Category Archives: International Relations

First Group of Two-Year Peace Corps Volunteers to Begin Service in Myanmar

D.C., May 26, 2017 – Today, Acting Peace Corps Director Sheila Crowley joined U.S.
Charge d’affaires Kristen Bauer and the Rector of East Yangon University, Dr.
Kyaw Kyaw Khaung, in Yangon, Myanmar to swear in Myanmar’s first-ever two-year
Peace Corps volunteers. After ten weeks of pre-service training, the 15 new
volunteers were sworn in at a ceremony at the Karaweik Palace before leaving
for their communities where they will teach English at local middle and high
schools. Myanmar is the 141st country to invite Peace Corps
volunteers to work and live in local communities.

“This day marks a new chapter
not just in our volunteers’ lives and careers – but also for the Peace Corps,
and for the partnership between the United States and the Republic of the Union
of Myanmar,” Acting Director Crowley said. “I thank our Myanmar partners for
their kindness, love, and warm welcome. We are honored to serve your
communities, and we look forward to working with you, side by side, shoulder to
shoulder, towards a brighter future for all our children.”

At the request of the
Government of Myanmar, Peace Corps is providing qualified American men and
women to assist Myanmar in meeting education goals while also promoting a
better understanding between the people of the United States and Myanmar. The
Peace Corps’ Myanmar program began in 2016 with a group of short-term Peace
Corps Volunteers who served in Yangon Region. Volunteers worked side by side
with Myanmar teachers of English in basic education middle and high schools.

Corps volunteers around the world work with communities to strengthen local
capacity, facilitate cultural exchanges and build relationships that last a
lifetime. The Peace Corps works closely with local governments to support their
goals and priorities such as upgrading education standards, improving the
capacities of teachers, and providing quality English language instruction to

Statement from Acting USAID Administrator Wade Warren on the Election of New WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

 Acting USAID Administrator Wade Warren makes a statement on the election of the new Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

United States Announces Additional Humanitarian Assistance in Response to Famine, Violence, and Forced Displacement

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Today the United States announced more than $329 million in additional humanitarian assistance to provide urgently needed aid to the millions of people affected by food insecurity and violence in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. This additional funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for these four crises to nearly $1.2 billion since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017.

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Margot Ellis Travels to Azerbaijan and Georgia

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Assistant Administrator Margot Ellis will travel to Baku, Azerbaijan from May 17 – May 20, 2017; and to Tbilisi, Georgia from May 20 – May 25, 2017.

Former President Jimmy Carter and Peace Corps Acting Director Sheila Crowley Present 2017 Lillian Carter Award

Lillian Carter Award Ceremony

Peace Corps Acting Director Sheila Crowley and Former President Jimmy Carter with the 2017 Lillian Carter Award winner, Leita Kaldi Davis.

ATLANTA – On Wednesday, Former President Jimmy Carter was joined by Peace Corps Acting Director Sheila Crowley and Executive Director of the Atlanta Federal Executive Board Ron Stephens to present the 2017 Lillian Carter Award in the Cecil B. Day Chapel at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The biennial ceremony recognizes an outstanding returned volunteer who served over the age of 50 and demonstrates commitment to the Peace Corps’ third goal: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

The Lillian Carter Award was established in 1986 in honor of former President Carter’s mother, who served as a health volunteer in India in 1966 at age 68.

This year, Leita Kaldi Davis, 79, of Bradenton, Florida, received the award. “Rarely does one find an opportunity to change one’s life completely, become immersed in an unknown culture, live among people who are kind, wise, and beautiful,” Davis said. “For three years, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I found ways to help my neighbors with small economic advances, health problems, or education. And they helped me to understand what human dignity really means, and how closely connected we are to the earth.”  

Leita Kaldi Davis

Born and raised near Syracuse, New York,
Leita Kaldi Davis of Bradenton, Florida, began her Peace Corps service in
Senegal at age 55 in 1993. Davis spent two years working as a small enterprise
development volunteer, eventually extending her service for a third year. As a
volunteer, she helped women in her community launch their own business of
picking and selling mussels at local markets and taught them how to refine
their bookkeeping and increase profits. In addition, she built a warehouse for
their operations with the help of a small projects loan.

From 1997 to 2002, Davis continued her
tenure with the Peace Corps by serving as an administrator of
Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti, where she cared for Peace Corps volunteers
in the field. She later returned to Senegal in both 2001 and 2005 to
volunteer at Africa Consultants International (ACI), for which she developed
annual appeals and continues to coordinate fundraising efforts. 

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Davis
pursued adult education courses in literature and music at Syracuse University,
University of Cincinnati, New York University, Tufts University, Harvard
University and Alliance Francaise in Paris. She worked as an administrative
assistant for the United Nations; a program officer at the Law and Population
Program, the International Social Studies Program, the Fletcher School of Law
and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the Harvard Institute for International
Development; a conference manager at various Florida hotels; an assistant
manager of the International Executive Club at CenTrust Bank; and the director
of the Foundlings Women’s Club in Miami Beach. After her service, Davis worked
as a substitute teacher and a lecturer at the University of South Florida’s
Lifelong Learning Academy. Davis retired in 2002.

Since completing her Peace Corps service,
Davis has devoted much of her time to promoting the agency’s mission. She has
published seven memoirs – two of which document her service overseas, “Roller
Skating in the Desert” and “In the Valley of Atibon” – and 50 other articles
and stories. In addition, she taught a course titled “Peace Corps at 50” at the
Lifelong Learning Academy. Davis has also delivered presentations about the
Peace Corps to various groups and organizations – including the U.S. National
Committee for UN Women and the American Foreign Service Association – and
facilitated discussions at major book clubs about President Carter’s book,
“Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.”

Davis has been an active member of
returned Peace Corps volunteer groups in South Florida and Gulf Coast Florida
since 1993 and 2006, respectively. She is also involved with UN Women and
collaborates with the Haitian Women of Miami (FANM) to support their community
programs for immigrants. Davis received FANM’s Marie Claire Heureuse Award in
2013 for “outstanding leadership on women’s rights, and for being an ambassador
for social justice and global peace.”  

Statement from Acting USAID Administrator Wade Warren on President Trump’s Intent to Nominate Mark Andrew Green as USAID Administrator

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s global team, we welcome President Trump’s intent to nominate Mark Andrew Green to serve as the next USAID Administrator and look forward to working with him to advance USAID’s mission. 

Statement from USAID Acting Administrator Wade Warren on USAID Humanitarian Response Team as Finalist for Service to America Medals

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I am honored to recognize that the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Middle East Crisis Humanitarian Response Team, represented by its longtime Response Manager Alex Mahoney, was chosen as a finalist for the 2017 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals for its work leading the U.S. government’s humanitarian response in Iraq and Syria

The Peace Corps Celebrates the Legacy of President John F. Kennedy on the Upcoming Centennial of His Birth

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 28, 2017 – In honor of President John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday on May 29, the Peace Corps celebrates the legacy of the president who inspired generations of Americans to serve abroad. In the fall of 1960, then-Senator Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country by helping those in need. President Kennedy’s idea led to a bold new experiment in public service and the establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961.

“I remember when JFK talked about the Peace Corps and of setting it up. I was in 5th grade. I was drawn to the possibility of serving my country,” said Paul Rodkey, 65, a current volunteer in Botswana. “As my wife and I began to make plans for retirement the idea of serving in the Peace Corps became a strong draw again.  We made the decision to apply and felt great joy when we did.”

While the Peace Corps has changed with the times over its 56-year history, the agency’s mission—to promote world peace and friendship—remains the same. The Peace Corps is committed to recruiting dedicated Americans who believe in the power of one person to make a difference. More than a half a century after its establishment, the Peace Corps demonstrates how the power of an idea can capture the imagination of an entire nation and change the lives of people in the United States and around the world for generations to come.

“I applied to Peace Corps because I knew firsthand the power of Peace Corps and how the work volunteers are doing now can help generations later. My parents are Liberian immigrants who came to the United States to pursue higher education,” said Nyassa Kollie, a current volunteer in Malawi. “They have credited their love for knowledge and learning to Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia who taught them during very formative years of their lives.”

Since 1961, more than 225,000 Americans of all ages have responded to Kennedy’s call to serve and have helped communities in 141 countries around the world. 

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – April 27, 2017

Mark C. Toner

Deputy Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

April 27, 2017

Index for Today’s Briefing

  • UK
  • DPRK
  • DPRK
  • DPRK
  • IRAN


    1:42 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Hey, everyone. Happy Thursday.

    QUESTION: Hello, Mark.

    MR TONER: Hello. A couple things at the top, actually. First of all, tomorrow, at the UN – the Secretary’s traveling there. He’s going to chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council with foreign ministers on the denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. I’ll also just try to walk you through what we know about the Secretary’s schedule as of now. He’s going to take the opportunity to have bilateral meetings with some of his counterparts. As is always the case, the Secretary’s schedule is still evolving, but I can speak to some certainty as to the meetings that he will hold on the margins.

    Prior to the Security Council meeting in the morning, Secretary Tillerson will meet with the Republic of Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. The Secretary and his counterparts – this will be a trilateral meeting – the Secretary and his counterparts will focus on our joint response to North Korea.

    At 10:00 a.m., as I noted, he will chair the Security Council ministerial session on the D.P.R.K. The Secretary and foreign ministers will discuss strengthening international resolve and actions to counter the threats that North Korea poses to international peace and security through its nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction.

    Following the Security Council session, the Secretary will host a lunch for the foreign minister members of the Security Council and the foreign minister of the Republic of Korea.

    Now, Secretary Tillerson will meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China on the margins of the UNSC special ministerial session, and that will also be focused on addressing North Korea’s continued threat to the region and other issues of bilateral and regional importance.

    The Secretary will also discuss Chinese – Chinese, excuse me – China’s unique leverage over Kim Jong-un’s regime and ask Beijing to use their influence to convince or compel North Korea to rethink its strategic calculus. Secretary Tillerson will also note that the United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and remains open to negotiations towards that goal – while remaining prepared, of course, to defend ourselves and our allies.

    Lastly, the Secretary – well, not lastly – the Secretary will then proceed to a meeting with the U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Again, in addition to North Korea, they’ll also discuss Syria, Northern Ireland, and other regional and global issues of mutual concern.

    Secretary Tillerson will also meet with the foreign minister of Kazakhstan to discuss Kazakhstan’s growing leadership in regional and global issues as well as nonproliferation. And then later in the afternoon, the Secretary will meet with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, where they’ll discuss the importance of continued strong U.S.-UN cooperation on the full range of critical international challenges.

    So that’s just an update and gives you a sense of the schedule for the Secretary tomorrow.

    I did want to note, as an important aside, I think, to this week, which has been very focused on North Korea’s continued provocative behavior in the region and the concerns over its nuclear program, but I also want to acknowledge another North Korea focus to this week, which is North Korea Freedom Week.

    North Korea Freedom Week is an annual event held to promote the freedom, human rights, and dignity of the North Korean people. And it’s organized by the North Korea Freedom Coalition, which is a nonpartisan coalition of NGOs and religious groups, and features events in DC highlighting the work of defector-led organizations and other NGOs working to shine a light on the situation of human rights in North Korea.

    For more than 60 years, the North Korean regime’s – regime has reigned with tyranny, and its human rights record is, quite frankly, among the worst in the world. The North Korean regime denies nearly all the universal freedoms, including freedom of speech, press, religion, freedom of assembly and association, and systematically commits violations that include summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention, rape and sexual violence, forced abortions, and forced infanticide. We remain gravely concerned and deeply troubled that the North Korean regime under Kim Jung-un prioritizes the advancements of its missiles and nuclear program at the expense of the well-being of its people.

    And so to commemorate this day, the United States reaffirms our commitment to the North Korean people. We’re going to continue to press for accountability for those responsible for the ongoing gross human rights violations that have taken place there, and we’re also going to continue our efforts to increase the flow of independent information into, out of, and within this isolated state.

    So a lot at the top, but one more thing. This is, believe it or not, my last briefing as deputy spokesman. It’s with mixed feelings that I reach this moment, because I’ve loved this job. Honestly, I was just telling a group of young kids who were brought in to Take Your Child to Work Day earlier today that, to me, this was the greatest honor that I could ever hope to have as a Foreign Service officer. I came out of journalism school into this gig, and I always thought this would be one of the greatest jobs to have within the Foreign Service. And I’ve enjoyed working with all of you over the years through good times and bad times and some really tough days at the podium, but I respect fundamentally with all of my heart the work that all of you do in carrying out your really important roles in our democracy, and I want you to know that.

    I’m also very, very happy that I can pass the baton, the spokesperson baton – there is one, in fact – no – (laughter) – over to such a capable person as Heather Nauert, who is getting up to speed on all these issues but will be taking the podium and carrying on the daily press briefings and acting as the department spokesperson going forward. So anyway, just appreciate all the support that you’ve given me over the years.

    Matt, over to you.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. And before I start with my policy question, I just wanted to note the lack of children in the room today on the Take Your Work to – Take Your Kids to Work Day and recall how many years ago it was when you were sitting there with —

    MR TONER: I told that story, actually. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: — with a bunch of kids in the audience and one of the main topics of the day being the antics or/ behavior of some Secret Service agents in Colombia and how delicately we danced around that topic.

    MR TONER: Indeed, indeed. As we’re doing right now. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: But that story also just – it brings to mind the fact that you have served in this position in PRS as spokesman on and off for many years. And I think on behalf of the press corps, I want to thank you for those years of service, particularly since January over the course of the last couple months when things have been, as they often are, in transitions, unsettled to say the least. And through it all, you’ve been incredibly professional and really just, I think, the model of the kind of career Foreign Service or Civil Service officer.

    So on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the public, the American public, thank you. (Applause.)

    MR TONER: Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate that. Thank you. (Applause.)

    QUESTION: Good luck. And I am sure you’ll enjoy not having to be —

    MR TONER: I’ll miss it in a couple weeks.

    QUESTION: — attacked with questions for —

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    QUESTION: May I say a word, Matt?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I want to thank you especially – I’ve known you for many, many years. I mean, I’ve attended briefings all the way back to Richard Boucher. You have been really solid and professional. I never once took your accommodating me for granted or indulging me all throughout. I really appreciate it. You have always been there for us. So Godspeed and good luck.

    MR TONER: Thank you. All right, thanks. Enough of this sentimentality. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Rank sentimentality.

    MR TONER: Yeah, there you go. Rank sentimentality.

    QUESTION: So let’s go to the most unsentimental thing you can think of, North Korea.

    MR TONER: Got it.

    QUESTION: So after the briefing – (laughter) – that the secretaries and DNI – and that DNI gave yesterday to members of Congress, numerous people who were there came away not particularly impressed with the presentation and concerned that the briefers had not expressed or had put forward a new and – strategy, a coherent policy for dealing with it.

    Can you explain, maybe in more detail than you have before, how exactly this administration’s policy is different than the previous one, other than just that you’re attaching a new priority to it?

    MR TONER: Well, so you’re talking about the closed-door briefing. I mean, and starting with that, I think it’s an important point to make, is that essentially the entire government, U.S. Government, came together yesterday to talk about North Korea and the urgency of the situation there. And that speaks volumes about the focus of this new administration.

    This is – so I have to start with the fact that there’s an urgency here that there wasn’t before, and I know I’ve said that before and that’s not new, but the fact that – and Secretary Tillerson’s spoken about this – the fact that North Korea’s carrying out tests that are clearly indicating its efforts to develop a ballistic missile technology that reaches potentially the U.S. territory, that’s a game-changer.

    QUESTION: Okay. But that’s on their side.

    MR TONER: Right. I understand. I think in terms of – but I wanted to frame it by saying that there is, I think, a new focus on the threat that North Korea poses. But I also think that this administration, certainly the Secretary, are looking at ways that we can imply – or apply, rather, increased pressure, and that this is a global effort this time. That’s always been not the sense – or not the case in the past.

    So one of the things the Secretary is going to try to build through his meetings tomorrow and in New York is a sense that the global community as a whole needs to stand up to North Korea and needs to apply pressure on North Korea. Certainly, we’ve talked a lot about China’s role, significant role in that, and that’s a key aspect of this new strategy, is putting pressure on China, convincing China that it needs to do more, but this also needs to be a global effort.

    And we saw this, frankly, with respect to putting pressure on Iran to – so it would come to the table about its nuclear program, that all of the talk about sanctions or even, indeed, sanctions implemented or, rather, all the talk about sanctions in the world isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s only when those sanctions are actually implemented, pressure is applied consistently.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, that sounds, then, as though the administration is going to take an approach very similar to the one that the Obama administration took with Iran in terms of sanctions, in terms of secondary sanctions, building them up.

    MR TONER: We talked —

    QUESTION: This administration has come out and said it thinks that the result of that – those – that pressure and the negotiations that followed failed, the result being the nuclear deal. So I’m not quite sure I —

    MR TONER: Sure. It’s also —

    QUESTION: Is what this administration is proposing to do something similar to what the last one did with Iran, but this one – but this in terms of North Korea, but the confusing —

    MR TONER: Well, my comparison to Iran was simply to make the case that it took a very significant effort, and a unified effort, to put the pressure necessary, and that’s what I’m talking about with respect to North Korea, that this Secretary, this administration, wants to make this a global effort and really apply global pressure on North Korea. And we talked about the ways that that can be done, and that’s – the pressure points are economic, diplomatic, and military. And that’s going to – and they’re looking at all of those. They’re looking at implementing fully the sanctions that are in place, but also possibly new sanctions, and there are ways to approach that as well.

    QUESTION: All right. I’ll stop after this.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: So the idea of this strategy, whether or not it’s new or not I guess is arguable, but —

    MR TONER: Well —

    QUESTION: — the idea is to bring them, to force them, to push them to come back to the negotiating table for a diplomatic resolution —

    MR TONER: Exact – look, I mean —

    QUESTION: — and this administration is going to handle those negotiations, if and when they happen, in a way that is markedly different than the last administration handled the Iran deal negotiations? Is that the idea?

    MR TONER: Well, look, what we want to see – what we want to see with North Korea is – I mean, of course, I don’t want to – we’re not even anywhere near them coming back to the negotiating table.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: But you’re absolutely right, in the sense that we want a peaceful outcome here. What we want is a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s the goal here. There’s nothing – all the talk about regime change, all of that —

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: — that’s not on the table here. But —

    QUESTION: All right. I really will stop after this.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: So the Iran model is for the sanctions and not for the – not for the intended negotiations?

    MR TONER: Yeah. What my – all I’m doing is using that as a comparison of a way to apply comprehensive pressure.

    Yeah. Please.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    QUESTION: So I have a couple of —

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Lesley, and I’ll get to you in a second.

    QUESTION: Yeah, just what do you expect – what – I mean, sure, you’ve been giving the same message to China day after day, week after week. What do you expect the message tomorrow is going to be in the bilateral with Wang Yi?

    MR TONER: Well, I think that – I mean, this is – there’s not going to be a markedly different message here. We’ve been working from literally almost day one with the Chinese, making clear to them our concerns about North Korea and the fact that we need to see them do more. And we talked about this yesterday – not in the coming years, not in – we need to see concrete action taken over the course of the short term, because this threat is only getting – is only increasing. And so we’ve already had productive discussions with China about possible steps and applying pressure, and those are going to continue tomorrow. But I think – and we talked a little bit about the optics yesterday, but tomorrow is going to send a clear message to North Korea that its behavior, its actions, are only isolating it further and further from the rest of the world.

    QUESTION: Are you going to be outlining a strategy for possible next measures that the U.S. could seek from the Security Council?

    MR TONER: I think that’s always going to be a part of – yeah. I mean, yes, I would say that – I mean, I can’t predict that anything concrete will come out of tomorrow’s session, but of course they’ll be talking about possible next steps.

    QUESTION: And can I just also say – actually, I was going to start – I’m sorry to see you go.

    MR TONER: Thanks, Lesley.

    QUESTION: From Reuters, we —

    MR TONER: Very sweet. Thank you.

    QUESTION: — we’ve always enjoyed dealing with you, and thank you for taking us seriously.

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And most importantly, we think – thought that you acted very honorably in the last few months and —

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    QUESTION: — thank you very much.

    MR TONER: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

    QUESTION: I have one logistical thing. Since you’re the – since you got – this might be a question better asked up in New York, though.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Since you guys are the president of the Security Council, have you invited the North Korean ambassador to this meeting tomorrow?

