League decision. How do you view their position?

MR. TONER: Again, look, we’re very pleased with the Arab League’s actions. We think it sends a very strong signal. I’m not going to parse out how individual countries voted. It’s up to them to explain themselves.

QUESTION: Well, surely you have an opinion of it. I mean, what does it say about President Saleh’s continued commitments – ongoing promises to step down, if his government then votes against (inaudible) Syria. Don’t tell me no one in this building has an opinion about --

MR. TONER: Well, if you want me to talk about the situation in Yemen, I certainly --

QUESTION: No, I’d like --

MR. TONER: We certainly do believe that President Saleh has shown time and time again that he is unwilling to accept the GCC’s proposal and put his country on a path towards a democratic transition. Whether their vote on vis-à-vis Syria is indicative of that, I – that’s for them to --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, when the Russians and the Chinese voted against sanctions on Syria, you – the Secretary came out and proclaimed that they were on the wrong side of history. So the – it holds no water when you try to claim that this building or this Administration doesn’t have an opinion on how Lebanon and Yemen voted in the Arab League.

MR. TONER: We’re very clear that we believe the Arab League --

QUESTION: So they made the wrong choice? They voted the wrong way with --

MR. TONER: -- made the right choice.

QUESTION: No, no.

MR. TONER: The Arab League made the right choice in its actions against Syria.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. TONER: We believe that this is increasing the pressure on Asad and that increasingly it’s changing – it’s building momentum on Asad. These countries -- they made their choices, but they’ll have to explain themselves.

QUESTION: Right. But you – but if you say that the Arab League made the right choice in suspending Syria --

MR. TONER: You can infer what you will from that.

QUESTION: Well, conversely, you should be able to say that the countries that did not agree with that made the wrong choice. Why not?

MR. TONER: I’m just saying that --

QUESTION: Are you holding out hope that Lebanon and Yemen are going to come around?

MR. TONER: I’m just saying that – look, it’s – they need to evaluate their decisions.

QUESTION: Just call it like it is. Call it like you see it. Don’t – I mean, I don’t understand the pussyfooting around here. I don’t get it.

MR. TONER: Thanks, Matt. Thanks, Matt. But what I’ll just say is we believe that the Arab League made a very strong decision in suspending Syria’s membership.

Yeah. Go ahead, and then back to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. What kind of outcome the U.S. would prefer to see from the November 16 meeting of the Arab League? In another word, do you prefer that they go to the sanction? And if so, do you like that Turkey would join, too, with them?

MR. TONER: Well, our goal here is to increase pressure, economic pressure on Asad and political pressure on Asad. So actions that would help up that pressure or increase that pressure we believe would be beneficial.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: When you say nobody wants to see the further militarization of this conflict, is that code for nobody wants to see outside intervention or an externally imposed no-fly zone or any kinds of other concerted international efforts to stop the violence through the use of U.S., Western, or other international military forces? I mean, is that what you’re saying?

MR. TONER: Again, I would just say that when we – there’s a lot of violence already taking place. What we’ve heard from the Syrian opposition and others is that they don’t want to see a further militarization; they don’t want to see another – or more escalation of the violence. And frankly, in many ways, that just plays into Asad’s hands. And he’s tried and his regime has tried very hard to make this some kind of international conspiracy against his regime. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we believe that the Syrian opposition doesn’t want to see an escalation of the violence either way.

QUESTION: But – I mean, I’m trying to – as a general rule, nobody usually wants to see more violence. And I’m trying to get at what you’re really trying to say here, and whether what you’re saying has much less to do with sort of the violence inside Syria and much more to do with the fact that nobody really seems to want to do anything militarily to try to protect the civilians there. I mean, isn’t that what you’re saying here?

MR. TONER: Well, if you’re speaking about the international community has a whole, the U.S. certainly never takes any option off the table. But I think that from what we’ve heard from the Syrian opposition and others is that we don’t want to see a militarization of this conflict or any further militarization of the conflict. And our focus now is on increasing the economic pressure on Asad.

