Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
April 19, 2012
1:14 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. It’s a beautiful spring day. Hint, hint. I don’t have anything for you at the top, so I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, I’m presuming that since your two minutes turned into, what, ten minutes, that you were on the phone taking an urgent call from the Secretary’s traveling party. Is that correct?
MR. TONER: That’s not correct.
QUESTION: Then you don’t have an answer for me for the – (laughter) – you don’t have an answer for me.
MR. TONER: On the --
QUESTION: Yes. On --
MR. TONER: Your question has been relayed and I have no answer.
QUESTION: But do you – but you have no answer?
MR. TONER: No, not yet.
QUESTION: Is there anything --
MR. TONER: As we speak in code.
MR. TONER: Got anything else?
QUESTION: We’re talking about the Flyers’ game last night. (Laughter.)
Do you know if – or do you have anything to say about the Argentina Repsol situation?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I don’t have a great deal beyond what I said yesterday, no – that we’ve expressed our concerns to the Argentineans, the Argentine Government at the highest levels on numerous occasions, that these types of actions can adversely affect the investment climate for U.S. businesses, for other businesses, for other nations’ companies. So just along the lines of what I said yesterday, nothing new.
QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t – do you know if this subject was raised when the Secretary spoke with the Spanish foreign minister?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t. I can’t confirm it was raised. I’ll try to get the information, some more information about that.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have something on that --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- because the foreign minister, after the meeting, spoke to press in Brussels, and he said that the Secretary had expressed a compromise to work with Spain on ways to pressure Argentina to change its decision, and that she also said that this was a violation of international law. Can you confirm any of that?
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm. I haven’t gotten the readout from that bilateral, and we’re not particularly forthcoming when we talk about the substance of our private diplomatic meetings.
QUESTION: Will there be a readout?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Will there be a readout today or --
MR. TONER: Again, I’ll see what I can get. That’s in line with what Matt was asking about, whether it came up in the meeting.
MR. TONER: But, yeah, publicly, again, we were very clear yesterday that we find these kinds of actions to be non-constructive in creating the kind of investment climate that we want to see countries like Argentina promote.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up: In you statement yesterday, you said that the United States has raised concerns like this with Argentina. Has this case specifically been raised with Argentina, or are you just talking more broadly about the investment climate?
MR. TONER: I think speaking more broadly, but I also think we’ve raised this particular case as well.
QUESTION: Since the decision was announced?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you know how it was raised?
MR. TONER: I do not.
MR. TONER: Most likely through our bilateral Embassy contacts, but I don’t know.
QUESTION: I see.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you know – well, since you haven’t --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- been in touch with them, do you know if the Secretary has given her intervention yet in Paris at the meeting?
MR. TONER: She has, I believe.
QUESTION: She has? Okay. So I haven’t seen – I presume that that’s out? Can you talk about it?
MR. TONER: I can’t, really. I don’t have any details. I mean, obviously, on Syria today, the center of gravity is in – both in New York as well as in Paris. But haven’t – I think she just concluded.
QUESTION: Well, more broadly –
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- can you talk about what kind of options you’re looking at as it becomes increasingly clear that the ceasefire isn’t working?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think Ambassador Rice spoke a little bit about where we’re at, and of course, the Secretary as well. But where we’re at, when she walked – she just gave a presser, I believe, in New York a short while ago – concerns that, obviously that the ceasefire is eroding, as I mentioned yesterday, that we want to see a UN monitoring mission move forward, but as she said, many members expressed their concern that all the conditions had not met. We clearly want to see this monitoring mission move forward in an environment that is conducive to its success.
QUESTION: Right, but as – but as it is not, or as it doesn’t look like that’s happening, are you or are you not preparing options in terms of if and when it becomes clear that this mission has – or that this initiative has failed?
MR. TONER: And again, I think those are conversations that are ongoing in New York as well as in Paris, so I don’t want to get out ahead of that.
QUESTION: Right, but – well, are you or are you not?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we’re always looking – as I discussed more broadly yesterday, we’re working within the UN on Syria, but we’re also with the Friends of Syria, with other likeminded nations, on ways we can continue to apply pressure.
QUESTION: But – no, I mean in the specific event that the – that Kofi Annan’s plan doesn’t work.
MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re – we don’t want to prejudge the outcome of the plan. We want to see it implemented. The onus is obviously on Assad and – to live up to the commitments that his regime has made, but I don’t have any more details.
QUESTION: But would the – I mean, the next step on that on that would be a new resolution which would allow for an expanded monitoring operation, as is called for under the plan. Would the U.S. support that, given that Assad’s only partially complied with the ceasefire element?
MR. TONER: Again, I think Ambassador Rice addressed this to – in some fashion in New York, where she talked about the fact that we want to see a monitoring mission move forward, but one – but we also are concerned that not all the conditions have been met yet. So we need appropriate conditions on the ground for that mission to move forward. But again, let’s let them continue to talk about this in New York and in Paris.
