Daily Press Briefing, September 1, 2015
Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
September 1, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
2:35 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Great. I have nothing at the top, so I will take your questions.
QUESTION: Can I ask a logistical question about the speech tomorrow?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Why is he still giving it?
MR TONER: Is that a logistical question?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is he still going to go to Philly and do this speech when he doesn’t really need to? It looks like the intended audience – or the two – maybe the two main intended members of the audience have come out today and said they support the deal.
MR TONER: Well, look, there’s many different elements of the Iran deal, and in fact, making the case both to Congress but also the broader issue here is making the case of the Iran deal to the American public. And so --
QUESTION: Okay, what I’m trying to get at – he and the rest of the Administration still feel that it is a relevant and – that it’s important to make the case for the agreement, right?
MR TONER: The Secretary feels very strongly that he needs to and this Administration needs to continue to make the case.
QUESTION: But not – but really it’s no longer to Congress right now, right? He’s trying to convince public – trying to sway public opinion? Or is it still --
MR TONER: Well, again, it’s trying to build support and, obviously, solidify support where that support already exists.
QUESTION: All right.
MR TONER: And that’s relevant to Congress, but certainly, more broadly to the American public.
QUESTION: You’re not giving up at 34, correct?
MR TONER: No, absolutely not.
QUESTION: I mean, wouldn’t you much rather have the largest amount of support?
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: And wouldn’t you rather have 41 so you can block a motion to proceed, so you don’t even have to face a vote?
MR TONER: Well, again, we’re looking for the maximum amount of support we can possibly get.
QUESTION: Do you support a vote in Congress?
QUESTION: Staying on --
MR TONER: Do I --
QUESTION: Support a vote in Congress over the deal?
MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the congressional tactics here and gaming it out. We’re very pleased with the support that we’ve seen thus far; those senators who’ve come out and members of Congress who’ve come out publicly in support of the deal. We’re going to continue to work that and try to increase those numbers.
QUESTION: So would you like to see lawmakers issue a vote and be on the record for how he or she stands on --
MR TONER: I mean, certainly, we’d love to see this pass in Congress, yes.
QUESTION: Mark, just staying on this same topic.
MR TONER: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Now, Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying – or sources from the Republicans on Capitol Hill, they suggest that they may introduce more severe sanctions and legislations, financial, and so on after – in the fall, basically forcing Iran just to sort of walk away from the deal. Is that something that you are concerned about?
MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about what may or may not happen.
QUESTION: They’re not hypothetical. I mean, they’re saying.
MR TONER: What we’ve always said about this deal is, first of all, sanctions relief won’t come to Iran immediately if the deal is passed. It has to meet certain requirements before any type of sanctions relief related to its nuclear program could come into effect. And we’ve also talked about the fact that bilateral or, rather, unilateral sanctions that are nonnuclear related will remain in effect for years to come.
QUESTION: But you will discourage any kind of more sanctions against individuals, individuals Iranians, or government agents, and so on.
MR TONER: Again, it depends on what you’re talking about. What we’ve said all along is that – and we’ve tried to separate the two baskets, if you will. We’ve been very clear about what this agreement is about. It’s about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That said, we’re not ignoring the other basket of issues, which is the fact that Iran continues to be – play a nonconstructive or unconstructive role in the region. And we’re certainly going to keep pressure, whether it’s through sanctions or otherwise, on Iran to change its behavior in that regard.
QUESTION: Can I go to the cause that many of us didn’t get very much sleep last night?
MR TONER: Sure. Are we done with Iran?
QUESTION: That would be other people’s emails. I’m curious about the upgrades and the frequency of upgrades. In the comments that you put out – that were put in your name last night, you say it’s routine to upgrade information to classified status during the FOIA process. Happens frequently several times a month. What is – can you be more specific about that? Because it appears to have happened 125 times over the course of the month of August, and I realize that it’s an unusual --
MR TONER: It’s an extraordinary --
QUESTION: -- because it’s a large amount of material that is being released.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: About – so there are 4,368 documents; 125 – portions of 125 were redacted. That’s about – at least if my horrible math is accurate, that’s about 2.8 percent. Is that pretty standard that in any FOIA release, about 2.8 percent of the documents have redactions for a classified reason?
MR TONER: You’re asking --
QUESTION: In general.
MR TONER: -- because the example that we gave, which is, as you’re – you’re right in that on a given month, this massive FOIA request notwithstanding, we do generally upgrade on --
QUESTION: Right. That’s why I’ve boiled it down to a percentage.
MR TONER: Yeah, exactly. I don’t have an exact whether that’s in keeping with the regular FOIA requests, how many we redact and upgrade. That’s just an example to say that this is not unique to this particular review, that it happens all the time. I can try to get that for you.
QUESTION: Can you just find out how many --
MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- how many – is there an average of how many --
MR TONER: Yeah, we can – that’s certainly – we can try to figure that out. I can’t promise, but I think we can probably try to get the math for you.
QUESTION: On this topic of the now classified emails, which I believe totals with the addition of 125 yesterday 288, the simple question I have is: Why weren’t those emails marked classified at the time they were sent?
MR TONER: Well, a couple points to make there. One is just understanding what our role in this process is, which is that we’re responding to a FOIA request to publicly release these emails.
QUESTION: I know. I know. But --
MR TONER: No, no, no, let me finish and then I’ll try to answer your question, I promise. So that’s where our attention is focused on is looking at and then upgrading these before public release, which is a common, frankly, thing that we look at these, we redact where necessary, in light of the fact that they’re going to be publicly released.
