Daily Press Briefing
Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
March 30, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing
Department of State Nominees Confirmed by Senate
U/S Sherman Travel to India, Nepal, Bangladesh
Amb. McFaul / Security / Twitter
Syrian Opposition / Annan Plan / Humanitarian Assistance / Meetings in Istanbul / Political and Economic Pressure on Assad
Ongoing Consultations with Friends and Allies / Sanctions
Secretary in Saudi Arabia
U.S. Position on Settlements Remains the Same
Rapprochement Process Should Continue
Request to Government of Pakistan on Question of Bin Laden Support Network
Parliamentary Review Ongoing / Continued Engagement at All Levels
Elections / U.S. Observers
ECOWAS Ultimatum / Call for Mutineers to Step Down / Tuareg Rebels
Positive Momentum in US-Burma Relationship / Elections
Rights of People Everywhere to Protest Peacefully / Call for Restraint
DPRK Missile Launch / Continued Consultations with Japan and Other Allies in the Region
12:58 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. Yay. First of all, I want to welcome – I think we have a number of students from the International Student House. Is that right, guys? Hey. As well as – led by Barbara Slavin, who’s known to many of you and formerly part of the noble State Department press corps. And anyway, welcome to the State Department.
QUESTION: You mean it’s that bad today? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: I am not above pandering, really, honestly. It’s – if it makes this thing any quicker. Anyway, welcome to the State Department.
Also, before beginning, I do want to mention how very pleased we all here at State of the large number of nominees who were confirmed by the Senate yesterday, including our very own Mike Hammer, which is the reason why I’ve donned a purple tie today, because it’s his favorite color. So kudos to Mike, as well as Tara D. Sonenshine, who’s our new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. So, congratulations. There’s a long list, you’ve all seen it, but indeed we’re very pleased that these individuals can now begin their work in earnest. And we also will continue to work with Congress on the remaining nominees.
And then, just before taking your questions, I do want to note – and we’ll be putting out a Media Note later, right after the briefing – that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will be traveling to New Delhi and to Patna, India, April 1st through 4th. In New Delhi, Under Secretary Sherman will meet with Foreign Secretary Mathai as well as other senior Government of India officials to discuss preparations for the upcoming U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, which will be held here in Washington in mid-June.
On April 4th, she’ll travel to Kathmandu, Nepal, where she’ll meet with Prime Minister Bhattarai as well as other Government of Nepal officials. And then she’ll travel on to Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 5th, where she’ll meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Moni, as well as other Bangladeshi officials. And she’ll also go on to visit the Grameen Borrower Group site outside of Dhaka.
So we’ll put this out just after the briefing with all the details. That’s it.
QUESTION: I want to go back to something we talked about yesterday involving Russia and Ambassador McFaul.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What – have you all decided on what course of action you’re going to take about what’s been going on?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we put out a taken question. At least, it should’ve gone out shortly – a short time ago. Did it not? Is it a go? Okay.
QUESTION: Saying what?
MR. TONER: Basically saying that – answering the question that was raised at yesterday’s briefing, which is that have we raised this with the Government of Russia, and indeed we have. So --
QUESTION: And, well, I mean, what have you raised with the Government of Russia?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve raised our concerns. There’s been a number of incidents since his arrival there that have caused us to have some concerns about his security and safety. So as we would in any – following normal protocol, we’ve raised that with the Government of Russia.
QUESTION: Do you have any concerns at all about just – I mean in general about the tweets that he’s been sending out?
MR. TONER: No. I think I said yesterday that we have full confidence in our chiefs of mission to use Twitter as a way to communicate to a number of followers, whether they be in Russia – in Mike McFaul’s case, but – or outside. And I did note, having looked at his Twitter account – we had an exchange yesterday – but there’s quite a few of his followers who respond in Cyrillic, so he does have some measure. I don’t have any way to measure that, but you questioned --
QUESTION: One of his followers appears to be someone with the name the – at least the Twitter handle Prostitutkamila. Do you have any – (laughter) – whose avitar is crossed legs. Do you have any – I mean, he is going back and forth with Prostitutkamila about this situation yesterday. Do you have any concerns or problems with that? Is that appropriate for – I mean, God knows who this person actually is, but --
MR. TONER: Right. Exactly, Matt. You well know, as I do, even though we’re not of the – this generation that uses Twitter – well, maybe you do, maybe you are, I don’t mean to age you – but that avitars come in all shapes and forms.