QUESTION: Yes, Mark. Yesterday, the Secretary of State said that the blame did not only fall on the regime itself, but also on those who support the regime. Is that – does that usher in, like, another period of tension with Russia?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we talked about this, and it was one of the outcomes of the previous Friends of Syria meeting that we are committed to holding those accountable --
MR. TONER: -- who are responsible for these crimes against the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MR. TONER: I’m not sure. I think she was speaking more directly to those around Assad, his cronies, his colleagues who are carrying out or helping him commit these crimes against the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Okay. So when she was saying that she was not pointing to any sort of outside group or --
MR. TONER: That was my interpretation. We’ve been clear that --
QUESTION: Like, it doesn’t mean, like, Russia or Iran or China?
MR. TONER: That’s what – again, that was – it was my interpretation, Said. I think she was speaking about those – those around Assad need to look long and hard in the mirror and decide what side they’re on.
QUESTION: Okay. So do you expect the kind of harmony that was shown in the last session to be shown again if the point comes up before the Security Council once more?
MR. TONER: Again, I think that with the Annan plan, we do have this kind of unity, that this is a way forward that can lead to the democratic transition, the end of violence that ultimately we all want to see happen in Syria.
QUESTION: And lastly, just to follow up --
MR. TONER: Yeah, Said.
QUESTION: -- on Matt’s points, you are not – at this point, at least, you’re not prepared to say that this mission is about to collapse or it’s really headed towards a brick wall, so to speak?
MR. TONER: I’m really going to defer to folks in New York and in Paris because this is fast-moving, that there’s – as I said, these centers of gravity are there rather than here this – today. But I don’t want to get out in front of the diplomacy.
QUESTION: Are you focusing more now on the idea of having buffer zones in Syria with Turkey?
MR. TONER: We’ve – our position on buffer zones hasn’t really changed from what I said the other day. Our focus, frankly, is on ways to increase humanitarian assistance to those in need. We think the Annan plan, if it were actually fulfilled, would provide that opportunity, but it hasn’t been. But there’s clear logistical challenges to any kind of buffer zone.
QUESTION: There’s a report today that the Administration is putting more focus now on taking this idea more seriously.
MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, I think that our focus is on humanitarian assistance. We’ve obviously focused funding for those kinds of efforts. But I can’t speak any more about any buffer zone.
QUESTION: Sorry, Mark.
MR. TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: If U.S. allies in the GCC, in the Gulf Cooperation Council, decide to sort of increase their involvement or their support of the opposition groups by arming them, does that in any way – are you concerned that this may actually lead to sort of a Sunni-Shia schism with polarization of Iran and its allies on the one side, and Saudi Arabia and its allies on the other?
MR. TONER: Well, without even addressing the crux of your question, I can say that we have been very concerned that Syria can slide into civil war. The Secretary said this. Others have said it. We still believe there’s time – a little time, but time – for a diplomatic solution to this, and that’s where we’re focusing our efforts.
QUESTION: So do you take pause when you are consulting with your allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council to back off a little bit from supporting these groups, especially by arms, once this happens?
MR. TONER: Well, the GCC has played a clear leadership role in trying to address the terrible violence that’s happening in Syria. We consult with them frequently through the Friends of Syria meetings and also bilaterally on the way forward in Syria. Obviously, they’re going to make their own sovereign decisions moving forward. We’ve said, for our part, that we don’t believe in a further militarization of what’s going – of Syria.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: North Korea. Congressman Mike Turner sent a letter to Secretary Clinton about new mobile missile shown at the military parade in Pyongyang, and he says that the photos of this new missile suggest cooperation and support from China. And he’s asking if such any cooperation would be in violation of the UN Security Council resolution, and if so, what the Administration is going to do. So what’s your response to that?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’ve seen – I think there’s been some press reports out about this. China has provided repeated assurances that it is complying fully with both Resolution 1718 as well as 1874. We’re not presently aware of any UN probe into this matter, so I’d refer you to the UN.
QUESTION: Has China specifically given assurances on this since the rocket launch?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware, no. But they have said – they’ve said in the past that they’ve been compliant with 1874 and 1718. I’m not aware that they’ve given any direct response to these reports.
QUESTION: Sure. And the U.S. is confident of that? The U.S. can take China at its word that there isn’t that type of cooperation?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think we take them at their word. There is a UN mechanism. There’s a UN sanctions committee that exists to look into these allegations.
QUESTION: Sorry, just to make sure, you do believe them?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Palestinian issue?
MR. TONER: Palestinian issue.
QUESTION: Did you clarify whether Mr. Hale received a copy of the letter?
