Daily Press Briefing
- Welcome to 14 Pakistani Journalists from International Center for Journalists
- Continue to Call on Cuban Government to Release Alan Gross
- In Very Early Hours After Tragic Incident Last Week, Secretary Clinton Reached Out to Foreign Minister Khar / Investigation / Continue to Talk to Pakistani Counterparts / U.S. Committed to Relationship / Face Many Shared Challenges / Bonn Conference / Ambassador Munter Remains Engaged on Ground in Islamabad / Central Command / ISAF
- U.S. Remains Concerned About Mr. Weinstein's Safety and Well-Being / U.S. Officials Including FBI Assisting Ongoing Pakistani-Led Investigation / Privacy Act Considerations
- ISRAEL/ PALESTINIANS
- Quartet / U.S. Continues to Call for Direct Exchange Between Parties, Starting with Preparatory Meeting Leading to Presentation of Proposals on Territory and Security
- U.S. Continues to Work Through OAS
- Asad Needs to Step Aside, Has Lost All Credibility / U.S. Believes Violence Needs to End in Syria
- Turkey Sanctions Against Syria
- U.S Looks for Whoever Emerges in Political Leadership in Egypt to Govern According to Democratic Ideals / Politics Natural in Democratic Process / Key Is Not Necessarily Who Wins Elections But How They Will Govern
1:07 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome. That was smooth. Welcome to the State Department, and I wish everyone a very happy Friday.
I do, before we get started, want to note that we have some visitors in our briefing room today. It’s a group of 14 Pakistani journalists – hello, all – who are from the International Center for Journalists, and they are concluded three week internships with media outlets around the U.S., so I’m sure that was a very interesting and fulfilling experience. At least I hope it was. And again, welcome.
Before we get started and get into your questions, I did want to note that tomorrow, Alan Gross will begin his third year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. He was arrested on December 3rd, 2009 and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating connectivity between Havana’s Jewish community and the rest of the world. Mr. Gross is a 62-year-old husband, father, and a dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. We continue to call on the Cuban Government to release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.
I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Mark, for our guests, does Pakistan – do you – are you ready to apologize for the incident in Pakistan over the weekend? And are efforts continuing to get Pakistan to be represented at the Bonn conference in some way or another? And where are those efforts now?
MR. TONER: Well, as you know, Brad, in the very early hours after this tragic incident that took place last week, Secretary Clinton reached out to Foreign Minister Khar. We had other – phone calls that took place, obviously, between the Secretary of Defense and his counterpart, expressing our condolences and our sincere sympathies to this event that has happened. And we view this, obviously, as a tragedy for the Pakistani people, and we extend our sympathies and our condolences to them.
And I think it speaks to how seriously we take this incident that we’ve – we immediately launched, via CENTCOM, an investigation that’s looking into all the causes that surround this event. As the Secretary pointed out the other day, it’s not only important that we find out what happened and why it happened, but we need to really get the details because we need to make sure that we prevent this from ever happening again.
QUESTION: You’re not willing to go beyond what they said, I think on Sunday and Monday, as part of any effort to fix the relationship further or get them to reconsider their position on the Bonn conference?
MR. TONER: Well, let’s be very clear. Our – we continue to talk to our Pakistani counterparts, and our message has been very clear. First of all, we respect Pakistan’s sovereignty. Secondly, we are committed to this relationship and making it work. As we’ve said before, we face many shared challenges from extremists, and we need to tackle them together. This is a relationship that’s in both of our national interests, as well as in the interests of Afghanistan, obviously. And then, finally, we are going to – we have launched an investigation, an ongoing investigation, albeit in its early stages, that will, hopefully, find answers to what happened.
QUESTION: Okay. So just real quick, and then I’ll let the others ask.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Sorry. On the efforts – on the discussions with the Pakistanis, have you gotten any indication yet that they’re reconsidering and now they are planning to attend in some fashion?
MR. TONER: It’s – as we said yesterday, we think it would be regrettable if Pakistan were not to attend this conference. We think it’s important for the region, it’s important for the neighborhood, it’s important that we all work to put Afghanistan on a square and solid footing. Our engagement continues.
QUESTION: Has –
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. I was just --
QUESTION: Have they said that they are going to participate in one way or another?
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: Or that they’re reconsidering that?
