Daily Press Briefing
Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
December 3, 2012
Index for Today's Briefing
Chemical Weapons / U.S. Monitoring Situation Closely
Secretary Clinton's Remarks in Prague / Czechs Play a Leading Role
Security Environment in Syria / Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC)
U.S. Continues to Monitor Movement of Chemical Weapons
Assad Regime / Syrian Opposition / Political Dialogue Needed
DPRK Announcement on Upcoming Launch of Satellite
U.S. Views Launch as a Provocative Action
Recent Israeli Announcements on Settlements / U.S. Reaction / Quartet
U.S. Open on Engagement of Bilateral Talks / P-5+1 Process
Alan Gross / Release of Statement on Gross
Senkaku Islands / Assistant Secretary Campbell / U.S. Policy
South China Sea
U.S. Wants to See Greater Dialogue between the Two Parties
New Draft Constitution / Referendum
1:32 p.m. EST
MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Early afternoon, our apologies. We’re a little bit late getting started today, but usually is the case on a Monday, unfortunately.
Anyway, over to you, Matt.
QUESTION: You have nothing to start with?
MR. TONER: Nothing to start with.
QUESTION: Really? You’re not going to give us a thrilling recap of the Secretary’s adventures today? No?
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: All right. Well, then, if you’re not going to do that --
MR. TONER: -- as you know, the Secretary was in Prague earlier today and is now --
QUESTION: -- then save some – no, no, no, no, I wasn’t – but actually, I do have a question about Prague that is --
MR. TONER: -- on her way to Brussels.
QUESTION: -- it’s going to be the second question.
MR. TONER: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The first one is – let’s start with Syria. So can you explain exactly what the redline here is? Is it the use of chemical weapons or is it movement, just solely movement? Because the President was not entirely clear, I don’t think. He mentioned both, but now it seems to be the – what the Secretary said today was “the use of.” So that’s – so can you tell – can you explain to us what the actual redline is for --
MR. TONER: Well, the President – if you’re looking for the President’s exact words --
QUESTION: And also tell us why there is this increased concern now.
MR. TONER: The President said, I believe, “Any use or proliferation of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cross a redline for the United States,” was his exact wording. So if you’re looking for clarification on that --
QUESTION: So it’s “use?”
MR. TONER: Use or proliferation of chemical weapons.
QUESTION: So they either have to use it or sell it before you guys would – or that’s the redline: using it, selling it, or giving it away?
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Yeah? Okay.
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: So can you say why this is now a more (inaudible) heightened concern?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to get into, obviously, specifics here. We’ve been very clear that we are monitoring the situation very closely, but I’m not going to get into any specifics beyond that. What we’ve been very clear about, though, is that, as we said, any use or proliferation would be crossing a redline, and we would take necessary steps or actions.
QUESTION: The Secretary, as you almost said, was in Prague today. The Czechs are your protecting power. I’m – in Syria – I’m wondering, is this message being delivered to the Syrians directly through them? Or is it just being delivered in comments like the Secretary’s and yours and others?
MR. TONER: Well, obviously – and the Secretary mentioned in her remarks earlier today, that the Czechs obviously play a leading role in dealing with these types of chemical weapons and are an important partner, obviously, not only in that regard but also with us as a friend of the Syrian people. So in many of our consultations, we talk about all of these issues. It’s natural that they would come up. But I think in her public remarks, she was obviously responding to a question from The New York Times and saying that we’ve been continuing to monitor the situation and we’re looking at it very closely and we’re concerned and very clear that if that – any use or proliferation of these weapons would cross a redline.
QUESTION: All right. I’m sorry. Maybe you misunderstood. The question wasn’t whether you had talked to the Czechs about it. The question is whether you’ve asked the Czechs to talk to the Syrians about it on your behalf, since they are your protecting power and --
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to – oh, sorry, I apologize. Well, in any case, again, I’m not going to talk about specifically what we may be asking the Czechs to do on our behalf. We are sending a very clear message, however, to the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: Well, wait.
MR. TONER: Do you have another question?
QUESTION: Is that – well, just – I want to know, is that message being delivered in any other forum than just public comments from the Secretary, you, and others?
MR. TONER: I’d have to look into that, Matt.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Considering that Syria is a non-signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty, are you certain they have chemical weapons?
MR. TONER: Again, Said --
QUESTION: Or is that just presumed?