    MR TONER: I do not know the answer to that. It’s a Security Council meeting.

    QUESTION: But normally when the Security Council meeting is about a particular country that’s not on the council —

    MR TONER: Yeah, I do not believe —

    QUESTION: — their person is allowed to – or is invited.

    MR TONER: I do not believe that’s the case. It’s a fair question. I’ll take it.

    QUESTION: All right. Thanks.

    QUESTION: Mark. Mark.

    MR TONER: Please, Michele.

    QUESTION: The Obama administration had this exact same message to China over the last at least year and a half, after various tests and provocations. So where do you think the difference is in China not over this amount of time seeing the urgency in quite the same way as the United States? Is it just trade based? Or what do you think they’re waiting for? Are they waiting for another nuclear test? Are they waiting for some bigger provocation? Or do they think that North Korea might move toward diplomacy? Can you kind of explain —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — how the administration sees China’s view?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, what we’ve said all along in – is that China, obviously, as a neighbor of North Korea, has a unique relationship with North Korea, and frankly, has tremendous economic leverage on North Korea. That said, we have seen China reluctant to fully implement existing UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea for a variety of reasons. And I don’t necessarily want to give that analysis from the podium. That’s really for them to speak to. But obviously they’re concerned because this is a neighbor; this is a country on their border, and that can have significant impact on the – on their own security.

    That said, what I think is significant from the last administration to this administration is North Korea has upped the ante, has increased its pace of missile testing, ballistic missile testing, nuclear testing, with the clear intent of pursuing either greater reach for its nuclear weapons or more nuclear weapons. And that’s, frankly, as I said before, a game changer that we need to address and we need to address with a sense of urgency that necessarily wasn’t there six months ago. And so that’s why there has been, frankly – I don’t want to say a single-minded, but a very clear focus of this administration on addressing the threat of North Korea. And I said this week speaks to that focus, given Monday’s meeting at the White House with the Security Council, given yesterday’s hearings, and given tomorrow’s meetings with Secretary Tillerson.

    So there’s a clear focus here. I’m not saying we have all – necessarily all the pieces in place now, but we’re certainly looking to formulate a clear strategy that applies, as I said, uniform, global pressure on North Korea to address the international community’s concerns.


    QUESTION: Is it safe to say, though, that given the way China has approached this, even though you have had some encouragement, is the word we use a lot, that they don’t see the threat being as urgent as the United States does even though it’s on their border?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think – while I’m hesitant to speak on behalf of the Chinese, I think there’s other concerns about – that internal upheaval within North Korea could impact China negatively. That said, having a rogue nation like North Korea continue to pursue nuclear weapons is having tremendous upheaval in the region, and potentially with far-reaching effects that affect the national security of the United States. So I guess our message to China is one that the time for strategic patience, for waiting North Korea out, for trying to gently nudge it back into talks has passed.

    QUESTION: Okay. Could I just ask one quick logistical question —

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: — and then I’ll be quiet. But I was told by a senior administration official that the White House has submitted multiple names for basically every single open position at the State Department that is at a —

    MR TONER: So personnel. Okay, sorry, we’re switching. Okay. That’s okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah, sorry.

    MR TONER: That’s okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Is that all right? Okay.

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: So they’ve submitted all of these names and multiple choices and suggestions, but that it’s the State Department that is going slowly in acting on any of those suggestions, either vetting them, or deciding, or saying yes or no. So can you tell me why that is?

    MR TONER: Well, look, I guess I would start with questioning the question, the premise of the question, and that is there’s – first of all, in every key State Department position, there are acting officials, many of them with a vast amount of experience, career diplomats who bring, as I said, tremendous professional – professionalism and professional experience to the jobs. So the idea that there are somehow empty chairs or empty desks at the State Department is just categorically false.

    With respect to personnel and filling those positions, we are at work. We’re vetting people. It’s a process. It takes time, but this Secretary has been working to fill those slots. And as I said, it is a process, and one that requires the consent and advice of the Senate. But to suggest that we’re not moving on this is simply inaccurate.

    QUESTION: Is there a reason why it seems to maybe be taking longer than the White House expected it to take?

    MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I mean, it’s always – look, it’s always – and you know this from having worked in this town. I mean, it always, with any transition, takes some time. Anyway, I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Mark.

    QUESTION: Mark, on North Korea, with this renewed sense or – sense of urgency on the issue, you said you want to see progress over the short term. What is progress? What is short-term? And how long is the United States willing to wait before it moves beyond this approach?

    MR TONER: On your last question, I’m just not going to answer that because I’m not going to give some kind of timeline as to when we may take further action or unilateral action.

    With respect to your previous questions, I mean look, ideally it would be North Korea coming forward and saying we want to deal proactively with our nuclear program, discuss denuclearization. We realize that that’s probably not in the immediate offing. What I think we’re looking in the near term is significant actions both by the global community, if I could use that term, but also significant – or specifically by China to put pressure on the regime. And we’ve talked about the different ways that can be done, but most significantly that’s economic pressure. This is not – and this isn’t —

    QUESTION: Is that months? Is this —

    MR TONER: I think we’re looking over the next – the coming months, yes. I think that’s accurate.

    QUESTION: And also just on the policy of denuclearization, it’s been consistent from the United States, but just a question of – Secretary Tillerson was asked in Korea whether that also meant the United States ruling out whether the Republic of Korea or Japan would ever, for its defensive purposes, obtain nuclear weapon capability. And he said everything is on the table. Is that still the case?

    MR TONER: Well, certainly the Secretary’s words stand, but I would also add that our goal, as I just said, is a peaceful resolution and a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And that remains our goal. How we get there is, we think, through applying consistent pressure, isolating North Korea, and forcing it to answer – come clean about its program and answer to the international community’s concerns. So we’re not there yet.

    QUESTION: I have some Turkey questions, but I guess you’ll return to that?

    MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, I’ll come back to that. Please, Nick.

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    MR TONER: North Korea or —

    QUESTION: North Korea, yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah, North Korea to follow up on something that the Secretary said in Seoul. He was asked about the possibility of negotiations, and he said they can only be achieved by denuclearizing —

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: — giving up their weapons of mass destruction. Today, in your remarks, you said the U.S. remains open to negotiations full stop.

    MR TONER: And by that I meant – look, I mean, we’ve always said this, and forgive me if I didn’t add that. But we’ve always said that the only way back to the table is if North Korea is willing to talk about denuclearization, significantly taking steps to denuclearize, and I think that’s what the Secretary is making clear. We’re all for negotiations, but it has to be clear; the intent has to be clear. We’re not looking for, as we’ve said previously, talk for talk’s sake.

    QUESTION: And, I mean, because the impression is that there is a shift in tone here. I mean, he was very tough in Tokyo and Seoul describing the threat —

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: — as imminent, and then —

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: — describing the route to negotiations in this way. And then yesterday’s statement was much more restrained. Your remarks today also seem more restrained. Is there a shift in tone in the U.S. position?

    MR TONER: I don’t think so. I think what’s – look, the key element to this, as I said, is that North Korea has to be willing, if it’s going to return to the negotiating table, willing to discuss steps it can take to denuclearize. We don’t want, frankly, more time-wasting talks that don’t end in any concrete steps.


    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MR TONER: In the back, Janne.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Do you have a schedule to three-party foreign minister talks?

    MR TONER: Yes, I think I had mentioned that at the top. I don’t know if you were here.

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, (inaudible).

    MR TONER: You’re talking about with South Korea and with Japan?

    QUESTION: South Korea, Japan, and —

    MR TONER: Yeah, there is going to be a trilateral tomorrow on the margins of the meetings in New York.

    QUESTION: Okay, one more on – currently, there is no diplomatic relationship between U.S. and North Korea. So you said that the United States pressure to North Korea with strongly economically and diplomatically, but the mostly economical pressure right now. What is the specifically, what diplomatic action you taking?

    MR TONER: I mean, what we’ve talked about, and I don’t want to go too far into this, but talking about working with other international organizations. And granted North Korea’s presence on the international stage is somewhat limited to begin with, but talking about steps that the international community can take to further isolate North Korea, look at its membership in international organizations – multilateral organizations – but also, for countries where there is a diplomatic presence, to look at the value of that diplomatic presence and whether North Korea merits it.

    QUESTION: Does it —

    QUESTION: Mark – Mark —

    MR TONER: Let’s go ahead – let’s —

    QUESTION: On North Korea?

    MR TONER: One more on North Korea and then I’ve got to move around, because I do have to leave.

    QUESTION: Does the United —

    MR TONER: I’ll go to you next, I promise.

    QUESTION: Very quickly, does the United States sense any departure of China’s position in terms of the negotiation modality?

    MR TONER: Sure, yeah.

    QUESTION: The reason I ask is because the proposed three-party talk and then five-party talk is actually without the participation of North Korea. Given that they do not insist the regime from Pyongyang need to be on the table, is that a departure of their position?

    MR TONER: Given that – what was your last —

    QUESTION: Given – well, it used to be that China would insist that the North Korea delegation need to be on the negotiation table for them to restart a talk, and – but now this three-party talk and five-party talk is without the attendance or participation from North Korea.

    MR TONER: No, these are – yeah, and these are mechanisms intended to —

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: Again, these would not necessarily include North Korea because these are, frankly, efforts to coordinate regional approach to the problem of North Korea. So North Korea wouldn’t necessarily be – wouldn’t in any way be a part of these discussions.

    With respect to China, I think the President has spoken to the fact that he’s seen, at least in his conversations with President Xi, a more – at least a willingness to look at a more constructive approach.


    QUESTION: Can we ask on Syria?

    QUESTION: I’m asking, do you sense there – if there is a departure of their position regarding the new negotiation mechanism?

    MR TONER: Ah. I’d have to refer you to them for that. Sorry.


    QUESTION: I can go to Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yes. Early this morning, the Israelis struck a position close to the Damascus International Airport. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And there was apparently a drone that was shot down by the Israelis over the Golan Heights, so – and then I have a follow-up on this question.

    MR TONER: Sure. With respect to the strikes, Israeli strikes, I’d have to refer you to the Israelis on the reported strikes. As you know, Hizballah is a foreign terrorist organization whose forces have helped enable the regime – the Syrian regime – to perpetuate its brutality against the Syrian people and also to incite instability in the region. I would say that by carrying out these – its activities in Syria, Hizballah is violating its commitment to the Baabda Declaration, as well as the Lebanese disassociation policy from the Syrian conflict.

    QUESTION: But you know Hizballah is positioned in Lebanon, in south Lebanon. They struck Syria. So what is —

    MR TONER: Again, I’d have to refer you to the Israelis to speak on the —

    QUESTION: Okay. Are you concerned that this may be —

    MR TONER: — intent of their strikes.

    QUESTION: — exacerbating the situation, with so many people involved in conflict and war and so on? And every day brings in one more entity that —

    MR TONER: I mean, this isn’t – look, I mean, again, Israel has its own security concerns, and legitimate security concerns, so in no way, shape, or form would I suggest that this is only complicating the situation. I think they’re justified in taking actions when they see a specific security threat.

    QUESTION: Mark, are you saying that you know that whatever it was that got hit at the Damascus airport was a Hizballah target?

    MR TONER: I’m conjecturing.

    QUESTION: Conjecturing?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Because you seem to – I mean, as far as I know, the Israelis haven’t commented about this, and the Syrians —

    MR TONER: That’s why I’m referring you to them.

    QUESTION: — Syrians haven’t said specifically if it was, so do you know that it was?

    MR TONER: No. I’m conjecturing.

    QUESTION: No? Okay.

    QUESTION: Just —

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: Could – let me do a follow-up. Also, the Russians seems to have reduced their air force capability in Syria by half. They reduced it by half. Do you have any comment on that? Is that an indication to you that the Russians may be scaling back their involvement in Syria —

    MR TONER: We’d welcome that.

    QUESTION: — maybe scaling back their support to Assad? I know you said you —

    MR TONER: I haven’t seen – honestly, I haven’t seen the numbers or the – we’d – it’s something we’d have to look at. We’ve seen before where President Putin has said they’re scaling back and indeed they’re not.

    QUESTION: So —

    MR TONER: So it’s hard to say at this point. I don’t think we’ve got an assessment that they’re significantly scaling back. I’d have to look into it.

    QUESTION: Could this, in your view, be like a rotation of forces or not a real reduction?

    MR TONER: Again, I think we have to wait and see with respect to Russia. They’ve said things in the past about scaling back their presence in Syria, only to find out that they’re moving pieces around the chessboard and not really significantly changing their force posture.

    QUESTION: Syria. Syria.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Mark, yesterday you clearly talked about the Turkish airstrikes and that you are concerned, and then later you said that Turkey should not and cannot carry out airstrikes without proper coordination with the coalition. So it seems that they don’t do the airstrikes, but they do the ground attacks. It happened yesterday and this morning also in certain places, northern Syria.

    As a result of that, the Kurds in Syria, they are asking for a no-fly zone and the leader of the PYD, the Kurdish major political party there, Salih Muslim, he said if the United States continue to silent and not doing anything, we will halt the operation toward liberating Raqqa.

    MR TONER: All I’m going to say on that, in addition to what I’ve said over the past couple days, is we’ve made very clear to the Turkish Government at very high levels our deep concern about the actions that they took the other day. Not only were they not fully coordinated – or not coordinated within the coalition, but they put, frankly, U.S. soldiers at risk who were operating in that area, but also resulted in the deaths of, for example, Iraqi Peshmerga, who were fighting on the ground.

    We’re going to continue to press the case with Turkey going forward that all of the forces fighting ISIS in that region need to focus on the goal of fighting ISIS. And we understand Turkey’s concerns about YPG; we disagree, but we’re making very clear to them that they need to fully coordinate with us and other coalition members going forward. I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: Yeah, just one quick follow-up on that. Couple times you mentioned the – or that the Peshmerga were killed in Iraq as a result of the Turkish airstrike, but 20 YPG members were killed also in Syria.

    MR TONER: Correct, correct.

    QUESTION: But this has not been mentioned. Okay, what level —

    MR TONER: I wasn’t intentionally leaving them off. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Okay, so what – at what level you’ve talked to the Turks? At the level of the Secretary of State or – who talked to them, what level? Just embassy to embassy, what was the level of talks?

    MR TONER: Higher than that. I’m not going to get into details.


    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Real quick on Turkey. Do you know if the Secretary is planning to meet with President Erdogan next month when he visits the United States or if the President will?

    MR TONER: I don’t. That’s – it has to be – I’m sorry, you said the Secretary? I apologize, I heard, “the President.”

    QUESTION: The Secretary. I mean, I know the President is probably a question for the White House, but is the Secretary planning —

    MR TONER: Yeah, yeah. I can’t – I just don’t have the details yet that far ahead.

    QUESTION: And at – does the United States plan to follow up on any concerns following the Turkish referendum earlier this month?

    MR TONER: I mean, I think that’s part of an ongoing discussion that we’re having with Turkey – part of our bilateral relationship. We’re constantly talking about these kinds of issues, especially in the wake of the coup attempt last summer, that there were – while there was justification for the Turkish Government to crack down on the potential – or the – and seek out the coup plotters, it was also a question of whether they were overreaching and that that was having an effect on or – yeah, if it was having an effect on the – Turkey’s democracy, and that’s an ongoing discussion. We’re going to continue to raise our concerns on an ongoing basis with Turkey about the quality of its democracy.

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    QUESTION: And with jailed journalists and with jailed political opponents?

    MR TONER: Yeah, all of that, yes, I agree. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Aren’t we understating what Turkey did in striking the YPG on Tuesday morning? That was an attack on the YPG headquarters of the – their command, was an assassination attempt. And they can’t possibly give the U.S. detailed information about that in advance because, of course, the U.S. is going to do something about it; either stop it or warn the YPG. So how could we expect Turkey, if that’s the intent, to inform the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, look, I’m not going to speak to Turkey’s intent, but this is an extremely complex battle space. There are multiple operators, not just Turkish and Kurdish Forces on the ground there. As I said, the lack of coordination put even U.S. soldiers at risk, so first of all, there’s that coordination piece, and lack of coordination, and lack of sufficient notification that they were going to carry out these strikes. We’ve made that clear. We understand, as I said, Turkey’s perspective on this is different from ours, but that’s not going to make us shy away from saying that these kinds of attacks and the ways and approaches to the attack were – are unacceptable if you’re going to operate within a coalition.

    QUESTION: Okay. I guess I’d try to suggest it’s more a political problem than a technical problem, but let me move on.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure. Okay. I have time for maybe one or two questions.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: To the PKK – does it have foreign support or state – is the PKK a state-supported organization? There are reports – many reports that Iran, for example, is supporting the PKK.

    MR TONER: I don’t have any information to provide on that. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Mark, on Iran, will the Secretary be discussing —

    MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. Okay. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Will the Secretary be discussing Iran at all in New York and also over the next week?

    MR TONER: I can’t rule out that it won’t come up in some of his bilaterals. I don’t think it’s going to be – clearly, it’s not going to be a focus of the UN Security Council meeting. But whether it comes up in his separate bilats – I wouldn’t rule it out.

    QUESTION: Can you say – tell us if over the next three and a half weeks, during the election campaign up to the presidential election, will the administration be changing its public posture in any way, not discussing it too much, so as not to have an impact on the elections?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, obviously this is a domestic political process within Iran. I would say that —

    QUESTION: Come on, Mark. Go out on a limb. It’s your last day. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: I got to get my bearings again. No, I would just say there is a comprehensive review, as we all know, underway now. And until that review is completed, until we have a direction, a clear direction, on where we want to go with Iran, we’re going to continue on the path that we’ve been, which is making sure that they adhere to the nuclear agreement commitments that they’ve made.

    But I think going forward, once this review is completed, you could see a change in direction. I think this administration is concerned that Iran is – as I said, its bad behavior in the region has not changed, even though we have the nuclear agreement in place. And so we need to look at ways that we can limit the influence of Iran in the region and limit the influence of its bad behavior.

    QUESTION: Mark.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Let me just get on to Venezuela. Overnight —

    MR TONER: Yes. Yes, thank you.

    QUESTION: Overnight, the foreign minister said they would – Venezuela’s going to withdraw from the OAS. The OAS has been a mechanism in which the U.S. has had influence, some influence, over the Maduro government, or at least it can say what it wants. Is this a concern? Do you believe this is – the U.S. until now – well, has always said that it doesn’t want the – Venezuela to leave the OAS. So how much of a concern is this? And do you know if that letter actually has been delivered?

    MR TONER: I don’t know about the letter’s delivery. What I can say though – and I’m speaking procedurally or from a process viewpoint – is that the foreign minister’s statement yesterday has no real practical or immediate effect, because withdrawing from the OAS I think requires up to two years in terms of process. In this case, I think it would conclude after President Maduro’s term would expire, and thus a decision could only be made final by his successor. In the meantime, Venezuela would remain a full member of the OAS and required to fulfill all of its obligations as a member-state. And that begins with, obviously, respect for democratic norms and practices.

    QUESTION: But does this move concern you? I mean, this has been one way that the region has been able to extend a message to the Maduro government.

    MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to – I guess my point is, yes, it does concern us, because we believe that the OAS as a body can have, we believe, a constructive influence on Venezuela, on Maduro, on the Venezuelan Government, in urging it to respect its own constitution and fulfill its democratic commitments to its people. That includes free elections, respect for the independence of the national assembly, and freedom of all – for all of the Venezuelan political prisoners. But that said, this is not something that’s going to happen overnight. So we still believe that influence can be applied.

    QUESTION: Do you – just for the record —

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: — has this – has the Secretary or anyone other as a State Department official been in touch with the government of Maduro in the last – certainly since the last violence has flared?

    MR TONER: Yes, but I’m not sure at what level, so I’ll have to take that question.

    QUESTION: Mark —

    MR TONER: Guys, two more questions.

    QUESTION: So wait, wait. I just want to —

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: — make sure I understand what the U.S. position on Vexit is here. Is it – are you calling on them to – are you calling on – do you want the foreign minister to rescind his comments? Would you like the government not to follow up on them with a formal Vexit letter to the OAS?

    MR TONER: You love that Vexit.

    QUESTION: I just came up with it. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: I know. You’re proud of yourself

    QUESTION: Thirty seconds ago.