QUESTION: Well, I know, but, I mean, here he’s having a discussion saying that he was accosted by Cossacks at this event where these journalists – there were not just journalists there, there were men in military uniform, and I just – do you think that ambassadors should be routinely engaged in Twitter conversations with people who identify themselves as prostitutes?
MR. TONER: Again, he’s engaged with his followers. I’m not going to get – regulate or talk about from this podium who within his followers he should be talking to. Twitter – his tweets go out to a broad audience.
QUESTION: Did your concerns with – over his security and safety predate his Twitter activities yesterday?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I mean, I would say that. There’s been a number of incidents. I’m not going to go into them in detail but – because they do pertain to his security, but we’ve raised this.
QUESTION: Okay. And did you raise the concerns with the Russians before or after that exchange yesterday?
MR. TONER: Before. And we’re going to raise the latest concerns as well.
QUESTION: The latest concern being about his security, maybe --
MR. TONER: Well, and about --
QUESTION: My understanding was previous – the ones previous were about the anti-American incidents that --
MR. TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: And then – but the new concern comes from the fact that he seems to be being followed around and --
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: -- thinks that his phone and --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Have the Russians said anything in response to this latest --
MR. TONER: No. I don’t have any details about what their response has been.
QUESTION: Have they responded to the previous concerns about his being followed?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Going back to the Senate confirmations, India is now, for a long time, without any U.S. ambassador, and now – we have now, you said, Strategic Dialogue is coming up and a lot of (inaudible) are going back to – back and forth to India and to New Delhi to Washington. Have Secretary – she’s making any plea to the Senate for the confirmation of --
MR. TONER: Who? We --
QUESTION: -- for --
MR. TONER: Nancy Powell was --
MR. TONER: -- was on my list of those confirmed yesterday.
MR. TONER: So --
QUESTION: There is an ambassador to India now --
MR. TONER: Yeah. There is an ambassador to India. I was somewhat confused.
QUESTION: -- as well as an ambassador to many other countries that are --
MR. TONER: Absolutely. I didn’t go through the long laundry list that --
QUESTION: -- that also didn’t have ambassadors for a long time.
MR. TONER: Right. Thank you, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And she’ll – when’s she leaving?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’m sure as soon as possible. I was just confused because your question seemed based on the premise that she was not confirmed, so --
QUESTION: No, because you did not answer – I mean, you didn’t mention --
MR. TONER: I didn’t go through the laundry – I mean, there’s a long list of people, so I just gave a shout-out to the folks in PA.
QUESTION: The question sort – also on India, the deadline’s looming for the President on sanctions on – regarding oil to Iran, to give --
QUESTION: It’s here.
QUESTION: It’s here – to give exemptions. Is that something the State Department will be handling, or does that come in from the White House?
MR. TONER: I think I’d refer you to the White House on his --
QUESTION: Just the exemptions for countries, what – about the – about purchasing oil from Iran.
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: A lot of the sanctions --
MR. TONER: We continue to – I mean, we already announced a number of those exemptions, and we continue to have a dialogue with a number of countries, including India. And when we have – and when we’re ready to announce a new round of exemptions, then we’ll do so, but nothing planned.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Those discussions are ongoing.
QUESTION: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs told reporters as he was returning from Latin America that the message has been sent from the U.S. to the Syrian opposition that it would be helpful if they would basically consolidate who they are and consolidate their actions. I know – I’m asking, here at State, has that message indeed been sent to the various parts of the broader Syrian opposition that it’s better to get behind one banner at this point?
MR. TONER: Well, indeed. I mean, it’s going to be one of the topics of discussion in Istanbul. And the Secretary herself spoke to it the other day about this need for a unifying vision for the Syrian opposition, recognizing, of course, the challenges that are inherent in this process, which is that you’ve – they’re under relentless pressure by the Assad regime trying to basically survive, much less come up with a vision statement. And then you’ve got elements of the opposition who are outside the country and obviously many more who are within the country. So it’s a difficult task. We recognize that.
