Briefing Skipper: Saleh, Qaddafi, Karzai, Goldstone, Ai Weiwei
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Monday’s briefing by spokesman Mark Toner: Toner wouldn’t confirm the substance of the New York Times article that reported the U.S. government is working behind the scenes on the ouster of Yemen’s President ...
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Monday’s briefing by spokesman Mark Toner:
- Toner wouldn’t confirm the substance of the New York Times article that reported the U.S. government is working behind the scenes on the ouster of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but he didn’t deny it either. "I think that’s not necessarily a decision for us to make," he said. "What we’re trying to work for or what we believe should be the final outcome is that the Yemeni people should determine both the scope of change and the pace of change and when a peaceful transition of power takes place that meets their aspirations… It’s not for us to impose a solution."
- The United States continues to attend meetings between the Saleh government and the Yemeni opposition but there hasn’t been a break in counterterrorism operations, as this other New York Times article states, according to Toner. "We continue our counterterrorism cooperation throughout the current situation," he said, adding, "And we believe that our shared interests in fighting counterterrorism extends beyond one individual."
- Still no decision on whether to officially recognize the Libyan opposition’s Transitional National Council, despite that Italy recognized it Monday and their representative in Washington is pleading for America’s recognition. The State Department is "aware" of reports that al Qaeda is exploiting the Libyan conflict to steal weapons and ship them out of the country through Mali. State is talking with the rebel leadership about it. "And we’ve made very clear of our concerns and they have also pledged that they will look into it," Toner said.
- Toner wouldn’t say if the U.S. could ever support a transition in Libya that kept one or more of Col. Muammar al Qaddafi’s sons in power. "Ultimately it’s not something that the U.S. needs to decide. This is something that the Libyan people need to decide," he said. "Again, our bottom line remains that we believe [Qaddafi’s] delegitimized as a leader, he needs to step down, and he needs to be held accountable."
- State doesn’t think that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is fanning the flames of anger following the Florida Koran burning and the subsequent bloody protests in Afghanistan. "We believe that he’s made some constructive statements in the sense that he did come out after the Mazar-e Sharif demonstrations and killings. He did say that he considered them to be a destructive action on the [part] of a group of partial people who abused their right of demonstration — I’m quoting from his statement — and who participated in violent action against United Nations employees who are helping the Afghan people in that province, as contrary to Islamic and Afghan values," Toner said. "So we do appreciate his comments." He didn’t say if State appreciated the comments that sparked the protests in the first place.
- The State Department is claiming vindication in the fact that Richard Goldstone has written a Washington Post op ed revising the conclusions of his infamous Goldstone report. "We’ve made clear from when the Goldstone report was initially presented and maintained ever since that we didn’t see any evidence that the Israeli government had intentionally targeted civilians or otherwise engaged in any war crimes; and now that we see that Justice Goldstone has reached the same conclusion," Toner said.
- Toner read out this statement on the Chinese government’s detention of artist/activist Ai Weiwei:
We obviously are — continue to be deeply concerned by the trend of forced disappearances, extralegal detentions, arrests and convictions of rights activists for exercising their internationally recognized human right, including freedom of expression and movement. The detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei is inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens, including China’s commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we urge the Chinese government to release him immediately.
- The topic is sure to come up during Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell’s upcoming trip to Beijing, Toner said.
- In Syria, State issued a new travel warning and issued a voluntary authorized departure order, although no special flights have left yet. "The situation is increasingly volatile in Syria," Toner said. One sarcastic member of the State Department press corps asked Toner if U.S. Ambassador in Damascus Robert Ford has been granted a meeting with anyone in the Syrian government above the ranking of a cafeteria worker. "I’m certain it’s higher than that," Toner said, "but I don’t know what level."
- Toner denied the Wall Street Journal Monday report that the U.S. has quietly halted arms shipments to the Lebanese Armed Forces. "I can just say that our assistance programs to Lebanese armed forces continue and that no decision regarding any kind of freeze has been made at this time," he said.
- No Americans were on the U.N.-contracted plane that crashed while it was flying into Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Monday and State is "deeply saddened" by the loss of life.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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