Daily Press Briefing, August 31, 2015
Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
August 31, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
2:41 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Happy Monday, everybody. Sorry for the slight delay, but if I know one thing, it’s never talk over the boss. So I apologize, but thanks for waiting, everyone.
I just have a few things to read out at the top. First of all, just wanted to announce that Secretary Kerry will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, quite possibly the greatest city in our nation and my hometown, on September 2nd to deliver --
QUESTION: Mark, come on. Such hyperbole – (laughter) – coming from you. All that homerism.
MR TONER: Anyway, I stepped on my lede. The – Secretary Kerry will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 2nd to deliver a speech about the importance to our national security of the Iran nuclear deal. He will reassert that by blocking all pathways to a nuclear weapon for Iran the deal also makes safer the entire Middle East region. He’s also – he will deliver his remarks, rather, at the National Constitution Center. Secretary Kerry’s remarks will be open to the press and streamed live on www.state.gov. More information on timing and how to access the speech will be released at a later time, so stay tuned.
I know many of you are eagerly awaiting the release of the next tranche of emails from former Secretary Clinton, so today I just wanted to announce that at approximately 9 P.M., the State Department will make publicly available online more than 7,000 additional pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. These emails were reviewed using FOIA standards for public release. We’re producing more documents this month than we have produced in the previous three releases in May, June, and July combined. Today’s production exceeds the court’s goal of producing 25 percent of the Clinton email collection by August 31st. Meeting this goal is really a testament to our commitment to releasing these emails to the public as expeditiously as possible. And combined with the May, June, and July releases, the total page count now comes to more than 25 percent of the full set. The department is continuing to review the remainder of the set of former Secretary Clinton’s emails that are records and will make them publicly available on the department’s FOIA website on a rolling basis.
Just a couple more. Bear with me. September is the Department of State’s Passport Awareness Month and the launch of our Apply Early public awareness campaign. Why is this important? Well, in 2007 the department experienced an unprecedented surge in passport applications as a result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Nearly 10 years later – and we’re coming up on it – those passports are beginning to expire, and the department has been experiencing increased demand for passport renewals. So we’re expecting a surge in passport applications to continue through 2018, and we would encourage all U.S citizen travelers to submit passport applications well ahead of their planned travel dates in order to avoid delays receiving their travel documents.
And then lastly, but certainly not least, we welcome today’s vote by Ukraine’s parliament on draft constitutional amendments on decentralization. This is an important step towards good governance for all Ukrainians which also helps fulfill another key piece of the Minsk agreements. We deplore the violence outside the parliament today that reportedly resulted in the death of at least one police officer as well as dozens of injuries. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed and injured. We call on all Ukrainians, no matter their affiliation or organization, to respect law and order. We fully respect Ukrainians’ right to engage in peaceful protests, but in a democratic society, grievances must be addressed peacefully and lawfully. We also call for a full investigation into the cause of today’s violence. Those responsible should be held accountable.
With that, I’ll go to your questions.
QUESTION: Just before we get into the email thing for a second, I – aside from taking issue with your description of the city of brotherly love, you said that more details would – what --
MR TONER: I just mean about just timing and --
QUESTION: Do you know roughly – is it afternoon, morning? When is --
MR TONER: Roughly around noon.
QUESTION: Around noon?
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. On --
MR TONER: But that’s not a definite. That may move a little bit, so I don’t want anybody to take that as gospel yet.
QUESTION: Okay. On the email release --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you say it will bring to more than 25 percent. Is that incrementally over 20 – like a point-something, or is it like 27 percent? Or do you – can you be more specific about what the percentage is?
MR TONER: Well – sure. Well, no, actually, because we’re still finalizing even at this late time how many – so I can’t give you a precise beyond that, that it’s over 25 percent. I could try to get you a more detailed and accurate --
QUESTION: So in other words, the number of pages could – is still in flux that will be released? So --
MR TONER: So the total page count – I can assure you it will be over 25 percent, but I don't know exactly whether it’s 26 or 27 or whatever. The – I mean, it’s 7,000 additional pages of emails today, and I don’t have – I can look for them, but – and do the math up here, but I encourage you all to do the same.
QUESTION: Is it 7,000 pages or is it 7,000 emails?
MR TONER: Seven thousand additional pages of emails.
QUESTION: So this could be 6,500 emails?
MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have an accurate number on the emails yet.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: Is it the judge’s --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- standard that it’s 25 percent of the number of pages or 25 percent of the number of emails?
MR TONER: I believe that it’s 25 percent of the emails. That’s my understanding, but I’ll double-check that.
QUESTION: So is it, in fact, accurate that this is more than 25 percent of the emails --
MR TONER: So what I just said --
QUESTION: -- have been released, or is it more than 25 percent --
MR TONER: -- I said combined with the May, June, and July releases, the total page count comes to more than 25 percent of the full Clinton set. So I’ll double-check your – Arshad, your question about that. I’ll get back – yeah.
QUESTION: So if – but if he’s – if you’re right in saying that the judge’s standard is percentage of emails rather than percentage of pages, we don’t know that – for sure that you’re meeting the core standard.
MR TONER: That’s what I said, I think it’s pages.
MR TONER: That’s why I caught myself.
QUESTION: I got some more on the emails.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: I’d like to take you back to a story that was written by one of my colleagues earlier this month that looked at the question of whether so-called foreign government information is classified – is presumed to be classified when it is transmitted to the – somebody in the U.S. Government with the presumption or the explicit agreement that it will be held in confidence by the U.S. Government official.
My colleague has found 30 series of emails of those that have already been released by the State Department that contain what the department has subsequently itself deemed to be foreign government information. These are the ones that have been declassified. And among the emails that he found was a five-page email from then-British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s top aide sent to Huma Abedin saying that then-Foreign Secretary Miliband wanted Secretary Clinton only to receive his email. That aide sent it from his home computer, which is a little perplexing but doesn’t, I think, change the obligations on the part of the U.S. Government when it receives information that a – from a foreign government that is clearly transmitted with the understanding that it is to be held in confidence.
