1:46 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Hello, David.
QUESTION: Sorry I wasn’t here yesterday. I Brexited.
MR TONER: (Laughter.) All right, off to a good start. Welcome, everyone, to the State Department.
Just like to begin by reiterating what I and we, the State Department, expressed last night in the statement, and that is simply that we are shocked and saddened by yesterday’s attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. The United States extends its deepest condolences to the families of the victims, as well as our hopes for a quick recovery for all those who were wounded in that vicious attack. We obviously remain in close touch with the Turkish authorities and will remain so. Let there be no doubt that we stand in solidarity with our NATO ally, Turkey, in combating the common threat we face from terrorism. These kinds of vicious attacks only reinforce our determination to work with the Government of Turkey to counter the scourge of terrorism and to support all those across the region who are working to promote peace and reconciliation.
Now, just to update you, we’re not aware at this time of any U.S. citizen deaths. We are aware of reports of U.S. citizens who were near the attack location, but there are no reports of U.S. citizens who are seriously injured. Immediately following the attack, I can say that the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul issued an emergency message informing U.S. citizens of the attack and urging them to avoid the area around the airport. U.S. citizens should continue to check with local media, and obviously with the social media sites and the website of the U.S. Consulate, for the latest updates.
I did want to mention, as many of you – or all of you, I hope – know, the Secretary is in Ottawa today accompanying President Obama at the North American Leaders Summit, where he joined the President in meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada as well as President Pena Nieto of Mexico. The leaders discussed their vision for a more integrated North American – North America, rather, that provides a prosperous and secure future for the citizens of all three countries and promotes North American leadership on global and regional challenges. They did discuss concrete initiatives to promote peace, security, development, to enhance our competitiveness in the global economy, and to expand opportunities for our citizens. And they also announced an historic North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership that better harmonizes our countries’ climate and energy strategies.
With that, over to you.
QUESTION: Could we start with Istanbul?
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: Given what happened and the series of attacks now in Turkey this year, are you advising Americans to put off travel or reconsider any plans they might have to visit Turkey?
MR TONER: Sure. Well, you saw yesterday, actually, partly coincidentally, that we did reissue our travel warning – an updated travel warning, if you will. That was done – in this case, frankly, it was an update of an existing travel warning, when a ordered departure in this case was approved or extended or changed for members of the embassy community. And what had happened was we did extend the March 29th, 2016 ordered departure from Turkey of family members from our consulate in Adana and in Izmir province, and that’s through July.
QUESTION: This is Istanbul, though, right?
MR TONER: This is – yes, no, I understand that. I’m just saying – sorry, I was speaking to why the travel warning was extended and reissued yesterday. But look, I mean, our – sorry —
QUESTION: Yesterday or Monday night?
MR TONER: Monday night, you’re right. But broadly speaking, and more in response to your question, we did note in this travel warning increased threats from terrorist groups to U.S. citizens, warning about the fact that extremists have targeted airports and transportation hubs throughout Europe – not just within Turkey – transportation systems, other vulnerable targets, if you will. And we have seen, obviously, a spate of ongoing terrorist incidents, terrorist attacks in Turkey. But again, we’re not saying Americans should not travel to Turkey. In any such instance – whether it was Brussels, whether it was Paris after the terrorist attacks there – we’re simply reminding Americans, as if they need reminding, but certainly trying to remind them to be up-to-date on the current information, to bring with them their street smarts, if you – if I could put it that way, and to just be situationally aware when they’re on the ground and to be aware of these threats.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: You – hold on, I have just a couple more.
MR TONER: Yeah, of course, of course. Yeah, sure, please.
QUESTION: You’re not saying yet that this is an Islamic State attack, is that right?
MR TONER: Nobody has confirmed that yet.
QUESTION: So you don’t – you don’t have information to believe that the Islamic State was responsible for this attack?
MR TONER: Again, I cannot confirm that. People have spoken to it, but what I’m going to say is let’s let the Turkish investigation play itself out and —
QUESTION: And then —
MR TONER: — till we – sorry, until we say who’s responsible.
QUESTION: And then I just wanted to ask, I – we heard the Secretary speak from Aspen on —
MR TONER: Of course, yeah.
QUESTION: — the attack. There seems to be some dissonance between what he – hear me out first —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — from what he said about this shows the increased desperation of ISIS and what, for example, Mr. Brennan said on the Hill last week about there has been no reduction in the ISIS threat or their global reach to commit terrorism. So I just wanted to get your – what exactly does the Secretary mean when these terrorist attacks happen and he’s saying that shows how – how they’re getting weaker or more desperate?
