Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 4, 2012


Index for Today's Briefing
  • REGION
    • P-5+1 Talks / Venue / U.S. Representation
  • PAKISTAN
    • Rewards for Justice / Hafiz Saeed
  • SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
    • Concerned about Ongoing Hostilities / U.S. Emergency Funds
  • MALI
    • Suspended Assistance
  • IRAQ
    • President Barzani's Meetings
  • SYRIA
    • April 10 Deadline
  • CUBA
    • Pope's Visit / Arrests of Human Rights Activists
  • ECUADOR
    • Summit of the Americas Participation
  • SOMALIA
    • Today's Attack / Support Efforts of the TGF / Stand with the People of Somalia


TRANSCRIPT:

1:07 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Just before we get started, welcome to the State Department. And excuse me, I don’t want a BlackBerry interruption. I just realized that. Forgive me. And I also especially want to welcome – we have interns from SCA and NEA here in the building today, or in the room with us today, so welcome to all of you.

I don’t have anything at the top.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: So go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: So the Iranians now say they don’t like Istanbul as a venue. They propose some alternatives. Are you up for considering alternatives? And, if so, I’ve got some suggestions. Would you – (laughter) – Bahamas?

MR. TONER: I don’t think it’s up for us to consider.

QUESTION: Shanghai.

MR. TONER: That would be nice. I don’t think it’s for us to suggest any alternatives. I think what’s happening right now is that the EU’s office of the high representative is continuing to consult and work out the details with our Iranian counterparts on the venue.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. But – well, all that’s well and good, but, I mean, are you still under the – going on the assumption – or is it still your position that these talks should be held in Istanbul?

MR. TONER: Well, again, they’re clearly trying to nail down the venue. Obviously – Secretary spoke about this the other day – it was our understanding or belief that all sides agreed on Istanbul and the dates. We’ve seen, subsequently, some other venues tossed around. But really, the – it’s the high representative offices we need to finalize this.

QUESTION: Sure. Fair enough, but --

MR. TONER: But we’re looking – no, just to finish, Matt – so, I mean, we’re looking to finalize all these details so that we can actually get into talks.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR. TONER: The focus should be on the substance.

QUESTION: For you, for the United States, is the idea of having these – having this meeting in Baghdad or Damascus, is that a feasible – is that a reasonable alternative?

QUESTION: Beijing? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Again, I’m not going to give you a grade on every venue that’s tossed out there.

QUESTION: Well, all right. Let’s just start with Damascus. Do you think that it’s actually feasible for – from a logistical point of view?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t think we have the time to go through this list. Again, it is the high representative’s lead on this. They’re working with the Iranians to finalize it. We keep hearing different things from the Iranians. Let her office have the lead, talk to the Iranians, nail down these venues. What I think is the most important here is that we get into talks so we can focus on the substance and not the venue.

QUESTION: Well, then is there any place you wouldn’t go?

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Again --

QUESTION: I mean, Bamako? Where – is there a place that is absolutely --

MR. TONER: No. Seriously, Matt, I mean we’re --

QUESTION: I’m being – trying to be serious.

MR. TONER: Yeah – no --

QUESTION: I want to find out if there is – if there are – if a venue – if the choice of venue could crater this before it even happens because you guys are opposed to it. Now, I mean, frankly, the Iranians suggesting Damascus is a bit ludicrous. And I would think that you could say that from the podium considering what the situation --

MR. TONER: I actually hadn’t seen that. I had seen that they had suggested --

QUESTION: They’ve also suggested Baghdad.

MR. TONER: I had seen that they had suggested Baghdad.

QUESTION: But you guys – well, Baghdad, you guys --

MR. TONER: I had not seen Damascus --

QUESTION: You think that Baghdad --

MR. TONER: -- seen Beijing.

QUESTION: You said Baghdad last week was a wonderful venue for the Arab League summit. So what’s wrong with it for this?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s not our place right now to weigh in on this process. First of all, it’s not just about the United States. This is about the P-5+1 working together in concert to engage with the Iranians to find a workable venue for these talks to continue or to go – or to begin.

QUESTION: Okay. I don’t – I won’t –

MR. TONER: So --

QUESTION: You’re not going to answer, but I don’t think it’s out of line to ask what you guys think is a reasonable or not reasonable venue.

MR. TONER: And – yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to the substance?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You said that what’s important is the substance here, right? So if what is important is the substance, isn’t the venue pretty much a matter of indifference? I mean, if you’re – if they’re willing to have a substantive, serious conversation, why should the venue be so hard to pin down? Why don’t you guys just agree to a venue?