MR TONER: What we’ve said all along is we have not found anything that was marked classified at the time that it was sent.
QUESTION: Right. But the question is, Mark: Shouldn’t it have been marked classified? Wasn’t it – isn’t it true that it was mishandled? Because now you’re calling it classified, and not because this is information that has changed over time, that is magically now sensitive that wasn’t then. This information was mishandled and should have been marked or should not have been sent through unclassified systems. Is that an inaccurate statement?
MR TONER: No, I reject that because – for a couple of reasons. One is it is routine for us to look at this material – again, in light of the fact that via a FOIA process it is going to be publicly released, that this information is sensitive and we don’t want it to be publicly released, so we’re going to redact necessary portions. But we’re only doing that now in the sense that we can’t go back in time and judge accurately what the conditions were, what the circumstances were of that information at the time it was shared with the Secretary and make a judgment on that.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: Why not?
QUESTION: But wait a minute. But isn’t it true --
MR TONER: It’s not that easy, Matt.
QUESTION: Isn’t it true that when you, Mark Toner --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- use your unclassified email State Department system, as all these correspondence, all these 125 emails are based – are basically based on unclassified --
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: -- most of them State Department email systems, isn’t it true that you’re not supposed to be sending information that could at any point be deemed classified, whether it’s the lowest level of confidential or whatever? If you’re going to be communicating that way, you’re supposed to use alternative secure means. Isn’t that true?
MR TONER: I mean, again – and we’ve talked about this a lot – and without getting into the specifics, but information that was shared at the time might years later be considered to be sensitive. And again, looking at it through the prism that we’re ultimately going to release it publicly, that does add an element to all of this.
QUESTION: Are you saying that the – this is my last question.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The majority of these emails fall under that category of things that were just later deemed sensitive that weren’t sensitive at the time? Or isn’t it true that they’re just being classified now because you have to because you’re putting them on the website?
MR TONER: So a couple of things. One is it’s very difficult for us – and I said this before – to go back and to judge what the circumstances were at the time this information was shared and to make a judgment on whether that information was classified at the time. It’s not a black and white issue. It’s not a clear issue. We see nothing at this point in time up until now that would indicate that any of this information was either – was marked classified at the time.
QUESTION: Well, of course, but it would have been impossible to mark it classified at the time --
MR TONER: Not necessarily.
QUESTION: -- and using an unclassified system, it would have been impossible to properly mark it classified.
MR TONER: But to the second part of your question is our role in this, as we have processed or continue to process this tranche of emails that we’ve received, we’re looking at how this is – could be perceived now upon public release. And that’s been our focus here. How do we process these and how do we ensure that any sensitive information now is redacted appropriately?
QUESTION: Do you think it’s possible when all is said and done and the FBI has had its look at it and everybody else is – whoever else is investigating this, that it could be determined that staffers within the State Department are actually responsible for mishandling and sharing this information in ways they shouldn’t have?
MR TONER: Again, that’s not for me to speak to from this podium today. Our role is to process this FOIA request. But you raise a valid point, which is that there are other investigations and reviews underway, and I would encourage you to speak to those entities to ask what they’re looking at. But they could well be looking at some of these broader issues.
QUESTION: But why is it harder --
MR TONER: Yeah, please, Arshad, and then I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Why is it harder to establish whether something should have been classified at the time it was sent than to establish, as you have just done, whether it should be classified now?
MR TONER: Well, again, it’s --
QUESTION: It should be easier because you have the benefit of history.
MR TONER: No, not necessarily, because again, when it’s – something might have become sensitive over time. And it’s equally possible the opposite, and we see that all the time where stuff is – material is declassified over – because it’s no longer considered sensitive. But equally, because of personal equities, other things we’ve talked about, that we deem this material should be redacted and classified just because the circumstances now make it more sensitive. I mean, it’s hard for me to give examples of that from the podium, but that’s – it’s part of the process and it’s just the way it works. There’s examples on both sides.
QUESTION: But aren’t there far, far more – and I would guess about 99.999 percent – examples of information becoming less --
MR TONER: That’s an awfully high percentage.
QUESTION: It just seems to me that the whole concept of classifying something and with a date --
MR TONER: I think there’s examples on both sides.
QUESTION: Even the stuff that the redactions – well, but the redactions in here say that they’re being classified until declassification at a date certain. That date certain is never before; it’s always after, which means that all information becomes less sensitive over time, not more sensitive.
MR TONER: Again --
QUESTION: And I don’t – it just doesn’t compute to me --
MR TONER: Again, there’s examples of both. But again, this – none of this information --
QUESTION: I don’t think there’s any examples of --
MR TONER: But none of this information – no, you’re talking about – sorry, just to – what you’re talking about is classified, clearly classified information becoming declassified with the passage of time. I know exactly what you’re referring to. Again, let’s remember that this information was not classified at the time, not marked classified at the time.
MR TONER: And so that doesn’t apply to it that it would be declassified at a date certain. What we’re looking at – again, through this FOIA process, we’re looking at this information in terms of public release, and that adds an element to all of this. And so we redact as necessary to protect the sensitivity of that information.
QUESTION: So in other words, if it hadn’t been for the FOIA request --
MR TONER: But this is a common --
QUESTION: -- this stuff would be still floating out there or not, but it would be still floating out there just as sensitive as you say it is now, but just in the ether and no one would know about it, so it would be okay?
MR TONER: I don’t think it would be in the ether, but --
QUESTION: Well, it might be. I mean, the --
MR TONER: What – what – again, what I’m trying to --
QUESTION: And it might have just disappeared.