MR TONER: Well, again, I’m reluctant always to parse the Secretary’s words, but in this case, I think what he’s clearly indicating – and we’ve spoken to this, John and myself have spoken to this before – is as you increase pressure, as they lose territory and are under increased pressure on the battlefield in Iraq, in Syria – and we’ve seen that: they’ve lost territory, they’re under increasing pressure, they’ve lost key footholds in Fallujah and elsewhere.
And as they’re under pressure – or, rather, let me rephrase that: They’re under pressure. But that does not affect their ability to carry out terrorist attacks either in Europe or elsewhere in the world, in Turkey especially. But we’ve also seen it in Baghdad and we’ve seen it in Iraq. They are still capable, and in their desperation, even perhaps more willing and liable to carry out these kind of attacks to continue to exert their will.
QUESTION: What does that say, then, about the anti-ISIS campaign? As I recall, it was to fight their capability to —
MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: — inflict harm on the United States, not to retake villages in Syria or Iraq or —
MR TONER: Sure, I think we – sorry. I don’t mean to talk over you.
MR TONER: I think we have to do both. It’s a multi-front effort and we’ve talked about this before. And I think at the same time that you have to remove Daesh from the battlefield, from the territory that it has claimed in Iraq and Syria, at the same time, you have to be able to stop their ability to recruit as well as stop their ability to create terrorist networks elsewhere. And that’s a real challenge and we’ve talked about that a lot. It is always easy for a couple of individuals with access to weaponry and access to explosives and the intent to kill themselves to carry out these kind of brutal terrorist attacks. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge we can’t eventually address, but it’s just – it speaks to the complexity.
QUESTION: Can we go to the – yeah, on the travel warning.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So I saw the travel warning that came out on Monday night and I compared the opening sentence on Monday night to the one that came out on March 29th —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — and they’re identical. The one that came out – they both say, “The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey.” And one of the challenges I think we all have in dealing with your travel warnings is that they’re generally not annotated, so it’s not possible to know what’s different except by looking at the previous one.
So I went and I looked at the previous one and I saw that it basically said the same thing. I realize that there’s a slight difference – one province was dropped off and so on. But how is an American citizen who is thinking about going to Turkey supposed to understand that the increased threats that you’re reporting are Monday – on Monday are any different from the increased threats from terrorist groups that you reported on March 29th?
I mean, so a couple of simple questions: Were there even more threats that had come out prior to June 27th, Monday, that made you issue this, or not?
MR TONER: So I think what – it’s a fair question. A couple of points here: First of all, is always check with travel.state.gov, a very easy website to remember, for travelers to get the most up-to-date information specific to a given country. But I think in the case of this Travel Alert that was re-issued, it was certainly updated, but you’re right, it is hard to distinguish. I think what I would just say is in this particular case, with a relatively few tweaks, the same threat level persisted. And so I understand your point that why should a traveler take any more heed or notice of that. I think that a traveler to Turkey – and frankly, to many parts of the world – has to simply be aware and cognizant of the fact that the threat remains in place and act accordingly.
QUESTION: Right. But what I’m asking —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — is kind of simpler.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: I mean, let me – I’ll ask a real simple question. One: Did the U.S. Government and did the issuance of the June 27th Travel Alert – did the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that there would be an attack on June 28th or upcoming?
MR TONER: No. And that was the second part of my answer, that if we had – and I realize there’s a range of quote-unquote “products” that we put out on behalf of – or for the American traveler. A travel warning is a travel warning. If we had information, credible information, about an imminent threat on – or a developing situation, even if it wasn’t a terrorist attack, but any natural disaster looming, what we’d use is an emergency message. And that is reserved, as I said, for imminent events or threats that may require immediate action on behalf of U.S. citizens. That could be violent demonstrations; that could be, as I said, civil disturbances, natural disasters. And we did after the attack issue an emergency message immediately once we had – telling them to avoid the —
QUESTION: But my question is even simpler.
MR TONER: (Laughter.) Okay.
QUESTION: Did you have any reason to —
MR TONER: No.
QUESTION: — expect an imminent —
MR TONER: My understanding is – sorry.
QUESTION: — threat in Turkey on Monday?
MR TONER: So – okay. And my answer is – and I’m sorry I haven’t been clear on this —
MR TONER: — we did not have, as I said, kind of imminent or actionable intelligence.
QUESTION: Got it. Okay. So, then, second question —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — and again, I think it’s a simpler —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — question – you state on March 29th that there is increased threats of attacks by terrorist groups in Turkey. And you state exactly the same thing – there is increased threats of terrorist actions by – of attacks by terrorist groups on June 27th. Were there more threats on June 27th than there had been, or was the threat level any higher? Was there any increase in the threat – in the number of threats on June 27th than there had been in March?
MR TONER: So my answer to that is – and we – we’re not – I’m not going to discuss necessarily specific details of the threat information we have, except, as I said, in the case of when we had actionable intelligence that a given site was going to be targeted. I can say that we would reiterate the language of our – in our latest Travel Warning for Turkey, which did note increased threats from terrorist groups to U.S. citizens.
