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Saturday, March 31, 2012

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON AND SAUDI ARABIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD AL-FAISAL


The following excerpt is from a U.S. State Department e-mail:
Remarks With Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal
Remarks Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
March 31, 2012
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Your Highness. It’s wonderful to be back here in Riyadh. And I thank you for your warm hospitality, and I also wish to thank the secretary general and the GCC for the work that went into preparing this meeting and the hospitality you have provided us.
I was delighted yesterday to have the opportunity to visit with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty, King Abdullah. And I want to thank him again, publicly and personally, for his leadership and hospitality.

The partnership between our two countries goes back more than six decades, and today we are working together on a wide range of common concerns, both bilaterally and multilaterally. For example, both the United States and Saudi Arabia share an interest in ensuring that energy markets foster economic growth. And we recognize and appreciate the leadership shown by the kingdom. We are working together to promote prosperity in both our countries and globally.

In today’s inaugural session of the Strategic Cooperation Forum, I underscored the rock-solid commitment of the United States to the people and nations of the Gulf. And I thanked my colleagues for the GCC’s many positive contributions to regional and global security, particularly the GCC’s leadership in bringing about a peaceful transition within Yemen. We hope this forum will become a permanent addition to our ongoing bilateral discussions that exist between the United States and each nation that is a member of the GCC. We believe this forum offer opportunities to deepen and further our multilateral cooperation on shared challenges, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and piracy, as well as broader economic and strategic ties.

Among other things, it should help the American and GCC militaries pursue in concert a set of practical steps, such as improving interoperability, cooperating on maritime security, furthering ballistic missile defense for the region, and coordinating responses to crises. Let me turn to a few of the specific challenges facing the region that we discussed.
I will start with Iran, which continues to threaten its neighbors and undermine regional security, including through its support for the Assad regime’s murderous campaign in Syria, threats against the freedom of navigation in the region, and interference in Yemen. The entire world was outraged by reports that Iran was plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States and by allegations of Iranian involvement in recent terrorist attacks in India, Georgia, and Thailand.

Of course, the most pressing concern is over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international community’s dual-track approach has dramatically increased pressure on Iran through crippling sanctions and isolation, while at the same time leaving open the door if Iran can show it is serious about responding to these legitimate international concerns. It soon will be clear whether Iran’s leaders are prepared to have a serious, credible discussion about their nuclear program, whether they are ready to start building the basis of a resolution to this very serious problem. It is up to Iran’s leaders to make the right choice. We will see whether they will intend to do so starting with the P-5+1 negotiations in Istanbul, April 13th-14th. What is certain, however, is that Iran’s window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever.

Turning to Syria, tomorrow leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Istanbul for the second meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People. We heard this week from Kofi Annan, the special representative of both the United Nations and the Arab League, that the Assad regime had accepted his initial six-point plan, which calls for the regime to immediately pull back its forces and silence its heavy weapons, respect daily humanitarian ceasefires, and stop interfering with peaceful demonstrations and international monitoring.
But the Syrian Government is staying true to form, unfortunately, making a deal and then refusing to implement it. As of today, regime forces continue to shell civilians, lay siege to neighborhoods, and even target places of worship. So today, my fellow ministers and I agreed on the need for the killing to stop immediately and urged the joint special envoy to set a timeline for next steps. We look forward to hearing his views on the way forward when he addresses the Security Council on Monday.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, the international community will be discussing additional measures to increase pressure on the regime, provide humanitarian assistance, despite the obstacles by the regime, and look for ways to advance an inclusive, democratic, orderly transition that addresses the aspirations of the Syrian people and preserves the integrity and institutions of the Syrian state. I’ll have much more to say about this tomorrow, but I want to acknowledge the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the other members of the GCC during this crisis. They have been strong advocates for the Syrian people, and I applaud their efforts.
Finally, I want to emphasize a security concern that is one that is reflected in the great movements for change across this region. We have to continue working people-to-people. We have to continue finding ways to respond to the legitimate aspirations that civil society represents. And the United States will be reaching out to all of the member nations and the people of these nations to find ways that peacefully recognize those aspirations.

So again, let me thank the foreign minister for his hospitality and his partnership and our continuing close and important consultations. Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Your Highness, Ms. Clinton, welcome to Riyadh. We’re expecting that --

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: What?

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: We’ll start with Jill Dougherty of CNN. Jill.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you. I would like to ask a question of both of you about this issue of arming the Syrian opposition. Mr. Foreign Minister, the – Saudi Arabia has said that it does support this idea. We have not heard as much of it in recent days, so I wanted to ask you again: Does Saudi Arabia still support the idea of arming the opposition? And how do you guarantee that those weapons will not get into the hands of terrorists or al-Qaida?

Secretary Clinton, is there any type of flexibility in the U.S. approach to that issue of arming? And just one other question: In terms of this political solution, ultimately, should President Assad decide – if he decides to accept some type political transition, is there any possibility or would it be acceptable to the United States or to Saudi Arabia that he remain in control or power in some fashion or another, or must he completely leave the scene? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: Well, I think the first part of the question was terrorism. If we believe the propaganda of Syria, there is no real war in Syria. It’s only terrorists making trouble there, and they’re fighting terrorists. Today, they announced that they had finished the uprising in Syria, and yet the cannons continue to fire and tanks continue to move. We are living in a world where truth and falsehood have become mixed. But (inaudible) tell you that what is happening in Syria is a tragedy of tremendous consequence.

So – and this is happening because the Syrians (inaudible). The Syrian Government in Syria have decided that they can resolve everything and control the demonstrations and keep everybody contained by military force. And unless the world, instead of taking decisions to (inaudible) help the Syrians themselves – we didn’t start the fight for them, (inaudible) telling them to fight. But they are fighting because they don’t see any way out. And the killing goes on. So do we let the killing go on, or do we help them at least to get – to defend themselves? Nobody is looking for harmings here.

I think the administration there is doing all it can to do that, and they don’t need any help. The people that need help are the Syrian people who are fighting for their livelihood and for their freedom. And that – yes, indeed, we support the arming of the nationalists.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, we had a good exchange on Syria, both in a pre-meeting with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, and during the GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum in preparation for the meeting tomorrow in Istanbul. And, as you just heard from the foreign minister, King Abdullah has been an outspoken critic of the Assad rule by bloodshed and is committed to assisting the Syrian people. We want to see the Syrian regime fulfill the obligations that it has already made, most recently to Kofi Annan, to end the violence and implement the Annan plan and allow a democratic transition.

Our focus tomorrow will be on four points. First, to intensify the pressure we bring through sanctions. Several of the Gulf countries have been quite advanced in imposing sanctions. We want to see broader international enforced sanctions. Second, getting the humanitarian assistance to those in need. Third, we have to continue working to strengthen the opposition’s unity and democratic vision so that it can represent an alternative to the Assad regime and participate fully in a transition process. They, frankly, have a lot of trouble communicating with one another and communicating from outside Syria into Syria. So we’re all working very hard to assist them. And fourth, we want to discuss how to help the Syrian people prepare to hold those responsible who have been committing these terrible acts of violence.

How we help the Syrian opposition is something we are focused on. We are moving to consider all of our options, and we are talking seriously about providing non-lethal support. We think it’s important to coordinate with our partners in the GCC and beyond. So discussions will continue in Istanbul, and we’ll have more to say after the meeting tomorrow.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Assad’s staying in power?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re going to have more to say tomorrow. But our position is he has to go, that there would be unlikely to be any kind of negotiations with him still in place. But at this point, we want to hear from the opposition, what they’re willing to do, what kinds of steps they would be supportive of.
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: I doubt that we are going to really (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from (inaudible). My question will be for both of you. And once again, welcome to Riyadh.

You mentioned Iran so many times in your word, and we know the effect of it. They are supporting Syria; they’re supporting Houthis in Yemen. We know (inaudible) in Iraq, et cetera. Is that going to – or would that impact (inaudible) the missile defense system project for the Gulf – is it going to be (inaudible)? And also, you mentioned helping Yemen or supporting Yemen. How would that be? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we believe strongly that, in addition to our bilateral military cooperation between the United States and every member nation of the GCC, we can do even more to defend the Gulf through cooperation on ballistic missile defense. We began that conversation in this forum today. Admiral Fox, the commander of the Fifth Fleet, made a presentation outlining some of the challenges that we face when it comes to ballistic missile defense. But we are committed to defending the Gulf nations and we want it to be as effective as possible.

So just – without getting into a lot of technical discussion, sometimes to defend one nation effectively you might need a radar system in a neighboring nation, because of the – everything from the curvature of the earth to wind patterns, so that were a missile to be launched, you might get a better view more quickly from a neighboring nation, even though the missile could be headed toward a second nation. So we want to begin expert discussions with our friends about what we can do to enhance ballistic missile defense. There are some aspects of a ballistic missile defense system that are already available, some of which have already been deployed in the Gulf. But it’s the cooperation – it’s what they call interoperability that we now need to really roll up our sleeves and get to work on.

With respect to Yemen, the leadership of the GCC has been commendable. Saudi Arabia and its partners in the GCC laid the groundwork for the peaceful transition of power. And we now think that Yemen has a chance to unite around a different leadership. The road ahead is a long one, but I know that Saudi Arabia and other members, the United States, we are all committed to assisting. And it’s not just on the political front. We want to help the people of Yemen. They are in great need of development assistance and other forms of help so that they can begin to realize the benefits of a new government that wishes to try to help them.
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (Inaudible) for me? Well, you can see how the diplomacy has not moved as fast as American diplomacy. American diplomacy now can speak military lingo when we do not. We don’t understand. We’re going to request your experts. (Laughter.)

But for (inaudible), I think it’s a country that need help. It’s a country – and old country of long civilization. And it has the (inaudible) power and the ability if they can stop the fighting that happened between (inaudible) fighting that (inaudible), a fact of life in Yemen. And they have agreed to appoint a new president, with 75 percent, I believe. I may be mistaken in the number. (Inaudible), which means that most civilians support it.

This fact alone makes this incumbent on the leadership in Yemen to come up with a program (inaudible) for the Yemeni people to unite them, to bring them together, (inaudible) military, and have the people support the program of the government. If that happens, I think we are very free to talk about development projects and development of Yemen. I haven’t visited any country (inaudible) are not willing to assist in that field. And so in that case, I think the resources (inaudible) for development are there for the taking, if they can establish stability in Yemen.

MODERATOR: Next question, Brad Clapper, AP, please.

QUESTION: Yes. Madam Secretary, given the deep skepticism you and many other international leaders have about Iran’s intentions, what steps would you talk about today with your Arab allies in the event that the talks in two weeks time aren’t successful?

And secondly, if I may, you talked about the good cooperation the U.S. and the Gulf countries have, but only just recently one of the countries present here today essentially delivered a slap in the face to U.S. democracy-building efforts. What does that say about the limits of U.S. cooperation? And are you disappointed by that step?

SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to Iran, we had an opportunity to discuss the P-5+1 negotiations – what we expect, what we are intending to present when the meetings begin. We’re going in with one objective: to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. And I had a chance to talk with our friends here about how we are approaching these talks. I also reiterated what the President has said, that our policy is one of prevention, not containment.

We are determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The President has made clear there is still time for diplomacy to work, provided Iran comes to the talks prepared for serious negotiations. And we enter into these talks with a sober perspective on Iran’s intentions and its behavior. It is incumbent upon Iran to demonstrate, by its actions, that it is a willing partner and to participate in these negotiations with an effort to obtain concrete results. We will know more when the discussions begin. But I want to underscore that there is not an open-ended opportunity for Iran. These discussions have to be viewed with great seriousness from their very beginning.

With regard to your second questions, we obviously had numerous discussions on every issue with our friends in the Gulf – sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. But our overriding interests to cooperate, particularly in the security arena, the anti-terrorism arena, are ones that are paramount. And so when we have questions about decisions that are made, we raise them, we discuss them, and often times we can resolve them.

QUESTION: But do you have no direct comment about the NDI?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you didn’t ask me a direct question. (Laughter.) You were beating around the bush, so I beat around the bush. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Fair enough.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Look, I think that we very much regret it. The foreign minister and I discussed it today. We are, as you know, anyone who’s visited the United States, strong believers in a vibrant civil society, and both NDI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Office play a key role in supporting NGOs and civil society across the region, and I expect our discussions on this issue to continue.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (In Arabic.)

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (In Arabic.)

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (In Arabic.)

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (In Arabic.)

PARTICIPANT: Okay. We’ll have more question then.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to your last question, I want to just amplify Prince Saud’s remarks. We are all unified on our goal. Our goal is to see the end of the bloodshed and the end of the Assad regime, which has perpetrated this bloodshed. In order to achieve that goal, it is not enough just for a few countries to be involved. We need many more countries to work with us. And some will be able to do certain things, and others will do other things.

So when we talk about assistance, we are talking about a broad range of assistance. Not every country will do the same. The meeting tomorrow in Istanbul will be focused on what countries are able to do, and we will be exploring that further. But our goals are exactly the same, and we are committed to those goals, but we have to be united. And we also need a united opposition, which has been difficult to achieve. They’re making progress. Many countries, including my own, have been trying to help them. But until they are unified, it is hard to provide the kind of assistance that they need in order to be successful.
So we are all on the same path together, and it may not go as fast as we would like, because every day that goes by where innocent people are murdered is a terrible indictment of this regime. But we are committed and we will make progress together.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Onto Istanbul. (Laughter.) I think you’ll get there before I go.



AIRSPACE GUARD IN AFGHANISTAN


The following excerpt is from the Department of Defense Armed With Science website:
By Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The massive golf-ball looking object perched on the tee-like tower at Kandahar Airfield isn’t just a useless landmark; instead the information obtained from it helps provide higher headquarters and tactical commanders pertinent information about Afghanistan’s air space.
The 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron members here perform many functions to disseminate this vital air picture information to the U.S. Air Force and other services and coalition partners even in the most austere conditions.

“Even in the middle of nowhere we can set up our mission and connect communications for the aircraft and battlefield commanders,” said Maj. Richard Grecula, 73 EACS commander. “Having an assortment of Air Force specialties within the squadron keeps the radio, radar, and datalink systems properly maintained.”

Senior Airman Andrew Dahn, 73rd EACS ground radar systems journeyman, performs daily maintenance checks on the squadron’s primary and secondary radar.
“My job is to keep the radar running and well maintained because the data collected from it helps provide the air picture for the entire area of responsibility,” said Dahn.
It isn’t just malfunctioning equipment the squadron worries about, but also weather conditions. The radar’s data can be obscured by dirt, pollution, and even birds.
“We call it anomalous propagation,” said Dahn. “It’s when things in the air can get in the way of a proper track of a correlated target.”

When the environmental conditions are off, or the radar is not working properly, the radar needs to be fixed quickly, but providing an air picture to Afghanistan is still possible.
“We troubleshoot, isolate, fix or replace the nonfunctioning component as fast as we can because, while we don’t lose the air picture completely because of our secondary radar, we want to provide central command with as complete of an air picture as possible,” said Dahn.
The secondary radar tracks aircraft by the transponder signal and identifies it as a friendly aircraft, he said.

“We are similar to air traffic controllers but instead of keeping planes away from each other we bring planes to the fight,” said Grecula.

Besides the radar technicians, another important aspect to providing the information are the interface control technicians who are responsible for restructuring and distributing the datalinks to complete the air mission. Radios, phones, internet and datalinks form the network that relays classified secret information all over.
“We provide the tactical data air picture to all the different players and that allows them to see the aircraft around their nearby air space,” said Senior Airman Jazmine Gordon, 73rd EACS interface control technician. “These entities, like other services or coalition partners, each send radar information to us, and we compile it into a total air picture and send it out to everyone again in a continuous 24-hour loop.”
Like the radar technicians they have a contingency plan for when a link doesn’t work.
“If there are problems with one organization’s link then we reroute them through other channels and fix their thread,” said Gordon. “We call it changing the link architecture.”
Squadron members may provide invaluable information to the rest of the AOR, but they still make time for helping out around the squadron and the rest of Kandahar Airfield.

“We are here to support Kandahar Airfield and the wing missions,” said Technical Sgt. Christopher Hall, 73rd EACS digital systems noncommissioned officer in charge.

The civil engineering element helps with flood mitigation, the security forces element practices force protection drills, and others members have completed the combat life saver course here, said Hall.
Squadron members also try and make life easier for other service members at KAF and elsewhere.
Hall said he and his team worked with Marines here to upload a links server from their Sharepoint site so Marines at another deployed location could access drivers to complete a software install for a defense server.

Squadron members continue going the extra mile and help co-workers back at home station too.
“We sometimes provide light support, research and advice,” said Hall.
All in all, squadron members work closely with each other, other military partners in the AOR, and at home which helps them avoid a fishbowl perspective.

“Working with everyone and being so integrated we really see a larger perspective of how everyone works together,” said Gordon.

Hall said that the squadron members showing such fine team work isn’t surprising because most members seem to be committed to a standard of excellence.
“We aim to make this deployment our finest hour,” said Hall.

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL'S STATEMENT IN MOSCOW ON "ARMS CONTROL IN THE INFORMATION AGE"


The following excerpt is from a Department of State e-mail:
Arms Control in the Information Age
Remarks Rose Gottemoeller
Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO)
Moscow, Russia
March 29, 2012 

Thank you for the kind introduction. It is always a pleasure to be back here in Moscow. After spending three years at Carnegie Moscow Center, this city feels like a second home.

As you all probably know, we have just passed the one year anniversary of New START Treaty’s entry into force. I am happy to report that implementation of that Treaty is now underway and it is going very well. As Foreign Minister Lavrov has said, the New START Treaty is "a new gold standard for…agreements of this kind. Not only does the treaty facilitate a strengthening of the security of Russia and the USA but it will also have a positive effect on international stability and security in general."

I could not agree more and New START was just the beginning. President Obama made it clear in his now-famous Prague Speech that the United States is committed to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. He reiterated his vision in Seoul earlier this week. In his remarks at the Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama said that he “knew that this goal would not be reached quickly, perhaps not in [his] lifetime, but [he] knew we had to begin, with concrete steps.”

In order to pursue the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons, we are going to have to think bigger and bolder. With this is mind, I have been challenging myself and my colleagues to think about how we use the knowledge of our past together with the new tools of the information age. I look out at a crowd like you and realize that I don’t need to convince you that the technologies of the 21st century are changing the world as we know it. While I may still be figuring out how to use my Ipad, I know it too. That is why I have been talking about arms control in the information age at universities around the United States.

Today, I will talk to you the changing nature of diplomacy and the new technologies that can help us on the road to nuclear zero. I have talked about these subjects at several universities now and I would like to start out by saying the same thing I tell students back in the United States- this is not a policy speech, this is an ideas speech. You are my first audience in Russia.

21st Century Statecraft
Diplomacy today is very different than it was at the dawn of the nuclear age. Treaties and agreements are not being formulated in vaulted, smoke-filled rooms across green baize tables, among grizzled diplomats with endless amounts of time. More often diplomacy is happening in the open, and at quicker speeds. We diplomats must learn to work and thrive under new circumstances.

In my own experience, diplomacy has changed dramatically before my eyes. I was a junior member of the U.S. START delegation in 1990-91, an experience that served me well when negotiating the New START Treaty. I remember how things were done back then: masses of paper had to be shuttled among delegation members—we were constantly burning up Xerox machines, and faxes flowed from Geneva to Washington and back.

When the New START negotiations began in April 2009, the world had changed. The U.S. and Russian delegations launched into the negotiations committed to keeping them respectful and businesslike, even when we did not agree. And we agreed to disagree in private. That was good considering how easily either delegation could have broadcast negative comments that would have reached Moscow or Washington before we could pick up a phone.
For me, the biggest change in how we did business was email. Instead of making hard copies and waiting days or weeks for the snail mail, we could get information around the delegation and to our leaders in Washington within hours, even minutes. Both classified and unclassified materials could be sent, decreasing necessary trips back to Washington.

After some discussion, we also agreed to exchange negotiating documents with the Russian team electronically, although on disks and not via email. Still, even CDs made a big difference to after-hours communication. There was a famous story about how in the 1990s, during the START talks, a member of the U.S. delegation had to hurl a satchel of negotiating documents over the fence of the Soviet mission to his counterpart, because no guard was there to open the gates late at night. Obviously, a CD could be handed more easily between the bars of the fence--which we did from time to time.

In my view, these new approaches to a formal negotiating process, especially our new digital toolbox, were a big factor in the fast pace of our negotiations--exactly one year from our first meeting to our last one. No longer bogged down by paper processes, things moved quickly. Nowadays, I don’t have to wait until the next time I travel to Geneva or Moscow to advance business with my counterparts; I can email or call from my home or office, and hopefully soon, I can walk across the hall and have a video-chat in our conference room.

New Technologies and Arms Control
Even with a full diplomatic toolbox and new methods for diplomacy, we need to think about how new agreements will be verified. Today, we verify that countries are fulfilling their arms control treaty obligations through a combination of information exchange, notifications of weapon status, on-site inspections, and National Means, including so-called National Technical Means (NTM). NTM are big assets—observation satellites, phased-array radars—that individual countries manage and control. It has long been a rule of arms control treaties that we don’t interfere with each other’s National Technical Means—we allow each other these eyes and ears to monitor treaties. All of the elements I’ve listed work together to make an effective verification regime.