MR. TONER: No. We obviously base a lot of our – base our knowledge on intelligence, but I’m not going to get into the specifics.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you think the Syrians are manufacturing their own chemical weapons or they are importing it from, let’s say, Russia or elsewhere?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I’m just not going to get into the specifics about their chemical weapons program, only that we are concerned about any move that might signal that they are somehow ready to use those chemical weapons on their own people.
QUESTION: And I have a couple more on Syria.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: The United Nations just announced that they are withdrawing nonessential staff from Syria. Could you comment on this development?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Who?
QUESTION: The United Nations is withdrawing nonessential staff from Syria. They just announced that.
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it’s obviously an indication of how tenuous the security situation, the security environment, has become in Damascus as well as in other parts of Syria. We’ve talked about the escalating violence. We’ve talked about the fact that the Free Syrian Army and the rebels appear to be making territorial gains. It’s just a further indication that Assad’s grip on power is slipping.
QUESTION: So do you have at least some knowledge of the area or the vast area that the rebel army is controlling now?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about – am I going to walk you through the --
QUESTION: Right. No, I mean – yeah, I mean, the --
MR. TONER: I mean, look, we’ve seen their – that they have the capability now to – actually to hold onto various territory. I don’t have a map behind me. I don’t have specific areas to show you.
QUESTION: Actually, you do.
MR. TONER: Well, I do, but it’s not very good on Syria. It’s not very accurate. So I can’t get into specifics about what territories they may or may not have.
QUESTION: Okay. So lastly, if they do have a large swath of territory, would you recognize the coalition as a government in exile or as a temporary government, whatever?
MR. TONER: I see now where you’re going with your questioning. We’ve been very clear, and our position has not changed, that we see the SOC as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. That remains. We have seen them, since their initial formation, take the kinds of steps that we’re looking for, organizational steps, trying to organize themselves better both globally but also on the ground within Syria, and those are encouraging.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) redline, but what would happen when the Syrian regime crossed it?
MR. TONER: Again, the Secretary was very clear that we’re not going to talk about what may or not happen; just we’re very clearly communicating that that is a – it would be a redline.
QUESTION: Are there American troops in the area, in the region, ready to interfere in case?
MR. TONER: Again, you’re asking me to get into specifics that – and operational details I wouldn’t discuss from the podium.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about the Secretary’s meeting last Friday with Mr. Brahimi and Deputy Burns’s meeting with him today?
MR. TONER: You know what? We did promise you that readout. I think Toria did on Friday. And I apologize; I don’t have it. So I’ll try to get it for you.
QUESTION: Two things, Mark. Just one --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- I’m glad to hear you use the word SOC.
MR. TONER: Oh, yeah. Yes, our --
QUESTION: I thought I was the only one --
MR. TONER: No. I apologize, actually.
QUESTION: Secondly, can you repeat the line that you said --
MR. TONER: The Syrian Opposition Coalition. I should never cite an acronym without citing its full title first.
QUESTION: No, no. I just – I’m glad that you used it.
MR. TONER: You’ve rubbed off on me.
QUESTION: Can you – you said any – you’re concerned about any move that might signal – can you just repeat that line?
MR. TONER: I don’t know what line I’m repeating here. I think we said that we – it would signal that they’re either moving towards the use or --
QUESTION: You were concerned about – so has there been such a move? I’m trying to figure out why, exactly, other than there being a story about it in a newspaper this morning, there is this increased concern. Has there been some kind of a move that might signal that they are getting ready to use them?
MR. TONER: Well, I think what we’ve been saying is that, as the opposition makes strategic advances, grows in strength, the Assad regime is obviously unable to halt their progress through conventional means, so we’re concerned that with an increasingly beleaguered regime, that it having found an escalation of violence through conventional weapons is not working, that it might seek to up the ante, as you --
QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve seen a move towards it. I’m curious to know if there has been a move, or are these expressions of concern today just the standard ones that you would’ve had three weeks or a month ago?
MR. TONER: I just – I can’t get into any specific information we might have about that, other than that we just continue to monitor the situation.
QUESTION: But do you consider the stockpiles to be secure?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re monitoring them, so in that sense, I mean, it’s hard to say in Syria today that any stockpile of any weapons is secure, but we continue to monitor them from any movements or otherwise that might indicate that they’re moving towards the use of these weapons.
QUESTION: But that’s a little bit of a movement. I mean, in the past you’ve said the weapons are secure and we are – we continue to monitor the situation. Now you’re not saying that they are secure.
MR. TONER: I think I was just putting it in a broader security perspective in Syria. And we say very clearly that the rebel forces are making advances. The Syrian regime is growing increasingly desperate.