MR. TONER: Well, again, it speaks to – it’s not just the United States; it’s the EU, it’s the other P-5+1 partners. There’s timing, there’s schedules, there’s all – there’s a lot of logistics that weigh into this process. So again, it’s not really for us to go out and offer our viewpoint or our opinion. I think what’s best now is for High Representative Ashton’s office to take all of that under consideration, speak directly to the Iranians, nail down the venue, and then we can get into talks.

QUESTION: Do you think the Iranians are playing games with you?

MR. TONER: I truly don’t know. I mean, Toria spoke a little bit yesterday about the fact that – I think it was yesterday – about we tend to hear different things from different parts of the Iranian Government. That’s a question for the Iranians. What we’re looking for – we’ve seen an official response that they want to get back into talks, so we’re eager to do that.

QUESTION: And I think Mr. Zebari is quoted as saying – Foreign Minister Zebari is quoted as saying that he is looking for a written response from the P-5+1 to the idea of Baghdad as a potential venue.

MR. TONER: I’m actually not aware of that, so I don’t have an answer for you.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The President and the Secretary have both repeatedly said it’s incumbent on the Iranians to prove the seriousness of their intent and the peaceful nature of their program. Bearing that in mind, why would you even negotiate on the venue? I mean, they suggested Istanbul, you’ve accepted. Say you’re showing up on the 13th and if they don’t show up, they fail. Why do you need to go through this whole negotiation?

MR. TONER: Well, again, our intent here is to have productive, ongoing talks. And as you said, we want Iran to come to these talks with a seriousness of purpose, trying to address the international community’s concerns. It is – as I said before, it’s not for us to determine. It’s for the P-5+1, speaking with one voice, to consult with the Iranians, find an acceptable venue. We believed it was Istanbul. We’ve heard other things, but again, it’s unclear who’s speaking with authority within the Iranian Government. So it’s best for us, really, to work through Cathy Ashton, who has the lead on this.

QUESTION: Okay. If they were to back out of Istanbul, their own preferred destination, what would that say about the seriousness of their intent?

MR. TONER: Let’s let that happen. Let’s see how we go forward here. We believe that we can nail down the venue and have the talks on the 13th and 14th.

QUESTION: Mark, why shouldn’t an outsider looking at this view this as somewhat akin to arguing over the shape of the table?

MR. TONER: I mean, that’s – look, it’s fair that venue should not trump substance, and I think I said that. We want to settle the venue issues so we can get to the substance of these talks. But I think that when you consider that – and again, it’s not just about the U.S., it’s not just about Iran, it’s not just about the EU; it’s about a number of different countries and organizations coming to the same table on the same day or days to talk about these issues. There’s some level of coordination that needs to take place there. It’s best that that’s handled through the EU and not through public statements conjecturing this place or how about this place. Let’s let the Iranians talk to the EU, and there’s two point – there’s one point of contact there so that they can iron this out.

QUESTION: And one small last one on this.

MR. TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: It’s hypothetical, but I think you probably can answer it. If these talks do actually occur, will the United States be represented by Under Secretary Sherman?

MR. TONER: It’s been that – that’s been the --

QUESTION: In the past.

MR. TONER: -- case in the past, so yes, we expect that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: That’s it? We’re done? Anything else? Any other --

QUESTION: A different topic?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a couple days after the United States announced this reward money for Hafiz Saeed, he very openly called a press conference in Rawalpindi. What’s the U.S. reaction to that? Do you think that the Pakistani authorities should have allowed that, or should they have arrested him?

MR. TONER: Look, just a couple of clarifications about the Rewards for Justice against Hafiz Saeed. I’m aware that he did give a press conference yesterday, made some public statements. Let’s be very clear because I’ve been getting questions all morning, “Hey, if you know where he is, why issue this reward?” Just to clarify, the $10 million is for information that – not about his location, but information that leads to an arrest or conviction. And this is information that could withstand judicial scrutiny, so I think what’s important here is we’re not seeking this guy’s location. We all know where he is. Every journalist in Pakistan and in the region knows how to find him. But we’re looking for information that can be usable to convict him in a court of law.

QUESTION: I thought that information was already out there. The Indians certainly seem to say that they have it.

MR. TONER: Well, the Indians do, and I’d refer you to the Indians and the Pakistanis to talk about their counterterrorism cooperation, but we’re --

QUESTION: Were you ever able to find out how much money the Indians have ponied up for a reward?