MR TONER: What I’m trying to clarify here is that we have a process to look at this information. It’s a FOIA process, and it’s not – it doesn’t just pertain to these emails from former Secretary Clinton. It pertains to all FOIA processes where we look at this and view a public release and redact as necessary.
QUESTION: Mark --
QUESTION: Okay. So can I – may I just make my plea --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- for the taken question again just to --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you say that it happens frequently or several times a month, if --
MR TONER: Yeah. No, we’ll work on that.
QUESTION: Just an idea.
QUESTION: May I ask you to take one other question, please?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: It’s a question that I asked the other day and I’d like to ask if the State Department will take a policy decision on this, not with regard to Secretary – former Secretary Clinton, but with regard to current and past secretaries of state, and that is whether it is the view of the Department that the Secretary of State is bound by the rules laid out in the Foreign Affairs Manual.
MR TONER: Okay. I mean, I --
QUESTION: As a general principle, do they apply to the Secretary of State or not, or do they apply selectively? That’s the question.
MR TONER: Okay. I will get you an answer for that.
MR TONER: Please, Lucas.
QUESTION: Who at the State Department signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own private email account and server?
MR TONER: Sure. My unsatisfactory but necessary answer to that is, again, that’s not our role in this process to really answer that question publicly; that there are reviews and investigations underway that will look at possibly some of these issues is for other entities to speak to.
QUESTION: But do you know who signed off on her having a private server?
MR TONER: Who signed off on her? I don’t, no.
QUESTION: I mean --
QUESTION: Did anybody?
MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to litigate that question from the podium.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that nobody signed off on her having a private server?
MR TONER: No. I’m saying – look, everyone – there were – people understood that she had a private server. I think we’ve talked about that in the past.
QUESTION: What level was that knowledge? How high did that go up in this building?
MR TONER: I mean, you’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at, so --
QUESTION: Was there anybody in this building who was against the Secretary having her own private server?
MR TONER: I can’t answer that. I can’t.
QUESTION: And just --
MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have the history, but I also don’t have – I don’t have the authority to speak definitively to that.
QUESTION: But --
MR TONER: Again, these are questions that are appropriate, but appropriate for other processes and reviews.
QUESTION: But not the State Department? She was the Secretary of State and --
MR TONER: No, I understand what you’re asking. But frankly, it’s perfectly plausible – and I talked a little bit with Arshad about this yesterday – is for example, we know that the State IG is – at the Secretary’s request – is looking at the processes and how we can do better and improve our processes. And whether they’ll look at these broader questions, that’s a question for them.
QUESTION: And just going back to Matt’s point about the redactions: Also in the redactions wasn’t just the code for classified but this B5, which is a privileged interagency memorandum. And there were 697 emails that contained this designation; by my math, about 10 percent of the emails contained this designation. I was wondering why so many of the emails contained this designation.
MR TONER: What, B --
QUESTION: B5, this privileged interagency redaction.
MR TONER: I’d have to, frankly, find out more about that.
QUESTION: And based on those markings I was describing a little bit, doesn’t this say that there was a lot of – these documents reveal a lot of foreign policy intent and objectives of this Administration, and isn’t that kind of a breach of national security?
MR TONER: Again – and we’ve talked a lot about this – is classification is not a black-and-white issue. You can talk about all of these things – foreign policy priorities, interagency communications – at an unclassified and a classified level. And I can assure you and I can assure the American people that these kinds of decisions are made by serious professionals within the State Department but throughout the interagency every day, and everybody receives extensive training and everybody takes that responsibility seriously. And when there are breaches, certainly, those are investigated and looked at.
QUESTION: And speaking of breaches, is the State Department confident that nobody breached the Secretary’s private server?
MR TONER: Again, I don’t have an answer for you on that. That’s – I don’t know.
QUESTION: So last opportunity here: You don’t know who signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own server?
MR TONER: Again, I don’t personally, but I don’t think it’s our – necessarily our responsibility to say that. I think that that’s for other entities to look at.
QUESTION: Mark, is there a different classification criteria from one agency to the other, or is it like one size fits all?
MR TONER: That’s a good question. I would say it involves more equities, and different agencies look at it in different ways, and it speaks to sources and methods and other aspects of classification that I don’t want to get too deeply into. But again, many of these are, frankly, judgment calls, but done through – by seasoned professionals who are acquainted with all the risks and whatnot. But those are decisions that are made every day.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: So does your evident caution in limiting the areas you’re prepared to address on this reflect an expectation that this ends up in court?
MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve been clear about this is that there’s reviews underway. I would refer you to those agencies for specifics about what they’re looking at. But yes, I would say that at this point, given the ongoing reviews, that it’s not appropriate for us to speak to them in any conclusive manner from here.
QUESTION: Going back to this – the earlier question that now that you are doing this under this Freedom of Information Act, is it fair enough to say that your standards are stricter? You are – we are seeing more blacked out pages. Like there’s one email between the secretary and I think it was Huma where you are just giving us from and to and there’s not like – that email is just I think an addition to the number of emails you are throwing out there. What was the reason to show that email when there’s – like, there’s not even one word that you can show from that body?
MR TONER: Well, we release it because under the FOIA process we have to release all of these documents. But with every document, we look hard, line by line, word by word, at what might be sensitive, again, with a view towards public release now, in this current time, not passing judgment on what it may have been or may not have been at the time. And we make that judgment.