MR. TONER: What – I’m not going to get into the substance of our private conversations with them, except to say that Ambassador Munter remains engaged on the ground in Islamabad and we believe it would be regrettable if they didn’t come. We want them to be there. We think they – it’s an important – they have an important role to play, obviously. And I would leave it to them to characterize where they are.
QUESTION: Okay. And then, just lastly, on the investigation, you said it’s in the early stages. Does that imply that you have a timeline now? So how long is this thing supposed to run?
MR. TONER: Well, I’d refer you to Central Command for the precise timeline. They know best. I’m just saying it’s in the early stages because we’re still in the early stages of the aftermath of this tragedy.
QUESTION: Are you saying that you can’t consider an apology until the investigation is actually complete, that it’s only then that you would look at the facts --
MR. TONER: I think we just need to – Lach, I just think we need to --
QUESTION: -- and decide whether an apology is required?
MR. TONER: Sure. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I think we’re just – we need to find out what happened. We need to get the truth here. We have endeavored to do so through this investigation. We’ve invited Pakistani participation in this investigation, and so let’s see what that uncovers.
QUESTION: And just on the border and the opening of supplies to the troops in Afghanistan, have you had discussions with the Pakistanis about when they might reopen the border? Or is this – you’re just stopped right now?
MR. TONER: Well, I think that’s a topic of our conversations. I just would refer you to the Department of Defense for details on that front.
QUESTION: One more.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The Pakistani army chief of staff today said that Pakistani commanders in the border region now have the authorization to fire back against attacks without waiting for permission from senior commanders. It’s a change in their rules of engagement, and it seems it’s clearly a direct response to what happened last Saturday. Is this a good thing or is this not just going to raise tensions by putting everybody on a hair-trigger fuse?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I would refer you to the Department of Defense for details on what the possible ramifications of any change of rules of engagement might entail. Speaking more broadly, it’s absolutely vital, and it’s one of the goals of this investigation, I think, that we improve communications and we can improve real-time communications to avoid these kinds of border incidents in the future.
QUESTION: The Wall Street Journal, I believe, broke a story overnight that said – that cited U.S. officials as saying that Pakistani officials in a coordination center had – that the preliminary indications of the investigation were that Pakistani officials had approved the air strike, and that they apparently were unaware that they had troops stationed where the air strike was going to happen.
I heard your earlier refusals to comment on the investigation, which you’re welcome to repeat, but does not every day that this sort of goes by and that the investigation isn’t complete and isn’t make public just make it worse? Because you now have American officials telling The Journal, well, they okayed it, and then there are Pakistani officials who are saying no, no, we didn’t okay it. Obviously, communication is a problem, but the longer this drags on, it – the worse it seems to me to be for you. So --
MR. TONER: And I – sorry, I didn’t mean to stop you.
QUESTION: Go on.
MR. TONER: And I think it’s in that spirit that I do believe that Central Command is undertaking this investigation, mindful of the fact that there’s a sense of urgency. That said, they’re committed to doing a thorough and complete investigation. It’s never good when, obviously, you get people talking and commenting outside of that investigation, whether it’s on the Pakistani or on our side. It’s very critical, I think, that we allow this investigation to play out, and we see concretely what was discovered. And again, we would – we have, obviously, ISAF cooperation on this, and we’ve asked also for Pakistani cooperation.
QUESTION: Then last one from me on this --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I don’t think it came up yesterday, but there was a New York Times story saying that Ambassador Munter had said – had called for an explicit apology, I think, by the president, and that that was – that advice – that he thought that was a way to sort of contain the crisis and that that advice was rejected. Is that true?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to comment on anonymous sources quoted in a New York Times article. Our ambassador has been engaged in Islamabad, both with his Pakistani counterparts, and I also understand he’s also spoken directly to the Pakistani people to express our profound sympathies about this tragic incident. Others have spoken. Secretary of State – or Secretary Clinton as well as the Secretary of Defense have both spoken to their counterparts and expressed the same, and we continue to do so.
QUESTION: Mark, why does this investigation take so long? I just can’t understand how these things are so open-ended and require so much work that they can go on for weeks and weeks when we’re talking about one kinetic situation that occurred five, six days ago.
MR. TONER: Honestly, I can’t give you a great answer for that. I would just refer you to the Department of Defense or to Central Command, who can maybe walk you through the processes.