MR. TONER: I did clarify. I don’t believe he has a copy. This is an internal document between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
QUESTION: But you – being the sort of the sponsor of these talks historically --
MR. TONER: I can’t imagine --
QUESTION: -- would either side have shared with you --
MR. TONER: I think the answer to your question, Said, I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t know the contents of such a letter. He’s obviously – and I can add here that he’s obviously engaged with the parties as they follow up from their meeting on April 17th. And in fact, I can note that he’s traveling to the region today to engage with the parties. He’s going to meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, frankly, to discuss next steps out of this meeting.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry, where is he going specifically?
MR. TONER: I don’t have a detailed itinerary yet. He’s going to go to the region, and then he’s going to travel to the Gulf to brief senior officials there. I’ll try to get you a – I mean, do you want – kind of where he’s going to be, what day?
QUESTION: Well --
MR. TONER: Granularity?
QUESTION: Not necessarily that level of granularity, but, I mean, the region – when you say the region, doesn’t – usually that includes the Gulf. But the region you’re talking about – the very small region – meaning Israel and the Palestinian territories?
MR. TONER: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: But then he’s going to go to the Gulf as well?
MR. TONER: Correct. That is correct.
QUESTION: But he’s not going to go to, say, other countries in the region, like Syria?
MR. TONER: Correct.
MR. TONER: I don’t know where he’s going in the Gulf.
MR. TONER: I’ll try to get better – I’ll try to get more clarity on that.
MR. TONER: I realize that it’s --
QUESTION: Why is he going to go to the Gulf?
MR. TONER: I think just a part of regular consultations.
QUESTION: He didn’t do this before.
MR. TONER: I wouldn’t read anything into it, Samir. But I’ll try to find out what countries – specific countries he’s visiting. It’s a fair question.
QUESTION: Will he also visit Jordan?
MR. TONER: I’m being sloppy in my geography. What?
QUESTION: Will Jordan be part of that region?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I can assume, but I don’t know what precise countries. I think that he’s going to the region, he’s going to go to the – then he’s going to consult with other Gulf countries. Sometimes these things are quite fluid. These meetings are set up on the fly, if you will. It’s the nature of the negotiations so I just don’t know specifics.
QUESTION: Do you have an inclination of what the focus of the discussion will be?
MR. TONER: Well, I think the focus is, as I said, next steps out of the April 17th meeting and with the ultimate aim of trying to get direct negotiations up and running again.
QUESTION: On another subject. On – India has now launched that ICBM, and I’m just wondering if you have anything more to say on that. Yesterday, it seemed as – though you essentially thought it was no worries.
MR. TONER: Well, I think, as I noted yesterday, I think, we urged all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding their nuclear and missile capabilities. But you’re right. They did launch the Agni-V ballistic missile earlier today. So I don’t have any further comment to what I said.
QUESTION: Does that mean – I mean, would you – when you urge restraint, does that include testing new long-range ballistic missiles? Do you think that that generally falls under the rubric of restraint?
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: And it would have been better --
MR. TONER: Go ahead. Go ahead finish your --
QUESTION: No, no.
QUESTION: Do you think that they heeded your admonition for restraint by launching this missile?
MR. TONER: Again, I just – India’s been very much engaged in the international community and nonproliferation issues. They’ve attended both the nuclear security summits, the one in D.C. and the one in Seoul. So we believe they’re – they have a solid nonproliferation record and that they’re playing a significant role internationally on the issue. I would just refer you to them. I think I’ll let my comments stand on --
QUESTION: Okay. One more --
QUESTION: Right. But the thing is that it’s not question of proliferation here. I mean, no one’s saying – no one’s suggesting that they’re going to give this missile away or sell it to anybody.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: The question is whether you – whether or not you think that they heeded your call for restraint in the nuclear and ballistic missile technologies by going ahead with the launch, and whether you have any concerns that it could affect the security and stability in a very volatile region of the world.
MR. TONER: Well, again – and I think that’s why I’d refer you to the --
QUESTION: Well, can you ask – get SCA to --
MR. TONER: -- very strong record on nonproliferation issues, but --
QUESTION: Well, that’s great.
MR. TONER: -- with regards to the --
QUESTION: This isn’t a question of proliferation.
MR. TONER: -- to the missile launch, I’ve said that we urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint.
QUESTION: Well, okay. So --
MR. TONER: I think my statement’s been clear.
QUESTION: I know it’s been cleared.
MR. TONER: Clear.
QUESTION: That’s probably why it says nothing, because – are you talking about when they say that they have a great record of nonproliferation, are you talking about in terms of giving or selling the technology away?
MR. TONER: Yes, I am. I am.
QUESTION: Because they seem to be doing a great job of self-proliferation. Right? Otherwise they wouldn’t be testing a new long-range missile.
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: So they are proliferating internally.
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: That doesn’t suggest a great record on nonproliferation.