QUESTION: Line by line and word by word?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: And you couldn’t leave like articles in and --
QUESTION: Yeah, some full stops, commas --
MR TONER: Articles matter. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can we change --
QUESTION: Well, but I mean, if you’re just going to black the whole thing out, then there is a point to be made there.
MR TONER: It’s hard for me – (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You can make something completely unintelligible just by taking out all the verbs and all the nouns. (Laughter.) But you – right?
QUESTION: You just wipe out verbs.
MR TONER: I suppose so, Matt. but --
QUESTION: I mean, sometimes you don’t even have to take out the verbs and the nouns to make it unintelligible.
MR TONER: -- are we really going there?
Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR TONER: I’m sorry?
MR TONER: I’d love to.
QUESTION: Turkey. (Laughter.)
MR TONER: Turkey, even if it – Turkey.
QUESTION: Do you want to take that back? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So just --
MR TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- to follow up from yesterday, as we all know, two Vice journalists are still arrested in Turkey. According to reports today, they are – they have been arrested because engaging in terror activity on behalf of ISIL in Turkey. Do you have any further comments since yesterday? Have you gotten any kind of reaction from Ankara on this?
MR TONER: No, I mean, I would only say that we’ve – just in light of the comments I gave yesterday, which I talked about the fact that we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure that their actions uphold universal democratic values, and that includes freedom of the press, due process, and access to media and information. We’ve made our views often and clearly to the Turkish Government. I’m not going to get into any specific diplomatic exchanges about this case we may have had. But they’re aware of our feelings about this.
QUESTION: There are many rights groups around the world, including Amnesty International, calling on Turkey – first of all, dubbing these charges against them bizarre. And they call on Turkey to release these journalists. Would you join – would you urge Turkey to release these journalists?
MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve made our – I think we’ve – I’ve made our stance on this clear.
QUESTION: Today also there --
MR TONER: One last question, okay, then we’ll to move around just to keep it --
QUESTION: -- were further police raids on some private TVs --
MR TONER: Further? Oh, police raids.
QUESTION: -- security raids. Yes. The private TVs and newspapers. First of all, what’s your reaction? Have you seen the reports?
MR TONER: I’ve seen the reports. We certainly look to governments, including Turkey, to ensure that legal enforcement activity is done in accordance with international legal standards, and that includes full respect for due process as well as equal treatment under the law.
QUESTION: This seems to be every day new cases up to the November 1st elections. There are hundreds of cases, insult cases – allegedly insulting president being arrested. Mostly pro-Kurdish party members now being arrest again. And it seems like since the U.S. has been using Turkish air base, Incirlik Air Base, with the increased partnership with Turkey, some of these cases are gone unnoticed and U.S. is not giving the way – the reaction or condemnation that supposed to give. These are the criticism. What’s your response?
MR TONER: I wouldn’t make that assumption. First of all, we’re deeply appreciative of Turkey’s role now in the ISIL coalition, and as I mentioned yesterday, they’ve begun flying missions – anti-ISIL missions in northern Syria. So we appreciate their contributions as well as allowing the U.S. to use Incirlik Air Base. That’s a separate piece altogether from any concerns we might have about Turkey living up to its proud, democratic tradition. It’s – Turkey’s a NATO ally, it’s a friend, and we continue to call on it to live up to the democratic standards that it espouses.
QUESTION: Mark, would you like Turkey to conduct the same volume of airstrikes against ISIS as it has the PKK in middle and late July?
MR TONER: Again, it’s first of all in response to PKK strikes they have – or PKK attacks, rather, on Turkish security forces, police and military. They have, as we’ve said, justifiably taken action against PKK. We call on them always to use restraint. We’d like to see an end to that violence on the part of the PKK. They’re just ramping up now on their ISIL – anti-ISIL missions. It’s hard to know where – how far they’ll go or how much they’ll increase those, but we want to see a prominent role.
QUESTION: Because Turkey seemed pretty ramped up to strike PKK. They used over 20 airplanes, and it seems like this strike against ISIS was just like a couple jets.
MR TONER: Well, again, these are one-off missions, and certainly, what we talked about in the last couple of weeks is part of this process is getting Turkey integrated into the broader coalition effort. So watch that space.
Please, go ahead, Said, and then --
QUESTION: On ISIS too. Yeah. Yesterday, former General David Petraeus, former CIA head, suggested that maybe the United States should aid Jabhat al-Nusrah to fight ISIS. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on this?
MR TONER: Yeah, I’ve seen the report and I would raise an eyebrow because I think General Petraeus actually came out and said he had no – he made no comments. I think it was based on second-hand conversations that were suspect. Certainly, we’re not looking to cooperate with al-Nusrah. We – they’re a designated foreign terrorist organization.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: On Uganda?
QUESTION: Actually, back up. One more on that question.
MR TONER: Yeah.
MR TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: Part of General Petraeus’s statement was he would like to see some elements from Nusrah, not necessarily partnering with the whole organization but maybe recruiting some fighters away. Do you see that as a potential?
MR TONER: Not at this point, no.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you – do you have any comment on a bill that was before the Ugandan parliament today, apparently, that would further regulate nongovernmental organizations? I know LGBT rights groups in particular are concerned that, as one person told me, it would institutionalize – additionally institutionalize discrimination against LGBT organizing in Uganda. Do you have any comment on that?
MR TONER: I don’t. Certainly, we’d be concerned about any legislation, proposed legislation that would further limit gay rights in Uganda or put LGBT populations in Uganda under any duress. I don’t have specifics in response. If I can get those I’ll --
MR TONER: -- I’ll go ahead and give them to you. But generally speaking, we consider gay rights to be an important component of human rights writ large, and so we take those – any threat to those very seriously.