QUESTION: Does that kind of solidification make it easier for the U.S. to figure out exactly how it’s going to provide assistance if you actually have some sort of organization that you can direct countries to, such as what we saw with the NTC in Libya?
MR. TONER: Well, certainly. As we move forward on the path set out by the Annan plan that foresees a dialogue and then a transition, it’s absolutely essential that we’ve got a strong unified opposition. We believe that’s happening, but it’s just taking time.
QUESTION: Mark, conversely – a follow up to Ros’ question. I mean, is it – doesn’t that – the fact that they have a hundred different group make it really very difficult for you to provide aid and, in fact, frustrates whatever aid that might be forthcoming, and, in fact, may have nixed whatever possible military support to the opposition groups?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it depends, Said, what we’re talking about. I mean, our humanitarian assistance is ongoing, and that’s metered out through – basically through the ICRC, but other international organizations. When you’re talking about assistance, the President and others have mentioned a possibility of non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and that’s going to be one of the topics of discussion in Istanbul.
QUESTION: You said that --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a follow up. Should the opposition feel now be – or should the opposition be resigned to the fact that no military aid is forthcoming, at least not in the foreseeable future?
MR. TONER: Look, we’ve – our position hasn’t changed on that. We’re focused on political, economic pressure on Assad to choke off his options, as well as ramping up humanitarian assistance. And as I’ve said, talking about non-lethal assistance or aid to the Syrian opposition to help them come together and become more coherent.
QUESTION: You said as we move forward with the Annan plan. Do you see any indication that that plan is actually moving forward at this stage?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I talked yesterday about giving him the diplomatic space that he needs to operate. He continues to consult. We haven’t seen – I think what you’re asking – we haven’t seen any signs by Assad or his regime that they’re following the first element of that plan is for a ceasefire.
QUESTION: So when does it – when do you make the calculation that giving him diplomatic space to operate is also giving Assad physical space to keep on mowing down his people? I mean --
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- you’re – it seems --
MR. TONER: This isn’t a – no. I mean, it’s a fair question, but this isn’t – when I talk about giving him the diplomatic space to operate, I’m not at all implying that we’re relenting in any way in our other efforts to apply economic and political pressure on Assad. I mean, these things are concurrent.
QUESTION: Mark, Syrian sources say that the Bashar al-Assad is getting ready to give a major speech in about a week. And it is expected that during that speech, he will announce ceasing fire. Is that good enough?
MR. TONER: Look, we want to see immediate ceasefire on the ground. If they said – and they sent through a letter to Kofi Annan that said that they were – that they agreed with the plan, then they should take immediate steps to halt the violence.
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MR. TONER: We’ve seen – look, I’m not – the Secretary and others spoke to this. We’re not going to – we’re going to remain skeptical until we see real action on the ground, real steps being taken.
QUESTION: But you don’t think that Kofi Annan told them, “Okay. We’ll give you one more week to finish up your business,” so to speak.
MR. TONER: I think – I can’t speak for him. I think he’s working equally hard to stop the violence as soon as possible.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In India yesterday, five fastest growing economies including India – Brazil, India, China, Russia, and South Africa, they met and established a, what it called, BRICS. And what they’re saying is, like, challenging the IMF and the World Bank. And also they are calling on the United States that there should be some kind of change as far as the way World Bank and IMF is works. And any – and also, they want to do business in their own local currencies rather than in dollar.
MR. TONER: Well, in answer to your first question, I don’t – or your question implied that they was established – I think that BRICS been around for a few years as a multilateral organization. We enjoy good relations with all the countries within the BRIC. We have ongoing bilateral dialogues with all of them. So we understand their positions on a broad range of multilateral issues and we welcome the BRICS’ efforts to engage constructively on global issues, and we’re going to continue to talk with them about the range of global issues.
QUESTION: And also, at the same time, the U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson was in India – he’s in India. So where do we stand as far as U.S.-India trade and commerce is concerned today?
MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t had a chance to get a readout from his visit, but I’m fairly certain that we’re on solid footing in terms of trade with India.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. You had a question.
QUESTION: Do you mind going back to Iran?
MR. TONER: I don’t mind going back to Iran.