I should say what we mean by effective verification. Ambassador Paul Nitze defined it as follows: “if the other side moves beyond the limits of the treaty in any militarily significant way, we would be able to detect such violations in time to respond effectively and thereby deny the other side the benefit of the violation.” That’s effective verification, and it has been the benchmark for verifying compliance. To help meet this benchmark, I’ve been asking myself, can we incorporate open source information technologies and social networking into arms control verification and monitoring?

New concepts, I recognize, are not invented overnight, and we don’t understand the full range of possibilities inherent in the information age, but we would be remiss if we did not start thinking about whether new technologies can augment over half a century of arms control negotiating expertise?

Our new reality is a smaller, increasingly-networked world where the average citizen connects to other citizens in cyberspace hundreds of times each day. They exchange and share ideas on a wide variety of topics, why not put this vast problem solving entity to good use?

Today, any event, anywhere on the planet, could be broadcast globally in seconds. That means it is harder to hide things. When it is harder to hide things, it is easier to be caught. The neighborhood gaze is a powerful tool, and it can help us make sure that countries are following the rules of arms control treaties and agreements.

Open source information technologies improve arms control verification in at least two ways: either as a way of generating new information, or as analysis of information that already is out there.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Red Balloon Challenge is an example of the first. In 2009, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA held a competition where 10 red weather balloons were moored at visible fixed locations around the continental United States. The first team to identify the location of all 10 balloons won a sizable cash prize--$40,000. Over 4,300 teams composed of an estimated 2 million people from 25 countries took part in the challenge. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the challenge, identifying all of the balloon locations in an astonishing time of 8 hours and 52 minutes. Of course, to win in such a short time or complete the challenge at all, the MIT team did not “find” the balloons themselves. They tapped into social networks with a unique incentive structure that not only incentivized people to identify a balloon location, but also incentivized people to recruit others to the team. Their win showed the enormous potential of social networking and also demonstrated how incentives can motivate large populations to work toward a common goal.

Now, how could something like this work in an arms control context? Let’s just imagine that a country, to establish itsbona fides in a deep nuclear reduction environment, may wish to open itself to a verification challenge. It could seek to prove it was not stashing extra missiles in the woods, for example, or a fissile material production reactor in the desert. Of course, some form of international supervision would likely be required, to ensure the legitimacy of the challenge and its procedures. And we would have to consider whether such a challenge could cope with especially covert environments, such as caves or deep underground facilities.

A technique like this—I call it a “public verification challenge”—might be especially valuable as we move to lower numbers of nuclear weapons. Governments would have an interest in proving that they are meeting their reduction obligations and may want to engage their publics in helping them to make the case.

It would be necessary to work together to make sure nations cannot spoof or manipulate the verification challenges that they devise. We also have to bear in mind that there could be limitations based on the freedoms available to the citizens of said country. These are both big problems, but I am certain that we can tackle them.

In addition to developing new information, harvesting and analyzing existing information can be helpful, too. Many are analyzing twitter streams, for example: Laila Shareen Sakr, a University of Southern California doctoral candidate, designed a computer program to aggregate twitter data and patterns that enabled her to understand events in both Arab Spring and Libya’s revolution as they were unfolding.

The ability to identify patterns and trends in social networks could aid the arms control verification process. In the most basic sense, social media can draw attention to both routine and abnormal events. We may be able to use data mining to understand where strange effluents are flowing, to recognize patterns of industrial activity, to queue sensors and satellites. Such queuing could help us to make better use of our scarce and expensive National Technical Means, or in some cases to supplement them in important ways. This is a major issue in an age of budget austerity, when the price tag for big hardware like satellites continues to rise. We need this “big hardware”, but we need to use it efficiently.

In this same vein, we should think about what there is to gain from using open source geospatial databases like Google Earth. Of course, NGOs, students and private citizens have been using open sources satellite images for research for some time now.

Now even one of the most famous men in the world is applying these new technological tools to aid in the promotion of human rights in Sudan and South Sudan. Actor George Clooney, in conjunction with ngos, academic institutions and businesses, created the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP). SSP uses commercial satellite images to systematically monitor and report on possible threats to human security in near real-time.

DigitalGlobe satellites passing over Sudan and South Sudan capture imagery of potential threats to civilians. The satellites can pick up types and varieties of helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket launch systems, among many other items of concern. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative analyzes imagery and information from sources on the ground to produce reports. The Enough Project then releases the reports to the press and policymakers and sounds the alarm by notifying the news media and civic groups.

The synergy is stunning- private citizens and groups conduct their own monitoring project, analyze the information and then publicize the results via traditional news and social media networks.
Beyond movie stars, the Information Age is creating a greater talent pool of individuals to aid in our pursuits. People can reach a broader, diverse market for their products and services. These private citizens can develop web based applications for e-book readers, cell phones and any touch pad communication devices. This “crowd sourcing” lets everyday people solve problems by getting innovative ideas out of their heads and onto the shelves.

Open source technology could be useful in the hands of inspectors. Smart Phone and tablet apps could be created for the express purpose of aiding in the verification and monitoring process. For example, by having all safeguards and verification sensors in an inspected facility wirelessly connected to the inspector’s iPad, he or she could note anomalies and flag specific items for closer inspections, as well as compare readings in real time and interpret them in context. Some of this is already happening.

As we think through new ways to use these tools, we should be aware that there may be trouble ahead. We cannot assume that information will always be so readily available. As nations and private entities continue to debate the line between privacy and security, it is possible to imagine that we are living in a golden age of open source information that will be harder to take advantage of in future. In the end, the goal of using open source information technology and social networks should be to add to our existing arms control verification capabilities.

As I said at the outset, this is not about policy; this is about coming up with the bold ideas that will shape policy in the future. In Seoul, President Obama said that in “your generation, I see the spirit we need in this endeavor -- an optimism that beats in the hearts of so many young people around the world. It’s that refusal to accept the world as it is, the imagination to see the world as it ought to be, and the courage to turn that vision into reality.”

As the U.S. and Russian governments work to enhance and expand our arms control and nonproliferation efforts, we will need your help to find new ways to use the amazing information tools at our disposal to move the world closer to stable peace and security.
Thank you again for inviting me here to speak.


NSF ARTICLE DISCUSSES AN EPIDEMIC STUDY IN ZOOPLANKTON SPECIES


The following excerpt is from a National Science Foundation e-mail:
Evolving to Fight Epidemics: Weakness Can Be an Advantage
When battling a deadly parasite epidemic, less resistance can sometimes be better than more, a new study suggests.
A freshwater zooplankton species known as Daphnia dentiferaendures periodic epidemics of a virulent yeast parasite that can infect more than 60 percent of the Daphnia population.

During these epidemics, the Daphnia population evolves quickly, balancing infection resistance and reproduction.

A new study reveals that the number of vertebrate predators in the water and the amount of food available for Daphnia to eat influence the size of the epidemics and how these "water fleas" evolve during epidemics to survive.

The journal Science published the results in this week's issue. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the James S. McDonnell Foundation supported the research.
"This study is a great example of why the most obvious response to disease, increased resistance, may not be the best solution," says Saran Twombly, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

"When populations are stressed by other factors such as food or predators, remaining susceptible to a disease is the best route to long-term success."
The study shows lakes with high nutrient concentrations and lower predation levels exhibit large epidemics, and the yeast in the water, Metschnikowia bicuspidata, has less effect on Daphniaas the Daphnia become more resistant to infection.

However, in lakes with fewer resources and high predation, epidemics remain small and Daphnia evolve increased susceptibility to the parasite.

"It's counterintuitive to think that hosts would ever evolve greater susceptibility to virulent parasites during an epidemic, but we found that ecological factors determine whether it is better for them to evolve enhanced resistance or susceptibility to infection," said the paper's lead author Meghan Duffy, a biologist at Georgia Tech.

"There is a trade-off between resistance and reproduction because any resources an animal devotes to defense are not available for reproduction. When ecological factors favor small epidemics, it is better for hosts to invest in reproduction rather than defense."

In addition to Duffy, also contributing to this study are Indiana University biologists Spencer Hall and David Civitello; Christopher Klausmeier, a plant biologist at Michigan State University; and Georgia Tech researchers Jessica Housley Ochs and Rachel Penczykowski.

For the study, the researchers monitored the levels of nutritional resources, predation and parasitic infection in seven Indiana lakes on a weekly basis for a period of four months.

They calculated infection prevalence on live hosts using established survey methods, estimated resources by measuring the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water, and assessed predation by measuring the size of uninfected adult Daphnia.

The researchers also conducted infection assays in the laboratory on Daphnia collected from each of the seven lake populations at two time points: in late July before epidemics began and in mid-November as epidemics waned

The assays measured the zooplankton's uptake ofMetschnikowia bicuspidata and the infectivity of the yeast once consumed.
The infection assays showed a significant evolutionary response of Daphnia to epidemics in six of the seven lake populations.
The Daphnia population became significantly more resistant to infection in three lakes and significantly more susceptible to infection in three other lakes.
The hosts in the seventh lake did not show a significant change in susceptibility, but trended toward increased resistance.

In the six lake populations that showed an evolutionary response, epidemics were larger when lakes had lower predation and higher levels of total nitrogen.

"Daphnia became more susceptible to the yeast in lakes with fewer resources and higher vertebrate predation, but evolved toward increased resistance in lakes with increased resources and lower predation," says Duffy.

The study's combination of observations, experiments and mathematical modeling supports the researchers' theoretical prediction that when hosts face a resistance-reproduction tradeoff, they evolve increased resistance to infection during larger epidemics and increased susceptibility during smaller ones.

Ultimately, ecological gradients, through their effects on epidemic size, influence evolutionary outcomes of hosts during epidemics.

"While the occurrence and magnitude of disease outbreaks can strongly influence host evolution, this study suggests that altering predation pressure on hosts and productivity of ecosystems may also influence this evolution," says Duffy.

The team plans to repeat the study this summer in the same Indiana lakes to look at whether the relationships between ecological factors, epidemic size and host evolution they found in this study can be corroborated.

FIREARMS DEALER WHO CREATED SHAM TRUSTS TO HIDE INCOME WILL HE SENT TO PRISON


The following excerpt is form the Department of Justice website:
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Honolulu Firearms Business Owner Sentenced to 51 Months in Prison for Federal Tax Offenses
Arthur Lee Ong of Honolulu was sentenced Tuesday to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi today, the Justice Department and IRS announced today.   On Nov. 7, 2001, a federal jury in Honolulu convicted Ong of conspiracy to defraud the United States and six counts of tax evasion.