QUESTION: Ambassador Power --
MR TONER: Pamela, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: -- made reference to the journalist sentenced in Azerbaijan, Khadija, and I did see your statement from earlier. Can you elaborate on the U.S. objection to the seven-and-a-half-year sentence? And then secondly, has the U.S. expressed those concerns directly to the government?
MR TONER: So on your – on the issue of raising those concerns, our concerns about this sentence to the Azerbaijani Government, yes, on multiple levels we’ve raised those concerns and we’ve raised them repeatedly. I apologize for your first question again, I – the first part of your question.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the U.S. objections to the sentencing?
MR TONER: Well, again, and I – if our statement – I thought it was in our statement, but we note that the court refused to review certain evidence and testimony from Ms. Ismayilova’s former employee – employer, rather, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, that were – was of direct relevance to her case and to the charges – specifically to the charges of financial crimes.
MR TONER: Let’s go in the back. Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah, can we go back to Syria, please?
MR TONER: We can go back Syria.
QUESTION: Syrian refugees crises is getting worse and worse every day. After affecting the neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey, it’s affecting Europe today. How does the U.S. view this problem and what it’s trying to – and how is it trying to help?
MR TONER: Well, thanks, Michel, for that question. This is a very – as you correctly noted in your question, a very pressing issue. We’ve all seen news reports out of Europe, Eastern Europe, and also Greece and elsewhere of these migrants seeking asylum in parts of Europe and the European Union. It’s a complex issue, it’s a pressing issue. We support, certainly, the European Union’s efforts to develop a comprehensive approach to resolve these migration challenges. There’s no question that the very large number of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers coming to Europe poses a very serious and difficult challenge to the EU and the region and the nations in the region as a whole. Any solution must focus on saving and protecting lives and ensuring the human rights of all migrants are respected, as well as promoting orderly and humane migration policies. And so we would urge all the governments in the region to develop appropriate facilities that allow for proper screening of migrants and the provision of life-sustaining assistance. That’s where we think the focus should be at.
More generally speaking, as we’ve said all the time about these kinds of migration issues and asylum seekers, is we need to – ultimately providing safe haven for these individuals as they flee violence in their countries – as you noted, in Syria – is a temporary solution. What we really need to do is attack the root causes, so we need to have or put in place a credible, peaceful political resolution to the conflict in Syria so that these people can do what every refugee wants to do, which is eventually go home.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this, please, Mark.
MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, Michel, last question, then the – sorry. Thank you.
QUESTION: There are voices in Europe calling for sending troops from Europe and under the UN flag to Syria to create free zones or secure zones to protect the refugees. How do you – what do you think about that?
MR TONER: Well, we’ve been clear and we’ve talked about this, certainly, in the case of Turkey, who I might add – or which I might add is a country that has absorbed some 2 million Syrian refugees over the past several years. But we’ve been very clear: Our goal is not just to create a safe zone. We’ve actually avoided that terminology. What we want to do is drive ISIL out altogether and create – re-establish, frankly, political order and legitimate governments – good governance in place so that these refugees can ultimately return.
QUESTION: And last one for me, please.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: What’s behind the refusal of creating the secure zones?
MR TONER: What’s the --
QUESTION: Why the U.S. refuses to create secure zones in Syria?
MR TONER: Again, because ultimately the goal here is not just to drive ISIL out of a set geographic location; we want to basically destroy them.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Syria?
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: Yeah, one thing that might relieve – reduce some of the pressure on the refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria is the UNHCR’s resettlement program. And so the United States has received referrals from the HCR of many thousands of – up to 15,000 potential refugees that could be resettled here in the United States. Is the United States doing enough to process these things? Are you on course to take in that many refugees this year?
MR TONER: Well, we’ve talked about this in the past, and I’m just seeing if I have the current numbers in front of me. But we have taken in a number of Syrian refugees. I think – sorry, just to get the current figures here. So in 2015, rather, we received over 17,000 Syrian refugee referrals from the UNHCR, of which approximately 1,500 have been admitted since the beginning of the conflict. But I would caveat that by saying that the United States has not set resettlement targets for specific countries. We’re very likely to admit 1,500 to 1,800 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement by the end of this fiscal year, and that number will increase for 2016, we expect.
QUESTION: Just to clarify --
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: You said you had gotten – in 2015, you had gotten 17,000 referrals, correct, in – so far this year?
MR TONER: Seventeen thousand.
QUESTION: Yeah, or more than 17,000. And then you said of those, you have admitted about 1,500?
MR TONER: Fifteen hundred.
QUESTION: Is that – since the beginning of the conflict. Does that mean you didn’t admit any prior – that nobody was referred prior to this year?
MR TONER: I’d have to look into that. I don’t think that’s correct. I think we’ve admitted Syrian refugees before --
QUESTION: Prior to --
MR TONER: -- FY15, yes, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just --
QUESTION: But the fiscal year ends in 30 days, so you think you’re going to get up to --
QUESTION: Well, you said 15- to 1,800 --
MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
QUESTION: So you think 1,500 to 1,800 in the next 30 days?
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: No, you’ve already taken 1,500 in, I thought.
MR TONER: We’ve already taken approximately 1,500, so --
QUESTION: Oh, so you expect --
MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: All right. So 300 – I mean, 3,000 --
MR TONER: It’s an estimate, but yes.
QUESTION: I think we should --
QUESTION: By the end of the month. (Laughter.) Are you banning me from doing math?