    MR TONER: I guess – look, I mean, I guess the overarching point to make here is that it doesn’t change the reality. They’re still – they can’t – even – it’s going to take two years for them to walk out. That’s going to extend past Maduro’s term anyway. It’s going to be a —

    QUESTION: Right, but not beyond —

    MR TONER: — decision for his successors to make. That said, of course we want to see them remain in the OAS.

    QUESTION: Okay. So you would like them —

    MR TONER: But only if they’re – but only if they comply to the OAS standards.

    QUESTION: So if they don’t comply to OAS standards but stay in the OAS —

    MR TONER: That’s a problem.

    QUESTION: — then you don’t – but then you wouldn’t have an issue. It would be more like don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Is that right?

    MR TONER: I think —

    QUESTION: You only want them to stay if they’re going to do what —

    MR TONER: If they’re going to comply – yeah, exactly.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: Meet the standards.

    QUESTION: Mark, really quick.

    MR TONER: Really quickly.

    QUESTION: There’s only one question that only you can answer. My question can get answered by email today. When was your best or the worst day from that podium?

    MR TONER: Wow. (Laughter.) That is a really loaded question, actually. I’m glad no one else asked me that, but – next question. Look, there have been very difficult days here, and Matt remembers – a few others do – when I came into this job, I can remember – I mean, it was when the Arab Spring was first coming into fruition. We had an earthquake in Japan that was threatening to become a nuclear meltdown. The world was in crisis. It remains in crisis, and that’s just a reality of the world we live in today. There’s all kinds of difficult issues that we deal with.

    I think that there’s always going to be the desire for, as we say, do-overs, and I’m not going to speak to any specific issue. But I can always say that the people in this building, including the Secretary and on down, are always trying. They’re out there, engaged and trying to make the world a better place, and that’s a point of pride.

    So please, last question.

    QUESTION: Very quick on Palestine-Israel.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: The Israeli press —

    MR TONER: How fitting that I end on that. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Exactly. Yeah. The Israeli press is claiming that the President will make a visit on the 22nd of May. We don’t whether it happens or not, but as a prelude to the – such a visit, if it occurs, will the Secretary go there on a visit? Or even independent of that, would he go anytime soon or does he plan to go anytime soon to the region?

    MR TONER: It’s kind of an odd way to end my time at the podium, but I have nothing to announce on that. (Laughter.) All right, guys. Take care, man. Thank you guys so much.

    MS STEVENSON: Wait, wait. Before Mark goes – so my name is Susan Stevenson. I’m the acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Public Affairs. Some of you when we had his farewell saw me do this, but I’m going to do it again at the podium. So I’m going to give Mark a mock-up of a portrait – his official portrait – that I’m pleased to say is going to hang in the second floor corridor, because Mark Toner has been at this podium for almost five years.

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    MS STEVENSON: He will be only the second acting spokesperson to have his portrait.

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    MS STEVENSON: So thank you for everything. (Applause.)

    MR TONER: Thanks so much. I’ll turn this to the side, but thanks. Thank you, everybody, and I’m going to run out.

    QUESTION: What a long, strange trip it’s been.

    MR TONER: Take care. I was going to quote that, but it’s too easy. Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:30 p.m.)

    DPB # 25


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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – April 26, 2017

Mark C. Toner

Deputy Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

April 26, 2017

Index for Today’s Briefing

  • IRAN


    1:46 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the State Department.

    QUESTION: Happy Wednesday.

    MR TONER: Happy Wednesday, indeed. Sorry, a little late.

    Just one thing to mention at the top. The Department is deeply saddened to announce the death of Charles Peacock earlier this month. Charlie Peacock, as he’s known, joined the Foreign Service in 1981, and over a 26-year career served in a range of overseas positions in Montevideo, Managua, The Hague, London, Buenos Aires, as well as domestic positions in the Bureaus of Intelligence and Research, European and Eurasian Affairs, Western Hemisphere Affairs, and the Board of Examiners.

    But he’s mostly known to many generations of Foreign Service officers from his time as the deputy director of the A-100 course – and rather, the deputy director and A-100 course coordinator at the Foreign Service Institute. And for those of you who may not be aware, A-100 is the orientation course that every new Foreign Service officer undergoes when he or she comes into the Foreign Service. This is where he mentored and had a positive impact on the careers of well over 1,500 new U.S. diplomats – a generation, if you will. And that includes our very own Mark Stroh over here.

    Colleagues around the world have been sharing messages highlighting Charlie’s many notable quotes, including his daily reminder to the young Foreign Service officers, or the new Foreign Service officers he mentored, that: “It’s another damn fine day to serve your country.” And that speaks volumes about his commitment to public service. He will be missed.

    That’s all I have. Matt.

    QUESTION: Right. So I have a couple things – I want to tie up some loose ends from yesterday.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Hopefully – and hopefully forever end them. (Laughter.) I don’t know if we will or not.

    MR TONER: Well, that’s ominous.

    QUESTION: The first is – well, they’re both —

    MR TONER: Sure, go ahead. I’m just —

    QUESTION: — questions that I asked you yesterday.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: The first one is about – on General Flynn —

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: — and whatever the State Department provided to the Hill about his – whether he needed Secretary Kerry’s permission to go to —

    MR TONER: Yeah. So here’s what we’ve been able to dig up on this. So this is a matter that involves a retired member of the uniformed services who’s never worked for the State Department. So we’re going to refer you to the Department of Defense for further comment as to whether – what clearances he may or may not have needed. I would only add that – and we’re not going to talk about in any great detail this specific case.

    QUESTION: Not —

    MR TONER: The only – sorry – just the only way it relates possibly to the State Department – and we’re still looking at this – is there is a law regarding employment of reserves and retired members by foreign governments, and that basically says that Congress has consented to retired members of uniform services and reservists accepting compensated civil employment from a foreign government if they obtain advance approval from both the service and the secretary of state. But we’re not going to be in a position to comment publicly on the details of this case.

    QUESTION: Well, would that have applied?

    MR TONER: Again, we’re —

    QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to understand what —

    MR TONER: We’re looking at that. I understand your question.

    QUESTION: — Congressman Chaffetz was talking about. I mean —

    MR TONER: It’s unclear. We’re still looking at whether this applies in this instance.

    QUESTION: Well, did you guys provide any documentation or look for and were unable to find any correspondence between General Flynn or his office and this building or the secretary at the time?

    MR TONER: Again, I just don’t want to get into detail about this specific case because of privacy considerations. I can tell you we —

    QUESTION: Well, you should’ve told Congressman Chaffetz about that and maybe also the ranking member.

    MR TONER: I mean, they’re members of Congress; they can speak their minds and are freely able to do so. But —

    QUESTION: Well —

    MR TONER: All I’m saying, Matt, is —

    QUESTION: So you don’t – you can’t —

    MR TONER: I’m saying that that is possibly an applicable law to this or cases like it.

    QUESTION: Possibly. Well, did it or not?

    MR TONER: But I don’t know. We’re looking into it.

    QUESTION: Oh, okay.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, once you find out whether it did apply or does still – would still apply —

    MR TONER: We’ll let you know. We’ll —

    QUESTION: — can you say – give an answer?

    MR TONER: We will try to confirm this.

    QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing is on the – just on the IIP, the Mar-a-Lago thing.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Were you able to find any precedent for —

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: — previous – even —

    MR TONER: Not specifically on landmarks. Not – no. And that’s partly due to the fact that this particular Share America site’s —

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: — only been running – up and running for two years.

    QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. But in any other State Department platform, or did you look at – I mean, I don’t know, brochures put out USIA?

    MR TONER: I believe there was a – an article in George W. Bush’s administration about his —

    QUESTION: Crawford.

    MR TONER: — place at Crawford. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then just the last one on that: Do you have any response to this complaint, this ethics complaint that was filed by – I don’t think you were asked about this yesterday, but it was filed yesterday – by Common Cause?

    MR TONER: I – we are aware of the letter, obviously. The article in question I just would say is – was meant to provide historical information and context relevant to the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and was not intended to endorse or promote any private enterprise. That’s what we’ve conveyed to Common Cause as well.

    QUESTION: You’ve replied to them to that effect?

    MR TONER: I believe so.

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Then I do want to get into some policy substance. Can you shed any light on what the Secretary’s role in today’s briefings, this afternoon’s briefings later on, are going to be? Presumably he’s going to be talking about the diplomatic side of things, the options and what you can do to move forward and achieve your desired result. But can you be any more specific?

    MR TONER: I don’t. What I can say is there will be a statement issued after today’s hearings, but – and I don’t want to get ahead of the – obviously, of what he and others will say during these hearings. I think – but we have talked that this has been a North Korea-intensive week, and I think what the Secretary as well as the others who are participating in these hearings will – will just attempt to frame how we’ve gotten to this point that we’re looking at this shift in our policy, that there’s an urgency here that there necessarily wasn’t a year or so ago, and basically laying out the rationale behind our increasing concern over North Korea’s behavior, and I think looking at efforts – and we talked a little bit about this, or I talked a little bit about it yesterday – efforts to apply pressure across a number of fronts – that includes diplomatic, it includes economic; it will or could include military as well – in order to force Pyongyang or convince Pyongyang to negotiate.

    QUESTION: Not force?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    MR TONER: Corrected myself.

    QUESTION: Just staying on the same line, is there any discussion in today’s meeting regarding the initial North Korea review, strategy review, that this administration set about at the beginning? We understand that the – that this review is completed and that the Secretary is going to be outlining the outcome during those meetings. Is that true, and what do you know about it?

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t have anything to announce with regard to any new, necessarily, or the end of a – of the policy review or any kind of new policy initiatives, other than the fact that, as has been clear from the very beginnings of this administration, that North Korea is a particular focus with, I think, the understanding that the status quo was unsustainable, and that’s why we’re moving beyond this strategy of strategic patience and more towards, frankly, as I said, this – looking at ways across multiple fronts that we can apply pressure on North Korea, on the regime.

    Again, I’m not going to get ahead of what he may say. I think it’s important to put this in context that he’s trying to frame how we’ve gotten to this point to members of Congress, both the Senate and the House. And again, he’ll be joined by his colleagues from the Department of Defense and DNI as well. And I think the effort here, as I said, is really trying to explain to members of Congress what this administration – or why this administration is so seized with North Korea. I think they understand that, frankly, but to really lay out the case for why there’s a sense of urgency here.

    QUESTION: Is it perhaps to – I mean, everybody is pretty clear how everyone got to this situation and how urgent it is. The question now is the way forward. And that’s why I asked about the strategy. So – and what isn’t clear is what is the way forward from here. So what does the Secretary take to New York on Friday and clarify to allies and everybody else how they meant to act and move forward?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think – so today, obviously, is an in-depth brief to Congress in an effort to answer Congress’s questions about the policy going forward. I don’t want to get ahead of that, to be perfectly frank. As I said, there will very likely be a statement issued after —

    QUESTION: By who?

    MR TONER: — the hearings today.

    QUESTION: The White House?

    MR TONER: The White House or the State Department or some collective, because it’s obviously other international – or other federal agencies beyond the State Department. I’m not sure.

    QUESTION: So how – the way it’s – oh, I’m sorry.

    MR TONER: That’s okay. Sorry, just to get back to you very quickly. With respect to Friday, that is obviously geared towards speaking to other members of the Security Council frankly about our conviction that we need to apply greater pressure on North Korea to get it to comply to international concerns. There are a number of options, and I feel like a broken record on this, but one of them is sanctions, but there are other pressure points – isolation, diplomatic isolation being another one. But I think this is in some ways an effort to both inform – and these are conversations he’s already been having with many of his counterparts, but to inform the Security Council and to rally the Security Council around this issue.

    QUESTION: Well, does he have specific asks, or is this kind of a brainstorming session, or —

    MR TONER: I would – I mean, I don’t know if I would necessarily describe it as a brainstorming sessions, but I think he invites other countries and members —

    QUESTION: But when you say —

    MR TONER: No, no, of course. I understand. Yeah.

    QUESTION: – apply greater pressure and there a number of asks – a number of options –

    MR TONER: Well —

    QUESTION: — sanctions is one, but diplomatic isolation would include, I suppose, closing missions around the world. I mean —

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: — does the Secretary have specific items that he’d like to see out of this – that he is going to address that he’d like to see going – like —

    MR TONER: So first – and we’ve talked about this before – first he wants to see every country apply or implement the already-stringent existing sanctions against North Korea. Until we get to 100 percent, then we’re not fully implementing those sanctions. And as we’ve seen in the past, sanctions can have an effect. They certainly did with respect to Iran. And then I think he’s looking at other ways, other avenues to apply that pressure. As you noted, diplomatic isolation is another way. I don’t want to get into all the different avenues, but certainly part of this will be an exchange of ideas and thoughts about the way forward and steps that might be taken.

    Please, Michele.

    QUESTION: So how much of this urgency, especially with this show of having the entire Senate at the White House and all of the people who are going to brief and all of the talk surrounding it, is meant to send a message to North Korea? And do you expect that to have any effect? If so, what effect might there be?

    MR TONER: Sure. Look, I don’t want to say this is all about optics, but there’s clearly a message coming out of this week that was bookended by the Security Council coming to the White House and then by Secretary Tillerson traveling to New York. In between, we’ve got him as well as General – or Secretary Mattis, General Dunford, and Director of National Intelligence Coats briefing Congress that there’s a clear message being sent that this is front and center on our national security radar.

    QUESTION: Can I stay on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Can you just —

    MR TONER: Go ahead, Nick. Go ahead, Nick, and I’ll get – North Korea still?

    QUESTION: Can you just – two quick ones.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: One is, I mean, how can North Korea be any more diplomatically isolated than it already is? What are you talking about specifically when you talk about diplomatic isolation?

    Also, Harry Harris today in his testimony before the House said that he’s encouraged by progress China has made in sort of assisting the U.S. toward North Korea. Can you – does the State —

    MR TONER: Sorry, who says this? I apologize.

    QUESTION: He’s —

    QUESTION: Admiral Harris.

    MR TONER: Admiral Harris?

    QUESTION: Admiral Harris.

    MR TONER: Said he’s encouraged by —

    QUESTION: By China’s – the progress China has made in working with the U.S. against North Korea. Does the State Department share that assessment still, and what kind of progress, if so, do you see China making —

    MR TONER: Sure. Look, I’ve been asked, Nick, this question a few times this week. I mean, we’ve seen some steps. We need to see more, frankly, with respect to China. But this is part of the conversation that we’ve been having with – from President Xi on down with China with respect to the fact that they apart from anyone else have probably the most influence on the regime in Pyongyang, and they need to exercise that influence.

    I’m sorry, what was your other question? I apologize.

    QUESTION: Diplomatic isolation.

    MR TONER: Oh. Look, I mean – I mean, at least alluded to it. It’s ostracizing them from international bodies that they may be members of, asking them to close down their – or countries asking them to close down their diplomatic missions.

    QUESTION: Are you specifically – I mean, these are, I mean, options, of course. But is he specifically looking now for countries to start doing this? I mean, is this something the U.S. wants to see or is this just an idea that’s being discussed?

    MR TONER: It’s – and you know this – this is an idea that’s been around for some time.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: And I think – again, I’m not going to announce that he’s going to come out and ask other countries to do it, but I do think it’s one of the options that are – is seriously being considered.

    QUESTION: But Mark —

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: The closing of missions?

    MR TONER: Yeah, isolation.

    QUESTION: Well – right.

    MR TONER: The diplomatic isolation.

    QUESTION: The thing is is that if the question is how much more isolated can North Korea be, the answer is, quite frankly, none. And if you want to – even though it does have —

    MR TONER: I mean —

    QUESTION: — a limited number of embassies abroad —

    MR TONER: No, but – yeah.

    QUESTION: — it’s not the United States or even, I don’t think, a UN function to demand —

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: — that foreign countries close their embassies down. And I don’t think that you can —

    MR TONER: No. No, no, no.

    QUESTION: — get them to kick them out of the UN.

    MR TONER: Let me be clear about that. I’m not saying that he would ever demand that, I’m just saying that this is an opportunity for Secretary Tillerson to talk with other members of the Security Council about steps that collectively the UN can do, but also individual member-states can take, to put pressure on Iran – to North Korea.

    QUESTION: Are you looking at a travel ban for U.S. officials?

    QUESTION: Yeah, but you just said – but you just raised it yourself that one idea is closing embassies.

    MR TONER: Yes, but I didn’t say we’re going to demand that. I’m sorry. What am I missing here?

    QUESTION: Well, then I’m not sure why you would it, then. You’re going to say, hey, you guys —

    MR TONER: Well —

    QUESTION: — one way you could put pressure on them would be to close the embassy. All right, “demand” might be too strong a word, but —

    MR TONER: Well, that is – again, first off, I don’t want to get out ahead of what is going to be discussed on Friday. That is one of the options is all I was asking – is all I was saying, one of the options we’re looking at. Considering that over the overarching directive here – not directive – the overarching goal here is to apply pressure on and find ways we can apply pressure collectively – the international community – on Iran, one of those has to include —

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MR TONER: I’m so sorry. I apologize – on North Korea is to apply pressure on them, and one of those fronts would be diplomatic isolation. That’s all.

    QUESTION: But you’re not asking – I mean, are you asking them to downgrade or to sever?

    MR TONER: Again, that’s all under discussion.

    QUESTION: There’s a difference.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, are you thinking of asking this – are you trying to draft this into a —

    MR TONER: I’m not going to —

    QUESTION: — fold this into a UN – is that one of the options, to fold some of this into a UN resolution compelling —

    MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to what may or may not come out of this session on Friday.

    QUESTION: But Mark, has —

    QUESTION: Wait. Wait.

    MR TONER: I just – I’m not going to —

    QUESTION: Is a new resolution something that you’ll be discussing?

    MR TONER: Not to my knowledge, no.

    QUESTION: Mark, has China agreed to have some sort of international monitoring or anything, because that trade (inaudible) between China and that corridor, if so long that is on, there’s nothing you can do internationally. You can block all the boats, everything. So has China agreed to open that for international monitors or anything?

    MR TONER: I’ll leave it to China to speak to that. Again, we’ve been having serious engagement, serious discussions with China about the fact that we’d like to see them do more, and that certainly includes on the economic front and trade.

    QUESTION: Mark, do you have any update on the Tony Kim —

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: Nike. Yeah.

    QUESTION: The case of Tony Kim, was a visit granted? The —

    MR TONER: Oh, was the visit granted? I apologize, I didn’t hear – no, not to my understanding. He was not provided consular access.

    QUESTION: New topic.

    QUESTION: Mark —

    QUESTION: Can I —

    QUESTION: And it was (inaudible) —

    MR TONER: It’s through our protecting power, obviously, the Swedes. But no, he was not provided – they have not been provided consular access to —

    QUESTION: Can I move on, Mark?

    QUESTION: And then one —

    MR TONER: Finish – go ahead, finish, Nike.

    QUESTION: — on North Korea. So are there renewed communications between the U.S. and China, Korea regarding the delivery of parts of the THAAD system which we know that has triggered some protests over there?

    MR TONER: Again, I’d have to direct you to China to speak to its concerns over THAAD. We’ve been consistent in explaining to them what THAAD is and what THAAD isn’t. THAAD is a defensive system and it’s being deployed, frankly, out of concern over the Republic of South Korea’s vulnerability to North Korea’s continued aggressive behavior. That’s all it is.

    QUESTION: I’m asking if there is renewed communication from the U.S. to assure China and Korea these days.

    MR TONER: I mean, I don’t want to say renewed because we’ve been constantly conveying that to China.

    QUESTION: That’s a hell of a phrase, Mark. I think you should keep it in your book.

    MR TONER: Renewed.

    QUESTION: “What THAAD is and what THAAD isn’t.” (Laughter.) Keep it. Save it.

    MR TONER: I made that up all on my own.

    QUESTION: It’s pretty good.

    QUESTION: Can I move on, Mark? Yeah, can I move on?

    MR TONER: Yeah, please. What are you – I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MR TONER: Syria?

    QUESTION: Can we just finish this quickly —

    MR TONER: I’ll get to you. Let’s finish North Korea.

    QUESTION: — on North Korea? Not to continue to beat a dead horse but —

    MR TONER: It’s okay, beat away.

    QUESTION: — you said that China needs to do more, but so far all we’ve heard that they have done is turn away coal shipments that they had to turn away because of UN Security Council resolutions. So have they done anything so far?