MR. TONER: I don’t – Matt, did you ask that yesterday? I’m sorry if you didn’t.

QUESTION: Yes, I did.

MR. TONER: I didn’t – I thought you – I thought we had only gotten the question about --

QUESTION: I’m just curious as to why the U.S. taxpayer should pay for this.

MR. TONER: Well, I think we talked about – a little bit about this yesterday. One is that --

QUESTION: I understand. I mean, if you want to join with the Indians in offering some kind of a joint reward, but I don’t understand why the conference down --

MR. TONER: Well, you know how our Rewards for Justice works. It’s a very effective program and it’s not a joint program; it’s something that we do on behalf of the United States.

QUESTION: No, no. I mean, I’m not talking about – I mean, if you wanted to add this to whatever the Indians might be offering, I thought that would make – that would – I suppose that would make sense. I just don’t understand.

MR. TONER: I don’t – I just know that (inaudible) --

QUESTION: And if he’s already been indicted – as Toria said yesterday, if he’s already been indicted, presumably the prosecutors have information; otherwise he wouldn’t have been indicted.

MR. TONER: You’re talking about he’s indicted within the U.S. or indicted --

QUESTION: Anywhere.

MR. TONER: Anywhere. Well, again, I think – look, I think what they’re trying to – we’re trying to get information that can be used to put this gentleman behind bars.

QUESTION: Are you saying that there is no information right now that could – that you could prosecute him for?

MR. TONER: There is information, there is intelligence that is not necessarily usable in a court of law.

QUESTION: So, there – really? There is not – there isn’t information out there that could be used to prosecute?

MR. TONER: I think that the Rewards for Justice announcement speaks for itself, insofar as saying that they’re looking for evidence that can be used against him that implicates him --

QUESTION: Mark --

MR. TONER: -- in a court of law.

QUESTION: There’s something I don’t understand, which is --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I mean, I went back and I read the Rewards for Justice posting on it, and the reasons given are fairly old reasons, including that he is suspected of masterminding the Mumbai attacks. That was three and a half years ago, right? Why now? I mean, why would it take years to decide to put him on the Rewards for Justice Program?

MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, I – first of all, as you saw with the 9/11 attacks, we don’t ever necessarily – there’s no statute of limitations on these terrorist attacks --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR. TONER: -- God bless you – statute of limitations on these kinds of terrorist attacks. I do know that there are – when we nominate someone for the Rewards for Justice, there is a legal process that needs to take place, or an internal process that needs to take place in order to designate him. I’m not sure how long that process is and how – when it began, but it does take some amount of time. But I also --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) years?

MR. TONER: Not years, undoubtedly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) forgive me, but it was months, right? So, I mean --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: Yeah, Cami.

QUESTION: I thought Toria had said yesterday or the day before as well that the Pakistanis were aware of this, and yet we’ve got a statement today from the foreign minister saying that the U.S. must provide concrete evidence if it wants Islamabad to act against it. So it would seem like there’s some confusion on the part of the Pakistani Government as well.

MR. TONER: On the contrary. I think it speaks to the fact of what we’re looking for, which is people to step forward that can provide that kind of evidence that the Pakistanis can then arrest this individual and try him.

QUESTION: But Pakistan’s saying they want the U.S. to provide that concrete evidence.

MR. TONER: I don’t – I’m not aware that they said the U.S. I think that they are looking for usable evidence against him.

QUESTION: All right. To clarify, so --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. doesn’t have any concrete evidence at the moment that can implicate him?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I think the announcement speaks very clearly to the fact that we’re looking for evidence that can withstand judicial scrutiny against this individual, information that can be used against him to convict him in a court of law.

QUESTION: And how does the timing of this announcement – does it in any way impact on U.S.-Pakistan relations when the parliament is debating the way forward? Is it –

MR. TONER: No. It has nothing to do with the ongoing parliamentary review. I think Toria spoke to that and de-conflicted it all and said that yesterday. It’s – this is about a process in and of itself, separate and apart from our ongoing bilateral relations with Pakistan. It does, however, speak to the fact that we are in a shared struggle here and that individuals like this gentleman, Hafiz Saeed, are a threat to the region. It wasn’t just six Americans killed. It was scores killed in 2008 attacks in Mumbai. And he’s also – he’s been – his group has been responsible for many attacks in the region.

QUESTION: Is it your kind of no confidence in Pakistani Government?

MR. TONER: Sorry?

QUESTION: It’s a kind of no-confidence vote in --

MR. TONER: Not at all. I think we’re trying to work in concert with the Pakistani Government in order to bring this guy to justice.