QUESTION: Well, but just to tie the two --
QUESTION: And doesn’t --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Just to tie Arshad’s and Brad’s question together, I mean, isn’t there an urgency in getting to the bottom of --
MR. TONER: I think I said that. No, I agree with you. There’s --
QUESTION: Because isn’t – because I think one of the concerns expressed by U.S. officials in this building is that the window is rapidly closing for the U.S. to come up with some kind of explanation that the Pakistanis – that you can move on from this, as Arshad said. I mean, the longer that this goes on, the likelihood that you’re not able to continue as usual. Don’t you agree?
MR. TONER: I just think – I recognize your points, and whenever there’s this kind of incident, there’s always the dynamic when an investigation is implemented or is undertaken between doing it fast and doing it right. And --
QUESTION: You can’t do both? You can’t do it right, fast, quickly?
MR. TONER: And I think – I just think there is – I think there is a sense of urgency. I – Central Command was very quick to initiate the investigation. I just can’t speak on behalf of them on how long they think this will take, but I think they’ll do it as quickly as possible so that we get the kind of answers – it’s not just – there’s obviously diplomatic reasons for doing this because we value our relationship with Pakistan. We want to get beyond this and get back to what really matters in the relationship, in the sense of our shared fight and struggle against these extremists. And the other side of this is there’s – that we need to do it right and transparently, and need to get the right answers.
QUESTION: You talk about what really matters. Surely, the Bonn conference really matters. I mean, planning post-2014, getting all the neighbors involved, and Pakistan is the vital neighbor – what damage will it do to the Bonn conference if Pakistan doesn’t go or sends somebody lower than the --
MR. TONER: Well – sure.
QUESTION: -- top diplomat, Rabbani Khar?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve said we want Pakistan to attend. We think it’s important that they be there. We’ve still got a robust international and NGO presence in Bonn. So it’s going to have value, and it’s also important, I think, to see these on a continuum. We had the Istanbul conference. Now we have Bonn. We’re obviously moving towards the NATO summit in Chicago after that. So there is a sense of forward progress here. Everybody’s looking at how to put Afghanistan on its best footing as we approach 2014.
QUESTION: But it would be a setback, wouldn’t it, of – if the Pakistanis
MR. TONER: Well, again, the Secretary said – again, we want them to be there. Obviously, their participation is valuable. They’re absolutely critical to Afghanistan’s long-term stability. But we’re also going to find a way to keep them involved in the process moving forward.
QUESTION: But they keep – you said something --
QUESTION: How so are they vital?
MR. TONER: Yeah --
QUESTION: Transparency --
QUESTION: Can I go back to the transparency?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: You said – sorry, Ros – you said something about how it’s important to do this right and transparently. I’m willing to stipulate right, but there’s nothing transparent about this investigation that I can see. I mean, the best information about it seems to have come out of the Wall Street Journal this morning, so --
MR. TONER: Well, let’s let the – again, let’s let the investigation play out, and then I think when it produces its results or its findings, it’s incumbent on it to – on those who’ve conducted the investigation to back up their findings with real facts.
QUESTION: So it’s going to be made public?
QUESTION: So the process --
MR. TONER: Again, I would assume in some fashion it will be made public, yes.
QUESTION: So the process doesn’t have to be transparent, but the results have to be?
MR. TONER: I think both are important. Again --
QUESTION: Retroactive transparency?
MR. TONER: I just think – it’s impossible to say. The investigation was announced, it’s being implemented now, let’s let it play out. We’ve said we want to find out what happened, and we’re going to do so.
QUESTION: Well, I think the CENTCOM deadline is December 23rd for the final report. But coming back to Bonn, what is it about Pakistan that makes its participation unique? What can it bring to the table? Is it just enough that it’s a contiguous neighbor with an unclear border and shared security concerns? What specifically can Pakistan bring --
MR. TONER: Well, those are all --
MR. TONER: -- really good points, frankly. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But seriously, if they’re not there, the border is still amorphous, you still have these cross-border incursions. I mean, but what are they practically able to do to help shore up Afghanistan? I mean, are they training Afghan forces? Are they creating some sort of civil society --
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- along the border? I mean, what practically are they doing?
MR. TONER: Again, I --
QUESTION: Why do they need to be there?