    MR TONER: Again, I don’t have a laundry list in front of me that details the steps they’ve taken. I think suffice it to say that we’ve been encouraged at least by what we’ve been hearing from Chinese officials. That said —

    QUESTION: So the rhetoric so far?

    MR TONER: Right. But that said, we want to see more concrete action, and again, recognizing that they, apart from any other country, plays – have that significant economic relationship that could have an effect.

    QUESTION: Well, what we have heard from them so far, though, is that in the first quarter trade with North Korea was up 37 percent. So isn’t this trending in the wrong direction?

    MR TONER: Again, they’ve been – these are all points that we’ve made with senior Chinese leadership. They understand our point of view. They also understand our sense of urgency here and the fact that we’re looking to them to take action. I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: Just one more.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: At what point —

    QUESTION: One more.

    QUESTION: At what point —

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish North Korea.

    QUESTION: So there is – the President has kind of given two messages: One, we’d really like China – that he’d really like China to do more —

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: — and that he’s counting on their cooperation; on the other, that the U.S. would kind of go it alone if not. And that presumably means that the U.S. would – and this is a message that Secretary Tillerson took with him to Beijing, is that – and that was – I don’t know if that was discussed at the White House, but secondary sanctions and sanctions on Chinese banks could be an option.

    At what point do you give China some kind of, not deadline, but at what point do you need to consider that —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — China won’t do more and you consider this go-it-alone approach?

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question. The only way I can answer that – I can’t give you a date certain on that, I can just say that we have been very clear that the period of strategic – or the policy of strategic patience is over. We’re looking for, if not immediate steps —

    QUESTION: But that would – are you saying that the period of —

    MR TONER: I would just say that we’re looking —

    QUESTION: — patience of China is also over?

    MR TONER: No, but we’re looking for action with respect to North Korea, and that includes action on China’s part. And if they —

    QUESTION: Okay, so when you talk sanctions at the United Nations, are you also going to be talking sanctions on members that don’t fulfill their international obligations?

    MR TONER: I’m just not going to – I’m not able to speak to that right now. I just —

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MR TONER: I’m not allowed to —

    QUESTION: On China?

    QUESTION: Mark, on Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s do Syria. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Can I give you a brief one on China just because we – it’s this woman who was from —

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: — from Houston who was convicted of spying.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Her counselor or – I don’t think it’s her lawyer, but said that Secretary Tillerson raised his case when he was in Beijing, and that they expected some kind of resolution to it – her release – or a positive resolution in some way very soon. Do you know, is that true? One, did he raise the case? And secondly, you – do you have any comment on the conviction?

    MR TONER: What I would say is that we regularly raise Ms. Phan-Gillis’s case with Chinese officials, and including at the most senior levels. But I don’t want to get into how senior that level was, but just suffice it to say that we have raised it at very senior levels. We are – we remain concerned about her welfare. We continue to follow her case closely. We are aware that – you mentioned that a local Chinese court did sentence her on April 25th. We’re obviously concerned about her well-being and we continue to raise this case with the Chinese Government at every opportunity.

    QUESTION: Well, are you calling for her release?

    MR TONER: Well, again, now that she’s been sentenced, we’re in favor of any result that gets her home to her family.

    QUESTION: So you do want her released?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    QUESTION: Mark, on Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So regarding the French report that was released, Foreign Minister Lavrov citing Arnold Schwarzenegger, I believe, in his capacity as an anchor not a governor – or a – an actor, not a governor – said that we cannot act in accordance with the principle of “just trust me.” It seems as though Russia has not moved at all. Or is it the assessment of the State Department that Russia has moved at all since the Secretary of State traveled to Moscow in regards to Syria? Is Russia coming around to the idea of moving beyond Bashar al-Assad, and if not, at what point will the United States stop waiting for Russia to do so?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, you did see – so a couple of points to make on that. One is you saw that we did issue a readout the other day when Secretary Tillerson did speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov. In that readout, we made very clear that Secretary Tillerson, and by extension the United States, believes that there shouldn’t be a separate body or separate investigative body created, as the Russians have suggested, to look into this chemical weapons attack; that we believe that the mechanisms are already there. The OPCW and the JIM, the Joint Investigative Mechanism, are already in place and have already been doing this job of cataloging and investigating chemical weapons attacks in Syria. They are fully capable of doing that. We certainly welcome them, an investigation conducted by them into this attack. We —

    QUESTION: But it seems as though that they’re pinned on this and aren’t moving anywhere towards a political solution in Syria.

    MR TONER: Look, all I will say is that we are very certain and very clear about what took place. And we’ve been very clear about that. I’d refer you to the April 11th background briefing that I believe the White House conducted that looked at the intelligence assessment that went into our assessment that a chemical weapons attack did take place and it was carried out by the Syrian regime. That, of course, was the rationale behind our airstrikes.

    QUESTION: So —

    MR TONER: Sorry, let me finish. So regardless of what Russia may or may not say about an investigation into this activity. We’re convinced – and you saw today the French conducted their own investigation, they’re convinced as well – of what took place. In the interest of greater transparency, we would welcome, as I said, these existing mechanisms within the UN to carry out a thorough investigation, because what’s also important here going forward is that there’s a measure of accountability here and that we are able to – we being the international community – are able to pin these crimes on the Syrian regime who carried them out.

    QUESTION: But on the next steps for Syria —

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: — it doesn’t seem that Russia’s moving along. How long is the U.S. going to wait?

    MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I just don’t know. I mean, we’re going to continue to believe, or we’re going to continue to maintain that there doesn’t need to be a separate entity created to investigate this incident. We believe that there’s already the mechanisms in place to investigate this incident.

    QUESTION: But on replacing Assad, though?

    MR TONER: Exactly.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Oh, wait, I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Replacing Assad, though?

    MR TONER: Oh, replacing Assad, well, that’s a broader question. I apologize. I misunderstood.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Mark —

    MR TONER: I think – sorry, let me – I swear, Said, I’ll get to you next. I think with respect to Assad, we continue to believe that he’s not the future for Syria. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s still in place and that we need a political process to take place whereby the Syrian people can decide on the future leadership of their country. That’s been our position all along. We’re urging Russia and Iran and the other – well, Russia and Iran, who are aiding and abetting the regime, to convince the regime to renew this process, to restart the Geneva process so that we can get to that political resolution.

    QUESTION: And you haven’t seen any movement towards that?

    MR TONER: There’s been no movement, no.

    QUESTION: Mark, on the investigation —

    MR TONER: There’s some talk of an Astana meeting, but I don’t think it’s been confirmed.

    Please, Said, yes.

    QUESTION: On the investigation mechanism that is in place —

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: — I’m a little bit confused on this because there is the current investigation mechanism that did determine there was a chemical weapon discharged, but there is a need or a call for a more investigative body to go and determine the means by which it was delivered, whether it’s from the air, by airplane, or from the ground. It could conceivably have been used by the rebel groups and so on. Could you clarify that for us? Could you – I mean, what is —

    MR TONER: So —

    QUESTION: You said that —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — you have – you pinned this on the regime, so other than communication, interception that you guys cited —

    MR TONER: Sure, and —

    QUESTION: — what do you have?

    MR TONER: And this speaks, frankly, to the previous question a little bit. The OPCW – not just the United States, but the OPCW’s executive council rejected a Russian-Iranian proposal for a new mechanism to investigate the attack on Khan Shaykhun, and in fact, States Parties signaled their ongoing support for the impartial investigation into the attack, and that’s already underway. The fact-finding mission, the OPCW fact-finding mission, is already conducting the investigation, is already empowered to investigate chemical weapons attacks. It’s already been doing this and cataloging these, and frankly, that’s important because, as I said, we need a record – historical record that frankly holds the perpetrators accountable – in this respect, the Syrian regime.

    QUESTION: Can I move on —

    MR TONER: Your question was specifically about investigating how it was delivered?

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: I mean, look, we’re convinced – we’ve done the research, our intelligence is strong on this, we’ve briefed that on background – but we’re convinced that it was delivered by Syrian jets from that airstrip that was attacked by U.S. cruise missiles.

    QUESTION: But it is based on the interception of communications between the pilot and some scientists on the ground, right?

    MR TONER: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Is that – that’s the only evidence cited, is that there were communications intercepted by you?

    MR TONER: I’d refer you – I don’t want to recount —

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: — but I’d refer you to that April 11th background briefing.

    QUESTION: Can I move on to the Palestinian issue?

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you. I want to finish with Syria and then I’ll get back to you, Said. You know how we work.

    Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: So Mark, after you voiced deep U.S. concern against the Turkish airstrikes in Syria, Turkey has repeatedly – has reportedly launched fresh airstrikes today. I want to know if, at a senior level, the United States has conveyed a specific message to Turkey that it must stop airstrikes against the YPG.

    MR TONER: You’re talking about airstrikes that took place —

    QUESTION: In Syria.

    MR TONER: — last night. So these were airstrikes taken against PKK along the Iraq-Turkey border in a very different area than the airstrikes that I expressed our deep concern about yesterday. So these strikes, as we understand it, are part of an ongoing series of strikes that Turkey’s conducted in this particular area in its fight against the PKK over the past few years. So again, just to be clear, there’s no geographic connection between the strikes that took place – sorry, I’m getting my – but —

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: — two days ago and the strikes that took place last night.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: So – I’m sorry, your question?

    QUESTION: Have you conveyed a specific message at the senior level to your Turkish counterparts that Turkey must stop attacking the YPG? And why are they – why do they continue to do this?

    MR TONER: We did convey that, and I expressed this yesterday in our phone briefing but I’ll say it again. I mean, there was a lack of coordination. There was insufficient notification of these impending airstrikes.

    QUESTION: Impending airstrikes or are you saying —

    MR TONER: I’m talking two days ago, please. Just I want to clarify between the strikes that took place in an area where there have been strikes taken before on direct PKK targets. And let me be very clear: We have said all along the PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. We support Turkey’s efforts to protect its borders from PKK terrorism. Now, going back to the attacks that took place two days ago in a different part, and that did actually hit members of the Syrian Democratic Forces as well as other forces and Kurdish Peshmerga, who are fighting against ISIS – we did express our serious concern about the lack of coordination over those airstrikes, and that was conveyed to the senior leadership of Turkey.

    QUESTION: Did they —

    QUESTION: Just one more – one more question. One more question, Mark. Just one more. Sorry, one more.

    QUESTION: — ignore your warning and went ahead and did it anyway? I mean, from what we understand from the military, they flat-out said “don’t do it” and then the Turks went ahead and did it anyway.

    MR TONER: Well —

    QUESTION: Did they say why?

    MR TONER: Again, I’ll leave it to them to explain or justify why they took the actions they took.

    QUESTION: Well, no, no, I —

    MR TONER: I mean – yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m not asking you to justify it, but I just want to —

    MR TONER: Did – you said did they explain to us?

    QUESTION: Yeah. I’m not even asking you what the explanation is. Or did they just ignore you again? I mean, did they say —

    MR TONER: Honestly, I —

    QUESTION: — “thanks for the warning but we’re not – we’re going to do it anyway”?

    MR TONER: Again, what was particularly alarming, and I know Colonel Dorrian from DOD spoke about this as well, was just the lack of coordination, not even among the United States and Turkey, but within the coalition itself, of which Turkey is a member, and the lack of notification. But —

    QUESTION: Less than an hour.

    MR TONER: Less than an hour.

    QUESTION: I heard 52 minutes. But when they called 52 minutes before doing this and you guys said “no, don’t do it,” did they say, “We’re going to go ahead and do this and you guys have 52 – or, you know, you guys have X amount of time”?

    MR TONER: About 50 minutes at that point. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Depending on how much they protested.

    MR TONER: I don’t have details of that conversation.

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Sorry. I mean, can you really say that the Turkish-U.S. goals in Syria are mutually exclusive now? Because the United States obviously wants the defeat of ISIS; Turkey wants to defeat the very group that the U.S. depends on most to achieve its goal, which is the destruction of ISIS.

    MR TONER: No, I won’t, and I wouldn’t, and here’s why: Because Turkey also recognizes that ISIS is a very real and a very credible threat, and ISIS has – frankly, Turkey, rather, has suffered a lot at the hands of ISIS terrorism – continued terrorist attacks within its own borders; a flow of terrorists over its borders; as well as an influx of refugees that Turkey has made extraordinary efforts to accommodate.

    Clearly, though, there is a difference of opinion between the U.S. and Turkey over those partners who are on the ground fighting ISIS. We believe that among the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS effectively on the ground, those forces that are made up of Syrian Kurds, are not related to the PKK. We recognize, obviously, because we recognize that the PKK is a foreign terrorist organization, we recognize Turkey’s concerns about the threat of PKK infiltration. This is an ongoing conversation we’re having. This is a complex battlefield space. All of us in this room have – know that from having followed this issue over the past several years, but that’s not any reason to say we’re walking away or that our goals are mutually exclusive. What we’re asking Turkey to do, as well as all members of the coalition, including those entities on the ground that we’re supporting, is to focus on the mission and the task at hand, and that is destroying ISIS.


    QUESTION: Mark, you said that you recognize —

    MR TONER: I’m going to move away from Syria after this last question on Syria, and then I’m going to get to you.

    QUESTION: You said you recognize PKK as a terrorist organization. Yesterday, a number of U.S. generals were in the place where Turkey bombed – striked a couple of days ago and they were welcomed by the PKK leaders and PKK flags were on the scene, and it was filmed and it was shared, and some of the pictures were shared by DOD as well. Don’t you think there is a conflict on that?

    MR TONER: I haven’t seen those pictures, but I would strongly call into question, with all due respect, that senior military leaders of the U.S. were somehow glad-handing or shaking hands with PKK leaders. As I said, the PKK is a recognized foreign terrorist organization by the United States.


    QUESTION: And —

    QUESTION: Can I move —

    MR TONER: Said.

    QUESTION: — to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR TONER: Yes, of course.

    QUESTION: Yeah, a couple questions on the delegation in town. Has there been any meeting between them and any State Department official?

    MR TONER: So, as I think I mentioned yesterday, there are some meetings taking place at the White House, and there is —

    QUESTION: I understand.

    MR TONER: There is – sorry, there is State – let me finish. There is State Department participation in those. I actually went back and confirmed that. So the State Department is obviously participating.

    QUESTION: Can you tell us at what level it was? Was it Mr. Ratney or was it Stuart Jones or —

    MR TONER: I believe it was Mr. Ratney, yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay, it was Mr. Ratney. Okay. I just want to move on. There was also an announcement on the increase of aid to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. I just want to ask, the mechanism, is this going – this increase in aid going to go directly to the PA and directly to Gaza or through organizations?

    MR TONER: I don’t have any details to share on – with respect to the Fiscal Year 2018 budget in general, but certainly with respect to the West Bank and Gaza. And no —

    QUESTION: And —

    MR TONER: Just for the record, no U.S. assistance ever goes directly to the Palestinian Authority.

    QUESTION: Okay, good. So that’s the plan, I wanted to clarify.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Okay, on a couple of other issues —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — Bisnow said that there was Israelis building a new settlement east of Ramallah and it’s on Palestinian land outside the wall —

    MR TONER: Right, we’re aware of those reports.

    QUESTION: Right, I mean —

    MR TONER: Look, President Trump was very clear. He’s both publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements. He said while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment of peace, it’s that further unrestrained settlement activity doesn’t help advance peace.

    QUESTION: And —

    MR TONER: And it’s an important distinction – let me finish. And so he’s made that clear to Israeli – or we’ve made that clear to the Israeli Government. They understand our concerns about this.

    QUESTION: Are they more inclined today, you think, to listen to you versus past administration?

    MR TONER: Are they more inclined to —

    QUESTION: Are they more – is – are the Israelis more inclined to sort of heed your advice to them to end settlement activity, especially with some sort of process ongoing?

    MR TONER: I would just say that we’ve had good preliminary talks with both the Israelis and, obviously, the Palestinians as well, more recently, about steps that can be taken, concrete steps to create a climate for a peace process or peace negotiations to begin again. I’m not going to get ahead of those, but they’re aware of our concerns that increased settlement activity could be an impediment.

    QUESTION: And my last question, I promise, on this one.

    MR TONER: Or it could be – that it doesn’t help advance peace, sorry.

    QUESTION: Yeah. The Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu —

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: — canceled a meeting with the German foreign minister because he met with B’Tselem, a human rights group, and Breaking the Silence, which is formed of former Israeli soldiers that basically act like whistleblowers on what’s going on.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that? Is that – how do you view this kind of practice?

    MR TONER: I don’t think it’s necessarily for us to speak to who the prime minister of Israel decides to meet with. He’s free to meet with whomever he wishes. More broadly about this group, I think we would regard it as important that any functioning civil society has these types of groups and the diverse viewpoints. That’s a vital part of any functioning democracy. But I’m not going to speak to his decision.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: On trade?

    QUESTION: Can I —

    QUESTION: Can I – can I have one on —

    MR TONER: Yeah, a couple more questions very quickly and then I – yeah.

    QUESTION: — on the Israeli issue? The waiver on moving the embassy that the – President Obama signed expires on June 1st. I’m wondering if there’s any plans for a new waiver or what is – after the President made comments that he’s going to move the embassy —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — where does that stand?

    MR TONER: We’re aware of that deadline. I don’t have anything to announce or anything to —

    QUESTION: And where is Ambassador Friedman living out of right now?

    MR TONER: Good question. I’ll try to find out.

    QUESTION: Can you – living and working.

    QUESTION: His apartment in New York, I think.

    MR TONER: I think that’s right – I mean, I think that’s correct, but I’ll double check.

    QUESTION: A beautiful house in (inaudible).

    QUESTION: Mark, can we change the subject, please?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I promised that I’d take him, and I’ll get to you, Lesley. And then this has to be my last question. I’m sorry, guys.

    QUESTION: So the President has spoken numerous times about the unfair – what he calls the unfair trade policies of China and Mexico. But now we’re seeing new tariffs against Canada. What’s the logic behind that? What’s going on here?

    MR TONER: Well, again, this is a complex issue. You’re talking about the —

    QUESTION: Soft lumber?

    MR TONER: Soft lumber, yes, exactly. Softwood lumber, sorry. And this is really an issue for the Department of Commerce, but look, U.S. countervailing law – or, rather, countervailing duty law provides a mechanism for U.S. businesses to – and workers to seek relief from any injury caused by the market distorting effects of subsidies provided by foreign governments to producers of imports into the United States. So that’s what’s at stake here. I know that President Trump spoke with Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday on this very topic or this very subject. His views are very clear on this. We view it as an unfair condition and we’re taking steps to address it.

    QUESTION: Well, we only have two neighbors, right? We have Canada, Mexico.

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Mexico is already not too fond of Trump, so I’m concerned. Is this in our interest as a country to have – I mean, we are hearing Canadian leaders talk about bullying from the United States.

    MR TONER: Look, Canada is a close ally, a neighbor, a partner. I could have disagreements with my neighbors. Anyone can. That doesn’t mean that it undermines the relationship. Our relationship with Canada is rock-solid and will continue to be rock-solid, even as we discuss and resolve these kinds of issues.

    Lesley, yeah.

    QUESTION: Mark, Iran, please?

    QUESTION: I think – hang on, because I have question on Josh Holt —

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: — the American that was – he’s in jail in Venezuela. There’s reports that he’s got issues with his health. Do you have any update on that?

    MR TONER: Yes, actually. Thanks for asking. So this week – I believe it was yesterday – State Department officials did meet with the mother of Joshua Holt. We understand that she’s also having meetings today, or had meetings with members of Congress as well as other U.S. Government officials. We obviously share her concern for her son, who is a U.S. citizen who has now been detained in Venezuela for some – on questionable charges for some 300 days. And through formal discussions, dozens of diplomatic notes, public statements, we’ve repeatedly raised concerns about his health, the conditions of his detention, and his treatment with Venezuelan authorities. We again call on the Venezuelan Government to immediately release Joshua Holt on humanitarian grounds.

    QUESTION: When was the last time that the State Department raised this issue with the Venezuelans?

    MR TONER: We most recently visited – sorry, just looking – with Mr. Holt on March 10th. I would have to find the exact date that we last raised this, but it’s on a continuous basis.

    QUESTION: And what was his condition like?

    MR TONER: I believe it was – again, we’re concerned about his health, but I think he was in okay shape at that point.

    QUESTION: Well, March 10th is more than a month ago, though.

    MR TONER: I agree.

