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Briefing Skipper: Libya, Iran, Gilad Shalit, Bahrain, Tibet

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday’s briefing by deputy spokesman Mark Toner: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unannounced visit to Libya Monday, with a stopover in Malta. In Tripoli, she met with the National Transition Council ...

BBC/Kim Ghattas
BBC/Kim Ghattas
BBC/Kim Ghattas

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday's briefing by deputy spokesman Mark Toner:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unannounced visit to Libya Monday, with a stopover in Malta. In Tripoli, she met with the National Transition Council Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni. She also visited a hospital and spoke to students at the University of Tripoli. In Malta, she met with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. "As [Ambassador] Gene [Cretz] and Assistant Secretary [Jeffrey] Feltman and I were walking through here, they were talking about how the last time Jeff was here was when we were very worried that Gadhafi and Sanussi were going to kill you," Clinton said at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, referring to Cretz. "And we were debating and just pulling our hair out about what to do and how to respond to it, and then the threats got worse and the intimidation got worse, and so we had to bring Gene home for consultations, as they say. But here you are, you're back and Gadhafi's gone. So it somehow seems to be all's right with the world." Toner opened the briefing by praising the report by the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. "Under international law and its own constitution, Iran has committed itself -- committed to, rather, to protect and defend the rights of its people. But officials continue to stifle all forms of dissent, persecute religious and ethnic minorities, harass and intimidate human rights defenders, and engage in the torture of detainees," Toner said. No substantive progress to announce on holding Iran accountable for the alleged plot to hire a Mexican drug cartel to bomb the Saudi Ambassador at Café Milano in Georgetown. "In terms of additional steps we might take, I think we're continuing to have those discussions," Toner said. The U.S. doesn't have to allow Iran to have consular access to used-car salesman-turned-international-terror-mastermind Mansour Arbabsiar because he's a dual citizen, but the State Department might grant the access anyway, Toner said. Toner also commented on the new report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which says that Iran's uranium enrichment program is struggling. "While sanctions are clearly impacting Iran's efforts to procure items in support of its nuclear missile activities, we don't believe the international community can become complacent as Iran continues to stockpile enriched uranium in defiance of U.N. resolutions," he said. The Obama administration had no role in the deal to trade 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but the U.S. did give the Israelis their opinions on some of the people who were being considered for release. The State Department isn't speculating on whether this development will improve the atmosphere for negotiations. "If you're parsing what this means for the peace process, it's difficult for us to say," Toner said. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren predicts no change in the status quo. When the State Department called the family of al-Qaida propagandist Samir Khan, who was killed in a CIA drone strike in Yemen, it was NOT a "condolence call," Toner wants you to know. "Just a reminder: It was not a condolence call. It was an acknowledgment of the family's grief. It was a very short call, and it was also an offer of consular assistance, such as a death certificate; and just a reminder to folks, that we are legally bound to offer this to any relatives of an American citizen. But it was not a condolence call. I've seen it characterized as such in the press," he said. "Again, it was not a condolence call." By the way, State can't confirm that the son of Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a separate drone strike. Seems like the Congressional campaign to halt the Bahrain arms sale is having an effect. Toner said that human rights would be taken into consideration as the sale moves forward. "But it's also important to note that there are several procedural steps that remain before this equipment, which, I would add, is for Bahrain's external defense purposes, can take delivery of any equipment listed in the congressional notification," he said. A State Department letter to Congress Thursday tied the sale directly to the pending report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). Six Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire and the State Department is "seriously concerned" about it. "In the light of the continuing underlying grievances of China's Tibetan population, we would urge China and its leaders to respect the rights of Tibetans, to address some of the policies in these areas, in Tibetan areas, that have created tension, and to protect the Tibetans' unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity," Toner said. Ok, but has the administration actually raised this with the Chinese? "I'll have check on that," Toner said. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is going to Beijing Oct. 21 and will meet with Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. He will then go to India to meet with National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon.