QUESTION: But I – but here’s —
QUESTION: But now, do you have a baseline from before you ever issued a travel warning for Turkey or increased from the previous Travel Warning? Where does the increase take place?
MR TONER: My understanding is that it was increased from the previous Travel Warning.
QUESTION: Increased from the previous Travel Warning.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s helpful, because that at least helps —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — helps us understand —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — a little better. And —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — is there no way of – and another thing. I mean, you look at the March Travel Warning, and it notes the ordered departure.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: There’s no timeline on that ordered departure in that Travel Warning, unless I’m mistaken. It just says you’ve ordered departure. And normally you order departure, and that’s – they’re ordered gone until you rescind that, right? So I don’t understand why you felt it necessary to put out a note on Monday night extending the ordered departure until a particular date. I mean, I understand the change in dropping one of the provinces, but I don’t understand why you felt it necessary to give an end date for the ordered departure status, because it was indefinite when you originally did it. So why do that?
MR TONER: I’m frankly not sure that it is an indefinite. I think that it was – internally, at least, we do have to extend these periodically. And I think that it was an effort to notify the public that that ordered departure was going to be extended. That’s my understanding, is that when an ordered departure is extended, in which case it does have to be done administratively by the State Department —
QUESTION: It has to have an end date?
MR TONER: — it has to have an end date.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, why not try to make more explicit the difference between the travel warning from June and the travel warning from March? I mean, it seems to me that American citizens would have benefited from knowing on Monday that there was even more threats than there had been in March. I mean, why not make that clear? We’re issuing this because there is even more threats out there than there were in our last one which was issued – that just seems to me you have more – you’re giving the citizenry more information. Why not do that rather than forcing all of us to do this Talmudic reading of the last one and the current one and then not actually understanding until 48 hours later what the difference is?
MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to draw unnecessarily a link between the issuance of this travel warning and yesterday’s tragic attack at a Turk airport. I think this vehicle, which is the travel warning, is simply a way to periodically update the American public on where we stand, how we assess the security of a given country. And it can be for a lot of reasons, not just terrorism – although that’s probably the reason we talk about most – and I think in that respect it does that. If we have, as I said, imminent – or information about an imminent attack or threat, that’s a different way – a different vehicle that we’ll use to notify the public of that.
QUESTION: Wait, but I just – it’s just kind of a practical question.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Maybe there’s a – maybe there’s an answer. But I don’t understand why you wouldn’t give people more information if you have it.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And you didn’t – you said it’s your understanding that there was more threat information as of – or more threats —
MR TONER: Yeah, and I’ll double check on that if there was – if there was – because —
QUESTION: Shouldn’t Americans know that?
MR TONER: Of course, and that’s why this vehicle exists. But I want to double-check whether there was – I know I said that. I want to go back and double-check on whether that’s the fact that there was – between the last one and this current one that there was more —
QUESTION: That —
MR TONER: — threat information that had actually spiked.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
MR TONER: Just to make sure I understand that correctly. So I’ll get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks.
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: One clarification about this – the emergency message to warn of an imminent threat, you said, for violent demonstrations and natural disasters and so on —
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: — has that been used before to warn of a terrorist attack?
MR TONER: Yes. I can come up with – I can get you specific examples, but yes, it has.
QUESTION: How many is that that it would be used for —
MR TONER: Well, I mean, it’s obviously not that common because it’s rare that we have actionable intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack. But in that case – there is precedent for this and —
QUESTION: You did it for South Africa a few weeks ago.
MR TONER: I think you’re right. Yeah, I think that’s correct, but I can double-check on that. We can get you —
QUESTION: Mark, you said a few minutes ago —
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: — that the Turks are investigating and that no one’s been able to determine who is responsible, but everyone keeps suggesting that this has the hallmarks of an ISIL attack. Is that the working assumption of the U.S. Government? Are they ruling out the PKK or other groups that might have some grievance against the Turkish Government?
MR TONER: Sure. It’s a fair question that I’m hesitant to answer because it looks like I’m leaning one way or the other, and I’m very hesitant to speak authoritatively about who we think is behind this. But I think in any kind of assessment like this, the experts – the folks who really follow this stuff and look at these investigations or look at these attacks and are able to recognize the hallmarks or the tendencies of certain groups versus other groups and how they carry out their attacks – it’s – there are assumptions that are made. But I think we just have to let the – we’ve also seen in the wake of these kinds of events it go the other way. So I think we’re just being cautious. And we’re also being respectful and mindful of the fact that this was an attack on Turkish citizens or Turkish people in Turkey, and really their – it’s their investigation.