 According to evidence introduced at trial, Ong, the owner and operator of Thunder Bug Inc., doing business in the state of Hawaii as Magnum Firearms, failed to report to the IRS millions of dollars of income he earned from the sale of firearms and related products to federal, state, county and military agencies, as well as to the general public.  Ong, with the assistance of a Hawaiian attorney, created multiple sham trusts in 1990 for the purpose of hiding his income and assets.   He stopped filing personal income tax returns beginning in 1994 and also filed false tax returns on behalf of the sham trusts that fraudulently reported to the IRS that the income from his businesses was attributable to these trusts and not to him.

The evidence at trial showed that Ong evaded more than $600,000 in federal income taxes from 2000 to 2006.   In sentencing Ong, Judge Kobayashi found that Ong had attempted to evade more than $973,300 in federal and state income taxes from 1994 to 2009.

“There are some responsibilities that come with living in this great country, such as paying the federal income taxes that you legally owe,” said Kenneth J. Hines, the IRS Special Agent in Charge in Hawaii.  “With Tax Day right around the corner, this sentence sends a clear warning to anyone contemplating a tax crime.”

The case resulted from an investigation by IRS - Criminal Investigation and was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Timothy J. Stockwell and Todd P. Kostyshak of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.



CYPRESS PHARMACEUTICAL INC., AND CEO TO PAY $2.8 MILLION TO RESOLVE ALLEGED MARKETING OF UNAPPROVED DRUGS


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Mississippi Pharmaceutical Firm and CEO to Pay $2.8 Million to Resolve Allegations of Illegal Marketing of Unapproved Drugs
Mississippi-based Cypress Pharmaceutical Inc., its subsidiary Hawthorn Pharmaceuticals Inc. and its CEO, Max Draughn, have agreed to pay $2.8 million to resolve civil allegations under the False Claims Act, the Justice Department announced today.   The government alleged that between 2003 and 2009, Cypress, Hawthorn and Draughn were responsible for marketing three pharmaceutical products that were not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).   The products were Hylira, a gel used for the treatment of dry skin, Zaclir, an acne treatment and Zacare, another acne treatment.

The government alleged that although the drugs lacked the “safe and effective” designation, Hawthorn’s sale representatives promoted the products to physicians and state Medicaid officials using that designation. This caused TRICARE, the military’s health care program, and state Medicaid programs to improperly pay for the three products. The government also alleged that Cypress, Hawthorn and Draughn caused the submission to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of false quarterly reports that misrepresented these products’ regulatory status and failed to advise CMS that the drugs did not qualify as outpatient drugs that were covered for payment.

Medicaid is partially funded by the federal government.   The federal portion of today’s settlement, including payments due to the TRICARE program, is $1,615,783.   The state Medicaid share of the settlement is $1,184,217.

The settlement resolves a False Claims Act lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Texas by Robert Heiden, a former district sales manager for Hawthorn.   The whistleblower, or qui tam, provisions of the False Claims Act permit the relator to obtain a portion of the proceeds obtained by the federal government.  As part of today’s resolution, Heiden will receive more than $300,000.
         
 “The marketing and promotion of unapproved new drugs undermines the FDA’s important role in protecting the American public,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “This civil settlement demonstrates our continued commitment to protecting the integrity of the FDA’s regulatory process and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately.”  

 “Today’s settlement strips the defendants of money they should not have been paid and helps reimburse state and federal health care programs,” said John M. Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.

 “This settlement sends a strong message to those who seek to put the health of American patients at risk by marketing and promoting drugs which have not been approved by the FDA,” said Ilisa Bernstein, Acting Director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

This resolution is part of the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and another step for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in May 2009. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover nearly $6.7 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.  The Justice Department’s total recoveries in False Claims Act cases since January 2009 are over $9 billion.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

GENERAL THURMAN SAYS NUMBER OF FAMILY MEMBERS IN KOREA SHOULD REMAIN AT ABOUT 4,600


The following excerpt is from an American Forces Press Service e-mail:



Thurman: Keep Accompanied Korea Tours at Current Level

By Karen Parrish
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2012 - Family-member-accompanied tours for U.S. service members in South Korea should not expand beyond the roughly 4,600 family members now authorized, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea told Congress today.

Army Gen. James D. Thurman testified alongside Peter R. Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, before the House Armed Services Committee today on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Given continued uncertainty on the peninsula and ongoing budget constraints, the general said, it's essential to maintain U.S. force readiness at its highest level, "given our requirement to 'fight tonight.'"
During his confirmation hearing before he took command of U.S. military forces in Korea, Congress asked him to assess tour normalization and force relocation, Thurman noted.

"It is my assessment that expanding tour normalization beyond our current authorization of 4,645 family members is unaffordable under the current construct," he said.

Force relocation plans are on track, Thurman said, adding that he will continue to assess them to ensure they place the right capabilities in the right places to meet operational requirements.

Defense Department officials have considered "tour normalization" in South Korea for a number of years. Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in July 2010 that he was considering a two-year tour for single service members and a three-year tour for troops accompanied by their families.
Gates cautioned at the time, however, that the infrastructure such tours would require -- such as schools, hospitals and commissaries -- would make the change an expensive one.
 

MEDICAL CLINIC OWNER PLEADS GUILTY TO MEDICARE FRAUD


The following excerpt is from the U.S. Department of Justice website:
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Detroit Medical Clinic Owner Pleads Guilty to Medicare Fraud Scheme
WASHINGTON – The owner of a Detroit medical clinic pleaded guilty today for his participation in a Medicare fraud scheme, announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  

Juan Villa, 29, of Miami, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow in the Eastern District of Michigan to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  At sentencing, Villa faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.      

According to the plea documents, Villa owned Blessed Medical Clinic in Livonia, Mich.  Villa admitted that he hired patient recruiters who paid cash bribes to Medicare beneficiaries to attend the clinic and provide their Medicare numbers and other information.  Villa admitted that he used the beneficiary information to bill for medically unnecessary diagnostic tests and treatments.  According to court documents, Blessed Medical Clinic fraudulently billed Medicare $2.4 million during the course of the scheme.

Today’s guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara L. McQuade; Special Agent in Charge Andrew G. Arena of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the HHS Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Chicago Regional Office.
   
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frances Lee Carlson and Philip A. Ross of the Eastern District of Michigan, with assistance from Assistant Chief Gejaa T. Gobena of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.    

Since their inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,190 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $3.6 billion.  In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

GREEK SHIPPING COMPANY FOUND GUILTY OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Greek Shipping Company Sentenced in New Orleans to Pay $2 Million for Intentional Cover-Up of Oil Pollution and Obstruction of Justice
WASHINGTON – Ilios Shipping Company S.A. was sentenced today in federal court in New Orleans for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and obstruction of justice, announced Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno and Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Ilios operated the M/V Agios Emilianos, a 738 foot, 36,573 ton bulk carrier cargo ship that hauled grain from New Orleans to various ports around the world.  According to the plea agreement, from April 2009 until April 2011, oily bilge waste and sludge was routinely discharged from the vessel directly into the sea without the use of required pollution prevention equipment.  During that time, the crew intentionally covered up the illegal discharges of oil waste by falsifying the vessel’s oil record book.  The master of the vessel, Valentino Mislang, previously pleaded guilty to and was sentenced for conspiracy to obstruct justice for his role in destroying evidence and instructing crewmembers to lie to the Coast Guard during an inspection of the vessel in April 2011.  According to Mislang, a senior manager of Ilios directed the destruction of computer records and ordered Mislang to tell crewmembers to lie to the Coast Guard.

The chief engineer of the vessel, Romulo Esperas, previously pleaded guilty to and was sentenced for conspiracy to obstruct justice for his role in falsifying the vessel’s oil record book and directing the discharge of oily bilge waste and sludge directly into the sea.  According to Esperas, a senior manager of Ilios directed him to discharge the vessel’s oily waste into the sea and refused to provide funding for the proper discharge of the oily waste to shore-side facilities.  Both Mislang and Esperas were sentenced to three years of unsupervised release and are not permitted to re-enter the United States during that time.
“The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute shipping companies who break the laws that protect our oceans,” said Assistant Attorney General Moreno.  “The penalty imposed by this sentence holds Ilios fully accountable for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, and a part of the penalty will fund projects that will help restore precious marine and aquatic resources in Louisiana.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard, their partners in the Environmental Protection Agency and our brethren in the U. S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division, along with our own U.S. Attorney’s Office professionals, for their continued vigilance in this and other cases protecting our precious environment, coastline and water resources from those unscrupulous companies and individuals who clandestinely and wantonly discharge oily waste into our waters,” said U.S. Attorney Letten.  “We will not falter in our commitment to do everything within our power to apprehend and punish these violators in defense of our environment.”

“Unfortunately, we continue to see many environmental crimes cases involving ocean-going commercial vessels.  The Coast Guard will continue to hold non-compliant companies and operators accountable when they break the law and endanger the marine environment or public health.  I applaud the efforts of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, our Eighth District legal staff and the Department of Justice for their tireless efforts in investigating and prosecuting this case,” said Rear Admiral Roy A. Nash, Eighth Coast Guard District Commander.
All discharges of sludge or oily bilge waste from a vessel are required to be recorded in the vessel’s oil record book.  However, none of the illegal discharges were recorded in the oil record book for the M/V Agios Emilianos.

The court ordered Ilios to pay an overall criminal penalty of $2 million.  The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will receive $250,000 to fund projects aimed at the restoration of marine and aquatic resources in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

As a condition of probation, Ilios is required to implement an environmental compliance plan which will ensure that any ship operated by Ilios complies with all maritime environmental requirements established under applicable international, flag state and port state laws.  The plan ensures that Ilios’s employees and the crew of any vessel operated by Ilios are properly trained in preventing maritime pollution.  An independent monitor will report to the court about Ilios’s compliance with its obligations during the period of probation.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency.  The case was prosecuted by Emily Greenfield and Dorothy Manning Taylor from the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Louisiana and by Ken Nelson in the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

Friday, March 30, 2012

COURT ENTERS FINAL JUDGEMENT AGAINST FORMER CFO OF BRISTOL MYERS


The following excerpt is from the SEC website:
March 30, 2012
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that on March 27, 2012, the United States District Court in New Jersey entered final judgments against Frederick S. Schiff, former CFO of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (Bristol Myers) and Richard J. Lane, former President of the Worldwide Medicines Group for Bristol Myers. Schiff and Lane consented to the entry of the final judgments without admitting or denying the allegations of the Commission’s complaint.

The Commission’s complaint alleged that for the period January 1, 2000 through December 31, 2001, Schiff and Lane deceived the investing public about the true performance, profitability and growth trends of Bristol Myers and a t their direction, Bristol Myers engaged in a “channel-stuffing” scheme. The complaint alleged that Bristol Myers used financial incentives to induce wholesalers to buy its pharmaceutical products in excess of prescription demand in order to artificially inflate its results, which in turn was necessary in order to meet Bristol Myers’ internal earnings targets and the consensus earnings estimates of Wall Street securities analysts. The complaint alleged that by doing so, Bristol Myers improperly recognized revenue from pharmaceutical sales associated with the channel-stuffing.