Photo tweeted by the BBC's Kim Ghattas. Follow her @BBCKimGhattas

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday’s briefing by deputy spokesman Mark Toner:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unannounced visit to Libya Monday, with a stopover in Malta. In Tripoli, she met with the National Transition Council Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni. She also visited a hospital and spoke to students at the University of Tripoli. In Malta, she met with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.
  • "As [Ambassador] Gene [Cretz] and Assistant Secretary [Jeffrey] Feltman and I were walking through here, they were talking about how the last time Jeff was here was when we were very worried that Gadhafi and Sanussi were going to kill you," Clinton said at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, referring to Cretz. "And we were debating and just pulling our hair out about what to do and how to respond to it, and then the threats got worse and the intimidation got worse, and so we had to bring Gene home for consultations, as they say. But here you are, you’re back and Gadhafi’s gone. So it somehow seems to be all’s right with the world."
  • Toner opened the briefing by praising the report by the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. "Under international law and its own constitution, Iran has committed itself — committed to, rather, to protect and defend the rights of its people. But officials continue to stifle all forms of dissent, persecute religious and ethnic minorities, harass and intimidate human rights defenders, and engage in the torture of detainees," Toner said.
  • No substantive progress to announce on holding Iran accountable for the alleged plot to hire a Mexican drug cartel to bomb the Saudi Ambassador at Café Milano in Georgetown. "In terms of additional steps we might take, I think we’re continuing to have those discussions," Toner said. The U.S. doesn’t have to allow Iran to have consular access to used-car salesman-turned-international-terror-mastermind Mansour Arbabsiar because he’s a dual citizen, but the State Department might grant the access anyway, Toner said.
  • Toner also commented on the new report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which says that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is struggling. "While sanctions are clearly impacting Iran’s efforts to procure items in support of its nuclear missile activities, we don’t believe the international community can become complacent as Iran continues to stockpile enriched uranium in defiance of U.N. resolutions," he said.
  • The Obama administration had no role in the deal to trade 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but the U.S. did give the Israelis their opinions on some of the people who were being considered for release. The State Department isn’t speculating on whether this development will improve the atmosphere for negotiations. "If you’re parsing what this means for the peace process, it’s difficult for us to say," Toner said. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren predicts no change in the status quo.
  • When the State Department called the family of al-Qaida propagandist Samir Khan, who was killed in a CIA drone strike in Yemen, it was NOT a "condolence call," Toner wants you to know. "Just a reminder: It was not a condolence call. It was an acknowledgment of the family’s grief. It was a very short call, and it was also an offer of consular assistance, such as a death certificate; and just a reminder to folks, that we are legally bound to offer this to any relatives of an American citizen. But it was not a condolence call. I’ve seen it characterized as such in the press," he said. "Again, it was not a condolence call." By the way, State can’t confirm that the son of Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a separate drone strike.
  • Seems like the Congressional campaign to halt the Bahrain arms sale is having an effect. Toner said that human rights would be taken into consideration as the sale moves forward. "But it’s also important to note that there are several procedural steps that remain before this equipment, which, I would add, is for Bahrain’s external defense purposes, can take delivery of any equipment listed in the congressional notification," he said. A State Department letter to Congress Thursday tied the sale directly to the pending report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
  • Six Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire and the State Department is "seriously concerned" about it. "In the light of the continuing underlying grievances of China’s Tibetan population, we would urge China and its leaders to respect the rights of Tibetans, to address some of the policies in these areas, in Tibetan areas, that have created tension, and to protect the Tibetans’ unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity," Toner said. Ok, but has the administration actually raised this with the Chinese? "I’ll have check on that," Toner said.
  • National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is going to Beijing Oct. 21 and will meet with Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. He will then go to India to meet with National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon.

Photo tweeted by the BBC’s Kim Ghattas. Follow her @BBCKimGhattas

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 josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

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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