QUESTION: And keeping in mind that it does appear that many of those who were killed were Turkish, have there been any gentle reminders – if I can use the expression – to the Turkish Government that if it turns out that this wasn’t ISIL – that this was the work of Kurdish separatists, as an example – that the government won’t use the attack yesterday as a pretext for cracking down on civil liberties?
MR TONER: So, first off, I don’t think we’ve seen any actions on the government to indicate that it’s going in that direction. I’m very hesitant to respond to that question or to caution the Turkish Government, which is, in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, obviously dealing with recovery, dealing with security of its citizens, and by all accounts doing a pretty good job in the immediate aftermath. Let’s let the investigation play itself out. I think that’s what the Turkish authorities are doing. And we’ll see.
Please, in the back, yeah. You had a question yesterday and I didn’t get to you. I apologize.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Conventional wisdom has been that one of the problems that the U.S. has had in fighting Daesh in the area has been that Turkey has seen the Kurds as a bigger problem than Daesh. Do you think that perhaps one positive thing that could come out of this tragedy is that Turkey might take more seriously the threat from Daesh and see the Kurds as a lesser – it reverse its priorities so that Daesh is the number one threat and the Kurds are a lesser issue for Ankara?
MR TONER: So – couple of thoughts on that. First of all is you are right – and we’ve talked on numerous occasions in this room about Turkey’s real concerns about Kurdish forces operating in northern Syria and, frankly, our support for those Kurdish forces who are, frankly, very capable forces fighting to remove Daesh from its foothold in northern Syria. And we’ve been very frank in recognizing Turkey’s concerns and in talking to Turkey about those concerns. So I don’t want to diminish or downplay those concerns. And we’ve also been very clear that we view the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization, and as such, we work with Turkey on combating them. But we draw clear delineation between the PKK and the Syrian Kurds, as I said, who are part of the many groups that are fighting against Daesh in northern Syria.
I also don’t want to underplay or under-emphasize Turkey’s role in the coalition, the anti-Daesh coalition. I think we’ve made real progress in the last – certainly in the last year working with Turkey in order to bring more pressure to bear on Daesh in northern Syria, certainly through their allowing us the use of the Incirlik Air Base, rather, but also working to close that I think 98-kilometer border that has proved such a challenge.
So these are all real challenges. And as Ambassador Sam Power just said recently or just a few hours ago on – in an interview, let’s not forget that Turkey has also been very accepting to the millions of refugees who have poured over its borders from Syria and offered them refuge. So Turkey is playing an important role with regard to Syria, with regard to the conflict there, both from the Assad regime as well as with Daesh. So I don’t want to underplay that. But they have, as many countries do within the coalition, different – sometimes different priorities, different ideas about how to go about that, and that’s something we’re in constant dialogue with them about and working to coordinate better.
QUESTION: So it’s possible that this might facilitate the U.S. making of its argument about the importance of fighting Daesh?
MR TONER: I think the Turkish people and the Turkish Government are well aware of Daesh’s nature and the need to – for us all to destroy Daesh.
QUESTION: Speaking of Sam Powers, just, if you – a question about the AP story on the compensation package for the Cameroonian family whose child was killed by her convoy. Can you confirm that the compensation has already been delivered to the family and that it includes what was reported – a million francs, a pair of cows, flour, onions, rice, salt, sugar, soap oil, and a well for fresh drinking water to come?
MR TONER: So on your first part of your question – so we have been working on a compensation package – sorry – commensurate with local custom as well as the needs of the family and of – and the village. That includes potable water well in the boy’s community that will serve as a lasting memory to his life, as well as some monetary, food, and other support. I can confirm that U.S. diplomats have visited the family on several occasions following the accident, and we’ll continue to provide any and all support possible.
What I cannot answer is whether that compensation has already been delivered or is in the process. I’d have to get back to you on that.
QUESTION: There are reports that these Istanbul attackers were under investigation since 2012 by Turkish state. Do you have such an information coming from the U.S. intelligence? Can you confirm that?
MR TONER: So – appreciate the question. If I had that information from U.S. intelligence, I probably wouldn’t share it from the podium, but I do not, I can tell you. We just don’t know at this point. And it’s often the way in these – there’s lots of – and I understand in – and this is casting no aspersions on cable news, but they get a lot of experts who are outside the government who can express their opinions on who might be behind such an attack. We have to be more measured and more cautious about what we say about who’s behind this attack, and that’s why I’m saying let’s let the investigation play itself out.
QUESTION: So did you send an alert? I mean, did you warn Turkish officials against such an attack before that?
MR TONER: No, and we talked about this —
QUESTION: Because there are —
MR TONER: — just a few minutes ago, in case you missed it. But no, we did issue – re-issue a Travel Warning the other day, but that was not indicative of an imminent threat or an imminent attack. Had we had that information, of course we would have shared it with Turkish authorities, but we didn’t.