Schiff consented to a final judgment permanently enjoining him from violations of Sections 17(a)(2) and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933, requiring him to pay disgorgement plus prejudgment interest totaling $130,992, and barring him from serving as an officer or director of a public company for one year. Lane consented to a final judgment permanently enjoining him from violations of Sections 17(a)(2) and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933, requiring him to pay disgorgement plus prejudgment interest totaling $36,750, and barring him from serving as an officer or director of a public company for one year.

DETROIT PODIATRIST GOES TO PRISON FOR MEDICARE FRAUD


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Detroit Podiatrist Sentenced to One Year in Prison for Medicare Fraud Scheme
WASHINGTON – A Detroit-area doctor of podiatric medicine was sentenced today to one year in prison for a fraud scheme involving false billings to Medicare, announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Dr. Errol Sherman was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen in Detroit.  In addition to his prison term, Sherman was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution.  Sherman pleaded guilty on Nov. 22, 2011, to one count of health care fraud.

According to the plea documents, Sherman is a doctor of podiatric medicine licensed in the state of Michigan.  Between January 2003 and December 2006, Sherman billed Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for a procedure known as an avulsion of the nail plate or nail avulsion procedure.  Sherman billed for this procedure thousands of times, claiming that he had performed this procedure on hundreds of beneficiaries from 2003 through 2006.  In fact, he had not performed the procedures billed.
Today’s sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan, Special Agent in Charge Andrew G. Arena of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigation.

This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Catherine K. Dick of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney John K. Neal of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.  The case was investigated jointly by the FBI and HHS-OIG, as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Since their inception in March 2007, the strike force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,190 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $3.6 billion.  In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

STATE DEPARTMENT STATEMENT TO CONGRESS ON SECURITY IN LATIN AMERICA

The following excerpt is from the U.S. State Department website:
Security Challenges in Latin America
Testimony William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Statement Before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the House Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC
March 29, 2012
As prepared
Chairwoman Granger, Ranking Member Lowey, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for your invitation to discuss security threats in the Western Hemisphere as well as our efforts to address them. I am pleased to be with you today.

Let me begin by describing the security challenge as we see it in the INL Bureau. The persistently high homicide and crime rates throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and the horrific reports of violence inside Mexico, are symptoms of a broader climate of insecurity throughout the region. Crime and violence are exacerbated by widespread poverty and unemployment. This is brought into greater focus as criminal organizations react to the increasing pressure placed on their operations by governments in the region with support from the United States. These threats undermine and pose profound challenges to good governance, citizen security, and the rule of law. And absent these fundamental principles, transnational crime, gangs, and other illicit activity can flourish in many countries, threatening stability and public security.

To counter these threats, this Administration has advanced an integrated approach of U.S. assistance programs, from traditional prevention, law enforcement and counternarcotics programs, to anti-corruption, judicial reform, anti-gang, community policing, and corrections efforts. We are transforming our relationship with foreign partners by moving from the traditional donor-recipient relationship to one built on equal partnerships that involve shared responsibility and accountability. In each of our initiatives, we work hand in hand with host nation officials and our partners in the U.S. government, as well as with other donors, such as Colombia, to strengthen the justice sector institutions, including the judiciary, police and corrections. We coordinate our efforts with others in the U.S. government who work with communities, civil society, and the private sector, recognizing that security solutions require a whole of society approach. We have learned that this is the only way to bring long-term stability to countries threatened by crime and violence. Governments must have the ability, and in fact, have the responsibility to protect their citizens, to deal with crime and violence so that these issues remain or become law enforcement problems, not national security threats. This is a long-term strategy that has proven to be effective.

The Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), Mérida Initiative, Colombian Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI), and Caribbean Basin Security Initiatives (CBSI) embrace this approach. They are partnerships in which governments have collaborated with the United States on the development of joint programs and initiatives that are aimed at protecting citizens and strengthening the institutions responsible for ensuring citizen safety.

Support for Central America
Today, some 95 percent of the cocaine from South America destined for the U.S. transits the Central America/Mexico corridor. With these activities comes violence: Battles between criminal groups for territory and transit routes; clashes between criminals and law enforcement; and violent crime fuelled by drug consumption, all with the ultimate motive of making a profit. In 2008, anticipating that Mexico’s efforts to challenge cartels would result in the movement of trafficking routes elsewhere, the U.S. government formed a partnership with Central American nations to enhance their security capacity. CARSI is the resulting program.

Applying our overall strategy and lessons learned through the years, CARSI works to increase the capacity of law enforcement to combat drug traffickers and provide public security, support prevention efforts targeting at-risk youth and those living in communities susceptible to crime and recruitment by gangs and traffickers, and strengthen justice sector institutions. While CARSI prioritizes the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where the levels of crime and violence are most severe and stability most threatened, the program is leveraging our assistance throughout the region to improve citizen security.

Thanks to support from this Subcommittee and your Senate colleagues, our government has already committed approximately $231 million in INCLE funding for technical assistance and training for CARSI between Fiscal Years 2008 and 2011, and, with your approval, we are seeking to dedicate an additional $85 million for CARSI under the INCLE account in Fiscal Year 2012. Our request for Fiscal Year 2013 continues our work at $60 million, at an assistance level that matches programming goals for each fiscal year with the actual capacity of our partners to absorb that assistance.

Our programs are starting to see results. In a relatively short period of time, crime rates have decreased in municipalities where we are providing targeted training, equipment, and support. For example, in Lourdes, El Salvador – where INL has a Model Police Precinct – crime rates have dropped 40 percent over the past year. We have similar model precinct programs in Guatemala and are starting others in Honduras. Our support to law enforcement is also gaining traction, with specialized vetted units, overall police reform efforts, and targeted training with our partners from Colombia and Mexico in Central America.

Governments in the region are increasingly recognizing the need to invest in their own security and are passing new laws on taxes to support investments in citizen security programs, judicially authorized wiretapping programs, extradition, and asset forfeiture. Change is slow to take hold, however, as corruption and impunity remains widespread. We are working to accelerate our programs to achieve even more results, including standing up a full-fledged Narcotics Affairs Sections in San Salvador and Tegucigalpa, and enhancing levels of coordination and planning across the interagency to identify opportunities and de-conflict programs as necessary.

The regional nature of transnational crime and the violence it spurs has also prompted an unprecedented international effort to support citizen security efforts in Central America, including through the Group of Friends of Central America. We are working together with the Central America Integration System (SICA), joined by common principals, to address
our common challenges.

Mérida/Mexico
In Mexico we continue to see shocking news reports of killings and violence; however, the Government of Mexico, with assistance from the United States through the Mérida Initiative, has had some significant results. The resources you have provided to the INL Bureau, approximately $1.1 billion in INCLE funds for Mérida since its inception, have helped the Government of Mexico, together with its United States partner departments and agencies, to continue turning the tables on the cartels. Funds appropriated in Fiscal Year 2012, approximately $249 million, along with our request for Fiscal Year 2013, $199 million, will ensure continued and sustainable progress. Through bilateral law enforcement cooperation, 47 high value targets have been arrested or removed in Mexico, including 23 of Mexico’s top 37 most wanted criminals, since December 2009. This aggressive and coordinated approach to dismantle and disrupt the drug cartels has included an institutional focus on all elements of the justice sector and civil society. The Government of Mexico, through our Mérida Initiative is transforming Mexico’s security forces and has strengthened Mexican government institutions in order to confront trafficking organizations and associated crime, and maintain public trust and citizen security.

Through the Mérida Initiative, the mobility of Mexico’s security forces has increased significantly. Thanks to your support, the United States has already delivered eight Bell helicopters to Mexico’s Army (SEDENA), three Black Hawk helicopters to Mexico’s Navy (SEMAR), and four Black Hawk helicopters to Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) and its Federal Police. As a practical example of the initiative’s impact, Mérida provided Black Hawks were responsible for enabling Mexico’s high profile operations against the La Familia cartel in Michoacán in December 2010, and another operation against Los Zetas in Nuevo Leon in September 2011. Neither of these operations would have been possible without the air mobility provided and well trained Mexican personnel traveling onboard.

In another example, Mérida Initiative training, provided through U.S. agency implementers, has reached more than 52,000 federal police, justice sector officials, and state police officials providing lessons on leadership, accountability, and management. As a result of our professionalization training, and the Government of Mexico’s revolutionary reforms, the new cadre of security officers and officials is more impervious to coercion and corruption by transnational criminals and the federal government in Mexico now has its own polygraph capacity to vet personnel through two certified federal and 15 state polygraph centers.

The Mérida Initiative has also illustrated the importance of syncing our assistance in equipment and training for the government of Mexico with programs that enable Mexican communities to work more closely with government entities to improve their security. We have found that when material resources, training, and community programs complement each other, the outcome is more successful and more sustainable. Through one Mérida program, for example, our partners at USAID have delivered over 40 small grants to nongovernmental organizations that have resulted in programs for at-risk youth and other programs that reduce violence against women, improve mental health, strengthen community cohesion, and improve education. Another program through Mérida has provided classroom lessons on the culture of lawfulness and ethics to more than 600,000 students and 14,000 teachers, in some 7,000 separate schools located in 24 Mexican States.

As is the case in other parts of the hemisphere, our strategy through Mérida was not singularly focused on dismantling the cartels, but rather a long term institution building strategy in our partnership with the Government of Mexico.

Colombia: An Exporter of Regional Security
Best practices learned over decades in Colombia have informed our overall hemispheric strategy. As a follow-on to Plan Colombia we have continued our partnership with the Government of Colombia to fortify the gains made over the past decade. We developed a program called the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI), which supports the Colombian Government’s National Consolidation Plan. Today, CSDI provides for civilian institution building, rule of law, and alternative development programs, along with security and counternarcotics efforts in those areas where poverty, violence, and illicit cultivation or drug trafficking persist and have historically converged. We are supporting these endeavors with significantly reduced resource levels; however, continued resources will be needed to sustain and consolidate our gains.

For example, our Fiscal Year 2013 request represents more than an $18 million reduction from our Fiscal Year 2012 INCLE enacted, and a $62 million reduction from Fiscal Year 2011 INCLE enacted. We’ve worked closely with our Colombian partners to ensure that this is not misinterpreted as a reduction in priority or partnership, but rather the appropriate evolution of our joint efforts -- where we once led assistance efforts to now supporting Colombia’s sustainment and nationalization of those efforts.