QUESTION: And it’s inconceivable to you that the exercise of force to try to stop the violence against civilians might actually work and ultimately stop the violence? You’re certain that any kind of a military effort to do this would simply lead to more violence and a worse situation?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s impossible to say. What I would just say is that there’s momentum building. You’re thinking, I think, several steps ahead. We’re not there yet. What our focus is right now is on trying to increase the economic noose, if you will, around Asad’s regime to choke them off financially so that they feel the effects of this and growing isolation and that they cease the violence. In terms of additional steps, we never take any options off the table, certainly, but we’re going to try to find ways to increase the political and economic isolation on Syria.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Conversely, are you concerned that the increased rhetoric, inflammatory rhetoric, if you would, about this conflict sort of deteriorating and degenerating into an all-out war in the region that can involve Israel and Iran and others and so on, as it’s been said? Are you concerned that this might happen?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we don’t want to see, as I said, any greater violence. We don’t want to – we’ve said many times that we call on all sides – that includes the Syrian opposition – to refrain from violence. Certainly, that’s been repeatedly ignored by the Syrian Government and Syrian regime, but largely respected, greatly expected, by the Syrian opposition. And that gives them the moral authority to carry out their demonstrations and their aspirations, their call for political and democratic change in the country.

QUESTION: So you call on, let’s say, the Governments of Turkey and Jordan to have a tight grip on the flow of arms from their borders into Syria, to (inaudible), allegedly.

MR. TONER: Well, we – yeah. I mean, you’re --

QUESTION: Allegedly.

MR. TONER: Look, we don’t want to – we – what we – not speaking specifically about your question, but we do want to see – we don’t want to see any more arms flow into Syria, and our goal remains to politically and economically choke off the Asad regime.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. TONER: I think --

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. TONER: You have a Syria question?

QUESTION: No.

MR. TONER: Syria? We’re done with Syria. Okay. Goyal.

QUESTION: Another subject? Thank you. Mark, do you have any comments – in Arlington, federal judge, immigration judge, granted asylum to a Pakistani journalist, Siraj Ahmed Malik, despite Pakistani democracy. And what he’s saying that his colleagues and friends and relatives continuously disappearing in Baluchistan, Quetta, where he comes from. So more cases of this kind may follow. Any comments on --

MR. TONER: Well, I’d just refer you to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on questions of asylum. As you know, asylum cases are extremely sensitive, so we have to adhere to a strict code of confidentiality. If you’re speaking more broadly about the safety of journalists in Pakistan, that’s an issue we have raised with the Pakistani Government’s – regarding the troubles that some Pakistani journalists have faced when they’re reporting on sensitive topics.

QUESTION: Just a quick, to follow. One, do you still believe that there is a democracy and freedom of the press in Pakistan? And second, if --

MR. TONER: Just a quick follow-up.

QUESTION: If immigration officials seek any information from the State Department, a letter to the asylum.

MR. TONER: To your second question, I don’t know. And I don’t know that I could speak to it, given what I just said. And to your first question, we believe that Pakistan is continuing to build democratic institutions, including a free and independent media. But there are concerns, which we’ve been very frank in conveying to the Pakistani Government.

Go ahead. Oh, and then back to you. Okay. Is it Pakistan?

QUESTION: No, no. Just to clarify one thing.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. There was some assaults against some embassies in Syria, especially in Turkey, France --

MR. TONER: Absolutely, and thank you for raising that. We do condemn the recent attacks, I believe on the Qatari and Saudi embassies. And then additional attacks on Turkish and French consulates in Latakia. And as we’ve said about our own embassies – our own embassy – we call on the Syrian Government to uphold its obligations to protect the diplomatic community in the country.

QUESTION: Mark, one last thing on Syria. Is Ambassador Ford still planning to have Thanksgiving with the staff at the embassy?

MR. TONER: That remains our belief, yes, that he will be returning shortly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) see the Arab League do, is withdraw their ambassadors from these countries? To withdraw their ambassadors from Syria?

MR. TONER: Correct, that’s one of the things they did talk about.

QUESTION: And yet your own ambassador, you want to go back.

MR. TONER: I said correct, that is one of the things that they talked about doing to send a signal, but it’s each country’s sovereign decision whether they’re going to recall an ambassador or not.