So the question is: Is or was Secretary Clinton bound by the Foreign Affairs Manual’s obligation to treat as confidential – that is, the lowest level of U.S. classification – information that was transmitted by a foreign government with the understanding that it would be held in confidence? Or, as Secretary of State, is he or she not bound by the Foreign Affairs Manual’s strictures on this?
MR TONER: Well, so writ large or speaking broadly, classification – and we’ve said this many times – it’s not an exact science. It’s not often a black-and-white process. There’s many variation and there’s many strong opinions even on this very issue about classification. And this is all part, as we’ve said, again, many times, of the process that we’re undergoing – an interagency process where we look at these emails and we upgrade them as necessary, as we see fit. We’ve been very clear what our goal is here, and that is we’re dealing with some – as we said, some 55,000 pages of emails, and we’re processing them via FOIA rules and regulations. But our goal here is simply to make – to upgrade these where necessary and make them public.
What you’re asking me to speak to, Arshad, I’m not going to speak to from the podium because it’s not up to me to litigate these kinds of questions from the State Department podium. Our goal, as I said, is to respond to the FOIA request. Now, there are other reviews, investigations that we’ve spoken to or alluded to that may look at some of these broader questions, but it’s not for me to do that from here and certainly not today. I can just say that we stand by our contention that the information we’ve upgraded was not marked classified at the time that the emails were sent.
QUESTION: But wait a minute.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The Foreign Affairs Manual – and I’m reading from the version in effect for 2009 when the emails that we looked at were sent --
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- says, quote – it says all department employees, quote, “Must safeguard foreign government and NATO-restricted information as U.S. Government confidential,” close quote, or higher. So I don’t fully understand how this can be a matter of great debate because if you stipulate that information given in confidence by a foreign government to a U.S. official is foreign government information, it seems like you are under an obligation to treat it as confidential or higher in terms of classification. Can you explain to me why that’s debatable?
MR TONER: It’s just that – I appreciate your question. It’s just that I hope you understand that I can’t litigate those kinds of things. I can’t pass judgment from this podium right now, certainly not when there’s other reviews or other investigations that may be underway. Certainly, as you know, the Inspector General is looking more broadly at some of these issues and questions. As I said, we just – our clear focus is on clearing these emails, redacting them as necessary in order to safeguard anything that we’ve deemed now should be upgraded in classification. But I can’t speak to the original.
QUESTION: Two other quick things. One is: Do you believe as a general matter that the Secretary of State, whomever he or she may be, is bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? I mean, it may be that they’re not, that they have sort of a status that’s different and that therefore they have the rights to not follow it.
MR TONER: I mean, I would just say that every State Department employee from the Secretary on down takes the handling of classified information very seriously and is aware of the rules surrounding those classification standards.
QUESTION: And then one other thing. You said – sorry.
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: You said that you stood by your position that you’re – I can’t remember if you said you were confident or certain, but that the information in the emails was not marked classified at the time it was sent or received, but you’re not willing to take the position that it was not, in fact, classified when it was sent or received regardless of whether it was marked as such?
MR TONER: Well, we’ve said that we’re – and we’ve been very clear about this. When we’ve upgraded, we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent or handled or however, forwarded or received, and we’ve also been very clear that nothing that we’ve seen so far was ever marked classified. So I’ll just stay there.
QUESTION: And just last thing.
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: On the thing that everybody is obliged to – I mean, can you not address squarely whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to the Secretary of State or not?
MR TONER: I mean, I can say that, again, we, from the Secretary on down, take the handling of classified materials and the rules surrounding those – so I mean in that sense, including the Foreign Affairs Manual but also other regulations, stipulations, training that we undergo in how to handle classified and confidential information.
QUESTION: You take them --
MR TONER: Seriously. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: But does that mean that you’re bound by them?
MR TONER: We’re all bound by – how we treat classified information is, as I said, an important component of the work we do, but I’ve also made clear that when you look at classified material it is not an exact science, it’s not black and white, it’s not always clear, so there’s strong feelings and different beliefs about when something is classified, whether it’s born classified, whether it should be classified later. These are all questions that are being answered in a deliberative and a thorough way that we’re looking at that’s not somehow some cabal of people in a small room somewhere making these decisions. It’s an interagency process. It involves the IC, it involves other agencies as it touches their equities. So that’s our focus.
QUESTION: Mark, since you just said those --
MR TONER: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- rules and standards are so important that everyone in this building has to follow them, can you say from that podium categorically that Secretary Clinton followed the rules and the law?
MR TONER: I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function in this regard in releasing these emails. Our goal and our sole purpose when we look at these emails is to decide – well, first to publish them according to the FOIA request that we have received. But in doing that, looking at them and deciding whether any of that material needs to be redacted and subsequently classified.
QUESTION: Isn’t it a little odd that the State Department can’t state categorically that the Secretary of State followed the rules?
MR TONER: All I can say is that there are – and I’ve alluded to there – I’ve not alluded to it, I’ve said as much to Arshad: There are other reviews, and that’s really for the inspector general and other entities who are out there looking at some of these broader questions.
QUESTION: Why had this information been delayed? I mean, earlier we were told midday we’re getting these emails, then 6 p.m. Now it’s 9 p.m., when most of the public is not paying attention.
MR TONER: No, it’s – look, it’s certainly – that’s – it’s a fair question.
QUESTION: Well, so –
MR TONER: It’s a fair question. It’s – it always ends up this way. It’s because we’re getting these emails back from, as I said, this interagency review. We’re compiling them. We’re actually loading them online. It just takes a long time. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of really dedicated and tired people who have been working throughout the weekend to meet this goal.
QUESTION: So to your point, is it because they’re going through what’s classified and what’s not? They’re redacting? Is that the delay?
MR TONER: That’s part of it. They have to review literally every email, every page. And this is – again, this is a multilevel – what am I trying to say here? It’s a process whereby bureaus look at these, the regional bureaus; they’re passed on to other entities who look at these. They’re scrubbed several times, then they’re passed around to the different agencies if they – those agencies have equities here. And we’ve seen that in the case – in prior cases. But again, the goal is we do a thorough scrub on whether these need to be redacted before they can be released publicly.