MR. TONER: Again, I think that one of the important elements of Bonn is – as we’ve talked about, is, as we move to 2014 and the completion of the security transition, we need to ensure that Afghanistan is stable, is at least able to look after its security concerns. And part of that, frankly, involves its neighbor Pakistan. We’ve talked about the challenges that we face from these extremist groups operating in that border region, and how it’s a shared challenge to tackle those threats, because, as you so succinctly put, these border regions are amorphous and we need to improve our cooperation in order to root out these extremists.
QUESTION: So – but the suggestion that they’re not being at this one meeting, it sounds as if the – you’re suggesting that this is a make-or-break appearance for Pakistan.
MR. TONER: I’m not necessarily – no. I don’t want to imply that, and in fact, I think we said that we will keep – Pakistan will be a part of this process going forward, no matter what.
QUESTION: So does that mean that – Bonn is just a couple of days away. So you are – do you think the door is shut, Pakistan is not coming to Bonn, and you are looking beyond that? Or there are --
MR. TONER: I don't want to speak for the Government of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Or there are discussions going on at the moment to persuade them to come to Bonn?
MR. TONER: We continue to discuss Bonn in our conversations with our Pakistani counterparts. I mean, we – yes. We continue to discuss it, among other issues, obviously, but that continues to be a topic.
QUESTION: So you still hope they’ll come?
MR. TONER: We do.
QUESTION: Well, what progress, realistically do you think you can make at Bonn towards specifically a reconciliation process without Pakistan, given that the last time we were in Pakistan with Secretary Clinton, she stood next to President Karzai and President Karzai said, “Well, Pakistan’s really the only game in town. They’re the ones that are – that have control over the Taliban. So I’ll just talk to Pakistan.” So if they’re not talking to Pakistan about this conference and about moving forward in this process, what’s the point of a Bonn conference?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don't want to get out in front what I’m sure you’ll be – what we’re sure will be many briefings about the importance of Bonn, except to say that we have talked from Istanbul, moving forward, about trying to work to ensure that Afghanistan is able to face its future post-2014. There’s obviously a reconciliation element of that. That’s absolutely an essential part of it. There’s also security capabilities of the Afghan forces. There’s an economic piece to this puzzle.
All of those are important, and we’ve always said we support an Afghan-led reconciliation process. Pakistan does have a role in that. And as we move forward through Bonn and beyond Bonn, we’re going to continue to work with Pakistan on all these issues.
QUESTION: You’re committed to continuing to work with Pakistan on the Afghan issue?
MR. TONER: Yes.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Still on Bonn or something else on Pakistan? Al-Qaida has claimed that they kidnapped Warren Weinstein. Do you think that the claim has any element of credibility? What is your information?
MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. It’s impossible to say, frankly, whether it’s true or not. We obviously remain profoundly concerned about Mr. Weinstein’s safety and wellbeing. We – U.S. officials, including the FBI, are assisting the Pakistani-led investigation, and it is a Pakistani-led investigation, and we’re trying to cooperate with them in any way we can. I can’t provide much more information at this point, because we don’t – we have Privacy Act considerations.
QUESTION: But is there any headway in these investigations?
MR. TONER: Again, it’s hard for me to talk about specific progress in the investigation: one, because it’s an ongoing investigation; two, because it’s Pakistani-led, so I’d really refer you to the Pakistani authorities for more details. But just to say that we’re continuing to offer support as well as to Mr. Weinstein’s family in the United States, trying to provide them with any consular assistance that we can.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think it was yesterday I asked you about the Palestinians and the Israelis, whether they had given their concrete proposals, was yesterday or two days ago.
MR. TONER: It was yesterday.
QUESTION: Yeah. And Haaretz had a story today saying that the Palestinians have provided the Quartet with their proposal on borders and on security arrangements. Is this correct, that they have now provided – whether it was in the last day or not, but have the Palestinians provided this documentation yet?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The Haaretz – what did Haaretz claim again?
QUESTION: It said that Palestinians have provide the Quartet with their concrete proposal on borders and security arrangements.
MR. TONER: I think we’ve – Quartet members and the parties have agreed to preserve confidentiality in their discussions, so frankly, we’re somewhat disturbed by the fact that many of these details have appeared in the press. We don’t believe they’re accurate. We have – or we continue to call for a direct exchange between the parties, starting with the preparatory meeting that leads to a presentation of proposals on territory and security, and that objective has not been met, but we’re continuing to work towards that.