QUESTION: On the issue of the Iranian sanctions slated to take place at the end of June, how concerned is the Administration with the fact that these increased sanctions will have an effect on oil prices, gas prices back here?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I think the fact that we’re having very deliberate and ongoing consultations with many of our friends and allies around the world to impress upon them the need to stop their import of Iranian crude and then to move to other sources shows that we’re going about this in a very deliberative way. We want to – and certainly the announcement a couple weeks ago of those countries that we believe have made substantial progress in this indicate that there’s a – that we’re confident that we can do this in a very coherent, deliberative fashion that’s not going to affect the market.
QUESTION: It seems to be (inaudible) White House (inaudible).
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: On the Secretary’s trip, I’m wondering if you have any readouts from the U.S. side on what the Secretary is doing, since she’s gone there without her faithful band of followers and the only word we have now is from the Saudi Foreign Ministry. So can you tell us?
MR. TONER: And precisely because of that, I don’t have much of a readout for you because my faithful --
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: My faithful colleague, Toria, is on that same second plane. As many of you know, the Secretary’s plane developed some mechanical problems yesterday. She went forward, I believe, with just a few skeleton staff to carry out her meetings, bilateral meetings on the ground. And then the larger plane followed with the rest of her staff, including Toria, of course, and the press corps. So I don’t have a readout. We’ll try to get it to you.
QUESTION: You’re not likely to get anything until Toria actually gets on the ground? I mean, there are other senior U.S. officials with the Secretary.
MR. TONER: I understand that, and I know she’s coordinating with them to try to get something.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Palestinian issue, today the Israelis – and in fact Haaretz – exposed that the Israelis have plans to annex 10 percent of the West Bank and allocate it for a settlement. Do you have any comment on that? They published the maps and that actually will turn the West Bank, the area designated for a Palestinian state, into basically a discontiguous, Swiss cheese area.
MR. TONER: I really don’t. I haven’t seen the story. I don’t know what it’s based on. You know our policy on – our position regarding settlements.
QUESTION: Well, it’s a major expose in an Israeli –
MR. TONER: Well, we’ll certainly take a look at it --
QUESTION: -- a most respectable (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: I’m pretty sure our position is going to remain the same, which is --
QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, beside your position remaining the same, if this is the case, if there are actually secret plans to annex – I mean --
MR. TONER: But, Said, you’re asking me to comment on secret plans. I mean, I – just it’s impossible for me right now to do that. I’ll take a look at the article and – but you know what our position is.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: I think you --
QUESTION: Can we stay on that for a second?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: And this has to do with Jerusalem, but it’s not the same question from the other day. Do you know if you all have taken a position on the construction of this Museum of Tolerance that the Israelis are building? It’s supposed – there’s some controversy about it because it’s going to be built on a Muslim cemetery.
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question, Matt. I don’t know what our position is.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, is the Armenia and Turkish relation, the genocide topic or the church property issues, part of the Secretary’s discussions in Turkey?
MR. TONER: You know what? I can’t speak to – I know she’s going to have some bilateral discussions on the side and, of course, on the margins of the Syrian – Friends of Syria meeting. It’s impossible for me to judge. Of course, those issues, those topics are a constant source of – or a issue that we discuss with Turkey and with Armenia, in fact. So we want to see the rapprochement process continue in that regard.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: On the reports that Usama bin Ladin’s wife is saying that he was always in Pakistan, is it your assessment that the Pakistani Government was consistently lying to the U.S. Government over the years?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t think we have an assessment. We have – as you know, immediately after the Abbottabad raid, we asked the Pakistani Government the question of whether there was a larger network at play here or there was some kind of network of support, I guess, for bin Ladin when he was there. We have not received any information that indicates that there was such a network of support there. So I don’t really have anything new for you on that.
QUESTION: So you don’t believe that they were lying?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. Again, we haven’t received any indications that indicate that there was some broader network, no.
Go ahead, Shaun.
QUESTION: On Burma, Myanmar?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up real quick?
MR. TONER: On Pakistan? Yeah, go ahead. Let’s stay on Pakistan.
QUESTION: A just quick one that Pakistanis are again angry at the U.S. because of this recent attack, drones and also --
MR. TONER: Recent? I’m sorry. Recent --
QUESTION: Missile attack.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Over Pakistan. I believe they are saying three people were killed and they are asking the U.S. that they should stop this as far as drone attacks and missiles are concerned in order to have good relations or opening of the doors and all so forth.