QUESTION: So – can you tell the public have you found more information that was classified that’s in this tranche of documents?
MR TONER: We have upgraded some – a number of these emails.
QUESTION: And what’s your estimate of how many? You say there’s 7,000 pages. How many --
MR TONER: Right. And I don’t want to – again, it’s – until we release it, we don’t have a firm number. I think it’s somewhere around 150, but that’s --
QUESTION: That have classified information?
MR TONER: That had been subsequently upgraded --
QUESTION: That had been redacted? Okay.
MR TONER: -- had been upgraded to classified.
QUESTION: And are you saying that those 150 are being considered classified after the fact, or did any of them --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So zero were considered classified at the time?
MR TONER: That’s correct. That’s our estimation right now. Again, that’s – our goal is to look at this stuff – look at these emails, make a decision whether we redact, upgrade the classification, and then publish them.
QUESTION: Mark, can we move on?
QUESTION: No. I just want to – this foreign --
MR TONER: Matt’s going to make me do more math at the podium, and that’s always a dangerous thing.
QUESTION: This – yeah, no, I’m not going to get into math. The question though that Arshad was asking about foreign government information – is it safe to assume, and I don’t want to use – “assume” is the wrong word. But in the previously released emails, all the redactions that had been – that are going to be made have been made already, right? For stuff that is already out there that you put out over the first --
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: So if there was something that was not redacted from a previous – from an email that was released prior to today, it’s not possible that it – you’re going to go back and redact it now, is it? It’s --
MR TONER: I mean, that stuff’s all publicly – what hasn’t been redacted is already out in the public sphere.
QUESTION: Is it the State Department’s – and is it the belief of the people who are looking at this that there was no classified information that was inadvertently already released in emails?
MR TONER: No. That’s not our belief, no.
QUESTION: So you think that there – so you’re allowing that there might have been --
MR TONER: Or conviction, rather.
QUESTION: -- or there was information that should have been classified and that was not redacted from earlier --
MR TONER: No, no, no, wait. Wait, wait. I said what we’ve released has been redacted via the FOIA process --
MR TONER: -- and we stand by what’s been released.
QUESTION: And so – so there is --
MR TONER: So nothing will be --
QUESTION: No one’s going back and looking at the stuff that’s already out there and seeing if there is information in there that should have been redacted?
MR TONER: Not on our part, no.
QUESTION: Mark --
MR TONER: Yeah, please. Said and then – yeah.
QUESTION: Moving on? Okay, can I ask on --
MR TONER: Moving on.
QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli issue? There was a study issued by Oxford University and published in Haaretz yesterday that there are 60,000 American Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Do you have any comment on that?
MR TONER: Sixty thousand?
QUESTION: Sixty thousand American Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
MR TONER: I don’t. I’m not aware of the study.
QUESTION: I know because you guys – your position is --
MR TONER: I just haven’t seen the study, frankly, so I don’t --
QUESTION: -- you oppose the settlements, you oppose – you consider them to be illegal and so on. But there you go – you have 60,000 Americans. Do you have any leverage with these American citizens?
MR TONER: Look, I mean, in terms of leverage – I mean, we through our embassy offer support for American citizens throughout the world. But what – we’re very clear on our policy on this issue, and I don’t know that we need to be any clearer.
QUESTION: Many elements among these settlers are extremists, they carry guns, they enforce their own sort of rules and regulations on roads and hamlets and so on – Palestinian hamlets. Do you have any kind of program, perhaps, to rehabilitate these settlers, bring them back somehow, as as opposed to the settlements?
MR TONER: No, I mean – and the other thing is we’ve also spoken about the uptick in violence, in extremist violence in Israel. And in fact, the government and the prime minister have also spoken about some of the recent attacks that we view as abhorrent. And we call on, frankly, all sides to stop this kind of violence.
In terms of programs, I’m not aware of what you’re – specific programs aimed at Israeli American settlers, no.
QUESTION: Since I – my last question on this issue.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Should the United States or would the United States have some sort of a program – an incentive program – to sort of encourage settlers to perhaps dismantle these settlements?
MR TONER: I mean, that’s really a question for the Israeli Government to look at. I mean, we’ve been very clear on how we feel about settlements.
QUESTION: Not really because they maintain their U.S. citizenship.
MR TONER: Well, we believe that settlements hinder getting any kind of talks back up and running and peace process going. We want to see positive actions on all sides.
So yeah, please.
QUESTION: Before I go, my two questions on South Asia.
MR TONER: You’re going?
QUESTION: If I can go back, emails, just quick one.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Some of these emails may be dealing also with --
MR TONER: I know it’s a big story when you’re even asking me about the emails, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Some of these emails may be also dealing with the foreign governments at the highest level. You think any of those governments are in touch with the State Department, or are you in touch with them?
MR TONER: Good question. We – I mean, of course, we’re in touch with foreign governments about a wide range of issues. But again, in terms of what we release publicly, that’s just according to the FOIA process. So we – if they have issues, they can certainly exchange those issue with us, but I don’t have anything to add.
QUESTION: Before I go --
MR TONER: Please go ahead.
QUESTION: -- two questions on South Asia, please.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Today you have issued a – or reissued or continuation of a Travel Warning to Pakistan. And that said that because of terrorism and terrorists are there and they may be a danger to the travels of U.S. citizens, and also Peshawar and Lahore consulates not offering any more services to the Americans there. What I’m asking is that since this Travel Warning is asking – talking about the terrorists are still there and there’s a threat, and at the same time today Pakistan’s defense minister, Mr. Khawaja Muhammad also– Mohammad issued another warning to India that we will use nuclear weapons against India.
What I’m asking is because of the base of terrorists in Pakistan and continuation of nuclear threats against India, where do – are we going about this? And at the same time we are talking about nuclear – nuclear activities or nuclear weapons in Iran because in the past there was a connection between Pakistan and Iran as far as giving or proliferation of --
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: So what is the future? I mean, where do we go from here?