Our efforts in Colombia are paying dividends regionally as well. With the capacity that the Government of Colombia built over the years, Colombia is now bolstering efforts to address similar security concerns elsewhere in the region. Colombia today is no longer just a recipient of security assistance but an exporter of it. Since 2009, the Colombian National Police (CNP), our closest partner in promoting citizen security throughout the region, has trained some 10,000 police from across Latin America in areas such as criminal investigation skills, personal protection, and anti-kidnapping among other critical law enforcement disciplines. Colombia’s participation in improving security and reducing instability throughout the hemisphere by providing needed training is an enormous return on our investment in that country, and is precisely the type of regional approach to security promoted by Secretary Clinton. This is a positive trend, one which we firmly believe will continue with additional partners and with ownership by governments of the region.

Support for Caribbean Nations
The deleterious effects of drug smuggling, gangs and violent crime are also adversely affecting many countries in the Caribbean, including transnational criminals returning in a limited nature to air, maritime, and terrestrial routes in the Caribbean to traffic illicit products. Accordingly, in 2009, President Obama launched the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which like our other initiatives, is a collaborative endeavor undertaken in partnership with various United States departments and agencies, as well as the nations in the region.

Citizen security is the single most important issue confronting the Caribbean as narcotics-driven crime and violence have reached epidemic proportions, threatening the safety and security of United States and Caribbean citizens alike.

CBSI, like each of our other major partnerships, aims to increase stability and improve security, and applies a whole of government approach to the challenges confronting Caribbean nations. We have committed $48 million in INCLE funds during the first two years of CBSI for programs and equipment to support our Caribbean partners, and we expect to commit an additional $30 million in INCLE funds for Fiscal Year 2012, with your support.

Our Fiscal Year 2013 INCLE request of $21 million will allow us to continue to support programs that strengthen Caribbean partner nation capabilities in the areas of maritime security, law enforcement, information sharing, border and migration control, transnational crime, and criminal justice.

Specifically, our programs seek to increase regional cooperation of our Caribbean partners to share law enforcement data, including ballistics imaging, airport passenger manifests, and fingerprinting, through software and training. Technical assistance will increase the ability of our partners to combat financial crimes and money laundering, while equipment and training for law enforcement personnel target narcotics trafficking on land and sea. These efforts seek to strengthen national and regional security systems throughout the Caribbean before the threats of illicit trafficking and transnational crime worsen.
* * *
 Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Lowey, I have focused my prepared remarks today on the programs we are administering to support our partners in the Western Hemisphere for a reason. As you know well, the challenges to secure and safe societies in the hemisphere are vast, and insecure societies host the majority of criminals whose crimes directly threaten our nation’s security. We recognize that there is no easy fix for these problems, and we will continue to evaluate our progress and adjust our approaches as these complex and dynamic threats evolve. We focus largely on regional programs because they provide the platform for several nations to coordinate their strategy and ensure a unified capability to addressing their shared challenges. Regional programs also allow us to multiply the impact and value of our assistance by syncing up with the contributions made by each government in the region. While these programs represent our major mechanisms for addressing threats to security in the Western Hemisphere, they are by no means our only mechanisms. We have ongoing bilateral programs – some robust like in Peru and Haiti, and some less so, in other countries in the hemisphere.

In Peru for example, where our bilateral counternarcotics relationship has been reinvigorated by an eager and supportive administration there, we have programs to increase capacity of law enforcement and programs to support a significant coca eradication effort. This is going to be an important area for us to watch closely, and I look forward to further discussions with the Subcommittee as our partnership there continues to evolve. And in Haiti, where perhaps the absence of strong and capable government institutions had been the most striking in the Western Hemisphere, INL supports programs to improve the capacity of law enforcement as well as the judicial sector. It is also worth noting that we are working very diligently to engage our friends in the region, particularly those with recognized competency in particular areas, to strengthen the capacity of not just others countries within the Western Hemisphere, but across the globe.

Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Lowey, thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss and share with you the work we are doing to address these challenging threats to the security of the people of the Western Hemisphere. I look forward to your questions.