QUESTION: After all these reports, the Syrian Foreign Ministry came out and said that they’d had no plans to use chemical weapons. Do you think that Syrians or others should take those assurances at face value?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: You say you do think they --
MR. TONER: Oh, no, no. I’m sorry. I think we duly note the – sorry about that. I think we would – duly noted. However, this is a regime that has perpetrated months – years, in fact – of violence against its own people.
QUESTION: Okay. And just sort of related to that, there were reports that your counterpart, or one of them, in the Syrian Foreign Ministry, Mr. Makdissi, has defected. I think he was, a) fired, or b) defected. Do you have any information or reaction to that?
MR. TONER: I can’t confirm those reports. I’ve heard them and seen them, but obviously, it’s – as we’ve said many times in the past, that we’re starting to see people peel off from the regime as the situation grows increasingly desperate.
QUESTION: And by losing a Foreign Ministry spokesman, do you think that would be a --
MR. TONER: It’s a vital part of any government, I think is – (laughter).
QUESTION: In fast, the most important position in any government.
MR. TONER: Speaking from my direct experience.
QUESTION: Any fear that the rebels may get hold of chemical weapons or any other WMDs?
MR. TONER: Well, I think, without getting too specific, that’s something that we discuss with the Syrian Opposition Council, that as they make advances, what they would do in this case.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Brahimi --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- on his meeting today? Last Thursday, he told the press in New York that there is going to be a need for, after his – after he addressed the closed session of the Security Council, there may be a need for a multinational peace force. Did he discuss this issue with you?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Toria mentioned this and spoke to it on Friday. I mean, before we get to any multinational peace force or peacekeeping force, we need to get the peace. We need the fighting to stop and we need, obviously, for a political dialogue leading to a political transition to begin. So it’s too early in the process for us to --
QUESTION: With the situation being as tenuous as it is, do you think that he’s going to stay in for the long haul or is he following in the footsteps of Kofi Annan?
MR. TONER: That’s a question you’re going to have to direct him and the UN.
QUESTION: I want to go back to the rebels and the WMDs.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: You talk with them about not getting their hands on, or if they do, how to secure them, or --
MR. TONER: The latter. And I don’t want to get into too much detail.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. TONER: Yeah. We done with Syria?
QUESTION: Okay. So North Korea announced that they are going to launch a satellite in December, 10th – between 10th and 22nd. So when did the United States Government know that they were going to announce that they were going to launch?
MR. TONER: Well, we don’t generally give a timeline of our interactions with North Korea. I think what’s important here is that they’ve announced their intent to engage in a provocative action. And as you saw from our statement, we condemn what we consider to be a highly provocative action that would threaten peace and stability in the region.
QUESTION: I have one follow-up. Tomorrow, Japanese and South Korean directors on these issues coming to DC. So is there going to be a trilateral meeting tomorrow?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any announcements to make. Once we have a firmer idea of – we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: In the past on this subject, you have on occasion told us about communications through back channel. Has any – have there been any communications either prior to or subsequent to the North Korean announcement, i.e. direct communication between Pyongyang and you guys?
MR. TONER: I’m aware that we have in the past acknowledged some of these things. Yes.
QUESTION: So they – uh-huh. So they – and was – can you tell us if --
MR. TONER: But I’m not – no. I’m not going to get into any greater detail than that.
QUESTION: And you can’t tell us whether it’s before or after the announcement?
MR. TONER: It was prior to.
QUESTION: Prior to, so you had some forewarning? They told you directly before they made the public announcement?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into details. I’m not going to give a timeline here.
QUESTION: But that’s a true statement, that they told you before they’d made a public announcement?
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Could you confirm that North Korea fired at least satellite or ballistic missile? What is the –
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. What was the question again?
QUESTION: Is a satellite or a ballistic missile – long-range missile –
MR. TONER: Well, as you know, it frankly doesn’t matter; the technology is the same. And we are under no allusions that they’re somehow pursuing a space program. It’s pretty clear what they’re trying to do here.
QUESTION: What countermeasure does the U.S. have on this? Do you have any countermeasure –
MR. TONER: What confirmation that they’re going to launch?
QUESTION: No, countermeasures.
MR. TONER: They’ve said that they’re – they’ve said so publicly. I’m sorry. What?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The question one more time?
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any countermeasure on this North Korean –
MR. TONER: I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking. The countermeasures to keep them from launching?