QUESTION: No, I understand that, but don’t you think that would – but I understand the position is that you think that’s a good idea. That they should, or you think that it would send a signal.

MR. TONER: I think it’s the Arab League’s decision --

QUESTION: Yes. Mark, I’m not asking you to make the decision for them.

MR. TONER: No, no. That’s okay.

QUESTION: I’m asking you does the United States believe it would be a good signal, a good strong signal to send to the Asad government, for Arab League countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Syria?

MR. TONER: We think it’s a signal that they’ve talked about adopting, that they would withdraw their ambassadors. That’s certainly up to the – it’s a sovereign decision for each government to make --

QUESTION: Understood.

MR. TONER: But it would send a very strong signal of Asad’s isolation. We’ve been very clear why we believe Ambassador Ford needs to be on the ground, that he is, in fact, providing that kind of witness to what the regime is carrying out.

QUESTION: So you don’t see any disconnect between saying that other countries should withdraw their ambassadors, and yet you’re – and you planning to send your ambassador back?

MR. TONER: We do not. I do not.

QUESTION: Really? Okay. That’s amazing.

QUESTION: One other thing, aren’t those – isn’t there utility in having ambassadors there as, sort of, international monitors?

MR. TONER: Absolutely. That’s one of the things we’ve talked about with our ambassador on the ground. And we believe he is playing a very positive and useful role, as are other ambassadors who are there. But it’s still – it’s a country’s sovereign decision whether they’re going to pull their ambassador or not. That also sends a statement. We believe that. That’s why I don’t see a disconnect.

QUESTION: Has the United States Government sought to, in any way, influence the Arab League members’ thinking about this? Have you made – not about the ambassadors, but about the general thing. Have you made the case to them in private that suspending Syria might be a good signal? I mean, you welcomed it, but prior to that, did you make the case to them that you felt that suspending Syria would be a good idea? Or that taking other steps, like allowing – or telling them to urge Syria to allow back foreign journalists and international monitors would be a good step? Have you made that case to Arab League members?

MR. TONER: Well, all along this process, we’ve been consulting closely – whether it’s through Assistant Secretary Feltman – but at every level, frankly, with our partners and allies in the region – about ways to increase the pressure on Asad, and to end the violence there. That was before Saturday’s meeting, it’s going on after Saturday’s meeting. But let’s be very clear that this was a decision that the Arab League made on its own, and sent a very strong signal to the Syrian Government. And I want to be clear there, because again, we’ve seen the Syrian Government try to paint this as some kind of international or U.S. manipulation. And nothing could be further from the truth; it’s ridiculous.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: In Assistant Secretary Feltman’s testimony, he mentioned that waiting for Turkey to join E.U. and U.S. to put sanction within next two weeks. Would you be able to elaborate on that, on what indications you’re expecting the sanctions to come out from Turkish Government in next two weeks?

MR. TONER: I don’t, I would really have to direct you to the Turkish Government to talk about possible next steps. We continue to look at additional sanctions. I think the EU does. E.U. just announced some additional sanctions today, I believe, and we certainly applaud those. I know there’s been some discussion about Turkey also taking similar steps, but it’s really to them to define those.

Yeah. Sure, Catherine’s been – yeah, I think – (inaudible).

QUESTION: That’s okay. In Afghanistan, the Loya Jirga scheduled for Wednesday – the security plans had to be changed because they leaked out. Was the U.S. – did the Afghan Government consult with the U.S. about either the leak or about redoing the security plans?

MR. TONER: Well, first of all, I do want to say – and I believe this was said by our ambassador in Kabul – Ambassador Ryan Crocker said earlier today that – he noted that the Loya Jirga itself is a traditional Afghan institution for which we have the utmost respect. And the U.S. and Afghanistan are close partners and allies, and we have great confidence that this Loya Jirga’s going to reaffirm that strong partnership. In terms of security, I’d have to refer you to the Government of Afghanistan regarding security efforts surrounding the meeting.

QUESTION: Sorry --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: You have great confidence that the Loya Jirga’s going to do what?

MR. TONER: Is going to reaffirm the partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

QUESTION: You do?