QUESTION: How is it inaccurate?
MR. TONER: Again – well, there’s reports that the Quartet provided Palestinian proposals to the Israelis.
QUESTION: No. I think it was the other way around, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it that the report was that the Palestinians provided their proposals to the Quartet?
QUESTION: Right. And then the Quartet passed it on to the Israelis.
QUESTION: Palestinians – the chief negotiator --
MR. TONER: But that part – I think we do view that as inaccurate. And again, I’m not going to talk about what proposals we --
QUESTION: Which –
MR. TONER: Sorry.
QUESTION: There’s a Quartet --
MR. TONER: I refuse to --
QUESTION: The Quartet didn’t give it to the Israelis.
MR. TONER: Right. That we said that those are not accurate, that reports that the Quartet provided the Palestinian proposals to the Israelis. And the reason why that’s important is, again, we’re moving towards a direct exchange between the parties and that face-to-face preparatory meeting where we can talk about proposals on territory and security. That’s our goal. So not – as Arshad has duly noted in the past, not the separate meetings but face-to-face meetings.
QUESTION: And so the Quartet will not be engaging in any kind of mediation where it would take the proposals from both sides and then bring them --
MR. TONER: My understanding is that we want these proposals – we want both sides to work on proposals but then be brought into a setting where they negotiate on them directly.
QUESTION: Now, is it correct that the Palestinians asked you to pass their proposal to the Israelis and that the Quartet denied that request?
MR. TONER: I can’t answer that. I don’t know.
QUESTION: The Palestinians provided a proposal to the Quartet or not? My assumption is not, but --
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t – I just don’t want to confirm that in any way. Our focus remains on working towards this preparatory meeting where we do have the proposals to discuss.
QUESTION: So unless this first meeting, the direct talks, begin, then there will be no exchange of concrete proposals? Essentially, that’s – that first step has to be passed before you could get to the concrete proposals?
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, we want the preparatory meeting to be – that then would lead to a presentation of proposals on territory and security.
QUESTION: Sorry. Direct?
MR. TONER: Direct.
QUESTION: There’s a report also in Haaretz today saying that Netanyahu do not accept the Quartet approach, they are not going to present proposals to the Quartet.
MR. TONER: Again, let’s --
QUESTION: Any proposals shall be directly to the Palestinians in direct negotiations.
MR. TONER: Samir, I just – all these public statements and comments – we’re negotiating in private and confidentiality with the parties, and that’s how – I’m not going to --
QUESTION: But you still want the Israelis and the Palestinians to present proposals to the Quartet?
MR. TONER: Again, we’ve – the Quartet process does envision a preparatory meeting that leads to the presentation of proposals on territory and security.
QUESTION: To each other?
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Mark, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has convened a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean countries that says they’re forming a new grouping, and he says this is a counter to American influence in the region and kind of a successor to the venerable OAS. Do you have a response to that? I mean, is there any irritation here over it?
MR. TONER: Well, we do – there’s many subregional organizations in the hemisphere, some of which we belong to. Others, such as this, we don’t. We continue, obviously, to work through the OAS as the preeminent multilateral organization speaking for the hemisphere.
Am I done? Goodness.
MR. TONER: Syria? We can do Syria. Sure.
QUESTION: Huge demonstrations today.
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Huge demonstrations where?
QUESTION: In Syria. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: This is no laughing matter.
MR. TONER: No, I’m not trying to make it light. I’m just – where in Syria?
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
MR. TONER: Where in Syria? It’s okay.
QUESTION: I didn’t find where.
MR. TONER: That’s okay. And thank you, Brad, for – I mean, it’s true; it’s not a laughing matter. We continue to come out here every day and announce another death toll from the previous 24 hours, deaths at the hands of Asad’s security forces. We know that – from reports from activists that at least 27s civilian were killed on December 1st, 10 died during clashes, another 10 – an additional 10 died in clashes in Hama between defectors and regime forces. You’ve seen that human rights commission – rather, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights now estimates that this death toll from Syria’s nine-month uprising is at 4,000 – or much more than 4,000, I think he said.
MR. TONER: She, rather. Thank you. So it’s a horrible statistic to have to update every day. Asad knows what he has to do. There’s a way to resolve this. He needs to step aside. He’s lost all credibility.