MR TONER: That sounds like a lyric from a song. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I want to have that as a standing question for every topic.
QUESTION: What I’m saying is --
MR TONER: No, let me try to answer that. Let me --
QUESTION: What I’m saying really, India must be worried --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and India must be talking with the U.S. --
MR TONER: Sure, no, understood, understood. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make light of it because it’s a very serious issue.
First of all, in terms of the Travel Warning upgrade, or reissuing – reissuance rather, I’m not aware of that. But certainly, we do update our Travel Warnings periodically. That’s a courtesy to U.S. citizens traveling abroad. And there’s a lot of reasons why we issue these Travel Warnings, and there’s various – there’s Travel Warnings, there’s Travel Alerts. All of these are just to inform U.S. citizens who travel abroad about specific events, but certainly, in this case of a Travel Warning, the possibility of terrorist activity or danger to them if they do decide to travel to these areas.
Speaking more broadly, National Security Advisor Rice was just in Pakistan last week and met with Pakistani leadership and shared our assessment of the sources of regional violence as well as discussed ways to reduce this violence and to return the region to peace and stability. It’s a very dynamic region; we all know that. And we continue to consult with Pakistan and its neighbors to assess the challenges of the threat environment and what responses need to be made.
Speaking to your question about relations with India, that’s really a matter for – between the two countries, but we certainly want to see a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan. It’s in the interests of everyone in the region and certainly everyone in the world. So as much as there can be dialogue there, as much as there can be a reduction in tensions, we would encourage that.
QUESTION: And on Sri Lanka quickly?
QUESTION: Can we continue with Pakistan?
MR TONER: Let’s – yeah, please. Lalit and then --
QUESTION: Pakistan itself. Today Pakistan’s foreign minister, the national security advisor, in his meeting with the German foreign minister, said that Haqqani Network is no longer present in Pakistan. Do you agree with his assessment that Haqqani Network is no longer present in Pakistan and they have all moved to Afghanistan?
MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to speak necessarily to his statement. I’m just going to say that – and certainly, as I said, National Security Advisor Rice was just there and she had very frank and productive conversations with her counterparts about the continuing threat and violence in the region and ways we can best counteract it. But in terms of the Haqqani Network and really the violence that we see from the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, we really want to double down, if you will, on trying to stop these groups from carrying out other acts of terror.
QUESTION: So – but if they are not in Afghan – Pakistan, then why from this podium for the last several weeks you have been expressing concern and asking Pakistan to act on Haqqani Network?
MR TONER: I just – look, I’m just saying that we recognize that there’s still a threat from these terrorist groups emanating from Pakistan. We want to see Pakistan take additional steps to address some of these threats. So I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on China?
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: Regarding this morning’s story in The Washington Post that the U.S. is readying sanctions against China, do you have anything to say on that?
MR TONER: No. I mean, the – I mean, not a lot of more light to shed on this issue. Certainly, the United States, as we all know, has sharp disagreements with China over its actions in cyber space, and we’ve been pretty clear and consistent about addressing these disagreements with the Chinese. We remain deeply concerned about Chinese Government-sponsored cyber-enabled theft of confidential business information and proprietary technology from U.S. companies. And in addition to cyber theft, we’re also concerned about actions that China’s taking that violate personal privacy, undermine core freedom or core – yeah, core freedoms for individuals online, and discriminate against U.S. technology firms.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. be concerned – since this comes a few weeks before the president of China visits the United States, would the U.S. be concerned about any retaliation by Chinese authorities in response to something like this?
MR TONER: In response to what specifically?
QUESTION: To sanctions against Chinese companies or --
MR TONER: Well, again, I didn’t – I was very clear saying we had nothing to announce in terms of economic and sanctions. Certainly, that remains a tool in the proverbial toolbox when we look at these kinds of situations, but I’m not saying we’re moving forward in that direction.
And that said, speaking broadly – more broadly to the President Xi’s visit, we’ve been very clear in all of our interactions with the Chinese to discuss the broad range of issues. Some we just – we agree on, obviously, but also a lot we disagree on, and cyber security and cyber protection is obviously an issue where we seek better cooperation. And again, we spoke to this during the S&ED meeting a couple months ago that it’s in the interest of China as well because if they want to attract more foreign investment, certainly companies – private companies are going to look for a secure cyber environment.
QUESTION: Can we stay on China?
QUESTION: Would you say – sorry, I had a few more on these.
MR TONER: Please go ahead and I’ll get to you next.
QUESTION: Would you say that the U.S. is coming to a realization that simply raising the issue and talking about it in diplomatic meetings doesn’t really help anymore given that the Chinese have not shown a willingness to back down on this issue?
MR TONER: Well, I don’t want to say it doesn’t help or it’s – look, I mean, we’re very clear and clear-eyed about our approach to this in the sense that we feel that these meetings, these dialogues with the Chinese allow us to raise these issues and have frank exchanges with them about our concerns. But it’s – this is – it’s one part of the strategy, diplomatic engagement. We also have trade policy tools and other law enforcement mechanisms that we can rely on. It’s just – I would say diplomatic engagement is just one of the avenues.
QUESTION: Okay. And last one on this: What is it exactly that has prevented you – given how outspoken the Administration has been over the last few years about Chinese cyber hacking, what is it that has prevented you from taking a more forceful action like the one described in this article up until now?
MR TONER: Well, again, we’re constantly – it’s a very fluid environment, cyber security. We’re constantly assessing the danger, assessing the risks, how to better prevent incursions on our cyber security. I don’t want to speak to your specific question other than to say that when we act, we want to make sure that we have compelling evidence to act on.
QUESTION: What are you --
QUESTION: Can we stay on China?
MR TONER: Yeah, please – I’ll get back to you in a second or – is this still on the same topic?
QUESTION: Not --
QUESTION: It’s on China, but it’s not about --
MR TONER: China? Matt had --
QUESTION: -- not about this.