QUESTION: If there is – I’m confused. If there is not any evidence, why is this guy a wanted terrorist? If you – I mean, you could put anyone’s face and name up there and say I’ll give you 10 million if you can give me some information that connects them to some attack someplace.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Why – there’s – there has to be something out there.

MR. TONER: Well, there is information out there. I just can’t speak to --

QUESTION: But it’s – but it can’t be used in court?

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Well, that means that there is not any – that means that there’s – I don’t get it. What kind of information are you talking about that’s --

MR. TONER: Well, it’s based on intelligence, and it’s not --

QUESTION: And that can’t be used in court?

MR. TONER: Not to my understanding, but I can’t talk about it in detail.

QUESTION: But just getting back to the initial question, it’s okay for him to be openly giving press conferences and to be goading in the U.S.? I mean, is that --

MR. TONER: He’s free to do that, unfortunately, up to this moment, but we hope to put him behind bars.

QUESTION: Did you do this to try to put pressure on the Pakistanis?

MR. TONER: I just think we are trying to – we have very close cooperation with India. We have very close cooperation – counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan, apart from our recent difficulties in the broader relationship. We’re – the major attack in Mumbai in 2008. There were subsequent terrorist actions undertaken by this group. And we are dogged in our pursuit of these individuals. I don’t know that – this is not to put pressure on any one government, but we wanted to be able to provide Pakistan with the tools that they need to prosecute this individual.

QUESTION: Pakistani president?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: He’s traveling to New Delhi, to India. Basically, it’s a spiritual journey to a shrine.

MR. TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: So the – do you think this announcement at this time will move the initiative – the narrative back to the anti-militant fight and cooperation?

MR. TONER: Well, difficult for me to say. And certainly, we would refer you to the governments of India and Pakistan as to what he’s going to discuss with the government there when he’s on his trip. But we want to see, obviously, ever closer counterterrorism cooperation. It’s to everyone’s interests.

QUESTION: Just getting back to the –

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that this is to help the Pakistani prosecutors. Is that – so that’s what this is aimed at, getting him prosecuted in Pakistan, not in India or not --

MR. TONER: Not necessarily. Not necessarily in Pakistan. I think we spoke to that in our Taken Question yesterday.

QUESTION: Exactly. Which is why --

MR. TONER: But he currently resides in Pakistan, obviously.

QUESTION: So you want the – you are offering this reward for information not so that the Pakistani police will go arrest him or can find him, which they presumably can do now, but so that then they can prosecute him or ship him off to India to be prosecuted or ship him off here?

MR. TONER: I mean, we’re – I think we said yesterday we’re looking for information to lead to his conviction in any U.S. or foreign court of law.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR. TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Sudan.

QUESTION: Can we stay on (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Sure. I didn’t mean to ignore you. Go ahead. Are you Pakistan, too?

QUESTION: Yeah. In 2000 --

MR. TONER: Okay, we’ll go to you and then --

QUESTION: Okay. In 2009, you – David Headley was arrested and he testified in court in a plea bargain deal on the Mumbai attacks. Is the evidence – if the evidence isn’t sufficient, then what about the testimony he gave, testifying that he was trained by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba to carry out the Mumbai attacks? Is that evidence and not usable? Because it was then used to convict someone else.

MR. TONER: You know what? I’m not conversant on the evidence that he gave in that case, so I’d have to refer you to the relevant law enforcement agencies as well as to the lawyers. I just don’t know if that – if any of the evidence that he gave would be usable.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Pakistani Government to move against him? I mean, this guy clearly thinks that he can operate with immunity inside Pakistan.

MR. TONER: I think what we’re looking to do is, as I just said to Arshad, I think we’re trying to, through this Reward for Justice offer, is to, first of all, put this case back and this individual back in the limelight but also to seek out information that we feel would give Pakistani authorities the tools or the wherewithal to prosecute him.

QUESTION: Sudan?

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The talks in Addis Ababa between Sudan and South Sudan, by most accounts, didn’t go very well. South Sudan said that the – that Khartoum’s delegation walked out, but there’s some dispute of that from Khartoum’s side. And at the start of the briefing, South Sudan was saying that it shot down a Sudanese jet. What’s your assessment of how tensions – or how the relations are going right now? What is the United States hoping that the two sides will do?