STATE DEPARTMENT DAILY PRESS BRIEFING


Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 30, 2012
TRANSCRIPT:
12:58 p.m. EDT
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. Yay. First of all, I want to welcome – I think we have a number of students from the International Student House. Is that right, guys? Hey. As well as – led by Barbara Slavin, who’s known to many of you and formerly part of the noble State Department press corps. And anyway, welcome to the State Department.
QUESTION: You mean it’s that bad today? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: I am not above pandering, really, honestly. It’s – if it makes this thing any quicker. Anyway, welcome to the State Department.
Also, before beginning, I do want to mention how very pleased we all here at State of the large number of nominees who were confirmed by the Senate yesterday, including our very own Mike Hammer, which is the reason why I’ve donned a purple tie today, because it’s his favorite color. So kudos to Mike, as well as Tara D. Sonenshine, who’s our new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. So, congratulations. There’s a long list, you’ve all seen it, but indeed we’re very pleased that these individuals can now begin their work in earnest. And we also will continue to work with Congress on the remaining nominees.
And then, just before taking your questions, I do want to note – and we’ll be putting out a Media Note later, right after the briefing – that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will be traveling to New Delhi and to Patna, India, April 1st through 4th. In New Delhi, Under Secretary Sherman will meet with Foreign Secretary Mathai as well as other senior Government of India officials to discuss preparations for the upcoming U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, which will be held here in Washington in mid-June.
On April 4th, she’ll travel to Kathmandu, Nepal, where she’ll meet with Prime Minister Bhattarai as well as other Government of Nepal officials. And then she’ll travel on to Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 5th, where she’ll meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Moni, as well as other Bangladeshi officials. And she’ll also go on to visit the Grameen Borrower Group site outside of Dhaka.
So we’ll put this out just after the briefing with all the details. That’s it.
QUESTION: I want to go back to something we talked about yesterday involving Russia and Ambassador McFaul.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What – have you all decided on what course of action you’re going to take about what’s been going on?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we put out a taken question. At least, it should’ve gone out shortly – a short time ago. Did it not? Is it a go? Okay.
QUESTION: Saying what?
MR. TONER: Basically saying that – answering the question that was raised at yesterday’s briefing, which is that have we raised this with the Government of Russia, and indeed we have. So --
QUESTION: And, well, I mean, what have you raised with the Government of Russia?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve raised our concerns. There’s been a number of incidents since his arrival there that have caused us to have some concerns about his security and safety. So as we would in any – following normal protocol, we’ve raised that with the Government of Russia.
QUESTION: Do you have any concerns at all about just – I mean in general about the tweets that he’s been sending out?
MR. TONER: No. I think I said yesterday that we have full confidence in our chiefs of mission to use Twitter as a way to communicate to a number of followers, whether they be in Russia – in Mike McFaul’s case, but – or outside. And I did note, having looked at his Twitter account – we had an exchange yesterday – but there’s quite a few of his followers who respond in Cyrillic, so he does have some measure. I don’t have any way to measure that, but you questioned --
QUESTION: One of his followers appears to be someone with the name the – at least the Twitter handle Prostitutkamila. Do you have any – (laughter) – whose avitar is crossed legs. Do you have any – I mean, he is going back and forth with Prostitutkamila about this situation yesterday. Do you have any concerns or problems with that? Is that appropriate for – I mean, God knows who this person actually is, but --
MR. TONER: Right. Exactly, Matt. You well know, as I do, even though we’re not of the – this generation that uses Twitter – well, maybe you do, maybe you are, I don’t mean to age you – but that avitars come in all shapes and forms.
QUESTION: Well, I know, but, I mean, here he’s having a discussion saying that he was accosted by Cossacks at this event where these journalists – there were not just journalists there, there were men in military uniform, and I just – do you think that ambassadors should be routinely engaged in Twitter conversations with people who identify themselves as prostitutes?
MR. TONER: Again, he’s engaged with his followers. I’m not going to get – regulate or talk about from this podium who within his followers he should be talking to. Twitter – his tweets go out to a broad audience.
QUESTION: Did your concerns with – over his security and safety predate his Twitter activities yesterday?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I mean, I would say that. There’s been a number of incidents. I’m not going to go into them in detail but – because they do pertain to his security, but we’ve raised this.
QUESTION: Okay. And did you raise the concerns with the Russians before or after that exchange yesterday?
MR. TONER: Before. And we’re going to raise the latest concerns as well.
QUESTION: The latest concern being about his security, maybe --
MR. TONER: Well, and about --
QUESTION: My understanding was previous – the ones previous were about the anti-American incidents that --
MR. TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: And then – but the new concern comes from the fact that he seems to be being followed around and --
MR. TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: -- thinks that his phone and --
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Have the Russians said anything in response to this latest --
MR. TONER: No. I don’t have any details about what their response has been.
QUESTION: Have they responded to the previous concerns about his being followed?
MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Going back to the Senate confirmations, India is now, for a long time, without any U.S. ambassador, and now – we have now, you said, Strategic Dialogue is coming up and a lot of (inaudible) are going back to – back and forth to India and to New Delhi to Washington. Have Secretary – she’s making any plea to the Senate for the confirmation of --
MR. TONER: Who? We --
QUESTION: -- for --
MR. TONER: Nancy Powell was --
QUESTION: Yeah.
MR. TONER: -- was on my list of those confirmed yesterday.
QUESTION: Right.
MR. TONER: So --
QUESTION: There is an ambassador to India now --
MR. TONER: Yeah. There is an ambassador to India. I was somewhat confused.
QUESTION: -- as well as an ambassador to many other countries that are --
MR. TONER: Absolutely. I didn’t go through the long laundry list that --
QUESTION: -- that also didn’t have ambassadors for a long time.
MR. TONER: Right. Thank you, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And she’ll – when’s she leaving?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’m sure as soon as possible. I was just confused because your question seemed based on the premise that she was not confirmed, so --
QUESTION: No, because you did not answer – I mean, you didn’t mention --
MR. TONER: I didn’t go through the laundry – I mean, there’s a long list of people, so I just gave a shout-out to the folks in PA.
QUESTION: The question sort – also on India, the deadline’s looming for the President on sanctions on – regarding oil to Iran, to give --
QUESTION: It’s here.
QUESTION: It’s here – to give exemptions. Is that something the State Department will be handling, or does that come in from the White House?
MR. TONER: I think I’d refer you to the White House on his --
QUESTION: Just the exemptions for countries, what – about the – about purchasing oil from Iran.
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: A lot of the sanctions --
MR. TONER: We continue to – I mean, we already announced a number of those exemptions, and we continue to have a dialogue with a number of countries, including India. And when we have – and when we’re ready to announce a new round of exemptions, then we’ll do so, but nothing planned.
QUESTION: Syria?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Those discussions are ongoing.
QUESTION: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs told reporters as he was returning from Latin America that the message has been sent from the U.S. to the Syrian opposition that it would be helpful if they would basically consolidate who they are and consolidate their actions. I know – I’m asking, here at State, has that message indeed been sent to the various parts of the broader Syrian opposition that it’s better to get behind one banner at this point?
MR. TONER: Well, indeed. I mean, it’s going to be one of the topics of discussion in Istanbul. And the Secretary herself spoke to it the other day about this need for a unifying vision for the Syrian opposition, recognizing, of course, the challenges that are inherent in this process, which is that you’ve – they’re under relentless pressure by the Assad regime trying to basically survive, much less come up with a vision statement. And then you’ve got elements of the opposition who are outside the country and obviously many more who are within the country. So it’s a difficult task. We recognize that.
QUESTION: Does that kind of solidification make it easier for the U.S. to figure out exactly how it’s going to provide assistance if you actually have some sort of organization that you can direct countries to, such as what we saw with the NTC in Libya?
MR. TONER: Well, certainly. As we move forward on the path set out by the Annan plan that foresees a dialogue and then a transition, it’s absolutely essential that we’ve got a strong unified opposition. We believe that’s happening, but it’s just taking time.
QUESTION: Mark, conversely – a follow up to Ros’ question. I mean, is it – doesn’t that – the fact that they have a hundred different group make it really very difficult for you to provide aid and, in fact, frustrates whatever aid that might be forthcoming, and, in fact, may have nixed whatever possible military support to the opposition groups?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, it depends, Said, what we’re talking about. I mean, our humanitarian assistance is ongoing, and that’s metered out through – basically through the ICRC, but other international organizations. When you’re talking about assistance, the President and others have mentioned a possibility of non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and that’s going to be one of the topics of discussion in Istanbul.
QUESTION: You said that --
QUESTION: (Inaudible)
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a follow up. Should the opposition feel now be – or should the opposition be resigned to the fact that no military aid is forthcoming, at least not in the foreseeable future?
MR. TONER: Look, we’ve – our position hasn’t changed on that. We’re focused on political, economic pressure on Assad to choke off his options, as well as ramping up humanitarian assistance. And as I’ve said, talking about non-lethal assistance or aid to the Syrian opposition to help them come together and become more coherent.
QUESTION: You said as we move forward with the Annan plan. Do you see any indication that that plan is actually moving forward at this stage?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I talked yesterday about giving him the diplomatic space that he needs to operate. He continues to consult. We haven’t seen – I think what you’re asking – we haven’t seen any signs by Assad or his regime that they’re following the first element of that plan is for a ceasefire.
QUESTION: So when does it – when do you make the calculation that giving him diplomatic space to operate is also giving Assad physical space to keep on mowing down his people? I mean --
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- you’re – it seems --
MR. TONER: This isn’t a – no. I mean, it’s a fair question, but this isn’t – when I talk about giving him the diplomatic space to operate, I’m not at all implying that we’re relenting in any way in our other efforts to apply economic and political pressure on Assad. I mean, these things are concurrent.
Yeah.
QUESTION: Mark, Syrian sources say that the Bashar al-Assad is getting ready to give a major speech in about a week. And it is expected that during that speech, he will announce ceasing fire. Is that good enough?
MR. TONER: Look, we want to see immediate ceasefire on the ground. If they said – and they sent through a letter to Kofi Annan that said that they were – that they agreed with the plan, then they should take immediate steps to halt the violence.
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MR. TONER: We’ve seen – look, I’m not – the Secretary and others spoke to this. We’re not going to – we’re going to remain skeptical until we see real action on the ground, real steps being taken.
QUESTION: But you don’t think that Kofi Annan told them, “Okay. We’ll give you one more week to finish up your business,” so to speak.
MR. TONER: I think – I can’t speak for him. I think he’s working equally hard to stop the violence as soon as possible.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In India yesterday, five fastest growing economies including India – Brazil, India, China, Russia, and South Africa, they met and established a, what it called, BRICS. And what they’re saying is, like, challenging the IMF and the World Bank. And also they are calling on the United States that there should be some kind of change as far as the way World Bank and IMF is works. And any – and also, they want to do business in their own local currencies rather than in dollar.
MR. TONER: Well, in answer to your first question, I don’t – or your question implied that they was established – I think that BRICS been around for a few years as a multilateral organization. We enjoy good relations with all the countries within the BRIC. We have ongoing bilateral dialogues with all of them. So we understand their positions on a broad range of multilateral issues and we welcome the BRICS’ efforts to engage constructively on global issues, and we’re going to continue to talk with them about the range of global issues.
QUESTION: And also, at the same time, the U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson was in India – he’s in India. So where do we stand as far as U.S.-India trade and commerce is concerned today?
MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t had a chance to get a readout from his visit, but I’m fairly certain that we’re on solid footing in terms of trade with India.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead. You had a question.
QUESTION: Do you mind going back to Iran?
MR. TONER: I don’t mind going back to Iran.
QUESTION: On the issue of the Iranian sanctions slated to take place at the end of June, how concerned is the Administration with the fact that these increased sanctions will have an effect on oil prices, gas prices back here?
MR. TONER: Well, look, I think the fact that we’re having very deliberate and ongoing consultations with many of our friends and allies around the world to impress upon them the need to stop their import of Iranian crude and then to move to other sources shows that we’re going about this in a very deliberative way. We want to – and certainly the announcement a couple weeks ago of those countries that we believe have made substantial progress in this indicate that there’s a – that we’re confident that we can do this in a very coherent, deliberative fashion that’s not going to affect the market.
QUESTION: It seems to be (inaudible) White House (inaudible).
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: On the Secretary’s trip, I’m wondering if you have any readouts from the U.S. side on what the Secretary is doing, since she’s gone there without her faithful band of followers and the only word we have now is from the Saudi Foreign Ministry. So can you tell us?
MR. TONER: And precisely because of that, I don’t have much of a readout for you because my faithful --
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: My faithful colleague, Toria, is on that same second plane. As many of you know, the Secretary’s plane developed some mechanical problems yesterday. She went forward, I believe, with just a few skeleton staff to carry out her meetings, bilateral meetings on the ground. And then the larger plane followed with the rest of her staff, including Toria, of course, and the press corps. So I don’t have a readout. We’ll try to get it to you.
QUESTION: You’re not likely to get anything until Toria actually gets on the ground? I mean, there are other senior U.S. officials with the Secretary.
MR. TONER: I understand that, and I know she’s coordinating with them to try to get something.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Palestinian issue, today the Israelis – and in fact Haaretz – exposed that the Israelis have plans to annex 10 percent of the West Bank and allocate it for a settlement. Do you have any comment on that? They published the maps and that actually will turn the West Bank, the area designated for a Palestinian state, into basically a discontiguous, Swiss cheese area.
MR. TONER: I really don’t. I haven’t seen the story. I don’t know what it’s based on. You know our policy on – our position regarding settlements.
QUESTION: Well, it’s a major expose in an Israeli –
MR. TONER: Well, we’ll certainly take a look at it --
QUESTION: -- a most respectable (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: I’m pretty sure our position is going to remain the same, which is --
QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, beside your position remaining the same, if this is the case, if there are actually secret plans to annex – I mean --
MR. TONER: But, Said, you’re asking me to comment on secret plans. I mean, I – just it’s impossible for me right now to do that. I’ll take a look at the article and – but you know what our position is.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: I think you --
QUESTION: Can we stay on that for a second?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: And this has to do with Jerusalem, but it’s not the same question from the other day. Do you know if you all have taken a position on the construction of this Museum of Tolerance that the Israelis are building? It’s supposed – there’s some controversy about it because it’s going to be built on a Muslim cemetery.
MR. TONER: I’ll take the question, Matt. I don’t know what our position is.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, is the Armenia and Turkish relation, the genocide topic or the church property issues, part of the Secretary’s discussions in Turkey?
MR. TONER: You know what? I can’t speak to – I know she’s going to have some bilateral discussions on the side and, of course, on the margins of the Syrian – Friends of Syria meeting. It’s impossible for me to judge. Of course, those issues, those topics are a constant source of – or a issue that we discuss with Turkey and with Armenia, in fact. So we want to see the rapprochement process continue in that regard.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Pakistan?
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: On the reports that Usama bin Ladin’s wife is saying that he was always in Pakistan, is it your assessment that the Pakistani Government was consistently lying to the U.S. Government over the years?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t think we have an assessment. We have – as you know, immediately after the Abbottabad raid, we asked the Pakistani Government the question of whether there was a larger network at play here or there was some kind of network of support, I guess, for bin Ladin when he was there. We have not received any information that indicates that there was such a network of support there. So I don’t really have anything new for you on that.
QUESTION: So you don’t believe that they were lying?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. Again, we haven’t received any indications that indicate that there was some broader network, no.

