Monday, November 28, 2011

My Qs and As w/State Dpt. Spox Mark Toner, November 28, 2011, Press Briefing

[Reds by other reporters]

Irani threat to Turkey
QUESTION:  Over the weekend, air force commander of Iran made a statement, and he said that in case of a attack by U.S. or Israel on Iran the first target will be the new NATO installation in southeast of Turkey.  Would you be able to comment on this threat? 

MR. TONER:  No.  I’m not going to comment on the comments of an Iraqi air force general speculating about –

QUESTION:  Iranian general.

MR. TONER:  Rather Iranian general speculating about a possible attack. 


QUESTION:  But from the podium – I think from the podium a couple of weeks ago, you were predicting that the Turks and the Russians would also decide to take stronger action.  So --

MR. TONER:  Well, the Turks have – at least in terms of their public statements, have already been playing – and in fact – and also, in welcoming thousands of Syrian refugees over their border – let’s not forget that – they’ve already been playing a very outspoken and public role in condemning Asad and then helping address the humanitarian concerns by the Syrians who fled Asad.  So they’re doing quite a bit.


Humanitarian Corridor/USS nuclear aircraft off Syria

QUESTION:  What about the humanitarian corridor that the French suggested last week?  Did you find out about it?

MR. TONER:  We haven’t gotten any more details about it, and we certainly would want to get more details before we could comment on the feasibility of it.  I mean, we certainly support, as I just said in the case of Turkey, efforts to address the humanitarian concerns of these Syrians who are under duress, but I don’t have any comment until we can see the actual details.

QUESTION:  Mark, now that the Arab League took these decisions and so on, why does it remain out of the question to go back to the Security Council and try that route again?

MR. TONER:  Well, again, we’ve tried that once before.  We think that it’s just – it’s a matter of it being an effective venue and an effective process, so I think we just – we’ve never ruled out Security Council action, but we’re not going to try it until we’re convinced that it’s going to be fruitful.

QUESTION:  You stated that you’re (inaudible) to see details about the humanitarian corridor.  Are you awaiting these details from French, or what’s that exactly?  Which country from which place you are expecting these details to come from?

MR. TONER:  I think it was Foreign Minister Juppe who originally suggested it, so --

QUESTION:  I have one more.  Over the weekend, there were some news reports that nuclear aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush has reportedly anchored off Syria.  Would you be able to confirm if it’s --

MR. TONER:  I can’t confirm that.  I would refer you to the Pentagon.


Egypt Emergency Law/SCAF/El Baradai
QUESTION:  So during the last conversations you had just before Thanksgiving with Egypt, did – it went beyond just the first part of the elections timeline and also spoke about the emergency law, the eventual handover of civilian power.  Are you confident – and of course, restraint of security forces, when dealing with peaceful protestors – are you comfortable now with where the SCAF is on those issues?  They obviously haven’t taken any measures with regards to the emergency law, and we’re still talking about the July timeline, in theory, for the handover to civilian power.  But are you comfortable, especially after today, and this first part, that these things are going to be realized?

MR. TONER:  Well, again, it’s not about us being comfortable.  But we have seen the SCAF make an effort to address some of the concerns that were being expressed by the people in Tahrir Square.  There is an interim government named of – I’m sorry, a new PM, rather.  Interim PM – prime minister – named, who has asked – who’s been asked to head this interim government.  They did clearly stipulate that he would serve until June 30th, when Egypt’s military council has announced it’ll turn over executive authority to an elected president.  All these are the elements of a democratic transition that we think is positive. 

QUESTION:  So it’s your assessment that they are now, again, on the right path toward a democratic transition?

MR. TONER:  Again, it’s – there are going to be challenges ahead.  It’s important that the Egyptian people feel that there is a credible process in place that is leading to a democratic elected government – democratically elected government.

QUESTION:  Do you have any information why the SCAF did not lift the emergency law, even though it clearly promised it was going to do (inaudible) elections?

MR. TONER:  I do not.  I do not, and we would continue to call on them to be lifted. 

QUESTION:  Also, one of the demands of the Tahrir in recent week was Mohammad El-Baradei as a prime minister.  SCAF so far denied for this cause.  Do you have any assessment on the candidacy of –

MR. TONER:  Now as I said, the former Egyptian prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri has been chosen to head the interim government.  I think as the – as we said over the weekend, what’s important is that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority.  I think that’s our bottom line.


Islamists MEast/Democracy
QUESTION:  Mark, are you worried about minorities in the region if the Islamists won the elections?

MR. TONER:  Again, you’re --

QUESTION:  Talking about Egypt.

MR. TONER:  You’re talking about Egypt.  These parties, as we’ve said – I feel like I’m repeating myself a little bit, here – it’s – what’s really important is that – is not necessarily their political stripes, if you will, but how – their commitment to real and true democratic (inaudible).  That’s how we’re going to judge them.


Secularism/Arab Spring
QUESTION:  Does the Administration see the continuation of a degree of secularism in the political systems of these countries as in U.S. national interests?

MR. TONER:  We see the establishment of a democratic process that leads to long-term democratic governance in our national security interests in the region.

QUESTION:  But does the issue of secularism --

MR. TONER:  And there are cases – again, I feel like a broken record.  I keep pointing you back to her speech at NDI, where she talked about Turkey being one example of countries that can successfully marry Islam with democratic governance. 

QUESTION:  Right.  But does the question of maintaining a degree of secularism – and Turkey has a long tradition of secular foundation as well – maintaining a level of secularism in countries that you’ve long partnered – is that, along with the democratic advances, part of U.S. national interests?  Or is the secular religious orientation of the political sphere not of any importance?

MR. TONER:  We believe that our interests are best served by democratic governance


Bahrain BICI Report
QUESTION:  Just follow-up on Bahrain.  After the release of the report, there were protests over the weekend in Bahrain, including today.  Would it be fair to say that its – how the Bahraini Government treatment with these resuming protests would be a good indication? 

MR. TONER:  Oh, of course we’re going to look at those – I mean, we’re not going to give them a pass on future behavior as well.  It’s important that they allow peaceful demonstrators to peacefully demonstrate. 

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