QUESTION: I think we should all be banned from doing math. (Laughter.) I think if we were good at math, we would --
MR TONER: I think I made an explicit request yesterday not to make me do math from the podium, Matt.
QUESTION: Anyway --
MR TONER: I thought you would honor that request.
QUESTION: But when you said the end of this fiscal year, you meant the end of this month, right?
MR TONER: I meant the end of this month, yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. If I was good at math, I would not be here. (Laughter.) But I have one more refugee question if I may.
MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: I drew to your attention, but I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to get an answer, whether the U.S. Government has a position on privately run refugee centers that are contracted out by the Australian Government to a private company but that do not permit external visits by human rights groups. Do you have anything on that?
MR TONER: I would refer you to the Australian Government for more details specific to that question, but we encourage all countries to work with the UNHCR – UN High Commissioner for Refugees – to find adequate, durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers, and to uphold obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
QUESTION: And does that include letting international observers like the UN inspect camps to make sure that they are well run?
MR TONER: I believe so.
QUESTION: One more --
QUESTION: Historically, the United States has taken about 50 percent of the refugees for resettlement from the HCR, but you’re short of that in the Syrian conflict.
MR TONER: Well, right, and a couple of points to make on that. One is that, as I thought I made clear, is that we don’t typically do our process – we just don’t assign – we don’t say we’re going to take X amount from Syria, per se. We don’t assign country quotas.
The other thing is – frankly, is that it’s a very rigorous review process to approve these asylum seekers coming from Syria and which involves a very rigorous security check. So that takes time. And then lastly, as I said, ultimately – well, two other points. One is that we are, I think, the largest provider of humanitarian assistance and providing humanitarian assistance and protection to these asylum seekers. I think we provided over 4 billion in humanitarian aid since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, and this is to the millions of refugees in Turkey and elsewhere where they’ve relocated.
But then ultimately, as I said in response to Michel, the ultimate goal here is we need to create the conditions where these reugees can return. That’s obviously the --
QUESTION: Mark, one question on Syria?
MR TONER: Let’s go to you and to you, Michael. And I’ll get back to you, Tejinder. Go ahead, please, sir.
MR TONER: Are we done with Syria?
QUESTION: Syria – no, no, one question.
MR TONER: Oh, I apologize, okay. Let’s finish with Syria and then I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: So there are some media reports out of the Middle East that the United States is considering to establish a command – some sort of command and control base in northern Syria to make the fight that YPG is taking against ISIS more effective. Is that true?
MR TONER: I don’t have anything to announce or even to say about that. I would --
QUESTION: Is that an option that you would be willing to consider?
MR TONER: I’m not going to deal with hypotheticals. What we’ve – what we’re actually doing right now is working with Turkey flying more strikes out of – airstrikes out of Incirlik. We believe that’s taking the fight in support of these anti-ISIL fighters in northern Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Okay, you, sir. Yeah. Let’s finish with Syria and then we’ll go. I apologize.
QUESTION: I want to change topics.
MR TONER: Do you have a Syria?
QUESTION: Just a quick one on Syria.
MR TONER: Quick one on Syria and then --
QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.
MR TONER: I just want to exhaust that issue.
QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned about reports that Russia is sending fighter jets to Syria to strike ISIS, or do you welcome this development? And if so, how would you coordinate with the Russians?
MR TONER: So I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. We’re, frankly, still chasing the ground truth on that. We’ve seen those reports. I think I said yesterday that, in response to questions we got last week about – frankly, in response to some Russian officials saying we need to take the fight to ISIL. We’re already doing that. There’s a 37-some-odd-country coalition that’s taking the fight to ISIL. We would welcome Russia to be more involved in that effort.
QUESTION: And going back to the General Petraeus news, does the State Department --
MR TONER: That was two questions. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Excuse me. Does the State Department believe that there is a moderate opposition in Syria --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- that the United States Government can --
MR TONER: Yes, but we’ve talked, again – and we’ve talked all along about the fact that we need to find – and that moderate Syrian opposition needs to coalesce and come together in order to form a more united front.
QUESTION: Who are these groups? Do you know?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, there’s several. I can get into the details, but they are out there. But they need to find their voice and they need to unify.
QUESTION: I want to go to Iraq.
MR TONER: What’s that? I promised this gentleman here.
QUESTION: I’ll follow. It’s okay.
MR TONER: Okay. Okay, Said.
QUESTION: Question on Japan.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: So the lower house speaker, Tadamori Oshima, met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday, and Japan has been critical about Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, going to China to attend the 70th anniversary of the war ceremonies, saying that it undermines the neutrality of the UN. Do you agree with that assessment?
MR TONER: That it undermines the neutrality of the UN for --
QUESTION: By attending these ceremonies.
MR TONER: For the UN – we’ve been very clear about our perspective on this commemoration event that’s taking place tomorrow, I think, in Beijing. We think it’s appropriate to honor the tremendous sacrifices of those who fought and died in that tragic war. But our focus – just as we stated on VE Day, our focus is on the future and our focus is what happened after the war, where we’ve seen a sustained period of peace, prosperity, partnership with Asia. And we want to see that continue to grow and solidify and bring a new era of peace and prosperity.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry, can I follow up?
MR TONER: Please go ahead. Let’s finish this topic.
QUESTION: What do you believe the role of the UN is in commemorating historical events?
MR TONER: Well, that’s for the UN to decide. Our – I think the UN is – can speak to how it – what role it wants to play. It’s a body comprised of all the nations of the world. I think it stands for the fact that all nations can come together in the pursuit of dialogue to discuss issues of importance and vital interests of the world. And so what the UN symbolizes I think speaks for itself.