MR. TONER: Well, you know where we’re at on this, Goyal. We continue to await the results of the parliamentary review. That’s still ongoing. But I think that in terms of our relations, we continue to have engagement at all levels within the Pakistani Government. And we certainly respect the review process that’s underway and we look forward to the results, and then we’ll be willing to discuss some of the issues raised by that. But as to this incident, I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: On Burma?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Burma. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The bi-elections, of course, are coming up this weekend.
MR. TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: Aung San Suu Kyi overnight made some remarks about the elections, saying that while obviously Burma is not a perfect democracy yet, but that what’s – what she saw as problems, irregularities, and that that’s well beyond what’s acceptable. What’s your read so far? What’s the State Department’s read so far on the elections –
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, just to go back to the tail end of what her comments were --
QUESTION: Sure. Saying that the level of irregularities were not acceptable. What’s the State Department’s read on how the bi-elections are going?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we just have – as you guys all know very well, that we’re going to have representatives of the National Democratic Institute as well as the International Republican Institute who are going to actually be on the ground – I believe they actually are on the ground – to observe the – Sunday’s elections. We view that, in and of itself, this invitation to – of the international community to observe the elections, as a – as something that’s positive in terms of the country’s democratic development.
They’ve been very clear that they cannot do a proper election observation in that short a window, but certainly, we’ll look forward to their analysis leading up to it. I think we have raised our concerns, though, about – going into this about some of the irregularities that we’ve seen. But we’re going to have folks on the ground on Sunday to observe how they’re carried out.
QUESTION: Sure. Just to expand on that a little bit --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: I mean, is there – the overall conduct of these, that you’ve raised concerns about some irregularities, is – I mean, is – at this point, do you see it as credible? Do you see the by-elections as – or is it too early to judge?
MR. TONER: Well, I think – no, I think – first of all, this is a really – this is an important moment for Burma. These by-elections would demonstrate – if they are seen as free and fair – would demonstrate the government’s continued commitment to democratization. So we certainly want to see free and fair elections on Sunday. This would certainly propel further momentum in our bilateral relations, but we have noted some of these irregularities, and we’re just going to – as we move forward through Sunday, we’re going to assess.
QUESTION: Speaking of the bilateral relationship, how is the process of trying to establish an embassy going there?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s ongoing. I mean, we talked a little bit about this yesterday. If you’re asking about naming an ambassador --
MR. TONER: What? Oh, of course. Thank you, Matt. (Laughter.) We do have an embassy. I jumped to the conclusion you’re talking about naming an ambassador, and that’s really something for the White House. Thank you, Matt.
Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
MR. TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: In fact, the northern region of Kurdistan. The president of the northern region of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, is coming to town. I think he arrives tomorrow. And --
MR. TONER: And you want to know if we’re meeting with him and what we’re doing with him?
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. Is the Secretary –
MR. TONER: I’ll find out for you, Said.
QUESTION: Please, yeah.
MR. TONER: I don’t have that in front of me. Thanks, though.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A different topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The coup leader, if you want to call – yeah, the coup leader – Captain Sonogo, is, I believe, his name – he made a statement saying – appealing for help, saying that there’s quite a drastic situation with the rebellion, the Tuareg rebellion. What’s the level of concern that the U.S. has with this situation in Mali, both the –
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- since the coup and with the rebellion?
MR. TONER: Well, we are very concerned. You saw that ECOWAS heads of state held an emergency meeting in Abidjan yesterday, and they presented the mutineers with an ultimatum that they must step down and return Mali to constitutional rule within 72 hours. And if they don’t comply, ECOWAS is going to impose economic, financial, and – financial and other sanctions on Mali. And these would include, I believe, closing the borders with ECOWAS countries and freezing Mali’s account within the West African Central Bank.
We echo ECOWAS’s call for the mutineers to step down and allow for a swift return to democratic rule and for presidential elections to – ultimately to take place. We have seen these reports you’re talking about, advances by the Tuareg rebels. We are very concerned. Toria spoke to this last week when she said that if these mutineers are so concerned, then why are they occupied with events in Bamako rather than pressing the fight against the Tuaregs in the north of Mali.
