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Briefing Skipper: Burma, Cuba, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Friday’s briefing by deputy spokesman Mark Toner: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Burma Friday and met with Aung San Suu Kyi and civil society leaders. On Thursday, Clinton had a three ...

State Department
State Department
State Department

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

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Burma Friday and met with Aung San Suu Kyi and civil society leaders. On Thursday, Clinton had a three hour private dinner with Suu Kyi and they are quickly becoming BFFs. "I think real warmth developed. I think they saw some very familiar things in the other, and I think the beginning of a warm friendship was started here today and last night," a senior State Department official on the trip said.  "Look, it's very clear that these two women have played historic roles in each of their lives. And they meet and there's clearly a sharing and a connection, and it's just undeniable." Back in DC, Toner opened Friday's briefing by noting that tomorrow will mark three years of imprisonment for American Alan Gross in Cuba. "He was arrested on December 3rd, 2009 and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating connectivity between Havana's Jewish community and the rest of the world," Toner said. "We continue to call on the Cuban Government to release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs." Toner reiterated that the U.S. expresses is "sympathies and our condolences" for the Pakistani soldiers who were killed in a NATO attack last weekend but would go as so far as to apologize for the incident. The New York Times reported Thursday that the White House overruled State Department officials who wanted to say sorry for the incident in order to smooth over U.S.-Pakistan relations. Dec. 23 is the deadline for the CENTCOM run investigation, which is still in its early stages. "We need to get the truth here. We have endeavored to do so through this investigation. We've invited Pakistani participation in this investigation, and so let's see what that uncovers," Toner said. He didn't comment on the WSJ report that Pakistan okayed the attack or the reports from Pakistan that they plan to retaliate against U.S. forces next time. State can't confirm the Al-Qaeda claim that they kidnapped American development worker Warren Weinstein in Pakistan. "It's impossible to say, frankly, whether it's true or not," Toner said. "We obviously remain profoundly concerned about Mr. Weinstein's safety and wellbeing." Toner disputed reports in the Israeli press that the Quartet had taken proposals on borders and security from the Palestinians and passed them on to the Israelis. "We said that those are not accurate, that reports that the Quartet provided the Palestinian proposals to the Israelis," Toner said. "And the reason why that's important is, again, we're moving towards a direct exchange between the parties and that face-to-face preparatory meeting where we can talk about proposals on territory and security." He didn't deny that the Palestinians gave proposals to the Quartet, only that the Quartet passed them on to the Israelis. The State Department doesn't have a problem with the Muslim Brotherhood winning the Egyptian elections, as long as they play by the rules. "There's a lot of elections that need to still be carried out, but we're off to a very positive start," Toner said. "We would always look for whoever emerges in the political leadership in Egypt to govern according to democratic ideals.  That's sort of the proof that we're looking for and the Secretary's spoken to this as well."

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

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Burma Friday and met with Aung San Suu Kyi and civil society leaders. On Thursday, Clinton had a three hour private dinner with Suu Kyi and they are quickly becoming BFFs. "I think real warmth developed. I think they saw some very familiar things in the other, and I think the beginning of a warm friendship was started here today and last night," a senior State Department official on the trip said.  "Look, it’s very clear that these two women have played historic roles in each of their lives. And they meet and there’s clearly a sharing and a connection, and it’s just undeniable."
  • Back in DC, Toner opened Friday’s briefing by noting that tomorrow will mark three years of imprisonment for American Alan Gross in Cuba. "He was arrested on December 3rd, 2009 and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating connectivity between Havana’s Jewish community and the rest of the world," Toner said. "We continue to call on the Cuban Government to release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs."
  • Toner reiterated that the U.S. expresses is "sympathies and our condolences" for the Pakistani soldiers who were killed in a NATO attack last weekend but would go as so far as to apologize for the incident. The New York Times reported Thursday that the White House overruled State Department officials who wanted to say sorry for the incident in order to smooth over U.S.-Pakistan relations.
  • Dec. 23 is the deadline for the CENTCOM run investigation, which is still in its early stages. "We need to get the truth here. We have endeavored to do so through this investigation. We’ve invited Pakistani participation in this investigation, and so let’s see what that uncovers," Toner said. He didn’t comment on the WSJ report that Pakistan okayed the attack or the reports from Pakistan that they plan to retaliate against U.S. forces next time.
  • State can’t confirm the Al-Qaeda claim that they kidnapped American development worker Warren Weinstein in Pakistan. "It’s impossible to say, frankly, whether it’s true or not," Toner said. "We obviously remain profoundly concerned about Mr. Weinstein’s safety and wellbeing."
  • Toner disputed reports in the Israeli press that the Quartet had taken proposals on borders and security from the Palestinians and passed them on to the Israelis. "We said that those are not accurate, that reports that the Quartet provided the Palestinian proposals to the Israelis," Toner said. "And the reason why that’s important is, again, we’re moving towards a direct exchange between the parties and that face-to-face preparatory meeting where we can talk about proposals on territory and security." He didn’t deny that the Palestinians gave proposals to the Quartet, only that the Quartet passed them on to the Israelis.
  • The State Department doesn’t have a problem with the Muslim Brotherhood winning the Egyptian elections, as long as they play by the rules. "There’s a lot of elections that need to still be carried out, but we’re off to a very positive start," Toner said. "We would always look for whoever emerges in the political leadership in Egypt to govern according to democratic ideals.  That’s sort of the proof that we’re looking for and the Secretary’s spoken to this as well."

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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