MR. TONER: We do.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s on Wednesday, right? So Wednesday afternoon we’ll be able to find out if your great hopes were – can we move on? Or is there more?

MR. TONER: We can move on.

QUESTION: I’m going to take a stab here and ask you about what I presume to be a highly successful Quartet meeting in the post – first in the post-Dennis Ross era. So I’m sure that they accomplished something, right? They didn’t just agree to meet again, did they? There was something more?

MR. TONER: Well, you did see that they did, in fact, meet. The Quartet envoys and Quartet Representative Blair met separately today in Jerusalem, with representatives of the parties. This is a follow-up on the October 26 meeting. The emphasis, again, was on getting parties back to direct negotiations. And they discussed the kind of developmental proposals that will hopefully lead to those direct talks, and I believe there’s going to be a follow-on meeting in December.

QUESTION: So my high hopes for something other than they are agreeing to have another meeting were dashed, yes?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think that what’s important here is that this is a process. Progress is incremental; I won’t argue with that. It’s not easy. But they continue to move forward. Proposals on territory and security were discussed, again, in the strong hopes to – that this will entice the parties back into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: And you’re telling me that there was incremental progress made here?

MR. TONER: We think every time they meet and there is a dialogue, whether – even though they’re separate meetings, but every time we do meet and talk about these issues, it’s constructive. This was – is certainly a constructive meeting, but there’s – they do plan to meet again in mid-December.

QUESTION: Just two (inaudible), Mark --

MR. TONER: Yeah, I’ll get to you, Arshad.

QUESTION: Yesterday, David Hale met separately --

MR. TONER: He did meet separately with --

QUESTION: -- with Authority President Abbas and Molho. Could you tell us about the substance of the meeting?

MR. TONER: Well, I can’t get into the substance of those meetings. It’s --

QUESTION: Some of the highlights or the points that were really discussed?

MR. TONER: They were constructive. They talked about the range of issues and challenges that we face. Again, I think it’s just – we are committed to this process. We’re committed to seeing these parties get back into direct negotiations. And so we’re continuing to meet with them whenever we can on an individual basis to press our case.

QUESTION: Are you done?

QUESTION: Yeah. I just want to ask a quick follow-up.

MR. TONER: I’m not going to get – we’ve talked about it many times. We’re not going to get into the substance of those meetings.

QUESTION: With the departure of Mr. Dennis Ross, with – Mr. Hale now is the point interlocutor with the Palestinians and the Israelis on behalf of the Administration?

MR. TONER: I mean, in essence, he’s already been --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: -- one of or the principal interlocutor on behalf of the Administration, so yes.

QUESTION: Okay. But our understanding was that Mr. Hale coordinated quite closely with Mr. Ross, so who does he coordinate with?

MR. TONER: Well, again, there’s a very strong team that remains in place. That team continues to work towards our goal, which is direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Do you get any sense from the meetings – the separate meetings with the parties – have they actually begun to prepare proposals on territory and security?

MR. TONER: Again, we think that they’re – they are receptive. Again, I don’t want to stray too much into the substance, but we did talk about their development of these kinds of proposals, so that was a topic of discussion.

QUESTION: But what I’m trying to figure out –

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and I’m not asking about the substance of their proposals or what percentage of land might be exchanged or which crops might be or what the security arrangements might be. All I’m interested in figuring out is whether they gave you any reason to believe that they’ve actually started working on such proposals, or whether your discussion of the development of such proposals came down to the Quartet saying, “Hey, please do these proposals,” and they’re saying no.

See what I mean? I mean, I’m trying to get a sense whether they’re actually starting to work on these things.

MR. TONER: Yeah. And I would just say that they’re – we believe it was a constructive atmosphere, so that both sides are receptive to these discussions and look – and ready to meet again.

QUESTION: But your statement about their – the discussion of the development of these proposals should not then be interpreted to suggest that they’re actually working on them?

MR. TONER: I don’t know, frankly, what progress has been made by – on behalf of the parties.

QUESTION: I want to ask a legal question.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: There are – some of the settlers that actually commit acts of violence or crimes against Palestinian residents of the West Bank, such as burning their wheat field, uprooting their trees, or destroying their property and so on, they hold dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, and they do make frequent trips back and forth to the United States. Are they, under the law, liable in the United States of America?