MR. TONER: Well, we’re obviously very concerned. I did just see that story before coming in here about the shoot down. We’re calling on – clearly, we’re calling on restraint by all – for – on the part of all sides, and we’re very concerned about the ongoing hostilities on the border areas between South Sudan and Sudan. And we call upon the parties to cease fighting and ensure the safety and security of civilians, first and foremost, and then the negotiated solution to grievances under the auspices of the African Union. So they need to get back into these negotiations.

And I think as you saw yesterday, the White House announced that we’re going to provide an additional 26 million in emergency funds to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that’s going to help address some of the needs of these refugees caused by the fighting.

QUESTION: Is it your impression the African Union mediation has broken down, or do you still see some hope for that?

MR. TONER: I think we still see hope for it.

QUESTION: Can I stay on Africa?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Carson and Carter Ham, the AFRICOM chief, are in Algeria today. Just – I was wondering if there’s any readout on, specifically if they talked about Mali or --

MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t. I’ll get you – I’ll get your readout there. Johnnie’s traveling is pretty hectic and frenetic, but I don't have an update on his whereabouts, so I’ll get that for you.

QUESTION: Do you have the breakdown of the aid that you suspended to Mali?

MR. TONER: I do. How did you know that? I have a --

QUESTION: Because I haven’t been asking about it for the last few briefs, so no one gave me a heads-up.

MR. TONER: You have been, yeah. I do. Let me make sure I have it in my book. I raced down here to – because I realized I was late. So I’m not sure I have it in my book. But we do have a figure for you. I’ll get it for you afterwards.

QUESTION: All right. I’m very suspicious.

MR. TONER: I know. I’m so sorry.

QUESTION: Oh, I forgot it?

MR. TONER: I’m sure I put it in here somewhere. Hold on.

QUESTION: It’s been ten days. I have it. Dog eat it?

MR. TONER: Hold on. Hold on. (Laughter.) Sorry. My dog ate my – exactly, my guidance. Sorry. If I find it, I will deliver it forthwith. Or I’m going to have my roadie hand it to --

QUESTION: To the rescue.

MR. TONER: But we don’t have the – yes, we do. Yes. Okay. So we’ve determined – thank you – that a minimum of approximately 12.5 million of USAID assistance will be suspended, and we’re continuing to assess the remainder. But we can, at this point, say that a minimum of 12.5 million will be actually suspended.

QUESTION: That’s out of the total 140 something?

MR. TONER: Yes. And that’s comprising 13 programs. That’s correct.

QUESTION: But that --

QUESTION: What were those programs for?

MR. TONER: These activities include building the ministry of health’s capacity to implement health programs, including activities in maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, construction of public schools, supporting the government’s efforts to increase agricultural production and building government capacity to spur commercial investment. So as you can see, these are worthwhile programs that are now suspended because that aid is – goes directly to the Government of Mali. So there’s a price to this. I mean, clearly there’s a price, but (inaudible) have a price.

QUESTION: I thought that humanitarian aid was exempted.

MR. TONER: We did, but --

QUESTION: And therefore, I don’t understand why health programs, building schools, and HIV/AIDS programs, all (inaudible) humanitarian --

MR. TONER: We do exempt humanitarian assistance, but I think we’ve been saying that we – any assistance that goes to the Government of Mali would be suspended. And that’s what this hold-up was. We had to kind of look at these pots of money. So the rest of the assistance will continue but anything that was directly going into the government programs and ministries has to be suspended.

QUESTION: And that – just to confirm, that’s on top of the FMF – this is how much you’re going --

MR. TONER: That’s on top of the – sorry, let me find that for you – the FMF and the IMET programs, which is about 600,000.

QUESTION: So total then we’re looking at what – 13 – a little over 13 million.

MR. TONER: That’s very good math.

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

QUESTION: And the MCC --

MR. TONER: Sorry. God bless you.

QUESTION: The MCC grants are completely separate?

MR. TONER: I believe so, but I’ll find out.

QUESTION: And Mark --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have a more – when Toria first began discussing this she said that it was approximately 135 to 140 million was the global figure of U.S. aid to Mali. Do you have an exact number for that?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I’ll have to double check on that. I don't have anything further. I’ll take the question.

Yeah. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about the Secretary’s meeting with Mr. Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leader?

MR. TONER: Well, he was here – hold on one second – obviously in the building earlier today. He did meet with deputy secretary, and that meeting was earlier this morning. And as you note, the Secretary did drop by and greet President Barzani, welcomed him to Washington, and they discussed, obviously, all the issues in the context of the U.S.-Iraq relationship.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR. TONER: Syria.