    QUESTION: Did you have some indication that his health has deteriorated in the 37 – 40 – my math is horrible.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: How many days between then? (Laughter.) In the time between March 10th and today.

    MR TONER: Again, I’ll leave it at this. I’ll say we’re very concerned about his health. I can’t speak to whether it’s deteriorated over the past 37 days. It’s been an ongoing concern of ours. We’ve raised this concern directly with the ministry of foreign affairs and requested his release on humanitarian grounds.

    I’m sorry, guys. I do have to —

    QUESTION: Can I just – I have one more. Thank you.

    MR TONER: Elise, go ahead.

    QUESTION: There was a story yesterday about Secretary Tillerson’s statement on Iran and letter to the Speaker about the Iran deal.

    MR TONER: Oh, yeah.

    QUESTION: And it insinuated that the White House had to intervene to make the letter and Secretary Tillerson’s statement tough enough – tougher. Could you —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — clear up any —

    MR TONER: Sure. And actually, thanks for raising the question. A few points to make on this. So, as is always the case, State Department’s submission to Congress was developed in consultations with other agencies, including the NSC. Suffice it to say, there is no difference of views between the State Department and the White House. Secretary Tillerson has met with President and spoken with President Trump on numerous occasions about Iran and about their shared concerns over its continued bad behavior in the region and the fact that it’s not addressed adequately by the JCPOA, and that’s one of the reasons why they’ve ordered this review of our – comprehensive review of our Iran policy.

    And just one other thing about the allegation that two senior State Department members or personnel somehow drafted this letter without input from the NSC or others is just patently false. There’s always interagency discussion and review of any correspondence that we share with Congress, and this is, frankly, how the process always works. I’m not going to get into discussing those internal deliberations, but that’s part of the interagency process.

    QUESTION: Well, it might not be true that they had the final say on the letter, but they did draft the – I mean, that’s pretty pro forma, right, that a State Department – something that the Secretary is going to sign, a certification, that the State Department would draft it. I don’t see what the —

    MR TONER: But the insinuation in the letter was that there was – or the insinuation in the article was that – or the implication. How about that?

    QUESTION: Was that the State Department drafted a weak letter.

    MR TONER: That the State Department, yes, was somehow seeking – career personnel were seeking to undermine or were somehow at odds with the administration, and that categorically is false.

    QUESTION: But Mark, was there pressure from the President on the Secretary to make the statement the day after to clarify what it meant?

    MR TONER: Again, as part of the deliberations that led up to this letter, there was a shared concern and discussion over the fact that we needed to call attention not just to whether Iran was complying with the letter of the law with respect to the agreement, but the fact that we continue to have concerns outside of that agreement regarding Iran’s dangerous behavior in the region and that we need to look at ways to address that.

    Thanks, guys. Yeah, thanks.

    QUESTION: Mark, anything you —

    MR TONER: I got to go, guys. Sorry.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

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United States Announces Additional Humanitarian Assistance for Yemen

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Today the United States announced nearly $94 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help the people of Yemen, who have suffered through two years of civil war and are experiencing the largest food security emergency in the world. This additional funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian contribution to nearly $526 million since the 2016 fiscal year.

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – April 24, 2017

Mark C. Toner

Deputy Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

April 24, 2017

Index for Today’s Briefing

  • IRAN


    1:45 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department.

    QUESTION: Welcome back.

    MR TONER: Thanks. I’d say it’s good to be back, but I had a really enjoyable time off. But it’s good to see you.

    QUESTION: Restful?

    MR TONER: Yes, it was restful. Thanks, Matt. Just one brief announcement at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions. And I apologize in advance; I rarely do this, you know, but I am on a pretty tight schedule today. I apologize; I have something to run to after this.

    But very briefly, I wanted to talk about the Secretary’s travel later this week to New York. Secretary of State Tillerson will travel to New York City on Friday, April 28, to share a Special Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Security Council. That will take place at 10 a.m.

    As you all know here, the DPRK, North Korea, poses one of the gravest threats to international peace and security through its pursuit of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as its other prohibited activities.

    This meeting will give the Security Council members an opportunity to discuss ways to maximize the impact of existing Security Council measures and to show their resolve to respond to further provocations with appropriate new measures.

    With that, Matt, over to you.

    QUESTION: Let’s start with – actually, I have a couple on North Korea.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: But why don’t we just start with a logistical thing, and I don’t know if you’ll have an answer to this. But you know there’s a possibility of a government shutdown on midnight Friday. Has each agency – at least it has – they have in the past – draws up contingency plans. Has one been drawn up yet for State?

    MR TONER: Well, you answered my question. I was just going to say, yeah, we did – well, we do, we have drawn up – obviously, when any federal agency, out of due diligence —

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: — draws up a contingency plan. I don’t have that in front of me to share with you, because frankly, we’re not dealing with a certainty yet of a shutdown. I know that the White House and OMB are working diligently with Congress to —

    QUESTION: Right, but can you even give us an idea what embassy operations overseas, Americans in trouble, that kind of —

    MR TONER: I will. As we get closer, I’ll give you a snapshot of that.

    QUESTION: All right, thank you. And then North Korea. One, do you have anything – do you know, have the Swedes been able to meet with this latest American who’s been detained?

    MR TONER: Right. You’re talking about —

    QUESTION: The professor.

    MR TONER: Yeah, the professor. So – and for any of you who was, I guess, in a cave over the weekend that didn’t hear this news report, there were reports received over the weekend that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea. Obviously, we can’t discuss the name of this individual because we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. I’m not aware, Matt, in answer to your question, that we’ve been able to gain access to this individual yet. Obviously, that’s something we’re working through our protecting power, the Swedes, to —

    QUESTION: Right. But they told you that they had been informed of this detention, correct – the Swedes?

    MR TONER: Yes, that is correct.

    QUESTION: Right. So —

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: But you don’t know yet whether or not the Swedes have —

    MR TONER: Right. But we have not – as far as I know, we have not gained access to the individual in question.

    QUESTION: And then – oh, right. So there’s a lot of speculation that the North Koreans may conduct another nuclear test, as possibly as early as this evening. Do you have anything you can say about that ahead of the Security Council meeting that the Secretary’s going to be at on Friday?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, as you know, Matt, we’re usually pretty close-lipped about possible actions or tests that the North Korean regime may take. Obviously, we’ll respond accordingly if and when such actions are taken, such tests are taken.

    I think in general with respect to the Secretary’s meeting later this week – I mean, first of all, you’ve got the meeting at the White House today obviously chaired by the President along with our Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and you’ve got bookended on Friday this meeting that Secretary will chair at the UN Security Council. This is a really important week that I think highlights U.S. engagement with the UN Security Council with the other members of the Security Council and, frankly, underscores our concerns about exactly the issue you raise, which is North Korea’s ongoing violations and provocative actions in the face of international concerns.

    And I think what the Secretary is going to be looking at and conveying to the other members of the Security Council on Friday is – well, among a number of things, but one of the messages I think he’s going to convey is that there are already very strong sanctions in place against North Korea and it is incumbent on every member of the UN to carry out or to enforce those sanctions to the utmost. And by doing that, we believe that we can significantly augment the pressure that North Korea, the regime in Pyongyang, is already feeling, and that we can augment that if everyone does their part. That’s something we’ve been conveying to allies and partners in the region. It’s something we’ve obviously been conveying to China in our discussions with them. So that’s going to be a central part of the message.

    QUESTION: Other than China, which countries are not 100 percent enforcing —

    MR TONER: I’m not going to necessarily name and shame.

    QUESTION: Why not? You did with China.

    MR TONER: We believe China has – and we’ve talked about this before – has unique leverage when it comes to North Korea and that, frankly, China – China’s influence on North Korea is outsized in the sense of, if they fully implement – and we’ve seen them take additional steps in that regard – the sanctions, that they can apply the kind of pressure that will make Pyongyang take notice.

    QUESTION: Well, so are there other countries other than China that are not doing what they have to do?

    MR TONER: I’ll just leave it where I left it, which is that all countries are obliged to —

    QUESTION: Well, who other than China is not?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into —

    QUESTION: Why?

    MR TONER: Because I’m not going to get into the specific —

    QUESTION: Well, it seems to have worked. You talked about naming and shaming. It seems to have worked with the Chinese, right, in this case? You just said that they have taken additional actions. So if you really want —

    MR TONER: And that’s something —

    QUESTION: If there are other countries that are not —

    MR TONER: And that’s something we’re pursuing through our private diplomatic conversations with these other countries.

    QUESTION: Okay. But so why – I don’t understand why China gets named and shamed and no one else does.

    MR TONER: I would just say that China plays a significant influential role in that regard.

    Please, Lesley.

    QUESTION: Mark, after the meetings today at the White House with UN Security Council ambassadors, what exactly is it that the U.S. – I mean, this was happening at the White House. What exactly is it that Tillerson’s hoping to do? I mean, obviously, the President was trying to influence the ambassadors. What is it that Tillerson’s going to hope to do? Is that – is it to get more support for further sanctions?

    MR TONER: Well, I think – look, I mean, I think there’s several aspects to it. Again, I think today’s meeting and Friday’s meeting obviously underscore our engagement on the issue and our focus on the issue, and this is obviously also following up on the heels of Vice President Pence’s visit to the region. So we’ve been focused on our concerns about North Korea for – ever since the beginning of this administration.

    And I think what we have signaled clearly is that given the level of provocations, the pace of provocations that North Korea continues to carry out, that it’s time to both look at how we can implement existing sanctions, that existing regime, which as I said is very – if fully implemented, can have a very profound effect on Pyongyang and the regime there, but also to look at and discuss additional measures that may be taken. And we’ve said all along that no option’s off the table.

    QUESTION: Do you believe that China has been getting the word – a firm word to Pyongyang over the last few days?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, obviously, President Trump spoke with President Xi yesterday, and you saw the readout about that.

    QUESTION: Not much of a readout but —

    MR TONER: Understood.

    QUESTION: That’s why I’m hoping you can —

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: I’m trying to understand what this – the actual diplomacy is doing.

    MR TONER: No, no, I understand.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: So look, this has been, as I said, front and center in our conversations with all our partners and our allies in the region but certainly with respect to China, and we’ve been engaged from Secretary Tillerson’s travel to Beijing to President Xi’s travel to meet with President Trump in Mar-a-Lago, and this has been front and center of our discussions with the Chinese Government. We believe we have made headway in convincing them of the urgency of this situation and that they are going to take steps to address it.

    QUESTION: Okay, so with North Korea making these same kinds of threats – that it has the capability now to hit the mainland U.S., that it could take out a carrier in that region with a single strike – do you have any reason to believe that this is anything more than rhetoric? Do you think those claims are true?

    MR TONER: Well, again, without – and I want to tread softly here because I don’t want to get into intelligence assessments, but I think what’s very clear is that they’re pursuing a nuclear ballistic capability and continuing to carry out tests to give them that capability of reaching not just other countries in the region but possibly the United States. And that is, to put it mildly, a game changer and it’s one of the reasons why you’ve seen administration officials talking so candidly about our concerns and about the fact that the time for strategic patience and that policy is over, that we have to look at real ways to provide pressure on Pyongyang to convince them – excuse me – to convince them – I apologize —

    QUESTION: That’s okay.

    MR TONER: — to address the international community’s concerns. That’s what we’re looking at. I don’t have anything to preview. I know I talk a lot about sanctions implementation, but that’s an important component. But I think what this week will hopefully accomplish is an opportunity for us to sit around the table with the other members of the Security Council and talk about other possible next steps.

    QUESTION: The last administration made it clear that they didn’t think that they had that kind of – that capability yet. And everyone knows that they’re working on it and they may be getting closer, but do you feel like they’ve made significant gains?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m just not going to provide that kind of assessment from this podium today. I think what I can say is that we are concerned that they are pursuing that capability all-out.

    QUESTION: Okay. And just quickly —

    QUESTION: Mark?

    MR TONER: Yeah, please. I’ll let her finish and then —

    QUESTION: So, I mean, we’ve been dealing with this same kind of threat for a long time – the rhetoric from North Korea, the nuclear test, the missile tests – so how would you say that the threat is significantly different now than it was, say, a year and a half ago or two years ago? Or is it not technically significantly different?

    MR TONER: Well, I think – look, how I would characterize it is that we have seen, given the pace of missile tests, ballistic missile tests, nuclear tests – Matt alluded to the possibility of a new one even as early as today – given the pace of that – of those efforts, that we are very concerned and we have a right to be concerned. And it’s a reason why, as I said, we’re no longer looking at Six-Party Talks and strategic patience as necessarily a viable way forward. Look, we’re willing to sit down and talk with North Korea about denuclearizing the peninsula, but only if it comes to those talks serious about doing it and not just having talks for talks’ sake. So I think this is something we’re – there’s an urgency here.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Can I change topic?

    MR TONER: Nike, and then I’ll get to you, as promised.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Mark, as you mentioned, the Chinese President Xi has a phone call with President Trump. The Chinese statement – Chinese readout highlighted their desire to pursue to solve this problem peacefully. So what is the U.S. reaction to the proposed three-party talks, meaning the U.S., China, and Korea, not with North Korea, or the five-party talk —

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: — U.S., China, Japan, Korea, and Russia?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, I think we – the U.S. remains open to credible talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but I think, as Secretary Tillerson said, conditions have to change before there’s any scope for the talks to resume. So this isn’t to say we’re necessarily dismissing the idea of talks, but I think what’s important to note here is that we need to see a real effort by North Korea to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program before we believe that having such talks is worthwhile.

    QUESTION: So the three-party and five-party talk are still on the table?

    MR TONER: I think, yes, any talk, any credible effort to sit down and negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is on the table, but we need to see more. We’re not – as I said, what’s happened up to this time with the Six-Party Talks is they’ve just been a delay mechanism. We don’t want that to happen.

    QUESTION: If I may, I have one last question on China. Could you please update us the first round of U.S.-China diplomatic and security dialogue? Where are we, and then what would be a major mechanism for the bilateral —

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’m aware – I’ll have to get back to you on that, Nike. I’m aware that it came up yesterday in the conversation with President Xi, but I don’t have any more details to provide at this time.

    QUESTION: Mark —

    QUESTION: Just to clarify on North Korea quickly, so President Trump today talked about imposing new sanctions, said to the Security Council members to think about that; but you’re saying Tillerson is not going to suggest that on Friday, he’s just going to talk about implementing existing sanctions.

    MR TONER: I was simply previewing one aspect of what he —

    QUESTION: But the question is will – right, then the question is: Will he follow up on President Trump’s statement?

    MR TONER: I – without getting ahead of what he’ll discuss at the Security Council, I think one is that, as I said, he’ll look at how the UN can more effectively implement the sanctions that are already existing and already, as we know, stringent, and how we can use them to better apply pressure on Pyongyang. But another element of Friday’s discussion is going to be new ideas and the possibility of new measures to be taken, and that always includes sanctions.

    QUESTION: And just if I could ask another question, but on the Syria sanctions.

    MR TONER: Okay. I promise I’ll get to you next, Said.

    QUESTION: Sorry.

    MR TONER: What are you —

    QUESTION: On Iran.

    MR TONER: Okay, great.

    QUESTION: I have just one —

    QUESTION: On North Korea —

    MR TONER: Let’s finish North Korea.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: And then we’ll get to you, I promise.

    QUESTION: Okay. Then —

    MR TONER: Oh, okay, we’re done with North Korea?

    QUESTION: No, no, no, I got —

    QUESTION: One more on North Korea.

    MR TONER: Great. Okay, sorry.

    QUESTION: Just quickly —

    MR TONER: Okay, got it.

    QUESTION: — to go back to Lesley’s line of questioning, what evidence does the U.S. have that China has taken steps to put pressure on North Korea?

    MR TONER: One is we saw the efforts to – or not the efforts, but China turning away North Korean coal ships, which is, frankly, a pretty significant trading mechanism for them. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: And is that part of the pressure you think that President Trump has put on them, or is that to meet existing UN Security Council resolutions?

    MR TONER: Look, I think I can’t say categorically that it was – but I think what we have been, what this administration has been, from Secretary Tillerson on up to President Trump, has been very clear that we need more effort on the part of China to address the threat that North Korea poses. Whether there’s a connection there, I’ll leave it to you.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: So is it just the coal shipments then, turning coal shipments —

    MR TONER: I can get more detail. That’s one that just popped into my head, but I’ll try to get more for you on that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Mark, could I ask a question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR TONER: Let’s go there, and then we’ll get around.

    QUESTION: Can I get one on North Korea?

    QUESTION: We have a delegation in town.

    MR TONER: Oh, North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry, just —

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MR TONER: One more – two more on North Korea. We’ve got to finish.

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans for any bilateral, multilateral meetings on the sidelines of —

    MR TONER: We’ll announce those when they’re firmed up.


    QUESTION: Just a follow-up to Matt’s question.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: Do you know whether China has stopped supplying or helping build the transporters, the missile transporters that were seen in the military parade the other day?

    MR TONER: I’d have to take that question and see what we can answer. I don’t have an answer with me.

    Please, Said.

    QUESTION: There is a high-level Palestinian delegation in town preparing for the meeting next week between President Trump and Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Are there any plans for you guys to meet with them this week, or is this just a White House event or a White House affair? Are you involved in any way?

    MR TONER: Is which a White House affair?

    QUESTION: There is a high-level —

    MR TONER: I mean, preliminary meetings?

    QUESTION: Well, because they’re —

    MR TONER: No, but I’m asking you —

    QUESTION: — preparing – I’m sure that – do they have any scheduled meetings at the State Department?

    MR TONER: There’s no scheduled meetings. So you’re talking about the group that’s in town this week?

    QUESTION: This group that’s in town with chief Palestinian negotiator —

    MR TONER: Right, right, right. With Saeb Erekat.

    QUESTION: — Saeb Erekat.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And intelligence —

    MR TONER: So as far as I’m aware, there’s no scheduled meetings with Secretary Tillerson this week with any of the Palestinian officials who are in town. That said, I can’t preclude that State Department officials won’t take part in some of the other meetings that are being held at the White House or elsewhere.

    QUESTION: Okay. Who’s involved from the State, from State? Who’s involved with these talks?

    MR TONER: Those would be —

    QUESTION: Is Mr. Ratney involved? Is Mr. Stuart Jones – I mean, who’s —

    MR TONER: I can get more detail, but it would be senior leadership from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, whether that’s Michael Ratney or acting Assistant Secretary Stu Jones. I can’t confirm which one.

    QUESTION: Okay. And I wanted to ask you on the issue of the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I wonder if you’re aware of the situation – it’s becoming quite dire – and if you have any comments on that.

    MR TONER: You’re talking about the – excuse me – the hunger strike by a Palestinian prisoner now in its eighth day.

    QUESTION: Right. Well, all Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike.

    MR TONER: Well —

    QUESTION: But the leader is – his health is deteriorating and so on.

    MR TONER: Yeah. I – we’re looking into news reports about it. Obviously, we’re concerned about the health of any prisoner, but I’d have to refer you to Israeli authorities.

    QUESTION: And they’re striking because they’re asking for better conditions and so on.

    MR TONER: I’m aware.

    QUESTION: Something that —

    MR TONER: I’m aware.

    QUESTION: — Secretary Kerry, former Secretary Kerry has talked about in the past.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Is that something that you guys would push the Israelis on?

    MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve talked about this before. We always – with respect to the treatment of any prisoner anywhere, but certainly the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, we would expect them to be treated in accordance with existing human rights standards and with dignity and respect. That said, I can’t speak to the specific case. I’d refer you to Israeli authorities.

    QUESTION: Just a quick question on the Syria sanctions. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Can we move to Iran?

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s go.

    QUESTION: So —

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you.

    QUESTION: — last week Secretary Tillerson announced the review, a major change in U.S. policy, in regards to the Iran deal, saying that it essentially is not going to work, or represents the same failed approach that took place with North Korea. Does that change the JCPOA meeting from the U.S. perspective tomorrow in Vienna? And will the U.S. be discussing options outside of the JCPOA at that meeting with partners?

    MR TONER: Okay. So big question – complicated question, but a good one. I’ll try to answer it. So first of all, to go back to next week, Secretary Tillerson said the Trump administration is conducting a – I think a 90-day review, comprehensive review, of our Iran policy.

    [1] And once we have finalized conclusions, then we’ll be ready, we believe, to better meet the challenges that Iran poses to the region.