QUESTION: I’m not talking about the Travel Warning. I’m talking about an official warning to the Turkish officials. I mean, maybe the share of intelligence.
MR TONER: No, I mean, we have – I mean, look, we have – we share – we have intelligence-sharing as a NATO ally and partner with Turkey all the time. I’m certainly not aware that we had any —
MR TONER: — specific threat information, and had we, we of course would have shared it with Turkey.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR TONER: Sure, Goyal. I’ll get to you in a second.
QUESTION: As far as, Mark, terrorism is concerned, it’s not only U.S. problem or – it’s a global problem, including, of course, the problems in India. My question is here now again we are on the same brink as in the past, that little, smaller terrorism is still going on in the Indian states – Indian – in India now.
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: And openly, again, Hafiz Saeed is saying that we will go after our enemies, which is India and U.S. And he said that we are supporting all these terrorism and terrorists in India and we will continue to destroy India until we have our presence there fully.
MR TONER: Who – who’s this saying this? I apologize.
QUESTION: Hafiz Saeed from the Pakistani soil once again, which he had been doing in the past. And these are recent – as far as yesterday’s and —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — last week reports. And he openly, freely – he’s giving all these full and free messages of hate and —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — against India.
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, look, we obviously work closely with India on counterterrorism efforts in the region as we do with Pakistan, and we’ve been very clear publicly and privately about our concerns about Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism in the region and the need for it to do so. But we need to work effectively with all the countries in the region in order to increase our ability to combat terrorism and to bring stability to the region. And we certainly recognize that India has felt the scourge of terrorism on several occasions, and our condolences and – go out to the Indian people who were killed or injured in those terrorist incidents, and we continue to work with India on more effective counterterrorism efforts.
QUESTION: And finally, you meet so many Indian and Pakistani officials in India and also in Pakistan and also here at the State Department in U.S. when they visit and back and forth visits. Do you – of course you talk about these problems, but what answer do you get from the – these officials and what is the solution that —
MR TONER: Well —
QUESTION: — these activities stop in the future?
MR TONER: I think the – I’m not going to disclose what we discuss with them. Look, I think the – part of the solution is more effective coordination, and we’ve talked about this on many occasions. Pakistan and India, the United States, Afghanistan – all those countries have to work more closely together. Many of these terrorist groups operate within that environment and all of the governments in the region have to be diligent about taking the fight to these terrorist groups that may, as you said, use safe haven in one country to carry out attacks on another country. That’s part of effectively cordoning off and really choking off these terrorist groups. And we all need to do a better job at it.
QUESTION: Can I just —
QUESTION: Only the innocent peoples are the victims in both countries.
MR TONER: Sure, let – yeah. I’m sorry, I missed that.
QUESTION: Only the innocent peoples are victims of these —
MR TONER: Exactly, thank you.
QUESTION: — terrorists in both countries.
MR TONER: Let me get Arshad, and then I’ll go to you, and then I’ll go to you. I apologize.
QUESTION: Just a real quick one. As I think you should be aware, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and other have – well, let me put it this way: There is a move afoot by some human rights groups to get the United Nations to drop Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council. And in particular – and I believe it’s Human Rights Watch has alleged that the United States could be complicit for providing targeting information to the Saudis in Yemen if the Saudis are found to have committed war crimes or crimes of war. Do you have any comments on this effort to drop Saudi Arabia, whether you think they should be dropped or not? And do you have any comment on potential U.S. complicity for targeting information?
MR TONER: So we have seen those reports – or we’re aware, frankly, of the – this effort to remove Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the United States is obviously resolute in its commitment to strengthen the protection of children through the framework that was created by the council. And as we’ve said repeatedly before, we remain concerned about the effects of the conflict in Yemen on the civilians there, and especially on children. And we have worked long and hard to get a peace process up and running, and we continue to urge all sides in the conflict to protect civilians and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Specifically, because we only have observer status on the human council – or Human Rights Council, excuse me – I’d refer you to the UN for more details. I mean, we don’t have a vote.
With regard to your second question about complicity, I’m not going to speak to that other than that we work very closely, as I said, to urge all sides to show respect for civilians and to certainly not target civilians, but indeed to protect civilians and comply with international humanitarian law.
QUESTION: Even if – even though you’re an observer at the current time and not —
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: — a member, do you think it’s a good idea to boot Saudi Arabia from that august body?
MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to weigh in on a process that, again, we’re just an observer to, except to say that we want the Human Rights Council to remain an effective body and we do believe in its mission and we would hope that all members to the Human Rights Council would respect that mission.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: You say you’re just an observer. I think you’re a little more. You’re the single biggest payer of the Human Rights Council. You also took part in the election for picking the Human Rights Council, however flawed the democratic method of clean ballots and whatnot. So – and your voice still carries, I think, a little weight in the world, especially with —
MR TONER: Thank you, Brad.