MR. TONER: Well, first off, we – you raise these attacks, and we certainly condemn those attacks on innocent Israeli citizens. In terms of the legal, you said that they have dual citizenship and whether they could be prevented entry or somehow --

QUESTION: Well, once they’re in the United States --

QUESTION: The attacks aren’t on Israeli citizens.

MR. TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: The attacks aren’t on Israeli citizens.

MR. TONER: What are you talking about? Sorry, just to --

QUESTION: I’m asking that – there are settlers who hold dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, and they travel back and forth. They enter this country on their U.S. passport.

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: They have committed some criminal acts. Are they liable under U.S. law for prosecution?

MR. TONER: Sorry, I thought you were talking about a completely different issue. I don’t know. I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: One more on Israeli-Palestinian matters. Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad has again, I gather, said that he’s willing to step down if there is – to allow for the creation of a unity government. I think the Administration’s been pretty clear that it doesn’t think the idea of a unity government between Hamas and Fatah is a very good idea. But what is your view on the possibility of a unity government, and what is your view about the possibility of Fayyad --

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve been clear in saying that – right – for Hamas to play any meaningful political role, it needs to take the steps that we’ve called on it to take – renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, adhere to past agreements. And if it does so, we do believe it could play a political role. And with regard to his statements, it’s – those are – that’s an internal political matter. What we believe is important is that – the progress that the Palestinian Authority has made and institution building continues uninterrupted.

QUESTION: But you don’t want him to go, do you? I mean, he’s been the exemplar of building institutions for the past (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Absolutely, and that’s why I just – I made that point. I just think we want to see that progress continue.

Yeah. Sure, Said.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up on Hamas: The Jordanian Government, a close ally of the United States of America, is welcoming back Hamas without any conditions. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure I know what you’re--

QUESTION: They’re relocating Hamas from Damascus. You know for many years, Hamas had its headquarters in Damascus, and now they are relocating --

MR. TONER: Oh, back to --

QUESTION: -- some to Cairo and some back to Amman, and in fact, the Jordanian Government said that they are welcome back, that it was wrong for them to throw Hamas out to begin with, without posing any conditions and demands on the terrorist --

MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t seen those reports, so I’m disinclined to comment on them. Our position remains the same; we believe they’re a terrorist organization. They need to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

QUESTION: Have you been able to raise the issue of potential attack by Israel on Iran? It has been about two weeks that the news reports and --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Raise the issue with --

QUESTION: With the Israeli Government about their potential plans.

MR. TONER: Well, I think I talked about this last week. We raised the issue of Iran and our concerns – shared concerns about Iran and their nuclear program with Israel on a regular basis.

QUESTION: So you have not asked whether Israeli Government has such plans on Iran?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s really up to the Israeli Government to explain what its policy –

QUESTION: But they don’t.

MR. TONER: -- is vis-à-vis Iran. What I can say unequivocally is Israel, like the United States, like many in the international community, many in the region, have very serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. And certainly, those concerns have only been solidified in – after the IAEA report of last week.

QUESTION: So you are not taking any kind of stance on these news reports? You don’t comment on them whether they are (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: No.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. TONER: Yeah. In the back, there.

QUESTION: On (inaudible), okay?

MR. TONER: Are we off – yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Taiwan foreign official in Kansas, Hsien-Hsien Liu, was arrested by FBI last week for labor contract fraud. And what’s the latest developments of this case? And can this case apply to diplomatic immunity?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the – just for the edification of the rest of the journalists here, you’re talking about the charges brought against Liu Hsien-Hsien?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: The director general of the Kansas City Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. Well, that’s – I can’t comment on an ongoing legal matter, so I would just refer you to the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Missouri. Your question, I believe, specifically touched on diplomatic immunity?

QUESTION: Yeah. So can this case apply to diplomatic immunity?

MR. TONER: You mean would she be eligible for diplomatic immunity?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah.

MR. TONER: My understanding is that the relevant privileges and immunities of Taiwan representatives in the United States were set forth in the October 1980 agreement on privileges, exemptions, and immunities. And under that agreement, she does enjoy a status similar to that of consular officers, which means that she would have immunity only for acts performed within the scope of her authorized functions.