    QUESTION: It seems as though he already has come to somewhat of a conclusion —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — though, that it’s —

    MR TONER: Well, look, I think these are concerns that have long been held about Iran, and that is Iran – no one’s under any illusions that Iran has been a malign influence on the region. Whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Lebanon, whether it’s through Hizballah, whether it’s through other nefarious activities, Iran is a state sponsor of terror. And that is separate and apart from our concerns, and the international community’s concerns, about its nuclear program that was addressed in the JCPOA.

    So what we’re now attempting to do is conduct a 90-day review looking at our policy vis-a-vis Iran writ large. Now, with respect to – and until that time, rather – until the review is completed, we’re going to adhere to the JCPOA and ensure that Iran is held to – held strictly accountable to its requirements.

    But you asked about the meeting tomorrow in Geneva, and that is, I think, a quarterly review. It’s called a Joint Commission meeting. So that will take place as scheduled. I think our ambassador – or rather, our lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation, Ambassador Steve Mull, will travel to Vienna, he’ll lead the U.S. delegation, and – look, that meeting’s going to look at whether Iran is meeting its commitments to the JCPOA. Iran’s going to be at the table, so it’s going to be a frank and candid exchange to talk about any concerns that any countries, any delegations have about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapon and whether it’s complying with the JCPOA. I don’t want to get ahead of that, but the meeting’s going to take place as normal.

    QUESTION: And do you know – there was this group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, that says it had satellite imagery showing that Iran was violating the deal. Is it something the U.S. would bring up in that – in that meeting?

    MR TONER: I can’t predict. I’m not aware of that, frankly. I’d have to look into that, but look, this is – this one of the IAEA’s responsibilities: to make sure that it maintains the access that it already has, and that it’s ensuring that Iran is complying with the deal. But as we get information and get access to information that may show otherwise, we’ll certainly share that.

    QUESTION: So Mark, the President said that the – or that Iran is not complying with the spirit of the deal. What does that mean to you?

    MR TONER: I don’t want to parse the President’s words.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to parse it.

    MR TONER: I think —

    QUESTION: I just want to know what that is —

    MR TONER: — more broadly he is —

    QUESTION: — because you’ve talked —

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: You, the Secretary, White House, have all talked about how they’re still a state sponsor of terrorism, they’re still funding Hizballah, they’re still helping Assad, they’re involved with the Houthis in Yemen, all this kind of thing. But none of that was covered by the nuclear deal, so is it —

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: — this administration’s view that the nuclear deal should, in fact, encompass broader sets of – patterns of behavior?

    MR TONER: Sure. I think partly this is what the review aims to look at, is how we take a more comprehensive look at Iran and its bad behavior in the region and whereas previous administration compartmentalized the nuclear agreement and concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, I think all of this is going to be on the table and it all is going to be looked at in the terms of where can we apply pressure —

    QUESTION: Right, but —

    MR TONER: — and I think – sorry – but the reason I don’t want to parse the President’s words is because I think I don’t want to assume what he was intending to say, but I believe he was trying to speak to concerns about that Iran’s behavior hasn’t changed significantly —

    QUESTION: Right, but —

    MR TONER: — across the board.

    QUESTION: — the previous administration, which negotiated the deal —

    MR TONER: I know, I’m aware.

    QUESTION: — purposely left those other things, that other bad behavior, out.

    MR TONER: I’m aware of that.

    QUESTION: So if you are – if they are complying with the letter of the – the administration believes that the Iranians are complying with the letter of the deal, right?

    MR TONER: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: Okay, but not the spirit? So is that, in this – in the view of this administration, is that a violation of the agreement if they are adhering to it that – all the technical aspects of it, but they’re not —

    MR TONER: I don’t think we’re prepared to say that. I think that’s part of the reason why this review is being done.

    QUESTION: All right. And when – in the 90 days that start – clock started ticking on that —

    MR TONER: I don’t know. I’ll have to – I would assume from last week —

    QUESTION: Because there’s another certification due in 90 days from last Tuesday? Was it Tuesday?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I —

    QUESTION: Tuesday night, yeah.

    MR TONER: I’m not sure when the clock started out. I’ll – I can try to get that for you.

    QUESTION: And Mark —

    QUESTION: Mark, the JCPOA – Mark, does it detect – did it have any kind of reference to the spirit or good behavior?

    MR TONER: No, it spoke specifically to —

    QUESTION: So it’s basically a technical thing that the Iranians —

    MR TONER: Yeah. No, it was all about – it was all about —

    QUESTION: — are complying with, right?

    MR TONER: It was all about preventing Iran from cutting off the pathways Iran could pursue to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    QUESTION: Right. And they are adhering to that, right? The Iranians.

    MR TONER: As far as we know, or as to our belief, yes, they are thus far.


    QUESTION: So Mark, part of the review, is that the possibility of maybe wanting to add to the agreement the possibility of reopening negotiations to include this?

    MR TONER: I think it’s a comprehensive look at how we deal with Iran, and taking into account the fact that its behavior in the region hasn’t significantly changed, and how do we look at the tools, and how can we apply pressure. Look, this administration came in with real concerns about the nuclear deal. That said, they said we’re not going to change it or rip it up. We’re going to examine it, think about it, look at it, discuss it, and discuss it in the larger context of Iran’s role in the region and in the world, and then adjust accordingly.

    But until that time, we’re still going to honor the deal.

    QUESTION: Just about the sanctions on Syria, if I can change the topic.

    MR TONER: Oh yeah, of course, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: So do you have any information about whether these 271 scientists actually have assets in the U.S. and/or whether the U.S. is doing business with them?

    MR TONER: Sorry, you’re talking about the —

    QUESTION: The sanctions on the 271 scientists.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Right, right, right. The ones that were just announced at the White House. Sorry, I apologize.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: And your question? I apologize.

    QUESTION: It’s whether they – these 271 employees of the research center – do you have any information on whether they have assets in the U.S. and/or whether the U.S. is doing any business with them?

    MR TONER: A fair question, a question we get asked quite a bit on these kinds of sanctions. Excuse me. I’d have to refer you to OFAC and to the Department of Treasury to speak to any holdings that these individuals may have had. What they were in response to was the Syrian Government’s use of chemical weapons and the people we believe were behind that capability or providing that capability to the Syrian regime. And this is an effort to hold those individuals accountable. As to their possible investments or ties to the U.S. financial system, I can’t answer that.

    QUESTION: Sanctions? Syria sanctions?

    QUESTION: Syria-related, another question on Syria?

    QUESTION: One on Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Syria sanction?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Why is – why were – the airstrikes weren’t enough? Why take this action now? And has anything changed from the day of the airstrikes to allay your suspicions of what you allegedly thought went down and these sanctions?

    MR TONER: No, we’ve been —

    QUESTION: What is driving it?

    MR TONER: Sure. We’ve been pretty clear from the time the decision was made to carry out those airstrikes where we believe those – or those – the chemical attack was launched from and who was responsible for it, and that was the Syrian regime. At the same time, as you know, we’ve also said we would support an investigation by the appropriate UN bodies – the Joint Investigative Mechanism as well as the OPCW group – to look into the – to do an independent examination or investigation into the attacks, but we’re firm in our beliefs.

    QUESTION: Why don’t you wait —

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Why don’t you wait till that —

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Why don’t you wait till that review is done before you take action like this?

    MR TONER: Well, again, we’re going to continue to hold the individuals accountable that we believe carried out these chemical weapons attacks. We were very clear in our quick response to the attack two weeks ago that this could not stand, that this went beyond international standards —

    QUESTION: But why support a probe —

    MR TONER: — and that it was against – sorry.

    QUESTION: Why support a probe if you already know what happened?

    MR TONER: Again, just in the spirit of having an investigative – an independent investigative body look at the examination – or look at the evidence, and there are, as we’ve talked about, these entities within the UN who are already mandated to carry out and have been carrying out these kinds of investigations on the multiple chemical weapons attacks that this regime – that the Assad regime has carried out already in Syria.

    QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Another subject?

    MR TONER: A couple more, guys.

    QUESTION: On another subject?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: So —

    MR TONER: And then I’ll get to Afghanistan, whoever’s asking.

    QUESTION: This – I have a two-part question. The first part is: Any visa that is even decided by other departments is issued by the State Department?

    MR TONER: Any visa?

    QUESTION: Any visa.

    MR TONER: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So based on that, has this department received any guidelines about the H1B visa from the White House? The background is that the executive order doesn’t talk about H1B visa in the hire – buy American, hire American, but there was a more-than-an-hour nearly background briefing which was dedicated to it. And so is there – there is a lot of confusion out there. The lawyers are saying it’s just a review of reform, so can you just update us what is the latest on the H1B?

    MR TONER: On the H1B visas, yeah.

    QUESTION: B, like – and is there anything that will affect the present-day holders of H1B visa?

    MR TONER: With respect to the H1B visas, I don’t have any new information to share. I mean, obviously, we want to see U.S.-India business-to-business ties remain strong. We greatly value Indian companies’ continued investment in the U.S. economy, which also, of course, supports thousands of U.S. jobs. With respect to any new requirements on visas, I’d have to check and see if that’s been updated.

    QUESTION: That – just a quick – the point is that the White House, the President, has ordered the review of the abuse and fraud. So under that, do you have – got any directives to check on —

    MR TONER: Well, I think what I would say about that is —

    QUESTION: — where you are issuing them?

    MR TONER: Sure. Under this White House, we have been looking at ways to strengthen our processes, our visa interview and admission processes, in new ways. And that’s been from the beginnings of this administration, certainly with respect to immigration and with refugee flows as well. Those processes are ongoing.

    But I think it’s important to remember that this is always a part of how our consular bureau works and our consular officers work overseas, and our embassies and missions work overseas, and that is we’re always reviewing the processes that are in place to issue these visas and finding ways to strengthen them, because fundamentally, we want to ensure the security of the American people.

    A couple questions. One more. Yeah.

    QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: In Afghanistan, we’ve seen two attacks that coincide with the visit of top U.S. officials. What does the administration read into that?

    MR TONER: Excuse me. Well, you’re talking about – the second one was the Secretary of Defense Mattis’s trip there today? Well, that was after the fact. I think – look, I think – first of all, I want to strongly condemn the attack on members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces 209th Corps in Balkh province that took place on Friday and killed more than 100 Afghan soldiers, wounded more than 60. This was an attack on these soldiers as they were returning from prayer. It was barbaric, it was unconscionable, and we condemn it fully, and we offer our condolences to the families and loved ones of those lost and injured.

    With respect to what this signifies more broadly, look, I think we continue to see, we believe, the capability of Afghan Security Forces strengthen and grow, but we’re not there yet. And clearly, attacks like these are going to happen. And obviously, the Afghan Government has taken steps; I believe there were some resignations in the aftermath. But this in no way should convey to the Taliban or anyone else in the region that the U.S. has any intention of walking away from its commitment to the Afghan Government and the Afghan people.

    What we’re working on now is continuing to strengthen, on the security side, the capabilities of the Afghan Forces to provide security for their own people, and on the political and economic side, how we can strengthen reform efforts within the government – anti-corruption efforts to make the Afghan Government more accountable to its people. This is not going to be an overnight process and no one is under any illusions that it will be. But again, I think the message – rather than what we’ll take away from this attack, the message we hope to convey by our back-to-back visits is the fact that we are committed to seeing this process through with the Afghan people.

    QUESTION: And just to follow up on that, there is now talk of sending more troops to Afghanistan. How does this fit in with the strategy of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table when they seem to be so hostile to any U.S. presence in the country?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, again, we continue to encourage that. That has to be an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process, and we’ve long said that. But we’ve also conveyed to the Taliban, publicly as I am now, that it’s really the only long-term solution that they have to provide peace and stability – or bring peace and stability to the country. They’re not going to win on the battlefield, but if they engage, meeting the preconditions – they recognize the constitution, they eschew violence and terrorism – that they can be, one day, a part of the political process in Afghanistan. But it’s up to them. And meantime, we’re not going to let up in our efforts to disable them and eliminate them.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MR TONER: Kylie.

    QUESTION: After – quick question. The U.S. top commander in Afghanistan didn’t refute the claims that the Russians are backing the Taliban and also providing them with arms. So has the U.S., the State Department, reached out to the Russians after this specific attack? We know that Lavrov and Tillerson spoke about Afghanistan last week, so how does this impact the U.S.-Russia relationship, and are they talking about these attacks?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the details of our private diplomatic concerns – our private diplomatic conversations with Russia. Excuse me. But obviously, we take the senior military – U.S. military leader assessment of the situation in Afghanistan very seriously, and I can assure you that our concerns have been conveyed to the Russian Government.

    QUESTION: Can you take this? This is Afghanistan as well. Just —

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: — their visas for translators, there seem to be a low supply. I know that it’s a couple senators on the Hill – a couple senators are pushing legislation to increase the number. Do you – does the administration support those efforts?

    MR TONER: Yes. We are committed to continuing this program – the – you’re talking about the Special Immigrant Visas?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: Yeah. We’re committed to – I’m not aware of the exact numbers, but we want to see these efforts continue.

    QUESTION: So you do support increasing the number, is that correct?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Or just continuing to see —

    MR TONER: Continuing the program. I’m not sure what the specific numbers. I’d have to check on that.

    QUESTION: Can you – can you check?

    MR TONER: Yes, will do.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MR TONER: One more question, guys. I apologize.

    QUESTION: I got one more – Iran.

    MR TONER: Oh, okay. Boom, boom.

    QUESTION: Go ahead.

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Could you give us a readout on Brett McGurk’s visits to Iraq and Kuwait recently?

    MR TONER: I will if I can find the – he was in Iraq and Kuwait, I can confirm that. And you know this is part of Brett’s regular visits to the region. Hah, got it. Just for you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: As I was stalling there, Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk did travel to the region. He arrived in Baghdad I think on Friday for consultations, met with senior Iraqi leaders that included Prime Minister Abadi, Foreign Minister Jafari, Parliament Speaker Jabouri, and others. Obviously, they talked about ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS. That obviously includes the latest on the Mosul – operation to liberate Mosul, rather, and our long-term efforts to support Iraq’s stabilization post-ISIS.

    On Saturday, he went to Kuwait. He met with senior Kuwaiti leaders to provide an update on the global coalition’s effort to defeat ISIS and ways that we can intensify that fight. He also got a chance to, I think, thank the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society for their humanitarian effort in and around Mosul including, I think, 40,000 tons of medication, more than 60,000 tons of food, and the building of five schools. And tomorrow – excuse me – tomorrow, he’s going to be traveling to Riyadh, and again, meetings with Saudi officials on ways to intensify the counter-ISIS efforts.

    QUESTION: And the Iraqis have said they expect the Mosul operation to be completed by the middle of May; is that – like in three weeks. Is that something that you agree with, that’s going to happen so soon?

    MR TONER: Not for me to give battlefield assessments. I would defer to my colleagues in the Department of Defense. I would only say that it’s – and we said this from the get-go – that it was going to be a hard, difficult effort. That effort’s ongoing. We’re confident that we’ll liberate the city, but I think the Iraqi forces have shown tremendous fortitude, tremendous perseverance, tremendous courage, tremendous sacrifice, and also tremendous care in liberating without putting civilians at too great a risk.


    QUESTION: IIP is in your bureau, is it not, Public Affairs?

    MR TONER: No, it’s a different —

    QUESTION: It’s not in Public Affairs?

    MR TONER: It’s a different entity.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: Other – their focus —

    QUESTION: Can you take this question, then —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: — since you wouldn’t – have – if it’s not in your bureau, you might not know about it. But it’s come to some people’s attention that IIP has produced an article which is being promoted on at least the embassy of – the U.S. Embassy in London as well as a site called ShareAmerica, and this article is a feature about Mar-a-Lago. And I’m wondering if this whole thing in its appearance – the appearance of this article on government websites has been vetted by anybody, because Mar-a-Lago –

    MR TONER: I’ll look into it. It’s the first time I’m hearing about the article.

    QUESTION: It’s not like Camp David; it’s privately – it’s a private club and so —

    MR TONER: So you’re asking me – just so – sorry, just so I’m clear, the message – you’re asking whether the article had been vetted by appropriate —

    QUESTION: I want to know if —

    MR TONER: — security folks or just in general?

    QUESTION: Yeah – no, no, no, no, no. Not security, ethics.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m being told that the content was produced by the State Department and put on the embassy’s website.

    MR TONER: I’ll check into it. I don’t have anything to offer.

    QUESTION: It’s not a —

    MR TONER: Last question. I know, it’s not a security issue. I understand what you’re saying.

    QUESTION: But I want you – it’s not a security, it’s an ethics issue.

    MR TONER: Last question.

    QUESTION: Mark, three months into this administration now, there’s still an overwhelming number of senior positions here at the State Department, and I believe 181 ambassadorships around the world that have still not – there are no nominations for. Could you explain why that is, and do you think there are any nominations coming soon?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, so I’ll refer you to the White House on questions regarding nominations for senior-level positions including ambassadorships because that’s their purview. But with respect to the vacancies, I can assure everyone in this room and everyone in the United States and around the world that these are not vacancies, that there are senior State Department official serving in acting capacities, but these folks are seasoned veterans of the Foreign Service and seasoned diplomats. I know many of them personally, and I can speak – attest to their expertise and their professionalism. But this is a process, and with any new administration it takes time. Would we like to see it move faster? Certainly. And I think we’re looking at efforts on how to make that move faster. But it takes two to tango; we need Congress’s support and the Senate’s support to get there.

    Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

    DPB # 22

    [1] On April 18, Secretary Tillerson announced that President Trump has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States. The NSC has not provided a timetable for this review.

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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – April 13, 2017

Mark C. Toner

Acting Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

April 13, 2017

Index for Today’s Briefing



    2:09 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Hey, guys. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Thursday. I don’t have anything at the top, except for one thing.

    I did notice – or I’m getting a lot of question, and I’ve seen some commentary on social media about what may or may not be happening in the corridor just outside the briefing room. I just wanted to assuage any conspiracy-minded folks that the PA Bureau is undergoing a renovation of its office space. It’s a long-planned project; it’s overseen by the Bureau of Administration’s Real Property Management Office, which manages all domestic State Department property, and that includes in this building.

    They are taking every necessary precaution to ensure that the asbestos abatement is done according to environmental safety standards, and that does include having to temporarily remove the portraits of the legions of previous spokespeople that have graced this podium before me. But I can assure you that they will be restored in all their glory. They’re not being consigned to the trash heap of history. And, look, it’s really for you all to lobby, but – granted I’ve only been acting spokesman, but I have briefed up here more than any other spokesperson in history, with the possible exception of Boucher.

    With that little self-aggrandizement, I will turn it over to you, Matt Lee.

    QUESTION: Well, I just want to make sure the asbestos situation is going to be under control. We’re not going to be quarantined or anything?

    MR TONER: No, I can assure you you won’t be, but it’s the reason why they have to put up those scary warnings. Anyway, what’s up?

    QUESTION: All right. And when the new photos go back – well, when the old photos go back up, will there be a new one?

    MR TONER: I have nothing to announce at this time. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying to get a —

    MR TONER: I know you are. I know you are.

    QUESTION: — just get a – and on-the-record response to —

    MR TONER: And we will keep you informed.

    QUESTION: — whether or not this is the last – your last briefing.

    MR TONER: My last briefing? I never say never, so I’ll withhold on that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: And I’ll send out commentary later if it does turn out to be my last briefing. No, just kidding.

    QUESTION: Well, no, because if – you’re not going to get away with not having some words said about you when that does happen.

    MR TONER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

    QUESTION: Anyway, let’s start with real news.

    MR TONER: Of course. Yeah.

    QUESTION: On Russia.

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: I wanted to clear up one logistical thing and then ask a policy type of thing. One, the logistical thing is: To the best of your knowledge, was there ever any indication that over the course of the last week that the Secretary’s meeting with President Putin would not happen?

    MR TONER: So – (coughing). Excuse me. Was there – sorry, let me make sure I got the question right. Was there ever any indication that it would not happen? So routinely – and I think others opined on this yesterday – it is the case that the president will see a visiting secretary of state, and that’s been the case in the past. It’s also pretty routine that they’re not formally announced until the day of or even hours before. And that’s ultimately something for the Kremlin and President Putin himself to announce, which is part of the reason why we were being mum on it. I think it’s something we expected all along and were planning on, but —

    QUESTION: Right. But did you ever get any indication from the Russians that the meeting might be off?