MR TONER: All right. Go ahead and then I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering – maybe you spoke to this last week or when I was away about the president of Sudan visiting China for the military – the World War II celebration. Do you have --
MR TONER: I did not – we did not speak to it, but I --
QUESTION: Okay. Can – do you have any thoughts about that – positive, negative, or neutral – considering that he is wanted by the ICC and China is a --
MR TONER: I get one of those three choices, I would say --
QUESTION: -- Security Council member that --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- or a member of the – permanent member of the Security Council that voted to send the whole Darfur case, issue to the ICC in the first place.
MR TONER: Well, we are concerned about these reports that Sudanese President al-Bashir is going to travel to China to attend the September 3rd World War II commemoration. As you know, he’s been charged with – by the ICC, International Criminal Court, with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and warrants for his arrest remain outstanding. And we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for those acts. Our position is clear: We oppose invitations, facilitation, or support for travel by persons subject to outstanding ICC warrants.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, doesn’t – do the Chinese not have, in fact, a special obligation – even though they’re not like you, they’re not a member of the court, they are a member – and a permanent member at that – of the Security Council. Don’t they have a special obligation to uphold – or maybe not – to --
MR TONER: Well, we’ve been clear, as I’m being clear right now, in that we’ve called on all countries to join the international community in its call for Sudan obviously to fully cooperate with the ICC, and requested that governments, including China’s, not invite or facilitate or frankly support travel by President Bashir. And we have a longstanding policy of urging other nations to refrain from lending political or financial support to persons subject to ICC arrest warrants in Darfur. So it’s a serious cause for concern that he remains at large.
QUESTION: All right. Well, other than this being a cause of – serious cause of concern for you, are there any consequences for the Chinese for doing this?
MR TONER: I can’t speak to any concrete consequences that may result, but we believe China, like any nation, as you say, as a member of the Security Council, should weigh its concern – or weigh the world’s concerns about President Bashir and the fact that, as I said, he’s got an active warrant out for his arrests for war crimes.
QUESTION: Do you think they’ve done so in this case?
MR TONER: I would let them speak to that.
QUESTION: Should they arrest him?
MR TONER: We believe – I don’t know how to put it more clearly. We believe he should be held accountable and that they should arrest him.
MR TONER: You had your hand up and then I’ll get – sorry. It was China as well?
QUESTION: About China, yes, back to the cyber issue.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: What do you say when the Chinese say the U.S. spies on us too, hacks our computers, and so on?
MR TONER: Well, again, cyber security is a concern for many countries. You’re speaking to – you’re asking me to confirm that we spy or we hack into other people’s computers around the world. I’m certainly not going to speak to any intelligence activities we may carry out, except for the fact that the President has been very clear that we never do that – we never do any kind of surveillance or any kind of activity like that in pursuit of economic gain. What we – our intelligence agencies conduct is in the national security interests of the United States and our friends and allies.
QUESTION: The Chinese don’t confirm that either, by the way.
MR TONER: What’s that?
QUESTION: The Chinese don’t confirm that either. They never confirmed any of that.
MR TONER: No, I understand, but the other thing is, again, and I think I spoke to this when answering the question, is we have concerns – legitimate concerns, we believe – and we have a combination of ways to address those concerns. And again, it’s something we raise with China on a regular basis. That’s something that’s important. I mean, we need to have that dialogue. We need to have that exchange of information. But as I made clear, that’s just one tool in the toolkit and if we need to move to other measures, we will. But again, we do that on the basis of evidence.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Ukraine?
QUESTION: China, China.
MR TONER: Let’s stay on China and then I’ll get to you on Ukraine. Please.
QUESTION: Mark, circling back to Bashir, has the U.S. made its concerns about this particular Bashir trip known to China?
MR TONER: Well, I just did if – no, I’m just kidding. (Laughter.) It’s a fair question. I don’t know that we’ve expressed it explicitly via our embassy or from – or here. I’ll have to – I can take that question, but get back to you.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Iraq?
QUESTION: China, please? China.
MR TONER: Just stay on China and then I’ll – you and then Iraq. Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on a recent explosion in China --
MR TONER: I do not. I mean, you’re talking --
QUESTION: -- today or the day before?
MR TONER: You’re not talking about the explosion, the terrible accident that took place last week, are you?
QUESTION: Oh, no, no, no, no, more current.
MR TONER: Okay. A new – recent? No, I’m sorry, I don’t.
Please, you go ahead. You had a Ukraine question. Ukraine and then I’ll get – she had her question – her hand up before. Please.
QUESTION: You commented on the violence in Kyiv in your opening statement. Do you think the Ukrainian Government can use force against the ultra-nationalist rioters causing violence in Kyiv?
MR TONER: Well, our position – and it doesn’t apply simply to the situation in Ukraine – is pretty clear on this. We believe everyone has a right to peaceful protest, whether --
QUESTION: But they’re not peaceful.
MR TONER: If it’s not peaceful, then that’s – we would ask any law enforcement – sorry, law enforcement agency to conduct themselves with restraint, but certainly they have an obligation to uphold peace and law in that country. But it’s also an obligation on any protestors – no matter what they espouse – to do so in a peaceful way.
QUESTION: Just one more.
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: So some of these same ultranationalist groups attacked the police at Maidan two years ago, and the U.S. message to the government at the time was do not use force, those are just protestors. Would you say the same thing to the current Ukrainian Government in Ukraine – to the current Ukrainian Government?
MR TONER: Again, and I say this realizing that many of these situations it can be a very murky situation in terms of violence, who causes what or who starts what. But law enforcement agencies need to exercise restraint. They’re certainly trained in that capacity, whether it’s in the United States or whether it’s somewhere else around the world, and that people have the right to peaceful protest. But there’s an obligation, as I said, on the protestors to also behave in a peaceful manner, which I think we saw in large part on the Maidan several years ago.
Please, on Iraq.
QUESTION: I want your reaction for a video that circulated over the internet of a celebrated Shia militia in Iraq, whose, like, his graphic pictures are seen basically burning an ISIS member and slicing off his flesh. I wanted to know whether the United States has a position on the anti-ISIS forces taking basically what seems to be from ISIS playbook in fighting the ISIS fighters?