QUESTION: Ukraine. On the Ukraine clashes yesterday --
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- you called for a full investigation and those responsible should be held accountable. The Ukraine interior minister – he doesn’t need to conduct an investigation, in his eyes. He knows – he says he knows exactly who did it: It’s members of the Svoboda political party and their leader. He has photos, videos; he said these guys were wearing t-shirts with logos on it. I mean, they weren’t really hiding it. And yesterday you deplored the violence. Do you condemn it? Sounds like it – this is an attack. This wasn’t --
MR TONER: I mean, look, I don’t know if I could’ve been clearer yesterday. I mean, first of all, we welcome the actual vote by Ukraine’s parliament on these draft constitutional amendments on decentralization. This is a key component of them continuing to fulfill their Minsk commitments --
QUESTION: Are you --
MR TONER: -- something, frankly, we haven’t – sorry, let me finish, Michael --
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
MR TONER: -- we haven’t seen on the part of the separatists or Russia. And then secondly, we strongly deplore the violence that took place in the aftermath of that vote. It resulted in many injuries among law enforcement authorities, and our condolences to those who were injured and killed. And we call on the government to fully investigate this. If they feel they have evidence and proof of who was at fault here --
QUESTION: That’s what they’re saying.
MR TONER: -- then they need to, obviously through due process, investigate this incident and hold those people accountable, certainly.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: This was in reaction to the draft amendment --
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: -- and this violence. Are you concerned that once the real thing gets implemented what that could look like? Are you – and that could undermine the Minsk process overall? Not to be flip.
MR TONER: No, I mean, I think – look, I think we have confidence in Ukraine’s government and in their law enforcement agencies to be able to provide security. But this is ultimately something for the Ukrainian people. Those who stood on the Maidan through the long winter months to make their case to the government that was then in place that they wanted more democracy, they wanted greater economic prosperity, greater engagement with Europe, they need to stand up and speak for themselves and to make their feelings known. And we – as I said, we support fully people’s right for peaceful assembly and protest, but once you have violence enter into it, then it changes it.
QUESTION: The draft – the problem with the draft, one more thing is --
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: -- he was able to secure that with 265. He got 265 of the vote, but to make it law, he’ll need 300 eventually. Now, October elections could change but that’s a big gap. Are you worried – you congratulate him here, but aren’t you worried that this thing may never happen?
MR TONER: Boy, you’re – I mean, Matt was trying to get me in the congressional whip counting in the – for the Iran deal vote, but no, I’m not --
QUESTION: Are you not familiar with Ukraine parliament?
MR TONER: That’s right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You don’t know the --
MR TONER: So no, I was going to say – I was just going to say I’m certainly not going to wade into Ukrainian parliamentary vote counts. Look, this is democracy in action. It’s up to the Ukrainian Government to make its case, so we’ll leave it to them.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Palestinian --
MR TONER: Couple more questions. Yes, Said.
QUESTION: Two quick questions on the Palestinian issue.
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Are you aware that the Israelis raided a Palestinian refugee camp, Jenin, last night – the raid is still ongoing – using a tactical pressure cooker where they demolished three homes in pursuit of three Palestinian suspects? Are you aware of that?
MR TONER: Said, I have to say I’m not.
MR TONER: No. I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: The – and the flip side of that, it’s been 31 days since Israeli terrorist settlers attacked the village of Duma, killing a Palestinian baby and his father and mother and so on.
MR TONER: Yes, and his father, yeah. Mother, yeah.
QUESTION: And at the time, you expressed confidence that Israel has the wherewithal to pursue the terrorist perpetrators and bring them to justice, yet we don’t see this kind of raiding of the settlement to bring the perpetrators to justice. Are you still satisfied that Israel is doing all it can to apprehend the terrorist suspects in the settlement?
MR TONER: Well, again, we – and we spoke very clearly at the time and continue to condemn that kind of violence, that kind of activity, and call on for a full investigation and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Now, we know and we speak to this often that a full investigation takes time. The prime minister, the government was very clear in expressing their outrage about this violence and the need to address it, so let’s wait and let this process play out.
QUESTION: The point being that when the Israelis express their outrage going into Jenin to apprehend someone, but we have not seen anything similar to that in the settlement where the settlers have suspected – are suspected to come from.
MR TONER: You’re – I’m sorry. You’re talking – say you have not seen this expressed --
QUESTION: No, I’m saying no, we have not. We have not seen anything.
MR TONER: I just haven’t – I am not aware of the incidents.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with the Israelis on these things? Are you coordinating with them? I mean, you have a great deal of law enforcement and security coordinations with them. Are you coordinating with them in fact operationally or otherwise to bring these suspects to justice?
MR TONER: You’re talking about in the attacks in the Palestinian – yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, those suspected – right, yes.
MR TONER: I don’t know if we’re actually cooperating with them on this case, but we have every confidence that they’re able to carry out this investigation.
QUESTION: You are? So --
MR TONER: Let’s let the process play out.
QUESTION: So you have every confidence, then, that the Israelis can bring these perpetrators to justice?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?
QUESTION: Different --
MR TONER: Go ahead, yeah. And then we’ll get to you.
QUESTION: I have two brief ones.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: One, I don’t know if you’ve addressed this when I was not here, but do you know there’s an effort by the Palestinians at the UN to get their flag --
MR TONER: Yes. No, I’m just kidding. Sorry.
QUESTION: -- to raise their – to raise their flag at the UN? I would have asked Ambassador Power, but she took off.