    MR TONER: We were never given any indication that there —

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR TONER: — that there might not be a meeting. Yeah.

    QUESTION: And then there seemed to be a line of commentary that Secretary Tillerson had been kept waiting by President Putin. The meeting, I believe, was scheduled and had been long scheduled for 5:30 local time, and the way I understood it, the Secretary was running about half an hour late after his meetings with the foreign minister. So the meeting began less than half an hour after it was – or about half an hour after it was supposed to have been – is that correct?

    MR TONER: I can assure you he was not – I double-checked on this, and he was not kept waiting.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. Now on the —

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: Onto the substance.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: The Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov both announced that they would be creating working groups – I think Foreign Minister Lavrov used the word “special envoys,” but I don’t know if that was a translation issue or not, but let’s say working groups – to look at various irritants and see how they – can you be more specific about what those areas are that these working groups, or if it’s just one working group, what it will be looking at and what you hope to achieve?

    MR TONER: So a couple thoughts on that. And I – if I’m shy on specifics, I apologize. But first of all, both in his bilateral meeting, but also in his meeting with – sorry, with his – in his bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but also in his bilat with President Putin, there was, I think, an acknowledgment that there are almost historical low level of trust – levels of trust between our two countries. And I think Secretary Tillerson said right out of the bat in his press avail yesterday that’s a problem.

    I think in his – certainly in his meeting with President Putin they went over the history of why we’re where we’re at, and I think it allowed the two of them to both appreciate and better understand why each country is frustrated with the other on certain issues. And I think by the end of that, they were able to acknowledge that with this understanding in place there’s a way for the two countries to find ways to rebuild some of that trust, find opportunities. And with that respect, I think that’s – the idea of this working group is to look at – look for those opportunities or ways to kind of rebuild a trust or —

    QUESTION: So it’s singular? It’s not multiple?

    MR TONER: It’s my understanding it is a singular group at this point.

    QUESTION: Okay. And —

    MR TONER: And sorry, just in terms of the working group’s mandate, that’s still being worked out, the exact details. There’s been some speculation this is kind of a return to the bilateral presidential commission. That’s not the case. But I think this is a group that’s going to focus on looking at some of these irritants and looking at ways that we can possibly find opportunities to cooperate.

    QUESTION: When you say mandate is being looked at, does that include the membership of it? Like, who would be on it?

    MR TONER: I believe so, yeah. And who will be on it, yes.

    QUESTION: All right. And then you said that they went over the history of why we’re at where we’re at? Was this like the airing of grievances or something? I don’t – I mean, how far back did they go?

    MR TONER: I don’t know. I was told a short history. I don’t know.

    Look, I think – I think it was helpful to hear – for both sides to hear each other’s perspective on why we’re where we’re at. I mean, none of this is going to come as news to anybody in this room who’s followed how we’ve gotten to where we are, but I think it’s important in any kind of bilateral situation like that to hear the other side’s point of view. He did that – Secretary Tillerson. And again, it’s part of an effort to appreciate their perspective. It’s not one we agree on, but it helps us understand so that we can find a way to work forward.

    QUESTION: Right. But I mean, is the idea that they would focus on smaller issues of – and not huge differences like Syria, or NATO expansion, or missile —

    MR TONER: I wouldn’t even – I wouldn’t necessarily even qualify it that way. I think they’re looking at where we can find common ground. I mean, look, even out of Syria there was the common ground that they found that we’ve all agreed to what end state we want to see in Syria, which is a Syria whole and with all religious groups and minorities represented. But how we get there, that’s a difficult – I get it. That’s a difficult challenge.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s been the common – that’s been the common goal since Geneva I.

    MR TONER: You’re right. And – but it’s the getting there that’s difficult. But I think it’s —

    QUESTION: So what’s the point of agreeing to something that you previously agreed to and then – I mean, I just – was there any – if there’s no progress on the means to get to the end, then I don’t understand what – why it’s so productive to – for the two sides to run down a list of what pisses you off about the other side. I don’t get it.

    MR TONER: Well, I think, again, I’ll just say as part of this effort to find common ground, find areas of cooperation – not common ground, but areas of cooperation, there was a good-faith effort for each other to listen to the other’s grievances.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up? Yeah?

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Lesley.

    QUESTION: Just to come back, so you don’t know when the working group is going to start?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I don’t. If I get more on that, I will let you know, but I think it’s TBD.

    QUESTION: Okay. And I know this – was there maybe a discussion about a follow-up meeting between the two, between Lavrov and the Secretary?

    MR TONER: Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson?

    QUESTION: Are you aware of anything?

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of any physical meeting. Of course, they’ll obviously follow up on – by phone, I expect. I have nothing to announce in that regard too, but I have no expectation yet of a follow-up meeting.

    QUESTION: Do you – you probably saw that the AP had an interview today with Assad.

    MR TONER: Saw that.

    QUESTION: Who called it – who called the accusations of a chemical attack a fabrication. You saw earlier this morning the Syrian Army statement, which the U.S. then put down, saying that the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS that hit a chemical weapons depot by ISIS. What’s going on? A day after these meetings, there seems to be pushback. This doesn’t look like somebody who looks like he’s about to change course.

    MR TONER: Well, it’s – sadly, it’s vintage Assad. It is an attempt by him to throw up false flags, create confusion. Frankly, it’s a tactic we’ve seen on Russia’s part as well in the past. There can be little doubt that the recent attacks and the chemical weapons attack in Idlib was by the Syrian Government, by the Syrian regime, and that it wasn’t only a violation of the laws of war but it was, we believe, a war crime.

    QUESTION: Mark, I just want to follow up on this.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But before that, I want to ask you about Russia.

    MR TONER: (Sneezes.) Excuse me.

    QUESTION: The President said that – basically sort of toned down the rhetoric. And he said that ultimately, everybody will come – the President —

    MR TONER: Who? President Putin?

    QUESTION: No. The President of the United States, President Trump —

    MR TONER: Sorry. I apologize.

    QUESTION: — said that everybody will come back to their senses and they are going to have better relations and so on. Is that a result of the conversation between Secretary Tillerson and the president? Is that the outcome? Because that up and down – or more hopeful about the future relations with Russia than it was yesterday.

    MR TONER: Well, certainly I’ll let the President’s tweet stand for itself. I’d just say that the President also made this point in his press avail with the NATO secretary general yesterday, and it’s simply that the world is a complicated and difficult place, and there’s enough hard challenges out there that we would like to be able to have a constructive relationship with Russia. But we’re not there. And I think – but I think our ultimate goal is to find, as I said, areas – small at start, but areas where we can rebuild that trust that’s sorely lacking.

    QUESTION: And on the Assad interview, now he keeps saying that you have refutable evidence. I mean, today, the United States is saying that they intercepted some communications between the pilot and some chemical scientist and so on on how to do this. I mean, that is – that seems to be the evidence. I find that difficult – I mean – or isn’t it a bit odd that the pilot would be talking to whoever the scientists are and so on to drop this bomb? Is that the only evidence you have?

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of that report. What I —

    QUESTION: But that —

    MR TONER: What I am – sure.

    QUESTION: That’s what CNN said.

    MR TONER: What I – sure.

    QUESTION: Because they were told by a high official and so on.

    MR TONER: Well, what I am aware of – and I think there was a backgrounder done on this by some of the – of our intelligence officials who looked at and analyzed this data, what went into our analysis and our ultimate conclusion that this was a chemical weapons attack that was carried out by the Syrian regime and that was laid out, I think, in some articles the other day. They briefed on background, given their status as intelligence officials. But it’s pretty clear-cut in our book.

    Look, that said, as I think Secretary Tillerson said, there are – we have the joint investigative mechanism. We have other mechanisms. The OPCW has these mechanisms to investigate, conduct an impartial investigation into these allegations. We know what happened. We have reached our own conclusion. We carried out the airstrikes.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: But by all means, those independent mechanisms should be allowed to carry out their investigations. But again, what we saw yesterday was – what did Russia do? It vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have allowed those investigations to move forward.

    QUESTION: There is a lot to go through there. But if – let’s say you have an investigation, and the investigation somehow concludes that there was no Syria chemical strike. I mean, you already struck. You already destroyed that airbase. So how would that be dealt with?

    MR TONER: I can only say that we are – we undertook that action with the utmost confidence that it – this – that we were hitting the airstrip and the airbase, rather, that carried out that strike.

    QUESTION: And lastly —

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: — I just want you to clarify something, because I don’t understand it. What – isn’t it that the U.S. Army, who was supposed to dispose of these chemical weapons and, in fact, they did; they destroyed something like 600 tons, which is all the chemical weapons that was at least declared by Syria at the time? Isn’t that true? Would you clarify that for us? Because you keep – or you keep hearing that Russia was responsible to guarantee that these weapons are destroyed or accounted for and so on.

    MR TONER: Right. Well, they were, in fact – as signatories to that agreement, Russia pledged to assure that the Assad regime – and the Assad regime also pledged to ensure that it would give up its declared chemical weapons. There were – I don’t have the exact amounts in front of me, but there was a massive amount of chemical weapons that were, in fact, taken out of Syria and neutralized. So you can’t say that that effort was in vain. It wasn’t. It got chemical weapons out of that conflict area. But that said, clearly either they remained their capacity to produce additional chemical weapons or they didn’t declare all their chemical weapons.

    Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: You said the Security Council resolution the Russians vetoed yesterday would have allowed an investigation. My understanding was that the agreement back in – that you just referred to, that that allowed for investigations. So is it actually correct that —

    MR TONER: Sorry. It sought – I apologize. It sought to hold the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack accountable, called on the regime to cooperate with an independent international investigation. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Right. But an investigation – the – yesterday’s resolution was not required for there to be an investigation.

    MR TONER: Right. These – my understanding is that these bodies – I mean, that’s what they exist for, is to carry out these investigations.

    QUESTION: So it didn’t need – it didn’t need —

    MR TONER: But they – it did not need to pass.

    QUESTION: They don’t – they didn’t need a new authorization from the Security Council to conduct an investigation.

    MR TONER: That’s my understanding. Yeah.

    Go ahead, sir. And then I’ll get to you, Goyal.

    QUESTION: I have a question about yesterday’s meeting with – in Moscow —

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: — but in frame of Ukraine issue. So yesterday, Secretary of State said in Moscow that he discussed Ukraine and Minsk agreement with Foreign Minister Lavrov. However, there was no acknowledgment that Mr. Tillerson talked about it with Mr. Putin. So could you give more detail on that? And was the Ukraine issue raised during the meeting with Russian president?

    MR TONER: So I can – as you noted, I can say that he did raise Ukraine in his bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I don’t have the details, full details, of his bilat with President Putin or his meeting with President Putin. I can’t confirm – I’m sorry – that Ukraine was raised in that setting. I think it probably was, since they went through the range of issues where we don’t see eye to eye with Russia on. And as Secretary Tillerson was very clear, that on those issues that we don’t see eye to eye on, he’ll continue to raise those in his meetings with Russian officials. I just can’t confirm absolutely that it was raised in that meeting. I just don’t have that level of clarity.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Still on Russia, but kind of a pivot.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: Russia is hosting multination consultations on Afghanistan tomorrow.

    MR TONER: Oh, sure. Yeah.

    QUESTION: What, if any, role will the U.S. play in those talks? And is there concern that through those talks, Russia is trying to expand its role and influence in Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Good question. So first of all, we don’t plan to participate in these regional talks. I think they’re April 14th, which is tomorrow. They have been organized by the Russian Government. We do generally support regional efforts that work with the Afghan Government to build support for a peaceful outcome in Afghanistan, and I think we – going forward, we do plan to work with Russia and other key regional stakeholders to enhance dialogue on Afghanistan. It’s been – long been our argument that all countries in the region need to form a unified front with respect to Afghanistan and make it very clear that the only way to end that conflict definitively is through peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government. And we’ve said – also made it perfectly clear that Taliban have no viable alternative but to enter into direct talks in order to achieve their goals.

    I think just to end it, we just felt that these talks – it was unclear to us what the purpose was. It seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region that we felt wasn’t constructive at this time.

    QUESTION: Just following up on —

    QUESTION: Staying on Afghanistan.

    MR TONER: Goyal, and then I’ll get –

    QUESTION: Thank you. Follow on Afghanistan.

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: As far as – thank you very much, Mark.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: As far as U.S. bombings in Afghanistan is concerned, it’s not a big surprise to the high-level Afghan officials because they were here – the advisor to the president of Afghanistan and also foreign minister of Afghanistan were here and speaking with the reporters and also at the think tanks. What they were saying that the terrorism problem in Afghanistan is being created by Pakistan, and all the terrorists are coming into Afghanistan and back and forth and back and forth because there is no – there is no check and balance and they are not holding them.

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: My question is here that as far as this bombing to eliminate those ISIS and Talibans – is this because of those high-level official who also met somebody here at the State Department? Also, recently, you just issued a travel warning to Pakistan.

    MR TONER: When you say “this bombing,” you’re – I think you’re referring to the bombing that took place just a few hours ago. Is that —

    QUESTION: That’s right. Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: The mother of all bombs.

    MR TONER: The mother of all bombs.

    QUESTION: Yeah, White House announced just at the briefing.

    MR TONER: No, okay. I just wanted to make sure I was on the – look, a couple points. One is I’ll refer you to what’s already been said about this airstrike that was taken – that took place in Afghanistan. I think it was aimed at a network of tunnels that was being used by terrorist organizations. I can’t say that this was an immediate outcome of any conversations we had with the Afghan Government. I think it’s part of our ongoing efforts to take the fight to the Taliban, to take the fight to ISIS affiliates that are operating in that territory, al-Qaida affiliates that are operating on Afghan soil, and that’s going to continue.

    You spoke about Pakistan and their role in this. We’ve been very clear, while we understand that Pakistan has made efforts to confront terrorism and terrorist organizations on its own soil, that there are still what we call safe havens that exist for terrorist groups to operate from and carry strikes out on Afghanistan. That’s a problem. Again, it’s in Pakistan’s interest to work with – constructively with Afghanistan to address those security concerns.

    QUESTION: I have one on India, please.

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you, I promise.

    QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

    MR TONER: Michele, go ahead.

    QUESTION: I have a question on Turkey —

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: — and the Pastor Brunson case.

    QUESTION: Can we stay on Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Let me just get to her and then I promise I’ll come back to you. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Vice President Pence has written a letter to the family talking about how this is a top priority for the Trump administration, so I’m wondering what specifically the U.S. is doing to win his release. And then I have a follow-up.

    MR TONER: Sure. You’re talking about —

    QUESTION: Andrew Brunson.

    MR TONER: Yeah, of course. So we can confirm that Turkish authorities detained Andrew Brunson on October 7th, 2016. Since his arrest, I can tell you that consular officers have been able to visit him regularly. We continue to provide appropriate support, consular services, to both – to Mr. Brunson as well as his family. It goes without saying that we take very seriously our obligation to assist any U.S. citizen, but certainly in this case, who is – who are arrested abroad. With respect to his legal case, I’d have to refer you to Mr. Brunson’s attorney.

    QUESTION: So the – when Tillerson was in Ankara, he was asked and Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, was asked about it, and he said that we’re about to finalize the charges against him. And I wonder if there’s been any movement in that case. I mean, as you say, he’s been held since October.

    MR TONER: Excuse me. Well, we have asked Turkish officials to consider releasing Mr. Brunson from custody, subject to whatever judicial conditions or controls may be appropriate while his legal case is resolved. Agree he’s been in detention far too long, and this has been done with other individuals under investigation. And of course, we call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case in a timely and fair manner, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the protections of a fair trial guarantee that are necessary for his defense.

    So our position in this is we’ve made clear our concerns to the Turkish Government; we’re going to continue to offer whatever support we can to Mr. Brunson and his family; and again, our desire to see this resolved as quickly as possible.

    QUESTION: Staying on Turkey?

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MR TONER: Sure thing. Let’s stay on Turkey, and then we’ll get back to Syria, because I know Tejinder was looking at me.

    QUESTION: Turkey.

    QUESTION: Can I have another one after that?

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: On Turkey. Just today, UN experts issued report regarding referendum on Sunday, and they concluded that if the constitution amendments pass on Sunday, then will be existing major violations of social and cultural rights in Turkey will even increase. Not only UN, but also EU, other international watchdogs, witness commissions, and many other experts basically conclude same: If the constitutional changes pass, Turkey’s democratic standards, separation of powers, and many other values will be basically wiped out. What is your conclusion? I am sure you have seen the proposal so far.

    MR TONER: The proposals of – I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Proposal of the constitutional changes that will be voted.

    MR TONER: Look, I’d just say we’re obviously following this issue very closely. As I said the other day, we are concerned about the quality of Turkey’s democracy. These are discussions that we have on a somewhat regular basis with the Turkish Government. Because we’re strong allies and partners, we can have those kinds of conversations.

    I don’t think I have much to – much to say beyond what I said the other day, which is that we’re – you spoke about the OSCE’s final report. We’re looking at that and studying it very closely, but we’re going to, obviously, watch this very closely and – as it moves forward, the referendum, and hope that it’s carried out in such a way that guarantees and strengthens democracy in Turkey.

    QUESTION: Certainly. But so far, the standards and the conditions already – don’t you think the fairness of the freeness of the elections already under huge questions, since we have seen severe limitations on the campaigning in Turkey?

    MR TONER: Several limitations?

    QUESTION: Severe —

    MR TONER: Limitations, okay.

    QUESTION: — limitations in Turkey.

    MR TONER: I mean look, we never want to see, in any case, as part of any kind of free and fair electoral process, any kind of limitation on all sides to express their viewpoints peacefully. So again, we’re watching this very closely.

    In the back, and then —

    QUESTION: And aren’t you concerned about the environment in which the referendum is going to be held? I mean, hundreds, if not thousands, of dissidents, including the leader of the main Kurdish opposition party, are in prison. How can they campaign for the no voters? I mean, is this referendum not going to be really a fair referendum, according to the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I – there are election observers on the ground. We’re going to let them look at and analyze this referendum as it – and that’s going to include in the lead up to it – and pronounce their judgment of whether it was free and fair. I’m going to withhold comment beyond what I have said already, which is, of course, we’re watching this. We’re monitoring it very closely.

    QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Sure. But let me – I’ll get back to you. I promise. I’m just – in the middle there. Sorry. You.

    QUESTION: Right here?

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. So I want to go to Asia. So —

    MR TONER: We can go.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thanks.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Not too long ago, Prime Minister Abe said that North Korea may have the capacity to deliver missiles with sarin nerve gas. And I know sarin nerve gas is in the news a lot recently, so first, I want to ask: Do you agree with that assessment? And then I have a follow-up.

    MR TONER: You know what, I – to be perfectly honest, I have not seen those reports. Obviously, we’re concerned about North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver those nuclear weapons in the region, and even to the United States. And that continues to be a major concern or a primary concern, but – excuse me – it also goes without saying that North Korea has shown itself willing to pursue other weapons of mass destruction. So I can’t say whether those reports are valid or not. I just don’t know, but it’s something we would take very seriously.

    QUESTION: And then – so then just the other day as well, Sean Spicer said that there’s no evidence that North Korea has the capacity of a nuclear strike at this time. And, of course, a lot of eyes are on the country this weekend because of the holiday. So are you saying that either both with sarin gas and nuclear weapons – like, the country doesn’t have capacity for either, or both?

    MR TONER: Well, they’re clearly pursuing ballistic missile testing. They’re clearly trying to – I mean, we’ve seen this multiple times, that they’re – in the past six months alone, that they’re trying to test out systems that can deliver whatever, whether it’s a nuclear weapon or something else, in the region. And that’s why, frankly, we are so utterly seized with the threat that North Korea now poses. And it’s also one of the reasons why – and this was made very clear in the President’s meetings with Chinese leadership last week – that the time for action is now, and by that, we need to look at ways to put increased pressure on North Korea in order for it to recognize the reality that it needs to pursue denuclearization, that it needs to answer the international community’s very real concerns about its ongoing efforts to pursue nuclear weaponry and the means to deliver those in the region.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: Stay on the topic?

    QUESTION: Also on North Korea.

    QUESTION: I have a follow-up.

    MR TONER: We’ll stay on North Korea, sure.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Let’s kill – let’s go through all these questions and then —

    QUESTION: Yes, North Korea.

    MR TONER: Kill this topic, sorry.