MR TONER: Sorry, so you’re speaking to a video that shows --
QUESTION: Of a very famous militia man named as the Rambo of Iraq in Western press. He’s seen basically in the video like desecrating the body of an ISIS fighter. Is it okay for anti-ISIS forces to practice --
MR TONER: I mean, we wouldn’t – I’m not aware of this actual incident that you’re speaking about. But the desecration of any --
QUESTION: But in general, you are not --
MR TONER: In general, no, we don’t support --
QUESTION: Against ISIS. Against ISIS.
MR TONER: Regardless of who it is, we don’t support the desecration of bodies of fallen enemy or anyone, frankly.
QUESTION: I want to change topics.
MR TONER: Please, go ahead.
MR TONER: Oh, are we done with Iraq?
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
QUESTION: To Syria.
MR TONER: Syria.
MR TONER: In the back, Iraq?
MR TONER: UK.
MR TONER: All right.
QUESTION: Very quickly.
MR TONER: Too much. (Laughter.) All right. Sorry, Said, very quickly to you, and then I’ll go around. And I promise I’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: On Syria, today the Russian foreign minister called on the Syrian opposition to close ranks so they can move forward with some sort of peace negotiation. Do you support that call? Are you working with different groups? Is Mr. Ratney sort of meeting with them to have them close ranks and perhaps get some (inaudible)?
MR TONER: So I’m going to try to kill two birds with one stone, because I know that you were also asking about Mr. Ratney. (Laughter.) This is how we – first of all, I’m not – I haven’t seen the remarks. Are you saying Foreign Minister Lavrov?
QUESTION: Lavrov, yes.
MR TONER: So I haven’t seen the remarks explicitly. I don’t have them in front of me. I haven’t seen them. We’ve long called for the – a political process consistent with the Geneva communique, but one that brings together moderate Syrian opposition towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria. Where we’ve, frankly, differed is that we’ve long held that the end result of that process cannot include any kind of government that includes President Assad. He has proven through his barbarity throughout the years that he cannot be a part of any peaceful political resolution in Syria.
Now, you mentioned our Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney. Just a quick update, we spoke about the fact that he was – met on August 28th in Moscow with senior Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov. And August 31st he was – he’s in Jeddah – today’s August 31st, sorry – with Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir to continue discussions about working towards a genuine political transition and bringing an end to the devastating crisis in Syria.
He also met on August 29th – just to complete the circle here, he was in Geneva with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and again they talked about ongoing efforts to create conditions for productive negotiations. So all of these meetings support our efforts, Secretary Kerry’s efforts and engagements, rather, with his counterparts in support of Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts. But nothing more concrete to share at this time.
Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Dave Clark. It’s my first briefing.
MR TONER: Hey, Dave. I meant to – I’m so sorry. That was a – so Dave Clark has joined the AFP bureau here replacing Jo Biddle. But welcome aboard – I should’ve said at the top. I apologize for that. That was --
QUESTION: It’s okay. Just for the question, the two British journalists working for a U.S.-based organization, Vice News, have been arrested and charged with terrorism in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Obviously, this comes on the heels of journalists being convicted in Egypt, another of your Middle Eastern allies. I was wondering whether the United States – obviously they’re not U.S. citizens, but do you have anything to say on that particular topic?
MR TONER: Well, sure, actually, we do. Freedom of expression, including for journalists, and due process are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined, in fact, in the Turkish constitution as well as Turkey’s OSCE commitments and Turkey’s international human rights obligations. So as Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values, including due process, freedom of expression, as well as access to media and information.
QUESTION: One more on journalists.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: As you’re aware of in Iran – there are reports out of Iran that two unnamed people have been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for espionage. Do you have any reason to believe that one of those two unnamed people might be the Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian?
MR TONER: So we’re aware of these news reports of the sentencing of these two espionage cases. At this point we’re not aware of any connection to any of the cases of detained U.S. citizens in Iran, including Jason Rezaian.
Yeah. I’m sorry, where was I? How about you? You were waiting. Yeah, please.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to Ukraine, if I may.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. You used the word “murky” describing the current situation.
MR TONER: No, I actually wasn’t --
QUESTION: You said --
MR TONER: I was saying writ large, oftentimes when there’s these ongoing street protests – we’ve seen it elsewhere; Egypt and elsewhere --
QUESTION: There’s violence. There is violence on the street.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, two years ago, the message that came from the U.S. was more clear and less murky, and that it was to urge the government at the time not to use force even though some of the same groups who came out to the parliament on Monday threw Molotov cocktails at the police and so on – so on and so forth. Why should the approach to these nationalist groups be different now as opposed to two years ago?
MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to relitigate or reopen every instance that took place on the Maidan. But I think we can all agree that the Maidan was largely a people-led peaceful demonstration, remarkably so given the months and months that many of the people were out on the Maidan. And our message should have been clear, which is that people do have the right to peacefully ask their governments to reform and to change according to the direction they want to see and the future they want for their country. And that message remains clear. Again, I – our message is that if you want to peacefully protest – and let me finish – peacefully protest, then the obligation on the part of law enforcement is that they should respect that right.
QUESTION: Two years ago are you saying that it was all peaceful? Was there – was the violence coming only from one side?
MR TONER: I – again, I just – this is the last thing I’m going to say about it. I said I can’t speak to every incident that took place on the Maidan. But by and large, yes, it was a dignified, peaceful protest on behalf of the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: Did you see footage of --
MR TONER: In the back, please.
QUESTION: -- rioters throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and shooting --
MR TONER: I answered – I answered the question. Please go ahead. I answered the question. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. A question from the UK about Jeremy Corbyn --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- who is, obviously, about to become the leader of the opposition and possibly our next prime minister.
MR TONER: Where – I’m sorry, where are we at? I apologize about that.
QUESTION: The UK.
MR TONER: UK, yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. So Jeremy Corbyn is about to become leader of the opposition and possibly the next prime minister. He wants to withdraw from NATO and also abandon the Trident nuclear deterrent, and he recently also described the death of Usama bin Ladin as a tragedy. Have you got any concerns about this? (Laughter.)