QUESTION: — a number of Western group countries that are on the body. So do you really have no position on whether Saudi Arabia should be removed or not from the – and Saudi Arabia, last time I checked, was a major U.S. partner – non-NATO ally, I think.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: So —
MR TONER: Well, they are. Look, I’m just – what I was trying to – the point I was trying to make to Arshad is we’re not a voting – will not be a voting member. We’ll obviously remain active as an observer-state, and we’ll continue to work to make sure that the council lives up to its mandate. Beyond that, I’m not going to pronounce on whether Saudi Arabia should or should not be a member.
QUESTION: Hardly a ringing endorsement for a – I mean, you are providing assistance to Saudi Arabia in this conflict, are you not? And yet you’re not even willing to say that they shouldn’t suffer diplomatic repercussions as a result of this very conflict. What is that – then why are you providing them assistance in this conflict?
MR TONER: Well, again, Brad, we’ve been very clear about our involvement in Yemen, and that is geared towards – and the reasons for our involvement, our support for the GCC, led by, obviously, the Saudis, in combating the threat that it faced on its borders from the Houthis. But in every situation, in every occasion, we have also stressed the fact that all sides in that conflict need to abide by international law and avoid civilian casualties. And with respect to this movement with regard to their position in the Human Rights Council, we’re not going to comment on it. Just not.
MR TONER: Brexit.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said David Cameron has no idea how to leave the EU, quote, “And by the way, nor do most of the people who voted to do it,” end quote, followed by laughter. Isn’t it this kind of condescension that led the British voters voting the way they did? I mean, before the referendum, Brexit advocates had a bump in the polls when President Obama told the UK, “You’re going to be at the back of the queue if you go ahead with this.” Do you think more condescension is going to help change their mind?
MR TONER: So I don’t think there’s any condescension. I think everybody, including the British people and government as well as the EU authorities and the European people, or the people of the member-states of the EU – let me put it that way – everyone is looking hard now at how this process moves forward. And I think that there is a degree of examination that – at how the mechanisms and agreements and how this separation will take place. I think the Secretary was simply highlighting that this is not going to be something that happens overnight.
QUESTION: But how is it U.S. officials’ place to say what Brexit voters understand or have no idea about?
MR TONER: Again, the Secretary was speaking in an environment, the Aspen Ideas – I think you’re talking about the forum that he was at yesterday – where he was being very casual about his comments. But what he was trying to underscore was the fact that this is a complicated process, and that we need to move forward – not we, but the UK and the EU need to move forward slowly and deliberatively as they tackle it. Look, this is uncharted territory in a sense. And so there are laws and processes that exist, but I think as they move forward with this, it’s going to take some time.
But also, just to underscore, this is not the U.S. trying to inflict its viewpoint or in any way kind of shape this process. I think what we’re trying to show in the immediate aftermath of last week’s vote is our strong partnership, continued partnership with the EU, and that as well as that, our strong bilateral relationship with the UK, and the fact that no matter what happens with Brexit, those relationships will continue and abide.
QUESTION: You said Secretary Kerry was a little casual when saying that. Do you think the President saying that the UK was going to be at the end of the queue was also a little bit too casual?
MR TONER: Not at all, and I think that – and I’m not trying to say that they were – and I’m sorry if I gave that impression. Look, I mean, by “casual” I meant that they were simply sharing their viewpoints. But in the President’s case, I think he was very explicitly sending a message that how we felt about this vote. But at the same time, we recognize that this was a democratic process, and we respect that process, and we’ve said as much in the immediate aftermath of the vote.
Please, sir. A couple more.
QUESTION: May I follow up on that one? Immediately before the phrase (inaudible) our colleague found condescending —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — he – Secretary Kerry said that – and I think this is accurate from what we’ve seen from London – that David Cameron doesn’t want to immediately invoke Article 50 because he wants to get a new government in place that could negotiate the divorce proceedings, if you will. There are people in Brussels, however, and in other European capitals who’d like to get a move on with this as quickly as possible, thinking a clean break would be more – bring more stability and reassurance to the markets and to other countries. Obviously that’s a debate to be had; does the United States have a view? Obviously not a determining view, but do you have a – do you lean on one side of that argument or the other?
MR TONER: I just think that – and the Secretary spoke about this, frankly, very eloquently, I think, in his press avail with Foreign Minister Hammond the other day, and that is what I think is most important is that these discussions on the process and how this looks and how it works is done in a way that’s, as I said, calm, measured, deliberative moving forward. But frankly, this is for the EU and the UK to work out between themselves.
QUESTION: In terms of the U.S., what sort of preparations is the State Department making to protect U.S. interests in the European Union if Britain’s not going to be part of a close ally? Is there sort of a diplomatic surge surrounding Germany, which is sort of the next closest ally?