MR. TONER: Again, Matt, I think I’m – I’ve said what I want to say.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you take – can you ask to see if there is – well, it’s significant. If you guys don’t think that it’s worthy of a comment – that the fact they launched this thing --
MR. TONER: I don’t. I think I --
QUESTION: -- it suggests that --
MR. TONER: -- answered the question with my comment, which is that we always urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint.
QUESTION: But does – the question is whether or not this launch is – fits in with your definition of exercising restraint. So – I mean, if, in fact, you choose to say nothing about the fact that they actually went ahead with the launch, that would suggest that you don’t think it’s that big of a deal, like what Andy said. But I just want to make sure that you’ve been given – this building or the Administration has been given the opportunity --
MR. TONER: We’ve been given the opportunity. We recognize that.
QUESTION: And you’re saying nothing.
MR. TONER: We recognize that we’ve been given the opportunity.
QUESTION: So it is not a big deal to you?
MR. TONER: I’ve said what I want to say.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Burma. Yesterday, Kurt Campbell mentioned that the Burmese foreign minister will be coming to the U.S. next month. And it’s a little ways ahead still, but I’m wondering if you have any details on that yet.
MR. TONER: I really don’t beyond, obviously, the confirming the visit. But, obviously, as we get closer, we’ll be able to provide more detail.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the U.S-Azerbaijani meeting yesterday, specifically on Afghanistan?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if I have any specific information on Afghanistan. I can say that we’re going to put out a Media Note later today on these meetings that have been taking place. I think they’re in the rubric of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Economic Partnership Commission. So this is a strategic dialogue that explores opportunities for economic and commercial cooperation between the United States and Azerbaijan. I can say, looking at this, that we – they did discuss Afghanistan, but I don’t have any details.
QUESTION: Do you have any more to say on the question yesterday about the Yomiuri Shimbun report about North Korean refugees saying that China has suspended repatriation to North Korea? I’m sorry, that China has suspended --
MR. TONER: Right, right, right. Well, I think yesterday I expressed our concern about the repatriation of these refugees. We’ve been, obviously, clear on that in the past. The report itself – I’m sorry --
QUESTION: Sure. Saying that China has suspended repatriation of refugees to North Korea. The article was saying that this was in response to concerns over the rocket launch, the lack of consultation. But obviously, there are longstanding concerns about what actually happens to these refugees if they’re turned back.
MR. TONER: Right. Well, I mean, we obviously hope that the media reports are true. I don’t have much new information to add, though. But we’ve obviously raised in the past, as I just said, our concerns about alleged reports of North Koreans detained in China. So we consistently urge China to adhere to its international obligations as part of the UN Convention on Refugees.
QUESTION: Anything more or new to say on Guinea-Bissau? I mean, the World Bank and African Development Bank today suspended their aid. I looked at the website, and it looks like most of your aid, if not all of it, is humanitarian. So I’m wondering if that’s sort of in play or --
MR. TONER: There is. There was some – there was some IMET money, military training funds that have already been suspended, frankly, before the events of the last couple weeks. So we’re obviously looking at the broader aid package and, a la Mali, we’re going to look at what actually went to the Government of Guinea-Bissau. But that’s – that’ll take some more time. But --
QUESTION: Weeks, probably?
MR. TONER: Not necessarily weeks, but – anyway, but it’s about – there’s various programs and pots of money, but I just – there’s $10,000 that went to civil-military relations that was already suspended.
QUESTION: $10,000? Okay.
MR. TONER: Sorry. Just giving you the facts there.
QUESTION: It’s a small country. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Iraq. With all the explosions and violence today, do you still think that this meeting proposed for the 23rd of May to follow on the Istanbul meeting can still be held in Baghdad?
MR. TONER: Oh, absolutely. We are – first of all, I want to strongly condemn today’s attacks. Targeting of innocent civilians is unacceptable; it’s cowardly. And we obviously offer our condolences to the victims. But we are – they just hosted a very successful Arab League summit, and we have every confidence that they can host this meeting.
QUESTION: Venezuela – you took a question on that yesterday and deferred it to DOJ. Could you tell us if the United States Government provided the transport for Judge Aponte to leave Venezuela for Costa Rica?
MR. TONER: I can’t. At this point, I’m not – I don’t have that answer. I think Department of Justice would be better able to answer that question.
Anything else? Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Do you have anything for us on Sudan? President Bashir is threatening to topple the SPLM Government in the South.
MR. TONER: Yeah, I think I’ll let – I mean, you may or may not be aware, but we’re going to do a call with Princeton Lyman at 2 p.m.
QUESTION: In 20 minutes.
MR. TONER: In 20 minutes. So I don’t want to steal his thunder.
QUESTION: By invitation.
MR. TONER: What’s that?
QUESTION: By invitation.
MR. TONER: Well, I think we sent it out to the broader press corps.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: That’s it? Thanks.