MR. TONER: I’m not – again, I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I mean, we’re – obviously, we view it as a provocative action, and we’re working with other members of the Six Party process and consulting going forward.
QUESTION: Mark, can I just – how do you know North Korea doesn’t have a space program?
MR. TONER: Well, what – I’m sorry. What – are you asking me to evaluate –
QUESTION: Well, I mean, everything you’ve said –
MR. TONER: What my –
QUESTION: No, no. I’m just – I don’t – because you said something and I think it was kind of offhand. Earlier you said: It’s pretty clear what they intend to do. We know they don’t have a space program. One, how do you know they don’t have a space program? Maybe they do. And two – and they’ve just kept it secret – and two, would it matter if it was for a space program? It wouldn’t, right? It still is banned. You said the technology is the same.
MR. TONER: My point was is the technology is the same and –
QUESTION: So it doesn’t matter whether it’s for a space program, a bomb, or a satellite, or, I don’t know, shooting a monkey into space. It doesn’t matter what it is.
MR. TONER: Again, the technology –
QUESTION: It still violates the –
MR. TONER: The technology is exactly the same. That said, we’re highly skeptical that this is about the peaceful civilian use of outer space.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Israeli settlement on the West Bank.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You just issued a statement –
MR. TONER: We did?
QUESTION: -- and you say, quote, “We have made clear to the Israeli Government that such action is contrary to U.S. policy.” Did you make that by phone call? Did you call the Ambassador, like Britain and France did? Or how did you do that?
MR. TONER: Well, you saw what we did. We put out a public statement.
QUESTION: Okay. So that – are you – do you plan on calling the Israeli Ambassador to the building and telling him in person?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into what additional actions we may take. I think our statement was pretty clear in expressing our opposition to this announcement.
QUESTION: Okay. Are there any kind of coordination between you and your allies on this issue? Let’s say you and Britain and France in this case.
MR. TONER: Well, I think there’s – obviously, we all share the same settlement – sediment –sentiment, excuse me, which is that we consider these kinds of actions, these kinds of unilateral decisions, to be counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations. I mean, obviously we continue to consult closely with our allies and partners on how to get both parties back to the negotiating table, but I think our reaction is similar to their reaction, that this is not the kind of action that we need to see.
QUESTION: Can you just spell it out a little bit? I mean, your statement mentions specifically concerns over this E1 zone and saying it would – it’s particularly sensitive and might make things more difficult. Can you tell us anything more about why you’re – what your specific concerns are about potential construction in E1?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I think it’s generally known, I think, that this particular area, construction there would be damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution for geographic reasons, that these are all issues that need to be settled through direct negotiations.
QUESTION: And so when you say for geographic regions, you have specific concerns about the sort of future integrity of a Palestinian state --
MR. TONER: Those are some of the issues that have been raised, yeah. Or concerns. Again, what’s important that these are all issues that need to be resolved at the negotiating table in any kind of comprehensive settlement.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any action in Congress to slap sanctions on the Palestinian Authority?
MR. TONER: On any actions within Congress?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure that they’ve – again, I know that there’s – or I’m not sure that there’s any kind of draft legislation at present. You’re talking about in reaction to their move --
MR. TONER: -- in the UN General Assembly? You’ll have to ask Congress.
QUESTION: Has there been any kind of – did you contact the Palestinian Authority post-vote kind of on Saturday or Sunday or Monday? Have you spoken to them?
MR. TONER: I think the Secretary saw Prime Minister Fayyad on the margins of the Saban Center on Friday.
QUESTION: On Iran.
MR. TONER: Go ahead in the back, and then I’ll get – yeah.
QUESTION: On Iran.
QUESTION: On –
MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. You have another Israel.
MR. TONER: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you going to discuss this issue through the Quartet or --
MR. TONER: Well, I think my point was we’re obviously consulting closely. We always do on these issues with the Quartet. But we’ve spoken very clearly about our feelings about this recent announcement.
QUESTION: I’m just –
MR. TONER: I do have – are you still on –
MR. TONER: Okay. Sorry. I’ll get to you in a second.
QUESTION: I’m just curious as to – because as you have said yourself, the Palestinians – the vote in favor of the Palestinians at the UN on Thursday didn’t change any – doesn’t change anything on the ground, and the announcement by the Israelis on Friday would have substantial significant impact on the ground, at least – and so I’m wondering if you think that the tit for tat that we saw go on here was proportional.