MR TONER: The United Kingdom is a vibrant democracy, a close ally and partner, and they’ve got their own political process that we deeply respect. And I’ll refrain from commenting further.
Please, in the back. You have your hand up, and then I’ll circle back around. Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. About two things.
MR TONER: Ma’am, and then I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Two things. Anything on an American who may or may not have been fighting with the Kurds having been beheaded by ISIS or ISIL?
And two, Save the Children is saying that the major hospital, the al-Sabin Hospital, is close to having to shut down because of lack of supplies.
MR TONER: This is in Syria?
QUESTION: In Yemen, excuse me.
MR TONER: In Yemen. Okay. Sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. So anything on --
MR TONER: But your first question was about --
QUESTION: An American beheaded by ISIL or ISIS.
MR TONER: In Syria. Yeah, right, okay. And then the second one – sorry, I’m just trying to clarify.
So we are aware – which was a small part my confusion when you mentioned the video – I thought you were speaking about this, but we are aware of this video. To be perfectly honest, we don’t have any way to confirm its veracity or not. We don’t have eyes on the ground in Syria and certainly in northern Syria, so I can’t really speak to it beyond that. But we are aware of the video.
QUESTION: Is it an American? Do we know?
MR TONER: We don’t know. I mean, I – we just don’t have any kind of – as I said, we don’t have – we’re limited in our capacity to confirm it.
QUESTION: In --
MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. On the Yemen --
QUESTION: The hospital, yeah.
MR TONER: I don’t know about that specific situation, but it doesn’t surprise us. I mean, certainly, we’ve been quite clear that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is very dire, which is why we want to see all sides exercise restraint and allow vital humanitarian assistance to get to where it needs to be on the ground. And that would include, obviously, Save the Children.
QUESTION: And --
MR TONER: Yeah – Ilhan. Sorry – I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Going back to Turkey --
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: -- quickly follow up on UK journalists. Have you reached out Ankara to ask about this development? They were arrested in Diyarbakir a few days ago. You don’t see this very often even though there is a pressure on the press. This kind of situation doesn’t happen often.
MR TONER: I believe we have conveyed our concern to the Turkish Government authorities.
QUESTION: Okay. One more: Today in New York Times, there is a editorial again, and slamming Mr. Erdogan, Turkish president, for waging a war of distraction talking about war with the PKK. So the criticism has been leveled by many, many experts that Mr. Erdogan is using this war as a cover before the upcoming early elections. Would you – what’s your reaction to this analysis?
MR TONER: Well, I would note that Turkey is a NATO ally and a strong partner in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – I-S-I-L. And just this past weekend, we saw Turkey’s increased – a manifestation of Turkey’s increased participation in the coalition to counter ISIL, which is its first airstrikes on ISIL targets inside Syria as part of the coalition’s air operations. So a couple of thoughts or a couple of responses to your question, which is – and certainly, John Kirby spoke to this last week on several occasions about the fact that Turkey’s doing all it can to contribute to anti-ISIL operations as a member of the coalition, and we’ve seen, certainly, progress on that front.
We continue to be in discussions with Turkey about its concerns along its own border and ways to help it better secure its borders. But Turkey, in terms of combating ISIL and dealing with the inflow of Syrian refugees, has been – has done above and beyond what we might expect. And speaking to the PKK issue, all of Turkey’s strikes against PKK targets has been in response to PKK attacks on Turkish military personnel and police. We want to see the PKK stop its attacks, we want to see both sides refrain from violence, and we want to see a return to a solution process that ultimately ends in peace for --
QUESTION: The Al Jazeera journalists?
QUESTION: The Al Jazeera journalists.
MR TONER: Oh, sure, yeah.
QUESTION: A question on Al Jazeera journalists.
MR TONER: Please, please.
QUESTION: I know you guys issued a statement --
MR TONER: All three of you at once.
QUESTION: -- over the weekend, but I wonder if you have anything to add.
MR TONER: I mean, nothing beyond what we said this weekend. As you noted, we put out a statement, I think, on Saturday. We’re deeply disappointed, concerned by the verdict handed down by an Egyptian court on these three Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste. We urge the Government of Egypt to take all available measures to redress this verdict which undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development.
QUESTION: Has any level in this building – any official at any level reached out to their Egyptian counterparts with this message?
MR TONER: I would just say we have consistently and forcefully spoken about this case and raised it directly with the Government of Egypt.
QUESTION: So when you’re calling upon Egypt to redress the verdict, are you expecting the Egyptian Government to pay heed or any attention to your call?
MR TONER: Are we --
QUESTION: Are you expecting them, since they are your ally --
MR TONER: Yes. I mean, we urge the Egyptians to demonstrate through their actions – and rather than words – its support for freedom of expression, and we think the journalists should be released.
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: Can I go to – go back to Yemen for a second?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Reports are that the UAE military is taking a more and more expanded role in southern Yemen dealing with things like public services, governance and issues and things like that. Is the U.S. providing any support to that – to the UAE in this effort?
MR TONER: No, we’re not providing any support, and in terms of UAE’s actions on the ground in Yemen, I would have to refer you to the Government of the United Arab Emirates.
QUESTION: Is the United States supportive of this given that you’ve – what you’ve – this sort of endgame is a little bit different from what you’ve been calling for.
MR TONER: Well, I mean, certainly, what we want to see is – and we’ve been – the ultimate solution in Yemen is – must be a political solution. So we continue in that regard to support the United Nations-led political transition as well as the UN special envoy, and we urge all parties to de-escalate hostilities and return to the political transition that was established by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
QUESTION: Sure, but what I’m getting at is --
MR TONER: Please, yeah.
QUESTION: -- what is – does the U.S. have any issue at all with the United Arab Emirates coming in, stepping into the vacuum after the Houthis left --
MR TONER: Again, I would --
QUESTION: -- and providing basic services that were not --
MR TONER: No, I would refer you to them to speak to their actions. Our concern in Yemen is a de-escalation of the violence, the violence that was – let’s remember was initiated by Houthis, and get back to the UN-led political process.