QUESTION: Do you agree with her assessment that Syria is in de facto civil war?
MR. TONER: I tried to talk a little bit about this yesterday.
QUESTION: She said it again today. That’s why I’m asking.
MR. TONER: Right, right. Sure.
QUESTION: I thought you tried not to talk about it. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Well, it’s – fair point.
QUESTION: That was meant to be a joke.
MR. TONER: But in all seriousness, it’s really – there’s no equality between the terrible violence being perpetrated by Asad’s forces against innocent protestors and some isolated incidents of violence among the opposition. We don’t agree with any violence by any party. We think violence needs to end in Syria. And that includes among the opposition elements. But there’s no way to equate the two, which, in my view, is implied in using the term “civil war.”
That said, as we’ve been very clear, it’s Asad himself who has put his country in jeopardy and who has led them down a very dangerous path where there is increasing violence and violence being used by – against some elements within the opposition. So it’s – we do view it as a very volatile and very dangerous situation.
QUESTION: You talk about isolated incidents of violence among the opposition, but isn’t the trend line towards increasing military or armed action by the opposition? I mean, aren’t you following it? You have an Embassy there. You’re following the news reports.
MR. TONER: Well, again, we think there’s an increasing cycle of violence overall and that it’s the regime that’s driving that cycle.
QUESTION: Is this now the world’s worst flash point for human rights crisis? Is this the world’s worst ongoing repression right now?
MR. TONER: Well, you saw that we did have the report come out by the UN HRC earlier this week and the allegations were truly appalling. I think there’s one instance where an officer shot a two-year-old girl, claiming that she – so she wouldn’t grow up to be a protestor or demonstrator. It’s appalling. Torture has been applied equally – and I’m quoting here – equally to adults and children, including boys, who were subjected to sexual torture. So it is a compelling list of human rights abuses and, frankly, a disgusting list of human rights abuses.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Vice President Biden is asking Turkey to impose sanctions on Syria in addition to the Arab League sanctions. Any concern on the part of the U.S. Government about the humanitarian impact on the Syrian people of economic sanctions?
MR. TONER: Well, Turkey, I think, has already announced that it will, in fact, implement sanctions against Syria. None of these sanctions, clearly, are directed against the Syrian people. Obviously, in Turkey’s case, they have provided humanitarian assistance to the thousands of refugees that have come across the border.
Our goal and the goal of these sanctions, rather, is to apply pressure directly on Asad’s regime, on their ability to purchase new arms to use against the opposition.
QUESTION: In Egypt, the – I think it was the Muslim Brotherhood, or officials with the Muslim Brotherhood, said they weren’t interested in forming a bloc with the Salafists on their right. Do you find this encouraging that maybe the biggest – what looks like it’s going to be the biggest bloc is looking toward the political center and not simply trying to join ranks with one side of the equation in Egypt?
MR. TONER: I think we find that encouraging that there’s politics going on there, that there’s these kinds of discussions are taking place. Again, it’s very, very early. We don’t – we just have preliminary results. There’s a lot of elections that need to still be carried out, but we’re off to a very positive start.
And speaking to your broader point, we would always look for whoever emerges in the political leadership in Egypt to govern according to democratic ideals. That’s sort of the proof that we’re looking for or the – and the Secretary’s spoken to this as well.
QUESTION: Would you – just real quick?
MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s --
QUESTION: Would you be hoping, though, that the party that has the strongest power in the upcoming government seeks the broadest possible participation in its government as opposed to creating a bloc that would reflect religious over secular values or --
MR. TONER: Right. Again, I think there’s a lot of politics that need to play out here. That’s natural in a democratic system and process. But I think it speaks to, again, the point I just made, which is that the key here is not necessarily who wins elections, but how they would then govern.
QUESTION: Well, what do you --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- make of the fact that they have said that they would like to establish more of a harder line – not extremist, but harder line Islamic rules in the country?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s just – we’ve been very clear that it – that any political party that is governing in Egypt needs to respect basic rights – freedom of expression, association, religion, and assembly. Those are kind of the essential ingredients or elements of democracy.
QUESTION: Well, what about treatment of women? I mean --
MR. TONER: I would include that, absolutely, within that framework. I mean, these are all important elements, so it’s not so much the election itself or what your party may espouse; it’s how you actually govern.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:41p.m.)
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