MR TONER: Yeah. Boy, what an opportunity there, missed opportunity.
QUESTION: Do you guys have a position on that?
MR TONER: On the --
MR TONER: On the flag?
QUESTION: On the Palestinian request to have their flag – I mean, they are now a – recognized as a member of the General Assembly.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, what?
MR TONER: We do have a --
QUESTION: Is it yes, no? Yes, we have a position? No, they can’t?
MR TONER: Let me finish, let me finish. We continue to believe that Palestinian efforts to pursue statehood or endorsements of statehood claims through the UN system that are outside of a negotiated settlement, we believe those actions to be counterproductive.
QUESTION: And that includes – that would include raising the flag?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: It would. Okay. The Vatican has got a – which has the same status as the Palestinian Authority does at the General Assembly, has got a similar request. They have distanced themselves from the --
MR TONER: I don’t – have they --
QUESTION: -- Palestinian one. But they – it’s been an ongoing thing, and particularly because the Pope is going to be there this year, who is a head of state, and if I’m not mistaken is going to be on a state visit, or at least a papal visit here, which is pretty much the equivalent of a state visit, getting greeted by the President and all that kind of thing.
I’m wondering if the U.S. has the same position on the Vatican flag going up as it does for the Palestinians, or is it just an entirely different case because the Vatican is already recognized – you already recognize the Vatican as a state?
MR TONER: I’ll double-check on that, but my sense is that you answered the question, which is it’s an entirely different case.
QUESTION: And then --
QUESTION: So in the absence --
QUESTION: Excuse me, Said. Then also related to the UN and the Palestinian issue, are you aware of this latest surge in criticism of UNRWA and calls by some in Israel for it to be investigated, that kind of thing?
MR TONER: I’m not. I’d have to --
QUESTION: I didn’t think you would be. Could you --
MR TONER: I’ll look at --
QUESTION: Could you take a look at that?
MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, no worries.
Tejinder, you’ve been waiting a long time. I apologize.
QUESTION: A short one on India. Is there any diplomatic fallout from the release of the 12-page secret document of the CIA yesterday which made headlines in India and other places about saying that then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted to bomb the Pakistani nuclear sites when she became the second time the prime minister?
MR TONER: Tejinder, I apologize; I’m not aware of the document. Are you talking about recent release of this document?
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday it was – it made big headlines --
MR TONER: I apologize. I don’t --
QUESTION: -- that front page document – secret document of the CIA. And so there are no phone --
MR TONER: I was preoccupied by other --
QUESTION: The emails. I know.
MR TONER: -- questions of classification and non-classification.
MR TONER: No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: This is a different topic on China.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: About Ambassador David Saperstein’s visit to China, who is in charge of the international religious freedom. As you released the statement yesterday, firstly let me ask about – could you tell me the reason why ambassador visited China this time and raised a deep concern against the violation of the religious freedom at this moment?
MR TONER: I’m sorry. So you’re talking --
QUESTION: Is it – are you --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the United States Government is investigating regularly or this is the first time?
MR TONER: But you’re – I’m sorry. Who made – could you just mention – you’re talking about?
QUESTION: Ambassador David Saperstein. You --
MR TONER: Yeah. No, I am aware of that. I’m not sure I have anything on his visit, though. I apologize. I’ll try to find out more about it.
QUESTION: Okay. And I believe U.S. Government is going to raise a concern when President Xi Jinping visit this time. But as we all know, on this human rights and the religious freedom, there are significant differences between the United States and China. So how are you going to – the United States Government raise concern and have a constructive discussion on this issue?
MR TONER: On religious freedom?
MR TONER: Well, just like we try to have constructive discussions on difficult issues across the board with China, including human rights, as Ambassador Power just spoke to, we believe strongly as a country, as a nation, in religious freedom, and we would call on all countries to allow people to – their own citizens to worship as they see fit. And that’s a matter of concern to us, ongoing concern.
QUESTION: One more thing.
MR TONER: Last question, guys.
QUESTION: So I would like to know about the fair assessment of the United States Government. The situation of the religious freedom in China is getting better or getting more serious since the last investigation, like the last couple of years.
MR TONER: Well, I can’t give you an overall assessment. It’s something we do watch closely. Certainly, our Human Rights Report speaks to it, our annual Human Rights Report speaks to it. I can say that it is an ongoing concern. And specifically, just to cite a recent case, a prominent Christian human rights lawyer Zhang Kai and his assistant, they were detained by the Chinese authorities. We certainly want to see him released. But this is just indicative of an ongoing pattern that we’ve seen.
Last question in the back.
QUESTION: I want to go back to Turkey and media issue because my --
MR TONER: Turkey and --
QUESTION: Turkey and media issue.
MR TONER: Oh, media issues. Sorry.
QUESTION: Media issue, because my newspaper today, police raid it all day and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. According to some source, especially from government, they are going to take over all critical media, because we have some information about that. And have you concern – have you related with Turkish Government or communicate with Turkish Government specifically about this issue? Because today they – police raided two newspaper, two TV channel, and our newspaper raided today, and maybe tomorrow another one. Maybe day after, another one. And especially before election.
MR TONER: Well, as I said, we’ve made clear in the past and continue to make clear of our concern about Turkish Government interferences with freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the importance in the administration of due process and justice. I spoke to that already, talking about some of these raids that you referred to, that any kind of law enforcement, legal enforcement activity is done in accordance with international legal standards. And we would urge Turkey to follow those standards in this and any other case.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:31 p.m.)
DPB # 149
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