Go ahead, Shaun.
QUESTION: On Burma, Myanmar?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up real quick?
MR. TONER: On Pakistan? Yeah, go ahead. Let’s stay on Pakistan.
QUESTION: A just quick one that Pakistanis are again angry at the U.S. because of this recent attack, drones and also --
MR. TONER: Recent? I’m sorry. Recent --
QUESTION: Missile attack.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Over Pakistan. I believe they are saying three people were killed and they are asking the U.S. that they should stop this as far as drone attacks and missiles are concerned in order to have good relations or opening of the doors and all so forth.
MR. TONER: Well, you know where we’re at on this, Goyal. We continue to await the results of the parliamentary review. That’s still ongoing. But I think that in terms of our relations, we continue to have engagement at all levels within the Pakistani Government. And we certainly respect the review process that’s underway and we look forward to the results, and then we’ll be willing to discuss some of the issues raised by that. But as to this incident, I don’t have any comment.
Yeah.
QUESTION: On Burma?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Burma. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The bi-elections, of course, are coming up this weekend.
MR. TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: Aung San Suu Kyi overnight made some remarks about the elections, saying that while obviously Burma is not a perfect democracy yet, but that what’s – what she saw as problems, irregularities, and that that’s well beyond what’s acceptable. What’s your read so far? What’s the State Department’s read so far on the elections –
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, just to go back to the tail end of what her comments were --
QUESTION: Sure. Saying that the level of irregularities were not acceptable. What’s the State Department’s read on how the bi-elections are going?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we just have – as you guys all know very well, that we’re going to have representatives of the National Democratic Institute as well as the International Republican Institute who are going to actually be on the ground – I believe they actually are on the ground – to observe the – Sunday’s elections. We view that, in and of itself, this invitation to – of the international community to observe the elections, as a – as something that’s positive in terms of the country’s democratic development.
They’ve been very clear that they cannot do a proper election observation in that short a window, but certainly, we’ll look forward to their analysis leading up to it. I think we have raised our concerns, though, about – going into this about some of the irregularities that we’ve seen. But we’re going to have folks on the ground on Sunday to observe how they’re carried out.
QUESTION: Sure. Just to expand on that a little bit --
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: I mean, is there – the overall conduct of these, that you’ve raised concerns about some irregularities, is – I mean, is – at this point, do you see it as credible? Do you see the by-elections as – or is it too early to judge?
MR. TONER: Well, I think – no, I think – first of all, this is a really – this is an important moment for Burma. These by-elections would demonstrate – if they are seen as free and fair – would demonstrate the government’s continued commitment to democratization. So we certainly want to see free and fair elections on Sunday. This would certainly propel further momentum in our bilateral relations, but we have noted some of these irregularities, and we’re just going to – as we move forward through Sunday, we’re going to assess.
QUESTION: Speaking of the bilateral relationship, how is the process of trying to establish an embassy going there?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s ongoing. I mean, we talked a little bit about this yesterday. If you’re asking about naming an ambassador --
QUESTION: (Inaudible)
MR. TONER: What? Oh, of course. Thank you, Matt. (Laughter.) We do have an embassy. I jumped to the conclusion you’re talking about naming an ambassador, and that’s really something for the White House. Thank you, Matt.
Yeah. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Iraq?
MR. TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: In fact, the northern region of Kurdistan. The president of the northern region of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, is coming to town. I think he arrives tomorrow. And --
MR. TONER: And you want to know if we’re meeting with him and what we’re doing with him?
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. Is the Secretary –
MR. TONER: I’ll find out for you, Said.
QUESTION: Please, yeah.
MR. TONER: I don’t have that in front of me. Thanks, though.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A different topic?
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mali.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The coup leader, if you want to call – yeah, the coup leader – Captain Sonogo, is, I believe, his name – he made a statement saying – appealing for help, saying that there’s quite a drastic situation with the rebellion, the Tuareg rebellion. What’s the level of concern that the U.S. has with this situation in Mali, both the –
MR. TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- since the coup and with the rebellion?
MR. TONER: Well, we are very concerned. You saw that ECOWAS heads of state held an emergency meeting in Abidjan yesterday, and they presented the mutineers with an ultimatum that they must step down and return Mali to constitutional rule within 72 hours. And if they don’t comply, ECOWAS is going to impose economic, financial, and – financial and other sanctions on Mali. And these would include, I believe, closing the borders with ECOWAS countries and freezing Mali’s account within the West African Central Bank.
We echo ECOWAS’s call for the mutineers to step down and allow for a swift return to democratic rule and for presidential elections to – ultimately to take place. We have seen these reports you’re talking about, advances by the Tuareg rebels. We are very concerned. Toria spoke to this last week when she said that if these mutineers are so concerned, then why are they occupied with events in Bamako rather than pressing the fight against the Tuaregs in the north of Mali.
So we are very concerned about this. I know ECOWAS has offered to mediate between the Tuaregs and the Government of Mali. And we do recognize that these mutineers have some grievances against the government, but their actions to date have not been the right way to get – have anyone to address those grievances in any kind of productive way.
QUESTION: Has the situation risen to the level of needing a Security Council meeting?
MR. TONER: I simply don’t know where the discussion is on that yet. I mean, we believe that ECOWAS has taken an appropriate leadership role to date on this.
QUESTION: But if we get to Monday and the general is still holding press conferences and talking to any media come --
MR. TONER: We still believe there’s time for this to reverse itself and for democratic rule to return to Mali and for elections to take place.
QUESTION: And what do you know about the security of the president right now?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have any updates on his whereabouts. We’ve been told he’s secure and safe, but I don’t have any confirmation of that.
QUESTION: And you will have – now having had a week, you have those numbers for us?
MR. TONER: I believe we’re getting close on those numbers.
QUESTION: Oh? Where – how close would that be?
MR. TONER: We’ll release them at 8 o’clock tonight, how about that? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: How about 4:00 in the morning?
MR. TONER: That’s right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just on --
QUESTION: North Korea --
MR. TONER: Point taken, Matt. We – I can’t say it enough that these are complicated. Military assistance has stopped and we’re de-conflicting all of the assistance that goes directly to the Malian Government. But these are pots of money within programs, and it simply takes time for us to --
QUESTION: Yeah, but five days?
MR. TONER: I appreciate your thoughtful analysis.
Yes.
QUESTION: Just if I may, a quick follow – Shaun’s question on Burma quickly?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Burmese community here – I meant what they are saying is that they’ve been waiting for a free Burma for the last 20-plus years and they are optimistic that as far as free and fair elections, unless U.S. really takes a closer look and gets involved because that’s what happened in the 1990 elections when she – Aung San Suu Kyi was cheated or her party. So what’s new or different now in the previous 1990 elections and today – I mean, this coming one?
MR. TONER: Well, we’re taking a step-by-step approach in Burma. You are very well aware we’ve had the Secretary out there visiting. We’ve had this positive momentum in the relationship. The government has indeed taken many steps, including the freeing up of – or the freeing of political prisoners inter alia that have led us to engage with the Burmese Government. But we’re obviously going to be looking to these elections on Sunday as another indication of what direction the country’s moving in.
QUESTION: But Mark, what they’re saying is that the international community, including the U.S., been dealing with the dictator for the last 20 years. How come?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. What are you – I didn’t hear the last question, that we’ve been --
QUESTION: The international community and the U.S. been dealing with a dictator, a military dictator.
MR. TONER: I don’t think that’s true at all. We’ve had a very strong sanctions program against Burma. We have had this period of the two-track approach, and we believe its borne fruit.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. One more thing going back to the Palestinian issue --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today is Land Day. It’s a day that the Palestinians celebrate every year. And Israel imposed very severe restrictions on the movement of people, and there are actually some violent clashes that the Israeli Army committed against the Palestinian demonstrators. I wonder if you have a comment on that.
MR. TONER: Well, we certainly don’t want to see any violence on a – by either side. We certainly, as you all know, support the rights of people everywhere to protest peacefully, and so we would just call for restraint.
QUESTION: They actually imposed a great many closures. I mean, people are not able to move from one place to another. They closed the West Bank, Gaza --
MR. TONER: No, I’m aware of those. And again, we would want people to be able to peacefully protest, of course.
Yeah. In the back.
QUESTION: Mark, I recall last time when the Secretary of State was in Armenia, she mentioned that it’s up to Turkey now to make a step towards reconciliation. I think she said, “The ball is on Turkey’s side.” I was wondering if this is the same message that this building is trying to deliver to Ankara authorities as well.
MR. TONER: You know what? Let me, frankly, take the question. I mean, I know that we continue to look for movement on this issue, but as to where it is exactly and where that ball is, let me take the question.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: For modern times some uncharacteristically tough language from Tokyo about this planned missile launch in mid-April. Has the U.S. talked to Tokyo about its threats to intervene militarily to keep this from happening?
MR. TONER: You’re talking about which comments specifically?
QUESTION: That they’ve authorized this response if North Korea goes ahead with its planned satellite launch.
MR. TONER: Well, of course, we consult extremely closely with Japan, with our other allies in the region, and we’re certainly understanding of their concerns, which is why we’ve been so vocal about asking or telling North Korea that this planned missile launch is a mistake, that they should back away from it, and that it’s jeopardizing the Leap Year agreement.
QUESTION: That is certainly different from what Chinese officials were saying, which is basically, “North Korea, reconsider what you’re doing.” This is actually elevating or escalating the rhetoric, as it were. Does that worry this building at all?
MR. TONER: Well, again, let’s be very clear that it’s the intentions stated by North Korea that are elevating tensions, which is why we are asking them to back away from that decision.
QUESTION: Is this building telling Tokyo that perhaps it should be a little more careful in its language if trying to manage the situation is the goal here?
MR. TONER: Look, we continue to consult very closely with the Japanese on this situation, and as I said, we share their concerns.
QUESTION: Was there any sense that Tokyo could make good on its threats?
MR. TONER: That’s a question for Japan.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On North Korea. The State Department has consistently been saying that they are working to encourage North Korea to back away. Concretely, what has this meant? What forms has this encouragement taken?
MR. TONER: Well, I mean, we’ve been very publicly vocal about our concerns and the fact that this launch, if it goes forward, would call into question the credibility of all North Korea’s commitments. So beyond that, we continue to consult with our allies and partners within the Six-Party process about next steps. I know China and others have also been vocal as well about expressing their concerns.
Yeah.
QUESTION: I – forgive me if I’ve missed this detail, but could you give me a rundown of exactly what contact the U.S. has had with North Korea since the announcement of the launch? I remember on March 16th, a few hours before North Korea put out their statement --
MR. TONER: That’s correct.
QUESTION: -- they had contacted the U.S. though the New York channel.
MR. TONER: That’s correct. And as far as I’m aware – I have not spoken with Glyn Davies in a couple of days, but I’m not aware that we’ve had any contact with them since then. I can check.
Yeah. In the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. For old time’s sake if I get to ask a question, there’s a report in Foreign Policy by Mark Perry that the Israelis are – have a deal with Azerbaijan to use military bases, air bases there, as a contingency perhaps to attack Iran. Does the U.S. State Department have any comment on that?
MR. TONER: We do not. Nope. I took this question yesterday, and I said the same thing. You know where we are in terms of Iran, and the President’s been very clear that we believe there’s still time for diplomacy to work here. We want to see Iran return to the negotiating table willing to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program in a real, substantive, and ongoing manner – not just one meeting but indeed a process here where we can really discuss and reach agreement on these issues.
QUESTION: Have you raised it with the Azerbaijanis?
MR. TONER: We have not.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Back to North Korea.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. planning to have any direct communication or meetings with the North Koreans before this proposed launch in mid-April?
MR. TONER: Again, we continue to consult with our Six-Party allies and partners. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of direct conversations with North Korea. It’s not something we usually do, in fact.
QUESTION: Okay. And one on Japan, please?
QUESTION: There’s been no contact through – there’s been no contact through the New York channel?
MR. TONER: No. I just said I’m not aware of – the last is what she cited, which is the conversation we had up to – right before North Korea decided to make its announcement.
Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: On Japan and the Koreas. Secretary Clinton, at the beginning of this month, said as soon as possible she wanted to have a trilateral meeting with the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. Has a date been set for that?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that a date has been set. Once we have something to announce, we’ll let you know. But I don’t think it has been.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there an intention to try to schedule it around the time that a lot of Japanese officials will be coming here in April, including foreign minister --
MR. TONER: It could be. I mean, we always look for – look, I don’t have a date for you, simply put. I mean, we try to, obviously, accommodate foreign leaders as well as the Secretary’s own schedule as much as we can.
Is that it?
QUESTION: Just one quick one. I just got – today, there was a hearing for this Dr. Fai as far as his connection working for Pakistan. He has been sentenced for 24 months because his connection with Pakistan and working against the U.S. Any comments on that?
MR. TONER: I don’t have any comments.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. And finally, Secretary, are you buying any Mega tickets? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Oh yeah. I wish. (Laughter.) You wouldn’t see me at the podium on Monday, if that were the case. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.