MR. TONER: Matt, Toria talked about the fact that we need to be evenhanded. We believe we are being evenhanded when we see actions that we deem or we believe are counterproductive to what everyone professes to be the ultimate goal here, which is a comprehensive settlement, two states living side by side, that the only way to get there is through the negotiating table, and any action that impedes that effort is, we believe, counterproductive.
QUESTION: Well, but I’m just curious because when you say evenhanded, how --
MR. TONER: So my point is, Matt –
QUESTION: Can you point to any success so far from the evenhanded policy that you had? I mean, you told the Palestinians not to go to the UN. They went to the UN. You told the Israelis not to do any – to announce or do more settlements, and they continue to do it.
MR. TONER: Well, again, Matt --
QUESTION: Neither side is listening to you.
MR. TONER: Well, I think what we’ve seen here is – and we talked about this in the lead-up to the UN vote, which is that we don’t – what we don’t want to see is this kind of response from the Israelis, but this is something that is – obviously we warned about with the Palestinians pursuing this vote.
QUESTION: So where does that – I mean, where does that leave you? Neither – you’re supposed to be the honest broker here, and neither side listens to you.
MR. TONER: Matt, this is – these are difficult issues. This is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have been settled long ago. But we need to be consistent and we need to be clear in what we say about our belief that these kinds of actions, whether they’re through the Palestinians and whether it’s these announcements by Israel, don’t get us any closer to what both sides profess to be the ultimate goal here and what we want to see as the ultimate goal, which are two states living side by side in peace and security.
QUESTION: Can I just --
MR. TONER: Yes, Said. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- follow on Samir’s question on the Quartet? And Nabil Al-Araby, the Secretary General of the Arab League, said that he’s going to call for dissolving the Quartet. Has he discussed this issue with you? Do you know anything about this?
MR. TONER: I haven’t seen those reports. I’ll look into it, but I haven’t seen those reports.
QUESTION: Do you agree with him that the Quartet really has outlived its purpose?
MR. TONER: Again, we continue to work very closely within the Quartet. Obviously, David Hale remains very engaged with his Quartet partners. But I don’t have any particular comments as to that report.
In the back. Iran.
QUESTION: State Department’s Facebook account in Farsi has mentioned there is going to be some changes in the regulation or the process of Iranians acquiring visas. Can you tell us more details on that, how the changes are going to be – what changes?
MR. TONER: You know what? It’s an excellent question. I don’t have any details in front of me. I’ll have to look into that. Can you give me a day to look into it and get back to you?
MR. TONER: Thanks.
Yeah. You, in the back.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is (inaudible). I’m with TV Asahi. Kyoto News Agency reported Sunday that Iran has stationed defense staff in North Korea since late October, apparently to strengthen cooperation in missile and nuclear development. Do you have any comment on this?
MR. TONER: I don’t. I’ve seen those reports. You’re talking about reports that Iran – there’s Iranians in DPRK?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any comments other than that we’ve seen reports in the media. Obviously, Iran is – we’ve expressed our concern before about Iran continuing to play a nefarious role globally, but specifically to those reports I don’t have anything to add.
Are we done?
MR. TONER: Yeah, Egypt. Go ahead.
QUESTION: There are reports that allege that Iran is really softening its position. Do you agree? Has there been any signs as far as you’re concerned that Iran is really backpedaling on the nuclear issue?
MR. TONER: That Iran is backpedaling?
MR. TONER: If you’re talking about the comments by Foreign Minister Salehi earlier today, we’ve made clear in the past that we’re open to bilateral discussion within the context of the P-5+1. We’ve been very clear that we’re prepared for such a conversation and we want to see Iran show its seriousness to engage.
QUESTION: Is it bilateral or P-5+1?
MR. TONER: Well, I said within the context of the P-5+1, but we’ve always said we’ll engage in bilateral talks. We talked about this. I believe it came up during the – there was a New York Times article a few months ago about this very piece – or very issue, and we’ve always said there’s nothing new here, that we will engage in bilateral talks. We’re open to that within the context of the P-5+1 process.
QUESTION: It means discussing the P-5+1 targets?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Bilateral meetings but discussing the P-5+1 targets?
MR. TONER: Again, there’s a P-5+1 process. We’re all united in our desire to see Iran address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. That’s obviously the process that’s in play here in order for Iran to address the international community’s concerns. But within that context, we’re willing to talk about these and other issues bilaterally.