Go ahead, Lucas.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia?
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Is the State Department – in addition to your objections of Russia potentially selling the S-300 missile system to Iran, is the State Department also concerned about reports that Russia will sell jet fighters to Iran?
MR TONER: Yeah, I’ve heard that question. I just – we just don’t have any firm details about that, frankly. So it’s hard for me to – right now, it’s somewhere between a hypothetical or – I just don’t have anything concrete to speak to, I mean, to – so I can’t say whether any sanctions would apply to that if that were to happen, but it’s not even there yet, so --
QUESTION: Okay. And – but sanctions would apply if Russia sold fighter jets? Because that clearly is not a defensive weapon.
MR TONER: Well, again, you’re – we’re dealing in hypotheticals here. I’m just not going to speak to a situation, or like I said, some reports that we’ve heard. I haven’t seen anything concrete about it.
QUESTION: Just staying with Russia --
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: -- up in the Arctic, the Russian military appears to be expanding its presence. It’s putting in new rescue stations, it has more ships in the water, and has put its flag down on some unclaimed territory beneath the ocean floor. Is the State Department concerned about Russia’s expansion in the Arctic?
MR TONER: I mean, Russia so far, just like any other member of the Arctic Council – of which there are eight, I think – all have territorial claims based on legal parameters, and they’re going about it the right way. They’ve – they’re going about it through the Law of the Sea Treaty and the conventions within that treaty. So they’re going through the right process to address those claims, just like other countries within the Arctic Council also have claims.
In terms of – sorry, I don’t mean to – but in terms of their actions in the Arctic, one of the aims of today’s GLACIER conference but certainly the Arctic Council’s main purpose is to bring together all those nations who have territorial interests or concerns in the Arctic, bring them together to discuss all of these issues, as well as important things like sustainable development, like the responsible use of resources in the Arctic. So all of these are on the table to discuss and that’s why we think it’s a really important forum.
QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned about Russia’s military expansion into the Arctic?
MR TONER: Well, again, that’s – it’s somewhat of a murky issue in the sense of – and this is, again, why the Arctic Council is important, because search and rescue, is that a military option? We need to be as transparent as possible about all our intentions and what we’re doing in the Arctic. And so do we have concerns specifically about Russia? I would say we’re – we have concerns about how militaries conduct themselves in the Arctic, but that’s for all of the Arctic Council members to discuss.
QUESTION: But is --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: With Secretary Kerry and President Obama up in Alaska, they seem to be clearly very concerned about climate change. Are you concerned that Russia is not on the same page as this Administration when it comes to the Arctic?
MR TONER: Well, I think again, and it speaks to the importance of today’s conference, we will – it’s incumbent on all of the Arctic nations, if you will, to raise public awareness about the environment and how the environment in the Arctic and climate change in the Arctic affects all of us, whether you live in the Arctic or not.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem like that’s a priority for Russia, climate change. Would you say that the State Department’s concerns about climate change exceed Russia’s?
MR TONER: Again, I think it’s something we’re all – I’m not trying to excuse anybody or give anybody an A-plus on this – in this respect. I think every country needs to do more.
QUESTION: And lastly --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: -- back to the emails, if you don’t mind. One question, or two questions about the emails. Does the State Department own all the intelligence that are part of these redactions in the 150 emails today?
MR TONER: I’m not quite sure I understand the premise. Sorry.
QUESTION: Okay, let me – let’s try again.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have the authority to declassify intelligence from other agencies?
MR TONER: So that’s – I mean, that speaks to the fact that – and we had this situation where the intelligence – the IC IG actually, on a couple of emails actually upgraded them after the fact. But when those touched on IC equities, that was their purview or their right to do so, I believe. We, on other cases, have found or had disagreed, and there’s lots of reasons for those disagreements that are based on just looking at the material from a different viewpoint.
QUESTION: And just a yes-or-no question: Does the State Department have the ability to change the classification of other agencies?
MR TONER: No, I don’t believe so.
MR TONER: Turkey.
QUESTION: An interim government consisting of independent and opposition members formed in Turkey which will take the country to early elections. Would you give us any comment on this?
MR TONER: You’re asking – I’m sorry, what was the question again? I apologize.
QUESTION: Okay. An interim government consisting of independent and opposition members formed in Turkey which will take the country to early elections.
MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we’re not opining on the political process underway in Turkey. We have confidence in Turkey – the strength of Turkey’s – Turkish democracy. We would just ask that it adhere to its already strong standards.
QUESTION: Something on Russia?
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: There are some reports on Israeli and Arab media saying Russia deployed an expeditionary air force in Syria near Damascus. The reports say Russian jets and helicopters will target ISIS and Syrian Islamist rebels. How do you see this Russian – reportedly Russian reinforcements in Syria?
MR TONER: I’m frankly not aware of those reports. I’d have to look into them. More broadly, we have looked for many different countries to play a greater role in combating ISIL. We view it as an extreme threat to the region and to many countries in the West as well. But specifically to your – I haven’t seen those reports.
Last question, please.
QUESTION: Sorry, on Japan: Do you have any reaction to the massive protests that took place over the weekend against the security bills being pushed into – in the Diet?
MR TONER: Well, it’s security legislation that you say is – it’s under discussion right now. It’s a question – rather, it’s a domestic matter for Japan. For our part, we welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and play a more active role in regional and international security activities, as reflected in the new guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation that were approved in April.
QUESTION: Do you think that the U.S. support for these laws because of the protests, do you think that it sort of undermines the current administration’s, like, role and power?
MR TONER: The current Japanese administration’s? Or --
QUESTION: Right. I mean, that – you’re seeing the Japanese administration trying to push these bills and the reaction from the public. Do you think that the U.S. support – do you think that there’s a concern that --
MR TONER: Look, I mean, I’m not going to opine on the politics and public support for this or that initiative in Japan. I spoke clearly where our policy is and certainly that’s a matter for Japan, the Japanese to decide.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:44 p.m.)
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