MR TONER: Well – yeah, I mean, it’s a fair question to an extent, but I would just only simply respond by saying that – I mean, Foreign Minister Steinmeier is one of Secretary Kerry’s closest confidantes and friends and partners. The U.S.-German partnership, although it’s been tested in recent years, is as strong as ever. And let’s also be clear that even if Britain does exit the European Union, it still remains one of the most capable members of NATO. So on the security front that connection remains.
So I think – I don’t want to overemphasize or overblow the impact of Brexit. I simply think it’s worth noting that our relationship with both England – or the UK, rather – and the EU are going to remain strong and vital. And as much as we can – but I don’t think it’s necessarily needed, but as much as we can be a conduit between the two, that’s also important.
QUESTION: Is there any way that the department is looking to compensate for the loss of having such a strong ally in the world’s largest trading bloc?
MR TONER: How so?
QUESTION: Well, just – the argument that the – that President Obama and others made for the UK remaining in was in many ways talking about how important it is to have an important ally also echoing sort of U.S. interests within the continent.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: So is there sort of an alternative or a sort of backup plan that the U.S. is working on to maintain its interests in the EU?
MR TONER: No, again, because I think we still have strong relationships in – within the EU, with member-states. The Secretary did say I think the other day that he’ll miss the UK voice at the table in the EU, and that’s legitimate. But again, we respect this vote, we respect the decision of the British people, and we’ll figure out a way moving forward to shore up our relations with our remaining partners within the EU as well as make sure that the U.S.-British relationship remains as vital as it’s always been.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up?
QUESTION: Wait – I’ve got a follow-up.
QUESTION: All right. I’ll wait, I’ll wait.
MR TONER: Yeah – sure.
QUESTION: Why does it make sense to put Britain at the back of the queue for trade negotiations now that it’s left Brexit? Why is that a good policy? Why does that make sense?
MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into parsing the President’s remarks before the Brexit vote. In the aftermath of the vote I think we’re looking at all aspects of this. And again, hesitating to speak on behalf of the President, I think he was simply saying that there are other existing, ongoing priorities for us, including TTIP, for example, and TPP. And I think he was simply trying to reflect those priorities when he was talking about it.
QUESTION: You want a strong Britain, correct?
MR TONER: Of course we want a strong Britain, and we want a strong —
QUESTION: You want a Britain with a healthy —
MR TONER: — trade relationship, yes.
QUESTION: — with a healthy economy?
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: With enough tax revenues to be able to pay for 2 – spend 2 percent of GDP on security?
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: So why would you do anything like neglect or favor other trade deals over one with Britain when that could hurt their economy and thereby hurt their – I mean, the United States is a huge market for British exports, so why would you put them at the back of the queue?
MR TONER: Again, I’m – in the – as we move beyond the Brexit vote, we’re looking at how to balance all of these different aspects if this separation does happen. And one of the most important is obviously trade and the stability of the markets and we’re mindful of that – of course we are. And we’re also mindful of our strong trade relationship with the UK. But I’m not in a position at this time to say we’re going to do X, Y, or Z, other than to say that we’re going to continue to work closely with Britain. We continue to encourage a strong trade relationship with Britain.
We’re also, at the same time, going to pursue TTIP with the EU because that is also an absolutely vital and significant trade relationship, the most important we have.
QUESTION: One last one from me on this.
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: The Secretary yesterday, when he was asked a question —
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: — about the back of the queue comment and a bilateral deal with the British versus a multilateral deal with – versus negotiating TTIP with the European Union —
MR TONER: Of course, yep.
QUESTION: — and he talked about how it just sort of stood to reason that if you’ve got a negotiation with 27 countries potentially – assuming the Brits leave – that that’s – and it’s a bigger market, it makes sense to focus on that. And he said, quote, “I think given what has happened, the President is going to try to do both at the same time. He knows how to multitask.”
MR TONER: Couldn’t have said it better myself.
QUESTION: The way I understood that was that the President was likely to seek to negotiate both at the same time. Is that what he meant to say?
MR TONER: So I think I’m just going to reiterate what I hopefully conveyed a few minutes ago, which is that we do have to be able to do both. We have to pursue what is already an in-process negotiation with the EU. So by its very nature, we’re further ahead in terms of negotiating TTIP with the EU than we are with negotiating any separate trade deal with the UK.
But we are completely mindful of the need to remain – or retain, rather, a robust trading relationship with the UK, and of its importance in the global marketplace.
QUESTION: Sorry, just a couple of follow-ups. Wait, let me go, just —
MR TONER: Guys, just a couple more questions. I’m really running out of time. I apologize.