    QUESTION: Thank you. The last time Secretary Tillerson said that the strategic patience is over and need a new approach to the North Korea. What is the United States new approach toward North Korea? What specifically included?

    MR TONER: Well, good question. I think that, as I just said, provocations from North Korea have grown, frankly, too common, too dangerous to ignore anymore. So we’re working with the international community, and that includes our partners in the region – certainly Republic of Korea, Japan are among those stalwart partners and allies that we’re working with to address this concern. But we’re looking at how we hold the Kim Jong-un regime accountable for its reckless behavior. And the way we’re doing that is pursuing right now efforts to isolate, to cut off North Korea from the rest of the world, and that’s being done through diplomatic efforts, but it’s also through security and economic measures as well. All of this is with the aim of persuading North Korea that its pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them is only going to take it farther from what it professes to want, which is a prosperous, engaged role in the world.


    QUESTION: Another one on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Really? But has it ever said that it wanted an engaged role in the world?

    MR TONER: Well, I think there’s been some – there’s been lots of talk —

    QUESTION: That North Korea wants to be —

    MR TONER: — or lots of discussion within the Six-Party Talks that —

    QUESTION: The Six-Party is done at the working level.

    MR TONER: — that they want – sorry, I’m answering two questions at one time – that they want prosperity, that they want to be heard. That’s what I’m talking about.

    QUESTION: Yeah —

    QUESTION: What do you mean by saying it’s too dangerous to ignore anymore? Is this administration’s position that the previous administration and the ones before it ignored North Korea?

    MR TONER: I think it’s a – no, but I would say that there’s – look, I think in the past several months, we have seen only an acceleration of North Korea’s efforts to – as I said, to pursue nuclear weaponry, but also the means to deliver it. So I think there’s a realization that the time for talk, the time for some of this – if I could put it this – kind of long-term negotiation strategy and engagement is past. We —

    QUESTION: Well, it’s a crowd-pleasing line, isn’t it, to say that, like, it’s too dangerous to ignore anymore. But, like, it’s one thing, as the Secretary has said, that the policy of strategic patience or such has failed, but that doesn’t mean that previous administrations, whether it’s the Clinton administration, Bush Administration, or Obama administration, ignored the problem. They just didn’t deal with it in a way that has been able to abate it, wouldn’t you say?

    MR TONER: I would say that the —

    QUESTION: Are you saying that strategic patience is akin to ignoring North Korea?

    MR TONER: No, no, and that’s a fair point. What I would say is that we can no longer, I think, engage in that kind of longer-range approach to North Korea, that we need short-term solutions. And that’s not to – look, the Secretary was also very clear we’re not looking to – for regime change here. We’re looking at denuclearization.

    QUESTION: Well, do you need short-term solutions, or do you need – I understand – it sounds like you’re mixing your metaphors a little, because yes, you need – I understand what you’re saying about not looking —

    MR TONER: That’s what we spokespeople do.

    QUESTION: — for a long-term – thinking about long-term negotiations, but a short-term solution is not going to deal with the North Korean problem in the long term. Don’t you think?

    MR TONER: (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: A short-term solution is a short-term solution.

    MR TONER: I understand what you’re saying. Look, let me try to —

    QUESTION: You don’t want to curb the —

    MR TONER: Right. So —

    QUESTION: That’s just —

    MR TONER: Okay. So there is an urgency to the situation that wasn’t necessarily there in the past because of the actions that they’ve taken over the past six months. And so I think that’s been made very clear by Secretary Tillerson, by President Trump, and we’ve made that clear to the Chinese as well, as well as our other allies and partners in the region.

    QUESTION: President Trump said that if China is not help to resolve North Korea nuclear issues, the United States will take its own actions. What do you expect from China to do so?

    MR TONER: Well, I think we expect China to – obviously to assert its leverage that it has. I think just today it was talking about even though it’s enacted all of the UN Security Council resolutions – or UN Security Council sanctions, rather, regime against North Korea, it’s also got a very robust trading program with North Korea. So clearly, it has economic influence over North Korea. We’re looking at it to leverage its unique relationship with North Korea to persuade the regime in Pyongyang to reconsider.

    QUESTION: Mark, can I change the subject?

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s change subject. Sorry, I’ll get back to you.

    QUESTION: Yeah, let’s finish this. So —

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you when I have time. I’ll get back to you when I have time.

    QUESTION: There is an internal memo that went around as well as something that was updated online that even though the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the federal hiring freeze, that the Secretary Tillerson, that the State Department was going to maintain its hiring freeze. Do you know what led to that decision?

    MR TONER: Sure. So OMB —

    QUESTION: And what is it about?

    MR TONER: Okay. So the OMB on Wednesday announced the lifting of the hiring freeze, as you noted, and provided also extensive further guidance to all the various federal agencies on the implementation of and requirements pursuant to the OMB memorandum which is called, I think, Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, which is a mouthful. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: And this document, this memo, provides guidance on new requirements on the presidential memorandum that was initially issued on January 23rd.

    QUESTION: Correct.

    MR TONER: This was the one that issued the hiring freeze, as well as the executive order issued on March 13th that required a comprehensive plan to reorganize all the executive branch departments and agencies.

    So as part of that process, the department and this Secretary are going to be undertaking a reorganization later in the year, and the decision was taken that the hiring freeze will continue until that plan is fully developed and agreement is reached on its implementation.

    And this is just part of prudent planning. We can’t be onboarding people when we don’t know what our reorganization is ultimately going to look at – look like. But until then – and this is an important point – the Secretary does retain authority to waive the ruling – or the hiring freeze and will do so in instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission and responsibilities require. So he does —

    QUESTION: So it doesn’t break any federal law that he’s done this?

    MR TONER: It does not. It’s his decision to maintain this hiring freeze.

    QUESTION: Even though that – even though the Congress has – the appropriations has approved money for it, or even if the Congress has said that that’s fine to lift it. So there is a law, a federal law, that if appropriations has moved on some kind of spending or whatever —

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: — and he says, “No, I’m not going to touch that,” isn’t that against a law?

    MR TONER: My understanding is that he has the jurisdiction to – basically to keep this freeze in place as we go about this presidentially mandated reorganization.

    QUESTION: Are we talking about Civil and Foreign Service officers, political appointees? What —

    MR TONER: Across the board.

    QUESTION: So he’s – wait a minute. So he’s not going to hire any political appointees —

    MR TONER: I —

    QUESTION: — before the reorg?

    MR TONER: I believe it’s a hiring freeze across the board. I don’t know about political appointees. I’ll check on that.

    QUESTION: Could you check on that? So what are you – yeah, I mean —

    MR TONER: I can check on that.

    QUESTION: That would – essentially, if that’s true, what you’re saying, that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, that you would not be hiring any assistant secretaries —

    MR TONER: I will check on political appointments. I’m not sure about political appointments.

    QUESTION: — under secretaries, a deputy secretary of state.

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’m not sure about political appointments.

    QUESTION: That can’t be right.

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll check on that.

    QUESTION: So effectively he’s put this on, the freeze, until he’s done the reorganization. Have those plans actually started? And how are they going to be fleshed out? Does —

    MR TONER: I believe they have started. As to how they’re going to be fleshed out, I don’t have any more details.

    QUESTION: I mean, it’s going to go on for the rest of the year?

    MR TONER: I don’t know if there’s a time, date. I don’t have any kind of timeframe for you. If I get one, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: And I gather that he would have got White House or congressional approval for this?

    MR TONER: Yes, I would imagine he would.

    QUESTION: I just want to point out something that —

    MR TONER: On the political appointees, though, it’s a good question.

    QUESTION: Yeah, no, because I mean Foreign Minister Lavrov even said yesterday that – I mean, we can consider the source, but other diplomats from other —

    MR TONER: No, I’m not responding, I’m just —

    QUESTION: I understand, but other diplomats from other countries have also said that the lack of staff at the State Department has become an impediment to having interlocutors to deal with, whether it’s long-term foreign policy cooperation, short-term foreign policy crises. So I mean, I would really like some clarification on that. Because if you’re saying that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, I really would say that suggests that that will continue to be a problem.

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

    QUESTION: Related to this, though, Mark, you said that he has the – he retains authority to waive it, right?

    MR TONER: Yeah, authority. Thank you. Yes, he does. Yeah. In instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission —

    QUESTION: Has he?

    MR TONER: — responsibilities – I would assume that political appointees in high positions would fall under the department’s core mission responsibilities.

    QUESTION: Do you think that would apply to the – do you think that would apply to the newly nominated deputy? You think he’d get away with it?

    MR TONER: I would think that would apply.

    QUESTION: Mark, can I —

    QUESTION: So – hold on a second; I’m not done.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Back in February, two months ago tomorrow —

    QUESTION: Sorry, Matt.

    QUESTION: — the department sought and received a waiver from the – what was then the hiring freeze. You were given permission by OMB to bring on 175 new staff – 70 entry level, 80 mid level, and 25 consular fellows. Did those people actually come on board? And has the department – did the department seek additional exemptions between February 14th and Wednesday?

    MR TONER: I’ll check on both. Yeah, I’ll check on both. I’ll take those questions.

    QUESTION: Can I —

    QUESTION: Another subject?

    MR TONER: Yeah, we can change the subject, but I haven’t gotten to – I’ll get back to you, I swear to God.

    QUESTION: Regarding Venezuela.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Thousands of protesters are demanding new elections in Venezuela. And opposition leaders consider that the government of the President Nicolas Maduro, it’s no longer respecting democratic institutions and it’s sliding toward authoritarian practices. Can you comment on that, please?

    MR TONER: Sure. First of all, we’re – I want to start with some of the reports of violence against protesters during demonstrations in Venezuela. We’re aware of those reports. We obviously regret any loss of life. We call, once again, on the Government of Venezuela to conduct full, fair, and transparent investigations into this violence. We also call on the government and security forces to respect the freedom of assembly – peaceful assembly – as a universal human right, which the Venezuelan authorities should respect. We, as I said, also urge the demonstrators to express themselves nonviolently.

    With respect to your broader question, we urge the Maduro government to reconsider its decision this past week, I believe, or past weekend, to bar Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles and – from participating in the country’s public life for I think some 15 years. It’s something we view with grave concern. It’s absolutely vital that Venezuelans have the right to exercise their – and elect their representatives in free and fair elections in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution and consistent with international instruments. And that includes the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

    We firmly support as well the consensus of the Organization of American States Permanent Council, which affirms it is essential that the Government of Venezuela ensure the full restoration of democratic order.

    Thanks. Please.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: You mentioned the need to work with South Korea and Japan —

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: — on North Korea. And Vice President Pence is about to travel to that region and will be visiting both South Korea and Japan. I was wondering if you could discuss what message he’ll be sending to leaders in the region and what he’ll be discussing in those meetings, and then I have a —

    MR TONER: Well, look, I would have to refer you to the Vice President and his office to talk about the specifics about his trip. But, obviously, I think that it’s very clear given Secretary Tillerson’s travel to the region, given that both leadership from Republic of Korea and Japan have been here for high-level meetings, that we are very concerned, primarily concerned with North Korea and its actions and how to deal with North Korea. And in that regard, I think he’s going to be sending a very clear message, certainly in Seoul and elsewhere, of our steadfast, ironclad support for our allies and partners in the region. And that stands absolute.

    So I’ll let – I’ll leave it to him to speak in greater detail. Please.

    QUESTION: Okay, and then also —

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: — in Japan, he’ll —

    QUESTION: Couple questions about Syria.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: So Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about – he offered to reinstate this de-confliction channel, and – but there were terms, and I was wondering, this thing about the de-confliction in the airs – in the air, between airplanes in – that was suspended, and Secretary Tillerson didn’t say anything about whether he accepted the terms that Lavrov set. So we’re wondering, where does that stand, how important is that channel, and what’s the plan when it comes to preventing any mishaps in the air over Syria?

    MR TONER: Frankly, my understanding was that that does remain intact. There was some question that it was going to be pulled down. That was a Russia claim, at least. Look, we consider that de-confliction channel to be very important, because it helps ensure that neither our pilots nor Russia’s pilots are unduly or unnecessarily put in harm’s way when we’re carrying out military missions in the – in that region.

    So I can’t speak to how it may change. My understanding is that it does remain in effect.

    QUESTION: Because – I mean, was – my understanding is that that channel was suspended after the missile strike.

    MR TONER: I had heard that – I had seen those same reports, but my understanding was that – my understanding is that after that, it was reinstated. If that’s incorrect, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Can I —

    MR TONER: Please. Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: A fact check.

    QUESTION: I have a follow-up question.

    MR TONER: Yeah, of course, finish up. And then —

    QUESTION: Yeah, so did Secretary Tillerson meet with any members of civil society when he was – while he was in Moscow or Russia?

    MR TONER: I don’t believe he did. Frankly, it was an issue of time. He did, of course, raise our concerns, as he does in every meeting with our Russian counterparts. But I don’t believe he actually had the time to meet with any members of civil society while he was on the ground.

    QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that, and then I have a question on Afghanistan.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Do you anticipate this is something that he’ll make as a kind of regular feature of his travel? I mean, past secretaries to some extent – some more, some less – have made that a kind of staple of their —

    MR TONER: Meeting with civil society members?

    QUESTION: Of – yeah.

    MR TONER: You’re right. I mean, it’s – it has been, because it’s an – it’s a great way to send the message that it’s a matter of concern, it’s an issue of concern to us. Again, I think in any given visit, given the other demands on the Secretary’s schedule, of course, I can’t speak categorically, but I know for a fact that he does consider human rights, healthy civil society to be something that he’s going to press in all of his interactions.

    QUESTION: I have a question —

    MR TONER: Yes, sir – ma’am.

    QUESTION: — if we could just go back to Afghanistan for a second.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: I know you kind of punted to the Pentagon on the actual strike itself, but we haven’t really heard a lot about ISIS in the kind of Afghan-Pakistan region. And I’m wondering if you could kind of bring us up to date on your discussions with those governments about the growth of ISIS. Because, like I said, we really haven’t – I mean, I know that they had some small presence, but it kind of was surprising to see the depth of which the —

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: — to which you have this concern.

    MR TONER: Well, and it’s a fair point to bring up. I mean, look, we’ve been very clear that, just like we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, but certainly in Afghanistan, where ISIS has attempted to co-opt some existing groups on the ground in an effort to create affiliates. And we’re going to see this, I think – and this is something that was discussed in the ministerial a few weeks ago – that as ISIS continues to get pressed in Syria and in Iraq, it’s going to seek to do that, I think, more and more. So it’s something we’re watching very closely, and we’re working with the Government of Afghanistan and our partners in the region in order to deny any terrorist organization – that includes al-Qaida as well – safe haven or any kind of material support on the ground. And as we’ve also been very clear, we’re – when we see targets of opportunity and leadership, opportunities to take out key leadership, we’re going to take those opportunities.

    QUESTION: I understand that this was a target of opportunity, but are you saying that this target was – were they working with other types of – like so-called affiliates?

    MR TONER: That’s a common practice for ISIS to – yeah.

    QUESTION: No, I understand, but I’m just saying, this particular —

    MR TONER: I don’t know the specifics. I don’t have enough specifics on this.

    QUESTION: I’m just – as opposed to, like, the actual strike and the weapon and how it was done, I’m interested in this particular target —

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: — and why it was chosen in terms of their threat. And given that the State Department has really been the lead in terms of the coalition against ISIS, I’d be interested a little bit more in —

    MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have a lot of detail on this particular strike and why this – I mean, other than that they were ISIS-affiliated group or ISIS —

    QUESTION: ISIS-affiliated group or members of ISIS, like official leadership?

    MR TONER: I’ll check. I’ll check.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: Couple more questions, guys. Tejinder, I haven’t gotten to you yet.

    QUESTION: I have the patience, and wishing you a quick, fast recovery —

    MR TONER: Thanks.

    QUESTION: — because I saw you limping.

    MR TONER: I’m limping, I’m coughing.

    QUESTION: Oh, yes.

    MR TONER: I need vacation. Luckily, it’s coming up.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I have empathy, I’m coughing also.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The – one short follow-up on Afghanistan and then one on India-related. Afghanistan is that day before yesterday, after the briefing in the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary, when I asked him that – is Afghanistan on back burner, he said not at all, nothing has changed. So that’s from the Defense. On the —

    MR TONER: What he said, yes.

    QUESTION: On the diplomatic side, with Russia taking that initiative, has anything changed from this side on the diplomatic front?

    MR TONER: Not at all, and in fact, I think it was just a couple weeks ago the Afghan foreign minister, I think it was, in conjunction with the counter-ISIS ministerial was here in town, and they had a very good bilateral discussion – one of the few bilateral meetings he was able to take given his schedule, Secretary Tillerson’s schedule. But he made the point of taking that meeting because he wanted to express our firm support for the Afghan Government’s continued efforts to confront the Taliban, to confront other terrorist groups on its territory, and to solidify and continue to enact needed political and economic reforms.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: And the other —

    MR TONER: You had another – yeah, finish up, and then —

    QUESTION: I have second one.

    QUESTION: The second one is about —

    MR TONER: Okay. I’m going to do three more questions. I got to you. I got to you already. Three more questions.

    QUESTION: The second one is —

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: The second one is about the diplomatic efforts from the U.S. The Indian media is flush with this hate crimes against people of Indian origin. Now, what – a kind of journalistic investigation revealed that most of these Indians were either misidentified or misunderstood because of religious symbols or other things, but when the Indian ambassador rushes to State Department and expresses his deep concerns about this, and then we find out that the Hardish Patel, the county sheriff says that it was not a hate crime. So what – how can you clarify that these incidents are not against Indians or people from Indian origin? They’re misidentified. There is – it’s not about condoning hate crime, it’s about misrepresenting the facts. If you can clarify from the podium.

    MR TONER: So a couple of thoughts on this – first of all is we obviously strongly condemn any hate crime, any crime carried out against someone based on their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, whatever. We condemn it. Secondly, though, with respect to these particular crimes, that’s really something for either local, regional, or federal law enforcement to speak to. All of these crimes need to be thoroughly investigated, and that’s why I’m very hesitant to comment on one particular case or not, because I don’t know the facts and it would be imprudent for me, except to say that, largely speaking, there are – there’s a strong Indian American community in this country. They’re a vibrant part of American culture and society and the economy here. And we, as Americans, welcome their contribution. And as I said, any crime based on – that potentially based on someone’s ethnicity or heritage should be heartily condemned.

    QUESTION: I was trying to clarify one —

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: I was just trying to clarify that this crimes were even ethnicity-based were not against the Indian ethnicity. They were mis —

    MR TONER: Identified? I just don’t have the details. I apologize, Tejinder.

    QUESTION: Could we do a quick one —

    MR TONER: Said. Yeah, very quick.

    QUESTION: — on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: A couple of days ago, you issued an advisory, a travel advisory —

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: — to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. But you also urged American citizens to leave Gaza.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: And this coincided with the escalating tensions, and the Israelis are amassing troops. Are you concerned that there may have – there may be another war that could – may –

    MR TONER: No, I – look – sure. I’m aware of —

    QUESTION: — which will urge the Israelis —

    MR TONER: I’m aware the timing was linked or was close to it, but this was, as my understanding of it, just a periodic update, and that the information concerning Gaza was similar to language from our previous travel warnings.

    So as many of you know in this room, we have to periodically update the language to ensure they remain valid and up-to-date. This was a routine update. I think the previous one was issued on August 23rd, 2016, but it contained very similar guidance. Our travel warning warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Gaza Strip and urges those present to depart as soon as possible when border crossings are open. And I think the way – by way of explanation, given the security conditions in Gaza, U.S. government personnel have been long restricted from travel to Gaza, and so that restricts our ability to provide any assistance or support to any U.S. citizen in Gaza. So it’s out of that reality, if you will, that we caution.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And this —

    MR TONER: John, last question.

    QUESTION: Yeah. And this Russia-hosted conference on Afghanistan —

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: You said that it seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region. This dropping of this massive bomb in Afghanistan that has a fairly large optical element to it, could you – could one interpret that as a unilateral attempt to assert influence in the region?

    MR TONER: No. Look, again, I’m —

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: I’m not going to attempt to speak way outside my box and talk about, you know, military matters.

    QUESTION: But it does have – when it’s a bomb that large, there’s a diplomatic effect to dropping something like that.

    MR TONER: There is, John. But – I imagine, but I’m going to stay mum on that. Thanks, everybody. Thanks so much.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)

    DPB # 21

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