QUESTION: It looks like the Syrian forces has started withdrawal from quiet city and town, as has been reported. Do you take that as a good beginning or --

MR. TONER: Well, I know you’re speaking to some of the press reports, according to Syrian Government officials --

QUESTION: (inaudible) report.

MR. TONER: I have not seen any independent reporting of any withdrawal, and in fact, what we’ve seen, frankly, is an intensification of artillery bombardments in major population centers like Homs and Idlib. So we’ve yet to be convinced that they’re – have any intention of complying with the April 10 deadline.

Yeah. Go ahead. Yeah, Scott

QUESTION: The new arrests in Cuba after the Pope’s visit, some people protesting previous arrests. Any comment on that?

MR. TONER: Correct. And I believe some of these arrests and detentions and harassment predated or were in the run-up to the Pope’s visit. No, we’re obviously extremely concerned about the detentions and harassment of scores of civil society activists during the last two weeks, predating the Pope’s arrival in Cuba.

We understand that the wave of detentions that began prior to Pope Benedict’s visit continues with the arrests of dozens of human rights activists and defenders in eastern Cuba in the last couple of days, which is what you just cited. We’re concerned by the Cuban Government’s attempts to silence reporting on these detentions. Apparently there’s been selective shutdowns of human rights activists, cellular and internet connections.

We call upon the Cuban Government to release all peaceful society – civil society activists immediately, and we particularly condemn the fact that most of these arrests took place during the Pope’s visit and with the aim of preventing those arrested from attending the public masses that the Pope officiated.

QUESTION: And if I might, Cuba related --

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: The president of Ecuador says he’s not going to the Summit of the Americas because Cuba is not invited. Any reaction?

MR. TONER: Well, look – and I think Mike Hammer, assistant secretary, spoke to this a couple weeks ago. Of course, he did it in Spanish. But obviously, he was – he said we would like to see widespread participation by the countries of the hemisphere. We believe the summit offers an opportunity for the leaders to discuss issues that concern all of the citizens of the hemisphere, but ultimately it’s each country’s own decision to decide whether to participate.

QUESTION: So you don’t care?

MR. TONER: It’s their own decision. We want to see --

QUESTION: It doesn’t matter to you one way or another if he shows up?

MR. TONER: I think we just said we want to see as broad a participation as possible.

QUESTION: Yeah. But if --

MR. TONER: But --

QUESTION: Right. But if he decides he doesn’t want to come, then it’s not – no skin off your nose?

MR. TONER: It’s their decision. Correct.

QUESTION: No skin off your nose?

MR. TONER: It’s their decision.

QUESTION: You don’t care?

MR. TONER: No skin off our --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: You’re putting words in my mouth. I simply said --

QUESTION: You said it just then.

MR. TONER: I said we want to see broad participation, but we can’t make the decisions for other --

QUESTION: You’re saying you don’t think that the president of Ecuador is that important that you don’t – he doesn’t need to show up to --

MR. TONER: That is not what I said.

QUESTION: Not what you said? All right.

MR. TONER: That is not what I said. Anyway, any other --

QUESTION: Just quickly --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the bombing today in Somalia?

MR. TONER: Oh, I do. Yeah.

QUESTION: The killing of the --

MR. TONER: No. Thank you for bringing that up, actually. I hope I have something to say about the bombing. I mean, obviously we condemn --

QUESTION: It’s near the Mali --

MR. TONER: It’s – no. Thanks, Brad, for your help. Appreciate it. No, thank you.

In answer to your question, we’re appalled by the vicious attack earlier today as well as the loss of life. We remain firm in our support for the efforts of the TFG, the African Union Mission in Somalia, and the Somali National Security Forces to return peace and stability to Somalia. And we stand with the people of Somalia as they are trying to build a normal and functioning society. And I think some of you probably have looked at some of the press stories about – that civil society returning to Somalia, and Somalis everywhere had taken pride in the recent reopening of the National Theater as a sign that this normal life was returning to Mogadishu. It was a sign – the theater’s reopening is a result of progress made by the TFG and sacrifices made by AMISOM to bring peace and stability back to Mogadishu since al-Shabaab retreated there – from there in August 2011.

So the fact that al-Shabaab chose this shows their true – chose this site for their attack shows their true stripes. They also used young women as suicide bombers. In other places, they impress children to fight their battles. And the four people killed today include a Somali Olympic official, many more injured, including a deputy prime minister and minister of planning as well as a former deputy speaker of parliament. So this is a terrible tragedy for the people of Somalia.

Are we done?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Thank you.

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

DPB #62

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - April 4, 2012]