QUESTION: She does what? She runs –

MR. TONER: She is the director general of the Kansas City Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.

QUESTION: There’s a Taipei cultural and economic office in Kansas City?

QUESTION: Kansas City (inaudible).

QUESTION: Do you know how many of these offices there are? Are they in other huge hubs like Wichita and –

MR. TONER: If you’re trying to have me make a comment about the importance of Kansas City –

QUESTION: No. I’m just trying –

MR. TONER: -- I’m not going to go there. It is a large –

QUESTION: How many of these offices do they have?

MR. TONER: -- Midwestern metropolis with – that plays a vital economic role in the country.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not trying to diss Kansas City.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m just wondering why that – how many of these offices are there. If they have one in Kansas City, that would mean that they –

MR. TONER: I’m not sure, Matt. That’s a fair question. I don’t –

QUESTION: Because often times these things are done reciprocally, right?

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Taiwan, which is on a map the size of – I don’t know. I can’t – if they have an office in Kansas City, how many do we have in Taiwan, which has, what, one city?

MR. TONER: One city. I think we have one. So –

QUESTION: Right. So I’m just curious because –

MR. TONER: Yeah. I’m not sure, Matt. I’ll –

QUESTION: -- of the reciprocal –

MR. TONER: I can try to get you an answer to that.

QUESTION: All right. Thanks.

QUESTION: Just a question on SAARC. Do you have any update as far as the SAARC summit took place? And, U.S. delegation was led by Assistant Secretary –

MR. TONER: Oh, I’m – you know what? Goyal, no, that’s okay. You weren’t here. Assistant Secretary Blake came down and briefed us on the SAARC. So you’ll see the transcript. He did it right at the top of the briefing.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. TONER: Just a couple more questions. Sorry. Yeah.

QUESTION: Another topic.

MR. TONER: Matt clearly caught it.

QUESTION: The officials of The Elders are visiting Korea tomorrow to meet with senior government officials there, and there is a report by South Korean media that a senior North Korean official has told The Elders that Pyongyang is willing to have an inter-Korean summit. Do you see this move as part of the concrete steps by North Korea that the U.S. has been demanding?

MR. TONER: I’ll just say that we would certainly look positively on any effort to – as we’ve said many times – to improve the dialogue between the DPRK and South Korea, and it’s impossible for me to say whether this is a positive step or a step in that direction or not based on press reports and anonymous sources.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just following up on the decision released by the State Department last week concerning the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf states. Alberta Premier Alison Redford is in Washington today. Her officials have said that she wants to seek some answers about what led to last week’s decision and the go forward process from here.

Yesterday in Hawaii, Prime Minister Harper sat down with the President. Prime Minister Harper again stated that the Canadian Government is behind Keystone, and he’s disappointed with the decision, and the President reiterated his position that he supports the decision by the State Department.

There does seem to be some tension there. How concerned is the Secretary of State about how this decision could affect Canada-U.S. relations?

MR. TONER: Well, I think that our emphasis throughout this process has been on running a very rigorous, transparent review that’s in the national interest of the United States, that would make a decision that’s in the national interest of the United States. That’s been our priority throughout. We’ve been very clear and forthright in that view. And so when we made our decision last week, we believe again that it’s incumbent on us, the State Department leading this process, to examine every option thoroughly in order to make the right decision. I can’t speak to – we certainly hope this doesn’t affect our bilateral relationship, but our decision making process on this was based solely on those criteria.

QUESTION: What kind of follow-up can there be to the sit-down that the prime minister and the President had yesterday where they seemed to be entrenched in their positions? And that does – again, that does seem to pose – to be a bit of a problem diplomatically.

MR. TONER: Well, again, we don’t view this as a bilateral problem. We are committed to continuing our rigorous process that we have in place to reach a decision. Again, our decision last week was in that spirit, and moving forward, we’re going to continue to work to make the right decision that’s in our national interests. And in terms of our bilateral relationship, we don’t believe it’s going to have a negative effect.

That’s it?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)

DPB # 173

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - November 14, 2011]