So we are very concerned about this. I know ECOWAS has offered to mediate between the Tuaregs and the Government of Mali. And we do recognize that these mutineers have some grievances against the government, but their actions to date have not been the right way to get – have anyone to address those grievances in any kind of productive way.
QUESTION: Has the situation risen to the level of needing a Security Council meeting?
MR. TONER: I simply don’t know where the discussion is on that yet. I mean, we believe that ECOWAS has taken an appropriate leadership role to date on this.
QUESTION: But if we get to Monday and the general is still holding press conferences and talking to any media come --
MR. TONER: We still believe there’s time for this to reverse itself and for democratic rule to return to Mali and for elections to take place.
QUESTION: And what do you know about the security of the president right now?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have any updates on his whereabouts. We’ve been told he’s secure and safe, but I don’t have any confirmation of that.
QUESTION: And you will have – now having had a week, you have those numbers for us?
MR. TONER: I believe we’re getting close on those numbers.
QUESTION: Oh? Where – how close would that be?
MR. TONER: We’ll release them at 8 o’clock tonight, how about that? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: How about 4:00 in the morning?
MR. TONER: That’s right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just on --
QUESTION: North Korea --
MR. TONER: Point taken, Matt. We – I can’t say it enough that these are complicated. Military assistance has stopped and we’re de-conflicting all of the assistance that goes directly to the Malian Government. But these are pots of money within programs, and it simply takes time for us to --
QUESTION: Yeah, but five days?
MR. TONER: I appreciate your thoughtful analysis.
QUESTION: Just if I may, a quick follow – Shaun’s question on Burma quickly?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Burmese community here – I meant what they are saying is that they’ve been waiting for a free Burma for the last 20-plus years and they are optimistic that as far as free and fair elections, unless U.S. really takes a closer look and gets involved because that’s what happened in the 1990 elections when she – Aung San Suu Kyi was cheated or her party. So what’s new or different now in the previous 1990 elections and today – I mean, this coming one?
MR. TONER: Well, we’re taking a step-by-step approach in Burma. You are very well aware we’ve had the Secretary out there visiting. We’ve had this positive momentum in the relationship. The government has indeed taken many steps, including the freeing up of – or the freeing of political prisoners inter alia that have led us to engage with the Burmese Government. But we’re obviously going to be looking to these elections on Sunday as another indication of what direction the country’s moving in.
QUESTION: But Mark, what they’re saying is that the international community, including the U.S., been dealing with the dictator for the last 20 years. How come?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. What are you – I didn’t hear the last question, that we’ve been --
QUESTION: The international community and the U.S. been dealing with a dictator, a military dictator.
MR. TONER: I don’t think that’s true at all. We’ve had a very strong sanctions program against Burma. We have had this period of the two-track approach, and we believe its borne fruit.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. One more thing going back to the Palestinian issue --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today is Land Day. It’s a day that the Palestinians celebrate every year. And Israel imposed very severe restrictions on the movement of people, and there are actually some violent clashes that the Israeli Army committed against the Palestinian demonstrators. I wonder if you have a comment on that.
MR. TONER: Well, we certainly don’t want to see any violence on a – by either side. We certainly, as you all know, support the rights of people everywhere to protest peacefully, and so we would just call for restraint.
QUESTION: They actually imposed a great many closures. I mean, people are not able to move from one place to another. They closed the West Bank, Gaza --
MR. TONER: No, I’m aware of those. And again, we would want people to be able to peacefully protest, of course.
Yeah. In the back.
QUESTION: Mark, I recall last time when the Secretary of State was in Armenia, she mentioned that it’s up to Turkey now to make a step towards reconciliation. I think she said, “The ball is on Turkey’s side.” I was wondering if this is the same message that this building is trying to deliver to Ankara authorities as well.
MR. TONER: You know what? Let me, frankly, take the question. I mean, I know that we continue to look for movement on this issue, but as to where it is exactly and where that ball is, let me take the question.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: For modern times some uncharacteristically tough language from Tokyo about this planned missile launch in mid-April. Has the U.S. talked to Tokyo about its threats to intervene militarily to keep this from happening?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about which comments specifically?