QUESTION: On Brexis – on Brexit —
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: — he asked about enhancing —
MR TONER: Brexis is important to eat every morning, by the way. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. (Laughter.) I’m sorry, that was —
QUESTION: — enhancing —
MR TONER: I apologize for that.
QUESTION: — relations with other EU members.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You will not have a member of the Five Eyes in the EU anymore after Brexit. Are you considering France or Germany or anyone else for that role?
MR TONER: I don’t think any decisions have been made at this point. We obviously —
QUESTION: Are you considering? Yeah.
MR TONER: Yeah, and I don’t want to even lean into that other than to say that we – even though we don’t have a member of the Five Eyes, we do have a very strong intelligence cooperation with many members of the EU, as with – as well as with the EU writ large.
QUESTION: Right, but —
QUESTION: But when you’ve talked about Five Eyes in the past —
MR TONER: But I understand what you’re – yeah, I understand.
QUESTION: — and you’ve lauded it as such a —
MR TONER: I understand.
QUESTION: — great thing, now without that, that’s a clear loss, is it not?
QUESTION: Or was it not really meaningful the whole time?
MR TONER: No, of course it was important and – I’m just saying that I don’t have anything to announce or I – obviously, intelligence cooperation, enhancing intelligence cooperation, will remain a priority, and in the absence of Britain, we’ll of course look at how – ways we can enhance that further with other EU members.
QUESTION: One more.
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: You talked about – you cited the Secretary’s comments about calm, measured, deliberative discussions, which sounds like the diplomatic version of “slow, slow, slow,” which seems to be Britain’s position and not the EU’s position. If these talks had to be calm, deliberative – sorry, calm, measured, deliberative, how do you help the EU ensure that we don’t have a slow, drawn-out process that leads to every one of its members asking for similar or other concessions and renegotiation?
MR TONER: Sure, it’s a fair question. And this is all – let me just emphasize and underscore this is all for the EU to work out with Great Britain. These are all considerations. I think what’s important and what I was trying to convey is not necessarily slow, slow, slow, but not done in – with an excess of haste. And all I’m saying by that is – and the Secretary spoke to this the other day – as I said, he put it far better than I could – but just not do anything rashly.
QUESTION: Why is it for the EU to work out with Great Britain? Once Britain leaves —
MR TONER: Well —
QUESTION: — isn’t it for the EU to work out not – if Britain —
MR TONER: Well, of course, but —
QUESTION: — leaves the EU, it’s not for Britain to tell the EU how to negotiate its own —
MR TONER: Of course, but we’re not even there yet. We haven’t even begun that process yet with Britain leaving the EU. We have not —
QUESTION: Well —
MR TONER: That process hasn’t even —
QUESTION: So you’re saying you can’t even begin to think about how —
MR TONER: Well, of course we’re —
QUESTION: — you do it because the process hasn’t started yet, which seems to me that that’s not very helpful.
MR TONER: No. Brad, all I’m simply saying – and I’m sorry if I’m not able to covey this well – but I think that there’s a long – there is a process ahead of us that could take, frankly, months to years.
QUESTION: Well, that’s a choice. It doesn’t have to take months to years.
MR TONER: Well, I mean, there’s – again, there is a process in place – and I think this speaks to your comments – is that beyond Brexit now, both the UK Government and the EU are looking at how this process needs to be implemented.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. hope that process will never begin?
MR TONER: Not at all. What we – look, I mean, regardless of the outcome of this process, we’re going to remain close, strong partners and allies with Great Britain; we’re going to remain close, strong partners and allies with the EU. Our only interest in any of this is that through this process – this separation or whatever we want to call it – that it be done in a way that is mutually beneficial to both parties.
QUESTION: Very quick just on Saudi Arabia.
MR TONER: Yep, sure. Sorry.
QUESTION: The actual process – so Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the UN General Assembly to remove Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council. To do so requires a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly. You do have a vote in the UN General Assembly.
MR TONER: We do.
QUESTION: So do you favor Saudi Arabia’s removal in such a vote?
MR TONER: I don’t think we would talk about our vote before that happened – before the vote took place. But nice try. (Laughter.)
One last question, I apologize.
QUESTION: See how much you get off of —
QUESTION: On the Global Engagement Center that I asked about yesterday —
MR TONER: You did ask me about that and —
QUESTION: — has it expanded over the past year, and also will the center’s mission expand beyond combating terrorism?
MR TONER: I know you asked me about that. Somewhere in this big book in front of me I have it. I just can’t find it. I apologize for that. I apologize.
QUESTION: May I help you? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) stacks and we’ll all take a bit away with us. (Laughter.)
MR TONER: Let me give one last shot here and look where it might be, and if I can’t find it —
QUESTION: Can you issue it on paper?
MR TONER: Yeah, well, we probably could that.
QUESTION: Okay, great.
MR TONER: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)