Yeah, go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Cuba. I know you issued a statement earlier on Alan Gross. Can you read some of the statement out? Sorry, it’s TV. And why now? Why suddenly pick up this case on – for Alan Gross?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t know if I have the statement in front of me, but obviously the reason why we issued the statement today is to mark the third year of his incarceration, his unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. Obviously, we want to see him released unconditionally. We believe, as I said, he’s being unjustly held. He was there in Cuba as an aid worker working with the Jewish diaspora community there, helping them to better communicate through the internet to the outside world. He’s done nothing wrong. He also has some serious health issues. We’d like to see a physician of his own choosing be able to come and evaluate his health. And finally, on purely humanitarian grounds, he should be released to visit his mother, who I believe is terminally ill with cancer. So for all of these reasons, we just want to call attention whenever we have the opportunity, and indeed we raise this case whenever we have the opportunity with the Cubans that we believe he needs to be home yesterday.
QUESTION: Yeah, two questions about the Senkaku issue. I guess there’s been legislation introduced in the Congress to call on the United States to back the Japanese administration of the Senkakus. Does the State Department have any reaction to that? That’s the first part.
MR. TONER: You know what? I haven’t seen that draft – sorry, I’ve got serious speaking issues today. I haven’t seen that draft legislation so I’m not going to be prepared to comment on it. You know where we stand with regard to the Senkakus. Our position hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: And then the second part is about Assistant Secretary Campbell’s comment a few weeks ago about – his comment apparently was that this is an issue that cannot be resolved but can be managed. And my question is I’m confused about this because if it is the position of the State Department that these islands are part of the Japanese administration, what is it that has to be resolved? And is he really talking about managing tensions more so than resolving the central issue?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I just would say that our policy hasn’t changed with regard to the Senkaku islands. I’m not going to get into details. I don’t have what Kurt Campbell said in front of me. I haven’t seen his remarks. But we remain committed to finding – to working through diplomatic channels to resolve these tensions.
QUESTION: North Korea again. Is there any direct dialogue between the North Koreans and your government to stop the missile launch, direct dialogue right now?
MR. TONER: Direct dialogue with North Korea?
QUESTION: Between – yes, North Korea and your government.
MR. TONER: The process is such that we work, obviously, with our partners in the Six-Party process, and that’s what we’re doing now. We’re consulting with them.
QUESTION: There was some news reports that your government and a North Korean official met in New York through the New York channel.
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have anything to add to what I’ve just said.
QUESTION: Back to Asia for a second?
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: There’s – do you have any comment about this incident in which Vietnamese are accusing Chinese fishing boats of sabotaging a seismic survey team?
MR. TONER: Again, I’ve seen those reports just before coming down here. I don’t have any particular comments on them. We just don’t know. We don’t know the details yet. But obviously you’re talking about – this is in the South China Sea?
MR. TONER: Obviously, we continue to support a collaborative diplomatic process to resolve the disputes over the South China Sea. As to that specific instance, I don’t have any further comment.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Question on Pakistan following on the Secretary’s meeting today with the Foreign Minister: The United States currently has no reconciliation talks ongoing with the Taliban, but there are separate talks to the core group that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan; do you see those efforts up to this point being helpful in sort of resolving the issue?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we saw last week, these – that there were meetings between Afghanistan and Pakistan, obviously. We’ve welcomed that kind of cooperation. We want to see greater dialogue between them. Obviously our role, as well as Pakistan’s role, is the same. We want to see an Afghan-led reconciliation process. And I think that we would view any kind of dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan that furthers that ultimate goal to be very positive. And certainly that’s our goal, is to play a facilitative role in this process.
MR. TONER: Oh, go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Generally, concern is now that it looks like the situation is really deadlocked?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, yes. I think we’ve been very clear where our concerns lie in this process. As you mentioned, it’s very clear that many Egyptians have strong opinions about the new constitution – the draft constitution, rather – and the process by which it’s approved. There will be a referendum, as you guys saw over the weekend, that’s going to be called for on December 15th. And it’s important that – we believe – that that referendum be monitored by impartial observers to ensure that it’s fair and credible. And obviously, the other critical element of this is that it’s important for Egyptians to be able to exercise their right to vote in this referendum in a peaceful and secure environment.
QUESTION: So the judiciary refusing to supervise this, as the law says --
MR. TONER: Well, I think we – right.
QUESTION: The --
MR. TONER: According to Egyptian law, but I would clarify. I think I’ve seen competing news reports that say they may in fact oversee this referendum, so I don’t know what the ultimate outcome is. But as according to Egyptian law, these types of referendums must be overseen by the country’s judges. But I’m not clear that they’ve said they’re not going to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah, thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)
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