QUESTION: That they’ve authorized this response if North Korea goes ahead with its planned satellite launch.
MR. TONER: Well, of course, we consult extremely closely with Japan, with our other allies in the region, and we’re certainly understanding of their concerns, which is why we’ve been so vocal about asking or telling North Korea that this planned missile launch is a mistake, that they should back away from it, and that it’s jeopardizing the Leap Year agreement.
QUESTION: That is certainly different from what Chinese officials were saying, which is basically, “North Korea, reconsider what you’re doing.” This is actually elevating or escalating the rhetoric, as it were. Does that worry this building at all?
MR. TONER: Well, again, let’s be very clear that it’s the intentions stated by North Korea that are elevating tensions, which is why we are asking them to back away from that decision.
QUESTION: Is this building telling Tokyo that perhaps it should be a little more careful in its language if trying to manage the situation is the goal here?
MR. TONER: Look, we continue to consult very closely with the Japanese on this situation, and as I said, we share their concerns.
QUESTION: Was there any sense that Tokyo could make good on its threats?
MR. TONER: That’s a question for Japan.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On North Korea. The State Department has consistently been saying that they are working to encourage North Korea to back away. Concretely, what has this meant? What forms has this encouragement taken?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we’ve been very publicly vocal about our concerns and the fact that this launch, if it goes forward, would call into question the credibility of all North Korea’s commitments. So beyond that, we continue to consult with our allies and partners within the Six-Party process about next steps. I know China and others have also been vocal as well about expressing their concerns.
QUESTION: I – forgive me if I’ve missed this detail, but could you give me a rundown of exactly what contact the U.S. has had with North Korea since the announcement of the launch? I remember on March 16th, a few hours before North Korea put out their statement --
MR. TONER: That’s correct.
QUESTION: -- they had contacted the U.S. though the New York channel.
MR. TONER: That’s correct. And as far as I’m aware – I have not spoken with Glyn Davies in a couple of days, but I’m not aware that we’ve had any contact with them since then. I can check.
Yeah. In the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. For old time’s sake if I get to ask a question, there’s a report in Foreign Policy by Mark Perry that the Israelis are – have a deal with Azerbaijan to use military bases, air bases there, as a contingency perhaps to attack Iran. Does the U.S. State Department have any comment on that?
MR. TONER: We do not. Nope. I took this question yesterday, and I said the same thing. You know where we are in terms of Iran, and the President’s been very clear that we believe there’s still time for diplomacy to work here. We want to see Iran return to the negotiating table willing to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program in a real, substantive, and ongoing manner – not just one meeting but indeed a process here where we can really discuss and reach agreement on these issues.
QUESTION: Have you raised it with the Azerbaijanis?
MR. TONER: We have not.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Back to North Korea.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. planning to have any direct communication or meetings with the North Koreans before this proposed launch in mid-April?
MR. TONER: Again, we continue to consult with our Six-Party allies and partners. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of direct conversations with North Korea. It’s not something we usually do, in fact.
QUESTION: Okay. And one on Japan, please?
QUESTION: There’s been no contact through – there’s been no contact through the New York channel?
MR. TONER: No. I just said I’m not aware of – the last is what she cited, which is the conversation we had up to – right before North Korea decided to make its announcement.
QUESTION: On Japan and the Koreas. Secretary Clinton, at the beginning of this month, said as soon as possible she wanted to have a trilateral meeting with the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. Has a date been set for that?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that a date has been set. Once we have something to announce, we’ll let you know. But I don’t think it has been.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there an intention to try to schedule it around the time that a lot of Japanese officials will be coming here in April, including foreign minister --
MR. TONER: It could be. I mean, we always look for – look, I don’t have a date for you, simply put. I mean, we try to, obviously, accommodate foreign leaders as well as the Secretary’s own schedule as much as we can.
Is that it?
QUESTION: Just one quick one. I just got – today, there was a hearing for this Dr. Fai as far as his connection working for Pakistan. He has been sentenced for 24 months because his connection with Pakistan and working against the U.S. Any comments on that?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any comments.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. And finally, Secretary, are you buying any Mega tickets? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Oh yeah. I wish. (Laughter.) You wouldn’t see me at the podium on Monday, if that were the case. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)
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